Former college football superstars like Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel have been heavily scrutinized since the season ended last January, leading other elite talents to be overlooked.
But while pundits continue to debate Clowney's work ethic and Manziel's pro potential, let's take a closer look at some under-the-radar 2014 draft prospects who could sneak into the top 10 this spring.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Former Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan has flown under the radar this spring, as much of the tackle discussion has centered on Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews. However, with several teams drafting toward the top in need of a boost up front, you can expect Lewan to have his name called early.
On Wednesday, the Oakland Tribune's Jerry McDonald reported that the Oakland Raiders, who will draft No. 5 overall, prefer Lewan to the other top tackles in this year's class:
I'm told the Raiders like Michigan OT Taylor Lewan better than either Greg Robinson (Auburn) or Jake Matthews (Texas A&M).— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) April 23, 2014
At 6'7", 309 pounds, Lewan possesses prototypical size for the position and boasts tremendous athleticism, posting the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.87 seconds) of any offensive lineman at February's NFL combine.
The concern with Lewan is that he isn't a road-grader who's going to excel as a powerful run-blocker. But he still provides a tremendous asset as an elite pass protector who can cover up the blind side or potentially transition to right tackle.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Although North Carolina playmaker Eric Ebron doesn't fill a lot of needs at the top of this year's draft as a tight end, he does offer excellent value for a team on the clock early.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay (paid subscription required) points out the Buffalo Bills (No. 9 overall) as a potential landing spot for Ebron, citing the Bills' need for a weapon on offense:
The Bills need offensive line help, but there aren't any good values in this scenario, and I really think they need to add another pass-catcher to help second-year QB EJ Manuel. Ebron is a playmaker after the catch and as a seam-stretching vertical threat because of his outstanding movement skills and very good top-end speed. He also has the versatility to line up in-line, flexed out in the slot or split out wide. Ebron is the 10th-ranked prospect on my board, so he makes sense in terms of value, too.
At 6'5", 250 pounds, Ebron is just that: a weapon. He's very good at separating from defenders despite lacking elite route-running skills and possesses exceptional speed after the catch. Ebron averaged nearly 16 yards per reception for the Tar Heels in 2013 and proved to be incredibly elusive at times.
Ebron's deficiencies as a blocker are disconcerting for the next level, but any team that drafts him will likely be looking to put him out wide, where he can be a matchup nightmare for smaller defensive backs and slower linebackers.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Alabama's C.J. Mosley is hands down the best inside linebacker available this spring, and if a team in need of depth at inside linebacker (the Cleveland Browns stand out) falls in love with Mosley's well-rounded game, he could easily come off the board early.
Durability is the one concern with Mosley at this stage, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a weakness in his game.
At 6'2", 235 pounds, he possesses the prototypical frame for an interior linebacker. Plus, Mosley has the instincts, quick feet and lateral movement skills to make an impact right away.
Mosley recently talked to USA Today's Jim Corbett about what he brings to the next level:
I don't see why Seattle's Super Bowl-winning defense wouldn't have an impact on teams in this draft. I play full speed. You have to have more speed on defense because nowadays, with all the little fast offensive guys and the way more teams play up-tempo, hurry-up offense, you need linebackers who are faster and good in coverage.
Mosley raises an excellent point that would justify a team drafting him inside the top 10. And there's no denying he would be a value pick for any team looking to improve on defense.
Team needs could lead the Crimson Tide standout to slide to the middle of Round 1, but Mosley has done more than enough over four seasons in college football's toughest conference to warrant a top-10 selection in 2014.
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