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Top 10 Underclassmen in the 2014 NFL Draft

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Top 10 Underclassmen in the 2014 NFL Draft

jadeveon clowney
Beth Hall - USA TODAY Sports

The deadline for college football underclassmen to skip their final years of eligibility and declare for the 2014 NFL Draft has arrived and we have seen a record-setting number of early entrants throw their hats into the ring for this spring’s draft. The talent pool has never been deeper in college football as many of the top prospects in this draft class will be underclassmen. When the talent feels they have matured, there is rarely any hesitation to jump to the next level.

But some of the early-entrants are a step above their counterparts. According to Scouts, Inc., 12 of the top 20 prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft are non-seniors, so you can expect to hear some young guys called early and often on May 8. There is so much talent in this draft that there will be huge value picks throughout the three-day event and teams are going to be able to stock their cupboards with excellent players in every round. Many of the young players who came out might even see their draft position fall just because of the sheer number of excellent prospects available this year.

That being said, some prospects are so good, they won’t have to worry about slipping very far in this year’s draft. Among a deep class of juniors and redshirt sophomores who have decided to turn pro this season, some are just too good for any team to pass up. The Houston Texas, picking No. 1 overall this season, have been linked to several excellent players in this draft class, all of whom are underclassmen.

So when it is all said and done, which of the early entrants into the 2014 NFL Draft are the best of the best? Let’s count down the top 10 underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft.

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10. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Alabama Crimson Tide

ha ha clinton-dix
Thomas Campbell - USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide have a well-earned reputation as one of the best defensive teams in the country. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been a major reason why with his superb instincts in coverage. He’s a tough defender with excellent discipline and good eyes in coverage. His ability to diagnose and anticipate makes him an elite ball-hawk in the secondary that will provide much-needed playmaking to whoever selects him in the 2014 NFL Draft.

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9. Blake Bortles, QB Central Florida Knights

blake bortles
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Few prospects have helped their draft stock more in 2013 than Blake Bortles did with the Central Florida Knights. The junior quarterback led UCF all the way to the BCS as he put his size, arm-strength, and athleticism on full display. Bortles came into the 2013 season as a relative unknown in the 2014 quarterback class and few pegged him as an early-entrant to the draft, but a phenomenal season with 3,581 passing yards and 25 touchdowns have made Bortles a near lock for the top of the first round.

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8. Eric Ebron, TE North Carolina Tar Heels

eric ebron
Jeremy Brevard - USA TODAY Sports

In what has turned out to be a deep class of tight ends in this draft, Eric Ebron of the North Carolina Tar Heels has separated himself as the best of the bunch. He’s got good size at 6-foot-4, but has room to bulk up a bit on his lean frame. He has above-average ball skills and can use his reach to snag tough passes in traffic. He led UNC in receiving this season, catching 62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns. He’s a presence over the middle that will provide a nice, reliable target for some NFL quarterback in 2014.

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7. Stephon Tuitt, DE Notre Dame Fighting Irish

stephon tuitt
Matt Cashore - USA TODAY Sports

As part of a defense that fueled the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to their run to the BCS National Championship in the 2012 season, Stephon Tuitt is an ideal 3-4 defensive end with his size, strength, and athleticism. Considering his bulk (6-foot-6, 303 pounds), Tuitt has surprising speed and can chase plays down in pursuit. He has a non-stop motor to get after the ball-carrier and will relentlessly get after the football. Tuitt hasn’t shown the flexibility to play multiple spots in a defense or as an edge defender in a base 4-3, but on the right team in the right scheme, Tuitt can be a disruptive force.

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6. Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville Cardinals

teddy bridgewater
Andrew Weber - USA TODAY Sports

After entering the 2013 season as the clear No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country, Teddy Bridgewater did nothing to hurt his stock this season with the Louisville Cardinals. While his profile fell off significantly after his team lost to UCF, Bridgewater produced at an elite level this season, throwing for 3,970 yards and a Louisville school record 31 touchdown passes. He is the prototypical blend of height, arm-strength, and athleticism and truly separates himself with his accuracy. He is smart and tough, never appearing to get flustered, and can pick defenses apart when given the opportunity.

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5. Marqise Lee, WR USC Trojans

marqise lee
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

After a historically great 2012 season in which Marqise Lee posted 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns (subsequently winning the Biletnikoff Award in the process), Lee suffered a string of setbacks in 2013 with the USC Trojans. A lingering knee injury kept him out of a few games this season, which hurt his overall production but that won’t take away from the incredible skill set that he brings to the table. He’s a game-changer with his ability in the passing game and is going to give some team an explosive offensive threat in 2014.

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4. Timmy Jernigan, DT Florida State Seminoles

timmy jernigan
Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

The top-rated defense of the Florida State Seminoles was pivotal to their run to a BCS National Championship this season and Timmy Jernigan was a big piece (literally) to their success. His presence in the middle of the defensive line was a huge boost to the FSU run defense as he pushed offensive linemen backwards, disrupting plays behind the line. He’s shown an excellent ability to use his hands and quick feet to shed blocks, shoot gaps, and make plays down the line. He could use a bit of work on his pass rush but has flashed some very effective moves at times in college. Jernigan has all the tools to be an elite presence on the interior line.

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3. Greg Robinson, OT Auburn Tigers

greg robinson
Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest benefactors of Gus Malzahn’s return to the Auburn Tigers has been offensive tackle Greg Robinson. The massive redshirt sophomore emerged as an absolute beast in the up-tempo, run-heavy attack as the Tigers won the SEC title and came up just short in the BCS National Championship. At 6-foot-5, 320-pounds, Robinson has emerged as a mauler in the running game, though there are some questions about how well he can pass-block (simply because he didn’t have to do it that often this season). Robinson’s play this season has sent his stock rising dramatically and he’ll likely end up a top-10 pick this spring.

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2. Sammy Watkins, WR Clemson Tigers

sammy watkins
Mitch Stringer - USA TODAY Sports

The Clemson Tigers had one of the most explosive offenses in college football this season thanks in large part to the explosive playmaking of Sammy Watkins at receiver. Watkins enjoyed a breakout freshman season in 2011 before a slightly down 2012, but bounced back in 2013 as the No. 1 receiver for the Tigers. He reeled in 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns , showing off an ability to get behind the defense and break off huge gains. That second-gear to separate from defenses will go a long way in making Watkins an instant success at the next level.

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1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina Gamecocks

jadeveon clowney
Jeff Blake - USA TODAY Sports

While his season fell short of the Heisman Trophy hype he had worked up over the summer, Jadeveon Clowney was still a difference-maker on defense for the South Carolina Gamecocks. While his stats dipped considerably, with just 3.0 sacks and 40 tackles on the year, Clowney impacted every play by drawing double and triple-teams on the regular, opening up lanes for his teammates to make plays. In the NFL, he won’t have to face nearly the attention he got this year at SC and will be free to unleash his athleticism off the edge on unsuspecting quarterbacks in what should be a long and illustrious NFL career.