Draft King Analysis|
February 23, 2014
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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The 2014 NFL Combine is underway in Indianapolis. Part of the event is a chance for overreaction to run wild, but part of it is also a time to verify outlooks in as much of an apples-to-apples setting. You typically don't see the top-tier QBs throw (though that's not always the case), but it's very valuable in obtaining accurate height/weight measurements without the nudging that many schools often give their guys, intentionally or otherwise.
Here's how things are looking at this point at the top levels of key positions:
QB: It looks like a three-man battle between Blake Bortles (UCF), Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) for the top spot, with Derek Carr (Fresno State) behind the pack at #4. I get the impression that Houston at #1 is evaluating all options at this point and legit doesn't know what it will do yet. If the Texans keep the top pick, all indications at this point are that they would take one of the three in the top tier in this category.
RB: It's remarkable how the running back position has dropped in importance relative to the first round of the draft, but with the NFL tilting so hard toward being a passing-oriented league with safety rules put in place to protect receivers and quarterbacks, that's not going to change. A repeat of the top five of the 2005 NFL Draft, where three of the top five players selected were running backs, seems unlikely to occur again in my lifetime. After 2013 became the first draft in NFL history without a running back taken in round one, which goes all the way back to 1936 in the initial draft when there were only nine picks total in the first round, it seems entirely possible that will happen again this year.
Odds are that Carlos Hyde (Ohio State) or KaDeem Casey (Arizona) will be the first RB selected in this May's draft, though my personal favorite is Jeremy Hill (LSU) whose stock is severely depressed due to his multiple misdemeanor convictions. Tre Mason (Auburn) would be a good fit for a team needing a bruising powerhouse.
WR: Sammy Watkins (Clemson) and Marqise Lee (USC) are the near-consensus #1 and #2 wide receiver prospects in this draft. Of course who goes first is entirely up to the inclination of the team to pull the trigger first on a wide receiver (see: Oakland in 2009 picking Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh overall pick when Michael Crabtree was still on the board), but Al Davis is dead and Watkins had a monster season. Mike Evans (Texas A&M) might press Lee in the battle to be the second player chosen, but both are solid prospects who, absent something unforeseen happening, should all go in the first round, if not the top 20 overall.
Beyond that, the massive Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State) is seem by most as the fourth-best prospect, a boom-or-bust type with incredible size and raw ability. From there opinions start to vary wildly; to point, there isn't agreement about which LSU wide receiver prospect between Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry is better, which particularly stood out when Mike Mayock's initial top five list included Landry and not Beckham.
TE: Eric Ebron (North Carolina) is a possible top ten pick. In the right system he could post monster numbers. Below him you could see Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) potentially be first-round selections as well.
OL: Tackle dominates the top of the board, with Greg Robinson (Auburn) and Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) both having the potential to be top five selections. Tyler Lewan (Michigan) is perhaps just a notch below but it would be surprising to see him go beyond the first dozen picks.
Beyond that, Zack Martin (Notre Dame) is a tweener OT/OG prospect who seems most likely to play tackle but has versatility that could boost his stock. David Yankey (Stanford) was an All-American at tackle in 2012 and at guard in 2013, which speaks volumes of his ability and versatility and could easily earn him a first-round nod.
DT: There are many people very high on Louis Nix (Notre Dame) even with his nose tackle size making him an interesting fit for some systems. Timmy Jernigan (Florida State) and Aaron Donald (Pitt) and Ra'Shede Hageman (Minnesota) all have first-round potential and one important commonality: they all have the ability to pressure the quarterback from an interior defensive line position. That ability is more important now than ever before.
4-3 DE/3-4 OLB: It's not outside the realm of possibility that Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) could go #1 overall if a team trades up with Houston to take him. Complaints about Clowney's effort I find laughable -- him having to play college football instead of going to the NFL in 2013, when he would have almost certainly been the first or second player drafted this time last year. I'm a strong believer in Kony Ealy (Missouri) and with so many teams in the top 8 running a 4-3 defense, as of this writing I have Ealy being taken ahead of Khalil Mack (Buffalo) and Anthony Barr (UCLA) because of what Atlanta needs drafting at #6 in a 4-3 defensive end. The reason: neither Mack nor Barr have the size to play on the front four
Other players to watch include Dee Ford (Auburn), Scott Crichton (Oregon State) and Trent Murphy (Stanford) as far as pure 4-3 DE prospects go.
As far as 3-4 OLBs, and there is enough overlap to where the two categories mix, I'm a big fan of Mack and what he did at Buffalo, and I could see a team running a 3-4 defense clamoring to trade up with Oakland at #5 or Tampa Bay at #7 if Mack slides to one or both of those spots.
4-3 OLB/ILB: Anthony Barr (UCLA) is an extremely talented player who happens to best fit a non-premium position. He has top ten talent but time will tell how he will end up being slotted. C.J. Mosley (Alabama) has incredible versatility to go with elite skill and great leadership, and I would anticipate him going in the top 15-20 slots, if not higher.
CB: Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State) seems to have ascended to the top of the cornerback pecking order, with Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State) not too far behind, though that is not a consensus mindset. Beyond that, there are several guys who could go late first through round two with Jason Verrett (TCU) and Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) and Bradley Roby (Ohio State) and Marcus Roberson (Florida) all in the mix.
S: HaHa Clinton-Dix (Alabama) is a sure-fire first-round pick as a free safety, but Calvin Pryor (Louisville) is another free safety who is drawing plenty of attention who could work his way into round one.
Once the NFL Combine ends, there will be guys who will jump up and slide down, as is usual, but for now that is how the landscape looks. While this might not be a top-heavy draft, it's very deep and has plenty of guys with huge breakout potential.