Yesterday was the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft. 92 red-shirt sophomores and juniors have announced their intentions to enter the NFL Draft. The NFL will make their official announcement on January 19th.
With that being said, here's the latest version of my Scout.com 2014 Top 100 NFL Draft prospects. The NFL Draft is May 8th-11th.
Clowney still No. 1
There will be much debate as to where South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will end on May 8th. Personally, I think he's by far and away the top prospect in this class. I think from a pure athleticism/mesaurables standpoint he's the best non-quarterback to come out in some time. Guys like him simply don't grow on trees. He's potentially that once in a generation pass rusher.
But I stress the word potential. The downside to Clowney is that he didn't perform up to standards this past fall. Many will question his drive or that he mailed it in to protect himself for the draft. It will all be put under the microscope and analyzed over and over again over the next four months.
I have watched Clowney since his junior season in high school. He's always been the freak show athletically. He was the clear cut No. 1 player in the country in the Class of 2011. I believe you simply can't pass on what he could bring to a defense and is this draft's top prospect.
I wish I could say he's the best player in this draft class. Then this would be a no-brainer.
Who is the best player?
I think the best player in the draft is Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Simply, he's a playmaker at the game's most important position. Secondly, he makes his teammates better. He's just one of those guys and he has that ‘it' factor.
Can Johnny Football do the same things he did in College Station in the NFL? That's a tough call. I think Manziel could thrive but he must find the right coach and system, an offense somewhat less structured to allow him to do his thing.
Manziel is far from the perfect quarterback. In fact, he has several drawbacks like his size and how he acts away from the field. But you can't deny what this kid brings to a team. In a quarterback driven league with the rules tailored made for the offenses, Manziel will have a chance to star.
This is the third time I have put out a top 100 for the 2014 draft and each time Manziel has been inside my top 10. In this version he's No. 6 overall.
Some good quarterbacks
Manziel isn't even the top quarterback prospect on my board. That distinction goes to Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater has all the tools and great arm talent to succeed on Sundays. A guy that could certainly continue his ascension up draft boards is Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. This is a signal caller with tremendous versatility and a live arm. He's more of your prototype who can move around a little. One would think he would be ideal for the Houston Texans and new head coach Billy O'Brien. The question is would he go No. 1 in the first round or second? I also see a guy like Fresno State star Derek Carr going in the first round. Carr had a tremendous 2013 regular season but played poorly in their bowl loss to USC.
Some stout running backs
There may not be a running back taken in the first round of the 2014 draft. But that doesn't mean there aren't some future stars at this position in this class. As a group, I love this position.
Leading the way is Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Auburn's Tre Mason. They are both big play guys that bring versatility to the NFL. I love the game of Jeremy Hill (LSU), Carlos Hyde (Ohio State), and Lache Seastrunk (Baylor). Then you have lightning in a bottle in Oregon's DeAnthony Thomas. For the moment I have all of these running backs ahead of Andre Williams from Boston College.
Pick your poison
The wide receiver position is talented at the top and very deep once again. I guess it all depends on what you are looking for. Clemson's Sammy Watkins is one of the most explosive talents in this draft and he's the top guy here and the No. 4 prospect overall. You have two big wideouts in Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin at No. 2 and 3 respectively. Next is Marqise Lee from Southern Cal. When healthy, he's as good as anyone. I think these four have a chance to all be very special.
But it's hard for most to take wide receiver's high in the draft. If clubs elect to go in another direction, you can get some steals later in the draft, whether it's round two or beyond. Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt), Odell Beckham (LSU, Jarvis Landry (LSU), Brandin Cooks (Oregon State), Paul Richardson (Colorado), DeVante Parker (Louisville), Allen Robinson (Penn State), Davante Adams (Fresno State), Brandon Coleman (Rutgers), Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss) and Martavis Bryant (Clemson) all made the top 100.
Three elite tight ends
I could potentially see three tight ends finish with first round grades in North Carolina's Eric Ebron, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Ebron's the most athletic while Amaro has a nice combination of size, speed and athleticism. Then you have a huge target in Seferian-Jenkins. I would just like to see him be a better run blocker. In his defense, he was flexed out a ton for the Huskies.
A&M with another
Texas A&M has another elite offensive tackle prospect in Jake Matthews, who comes in No. 1 at this position and No. 2 overall. He will likely grade out in the same vicinity as Luke Joeckel from last season. Auburn's Greg Robinson made a huge jump this year with a terrific season with the Tigers. He kind of came out of nowhere and is No. 10 overall. Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Notre Dame's Zack Martin and Alabama's Cyrus Kouandijo all should be first rounders. In all, don't be surprised to see five offensive tackles taken in the first round.
Offensive guard could be another story. Last season two went early in Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper. In the 2014 draft class, I think the top four guys are all pretty even in terms of their draft grade right now. Those players are Cyril Richardson (Baylor), Xavier Su'a-Filo (UCLA), Gabe Jackson (Mississippi State) and David Yankey (Stanford).
Surprise at d-tackle
I don't necessarily believe that Minnesota's Ra'shede Hageman is the best defensive tackle right now but I do believe down the line he will be. He has elite size and is a tremendous athlete. Hageman will be a prospect that has a chance to really blow up and climb draft boards between now and May. I am going out on a little bit of a limb with him as the top guy at this position and No. 7 overall. But I think he could be a top five guy in the end. We will see how the next few months pan out.
Florida State's Timmy Jernigan and Notre Dame's Louis Nix check in at No. 2 and 3. I was very close to putting Aaron Donald (Pitt) at the third spot but he's currently at four. The wild card here is Dominique Easley. Had he not torn his ACL he would have been a top ten overall guy for sure. He can also play end in a 3-4 or the three-technique in a 4-3. How well and how quickly does that knee rehab? Easley is slotted as the No. 5 defensive tackle right now.
Another position of strength
Outside linebacker is another position of strength in this class, especially at the top. Anthony Barr (UCLA) resides at the No. 1 player here (No. 3 overall) followed by Khalill Mack (Buffalo). Both of these guys are top ten overall talents. I also love the game of Ryan Shazier. He's a tad small but can fly to the football. I could see him being a very good weakside linebacker and excel in the 4-3. He checks in at No. 3 here. Kyle Van Noy (BYU), Telvin Smith (FSU), Christian Jones (FSU), and Trent Murphy (Stanford) check in four through seven. My sleeper here is Ronald Powell (Florida).
Alabama's C.J. Mosley is the top rated middle linebacker and one of the top defensive players in this draft.
HaHa and Dennard
I don't exactly see this draft as top heavy in the secondary but there should be a few defensive backs that go early in the draft. Darqueze Dennard is the top rated cornerback and HaHa Clinton-Dix is the No. 1 rated safety in this draft. A guy that I think will make a huge bump in the rankings is Lamarcus Joyner. He had a fantastic year in Tallahassee and he's a guy that will test off the charts this spring. I see Joyner thriving in the NFL as a slot corner.