Preseason Big Board 2.0: Top 64 Draft Prospects
Let me begin with a disclaimer and address what Alex Rodriguez might call the “pink elephant in the room.”
Johnny Manziel is not on this list.
He was not on my list of the top 32 prospects released in mid-May. And he’s not on this list, which extends out to rank the next 32 players who are eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.
One of the reasons I left him off my First Round First Look was because I really hoped that he would stay at Texas A&M that extra year and try to develop the skills that will be required of him in an NFL huddle.
That ain’t happening.
It was more likely that Thornton Melon would go back to school than it is Johnny Manziel will return to College Station for another year after this one. So, Manziel’s exclusion this time around has nothing to do with whether he's ready to leave college.
It has everything to do with the fact that he’s not ready to play quarterback in the NFL.
I won’t belabor here the questions I have about his ability to diagnose defenses and read his progressions. And I certainly don’t want to make this about his well-documented immaturity. That track's been well-tread.
Simply put, at this point, Manziel isn’t a quarterback prospect worth a pick in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. And if it turns out that he doesn’t play a down this year for A&M, I can’t fathom how his stock could possibly go up.
So, let’s do what John Manziel should do and put Johnny Football behind us for now. And let’s look at the top 64 NFL prospects as we see them today, three weeks before the start of the college football season and nine months from 2014 Draft Weekend.
Since nobody did anything over the summer to warrant a rise or fall in the initial rankings (how can anyone adjust a list before games are actually played?), my top 32 remain intact for now. You can read about them individually in the original story.
And then dig into the next batch of draft prospects, ranked Nos. 33 through 62.
33. Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
This 6-foot-6, 220-pound X receiver prototype is going to make some NFL quarterback very happy. He may not have the flat-out speed that would make him a first round lock. But Coleman has terrific feet for such a tall receiver and just looks smooth all over the field. He'll run slants and posts and crosses all day, catch fades in the red zone over any defensive back the NFL might throw at him. He has a pro pair of hands, which will only continue to develop the more work he sees. Amazingly, he has only 60 catches in his college career; he could surpass that total by Halloween.
34. Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
IHOP didn't dish out as many pancakes in 2012 as Jackson did: nine against Arkansas, 10 against Troy, a dozen against LSU (yes, the same LSU team that had four of its front seven drafted in the first three rounds in 2013). He may not be as athletic as Jonathan Cooper or as flat-out strong as Chance Warmack, but Jackson is NFL ready already. He'll be further ahead in the run game than in pass protection when he gets to the next level, but his size and footwork suggest he'll continue to develop.
35. Stephen Morris, QB, Miami
The best arm in the draft class. And, man, does he throw a pretty long ball. Morris attacks downfield as often and as effortlessly as anyone in the country, and he has the arm to make every intermediate and deep throw. He seems to always have his body in proper throwing positon. When he has time to throw (and he had a ton of time last season), Morris makes it look easy. The problem comes when he holds the ball a bit longer than he needs to. It doesn't seem in his nature to throw the ball away to avoid taking a sack, but that's something he needs to learn how to do. He's not as elusive as NFL teams might like these days, but he is a first-rate pocket passer.
36. A.J. Johnson, ILB, Tennessee
Johnson is either a classic Mike backer or he's a camera hog. He is always around the football. He had 138 tackles in 2012, but even when he's not the one bringing down the ballcarrier, he's right there. He's reliable in coverage and blitzed enough to register eight hurries and a single sack. But he doesn't have the explosiveness to make him a true pass-rush threat at the next level. Instead, he stays clean and untouched (easy to do behind Daniel McCullers) and shows a keen sense for the right pursuit angles.
37. Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
In watching game action of Martin this offseason, I was prepared to see a pure speed rusher, a guy who either beats his blockers around the edge or gets ridden out of the play while trying. But I found Martin to be a much more complete player than I suspected. He plays quicker than fast, and he uses his first step to cross the face of the tackle and consistently make plays against the run in the interior. He won't win a lot of battles on pure strength, but I don't see him getting pushed off-balance either. This is a prospect with a ton of upside.
38. Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Scouts will have no reason to wonder about where Jones will fit in an NFL defense. He played Sam backer in 2011 (56 tackles, three sacks, six TFL), Will backer in 2012 (95 tackles, seven TFL) and now he makes the move inside, where I suspect he will be most comfortable. Anyone who saw him chase down Jordan Lynch from the opposite side of the formation and catch him before the first down marker knows how effective Jones is in pursuit. He looks comfortable in coverage, but he's a backer built to read and react to the run game. This shapes up to be Jones' most productive season yet.
39. Craig Loston, SS, LSU
The top strong safety prospect in the country has the size (6-2, 205), speed and experience that would benefit any NFL secondary. And can this guy hit. He's aggressive but never seems to be out of control, would prefer to hammer the ballcarrier but will still wrap up to make a tackle. The NFL is on a bit of a buying binge when it comes to LSU defensive prospects (eight were taken in the 2013 draft), and there likely will be interest in Loston starting in the late first round.
40. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
There is no question about Roberson's cover skills. Right now, he far exceeds teammate Loucheiz Purifoy in his ability to turn and run with a receiver, to mirror his man's route and to make a play on a ball in the air (12 passes defended in '12 speaks to that; his hands are always in position). The question is Roberson's physicality. At 6-foot, 178 pounds, you wouldn't expect him to be much of a factor in the run game. And you'd be right. Last season, Roberson looked tentative against the run, like he'd rather push a ballcarrier out of bounds than wrap him up. And too often he was blocked too easily by a receiver. He will be a good man corner at the next level; but Roberson needs to develop a little more strength and willingness against the run.
41. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee
Confession time . . . I think I'm developing a thing for defensive tackles. Maybe it's some unconscious homage to new Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. But in the 2013 draft, two of my favorite prospects were Sharrif Floyd and Star Lotulelei. And I find myself really curious to watch Louis Nix III this year, as well as the biggest man on campus anywhere, McCullers. Tennessee has him listed as a positively svelte 351 pounds -- which means he's dropped nearly 50 pounds from what he weighed at Georgia Military College. McCullers is disappearing faster than the polar ice caps. That suggests to me this guy means business. His transition from immovable object to irresistible force will be interesting to watch this season.
42. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
There was a time when comparing a running back to O.J. Simpson was the highest of praise. Sadly, it's become the same punchline to call a prospect "the next Aaron Hernandez." But, on the field (like we even should have to express that caveat), that's what Lyerla is. He's not the downfield receiving threat that NFL tight ends have evolved into. He's more of the versatile tight end, who can line up all over the field and do whatever is asked of that role. He's a solid in-line blocker, can line up as an H back or in the slot, and he's run the football as well. And, of course, he has the hands to be a reliable target on short and intermediate routes.
43. Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma
We're in an extended down cycle for true feature backs. Whether it's Lache Seastrunk, Ka'Deem Carey or Williams who comes off the board first, you're not looking at the classic 300-carry bellcow of yore (which is a shame, because defenses today are prime to be run on). But Williams does have the speed and cutback ability to be a big-play back at the next level. His four TD runs of 65-plus yards last year would attest to that. He's not going to run anybody over, but he is developing his feel for running lanes, even if he lacks that first-step explosiveness to maximize every window he sees.
44. Trent Murphy, OLB/DE, Stanford
Murphy projects as the quintessential hybrid, a prospect who can play from a two- or three-point stance, an outside backer who can bring pressure or an end who can play the run, generate a pass rush and drop into coverage as needed. He can play either spot at the next level, and in an era where versatility is as valuable a commodity as measurables, he likely will get the chance to.
45. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Crichton is relentless, the type of playmaker who will find his way into the backfield from anywhere along the defensive line. He loves to bring the bull rush, and uses that to set up a variety of moves that demonstrate his agility and motor -- a skill set that makes him equally effective coming off the edge or from the interior of the line. Maybe he's a slightly smaller version of Justin Tuck in terms of his ability to pressure from anywhere. I'd like to see him develop a bit more of a speed rush, even if it's only to keep offensive tackles on their heels, which would benefit his bull rush.
46. Cameron Erving, T, Florida State
We've seen a lot of offensive players make the move to the defensive side of the ball and become top-of-the-draft talents (Dion Jordan, Anthony Barr). Erving's gone the other way. He came to Tallahassee as defensive tackle and showed promise there as a redshirt freshman. Then, he switched sides and started 14 games at left tackle in 2012. Erving combines the aggressiveness and agility you look for in a defensive lineman with the size (6-6, 320) and strength you want in a left tackle. His technique is a work in progress, but he improved steadily in his first season working E.J. Manuel's blind side, and Erving can help his draft stock considerably with continued improvement.
47. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Yep, another defensive tackle worth keeping a close eye on this season. When you do, be prepared for some eye-popping plays by Hageman, who simply outgrew the position his athleticism is naturally suited for (he was Tom Lemming's top tight end prospect coming out of high school). Against Michigan last year, you could see Hageman beat the guard blocking him with alarming quickness for a guy 6-6 and 311 pounds; a few plays later, he positively destroys the center, who was pulling across Hageman's path. He shows a natural ability to disengage from blocks, but the more he learns to use his hands to win battles along the interior line, the higher his ceiling will be.
48. Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU
There is no questioning Hoffman's productivity. He finished his breakout season of 2012 with double-digit touchdowns (11), triple-digit catches (100) and quadruple-digit receiving yards (1,248), and there were games when he was just unstoppable (see the five-TD performance against New Mexico State). I just have trouble seeing where he's best suited to play at the next level. He has the size (6-4, 210) to play X receiver, but I'm not sure he has the speed or explosiveness to dictate coverage as he'd need to. He lined up as a Z receiver and even in the slot, and seems to be a better fit there, maybe as a possession receiver rather than a downfield threat.
49. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Johnson was a backup last year. This year, he's the headliner of an LSU line that lost Bennie Logan, Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. He's lost 40 pounds since arriving in Baton Rouge as the top DT prospect in his class, but seems not to have sacrificed any strength in the process. Now at 6-3, 294, Johnson can showcase the agility that makes him perhaps the most natural three technique in the draft.
50. Andrew Jackson, ILB, Western Kentucky
The original Andrew Jackson earned the nickname "Ol' Hickory" for his toughness; this incarnation is more like "Ol' Homewrecker." At 6-1, 265, he's the biggest middle linebacker you can imagine. And Jackson's not just a world-class thumper, he makes tackles the way a Mike backer is supposed to. He had 19 tackles against Florida Atlantic, which was a career high. But he had seven tackles against Alabama and its superior offensive line, and had eight tackles in the Hilltoppers' win over Kentucky, their first over a BCS school. Jackson has had back-to-back seasons of 100-plus tackles, and has 34.5 TFL in that span. If he can demonstrate any kind of ability in coverage, there's a shot Jackson sneaks into the first round as the top Mike backer in the draft.
51. C.J. Barnett, S, Ohio State
It doesn't seem to be a stellar year for safeties, and both Barnett and Christian Bryant, Ohio State's other starting safety, will have a chance to distinguish themselves on a defense loaded with NFL talent. The Buckeyes consider Barnett the strong safety, and his effectiveness in run support suggests that will be his pro position. But he's also comfortable playing the deep half of the field, and some draft writers project him as a free safety. There's a difference between being a hybrid (someone who can play both positions) and a tweener (someone whose talents fall between the two). I expect Barnett will become more of a force against the run and be pushed around with less frequency, and he will emerge as perhaps a top-3 strong safety.
52. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Let's start with Strike One: Sutton's size is less than ideal. He's 6-1, 288, and the NFL would like its defensive tackles a little bigger. There were 22 DTs drafted last year, none of them shorter than 6-2, none of them lighter than 292. In Sutton's case, that's a demerit, not a deal breaker. Because very few defensive tackles are the kind of disruptive force that Sutton is. He had 23.5 tackles for loss (same as Jadeveon Clowney), 13 sacks (most on his team) and 63 total tackles. When you watch an Arizona State game, it looks like Sutton is playing alone in fast-forward mode. He's exceptionally quick, and he spends so much time in opponents' backfields, he should have his mail forwarded there.
53. Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State
There are more dynamic players than Bullough. There are guys who are bigger (though he has fine NFL size at 6-3. 245), guys who are faster, guys more likely to make highlight show hits and have stat sheets with more sacks and tackles for loss. Bullough's the boring guy, who simply puts himself in position to make plays, and then tackles everything he gets his hands on.
54. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
There wasn't a harder working running back in football last season than Carey. That includes NFL backs, only five of whom had more than Carey's 303 carries. And they all played 16 games. Carey averaged 23 attempts in his 13 games and was amazingly productive, leading the nation with 1,929 yards. He caught another 36 balls for an additional 303 yards. That will be a tough season to follow -- and, frankly, Carey shouldn't even try. That's two seasons' worth of wear and tear on his body, especially the way Carey runs. He's a one-cut runner who breaks through tackles more than he avoids them. That makes for productive seasons and abbreviated careers. If Arizona can find a way to get the ball to Carey in space a little more often, there will be less concern about the tread on his tires by the time draft day comes around.
55. Ty Zimmerman, SS, Kansas State
There's something familiar about Zimmerman. He's got decent size to play strong safety (6-1, 204) and makes plays more as a result of technical precision and fundamental soundness than pure athleticism. That reminds me a lot of another Kansas State strong safety, Jon McGraw (6-3, 208), who spent 10 years in the NFL. I spent a lot of time around McGraw at the 2002 Senior Bowl and heard from him about how he needed to find any advantage that he could (I also remember hearing scouts comment about his absurd peripheral vision; he almost literally had eyes in the back of his head). Zimmerman isn't a McGraw clone; he may have more upside, and probably has better ball skills.
56. Jeremiah Attaochu, DE, Georgia Tech
I was wrong about Bjoern Werner. I thought for sure he would play strong side defensive end in the NFL, but the Colts have him slotted to open his rookie season at linebacker. Again, I may be in the minority here, but I think Attaochu is better suited as an outside linebacker, despite everything I've heard all summer about how the move to defensive end will benefit him. Yes, he'll have more opportunities to rush the quarterback, but then he did just fine applying pressure last year when he had 10 sacks. He moves like a linebacker, and certainly his long-haul speed won't be fully utilized as an end (the speed he flashed in chasing down Andre Ellington last year). And I didn't see enough of a bull rush to know if he can be anything more than a one-dimensional speed rusher. I may yet be proven right about Werner, and I continue to contend that Attaochu's best pro position is Will backer.
57. Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi
Surely I'm not the first one to suggest this to Moncrief. But if he were to stay through his senior season, he could easily come out as the top receiver in the draft class of 2015. If he does decide to leave The Grove after his junior season, he could still be a top-5 receiver prospect. He has the size (6-3, 226) and skills to play as an X receiver at the next level, and he catches touchdowns and balls in traffic all over the field.
58. James Hurst, T, North Carolina
Mr. Hurst, your table is ready. The first prospect with the opportunity to boost his reputation this season is Hurst, who will line up opposite Jadeveon Clowney in the first college football game of the season (Thursday, Aug. 29th -- Must See TV for scouts and NFL fans everywhere). Not that Hurst has lost any sleep over the summer worrying about the matchup. He's faced and held his own against top-tier pass rush prospects, from Florida State and Clemson, even in his own practice where he once squared off against Robert Quinn and Quinton Coples. He might downplay the spotlight, but there's no minimizing what a strong showing would do for his draft stock.
59. Deandre Coleman, DT, Cal
There are times on tape when Coleman appears immovable, when any run attempt up the middle is doomed. And there are times -- not as many -- when he seems to be neutralized a bit too easily. I've not heard anything to suggest that could be a question of motor, so I chalk it up to a developing prospect with work still to be done. He has terrific quickness for a guy his size (6-5, 315), and Coleman is a superior athlete to most interior linemen he'll face.
60. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
How do you knock a kid for doing absolutely everything asked of him? He accurate, he doesn't make mistakes, he wins -- not only games but championships. And yet there's something about McCarron that feels unanswered to me. Maybe it's because he sets up behind a line full of first-round draft picks, hands the ball off to first-round draft picks and sees in practice every day a defense loaded with first-round draft picks. He has good NFL size and an above average NFL arm. Could it be that I just want to see how he'd handle adversity once in awhile? How he'd respond coming off the deck on a rare off-Saturday? It's never easy in the NFL, and I don't think it's nitpicky to wonder how McCarron will respond when he doesn't have a winning matchup everywhere he looks. I don't think any of those questions will be answered this season, either.
61. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
It was Football.com contributing writer Bill Lund who initially piqued my interest in Mack. But the more I see and learn about him, the more I recognize Mack as a legit talent. He's a potentially explosive pass rusher who, at the start of every play, doesn't line up as much as he looks ready to launch. He has 10 sacks in two seasons, along with seven forced fumbles and 34 TFL. That's the resume of a truly disruptive defensive player.
62. Zack Martin, T/G, Notre Dame
Martin has started every game of his college career -- 37 games at left tackle, two at right tackle. In those 39 games, the Irish have allowed 55 sacks. In their last nine games in 2012, they rushed for 200 yards six times. Clearly, the line is getting it done under the Dome, and Martin is undeniably the anchor. Technically, he would have no problem playing left tackle at the next level. But at 6-4, 308, he is probably looking at a move inside to guard, where he's not played. Scouts will want to see him put on a few lbs and improve his strength before the Combine. For now, though, they'll be pleased with the footwork and positioning they'll see on Saturdays.
63. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Jernigan has had the chance to spend his first two seasons developing somewhat quietly on a defensive line with three ends who would become draft picks in 2013 (Werner in the 1st round, Tank Carradine in the 2nd, Brandon Jenkins in the 5th). Now, he's the man. And while he has all the tools and talent, he needs to turn potential into productivity. At 6-2, 294, he projects as a 4-3 tackle at the next level, and he has the quickness to penetrate. But he'll need to develop his strength if he hopes to bull rush NFL interior linemen.
64. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
To be honest, I am torn between Thomas and his MAC mirror image, Dri Archer. They are virtually the same size, both have ridiculous speed and are home runs waiting to happen. Their kick return prowess is comparable, though Archer is the far more effective running back, having rushed for more yards last year (1,429) than Thomas has in his first two seasons in Eugene (1,296). But Thomas may have the greater upside as a receiver, and that may be the position he winds up playing in the NFL. I suspect he'll see 50 percent more targets, as getting him the ball in open space should be the Ducks' top offensive priority. If he blossoms as a receiver the way he'll be given the chance to, I can see more NFL teams excited about a 5-9, 176-pound slot receiver like Thomas than a 5-8, 175-pound running back like Archer.