The most notable part of these rankings: the inclusion of quarterbacks. They are not just thrown in among other positions; there is a thought process behind their slotting. If I firmly believe a quarterback is a quality starter, they transcend the board and jump to the top. The next tier, which includes prospects I think have a good chance of becoming quality starters, follows first-round talents.
Please do not take these comparisons literally. In many cases, I tried to find a similar athlete, play style, and/or role in the NFL.
* denotes junior, ** denotes redshirt sophomore
1. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville*
NFL Comparison: Russell Wilson, but three inches taller.
Where He Wins: Excellent pocket movement. Bounces off his back foot to step up against edge pressure and isn’t afraid to slide laterally when faced with an interior rush. Keeps eyes up to survey coverages and works to multiple reads. Placement and touch are there, but has the velocity to hit vertical routes on the move. Not afraid to give a covered receiver in single coverage a chance to win. Reports have stated he takes care of many checks at the line of scrimmage.
Where He Fits: He fits any offense. Sustains success from the pocket but also has mobility which isn’t showcased often. Hits every level with placement and timing.
2014 Draft Projection: No. 1 or 2 pick.
2. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon**
NFL Comparison: A more refined Colin Kaepernick out of Nevada.
Where He Wins: Does not get enough credit for his success in the pocket. Quick decision maker on short to intermediate routes, which is exactly what up-tempo offenses need. Not afraid to shift off that first read, reset, and fire to another target while inside or outside of the pocket. Placement is improving and obviously has the velocity to hit any throw on a rope. He offers a read option/zone read element as well.
Where He Fits: Has plenty of experience in an up-tempo offense, but his pocket skills will translate for any team. Creativity will help use his talents in the best way.
Draft Projection: No. 1 or 2 pick.
3. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina*
NFL Comparison: Uses a J.J. Watt like swim move, athleticism might be Julius Peppers-esque.
Where He Wins: Predominantly lines up at right defensive end in a three-point stance as a five, seven, or nine technique. His explosion off the snap is ridiculous, gaining an instant advantage against his competition. Obviously the swarming wingspan and closing speed is there, and he enjoys finishing hits with force. Has frequently taken the inside line this year, likely due to the shorter distance to the backfield. Loves to utilize an arm over swim and athletic footwork is on displays when avoiding cut blocks. Loops inside with ease. A rare power and speed athlete.
Where He Fits: Most experience in a four man front, but his talent could be used in any defensive scheme.
Draft Projection: The first non-QB off the board. Top-5 pick.
4. Pass rushing OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
NFL Comparison: Athleticism could be similar to Bruce Irvin.
Where He Wins: The lightning-quick pass rusher is able to gain an advantage on the edge and keep it thanks to his burst off the line, ability to cut off either foot towards the quarterback, and flexibility to bend around the corner. He closes distances quickly, which can be effective from a variety of alignments, and Barr is a punishing finisher.
Where He Fits: Experience as a stand up rusher next to a three man front. Able to loop inside.
Draft Projection: Top-5 selection. Has a chance to be drafted over Clowney.
5. T Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
NFL Comparison: Jordan Gross
Where He Wins: Doesn’t sit back and wait, finds contact through his hands and is an aggressive blocker. Obtains inside hand positioning and adjusts if necessary. Athletic feet to keep proper shoulder alignment, which prevents bending from the waist. Displays ability to bend at the knee to absorb and redirect. Sets up cut blocks and drives through with force. Moving from right to left tackle.
Where He Fits: Has experience and played at a high level at left or right tackle.
Draft Projection: The top offensive tackle off the board. Top-10.
6. LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
NFL Comparison: Sean Lee
Where He Wins: Very little wasted movement. Lines up as inside linebacker behind three and four man fronts. Has so much range, chases down athletic quarterbacks to the edge. Same range is visible in pass coverage. Contacts crossing routes and keeps footwork to sustain and trail. Works over top of blocks with quick steps. Keeps nice vision at the second level by strafing then attacks uphill. Will finish tackles.
Where He Fits: Has transitioned from a coverage linebacker to the complete package. Scheme versatile at inside linebacker. Could potentially see time on the weakside.
Draft Projection: Very dependent on how teams react to his injury history. Top-20.
7. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson*
NFL Comparison: The current Torrey Smith.
Where He Wins: The combination of burst and smooth movements in and out of his breaks or after catch moves is great. Hands catcher away from his body. An explosive player with the ball in his hands, gets up to high gear very quickly. Will go across the middle and catch passes in tight windows. Cuts routes off very quickly. Has balance to stay up beyond first defender. Wins from slot or outside.
Where He Fits: Will help in a variety of ways, including yards after the catch, vertical routes, and in the return game.
Draft Projection: Expected to be the first receiver off the board, unless a team goes for a taller target who specializes winning at the catch point. Top-10.
8. S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama*
NFL Comparison: Reshad Jones
Where He Wins: Has excellent length for the position. Controlled aggressiveness when closing towards the line of scrimmage. Not a watcher, he gets in the action. Reads run and reacts quickly, even from single high. Has seen time from free or strong safety. Capable in playing man and zone situations, either near or off the line of scrimmage. A really, really good safety.
Where He Fits: A likely interchangeable safety that can play near the line of scrimmage or in the deep half.
Draft Projection: Top-15 selection.
9. OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State*
NFL Comparison: Lavonte David, but with more length. What many want Alec Ogletree to be.
Where He Wins: Long and lean. Projects to weakside linebacker. His speed to the edge is excellent. There are some wasted movements when working the backside, but once the target and ally are located he gets there in a hurry. Zone drops are smooth. Asked to blitz from inside and on the edge. Takes tight angles into the backfield on edge runs.
Where He Fits: Likely as a weakside linebacker who will stay on in nickel situations.
Draft Projection: First-round.
10. OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
NFL Comparison: Akeem Ayers
Where He Wins: Displays a unique combination of size and strength. Has quickness to get underneath an offensive lineman’s pads and then use his strength to drive that lineman into the backfield. Controls run blockers, maintaining outside leverage and resetting the line of scrimmage. Has enough athleticism to be a factor in coverage and can avoid cut blocks.
Where He Fits: As a stand up weakside pass rusher alongside a three man line or could play a strong side linebacker in a 4-3 under.
Draft Projection: Has off-field question stemming from a suspension, but likely top-20 pick.
Fulton: Mack vs. Miller
11. DT Dominique Easley, Florida
NFL Comparison: Jay Ratliff or Earl Mitchell
Where He Wins: Easley’s success inside compared to when on the edge is a no contest. His quickness to force his opposition off balance or shoot face up gaps causes instant disruption, displaying active hands to keep separation and a forward momentum. He impacts games when gaining promising positioning.
Where He Fits: Everywhere. Has experience as a five technique end but thrived in a one or zero technique role this season. Could be a disrupting, upfield nose tackle.
Draft Projection: This is difficult. Easley is a top-10 talent but has two ACL tears to his name on opposite knees. Played at a high level this season after the first one. I still think top-40, like Cornelius “Tank” Carradine.
12. DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame*
NFL Comparison: Flashes of Vince Wilfork
Where He Wins: Lines up as a nose tackle or shade in a three man front. Can work over top of a block and create penetration at the same time. Stops momentum very quickly and changes direction well for a big man. Has the leg drive to penetrate face up and strength to shed it close spaces. Can disrupt the run upfield or hold his spot with anchor versus the run. Has some Vince Wilfork to him.
Where He Fits: Likely a one or zero shade in a three man front, but don’t rule him out of four man fronts.
Draft Projection: Has been a letdown at times this season, but likely top-32.
13. CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State*
NFL Comparison: Jason McCourty
Where He Wins: Attacks the jam or blocking receiver, frequently gets into the action. Will play off or press man coverage, attacks the catch point by cutting in front of the target. Even plays on special teams. Trails in close distances and prevents the sliver of separation at the catch point. Makes things difficult on the opposition.
Where He Fits: Not locked into one side of the field. Likely better in press due to physical nature, but shows he can attack and drive in off coverage.
Draft Projection: Poor performance against Jared Abbrederis, but likely top-20.
14. TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech*
NFL Comparison: Does some Jimmy Graham-like things, but more along the lines of what many want Vance McDonald to be.
Where He Wins: A matchup nightmare. Uses his frame against corners and safeties to gain a positional advantage. Can do the same with safeties while creating space with fluid routes. An easy mover against linebackers. Has always been a willing blocker in space, but he has added an inline blocking element to his game. Getting stronger at the catch point when climbing the ladder. Presents some yards after catch skills.
Where He Fits: A receiving tight end in 12 personnel. Can play out on the edge, in the slot, and has added an inline blocking element to his game.
Draft Projection: Mentioned he would return for his senior season, but that could change in January. Suffered a major injury in 2012. I expect a top-32 selection.
15. CB Jason Verrett, TCU
NFL Comparison: Stephon Gilmore
Where He Wins: Active player who doesn’t wait to react. Keeps close trailing distance and makes tackles for a loss on crossing routes by forcing receivers back. Quick in his movements once diagnosing and locating. Has great vision, baits quarterbacks from off man with success. Coverage versatile. Hides blitz very well.
Where He Fits: Plays a lot of off coverage, but that doesn’t mean he lacks physical play. Tends to play boundary (short) side.
Draft Projection: First-round.