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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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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.



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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.

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For eight NFL teams, this week will be all about preparation for the upcoming divisional round of the playoffs. For the other 24 teams, this week is about NFL draft preparation.

As the playoffs wind down we start to enter the all-star season in the run-up to the May 8 draft. This week is the Medal of Honor Bowl, followed by the Shrine Game next week and then the Senior Bowl on the last Saturday of January. It's a month jam-packed with football when you consider the college football bowls played just last week.

What does that mean for fans already looking ahead to the 2014 draft? It means that the class of available prospects is coming together ahead of the January 15 underclassman deadline and that every team in the league is sitting down and watching the same prospects we are.



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Texas A&M redshirt sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel is officially headed to the NFL, per NFL.com's Gil Brandt. How will the league view him?

Manziel accomplished plenty at the college level during his two seasons as the Aggies' starting quarterback. He won a Heisman Trophy. He led the team to a surprise win over Alabama in 2012 and then nearly beat the Tide single-handedly this past season. Manziel has produced, and he leaves College Station as a decorated college quarterback. But that's not always a guarantee of future success in the NFL.

With Manziel officially in the draft, NFL scouts can speak more freely about his draft stock. One AFC West scout told me that Manziel would be a top-10 pick, and probably top five. Another former NFL front office executive likened Manziel to a cross between "Russell Wilson and Brett Favre." That might seem like hyperbole, but Manziel is highly regarded among scouts and executives who have bought in on the mobile quarterback trend.

Those teams who aren't impressed with running quarterbacks are likely to view Manziel much differently, of course. His style, on and off the field, is not for everyone.

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The first Scouting Notebook of 2014 comes with the NFL's regular season completed and only a handful of college bowl games left to be played. Ready or not, the offseason is fast approaching. It's time to get ready for months of analysis regarding free agents and the upcoming 2014 draft class.

Speaking of the 2014 draft, we're already seeing a solid group of underclassmen entering this year's crop. Top names like Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville) and Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina) made their entries official this week, and we can safely expect other top juniors like Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson) to soon follow their lead.

There's a lot to get to this week, so let's get started.



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The 2013 NFL regular season is in the books, and for the 20 teams not headed to the playoffs, it's officially NFL draft season.

The draft order for the top 20 picks is set, and already we have underclassmen declaring their intentions for the upcoming season. With that information starting to come together, what better time to unleash the first full seven-round mock draft of the year?

Why do a mock draft before the playoffs even begin? It's important to start the education process for the fans of the eliminated teams. And while a Dec. 30 mock draft won't be heavily accurate, it does show current team needs before free agency and matches those needs up with the current value of draft-eligible players.

A few notes on mock drafts, especially those coming this early in the process:

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With Christmas in our rearview mirrors, college football heads into bowl season, and a crucial time of player evaluation begins.

For many college players, the best competition they will face all season comes in a bowl game. For players like Fresno State's Derek Carr, who struggled against USC in the Las Vegas Bowl, it's important to hit the ground running after the bowls to repair any damage done to their stock in the bowl game. But can a player really hurt his stock in one game? That's something we'll dig into this week.

This is an exciting week on the NFL draft calendar, and a full slate of games gives us plenty to watch this week. 

Let's get started.



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