Here’s my top 50 big board – I can do more but you see that requires double the writing – as of the moment. Not to be confused with the order I would draft these players; it isn’t strictly best player, either, but it’s fairly close to that. As in, most likely to be a star player.
- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The production and lackadaisical start to the season aren’t too worrisome. All the talk about heart isn’t verifiable without more access, which if there’s any real concern, sure, bump him down a bit. Flip on the Tennessee game and you can see his dominance on display.
- Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Matches greatness on tape with elite measurables. Possibly the greatest single game I’ve seen in my years of amateur scouting was Mack against Ohio State. Whether rushing the passer or dropping into coverage, Mack shows off extraordinary football IQ.
- Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Following the combine I laboriously combed back over Matthews’ toughest matches and compared them with other top tackle prospects, and it cemented him as the top player. Whatever deficiencies he has, he makes up for them all with exquisite technique.
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
It’s hard to find any holes to poke in Watkins’ game. He has the advanced understanding of route running, hands, positioning, etc, as his former teammate DeAndre Hopkins did, but with vastly superior athleticism and open field ability.
- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Any issue about his frame went down the drain when he showed up to the combine at 214 pounds. As for other questions, well, I don’t know what they might be. Bridgewater displays uncanny accuracy and comes straight out of a pro-style offense as the most pro-ready QB.
- Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
His speed off the line of scrimmage from the 3-tech position is lightning fast, and that ability to get to the quarterback becomes more important each season. It doesn’t hurt that he was the single most impressive player at the combine in terms of measurables either.
- Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Human beings aren’t supposed to be 6’7″, 309 lbs, AND be able to run a 4.87 40 yard dash. Perhaps Lewan should check in eligible and run some seam routes. Or just stick to what he does best and block defenders. You know, whatever works.
- Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The more I see, the more I fall in love. Some things he does against Rutgers shouldn’t be possible, and I believe what he did to UConn is still illegal in many states. There’s some roughness that needs polishing, polish Bridgewater already possesses.
- Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
No matter where you need help on the line, Martin can plug-and-play there at a high level. The reason he got moved around at the Senior Bowl was due to his wingspan. I feel I can speak definitively that there will be no issues at left tackle having seen a lot, a lot of Martin’s game.
- Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Tackle? Guard? Does it matter? Not much. It won’t come as a surprise if Robinson is the first lineman off the board given his size and athleticism, but he didn’t play any kind of traditional left tackle at Auburn and he’ll need some work before he can play on an island vs. the top pass rushers.
- Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Johnny Football’s best friend in games showed off his pedigree at the Combine. Evans works for the ball when the play breaks down at a very high level already; that is, when he isn’t blowing past cornerbacks with his deep speed.
- Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The only question with Ebron is, how mad will he be when he gets designated as a tight end with the franchise tag? Oh, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. But this is exactly the skill set Ebron (hopefully) brings to the table, that Jimmy Graham-type role.
- Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
I was giddy when my favorite defensive back on tape was also the talk of the town in Indy following an elite combine. Sure, he’s not 6′ tall, and sure, that isn’t meaningless, but watch the guy play and tell me he isn’t the best at his craft.
- Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Beckham is another player who doesn’t have “ideal” size – can we officially make this the theme of the 2014 draft? – but finds a way to dominate anyway. He’s fast, has massive hands (and uses them well!), and does all the little things right.
- Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
So far he’s compared himself to Lawrence Taylor and taken shots at Clowney–“A blind dog in a meat market”– saying he can bring home the meat. He backs up his talk on the field; ask anyone who tried (and failed) to block him at the Senior Bowl.
- Jeremiah Attaochu, DE/OLB, Georgia Tech
An injury sustained during Senior Bowl practice kept Attaochu out of workouts during the combine, and he’s not getting much buzz. I don’t care. He humiliates opponents with his speed rush; he’s going to make a terrific 3-4 outside rusher.
- Calvin Pryor, FS, Lousiville
I can’t help but gasp when I watch Pryor play. Here’s a man with “no regard for human life,” as the saying goes. Every play he plays like it’s the most important of his career. Incredibly violent. That’s right, violent. The kiddie game is down the street.
- Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
With an eye-popping 4.37 40-yard dash at 6′ tall, Gilbert is likely the top corner off the board. There’s not much to dislike on tape, but also not much to go crazy about. Oklahoma State seemed to use him in a lot of off-man zone coverage for unclear reasons.
- Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Head and shoulders above his peers at being able to accelerate, change direction, and make big plays in the running game. Some questions about durability, being an every down back, etc., are valid concerns. I see a player who can be the most explosive play-maker at his position.
- HaHa Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Looked incredibly fluid at the combine; it’s not out of the question HaHa can play corner. He’s not the human torpedo Pryor is, but he’s also not the same type of safety. Would like to see more “flashy” plays on tape, but there’s nothing to knock, either.
- Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Very stout and agile at the point of attack. Massive upper body strength and knows how to use his hands. Doesn’t fly off the ball the way Donald does (not many can), but should be able to develop above-average pass rushing skills given his agility and strength.
- Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Let me put this out there: Derek Carr is going to be drafted in the top 10, and before Johnny Manziel. Carr is the best overall QB in terms of measurables (even speed), and has the prototype size to boot. Looks a lot like Stafford or Cutler on tape.
- Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Needs to keep his playing weight down, as there is a noticeable difference from 2012 to 2013: he was “leaner” in 2012, if 330 can ever be mistaken as “lean”. Moved well in combine drills for such a large man. Prototype nose tackle.
- Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
Yeah, he’s on the small side. Don’t care, again. You put him on the weak side of a 4-3 base defense and he can play every down. With all the nickel and dime packages defenses need to play, coverage skills are important for linebackers. Smith can cover a large area with his speed.
- Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Crichton can go sustained periods at a time in games without making much impact, but when he flashes ability, he does so very impressively. He’ll be a 4-3 defensive end in all likelihood, with some positional flexibilty.
- Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
I don’t think much needs to be said, other than he’s 6’3″ with 4.46 speed and large hands, who also happens to be the all-time most productive receiver in the history of a little known conference called the SEC, does it? Maybe some other time.
- Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
He tackles everyone. Comparisons to Zach Thomas in terms of potential are not off the reservation. His measurables are mediocre at best, but when you flip on a game, he plays sideline-to-sideline, tackling everything in sight.
- Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Displayed more stiffness at the combine than perhaps expected, but anyone who has seen him play knows he’s a physical press corner who gets the job done more often than not. He has a tendency to grab that needs to be toned down and could be a problem in the pros.
- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Highly productive receiver with blazing speed. Displays intelligence at finding ways to get open. Somehow looks smaller than 5’10”, so that height impressed me. Don’t know how high his ceiling is, but he’s a high-floor candidate.
- Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
There are several corners I have graded out similarly who all have different skill sets and whom I need to take another look at later down the line. Fuller is more fluid than Dennard and about as physical. It’s been a while since I took a look at him, honestly.
- Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
He’s huge for a corner at 6’3″ and seems perfectly capable of playing there. Looked more fluid than I expected in combine drills. Huge vertical. Willing to mix it up in the run game and fight for the ball.
- Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Mettenberger is a player I had targeted in the top 10 before he tore his ACL. Don’t know how much to adjust for this circumstance; this feels about right. Potential franchise QB if he fully recovers, you just have to wait a year.
- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Like Mike Evans, he’s big and fast and came out as a sophomore. Unlike Mike Evans, Benjamin needs much more work on his game. He shows flashes of route running ability and play-making, of course. Lots of rawness on display; potential for busting is there.
- Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The discussion about Barr as a #1 pick a few months ago always baffled me. He’s very athletic, yes, but he’s not otherworldly athletic and has a long way to go with his football IQ. Often looks lost on the field and doesn’t know how to play his position yet.
- Adrian Hubbard, DE/OLB, Alabama
Just a notch below Barr on the athleticism scale, but has a decent lead on him in understanding of the position. Freakishly long arms that he uses quite well, to go with some explosiveness off the edge. The more I see, the higher I keep moving him up.
- Ju’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
Big, strong right tackle well-developed in all aspects of the game. Clearly the best player on the Tennessee offense. It’s curious to me why he didn’t play any left tackle given how poor Antonio Richardson is in comparison. I wonder if he’s capable of playing the left tackle position; can’t rule out the possibility.
- Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
A lot of potential in Moses if he can fix a few things, most of it having to do with his pad level. Occasionally allows defenders to get under and move him. Some good tape (Georgia Tech, BYU) and some bad (Clemson).
- Marqise Lee, WR, USC
I didn’t knock him much for the Combine performance; this is about where I’ve had him all along. Excels in changing direction and creating problems after the catch if given any space. Hands seem below average; routes are merely decent.
- Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
Duke ran an awful lot of Cover-0 last year, which means Cockrell was put in one-on-one situations with nobody to help if he failed. Not many receivers could take advantage of the situation. He matched up well with the much more athletic Kelvin Benjamin.
- Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice
No, he’s not on here because he was the fastest corner at the Combine. I never heard of him until then, however. To date, there are three tapes of him on Draft Breakdown, and Gaines has displayed extraordinary ability to keep his eyes on the QB while never losing trail.
- C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Good, not great player; not the best on his own defense. There’s also a lot of concern with Mosley’s medical history. Of that, I can glean from public information that he’s undergone at least three surgeries on places you don’t want to have surgery.
- Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
You can marvel at his size and measurables all day, but it won’t change any of the problems in his game. Mostly tries to bull players over with that size; predictably, this doesn’t tend to work. If you could coach him up, there would be a fearsome player here.
- Joel Bitonio, OT, Nevada
Good showings along the entire process. A bit on the smaller side for a tackle, but he gets the job done nevertheless. Not as polished as similarly undersized Zack Martin. Bitonio has the ability to be an average left tackle, and this itself is valuable.
- Brandon Thomas, G/T, Clemson
Here’s a player who should be able to find a home at multiple positions along the line. Not ideal to come in and play left tackle but he *can* do it. As a guard prospect I feel he’s among the best – especially with the flexibility to play tackle as insurance against injuries.
- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Oh, dear. I could write a book on Johnny Football. (Who couldn’t?) He plays so out of control, there’s no precedent here unless you go back to Fran Tarkenton. Some chance he can be that good, sure. Bet on it? Not if you like money.
- Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Honestly, this feels rather low. If there are medical issues lingering around Seastrunk at draft time, or if you simply want a “no risk” every-down back, Hyde is your man. Great size along with nimble feet and speed; compares very favorably to Eddie Lacy.
- Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
I’m not alarmed by the 40 time; I know Landry knows how to work the short and intermediate field to get open. He’s got incredibly large and strong hands too. Will be able to immediately contribute as a possession receiever.
- Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Ward really excels in coverage; I’ve seen him trail a receiver, undercut a route, tip the ball up in the air, and have the concentration to pull it in – he was diving in the air at the time. Adequate run defender; doesn’t play insane like Calvin Pryor though.
- Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
“Jack of all trades” describes this BYU linebacker well. He’s good about anywhere you want to put him and great at absolutely nothing. He’s got a solid burst and can rush the passer, or he can drop into coverage. Poor man’s Khalil Mack.
- Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
He’s just about prototype in size for a defensive end, but there’s a lack of explosion that makes me question how good he can be. Might be best suited to bulk up and play as a 5-tech, which he does at Missouri a decent amount of the time already.