The draft process is upon us. Prospects have attended the East-West Shrine game and Senior Bowl and will soon converge on Indianapolis for the annual NFL Combine. Please note that these rankings are fluid, but I would never list a player without having a firm understanding of their play style and projection.
Quarterbacks are not just thrown in among other positions; there is a thought process behind their slotting. If I firmly believe a quarterback is a quality starter, they transcend the board and jump to the top. The next tier, which includes prospects I think have a good chance of becoming quality starters, follows first-round talents.
1. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
NFL Comparison: Russell Wilson, but three inches taller and less explosive movements.
Where He Wins: Excellent pocket movement. Bounces off his back foot to step up against edge pressure and isn’t afraid to slide laterally when faced with an interior rush. Keeps eyes up to survey coverages and works to multiple reads. Placement and touch are there, but has the velocity to hit vertical routes on the move. Not afraid to give a covered receiver in single coverage a chance to win. Reports have stated he takes care of many checks at the line of scrimmage.
Where He Fits: He fits any offense. Sustains success from the pocket but also has mobility which isn’t showcased often. Hits every level with placement and timing.
2014 Draft Projection: No. 1 or 2 pick.
2. Edge player Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
NFL Comparison: Uses a J.J. Watt like swim move, athleticism might be Julius Peppers-esque.
Where He Wins: Predominantly lines up at right defensive end in a three-point stance as a five, seven, or nine technique. His explosion off the snap is ridiculous, gaining an instant advantage against his competition. Obviously the swarming wingspan and closing speed is there, and he enjoys finishing hits with force. Has frequently taken the inside line this year, likely due to the shorter distance to the backfield. Loves to utilize an arm over swim and athletic footwork is on displays when avoiding cut blocks. Loops inside with ease. A rare power and speed athlete.
Where He Fits: Most experience in a four man front, but his talent could be used in any defensive scheme.
Draft Projection: The first non-QB off the board. Top-5 pick.
3. Edge player Khalil Mack, Buffalo
NFL Comparison: Ahmad Brooks-plus
Where He Wins: Displays a unique combination of size and strength. Has quickness to get underneath an offensive lineman’s pads and then use his strength to drive that lineman into the backfield. Controls run blockers, maintaining outside leverage and resetting the line of scrimmage. Has enough athleticism to be a factor in coverage and can avoid cut blocks.
Where He Fits: As a stand up weakside pass rusher alongside a three man line or could play a strong side linebacker in a 4-3 under.
Draft Projection: Has off-field question stemming from a suspension, but likely top-10 pick.
4. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
NFL Comparison: The current Torrey Smith but more of a threat after the catch.
Where He Wins: The combination of burst and smooth movements in and out of his breaks or after catch moves is great. Hands catcher away from his body. An explosive player with the ball in his hands, gets up to high gear very quickly. Will go across the middle and catch passes in tight windows. Cuts routes off very quickly. Has balance to stay up beyond first defender. Wins from slot or outside.
Where He Fits: Will help in a variety of ways, including yards after the catch, vertical routes, and in the return game.
Draft Projection: Expected to be the first receiver off the board, unless a team goes for a taller target who specializes in winning at the catch point. Top-10.
5. T Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
NFL Comparison: Jordan Gross
Where He Wins: Doesn’t sit back and wait, finds contact through his hands and is an aggressive blocker. Obtains inside hand positioning and adjusts if necessary. Athletic feet to keep proper shoulder alignment, which prevents bending from the waist. Displays ability to bend at the knee to absorb and redirect. Sets up cut blocks and drives through with force. Moving from right to left tackle.
Where He Fits: Has experience and played at a high level at left or right tackle. If a team wants him at center they will not get him.
Draft Projection: Top-10.
6. T Greg Robinson, Auburn
NFL Comparison: Trent Williams
Where He Wins: An absolute mauler of a run blocker. His power is ridiculous. Can dominate even the strongest of defensive linemen with leverage and brute force. Is a very good athlete for his size, and that is evident while playing in space. Opens a clear road when asked to crash down or get to the second level. Powerful hands.
Where He Fits: Still a bit inexperienced as a pass protector on an island, which is evident with flashes of waist bending, but he has the athleticism to fix it. Can play on the left or right side.
Draft Projection: Will be the first tackle selected.
7. Off LOS LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
NFL Comparison: Sean Lee
Where He Wins: Very little wasted movement. Lines up as inside linebacker behind three and four man fronts. Has so much range, chases down athletic quarterbacks to the edge. Same range is visible in pass coverage. Contacts crossing routes and keeps footwork to sustain and trail. Works over top of blocks with quick steps. Keeps nice vision at the second level by strafing then attacks uphill. Will finish tackles.
Where He Fits: Has transitioned from a coverage linebacker to the complete package. Scheme versatile at inside linebacker. Could potentially see time on the weakside.
Draft Projection: Very dependent on how teams react to his injury history. Top-20.
8. DT Dominique Easley, Florida
NFL Comparison: Jay Ratliff or Earl Mitchell
Where He Wins: Easley’s success inside compared to when on the edge is a no contest. His quickness to force his opposition off balance or shoot face up gaps causes instant disruption, displaying active hands to keep separation and a forward momentum. He impacts games when gaining promising positioning.
Where He Fits: Everywhere. Has experience as a five technique end but thrived in a one or zero technique role this season. Could be a disrupting, upfield nose tackle.
Draft Projection: This is difficult. Easley is a top-10 talent but has two ACL tears to his name on opposite knees. Played at a high level this season after the first one. I still think top-40, like Cornelius “Tank” Carradine.
9. S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
NFL Comparison: Reshad Jones
Where He Wins: Has excellent length for the position. Controlled aggressiveness when closing towards the line of scrimmage. Not a watcher, he gets in the action. Reads run and reacts quickly, even from single high. Has seen time from free or strong safety. Capable in playing man and zone situations, either near or off the line of scrimmage. A really, really good safety.
Where He Fits: A likely interchangeable safety that can play near the line of scrimmage or in the deep half.
Draft Projection: Top-15 selection.
10. DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
NFL Comparison: Flashes of Vince Wilfork
Where He Wins: Lines up as a nose tackle or shade in a three man front. Can work over top of a block and create penetration at the same time. Stops momentum very quickly and changes direction well for a big man. Has the leg drive to penetrate face up and strength to shed it close spaces. Can disrupt the run upfield or hold his spot with anchor versus the run. Has some Vince Wilfork to him.
Where He Fits: Likely a one or zero shade in a three man front, but don’t rule him out of four man fronts.
Draft Projection: Has been a letdown at times this season, but likely top-32.
11. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
NFL Comparison: Vincent Jackson
Where He Wins: Absolutely dominant at the catch point. Wins on the edge with long speed, excellent body control, strong hands, and high pointing ability. When he is covered he is still open. Winning in these situations might be more important than separation at the NFL level. Yards after catch ability is often overlooked.
Where He Fits: Outside receiver with a quarterback who is not afraid to test tight single coverage.
Draft Projection: First-round and would not be shocked if he is the first receiver off the board. I bet he tests faster than expected.
12. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
NFL Comparison: Aqib Talib
Where He Wins: An extremely physical corner who loves to press at the line of scrimmage. Frequently patient with his jam, not overextending but rather allowing the receiver to enter contact area. Rides inside hip downfield while sustaining position. Hand fights and flips his head quickly when receiver looks back for the football at the top of their route.
Where He Fits: Press corner or a few yards off on the edge. Will be physical in run support. Matches up at the catch point in contested situations which is critical.
Draft Projection: Might run a slow forty, which will lead to overreaction. Top-40.
13. TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
NFL Comparison: Does some Jimmy Graham-like things, but not as tall.
Where He Wins: A matchup nightmare. Uses his frame against corners and safeties to gain a positional advantage. Can do the same with safeties while creating space with fluid routes. An easy mover against linebackers. Has always been a willing blocker in space, but he has added an inline blocking element to his game. Getting stronger at the catch point when climbing the ladder. Presents some yards after catch skills.
Where He Fits: A receiving tight end in 12 personnel. Can play out on the edge, in the slot, and has added an inline blocking element to his game.
Draft Projection: Mentioned he would return for his senior season, but that could change in January. Suffered a major injury in 2012. I expect a top-32 selection.
14. TE Eric Ebron, UNC
NFL Comparison: A physical Jared Cook Jr.
Where He Wins: An outstanding straight-line athlete with some bend/flexibility for his size. Will stretch defenses and then cut his route back to the quarterback. Presents a big target and can separate after the catch. Improving consistency at the catch point and a willing blocker.
Where He Fits: An inline option who can be split out to matchup with different defenders.
Draft Projection: Top-25.
15. Off LOS LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Where He Wins: Long and lean. Projects to weakside linebacker. His speed to the edge is excellent. There are some wasted movements when working the backside, but once the target and ally are located he gets there in a hurry. Zone drops are smooth. Asked to blitz from inside and on the edge. Takes tight angles into the backfield on edge runs.
Where He Fits: Likely as a weakside linebacker who will stay on in nickel situations.
Draft Projection: Top-40.
16. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
NFL Comparison: La’Roi Glover
Where He Wins: Sutton takes advantage of space. Whether it be shooting past reach blocks in the sliver of time afforded to him thanks to an animated first step and forward lean, or hand use and quick feet to generate that separation on his own, Sutton finishes with closing speed. His flexibility to bend and gain positive positioning is tough to find.
Where He Fits: Likely as a three technique in a four man front, could play some in pass rushing situations.
Draft Projection: Too much has been made about his added weight. He isn’t a different player. The foundation of Sutton’s game was never quickness, it was leverage and technical hand use. Still, he will get knocked for lack of size or added weight. Top-64.
17. DT Aaron Donald, Pitt
NFL Comparison: Mike Daniels.
Where He Wins: Excellent burst off the line to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Despite size knocks, he has good length and active hands. Able to get skinny to work through gaps and trash. Closing quickness is there to make tackles for loss.
Where He Fits: Obvious nickel or dime rusher, but likely not limited to that. He disrupts fronts. Could see him lining up in a variety of sub-package sets at 1, 3, or 5 technique.
Draft Projection: Top-40 due to measurement minimums, but he could go much, much higher.
18. OL Zack Martin, Notre Dame
NFL Comparison: Logan Mankins
Where He Wins: Held up at tackle well this season and during Senior Bowl week. Hands are so strong to prevent inside moves or latch on and control at the point of attack. Willing to sustain blocks with position and leg drive.
Where He Fits: Can make a good tackle but an outstanding guard. Wide base can be troublesome against agile edge rushers who weave inside and out.
Draft Projection: Has a legitimate chance to be the third offensive lineman selected. Likely as a tackle.
19. WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
NFL Comparison: Antonio Brown-plus
Where He Wins: Mainly an outside receiver but has seen snaps in the slot. An excellent intermediate to downfield threat, but likely has the skills near the LOS. He just was not used there. The downfield routes are not usually go or straight-line patterns, instead most of his success comes off breaks. Has quickness and explosion to his game, but does not mind winning at the catch point in contested situations.
Where He Fits: Shines on inside and outside breaking routes, like posts and corners, and also works towards his quarterback.
Draft Projection: Tough to know right now. Would not be surprised if he is the third WR off the board.
20. Edge player Dee Ford, Auburn
NFL Comparison: Robert Mathis
Where He Wins: Great burst off the snap and explosion upfield. Bends very well around the corner once beating offensive lineman's depth. Has also displayed hand use, leverage, and strength to keep his opposition on skates. The Texas A&M game shows the complete package.
Where He Fits: Line him up wide and let him run, likely as a 7 or 9 technique. Stance (stand up or three-point) does not matter to me.
Draft Projection: First-round
21. Edge player Anthony Barr, UCLA
NFL Comparison: Athleticism could be similar to Bruce Irvin.
Where He Wins: The lightning-quick pass rusher is able to gain an advantage on the edge and keep it thanks to his burst off the line, ability to cut off either foot towards the quarterback, and flexibility to bend around the corner. He closes distances quickly, which can be effective from a variety of alignments.
Where He Fits: Experience as a stand up rusher next to a three man front. Able to loop inside.
Draft Projection: Top-15 selection.
22. DT Ra'shede Hageman, Minnesota
NFL Comparison: Michael Brockers
Where He Wins: Predominantly used as a 1/0 technique this season. Obviously has a natural anchor. Improving hand use to create separation. Flashes of good athleticism for someone his size. Has the necessary power and leg drive to keep his opposition off balance.
Where He Fits: Appears his career can be taken on one two ways, either as a 1 in an even front or 5 technique in an odd front. I bet he will test well at the Combine, leading many to pick the latter, but I prefer him inside. Needs to deliver a consistent initial punch.
Draft Projection: First-round.
23. T Taylor Lewan, Michigan
NFL Comparison: Sebastian Vollmer
Where He Wins: Wide stance, wants to find contact through his hands. Has an aggressive mentality, but that can get him in trouble. Even if positioning is off balance, his strong base helps anchor and stop momentum. Better run blocker than pass protector, but wins when gaining a latch in either situation. Asked to pull inside and lead blocks well.
Where He Fits: Could see him on the left or right side.
Draft Projection: Obviously the NFL values offensive tackles. Possible top-15 selection.
24. Edge player Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
NFL Comparison: Cliff Avril
Where He Wins: Line him up wide as a 7 or 9 and let him run to a spot in the backfield. Explosive off the snap and can win around the corner, on inside moves, or when engaging into the opponents’ chest.
Where He Fits: Many will attempt to project him to an outside linebacker role and drop Attaochu into coverage. I do not see it. He played that role through his junior season, but was so much better as a senior with limited responsibilities in a disruption role.
Draft Projection: Top-50
25. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
NFL Comparison: Victor Cruz
Where He Wins: An explosive receiver that wins at every level of the field. Can take short passes for long gains after creating even more separation. Creates space on intermediate patterns. Tracks vertical passes exceptionally well. Takes the top off coverages. Has a large catch radius for someone his size.
Where He Fits: Some might only see a slot receiver, but he’s an accomplished edge target as well.
Draft Projection: Top-50.
26. CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
NFL Comparison: Jason McCourty
Where He Wins: Attacks the jam or blocking receiver, frequently gets into the action. Will play off or press man coverage, attacks the catch point by cutting in front of the target. Even plays on special teams. Trails in close distances and prevents the sliver of separation at the catch point. Makes things difficult on the opposition.
Where He Fits: Not locked into one side of the field. Likely better in press due to physical nature, but shows he can attack and drive in off coverage.
Draft Projection: Poor performance against Jared Abbrederis, but likely top-32.
27. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
NFL Comparison: Tony Romo in terms of improvisational style.
Where He Wins: Wearing down defenses with tempo. A master of broken plays. Stretches teams laterally with his feet. Forces defenses to match up with quick passes followed by elongated plays with little time to rest in between.
Where He Fits: Has shown development from the pocket, but could thrive in a creative system. Thrives on broken plays. Drops his eye level, but can magically find open space and available passing lanes to connect on ridiculous completions. Will test tight single coverage. Gives his receiver a shot. Can also be a quick decision maker, which is key to Air Raid. Has made more throws outside the numbers and downfield this season. Obviously extremely mobile.
Draft Projection: Top-10.
28. QB Blake Bortles, UCF
NFL Comparison: A poor man’s Andrew Luck in terms of mannerisms, running ability and pocket movement.
Where He Wins: Strong pocket mover results in handling pressure others might fold under. Not afraid to work through multiple reads and multiple levels of the field. Spent a lot of time in shotgun, but throws from multiple arm angles. Does not hesitate when throwing to covered receivers to let them win at the catch point.
Where He Fits: Velocity has dropped since 2012, and I am not sure why. With that said, I don’t think he has limitations in terms of an offense in the NFL.
Draft Projection: A top-10 selection, possibly No. 1 overall.
29. QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
NFL Comparison: Jay Cutler
Where He Wins: Has an incredible arm, not only when discussing velocity but also touch. Is forced to throw a lot of screens, but flashes upside as a vertical passer when given the opportunity. Shows athleticism when scrambling outside of the pocket. Aren’t many windows he can’t test.
Where He Fits: Doesn’t always throw from a balanced base but has improved willingness to take a hit on release.
Draft Projection: Likely the fourth quarterback off the board.
30. G Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA
NFL Comparison: Louis Vasquez
Where He Wins: Has great balance, rarely on the ground. Does not possess a punishing first punch, but certainly has the movement skills to mirror defensive linemen and is active when looking for rushers.
Where He Fits: Has experience at tackle but should play guard at the next level.
Draft Projection: Possible first guard selected.
31. T Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
NFL Comparison: Doug Free
Where He Wins: Does occasionally bend at the waist but is athletic enough to recover and regain balance. Best when keeping separation thanks to great length. Can get a bit short in his drops, but again, has the athletic lower half to react and keep positioning. Better in pass protection than run blocking.
Where He Fits: Likely left tackle but could start on the right side as well. The two aren’t so different anymore.
Draft Projection: Has shown weaknesses this season, mainly in the form of overextension or slow feet off the snap, but talent is there. Top-30.
32. WR Kelvin Benjamin, FSU
NFL Comparison: Plaxico Burress
Where He Wins: Huge frame and length to win at the catch point in contested situations. Very good body control to slow down, time catch, and contort frame to haul in a catch. Long strides allow him to get downfield. Unafraid to work across the middle on deep posts. Able to make adjustments with the ball in the air that other receivers can’t. Displays strength after the catch.
Where He Fits: Can dominate in the red zone, on vertical passes, and with strength on slants. Mainly an outside receiver.
Draft Projection: Needs to improve consistencies in the form of drops, but he and Mike Evans could draw similar interest.
33. S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
NFL Comparison: T.J. Ward
Where He Wins: A huge hitter. Takes aggressive angles downhill. Wants to get in on the action. Very good flashes while playing in the box or closer to the LOS.
Where He Fits: Was forced to play a lot of single high safety or far off the LOS. That is not where he should play at the next level. Was late on passes, but delivered big hits at the catch point.
Draft Projection: Second safety selected, possible top-25 draft pick.
34. TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
NFL Comparison: Baby Gronk?
Where He Wins: Displays good speed when running down the seam. Has flashed winning with breaking routes or bodying defensive backs at the catch point. A very good blocker for the position.
Where He Fits: It is difficult to project Niklas right now. First, his best trait is blocking. He was kept in during pass protection situations because of it. But receiving and complete TE skills are there.
Draft Projection: Top-64 selection
35. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
NFL Comparison: Martellus Bennett
Where He Wins: Displays enough agility to be detached from the line of scrimmage but also can in inline. Has the body control to win at the catch point. Movement skills are there to win in the short and intermediate areas. Can be a more than adequate blocker when willing.
Where He Fits: Likely an inline TE but is not stuck there.
Draft Projection: Top-64.
36. DT Timmy Jernigan, FSU
NFL Comparison: Barry Cofield
Where He Wins: Can be very disruptive when gaining the momentum and balance advantage from the 1/0. Drives interior OL back and has quick feet to make a play in the backfield once creating the operable space. Much better when working upfield. Loves to utilize a pull and swim motion.
Where He Fits: I do not like Jernigan’s game from the 3 technique and/or when he is asked to work around blockers rather than through them. Run defense is hit or miss. I would rather he become an upfield disruptor close to the center.
Draft Projection: Could be the first defensive tackle off the board.
37. Edge player Marcus Smith, Louisville
NFL Comparison: Jason Worilds
Where He Wins: The more I watched the Cardinal, the more I liked him. Not only can he bend around tackles, Smith loves to chase from the backside and converts speed to power with good length and hand use. I know I keep bringing up hands and technical skill, but it really does set great rushers that can win on counter moves apart from good ones that have one trick.
Where He Fits: Like Attaochu, I don’t care how Smith lines up as much as where. He can stand up or play in a sub-package, hand in the dirt pass rushing role.
Draft Projection: Top-75
38. WR Marqise Lee, USC
NFL Comparison: Reggie Wayne
Where He Wins: Long, lean strider. Best as a straight-line receiver. Doesn't mind chipping the edge when in motion or finishing off runs with low shoulder. Obvious burst of quickness in first or second step, then it builds after that. Lines up in the slot and outside, smooth runner in his breaks to avoid contact. Frequently sent in motion. Can make people miss in the open field, but doesn't have outstanding lateral agility.
Where He Fits: Likely outside receiver who gets vertical with fluid routes and long speed. Can easily peel back patterns and create separation when working towards the quarterback.
Draft Projection: Has dealt with injuries, drops, and bad quarterback play this year. Still a top-40 selection.
39. CB Jason Verrett, TCU
NFL Comparison: Chris Harris Jr.
Where He Wins: Active player who doesn’t wait to react. Keeps close trailing distance and makes tackles for a loss on crossing routes by forcing receivers back. Quick in his movements once diagnosing and locating. Has great vision, baits quarterbacks from off man with success. Coverage versatile. Hides blitz very well.
Where He Fits: Plays a lot of off coverage, but that doesn’t mean he lacks physical play. Best role will likely be as a slot corner.
Draft Projection: First-round.
40. DL Kony Ealy, Missouri
41. OL Brandon Thomas, Clemson
42. T Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
43. WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
44. CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
45. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
46. S Jimmie Ward, NIU
47. DB Lamarcus Joyner, FSU
48. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
49. Off LOS LB Telvin Smith, FSU
50. RB Devonta Freeman, FSU