The draft process is upon us. Prospects have attended the East-West Shrine game and Senior Bowl and will soon converge on Indianapolis for the annual NFL Combine. Please note that these rankings are fluid, but I would never list a player without having a firm understanding of their play style and projection.
Quarterbacks 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.
For some of the most unique draft content out there, be sure to read Greg Peshek’s Rotoworld Draft pieces: QB Metrics… Part 1 and Part 2 on WR Metrics.
1. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
NFL Comparison: Russell Wilson, but three inches taller and less explosive movements.
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. Edge player 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.
3. Edge player Khalil Mack, Buffalo
NFL Comparison: Ahmad Brooks-plus
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-10 pick.
Fulton: Mack vs. Miller
4. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
NFL Comparison: The current Torrey Smith but more of a threat after the catch.
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 in winning at the catch point. Top-10.
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. If a team wants him at center they will not get him.
Draft Projection: Top-10.
6. T Greg Robinson, Auburn
NFL Comparison: Trent Williams
Where He Wins: An absolute mauler of a run blocker. His power is ridiculous. Can dominate even the strongest of defensive linemen with leverage and brute force. Is a very good athlete for his size, and that is evident while playing in space. Opens a clear road when asked to crash down or get to the second level. Powerful hands.
Where He Fits: Still a bit inexperienced as a pass protector on an island, which is evident with flashes of waist bending, but he has the athleticism to fix it. Can play on the left or right side.
Draft Projection: Will be the first tackle selected.
7. Off LOS 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
NFL Comparison: Vincent Jackson
Where He Wins: Absolutely dominant at the catch point. Wins on the edge with long speed, excellent body control, strong hands, and high pointing ability. When he is covered he is still open. Winning in these situations might be more important than separation at the NFL level. Yards after catch ability is often overlooked.
Where He Fits: Outside receiver with a quarterback who is not afraid to test tight single coverage.
Draft Projection: First-round and would not be shocked if he is the first receiver off the board. I bet he tests faster than expected.
12. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
NFL Comparison: Aqib Talib
Where He Wins: An extremely physical corner who loves to press at the line of scrimmage. Frequently patient with his jam, not overextending but rather allowing the receiver to enter contact area. Rides inside hip downfield while sustaining position. Hand fights and flips his head quickly when receiver looks back for the football at the top of their route.
Where He Fits: Press corner or a few yards off on the edge. Will be physical in run support. Matches up at the catch point in contested situations which is critical.
Draft Projection: Might run a slow forty, which will lead to overreaction. Top-40.
13. TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
NFL Comparison: Does some Jimmy Graham-like things, but not as tall.
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.
14. TE Eric Ebron, UNC
NFL Comparison: A physical Jared Cook Jr.
Where He Wins: An outstanding straight-line athlete with some bend/flexibility for his size. Will stretch defenses and then cut his route back to the quarterback. Presents a big target and can separate after the catch. Improving consistency at the catch point and a willing blocker.
Where He Fits: An inline option who can be split out to matchup with different defenders.
Draft Projection: Top-25.