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Jonathan Bachman/AP Images

In less than 30 days, the 2014 NFL draft will be upon us. And as we sit four weeks out, no one has any idea what to expect.

The Houston Texans are being quiet as we approach the draft as to whom or what they're looking for with the first overall pick. Do they want a quarterback, an offensive tackle or an edge defender? They might know, but as of now, no one else does.

And such is the reason most of us love the NFL draft. It's the best reality show on television.

 

 

Five Up

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Timothy D. Easley/AP Images

With less than 50 days until the first pick of the 2014 NFL draft, it's time to get busy. NFL teams and media evaluators alike are battling the clock to finalize evaluations, study depth charts and fine-tune the draft work that's been ongoing since last May.

What's changed?

Pro days are here, and with them comes all of the madness of "draft stock." Should players move up or down the board based on an on-campus workout in shorts and T-shirts? That's a matter of opinion, and different evaluation philosophies will tell you yes or no.

We'll get into that and more in this week's Scouting Notebook.

 

 

Five Up

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Getty Images

Welcome to the silly season.

The time between the NFL Scouting Combine and the actual NFL draft is crazy. For everyone involved. Players are shuttled around the country on formal interviews and medical checks. Scouts, coaches and general managers are busy evaluating players, rewatching game film and lying to the media.

Wait...what?

Yes. Lying to the media is now an important aspect of the draft season. And that's why I call it the "silly season." 

Teams want misinformation in the pipeline, which makes the job of the media reporter and/or analyst that much harder. You're now equal parts evaluator and private detective. And with the draft pushed back until May 8, expect more craziness than ever before.

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Gerald Herbert/AP Images

The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine is over, and with it the predraft process rolls on. With just over two months left until the May 8 draft gets started, much is changing in the NFL.

The goal of the Scouting Notebook is to update you on what you may have missed over the last week, but to also look ahead. Free agency begins March 11, and that will be the first big step in determining team needs as we head into draft season. 

After free agency, pro days begin. That is one final chance for a player to impress teams before individual workouts and the actual draft.

What's changed since our last installment? Plenty, as players move up and down the board, and as teams get one step closer to making their draft-day decision.

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AP Images

The 2014 draft has been called one of the best ever. In a press conference, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert called it the "deepest" he had seen in 30 years. I've not yet been doing the job 30 years, but in my 10 years covering the draft, this is the best group of talent I've ever seen in one class.

No matter where your team has a need, the 2014 class can fill it. There are top-tier quarterbacks, an amazing group of wide receivers, starting-caliber stars and depth at running back and tight end, and we could see six offensive tackles come off the board on Day 1.

Yes, this draft should be a good one. So which players are the best? 

With the NFL Scouting Combine in the books, here's an updated look at the 300 best players available in the 2014 draft class.

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Brian Spurlock/USA Today

Who will be the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft? That's the question on everyone's mind as the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine comes to a close.

Will the Houston Texans pull the trigger on one of the top quarterbacks? Could they see Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel leading them back into the playoffs? Where does that leave once-in-a-decade talents like Sammy Watkins and Jadeveon Clowney? What about elite left tackle prospects Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews?

The 2014 draft class figures to be one of the deepest in recent memory. In fact, in my 10 years covering the draft, this is the best group I've seen—that's good news for the Texans and their 31 counterparts. 

So, who comes off the board first? Find out in this full seven-round mock draft.

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Derick E. Hingle/USA Today

Welcome back. It's been a while.

The craziness of the Super Bowl, and the many attempts to fly home after the Super Bowl, meant no Scouting Notebook for one week. But the draft season rolls on, and so we're back with a ton of news, notes and thoughts heading into next week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

With two weeks between writings, a lot went down both on and off the field. While Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito dominated my world, there will be none of that posted here, as this is your place to get NFL draft information.

What are NFL teams and prospects doing to get ready for the combine? That and much more is packed into this week's Notebook.

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Andrew Weber/USA Today

From top to bottom, the 2014 draft is a very good class. Better than the 2013 group but not quite on par with the 2012 class, this year we see a crop of football players with tremendous potential.

The class is helped overall by the quarterbacks. Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr all carry a first-round grade, as opposed to the 2013 class that had just one quarterback (EJ Manuel) drafted in the first round.

Outside of quarterback, there is fantastic depth at wide receiver and running back. You'll also notice another good group of offensive tackles, defensive ends and tight ends. No matter the needs of your team, this class has you covered.

Here are the top 300 players in the 2014 draft class, separated by position, from top to bottom.

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USA Today

It is the single most important position in football. It's the spot we all dream of playing when we're throwing the ball to ourselves in the back yard. It's where all the glory and all the blame run straight into each other.

Win and you're a god. Lose and you're out of town. Quarterbacks are the face of the franchise, on good days and bad days alike. And if you don't have a good one, your entire focus should be on finding one.

The 2014 class of quarterbacks is a good one—not quite 2012 good, but close. This class features runners and passers, as well as some who can do both. There are sure-things and major projects, but in each prospect there is the hope of a city and a franchise. The next Tom Brady could be in this class. The next Ryan Leaf could be in this class. But be sure, there's a lot of talent here.

What are teams looking for in a quarterback? Accuracy, most importantly, and from there it goes into personal preference. Some like them tall, and some like them fast. Some want them locked in the pocket, others want a guy moving around to make plays.

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Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The days of the workhorse running back may be over, but try telling that to the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers. Tell Eddie Lacy that he's supposed to share carries in Green Bay. Tell Adrian Peterson he has to give up touches to Toby Gerhart. Please, try it. Film his response for us. 

The running back isn't dead in the NFL, not by a long shot. The 2013 season was a reminder that the running game is still as important as anything in the game. The Seahawks rode Marshawn Lynch and a stout defense to a Super Bowl. The 49ers pounded Frank Gore into every defense they faced this year, while Colin Kaepernick struggled. Lacy put the Packers on his back when Aaron Rodgers went down. The Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs would not have been playoff teams without LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles, respectively.

So, what do you want in a running back? I want them fast, with the vision to see the hole and great cutback ability, too. I want them able to catch the ball and make plays with their feet. I want them strong enough to play between the tackles, but nimble enough to bounce and accelerate.

Running back is perhaps the toughest position to scout outside of quarterback, but it has to be done. Here's an in-depth look at "How to Scout Running Backs", but for today, here's your intro to the 10 best backs in the 2014 draft class.