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NFL Draft 2014: Jadeveon Clowney Highlights Record 98 Eligible Underclassmen

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NFL Draft 2014: Jadeveon Clowney Highlights Record 98 Eligible Underclassmen
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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
Player School
Blake Bortles UCF
Teddy Bridgewater Louisville
Johnny Manziel Texas A&M
Brett Smith Wyoming

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
Player School
George Atkinson Notre Dame
Kapri Bibbs Colorado State
Brendan Bigelow California
Alfred Blue LSU
Ka'Deem Carey Arizona
Isaiah Crowell Alabama State
Devonta Freeman Florida State
Jeremy Hill LSU
Storm Johnson UCF
Henry Josey Missouri
Tre Mason Auburn
Adam Muema San Diego State
Darrin Reaves UAB
Bishop Sankey Washington
Lache Seastrunk Baylor
Jerome Smith Syracuse
John Spooney Brown
De'Anthony Thomas Oregon
Terrance West Towson
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
Player School
Davante Adams Fresno State
Odell Beckham LSU
Kelvin Benjamin Florida State
Chris Boyd Vanderbilt
Martavis Bryant Clemson
Brandon Coleman Rutgers
Brandin Cooks Oregon State
Bruce Ellington South Carolina
Mike Evans Texas A&M
Austin Franklin New Mexico State
Jarvis Landry LSU
Cody Latimer Indiana
Marqise Lee USC
Donte Moncrief Ole Miss
Paul Richardson Colorado
Allen Robinson Penn State
Willie Snead Ball State
Josh Stewart Oklahoma State
Sammy Watkins Clemson

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
Player School
Jace Amaro Texas Tech
Eric Ebron North Carolina
Xavier Grimble USC
Nic Jacobs McNeese State
A.C. Leonard Tennessee State
Colt Lyerla Oregon
Jake Murphy Utah
Troy Niklas Notre Dame
Richard Rodgers California
Austin Seferian-Jenkins Washington

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
Player School
Russell Bodine North Carolina
Cameron Fleming Stanford
Terrance Hackney Bethune-Cookman
Cyrus Kouandjio Alabama
Marcus Martin USC
Antonio Richardson Tennessee
Greg Robinson Auburn
Xavier Su'a-Filo UCLA
Trai Turner LSU
David Yankey Stanford

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
Name School
Dominique Easley Florida
Ego Ferguson LSU
Carlos Gray North Carolina State
Timmy Jernigan Florida State
Anthony Johnson LSU
Viliami Moala California
Louis Nix III Notre Dame
Jeoffrey Pagan Alabama
Kelcy Quarles South Carolina
George Uko USC

Source: NFL.com

Defensive End Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
Name School
Carl Bradford Arizona State
Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina
Scott Crichton Oregon State
Kony Ealy Missouri
Demarcus Lawrence Boise State
Chris McCain California
Stephon Tuitt Notre 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
Name School
Khairi Fortt California
Adrian Hubbard Alabama
Ronald Powell Florida
Ryan Shazier Ohio State
Yawin Smallwood UConn

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
Name School
Nick Addison Bethune-Cookman
Marcus Roberson Florida
Bradley Roby Ohio State
Vic Hampton South Carolina
Kameron Jackson California
Albert Louis-Jean Boston College
Terrance Mitchell Oregon
Loucheiz Purifoy Florida
Vinnie Sunseri Alabama

Source: NFL.com

Safety Underclassmen Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft
Name School
Dion Bailey USC
Bashaud Breeland Clemson
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Alabama
Jonathan Dowling Western Kentucky
Calvin Pryor Louisville
Ed Reynolds Stanford
Pierre Warren Jacksonville 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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