NFL Draft 2014: Identifying Fool's Gold Prospects at Every Position

Matt EurichAnalyst IApril 20, 2014

NFL Draft 2014: Identifying Fool's Gold Prospects at Every Position

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    It happens every year.

    A player skyrockets up NFL teams' big boards after strong showings at a combination of the Senior Bowl, the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day, only to be selected higher than expected and flame out when given the opportunity.

    The NFL draft has been littered with these fool's gold-type players since the draft began in 1936, and despite NFL teams' efforts to identify these types, it will continue to happen.

    In recent years, the NFL has seen guys such as Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell catapult up draft boards with stellar offseasons, only to become busts when given the opportunity in the NFL.

    The quarterback position tends to be the most discussed when talking about potential fool's gold players, but all positions have the ability to end up being busts.

    Here are fool's gold prospects at every position in the 2014 NFL draft.

Quarterback

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Tom Savage

    Few have skyrocketed up draft boards as quickly as Pittsburgh's Tom Savage has in recent weeks. The 6'4", 228-pound redshirt senior is expected to meet with as many as 24 or 25 teams prior to the individual workout deadline of April 27 for NFL teams, according to Peter King of The MMQB.

    He has terrific size, a canon of an arm and showed good footwork during his time at Pittsburgh, but he struggled mightily with his accuracy, and there is limited tape on him considering his various transfers from Rutgers to Arizona to Pittsburgh.

    Does accuracy get better in the NFL? Lot of people will tell you it can't. Lot of examples show it doesn't. Tom Savage is very inaccurate.

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 11, 2014

    As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller eluded to in his tweet above, it is rare to find a quarterback who has been able to improve his accuracy at the next level.

    Along with Savage's accuracy issues, he has a tendency to stare down his receiver and struggles to read through his progression at times. His tendency to lock into one player often forces him to hold on to the football too long, or he will fall back on his arm strength to try to force throws.

    I guess it makes me terrible, but when I watch Tom Savage I see Brandon Weeden with less accuracy and touch

    — Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) April 14, 2014

    Teams will fall in love with his size and arm strength, but considering his limited playing time and accuracy issues, he has the highest potential of all of this year's quarterbacks to be a bust.

     

    Johnny Manziel

    Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel took the college football world by storm in 2012 en route to becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. His 2013 season was not as electrifying as his previous year, but he showed improvement in his velocity and accuracy.

    Despite his average size (6'0", 207 lbs), Matt Miller, as well as CBSSports.com's Rob Rang, Dane Brugler, Pete Prisco and Will Brinson, all have him pegged as a top-eight pick in May's draft.

    One negative regarding Manziel's game is the somewhat simplistic offense he ran at Texas A&M under head coach Kevin Sumlin. Despite only having one or two reads, Manziel had a tendency to take off once his first read was covered and rarely found himself stepping up in the pocket.

    While his speed and ability to make something out of nothing are rare, success in the NFL as a quarterback will always be defined by a quarterback's ability to read a defense successfully.

    Manziel has the ability to make all of the throws in the NFL, but he will need to prove he can develop into a player who can do more than just throw a ball deep or run outside the pocket. His ceiling may be higher than any other quarterback's in this draft class, but his floor is what will scare many away. 

     

    Jimmy Garoppolo

    Much like Savage, Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo's stock has been on a steady incline since the beginning of the 2014 offseason.

    The Walter Payton Award winner last year as the top offensive player at the FCS level, he threw for 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns and just nine interceptions for the Panthers.

    After his strong performances at the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game, a large contingent of NFL teams came to his pro day at Northwestern last month.

    According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien and San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh were both in attendance for Garoppolo's pro day. 

    "He's got a quick release. He's athletic," O'Brien told the Sun-Times. "I really enjoyed talking football with him. He's a great kid."

    After watching film on Garoppolo, it shows a guy who can read defenses well, is accurate and displays poise in the pocket, but the talent at the next level in terms of pass-rushers may eliminate some of that poise.

    Garoppolo displayed adequate pocket poise, but pressure will lead to some questionable decisions.. INT #'s don't reflect it, but its on tape

    — Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) April 10, 2014

    There are many aspects of Garoppolo's game that teams will fall in love with, but he may end up disappointing a team if he is selected in the first two rounds of the draft because of his inexperience against top-level talent.

Running Back

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    Carlos Hyde

    When discussing the top running back prospects in this year's draft, Carlos Hyde's name is typically near the top of the list. 

    Hyde finished the 2013 season with 1,527 yards despite missing the first three games because of suspension and was eventually named Big Ten Running Back of the Year and a first-team All-Big Ten selection.

    Hyde is a prototypical north-south runner, relying on his size (6'0", 230 lbs) and strength to break through tackles. He is able to get his legs churning and can fight off tackles, but also has enough speed to break away on occasion.

    Despite the positives in his game, there are still some areas of concern. In his recent Scouting Notebook Update, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller fears Hyde could end up like Trent Richardson, writing:

    "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."

    The Cleveland Browns used the third overall pick of the 2012 draft to take Richardson, only to trade him away to the Indianapolis Colts during the 2013 season. Richardson was regarded as a player with the same attributes as Hyde but has failed to live up to expectations in the NFL.

    If Hyde cannot correct his inability to always hit the hole and attack, he could be a bust as the first running back taken in the 2014 draft.

     

    Dri Archer

    Somewhat of an unknown heading into this offseason, Kent State's Dri Archer made a huge splash at the scouting combine in February when he clocked in with a 4.2 40-yard dash time, the best among all participants.  

    According to Mike Mayock of the NFL Network (via Branson Wright of The Plain Dealer), Archer's combine performance could push him up in the draft. 

    The real question, though, is where do you play him?

    Lot of McCluster and Sproles comps for Dri Archer, I just don't see him being a good enough receiver to assume that role. But a good player.

    — Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) March 31, 2014

    He is limited in his ability as a route-runner and too thin and small to be an effective every-down back. Guys such as Darren Sproles and Dexter McCluster have found success in the NFL as someone who can line up all over the field. Archer has that ability, but if someone takes him early, he could wind up looking better on paper than on the field.

     

    Tre Mason

    A Heisman Trophy finalist in 2013, Auburn's Tre Mason had an outstanding season for the Tigers, racking up 1,816 yards rush on 317 carries and finishing the season with 23 touchdowns.

    Considered small at 5'8", 207 pounds, Mason has a solid upper body and a powerful lower body that he uses to power through defenses. He is a typical power running back who can hit the hole hard and without hesitation.

    I like Tre Mason, don't love him. VG patience, balance and burst and hits hole hard. Not a high-volume NFL back IMO #NFLDraft

    — Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 9, 2014

    Despite his attributes as a power runner, questions remain on his ability as a pass-blocker as well as his ability to hold on to the football, having fumbled eight times in the past two seasons.

    While his game has drawn comparisons to Ray Rice, Mason has never really shown the ability to be an effective pass-catcher. In today's NFL, running backs have evolved into threats out of the backfield not only as runners but also as receivers, and Mason will need to prove he can do so, or he may up being a situational running back instead of a team's every-down back.

Wide Receiver

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    Marqise Lee

    At one point during the draft evaluation process, USC's Marqise Lee was the undisputed wide receiver in the 2014 NFL draft. 

    He saw a dip in play in 2013 from previous years after losing quarterback Matt Barkley to the NFL draft and missing three games due to a knee injury during the season.

    He runs clean routes, has good speed (ran a 4.52 40-yard dash) and shows the ability to be a difference-maker at times as a return man.

    Despite his production throughout his career, many are down on him. In one of his Scouting Notebooks for Bleacher Report, Matt Miller wrote, "Who is the most overrated player in the class? I polled five area scouts, and three listed USC wide receiver Marqise Lee as their answer."

    Seems like I'm moving Marqise Lee down my rankings every time I watch another WR in this class. He just doesn't stand out to me.

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 2, 2014

    Lee's prior production and explosive straight-line speed are what team's love about him, but he often relies too much on his athleticism to get himself free and may struggle at the next level to create the necessary separation to be successful.

     

    Kelvin Benjamin

    Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin made himself known to the world after catching the game-winning touchdown against Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game.

    The 6'5", 240-pound Benjamin has terrific size that can cause mismatches with smaller defensive backs and slower linebackers, a trait that most team's covet from a wide receiver.

    CBSSports.com's Rob Rang thinks that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will go after a wide receiver in the second round and that Benjamin fits the team's bill, writing, "Pairing the 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin with 6-5, 230-pound Vincent Jackson could give new Bucs' quarterback Josh McCown similar big targets as he had in Chicago with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery."

    Benjamin's size is undeniable, but his lack of speed will greatly reduce his ability to create separation in the NFL. 

    I'd like Kelvin Benjamin a lot better if he was 10 pounds lighter and 10 pounds quicker. Right now, getting bad Jonathan Baldwin flashbacks.

    — SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) April 14, 2014

    Along with the concerns about his speed, his fundamentals and understanding of the game are a bit questionable, as he tends to struggle with hauling in passes on occasion and has a limited amount of routes in his arsenal. 

    Teams will look at his size and envision what he can do with the football in the air, but because of his inconsistencies and need for development, he could wind up being a bust if a team puts too much on his shoulders from the get-go. 

     

    Jordan Matthews

    Vanderbilt's Jordan Mathews ended his four-year career as the SEC's all-time leader in career receptions (262) and receiving yards (3,759) and was one of the few highlights for the Commodores during his time there.

    He has great size (6'3", 212 lbs) and strength, bloodlines (cousin of Jerry Rice) and the ability not only to make a big catch, but also to make the opposition pay for it. 

    His size and versatility allowed Vanderbilt to use him both inside and out, but his speed and ability to create separation at the next level are of concern.

    Still doing work on Jordan Matthews, + while he got a lot of YAC because of speed at Vandy I don't think he will get a lot of it in the NFL.

    — Thomas Melton (@TMeltonScouting) February 25, 2014

    He has shown a willingness in his career to make the difficult catches, and while players can find a niche in the NFL doing that, he would have the chance of being an elite wide receiver if he were better able to create space. 

    Matthews' floor is relatively high, as he has the ability to come into any organization and be a productive player, but if a team thinks he can handle the load as a No. 1 receiver, it may end up regretting taking him as high as the second round.

Tight End

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    Austin Seferian-Jenkins

    While North Carolina's Eric Ebron stands atop of the tight end class in this year's draft, Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins has crept into the conversation of that next tier of players.

    In 13 games in 2012 for the Washington Huskies, Seferian-Jenkins hauled in 69 catches for 852 yards and seven touchdowns, but his production decreased in 2013, only registering 450 yards on 36 catches, though still finishing with eight touchdowns. 

    The 6'5", 262-pound tight end has terrific size for the position, and his long arms and body control can cause mismatches for defenses. 

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller wrote of him: "In one player you have an in-line run-blocker, a seam-busting pass-catcher, a big body for goal-line packages and a red-zone target with the length and athleticism to attack jump balls. Sign me up for that"

    Given all of the attributes that Miller discussed, there are still concerns about Seferian-Jenkins at the next level.

    Mark Eckel of The Times of Trenton was told by an executive in personnel from an AFC team that Seferian-Jenkins is "more overrated and a bigger pain in the (butt) than the other guy." The "other guy" the personnel man was referring to was Ebron, whom he called "completely overrated." The personnel man went on to say about Seferian-Jenkins, "There's great size, but he's a little lazy. I'm not sure where he goes."

    Despite his size, he rarely dominates his opponent and relies more on his pure athleticism. 

    Teams will fall in love with his potential and size, but he may end up being a guy who never lives up to expectations if he cannot prove at the next level that he can be dominate both athletically and physically. 

     

    Xavier Grimble

    Much like Seferian-Jenkins, USC's Xavier Grimble has the size (6'4", 257 lbs) of a prototypical NFL tight end but had an off-year in 2013.

    In three seasons for the Trojans,  Grimble had 69 catches for 731 yards and 11 touchdowns but only finished the 2013 season with 25 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns

    According to NFL.com, Grimble blamed former head coach Lane Kiffin for his lack of a role in USC's offense, saying:

    (Kiffin) likes to run a certain type of offense. He likes to max out one person. Our first year it was Robert Woods. Then it was Marqise [Lee] for two years. I kind of got overshadowed a bit.

    His ability to catch the ball in the middle of the field, combined with his good hands, could have teams looking at him in the third or fourth round because of the potential he possesses.

    Grimble failed to ever make a big impact at USC after being a highly sought-after high school prospect, and it is hard to imagine that the switch will turn on for him at the next level. Teams will salivate at the idea of "fixing" him, but given his lack of athleticism, he may never end up being more than just a backup tight end. 

     

    Troy Niklas

    A matchup nightmare at 6'6" and 270 pounds, Notre Dame's Troy Niklas carries his size better than most prospects in this year's draft class.

    “Chiseled” was the word RT @MoveTheSticks: ND TE Troy Niklas 6’6 1/2 270…Lot of buzz building on him as more guys get a chance to study him.

    — Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 20, 2014

    Despite his size, Niklas is very athletic and displays good control of his body. His speed is still a question mark, as he did not run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, and there is concern that he will not be able to create the necessary separation at the next level.

    Teams will fall in love with his size and athleticism, but there are inconsistencies in his blocking and with his lower-body strength.

    Troy Niklas is a good athlete + there's good + some bad as a blocker, but he needs to get stronger in his lower body. Shows up when blocking

    — Thomas Melton (@TMeltonScouting) March 24, 2014

    Niklas is far from a finished product, having only played tight end for the past two seasons, but there are concerns in his route-running ability, as he tends to get lost in traffic and can struggle to create separation. He will need to learn to use his size better at the next level, and while a team will fall in love with his freakish combination of size and athleticism, he may end up being a long-term project.

Offensive Line

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    Zack Martin

    Few offensive lineman in this year's draft have the versatility that Notre Dame's Zack Martin possesses. He spent the majority of his career in South Bend as the Irish's left tackle, but he may be better suited moving inside to guard. 

    Martin did display good footwork and quickness, but a team may wind up being disappointed if it drafts him with the assumption that he can be a long-term answer at left tackle.

    Feet and punch say yes, but arms and height aren't conventional. RT @BlakeZitman: thoughts on Zack Martin? Can he play left tackle?

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 22, 2014

    NFL Network's Mike Mayock believes Martin has unlimited potential along the offensive line and can play any position at the next level.

    "I believe Zack Martin (@NDFootball) could start at all 5 positions on the offensive line." - Mike Mayock #NFLCombine

    — NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 22, 2014

    That is certainly high praise from Mayock, but considering the fact that Martin never played guard in college, a transition from tackle to guard may not be as easy as many assume.

    Regardless of which team ends up selecting Martin, it will have to make the decision on whether to keep him at left tackle despite his limited size and arm length or to move him to a position that he has no prior experience playing. He has all of the tools to be a solid NFL player, but taking a chance on a player without a defined position may wind up decelerating his progress.

     

    Cyrus Kouandjio 

    Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio is long, lean and one of the most physically gifted offensive lineman in the 2014 NFL draft. 

    A first-team AP All-American and first-team All-SEC pick in 2013, Kouandjio helped open up holes for the Crimson Tide's running backs as well as protect quarterback AJ McCarron's blind side. 

    His length and size are enough to warrant a first-round selection, but there are questions about the inconsistencies in his game, particularly his technique, which could make him a risk that early. His hands and footwork can be erratic at times, particularly when sliding into pass protection, and he tends to find himself on the ground far too often.

    Player who disappointed on tape: Cyrus Kouandjio:

    — Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) April 11, 2014 

    ESPN's Mel Kiper thinks Kouandjio is a bit of risk, writing (Insider subscription required):

    But there are a couple of risk factors: For one, there are questions about how well he'll hold up physically, particularly with his knees, and his injury history isn't completely clean. Secondly, he didn't really take a step forward in performance this season, with some sloppiness in his technique, and I'd say his run blocking is ahead of his pass blocking at this point. He was once a first-round lock, but if he goes there now, I'd call it a bit of a risk.

    Kouandjio is a perfect example of a boom-or-bust player. He has all of the potential to be an elite player in the NFL, but given some questions about his injury history and not much of an improvement from one year to the next, he may appear better on paper than when he actually sees the field.

     

    Cyril Richardson

    Once a projected first-round pick by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, Baylor's Cyril Richardson has fallen down many teams' draft boards.

    Richardson weighed in at the NFL Scouting Combine at 329 pounds, but his weight has fluctuated at various times during the offseason workout circuit.

    And 343 at the SR Bowl RT @NFLCharean: Cyril Richardson weighed 333 at Baylor's Pro Day this morning. He was 329 at the combine.

    — Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 19, 2014

    His size offers him the ability to eat up space in the running game, but it limits him in terms of his athleticism, and he struggles to move laterally. 

    On the other side of the ball, #Baylor OG Cyril Richardson has been a bully. Dominating at the point of attack. Caving in interior D-Line.

    — Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) January 19, 2014

    Teams will love his ability to anchor the middle of the line and his surprising conditioning from playing in Baylor's uptempo offense, but too many questions remain on what is the best weight for him to play at and whether he can maintain it.

    His combination of strength and size is coveted in the NFL, but out of all the highly ranked guards in this year's draft, he may be the one with the most bust potential.

Defensive Line

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    Dee Ford

    Auburn's Dee Ford was one of the top performers a couple of months back at the Senior Bowl and was quickly rising up draft boards. He was so confident that he felt like he was better than Jadeveon Clowney, according to an interview with SiriusXM (h/t ESPN.com).

    Unfortunately, he was not able to show everyone that he was better, since he had to pull out of the combine due to a herniated disc in his lower back, according to NFL Network's Steve Wyche.

    Teams were looking to measure his explosiveness and ability to get off the football in Indianapolis but had to settle for his pro day on March 4.

    He did everything on March 4 and finished with a 35.5" vertical, a 10'4" long jump, 29 reps on the bench press and a 4.59 on his first 40-yard dash attempt and a 4.54 on his second, according to Jeff Reynolds of NFLDraftScout.com.

    Ford falls into the mold of similar undersized defensive ends/outside linebackers such as Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, and his position in the NFL is still up in the air.

    His ability as a pass-rusher is well-known and not a concern for NFL teams, but he struggles to maintain leverage along with setting the edge in the running game.

    Watching Dee Ford tonight, one of this class' best pure pass rushers but deficiencies vs. the run would worry me in the 1st Round.

    — Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) April 3, 2014

    Ford's speed, explosiveness and ability to get to the quarterback will all play a part if he is drafted in the first round, but if he cannot improve on his ability to be effective against the run, he will quickly wind up becoming a one-dimensional/situational player.

     

    Ra'Shede Hageman

    Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman ran a rather average 40-yard dash time at the combine, 5.02 seconds, but considering his massive size (6'6" and 310 lbs), the number looks more impressive. 

    He showed the ability at Minnesota to play both the 3-technique and nose tackle position and showed off his strength at the combine by registering 32 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press despite having measured out to have 34.25" long arms.

    Hageman has shown flashes in the past that he can be a truly dominant player and that he possesses a rare combination of size and skill. What he hasn't shown is consistency. 

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller addressed Hageman's lack of consistency, writing: "Hageman, as can be the case for defensive tackles, too often gives up ground and struggles to fight through blocks. The potential is all there, but the drive to be great doesn't always pop on film."

    What am I missing with DT Ra'Shede Hageman? Tough to justify using a top-40 pick on him IMO #NFLDraft

    — Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 13, 2014

    With the pressure on NFL teams to find immediate and consistent contributors early in the draft, the risk that Hageman presents does not warrant an early selection. His highlight reel may be one of the best of all the defensive tackles in this draft, but when watching his games from start to finish, there is too much inconsistency in his game to believe he can improve on that at the next level.

     

    Stephon Tuitt

    Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt had a bit of a disappointing 2013 season after he exploded onto the scene in South Bend in 2012. He finished with 7.5 sacks in 2013 after posting the second-most sacks in a season in school history in 2012 with 12. 

    Will Sutton and Stephon Tuitt were two of the most disappointing players I saw this year, but their potential and past success is tempting

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 30, 2014

    He was still productive in 2013 but appeared to lack the explosiveness he showed in 2012. He was hoping to show off his explosiveness at the scouting combine in February, but he was sidelined with a small fracture in his left foot, per NFL.com.

    Tuitt plays terrific against the run, both inside and outside, and gets most of his pressure in the passing game by rushing from the inside. He needs to work on his explosion off the line of scrimmage, as he tends to pop up instead of explode through the blocker. He is versatile enough to play the 5-technique in a 3-4 defense or  could play inside at the 3-technique or defensive end in a 4-3 defense. 

    Despite his versatility, the big question facing NFL teams regarding Tuitt is, do you get the dominant player from 2012 or the disappointing player from 2013 at the next level?

Linebacker

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    Anthony Barr

    One of the most athletically gifted players in the entire 2014 draft, UCLA's Anthony Barr could find himself getting drafted as high as No. 11 to the Tennessee Titans.

    Barr is amazingly quick off the line of scrimmage and uses his long arms to create separation from offensive lineman. Has the rare ability to make difficult plays look effortless and has tremendous closing speed.

    While those attributes above make him sound like a surefire All-Pro, scouts' opinions on him are all over the map.

    Tough to find evaluators with middle of the road opinions on Anthony Barr. Love or hate.

    — Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 3, 2014

    His best fit at the next level will be as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he is still relatively raw, and while his ceiling his very high, his floor may end up being what scares teams away. He struggled mightily against the run, and despite the fact that he could develop into a terrific pass-rusher, teams will know that they can attack him in the run game. 

    In an ESPN First Draft podcast (via Rotoworld), Mel Kiper said of Barr: "The bottom line is he has to get better. He's got to get more instinctive, learn more about being a defensive football player; looks a little lost out there at times, doesn't play with a defensive mentality, plays like more of an offensive player, which he once was."

    Barr's ceiling and skills may be enough for a team to take a risk on him, but he is still very raw, and while most teams think they have what it takes to quickly develop a player, his rawness may be too much to overcome.

     

    Jeremiah Attaochu

    Teams all around the league are looking for young, ascending players, and Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu appears to be one of those players. At just 21 years old, Attaochu has shown good burst off the ball and a lethal inside pass rush. Despite his quickness and speed-rushing ability, there are still questions about his strength and power.

    Georgia Tech OLB Jeremiah Attaochu reminds me a little of Kam Wimbley…bendy edge rusher with a big motor. Wish he had more power.

    — Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 14, 2014

    While he can be a force when allowed to pin his ears back and go after the quarterback, he struggled when offenses ran at him in the running game. He had a tendency to get lost amid blockers, and NFL offenses will run at him with any chance they get. 

    Because he is viewed as a tweener, not quite a 4-3 defensive end and not quite a 3-4 outside linebacker, teams will have a difficult time determining where he best fits. Teams will fall in love with his speed and athleticism, but if he cannot become stronger at the point of attack, he may end up being a wasted Day 2 selection.

     

    Christian Jones

    At 6'3" and 240 pounds, Florida State's Christian Jones looks the part of a physical NFL linebacker. Jones is a quick, sideline-to-sideline linebacker who has tremendous footwork and displays fluid hips in the passing game.

    Jones showed his versatility during his tenure in Tallahassee, spending time at strong-side and weak-side linebacker, along with taking snaps at defensive end. He showed a good burst off the edge as a pass-rusher his senior season, but he still has an undetermined role in the NFL.

    Christian Jones is one of the tougher players in this class to project. Could he bulk up a bit and play on the edge at the next level?

    — Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) March 8, 2014

    He can be a physical tackler but appears to struggle when trying to read and react to a play. His average instincts could get exposed at the next level because he may end up having a hard time adjusting to NFL speed.

    Jones' versatility will be enticing to teams, but he appears to be more of a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. He could wind up being a solid long-term starter down the road, but a team will have to be patient with his development.

Cornerback

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    Bradley Roby

    Heading into the 2013 season, Bradley Roby stood near the top of many draft boards and was considered to be a surefire first-round pick after a stellar sophomore season for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

    An early-season suspension due to a disorderly conduct charge in the offseason combined with some inconsistent play early in the season has led to Roby dropping down some draft boards.

    NFL.com's Bucky Brooks said that Roby is "unquestionably one of the most explosive athletes in college football" and cites his amazing physical traits as something teams covet for their No. 1 cornerback.

    Roby has fluid hips and can change direction extremely well, allowing him to keep up with quick and fast wide receivers, and while he has excelled in zone coverage, that may be more a product of his athleticism, as he relies more on his tools than his football sense.

    Kyle Fuller is a better football player than his physical tools. Bradley Roby has better tools than he is a football player.

    — Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) March 23, 2014

    Roby has all of the tools to be a successful cornerback in the NFL, but his inconsistency as a junior leaves questions on whether or not he can develop into that type of player.

     

    Loucheiz Purifoy

    Florida's Loucheiz Purifoy may have the most upside of any cornerback in this year's draft. At 5'11" and 190 pounds, he combines great athleticism with length to be one of the most fluid defensive backs available. He appears smooth in his backpedal and displays fluidity in his hips that allows him to flip and cover a receiver deep.

    It was expected that Purifoy would show of his speed at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, but he finished with a disappointing 4.61 in the 40-yard dash. 

    @1ChiefsWill I don't think Purifoy is that good. Not in my top 100 players.

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 16, 2014

    A team will fall in love with his game-tape speed and tenacity on the field, but he showed too many inconsistencies in 2013, lacks the strength to be physical at the line of scrimmage and has to improve on his poor tackling. 

     

    Darqueze Dennard

    At the scouting combine in February, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard officially ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, slower than many of his peers at the position. Heading into the combine, he was considered one of the top choices at cornerback, but the more teams have looked into him, the more he may be sliding down some draft boards. 

    He plays physical and quicker on film and has the ability to match up with many wide receivers, but he often gets too physical and can miss tackles. 

    Really worry about Darqueze Dennard as a tackler. He consistently let Stanford runners get outside him and make big plays. Poor angles, too.

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 9, 2014

    Dennard is one of the most talented cornerbacks in this year's draft but has been slowed by injuries in the past, and his durability has now come into question.

    Heard from a scout that NFL teams are concerned with Darqueze Dennard's durability. Mentioned double hernia surgery as a red flag.

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 15, 2014

    Typically, when a team takes a cornerback in the first round, it plans on using him immediately. Dennard has the ability to step in and compete right away, but while his game tape looks good, he may end up being one of those players whose game never translates because he cannot keep healthy or up to speed at the next level.

Safety

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    Ed Reynolds

    The 2014 NFL draft is stocked at the top with talented safeties such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor and Deone Bucannon, but the talent drops off, and it may force teams in need to take a safety higher than they expected.

    Stanford's Ed Reynolds plays physical and instinctive football but lacks the pure athleticism to be an effective free safety in the NFL. He made a lot of big plays for the Cardinal during his collegiate career, but that may be the product of being in the right place at the right time.

    I want to like Ed Reynolds, but a lot of his big plays come off mistakes forced by his teammates. SJSU game a great example of that.

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 11, 2014

    Teams in need of a safety will look at his stats from his junior season (six interceptions and three touchdowns) and see a playmaker, but his play dropped in 2013, and his lack of athleticism will likely relegate him to being nothing more than a backup and a contributor on special teams. 

     

    Dion Bailey

    When putting on the film of USC safety Dion Bailey, his speed and aggressiveness are immediately evident. 

    Bailey has the ability to play either the strong safety or free safety position, and his lanky, athletic build matches up well against bigger, stronger wide receivers. He has good instincts and awareness and has the ability to read plays quickly. 

    He played some outside linebacker while at USC and has shown the ability to play well against the run. He has the speed and athleticism to match up against most wide receivers but can play stiff at times, and that will be an area that coaches at the next level will emphasize.

    If a team views him as a free safety, he has limited experience in deep coverage and often can take poor angles when trying to take down the ball-carrier.

    His versatility and athleticism will force a team to overdraft him, but his tweener status may end up going against him, as it will be hard to find a definite place for him on the field. 

     

    Jimmie Ward

    One of the fastest risers this offseason has been Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward. 

    4) If NIU DB Jimmie Ward wore an Alabama helmet in college, more ppl would be talking about him as a top-25 type. Such a fun player to watch

    — Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 10, 2014

    Ward finished the 2013 season with a team-high 89 tackles—57 solo—and a career-high six interceptions to lead the MAC and tie for 13th in the country. He made his impact known in some of the team's biggest games of the year, notching interceptions against both Iowa and Toledo.

    He has been good at stopping the run and plays well in the box, but too often dives at the legs of the ball-carrier instead of trying to square him up. His six interceptions reflected his tremendous ball skills, and he showed an improvement in pass coverage as the season wore on.

    While it is not uncommon for players from a smaller school to step in and contribute quickly in the NFL, Ward will need to improve on his ability to read and diagnose plays as they happen and is far too inconsistent of a tackler to feel completely comfortable with as an immediate starter.

     

    Combine results courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.