It is officially NFL draft season—or at least it is in my office.
Now that the Army-Navy game is over, and with just two weeks left in the NFL season, my focus goes to the 2014 draft and offseason scouting of players. Just like what you'd see in an NFL front office, except here it's a one-man show.
The winter months are a time to do serious evaluation heading into the upcoming draft class. And as we prep for the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, that means more efforts spent digging deep on draft prospects and a second look at the top guys scouted throughout the season.
That will lead to changes in rankings and ultimately mock drafts too. This is a draftnik's favorite time of year, though, so let's get started.
Five Up, Five Down
5. QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Every year it seems evaluators fall in love with a smaller-school quarterback. Last year it was Zac Dysert. The year before it was B.J. Coleman. So when people started talking about Jimmy Garoppolo, my cynical nature kicked in. Thank goodness for second looks.
Digging in on Garoppolo this week, I saw an NFL-level arm and athletic profile. He has the talent to throw the ball to any level of the field and is a good enough athlete to throw when rolling out to his left or right.
You have to wonder about the defenses he's faced and how complex they are, but from a natural ability standpoint, Garoppolo is NFL-caliber.
4. LB Telvin Smith, Florida State
The Florida State linebacker is a do-it-all threat at the next level. Smith, at 6'3" and under 220 pounds, may even see a move to safety once in the pros. Like Kam Chancellor, he's strong when coming up to play the ball and has the quickness to turn and get depth in zone coverage.
Smith is an intriguing athlete, and he's a guy who plays much stronger than his frame shows. He's a versatile athlete teams will view differently, but the Chancellor- or Lavonte David-style comparison is there.
3. DE Vic Beasley, Clemson
As a pass-rusher, Vic Beasley has more than just a great first step. And yet, that was my perception of him until taking a closer look this week.
Beasley does have killer quickness off the line, but he's also showing good strength to bull rush and drive blockers back off the ball. And unlike many college defensive ends, Beasley has a good secondary pass-rush move and uses his arms well to get in the quarterback's face.
2. FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Throughout the season, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has ranked as a top-50 player on my big board. He's moving way up after I spent time re-watching his play against LSU and Auburn from this season.
Clinton-Dix is exactly what NFL teams want at safety in today's game—an athletic hitter who can play in man coverage against slot receivers and tight ends.
If he makes it out of the first 20 picks in the first round, I'll be shocked.
1. RB Charles Sims, West Virginia
You'll have to forgive my newfound love for this year's running back class. Each week it seems like another player is hyped up here, but they're all worthy of the praise.
Charles Sims is what most people want when they think of an NFL running back: big, strong enough to make plays between the tackles and a very good receiver. He's showing enough burst out of the backfield on outside runs to convince me that he's a Day 1 starter in the NFL.
5. CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
The best-known cornerback in a talented Florida secondary, Purifoy's reputation has been better than his play. Looking at the 2013 film, you could easily rank him as the team's third-best cornerback behind Jaylen Watkins and Vernon Hargreaves III.
Purifoy is a good athlete, but his technique is too inconsistent for a high-level cornerback prospect. He has to learn to mix his quickness with his eyes, or he'll always be "just" an athlete at cornerback.
4. CB Vic Hampton, South Carolina
A surprise entry into the 2014 draft class, Vic Hampton wasn't on my radar as a player for this year's crop. After going through his 2013 games, I came away unimpressed with his ability to play up on the line of scrimmage.
Hampton did get used in a number of coverages at South Carolina, but he wasn't a dominant player at any time. He would have been best served with another season working against SEC talent.
3. Oakland Raiders Quarterbacks
The Raiders season started with so much promise coming in the form of Terrelle Pryor. Now, with the season nearly over, the Raiders will be looking for another starting quarterback this offseason. With a likely top-five pick coming their way, general manager Reggie McKenzie will get to handpick a franchise quarterback.
It's needed. The combination of Pryor and Matt McGloin simply isn't good enough.
2. LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
While scouting the Volunteers defense, too many times I waited for A.J. Johnson to dominate at inside linebacker. That never happened. Instead I saw a talented athlete who oftentimes disappeared when trying to work through traffic and make plays outside the hashes.
Johnson is a unique athlete at the position with prototypical size, speed and natural strength, but he needs work when it comes to vision, angles and his ability to work through blocks.
1. DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Timmy Jernigan was a first-round prospect of mine heading into the summer. As a sleek athlete and pass-rusher, he looked ideal for the NFL's profile of a 3-technique defender.
While he has all the athletic ability needed and certainly looks the part, his game film was underwhelming.
Jernigan simply doesn't show a consistent first step to beat blockers. He's too tall, and I question his overall effort in the middle of the defense. Just a junior, Jernigan has time to make up the ground he lost this season if he returns to school for another year.
The Scout’s Report
— Oregon's Marcus Mariota already announced he would head back to school for his redshirt junior season, but is he having a change of heart? According to CBS Sports' Rob Rang, Mariota reportedly asked the NFL Draft Advisory Board for a projection—something players generally only do if interested in leaving college early. However, people close to Mariota tell me he filed that paperwork before his Dec. 3 announcement that he would return to college. Nothing to see here, folks.
— As mentioned here last week, South Florida defensive end Aaron Lynch was speaking to agents in the run-up to his decision on whether or not to enter the 2014 draft class. He has officially entered, but one agent from a prominent shop tells me they "passed" on Lynch due to the many red flags in his background.
— Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller says he's "ready for the NFL," via NFL.com's Mike Huguenin, but I couldn't disagree more. Miller would benefit from another season under Urban Meyer, but he also needs to show NFL teams that as a mobile quarterback he can stay healthy. He didn't do that in 2013. The boost to his draft stock that another year of work on mechanics and passing would bring is too great to pass up.
— San Diego State running back Adam Muema tweeted—and deleted—that he was declaring for the 2014 NFL draft. Most curious is that Muema doesn't project as a top-200 player in this year's class. I have him as a fringe player on my current big board, and it's interesting to see why the junior would be ready for the NFL when his chances of being drafted are even. Muema may want to spend the next month reconsidering his future before tweeting again about the NFL.
— New Mexico State wide receiver Austin Franklin made a surprising decision to enter the 2014 draft class. Franklin doesn't rank as a top-300 player for me. He would need a phenomenal combine performance to creep up teams' radars. This doesn't look like a good decision from the junior wideout.
— Rutgers' Brandon Coleman is jumping to the NFL, and the big wide receiver will have plenty of fans among pro scouts. Coleman's 6'5", 220-pound frame is exciting, but a lack of production in 2013 requires a second look. There's no denying Coleman's raw ability, though, and he shouldn't get out of the second round come May.
— How high could Johnny Manziel go in the 2014 draft? I like him as a top-15 pick, but I'm told it would be foolish to rule him out as the top prospect. An NFL team scout told me this week, "It all depends on his interviews and who has the pick." The NFL Scouting Combine will be huge for Manziel, as teams will get their first look at the redshirt junior in Indianapolis if he does indeed enter this year's draft class.
— If you're looking for a late-rising player in this year's class, I'm told Virginia Tech's James Gayle has a first-round grade on at least one team's board. The 6'4", 255-pound pass-rusher has ideal speed and the body type teams want from a stand-up edge-defender.
— The turnover at head coach could send at least two Texas underclassmen into the NFL. I'm hearing that cornerback Quandre Diggs and defensive end Cedric Reed have requested information from the Draft Advisory Board.
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.
The college football regular season is done, so what are college scouts doing during December?
Each NFL club is unique in this regard, but scouts I spoke to this week were all back in their home cities and engaged in draft meetings. This is where scouts—area guys and directors—start presenting information to the general manager and sometimes the head coach. This is the first of many in-depth meetings where the head personnel men get introduced to the draft class.
One scout I spoke with said they only discuss senior prospects during the initial draft meetings, while another evaluator with an NFC North team told me they'll start speculating about underclassmen this week.
The pre-bowl game meetings are huge, though, as the front office will begin building the draft board and start prioritizing whom to scout live during bowl season.
DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Strengths: Turn on the Texas game film, and you'll notice No. 44 as a long, athletic pass-rusher who passes the eyeball test. Jeffcoat has the ideal build for an edge-defender, and he shows the quickness to be an impact pass-rusher coming out of a two- or three-point stance.
As a pass-rusher, Jeffcoat is a natural. He has the quick first step to beat offensive linemen with speed, and he understands how to get low and keep his feet driving to get underneath the punch of an offensive tackle.
Weaknesses: Too often I'm seeing stretches of games when Jeffcoat doesn't make an impact. And it's not just a lack of sacks or tackles, but he's truly not an impact player. There are other times when he's the most dominant player on the field. That inconsistency will trouble NFL teams, but you have to like the upside shown when he's on.
I also worry about injuries with Jeffcoat. He missed time in 2010 and 2012 with injuries. That struggle to stay on the field, coupled with his uneven play on the field, is reason for concern.
Pro Player Comparison: Ryan Kerrigan, Washington
The Big Board
|2||STL||Jake Matthews||OT||Texas A&M|
|3||JAX||Derek Carr||QB||Fresno State|
|4||OAK||Jadeveon Clowney||DE||South Carolina|
|5||CLE||Blake Bortles||QB||Central Florida|
|8||MIN||Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M|
|13||NYJ||Mike Evans||WR||Texas A&M|
|14||STL||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||FS||Alabama|
|15||DET||Justin Gilbert||CB||Oklahoma State|
|17||SD||Darqueze Dennard||CB||Michigan State|
|18||GB||Eric Ebron||TE||North Carolina|
|21||BAL||Jace Amaro||TE||Texas Tech|
|26||NE||Allen Robinson||WR||Penn State|
|30||KC||Brandin Cooks||WR||Oregon State|
|31||DEN||Will Sutton||DT||Arizona State|
|32||SEA||Bradley Roby||CB||Ohio State|
Matt Miller's Mock Draft
10. I think we've forgotten how to politely disagree. It's OK for you and I to see a play or player differently. That's what makes watching sports so much fun. But that gets ruined when people are hateful over the smallest disagreement.
9. I seriously miss NFL football being on Saturday late in the season. Once college football's season is over, the NFL needs to move the Thursday night games back to Saturday.
8. I think we're to the point where Teddy Bridgewater is actually being underrated. Analysts and fans have taken to bashing the Louisville quarterback without realizing how poor the talent around him was this season.
7. I think Tom Coughlin stays with the New York Giants for one more year, no matter how much retirement talk we hear.
6. I think that if I were starting an NFL team right now and could choose any college coach to lead the team, I'd want Penn State's Bill O'Brien. The Bill Belichick disciple knows how to build a game plan, but he's also a good game-day coach.
5. I think we'll see head coaching jobs open up in Washington, Minnesota, Tennessee and maybe with the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, but people around the league tell me to expect small turnover among NFL head coaches.
4. I have Jadeveon Clowney fatigue. The over-analysis of his every move and word is already too much, and we still have nearly five months until the 2014 draft. Blame fantasy football, or box-score scouts, but people are placing way too much emphasis on Clowney's numbers without actually watching him play.
3. I think this year's Senior Bowl rosters are loaded. Without a full list of accepted invites yet, this year's crop is already dominant. Director Phil Savage has done a great job reeling in top names and finding a mix of smaller-school players to fill out the rosters.
2. I've mentioned this before, but get ready for a record number of underclassmen entering the NFL draft. Last year there were 73 players accepted by the NFL. This year the number will be closer to 80.
1. I think the head coaching job at Texas is a great one—no matter how many people try to say otherwise—and will be enticing to major college coaches like David Shaw. That said, Jon Gruden may be too good to pass up if he's interested.
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
@JoelKlatt, Joel Klatt (Fox Sports)
The former Colorado quarterback has made a huge jump in the last year. Klatt has worked in the Denver media market doing radio, but more recently he moved to Fox Sports as a college football and NFL analyst. His work on Fox Sports 1, College Football on Fox and Fox Football Daily has been exceptional.
Klatt's experience on the field and his work off it make him a must-follow.
Who I’m Scouting This Week
With the regular season over, I'll highlight five players that I'm taking a look at each week. Those players will then be referenced in next week's Scouting Notebook.
1. OT Sean Hickey, Syracuse
The big Syracuse tackle is rumored to be considering entering the 2014 draft class, so I'll be spending the holiday week getting familiar with his ability. I saw plenty of Hickey while he was blocking for Ryan Nassib, but a much closer look is needed. How his 2013 film looks will be key to whether or not he's pro-ready.
2. FS Marqueston Huff, Wyoming
He's one of my favorite players in this year's class when I look at athletic, hitting free safeties. Now I want to step back and look at his coverage ability. Wyoming didn't exactly play a great schedule this year, but seeing Huff against top quarterbacks David Fales (San Jose State) and Derek Carr (Fresno State) in this year's catalog of All-22 film will be huge for his evaluation.
3. TE A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State
A Florida transfer with amazing athletic ability, A.C. Leonard will require a full deep dive on and off the field. The full story on why he left the Gators' football program is needed, but I also want to look at his on-field production and ability both at Florida and Tennessee State before giving him a pre-draft grade now that he's entered the 2014 class.
4. DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
So much of my time evaluating South Carolina this season was spent on Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton, but now a second look is needed at defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. While he's not officially entering the 2014 draft class yet, Quarles is expected to make his intentions official soon.
5. LB Jordan Tripp, Montana
One of the top small-school players in the 2014 class, Montana outside linebacker Jordan Tripp has been raved about by team scouts. Now I want to take a look at his play. The word on Tripp is that his athletic ability will leave you drooling at his potential.