Keeping the draft in mind, I wanted to post these rankings, even without full explanations for each prospect, before any more time passed. I will be adding evaluations each day, so continue to check back for updates.
With comparisons, note that a player listed does not mean a complete mirror image. It could be referring to certain traits, roles, or progression in relation to a specific point in a career.
1. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
NFL Comparison: Pocket movement and willingness to work through short to intermediate levels displays hints of… Tom Brady. (Credit to Eric Stoner)
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: It depends on how real the criticisms and critiques of size and frame are. Could fall to the second-round.
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-3 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: Top-8 pick.
Fulton: Mack vs. Miller
4. DT Dominique Easley, Florida
NFL Comparison: Jay Ratliff-plus
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.
5. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
NFL Comparison: The current Torrey Smith mixed with Cordarrelle Patterson's ball carrying skills.
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.
6. 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: Top-10.
7. Off LOS LB CJ 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. OL 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, but might be best on inside early if the plan is to transition him to left tackle.
Draft Projection: Will be the first tackle selected.
9. DT Aaron Donald, Pitt
NFL Comparison: Mike Daniels.
Where He Wins: Excellent burst off the line to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Despite size knocks, he has good length and active hands. Able to get skinny to work through gaps and trash. Closing quickness is there to make tackles for loss.
Where He Fits: Obvious nickel or dime rusher, but likely not limited to that. He disrupts fronts. Could see him lining up in a variety of sub-package sets at 1, 3, or 5 technique.
Draft Projection: Top-15.
10. S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
NFL Comparison: Eric Weddle
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.
11. NT 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: Was a letdown at times this season, mostly due to injury, but likely top-32. Possible top 15.
12. 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.
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.
13. Off LOS LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
NFL Comparison: A version of 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: Top 40.
14. WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
NFL Comparison: Antonio Brown-plus (Credit to Cian Fahey)
Where He Wins: Mainly an outside receiver but has seen snaps in the slot. An excellent intermediate to downfield threat, but likely has the skills near the LOS. He just was not used there. The downfield routes are not usually go or straight-line patterns, instead most of his success comes off breaks. Has quickness and explosion to his game, but does not mind winning at the catch point in contested situations.
Where He Fits: Shines on inside and outside breaking routes, like posts and corners, and also works towards his quarterback.
Draft Projection: Would be surprised if he is not the third WR off the board.
15. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
NFL Comparison: La’Roi Glover (credit to Matt Waldman)
Where He Wins: Sutton takes advantage of space. Whether it be shooting past reach blocks in the sliver of time afforded to him thanks to an animated first step and forward lean, or hand use and quick feet to generate that separation on his own, Sutton finishes with closing speed. His flexibility to bend and gain positive positioning is tough to find.
Where He Fits: Likely as a three technique in a four man front, could play some in pass rushing situations.
Draft Projection: Too much has been made about his added weight (now down to 295). He isn’t a different player. The foundation of Sutton’s game was never quickness, it was leverage and technical hand use. The weight impacted his balance most of all. Top-64.
16. DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
NFL Comparison: Michael Brockers with less of a natural anchor but more pass rush upside.
Where He Wins: Predominantly used as a 1/0 technique this season. Obviously has a natural anchor. Improving hand use to create separation. Flashes of good athleticism for someone his size. Has the necessary power and leg drive to keep his opposition off balance.
Where He Fits: Appears his career can be taken on one two ways, either as a 1 in an even front or 5 technique in an odd front. I bet he will test well at the Combine, leading many to pick the latter, but I prefer him inside. Needs to deliver a consistent initial punch.
Draft Projection: First-round.
17. S Jimmie Ward, NIU
NFL Comparison: Poor man’s Kenny Vaccaro.
Where He Wins: Has very good backfield vision and ball awareness to work through blocks and make a play on ball carriers. Comfortable in zone coverage to work off one receiver and close on another. Very good tackler, takes solid pursuit angles and closes assertively but not uncontrollably. Does not mind slowing down smaller slot receivers or contending with tight ends downfield.
Where He Fits: Works his way closer to the line of scrimmage, creeping up to cover inside targets. Does very well to keep everything in front when playing that role, but can also turn and run and stick with breaking routes in man coverage. Can absolutely play that third S role early on.
Draft Projection: Should be a first-round pick.
18. 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: Suffered a major injury in 2012, but I expect a top-32 selection.
19. Edge player Dee Ford, Auburn
NFL Comparison: Elvis Dumervil
Where He Wins: Great burst off the snap and explosion upfield. Bends very well around the corner once beating offensive lineman's depth. Has also displayed hand use, leverage, and strength to keep his opposition on skates. The Texas A&M game shows the complete package.
Where He Fits: Line him up wide and let him run, likely as a 7 or 9 technique. Stance (stand up or three-point) does not matter to me.
Draft Projection: Top 40
20. CB Jason Verrett, TCU
NFL Comparison: Antoine Winfield
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. Best role will likely be as a slot corner.
Draft Projection: First-round.