Midseason Big Board: Top 64 Prospects, Six Months Out
Before we divulge the 64 prospects who are on the Football.com Midseason Draft Rankings, let me acknowledge two names you will not see on this list.
Brett Hundley and Johnny Manziel.
Two-thirds of the Thornton Melon Three -- redshirt sophomore quarterbacks who would be best served to go back to school-- Hundley and Manziel are left off this list for different reasons.
I suspect that after his outings against Stanford and Oregon (256 yards, two TDs, four interceptions combined), Hundley might be inclined to agree with me about the merits of extending his stay on campus. In UCLA's two biggest games of the year, Hundley was underwhelming, for reasons not entirely his own (having a freshman orientation tour as your starting offensive line doesn't help). But he has looked uncertain, uncomfortable and, let's face it, unprepared to run an NFL offense. At this point. He'll be in a far better place a year from now, if he chooses to spend the 2014 season in Westwood rather than, say, Oakland.
Manziel is another story. I fully expect the Johnny Football Express to pull out of College Station. And, to be fair, there really isn't much left for him to accomplish as a college quarterback. Unless Kevin Sumlin were inclined to install a pro style offense that would give Manziel the opportunity to play more from the pocket, there's no framework at Texas A&M that exists to help Manziel improve his professional prospects. It'd be Year Three of Johnny Magic, and we've all seen that show about as well as it can be performed.
So, Manziel's exclusion from this list is not because he shouldn't come out. It's because he's not a prospect worth taking in the first two rounds. Not because of the circus that will come to town in tow. It's purely a football consideration. As a quarterback, he projects to be something much closer to a Doug Flutie than a Brett Favre. Scouts will respect his arm and his mobility, and coaches will love how he makes plays. But there's no denying that he'll spend his entire NFL career one J.J. Watt-shortened scramble away from extinction.
Will Manziel get drafted? Yes, someone will take a chance on him, perhaps as early as the third round.
Would Hundley? Yes, his arm and athleticism and upside might even connive someone into taking a top-50 flyer on him -- which would be fine, if it's a patient somebody without an immediate need at quarterback.
But right now -- six months before Draft Day 2014 -- neither Hundley nor Manziel are among the 64 most promising prospects projected to be available.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Upside: We've not yet seen a vintage game this season from Clowney, and we very well might not. But we know what he'll do when he gets to the next level: bring the heat. Clowney is a pass rusher prototype, with the size (6-foot-6, 274 pounds), speed (he's run a 4.46 40) and strength ideal to play defensive end in a 4-3 front. His first step is almost unfair; it's shocking Antonio Richardson didn't appear on Tennessee's injury list with whiplash after his first few series against Clowney. His production is down, but that's primarily a factor of teams building their blocking schemes to stop him (tackles, tight end, running backs). He has only two sacks through eight games, but he has seven hurries and 6.5 tackles for loss -- clearly, he's still finding his way into the backfield. Clowney looks like he could be the second coming of Julius Peppers, and he's probably quicker off the ball than the eight-time Pro Bowler.
Downside: The big takeaway from this season is that Clowney is not Superman. He can accumulate injuries, his conditioning could be questioned, he can be neutralized by a gameplan committed to stopping him. A scenario could be imagined wherein he'd drop all the way to the third pick. But that's about the worst-conceivable case.
2. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Upside: When I wrote "Take Your Eye Off The Ball" with Pat Kirwan, we talked about a Production Number for front-seven defensive prospect. It's a simple equation to determine how many distruptive plays a guy makes: (Sacks + TFL)/Games Played. The Production Number is not a deciding factor; it is merely part of the overall assessment, an indicator of a guy's productivity, and ideally, you're looking for someone with a PN of at least 1.0 -- which basically means he makes one play behind the line of scrimmage every game. Dion Jordan -- the third pick in the 2013 draft -- posted a PN over his last two seasons of 1.38. Barr's PN this season is an off-the-charts 2.4, and that doesn't factor in the four fumbles he's caused or three he's recovered. Barr's playmaking instincts are undeniable. And while he has the range and tackling skills to play Will backer in a 4-3 defense, it'd be a waste for him not to wind up as a primary pass rusher in someone's 3-4 scheme.
Downside: Barr is not the player he's going to be a couple of years from now. He is still learning to play defense (he spent his first two college seasons as a running back), still developing his repertoire of pass rush moves. Right now, he wins most battles by virtue of an advantage in athleticism; he'll need to become more tactical as a pass rusher to have anywhere near the kind of success he's enjoying now. He'll also continue to develop his ability to diagnose run-pass, as well as his capabilities in coverage.
3. Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
Upside: This is the safest pick in the draft, and the first team on the clock with a need at left tackle will take Matthews, plug him in and leave him there for the next decade. His technique is textbook and his pedigree unimpeachable. He was born and bred to be a left tackle, and he's shined in his first season playing there for Texas A&M (the last few seasons, he played right tackle opposite Luke Joeckel, the second pick in the 2013 draft).
Downside: No matter what he does, it's going to be tough for Matthews to win any bragging rights in his family. Michael Corleone took his family business to heights his father never could; but he was never "Don Corleone." I suspect Matthews would be fine playing in the shadow of his father's Hall of Fame career.
4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Upside: In a draft rich with promising but imperfect quarterback prospects, Bridgewater is the most NFL ready. In fact, he's more ready to step in and run an NFL offense from Day One than anyone taken the last two drafts not named Luck or Griffin. Bridgewater consistenty makes every throw that will be asked of him at the next level; he's accurate and aggressive, and has a long resume reel of completions in traffic and down the field. He takes care of the football and has shown zero issue with the attention he's received all season as the presumptive No. 1 quarterback in his draft class.
Downside: Skeptics will point first to the caliber of competition he's faced, though there's nothing Bridgewater could do about that. He doesn't make the schedule; he just completes three out of every four throws against whoever's on it. Some critics would like to see him run with the ball more; I'd be perfectly comfortable if he stayed safe in the pocket, even a moving one, and avoided the knockout shots Robert Griffin III is subjected to. Then there's the glove -- the most notorious glove this side of O.J. Simpson. Conspiracy theorists worry it means he has small hands or that he has trouble gripping the ball in cold weather. He won't wind up with Dan Marino's NFL career, but maybe Bridgewater could become Isotoner's next quarterback spokesman.
5. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Upside: Everyone's talking about the depth available at the quarterback position, but make no mistake -- there is no position in the draft more top-heavy with talent than wide receiver. And Watkins is the most complete receiver in the draft. He has the strength and burst to beat press coverage at the line, the speed to take the top off a defense (only two of his seven touchdowns this season were shorter than 48 yards), and his smoothness in and out of cuts is best in class. Remember when people worried whether last season's statistical decline (playing alongside DeAndre Hopkins) was an anomaly? Well, Watkins surpassed his 2012 totals in eight games.
Downside: There's little not to like about Watkins. Maybe he lacks the ideal height (6-1, 205) to be an X receiver, but teams could use him there. Or they could just line him up as the Z or in the slot and turn him loose. Receivers typically take two or three seasons in the NFL to blossom, so this top-5 talent still might not be a top-5 pick.
6. Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama
Upside: Anyone who grew up listening to Keith Jackson call college football games have only two images in their mind regarding offensive linemen: big and ugly. Kouandjio is no Big Ugly of yore. He's a positively svelte 6-6, 310, and it's tough to imagine a more athletic offensive lineman. He looks so natural when he moves in pass protection and uses his strength so effortlessly in run blocking. He rarely appears off balance or out of position.
Downside: Early in the season, Kouandjio suffered more lapses in pass protection than you'd expect from a tackle who has been this talented for this long. Perhaps it could be attributed to playing without experienced talent around him (Chance Warmack, DJ Fluker and Barrett Jones had all left for the NFL). Still, those moments of mortality are becoming fewer and farther between, and it's tough to imagine that he'd fall out of the top 10.
7. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Upside: Most fans don't watch what happens in the trenches, especially at the heart of line play. But when you watch Notre Dame's defense over the past two years, you can't help but come away with the notion that people this big shouldn't move like this. Nix is 6-2, 357, which makes him the recruiting poster for an NFL nose tackle. But he plays with the quickness of a guy 50 pounds lighter, and it's not inconceivable that he could play tackle in a 4-3 system just as capably. His measureables, movement and motor make him a unique package of potential.
Downside: If his ability to penetrate were better, you'd be talking about a potential top-3 prospect. But that's not his job. A nose tackle isn't asked to pressure the quarterback or even rack up tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Rather, it's his job to eat up a double-team on every play, so that other defenders can do their jobs. Nix does that consistently, though he'll need to learn to disengage more effectively than he has this year. Teams rarely spend high picks on defensive tackles (unless they're Nkamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy), but Nix should be the first nose tackle to go top 10 since B.J. Raji in 2009.
8. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Upside: As promising an outside linebacker prospect as Anthony Barr is for a 3-4 defense, Mosley would be just as good a fit for a 4-3. He's not the pass rusher that Barr is, but a Will backer in a 4-3 doesn't need to be. Instead, Mosley excels in two critical areas -- tackling and coverage. He flat-out makes plays on the ballcarrier. Last year, he led Alabama with 99 tackles, 43 more than his closest teammate. This year, he has 73 total tackles, 25 more than the next guy. He hasn't added to his five career interceptions this year (or the school record three touchdowns he's scored returning INTs) but he continues to display natural coverage skills.
Downside: If he were a little bigger (he's 6-2, 238), Mosley could project as an ideal candidate to play Mike backer in a Tampa 2 defense. He's been asked to rush the passer more this year, and he has responded with four sacks. But that's an area he needs to develop, and chances are he'd bring pressure only occasionally as a blitzer in the NFL, not be asked to rush every down. He may be pigeonholed as a 4-3 Will backer, which will limit the number of teams who might consider him.
9. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Upside: All NFL teams have a No. 1 receiver, but not everyone has a true No. 1 receiver -- a guy who dictates coverage. Of the many receivers who could wind up going in the first round of the 2014 draft, perhaps the one true X receiver prospect among them is Matthews. He has the size (6-3, 205), the speed and the hands to be a top target at the next level. What's most impressive about the way he's rewritten the SEC record book is that there isn't a pass play when the opposing defense has to worry that the ball might go anywhere but to Matthews. He makes catches while covered, and looks so comfortable and confident doing it, he looks like the kind of receiver NFL coaches will have to scheme to stop rather than rely on their secondary to win matchups against him.
Downside: He is a fast, fluid athlete, but he lacks the sensational qualities other receivers have -- blazing speed or escapability in traffic. Other receivers may do more after the catch than Matthews; few will be as reliable making the catch in the first place.
10. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Upside: To project the kind of receiver Lee has the chance to be, you have to look to the past. Watch anything you can find from Lee's monster 2012 season, and you'll see one of the most exciting players in college football. He was explosive, showed great hands and a unique ability to get open and make people miss after the catch. Like Watkins, he can be used all over the field, and Lee will take advantage of the open spaces in a spread-out defense and turn short passes into big gains.
Downside: This will be a year Lee will want to forget. He never has found any kind of role in USC's identity crisis of an offense. He's not getting the ball the way he did with Matt Barkley at quarterback, and Lee even has contributed his share of drops to the Trojans' bummer of a season. Plus, he's been hampered by a knee injury for a month. All this tells us is that a playmaker like Lee needs to be part of an offense that can make plays. If he were to wind up somewhere he was the lone offensive threat -- the Jets, for instance -- his rookie season might look a lot like his 2013 season.
11. Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
Upside: Murphy may be the most technically sound of the pass rushers available in the draft. That's not some kind of backhanded compliment or knock on his athleticism. Any doubters need only watch him early in the Oregon State game, when he fought through a double team, jumped to deflect Sean Mannion's pass to the flat, and then, when the tight end who had been blocking him came back for the deflected pass, Murphy spun and made the tackle for a loss. It's his motor, his ability to disrupt an offense in so many ways, and his repertoire of pass rush moves -- this year alone, he has shown the ability to get to the quarterback using a speed rush, a power rush, crossing the blocker's face and even a spin move -- that entices NFL scouts.
Downside: Murphy lacks the initial burst of Clowney or Barr -- which is to say he's not a blur at the snap of the ball. He has demonstrated the ability to play standing up or with his hand on the ground, but I see the 6-6, 261-pounder less as a hybrid candidate than a pure 4-3 defensive end.
12. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Upside: I have to credit Football.com's Bill Lund for first suggesting I take a closer look at Mack. I knew that Mack had been dominating the MAC, and that he entered this season with more career tackles for loss than anyone in college football. I watched tape last summer and began to think we'd found a sleeper. Then came Opening Day against Ohio State, when Mack made nine tackles, had 2.5 sacks and returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown. Then I realized, the secret was out. Everyone was going to know about Mack, as well they should. He's no mere mid-major monster. Mack plays big against everybody, and he'll be able to line up and rush from the weak side or play the run and take on tight ends from the strong side.
Downside: It's tough to envision where scouts might have a problem with Mack. Perhaps he's a bit raw as a pass rusher, and that he'll need to develop some variety in his moves. It's just that his elite speed and power have worked so well for him, he hasn't need to expand his repertoire, which I suspect he'll have little trouble doing at the next level.
13. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Upside: It's tough to find three more dangerous corners this side of the Bermuda Triangle than the embarrassment of riches in the Florida secondary. Roberson is the most polished and technically sound of the Gators' three standout cornerbacks, and he's the kind of fluid athlete who can lock down even the most elusive of receivers.
Downside: You'd like to see more production out of a potentially elite corner, but Roberson doesn't have an interception this season and has only three in his three-year career. The biggest issue is his build. Roberson is 6-foot, which is not a problem. But he's listed as 178 pounds, which creates the very legitimate concern over how he'll handle physical receivers and taking on running backs who will routinely outweight him by 40 pounds.
14. Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
Upside: Being the third-best left tackle prospect in the draft is like being the third-hottest of the original Charlie's Angels (Google it, kids) -- Lewan is no one's consolation prize. He's the biggest (6-8, 315) of the top-tier tackle prospects and has the technical experience you'd expect from someone who has started 42 games at left tackle for a program like Michigan. There aren't a lot of NFL defensive ends who are going to beat him with a bull rush.
Downside: Lewan has suffered this season some of the same lapses that plagued Kouandjio earlier in the year. In part, it may be Lewan trying to do too much to assist the youngsters on the interior of the O Line. It can also be attributable to his overall agility. It's fine, and it won't negatively impact his draft stock or impede his development as a pro. But he'll need to be technically sound and play angles precisely to avoid getting beat by elite speed rushers at the next level.
15. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Upside: Tuitt (6-6, 312) is flat-out the best 3-4 defensive end prospect in the draft. The only issue is that ends in a 3-4 aren't supposed to provide much pass rush; their job is to give themselves up and occupy the linemen opposite him. But Tuitt has show such talent as a pass rusher, he's likely to get the opportunity to bring pressure -- even if it's just moving inside on passing downs. Tuitt had a school-record 12 sacks a year ago and leads the irish with 5 sacks and 6.5 TFL this season.
Downside: There's one big thing that could keep Tuitt out of the first round . . . and that's Tuitt himself. Rumors have swirled around South Bend, perhaps based more in hope than fact, that Tuitt plans to return to Notre Dame for his senior year. That's a decision a ton of guys on this list have to make, but Tuitt seems to be the one most serious about staying in school. He's NFL ready, whenever he's ready for the NFL.
16. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Upside: There would be no Johnny Football without Mikey Hands. The last two years of Texas A&M football have been filled with Manziel sprinting from the pocket, buying time for himself, evading, eluding, escaping, and finally, at the last possible moment before the defense is on him, flinging a desperate pass downfield. Without Evans, the Manziel legacy ends there, incomplete. But at the end of seemingly every one of those launched prayers is Evans with an answer. He comes back to save his quarterback like some 6-5, 225-pound Saint Bernard, and he's turned more than a few short or intermediate passes from Manziel into long touchdowns. There is no reason to suspect he will not be the same kind of big playmaker in the NFL.
Downside: If this sounds like a nitpick, well, that's because it is. Evans has become the master of the broken play reception. It leaves me wondering whether none of those theatrics would be necessary if he could only beat his man initially. Might he not have the moves or burst to gain separation consistently? If he were to beat him man off the line and Manziel could get him the ball right away, there would be no need for their signature scramble collaboration. But then the world of college football would be a far less dramatic place.
17. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Upside: Shazier is such a disruptive force for the Buckeyes. He has a nose for the football and makes tackles from sideline to sideline -- and behind the line of scrimmage (he leads Ohio State with 12 TFL and five hurries, and his four sacks are second on the team). Shazier is on pace for a second-straight 100-tackle season.
Downside: Can a Will linebacker play in the NFL at 230 pounds? We're going to find out, because about the only thing Shazier lacks is ideal size. He's 6-2, 230, and you can imagine a lot of teams will be wondering whether Shazier could add bulk without sacrificing speed.
18. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Upside: Roby is perhaps the best zone corner in the draft. He rarely appears out of position and seems to have good feel for zone schemes. He's not big (5-11, 192), but he is physical and he'll be an active participant in run support.
Downside: Roby doesn't shy away from contact. Too often, though, he's apt to try to hammer the ballcarrier rather than tackle him. He has lapses where he doesn't wrap up, and he's just as likely to bounce off an opponent than bring him down when he throws a shoulder rather than show proper technique.
19. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Upside: Easley has played all along the defensive line at Florida, and while he could play defensive end in any scheme, he probably projects as a defensive tackle. And what a lightning-quick tackle he'd be. Easley has a great initial burst and should have no problem bringing pressure as a three or five technique.
Downside: More than any other top-20 player, health is a huge red flag for Easley. He has had both knees surgically repaired (the left in 2011, the right earlier this season). And he missed a couple of games in 2012 due to other injuries. He should be ready to participate in the Combine, but the question about his long-term soundness must be considered.
20. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Upside: Johnson has come of age this season. An effective role player last year on a defense that sent eight players into the 2013 NFL Draft, Johnson has become a force on the defensive front, not only its most veteran player but its best. His ability to make plays along the line of scrimmage -- and even the athleticism to pusue plays downfield -- make him a unique interior line prospect. Clearly he has benefitted from dropping down to 294 pounds from the 330-plus he weighed when he first arrived on campus. There are a handful of top-tier three technique tackles, and Johnson might be the most physical of the bunch.
Downside: With only a dozen college starts under his belt, Johnson has yet to develop all facets of his game. In particular, he's not yet the pass rusher that his quickness suggests he could become. He has four sacks this season, but he could evolve into the kind of disruptive force everyone thought Will Sutton would be before his progress was slowed by adding so much weight.
21. Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor
Upside: This Bear is a beast. Richardson is 6-5, 340, and he uses every ounce in every block, especially in the run game. When you've been stuck by Richardson, you know it. He reportedly did 32 bench press reps of 225 pounds; that would have been the fourth-strongest showing among the 13 guards who lifted at the Scouting Combine. Prior to last year, when two guards (Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack) were drafted in the top 10, it would have been unthinkable that a guy like Richardson could go in the first half of the first round. Now, he'll be the first interior lineman drafted, and he could go much earlier than 21st.
Downside: As you would imagine with a man this size, quickness is not going to be an asset. Richardson is a bull against the defender in front of him. It remains to be seen how well he can pull and get to the second level.
22. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Upside: At this point in the process, Clinton-Dix is almost universally considered the top safety prospect in a relatively thin draft class. Clinton-Dix has the size (6-1, 208) to play either safety spot, and he's proven to be an effective tackler. But he seems destined to play free safety, where he can use his speed, vision and coverage skills to patrol big chunks of the field.
Downside: The indiscretion that caused Clinton-Dix to be suspended for two games in the middle of the season won't even register with most NFL coaches. There just aren't any red flags that would warn coaches off of Clinton-Dix. Though if a team were looking for a punishing big-strike safety, Clinton-Dix is not your guy.
23. Antonio Richardson, T, Tennessee
Upside: There are the Big Three tackles in this draft (Matthews, Kouandjio and Lewan), and then there's the Big One. Or "Tiny," as he's been called since high school. At 6-6, 327, he's actually shorter than Lewan, Miami's Seantrel Henderson and Kansas State's Cornelius Lucas. But he is a physical force who could play either left or right tackle at the next level. In fact, he might be perceived as an ideal strong side tackle, as he's relentless as a run blocker.
Downside: It's not fair to judge him exclusively on a half-dozen snaps against Clowney, but it's tough to shake the visual of a tackle this good whiffing on his man. He was flat-out beat by Clowney's speed, and his feet couldn't help him recover the times Clowney crossed his face and broke free inside. It's not inconceivable that Richardson -- who usually does show good footwork fundamentals -- would stuggle against the elite speed rushers he'd face as a left tackle.
24. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Upside: He is the epitome of smooth. The way he runs, the way he glides in and out of cuts, the seemingly effortless way he tracks receivers through their routes. Ekpre-Olomu has terrific anticipation, marking his man as if he sensed where the receiver was going. He won't come close to his 2012 stats (20 PBUs, six forced fumbles) because teams simply don't throw his way often.
Downside: His measurables (5-10, 185) are average, and his top-end speed isn't especially fast (certainly not by Oregon standards). This may hurt him against big, physical receiver and certainly limit him against the run, though he's talented enough to play in a man coverage scheme where run support isn't a primary responsibility.
25. David Yankey, G, Stanford
Upside: A tough, verstaile lineman with prototype size (6-5, 313) and the athleticism to play either left tackle (his 2012 position) or guard (which he played in 2011 and this season). Not to play into the Stanford stereotype, but he has the football intelligence to become the leader of an NFL offensive line.
Downside: His mobility is perhaps better suited for run blocking, where he can get out in front of backs and into the second level of the defense. His short-area footwork might lack the quickness to handle elite speed rushers, which is another reason Yankey projects more as a guard.
26. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Upside: You thought he was good last year when he set all kinds of North Carolina receiving records for tight ends? Well, Ebron needed only eight games this year to surpass his own marks. Ebron plays more like a big receiver, running smooth routes and making catches with good arm extension and soft hands. He has the toughness to make plays in traffic over the middle and enough speed to be a vertical threat.
Downside: At 6-4, 245, Ebron is one of the smaller tight ends available. Defenses might find it easier to jam him at the line than to have to deal with him in coverage, and he could run into some problems as an in-line blocker in short yardage situations.
27. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Upside: There are five players off the Florida State defense who will be drafted in the first two days, including LBs Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and DBs Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks. The prospect perhaps most ready to step in early in his pro career is Jernigan. Unlike the others (except for Brooks), Jernigan has a clearly defined position awaiting him at the next level. He's a three technique type of defensive tackle, who will utilize his quickness to penetrate and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Jernigan's lateral agility allows him to make plays up and down the line of scrimmage.
Downside: He doesn't appear to have the power to collapse the top of the pocket as an interior pass rusher. He'll get his share of shots at the quarterback because of his quickness, but Jernigan doesn't seem like the type that will bull rush a guard back into the QB's face. That's why he projects a notch below 4-3 tackle prospects like Easley and Johnson.
28. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Upside: No cornerback in the country has been better around the ball the last two years than Verrett. He has eight interceptions and 28 passes defended in the 22 games dating back to the start of the 2012 season; no one else comes close. And that's impressive production from a cornerback at whom nobody throws anymore. He is confident in man-to-man coverage, with terrific instincts and the athleticism to mirror receivers and the quickness to stick to his mark in and out of breaks and along the boundary.
Downside: Verrett is going to lose some support when he goes up on the scale at the Combine. Skeptics will feel vindicated if his measurables are anything close to what he's listed by TCU (5-10, 176). Only one corner of comparable size was drafted in 2013 -- San Diego took Cal's Steve Williams (5-9, 181) in the fifth round, and he was lost for the season with an exhibition game injury. It's a legitimate concern. Teams are going to be reluctant to spend a first-round pick on a corner who can't match up with an opponent's top receiver. He may be seen exclusively as a slot corner.
29. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Upside: The statistical rankings -- sixth nationally in passing efficiency, third nationally in yards per completion, tied with Manziel for second nationally for most completions of 20 yards or longer -- merely confirm what it's obvious to tell. Mettenberger's progression as a quarterback has been dramatic. He has blossomed into the capable, confident passer LSU coaches always hoped he could become. The credit belongs not just to the teachings of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron but to Mettenberger, whose willingness to devour the insight of his new mentor has prepared him for the film room regimen essential to a professional quarterback's success.
Downside: As indicated by five interceptions over his last two games, Mettenberger's maturation is still a work in progress. It's important to recognize that his learning curve, his new-found understanding of how to play the position, is still in its infancy. Plus, he's had the benefit not just of Cameron's influence but of the presence of two NFL-ready wideouts (Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry) and one of the best young running backs in the country (Jeremy Hill). So, he's been set up to succeed this season with an arsenal deeper than he might have at his disposal at the next level.
30. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Upside: Put aside the diminished production for a moment. Seferian-Jenkins is everything you look for in a tight end. He's huge (6-6, 276). Runs a receiver's route tree and has a wideout's hands. He owns Washington's records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches by a tight end. He is a willing blocker, and downright dominating at times. There isn't a defender built to beat him in a jump ball situation, and he could be positively unstoppable in the red zone. Now, about that prduction . . .
Downside: Twenty catches. In seven games. Roughly 35 yards per game. This from a guy who had 69 catches for 852 yards a year ago and was a Mackey Award finalist. Yes, he missed practice time (and one game) during an extended suspension. And, yes, the Huskies have a ton of offensive options. But there's no excuse for Seferian-Jenkins to have free-fallen from record-breaker to afterthought. NFL coaches will be curious to see how much he's matured after this year of largely self-inflicted adversity.
31. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Upside: In the ongoing debate over the best offense in the country -- Oregon vs. Baylor -- the determining factor is Seastrunk. The dimension he brings to the Bears' version of the spread offense is an elite running game. Yes, he's explosive, but Seastrunk is built not just for speed but to pound for tough yards, too (even though there's not been much call for that during his time in Waco.) NFL teams will love that they are getting a dynamic back without much mileage. He's rushed for 100 yards in 11 of his past 13 games, though he's never carried the ball 20 times in a single game.
Downside: Seastrunk is dangerous in the open field, and NFL offenses love to get backs the ball in space through a short passing game. Seastrunk has nine fewer catches this year than last year, when he had nine receptions. It's almost a disservice to his development to not even attempt to include him in the passing game. It's hard to tell whether Art Briles won't throw him the ball because Seastrunk can't catch or because it's just not in the playbook, but you better believe NFL teams will want to see Seastrunk's hands for themselves. If he shows even the slightest competence as a receiver, he'll almost certainly be the top back chosen.
32. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Upside: Hageman may be the most versatile lineman available in this draft. He's played defensive tackle primarily at Minnesota, and has the bulk to play inside either as a tackle in a 4-3 or as a nose guard. But you can see a 3-4 team looking at someone his size (6-6, 311) as a defensive end -- which would be a transition not unlike what the Jets have done with Mohammad Wilkerson. Hageman has the strength and balance to be an effective power rusher at either spot, and his length will create all kinds of congestion in passing lanes (he's batted down six passes in nine games).
Downside: Wherever he lines up, the lone limiting factor is Hageman's average quickness. He lacks the explosive burst that defines elite pass rushers, and he's more likely to plug up a gap than shoot through it.
33. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech: Any criticism of Amaro's limitations as a blocker are moot; he's never going to be the inline, sixth-lineman type of tight end. He's a receiver first, and an extremely talented one, with a big catching radius and a wideout's hands. He'll be used all over the formation, the way he is in the Red Raiders offense.
34. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida: Purifoy's development has not been as consistent as the Gators would have liked. His effectiveness in coverage relies so much on his natural athletic abilities, he hasn't shown that he understands how to play the position the way Roberson has (or true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, for that matter). If he convinces an NFL staff through the interview process that he's coachable, he could turn out to be an early second day steal.
35. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State: It's unfair that Carr's prospects are tainted by any association with his brother's underwhelming NFL career. David Carr was drafted into a situation where he couldn't succeed -- the first pick of an expansion team that built its offensive line with everyone else's castoffs (Carr was sacked 76 times his rookie season). His brother's career has no bearing on his own, and Derek Carr probably is a more developed passer than David was coming out of Fresno State, and he went first in the 2002 draft. There is nothing in his body of work to suggest that this Carr won't become the franchise quarterback his brother never had the breaks to become.
36. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU: He's listed at 6-3, 245, which would be fine size to play Will backer in a 4-3 scheme. He just looks smaller and slighter, which would be my primary concern. I wonder if he's not one dimensional as a pass-rush threat. How effectively can he provide pressure if he relies exclusively on a speed rush? The good news is that Van Noy is remarkably productive in all facets of the game (46 tackles, 11 TFL, 4 sacks, 11 hurries, 6 PBUs) and probably could stay on the field under most down and distance scenarios.
37. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson: If it seems that Beasley is constantly in the opponent's backfield, you're right. According to Clemson's sports information department, Beasley has 16 sacks in 497 snaps over his last 14 games -- basically one sack every 30 plays. That's the best in Clemson history, about twice the frequency of Gaines Adams, nearly three times Da'Quan Bowers. That doesn't factor in the seven hurries or five passes batted down. Beasley, though, is going to have to learn to bring pressure from a two-point stance, as he's way too small (6-2, 235) to play defensive end at the next level. In fact, he may be too small to be a primary rush linebacker in a 3-4 front. He might wind up as outside backer in a 4-3, an occasional blitzer who will have to learn to play the run and in coverage more than he's done during his Clemson career.
38. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: Gordon could be the top running back in this draft. But he's never been a true feature back (he has barely 200 career carries) and he's not a factor in the passing game, either as a receiver or a blocker. He really could use another year at Wisconsin, but next year's running back class will be loaded with legitimate prospects (You heard it here first: multiple running backs to go in the first round in 2015. Prepare to stop the presses). That makes this the right year for Gordon to come out.
39. A.J. Johnson, ILB, Tennessee: If the NFL were still a place where offenses ran the ball 40 times a game, Johnson would be coveted as a classic middle linebacker, making every tackle on every rush between the tackles. He lacks the speed to be a true sideline-to-sideline guy, and he can look a little wooden in his coverage skills. Still, he is tough, physical -- and have I mentioned that he tackles everybody? And there's always a place in the NFL for a guy like that.
40. Lamarcus Joyner, FS, Florida State: The only game film any scout needs to watch is the way Joyner took over the Clemson game: eight tackles, one sack, one interception and two fumbles forced. That would sell them on the kind of playmaker Joyner has the capacity to be. It will be tough, however, to project him as a boundary corner in the NFL. Joyner's only 5-8, 190, and while he could see time as a slot corner, it's likely that his best fit will be as a free safety. That would minimize the opportunities for him to face physical mismatches lined up alone against the league's biggest and most physical receivers.
41. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: It's not a stellar year for cornerbacks, but Dennard might just be the most complete package. He has terrific instincts in coverage, and you almost never see a receiver shake him. He projects as a press or press-bail corner, who consistently makes plays on the ball (he has nine interceptions and 17 pass breakups in 36 career games -- and very few passes have come his way the last two seasons).
42. Cameron Erving, T, Florida State: As I wrote last week in the buildup to the Florida State-Miami game, Erving has more than made the most out of his switch from defense to offense. He has made great strides in two years of learning to play the left tackle position, and has retained some of the aggressiveness he played with as a defensive tackle. Erving clearly has the size (6-6, 320) and athleticism to play either tackle spot at the next level. If he stayed for a senior season, he might emerge as the premier left tackle prospect in the 2015 draft.
43. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Because I'm increasingly convinced he's going to come out, I have to put Mariota somewhere. Admittedly, it's far lower than most people have him. He's top-10 on a lot of these big boards, maybe even top-5. He has the build, the mobility, the release and velocity you want in an NFL quarterback. I'm just not sold that he's ready to run an NFL offense -- and regular readers of this space know I've felt this way long before the Stanford game. Too many of his throws are screens and first reads, and too frequently he takes off and runs before he's completed his read progression. Mariota's a dynamic runner, faster than Cam Newton and more physical than Robert Griffin III. And he has the potential to be a solid NFL passer. But if he comes out this year, as a redshirt sophomore, I worry that he'll be taken too early by a team with an immediate need at quarterback, pressed into a starter's role too soon, and that he doesn't have the foundation or experience to handle the struggles that will be inevitable. Success will not come as easily in the NFL as it has for him in college.
44. Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama: He might be the most overlooked impact player in the country, but that's only because he plays a position that affords him few opportunities to make highlight reel plays for a team loaded with headliners. Stinson is a strong side defensive end. That means he lines up against the right tackle, often the tight end, too, and has to hold the edge on the front side of most power runs. Teams just don't run the ball effectively against Alabama, so Stinson remains anonymous. To everyone but NFL scouts, who surely recognize the 6-4, 292-pound senior as perhaps one of the top two 3-4 defensive end prospects in the draft.
45. Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado: Talk about a guy who can take the top off a defense. Richardson has three 200-yard receiving games in his career. And 10 of his 19 touchdown catches have gone for 50 yards or more. He will add a downfield dimension to whatever receiver corps he joins.
46. Craig Loston, SS, LSU: A natural box safety, a disciplined tackler and a potential thumper, Loston still has to develop his coverage skills if he's going to stay on the field in all situations. He does have four interceptions over his past 13 games, showing he can make plays around the ball. Loston has endured some injury or another every season, which will be a concern, especially with his penchant for physical play.
47. Christian Jones, OLB, Florida State: You want versatility? Over his four seasons at FSU, Jones has spent time starting at every linebacker position. In 2012, he led the Seminoles in tackles as the Will backer. He began this year as the starting Mike, is now listed as the starting Sam, and has started to see time at defensive end. At 6-4, 235, he might be undersized to play on the strong side in the NFL. But his resume presents a smorgasbord of possibilities for NFL defensive coaches, making Jones a wildcard who could be used almost anywhere.
48. Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford: The 6-2, 206-pound senior could play either safety spot at the next level. Last year, he had six interceptions, a testament to his ball skills. This year, he has just one pick and two PBUs, but he's third on the team with 54 tackles. He's a promising all-around safety candidate/
49. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: Jarvis Landy might be the more polished of LSU's breakout receivers, but Beckham is the more explosive. He'll make the acrobatic catch, use his rare gear to break away from defenders in space. When you throw in the threat he poses as a kick returner, there will be teams who consider him in the late first round.
50. Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford: His measurables for a Mike backer are good (6-3, 245). His speed is average, and his tackling technique and coverage skills are slightly above. There's nothing in your first impression of Skov that would blow you away. Until you watch him in action. On the field, it's impossible to take your eyes off Skov, especially in the run game. Stanford's leading tackler lives around the ball, as Oregon saw first-hand, a bundle of intensity bearing down on the ballcarrier. He's the kind of guy whose stock might slip after the Combine, and then he gets snapped up by someone who evaluated him based on his game film. Plus, he's the rare breed of football player who could pull off the Riggins Mohawk.
51. Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama: As an NFL prospect, Hubbard is more like his teammate Stinson than Mosley. Hubbard looks like the strong side linebacker prototype. He's big (6-6, 252) and strong, with long arms that keep blockers off him. He shows good discipline in his angles of pursuit against the run, and he seems to have decent closing speed. Hubbard will be capable in coverage, especially in limited space, but he could also be developed as more of a pass rush threat than he's had to be at Alabama.
52. Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC: Breslin's injury-plagued season is over, as he reportedly will undergo hip surgery. In six games, he managed 4.5 sacks and 8 TFL, expanding his resume as a premier pass rusher. The injuries shouldn't hurt Breslin's stock, as it seems like he could be recovered in time to prepare for the Combine. Though he played some defensive end, the 6-2, 250-pound former JUCO standout is built to be an NFL linebacker. He's going to have to develop his play against the run and in coverage, otherwise Breslin will be limited to spot duty as a situational pass rusher.
53. Lamin Barrow, ILB, LSU: With textbook tackling technique and a terrific read-and-diagnose skills, Barrow makes plays all over the field. He was second on the Tigers with 104 tackles last year and leads the team again this season. NFL teams are going to love his instincts and intangibles. What will make them hesitate is his size (6-2, 232). If he's able to add bulk without losing his initial quickness, Barrow could develop into a reliable Mike backer.
54. Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers: He's had a more frustrating season than any receiver this side of Marqise Lee. Coleman opened the year with nine catches, 92 yards and two touchdowns against Fresno State. In six games since then, he's had more than two receptions only once -- in Rutgers' loss to Louisville, he enjoyed a five-catch, 66-yard veritable breakout in this enigmatic season. Coleman lacks discipline in his route-running, drops catchable balls and he seems to lose focus on occasion. Perhaps that's the residual effect of Rutgers' overall offensive struggles (or a contributing cause). Still, Coleman has the frame (6-6, 225) and the foundation to inspire some coach to take on the challenge of developing him at the next level.
55. Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma: A tough, physical corner, Colvin may be a bit of a tweener. He lacks the elite cover skills to play in a man scheme. And while he's solid in run support, he might not have the closing speed to thrive in a zone-oriented defense. At 6-0, 192, Colvin might not have the ideal size for a switch to strong safety, a position he played as a sophomore. Still, he has the reputation of a committed student of the game, which gives him a real chance to continue developing on the job.
56. Stephen Morris, QB, Miami: Time for a confession . . . I'm starting to wonder whether Morris is going to turn the corner and become the passer he appears to have the tools to be. Forget prolific numbers; I'd settle for productive. When you consider Morris' arm strength and his willingness to attack defenses vertically, you have to figure he almost couldn't help but rack up 300-yard games, right? Well, he has six 300-yard games in the past two seasons. And seven games when he's failed to throw for more than 200 yards (not counting the game against Savannah State he left early with an injury). He still holds the ball too long, still makes questionable decisions, still completes fewer than 60 percent of his pass attempts. Morris is going to have to put up a few more promising performances and then wow scouts during the offseason circuit to remain a second-round prospect. Otherwise, NFL teams are going to shop elsewhere in a quarterback pool deep on potential but short on sure things.
57. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: He's not the fastest back in the draft, not the flashiest nor the biggest. He's just the most productive back in the country over the past two seasons -- 3,001 yards and 33 touchdowns over 20 games, not to mention 343 yards on 54 catches. Carey is a more of a one-cut runner who will run between the tackles and look for a crease in the middle of a defense rather than live exclusively trying to get to the edge. He may be the one true every-down back who will come off the board in the first two rounds.
58. Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State: At the heart of the most prolific offense in Mississippi State history is the 6-4, 340-pound Jackson, a fixture at left guard since he arrived in Starkville. Jackson has started 47 consecutive games for the Bulldogs, the second-longest active streak in the country by any player at any position (trailing only Georgia QB Aaron Murray). His durability is impressive, but not as much as his mobility. Jackson moves extremely well and should be effective as a run-blocker in the NFL. Whether he can win consistently against interior pass rushers at the next level remains the biggest question.
59. De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon: The most dynamic running back in the 2014 class has little future as a running back. At best, he's Lamichael James, who's had limited opportunity to contribute to the 49ers this year, in any facet of the game (including special teams). And he's got 25 pounds on Thomas (5-9, 169). Thomas is a good enough receiver that he's likely to be moved to the slot, where he hopes some team figures out how to utilize him better than the Rams have been able to do with Tavon Austin this season.
60. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee: Rocky Top's Man Mountain doesn't make a ton of plays as much as he affects plays. His mere presence warrants a double-team. McCullers is down to 6-8, 351, and those numbers will impress NFL scouts more than his stat line (4.5 TFL, 4 hurries through nine games).
61. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: He came into the season looking to step up in the absence of injured cornerback Antone Exum. Fuller wound up exceeding Exum as a prospect, displaying terrific ball skills and impressive closing speed. One older Fuller brother played eight seasons in the NFL, another is on the Lions' practice squad, and Kyle's youngest brother, Kendall, has a team-leading five interceptions as the Hokies' freshman nickel back. That's a football bloodline impossible to ignore.
62. Seantrel Henderson, T, Miami: He's been on the NFL's radar for awhile, ever since he became the first high school lineman named USA Today's Offense Player of the Year. He's not been as dominant in college as expected, but his size (6-8, 315) and mobility will make him a run-blocking force in the NFL, probably as a right tackle.
63. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: Boyd (6-1, 225) is built more like a running back than any of the other dual-threat quarterbacks, and he's a more seasoned passer than Mariota. His height will be tough for NFL teams to overlook, even though he could be effective throwing from a moving pocket.
64. Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State: Most projections have Bullough going 40 picks later. But every play I've seen from the Michigan State defense this year seems to have one thing in common: Bullough in the middle of things. He gets more screen time than the network ID bug. He'll get plugged into the middle of someone's 4-3 defense and make a ton of tackles for them.