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The days of the tight end being an extra offensive lineman are dead. Today's tight end must be equal parts wide receiver, fullback and offensive tackle. 

The current passing-friendly era of the NFL has brought a renewed importance to the tight end position. Fast players with long arms and big frames are the new matchup nightmare preferred by offenses and feared by defensive coordinators. NFL teams are looking for size but also speed, agility, balance and most importantly hands. You can see a full list of what scouts want in our "How to Scout" series, but today's tight end looks more like an NBA power forward.

And that's good news for this year's draft class. The top 10 players feature speed, size, long arms and the hands to catch in traffic or stretch the field. Here are the best of the best among tight ends for 2014.

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They are blindside protectors and road graders in the run game. They're the cornerstones of an offensive line and the men called on to protect the $100 million men in the backfield. A great offensive lineman may not get a ton of notice on Sundays, until you don't have one. Then the world is ending for your team and your quarterback.

What do NFL teams look for when scouting offensive linemen? Size and speed are tops on the list, but technique is important too. Hand use, timing, balance and a powerful base are among the most important traits of an elite offensive lineman. You can see the full list in our "How to Scout" series, but the idea is to find a big man who moves like a small man and hits like a heavyweight. Easy, right?

As the 2014 NFL draft nears, these are the 10 best offensive linemen in the class. Big and bigger. Strong and stronger. These are the best of the best.

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It is officially NFL draft season, and there's no better way to kick things off than with a full seven-round mock draft. 

Now that the Super Bowl is in the books and the draft order is set, the process of connecting dots between college players and NFL teams can begin in earnest. Some of that may change once the NFL announces the 32 supplemental draft picks awarded to teams that lost priority free agents last season, but for now, a good bit of the work is done.

How does one go about compiling a seven-round mock draft? It's not as simple as dragging and dropping the top-ranked player into the No. 1 pick and so on. My goal is to provide insight with each pick. What are the team's needs? Whom might it lose in free agency, and whom might it gain? What are its long-term issues even after 2014? What schemes does it run?

Much goes into making a complete mock draft, and yet this isn't about pick accuracy. A mock draft is about informing readers about team needs, player value and what the writer would do in each situation. Put it all together, and you have a ton of information at your disposal.

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The first quarter of the NFL draft season is coming to a close with the Senior Bowl over and Super Bowl week officially here.

After Sunday night's big game, the final draft order will be set. From there, it's on to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where the whirlwind will be in full swing.

What has been learned in the last week? The Senior Bowl game offered more opportunities to evaluate players, and it has given analysts time to review practice footage in order to see more of the players noticed earlier in the week.

Here's this week's Scouting Notebook.

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A great defense is built on the strength of its pass rush. Can you get to the quarterback? If not, good luck. 

Defensive ends remain the most important building block for most NFL general managers. When creating a plan for the foundation of their teams, it's all about adding a quarterback and a guy to attack the quarterback. With that in mind, who are the best pass-rushers in this year's draft class?

The flavor of these defensive ends varies. Some are a great fit for a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. Some may need to stand up and move to linebacker. Some are freaks who you just find a way to get onto the field.

What are NFL teams looking for? Speed, flexibility, strength and a variety of pass-rushing moves. You don't have to be a finished product, but you'd better be able to explode off the line and bend the edge. Here's a more in-depth look at how to scout defensive ends in our "How to Scout" series.

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USA Today

They are the captains and anchors of the defense. They are the offense-crippling pass-rushers coming off the edge.

They're linebackers. And they come in all different shapes, sizes, speeds and specializations.

Who are the best linebackers in the 2014 draft class? These are the players that NFL teams will invest high draft picks in as they look for the next great middle or outside linebacker. And as you're introduced to the top 10, you'll meet some who play in the middle, some who play on the outside and some who can do both.

What are NFL teams looking for when they scout these linebackers? Strength, instincts, vision, tackling ability and raw speed. You can learn more in our "How to Scout" series, too.

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Four cornerbacks were drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. 

In 2014, that number should be very similar, but the overall depth of this class is notable. Who are the best cornerbacks on the board? It's a group you should get to know.

What do NFL scouts look for in a cornerback prospect? We're looking for recognition skills to find the ball, the speed and agility to change direction and then accelerate to the pass or ball-carrier, and the physical skills to put the runner on the ground after he has the ball.

You can learn more about those individual traits in our "How to Scout" series. 

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Who is the best safety prospect in the 2014 NFL draft class? How about who are the top 10?

We take a look at that as the upcoming crop of talented safeties is introduced to you, the fan and draft enthusiast, as we lead up to the NFL Scouting Combine in February. 

What do NFL scouts look for in a safety prospect? We're looking for recognition skills to find the ball, the speed and agility to change direction and then accelerate to the pass or ball-carrier, and the physical skills to put the runner on the ground after he has the ball. You can learn more about those individual traits in our "How to Scout" series.

These 10 players represent the best of the best at the safety position. Some are free and strong. Some are fierce hitters and smooth, savvy ball hawks. Some are a mixture of all. If your favorite NFL team needs an upgrade at either safety position, these are the players you'll want to get to know between now and the May 8 NFL draft.

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USA Today

The 2014 Senior Bowl is coming to a close, but the NFL draft season is only heating up. After three days of viewing practices and speaking with players in Mobile, Ala., what was learned? A ton.

The Senior Bowl cannot be beaten when it comes to player access, the volume of evaluations happening live and the hands-on teaching and adapting the players must do. The NFL Scouting Combine may be a more hyped event, but for raw player evaluating, the Senior Bowl is tops.

There's a lot to get to this week and two notebooks full of notes to share.

 

 

Five Up

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The NFL draft season is heating up right as the playoffs come to a close. And with just four teams left standing, there's a lot on the NFL draft calendar this month.

The Jan. 15 deadline for all underclassmen to enter the 2014 NFL draft has expired, which means we have a good look at the entire class as it stands. That can change, though, as players can withdraw if they have not signed an agent. That rarely happens, but it's something to watch this week.

Saturday puts an end to the Shrine Game week. Held in St. Petersburg, Fla., the game is host to the second-tier seniors in the nation. The top seniors will be in Mobile, Ala., next week for the Senior Bowl, and the Scouting Notebook will come to you live from Ladd Peebles Stadium.

What changed in the last week? We have a record number of underclassmen in the draft, NFL coaching hires that will affect team schemes and so much more.