2014 NFL Draft: How Early Is Too Early for These Noteworthy Prospects?

Shaun ChurchContributor IApril 8, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: How Early Is Too Early for These Noteworthy Prospects?

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    Blake Bortles reminds some of Ben Roethlisberger.
    Blake Bortles reminds some of Ben Roethlisberger.Rick Scuteri

    Every NFL draft provides surprise picks—those ones no one thought would happen despite months of speculation leading up to draft day. Some noteworthy players are picked too early, while some fall into “steal” range and are swooped up by teams as fast as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces they are on the clock.

    Offensive tackle Eric Fisher, 2013's top overall pick, could be considered a “too early” pick. He started 13 of the 14 games in which he played as a rookie, all at right tackle, and allowed a quarterback pressure on 10.02 percent of pass-blocking snaps according to data I collected from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which ranked 57th of 62 tackles who accumulated at least 300 pass-blocking snaps.

    That’s not to say Fisher won’t become a great tackle, because he has everything you want in a blindside blocker. But he probably shouldn’t have been the No. 1 overall selection.

    Here are 10 prospects who could be taken too early in the 2014 draft. How early is too early for them?

Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

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    Too Early: Top 10

    There is no denying the potential Blake Bortles has. He reminds some of Ben Roethlisberger with his body type and in the way he plays the game. But, to quote Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, via the team's website, “Potential ain’t s--t. Potential can get us all fired.”

    Potential goes both ways. A young football player with the potential to be very good on Sundays could potentially be ruined by his drafting team playing him too early—especially a bad team with a bad offensive line (see: David Carr's career).

    Bortles has everything you want in a quarterback: toughness, grit, leadership, size and an arm to make all the throws. But he’s not game-ready.

    Most teams drafting in the top 10 need a quarterback to come in and play early. The worst thing that could happen for Bortles is having one of those teams—like Houston, Jacksonville or Cleveland—overdraft him and ruin his career development potential.

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

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    Too Early: Round 1

    The 2013 draft broke a streak that began in 1964: At least one running back was taken in the first round every draft since then. That’s 49 consecutive drafts featuring a running back in Round 1.

    The changing landscape of the NFL is partly to blame for the quickly dropping value of running backs, but the past two crops of ball-carriers are also to blame.

    No running backs were taken in Round 1 of the last draft, but five were had in Round 2—Giovani Bernard, Le’Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy and Christine Michael.

    That’s a solid group of backs. Three of them made near-instant impacts for their respective teams, and the other two could be franchise-type backs down the road.

    And as for Carlos Hyde, it’s not that he’s not a talented back—he is. But this particular draft is stacked with instant-impact players ranging from offensive tackles to defensive backs to quarterbacks and, perhaps most notably, wide receivers.

    Expect Hyde to go early in Round 2 just as Bernard did (No. 37 overall to the Bengals). He could end up making an impact early on, but he’ll miss out on a Round 1-sized contract.

Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

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    Too Early: Top 20

    Is Eric Ebron athletic? You bet he is. Is he an underrated run-blocker? Sure. Does he catch the ball in traffic consistently? Nope.

    And there you find the problem with taking Ebron in the top 20.

    The athletic tight end had an 11.43 percent drop rate in 2013 according to Josh Norris of RotoWorld. That’s eight drops on 70 targets—far too many for a first-round talent. He dropped three passes against air at his pro day, which surely left a bad taste in many scouts’ mouths.

    Pass-catching technique can and will be taught to Ebron, but how long before the light comes on and he gets it is anyone’s guess.

    Will he still go in the top 20? You bet he will. Should he, though? Nope.

Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

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    Too Early: Top 20

    Say what you will about Taylor Lewan’s off-field issues, but I just don’t see it on the field. Athleticism aside, he makes too many mental mistakes to warrant being a top-of-the-first-round pick.

    That, added to his temper and misdemeanor assault charges, for which the arraignment was conveniently delayed until the days following the draft according to Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com, makes him a high-risk pick.

    He’s a top talent, no doubt. But he has a lot of work to do to get a handle on his temper and mental errors.

Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia

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    Too Early: Top 25

    There are many different opinions of Morgan Moses floating out there, ranging from “he can be really good really early” to “he’s not yet ready to play on Sundays.” Most agree he can be at least solid, though, a notion that won’t be argued here.

    I asked Seth Cox of TSHQ.co—who really likes Moses—to give a word on the type of player the former Cavalier is.

    “[Moses] is not as athletic or mean as you’d like him to be for a man his size,” Cox said. “But he wins consistently, even if it is ugly. You take him knowing that for the next three to five years, you will get some really good, [and] also some bad, but you won’t have a ‘need’ at that OT spot while he’s on the roster.”

    That’s why he has a late first- to early second-round grade; he can develop over time into a monster, but he’s a bit raw and will be made to look foolish occasionally—especially by stronger pass-rushers.

Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

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    Too Early: Top 10

    Is Aaron Donald that good? He may be a bit undersized for the position he plays, but the kid just makes plays in the backfield. He led the nation as a senior with 28.5 tackles for loss and finished fourth in the ACC with 11.0 sacks.

    For his career, he made 2.12 plays in the backfield per game (that’s tackles for loss plus sacks divided by games played).

    Taking him in the top 10 would be a bit much given the talent that will be available to teams picking there. But somewhere in the 11 to 15 range would be a good spot for him (beware of Chicago at 14).

    It’s not that a team won’t fall in love with his game and take him inside the top 10, but recent history shows teams typically shy away from taking defensive tackles that high. In the past decade, just eight have gone in the top 10—none from 2004 to 2006.

    A total of nine have gone between 11 and 15 in that time, and another three went between 16 and 20. You have to be a special player to be a top-10 pick at DT.

Carl Bradford, OLB/ILB/DE, Arizona State

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    Michael Conroy

    Too Early: Top 25

    Given his college production and versatility along the front seven, it would not be a surprise to see Carl Bradford sneak into the back end of Round 1 come May 8. He had at least part of a sack and tackle for loss in the same game 19 times at Arizona State, which is incredible.

    The fact that he’s a converted fullback makes that stat even more impressive.

    A team that runs a 3-4 scheme will fall in love with Bradford because it can place him at a different linebacker position four plays in a row, and he has the ability to go make a play every time.

    He’s undersized, at just under 6’1” and 250 pounds, so playing as a full-time edge-rusher may be asking too much. Bradford is versatile enough that moving him around the front seven early could be best for him. But some feel inside linebacker will be his best position, namely Rob Rang of CBS.com.

Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

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    Too Early: Top 15

    Anthony Barr is still in the development stage of his football life, and that has scouts drooling. He’s a freak athletically, and his extraordinary length gives him the advantage over many pass-rushers in this draft class.

    However, the fact that he’s still developing—he played only two years on defense at UCLA—works against him just as it does for him.

    He will need time to learn the ins and outs (and what-have-yous—name that movie) of playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Yes, that’s what he played his final two seasons in the Bruins defense, but it’s evident he still needs work in the run game and when dropping into coverage.

    Early on, he likely will be used as a situational pass-rusher a la Aldon Smith his rookie season with the 49ers. If Barr develops as Smith did, he would be worth the top-15 pick.

    But that is absolutely not a guarantee.

C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama

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    Too Early: Top 10

    C.J. Mosley is the best inside linebacker in the draft class; there’s no questioning that. He’s a sure tackler and is as fundamentally sound as any linebacker entering the draft.

    He led Alabama’s 3-4 defense from both inside and outside linebacker, but he has the athleticism to play Mike in a 4-3 should such a team draft him.

    Mosley does have injury concerns, however. Other than the dislocated hip he suffered during the 2011 national championship victory over archrival LSU, he was hampered by elbow and shoulder injuries throughout his ‘Bama career.

    That is reason enough for teams not to take him in the top 10, but he may not get much past 10 before he’s off the board on May 8. He can contribute even for a team set at inside linebacker because of his experience all over the linebacking front.

Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

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    Too Early: Round 1

    The problem with Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is not ability. He has the potential to become a top safety at the next level. The problem with him is that he doesn't show it often enough. Like Lewan, Clinton-Dix has too many mental mistakes on his resume to warrant being a first-round pick.

    Take his Auburn game from 2013—the now-infamous game that ended on a missed field-goal return for a touchdown by Auburn cornerback Chris Davis.

    Clinton-Dix was out of position numerous times during that game, often diving down toward the line of scrimmage and allowing big plays because of it, including the game-tying 39-yard touchdown pass from Nick Marshall to receiver Sammie Coates.

    That poor game is not a representation of the player Clinton-Dix will be, but it does mar his reputation as an intelligent, aware safety. He's a risk in the first round because he is too aggressive and is out of position at times, leaving the secondary vulnerable.