NFL Draft 2014: Prospects Every Team Should Love
The NFL draft's silly season is almost over, thank goodness. The hyperbole has become too much, especially with the event pushed back into May, and the scant criticisms of the most talented prospects in this class are eye-roll worthy.
Ignore the smear campaigns and NFL teams' alleged desperate attempts to get great players to fall to them with lies and muckraking. We outline a super six of prospects every team should love at their respective positions.
No, you won't find any quarterbacks. The potential early first-round passers just might fall like they did last year. And, forget running backs.
"We treat our equipment people better," as NFL insider Adam Schefter's eloquent tweet quoted an NFL general manager earlier this offseason.
This slideshow digs into the other pivotal positions on championship teams. With each of these six prospects, we chronicle how cynics try to break them down and the more reasoned analysts build them up. Sure, you can knock any NFL prospect, but that won't keep every team in football from wishing they had the opportunity to pick them.
Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
There isn't a team in the NFL that couldn't use another pass-rusher. They are like Pringles: Once you pop, you can't stop.
At the top of the pass-rushing food chain in this draft is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, despite some of the negative reports swirling about him taking plays off. You can read those reports but rarely is there a name attached to them.
Mark Eckel, from The Times of Trenton, found a dissenting opinion, but he listed it as an anonymous "NFC personnel man," who said: "He's spoiled, and he's lazy. He's never worked hard a day in his life, now all of a sudden you're going to give him a bunch of money and expect him to work hard. I don't see it."
Take those words with a grain of salt. That man apparently is very difficult to impress. He probably is lukewarm on stuff like air, water and sleep—you know, all the things essential to sustaining life on Earth.
The above cynical hyperbole can only be there to get your team a chance to pick a guy like Clowney. Let's see, who could that be, someone from the St. Louis Rams, which picks No. 2, perhaps?
It is hard to say someone who is 6'5", a ripped 266 pounds and runs a 4.53 40, per CBS Sports draft profile, is "lazy" and "never worked hard a day in his life." If you are 6'5", you have to train really hard to be ripped, lean and run as fast as Clowney does.
Rob Rang's review in that above CBS Sports draft profile is much closer to the consensus opinion:
Far from just a pass-rusher. Uses his terrific quickness off the snap to stop running plays before blockers can get to him and shows underrated core strength to anchor when they do. Rarely is blocked for long and shows good vision to locate the ball, as well as the hustle to pursue downfield. Generates great closing speed to force some eye-popping collisions which resulted in eight forced fumbles over his first two seasons of NCAA football.
But, back to that "personnel" man, it is far more likely he is a pile of goo and has never worked hard in his life, so what does he know about hard work? Even Eckel's source admitted Clowney is just too much of a defensive monster to fall on draft day.
"Oh, he's going to be a high pick," he told Eckel. "Some team will fall in love with him. But wait and see, just wait and see. I just don't think you can count on him. I'm betting the under on him."
The Houston Texans, or whomever trades for that No. 1 overall pick, may be the only team that gets a chance to pick Clowney on opening night of the draft. Rob Rang pities the team that passes on Clowney, concluding in his draft profile:
The Houston Texans may elect to go in another direction with the first pick. But if they do, Clowney has vowed to make them "miserable." As my top-rated prospect all year long, I'm certainly not betting against him.
Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins, Clemson
You can find teams or talent evaluators that can nitpick on Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, too. He has character issues stemming from a May 2012 drug-related arrest, and he also has modest size at 6'1" and 211 pounds, according to his CBS Sports draft profile.
But ask any team what kind of an impact he can have in the league, to wit Cleveland Browns GM Ray Farmer said, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich:
Big, big, really big, ginormous. He's a good football player. He's explosive. He's got really good hands. He's demonstrated he can run all the routes. He can be productive. So saddle him on the opposite side of Josh Gordon and wow.
OK, but about that lack of height? Farmer scoffed, Ulrich wrote:
If you just watch the guy play football, he's different than a lot of wide receivers. I get that he's not 6'2", 6'4", 6'5". I get that. But he plays the game violently and aggressive, which is kind of a rarity for most wide receivers. You see things in him that aren't standard. So he's a really good player, and he'll be a good player in this league. He would be dynamic, so we have to kind of wait and see where he goes.
He might not make it to Farmer and the Browns at No. 4 overall. Ultimately, that is the highest compliment you can give a player: He is just too good to pass up, regardless of need. Even a team like the Browns, which already has a megastar wideout in Gordon, can still see the upside of picking Watkins.
Offensive Tackle Greg Robinson, Auburn
The toughest criticism we could find on Auburn's Greg Robinson is merely an evaluator likes another offensive tackle slightly better. That, in itself, constitutes high praise. This is a real good class with Robinson, Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews.
The order of those three elite tackles is a matter of debate, but there is a wide consensus that all are real good.
NFL draft guru Mel Kiper ranks Robinson ahead of the class in terms of projectability and a higher ceiling, according to Chris Brown of the Buffalo Bills' official website:
If (the St. Louis Rams, who pick No. 2,) do take a tackle, he's right there with Robinson. You could make an argument that (Lewan is) better than Robinson, which right now he is. Robinson might have bigger upside.
Frank Schwab of Shutdown Corner agrees on Robinson's relative lack of weaknesses:
There's just not much to complain about. There's a chance he might struggle early on in his NFL career because he doesn't have a ton of experience, having played just two years of college ball (he redshirted his freshman year). He'll have to work on some technique issues, such as getting overextended too often and losing balance, and getting too high at times. But that should improve with experience. Unless you think that some of his technical mistakes can't be fixed, there's not much about his game that isn't very impressive.
You might see Lewan and/or Matthews as more polished tackles right now but neither is the physical specimen or run-game mauler Robinson is, as Newsday's Nick Klopsis wrote in his review of what the St. Louis Rams are weighing with the No. 2 overall pick:
A popular pick in mock drafts is Auburn tackle Greg Robinson. Robinson was a key part of the Tigers' run to the BCS title game thanks to his freakish athleticism. The 6'5", 332-pound junior clocked a 4.92 40-yard dash at the combine (to go with an unofficial 1.68-second 10-yard split, which is usually a better test of a lineman's explosiveness in short areas) and put up 32 reps on the bench press with an impressive 35-inch arm length. He's the definition of a mauler.
Outside Linebacker Khalil Mack, Buffalo
We have already said Jadeveon Clowney is the best pass-rusher in this draft, but Khalil Mack is so enticing as a 3-4 rush outside linebacker he has made it a debate—perhaps even stealing Clowney's thunder at No. 1 overall.
Sure, Mack wasn't heavily recruited out of high school, and he had to make his way at a small school like the University of Buffalo but how far he has come to potentially move all the way to the top of the draft trumps any knocks or critics of his game.
SI's Greg Bedard wrote at MMQB.com on Tuesday:
Basically, if you were to input ideal physical attributes for a 3-4 outside linebacker into a computer, Mack would be very close to the living and breathing result. Forget all the talk comparing Jadeveon Clowney to Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor (so far off base), Mack is the much closer comparison, especially when you factor in his relentlessness and passion.
Similarly, we wrote earlier this month about why Mack is guaranteed to be an NFL superstar, rehashing how NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock was so in love with Mack, he told KFAN's Paul Allen and Paul Charchian (h/t Vikings.com), he would make Mack his No. 1 overall pick.
If you put the tape on against Ohio State, he dominates Ohio State like no one I have ever seen dominate them. He's explosive off the edge. He's tough. He's twitchy. He's got a little edge about him.
When I watch him on tape, I feel like he's pissed off at the world, and I like that. ...
What can't this kid do? He must be a bad kid off the field, and then I find out he's a really good kid off the field. You talk about a kid like Clowney, who's just got superhuman abilities, versus this kid, and if I had a choice between the two, I think I'm going Mack.
It is comparing apples to apples, really. Both physical freaks are defensive game-changers who will fly off the board as quickly as they can get around the edge to the quarterback.
Free Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
OK, so it is easy to sing the praises and fail to find fault in top five prospects projected to go off the board. Let's delve into someone likely out of the top 10, like Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The biggest knock on him: Too aggressive, according to CBS Sports' Rob Rang. Yeah, you have to love to hear that about a defensive game-changer—even if he is a back-end defender.
You might find some that prefer Louisville safety Calvin Pryor to Clinton-Dix, but NFL Network analyst Charles Davis sides with the latter, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Charean Williams:
I want the ball hawk. I want the center-field guys, the Willie Mays guy. Not to say that Clinton-Dix doesn't tackle. He does. Not to say he can't cover man. He hasn't had to do much of that at Alabama. But I think his range (is what separates him). I like his sideline-to-sideline play.
Well-regarded draft guru Mike Mayock struggles to find fault in Clinton-Dix's game.
"Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is more of a deep-third, deep-half guy," Mayock told Williams. "He tackles well, and he can invert up into the box. I think he's a complete player."
So, why does he slip out of the top 10? Position. Safeties just aren't at the premium pass-rushers, playmakers or edge protectors are.
Maybe that is changing, though. The Seattle Seahawks proved you can win with great safeties, as the Legion of Boom shut down the most prolific passing offense in NFL history to win the Super Bowl this year.
Tight End Eric Ebron, North Carolina
So, we have a defensive lineman, a wide receiver, offensive lineman, linebacker and a defensive back who are seemingly beyond reproach. If you look at tight end in this draft, you have to consider North Carolina's Eric Ebron a prospect every team should love, too.
He has the most glaring weakness of those featured in this slideshow. Ebron is not a great in-line blocker, by all accounts. But, like the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham, you are not going to be picking or paying Ebron to block.
Let's go back to The Times of Trenton's Mark Eckel's No. 1 draft skeptic, the "not-afraid-to-say-what’s-on-his-mind personnel man" who even found fault in the consensus top overall prospect, Jadeveon Clowney:
It's actually a bad year for tight ends. There's nobody even close to (Tyler) Eifert (a first-rounder last year). (Zach) Ertz (a second-rounder last year) is better than these guys.
(Ebron is) completely overrated, and he's a pain in the (butt). And don't ask him to block anybody, because he's not going to do it.
We consider this akin to critiquing Michael Jordan for being a poor baseball player. Ebron is a pass-catching tight end and clearly the best one of a weak class.
You can find fault with every prospect, perhaps, but you won't find talents at their positions like the six in this slideshow just anywhere.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.