If you find yourself ready for the 2014 NFL draft but aren’t sure where to go for updated information and analysis, you’ve found the right place. Welcome to the first edition of a new weekly column—my NFL draft scouting notebook.
This column will serve as a type of mind dump of all pertinent NFL draft news from the previous week. No one person can keep track of every player, every storyline and every injury, but here you will get the biggest news and how that news affects draft stock, team needs and other draft-related possibilities.
Every Thursday morning—from now until the draft—you’ll get analysis, insider information, personal scouting notes and hopefully a few interesting nuggets.
Let’s get started.
1. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Through 10 games, the redshirt sophomore quarterback is yet to throw an interception. Scouting by stats is never a good idea, but you can look at stats to reinforce what you’re seeing on film. In the Oregon offense, Mariota is asked to throw deep and intermediate as often as he’s checking down, throwing a screen or taking off with the ball. This isn’t a horizontal offense, though, and Mariota’s ability to make big plays without turnovers is huge. He’s the total package waiting to be groomed.
2. Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde
It’s tough to ignore what Carlos Hyde has been doing lately in the Ohio State backfield. But aside from his gaudy stats, Hyde is showing better agility and burst than in previous seasons. He’s getting to the second level much faster, and while he’ll never run away from NFL defenses, his burst and acceleration to get through the hole are noticeably better. For a 240-pound back, Hyde’s quickness and agility are a major plus.
3. Iowa LT Brandon Scherff
You don’t hear many people talking about Iowa junior Brandon Scherff, but if he decides to jump to the NFL after this season, you will. Scherff is a legitimate top-15 player in this year’s class. He’s big (6’5”, 315) but has the quick feet that most maulers at the position lack. Scherff has the feet of a tight end but the body and strength of a right tackle. Put those two traits together and you have the ideal left tackle. And Scherff’s play backs up his potential.
4. Missouri DE/OLB Kony Ealy
A big, versatile pass-rusher, Missouri’s Kony Ealy has consistently risen up the board this year. Ealy, who considered leaving school last season for the NFL, has built on a resume that netted him a top-100 grade last year. His length, strength and pass-rushing skills make him an intriguing prospect with scheme versatility.
5. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd & WR Sammy Watkins
Watkins continues to separate himself from the rest of the wide receivers in college football, while Boyd has answered critics as well. His performance in three quarters against Georgia Tech showed the zip, ball placement and deep ball that made him a preseason first-round prospect. On my board, Boyd is still hovering around the top 20 prospects. Watkins ranks as the No. 1 wide receiver and No. 6 player overall.
1. LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
Early in the season it looked as if LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was turning a corner in his career. Always regarded as a big-armed, downfield passer, Mettenberger was playing with the touch and anticipation that were missing last season. That has faded, though, with the senior reverting to his bad habits.
Under pressure in the pocket, Mettenberger becomes frantic, and that leads to poor decision-making and too many interceptions thrown under duress. The physical gifts he brings to the table are exceptional, but the fine-tuning hasn’t stuck on game day. That’s a concern as NFL teams look at his potential and try to gauge how coachable he’ll be.
2. Georgia QB Aaron Murray
Fans look at Aaron Murray and see a prolific quarterback with record-breaking wins and yardage, but NFL teams see a 6’1” quarterback with limited arm strength. Murray’s supporters will show YouTube clips of deep passes to Michael Bennett, but deep-ball passing is as much mechanical as it is raw strength. The arm strength that Murray lacks is the kind it takes to spin the ball 20 yards deep and to the sideline with velocity.
Murray’s passes tend to float, with a high point and dramatic arc to the receiver. Ideally, his passes are thrown “on a line” without the arc. That lack of arm strength to intermediate and deep areas of the field is the major reason Murray isn’t being talked about like Russell Wilson—another smaller quarterback, but one with a rocket for an arm.
3. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
No one should knock Jadeveon Clowney for a lack of performance this year, and he’s not listed here because of some perception that he’s not playing well or not trying hard. Instead, Clowney is listed here for injuries. This season alone, Clowney has had the flu, suffered from bone spurs that will require postseason surgery and left Saturday’s game against Florida after suffering a foot injury.
The bone spurs are a known issue dating back to high school, but the other bumps and bruises that are causing him to miss games worry you. Clowney is still a top-three player in this year’s draft class, but the injury total is adding up.
4. Miami (Fla.) QB Stephen Morris
Considered the top senior quarterback by some heading into the season, Miami’s Stephen Morris has not lived up to that billing. Morris has struggled with decision-making, accuracy, footwork and performance under pressure. To be blunt, any potential he showed heading into the season has been decimated by poor play. Morris, who is in his second season as a starter, has undeniable physical gifts, but his execution of those talents isn’t encouraging.
5. Washington RB Bishop Sankey
The 2014 running back class is shaping up to be a good one—especially if all underclassmen come out of school early. That’s good news for NFL teams but bad news for Washington’s Bishop Sankey.
The Husky offense allows Sankey to have awesome numbers each week, but the game film shows a back who lacks great burst and vision. Sankey has good body lean and leg drive, but that lack of a second gear will kill his NFL prospects if he also lacks the vision to find the hole right away.
The Scouting Report
—A source close to the LSU football program tells me to expect the team to have the most underclassmen declare for the draft for the second straight year. Players like Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr. and Anthony Johnson are all likely to toss their hats into the draft after the team’s bowl game.
—Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins hasn’t announced his intention to enter the 2014 draft yet, but the junior ranks as the top player at his position and a surefire top-10 prospect. Expect to hear his name mentioned often between now and the May draft.
—Expect the Oakland Raiders to be among the teams looking for a first-round quarterback. Terrelle Pryor has struggled down the stretch, and a team source tells me that general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen have no loyalty to Pryor as the team’s future.
—When speaking to one AFC scout regarding LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, he told me, "He's Ryan Mallett. On and off the field." The growing consensus is that the media has overrated his prospects.
—Former USC cornerback Nickell Robey wasn’t selected at all during the 2013 draft, but he’s playing well in Buffalo as a rookie. This is because of the system and how he fits in it. Too many teams saw Robey’s measurables (5’8”, 165 pounds) and ignored him because he wouldn’t be an outside corner.
The Bills saw a slot cornerback, though, and wisely signed him to a free-agent deal. Robey has paid off, notching his first interception in Week 7 and locking down the starting nickel cornerback job.
—For years I’ve heard of NFL teams viewing University of Texas players as soft. Rookies Marquise Goodwin and Kenny Vaccaro are putting that myth to rest this season. Goodwin, who was routinely called a “track star” heading into the 2013 draft, has been a dynamic returner and deep threat for the Bills this season. Vaccaro, a first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints, has been an enforcer in the secondary and a boost to the team’s secondary from Day 1.
Texas players may still get the soft label in some war rooms, but Goodwin and Vaccaro are prime examples of drafting for talent and not the logo on the helmet.
—Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is widely considered the top quarterback prospect in the 2014 class, and for good reason. While Bridgewater’s coach Charlie Strong said this week he hasn’t spoken to the quarterback about the NFL, it’s worth noting that Bridgewater is set to graduate in December. This makes the junior quarterback eligible to participate in the annual Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Generally reserved for senior prospects, the Senior Bowl allowed graduated juniors D.J. Fluker and Justin Pugh into the game last year.
A Day in the Life of an NFL Scout
Each week you’ll get a glimpse inside the life of everyone’s dream job—being an NFL scout.
Many people might wonder what NFL scouts are doing as the college football season comes to a close. Road scouts, or those guys assigned to a certain region, are attending games each Saturday and finalizing their talent grade on a player.
The scout will roll into a college campus on Friday—donuts and coffee in hand for the coaches—and spend the day watching film and speaking with coaches about top seniors (and some juniors). After a night in a Holiday Inn Express (or comparable hotel), the scout will hang around and watch the team’s game Saturday and then write up thoughts on the player(s) back at the hotel before heading out Sunday to start the process over all again.
Ohio State DT Michael Bennett
Junior defensive lineman Michael Bennett has been jumping off the film every week throughout Ohio State's undefeated season. Big No. 63 is hard to miss no matter where he lines up on the Buckeye defense.
Strengths: Bennett is scheme-versatile, meaning he can play in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense once in the NFL. He possesses the size and strength to handle a 5-technique position as a defensive end in a 3-4 but has the quickness and pass-rushing abilities of a 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3.
Bennett's first step off the snap is deadly, and he follows it up well with the hand use to knock blockers off his frame. He comes off the ball low, fast and aggressive—which is a trio that few college linemen have been able to handle.
Weaknesses: Bennett may be considered a one-year wonder by some, as this is his first season in the spotlight. Bennett played in just eight games last season and wasn't recognizable as the same impact player he's shown to be in 2013. That could be due to his development from his sophomore year to now, but his lack of production in previous seasons will be questioned.
In terms of on-field weaknesses, Bennett has to learn a secondary pass-rush move. He's too reliant on quickness to win inside—something NFL guards will be able to deal with much better than Big Ten linemen.
Pro Player Comparison: Lamarr Houston, Oakland Raiders
The Big Board
|2014 NFL Draft Big Board—Top 10|
|3||Jadeveon Clowney||DE||South Carolina|
|4||Jake Matthews||OT||Texas A&M|
|10||Mike Evans||WR||Texas A&M|
See the full big board, always updated here.
10 Things I Loved and Hated About You, Week 12
10. I hate that Carlos Hyde missed game time, but NFL scouts won’t care about “class issues.”
9. I hate that Heisman Trophy voters focus on win-loss records. Johnny Manziel is playing better than any single athlete in college football right now.
8. I hate that so many teams are going with trendy uniforms. I’m looking at you, Indiana. A chrome candy cane is not a good look, nor will it entice recruits.
7. I hate how Oklahoma is using Jalen Saunders. Marquise Goodwin-like.
6. I love the potential of UCF quarterback Blake Bortles.
5. I love Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, no matter how big he is.
4. I love Chip Kelly’s quarterbacks. Nick Foles (Eagles) and Marcus Mariota (Oregon) have yet to throw an interception this season.
3. I loved the play of Stanford linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy.
2. I loved Tajh Boyd’s big day.
1. I loved USC playing man coverage and daring Stanford to throw over the top.
Twitter Must-Follow for Week 12
John Middlekauff, @JohnMiddlekauff
The former Philadelphia Eagles college scout, Middlekauff has moved into the media and does a great job sharing insights and opinions on Twitter and for CSN Bay Area. He’s also a West Coast scout for the Senior Bowl and offers can’t-miss scouting and analysis during Pac-12 games.
“Stack and Shed”
This refers to a defensive player’s ability to initiate contact with a blocker and then come free of the block to make a tackle or rush the quarterback. You’re “stacking” the blocker by using your arms and hands to keep him at bay and then “shedding” by ripping, swimming or dipping out of the block.
What I'm Watching This Weekend
1. Baylor vs. Oklahoma State
|Baylor offense||Baylor defense||OK State offense||OK State defense|
QB Bryce Petty
RB Lache Seastrunk
WR Tevin Reese
OG Cyril Richardson
|SS Ahmad Dixon|
RB Jeremy Smith
WR Tracy Moore
TE Blake Jackson
OT Parker Graham
DT Calvin Barnett
CB Justin Gilbert
SS Shamiel Gary
Facing a top-tier cornerback like Justin Gilbert will be a great test for Baylor’s Bryce Petty. The junior quarterback has been rumored as a potential first-rounder if he were to enter this year’s draft class. Putting on a clinic against Gilbert would increase his stock considerably.
2. Texas A&M vs. LSU
|A&M offense||A&M defense||LSU offense||LSU defense|
QB Johnny Manziel
RB Ben Malena
WR Mike Evans
OT Jake Matthews
OT Cedric Ogbuehi
|OLB Steven Jenkins|
QB Zach Mettenberger
RB Jeremy Hill
RB Alfred Blue
FB J.C. Copeland
WR Jarvis Landry
WR Odell Beckham
OT La'el Collins
DT Anthony Johnson
OLB Tahj Jones
ILB Lamin Barrow
SS Craig Loston
There are numerous prospects worth watching here, so this game will require multiple viewings to catch everyone. The big takeaway will be the quarterbacks. How well Johnny Manziel and Zach Mettenberger perform against each defense will give a nice preview for handling NFL-style pressures (Manziel vs. LSU) and coverages (Mettenberger vs. Texas A&M). While the A&M defense doesn't have the high-level prospects to match LSU, how well Mettenberger handles the pressure will be huge for his grade.
3. Arizona State vs. UCLA
|Arizona St. offense||Arizona St. defense||UCLA offense||UCLA defense|
RB Marion Grice
DT Will Sutton
OLB Carl Bradford
SS Alden Darby
QB Brett Hundley
WR Shaq Evans
OG Xavier Su'a-Filo
DE Cassius Marsh
OLB Anthony Barr
OLB Keenan Graham
ILB Jordan Zumwalt
If you like defense, this is a great game to scout. UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr is a top-five player and a hell-raiser on defense for the Bruins. He'll be attacking the edge against Arizona State and making big plays early and often. For the Sun Devils, keep an eye on Will Sutton against UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo. That's an NFL-level matchup to gauge each player on.
4. Michigan vs. Iowa
|Michigan offense||Michigan defense||Iowa offense||Iowa defense|
QB Devin Gardner
WR Jeremy Gallon
OT Taylor Lewan
OT Michael Schofield
DT Quinton Washington
TE C.J. Fiedorowicz
OT Brandon Scherff
OLB Christian Kirksey
OLB Anthony Hitchens
CB B.J. Lowery
FS Tanner Miller
Two potential top-15 offensive tackles will be on display here. Iowa's Brandon Scherff (No. 68) and Michigan's Taylor Lewan (No. 77) are in a battle for my No. 2 tackle ranking. Being able to see both on the same field is a can't-miss opportunity.
5. Missouri vs. Ole Miss
|Missouri offense||Missouri defense||Ole Miss offense||Ole Miss defense|
WR L'Damian Washington
WR Marcus Lucas
TE Eric Waters
OT Justin Britt
DE Michael Sam
DE Kony Ealy
CB E.J. Gaines
QB Bo Wallace
RB Jeff Scott
WR Donte Moncrief
ILB Mike Marry
ILB D.T. Shackelford
The Missouri defense is loaded with pass-rushers and future NFL players. The two to watch closely are senior Michael Sam (No. 52) and redshirt junior Kony Ealy (No. 47). Both have the quickness to play on the edge in the NFL. Sam, while smaller than Ealy, has the pass-rushing moves to play end or linebacker in the pros. Ealy, longer and stronger than his counterpart, is physically comparable to Aldon Smith.