The 2014 NFL draft is scheduled for May 8-10, and the focus has already shifted to the seniors who will be taken early in the first round.
With future stars like Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, UCLA’s Anthony Barr and Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard guaranteed to be taken early in the draft, NFL fans are eager to see where each player lands.
Here are the top three seniors in the 2014 class, a preview of what they do well and my prediction of where they will land on draft day.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Last season while everyone was talking about Luke Joeckel and the instant impact he was going to have on the NFL, many scouts were already hopping on the bandwagon for Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews.
Matthews is one of the most talented players in the entire nation, and his protection of the elusive Johnny Manziel has made his selection as the No. 1 overall pick a real possibility. He made 45 consecutive starts on the offensive line and played both left and right tackle when injuries took their toll.
There is no question that Matthews still must work on some aspects of his game—his footwork is not perfect and he stops moving his feet at times—but his size and length allow him to be one of the most dominant pass defenders in the NCAA and an above-average run blocker.
With so much raw talent and plenty of room to grow into his 6’5” and 305-pound frame, NFL teams will be fighting to get Matthews on their respective rosters.
Predicted Landing Spot: St. Louis Rams
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The NFL has turned into a pass-first league, and defensive units have realized the need for elite pass-rushing outside linebackers who can get after the quarterback. Arguably one of the best OLB in the 2014 class is Anthony Barr of UCLA.
Barr led UCLA this season with 62 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries, but his numbers are even more impressive considering he was transitioning from being a running back two seasons ago.
The athleticism he has shown in his college career will have teams looking to take him early.
Franchises see Barr’s long and lean frame and realize the bulk he can add. There is no questioning how raw he is as a defensive player, but with plenty of upside and the ability to learn a new position on the fly, it’s clear he will go early in the first round.
Predicted Landing Spot: Oakland Raiders
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard dominated the Big Ten as one of the top defensive backs and helped lead one of the best defenses in the nation. With ideal size (5’11” and 197 lbs), years of experience and solid speed, Dennard will be worthy of a first-round pick.
Dennard is not the fastest cornerback in the 2014 class, but his acceleration off the line keeps him close to the offensive player he is covering. Add in the physical strength he possesses to handle wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, and Dennard will be a viable cover corner in the NFL.
It’s hard to determine exactly where Dennard will be selected due to the influx of college athletes who will declare eligible for the draft, but the need for reliable cornerbacks who could blossom into elite players will have teams reaching for the Michigan State star early.
Predicted Landing Spot: Tennessee Titans
*Stats via CFBStats.com.