2014 NFL Draft: First Round First Look
By David Seigerman
It all starts with a list. By this point in the calendar, NFL scouts have been dispatched to college campuses across the country and are starting to make their observations, which will be crunched into data and then framed as recommendations, which will be compiled into reports that are then handed up the chain of command . . . eventually, a team’s draft strategy has been shaped.
This, essentially, is the life cycle of the Draft Board. It may sound like we’re at the beginning of the 2014 cycle, but in truth, that process began last year, when scouts were gathering their information for the 2013 draft. There’s no official Day 1 reboot. The raising of the Lombardi Trophy isn’t some sort of Times Square ball drop, signifying the end of one draft process and the start of a new one. The data mining is already well underway. While decision makers are in the war room working the unfolding draft, scouts are already on the front lines developing the plan that will be applied in next year’s war room.
But for the sake of organizing their thoughts about a particular draft plan, the scouts have to start somewhere. And it starts with a list. Or a spreadsheet or notes on a cocktail napkin or fast food sandwich wrapper.
These initial lists are preliminary, a starting point for the conversation. These lists will change over the next 11 months. Names will drop off, new ones will be added, all of them will be shuffled. Every once in awhile, you come across an Andrew Luck and can put his name atop the list in pen early in the process.
Do we have that this year? Perhaps. But then we don’t have the slightest clue who will be picking first or what their needs may be. Or even whom their coach or GM may be.
Still, it all has to start somewhere. And so we unveil our First Round First Look, a kickoff to a conversation about potential first rounders that will continue to evolve well into the night of April 24, 2014.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
A once-in-a-generation prospect. I haven’t seen a defensive player in college look as dominant and present such an athletic mismatch since LaVar Arrington in the late 1990s.
2. Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
The perfect confluence of nature (he’s Bruce Matthews’ son) and nurture (played opposite Luke Joeckel), Matthews now gets his turn at left tackle, protecting the blind side of the Heisman Trophy winner.
3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Lee said after the spring game that one of his goals is making it through the entire season without dropping a ball. It should surprise no one if he does it. Amazingly, his feet are even better than his hands.
4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater has the athleticism coveted by the NFL these days, but he’s not the kind of quarterback who tucks and runs at the first sign of adversity. He’s got a pass-first mentality, and will enter the league as a far more developed passer than anyone in the last three drafts not named Luck.
5. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
He is 326 pounds of pure hustle, with an outsized personality to match his game. His motor never stops; you’ll see him collapsing the top of the pocket, then pursuing screens to the opposite side and chasing backs and receivers and scrambling quarterbacks downfield right through the whistle.
6. Anthony Barr, DE/OLB UCLA
Barr will be further along as a pass rusher than Dion Jordan was coming out this year. He has tremendous pass rush instincts, registering 13.5 sacks and 21.5 TFL in what was just his first season playing defense. Until 2012, Barr was an underutilized fullback.
7. Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama
The Crimson Tide lost three offensive linemen off its two-time title-winning roster, and yet the best of the bunch may still be in Tuscaloosa. Kouandjio will start at left tackle again, and he has the chance to be a better prospect than Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones.
8. C.J. Mosley LB Alabama
Mosley has the look of a classic every-down Mike backer, though maybe slightly on the light side. He is quick to read and react to the ball, tackles everything he gets his hands on, and may be at his best dropping into coverage.
9. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
After an explosive freshman season, Watkins took a bit of a step back in 2012, in part the result of a suspension and injuries. But with WR DeAndre Hopkins and RB Andre Ellington off to the NFL, Clemson is counting on Watkins to reassert himself as one of the game’s premier playmakers.
10. Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
He would have been a top-10 prospect had he come out in 2013, and there’s no reason to think Lewan won’t again be one of the earliest players off the board. In fact, he’ll be even more NFL ready after a year in Michigan’s new post-Shoelace pro-style offense.
11. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
The most complete tight end in the country will be a matchup nightmare at the next level. Who’s going to cover a 6-foot-6, 266-pound tight end who runs routes like a receiver? And he may be as good a blocker as he is a pass catcher, though you better believe that when he gets to the NFL, they will get him the ball.
12. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
It’s not often when you can look at a 300-pounder and ask, “Hey, who’s the little guy?” That’s what happens when you line up next to Louis Nix III. Of course, Nix’s presence has also allowed Tuitt to do what he does best – rush the passer. He had 12 sacks last year, showing the ability to rush with both speed and power. Tuitt has the skills of a 4-3 defensive end in the body of a 3-4 end.
13. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Talk about a game-changer. He led the nation with 17 pass breakups, scored TDs three different ways (on an interception, a fumbled punt and a blocked punt), and is lightning quick out of his breaks. He provides full-speed support to the run game, and can lay a lick when he gets to the ballcarrier.
14. Morgan Breslin, DE, USC
Breslin is another instinctive pass rusher with a knack for disrupting plays. He had 13 sacks and 19.5 TFL in his first FBS season and will be even more effective when he develops a broader repertoire of pass rush moves (his primary tactic appears to be the speed rush, which served him quite well in 2012).
15. David Yankey, G/T, Stanford
He blossomed from an honorable mention all-Pac 12 guard to an All-American left tackle. This season, Yankey’s likely to stay at left tackle, while continuing to see snaps at other spots along the line as he did last year. Then it will be up to his NFL employer to decide where he fits best (they really can’t go wrong).
16. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Purifoy is all upside. His breakout in 2012 was the result of his superior athleticism, which you can see in the way Florida uses him – at cornerback, at receiver, returning punts and covering kickoffs. He can press or play off, and he’s got the speed to cause problems blitzing off the corner. As his cornerback skills develop, his stock skyrockets.
17. Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
The perfect counterpart to Mosley. Hubbard projects as a 3-4 OLB, who could line up with his hand on the ground and get after the quarterback. In the LSU game, he should have had his mailed forwarded to Zach Mettenberger’s grill, he spent so much time there.
18. Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
A veteran, versatile defensive back who spent a season at safety before switching to cornerback. He has solid ball skills and good hands, and he plays the run like he’s still a strong safety.
19. Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor
Not only did Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack open holes for Giovani Bernard and Eddie Lacy, respectively, but they blew down the doors of opportunity for future guards to go high in the first round. Richardson has a good chance to be the first true guard off the board, especially if Baylor comes close to duplicating what it did offensively in 2012 (2nd in total offense, 4th in pass offense, 14th in run offense).
20. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
At 6-2, 205, Reynolds is a long, strong presence in the back of the Cardinal secondary. He breaks well on the ball (as his six interceptions would suggest) and breaks away once making the takeaway (as his three Pick Sixes would confirm).
21. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
First off, there’s the height – at 6-3, Matthews has the height to play the X receiver position in the NFL. Then there are the hands (witness the one-handed grab on the sideline while entangled with a Florida cornerback). This level of production in a program not known for prolific offense is impressive. And, oh by the way, he’s related to Jerry Rice. What more could you want in a receiver prospect?
22. Antonio Richardson, T, Tennessee
“Tiny” Richardson is a force as a run blocker, and, at 332 pounds, edge rushers are going to have a hard time bull-rushing him to get to the quarterback. He could have problems with the speed rush; perhaps he projects as a right tackle in the NFL?
23. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Verrett is always around the football, whether he’s being challenged (resulting in 6 INTs and 16 pass breakups) or when he steps up to support the run game. Though he’s only 176 pounds, Verrett is not shy about taking on backs and tight ends 30-plus pounds bigger than him.
24. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
While he’s demonstrated the ability to get to the quarterback (13 sacks in 2012), Van Noy might be better served as a Will backer in a 4-3 than being the primary pass rusher in a 3-4. He shows terrific pursuit and a knack for creating turnovers (5 INT, 11 forced fumbles in his career). But at only 235 pounds, he likely will have difficulty disengaging from blockers along an NFL line of scrimmage.
25. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Having missed much of last season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle against Oklahoma, Jeffcoat will reintroduce himself to the Big 12 and NFL scouts. Pretty quickly, he’ll remind them of his pass rush prowess. But like Breslin, he has to develop a secondary move; one-gear speed rushers can be neutralized.
26. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
From 2011 to 2012, Murray’s completion percentage, passing yards and TDs went up, his interceptions went down. Entering his fourth season as Georgia’s starter, he continues to mature as a quarterback.
27. Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida
The headlines were universally dour. Lynch’s decision to transfer, everyone felt, would ruin the Notre Dame defense for 2012. That turned out not to be the case. Now, after sitting out a year, Lynch gets to prove the move was a good one for him, too. Still . . . imagine a defensive front of Lynch, Tuitt and Nix III . . .
28. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
He makes his share of plays, in both coverage and the run game. At times, he takes an ineffective angle of pursuit or is overaggressive in pursuit. But those are correctable flaws, and the NFL will be watching to see his continued development.
29. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
He may not be the most productive back (that would be Ka’Deem Carey) or the most explosive (that’s De’Anthony Thomas, who projects to be more of a running back/slot receiver hybrid at the next level). But Seastrunk is a cutback back with good burst and is dangerous in space. He may be the best bet for a back to land in the first round – something that didn’t happen in 2013, for the first time in 40 years.
30. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
A big, rangy, ballhawking free safety, Clinton-Dix had interceptions in each of the last three games of the 2012 season: the Iron Bowl, the SEC Championship and the BCS Championship. Three pretty big games to the Tide.
31. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
The top dual-threat quarterback in this draft class, Boyd has a big-league arm and is a sturdy, instinctive runner. Think of him as E.J. Manuel 2.0.
32. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Like everyone else at Oregon, Ekpre-Olomu seems to play at a different gear. He breaks on the ball with astonishing quickness, and flies up to play the run fast and furious. He appears suited to play either man or zone, with decent size, great speed and a physical approach.