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NFL Draft 2014: Jadeveon Clowney Highlights Record 98 Eligible Underclassmen

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Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIJanuary 19, 2014

Jadeveon Clowney surprised no one by forgoing his final season at South Carolina and entering the 2014 NFL draft, but few could have fathomed how many players would make the leap to the pros early.

The superstar Gamecocks defensive end is a big headliner, but Clowney is just one of a record 98 underclassmen to declare themselves eligible and take their games to the professional level.  

A report from NFL.com on Sunday, Jan. 19, posted all the players who are hoping to have their names called between May 8 and 10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe noted how much the numbers increased from last year's record of 73:

With increasing concern over player safety issues in football, it makes sense that promising prospects are attempting to capitalize on their physical primes and see how they stack up in the NFL.

Many of those choosing to cut their collegiate careers short have excellent chances to succeed. Clowney is the clear standout on defense in this class, and he feels confident he will wow scouts at the impending combine, per The State's Josh Kendall:

But there seems to be a breadth of talent on offense more than Clowney's side of the ball among these precocious players. Given the importance of the quarterback position, it's likely that the first three signal-callers chosen will be underclassmen.

Quarterback Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
PlayerSchool
Blake BortlesUCF
Teddy BridgewaterLouisville
Johnny ManzielTexas A&M
Brett SmithWyoming
Source: NFL.com

Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, electrifying Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and the physically imposing Blake Bortles (6'4", 230 pounds) are great candidates to go within the first 10 overall picks.

Running Back Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
PlayerSchool
George AtkinsonNotre Dame
Kapri BibbsColorado State
Brendan BigelowCalifornia
Alfred BlueLSU
Ka'Deem CareyArizona
Isaiah CrowellAlabama State
Devonta FreemanFlorida State
Jeremy HillLSU
Storm JohnsonUCF
Henry JoseyMissouri
Tre MasonAuburn
Adam MuemaSan Diego State
Darrin ReavesUAB
Bishop SankeyWashington
Lache SeastrunkBaylor
Jerome SmithSyracuse
John SpooneyBrown
De'Anthony ThomasOregon
Terrance WestTowson
James Wilder Jr.Florida State
Source: NFL.com

Both running back and wide receiver are positions of incredible depth in the 2014 class, too. Clemson playmaker Sammy Watkins highlights the wideouts, while extremely productive backs such as Auburn's Tre Mason and Arizona star Ka'Deem Carey are chief notables in the backfield.

Wide Receiver Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
PlayerSchool
Davante AdamsFresno State
Odell BeckhamLSU
Kelvin BenjaminFlorida State
Chris BoydVanderbilt
Martavis BryantClemson
Brandon ColemanRutgers
Brandin CooksOregon State
Bruce EllingtonSouth Carolina
Mike EvansTexas A&M
Austin FranklinNew Mexico State
Jarvis LandryLSU
Cody LatimerIndiana
Marqise LeeUSC
Donte MoncriefOle Miss
Paul RichardsonColorado
Allen RobinsonPenn State
Willie SneadBall State
Josh StewartOklahoma State
Sammy WatkinsClemson
Source: NFL.com

The prominence of receiving tight ends allows even raw players at the position to make an impact in the passing game.

Tight End Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
PlayerSchool
Jace AmaroTexas Tech
Eric EbronNorth Carolina
Xavier GrimbleUSC
Nic JacobsMcNeese State
A.C. LeonardTennessee State
Colt LyerlaOregon
Jake MurphyUtah
Troy NiklasNotre Dame
Richard RodgersCalifornia
Austin Seferian-JenkinsWashington
Source: NFL.com

But someone has to block for all these fascinating skill players and potential star QBs, and the list of offensive linemen also presents several surefire first-round picks, such as Auburn's Greg Robinson.

Offensive Line Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
PlayerSchool
Russell BodineNorth Carolina
Cameron FlemingStanford
Terrance HackneyBethune-Cookman
Cyrus KouandjioAlabama
Marcus MartinUSC
Antonio RichardsonTennessee
Greg RobinsonAuburn
Xavier Su'a-FiloUCLA
Trai TurnerLSU
David YankeyStanford
Source: NFL.com

What will be interesting to see is how these quickly rising standouts handle the adversity that comes with adjusting to the league—and that could come in a variety of ways.

For quarterbacks, being the new face of a franchise is difficult to handle—especially when the expectation is an immediate turnaround and to be a savior.

Receivers aren't guaranteed to thrive right away. St. Louis Rams slot dynamo Tavon Austin had a rocky start to his rookie campaign after being the first receiver taken in last year's draft. There were no running backs chosen in last year's first round. 

Meanwhile, Clowney was widely criticized for his effort throughout his final season at South Carolina, as he looked to be preserving his 6'6", 274-pound body for the bright future ahead—beyond Columbia.

Defensive Tackle Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
NameSchool
Dominique EasleyFlorida
Ego FergusonLSU
Carlos GrayNorth Carolina State
Timmy JerniganFlorida State
Anthony JohnsonLSU
Viliami MoalaCalifornia
Louis Nix IIINotre Dame
Jeoffrey PaganAlabama
Kelcy QuarlesSouth Carolina
George UkoUSC
Source: NFL.com
Defensive End Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
NameSchool
Carl BradfordArizona State
Jadeveon ClowneySouth Carolina
Scott CrichtonOregon State
Kony EalyMissouri
Demarcus LawrenceBoise State
Chris McCainCalifornia
Stephon TuittNotre Dame
Source: NFL.com

However, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has praised Clowney, which could help his case for being the No. 1 overall pick.

The combine will be the first crack Clowney will have at proving his critics and detractors that he will capitalize on his immense physicality to be a force for years to come for one fortunate NFL franchise.

Linebacker Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
NameSchool
Khairi ForttCalifornia
Adrian HubbardAlabama
Ronald PowellFlorida
Ryan ShazierOhio State
Yawin SmallwoodUConn
Source: NFL.com

Other than quarterbacks, the least number of underclassmen to declare for the draft by position is linebacker. That bunch is strengthened by speedy Ohio State product Ryan Shazier.

Cornerback Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
NameSchool
Nick AddisonBethune-Cookman
Marcus RobersonFlorida
Bradley RobyOhio State
Vic HamptonSouth Carolina
Kameron JacksonCalifornia
Albert Louis-JeanBoston College
Terrance MitchellOregon
Loucheiz PurifoyFlorida
Vinnie SunseriAlabama
Source: NFL.com
Safety Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
NameSchool
Dion BaileyUSC
Bashaud BreelandClemson
Ha Ha Clinton-DixAlabama
Jonathan DowlingWestern Kentucky
Calvin PryorLouisville
Ed ReynoldsStanford
Pierre WarrenJacksonville State
Source: NFL.com

As for the secondary, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix figures to come off the board in the first round, and a duo of Florida cornerbacks in Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy represent the Gators' solid defensive backfield.

This 2014 lot of underclassmen has once again broken new ground with their strength in numbers. It's too early to tell how their decisions will pan out, but their presence should create drama on draft day.

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