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NFL Decision Won't Pay Off For All

by Joe Coughlin
Jan 07, 2014 9:49 PM EST



College football dominated the headlines since New Year's. First and foremost for bowl games, but not far behind were big-time college athlete's decisions to cash in their lottery ticket at the NFL register.

Kudos, kids. It’s your choice, but let’s not be so sure it’s the right one. I get the move if your draft stock is as high as it can possibly be (Teddy Bridgewater), but when it’s not (De’Anthony Thomas), I’m not so sure.

But if you have the skills, the highest stage comes calling and that’s your end game, who am I to preach from the outside looking in?

These early entrants have NFL-quality talent, but some don't fit the mold. Variables change every year. This year, many teams need to improve passing games to keep up in the league. On the running side, the NFL trended back to single-back dominance and there's plenty of talented backs in the league, making runners a second thought. 

Not everyone declared. Some are going back to school and some are still deciding.

You may have seen the headlines, but there's more to the story. Here are my best guesses for the draft future of notable skill-position youngsters who declared early, along with the predictions of Football.com’s draft expert David Seigerman:

• Teddy Bridgewater — QB, Louisville

He may have solid NFL height at 6-foot-3, but he’s a bit of a string bean; however, scouts love his poise, leadership, maturity and of course his cannon. He proved his mettle in a big bowl win over Miami. He’s considered No. 1 now, but could get passed by Blake Bortles (UCF). We’ll see.

Seigerman: Cleveland at No. 4

Agree?: Too many needs at QB is going to force an early run, and Houston tops the list. The Texans get to try again with a No. 1 QB (took David Carr first overall in 2002).

• Blake Bortles — QB, Central Florida

Seemingly out of nowhere, Bortles may be the hottest name out there. He’s a prototypical pocket passer at 6-foot-4, 230 and showed he can win (12-1 mark was best in UCF history) and do so on the biggest stage (52-42 upset of Baylor in BCS game). The Combine is going to be his friend.

Seigerman: Not in Top 20

Agree?: It’s a quarterback league and with the new CBA, it don’t kill ya to take one. I think he goes to Jacksonville at No. 3, but I could see him taken No. 1.

Johnny Manziel — QB, Texas A&M

Talented, electric, winner, but where does he fit in today’s NFL? It’s a question plenty of teams are asking. Everybody wants a playmaker, but many are concerned he can’t fit. He’s too good to slip too far though.

Seigerman: Not in Top 20

Agree? Cleveland needs a quarterback and so does Oakland. If neither one trades up, one will take Manziel at No. 4 or 5.

• De’Anthony Thomas — RB, Oregon

We can call him a running back for now, but that isn’t what he’ll be on the next level. He’ll be Tavon Austin — a smaller version. Thomas will be called upon to return kicks and line up all over the field on offense. He could be Darren Sproles; he could be Dexter McCluster; he could be Garrett Wolfe. It's a risk, but you cannot teach speed, and Thomas’ is all-world.

Seigerman: Big board No. 59

Agree?: That’s about right. Someone will justifiably bet on Thomas late in the second round or early in the third. 

Lache Seastrunk — RB, Baylor

Speed and compact power. That’s Seastrunk. He’s also undersized, but has 30-plus pounds on Oregon’s Thomas. He’s more built for every-down work in the NFL. His best quality may be the lack of mileage on those tires. This is a guy who will climb draft boards as workouts move forward.

Seigerman: Big board No. 31

Agree?: Spot on — early second-round pick

• Sammy Watkins — WR, Clemson

Watkins enjoyed a resurgent season after an injury-riddled 2012 that gave way to another star — DeAndre Hopkins. But no one’s overlooking Watkins now — 16 catches, 277 yards and two TDs in the Discover Orange Bowl made sure of that. Not overly sized (6-1, 200), Watkins is known more for his ridiculous hops, NFL-grade route-running and impeccable grips.

Seigerman: Oakland at No. 5.

Agree?: It makes sense and the Raiders need play-makers, but I see more QBs taken and Watkins falling to Tampa Bay at No. 7.

• Marqise Lee — WR, USC

The no-doubt top pass-catching wideout before 2013 disappeared for much of 2013. So much so Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans (Texas A&M), both of whom are entering the draft, passed him up. Lee’s skills didn’t magically disappear, however. Though some things — desire and toughness — are now in question.

Seigerman: St. Louis at No. 13

Agree?: I think he’s going to get passed up by Evans and fall to the Jets at No. 18.

• Mike Evans — WR, Texas A&M                

In a deep wide receiver pool, Evans may stand the tallest. His best measurable is his 6-foot-5 frame, but he’s also able to catch the ball amid traffic. Reminds me of Alshon Jeffrey, but will get drafted much higher.

Seigerman: Baltimore at No. 16.

Agree?: The Giants at No. 12 is a great spot for Evans, who can complement Victor Cruz.

• Brandin Cooks — WR, Oregon State

The most prolific receiver in college football in 2013 was Cooks. Oregon State looked for ways to get him the way, and while he is undersized, he works to get the ball and is as his feet are lightning. He’ll impress at workouts.

Seigerman: Not in Top 64.

Agree?: He won’t go in the Top 20, but he’ll be in the first round. The Panthers are a nice fit.

• Eric Ebron — TE, North Carolina

He’s a beast and exactly what NFL teams want to see. As the newest pro trend, tight ends need to be athletic freaks and Ebron fits that mold at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds with flexibility and quickness. He’s the type of guy that you can split out wide to create matchup problems.

Seigerman: Giants at No. 12

Agree?: Too many sure-fire WRs and offensive linemen for him to go that early. The Cardinals at 20 work well.

Also declaring and second or third-round picks: Jace Amaro — TE, Texas Tech;  Allen Robinson — WR, Penn State; Bishop Sankey — RB, Washington; Austin Seferian-Jenkins — TE, Washington.

Back To School

• Marcus Mariota — QB, Oregon

Heisman finalist. Pending injuries, Mariota will be the most dynamic player in college football next season and has enough weapons coming back (sans De’Anthony Thomas) to keep the Ducks in the Top 5. He’ll be motivated.

• Braxton Miller — QB, Ohio State

Proved his grit in the Orange Bowl, but he needs to prove he’s a pocket passer. He started to do so in 2013 and he’ll have his shot in 2014. Heisman hopeful as well.

• Brett Hundley — QB, UCLA

Great decision for Hundley, who put himself on plenty of radars, especially with a great bowl finish. Has chance to show what he can do next season. Big, dual-threat guy with serious speed. Could have huge year.

Yet To Decide

• Ka’Deem Carey — RB Arizona

The junior is leaning toward the NFL and may be the top running back listed, though he has carried the ball 743 times for the ‘Cats. Yikes.

• Tre Mason — RB, Auburn

Also a junior, Mason parlayed a 300-yard performance into a seat at the Heisman's final table and topped it with a national title. Nice resume-builders. He’s a Top 5 back.