NFL Soup|Tuesday, May 21, 2013

2014 NFL Draft: An Early Look at the Top 10 Overall 

It’s never too early to get a look at the top players of the 2014 NFL Draft. Of course, we’re just over a month from finishing the 2013 draft, so perhaps I’m just a bit too excited for the college football season.

Regardless, I won’t delve into the specifics of ranking every eligible player, at least not yet. We really just want to give you a sneak peek at what players to watch for starting August 29th when the college football season officially begins.

These lists of players can change on a dime from the start of the season all the way through until the NFL Draft actually plays out, but the speculation of who will be number one is always exciting.

Once again, underclassmen dominate the top of the rankings so without further ado, here is an early look at the top 10 overall prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft.

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina (JR)

There’s no doubting that coming out of high school Clowney was the real deal. As a true freshman he registered eight sacks, following it up with 13 a season later. His sophomore campaign saw him with 23.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage as he has proven to be an absolute monster off of the right side.

If that’s not enough for you, in just two seasons he has forced a total of eight fumbles as well, en route to becoming one of the most highly touted players in the entire NCAA. Clowney is surely a household name by now, and while quarterbacks are generally selected first overall, unless you have an Andrew Luck or RGIII coming out, this guy has to be the #1 overall pick as of now.

2. Marqise Lee, WR, USC (JR)

If it weren’t for Clowney, Lee would be my surefire #1 overall pick. While he may not be 6’4 220 with 4.40 speed, his 6’0 195 pound frame is still NFL worthy, as well as his speed, ball skills, route running and even blocking.

This is everything a wide receivers coach could dream of. He goes up in the air to pluck the ball out on bad throws, he runs routes like a professional, his elusiveness in the open field is matched by nobody else in the college game and he just flat out makes plays.

I’ll be on my soapbox all year long about Lee and how much I believe he’ll be a top five selection in the next draft regardless of how these quarterbacks perform. This guy is for real. Oh… Did I forget to mention that he’s a star on the USC track team?

3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (SR)

I know what you’re thinking and yes, he is apart of the exceptional Matthews family tree. In fact, he’s Bruce Matthews’ son, the same Bruce Matthews who was an All-Pro offensive lineman at multiple positions and played for nearly two decades.

A lot of folks loved #2 overall pick from 2013 Luke Joeckel, and after they watch Matthews in 2013, they’ll be even more impressed. Matthews will move from the right side to the left to protect Johnny Manziel in hopes of a National Championship run. Matthews is very well rounded with excellent footwork, sound pass protection ability and does well in the running game.

I can’t see any other tackle supplanting Matthews at the best for the 2014 NFL Draft.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (JR)

It’s hard to believe that Bridgewater is a junior because he surely played 2012 like he was a redshirt senior. Bridgewater showed solid ability in 2011 as a freshman but really stepped up to lead Louisville in 2012 after completing 68.5% of his passes for 8.87 yards per attempt, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

He is blessed with solid size nearing 6’3 and 220 pounds while also having the scrambling ability to get out of sticky situations. His arm strength has improved and he puts appropriate touch on his passes. His junior year will be the year he is expected to break out and lead Louisville to a major bowl. He doesn’t have a great supporting cast, but he has enough weapons to make great plays and lock himself in as a top 10 selection come next May.

5. Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA (SR)

What’s fascinating about Barr is that he managed to play running back and fullback for two years at UCLA before making the switch to right outside linebacker in a 34 base defense.

He played the position in 2012 like he’d be playing for years, racking up 21.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, while also showing above average coverage skills. He’s still quite raw at the position, and he’ll need to bulk up and shed blocks more efficiently. However, Barr’s upside is huge especially after seeing guys like Ezekial Ansah and Dion Jordan drafted highly in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Watch out for Barr as a senior in his second year at the position. He’s a hard hitter when he gets through and what sets him apart from other pass rushers is his conditioning, proving time and time again that he plays at 100% for four quarters.

6. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (RedJR)

Roby isn’t a huge cornerback, but he plays just over 5’10 and 185 pounds. His gift his is speed and athleticism, as well as his ball skills which saw him lead the NCAA in pass break ups with 17 as a sophomore.

The scare here is that he does not intercept a ton of passes, only having five for his career. Still, 17 pass break ups as a redshirt sophomore is pretty darn good, and being on the Thorpe Award list is certainly worth recognition.

Roby can flip his hips and run with anyone in the nation as he is a great candidate to run a sub 4.40 forty yard dash if he leaves early and gets an NFL Combine invite next spring. Look for him to be a leader in a solid Ohio State secondary in 2013.

7. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida (JR) 

Purifoy is an exceptional overall athlete that will likely play all three ways in 2013. Because of the lack of depth in Florida’s receiving corps, it’s very possible that we see Purifoy’s speed on the offensive side of the ball, while he’ll still be the #1 corner for the Gators.

Purifoy stands around 6’1 and comes in at around 190 as of last season. He will block kicks, return kicks, and isn’t afraid to get in and make tackles. Like Roby, however, Purifoy hasn’t shown much ability to intercept passes. He also recorded just five pass break ups as a true sophomore, so he’ll be expected to increase that number and prove that his ball skills are on par with the NFL expectation.

Still, his athleticism and potential alone make him worthy of a top 10 pre-season ranking.

8. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (RedSO)

I have so much love for what Manziel did as a redshirt freshman for Texas A&M. Not only did he win the Heisman, but even a bigger feat could be the fact that he went into Alabama and score 29 points against their defense on the road, and played a huge part in winning that game.

As an NFL prospect, however, I’m still a bit on edge with Manziel. He’s an amazing athlete that has done a lot of great things. However, as a quarterback, his footwork is very poor, his throwing motion needs a lot of work, and the fact that he lacks touch on his passes bothers me. Still, this was his first season as a starter, and you can bet that he’s going to improve as an NFL prospect, and football player overall.

His ability to get out of tough situations and is impossible to tackle makes him attractive much like Robert Griffin III. He also has a solid arm throwing down field, often being able to get the ball 40 yards down field with out even stepping into his throw. If Manziel can get his mechanics down, he could end up being an exceptional NFL quarterback prospect.

I’m not terribly concerned about his size, although being just over 6’0 will make it more challenging at the next level. Regardless, he’s a special football player and has to make this list based on his ability to learn the game and make adjustments.

9. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (JR)

As a freshman in 2011, Watkins took college football by storm, having caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns, while also adding 231 yards rushing in addition to returning kicks.

As a sophomore Watkins slipped up a bit due to a number of things. Being caught in the off-season for possession of marijuana and illegal possession of a controlled substance led to a two game suspension. After his suspension was up, he played one game before having to sit out another match-up with a stomach virus.

He just could not catch a break after returning to the field with teammate DeAndre Hopkins stepping up for Clemson and being the new go-to receiver for Tahj Boyd. But Watkins’ potential is limitless. His explosiveness as a receiver after the catch is outstanding, as is his route running ability and soft hands.

Watkins is a dangerous receiver at 6’1 200 pounds and if he can stay healthy and free of off-season mishaps, he should have a huge junior season with Tahj Boyd back to throw him passes and the offense revolving around the speedster.

10. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (JR)

Notre Dame’s defensive line looks to be strong again with Stephon Tuitt and fellow first round prospect Louis Nix returning. Nix is a candidate for the Top 10 as well, but I give the edge to Tuitt because of his size and quickness combination. Not only is he around 6’5 300 pounds, but he plays like he’s 6’4 250 with his ability to set the edge against the run and also get down the line laterally.

He registered 12 sacks as a true sophomore on a defense that reached the National Championship game in 2012. Tuitt’s versatility also plays a big factor being able to line up at all four positions in the 43 one gap defense. He could afford to get stronger and move to a 34 two gap role at the next level, but for now he may be best moving inside as a two gap defensive tackle.

Keep an eye out on Tuitt who still has two years of eligibility.

About the author: Keet Bailey

Keet Bailey heads the NFL Draft division of NFL Soup. Bailey’s 2012 NFL Mock Draft scored 12th overall among 112 participants according to The Huddle Report’s Annual Mock Draft scoring contest. An avid Cleveland Browns fan, Keet hails from and resides in Ohio. Follow Keet on Twitter @NFLSoupKeet