Only a handful of teams are still in practice with the AFC and NFC Conference Championship drawing near but that means 28 other teams have their eyes set firmly on this May’s draft.
With an unprecedented amount of underclassmen (redshirt sophomores and juniors) declaring early for the draft – right around 100 to be exact – this class of hopefuls should shape up to be a great one.
Here, I add five new names to my prospect list.
By Dillon Smith – Lead NFL Draft Writer – @DillonSmithNFL
10. Derek Carr QB – Fresno State
Shattering passing records while at Fresno State was just one of many accomplishments for Carr during his tenure. He has a cannon for an arm and the physical attributes that you look for in a franchise quarterback (6ft 3in 215 lbs). With a hoard of quarterback-needy teams within the top 10 spots, Carr is almost a lock to be selected within that range.
9. Kony Ealy DE – Missouri
At the beginning of the year, there wasn’t a whole lot of buzz surrounding the Missouri defensive product. That is far from the case now that the college football season has concluded. Many scouts and evaluators have Ealy pegged somewhere in the top 10-15 range, and rightfully so as the talented defensive end has been a constant threat against opposing offenses all season. Standing at about 6ft 5in and weighing 275 lbs, Ealy has the size and athletic ability to be successful in the NFL. He is a bit raw in regards to his pass rushing moves and ability to consistently get off blocks but will develop those moves and techniques with good coaching.
8. Greg Robinson OT – Auburn
Anyone who hadn’t already heard of Robinson got an excellent look at him if they paid any attention to the BCS National Championship game between Auburn and Florida State. Against a dominant defense, Robinson was near perfect in almost all phases of the offensive game plan. Especially proficient in run blocking, using excellent leverage and explosion to drive defenders off the line, he also shows good kick-and-slide ability and strength in pass protection.
7. Anthony Barr OLB – UCLA
A lot of people talk about Barr as a top five pick and, while that is certainly okay to consider, there are some things that make me question whether he is truly as good as others think. Barr does have loads of potential, which should see him going somewhere in the top 10, but needs work on several areas of his pass rushing abilities. Several games, Barr let lineman get their hands up into his body and drive him away from the quarterback but good coaching and off-season work can fix these weaknesses.
6. CJ Mosley ILB – Alabama
Starting at a school like Alabama for the past several years has more than likely prepared Mosley in many ways as they play in what many people consider the dominant conference in all of college football, the SEC. People, including myself, are probably tired of hearing this and that about how good the SEC is, but there is no denying the impact that conference has on players moving on to the next level. Mosley is a proven leader and instinctive linebacker with good athletic ability that should be a day one started next season.
5. Khalil Mack OLB – Buffalo
A small school stud, Mack has single-handedly kept his team in many close games, such as the match against Ohio State early on in the season. The fact that an inside linebacker has the ability to fight and give his team multiple chances to pull off an epic upset over a top ranked Buckeyes team is unheard of. So many teams would kill to have a guy like Mack on their team, as he shows a great understanding of how plays will develop and using his explosiveness and strength to wrestle down ball carriers from anywhere on the field. Come May, one lucky team will have the privilege of suiting him up in their team colors for years to come.
4. Sammy Watkins WR – Clemson
Unquestionably the top receiver in this year’s draft class, Watkins is so good in so many ways that he is, in the eyes of many scouts, one of the best receivers in the past several years. Watkins is a deep threat with great hands and concentration. The Clemson product has no problems making difficult catches and shows excellent vision and burst after the catch to take it all the way for six. Wherever Watkins ends up, the quarterback will be praising the front office for making his life that much easier.
3. Jake Matthews OT – Texas A&M
The most sound offensive tackle in this group, Matthews excels at every possible dimension of being a lineman. The size and strength are there for a young prospect and he has the experience that coaches look for in a top pick. Both in pass protection and run blocking, you see Matthews show excellent technique and fundamentals that make great college players into great pro players, and look for him to become just that once drafted.
2. Teddy Bridgewater QB – Louisville
The next two spots are really interchangeable, as both of these players are deserving of the top spot. More than likely, it will come down to preference on whether you find that a potential franchise quarterback is more important than, possibly, the most gifted athlete we have seen in quite some time (spoiler on who will be number one). Bridgewater has been at the top of everyone’s big board ever since the end of last season and he has proved over the course of this year that he will remain right where he started. A definite top three pick come May, Teddy shows the maturity of an aged veteran and the passing prowess to go along with it.
1. Jadeveon Clowney DE – South Carolina
The top spot on this list goes to none other than Jadeveon Clowney. Everyone knows of Clowney from the massive, and I mean massive, hit on the Michigan running back from last year’s Outback Bowl. He had an unbelievable statistical year as well and put himself squarely in the driver’s seat for many teams as the number one overall player for this year. While he may not have had as productive a season this year as the previous one, Clowney still made his presence felt, rushing and hurrying the quarterbacks from the pocket. There are some questions about his work ethic and ability to stay in entire games but he will more than likely be ready for the pros with an off-season under the influence of NFL coaches. Whether he wants to or not, these coaches will whip him into shape in no time.