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Old 02-18-2014   #1
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Default Sports Illustrated Writers on 2014 NFL Draft

Doug Farrar Top 40 pre-Combine

This is where the draft process starts in earnest. As a last-minute barometer before it all begins, here’s one Big Board to consider as the combine approaches.

1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Bridgewater may or may not be the best overall player in this draft class, but I believe that he’s clearly the best player at the most important position, which is why he’s up top here. With his mobility, ability to make the palette of NFL throws and field awareness, Bridgewater has the comprehensive skill set needed to succeed at the next level. At times, he reminds me of an embryonic Aaron Rodgers.

2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Production and motivational concerns will dog Clowney through the combine and into the rest of the draft process, because narratives are written as such. But there’s still the tape to watch, and that tape shows a player that nearly every opponent is arrayed against to a ridiculous degree. Clowney can still disrupt and make things happen from multiple gaps, and that’s why he’s a special player.

3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

The most technically sound and practiced offensive lineman in this draft class. Matthews gets pushed back once in a while, but there isn’t a better overall blocker, or one more ready for the rigors of the NFL.

4. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Robinson doesn’t yet have Matthews’ agility or technique, but he’s already got more of both than you’d expect from a pure mauler. And make no mistake, Robinson can maul — at times, he’ll just level the defenders he’s blocking over and over. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if some line coaches saw Robinson as the more appealing prospect and he went before Matthews somewhere in the top five.

5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

A truly special player built for any scheme, in multiple roles if need be. Possessing impressive speed for his size (6-foot-3, 248 pounds), Mack can rush from the edge or head inside on stunts just as adeptly as he can line up at linebacker depth and blow up run plays.

6. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

7. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama

Mosley is the best pure inside linebacker since Luke Keuchly. Not only is he a rare player in a field awareness sense, he also possesses impressive versatility. Mosley loves to come down against the run and mix it up, but he’s just as adept in coverage.

8. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

9. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

10. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

11. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

12. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

Another Colts comparison — Ford reminds me of Robert Mathis at times in the ways he turns things over in the open field. He’s got great explosiveness and outstanding awareness in the open field, and he closes on the ballcarrier in a big hurry. He still has some issues in pass coverage, and I’d like to see him dip-and-rip with more consistency, but those things can be ironed out with good coaching.

13. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

It’s quite rare to see an athlete of Nix’s size (6-2, 345 pounds) get through blockers and gaps with speed, but the tape doesn’t lie — Nix is an unusual player from that perspective. He’s got the strength and technique (including a devastating swim move) to make life very difficult for every NFL center he faces.

14. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

15. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Let’s set the YOLO lifestyle claims aside for the time being, because you’ll hear all sorts of things both positive and negative about that. As a pure football player, Manziel comes into the NFL at the perfect time. QBs from Ben Roethlisberger to Cam Newton have proven that mobility is a virtual must for today’s signal callers, and Russell Wilson has shown that you can get things done with an exceptional football sense even if you’re not 6-3. Manziel doesn’t have Wilson’s demeanor or acumen (yet), but he’s a rare improviser in a positive sense. The problem? There are parts of his tape where he looks just about undraftable. The positive? A play or two after that clip, you’ll see him make a play that leaves you (and the defense) gasping. A rare risk/reward player, but his first-round status is undeniable.

16. Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

17. Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame

18. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

19. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

20. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

21. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

22. Aaron Donald, DL, Pittsburgh

23. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

24. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

25. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

26. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

27. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Kouandjio has everything it takes to be a great left-side outside protector in a run-based offense, and he’s lighter on his feet than your standard-issue ‘Bama mauler. He needs some work on getting his feet quicker, but he’s well on his way.

28. Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

Bortles might be the most polarizing player in this class, in terms of positioning and where people see him. I’ve seen mocks and Big Boards from people I respect that have him top five, or even first overall. Most of those advanced proclamations favor Bortles on physical potential, and there’s a lot to like there. But there’s a caveat — like Jake Locker, I think Bortles could be overdrafted on his potential and take longer than expected to get the fine points of quarterbacking at the NFL level.

29. David Yankey, G, Stanford

Two years ago, Stanford’s David DeCastro had me thinking that he was the best collegiate guard I’d seen since Steve Hutchinson. Yankey isn’t quite at that point, but it’s clear that the Cardinal are doing something right with this position. Yankey is a powerful player with fine fundamentals who should be able to step right in for the team that selects him.

30. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

While I like Jernigan’s strength in the middle of a defensive line, I’m less sure than some others about his quickness off the snap, and his mastery of hand moves he’ll need to deal with NFL blockers. A fine prospect in need of specific coaching.

31. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

The template for the NFL linebacker has changed drastically over the last five years — more and more, teams want smaller, rangy guys who can cover the maximum amount of ground. At 6-2 and 230 pounds, Shazier is right on the cusp of that curve in good and bad ways. He can break into coverage just as well as he can come down to play against the run, but there are enough plays where he gets washed out to have me thinking that a few protein drinks are in order.

32. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

33. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas

Center is hardly a glamorous position, but it becomes readily apparent to all the skill position players when there’s a talent drain in the middle of your offensive line. Swanson would be of great value to any NFL team, but especially to any pass-heavy offense, because pass pro is his primary strength. He’s also an outstanding blocker in space when asked to pull to either side.

34. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

35. Moses Morgan, OT, Virginia

The thing that really stands out about Morgan to me is how flexible and mobile he is, especially to the second level. It’s impressive to see for a player his size (6-6, 325). If he can learn to clamp onto blocks with more consistency and ovoid overpursuit, he could be a very special player.

36. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

37. Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA

If you’re looking for a true masher with a nasty playing demeanor for the inside of your offensive line, it would be hard to do better than Su’a-Filo. While he will occasionally lose leverage and power when he forgets technique, he has a great combination of power and agility.

38. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU

Van Noy is a technique-sound player with limited upside, but he’ll make plays in the right scheme. Coverage is perhaps his most underrated asset, but field speed is a problem in certain instances.

39. Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State

Jackson has the raw potential to be the best of this year’s guard class — he’s powerful and agile, and he really delivers a blow in the run game. It’s the second-level stuff that seems to befuddle him at this point, but with a little coaching, he’s going to be a good one.

40. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

Perhaps the most underrated defensive lineman in the nation. Crichton breaks plays down at the line very well and closes with great speed. He’s got the root strength to beat double teams, and the technique to slap blockers around and create havoc. Crichton will reward the team smart enough to take him with a whole lot of production.
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