2015 NFL DRAFT

2014 Draft: Louisville Cardinals preview

By Derek Stephens | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

In preparation for the 2014 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile
the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series
will run until the start of the college football season.

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Following a year in which it failed to produce a single NFL draft selection, Louisville enters the 2013 season -- and the new American Athletic Conference -- as perhaps the most loaded team in the conference in terms of NFL talent. Junior QB Teddy Bridgewater, senior ILB Preston Brown and senior safety Hakeem Smith head the 2014 draft crop.

NFL Draft picks the past five years: 6

2013 NFL Draft picks: 0

Top Louisville prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft:

1. QB Teddy Bridgewater (6-3, 220, 4.65)*

Bridgewater led the Cardinals to a Big East Championship in 2012,
completing 68.5 percent of his passes for 3,718 yards and a 27-to-8 touchdown-to-interceptions ratio, and eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark six times.

What might have been most impressive was the display of strong pocket
presence and a "pass first" instinct despite great mobility and natural
athleticism for the position. He routinely moved through progressions, stayed calm under pressure and exhibited a natural feel for when to slide in the pocket without bailing. There were certainly instances when he held the ball too long and could have put his legs to use earlier in the play, but anytime a young quarterback's natural tendency is to exhaust every option through the air before running, you have a guy who should have a much easier transition to the pro game than perhaps, a guy with athleticism or a big arm but who has
minimal pocket presence. Mechanically, Bridgewater exhibits a fluid drop, light feet and a quick release, but needs to improve the consistency with which he sets his feet before throwing, as he'll tend to throw off balance when he doesn't need to, and will sail the ball as a result.

He possesses plenty of arm, can make all the NFL throws, shows good
accuracy and timing when leading his receiver, and combines a tight spiral with
good touch when asked to drop the ball on a target. His long accuracy could improve. In terms of reading defenses, Bridgewater seems to anticipate defender movement well, but from time to time will lock onto his first target off the snap and then struggle to decipher information quickly enough to catch up on his progressions and find an open target. Bridgewater is already being mentioned as a potential No. 1 overall selection in 2014, and considering the strides he took in 2012 and assuming he's able to continue to build off of them, this shouldn't be considered far-fetched should he decide to declare as a junior.

2. ILB Preston Brown (6-2, 255, 4.75)

Brown earned second team ALL-BIG EAST accolades in 2012 compiling 109
total tackles, including six double-digit performances and a career high of 17
tackles against South Florida. He's a stoutly-built athlete but possesses a dynamic first-step for his size, and displays explosiveness downhill when closing on the line of scrimmage. He's an extremely physical but fundamentally-sound tackler who prides himself on tackling hard and violent. He recognizes and anticipates the run well, particularly between the tackles, and is an effective angler when pursuing the run to the outside. Where
he struggles is when asked to stop and redirect, as he simply lacks suddenness
and comes off as a bit stiff when moving laterally. His hips are slow to flip when committing to the sideline from a backpedal, so he has to take wider, deeper angles than
you'd like to see. He does exhibit decent instincts when asked to drop into short zone, reading the quarterback's eyes and anticipating where the ball will be, while maintaining a feel for what's going on around and behind him. NFL teams love physical, tough defenders like Brown, but to be among the top linebackers selected in next year's draft, he'll need to demonstrate better overall range, and more explosive movement in space, this season.

3. S Hakeem Smith (6-1, 188, 4.58)

Smith enters his senior year a three-year starter and three-time ALL-BIG
EAST safety. He's listed a bit light for the position and may need to bulk up, but has been able to balance physical play with good decision-making and fundamentals, and has proven thus far to be durable. He possesses a naturally explosive first step to close on plays in front of him, and uses his length well to disrupt throws as they arrive.
Over the top, he exhibits fluid hips in transition, tracks the ball well, and attacks the ball at the high point. Already a top-10 safety prospect heading into the season, he could find
himself in top-5 company by draft day, if he can show improvement in terms of
finishing more plays with turnovers, as he has been more apt to break up passes
thanvsnatch them away (1 career INT). Smith is a smart, well-rounded safety who gives you a good balance of run support and strong coverage, and will no doubt be auditioning for an early-round selection next May.

4. WR DeVonte Parker, (6-2, 205, 4.57)*

Parker's 744 yards and 10 TD receptions as a sophomore not only earned
him first-team ALL-BIG EAST honors, but also put him on the radar of draftniks
nationwide, as a potential top-tier WR prospect for 2014. He's still raw in some areas, but possesses a combination of size and athleticism that scouts drool over, and beyond the
phyisical traits, exhibits impressive natural pass-catching ability.

Coming off the line, he utilizes quick feet to evade press with a jab-step,
and once clear of his opponent, exhibits a second gear to separate. He locates and tracks the ball well vertically and displays good body control when asked to adjust in mid-air to passes
thrown off his frame. His hands are naturally soft, making a concerted effort often to secure the ball away from his body, and shows good awareness and concentration to complete the sideline catch. To take another step this season, he'll need to show that he can be more
physical at the line and not rely solely on his feet to beat the jam, and he'll
especially need to pay more attention to detail as a route runner, as he has a
tendency to slow into his breaks or round off. Should Parker be able to show improvement in these areas, he'll certainly put himself in position to have a tough choice to make when draft season rolls around.

5. DE Marcus Smith (6-3, 252, 4.77)

A former quarterback and then linebacker, Smith made the move to defensive
end in 2011 and posted a team-leading 5.5 sacks that year, followed by a junior
campaign in '12 where he racked up another four, and led the team with seven
tackles for loss. He's proven to be versatile in the process, rushing as a stand-up linebacker, a down defensive end, and even from the interior D-line in nickel situations. His first step off the snap is explosive, and he does a good job of getting his arms extended to create space.

He possesses surprising drive-power on contact, often pushing back far
bigger opponents, and collapsing the pocket with a bull rush. Off the edge, while he lacks a repertoire of moves to routinely clear the corner, his speed and natural explosiveness are apparent and should continue to provide him opportunities to disrupt. While he's known
mostly for his pass-rush, he's surprisingly instinctive against the run as well
and has shown a knack for penetrating and bottling the runner. Smith is raw and
still relatively new to the defensive side of the football, and could certainly
draw interest from NFL teams in need of versatile situational edge-rushers, if
he can continue to show improvement.

Other Prospects Worth Watching:

WR Damian Copeland (6-0, 183, 4.43)

Injury sidelined him for pretty much all of 2011, but he came back to start
all 13 games and lead the team in receptions (50) last season. Impressive
size/speed combo.

C Kamran Joyner (6-2, 283)

Quick, athletic and versatile G/C, who's career has been marred by
injuries. Has appeared in only seven games over three seasons, despite possessing enough talent to warrant looks from NFL teams.

OT Jamon Brown (6-5, 337, 5.32)*

Technically raw, highly inconsistent lineman who started all 13 games last season at right tackle. Flashes impressive athleticism and raw power. With refinement, has potential to be special. Former defensive tackle.

FB B.J. Butler (6-2, 272, 4.87)

Extremely versatile athlete who did a little bit of everything last season, lining up at DE (12 tackles 1 sack), TE (2 catches, 43 yards), and then started at fullback in the Sugar Bowl.

RB Senorise Perry (6-0, 203, 4.57)

Compiled 705 yards rushing (5.2 yards-per-carry average) and 10 TDs over 10 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury in '12.

 
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