The 2014 NFL draft has a ton of talent, and while the competition at certain positions is fierce, there are a number of prospects that are continuing to shoot up draft boards around the country.
According to Dane Brugler from CBSSports.com, a record 98 underclassmen declared for the NFL draft this season. Compared to the 73 that set the record last year, those 98 underclassmen help explain why this draft class is so deep.
With the NFL draft set to take place in May, let's take a look at some of the hottest names around the country right now as the prospects prepare for the NFL Scouting Combine.
Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
From a relatively unknown quarterback at Central Florida to a potential No. 1 pick, Blake Bortles has come a long way over the past couple of months.
The junior quarterback out of UCF started to get on the map as a potential first-round pick before the Fiesta Bowl, where he could be taking on the Baylor Bears. Scouts were going to see if Bortles could play well against tougher competition, and he didn't disappoint. Bortles finished with 301 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions while leading the Knights to a tough 52-42 win.
|Blake Bortles Season Stats|
The big reason Bortles is in the mix as the No. 1 overall pick is his prototypical size for a pocket passer. His 6'4'', 230-pound frame is mixed with some impressive mobility that helps him either climb the pocket or roll out to extend plays and give receivers more time to get open. Mentally, Bortles has a high football IQ with excellent vision down the field to make the right read.
While he doesn't have the strongest arm in the draft class, Bortles makes up for it with his athleticism and accuracy. His footwork isn't clean, but with his size and intangibles, Bortles has a chance to be a franchise quarterback, which is why sites like CBS Sports have him mocked as going No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans.
Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
There are a number of athletic pass-rushers in this draft class, but none have helped themselves as much recently as Auburn's Dee Ford.
The numbers from the 2013 season are pretty impressive for Ford. He finished the year with just 29 tackles, but he had 14.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks along with 17 quarterback hurries. Those numbers helped him earn All-SEC honors for the season.
While at Auburn, Ford has added a lot of weight to his frame, but it hasn't forced him to sacrifice explosiveness. He has a nice jump off of the snap that has the burst to burn by blockers and get to the passer, along with the work ethic to not give up on plays.
Ford played on the line in college, but given the fact that he's just 6'2'' and 240 pounds, NFL teams may want to move him to outside linebacker even if goes to a team with a 3-4 defensive scheme. However, the good news is that he still dropped into coverage with some regularity in college, so the transition might not be too difficult for Ford.
The biggest reasons Ford has shot up draft boards are the two sacks he racked up against Florida State in the BCS championship and an impressive week at Senior Bowl, recording another two sacks in the game. If Ford can continue to make noise at the combine, he could help solidify his status as a possible first-round pick.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Auburn's Ford wasn't the only prospect to generate a ton of buzz at the senior bowl. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald made a lot of noise as well, and it's not hard to see why. Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller had this to say about Donald while he watched him in Mobile, Alabama.
Matt wasn't joking when he said all Donald did during the 2013 season was dominate. In 13 games, Donald racked up an impressive 59 total tackles, 28.5 for loss, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three pass deflections. Coming from a defensive tackle, those numbers are incredible.
As those stats suggest, Donald thrives at producing interior pressure on the quarterback, which can be much more disruptive for some passers than pressure from the outside. Donald is so fast off of the snap that he usually has an instant advantage on opposing offensive lineman as soon as the play begins.
While Donald isn't the tallest prospect, his frame does help him get under opponents' pads and produce a very impressive bull rush on his way into the backfield. However, that 6'1'', 288-pound frame could hurt his effectiveness in the NFL, much like Ford.
However, when going against some of the best talent in college football at the Senior Bowl, Donald made a very positive impression on the scouts watching. The stage will get a little bigger in Indianapolis during the combine, and if Donald can continue to shine, he could be a solid pick later in the first round.