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NFL Draft 2014: Falling Prospects Who Will Become Steals

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2014

NFL Draft 2014: Falling Prospects Who Will Become Steals

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Things are starting to take shape as we head into the home stretch before the NFL draft. 

    We are getting bits and pieces about what teams are interested in—whether smokescreen or not—and we have had months to evaluate every player twice over.

    So which of those prospects seem to be plummeting down draft boards? More to the point, which of those prospects that might fall will be steals for the teams that snag them?

    Here is a look at some of the draft's falling prospects who could be big bargains in the end.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

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    Teddy Bridgewater is the quarterback NFL draft analysts love to hate this year.

    Well, not all the analysts, but he has taken a barrage of criticism over the past few months. Rumors and speculation have also weighed his draft stock down, to the point where he might fall out of the first round entirely after once being considered a top five pick.

    This has been discussed ad nauseam. Teddy Bridgewater is much better than the myriad of criticisms being thrown his way. He is going to make whoever takes a shot at him quite happy.

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

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    The running back class is already depressed in value, but Tre Mason might have more to overcome than that.

    The Auburn product is arguably the best prospect in a crowded bunch, but he got some recent injury news. Poor timing.

    Combine exams revealed #Auburn RB Tre Mason had a bone in his wrist that wasn’t healing properly. Needs surgery, knocks him out of OTAs, etc

    — Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 25, 2014

    Mason disputes that he needs surgery, however.

    False information, I WILL NOT be having any surgery to anything on my body!

    — Tre Mason (@TreMason21) April 25, 2014

    NFL.com's Gil Brandt also recently said that teams would pass his physical, so there may not be any detrimental effect to Mason's draft stock.

    Should teams prefer to wait at running back or put other backs above him because of health concerns, though, Mason could slip into the middle of the third round, or worse. 

    That would be a boon to whoever nabs him that late, given Mason's talent. He might not be otherworldly, but he will be a nice addition for whoever takes a shot on him.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

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    Once upon a time, Kelvin Benjamin was a hot prospect at wide receiver. He has tantalizing size at 6'5" and catching the game-winning touchdown in the BCS Championship game brought him some limelight.

    The NFL combine was his opportunity to cement his status as a first-round receiver in a deep class. Alas, a mediocre performance did quite the opposite.

    Benjamin didn't display the athleticism many hoped he had, running the 40-yard dash in just 4.61 seconds and putting up pedestrian numbers all around. While combine performances aren't everything, his brought scrutiny that has further knocked him down boards.

    Not only is Benjamin seemingly a glorified tight end based on his measurables, but his tape isn't exactly a highlight reel. Benjamin isn't bad, but he is not a polished receiver. He has some drop concerns, to boot.

    Reports that he blew off a workout for a team last month put another dent in his draft stock—though his agent denies it, according to Pro Football Talk—to the point where some are wondering if he might go far later than initially thought.

    While none of this is very good, that doesn't automatically make Benjamin a bad NFL player. You can't teach size, and technique is certainly coachable. Any team that drafts him in the middle rounds is getting a big red-zone threat with huge potential.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

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    Don Ryan/Associated Press

    It will be interesting to see where teams have De'Anthony Thomas pegged when the draft dust settles.

    Thomas isn't widely regarded as a top prospect at his position despite being one of the most dynamic players coming out of college.

    The reason? Simply put, Thomas is too small. At 5'9" and 174 pounds, it's unlikely the former Duck will be viewed as an every-down player at the next level. His likely limitation to a third-down role means a likely mid-round pick, at best.

    But whoever drafts the Black Mamba will be getting much more than a third-down specialist.

    Thomas holds Oregon records with 1,885 kickoff return yards and a whopping 17.1-yard average on punt returns. Kick returners aren't as valuable these days with so many kickoffs resulting in touchbacks but a quality punt returner is a good thing to have.

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

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    Jake Matthews is still likely to go in the top 10 in the draft. But he was once a lock to go in the top five, and his draft stock has been slipping as of late.

    Some of this has to do with rumors of certain teams liking fellow lineman Taylor Lewan better. 

    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

    The Taylor Lewan hype is real. Just talked to a team that has him ranked ahead of Jake Matthews at tackle.

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 28, 2014

    That might happen, but it could come back to haunt the teams that pass on the talented offensive lineman. Bleacher Report's Ty Schalter recently wrote about how Matthews could be the steal of the draft:

    Matthews could step in and be one of the better players at his position in the NFL—and unlike any of the others, there's no reason to believe he won't do at least that well.

    In most other draft classes, an NFL team would need at least the No. 3 pick or better to add a left tackle prospect like Matthews to their roster—and in some classes, like 2013, such a complete blind-side anchor simply wouldn't be available.

    If Matthews really does fall, whoever gets him will be getting the steal of the 2014 draft.

    If he falls out of the top five, that could very well be the case.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

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    At one point, Austin Seferian-Jenkins was considered a top prospect at tight end. Then he was convicted on a DUI, and his draft stock just hasn't recovered.

    Jenkins had a down senior season after winning the Mackey Award as a junior. He hasn't had an opportunity to prove himself during draft season either, suffering a stress fracture that kept him out of the combine and Washington's pro day.

    All of that has dragged his draft stock into the tank. But could that just mean he will be a big mid-round steal?

    Here is what NFL.com's Bryan Fischer had to say about the big tight end:

    But at least one analyst agrees with Jeremiah that a lot of folks are underrating Seferian-Jenkins heading into May's draft.

    "I've heard great reports on him lately," NFL Media analyst Charles Davis said on "Path to the Draft." "He's cut weight and looks like he's headed in an upper track and is the number two tight end. He should have always been challenging to be the number one tight end in this draft. I think he's more complete than Eric Ebron when his game is on."

    Seferian-Jenkins wasn't exactly playing on an offensive powerhouse in Washington. In the right hands, he could become the best tight end to come out of this class. 

Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

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    Had Louis Nix III been in the 2013 draft, he might have gone in the top 15. As it stands, he will get lucky to be drafted in the first round. 

    A year on, Nix finds himself slipping on draft boards thanks to injury and fit concerns. 

    Teams might be able to get over the fact Nix was overweight heading into draft season thanks to knee surgery last season. But they may not be able to get past the prevailing opinion that he is strictly a nose tackle.

    Here is what three NFL men had to say about the big defensive tackle, per Mark Eckel of NJ.com:

    “Strictly a nose tackle,’’ the NFC personnel man said. “Much better on the nose in a 3-4. I don’t see him playing in a 4-3.’’

    “Classic nose tackle,’’ the AFC executive said. “He reminds me of (Green Bay’s) B.J. Raji. You put some people around him and he could make an impact.’’

    “I don’t see much there,’’ the scout said. “He’s not for us.’’

    So what? It's difficult to see Nix getting by a coach like Bill Belichick, regardless of fit. Good teams adapt their schemes to their players.

    Alright, so Belichick is in a league of his own. But there are plenty of teams who run 3-4 base defenses

Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU

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    The NFL combine is a relatively small part of the scouting process but a poor showing can kill your draft stock.

    Just ask Jarvis Landry, whose lackluster performance at this year's event caused consternation among draft analysts everywhere. Landry ran the 40-yard dash in an awful 4.77 seconds, and he put up uninspired numbers otherwise.

    Landry improved his time at LSU's pro day, clocking in at 4.51 seconds, per Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times. There was some dispute about his time and overall performance, though, as The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson tweeted.

    Jarvis Landry dropped three to four passes today at LSU Pro Day, ran pair of 4.58s, rough day overall

    — Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) April 9, 2014

    The damage may have been done, regardless.

    If he does drop in the draft after all, however, some lucky team is going to find a gem of a slot receiver. Landry's tape shows much more than a mediocre workout could ever reveal.

    Landry may lack elite athleticism, but he makes up for it with his route-running abilities and natural hands. He has a propensity for making spectacular catches, to boot.

Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State

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    Lamarcus Joyner has been viewed as a small prospect from the outset of draft season.

    The 5'8" cornerback out of Florida State might be best suited at safety at the next level, but that doesn't change his size limitations. His abilities as a defender, however, are another story.

    Despite his size, Joyner is an instinctive playmaker. Much like Tyrann Mathieu last year, Joyner will make whoever drafts him very happy as a versatile defensive back.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

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    Wherever Johnny Football goes, the circus will follow. Right?

    That seems to be a prevailing theme undermining quarterback Johnny Manziel's draft stock. Of course, teams will abide a circus if a player performs. There is the rub with Manziel, who has generated plenty of buzz and controversy out of Texas A&M.

    Manziel is an electrifying player capable of incredible things. Unfortunately, all some analysts see is an undersized quarterback with a propensity to run. 

    So which Manziel will a lucky team be getting at the next level? That is the $64,000 question.

    Of course, the dichotomy between dynamic prospect and potential mega-bust has Manziel's draft stock all over the place. NFL.com's Mike Mayock compared Manziel to Steve Young, per USA Today's Jim Corbett, while ESPN.com's Ron Jaworski said the talented quarterback was nothing more than a fourth-round pick earlier this draft season.

    It's difficult to see Manziel dropping terribly far in the draft, despite the questions surrounding his game. Does he have bust potential? Absolutely. But how much more of a bust risk is he than any of the other quarterbacks in the draft class?

    Should Manziel take a big tumble in the draft, he could become the biggest steal in the draft. 

     

    All combine results courtesy of NFL.com

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