NFL Draft Prospects Who Could Experience Draft-Day Slides
Every NFL draft has players who slide many picks further than most media draft analysts expect, and the 2014 selection meeting should be no different.
With a deep draft class that includes more legitimate first-round talents than usual, there is not going to be enough room for every projected top prospect to land within the draft’s initial frame. Even among those who are selected in the first 32 selections, some players might be left waiting for a phone call well past the top 15 slots in which many expect them to be taken.
The phenomenon of a player falling on draft day isn’t always viewed that way by NFL teams, as even the most surprising drops reflect that the league’s projections of a player might not be as high as the expectations of the general public.
The following players are among those whose actual draft values might not live up to the external hype. Despite each of them being frequently projected as high selections, it shouldn’t be a shock if any of them end up being chosen later—with more appropriate value—on draft weekend.
Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The title of this slide really could just be (Insert Highly Projected Quarterback Here), because any and all of them have the potential to end up staying on the draft board much longer than expected.
One can never be sure from the outside looking in, but the general sentiment around the league seems to be that the quarterbacks in this year’s draft class aren’t worthy of being top choices in an otherwise star-studded class. In his Monday Morning Quarterback column earlier this week, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King wrote that the four teams needing quarterbacks in the top five picks are all considering waiting until later rounds to draft signal-callers.
The one quarterback who is still being steadily projected as a top-10 pick by most is Central Florida’s Blake Bortles. But there’s no reason Bortles should be considered more immune to a draft drop than Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater or Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
Bortles’ combination of size (6’5”, 232 lbs), arm strength, athleticism and football acumen has led many analysts to anoint him as their favorite quarterback prospect in this year’s draft. However, issues from his downfield accuracy to his footwork and staring down reads could make him one of the biggest busts in this year’s draft.
Being a bust of memorable proportions, of course, would require a team drafting him early in the first round. That all depends on if there’s a team that views him as a bona fide franchise quarterback and as the best quarterback on the board, the latter of which shouldn’t be an obvious decision as long as Bridgewater, Manziel and even Fresno State’s Derek Carr are still on the board.
Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
The hierarchy of this year’s offensive tackle draft class seems fairly clear-cut. Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Auburn’s Greg Robinson should be the top two offensive tackles selected. Michigan’s Taylor Lewan could fall due to character concerns but is still a likely top-20 draft choice. Notre Dame’s Zack Martin could be selected as either a tackle or guard but is projected either way to be a solid first-round choice.
After those four, the offensive tackle rankings become more muddled. Virginia’s Morgan Moses has emerged as the fifth OT drafted in most projections, but that doesn’t mean he’ll go as high in the draft as some are expecting.
In his most recent mock, ESPN’s Todd McShay predicted that Moses would be selected by the Miami Dolphins at the No. 19 overall pick. CBS Sports’ Rob Rang and Pete Prisco, meanwhile, have Moses tabbed as the 28th selection, where the Carolina Panthers pick.
It’s understandable that Moses could rise into Round 1, considering there’s no clear-cut No. 5 tackle and nine offensive lineman went on the draft’s opening day last year. Still, Moses’ more appropriate value would come in the second round or later.
Moses has tremendous size at 6’6” and 314 pounds with 35.375” arms, but he’s a fairly stiff athlete who isn’t as explosive or powerful as one would expect from an offensive tackle of his size. He’s good enough to emerge as a steady starter on an NFL offensive line, but he doesn’t project as an impact player.
It would be a surprise if Moses fell out of the top 64 selections, but it shouldn’t be a shock if any other offensive tackles, such as Nevada’s Joel Bitonio or Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson and/or Ja’Wuan James, surpass him for draft position.
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Many expect Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, a popular projection for both the Chicago Bears at No. 14 overall (Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler) and Dallas Cowboys at the 16th pick (ESPN’s Todd McShay, CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco), to be drafted in the top half of the first round. Should he get past those teams, however, he might end up being a second-round pick.
A well-rounded defensive tackle coming off a terrific junior season, Jernigan would be a valid choice in the middle of Round 1, but it shouldn’t come as a shock if he falls.
There’s nothing truly spectacular about Jernigan’s physical skill set, and he isn’t an ideal fit for any specific role. He has the strength and run-stopping ability to be a nose tackle but is too small at 6’2”, 299 pounds to consistently play that spot at the next level. His best shot comes as a 3-technique penetrator, where he can utilize his athleticism, but he isn’t as explosive with his burst or with his hands as coveted at that position.
Jernigan’s good enough to be a three-down lineman and make plays as both a run-stopper and interior pass-rusher, but he’s unlikely to dominate in any capacity. He also might only be a fit for 4-3 defensive schemes.
In comparison to the other top defensive tackles in this year’s draft class, Jernigan lacks the explosiveness of Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, the versatility of Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman and the size and power of Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III. All of those players have higher upsides than Jernigan, and if they end up being selected ahead of him, it’s likely Jernigan could still be available when Day 2 begins.
Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Although he is among the defensive tackles who could contribute to Timmy Jernigan sliding down the draft board, Louis Nix III has the potential himself to fall further than some expect.
A 6’2”, 331-pound man in the middle with great power and an impressive burst for his size, Nix is the top nose tackle prospect in this year’s draft class. As such, Nix is also a candidate to be selected as high as the top 15 selections.
Coming off an injury-shortened junior season and a disappointing showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, however, Nix failed to establish himself as the sure-fire first-round talent he once seemed to be. While his potential to shut down gaps could make him a very high selection, questions about his all-around athleticism, stamina and consistency of play could cause him to drop to Round 2.
Nix’s best chances of living up to draft expectations come with teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers (who select No. 15 overall), Green Bay Packers (No. 21) and San Diego Chargers (No. 25), who run 3-4 defenses and could be in the market for nose tackle upgrades.
Teams who run 4-3 defenses aren’t likely to value Nix as high. In an interview with Mark Eckel of NJ.com, an NFC scouting director said he views the Notre Dame product as “strictly a nose tackle” who fits only a 3-4 defense well.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Projected frequently as a top-two cornerback selection and as a top-15 pick, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is expected to be contending with Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert to be the top cornerback selected in this year’s draft. But while an outstanding senior season and exceptional combine performance likely cemented Gilbert’s draft stock high, it’s plausible that up to three other cornerbacks could surpass Dennard.
A physical, instinctive cornerback who has great ball skills and plays well in both man and zone coverages, Dennard is arguably the most skilled cornerback in this year’s draft. He is especially effective in press coverage, as he uses his hands well and shows no hesitancy in getting up close and personal with the opponent he is covering.
Dennard’s physical tools, however, aren’t as impressive as those of the other top cornerbacks in this year’s draft class. A 5’11”, 199-pound defender who ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at this year’s combine, the Michigan State product’s measurables are considered average at best for his position.
In comparison, Gilbert is bigger and faster, while the other three potential first-round picks at cornerback—Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, TCU’s Jason Verrett and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby—are each also more explosive than Dennard is.
That’s not to say a team shouldn’t invest a first-round draft pick in Dennard, who tends to make up for his subpar physical potential with his impressive technical skills. That said, he could be overmatched against some top-level NFL wide receivers, and his upside might be the lowest of the top five cornerback prospects in the draft.
Should Dennard go as high as the No. 13 overall pick, as B/R’s Matt Miller projected in his most recent mock draft, he would be a valid choice who could make an NFL secondary better right away. Teams thinking long-term, however, might be more inclined to draft one of the other top cornerbacks and allow Dennard to slip into the late first round or further.
According to The Sideline View’s Lance Zierlein, teams around the league are “absolutely not” high on Dennard as a prospect.
Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Upon declaring for this year’s draft, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor quickly become one of the class’ most buzzworthy names. A rangy playmaker known for making plays on the ball as well as big hits, Pryor has the most difference-making potential of any safety in this year’s draft class.
That shouldn’t necessarily mean, however, that Pryor should be the early-to-mid first-round selection that many prognosticators have projected him to be.
While he has enough potential to warrant an early selection, Pryor doesn’t have ideal speed and quickness for a safety. He showed the range at Louisville to make plays all over the field but has to become more natural in coverage to be successful in center-field responsibilities as a free safety.
Pryor is largely expected to be in contention with Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to be the first safety chosen in this year’s draft and therefore potentially a top-15 overall selection. A high demand for safeties could push Pryor up the board, but concerns about his discipline and consistency of play could drop him to the late first round or even Round 2.
It also shouldn’t be ruled out that another safety, Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward, could end up being selected ahead of Pryor. While Ward is small for a safety at 5’11” and just 193 pounds, he is a very good all-around athlete who has NFL-ready coverage skills and more versatility than Pryor possesses.
All measurables courtesy of NFL.com.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.