In less than 30 days, the 2014 NFL draft will be upon us. And as we sit four weeks out, no one has any idea what to expect.
The Houston Texans are being quiet as we approach the draft as to whom or what they're looking for with the first overall pick. Do they want a quarterback, an offensive tackle or an edge defender? They might know, but as of now, no one else does.
And such is the reason most of us love the NFL draft. It's the best reality show on television.
Five Up, Five Down
5. WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
Last week I wrote about Robinson being a potential faller due to some poor testing times and the rise of other underclassmen at the position. He definitely helped his case with a strong pro day this week. Robinson timed a "sub 4.5" according to Gil Brandt in the 40-yard dash after running a pedestrian 4.60 at the combine. That, plus his overall explosive numbers (vertical, short shuttle, 10-yard split), helps his case this week.
Current ranking: No. 46 overall
4. WR Bruce Ellington, South Carolina
One of my favorite scheme-specific players in this year's class, Bruce Ellington has NFL-ready skills to be a slot man right away. He's explosive, quick in traffic and does an excellent job locating the ball on the move. He has the body type, speed and fearless nature to dominate on option routes and quick hits over the middle.
Current ranking: No. 74
3. DT George Uko, USC
More than in any other year, I'm still playing catch-up trying to get in film time with all the underclassmen from this year's draft class. USC's George Uko was up on my list earlier this week, and I was impressed. Very impressed, actually. His quickness off the line is a major strength, and he follows that up with good arm/hand use. He's raw, but as an athlete on the defensive line there is a lot to work with.
Current ranking: No. 96
2. OG Trai Turner, LSU
With Brandon Thomas' unfortunate ACL tear and my cooling on David Yankey, there's a big opening for a top-tier offensive guard in this year's class. With that in mind and the LSU pro day happening this week, I turned to Trai Turner. While he's not as agile as Xavier Su'a-Filo from UCLA, Turner has the strength to instantly step in and power the run game as a left or right guard.
He's a Year 1 starter.
Current ranking: No. 72
1. DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Evaluating players from the media side of things can be difficult, as we don't get as much time to sit and talk with a prospect. When analyzing a talented, raw player with questionable work ethic and production, that's a big hole in the process if you can't dissect why the film was disappointing at times.
Ra'Shede Hageman falls into that category. On film you see flashes of absolute dominance, and his freakish ability at 6'6" and 310 pounds is unreal. He could be the next Richard Seymour if he gets motivated—and that's what I'm banking on. If Hageman finds consistency, he'll be a star.
Current ranking: No. 20
5. WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
You don't have to put a ton of stock in a pro day workout to put the right amount of stock in a poor 40-yard time. It happened to Keenan Allen last year and even to Kendall Wright the year before that—run a bad time and your stock will fall.
That's where Jarvis Landry is right now. At his size (5'11", 205 lbs) a 4.63 time isn't good, even if it's better than the 4.77 he turned in at the combine after pulling up injured. Questions about Landry's speed will be enough to keep him out of the first 50 picks in May's draft.
Current ranking: No. 53 overall
4. DE Will Clarke, West Virginia
In preparation for our coverage of the 2014 draft, I was asked this week to give strengths and weaknesses on Will Clarke to justify his ranking. The room got quiet as I tried to come up with strengths. The meeting, and exercise, had me going back to see why he was ranked so highly. Clarke has the body (6'6", 271 lbs) and good musculature, but his play is a wash. While he does have big upside, he's a man without a true position or clearly marked strengths.
Current ranking: No. 116
3. DE Chris Smith, Arkansas
In the scouting industry there's always talk of a pass-rusher who "doesn't have a plan" when coming off the snap. That's Chris Smith. The Arkansas edge defender looks the part of an edge-rusher but doesn't consistently play the part. His speed move around the edge worked in college with some success, but he has to learn and develop actual pass-rushing moves to succeed in the NFL.
Current ranking: No. 108
2. DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
The 2014 class doesn't lack for top defensive tackle talent, and when that happens you become more critical of the second- or third-tier players. When evaluating Kelcy Quarles I see a good amount of potential and raw tools, but he's far from a finished product and doesn't flash the quickness to survive as a 3-technique pass-rusher in the NFL.
Current ranking: No. 122
1. OG Brandon Thomas, Clemson
A torn ACL while working out for the New Orleans Saints is devastating for Brandon Thomas. A player with late first-round ability as a guard or tackle, Thomas' injury coming a month before the draft could easily push him into the late rounds. It wouldn't be a surprise for a team to draft Thomas and stash him on IR for a season until healthy, but the value of an injured/rehabbing player is much lower and will cost Thomas in draft positioning and rookie money.
Current ranking: No. 181
The Scout’s Report
—A rumor making its way through the NFL says that Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr is asking teams to sign his brother David—the former No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Texans—if they plan to draft him. I'm told from people close to the family that this is 100 percent untrue.
—Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer is generating major buzz as the draft nears. The Hoosier will work out for 17 teams at a private workout expected to take place on April 22. He's also taking nine visits, per a source close to the wideout.
—Quarterback Zach Mettenberger was able to throw at LSU's pro day just five months after surgery to repair his torn ACL. While Mettenberger's throwing was average, one scouting director I spoke to wasn't there to see Mettenberger's accuracy, but just the fact that he was cleared to perform so soon after surgery.
—The Philadelphia Eagles are reportedly serious about getting a wide receiver in the first two rounds. My source pointed to Chip Kelly's presence at the Penn State pro day and that he'll be there to watch Cody Latimer work out in person as evidence of this.
—Arizona State running back Marion Grice is one of my favorite players in this draft, but a leg injury continues to slow him down. I'm told by people at ASU that Grice ran at his private workout before he was fully healthy—which is why he turned in a disappointing 4.68 in the 40-yard dash.
—SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert is picking up big buzz the closer we get to the draft. The former Texas Longhorn is seen as a potential developmental player, but his size (6'3", 223 lbs), arm strength and experience are all big positives in an otherwise average quarterback class.
— Central Florida running back Storm Johnson told me he's visiting the San Francisco 49ers Monday, April 14. He will also visit his hometown Atlanta Falcons April 22. The UCF back has size (6'0", 209 lbs) and exceptional hands but has to cure a fumbling issue. If he does that, he has legitimate NFL-starter ability.
—Speaking of running backs, in talking to league scouts this week, there is no consensus No. 1 runner in this year's class. Some like Carlos Hyde, while others mentioned Tre Mason, Charles Sims and Bishop Sankey as possibilities.
"Bend and Burst"
When talking about edge pass-rushers, we want to see a player "bend" the edge (force the offensive tackle back away from the line of scrimmage and then turn on him toward the quarterback) and explode with burst in his closing speed. Thus, bend and burst.
Robert Mathis is a great example of a high-level bend and burst artist, as his initial quickness causes tackles to panic and get depth off the line, but he's then agile and flexible enough to turn his hips and make that sharp left-hand turn to get to the quarterback with an exceptional burst.
The running back position may be devalued some by front offices, but the best teams in the NFL all have a strong, reliable running game. The Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles all powered their offenses with the run—and in a copycat league, don't be surprised if the run becomes trendy again.
With that in mind, let's look at my top-ranked runner—Carlos Hyde from Ohio State.
RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
No player I've seen improved as much as Carlos Hyde did between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The 6'0", 230-pound bruiser was a between-the-tackles plodder before his senior season but came out of the gate faster, more toned and with exceptional vision and burst in his final year at Ohio State.
Looking at Hyde's strengths, he's obviously a big man with the power to run through interior holes. He showed remarkable burst and second-gear speed this year, pulling away from defenses when he saw daylight. Hyde is also a very good receiver, something that gets lost when you start to think of him as only a power back.
He's the most NFL-ready of all the starting-caliber backs in this year's class and has a shot to be the first runner off the board.
You definitely have to wonder why it took so long for the light bulb to go on for Hyde, as he didn't show the same burst, power or violence in previous years. That's concern No. 1.
On inside runs you will see Hyde let his feet go dead, something you absolutely cannot do in the NFL. That stop-and-start move he does while looking for a hole will turn him into Trent Richardson if he doesn't learn to see the hole on the go and attack it at full speed.
Pro Player Comparison: Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
The Big Board
|1||QB Teddy Bridgewater||Louisville|
|2||DE Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina|
|3||WR Sammy Watkins||Clemson|
|4||OT Greg Robinson||Auburn|
|5||OLB Khalil Mack||Buffalo|
|6||OT Jake Matthews||Texas A&M|
|7||WR Mike Evans||Texas A&M|
|8||CB Justin Gilbert||Oklahoma State|
|9||DE Kony Ealy||Missouri|
|10||DT Aaron Donald||Pitt|
|11||QB Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M|
|12||TE Eric Ebron||North Carolina|
|13||OLB Anthony Barr||UCLA|
|14||ILB C.J. Mosley||Alabama|
|15||WR Odell Beckham Jr.||LSU|
|16||FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Alabama|
|17||QB Blake Bortles||UCF|
|18||QB Derek Carr||Fresno State|
|19||DE Dee Ford||Auburn|
|20||DT Ra'Shede Hageman||Minnesota|
|21||WR Brandin Cooks||Oregon State|
|22||CB Kyle Fuller||Virginia Tech|
|23||CB Darqueze Dennard||Michigan State|
|24||OT Taylor Lewan||Michigan|
|25||OT Zack Martin||Notre Dame|
|26||SS Calvin Pryor||Louisville|
|27||CB Jason Verrett||TCU|
|28||DT Louis Nix III||Notre Dame|
|29||DT Timmy Jernigan||FSU|
|30||WR Davante Adams||Fresno State|
|31||OLB Ryan Shazier||Ohio State|
|32||TE Jace Amaro||Texas Tech|
10. Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron may or may not be doing a reality show—and everyone I spoke to says he's definitely involved—but either way his association with it is a bad look for NFL teams. A general manager or head coach doesn't want his incoming quarterback bringing along the distraction of a reality show with him. And in this day and age of the media downgrading players (Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel) for being star-struck, McCarron has to also be criticized for his decision to let the cameras follow him around before he's even taken an NFL snap.
9. Speaking of downgrading quarterbacks, I shared on Twitter what one longtime NFL scout told me about grading potential draftees at the position—they don't want them married. This particular scout lists being married (especially with kids) as a negative for a rookie quarterback, as he doesn't want any distractions or reasons for that player to be away from the film room and facility while he learns the game. I'm not saying I agree, but it's very interesting to see what areas teams will focus on when evaluating players.
8. Taking something I tweeted this week and expanding on it—I would not be surprised if Derek Carr is the second quarterback drafted in May. Drafting quarterbacks is all about personal preference, and if enough teams in the top five pass on passers, Carr could benefit greatly and be the second one off the board to Cleveland or Minnesota.
7. For all the talk of the running back position being devalued, the 2015 draft class will bring up an interesting conversation about the value of the spot. With Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon, Melvin Gordon and Mike Davis all eligible next year, teams may be willing to spend a first-round pick on a running back again.
6. Since we're looking ahead to 2015 already—and I am preparing a watch list for next year's draft—the quarterback class is intriguing. Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Jameis Winston and Bryce Petty are all near the top of my database for next season.
5. Another week, another group of people asking if I'm still high on Teddy Bridgewater. I am, and will be until the draft ends. He's my top-rated passer and top-ranked overall player. Call it crazy or stubborn, but this is my guy.
4. Here's my take on the TMZ report that Colin Kaepernick was involved in a "sexual assault"—wait. Just wait and see. We're too quick to cast judgment the minute news comes out about an investigation. Maybe we learn from the past and let this breathe before taking sides.
UPDATE: Kaepernick has since taken to Twitter to criticize the TMZ report.
(1/3) The charges made in the TMZ story and other stories I’ve seen are completely wrong. They make things up about me that never happened.— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) April 11, 2014
3. And since we're on the subject of off-field issues, Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham may not be charged with an alleged burglary, but the details are scary. Green-Beckham is a physical freak, but the off-field reports continue to pile up. As he heads into what will likely be his final year at Missouri, he has a lot of questions to answer.
2. Toughest evaluation in my career? Johnny Manziel. He's so difficult to quantify as a prospect because he's an innovative player unlike any I've seen. I like Manziel a lot and think he could be a long-term NFL starter, but he's blazing his own trail into the NFL.
1. It's that time of year again where I must clear up confusion about NFL draft player rankings. My rankings, or Big Board, are not a prediction of draft order. For example, Teddy Bridgewater ranked No. 1 overall does not mean I'm predicting him to be the first pick in the draft. Rather, it's my prediction/expectation that Bridgewater is the most talented player in the class. My goal as an analyst isn't to tell you whom NFL teams should draft, but to explain whom they should draft and why.
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
@EricWinston, NFL offensive tackle, NFLPA president
One of my very first player interviews way back in the day was of Eric Winston, then a top-ranked junior left tackle at the University of Miami. Winston would go to the NFL while I would wander my way down a long road before settling into the media. He's still a great person to interact with.
Winston is unique in that he can give you insights into the life of an NFL player. But also as the newly elected NFLPA president, he's a great resource for the player union perspective.
Working and Reading
Here's a quick look at what I'm working on and reading this week.
NFL.com: 10 Draft Sleepers to Watch (Bucky Brooks)
B/R: In Defense of Teddy Bridgewater (Adam Kramer)
SB Nation: Meet the Bag Man (Steven Godfrey)
Monday, April 14: NFL Draft 100: Top Safeties
Wednesday, April 16: NFL Draft 100: Top Cornerbacks
Friday, April 18: NFL Draft 100: Top Linebackers
Friday, April 18: Updated Scouting Notebook