The most valuable 32 draft-eligible college players I watched this year. Commentary follows, and I may add more content tomorrow. As always, this is no mock draft; just the best the NFL has to choose from in 2014, in this order.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina – True, QBs are scarcer than defensive ends. The Trailblazers had a justifiable reason to draft Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan, too.
2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn – Could he be the freakiest athlete in a draft class that includes Jadeveon Clowney? Robinson served notice on NFL defenders with some of his blocks in college.
3. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama – Bulldozes defenders in the run game and has a smooth, repeatable set in pass pro. Occasionally awkward and had a poor finale to his Crimson Tide career. Health aside, his talent overcomes the concerns.
4. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M – I’m sure you’ve heard: he’s a huge, athletic receiver. He’s even a bit elusive with the ball in his hands. Drops and getting out-muscled by smaller defensive backs present a concern, but the talent to dominate is there in spades.
5. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State – I’m not sure his hips are as quick as you’d like in a corner. Much like Dee Milliner last year, though, he can play press- and off-man with ease. Projects to play well in zone, too, as he reacts best when the play is in front of him. Exceptional in run support.
6. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson – Straight-line speed and 6’1” frame were all he needed in college. Excellent lateral agility and tough to bring down will help him transition to the NFL.
7. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama – Plays man coverage like a corner, which will give the right coordinator a lot of flexibility. Is not Earl Thomas in centerfield or Bob Sanders in run support, but he acquits himself well enough in each.
8. Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi State – This year’s Kennan Allen. Better at adjusting on the ball in the air than almost anyone in the draft, and an astounding athlete in every respect. Penalized for his QB’s play.
9. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M – A technician in pass pro. But teams still run on half their plays in the NFL, and that isn’t Matthews’ forte. He lacks the size and athleticism of a stud NFL left tackle.
10. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State – Raw, but extremely talented, and the arrow points upward. Half-field backer in the Seahawks mold.
11. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State – Athleticism and build are too much to ignore, but he did not show off ideal form down in and out.
12. CJ Mosley, MLB, Alabama – Mosley is great at diagnosing plays, but his speed to the edges has been overhyped. Still, between downhill run-stopping ability and play in zone coverage, he represents real value to NFL teams. How much does he see the field on second and third down? It’s a question more teams have to ask themselves these days. And draft accordingly.
13. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M – Polarizing prospect, for good reason. His ability to extend the play and elusive running will drive NFL defenses batty, just like in college. He cuts a more wiry profile than some sports bloggers I know, and didn’t run a very sophisticated system in college. So the learning curve will be steep. Still, he has the tools to be something special. This is about where the reward would outweigh the risk for me.
14. Odell Beckham, WR, LSU – Faster in and out of breaks than anyone in the draft. Great at pulling down contested catches. More elusive than given credit.
15. Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame – Mark my words: he plays tackle in the NFL, despite his short arms. Stud in the run game.
16. Ra’shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota – The solid bets are off the board, and everyone left has glaring flaws. Hageman is the only 3-tech in his class that has NFL-level build and athleticism, even if his motor is suspect.
17. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State – Anyone even considering Eric Ebron in the first has to think hard about taking a target that is rangier and more athletic. Drops were a problem.
18. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State – Athleticism unquestioned. Inconsistent play is not overhyped.
19. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan – Lewan has light feet for 6’7”, but sometimes gets beat to the edge when he forgets to keep them moving. Still, he makes up for it by grabbing jersey, punching after the play, or pretty much anything to keep his QB upright and get an edge. He has not proven himself any kind of asset in the run game, which accounts for him being rated so low.
20. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregeon State – Super duper fast.
21. Eric Ebron, TE, UNC – Moves like a wide receiver, even at 250 pounds. Only a handful of people on Earth can say that. Still, effort, concentration, and understanding of his role can be questioned.
22. Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame 23. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame – This pair shares a lot of traits: overwhelming strength and great ability to anchor against the run, compared to their peers. Tuitt can rush the passer when asked, too. Both great additions to a 3-4.
24. Marqise Lee, WR, USC – The Trojans ran every play in the book for Lee, and he excelled at all of them. Against college competition. In the NFL, he’s a 6’1” receiver with modest acceleration. Did make some acrobatic plays, though.
25. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville – Very accurate, despite pro day struggles. Limitations are real, though.
26. Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson – Has all the tools to dominate in the pros. Damarius Thomas had less college tape coming out.
27. Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
28. Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
29. Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
30. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virgina Tech
31. Jeremaiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech – Athletically-gifted, and plays violently. He could become Clay Matthews before all is said and done.
32. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh – Is he John Randle? Because that’s pretty much the complete list of successful 3-technique players under 290 pounds.
Values in the Second-Round
Lache Seastrunk, Morgan Moses, Joel Bitonio, Jordan Matthews, Jace Amaro, Dominique Easley, Carlos Hyde, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
A Few Reflections
-> To represent value at QB, you have to beat out the best 32 in the world, and stay healthy doing it. When push comes to shove, it was hard to think that this year’s draft class is going to represent dramatic value over the Matt Schaubs of the world. Teams can’t pass over studs at other positions for that.
-> Cyrus Kouandjio is just a better talent than he’s being given credit for.
-> Khalil Mack, Dee Ford, and Anthony Barr should raise many more flags than they seem to.
-> This draft fits the historical trends of several tiers of talent in the first round:
With the exception of Manziel, it would be hard to see the top 14 or so bomb out in the NFL.
Then things get dicey: it’s hard to pass up Ra’Shede Hageman for lower-tier talents, but his motor is a question; Kelvin Benjamin had conspicuous drops, but he and Mike Evans could revolutionize the wide receiver position. These players are higher risk, but several will be studs.
Finally, starting around 24, a third tier starts that will carry into the second round: far fewer of these guys have the skill set to dominate in the NFL, but they can be crucial additions to a team as starters. Marqise Lee, Ja’Wuan James, etc.