Pro Player Comparisons for Top 8 NFL Draft Prospects
When dealing with the new and unfamiliar, adding a well-known or familiar label can make things much easier to understand.
That’s why, while we aren’t sure what this year’s class of NFL draft prospects will really look like when they hit the field this summer and fall, player comparisons are a useful tool to shorthand what fans can expect.
It may not be a dead-on exact label—one player will never be completely like another—but it can give you a glimpse into the potential future of the players your team could be drafting come May.
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina and Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills
Let’s start here: Jadeveon Clowney is not the next Lawrence Taylor for reasons best left to former New York Giants linebacker and first-round pick Carl Banks to explain, as relayed by ESPN.com’s Ashley Fox. Head over to the link and read it, then come on back for something more realistic.
There are a few ways to go here that don’t induce guys like Banks to guffaw, but the one I feel like fits the best is another former top pick in Mario Williams.
Interestingly, Williams was drafted by the Houston Texans, who have the first overall pick this year and are rumored to be taking Clowney with their pick, per Bryan Rose of SI.com.
The two have very similar measurables, though Clowney is faster by almost two tenths of a second in the 40 and Williams is 30 pounds heavier. Williams came into the league as a high-impact defensive end (who would later play linebacker as well in 2011). Clowney is the top defensive end in the class but worked out for the Texans as a linebacker during his pro day.
Houston GM Rick Smith praised Clowney’s ability on the line and, as reported by SportingNews.com and the Associated Press, Clowney “could absolutely play outside linebacker for us.”
If Clowney can add some weight without sacrificing his speed, he could easily play either or both positions. In today’s NFL that flexibility is huge.
Clowney has a bit more speed, but his explosiveness, power and nose for the ball are reminiscent of Williams when he came into the league.
Williams has amassed quite a nice pile of stats in his first seven seasons. Clowney is a guy who could replicate numbers very much like that.
Greg Robinson, Auburn and Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles
When I look at Auburn’s Greg Robinson, I’m reminded of another high draft pick from last year—then Oklahoma and current Philadelphia Eagles tackle Lane Johnson.
Like Robinson, Johnson came into the league with a lack of experience at tackle (Johnson played tight end and defensive end in 2010) and like Robinson, Johnson needed to improve his pass-blocking a bit.
Robinson is an outstanding run-blocker, but he is still learning the nuances in pass-blocking. Johnson was a little more capable protecting the quarterback in college but struggled at times while at right tackle in his rookie year.
I’d expect a very similar outcome for Robinson, as he may find edge pass-rushers too much to handle in his rookie year and should in all likelihood kick things off on the right side of an offensive line.
But as I expect will happen with Johnson, he should develop into an outstanding left tackle down the road.
Khalil Mack, Buffalo and Von Miller, Denver Broncos
When doing a recent article on the floor and ceiling of some of the top prospects in this NFL draft class, I likened Khalil Mack to Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller.
Actually what I said was, Mack makes me think of the Denver Broncos’ Von Miller minus the potential marijuana issues and hipster glasses.
Mack and Miller both have a great combination of pass rush and coverage skills, allowing them to line up anywhere in the defensive front. Both have the ability to either play outside in a 3-4 front or a Sam or even defensive end (though he’s a tad small for it) in a 4-3.
Both players can bull rush a blocker or finesse him with a move and a blend of power and explosiveness making them incredibly dangerous.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson and Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens
I’ve heard that Sammy Watkins is the next Calvin Johnson but a better comparison is Baltimore Ravens receiver Torrey Smith.
Both players are very dangerous with the ball in their hands, becoming very elusive and hard to tackle after they make the catch.
Of course, in order to make those amazing plays, you have to be able to catch the ball. Both Smith and Watkins have great hands, a “my ball” mentality and an aggressive attitude when plucking the ball away from a defensive back.
Finally, both players have a knack for big plays. Smith and Watkins both have the speed to run past defenders to gain separation and then catch the ball in stride.
If there is a difference between the two, it’s that it took Smith a few years to really turn it on at the pro level, while it appears as though Watkins might be able to step in as a difference-maker from day one.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville and Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The guy who Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater most reminds me of had a draft day tumble which may be duplicated by Bridgewater—Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Before you start typing that comment about how dumb I am, I’m not calling Bridgewater a Hall of Famer. But if you look at their games—especially coming out of college—there are more similarities than you’d think.
Both players are athletic.
Yes, Bridgewater is athletic, though he tends to stay in the pocket if he can, he also can extend a play when he needs to. He can climb the pocket or duck out if necessary, and he will keep a defense honest with both his legs and arm.
Both Rodgers and Bridgewater excel at fitting the ball into tight windows or alternatively, put the ball where only their receiver can make a play.
While Bridgewater may end up sitting a year behind a veteran quarterback if he drops, that worked out pretty well for Rodgers. It wouldn’t hurt Bridgewater at all if he had some extra bench time to work on some of the flaws in his game.
Blake Bortles, UCF and Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
With a tremendous amount of size, underrated mobility for a guy his size and an ability to perform in clutch moments when his team needs him to, UCF quarterback Blake Bortles seems most reminiscent of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Both quarterbacks have a solid arm as well and show the ability to improvise when things break down. Both players can work inside and out of the pocket and show the patience to try and outlast a defense, forcing it to make mistakes.
Bortles also shows the same ability Roethlisberger has to drop the ball into the corner of the end zone on a fade with both accuracy and touch.
As if trying to drive the point home, Josh Norris of Rotoworld and NBC Sports recently tweeted out the following nugget.
Not sure if this is out there, but Blake Bortles and Ben Roethlisberger have worked together some during the pre-draft process.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) April 7, 2014
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M and Multiple Quarterbacks
Johnny Manziel is an awfully tough player to compare with active NFL players. He has a little Russell Wilson in him, in that he can escape pressure to make plays downfield or tuck and run. I compare him more to Wilson than, say, Ben Roethlisberger, because of size.
Manziel, like Wilson, isn’t a guy I want out getting hammered constantly. At 6’0" and 207 pounds, he’s actually taller than Wilson (who is 5’11”) but only a little heavier making Wilson’s frame a bit more filled out.
Wilson also has bigger hands than Manziel (10 1/4 versus 9 7/8) and is adept at setting up his offensive lineman into passing lanes so he can see around them, while Manziel is more likely to bail out of the pocket.
In that way he’s very similar to Robert Griffin III, who also shares the concerns about build and durability as well as whether he can adapt his game to the pro level.
I saw that Bucky Brooks of NFL Network compared Manziel to former Buffalo Bills and San Diego Charger quarterback Doug Flutie. That might be a better fit as Flutie—like Manziel—had a tendency to throw on the run, often off his back foot. Despite throwing on the run without planting their feet (or throwing off that back foot), both could show some solid arm strength and accuracy.
To be able to heave the ball and put it down the field when you are throwing off your back foot and with poor footwork definitely shows off some arm strength.
Again, it’s hard to nail down a proper comparison for Manziel as he isn’t your typical quarterback. And just plugging any one of the above guys in next to him isn’t the complete answer either.
There isn’t anyone quite like Johnny Football. Whether that is good or bad remains to be seen.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M and Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Whereas Johnny Manziel is a tough guy to compare an NFL player to, his favorite target isn’t.
Mike Evans is a big, reliable target who will go up and snatch a ball from a defender and then break off a ton of yards after the catch.
Just like current Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson. Both players are similar in size, speed and aggression for the ball, which allows them to come out on top when a ball is contested.
Jackson and Evans both have shown very good hands and the ability to use their body to box out defenders when making a catch.
Jackson is a bit more polished with his route running (he does, after all, have far more experience at this point) and is a better vertical threat than Evans but both players have the ability to bail their quarterbacks out of trouble and make life miserable for opposing defenses.
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.