2014 NFL Draft: Projecting Floor, Ceiling for Each Top Prospect
As we close in on the NFL draft, analysts, media and arm-chair Mayocks all know who the supposed best of the class are and can tell you what they think of each one’s potential (or lack thereof).
Of course, it’s all subjective.
One man’s Khalil Mack is another man’s Anthony Barr, “tumbling” down boards. And even that is all guesswork as we don't know what to believe from our sources and what is no more than manipulative smoke.
But we can look at the skills present on film and whatever scraps of information we have on their habits and take a stab at what their best case and worst case scenarios are.
In order to set a basis to work off of, I’ll use the top ten from the current rankings from CBSSports.com.
There are no real surprises here, so we're all working from the same group of names and it's not some arbitrary list I pulled out of thin air.
So enjoy as we look at each of the top 10 prospects according to the guys at CBS Sports and what I think their potential is for good and ill.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Well, after the combine, his pro day and his college tape, we know for sure Jadeveon Clowney is an athletic freak. The question marks about his work-ethic linger, but there is a ton of potential here if he stays focused.
Ceiling: Is his ceiling the Hall of Fame? Well, some might think so, but let’s try and throttle it back a bit. Clowney has ridiculous athleticism for a guy his size and is exceedingly pro ready.
He can play all over the line (admittedly to varying degrees of effectiveness). Clowney has the type of talent where he could finish as Rookie Defensive Player of the Year as well a Pro Bowler, a guy who could abuse quarterbacks and running backs with equal effectiveness for a decade.
Floor: The floor here is equally easy to gauge, because all we need to assume is that he cashes his first check and blows things off. All the concerns about work-ethic get proven and he never reaches his potential.
With his natural talent, it’s hard to imagine him as a Brian Bosworth/Vernon Gholston bust but if he doesn’t dedicate himself to football, you could definitely see him end up as merely a role player or pass rush specialist.
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
I happen to be more of a Jake Matthews guy, but Greg Robinson is an incredibly good tackle as well. He is an outstanding run-blocker and a good, but developing pass-blocker.
He only started for two years at Auburn, which means he is a bit inexperienced in some ways but also still hasn’t reached his potential.
Ceiling: As a best case scenario, Robinson could easily step right into left tackle for some lucky team. There’s a good chance he’ll start off at right as he improves his pass-blocking, but it wouldn’t be for that long.
Wherever he starts off on the line, Robinson would quickly get up to speed and be able to protect either side of an offensive line, kicking off a career which would span many years.
Floor: The worst case scenario here is Robinson never quite gets his pass-blocking up to snuff and ends up either stuck at right tackle or, worse, kicked into the interior at guard.
He never proves he can hold down the left side of the line and tops out quickly, proving his upside wasn’t quite as high as we thought.
Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Blake Bortles is a pretty tricky prospect. His positive traits (he can make every throw) may blind some of us to inadequacies in his game (his arm isn’t elite and he stares his receivers down too much). You see exciting things in his game, but you also see a guy who needs to develop.
The good thing is, Bortles himself recognizes he needs to improve, telling myself and other media members at the combine, “100 percent, I need coaching, I need help and I’m going to work my butt off.”
Ceiling: Amazingly this is a guy who says he’s a work in progress but was very effective in college.
So really the sky is the limit assuming he can reach it. His upside could be really big and while he might start off rough (depending on where he goes), he’s able to overcome his mistakes with help from his supporting cast, his ability to scramble at 6’5”, 235 pounds and some extra time in the film room.
I don’t think his upside is Rookie of the Year (though I guess everybody’s could be) but he could be a very good starter in year one, who could quickly get a franchise on track.
Floor: Well, do you really want a work in progress as an early first-round pick?
Because if he misses, you could be setting your franchise back years—just ask the Vikings, Titans and Jaguars.
The floor here is Bortles never fixes his deep-ball accuracy under pressure, stares his receivers down continually and his lack of top-shelf arm has him under-throwing his receivers on deep balls.
The floor is, someone spends a top pick on Bortles, who ends up a backup.
**Quotes above taken first hand at the 2014 NFL combine**
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Incredibly productive, phenomenal ball skills and good speed—it looks like Sammy Watkins has it all. A lot of fans are salivating that their team might be lucky enough to have him drop to them or that their team might even trade up for him.
Ceiling: The ceiling here is we have another Calvin Johnson on our hands, a playmaker who requires multiple defenders to even slow him down.
Watkins looks very much like a guy who can step into a lineup like Randy Moss and make an impact as a rookie. It’s hard for rookie wide receivers to do this, and it's normally a shock, like it was when Keenan Allen burst onto the scene last year for San Diego.
But with the right quarterback and opportunity, Watkins appears to have enough talent to shine from day one.
Floor: We all know that it takes rookie receivers time to develop,and going high could mean Watkins steps into a situation where he has a terrible offense around him. He might not be able to overcome that and we could see a situation—such as we saw for years with Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald—that he languishes in a bad situation.
Further, Watkins is only really about average height and weight for the position—what if he can’t quite hold up to the physical play of NFL defensive backs?
Watkins could be drafted as a No. 1 receiver, only to end up as just a No. 2.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews is my favorite tackle in the draft this year, though that’s no slight on the excellent Greg Robinson. To me, Matthews is ready to step on the field and contribute in both passing and running situations in a way Robinson is still learning.
Matthews might not have the buzz former teammate Luke Joeckel had last year but he could be better.
Ceiling: At the top end, I could see Matthews drafted to start at left tackle and excelling. As he can run and pass block, he won’t have the learning curve some other tackles have, which makes him a safe bet at either bookend tackle.
Matthews’ potential is to be a Pro Bowl left tackle for a decade.
Floor: Well, for every tackle we see come out who seems like a sure thing to secure the left side, there are plenty of guys who don’t.
Matthews sometimes locks his feet and stops moving them, but he doesn’t have the foot speed to recover easily. Against faster defensive ends, that could be a problem.
If that happens, we could easily be looking at a guy who ends up kicked inside at guard.
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
There’s always some guy who rockets up draft boards and “wows” us when we didn’t expect it.
This year it’s Buffalo’s Khalil Mack.
Mack is a guy who flashes tremendous athleticism, especially for a guy his size, who right now is projected as the top linebacker in the 2014 NFL draft.
From a guy nobody knew to a potential top five pick.
Ceiling: Mack has the upside to be an impact pass-rushing force, a guy who can dominate from day one and hammer opposing quarterbacks.
He’s a guy who makes me think of the Denver Broncos’ Von Miller minus the potential marijuana issues and hipster glasses. Miller is an absolute monster—Mack has that potential as well.
Floor: Of course, the big concern with any “small school” guy is that when he starts playing higher levels of competition, he doesn’t look anywhere near as good as he did with the small fish in his small pond.
Mack is going to have to learn to freelance less and play more contained but he could get lost doing so.
I love the guy so I hope this isn’t the case, but he could easily be a bust—a guy who looked great in college but was over-hyped and washed out when he played with the “big boys.”
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Oh, Johnny Football. We could do a whole article just on you. In fact, B/R’s Mike Schottey did just that recently.
We don’t have an article to spend on Manziel, but we know you have an opinion on him. Everyone does.
Ceiling: Manziel has been compared to a lot of things—often unflattering—but one thing we know is he is exciting to watch. The upside is, that ability, the excitement he brings translates to the NFL. The work ethic concerns, the off-field concerns and the durability worries never come to pass.
His technique tightens up, he plays a little more restrained—but not enough to dim the Johnny Football magic—and has an incredible rookie season reminiscent of guys like Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton.
If he hits his potential, he has Pro Bowl written all over him.
Floor: People will disagree with me often on this, but I think Manziel probably has the highest upside of any rookie quarterback in this class and the deepest, chasm-like floor.
Because if Manziel gets caught up in the hype, if he can’t put the Johnny Football personality away, if he won’t put in the time he needs to because he is flying to Drake concerts—well, he could be a disaster.
He may never play more contained, leading to some giant Hail Marys which could be intercepted if he doesn’t have someone like his old receiver Mike Evans to haul them in. And if he doesn’t learn to slide or remain in the pocket longer, he opens himself up to injury, just like Griffin.
Whereas the other two main quarterbacks seem to have skill sets which could allow them to serve as backups, Manziel feels like an all-or-nothing affair.
Starter or bust.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
It seems like over the last month or so talk that Barr was potentially a better linebacker prospect than Buffalo’s Khalil Mack has died and Barr’s landing spot has become something of a mystery.
He’s still got a ton of potential though, and having played against a higher quality of opponent in his career, he might be the safer bet.
Ceiling: Barr has shown a lot of ferocity in his time as a Bruin, and that should translate to some heavy hits to make ball-carriers think twice about heading his direction. In this scenario, Barr improves his run defense and his inexperience (just two years) doesn’t hurt him in coverage.
More than likely he isn’t a three-down linebacker, but if he picks up things quickly enough, he could end up with a big role in his rookie season.
Floor: As he is still developing as a run-stopper and is a bit less experienced than some of his contemporaries in coverage, teams might try to exploit him. While he may hit hard, the truth is that many offensive players are used to that and it may not faze them.
Barr has to continue to develop, but if he doesn’t do so quickly enough, his impact will be limited and he could find himself in a situational role at best during his career.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
While many around the “draftnick industrial complex” are talking about him sliding, I still believe Bridgewater is the most pro-ready quarterback in this class and if it were up to me, he’d be the first overall pick as quarterback is a much bigger issue than defensive end for Houston.
But as a nice gentleman on Twitter told me recently, “It’s a good thing it’s not up to you then.”
Ceiling: A guy like Teddy Bridgewater should be able to step in immediately and take over an offense. As the most “pro-ready” quarterback in this class, Bridgewater doesn’t have to get used to being under center or making progressions—he comes ready to do all those things.
His ceiling is that he could be a very special player—while perhaps not on the level of an Andrew Luck, he could be a great franchise-saving quarterback in the vein of a Matt Ryan or Matt Stafford.
Bridgewater has the skill set to challenge for Offensive Rookie of the Year out of the gate.
Floor: We’ve all heard the knocks at this point—too small a build, low release point, mediocre strength of opponent. What if they all come true? Disaster!
On the less ridiculous tip, I really think worst case scenario here is Bridgewater is a competent starter who is good enough to keep you playing well as a team but never good enough to take you far into the playoffs. Picture Andy Dalton’s current career.
Which, really, is worse than a flat-out bust. A bust you can cut, but it’s harder to dump a quarterback who at least gets you wins on a consistent basis—even if he’s not good enough to win you a Super Bowl.
It’s hard to change when you’re winning, even if you’re not winning the big games.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert is an athletic corner who can handle long routes as well as short, extends well to pluck a ball away from a receiver and isn’t shy about tackling.
He didn’t win the Thorpe Award for best defensive back, but he could end up with plenty of accolades at the pro level.
Ceiling: Gilbert is so athletic and smart, you can see him being able to adjust early to faster and bigger wide receivers than he saw in college. I could see him hawking a few balls and returning them for big gains early on in his career and really, he could conceivably step into a starting role right away.
Depending on the team, that could make him very busy, but he has the ability to take succeed.
He could be a guy who ends up with a Patrick Peterson career.
Floor: I don’t really see a distant floor for Gilbert, but it’s possible his first year goes a lot like Dee Milliner’s.
Milliner came on late but struggled early on as teams picked on him (and he dealt with lingering injuries). While Gilbert is a super-smooth athlete and could keep up with virtually anyone when playing at Oklahoma State, that’s no sure thing at the NFL level.
Gilbert has the athleticism to recover quickly if he needs to, but it’s harder to do when the receivers are as fast as they are at the pro level. He could find himself playing off and watching a guy like Calvin Johnson fly past him or Jordy Nelson outmuscle him for the ball.
While he has as high a ceiling as I have seen in a corner in a while, he could end up being a decent corner who never really lives up to promise. Someone you can use as part of a tandem but ultimately not a guy you could count on if you need someone to cover a No. 1 on the other team.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.