College Football’s Top 10 Prospects for 2014 NFL Draft
Johnny Manziel Will be a High Draft Pick Next Spring
I am of the opinion that it is never too early to look forward to a draft, so let’s fast forward past the 2013 draft and look at the players still in college that will headline the 2014 draft. Some of these prospects decided to return to school despite being possible first-round picks in 2013 while some weren’t eligible for the draft even if they wanted to declare.
On my list I have a Heisman winning quarterback, a Biletnikoff (best wr) award winner, a Hendricks (best de) award winner, a former freshman All-American and two candidates to be the Outland trophy winner given to the nation’s best lineman.
These players are already some of the best in college football and will be under the microscope when the 2013 college football season resumes next fall, and while there are always prospects that come out of nowhere and show dramatic improvement, this list is only a top-10 and leaves little to no room for diamonds in the rough or “sleepers.”
At first glance the group of 2014 is loaded with offensive talent and takes up seven of the top 10 spots on my rankings, but one scary defender may present the best case to be the top pick in the 2014 draft.
Granted there is fourteen and a half months until the 2014 draft and this list is sure to change between now and then, but it’s never too early to let the second guessing begin. Having said that, who do you think is ranked too high or too low, who did I leave off and who are you betting on being the top pick in 2014?
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10. Logan Thomas-Virginia Tech-QB
I’m going with my gut on this pick because Thomas had an indifferent junior season. Thomas entered his junior season with many thinking he was one of the top two draft-eligible quarterbacks in the nation. However, after a 16-interception season and completing only 51% of his passes, Thomas made the smart decision to return to school to improve his mechanics and gain more experience after coming to Virginia Tech as a tight end. The 6-6 260-pound signal-caller has all the physical tools, but needs to improve his decision making and overall awareness. With coaching changes in Blacksburg, Va I think Thomas will turn the corner and develop into a top quarterback prospect.
9. Sammy Watkins-Clemson-WR
Watkins had an All-American season as a true freshman in 2011 when he had 82 receptions, 1219 yards and 12 touchdowns, but started 2012 suspended and then battled illness and injuries as a sophomore. Watkins endured the proverbial sophomore slump and only had 57 receptions, 708 yards and three touchdowns while being outplayed by potential 2013 first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins. With senior quarterback Tajh Boyd returning to Clemson and Hopkins in the NFL Watkins will once again have the focus on him and the 6-1 200-pound Florida native will shine in 2013 and look like the player that burst onto the scene in 2011 when many scouts predicted he could be a first-round pick as a freshman.
8. Jake Matthews-Texas A&M-OT
Matthews could have been a low first pick had the right tackle left Texas A&M after his junior season, but will return for his senior season and make the shift to the left side. Playing left tackle will improve Matthews’ stock provided he excels at the position and at 6-5 305-pounds he possesses the foot speed, lateral quickness, and agility to protect the blind side of Heisman winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.
7. Will Sutton-Arizona State-DT
Sutton’s a player that creates havoc along the interior of the line, the undersized defensive tackle finished with 13 sacks to tie for third in the nation and led all defensive tackles. Sutton showed dramatic improved from 2011 to 2012 and becoming a complete defensive tackle and adding bulk to his 271-pound body will make him a terror to block once he becomes a stout run defender in addition to his elite pass-rushing ability.
6. Anthony Barr-UCLA-OLB
Barr finished his junior season with 13.5 sacks which was only second to Jarvis Jones who is a candidate to be the first pick in the 2014 draft and surprised many when he decided to return to UCLA for his senior season. He has a lot of potential after converting from fullback and could have been a top-10 pick this year, but with another year of experience in college will only get better learning the nuances of the position. The 6-4 235-pound Barr can use the extra year to add around 15-20 pounds of muscle to his frame and be the premiere 3-4 outside linebacker in the 2014 class.
5. Taylor Lewan-Michigan-OT
Lewan shocked me when he decided to return to Michigan for his senior season because he likely would have been a top-15 pick in the 2013 draft. At 6-8 and 310-pounds, Lewan has the prototypical size you look for in a left tackle and is reminiscent of Nate Solder who went in the first round to the New England Patriots two seasons ago. Lewan will use the extra year to add strength to his frame to improve as a run-blocker.
4. Johnny Manziel-Texas A&M-QB
The 2012 Heisman winner will be a redshirt sophomore and thus eligible for the draft, and I think he would be wise to declare for the draft and strike while the iron is hot. Thoughts of him potentially winning three or four Heisman’s is a nice thought but one that is far from reality. NFL scouts will see his dual-threat ability and envision him running the zone-read option that is en vogue in the NFL with the likes of Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson excelling right away in the league. With another year of tutelage under Kevin Sumlin and recently hired quarterback coach Jake Spavital--one of the game’s best quarterback mentors--Manziel will gain invaluable experience and develop his football acumen. He undoubtedly will be under the microscope and every decision will be scrutinized and while a little small for the classic quarterback model at 6-1 and 200-pounds could be a top-five pick as early as next year.
3. Teddy Bridgewater-Louisville-QB
The star of the Allstate Sugar Bowl was Louisville sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater who made the vaunted Florida defense look as bad as any quarterback has all season long in the historic upset from New Orleans. Bridgewater was on the college football periphery heading into 2012 but emerged from the shadows after the Cardinals started the 2012 season 9-0, but after this sensational Sugar Bowl performance should enter 2013 on the short list for the Heisman trophy and the right to be the first quarterback taken in the 2014 NFL draft. The 6-3 218-pound Florida native has great size, accuracy, pocket mobility, an arm that can make all the throws, strong leadership skills, a winning background and the ability to make his teammates elevate their game. Sounds like a future first round pick and long time starter in the NFL to me.
2. Marqise Lee-USC-WR
The 2012 Biletnikoff award winner as the nation’s top wide receiver would be a top-10 pick if the true sophomore were eligible and the top receiver off the board. I can’t believe that he came to USC as a safety, but after two seasons 191 receptions, 2864 yards and 25 touchdowns. He may see a drop in production as a junior with the departure of quarterback Matt Barkley, but then again it’s tough to match a 118 catch, 1721 yard and 14 touchdown season no matter who is at quarterback. The 6-1 195-pound Lee can do it all as a wide receiver and is a virtual certainty to be a top-three pick next season.
1. Jadeveon Clowney-South Carolina-DE
I have no doubt in my mind that if Clowney would be the first pick in the 2013 draft if the true sophomore were eligible. Heck, he would have been a first-round pick out of high school he is that talented and imposing. Clowney had 13 sacks, which tied for third in the nation despite playing with injury for stretches this season. He was a one-man wrecking crew vs. Clemson when the 6-6 256-pound defensive end had 4.5 sacks in the win and his hit in the Outback Bowl was among the plays of the year when he nearly decapitated Michigan running back Vincent Smith. Clowney will have to wait one more before being the top pick and could challenge for a 20-sack season and the Heisman trophy.