It’s still way too early to get a handle on next years draft, but I’ve had a chance to rattle through some tape in between changing a baby, feeding a baby and trying, in vain, to entertain a baby.
So here we go.
Top quarterback prospect – Zach Mettenburg (QB, LSU)
Teddy Bridgewater is getting the most attention, but Mettenburg is quickly developing into the superior player. He’s taken giant leaps this season after an underwhelming first year at LSU.
He lacks the mobility and elusiveness a lot of teams are looking for, but as a pure pocket passer he has a complete skill set. He’s reading coverages like a pro. Mechanically he’s sound with a good arm — and he makes very few mistakes.
The game against Georgia, even in defeat, cemented his position as a legit pro-prospect. One throw to Jarvis Landry really stood out — a downfield bullet into the tightest of windows, hitting his receiver right in the hands despite triple coverage. It’s a great example of Mettenberger’s accuracy, arm strength and ability to make big plays. Yet the performance on the whole was a masterclass. He was one step ahead of the Bulldogs defense all afternoon.
Bridgewater is a fine prospect, but he’s a little over hyped. It’s assumed he’ll be the first quarterback off the board in much the same way it was assumed Geno Smith would be last year. He won’t sink like Smith (he’s a better player) but he’s no lock to be the first QB off the board. Like Mettenberger, Bridgewater isn’t the most mobile quarterback — neither is going to be running the read option. And in the key areas such as pocket presence, accuracy, arm strength and touch — Mettenberger gets the edge.
Both players could easily be top ten picks. But out of the two, right now, I think Mettenberger will be the first off the board. There’s plenty of time for that to change.
Who knows what the Cleveland Browns are planning to do with their two first round picks, but Mettenberger looks like a great fit for Norv Turner’s scheme. If they have to move up, could he be the guy they target?
I also want to say this is a better quarterback class than I initially anticipated. Watching tape over the last 6-7 days, I’ve been impressed with a handful of guys. Today in particular opened my eyes up to a couple of players. You’ll see the change in my rankings later.
Top offensive playmaker – Odell Beckham Jr. (WR, LSU)
It’s none of the players we expected. Not Sammy Watkins. Not Marqise Lee. There’s no running back worthy of the status. Again it’s back to LSU. So far Odell Beckham Jr. is the top playmaker eligible for the 2014 draft.
The only thing Beckham lacks is height. He’s listed at 6-0. Aside from that he’s the complete receiver prospect. He wins jump balls against taller cornerbacks. He has huge hands that absorb the football — and he’s a pure hands catcher. He’s explosive. He runs good routes. In six games this year he has 686 yards and seven total touchdowns.
Really, what’s not to like?
He’ll have an immediate impact as a kick return threat and it won’t be a total shocker if he hits the ground running as a receiver. This year he’s looked like a NFL receiver on loan to college football. He just looks ready. And working within a productive passing game at LSU he’s thriving.
Like A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones, Beckham oozes a natural instinct for the position. You just feel like he’s going to learn the playbook quickly and be out there making plays. Don’t be put off by his size — everything else is good enough to warrant major attention.
In a draft without any clear cut playmakers, Beckham offers the best value and could be a first round pick.
Need more convincing?
Top overall player – Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Don’t be fooled into thinking the current drama involving Clowney will have a big impact on his stock. Even if he sits the rest of the season, eventually he’s going to turn up at the combine and put on a display for the ages.
Physically he is every bit as good as the hype suggests.
So while there’s a lot of hand wringing going on at the moment about his decision to sit out Saturday’s game against Kentucky due to a rib injury, the fact is he’s going to be nigh on impossible to pass on. We’re talking about one of the most talented players to enter the NFL in recent memory. In terms of sheer physical brilliance, he’s up there with Calvin Johnson. A real freak of nature.
And like Johnson, he might not go first overall if the team that owns the top pick feels they simply have to draft a quarterback. The first team that doesn’t desperately need a QB will draft Clowney. Simple as that. He is too good. There is too much potential.
He is going to be the player with the most upside in the 2014 draft and it isn’t even close.
Let’s assume Jacksonville ‘earns’ the #1 pick. They are several drafts away from relevance. And while they clearly need a quarterback, drafting one with the #1 pick won’t automatically turn them into a contender. There’s no Andrew Luck in this class.
So do you take a longer term approach and draft a player who could be an elite difference maker on defense? I say yes. They need to accumulate talent right now, not chase needs. The Jaguars would be better served drafting Clowney at #1 to help establish an identity behind their defensive minded Head Coach.
With the right coaches in the NFL, he’ll be a superstar. Gus Bradley would be a great coach for Jadeveon Clowney. And Bradley needs good football players across the board, not just at quarterback.
Position with the most depth – Offensive tackle
Again, it’s still early. But this looks like another year where we see a cluster of offensive linemen going in the top 10-15. There aren’t any guards as good as Jonathan Cooper or Chance Warmack, but there are several decent tackles.
The position overall is getting over drafted, so the league will be all over this crop.
All of the following could be early picks: Jake Matthews, Cyrus Kouandjio, Taylor Lewan, Zack Martin, Antonio Richardson and James Hurst.
Out of that group, I wouldn’t rate any higher than 2010′s top tackle (Trent Williams), 2011′s (Tyron Smith) or 2012′s (Matt Kalil) going into their respective draft classes. They’re all good players. Are they great? Debatable. But the league likes the idea of drafting a tackle early.
Multiple teams could be targeting the position in 2014 which also helps, such as the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on Florida State’s converted defensive lineman Cameron Erving. I need to get a better look at him, but he’s looked fairly accomplished so far after making the switch. The best athletes are playing defense in college these days — and it’s a serious problem for NFL teams trying to find blockers who can match up.
Seattle was ahead of the curve in looking for defensive players who can play on offense. Now some college teams appear willing to try their fringe defenders on the O-line. Both the NCAA and the NFL have to find a way to deal with the speed and athleticism that’s gravitating towards defense. The mismatch is too extreme.
I was very close to naming quarterback as the position with most depth. It’s right up there.
Players who have underwhelmed so far
Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
It’s assumed Nix is a top ten lock, but when I’ve watched him this year he’s looked sluggish and heavy. He has a reputation for a dominating, athletic nose tackle. Has he made any big plays yet? It’s time to raise some concern. He isn’t anything like the same kind of athlete as Dontari Poe (#11 overall, 2012). Teams are always looking for a good nose tackle, but right now he just looks average. A big body.
Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
As USC drifted into farce, Lee’s stock took a hammering. Instead of the unstoppable force we’ve come to expect, he’s made basic mental errors (bad drops, turnovers) and failed to make much of an impact. A lot of it is down to Lane Kiffin and the ridiculous decision to keep him on for 2013. But Lee doesn’t have outstanding physical tools and recently picked up a knee injury. On current form is anyone going to see him as a top-15 pick? Robert Woods’ stock dropped into round two last year and it’s not too unrealistic that the same could happen to Lee.
Will Sutton (DT, Arizona State)
I don’t really get what all the fuss is about. He looks like a classic JAG. Last year he made headlines for his production. Yet on tape he only played in flashes. There’s nothing particularly impressive about his physical make-up. Frequently he’s blown up in run plays or shoved backwards in pass protection. He hasn’t got the greatest motor and where’s the nasty streak? This season he hasn’t even got the production — with just one sack in five games. I wouldn’t even offer a mid-round grade at this stage.
David Yankey (G, Stanford)
Stanford offensive linemen are well coached and technically excellent. The scheme they use is a thing of beauty. It’s primed for players to excel, with lots of movement and pulling. If you execute, you’ll look good. But as we’ve seen with previous Cardinal linemen, it doesn’t always translate to the next level. You need a certain level of physical quality too, not just technical expertise. Jonathan Martin looked like a first round pick at times in college, but has struggled mightily in Miami. David De Castro was flavour of the month in 2012 but dropped into the 20′s for a reason and hasn’t looked all that great in Pittsburgh. Yankey looks like the next technically gifted Stanford lineman who just isn’t all that special.
Other underwhelming players: the entire tight end group (including Eric Ebron, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Colt Lyerla), Aaron Lynch (DE, USF), Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame), Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State) and Stephen Morris (QB, Miami),
20 players I like the most so far
(Note — this is only based on the players I’ve actually had a chance to watch in multiple games)
#1 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Elite talent, despite all the current negative publicity. Guys like this don’t come along very often.
#2 Zach Mettenberger (QB, LSU)
Looks like he could be the best QB prospect eligible for 2014. Pure pocket passer.
#3 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
Better than Luke Joeckel, but not quite as good as some of the other top tackles that have entered the league recently.
#4 Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
Far from flawless this year but possibly has the most upside of all the tackles.
#5 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
In a down year for receivers and running backs, this guy stands out.
#6 Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU)
A pure playmaker on defense. Would be great for a creative defensive mind.
#7 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
Not quite as good as the internet hype suggests, but still a solid prospect.
#8 Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)
Highly touted recruit whose best football will come at the next level.
#9 Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
16 sacks in his last 12 starts. Brilliant speed rusher.
#10 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Might be best suited to the right side.
#11 Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
Upside pick. Has looked a bit hit and miss this year. I suspect he’ll look good at the combine.
#12 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
Not quite as good as some are saying. Technique still needs refining, gets by on physical ability.
#13 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
This isn’t a great draft class. Manziel at least offers some special qualities. There are lot’s of concerns, too.
#14 James Hurst (T, North Carolina)
Did well against Clowney and looks relatively solid.
#15 Ed Reynolds (S, Stanford)
Needs more attention. A flat out playmaker in the secondary.
#16 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
Speed receiver who will make a nice #2.
#17 Dominique Easley (DT, Florida)
Even despite the ACL injury, I had to include him here.
#18 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Catches the ball well in traffic. Big and strong. But is he enough of an athlete to impact the next level?
#19 Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
Better than expected arm strength. Surprised me this year. Much better than I thought.
#20 Cameron Erving (T, Florida State)
Needs to keep working on technique, but has a natural feel for the offensive line.
Next up: Scott Crichton (DE, Oregon State), A.J. McCarron (QB, Alabama), Tajh Boyd (QB, Clemson), Jarvis Landry (WR, LSU), Denzel Perryman (LB, Miami), Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt), C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama), Ha Ha Clinton Dix (S, Alabama).
Players I expect to stay in college: Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA), Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon), Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
This is the least excited I’ve been about a draft class in a long time. There’s still time for that to change, but so far it’s mostly been about disappointing performances, injuries, suspensions and character issues. This is pretty much the ‘bad news draft class’.
Let’s hope it gets better.