Posted February 20, 2014

2014 NFL draft Big Board: Top 40 prospects entering the scouting combine

NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014
Make no mistake -- Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback of the 2014 draft class. (David E. Klutho/SI)

Make no mistake — Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback in the 2014 draft class. (David E. Klutho/SI)

The 2014 scouting combine begins on Thursday, and for the next week, the NFL news cycle will be all about the ups and downs of the best draft prospects in the country as they do everything they possibly can — both on and off the field — to get that one last rise in the eyes of every executive, coach and scout in the league. Every combine week sees players rise and fall for all kinds of reasons, and that informs the draft process all the way through.

This is where the draft process starts in earnest. As a last-minute barometer before it all begins, here’s one Big Board to consider as the combine approaches.

1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Bridgewater may or may not be the best overall player in this draft class, but I believe that he’s clearly the best player at the most important position, which is why he’s up top here. With his mobility, ability to make the palette of NFL throws and field awareness, Bridgewater has the comprehensive skill set needed to succeed at the next level. At times, he reminds me of an embryonic Aaron Rodgers.

MORE: Combine storylines to watch: Offense, Defense | Complete NFL draft coverage

2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Production and motivational concerns will dog Clowney through the combine and into the rest of the draft process, because narratives are written as such. But there’s still the tape to watch, and that tape shows a player that nearly every opponent is arrayed against to a ridiculous degree. Clowney can still disrupt and make things happen from multiple gaps, and that’s why he’s a special player.

3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

The most technically sound and practiced offensive lineman in this draft class. Matthews gets pushed back once in a while, but there isn’t a better overall blocker, or one more ready for the rigors of the NFL.

4. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Robinson doesn’t yet have Matthews’ agility or technique, but he’s already got more of both than you’d expect from a pure mauler. And make no mistake, Robinson can maul — at times, he’ll just level the defenders he’s blocking over and over. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if some line coaches saw Robinson as the more appealing prospect and he went before Matthews somewhere in the top five.

5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

A truly special player built for any scheme, in multiple roles if need be. Possessing impressive speed for his size (6-foot-3, 248 pounds), Mack can rush from the edge or head inside on stunts just as adeptly as he can line up at linebacker depth and blow up run plays.

6. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

The most explosive receiver in this class, Watkins draws comparisons to everyone from Percy Harvin to Julio Jones. Hit him on a bubble screen or end-around, and he’s a good threat to take it to the house. And in space, he explodes off the snap through seams and secondaries.

7. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama

Mosley is the best pure inside linebacker since Luke Kuechly. Not only is he a rare player in a field awareness sense, he also possesses impressive versatility. Mosley loves to come down against the run and mix it up, but he’s just as adept in coverage.

8. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

If you need a pure burner with size for the go or deep post route, Evans could be your man. Some will ding him for a lack of total route awareness, but that’s discounting the number of adaptations he had to make after the play broke down with Johnny Manziel as his quarterback. He’s an ideal offensive cornerstone for any team with a mobile quarterback where improvisation and play extension is a factor.

9. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

An athletic marvel, this former running back absolutely explodes off the snap, and if he’s not blocked correctly, will wreak havoc in any enemy backfield. Barr is still learning the finer points of the position he switched to before the 2012 season, and there are dings on the tape as a result, but there are few more intriguing investments in this year’s class.

10. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Dennard isn’t just a potential lockdown pass defender; he can also blitz and face up against blockers when dealing with running backs. Dennard led the Spartans with four picks and 10 pass breakups, and he’s as impressive playing trail coverage as he is when jumping routes.

11. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

Lee’s stock has slipped in some quarters because people tend to think of him as an undisciplined player who freelances too much … but given Lane Kiffin’s fundamentally limited and constricting passing concepts (not to mention the school’s relative talent deficit at the quarterback position over the last few years), I’m willing to give Lee the benefit of the doubt. At his best, he reminds me of Reggie Wayne in his ability to run patterns and get open with smooth speed and acceleration. A high-quality asset who will be even better with good coaching.

12. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

Another Colts comparison — Ford reminds me of Robert Mathis at times in the ways he turns things over in the open field. He’s got great explosiveness and outstanding awareness in the open field, and he closes on the ballcarrier in a big hurry. He still has some issues in pass coverage, and I’d like to see him dip-and-rip with more consistency, but those things can be ironed out with good coaching.

13. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

It’s quite rare to see an athlete of Nix’s size (6-2, 345 pounds) get through blockers and gaps with speed, but the tape doesn’t lie — Nix is an unusual player from that perspective. He’s got the strength and technique (including a devastating swim move) to make life very difficult for every NFL center he faces.

14. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

If other NFL teams are going to try and copy the Seattle defensive template (hint: they are), one step is to find atypically-built linemen who can attack from different gaps in different ways. Hageman is such a player. At 6-6 and 318 pounds (with room for slightly more weight if need be), Hageman has been dominant as a nose shade and three-tech tackle, and has the base agility to become a run-stopping five-tech end in certain defenses.

15. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Let’s set the YOLO lifestyle claims aside for the time being, because you’ll hear all sorts of things both positive and negative about that. As a pure football player, Manziel comes into the NFL at the perfect time. QBs from Ben Roethlisberger to Cam Newton have proven that mobility is a virtual must for today’s signal callers, and Russell Wilson has shown that you can get things done with an exceptional football sense even if you’re not 6-3. Manziel doesn’t have Wilson’s demeanor or acumen (yet), but he’s a rare improviser in a positive sense. The problem? There are parts of his tape where he looks just about undraftable. The positive? A play or two after that clip, you’ll see him make a play that leaves you (and the defense) gasping. A rare risk/reward player, but his first-round status is undeniable.

16. Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix may get more decisive nods from some because he played in an NFL-ready defense, but Pryor is the flashier — and splashier — safety. Because of his pure field speed, Pryor is able to take an extra split second reading plays, and he closes on the ball with acceleration and authority. Pryor is also fearless when playing the run, though he needs to learn to corral all that athleticism in short spaces.

11 comments
parkerstreet
parkerstreet

I'm an admitted "homer", but all of these people calling Clowney "lazy" and such are just wrong.  I either attended or watched every Carolina game since he arrived and I saw what a disruptive force he is. The guy had EVERY defense schemed to stop him...which benefited the entire SCAR defense, but didn't necessarily give statistical credit to Clowney. He'll be fine...

JamesAllenSpillmanJr.
JamesAllenSpillmanJr.

Bridgewater reminds me of a smaller peyton or even aaron rodgers with all the att. Manziel reminds me of rg3 just get blown up eventually and haveing a 5-7 yr carrer when he is healthy clowney got all his hipe with that michigan hit .big deal he is lazy and it will show

MarkPost
MarkPost

Bortles playes in a pro-style offense.  I don't get why you think he'll have trouble adjusting to, what did you call it, the finer points of NFL quarterbacking considering he played that style all season.

btcvsolo
btcvsolo

Say what you will and of course it remains to be seen what these kids can do on Sunday, but Bridgewater looked pretty damn good in that bowl game. Granted, the opponent (Miami?) didn't look too good but that kid was absolutely shreddin' 'em...


Clowney will have a huge chip on his shoulder and that may be good or maybe not.


Manziel? Reminds me too much of a Vick or Randall Cunningham. Scramblers are different than mobile QB's. I predict a short career for the lad....

youngnorth77
youngnorth77

Clowney number 1 in this draft hands down, are go with a lineman I don't sse why people are so high on these QB's and I like them all but buyers beware, Sammy Watkins is good but FSU shut him down last year boy this is risky draft at the top I would not reach to far. Go Raiders

sporra01
sporra01

These list's are a freaking joke. These analyst's should all be put through a wood chipper. Where was Russel Wilson on these list's 2 years ago? Anyone remember that debacle.

bro.fuss
bro.fuss

Timmy J number 31? Put the crack pipe down.

TitleTownNews
TitleTownNews

Doug, what is this quarterback "talent deficit" at USC you refer to? Marqise Lee broke a Pac-12 record for receptions in 2012 having Matt Barkley -- who is on an NFL roster -- throwing to him. There was some down time in the transition from Barkley to Cody Kessler ... and Lee spent much of 2013 injured ... but Lee had a fine game in the Las Vegas Bowl with Kessler throwing for more than 350 yards and four TDs. Bad research here. 

J Diddy
J Diddy

 Too high: Robinson (AU)--great lineman, but he's a name people are jumping on due to Auburn's late season success. Lewan (MI) & Martin (ND) were thought to be the cream before the season, and will probably reassert some of that notion during workouts. (Their teams didn't have as much success this year, so their stock slipped.) Anyway, don't think Robinson goes top 5 or is in the top 5 talent-wise. Think he'll be much closer to where those other guys I mentioned are rated when it's all said and done.


Mack - For every NFL scout I hear high on him, I hear a couple more with concerns. That spells a guy who will be really high on a few team's list but might slide if one of those teams doesn't snag him early. 


Marquise Lee - Just don't see him as a borderline top 10 talent. Makes flashy plays and had huge games, but was inconsistent. Just didn't dominate everyone.


Too low: Sammy Watkins - He's a top 5 talent on almost everyone's board. Top 3 on a lot. Unlike Lee, he did pretty much dominate everyone he faced.


Dee Ford - Another T. Suggs or Von Miller. He could end up going in the top 8.


Nix III - Guy is a wrecking ball. 

NON SMILEY
NON SMILEY

Or he could start an analyst removal service