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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.

 

 

Five Up

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USA Today

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.

 

 

Five Up

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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.

 

 

Five Up

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It is officially NFL draft season—or at least it is in my office.

Now that the Army-Navy game is over, and with just two weeks left in the NFL season, my focus goes to the 2014 draft and offseason scouting of players. Just like what you'd see in an NFL front office, except here it's a one-man show.

The winter months are a time to do serious evaluation heading into the upcoming draft class. And as we prep for the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, that means more efforts spent digging deep on draft prospects and a second look at the top guys scouted throughout the season.

That will lead to changes in rankings and ultimately mock drafts too. This is a draftnik's favorite time of year, though, so let's get started.

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USA Today

The college football season comes to a close this week, with only the must-see Army vs. Navy game left on the schedule. As sad as the end of the regular season makes us all, the good news is the NFL draft season really starts to heat up now.

With fewer games each Saturday—and fewer NFL coverage responsibilities—this is the time of year when I'm able to dig in and start scouting players heavily. My focus, like that of NFL teams already eliminated from the playoffs, starts to shift from Sundays to the film room. And each week you'll find what I've learned in this space.

Let's get started.

 

 

Five Up

5. RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State

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The 2013 NFL regular season isn't over—we've still got three weeks of great professional football left—but fans of eliminated teams are already chomping at the bit for draft coverage. So much so on Twitter that a new mock draft was demanded Sunday night.

You asked, and I'm at your beck and call. 

With more information coming in daily about which underclassmen will enter the 2014 draft, which will return to school and how the draft order will look, a projection of the first round is much clearer than it was three months ago. Of course there is still plenty of time between now and the May draft, but this is a picture of how the 2014 draft would look as of today.

The draft order is up to date as of December 8 and courtesy of Draft Falcons. There are no projected trades (nor will there ever be in my mock drafts), and players are either seniors, already declared for the draft or expected to be by the January 15 deadline.

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The week before conference championship games is usually a quiet one for NFL draft fans, but not this week. Instead, it's been a roller coaster of information and analysis.

We've lost two quarterbacks to season-ending ACL injuries. The No. 2 overall player in the class decided to head back to school. And as NFL teams dig in on prospects, concerns are growing about the No. 1 player in the class.

This and so much more awaits you in this week's Scouting Notebook. 

— Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota announced he will return to school for his redshirt junior season. The 20-year-old dual-threat star ranked as the No. 2 overall player in the draft before his announcement and will head into next season as the No. 1 prospect. Mariota's decision to return is a wise one, and it's something I talked about here last week. He still has room to grow and the reality is his age and lack of experience would have been a negative in the draft process. Now, Mariota can work on his game while making a run at a national title and a Heisman Trophy season in 2014. 

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It's NFL draft season, folks. 

Whether you're a fan of a team out of playoff contention or one fighting for a Super Bowl, you can start looking ahead to the 2014 NFL draft with more certainty heading into Week 13. As the draft order comes into focus, and as underclassmen start making their intentions known for next season, there's a ton of information to digest.

Each Thursday morning you can get all the updates, analysis and rumors you need to keep on top of the craziness that is draft season.

Let's get started.