2014 NFL Draft: Highlighting the Most Electric Prospects in This Year's Class
This May, over 300 NFL draft prospects will sit in green rooms and living rooms, waiting to get the call of their lives. But not all prospects are created equally. We are highlighting these players because they are the most electric prospects of the 2014 class.
Speed, power and vision help, which is how guys like Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson have risen to stardom. Lynch is certainly not the fastest running back in the league, but I’ll be damned if you can find a back more difficult to tackle. His will to earn extra yards is rare and fun to watch, no matter your fandom—coming from a Cardinals fan, it is both a pain and a joy to watch Lynch run, if that makes any sense.
The 2014 draft is deep in talent and packed with future stars. These are the most electric prospects the class has to offer.
The Explosion Number is the creation of former NFL front office guru and current CBS Sports NFL Insider Pat Kirwan. It adds a player's bench press total, vertical leap (in inches) and broad jump (in feet) to get a number to compare prospects.
For example, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert benched 225 pounds 20 times, recorded a vertical of 35.5 inches and posted a broad jump of 126 inches (10.5 feet). Twenty reps plus a 35.5-inch vertical plus a 10.5-foot broad jump equals a 66.0 Explosion Number.
Kirwan says in his book Take Your Eye Off the Ball, “A prospect with an Explosion Number of 70.0 or above has my attention.”
The leaders by position are listed above. Only players who completed all three drills qualify, so quarterbacks are left out because they all skipped the bench press.
Another Kirwan formula, the Production Ratio is a simple way to tell how productive a front-seven prospect was in college. It adds up sacks and tackles for loss, then divides that total by the number of games in which the player appeared to get a per-game average on plays made behind the line of scrimmage.
If a player had 15 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in 40 career games, his Production Ratio is 1.0, which is what Kirwan says he looks for. A Production Ratio of 1.0 or above is good.
Justin Gilbert, Cornerback
Only three prospects ran a faster 40 time at the combine than cornerback Justin Gilbert did. His 4.37-second performance set the pace for defensive backs, and he also had the highest Explosion Number among corners at 66.0.
Gilbert is special with the ball in his hands. While some defenders look awkward after an interception or fumble recovery, Gilbert is a natural, possessing juke moves that also make him a good return man.
B/R NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller really likes (loves?) Gilbert and considers him a top-10 talent.
You can’t fault him for it. Gilbert may struggle with tackling, and he’s not the most physical cornerback you’ll ever see play. But he is very good at doing what cornerbacks are chiefly paid to do: cover wide receivers.
His return ability is almost a bonus, because as a defensive back, he’s worth a top-10 pick. He’s comparable to Patrick Peterson of the Cardinals: a supremely talented, uber-athletic defensive back with swagger and return skills. You can’t ask for much more than that out of a corner.
Khalil Mack, Outside Linebacker
Defining outside linebacker Khalil Mack as “electric” may seem odd, but the soon-to-be first-round pick is definitely that. He picked off only four passes at Buffalo, but he returned two for touchdowns and totaled 148 yards on returns.
His 2.16 Production Ratio is incredible too. Mack racked up 28.5 sacks and 75.0 tackles for loss in college to go with 327 total tackles.
After all that came the NFL Scouting Combine, where he impressed once again. He posted a 4.65-second 40-yard dash, a 40-inch vertical and 23 reps on the bench. He’s among the more explosive players in the entire draft class, and it translates onto the field.
B/R AFC East lead writer Erik Frenz recently worked up a nice piece comparing Mack to Denver Broncos star linebacker Von Miller. Frenz notes that others have compared Mack to different NFL players, all with the same theme: He is really good and will produce on Sundays.
Jerick McKinnon, Running Back
There isn’t much tape on former Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon, but what’s out there shows a bully with the ball in his hands. To compare him to a current NFL player, he’s essentially a more explosive Ray Rice.
His 1.46-second 10-yard split was among the best recorded this year, and that quickness shows on the field. However, like Rice, he does not possess long speed—meaning he slows down on longer gains. But he also has cut-on-a-dime capability unmatched in this draft, which makes him very dangerous in the open field.
McKinnon wasn’t used much in the passing game at Georgia Southern, but that’s because they run a very different triple-option offense, and if he wasn’t running the ball, he was passing it.
That’s right: McKinnon threw 81 passes in college for 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. The quirky offense allowed him to move around a lot and exploit over-aggressive defenses—even leading to the defeat of the Florida Gators last season in which McKinnon scored the game-winning touchdown with under four minutes remaining in the game.
In that game, he carried nine times for 125 yards (13.9 yards per carry) and the said touchdown.
McKinnon is a largely unknown commodity to draft fans, but he may not be for long.
Dri Archer, Running Back/Wide Receiver
It’s possible that Dri Archer hurt his draft stock by returning for a senior season at Kent State. In 2012, he averaged 10.1 yards per touch—that’s receptions plus carries—and scored 20 touchdowns while notching 1,990 yards from scrimmage.
That’s not even mentioning that he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and threw for another.
His senior year was less impressive as he battled injury, but he still managed 7.8 yards per carry and 13.1 yards per reception in 10 games.
Then there’s his combine performance. Archer came within 0.03 seconds of setting an NFL Scouting Combine record for electronically timed 40-yard dashes with his 4.26-second performance.
He won’t be a Day 1 pick, and he may not be a Day 2 pick. But someone will take him in the later rounds and be pleasantly surprised at the production they receive from Archer. He’s a playmaker, and playmakers always find a way onto the field.
Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver
"He’s a great player, but he’s maybe the most humble guy on this [Clemson] team—the most low-maintenance great player I’ve ever been around."—Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney on Sammy Watkins
Praise like that gets around in NFL front offices. Scouts know about his humility; head coaches know about his humility; and most importantly, general managers—the men making draft-day decisions—know about it.
While Watkins the person will be great for an NFL locker room soon enough, Watkins the player is who will put butts in seats on Sundays. He is about to be the star of whichever offense he graces with his presence.
Watkins isn’t the fastest receiver in the class—that honor belongs to Brandin Cooks, who blazed a 4.33-second 40 at the combine—but he features breakaway speed, ankle-breaking juke moves and the elite acceleration to put it all together.
Having suction-cup hands helps his cause as well. Watkins is one of the most sure-handed receivers in the class, and that, together with his freakish athleticism, makes him one of the most electric prospects of the 2014 draft class.
Odell Beckham Jr., Wide Receiver
He’s not a pure speedster, but former LSU standout Odell Beckham Jr. may be the best route-runner in the 2014 draft class. His 5’11” frame is solidly built, and he is physical with and without the ball in his hands.
What you love to see from Beckham is his ability to make things happen after the catch. He made his name as a receiver on out routes and comebacks at LSU, mainly because of his superior cutting ability. His chop stride is elite (the short, choppy steps a receiver takes while getting ready to break off his route), which helps him create the separation needed to make passes look like a simple pitch-and-catch routine.
But Beckham also returns punts and kicks. In 2013, he averaged 10.1 yards per punt return and 26.9 yards per kick return; both were good for third in the SEC.
His spectacular change-of-direction ability allows him to elude defenders and special teams players, and that is what makes him one of the most electric prospects in this draft.
Eric Ebron, Tight End
Former North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron has been compared to San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. They have similar body types, and both are superior athletes with underrated blocking ability.
Ebron may be an even better athlete than Davis is—which is saying a lot.
In three seasons at Chapel Hill, Ebron notched 112 receptions for 1,805 yards (16.1 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns. His big-play ability overshadows a minor issue he’s had with drops, but catching the football can be worked on at the next level.
It can be overlooked for a couple years because of the plays he assuredly will make. Some guys don’t get that chance because they aren’t on the level athletically that Ebron is, so he should consider himself lucky.
But if he’s two or three seasons into his NFL career and still having issues catching the football consistently, there could be a problem between he and his drafting franchise.