The one thing we can all be sure of is this: When NFL draft evaluators rank their players from top to bottom, no two boards are the same. That thought process not only holds true with individual evaluators but with NFL clubs as well. I guarantee if you had the opportunity to see the top 32 players of 10 NFL clubs, none would be the same.
I would venture to say that there would be probably close to 45 different names on those 10 clubs' draft boards. Why? Evaluators always look at players differently. Profile, scheme fit, medical history and character all play into the equation. That's not to say one team is right and another is wrong—that is just the way it is and how teams choose to evaluate players.
I have said for years that you could put five scouts in a room to evaluate a certain player and they will come up with five different opinions. While they may be similar, scouts will all have some difference in their evaluations. That is the way scouting is—it’s a very subjective business.
With that said, here are my top five players in this year's draft. I'm sure many have them ranked differently.
No. 5: Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
Senior offensive tackle Jake Matthews started all four years at Texas A&M. He began his career at right tackle and then moved over to left tackle for the 2013 season following the departure of Luke Joeckel in last year's draft. Matthews is the son of Hall of Fame NFL offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and the cousin of Green Bay Packers All Pro linebacker Clay Matthews. The family genes are apparent.
At 6'5" and 308 pounds, Matthews has the size and strength to play right away in the NFL. He has the frame to easily play at 315 pounds or more.
In the Texas A&M offense, he usually lined up in a 2-point stance. Matthews gets off the ball very quickly and stays low. He is a natural bender and is always in a good football position. He is athletic with a very good base and outstanding balance.
In the run game, Matthews is strong and explosive on contact and consistently gets movement off the line. He can get to the second level and easily adjusts to movement from defenders. He is used to pulling a lot and can play in space like an athletic guard.
In pass protection, Matthews sets quickly and is very patient. He has a strong punch and shows the ability to mirror his opponent through moves. He can anchor and stop wide speed and has excellent hand use.
Overall, because he has experience at both right and left tackle, he should be able to come in and start at either position in the NFL. Assuming he stays healthy, Matthews should be a very solid starter for years to come.
No. 4: Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Clemson
Is Sammy Watkins worthy of a top-5 selection?
Watkins stands 6'1" and weighs 211 pounds. While he isn't going to remind anyone of Calvin Johnson or Alshon Jeffery (who are jumbo receivers), he's still big, strong, fast and explosive. He ran a 4.43 at the combine and put up impressive marks in several more categories.
Coming from the Clemson offense, Watkins still needs to develop his route running, but he is consistently able to get separation both short and deep. He has very good hands, will catch in traffic and just may be the best after-the-catch runner in this class. When the ball is in his hands, Watkins shows speed, power and elusiveness.
I like that Watkins is so physical for his size. He can block and is a powerful runner with a running back's mentality with the ball in his hands. When Watkins has to compete for the ball, he usually wins the battle with his strong hands. Watkins has the talent to produce a big play on any given down.
No. 3: Khalil Mack, Outside Linebacker, Buffalo
Khalil Mack toyed with the idea of entering the 2013 NFL Draft. He ultimately decided to stay in school for another year. It was a wise decision, as a year ago, Mack may have been drafted in the third round or later. Next week, Mack figures to be a top-five selection when the 2014 NFL Draft gets started.
Mack started the 2013 season with a dominant performance at Ohio State. He showed rare pass-rushing ability to go along with excellent cover skills. Rarely do we find a linebacker who is so good in both areas of the game. That dominating play continued all season.
When rushing the passer, Mack can come off the edge like a top defensive end. He has the power to bull-rush and the speed and finesse moves to make his opponents miss. He has the flexibility to get under blockers and also shows very good hand use.
Going into the season, the big question about Mack was his coverage ability. He quickly dispelled that notion in the Ohio State game with an interception that he returned 55 yards for a touchdown. For the season, he had three interceptions, including two for touchdowns.
When defending the run, Mack is very instinctive. He rarely loses track of the ball, can shed quickly and stack at the point. He is an outstanding tackler. Overall, Mack's best fit is as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he can play in any scheme and be a dominate player. He is a lock to be drafted in the top five.
No. 2: Greg Robinson, Offensive Tackle, Auburn
Three-year sophomore offensive linemen rarely enter the draft. Many get redshirted and then play four full years. Such was not the case with Auburn's Greg Robinson.
Robinson redshirted as a true freshman and started the last two seasons at left tackle. While he is still raw, three years from now he may be looked upon as the best player in this draft. He has talent that I have rarely seen in my 30 years of scouting.
Right now, both Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan are better pass-blockers. Both players are older and played four years of college football. The upside that Robinson has is rare, however.
Robinson is a huge man at 6'5" and 332 pounds. As big as he is, he is an excellent athlete with strength, power and bend. He is best as a run-blocker, where he consistently gets movement and often destroys his opponents play after play. Despite his size, Robinson is athletic in space and can adjust on the move to hit a mobile target.
In pass protection, Robinson has a strong punch and shows great ability to anchor. Where he still needs work is in being patient and using his hands better. He can sometimes over set or not get good position at the beginning of a pass play.
Part of the reason for this was Auburn's offensive scheme and the fact that it didn't work on pass protection as much as run-blocking. Give Robinson a year with an NFL line coach and he will be an outstanding pass-blocker. His improvement from the beginning of the season to the end was drastic.
Overall, I see Robinson as a young Orlando Pace. He has similar size, is a little better athlete and is just as competitive. He will be a dominant NFL player for several years.
No. 1: Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End, South Carolina
It has been my experience scouting in the NFL that a player of Jadeveon Clowney's talent on the defensive side of the ball comes around once every seven to ten years. Clowney has a combination of size, speed, athleticism and power that few have.
When Clowney wants to dominate, he can't be stopped. He showed that kind of dominance many times in 2012 when he was a sophomore.
We rarely saw it in 2013.
Clowney likely would have preferred to enter the draft a year ago, but NFL rules prevented that. Watching tape of every game this year, it is my opinion that he played this year to protect himself and not get hurt. While that goal may have been accomplished, he lost some respect from many NFL evaluators.
When scouts look at a player, they are not only looking at his talent—they are looking at his character. They evaluate players' personal character and their football character. Personal character is how a player lives his life. Football character includes a player's love of the game, his work ethic, his desire to be great and his competitive nature. Scouts had every reason to question every one of those characteristics this year when evaluating Clowney.
Still, when you look at the talent, Clowney is too good to pass up. The team that drafts him better hope that they can trust Clowney's football character. He has the talent to become one of the all-time greats at his position. However, if he performs like he did in 2013 when he gets to the NFL next season, Clowney will become one of the biggest busts of all time.
I recognize Clowney's talent, but there is a lot of risk involved. For that reason, if I had the top pick, I may select Robinson over Clowney, but not based solely on talent.