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By Nolan Nawrocki
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Nolan Nawrocki
All rights reserved.
NFL Draft Outlook
This year's draft could go down in history as the one that changed the way it exists. With more than 100 players deciding to enter early for the first time, it has the potential to be one of the richest in talent, yet also one of the most immature and could bring about changes to the rules regarding underclassmen and the ability to scout them earlier.
Three underclassmen — Auburn OLT Greg Robinson, Clemson WR Sammy Watkins and South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney — stand at the top of the draft dripping with potential and have the chance to become NFL franchise building blocks. The senior class is not without star talent, as Buffalo disruptive LB Khalil Mack and Texas A&M rock-solid OL Jake Matthews grade highly enough to warrant consideration with the top overall pick.
This year's quarterback class is deeper than usual, but lacks a surefire, can't-miss star. Three underclassmen — Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and UCF's Blake Bortles — have generated the most draft discussion. Manziel is the most fearless playmaker, Bridgewater the most polished, NFL-ready passer and Bortles features the most upside. Collectively, the class is solid, with the potential for as many as seven eventual starters from a group that includes the pedigreed Derek Carr (Fresno State), quick-triggered Jimmy Garoppolo (EIU), ultra-competitive AJ McCarron (Alabama) and the fireballers Zach Mettenberger (LSU) and Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech).
Ohio State workhorse Carlos Hyde heads a quality crop of instinctive runners also featuring Arizona's highly productive Ka'Deem Carey, Florida State's decisive Devonta Freeman and Washington's competitive Bishop Sankey. LSU's thundering Jeremy Hill, Auburn's versatile Tre Mason, Boston College grinder Andre Williams and Towson's do-it-all Terrance West all stand a chance to contribute heavily.
The deepest and most talented position group of the class comes at receiver, which could easily feature six to eight first-rounders this year in a star-studded, young crop of playmakers. Watkins is an explosive playmaker, and USC's Marqise Lee is very skillfully nuanced. Size is a unique theme of the class, with Texas A&M's big-play weapon Mike Evans, Florida State's imposing Kelvin Benjamin and Mississippi's soft-handed Donte Moncrief all offering wide catching radiuses. LSU features a pair of circus-catchers in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, and Fresno State's sure-handed Davante Adams and Oregon State's dynamic Brandin Cooks are capable of creating big plays.
The TE crop also received a big boost from juniors, featuring North Carolina playmaker Eric Ebron, Notre Dame's versatile Troy Niklas and a talented cast with blemishes that includes Oregon's Colt Lyerla, Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Texas Tech's Jace Amaro. The underclassmen took the TE class from marginal to respectable.
This year's tackle class is both rich and voluminous in talent. Robinson is the most dominating run blocker; Matthews the most safe and versatile; Michigan's Taylor Lewan the most explosive and Notre Dame's Zack Martin the most dependable, though he projects best inside along with UCLA's light-footed Xavier Su'a-Filo. Mississippi's road-grader Gabe Jackson headlines a gritty guard class. No upper-echelon center exists in this year's crop, but there is some unique mass in the group, including USC's Marcus Martin, and enough functional performers to earn starter jobs.
Defensively, more talent exists on the edges than on the interior. Clowney is a rare physical specimen who looked destined for the top overall pick the first day he stepped on campus. Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt and Missouri's Kony Ealy are capable of fitting inside or outside in multiple fronts. Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman offer disruptive inside rush potential. The Irish's Louis Nix, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan and Tennessee's Daniel McCullers can all stack the point effectively.
The top of the linebacker class is as rich as it has been since 2009 and may carry more potential impact. Mack can play any linebacker position. Alabama's C.J. Mosley is a tackling machine. UCLA's Anthony Barr brings a dangerous first-step as the draft's most explosive edge rusher. Ohio State's Ryan Shazier is the draft's fastest and rangiest linebacker.
The secondary crop is stronger on the edges than down the middle and features quality depth at cornerback. Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert is the draft's most talented man-cover corner along with Ohio State's explosive Bradley Roby. Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard is the top press cover man. TCU's Jason Verrett is the draft's most feisty cornerback, and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller has the best pure cover skills. Two junior safeties — Louisville anvil Calvin Pryor and Alabama's solid Ha Ha Clinton-Dix — could fit into the first round in a safety crop lacking depth.
The overwhelming number of underclassmen truly distinguishes this draft and invites discussion on rule changes or a new structure that encourages prospects to pursue their degrees and avoid rash decisions that many could come to regret.CHAPTER 2
e — Measurement is estimated.
#00 — Player's jersey number.
GRADE — Player's grade reflects consensus league value where player should expect to be drafted.
On all positions, 40-yard-dash times are taken from the Combine when available and are curved to account for conditions (turf, wind, track shoes).
QB BLAKE BORTLES, #5 (JUNIOR)
CENTRAL FLORIDA> Grade: 6.32
HT: 6-5 | WT: 232 | SP: 4.89 | ARM: 32 7/8 | HAND: 9 3/8
History: Operated a wing-T offense in high school. The Florida prep redshirted in 2010. Saw action in 10 games in '11 and completed 75-of-110 (68.2 percent) for 958 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. In '12, made all 14 starts and threw for 251-399-3,059-25-7 (62.9). Was MVP of the Beef 'O' Brady Bowl after throwing for three scores and rushing for another. Earned American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year in '13 after tossing 259-382-3,581-25-9 (67.8) in 13 starts. Threw for 301 yards (three TDs) and rushed for 93 yards (one score) to earn Tostitos Fiesta Bowl MVP honors. One of only two UCF quarterbacks to pass for more than 3,000 yards in multiple seasons (Daunte Culpepper). Had 195 career rushing attempts for 561 yards (2.9-yard average) and 15 touchdowns. Was 22-5 in 27 career starts for head coach George O'Leary's pro-style offense featuring option elements.
Strengths: Possesses prototype size and outstanding stature in the pocket to brush off the rush and keep plays alive. Stands tall and delivers the ball in the face of heavy pressure. Keeps his eyes downfield while climbing the pocket, can avoid the first wave and make plays with his feet (deceptively quick and plays faster than timed speed). Good field vision and release point. Is efficient throwing on the run and excels on bootlegs and play-action passing. Good zip and accuracy on short-to-intermediate throws — can fit the ball into tight windows. Fine touch to drop the ball in the bucket — delivers a catchable ball with good anticipation. Senses pressure and evades the rush. Doesn't take many unnecessary sacks. Can extend plays when the pocket folds. Carries a sense of calm in critical situations. Engineered comeback victories, beat Penn State and Louisville on the road and took a mid-major program to a BCS bowl. Recorded a 32 1/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-7 broad jump (third-best among QBs) and displayed fine touch, timing, accuracy and anticipation in Combine passing drills. Ripped the ball a solid 56 miles per hour.
Weaknesses: Winds to uncork it deep and generate slightly above-average arm strength. Operated in an offense where he made a lot of one-look reads and short lateral tosses. Does not spin spirals consistently — too many throws come out with loose wobble and could struggle to cut the wind and handle the elements of cold-winter climates. Tends to throw off his back foot when pressured, negating his accuracy. Works heavily out of the gun — will have to adapt to snaps under center and deep drops. Operates an offense predicated on the short passing game that inflates his completion percentage. Ball handling/security could stand to improve (fumbled nine times as a junior). Struggled to throw receivers open vs. better competition (see Ohio State in 2012 and South Carolina in '13) and will require time to adjust to the closing speed of NFL defensive backs. Footwork could use some polishing — deteriorates under duress and does not look natural on deep drops. Is only two-year starter, can improve his overall understanding of the game and become more consistent with his mechanics.
Future: Possesses ideal size, athletic ability, intangibles and enough arm strength to develop into an upper-echelon quarterback. Is not yet a franchise quarterback, but has all the physical ingredients to become an outstanding NFL starter and his arrow is very clearly ascending. Warrants top-10 consideration.
Draft projection: First-round pick.
Scout's take: "I'll be honest — I was a little disappointed watching Bortles. The first game I charted, most of his passes were screens and quick tosses to backs or receivers. I thought I was going to see lasers down the field, and it was not that way. All indications are that he is a top-5 pick. I am not grading him there. I had him in the third round after watching the first game. After seeing four more, I am giving him a first-round grade. He grows on you. I like the size, ability to scan the entire field and have seen him make a variety of throws. I would like to see a tighter ball and a more fluid release. He is a trifecta of three prime quarterbacks — he has the flutterball of (Peyton) Manning, he is big and strong like (Ben) Roethlisberger and he stands tall and straight-legged in the pocket like Andrew Luck. He might not be as good as any of them, but he has characteristics of all three. He is very intriguing."
QB TAJH BOYD, #10
CLEMSON > GRADE: 5.22
HT: 6-0 5/8 | WT: 222 | SP: 4.86 | ARM: 30 3/4 | HAND: 9 5/8
History: Led his Virginia prep team to a 43-2 record and two state titles. Played his senior season with a torn ACL in his left knee. Redshirted in 2009. Made seven appearances in '10, completing 33-of-63 passes for 329 yards (52.7 percent), four touchdowns and three interceptions and rushing 23 times for 33 yards (1.4-yard average) and one touchdown. Started all 14 contests in '11 and threw for 298-499-3,828-33-12 (59.7) while rushing 142-218-5 (1.5). The ACC Player of the Year made all 13 starts in '12, tossing 287-427-3,896-36-13 (67.2) and running 186-514-10 (2.8). Was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas and Manning Awards in '13 after posting 283-413-3,85134-11 (68.5) through the air and 154-400-10 (2.6) on the ground in 13 starts. Became the first QB in ACC history with 30-plus TD passes in three seasons and set the conference mark with 107 career TD passes. Team captain. Graduated in December. Had a 32-8 mark in 40 career starts for head coach Dabo Swinney's up-tempo, spread offense.
Strengths: Quick set-up. Can sling it when he's in rhythm and has a clean pocket. Good zip short-to-intermediate. Can launch deep throws with ease and flashes touch to drop it in the bucket. Shows composure in the face of a blitz and is willing to take a hit to make a play. Makes plays with his feet, be it rolling the pocket, extending plays or throwing on the move (left or right). Slippery and elusive to escape the rush and is a threat to tuck and run. Functional straight-line speed and run strength for a quarterback (will lower his shoulder on defenders). Experienced, three-year starter. Terrific football character. Has a likeable personality.
Weaknesses: Lacks ideal height and weight has tended to fluctuate, pushing to nearly 240 the second half of 2011 season. Sails downfield throws and can improve his accuracy. Inconsistent decision-making. Did not take snaps under center in a pistol, read-option offense and production was inflated by an NFL-caliber supporting cast of skill talent. Will require patience adapting to pro-style passing. Needs to quicken his eyes and improve his field vision. Does not always see the deep safety or short-hole defender. Impatient making reads before fleeing the pocket. Durability could be a concern given his style — needs to learn to slide.
Future: A short, stocky, fairly nifty, strong-armed quarterback most ideally suited for a vertical-power system, Boyd projects best as a career backup or No. 3 quarterback in the pros and compares very favorably to Ravens 2007 fifth-rounder Troy Smith.
Draft projection: Fifth- to sixth-round pick.
Scout's take: "I like Boyd, and I don't like him. He is short, but stout and can win with his feet. His lower body is built sturdy like Russell Wilson. He has a talented arm and spins it pretty good. He got exposed in the Florida State game. They have to keep it simple for him. That's what concerns me the most."
QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, #5 (JUNIOR)
LOUISVILLE > GRADE: 6.24
HT: 6-2 1/8 | WT: 214 | SP: 4.80E | ARM: 33 | HAND: 9 1/4
History: The dual-threat QB was a three-year starter for Miami (Fla.) powerhouse Northwestern High School. Named Big East Freshman of the Year in 2011 after completing 191-of-296 passes for 2,195 yards (64.5 percent) with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 13 games (started final 10 games). Became the first true freshman to start at QB for Louisville since Stu Stram in 1976. Threw for 287-419-3,718-27-8 (68.5) while playing in all 13 games (12 starts) in '12 to earn conference's Offensive Player of the Year Award. Only non-start was due to a fractured left wrist and a sprained right ankle suffered against UConn in which he returned to the field in a triple-overtime loss and nearly rallied a victory, as he did vs. Rutgers the following week to claim a BCS bid. Produced another stellar campaign in '13, tossing 303-427-3,970-31-4 (71.0) in 13 starts. Earned his sports administration degree in only three years and graduated in December. Scored six career rushing touchdowns and had a 27-8 record in 35 games as a starter in offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's college-tailored, pro-style, West Coast offense.
Strengths: Terrific competitor. Extremely driven to succeed. Well-prepared and confident in his approach. Operated a progression-read offense where he is asked to scan the whole field and help steer protections. Footwork is very clean and in rhythm — throws on balance with sound mechanics, a fluid delivery and smooth stroke. Very good timing, touch and anticipation — throws receivers open. Is patient working through his reads and will step up in the pocket. Sells play-action hard and takes what the defense gives him. Poised in the face of the blitz and often anticipates it coming. Is very mentally and physically tough — played through a broken left wrist with a sprained ankle in what was essentially the 2012 Big East championship game, coming off the bench to captain the Cardinals to a come-from-behind victory. Is a student of the game with a very good understanding of football concepts. Plays like a coach on the field, knows the responsibilities of everyone on the field and can get teammates lined up correctly. Makes few mental errors. Consistently moves the chains and comes through in the clutch. Is given a lot of autonomy to make pre-snap reads and adjustments at the line of scrimmage and understands how to exploit defenses. Meticulous in his preparation. Identifies with the game and really works at his craft. Smart, determined and focused. Showed gradual improvement every season. Is only 21 years old — very mature for his age and can see the big picture. Football is extremely important to him. Highly respected, unselfish team leader. Rises to the occasion on big stages.
Weaknesses: Has a very lean, narrow frame with limited bulk (playing weight hovered around 200 pounds) and small hands. Does not drive the ball with velocity down the field and can be affected by blustery field conditions (see Cincinnati, 2013). Can improve placement and touch on the deep ball. Adequate athlete. Is not an overly elusive scrambler — struggles escaping the rush and buying a second chance with his feet vs. pressure. Passing stats are padded from operating a passing game that relies heavily on short, lateral tosses. Long-term durability could become a concern without continued strength and weight gains.
Excerpted from NFL Draft by Nolan Nawrocki. Copyright © 2014 Nolan Nawrocki. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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