2014 NFL Draft: Which Prospects Are Dividing Expert Opinion?
No two NFL draft boards are alike. It's what makes the NFL draft process so entertaining for fans to follow and stressful at times for those in the media to finalize player rankings.
Everyone can have a differing opinion on a prospect, whether it's valuing his athleticism, evaluating his on-field performance or projecting how players will fit in the NFL.
Some players are more polarizing than others and are routinely debated throughout the process. Here are ten prospects that are the biggest topics of discuss.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
AJ McCarron is a three-time national champion and was a strong Heisman contender each of the last three seasons. He finished his college career with a 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has only two losses in his college career.
While I never use the words "winner" in my scouting reports, there is something to be said for the way McCarron managed the Alabama offense, demonstrating consistent ball placement, excellent anticipation and reliability in high-pressure situations. However, McCarron has never shown elite velocity and hasn't been asked to be much more than a game manager throughout his college career.
But where will McCarron go? After passing on the Senior Bowl, NFL evaluators likely still want to see him up close before they decide on where he'll fall on their board. I wouldn't be surprised if he went in the first round, as he's one of the more NFL-ready quarterbacks in this class, but his questionable upside likely pushes him to Day 2 of the draft.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The lightning rod of the 2014 quarterback class, Johnny Manziel is the first player fans look at when reading an evaluator's quarterback rankings.
He's undersized, but has ample arm strength to make throws downfield. He's elusive as a runner, but there are question marks about his ability in the pocket. He's had his fair share of off-field issues, but he interviewed well at the NFL combine.
For Lance Zierlin of The Sideline View, Manziel's the top overall prospect. For Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, he's the third best quarterback prospect and a worthwhile first-rounder. And for my rankings at Optimum Scouting, I feel he's more of a second-round worthy quarterback.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
After the breakout performance by Alshon Jeffery this year, every NFL franchise wants to find their own physical, ball-grabbing downfield threat.
Insert Mike Evans, who measured in over 6'4" with 35" arms at the combine and displayed highlight-reel, high-point catches throughout his college career.
However, despite his physical style of play, he may not be the instant impact receiver teams may expect. He has heavy legs and lacks great lateral quickness, leading to serious question marks about his explosiveness off the line and his ability to create separation in his route-running.
His flashes when playing with Johnny Manziel and his clear upside will likely attract teams in the top 20. Matt Miller and Mike Mayock both feel Evans is one of the best receivers in the class, while Jeff Risdon of DetroitLionsDraft.com and I feel he's more of a second-round value.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
At 6'5" and 240 pounds, and after a productive final season that led to a game-winning touchdown reception in the BCS Championship Game, there's clear excitement about Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Few athletes his size can move as fluidly as he does. And, as was the case with Mike Evans, teams are thirsty for big, physical receivers who can make catches in traffic and win jump balls against overmatched defensive backs.
But despite being a physical specimen and blessed with the potential down the line to develop into this draft's best receiver, Benjamin isn't without concerns. He lacks NFL-level route-running skills, doesn't have great lateral quickness in the open field and doesn't dominate in the middle of the field as well as he should for a receiver with his body type.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network feels he's a top-five receiver in this class, while Matt Miller and I feel he's more of a second-round prospect.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Will Sutton was one of the country's best defensive players in the country as a junior, finishing with 23.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. However, after the coaching staff asked him to bulk up to over 300 pounds, his productivity dropped, as did his draft value.
But even after cutting some weight for the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine (weighing in at 303 pounds in Indianapolis), Sutton struggled during the combine workouts and did little to help restore his draft stock. He ran a 5.36 in the 40-yard dash and finished near the bottom in the broad jump, vertical jump and three-cone drill among defensive linemen.
Sutton wasn't among Mike Mayock's top-five defensive tackles and came in at No. 55 on National Football Post's Big Board, but he is still considered a first-round talent for Rotoworld.com's Josh Norris.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney's talent is undeniable. After running a blistering 4.52 at the NFL Scouting Combine and displaying highlight-reel pass-rushing moves throughout his college career, Clowney is destined to be one of the top three picks in the 2014 draft.
But concerns over his work ethic and motor have been the narrative when it comes to discussing Clowney, and NFL Network's Mike Mayock and National Football Post's Greg Gabriel don't have him as the best player in the draft.
Despite their rankings, most feel Clowney is the best player in this class and shouldn't be ruled out for the first overall selection. Possessing NFL-ready pass-rushing skills and elite athletic ability, Clowney has the chance to be the Andrew Luck of defensive draft prospects. And in my opinion, any team that passes on Clowney will regret it for years to come.
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
A highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, Stephon Tuitt's college production and flashes have gotten evaluators excited the last two seasons thanks to his impact on the defense. However, when it comes to his NFL position, I expect that the majority of NFL teams will struggle to find an exact position for him.
At 6'5", 304 pounds, Tuitt has a remarkable build and physical tools. But he's a bit stiff in his hips and doesn't have great pass-rush versatility on the edge. And when asked to work inside, he plays too high at times and is too easily pushed aside.
In our rankings at Optimum Scouting, we have him graded as a defensive tackle and a third-round pick. NFL Network's Mike Mayock doesn't have Tuitt in his top-five defensive tackles, while Rob Rang of CBS Sports reported that some teams compare Tuitt to Richard Seymour.
Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
After measuring in under 6'0" at the NFL Scouting Combine and ranking among the worst in most drills at the linebacker position, Chris Borland likely will be a tough sell to NFL general managers on draft day in the first two rounds.
A consistent and productive playmaker throughout his college career, Borland routinely finished plays as a tackler and in coverage throughout his college career. But at times he struggled to get off blocks and may be limited to a 3-4 defense at the next level.
Despite this, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, Mike Mayock of NFL Network and Tony Pauline of Draft Insider all consider him among the best linebackers in this class and worthy of a top-50 pick. Greg Gabriel of National Football Post agrees with me, however, that Borland is only a mid-round value who may struggle to remain productive at the NFL level.