2014 NFL Draft: 6 Prospects to Avoid Early
It happens every year. Several teams will pull the trigger on prospects in the early rounds whom they somehow thought were going to be the next big NFL star. But each year we’re reminded just how unpredictable the draft process and prospect projections can be.
You would think NFL teams would be above some of the more obvious mistakes that occur. But apparently we can all be blindsided by an incomplete picture framed by the limited perceptions of our own biased minds.
This is a list of six highly touted prospects to stay away from early—each expected to fly off the board early on Day 1 or Day 2 of the NFL draft.
These guys may still end up becoming valuable prospects and productive pros, but they should be acquired at the right price.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Can Jake Matthews become a productive tackle in the NFL? Absolutely. He’s a talented blocker with a promising pedigree—a guy certainly worthy of a top-40 selection. With that said, any team drafting in the top half of the first round thinking they’ll be acquiring a difference-maker by taking this former Aggie would making a costly mistake.
Nearly every big board or mock draft you look at has Matthews going in the top 10. NFL.com’s draft analyst Mike Mayock has Matthews ranked as his second-best offensive tackle.
Matthews has all of the physical tools and the mental makeup to succeed in the NFL for the next decade. The selection of this kid is the embodiment of low-risk. So why do I sound the alarm bells on drafting Matthews so early?
Matthews’ film reveals a guy who does not do any of the extras essential in becoming a true difference-maker as an offensive lineman.
His hustle downfield and aggressiveness are nothing to brag about. When it comes to pass protection, the senior was merely solid, showing the footwork necessary to translate at the next level, but solid skills are not what teams should draft in Round 1. The first round should be dedicated to the pursuit of special abilities and transcendent players, not safe starters.
In fact, many draft experts wonder whether Greg Robinson of Auburn is a better option at tackle. I personally think Virginia’s Morgan Moses shows the physical skills and finishing mentality to make more of an impact for whichever team snags him.
I understand people will think this idea is ludicrous because it flies in the face of convention and is probably never going to happen, but Matthews’ true value as a prospect fits more in line with a guy set to be drafted in the late-first or early-second round of the draft, especially when you have a class as rich in talent as this one is supposed to be.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
UCLA’s physical freak, Anthony Barr, was a star in the Pac-12 conference last year. He finished his final season for the Bruins with 10 sacks, cementing his projection as a top-15 prospect in the upcoming NFL draft.
Many draft evaluators rank Barr as a top-10 prospect, a guy who has a chance to be something special at the next level. Personally, I think Barr will be a decent pro for several years based on his athletic gifts alone. But when it comes to his potential as a star in the NFL, that’s where I begin to question his value as a prospect.
Barr showed great length and a quick get-off at UCLA and certainly proved he can be a disruptive force.
I’m worried about his change of direction, his instincts and his ability to set an edge as an outside linebacker. Barr seems to have limited functional strength and lacks the power to collapse a pocket. His abilities as a pass-rusher are also limited and one-dimensional. He shows no creativity with his hands or feet and is stuck once the blocker gets into his chest.
Barr also displayed a lot of inconsistency as a tackler and doesn’t seem to have the finishing instincts required to be great.
All of these flaws unto themselves would be workable, but taken as a whole, they begin to greatly diminish his value as a prospect. With all of that said, I’d still feel significantly better about Barr if I saw the unmistakable signs of a relentless motor. This, unfortunately, is not an attribute he shows to any degree worth mentioning, thus posing the greatest concern of all.
In all, I think Barr brings enough to the table to be considered a late first-round pick given his potential and prototype ability, though he’ll likely be taken much sooner than that. At some point, Barr can eventually become an All-Pro-caliber player; I just wouldn’t bet my job on it in the top half of the first round as a general manager.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Derek Carr put up the kind of numbers that make you stand up and take notice, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdown passes compared to only eight picks in 2013. Couple that superior production with his off-the-charts arm strength and you’d naturally deduce that Carr is sure to light up the NFL as a franchise quarterback for the lucky team that drafts him.
But there’s a dark side to Carr’s college tape that reveals he may be more a product of an offensive scheme that kept him from making decisions and kept the game extremely easy for him. Carr’s passing tree was overwhelmingly comprised of one-step drops and bubble screens to wideouts. This made it easy for him to avoid unnecessary turnovers and did not allow a reliable sampling of his post-snap reads.
Though these concerns are valid, the biggest issue I have with Carr as a first-round draft pick is the way he shrinks in the face of pressure. A chaotic pocket turns Carr into a "deer in headlights." This is troublesome, considering that, in order to thrive in the NFL, you have to be able to stare down the barrel of a gun and deliver, knowing that intense bodily pain is just moments away.
David Carr’s younger brother has a very good shot at following in his brother’s footsteps in more ways than one. Going early in the first round of the draft is likely just the beginning of similarities between the two. Considering the risks involved with this prospect, a second-round landing spot is the highest valuation I can offer at this time.
Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s Chris Borland is a little sparkplug who was considered a tackling machine that anchored the defense during his time as a Badger. Many evaluators are expecting Borland to be the second inside linebacker drafted, after Alabama’s C.J. Mosley.
This type of evaluation should put Borland as a second-round draft pick in the draft this May.
When watching the film, don’t see a prospect worthy of a second-round pick.
To start, Borland is a significantly undersized linebacker who measured in at 5’11”, 248 pounds. These numbers are workable and shouldn’t be looked at as too much of a detriment. What is a detriment, however, is he has 29-inch arms.
That is alarmingly short for any position in the NFL, let alone for a linebacker. What’s worse is that those nubs he calls arms are seen sabotaging his ability to tackle ball-carriers again and again. Couple that with his limitations in change of direction and Borland did not grade out as a reliable tackler.
Maybe he makes up for the missed tackles with a hard-nosed physical mentality right? Nope. Though he looks the part of someone who should be a hard hitter, he was only seen making a physical head-on collision one time in five exposures on his tape. He also shows up surprisingly finesse at the point of attack against blockers and does not hold his ground when he needs to.
Borland may have racked up a lot of tackles during his time at Wisconsin, but a large majority of those tackles were assisted and unimpressive.
Borland does flash some potential as a blitz option and seems to be a very gap-disciplined linebacker. But that can be viewed in a negative light as well—his instinct for making “splash plays” seemed lacking and graded out weak as well. The tape also revealed Borland was omitted from coverage responsibilities whenever Wisconsin played man-to-man coverage.
I failed to find any film of him running alongside a running back or tight end in man coverage. This comes as somewhat of a concern, considering it appears as though the defensive coordinator schemed around a weakness in Borland’s game. The 5’11”, 248-pound linebacker may have a difficult time holding up in the passing game when his role isn’t as an extra rusher.
I have serious doubts about Borland’s ability to translate at the next level and have little confidence that he can become an effective starter in the NFL. Considering this humbling projection, this prospect should not be taken earlier than the third round.
Despite my contrarian take on Borland, this is a guy who is very likely going to be taken off the board early in the second round. This will be a mistake for the team that does it.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
There are a lot of highly talented wide receivers set to enter the NFL this May—Brandin Cooks is expected to be one of the first wideouts selected. Every analyst who created a mock draft at NFL.com has Cooks going somewhere in the first round.
It all seems to make sense—Cooks ran the fastest 40-yard dash time at the combine in February, posting blazing 4.33 seconds. His burst does show up on tape, and he has the speed to separate from defenders deep, evidenced in him leading the nation in receiving yards last season with 1,730 yards. So what’s the problem?
The problem for me is that Cooks doesn’t do much with the ball in his hands. He may have speed, but he tends to fall down the second he’s touched by a defensive player and oftentimes before that even happens.
Cooks is 5’10”, 189 pounds but actually plays much smaller than that. He shows very little strength and was seen frequently bobbling passes. Even when he did make some catches, it appeared as though he struggled to control the ball on initial contact.
But ripping him for having bad hands would admittedly be overly critical. The point there is that his hands should not be considered an area of strength for him at the very least.
Dating back to 2006, there is a long list of receivers who posted sub-4.4 times in their 40-yard dash yet failed to make a big splash in the NFL. Some notable names include Jacoby Ford, Yamon Figurs, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jason Hill, Chad Jackson, John Brown, Willie Reid and Devin Aromashodu.
Each one of those names posted a top-14 40 time by a receiver, dating as far back as 2006.
The most successful speedster at receiver, who is less than six feet tall, to be drafted in that time frame is DeSean Jackson. The big difference between Cooks and Jackson is that Jackson has always been one of the more elusive players at any level he played at. Cooks may be fast, but he is not a guy who really excels at making opponents miss.
Considering the talent available at receiver this year, Cooks is not worthy of a first-round selection. As a matter of fact, I think teams should stay away from him in the top 40 altogether.
His speed and production may be enticing, but his skills don’t seem to translate to the big stage so well.
This does not mean Cooks can’t be a productive pro; what I’m primarily saying here is that he most likely won’t turn out to be an NFL star or even a true No. 1 receiver.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
When it comes to physical ability alone, Bradley Roby has first-round talent. This kid has the tools and potential to be a great cover corner at the next level, but when you put on his film, especially from the 2013 season, you mostly get a tutorial on how to waste incredible talent.
Roby’s lack of effort on the field and troubling character concerns off it are enough to slow down any excitement around him as a candidate for the first round.
Before being charged in the bar fight, Roby was also having issues with grades and eligibility leading up to the 2013 season.
It seems as though distractions off the field have a way of infiltrating Roby’s life and could be contributing to his inconsistent play and poor effort on the field as well.
Effort, toughness, strength and fire were all issues I had when watching Roby at Ohio State and would not pull the trigger on him until late in the second round at best. The only reason he is even worthy of such a high pick is because he graded out extremely high in his physical measureables at the combine.
In a metric I’ve been using for the last three seasons that combines all the physical attributes of a prospect, Roby graded out as the third-highest cornerback in the last three draft classes combined. Yet even with that type of rare ability, he is far too risky to touch in the first round.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report.
For more draft talk, follow him on Twitter @Ryan_Riddle.