Will Johnny Manziel be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft?
With a record-shattering 98 underclassmen choosing to declare for the 2014 NFL draft, this year’s draft class is shaping up to be the deepest group of prospects in at least a decade.
Big-name stars such as Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins and Teddy Bridgewater have been receiving most of the attention thus far. However, plenty of other intriguing prospects in the 2014 class have bright futures ahead of them in the pros.
This is an exciting time for hardcore draftniks. With the Super Bowl matchup now set, 30 fanbases that are now focusing on the future and what their favorite teams need to do in the offseason to improve for next season.
The all-important offseason part of the process kicks off this week with the Senior Bowl. Still, with the NFL combine, pro days and individual workouts all on the horizon, there’s still a lot that can change between now and May 8.
Now that the majority of the draft order is set, here’s a look at the updated projections and predictions for the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL draft, along with prospect rankings for each individual position.
Projected Trade: The Houston Texans trade the No. 1 overall pick to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for picks No. 8, No. 40 and No. 96.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Dynamic, charismatic, captivating, explosive—plenty of words can be used to describe the essence of Johnny Manziel. There’s really only word needed, though, to sum up what he truly is: playmaker.
Over the last two years, the dazzling dual-threat quarterback has wowed onlookers with incredible flashes of playmaking ability, the likes of which we’ve rarely seen from a college athlete.
You can downgrade him for his lack of prototypical size, scrutinize some of his off-the-field lifestyle choices and question a few of his on-the-field antics. What you can’t do, however, is deny that Johnny Football is one of the most gifted overall offensive playmakers to emerge from the collegiate ranks in the last decade.
The playmaking instincts, natural athleticism and passing prowess are noticeable as soon as you turn on the tape, but what really stands out about him is the type of energy he can inject into an offense.
That type of rare electric energy is exactly what the Vikings offense could use, which is why it wouldn’t be surprising if Minnesota decides to trade up to land this year’s top signal-caller prospect.
New head coach Mike Zimmer has shown that he can turn talented but troubled personalities (see Vontaze Burfict) into highly productive players. Ultimately, Zimmer could turn out to be the perfect coach to tame Manziel and help him develop into the Steve Young-Brett Favre hybrid that he’s capable of becoming in the pros.
If he continues to mature and eventually learns how to become the leader of an NFL locker room, Manziel could be just as special of a player at the next level as he was in college.
Projected Trade: The St. Louis Rams trade the No. 2 overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for picks No. 6 and No. 37.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has shown a willingness to move up the board in the first round in order to snag the player he wants. In 2011, he traded into the top 10 to land wide receiver Julio Jones. Last year, Atlanta moved up eight spots in order to select cornerback Desmond Trufant.
This time around, the prospect that he likely covets is defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. In order to land the explosive edge-rusher, though, the Falcons will have to move up from the sixth spot.
Atlanta’s pass rush was dismal in 2013, ranking 29th in the league with just 32 sacks. Clowney is the type of impact game-changer who could come in and immediately boost the struggling defensive line.
Recently dubbed a “modern day Randy Moss” by an anonymous AFC scout, per Dane Bugler of NFLDraftScout.com, the enigmatic end has the talent to be one of the league’s next outstanding defenders. However, there are questions about his desire and determination to be great, especially following a disappointing junior campaign, where didn’t come close to living up to the offseason hype.
The former highly touted No. 1 overall recruit has displayed flashes of dominance throughout his collegiate career, but ultimately he failed to reach his full potential.
The burning question is: Will he reach that potential in the pros?
The Falcons will gamble on his rare physical ability, hoping that Clowney can develop into the dominant defender he’s been forecast to be since his days as a heralded high school recruit.
Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Every draft class always has a few surprise breakout stars who transform from overlooked afterthoughts into household names in the course of a season. Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles is one of those prospects.
Last summer, he didn’t receive anywhere near the same amount of publicity or attention as some of the other top quarterbacks in this year’s class. However, that all changed after he put together a breakout performance in 2013.
This season, the 6’4’’, 230-pound junior displayed all the skills it takes to be a successful starting signal-caller in the NFL. He completed 67 percent of his passes, averaged 9.3 yards per throw and led the Knights to a surprising 12-win season, which culminated with a huge statement victory over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Jaguars have surely been monitoring the Florida native’s rise to prominence.
GM David Caldwell opted to pass on taking a quarterback in last year’s draft. But after watching his team’s disastrous offensive performance in 2013, in which Jacksonville ranked dead last in the league by averaging just 15 points per game, it’s likely Caldwell will finally be looking to find his franchise quarterback in this year’s draft.
Though there are still questions about how ready Bortles is to handle leading an NFL offense, he has the traits that will entice a quarterback-needy team like Jacksonville.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Browns have a young emerging star receiver in Josh Gordon. The problem is, Gordon is the only real dangerous weapon in the Cleveland offense.
With Greg Little likely to leave in free agency and Davone Bess’ personal life seemingly unraveling, there’s a good chance that the Browns will use one of their two first-round picks to find a receiver to pair with Gordon for the future.
They won’t be able to find a more explosive receiver in this year’s draft than Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.
After following up a fantastic freshman campaign with a forgettable sophomore performance, he looked reinvigorated in 2013. The 6’1’’, 205-pound junior hauled in 101 catches for 1,464 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. His big-play ability was once again on full display, as he totaled 19 catches of 20 yards or more.
He possesses the type of explosive field-stretching speed that can change the complexion of the team’s passing attack and add a much-needed new dynamic to the anemic offense.
The powerful pass-catching partnership of Gordon and Watkins would send shivers down the spines of opposing secondaries.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
It’s doubtful that the Raiders will enter next season with Matt McGloin, a former undrafted free agent, and Terrelle Pryor, a gifted yet still raw signal-caller, battling it out for the starting quarterback job.
Instead, Oakland will likely use an early draft pick on a starting-caliber signal-caller who’s capable of coming in and immediately competing for the job as a rookie.
Since Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are expected to be off the board by the time the Raiders pick at No. 5, GM Reggie McKenzie will turn his focus and attention to the third best quarterback prospect in this year’s class: Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
After being built up to be a franchise-caliber quarterback prospect throughout the offseason, Bridgewater failed to match his hype in 2013. Nevertheless, the 6’3’’, 196-pound junior displayed the type of prodigious passing skills that scouts are searching for.
Though some teams may be turned off by his frail frame, it’s hard to ignore his intangibles, passing ability and overall physical tools.
While he may not be the spectacular superstar that the media built him up to be last summer, Bridgewater has what it takes to be the franchise-saving signal-caller that Oakland desperately needs.
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
For the past few years, St. Louis has had one of the weakest offensive lines in the league. The Rams were hoping they found an answer to the problem when they signed left tackle Jake Long to a big contract this past offseason. The former No. 1 overall pick was supposed to be the line’s leader for the future, but he’s been hindered by a serious knee injury.
With Long’s recovery still uncertain and fellow tackle Rodger Saffold set to hit the free-agent market, St. Louis will have to think about selecting an offensive tackle with one of its two first-round picks.
This year’s top tackle prospect is Auburn’s Greg Robinson, who could immediately add some much-needed stability in the trenches.
He was the most impressive offensive lineman in college football in 2013. The 6’5’’, 320-pound redshirt sophomore displayed an incredible blend of power, nastiness and agility. He dominated opposing defenders all year long and played a pivotal role in the Tigers’ drastic offensive turnaround.
Besides Blake Bortles, no other prospect in this year’s draft class boosted his stock as much as Robinson did this season. The monstrous mauler has shown that he has all the traits that scouts look for in a franchise tackle prospect.
Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
The Bucs defense features one of the top young linebacker duos in the NFL, comprised of MLB Mason Foster and WLB Lavonte David. What Tampa Bay doesn’t have, however, is a quality starter on the strong side to round out the linebacker corps.
The team can change that by using the No. 7 pick on Buffalo LB Khalil Mack.
New defensive-minded head coach Lovie Smith will be looking for destructive defenders who can cause chaos on a consistent basis, and Mack can do just that. In his final two seasons with the Bulls, the 6’3’’, 248-pound senior totaled 194 tackles with 39 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles.
NFL.com’s Albert Breer recently talked to an AFC college scouting director, who compared Mack to Von Miller from a size/speed standpoint, while Breer's colleague Daniel Jeremiah called the tenacious ‘backer a “stud” and the “surest thing in the 2014 draft."
Smith would love the chance to create defensive schemes around the strengths of the 2013 Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Many seem to be projecting the Texans to take a quarterback with their first pick, which is understandable, considering that the franchise is likely ready to move on from Matt Schaub. However, I believe the quarterback that new head coach Bill O’Brien wants to build his offense around isn’t in the 2014 draft class.
Instead, it’s his former New England Patriots pupil Ryan Mallett, a big, strong-armed pro-style passer who perfectly fits the mold of what O’Brien is looking for in a signal-caller.
If the Texans end up trading down a few spots as I projected, and if they do end up trading a Day-2 pick to New England in exchange for Mallett, then their attention will turn to a prospect such as Texas A&M Jake Matthews.
Matthews, the son of former legendary Houston Oilers tackle Bruce Matthews, has inherited many of the same traits that made his father such a great player in the pros.
The 6’5’’, 305-pound All-American showed that he could handle the all-important left tackle position during his senior season, when he stepped in for last year’s No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel. Still, Matthews seems like he would ultimately be suited to be a standout right tackle in the pros.
The Texans offensive line, which allowed the second-most quarterback hits in the NFL this season, needs a solid and stable presence on the outside, and Matthews could provide that. He would be an immediate upgrade over current right tackle Derek Newton.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
If the Bills lose tight end Scott Chandler in free agency, they could turn to the draft to find his replacement.
North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is the premier prospect at the position this year, and he’s one of the rare tight end prospects who is worthy of a top-15 pick.
Though he had to deal with plenty of inconsistencies at the quarterback position in 2013, he still managed to put together a highly impressive campaign, catching 62 passes for 973 yards (15.7 yards per catch average).
The 6’4’’, 245-pound junior is an explosive athlete who has the size and speed to create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
Ebron is the type of receiving weapon that would provide EJ Manuel with a reliable target and aid in the young quarterback’s development.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
In recent drafts, the Lions have bolstered their defensive line by spending first-round picks on tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh and end Ezekiel Ansah. Now it’s time for Detroit to bolster its secondary by finding a true No. 1 corner in this year’s draft.
Luckily, the Lions won’t have to look far to find the corner they’re looking for. This year’s top cornerback prospect is Darqueze Dennard from the state of Michigan.
He is coming off an outstanding senior season of 62 tackles, four interceptions and 10 pass breakups. The Jim Thorpe Award winner was a centerpiece of a Spartans secondary that ranked third in the nation in pass defense and gave up an average of just 5.2 yards per pass.
The 5’11, 197-pound senior is one of the cleanest cover corners to emerge from the collegiate ranks in years. Back in November, NFL.com’s Charles Davis said that some personnel evaluators believe that Dennard is the best cornerback prospect since Deion Sanders. While that’s high praise, the gifted defensive back deserves all the accolades that have been bestowed upon him.
Dennard is the lockdown corner that the Detroit defense needs. The former Spartan would immediately strengthen a secondary that ranked 23rd in the league in pass defense in 2013.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Tennessee’s defense features two solid young linebackers: Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown. The problem is that the Titans don’t have a difference-maker in the middle to complement them, which could become an even bigger problem if new defensive coordinator Ray Horton switches to a 3-4 defensive scheme as expected.
Moise Fokou and Colin McCarthy don't appear to be true starting-caliber players, which is why upgrading the inside linebacker position must be on the offseason to-do list.
Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is the type of instinctive defensive leader who could fill the hole in the middle of the Titans defense.
He flourished after being anointed as the leader of the Tide’s defense before the start of the 2012 season. The 6’2’’, 238-pound senior totaled more than 100 tackles in each of his final two collegiate campaigns, and he was the linchpin of Alabama's dominant defense.
At this point, the Titans defense can be described as pretty good. If the unit wants to be great, though, it has to add a few more foundational pieces like Mosley to the mix. The 2013 SEC defensive player of the year is the type of aggressive and instinctive playmaker that a coach like Horton would love to have leading the way for his new-look defensive front seven.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
I recently asked a friend of mine who’s a big Giants fan to name the five best linebackers on the team since Lawrence Taylor retired. He was only able to produce two names: Jessie Armstead and Antonio Pierce, and he then gave me a puzzled look.
The Giants haven’t had many standout linebackers since LT retired after the 1993 season. That largely has to do with the fact that New York hasn’t selected a linebacker in the first round of the draft since taking Carl Banks No. 3 overall in 1984. Considering the current concerning state of the team’s linebacker corps, that 20-year drought has to end in 2014.
UCLA’s Anthony Barr is the type of player who can rejuvenate the struggling linebacker unit.
After switching from offense to defense before the start of the 2012 season, the former running back quickly gained a reputation as one of the most feared defenders in college football. In his final two seasons with the Bruins, the 6’4’’, 248-pound senior totaled 23 sacks, 41 tackles for loss and 10 forced fumbles, and he destroyed as many quarterbacks as he possibly could.
Barr may never develop into a true legend like LT, but he has the skills to develop into a dominant defensive force at the next level.
Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
St. Louis has built its secondary through the draft in recent years by selecting young, talented players such as cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson and strong safety T.J. McDonald. Still, free safety remains a weakness, which is why the Rams could look to add a starting-caliber player at the position in this year’s draft.
They won’t be able to find a better free safety prospect in the 2014 class than Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.
This year, while everyone was focusing on his teammate Teddy Bridgewater, Pryor was busy solidifying his status as one of the top defensive backs in the country. The 6’2’’, 208-pound junior totaled 75 tackles, including 54 solo stops, picked off three passes and helped the Louisville secondary rank fifth in the nation in pass defense.
The big, physical ball hawk has the playmaking instincts to develop into a top-flight safety at the next level. He and McDonald would form a terrific tandem in the back end of the Rams defense for the future.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
If Tim Jennings’ new four-year contract is any indicator, the Bears are now preparing for life without impending free-agent corner Charles Tillman.
Though Jennings stepped up his game in 2013 while Tillman battled injuries, the reality is the 30-year-old corner is better suited to be a No. 2 corner at this stage in his career. That’s why Chicago could look to select one of the top prospects in this year’s loaded corner class to start opposite him.
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert could intrigue the Bears.
He has always had a reputation as one of the best athletes in college football. However, he finally put his physical gifts to good use in this season and developed into one of the top cover corners in the country. The super-speedy 6’0’’, 200-pound senior ranked second in the nation with seven interceptions, and he showed the ability to latch onto and lock down any receiver he faced.
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah quoted personnel executives who have called Gilbert the “most improved college player this season.”
After putting together a huge bounce-back performance this year, the All-American corner has now put himself in position to be a top-20 pick.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The left tackle position was a huge trouble spot for the Steelers in 2013. Originally, Pittsburgh was hoping that former second-round pick Mike Adams would handle the starting duties on the outside, but he played so poorly that the team traded for Levi Brown, who injured himself before ever playing in a single game.
Though the team was able to survive with former seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum lining up on the left side in the latter part of the season, it’s clear that Pittsburgh could use an upgrade at such a key position.
Michigan’s Taylor Lewan could provide the stability that the Steelers need on Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side.
Though he didn’t put together the type of dominant senior performance that many scouts were expecting to see, the 6’7’’, 302-pound senior still has all the necessary skills to become a solid starting left tackle at the pro level.
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
After suddenly switching from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 scheme this past offseason, the Cowboys are still in the process of finding the type of players they need for Monte Kiffin’s defensive system. He would love to have a quick, explosive penetrating tackle in the interior, just like he had in Tampa Bay with Warren Sapp.
Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan fits the mold of what Kiffin looks for in a defensive tackle.
He capped off an impressive junior campaign with an eye-opening performance in the BCS title game against Auburn. The 6’2’’, 298-pound junior flourished in his role as the new leader of the Florida State defense line, displaying exceptional quickness, hand usage and a high motor.
The former 5-star recruit on Scout.com would immediately strengthen the Cowboys’ shaky run defense, which allowed an average of 4.7 yards per carry this season.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Ravens passing attack took a big step backward following Anquan Boldin’s departure. Baltimore went from averaging 7.1 yards per pass during its Super Bowl season to averaging just 6.3 yards per pass in 2013, which tied for 30th in the league.
The Ravens have an explosive downfield threat in Torrey Smith, but they could still use a bigger target who can be a factor in the red zone.
Texas A&M’s Mike Evans is the type of receiver that Baltimore needs.
He possesses natural athleticism for a receiver his size, and he can overwhelm cornerbacks with his speed, leaping ability and big, strong frame. The 6’5’’, 225-pound redshirt sophomore displayed a knack for creating big plays in the passing game in 2013, as he caught 69 passes for 1,394 yards (20.2 yards per catch) and hauled in 12 touchdowns.
The addition of Evans would inject some much-needed life into the Ravens’ sluggish passing game.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Geno Smith endured some harsh criticism during his roller-coaster rookie season. While he deserved some heat for his struggles, in his defense, he was working with one of the weakest groups of offensive skill-position talent that we’ve seen in the league in some time.
Not only did the Jets not have receivers who could create explosive plays in the passing game, they didn’t have pass-catchers who could even get open on a consistent basis. It’s easy for a quarterback to look bad when his top receiving options are Stephen Hill, David Nelson, Jeff Cumberland and a rather bored-looking Santonio Holmes.
Smith may not be the type of signal-caller who can elevate the players around him, but he can be successful if given the right supporting cast.
The task for GM John Idzik this offseason is to give Smith the weapons he needs to to excel. That’s why New York will spend its first-round pick on a receiving target.
That player could very well be Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin. The 6’5’’, 234-pound Benjamin is a huge and highly athletic receiver who presents a massive catch radius for his quarterback.
After struggling with his consistency in 2012, the former 4-star recruit on Rivals.com finally came into his own this past season. He played a key role in the Seminoles’ run to a national championship, catching 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns.
He is the type of big, athletic, playmaking pass-catcher who could help Smith succeed in the NFL.
Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
The downfall of the Dolphins offensive line played out in a public fashion this season, as the mess involving Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito developed into a national story.
Miami’s offensive line sorely missed both players, as the unit allowed a league-high 58 sacks this season.
It seems unlikely that either Martin or Incognito will be back with the team, which means the Dolphins will likely turn to the draft to help improve their underwhelming front five.
One player who would fit in perfectly in Joe Philbin’s zone-based scheme is Virginia’s Morgan Moses.
Though he hasn’t received nearly as much media attention as some of the other top linemen in this year’s class, scouts have taken notice of his physical ability.
The 6’6’’, 325-pound three-year starter possesses impressive agility, quickness and movement skills, which he flaunted during his one and only season as a left tackle in 2013. The fact that he basically shut down talented pass-rushers such as Clemson’s Vic Beasley, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy and Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu shows that he has what it takes to stick at left tackle in the pros.
Moses may still be unpolished and rough around the edges, but he has great down-the-line potential. With the right coaching and patience, he could develop into a solid all-around tackle as other former Cavs Eugene Monroe and D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
John Abraham turned out to be a pass-rushing revelation for the Cardinals defense in 2013, racking up 11.5 sacks. While his performance was encouraging, the fact that the team’s other outside linebackers Matt Shaughnessy, Marcus Benard and Dontay Moch totaled just 6.5 sacks between them is concerning.
With the soon-to-be 36-year-old Abraham heading into the final year of his contract, Arizona would be wise to find a young pass-rusher early in the 2014 draft to develop for the future.
Stanford’s Trent Murphy could catch the team’s eye.
Over the last two seasons, he was one of the most productive players in college football, totaling 25 sacks, 41.5 tackles for loss and 10 pass breakups.
Though he may not be an elite athlete, the 6’5’’, 252-pound senior is an aggressive and powerful rush linebacker who has a motor that never stops running.
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The old saying, “You never know what you have until it’s gone” applied to the Packers tight end situation this season. They realized just how valuable Jermichael Finley was to the offense once they lost him, as the passing attack just seemed to be lacking without him in the lineup.
Finley’s future as a Packer is still in doubt, not only because he’s set to become a free agent but also because he’s rehabbing from a potentially career-threatening neck injury.
If Green Bay is unable to bring back its top tight end, it would make sense for the Packers to add a young dynamic pass-catching tight end in the draft.
Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro could come in and fill Finley’s role right away as a rookie.
He propelled himself into the first-round mix by putting together a breakout season in 2013. The 6’5’’, 260-pound junior was the most productive tight end in college football, totaling 106 catches for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns.
Though his numbers may have been inflated by Texas Tech’s pass-heavy offensive system, Amaro can produce at a high level, and he’s suited to shine in the Packers offense.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Back when Chip Kelly was still a burgeoning head coach at Oregon and Marqise Lee was still a highly touted 4-star recruit on Rivals.com at California’s Junipero Serra High School, Kelly tried to get Lee to come up to Eugene and play for the Ducks. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, as Lee chose USC instead.
Now, Kelly has a second chance to land the talented pass-catcher, and this time around, the coach gets the final say in the decision.
With Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin both set to hit free agency this offseason, the Eagles will be looking for a receiver early in the draft. Given Kelly’s familiarity with Lee, he should be considered a potential first-round target for Philadelphia.
Though he entered the 2013 season as a widely projected top-10 pick, Lee was plagued by injuries and failed to come close to matching the exploits of his sensational sophomore season. Still, there’s no doubt that the 6’0’’, 195-pound junior is a dangerous receiving threat when healthy.
Lee would help aid in Nick Foles’ development, and he and DeSean Jackson would complement each other very well in Kelly’s offensive system.
Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
The Chiefs wide receivers corps was the big loser of the Kansas City Star’s offseason report card, “earning” a lowly D-plus grade for its efforts in 2013. While that grade may seem harsh, it’s also deserved.
Kansas City’s top two wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery turned in disappointing performances this season. What’s even more concerning is that the unit’s lone bright spot Dexter McCluster is set to become a free agent this offseason.
Andy Reid can’t be happy with the way his receivers played this season, which is why he’ll be looking for a receiver early in this year’s draft.
Wyoming’s Robert Herron might remind Reid of a player he once coached in Philadelphia: DeSean Jackson. Like Jackson, Herron is an explosive slot receiver who can create a game-changing big play any time he gets the ball in his hands.
Though the 5’9’’, 193-pound senior may not be a household name just yet, he’ll generate quite a buzz once he burns up scouts’ stopwatches during workouts.
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
When analyzing Cincinnati’s current cornerback situation, there are a lot more questions than answers.
Leon Hall—the team’s most talented cornerback—is dealing with his second torn Achilles in the past three years. With no guaranteed money left on his contract, he’s a candidate to be released this offseason.
The team’s two starters from 2013—35-year-old Terence Newman and 30-year-old Adam Jones—are both on the downside of their careers, and neither appears to be a No. 1-caliber cornerback at this point.
Former first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick is a gifted young corner who hasn’t come close to putting it all together and progressing like the team was hoping for. Many Bengals fans have already labeled him a bust.
With age and uncertainty plaguing the position, the Bengals will be seeking to take a cornerback early in the 2014 draft.
TCU’s Jason Verrett would be tough to pass up if he’s available at No. 24. Though he may not be an elite athlete or possess great size, he is arguably the most technically proficient and fundamentally sound cornerback in the 2014 class.
The 5’10’’, 176-pound senior displayed outstanding instincts, coverage ability and ball skills during his collegiate career, and he proved to be the type of ball hawk that the Bengals could use in their secondary.
Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
After making a surprising playoff run in Mike McCoy’s first season at the helm, San Diego appears to be a team to watch out for in 2014. Still, if the Chargers want to compete for a championship next season, they must repair a run defense that allowed 4.6 yards per carry, which tied for the fourth highest average in the league.
Before the season started, the team was hoping Cam Thomas would prove capable of being the starting nose tackle of the future. Unfortunately, he failed to capitalize on the opportunity, as he totaled just 23 tackles and eventually lost the starting job near the end of the season.
Since Thomas is unlikely to be re-signed, the Chargers will be in the market for a new nose tackle this offseason. If they turn to the draft, they won’t find a better prospect at the position than Notre Dame’s Louis Nix.
Though he suffered through an injury-plagued campaign in 2013, the 6’3’’, 340-pound junior has proved to be a stout run-stuffer when healthy.
He is the type of powerful and massive middle man that the Chargers need to improve their lackluster rush defense.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
Since the Browns were resurrected back in 1999, Cleveland has been on a constant search to find a quarterback who can be the face of the franchise. Sadly, that search has turned out to be a struggle, as the position has seen a revolving door of signal-callers who turned out to be unfit to carry the team.
Now, it’s up to GM Mike Lombardi to solve the longstanding problem and find a stable starting quarterback who can turn around the franchise’s fortunes for the future.
Given Lombardi’s friendship with Alabama head coach Nick Saban, which dates backs to their days in Cleveland during the Bill Belichick regime, it wouldn’t be shocking if the GM took a strong interest in Saban’s former pupil at Alabama, AJ McCarron.
McCarron earned rave reviews from Saban this season. Per NFL.com, the coach said:
People talk about statistics all the time, and maybe his statistics are not what somebody else's are. But really what you should equate things with are production, performance, efficiency, consistency and winning. That's really what it's all about. He's done that better than I think anybody in college football.
The 6’4’’, 214-pound senior proved to be a winner during his three years as a starter in Tuscaloosa, leading the Tide to a 36-4 overall record and two BCS championships.
Though some may question his overall arm strength, there’s no questioning his size, mental makeup, intangibles and leadership ability. The 2013 Heisman runner-up is the type of consistent winner and leader that Cleveland has been searching for all these years.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Following Sean Payton’s decision to strip left tackle Charles Brown of his starting job after his poor performance in a Week 15 loss to the Rams, rookie Terron Armstead was given a trial by fire as the new starter, and boy, did he get burned.
After getting destroyed in his debut game by allowing three sacks against the Panthers, Armstead failed to inspire much confidence in his final few outings of the year.
With Armstead failing to show that he can be the starter going forward and RT Zach Strief set to become a free agent, it seems like a foregone conclusion that New Orleans will select a tackle early in the 2014 draft.
Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio is an experienced two-year starter who could start right away at either tackle position.
The former blue-chip recruit, who hails from Cameroon, has proved himself against some of the best competition that college football has to offer, and he’s displayed all the physical skills needed to be a standout starter in the pros.
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Steve Smith has cemented his legacy as the greatest player in the relatively short history of the Panthers franchise. However, the reality is the 34-year-old Smith has now entered the twilight of his career, and he can’t be expected to produce at the same level that we’ve seen in the past.
That’s why the Panthers will likely turn to the draft to find a future No. 1 receiver who can take the reins from Smith in the years to come. The need for a receiver will become especially important if the team fails to bring back Brandon LaFell, who is expected to leave in free agency, per the Charlotte Observer.
Luckily, this year’s receiver class is one of the strongest and deepest groups in years, and there will be some quality pass-catchers to be had late in the first round.
Colorado’s Paul Richardson is one prospect in particular who the Panthers will pay plenty of attention to over the next few months.
After suffering a knee injury that cut his sophomore season short, Richardson returned to the field in 2013 and turned out to be one of the best comeback stories of the season. The 6’1’’, 170-pound junior hauled in 83 catches for 1,343 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, and he showed no ill effects from his injury.
He may not be quite ready for a go-to No. 1 receiver role right away as a rookie, but he can be groomed to take the torch from Smith within a few years.
Travis Swanson, OC, Arkansas
San Francisco’s offensive line solidified its status as one of the top units in the league with another outstanding performance in 2013. Looking ahead, though, the talented group could experience a tough blow this offseason if starting center Jonathan Goodwin doesn’t return.
The 35-year-old free-agent-to-be has been a linchpin in the trenches for the past three seasons, but his age began to show this season, especially in pass protection.
It may be time for the team to find a new centerpiece of the line for the future.
Although a few centers in the 2014 draft class possess starting-caliber potential, none of them can compare to Arkansas’ Travis Swanson.
Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema, who happens to know a thing or two about developing top offensive line prospects from his days at Wisconsin, went out of his way to praise the 6’5’’, 310-pound senior this season. He called Swanson a blend of his former Badgers pupils Peter Konz and Travis Frederick, telling NFL.com:
Travis is the most talented player that I've been around at that position. He's going to skyrocket in the NFL draft. He's long with his arms, plays extremely physical, makes every call up front, run-wise and pass protection. He’s one of our best leaders off the field. He's embodied everything we could ever ask in a teammate here at Arkansas. The good news is, the NFL is going to get a product that will play for a long, long time.
Swanson has all the physical and mental traits that Jim Harbaugh wants in a player. What’s most enticing, though, is the experienced four-year starter could come in and fill Goodwin’s shoes right away as a rookie.
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Vince Wilfork’s season-ending injury exposed a vulnerability that the Patriots have inside at defensive tackle. With Wilfork sitting on the sideline, New England’s defense was unable to stop opposing rushing attacks, finishing the regular season ranked 30th in run defense.
The team needs to find more help in the interior, especially since the 32-year-old Wilfork will be returning from a serious Achilles injury and entering the final year of his contract.
We know Bill Belichick loves versatile defenders who are capable of playing in multiple defensive fronts, which is why the coach could become enamored with Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman.
The 6’6’’, 318-pound Hageman is a former tight end who possesses off-the-charts physical ability for an athlete his size.
Though he failed to make the most of his rare skill set and materialize as a dominant defender at the collegiate level, the gifted tackle has one of the highest ceilings of any prospect in the 2014 draft class.
He has overcome an incredibly rough childhood and managed to turn himself into a legitimate first-round prospect.
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Before the season, Shaun Phillips told The Denver Post that he “turned down more lucrative offers” in order to play for the Broncos. That strategy turned out to be a great move in the end, as he posted a surprising 10-sack season and helped earn himself a few extra million dollars in free agency.
If Denver loses Phillips this offseason, the team will likely look to the draft to find more pass-rushing help, especially since the team’s top pass-rusher Von Miller is still rehabbing from a season-ending torn ACL, which will take anywhere between six and nine months to heal.
Missouri’s Kony Ealy is a raw yet gifted young edge-rusher who could be groomed into a future star. Though he failed to build the same type of buzz that his predecessor Aldon Smith did, Ealy still flashed his potential in 2013, racking up eight sacks, 14 tackles for loss and six pass breakups in a breakthrough campaign.
The highly athletic 6’5’’, 275-pound junior has the explosive speed off the edge that the Broncos could use at the defensive end position
Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
It’s tough to find any weak spots on a Seahawks squad that went 13-3 in the regular season and won the NFC championship. Still, if there’s one area that Seattle will likely be looking to bolster this offseason, it’s the offensive line, which was a bit shaky this year.
The team has invested recent first-round draft picks in players like tackle Russell Okung and guard James Carpenter. However, more help is still needed inside at guard and outside at right tackle, where starter Breno Giacomini is set to become a free agent.
Notre Dame’s Zack Martin is the type of versatile lineman who projects as a starter at either right tackle or guard in the pros.
The 6’4’’, 305-pound Martin may not possess the natural agility and quickness as some of the other top tackles in this year’s class, but he’s still a reliable three-year starter with the toughness and sound technique to develop into a solid starter at the next level, regardless of the position.
1. (Trade) Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
2. (Trade) Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
5. Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
6. St. Louis Rams (From Atlanta): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
7. Tampa Bay Bucs: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
8. Houston Texans (From Minnesota): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
12. New York Giants: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
13. St. Louis Rams: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
14. Chicago Bears: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
18. New York Jets: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
19. Miami Dolphins: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
20. Arizona Cardinals: Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
21. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
26. Cleveland Browns: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
27. New Orleans Saints: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
28. Carolina Panthers: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
29. San Francisco 49ers: Travis Swanson, OC, Arkansas
30. New England Patriots: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
32. Seattle Seahawks: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
33. (Trade) New England Patriots: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Projected Trade: The Texans trade the No. 33 pick to the Patriots in exchange for QB Ryan Mallett
34. Washington Redskins: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
35. Cleveland Browns: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
36. Oakland Raiders: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
37. St. Louis Rams (From Atlanta): Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
38. Tampa Bay Bucs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
39. Jacksonville Jaguars: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
40. Houston Texans (From Minnesota): Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
41. Buffalo Bills: Joel Bitonio, OL, Nevada
42. Tennessee Titans: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
43. New York Giants: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
44. St. Louis Rams: Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
45. Detroit Lions: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
46. Pittsburgh Steelers: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
47. Dallas Cowboys: Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor
48. Baltimore Ravens: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
49. New York Jets: Deone Bucannon, FS, Washington State
50. Miami Dolphins: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
51. Chicago Bears: Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
52. Arizona Cardinals: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
53. Green Bay Packers: Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State
54. Philadelphia Eagles: Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
55. Cincinnati Bengals: Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
56. San Francisco 49ers: Mike Davis, WR, Texas
57. San Diego Chargers: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
58. New Orleans Saints: Trevor Reilly, LB, Utah
59. Indianapolis Colts: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
60. Carolina Panthers: Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State
61. San Francisco 49ers: Kelcy Quarles, DL, South Carolina
62. New England Patriots: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
63. Denver Broncos: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
64. Seattle Seahawks: Keith McGill, CB, Utah
65. Houston Texans: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
66. Washington Redskins: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
67. Oakland Raiders: Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
68. Atlanta Falcons: Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
69. New York Jets: Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
70. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
71. Cleveland Browns: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
72. Minnesota Vikings: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
73. Buffalo Bills: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
74. New York Giants: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
75. St. Louis Rams: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
76. Detroit Lions: Weston Richburg, OC, Colorado State
77. San Francisco 49ers: Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
78. Dallas Cowboys: Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
79. Baltimore Ravens: Tyler Larsen, OC, Utah State
80. New York Jets: David Fales, QB, San Jose State
81. Miami Dolphins: De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
82. Chicago Bears: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
83. Cleveland Browns: Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
84. Arizona Cardinals: Brandon Thomas, OT, Clemson
85. Green Bay Packers: Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech
86. Philadelphia Eagles: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
87. Kansas City Chiefs: Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
88. Cincinnati Bengals: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
89. San Diego Chargers: Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
90. Indianapolis Colts: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
91. New Orleans Saints: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
92. Carolina Panthers: Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State
93. San Francisco 49ers: Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
94. New England Patriots: Yawin Smallwood, LB, Connecticut
95. Denver Broncos: Jimmie Ward, FS, Northern Illinois
96. Houston Texans (From Minnesota): Brent Urban, DL, Virginia
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M**
2. Blake Bortles, Central Florida*
3. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville*
4. AJ McCarron, Alabama
5. Derek Carr, Fresno State
6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
7. David Fales, San Jose State
8. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
9. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
10. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
11. Aaron Murray, Georgia
12. Brett Smith, Wyoming*
13. Keith Wenning, Ball State
14. Stephen Morris, Miami
15. Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
16. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
17. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
18. Jeff Matthews, Cornell
19. Bryn Renner, North Carolina
20. James Franklin, Missouri
21. Garrett Gilbert, SMU
22. Kenny Guiton, Ohio State
23. Dustin Vaughn, West Texas A&M
24. Brendon Kay, Cincinnati
25. Keith Price, Washington
Seniors have no asterisks
Juniors have one asterisk*
Third-year sophomores have two asterisks**
1. Charles Sims, West Virginia
2. Tre Mason, Auburn*
3. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona*
4. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
5. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor*
6. Jeremy Hill, LSU**
7. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon*
8. Bishop Sankey, Washington*
9. Marion Grice, Arizona State
10. Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern
11. Devonta Freeman, Florida State*
12. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
13. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State
14. Andre Williams, Boston College
15. James White, Wisconsin
16. Rajion Neal, Tennessee
17. Dri Archer, Kent State
18. Ben Malena, Texas A&M
19. James Wilder Jr., Florida State*
20. Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky
21. Darrin Reaves, UAB*
22. Jeff Scott, Ole Miss
23. Terrance West, Towson*
24. David Fluellen, Toledo
25. Jerome Smith, Syracuse*
1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson*
2. Mike Evans, Texas A&M**
3. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State**
4. Marqise Lee, USC*
5. Robert Herron, Wyoming
6. Paul Richardson, Colorado*
7. Davante Adams, Fresno State**
8. Odell Beckham Jr., LSU*
9. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State*
10. Mike Davis, Texas
11. Allen Robinson, Penn State*
12. Jarvis Landry, LSU*
13. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
14. Kevin Norwood, Alabama
15. Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
16. Brandon Coleman, Rutgers*
17. Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State
18. Josh Huff, Oregon
19. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
20. Cody Latimer, Indiana*
21. Ryan Grant, Tulane
22. Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss*
23. Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest
24. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina*
25. Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State*
1. Eric Ebron, North Carolina*
2. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech*
3. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington*
4. Troy Niklas, Notre Dame*
5. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
6. Xavier Grimble, USC*
7. Marcel Jensen, Fresno Stat
8. Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
9. Arthur Lynch, Georgia
10. Jake Murphy, Utah*
11. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
12. Chris Coyle, Arizona State
13. Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State
14. Ted Bolser, Indiana
15. Richard Rodgers, California*
16. Trey Burton, Florida
17. Asa Watson, NC State
18. A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State*
19. Gator Hoskins, Marshall
20. Colt Lyerla* (formerly of Oregon)
21. Michael Flacco, New Haven**
22. Rob Blanchflower, UMass
23. Blake Jackson, Oklahoma State
24. Kaneakua Friel, BYU
25. Gabe Holmes, Purdue
1. Greg Robinson, Auburn**
2. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
3. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
4. Morgan Moses, Virginia
5. Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama*
6. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
7. Joel Bitonio, Nevada
8. Antonio Richardson, Tennessee*
9. Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
10. Brandon Thomas, Clemson
11. Billy Turner, North Dakota State
12. Seantrel Henderson, Miami
13. Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee
14. Cameron Fleming, Stanford*
15. Charles Leno, Boise State
16. James Hurst, North Carolina
17. Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State
18. Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
19. Michael Schofield, Michigan
20. Kevin Graf, USC
21. Justin Britt, Missouri
22. Matt Hall, Belhaven
23. Kenarious Gates, Georgia
24. Jared Biard, Colorado State
25. Danny Kistler, Montana
1. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
2. Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA*
3. David Yankey, Stanford*
4. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
5. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
6. Weston Richburg, Colorado State
7. Tyler Larsen, Utah State
8. Anthony Steen, Alabama
9. Marcus Martin, USC*
10. Brandon Linder, Miami
11. Kadeem Edwards, Tennessee State
12. Jon Halapio, Florida
13. Dakota Dozier, Furman
14. Antwan Lowery, Rutgers
15. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
16. Spencer Long, Nebraska
17. Trai Turner, LSU*
18. Zach Fulton, Tennessee
19. Ryan Groy, Wisconsin
20. John Urschel, Penn State
21. Russell Bodine, North Carolina*
22. Bryan Stork, Florida State
23. Jonotthan Harrison, Florida
24. Chris Burnette, Georgia
25. James Stone, Tennessee
1. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State*
2. Louis Nix, Notre Dame*
3. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
4. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
5. Anthony Johnson, LSU*
6. Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina*
7. Dominique Easley, Florida
8. Brent Urban, Virginia
9. DaQuan Jones, Penn State
10. Ego Ferguson, LSU*
11. Will Sutton, Arizona State
12. Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State
13. Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
14. DeAndre Coleman, California
15. Shamar Stephen, Connecticut
16. Demonte McAllister, Florida State
17. George Uko, USC*
18. Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech
19. Caraun Reid, Princeton
20. Taylor Hart, Oregon
21. Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
22. Jay Bromley, Syracuse
23. Bruce Gaston, Purdue
24. Khyri Thornton, Southern Miss
25. Johnnie Farms, Memphis
1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina*
2. Kony Ealy, Missouri*
3. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame*
4. Scott Crichton, Oregon State*
5. Marcus Smith, Louisville
6. Dee Ford, Auburn
7. Ed Stinson, Alabama
8. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State*
9. Chris Smith, Arkansas
10. Kareem Martin, North Carolina
11. Aaron Lynch, South Florida*
12. Michael Sam, Missouri
13. Josh Mauro, Stanford
14. James Gayle, Virginia Tech
15. Chaz Sutton, South Carolina
16. Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama*
17. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
18. Will Clarke, West Virginia
19. Ben Gardner, Stanford
20. Kasim Edebali, Boston College
21. Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
22. Larry Webster, Bloomsburg
23. Cassius Marsh, UCLA
24. Denico Autry, Mississippi State
25. Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M
1. Khalil Mack, Buffalo
2. C.J. Mosley, Alabama
3. Anthony Barr, UCLA
4. Trent Murphy, Stanford
5. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State*
6. Kyle Van Noy, BYU
7. Trevor Reilly, Utah
8. Telvin Smith, Florida State
9. Shayne Skov, Stanford
10. Christian Jones, Florida State
11. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
12. Adrian Hubbard, Alabama*
13. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut*
14. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
15. Jonathan Brown, Illinois
16. Lamin Barrow, LSU
17. Christian Kirksey, Iowa
18. Carl Bradford, Arizona State*
19. Devon Kennard, USC
20. Max Bullough, Michigan State
21. Jordan Tripp, Montana
22. Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA
23. Ronald Powell, Florida*
24. Derrell Johnson, East Carolina
25. Morgan Breslin, USC
1. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
2. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
3. Jason Verrett, TCU
4. Bradley Roby, Ohio State*
5. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
6. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
7. Keith McGill, Utah
8. Jaylen Watkins, Florida
9. Marcus Roberson, Florida*
10. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
11. E.J. Gaines, Missouri
12. Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida*
13. Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
14. Terrance Mitchell, Oregon*
15. Victor Hampton, South Carolina*
16. Bashaud Breeland, Clemson*
17. Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State
18. Ross Cockrell, Duke
19. Nevin Lawson, Utah State
20. Bene Benwikere, San Jose State
21. Deion Belue, Alabama
22. Chris Davis, Auburn
23. Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
24. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
25. Lavelle Westbrooks, Georgia Southern
1. Calvin Pryor, Louisville*
2. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Alabama*
3. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
4. Deone Bucannon, Washington State
5. Ed Reynolds, Stanford*
6. Terrence Brooks, Florida State
7. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
8. Marqueston Huff, Wyoming
9. Antone Exum, Virginia Tech
10. Craig Loston, LSU
11. Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky*
12. Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
13. Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
14. Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech
15. Dion Bailey, USC*
16. Dontae Johnson, NC State
17. Christian Bryant, Ohio State
18. Daniel Sorensen, BYU
19. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
20. Brock Vereen, Minnesota
21. Hakeem Smith, Louisville
22. Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama*
23. Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
24. Alden Darby, Arizona State
25. Tre Boston, North Carolina
Now that the declaration deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2014 draft has passed, we now know which top eligible underclassmen prospects have put their NFL dreams on hold to return to the collegiate ranks for another season.
Top prospects such as UCLA QB Brett Hundley, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon and Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun bypassed the chance to earn million-dollar paydays in order to return to school and boost their stock in the eyes of scouts.
Though college football may have lost a ton of star power to the 2014 draft, the next wave of prospects is shaping up to be a strong group of impact players.
Here's a very early and preliminary look at the top 10 prospects at each individual position in the 2015 draft class.
*Note: Classes are based on the 2014 season.
1. Brett Hundley, UCLA (Jr.)
2. Jameis Winston, Florida State (R-Soph.)
3. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (Jr.)
4. Bryce Petty, Baylor (Jr.)
5. Kevin Hogan, Stanford (Jr.)
6. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (Sr.)
7. Devin Gardner, Michigan (Sr.)
8. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (Sr.)
9. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (Sr.)
10. Jeff Driskel, Florida (Sr.)
1. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (Jr.)
2. Todd Gurley, Georgia (Jr.)
3. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (Jr.)
4. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (Sr.)
5. Mike Davis, South Carolina (Jr.)
6. Kenny Hilliard, LSU (Sr.)
7. Johnathan Gray, Texas (Jr.)
8. Jeremy Langford, Michigan State (Sr.)
9. Duke Johnson, Miami (Jr.)
10. Byron Marshall, Oregon (Jr.)
1. Nelson Agholor, USC (Jr.)
2. Amari Cooper, Alabama (Jr.)
3. Antwan Goodley, Baylor (Sr.)
4. Rashad Greene, Florida State (Sr.)
5. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State (Jr.)
6. Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri (Jr.)
7. Stefon Diggs, Maryland (Jr.)
8. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (Sr.)
9. DeVante Parker, Louisville (Sr.)
10. Ty Montgomery, Stanford (Sr.)
1. Devin Funchess, Michigan (Jr.)
2. Jake McGee, Virginia (Sr.)
3. Randall Telfer, USC (Sr.)
4. Nick O’Leary, Florida State (Sr.)
5. Clive Walford, Miami (Sr.)
6. Rory Anderson, South Carolina (Sr.)
7. Ben Koyack, Notre Dame (Sr.)
8. Kyle Carter, Penn State (Jr.)
9. Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State (Sr.)
10. Gerald Christian, Louisville (Sr.)
1. Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M (Sr.)
2. Cameron Erving, Florida State (Sr.)
3. Brandon Scherff, Iowa (Sr.)
4. La’El Collins, LSU (Sr.)
5. Sean Hickey, Syracuse (Sr.)
6. Brandon Shell, South Carolina (Jr.)
7. Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech (Jr.)
8. Andrus Peat, Stanford (Jr.)
9. Eric Lefeld, Cincinnati (Sr.)
10. Jake Fisher, Oregon (Sr.)
1. Hroniss Grasu, Oregon (Sr.)
2. Tre' Jackson, Florida State (Sr.)
3. Malcolm Bunche, UCLA (Sr.)
4. Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State (Jr.)
5. A.J. Cann, South Carolina (Sr.)
6. Max Tuerk, USC (Jr.)
7. Arie Kouandjio, Alabama (Sr.)
8. Josue Matias, Florida State (Sr.)
9. Reese Dismukes, Auburn (Sr.)
10. Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern (Sr.)
1. Michael Bennett, Ohio State (Sr.)
2. Danny Shelton, Washington (Sr.)
3. Carl Davis, Iowa (Sr.)
4. Christian Covington, Rice (Jr.)
5. Darius Hamilton, Rutgers (Jr.)
6. Leon Orr, Florida (Sr.)
7. Travis Raciti, San Jose State (Sr.)
8. Grady Jarrett, Clemson (Sr.)
9. Tyeler Davison, Fresno State (Sr.)
10. Malcom Brown, Texas (Jr.)
1. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State (Jr.)
2. Leonard Williams, USC (Jr.)
3. Randy Gregory, Nebraska (Jr.)
4. Shawn Oakman, Baylor (Jr.)
5. Trey Flowers, Arkansas (Sr.)
6. Noah Spence, Ohio State (Jr.)
7. Anthony Chickillo, Miami (Sr.)
8. Devonte Fields, TCU (Jr.)
9. Henry Anderson, Stanford (Sr.)
10. Martin Ifedi, Memphis (Sr.)
1. Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State (Jr.)
2. (DE) Vic Beasley, Clemson (Sr.)
3. A.J. Johnson, Tennessee (Sr.)
4. Denzel Perryman, Miami (Sr.)
5. Ramik Wilson, Georgia (Sr.)
6. Shaq Thompson, Washington (Jr.)
7. Eric Kendricks, UCLA (Sr.)
8. Trey DePriest, Alabama (Sr.)
9. Jabari Hunt-Days, Georgia Tech (Jr.)
10. Hayes Pullard, USC (Sr.)
1. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon (Sr.)
2. Blake Countess, Michigan (Jr.)
3. Marcus Peters, Washington (Jr.)
4. Byron Jones, Connecticut (Sr.)
5. Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest (Sr.)
6. Trae Waynes, Michigan State (Jr.)
7. Damian Swann, Georgia (Sr.)
8. Justin Cox, Mississippi State (Sr.)
9. Wayne Lyons, Stanford (Sr.)
10. Quandre Diggs, Texas (Sr.)
1. Jordan Richards, Stanford (Sr.)
2. Derron Smith, Fresno State (Sr.)
3. Josh Harvey-Clemons, Georgia (Jr.)
4. Landon Collins, Alabama (Jr.)
5. Anthony Harris, Virginia (Sr.)
6. Ronald Martin, LSU (Sr.)
7. Kyshoen Jarrett, Virginia Tech (Sr.)
8. Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State (Sr.)
9. Sam Carter, TCU (Sr.)
10. Jeremy Cash, Duke (Jr.)