NFL Draft 2014: Looking Back at Recruiting Profiles for This Year's Top Prospect

Jeff RisdonContributor IMay 2, 2014

NFL Draft 2014: Looking Back at Recruiting Profiles for This Year's Top Prospect

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The top prospects for the 2014 NFL draft are household names today. They have proven their mettle and worthiness throughout their college careers.

    But before they were NFL draft prospects, before they were even college football stars, these players were once high school athletes. That means they were once judged as recruiting prospects by the experts in that growing industry.

    Some of the top draft prospects were prominent recruits with impressive credentials. Others were lightly regarded before blossoming into elite talents during their collegiate careers. 

    Here's a look back at where these top prospects came from and what recruiting pundits thought of them before they ever stepped foot onto a college football field and into our national consciousness. 

Jadeveon Clowney

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    Scout.com

    Jadeveon Clowney certainly lived up to the recruiting hype. Not only was the well-built defensive end the top-rated prospect at his position, Sports Illustrated rated him the top overall recruit in the nation. 

    His Scout.com profile (pictured) reads very similarly to what NFL scouting reports say about Clowney today. "Makes plays that only special players make" is about as succinct of a summation as you can get for a player of Clowney's elite skills. 

    The biggest knock today on Clowney, his perceived inconsistent effort, is nowhere to be found in his recruiting profile. All of the impressive athletic attributes were readily evident even in high school.

    He's a great example of a top recruit who wound up exceeding lofty expectations. 

Khalil Mack

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    Rivals.com
    Rivals.comRivals.com

    Khalil Mack is the biggest surprise of the top prospects. That makes sense for a player coming from a Mid-American Conference school and not a BCS powerhouse. 

    Mack was so lightly regarded that his Rivals.com profile didn't even feature a picture. 

    He was just a two-star recruit out of Fort Pierce, Florida. Mack's roundabout road to Buffalo is nicely chronicled by Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports, detailing how an assistant coach at FCS school Liberty saw something in an injured basketball player that struck his fancy. 

    Four years and 35 pounds of well-proportioned muscle later, Mack is likely to be the first senior selected in the 2014 NFL draft. 

Jake Matthews

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    Scout.com

    As the latest progeny of one of football's legendary bloodlines, it's no surprise that Jake Matthews was a top recruit. After all, his father Bruce is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while his uncle Clay was a four-time Pro Bowler over a distinguished 18-year career. 

    His brother Kevin is a center for the Tennessee Titans, while his hirsute cousin Clay is a star pass-rusher for the Green Bay Packers. 

    Sometimes the apple does fall far from the tree, but not in Jake's case. The concluding line of his Scout.com profile (pictured) nailed the Houston-area native, "has the ability to be an All-American caliber player". 

    It's interesting to note that Matthews was initially recruited as a guard and not an offensive tackle. His early years at Texas A&M were spent playing right tackle, as 2013 No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel manned the more prestigious left side. 

    His father earned All-Pro status at tackle, guard and center in his illustrious NFL career. With that same sort of positional versatility, Jake Matthews is arguably the safest bet of the top prospects; if he doesn't cut it at left tackle, he still projects as an exceptional guard or even center.

Sammy Watkins

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    Scout.com

    Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins did a great job living up to the high praise from his Scout.com recruiting profile.

    His ability to make the game "look easy" with his "size, speed, and tremendous hands" translated quite well to the college level. It's those same attributes that project Watkins as a top-5 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. 

    Watkins was not the top wide receiver recruit in the Class of 2011, ranking fifth at Scout and third at Rivals.com. Which begs the question, what happened to the guys ahead of him on those lists?

    The players ranked higher were:

    • Trey Metoyer
    • George Farmer
    • Kasen Williams
    • Jarvis Landry

    Metoyer and Farmer were the top two wide receiver recruits for both sites, while Rivals rated Williams and Landry above Watkins.

    Metoyer went to Oklahoma after spending a year in prep school to gain academic eligibility. While he flashed promise in his first spring game, his unfortunate habit of flashing other things (h/t Jason Kersey of NewsOK) led to his dismissal from the Sooners. 

    Farmer committed to USC but has struggled with injuries. He missed all of 2013 after blowing out his knee in spring workouts. There is still hope for Farmer, however. As noted by Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, Farmer looked impressive in recent practices and could have a large role for the Trojans in 2014.

    Williams ventured to Washington, where he has proven to be a good receiver. Injuries cut short his 2013 campaign, which led the big, physical receiver to stay in school for another year. He is the sixth-rated wideout of the 2015 NFL draft by CBS

    Landry is the only other member of this list who will be drafted in 2014. While he lacks size and speed, most projections peg Landry as a third or fourth-round talent. 

Mike Evans

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    Scout.com

    The first thing noticeable about Evans' scouting profile from Scout.com is that his photo features him playing basketball and not football. 

    That's because basketball was his better sport at Ball High School in Galveston, Texas. He was an outstanding finisher on the fast break and an accomplished shot-blocking presence, which I witnessed firsthand while living in the area.

    Yet he was just good enough at football that Texas A&M gave him a shot. His ability to climb the ladder and snatch the ball from the air were evident back then, enough to make him a 3-star recruit.

    His symbiotic relationship and growth with quarterback Johnny Manziel brought out the best in the former hoops stud. While he still needs to improve his route-running, as highlighted above in his Scout.com profile, Evans' spectacular size and length offer intriguing potential.

    He wound up making a wise choice in electing to become an Aggie. The only other school that recruited him for football was Tulane. It's hard to imagine Evans being a high first-round pick had he instead chosen the Green Wave.

Greg Robinson

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    Scout.com

    Much like Jake Matthews, Robinson was recruited not as an offensive tackle but rather at guard. While he wasn't an elite prospect, earning just four stars from Scout.com, that in itself is pretty impressive for a guy who didn't play on the offensive line until his junior year of high school.

    That evaluation was quite prophetic, as it highlighted Robinson's very effective run blocking skills. He developed those during his career at Auburn while also gaining almost 50 pounds of functional mass.

    At times it's easy to still see Robinson's rawness. As noted in Alex Dunlap's thorough scouting profile on Robinson for Bleacher Report, Robinson: 

    • Has wasted motion coming out of his stance, specifically when stepping laterally to his right.
    • Has only been dominant for one season. 
    • Limited experience as a pass-blocker, as Auburn ran a very run-oriented offense.
    • Not a technicianmore of a mauler who still needs coaching.
    • Has issues with leverage in pass protection.

    Yet his brute power and outstanding athleticism for a man of 332 pounds offers such high potential that Robinson will be among the first players to hear his name called in the 2014 NFL draft. 

Johnny Manziel

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    Scout.com

    Johnny Manziel has progressed quite a bit since Scout.com ranked him as the 22nd-best quarterback back in 2011. The skinny, unrefined gunslinger quickly improved from a 3-star recruit to college football legend.

    Johnny Football won a Heisman Trophy and electrified the nation with his unique blend of agility, improvisation and strong-armed determination. He projects as a very high pick in part because he's so different from the norm. 

    Those traits were all noted in his recruiting evaluation. Yet his propensity for making poor decisions and his diminutive size raised concern among recruiting analysts back then. 

    While he has added some much-needed weight, those same concerns make him one of the most polarizing draft prospects in recent NFL history. He's had some off-field issues that raise other concerns, though one NFL general manager doesn't think it's a problem.

     

Aaron Donald

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    Scout.com

    Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald is another player where his recruiting profile might as well serve as his NFL draft profile. Check out the similarities.

    First is the write-up from his Scout.com profile by Bob Lichtenfels:

    Donald may not have ideal size, but he more than makes up for that with his strength, speed and relentless attacking style of play. Donald is very quick off the snap and is always getting a good push up field. Donald shows very good lateral movement and backside pursuit. He is a tough kid that often faces double teams and wins most of those battles.

    Compare that to what Walter Football wrote about Donald:

    Donald is explosive off the snap with a great get-off. He has pure speed to fire the gap as a three-technique and is very fast to close on the quarterback. Donald has developed repertoire of moves to keep offensive linemen on their heels and is very adept at shedding blocks and gaining leverage. 

    Donald is undersized, but he is extremely strong for his size. He has massive upper-body strength that he uses to shed blocks, and with his natural pad level, he can bench press offensive linemen and bull rush them down the pocket. 

    While some draft pundits remain skeptical of his size, Donald appears to be a top-10 lock in the upcoming draft. Those of us who watched him live in Mobile, Alabama for Senior Bowl practice sessions witnessed his ability to eviscerate and embarrass several future NFL offensive linemen.