An Early Look at the Top Prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft Class
The 2014 NFL draft is still more than 11 months away, but with an upcoming draft class that includes potential superstars on both sides of the ball, football fans are already getting excited about the top prospects.
With a full season of college football and immense hours of scouting between now and the 2014 NFL draft, many of the players currently within the top 10 may not be there months from now. That said, the draft is expected to be headlined by a rare talent on the defensive side of the ball in South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and a star quarterback prospect in Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.
As the scouting process has just begun, some of these players could move up or down my rankings before the start of college football season. But based off early tape study and what these players have done in their college football careers to date, these 10 players stand out as the premier talents in the 2014 NFL draft class.
The 2014 NFL draft class will have a deep talent pool should most of the top juniors declare, which made it difficult to limit this list to 10 players.
The toughest player to omit was Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida (Jr.). Purifoy is a long, athletic cornerback with big playmaking ability in both coverage and run support. He will likely be a top-10 pick if he becomes more disciplined both on the field (less penalties) and off the field (he was arrested for marijuana in February, though charges were later dropped).
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington (Jr.) is another top-10 talent with some more serious character issues. Seferian-Jenkins was arrested for driving under the influence in March. He has the potential to be a Rob Gronkowski-like player as both a receiving and blocking tight end, but he needs to stay on the field and out of trouble.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (Jr.) is a dynamic offensive player who can make plays receiving, rushing and returning the ball. He needs to have a strong junior season, however, to bounce back from a rough sophomore season derailed by both suspension and injury.
Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame (Jr.) has to prove he can be a three-down presence on the field, but he has huge upside as a nose tackle. He is a massive, powerful run-stopper with rare quickness and penetrative ability for a defensive tackle of his size.
David Fales, QB, San Jose State is the top challenger to Teddy Bridgewater's standing as the top quarterback in the 2014 draft class. Fales is an efficient, pro-style pocket passer who has displayed the accuracy and ability to make any throw on the field.
10. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama (Jr.)
Cyrus Kouandjio has the makeup of an NFL franchise left tackle. Listed at 6'6" and 310 pounds, he combines good size and length with power and footwork.
Kouandjio is not a superb athlete, but his footwork is quick and efficient. He is very effective at kick-sliding out to shield edge-rushers, and he mirrors pass-rushers well. He is also good at accelerating off the line and picking up run-blockers at the second level.
When Kouandjio gets his hands on an opponent, he typically keeps the defender locked and engaged. He does not typically drive run defenders far back, but he holds his ground well and has a strong punch.
Kouandjio's technique is still in the developmental stage, but he is one of the nation's best left tackles. The physically imposing left tackle should only continue to improve as he gains experience.
9. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
If Dion Jordan was a top-five pick in the 2013 draft, then UCLA's Anthony Barr should be one in 2014. Like Jordan, Barr needs significant work on his technique but has a rare combination of length and athleticism.
Barr is an explosive athlete with outstanding acceleration, which he often uses to beat blockers around the edge and rush the quarterback. He needs to become stronger and more active with his hands, however, as he has trouble disengaging at the line of scrimmage.
Barr is ideally suited to be a rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense but could also play linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He is a quick-footed athlete adept at dropping back into coverage. He would need to become stronger and develop an inside game to play on the defensive line. He also needs to become a better tackler at linebacker.
But even with his flaws, Barr's upside sets him up to have a Jordan-esque rise in the 2014 draft. He is an instant-impact playmaker with a high motor and star potential. He was already more polished and productive as a junior than Jordan was as a senior, and he has a whole year left to improve.
8. Marqise Lee, WR, USC (Jr.)
Marqise Lee's 2,864 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns in his first two seasons at USC are no fluke. He is a home run-hitting outside receiver with the skill set to be a star playmaker in an NFL offense.
Lee's game can be described as graceful. He does a fantastic job tracking the ball downfield and doing so in stride. He has good hands, is skilled at finding running lanes in the open field and accelerates well downfield.
Lee does not have great size or speed, but he separates with his acceleration and open-field running ability. He makes big plays with his downfield receiving play and is always a threat to extend a play when he has a lane to run through.
Lee can be an immediate No. 1 wideout in an NFL offense and is also a solid kickoff returner.
7. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (Jr.)
Ohio State's Bradley Roby was the nation's most consistently dominant cornerback last season as a sophomore. A fluid athlete with great ball skills, Roby has shutdown cornerback potential at the next level.
Even with opposing offenses typically throwing away from him, Roby had 19 pass defenses last season. With quick reactions and great change-of-direction quickness, he frequently makes plays on the football. He has good hands and excels at getting them on the football.
Roby has great speed and fluid hips. He uses his hands well in man-to-man coverage and has great range in zone coverage. He occasionally gets beat by being overaggressive but can catch up into plays with his recovery speed.
Listed at 5'11" and 193 pounds, Roby does not have ideal size for a cornerback, but he is physical in coverage and a strong tackler. He can be an immediate playmaker in an NFL secondary and is also a skilled punt returner and special teams player.
6. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah was a top-five pick in the 2013 draft, but he wasn't even the best player on BYU's defense last season. That recognition belongs to outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, a playmaker who can practically do it all.
From rushing the passer to making plays in coverage, Van Noy is a well-rounded, scheme-versatile difference-maker. He is a terrific athlete with sideline-to-sideline range, explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and fluidity in space.
Van Noy is undersized for a 3-4 outside linebacker, but his burst off the line and arsenal of hand moves make him an effective pass-rusher. He has good strength for his size and sets the edge well against the run.
Regardless of defensive scheme, teams will take advantage of his versatility. He is best suited to play 4-3 outside linebacker but could also pass rush from the line situationally in that scheme. In a 3-4, he has the skill set and coverage skills to kick inside while also playing outside.
5. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Taylor Lewan would have competed with top-four draft picks Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson as a top offensive tackle in the 2013 draft class. By returning for his senior year, he enters the season as one of the 2014 draft's most solid prospects.
Lewan is ready to step in immediately and be a very good NFL starter at either left or right tackle. He is a polished technician who uses his length well. He has quick feet and is strong in his upper body and lower base.
He does a terrific job of shielding the edge as a pass-protector. He is good with his hand placement and combating his opponent's pass-rushing moves. He is quick off the line of scrimmage and excels at making run blocks at the second level.
4. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
If you liked Arthur Brown in the 2013 draft, then you'll love C.J. Mosley in 2014. An explosive athlete and a sure tackler, Mosley has a well-rounded game fit to play inside in a 3-4 defense or any 4-3 linebacker spot.
Combining quick feet with terrific instincts, Mosley does a great job of getting in position to make plays and almost never misses tackles. He is a stellar blitzing linebacker and is strong and physical.
Mosley also excels as a coverage linebacker, especially in zone coverage. He uses his eyes well to read opposing quarterbacks and has the quick feet, hands and range to make interceptions.
Mosley is not an edge-rusher but can be the leader of a defense as a rangy playmaker and three-down linebacker. He should be the top non-rush linebacker drafted in 2014.
3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
In the 2013 draft, where the top two picks were selected to play right tackle as rookies, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews could have been the No. 1 overall pick, had be declared. The long, athletic and powerful offensive tackle with elite potential still could go No. 1 overall in 2014.
Matthews, a three-year starter at right tackle, could immediately be one of the NFL's best on the right side of the line. He also has the potential to be an elite left tackle, the position he will be playing as a senior.
Matthews has tremendous feet for an offensive lineman. He does a terrific job of moving along the line of scrimmage and covering ground. He is good at mirroring opponents in pass protection and uses his length well.
A dominant pass-protector on the right side at Texas A&M, Matthews is also a tremendous run blocker. He drives defenders off the line of scrimmage and does a great job of moving upfield to pick up blocks at the second level.
Given his lack of experience at left tackle, it remains unknown how effective he will be at that position. All indications from his right tackle play would be that he will be successful. Even if he is not, he is already worth a top-10 draft pick for his ability to be a stud right tackle.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (Jr.)
The 2013 NFL draft class was well-noted for its lack of a star quarterback prospect. If Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater declares as a junior, that shouldn't be the case in 2014.
Bridgewater isn't quite at the Andrew Luck/Robert Griffin III level of quarterback prospect, but he could get there with a great junior season. He is a prototypical quarterback prospect with great size (listed at 6'3", 216 pounds), impressive athleticism and a rocket arm.
Bridgewater can rifle the ball deep downfield. He can do it with both high velocity and great accuracy, although he does have a tendency to sometimes put too much on his passes. He has progressed well in his decision-making and has good composure and pocket presence under pressure.
While Bridgewater is certainly a pocket passer first, he has the athleticism to make plays outside the pocket and be a running threat. In addition to being a dual threat, he has clean footwork and sound mechanics.
Bridgewater also proved his toughness last season, playing well even while battling injuries down the stretch.
If Bridgewater can build upon a strong sophomore season with an even better junior season and stay healthy while becoming more accurate, he will be a favorite for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (Jr.)
Fresh off a fantastic sophomore season, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is riding a wave of incredible hype.
He is not a flawless prospect. With a strong upcoming draft class, he is not a runaway choice to be the No. 1 overall pick, as some have stated. Nonetheless, he belongs atop preseason rankings, and chances are good that he will not vacate the top spot.
Clowney is a rare talent with an incredible combination of size, length and athleticism. He has an explosive burst and terrific speed, enabling him to blow up plays in the backfield and chase down quarterbacks and ball-carriers.
He can disappear from games at times, but as he proved last year against Michigan (see video), he can change a game in an instant with a big play.
Clowney is effective as both an outside and inside rusher, giving him great scheme versatility. His natural fit is as a 4-3 defensive end. But at a listed 6'6" and 272 pounds, he has the frame and inside rush ability to play 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 while also having the all-around athleticism to play 3-4 outside linebacker.
Regardless of scheme, the team that drafts Clowney should be adding an immediate difference-maker and star to its defense.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.