Ranking the Top 50 Players Invited to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine
While the NFL Scouting Combine might be more of a glorified track meet than it is a showcase of football ability, it is the only event of the pre-draft cycle at which nearly all of the draft’s top prospects are in attendance each year.
The 2014 NFL draft will be no different. While a deep draft class led to a number of notable combine snubs—including Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett and Washington strong safety Sean Parker—there is no one who will be left at home for this year’s combine that stands even close to being a top-50 prospect in this year’s draft class.
As the combine begins this weekend, who should NFL scouts be looking at as this year’s cream of the crop? There’s no shortage of talent coming out of the college football ranks this season, but the following 50 might be the most well-equipped for NFL success.
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Jernigan is a well-rounded defensive tackle who should be a solid NFL run-stopper, but there isn’t much that stands out about his game. He lacks the size and power of a prototypical nose tackle and doesn't possess the ideal penetrating quickness for a 3-technique tackle.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Cooks is a potential first-round pick, but he could also fall back in a loaded class of wide receivers. He is a small wideout listed at 5’10” and 186 pounds, but he is a strong route-runner who plays bigger than he is and has great quickness and playmaking ability with the ball in his hands.
Billy Turner, OT/G, North Dakota State
Turner looked like a first-round pick with his dominant play at North Dakota State, but instead of answering concerns about level of competition at the Senior Bowl, he magnified them. He has the size, athleticism and strength to be a great NFL offensive lineman, but he struggled mightily against outside-edge speed in Mobile and might be best suited to kick inside to guard.
Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Bortles has the size, arm strength and athleticism to develop into a Ben Roethlisberger-like NFL quarterback, but his game at this point is closer to Blaine Gabbert. While his physical tools are as good as any quarterback in this year’s draft class, he needs to significantly improve his passing accuracy, mechanics and footwork in order to truly take advantage of them.
50. Stephon Tuitt, DE/DT, Notre Dame
Listed at 6’6.5” and 312 pounds by Notre Dame’s official athletics website, and possessing very good athleticism for his size, Stephon Tuitt has ideal, hard-to-find measurables for a 3-4 defensive end.
Tuitt does not have great explosiveness, but he is a skilled blocker who can beat opponents both outside and inside. He is strong and physical at the line of scrimmage, and he has enough to track down the ball in pursuit.
The team that drafts Tuitt should end up with a skilled inside pass-rusher and a solid run-stopping defensive end. He is a Day 2 talent, but there are few players like him in this year’s draft, which could lead a team to take a chance on him in Round 1 if it is looking for a big, versatile interior defensive lineman.
49. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Allen Robinson isn’t as flashy of a playmaker as the top wide receivers in this year’s draft, but his game is among the class’ most well-rounded receiving skill sets.
Robinson is a big wideout (6’3”, 210 pounds) who can make plays through contact and high-points the ball well. He has strong hands, is a smooth route-runner and is a good athlete for his size.
The Penn State product might not be a consistent big-play threat, but he should be a very reliable big target as a No. 2 outside possession receiver. As the league trends toward bigger players at both receiver and defensive back, Robinson’s value increases.
48. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
The upcoming combine is likely to prove that there aren’t many better athletes in the 2014 NFL draft class than Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy.
Purifoy is an explosive speedster who can close on the ball in a flash. He is very good at making plays on the ball and is a threat to turn any play into a big play if the ball is in his hands.
He is very much a boom-or-bust prospect at this point, as sloppy footwork and technical flaws have led to inconsistencies in coverage throughout his Florida career. His immense athleticism and playmaking ability, however, make him worth taking a chance on in Round 2.
Purifoy might not be able to start right away at cornerback, but he should at the very least be able to contribute on special teams. And he presents a level of physical ability that coaches dream of having the chance to develop players from.
47. Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
Throughout his Stanford career, Shayne Skov has been a leading playmaker and arguably the heart and soul of a Cardinal defense that has churned out NFL players year in and year out in recent seasons.
An instinctive player who hits hard and has impressive athletic range, Skov has been a tackling machine in the Pac-12. He is a strong run-stopper in the middle who can also be an aggressive blitzer and is adequate at dropping back into coverage.
Skov has the potential to play either middle or outside linebacker, and he has a game well-rounded enough that he won’t have to leave the field in clear passing situations. He could be an immediate upgrade to a team’s linebacker corps as a second-round pick.
46. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Antonio Richardson was an up-and-down performer throughout his Tennessee career, but his potential is among the highest of this year’s offensive line class.
Listed at 6’6” and 327 pounds by the Volunteers’ official website, Richardson has an excellent frame for the offensive tackle position and very good foot skills for his size. He can engulf pass-rushers with his length and has the sliding quickness to mirror edge defenders on the outside.
He does not consistently play with the power he should, but if he can become more technically consistent, he has the potential to be a star bookend on either side of the line.
45. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Compared by multiple draft analysts, including Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, to Michael Crabtree, Davante Adams is coming off a strikingly productive redshirt sophomore season in which he caught 131 passes for 1,719 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Adams has not been as consistent a performer as his overall numbers would lead one to believe, but he has the potential to be a special playmaker at his position. He is a crisp route-runner who attacks the ball in the air and can make defenders miss with his open-field quickness.
Adams’ size (6’2”, 216 pounds) and athleticism make him a challenging matchup for opposing defensive backs, as he consistently finds way to get open but also isn’t easy to bring down in the open field. His downfield speed is subpar, and he has had some issues with drops, but his production and overall skill set should translate to a solid starting role at the next level.
44. Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
Teams looking for this year’s Larry Warford should look no further than Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson, a 6’4”, 340-pound guard who can overwhelm his opponents with his size and power.
Like Warford, Jackson is deceptively quick despite his size, giving him the ability to move along the line of scrimmage. His forte is his ability to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage and open north-south running lanes, but he also has strong hands and has shown he can counter quick, disruptive interior pass-rushers.
Jackson isn’t going to make many plays by kicking outside or accelerating to the second level, but he can dominate in one-on-one situations inside at the line of scrimmage. He should be an immediate asset to an interior offensive line, especially in run blocking.
43. Dee Ford, OLB/DE, Auburn
Dee Ford heads into the combine with no shortage of momentum on his side. The athletic edge defender was dominant down the stretch of Auburn’s run to the national championship game this past season, then he went on to be arguably the star of Senior Bowl week.
Ford combines lightning-quick acceleration off the line of scrimmage with a strong array of pass-rushing moves and surprising power despite his small frame of 6’2” and 243 pounds.
He is best suited for a 3-4 defensive scheme; he lacks the size and point-of-attack strength to be a three-down defensive end in the NFL, but he has the athleticism and tackling ability in space to make the conversion to outside linebacker. He will need time to develop as a run defender regardless of the scheme he is drafted into, but his ability to bring pressure off the edge could make him a first-round pick.
42. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Jordan Matthews is another strong, big-bodied wide receiver in this year’s draft class who makes up for subpar deep speed by doing all the little things well.
Matthews holds up well against contact, runs great routes and can use those traits to box out defensive backs and make tough catches in traffic. He is a strong hands catcher who extends well for grabs away from his body.
The Vanderbilt product isn’t going to outrun many NFL defensive backs down the field, but he is a good open-field runner who has deceptive quickness and can bounce off contact. Overall, he is a very good intermediate receiver who is ready to make an immediate impact in an NFL offense.
41. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Darqueze Dennard was the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award recipient as college football’s best defensive back, and deservedly so. Throughout his senior season at Michigan State, Dennard showed the ability to lock down the opposition's best receiver on an island, and he made himself a potential first-round draft pick in the process.
Dennard is a fundamentally sound cornerback who thrives on physical play. He uses his hands well and excels in press coverage but shows the versatility to play both man and zone coverages, as he has fluid hips and clean footwork.
The first-team All-American is good at breaking up passes when he has a chance to make plays on the ball, and he is a usually solid tackler.
Dennard’s biggest limitation might be his physical tools. At 5’11” and 197 pounds, with subpar speed and quickness for the position, he might have more trouble against some of the NFL’s top receivers than he did against even the Big Ten’s best wideouts last season.
40. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Bradley Roby didn’t play like a first-round pick in his redshirt junior season at Ohio State, but he still might be drafted there. A projected top-15 pick going into the 2013 season, Roby has all the skills necessary to be a shutdown cornerback, even though he doesn’t always play like one.
Roby should stand out at the combine with his speed and acceleration, while he also has quick feet and fluid hips. Although he is smaller than the prototype NFL cornerback, he makes up for it with his physicality and ability to make plays on the ball.
Roby’s issues as a cornerback have little to do with his physical traits but everything to do with his discipline on the field.
He is always a threat to make a big play or a big hit, but he seems to love making highlight-reel plays a little too much. He will need to curtail his overaggressive play, which can lead to blown coverages and missed tackles, in order to become the shutdown No. 1 cornerback he has the potential to be.
39. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Creating mismatches can be the key to success in football, and that’s certainly what Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin does as a vertical receiving threat.
Benjamin has outstanding size for an outside receiver at 6’5” and 234 pounds, and he is a terrific jump-ball receiver who can use his height and leaping ability to high-point passes away from defensive backs.
His strength to run through contact makes him tough to bring down as an open-field runner, and he is a solid route-runner.
The most concerning part of Benjamin’s game is his hands, as he lets too many passes into his body or drops them altogether. His limited speed and quickness make him unlikely to run away from many NFL defenders, but he makes up for it with his ability to post up over defensive backs and make catches versus coverage.
38. Jimmie Ward, FS, Northern Illinois
One cannot get a full picture of the top prospects in this year’s draft class without looking at the Mid-American Conference, which features at least two defensive players poised to be early-round draft picks.
The first on this list is Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward, an athletic, well-rounded safety prospect who could push to be a first-round pick at a position of demand.
A ball hawk with rangy athleticism, Ward made no shortage of plays on the ball and big hits in his senior season. He combines his ball skills with fluid hips and footwork in coverage, and he is a sound run defender who consistently tackles with authority.
The 5’11”, 193-pound safety is small for the position, but his short-area quickness and physicality enable him to play bigger than he stands. He doesn’t have as much name recognition as many of his big-school counterparts, but the All-American could be one of the best defensive backs from this year’s draft.
37. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Dominique Easley looked well on his way to establishing himself as a first-round pick before a torn ACL cut his senior season short after just three games. While the injury will have a negative effect on his draft stock—and keep him out of the combine, according to Adam Silverstein of OnlyGators.com—he is perhaps the most explosive playmaker among defensive tackles in this year’s draft class.
Easley has exceptional quickness off the snap and proved well before this season how disruptive he can be in the middle of a defensive line. He can often explode through gaps simply because of his burst, but he can also dispatch blockers with his power.
The Florida product is a smaller-than-typical defensive tackle at 6’2” and 280 pounds, but if he can make a full recovery from injury and continue to develop the use of his hands, he has star potential as a 3-technique, penetrating defensive tackle, ideally in a 4-3 defensive scheme.
36. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Derek Carr is one of the most talented and physically gifted passers in the 2014 draft class. Coming off of a 5,083-yard, 50-touchdown senior season at Fresno State, Carr is projected to be among the quarterbacks selected in this year’s first round.
Carr is an efficient passer with a strong arm. Given time to work in the pocket, Carr has shown he can make throws to all levels of the field with accuracy and velocity.
His issues when he does not have a clean pocket, however, are reason for concern. While he has quick feet, his typically clean throwing mechanics and footwork seem to evade him when he is under pressure, and it often leads to poor decisions and/or inaccurate throws.
If Carr can improve his pocket presence, he has the developmental potential and physical tools to be a very good NFL starting quarterback.
35. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
After a 106-catch junior season at Texas Tech, Jace Amaro should be firmly on the radar of any team looking for a big receiving threat at the tight end position in this year’s draft.
Amaro has a great combination of size (6’5”, 260 pounds) and athleticism that make him a tough matchup for any defender to cover. He has strong hands and shows that he can leap through traffic to make contested grabs. He has the downfield speed to stretch out defenses over the middle, but he also has enough quickness to make defenders miss in the open field.
Amaro is a “flex” tight end who has limited blocking ability, but he can be used both in-line and out of the slot as a receiving threat. He will have to convince teams his off-field issues are a thing of the past, but the team who drafts Amaro should end up with a more dynamic passing offense as a result.
34. Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Teams looking for a difference-maker at the safety position might not want to look any further than Louisville’s Calvin Pryor to address that need.
Pryor should prove at the combine that he has the ideal size (6’2”, 208 pounds) and athleticism to be an NFL safety. He has the speed and hip fluidity to cover receivers deep and excels at making both plays on the ball in the air and big hits in run support.
His aggressive nature can come back to cost him at times. His coverage instincts need to improve for him to handle the center-field responsibilities he might be asked to handle as a free safety, while his penchant for booming hits sometimes leads to missed tackles.
Despite having some areas of his game that need work, Pryor might have the highest upside and playmaking ability of any safety in this year’s draft class.
33. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Taylor Lewan was a four-year starter at left tackle for the Michigan Wolverines, and he was largely dominant throughout his career.
The gigantic bookend combines demonstrated excellence at the collegiate level with a gigantic frame, listed at 6’8” and 315 pounds by Michigan’s official athletics website, and good athleticism.
He is at his best as a run-blocker, where he has the power to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage, but also excels at picking up key blocks in space outside or at the second level. Lewan is not as consistent as a pass-blocker, as he sometimes struggles to counter pass-rushing moves or contain outside speed, but his physical traits often mask his technical flaws.
NFL teams are likely to do some extra digging into Lewan’s character, as he has been linked to two significant off-field incidents in his time at Michigan, according to Jim Weber of LostLettermen.com. A team who feels confident he is not a character concern, however, could end up with a very solid left or right tackle for its offensive line.
32. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT/G, Alabama
Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio might not be best suited to stay at left tackle at the next level, but there should be a strong place for him on an NFL offensive line nonetheless.
An agile, powerful blocker who is listed at 6’6” and 310 pounds by Alabama’s official athletics website, Kouandjio can add a physically imposing presence to any NFL offensive line. He creates movement well as a run-blocker with his ability to fire off the line of scrimmage and redirect defenders with his strength.
One big vulnerability that Kouandjio struggled with in his junior season, however, is his ability to kick out and handle outside speed-rushers. While he rarely gets beaten by a pass-rusher if he can engage them with his hands, his pass-protecting issues on the edge might make him better suited to kick inside to guard.
Should he move to the interior offensive line, Kouandjio has the potential to be a great guard. That said, he still has high potential as an offensive tackle on either side of the line if he can clean up his footwork and use his length more effectively, so a team could draft and develop him to stay on the outside.
31. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Jason Verrett has quietly been one of college football’s best defensive backs over the past four years, and though he has not gotten significant mainstream attention as a potential first-round pick, there is a lot to like about Verrett’s game.
Verrett is an athletic, instinctive cornerback who consistently took on the best wide receiver of TCU’s opponents and typically shut them down. He is a technically sound cornerback who uses his hands well, has fluid hips and excels at making plays on the ball in the air.
A lack of size might hurt Verrett’s draft stock, as he is only listed at 5’10” and 176 pounds by TCU’s official athletics website, but that doesn’t stop him from being a physical presence in run defense.
He does a terrific job of reading and reacting to running plays, showing the closing quickness to attack runners or screen receivers quickly, then can lower his shoulder and drive ball-carriers to the ground with strong tackling form.
30. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
The draft value of running backs has diminished greatly in recent years, but if there’s one tailback in the 2014 class worthy of first-round consideration, it’s Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde.
Hyde’s senior season got off to a disappointing start, as he was suspended for three games for his involvement in an incident at a Columbus bar, but he had a breakout year once he got on the field.
While he is best known as a big, bruising power back who can run through defenders, his conditioning, speed and quickness looked far better in 2013 than they had in previous seasons. He has a good burst out of the backfield, surprising agility for a 235-pound back and good hands as a receiver.
Hyde might make his money as a between-the-tackles runner, but he proved as a senior that he can be dynamic on the perimeter as well. He is the most complete running back in this year’s draft class and will be great value if available in Round 2.
29. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s name is laughable, but his NFL opponents might not find playing against the Alabama safety to be very funny.
As modern passing attacks have made it imperative for free safeties to be able to cover a wide range of ground as center fielders, Clinton-Dix is the type of playmaker teams covet on the back end. He is a fluid athlete with the speed, hips and backpedal to get deep and make plays on the ball against receivers.
Though he could use more discipline at times, Clinton-Dix has demonstrated that he can attack the ball in the air to make big plays. He is also a strong tackler on the back end and when brought up into the box in run support.
The 6’1”, 208-pound defensive back has the skill set required to play either safety position, but the best use of his ability is a role that takes advantage of his impressive athletic range.
28. Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
At only 5’11”, and with arms shorter than 29”, Chris Borland’s lack of height and length are likely to hurt his draft stock. Despite that, his skill set should enable him to overcome his limiting physical factors and excel as an NFL middle or inside linebacker.
Borland has exceptional instincts and is at his best as a downhill run defender who tackles with authority. His short arms might give him trouble in breaking through the line of scrimmage as a blitzer, but he has very good short-area quickness and proved at the Senior Bowl that he can move fluidly in coverage.
Borland isn’t likely to impress scouts in weigh-ins, and his combine measurables might not do much to help his stock either, but when he puts the pads on, he can make plays all over the field. He can be a leader for an NFL defense, especially versus the run, and projects as a second-round steal.
27. Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
Trent Murphy led the nation with 15 sacks in his senior season at Stanford, but he’s more than just a pass-rusher. A long, athletic edge defender, Murphy has a well-rounded skill set and the versatility to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or convert to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Murphy might not wow with his explosiveness, size or strength at the combine, but he is a fluid athlete who takes advantage of 33 1/8” arms with a strong array of pass-rushing moves. As a run defender, he does a solid job setting the edge at the point of attack, while he also moves well in space and is a strong tackler.
NFL scouts will likely be hoping to see more bulk on his 6’5” frame at the combine than the 253 pounds he had at the Senior Bowl, but all should feel confident their team could get a productive edge defender by selecting Murphy.
26. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins has the potential to be everything an NFL team wants in a tight end, even if he never quite lived up to that potential at Washington. The 6’6”, 276-pound former basketball player is the best in-line tight end prospect in this year’s draft class.
Seferian-Jenkins might not outrun defensive backs or make them miss in the open field, but his size can make him a nightmare to cover and bring down as a receiver. He is a big target over the middle who has strong hands and great vertical leaping ability, which especially makes him dangerous as a red-zone receiver.
As a blocker, Seferian-Jenkins looks and plays like an extension of the offensive line. He has the power to move and redirect defenders as a run-blocker, while his athleticism is a big asset in getting to the second level to lead running plays or to sustain blocks as a pass protector.
Seferian-Jenkins could be considered a character concern after a DUI arrest last March, but if he can sell teams on that being a mistake he won’t repeat, his upside as both a blocker and receiver will make him tough to pass up.
25. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Having measured in a shade under 6’1” with a 288-pound body and 31 3/4” arm length at the Senior Bowl, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald is another player who does not fit the physical prototype for his position.
Nonetheless, Donald has shown more than enough physical ability to make up for it, not only in Mobile but in a dominant senior season in which he won numerous major defensive player awards and totaled 28.5 tackles for loss.
Donald has terrific quickness off the snap, he uses his hands well to break down blockers and, despite his limited size, he has the power to drive offensive linemen into the backfield. He is an excellent gap penetrator who is ideally suited to play the 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 defensive scheme.
Statistical production can be an overvalued aspect of the scouting process, but so can physical measurables. While Donald might not impress in terms of size, he should look very good athletically at the combine, and he showed the skills to be a disruptive NFL player throughout his excellent Pittsburgh career.
24. Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA
Despite a two-year gap in his UCLA career while serving on a Mormon mission, and shifting between a number of positions when he was on the field, Xavier Su’a-Filo was consistently dominant in his three playing seasons for the Bruins.
Su’a-Filo is an agile interior offensive lineman who switches blocks fluidly and can quickly get to the second level. He packs a strong punch when he engages defenders, and he is a strong physical presence who rarely gets driven back from the line of scrimmage.
Su’a-Filo is best suited to play guard at the next level, but his experience also playing offensive tackle increases his versatility and therefore his value. He should soon be ready to start on an NFL offensive line.
23. David Yankey, G, Stanford
Which guard ends up being the first selected in this year’s draft could simply end up being a matter of preference for the first team to draft an interior offensive lineman, as Pac-12 blockers David Yankey and Xavier Su’a-Filo are both athletic and powerful guards with versatility and experience.
Yankey isn’t quite as explosive off the line of scrimmage as Su’a-Filo, but he has a size advantage, listed at 6’5” and 313 pounds. He is a fluid athlete with very quick feet for an interior offensive lineman, and he is a physical blocker who can redirect run defenders and rarely gets driven back himself.
Yankey was a unanimous All-American at left guard in 2013 and a consensus All-American as Stanford’s starting left tackle in 2012. He is best suited to play at guard, where he should be an immediately successful NFL starter, but his versatility to play tackle (if needed) increases his value.
22. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
While Michael Sam was the bigger star during Missouri’s 2013 season—and he will receive more attention leading up to the draft—the Tigers’ best NFL defensive end prospect is actually Kony Ealy.
As Missouri’s right defensive end, Ealy frequently lined up against the opponent’s best blocker and still often drew double-teams, and he actually played a big part in Sam’s breakout year as SEC Defensive Player of the Year. A first-team All-SEC selection himself, Ealy can be a disruptive presence as both an outside and inside rusher.
Ealy has ideal size for the position at 6’5” and 275 pounds. He is a great athlete with dangerous closing speed in pursuit. His length makes him tough to block, and he can move blockers away from him with his power.
He still needs to be more technically sound, especially as a run defender, but his physical skill set gives him the potential to contribute immediately. He can bring positional versatility to any defensive scheme and is a player who possesses a skill set opposing offensive lines will have to account for whenever he is on the field.
21. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel’s unconventional style of quarterback play makes him one of the most challenging evaluations in the 2014 draft class, but his uncanny playmaking ability gives him the potential to be special.
A dynamic athlete who has great arm strength but can also create big plays with his feet, Manziel has the most upside of any quarterback in this year’s draft. With him being a threat to run the ball, it often leads to defenses putting additional defenders in the box and keeps them on their toes, while his ability to create means a play is never really over until the ball hits the ground.
His mechanics and accuracy as a pocket passer are very inconsistent, but his ability to succeed really comes down to whether he can adapt well enough for his playmaking ability to translate to the next level.
While he played behind an outstanding offensive line at Texas A&M, he is unlikely to have as much time to make plays at the next level. This will require him to make quicker, more efficient throws under pressure, while he is unlikely to get away with many of the bold throws that he became known for in his collegiate career.
Manziel needs to develop significantly to achieve long-term NFL success as a quarterback, but his potential should make him someone take a chance on him very early in the draft.
20. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ra’Shede Hageman is one of the 2014 draft’s most physically imposing prospects. An explosive athlete in a 6’6”, 318-pound body, Hageman has massive developmental potential and the versatility to play multiple spots on an NFL defensive line.
While Hageman’s game is still technically raw, he showed significant improvement in his senior season and should be able to make an immediate impact on his physical skill set alone. He has outstanding quickness and can accelerate to speed very fast for an interior defensive lineman, but he can also overpower defenders with his size and strength.
Hageman needs to become more consistent with his hand usage and leverage, but the Minnesota product’s upside is the highest of any interior defensive lineman in this year’s draft class.
He has both the gap-shooting ability to be a 3-technique penetrator and the strength and size to play nose tackle in a 4-3 defense, yet he might be ideally suited to be a two-gap defender as a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
19. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Despite a disappointing final season at Notre Dame that ended with a torn meniscus, Louis Nix III remains the best all-around playmaker among defensive tackles in this year’s NFL draft class.
Nix is a gargantuan nose tackle, listed at 6’2.5” and 342 pounds by Notre Dame’s official athletics website, yet he has remarkable quickness for his size. While he is best at simply overpowering his opponents and filling gaps at the line of scrimmage, he can burst through rush lanes and make plays in the backfield.
Whether it be as the anchor of a 3-4 defense or as a 1-technique in a four-man front, Nix has the potential to be a dominant presence as an NFL nose tackle. His combination of size, power and quickness will command consistent double-teams, and he can create serious disruption in the middle of the line of scrimmage.
18. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Ryan Shazier could be the Lavonte David of this year’s draft class. While his stock could be affected by his size—listed at only 6’2” and 230 pounds by Ohio State’s official athletics website—he consistently makes up for it on the field with his athleticism and instincts.
Shazier is a very fluid all-around athlete who can make plays from sideline to sideline, chase down runners in pursuit, burst into the backfield as a blitzer and drop back into coverage on tight ends and running backs. His all-around athleticism makes him versatile as a pass defender, and it should enable him to be a three-down player at the next level.
His size limitations give him some trouble when it comes to getting off of blocks, especially at the line of scrimmage, and teams might be able to run the ball right at him by getting bodies on him. Nonetheless, his talent at making plays in space all over the field should make him a difference-making weak-side linebacker on an NFL defense.
17. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
In a draft class full of established standouts at the wide receiver position, LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. stated his case for being as good as any of them in his junior season at LSU.
Beckham is an outstanding athlete with the speed to burn defensive backs deep but also the agility to get by defenders with sharp, quick cuts in the open field.
His athleticism was already evident in his first two seasons as both a downfield receiver and kickoff returner, but where Beckham showed real improvement in 2013 was in his route running and hands. He is a smooth route-runner who does a good job getting open as an intermediate target, and he can catch just about any pass that comes his way.
Beckham has the potential to be a difference-maker from both outside and in the slot, though he does not have great size for an outside receiver (6’0", 193 pounds).
16. Lamarcus Joyner, FS/CB, Florida State
If Tyrann Mathieu was a third-round pick in last year’s draft after off-field troubles got him suspended for his entire final season of college football, there’s little reason why Lamarcus Joyner shouldn’t be a first-round pick this year.
Some teams might write Joyner off for his lack of size at only 5’8” and 190 pounds, but like Mathieu did in an excellent rookie season, Joyner makes up for it with an outstanding all-around skill set.
Joyner is an instinctive defensive back with the explosive speed and short-area quickness to act on his reads, and he is physical and excels at making plays on the ball. Having played both safety and cornerback for the Seminoles, he projects well to a hybrid free safety-slot cornerback role like Mathieu played for the Arizona Cardinals in 2013.
Despite being small, Joyner has never let bigger opponents push him around. He is an intelligent playmaker who tackles soundly in space, can be a big-play defender on the back end and also can contribute on special teams if needed.
15. Zack Martin, OT/G, Notre Dame
A four-year starting left tackle at Notre Dame, Zack Martin’s experience is evident in his play. While Martin does not have the size, length or athleticism of some of the draft’s other top offensive tackles, he makes up for it with his technical mastery.
Martin has strong hands, and he seems to always know how to properly place them to control his opponent. He is quick to engage defenders. He has clean footwork and consistently sustains his blocks.
With short arms for an offensive tackle (32 1/4”), some NFL teams might view Martin as a guard prospect instead, but there is reason to believe he can hold up just fine on the edge as well.
Regardless of where he ends up playing at the next level, his versatility will be an asset. So will his technical prowess and strength to redirect defenders.
14. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee isn’t the biggest or fastest wide receiver in this year’s draft class, but he has the all-around skill set to excel as an intermediate receiver.
Lee is a smooth athlete who glides in the open field, flows in and out of his routes and consistently catches the ball in his hands. He naturally accelerates downfield and uses his vision and quickness well to make subtle cuts that extend his angles away from defenders and toward where he wants to be.
The USC wideout might not frequently burn defenders down the sideline or leap over defenders to make catches, but he has the strength to hold up through contact and the agility to extend plays in the open field. He is a reliable target who is not afraid to go over the middle to make plays.
13. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Eric Ebron might technically be a tight end and do his best work over the middle of the field, but he’s essentially a big wide receiver. An exceptional athlete listed at 6’4” and 245 pounds by North Carolina’s official athletics website, Ebron can line up everywhere from the sideline to outside the offensive tackle and consistently create mismatches.
With terrific speed for his size and the agility to make defenders miss in the open field, Ebron should be the stud of the tight end group at the combine. He is a tough-to-defend vertical threat over the middle who can high-point passes with great leaping ability, but he can also extend shorter passes into big gains by both running away from defenders or through their contact.
Ebron isn’t much of an in-line blocker, but he can add another dimension to a passing offense. His athleticism can create mismatches with linebackers and safeties inside, while his size can do the same with cornerbacks outside.
12. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Scott Crichton hasn’t gotten nearly the mainstream attention leading up to the combine as many of his edge defender counterparts, but he is arguably the most complete defensive end in this year’s draft class.
Crichton is a very good all-around athlete who combines a quick burst off the line of scrimmage with the speed to chase down ball-carriers in pursuit, the power to drive through blockers off the line of scrimmage and sound tackling ability. He uses his hands well to break down blockers and has very good size, listed at 6’3” and 265 pounds by Oregon State’s official athletics website.
Crichton does not have great point-of-attack strength and might not be as flashy of a playmaker as some of the draft’s other top prospects, but there’s nothing in his game that should keep him from being a very good NFL starter, whether it be as a 4-3 defensive end or with a conversion to a 3-4 outside linebacker.
11. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Another effective edge defender from the Pac-12, Anthony Barr is an explosive athlete with through-the-roof potential, especially as he projects as an outside linebacker for a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Barr is an explosive athlete with tremendous first-step quickness. He is a very good edge-rusher who can attack the backfield quickly and uses his hands well to shed blocks. He uses his speed well to chase down runners in pursuit.
Despite his incredible physical gifts, Barr isn’t as fluid an athlete as he could be, but that’s understandable considering he only played two seasons of defense at UCLA after a switch from running back.
He also needs to become stronger at the point of attack and more fluid at dropping back into coverage, but nonetheless, Barr has all the physical upside to be a defensive impact player. He should make some noise right away as a pass-rusher and run defender in space and should only continue to get better as he develops.
10. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
In a consensus All-American senior season, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert demonstrated all the tools needed to be a No. 1 shutdown cornerback in the NFL.
Gilbert’s athleticism and playmaking ability were already evident prior to the 2013 season. He has terrific speed, quick feet and impressive ball skills. He is downright dangerous when he makes a play on the ball, having scored eight touchdowns (six kickoff returns, two interception returns) in his collegiate career.
As a senior, Gilbert showed significant improvement in his footwork and use of hands, all the while consistently locking down the opposition's top wideouts. He has the size (6’0", 200 pounds), strength and leaping ability to contend with bigger receivers and is also a solid tackler in run support.
Gilbert should be an immediate starter and difference-maker in an NFL secondary, and he could be utilized for his kickoff return ability as well.
9. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Much like Luke Kuechly and Kiko Alonso did for the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills the past two years, respectively, C.J. Mosley is an NFL-ready playmaker who should be able to take an immediate leadership role in an NFL linebacker corps.
Mosley should be an every-down player right off the bat for an NFL defense. He is a terrific athlete who consistently makes tackles and has sideline-to-sideline playmaking range.
Mosley is an effective blitzer who works his way through blocks well despite subpar size (6’2”, 238 pounds), and he is very good at dropping back into coverage. He is a disciplined player in space yet seems to always be around the football.
With natural leadership tendencies and the versatility to play both the middle and outside linebacker positions, Mosley should have no trouble finding an immediate role in an NFL defense.
8. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The most dynamic offensive playmaker in this year’s draft class, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is a triple threat whose game as a receiver, kickoff returner and gadget-play runner is reminiscent to that of 2013 rookie sensation Cordarrelle Patterson.
Watkins is an outstanding athlete who can torch defensive backs deep with his speed, but he can also cut on a dime in space and has the strength to bounce off attempted tackles. He is a threat to turn any play into a big play, whether it be by simply getting behind the defense or by making defenders miss in the open field.
In addition to his athletic exploits that make him dangerous no matter how the ball ends up in his hands, Watkins is a very good route-runner. He also has the body control to make tough adjustments to passes in the air.
Watkins is a poor blocker and has some issues with concentration drops, but he should immediately make his NFL team’s offense more dynamic.
7. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Any NFL team looking for a big wideout who can attack the football in the air and make big plays should hope it has the opportunity to draft Texas A&M’s Mike Evans.
Even in a draft class full of big receivers, Evans stands out as its biggest contested-catch threat. With tremendous size (6’5”, 225 pounds), leaping ability and body control, Evans has an enormous catch radius and the strength to make tough grabs through contact.
Evans’ limited speed and burst are a concern, as those traits limit his ability to separate from defensive backs, but his abilities to make catches against coverage help make up for it. And while he might not outrun NFL defensive backs, he uses his vision well to find open-field running lanes and has proven tough to bring down with the ball in his hands.
Route-running development and catching consistency are other areas where Evans still needs to improve, but he can immediately add a big, impact target on the outside of an NFL passing offense. His playmaking potential makes him well worthy of being top-10 draft pick.
6. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Kyle Van Noy isn’t even projected as a first-round pick by many draft analysts, but there’s little reason why he shouldn’t be in the conversation to be among the top selections in this year’s draft. He is an exceptionally versatile defender who could be an impact player in any scheme.
Van Noy is a very good athlete who can make plays all over the field, has great instincts and seems to always be around the play. He is a sound tackler in space with great size for the position (6’3”, 244 pounds).
As a pass defender, Van Noy is especially versatile. He is a skilled edge-rusher with a great first step off the line of scrimmage, but he also weaves between blockers well with his agility and use of hands. That said, he is also a terrific coverage linebacker who has fluid hips, quick feet, has the ideal length and athleticism to cover tight ends and can make plays on the ball.
Van Noy might not be as flashy of an athlete as the most highly regarded defensive prospects, but he is as good a bet as anyone in this draft class to be the star of an NFL defense.
While he might be projected most naturally as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he could truly play any linebacker spot in any scheme while also having the potential to kick down to defensive end in pass-rushing situations.
5. Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
For a second straight year, the Mid-American Conference can boast having one of the NFL draft’s best prospects. Buffalo’s Khalil Mack is a fantastic all-around edge defender who should almost certainly end up being a top-10 draft pick.
Mack is a great all-around athlete who has an explosive first step, can chase down the ball with great pursuit speed and moves fluidly in space and in coverage.
He is a skilled pass-rusher who can use his speed, power and hands to create disruption off the edge and can also effectively drop back into coverage against running backs and tight ends.
Against the run, Mack has the size (6’3”, 248 pounds) and point-of-attack strength to hold up at the line of scrimmage while setting the edge effectively. He is also a very good tackler who wraps up with clean form and can drive ball-carriers backwards.
All in all, Mack can bring outstanding versatility and playmaking ability to an NFL defense. While ideally suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, he has the ability to move around through other linebacker spots and is also strong and skilled enough to play defensive end in a four-man front.
4. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Much like his team’s surprising run to the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, Greg Robinson’s rise to elite prospect status was unforeseen going into his redshirt sophomore season.
As Auburn made its way through one SEC opponent after another, Robinson dominated his competition, largely due to his incredible physical skill set. He combines ideal size for an NFL offensive tackle (6’5” and 320 pounds) with the power to truck through opponents and exceptional movement skills for his size.
On a run-heavy Tigers offense, Robinson showed his ability to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage by simply overpowering them and how he can explode up to the second level and pick up key downfield run blocks.
As a pass protector, Robinson’s game is very much still a work in progress. That said, his length, athleticism and strength should enable him to succeed in that capacity as he develops.
Robinson should be viewed as a legitimate prospect at left tackle, the position he played at Auburn, but he could also be a candidate to move to right tackle or inside to guard.
3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Even after a disappointing junior season in which he recorded only three sacks, many still consider South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney to be the best prospect in this year’s NFL draft. He still has the highest ceiling of any prospect in the class, as he should showcase a truly exceptional physical skill set at this year’s combine.
Clowney is listed at 6’6” and 274 pounds by South Carolina’s official athletics website, yet he is athletically more comparable to most safeties than a big defensive end. He combines an exceptional burst off the line of scrimmage and terrific speed with the length to keep blockers away and the power to drive through them.
Even at the next level, Clowney is likely to require double-teams, which he faced throughout his collegiate career, to keep him out of the backfield. While his game still has some technical flaws, his quickness and strength often prove simply too much for a single blocker to manage.
Clowney has the versatility to play multiple roles in any defensive scheme, and he has as much ability to be an immediate impact player as anyone in this draft class.
2. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews’ father, Bruce, is a Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman. The younger Matthews has the talent to potentially follow in his father’s footsteps and be one of the NFL’s best blockers.
With outstanding footwork and quickness, a long frame and good strength, Matthews is the complete package for an offensive tackle prospect.
He has an excellent technical skill set as a pass protector, as he naturally kick-slides, can mirror any opponent and rarely loses a battle when he has his opponent engaged. As a run-blocker, Matthews excels athletically at getting to the second level and picking up key downfield blocks.
Matthews has experience playing on both sides of the offensive line and should be able to immediately succeed as a starter at either left or right tackle. He might not be as flashy as the draft’s other top prospects, but he could truly solidify either side of an NFL offensive line.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t have the best size, strongest arm or most athleticism of this year’s quarterback draft class, but he has all the fundamental tools that NFL scouts should seek in a franchise signal-caller.
Bridgewater consistently throws the ball with accuracy and can hit receivers at all levels of the field with velocity. He has outstanding footwork in the pocket but also throws accurately as a scrambler on the move.
Teddy’s mechanics and decision-making under pressure look the part of a seasoned veteran rather than an incoming NFL rookie. He has demonstrated leadership and toughness and should be able to quickly pick up an NFL offense and thrive even in his rookie season.
There is no prospect in this year’s draft class with more value than Bridgewater, as he plays the most important position on the field and is the most complete prospect in the draft class.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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