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2015 NFL DRAFT

2014 NFL Draft: Rutgers 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.

RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

NFL Draft picks the last five years: 13

2013 NFL Draft picks: 7 -- CB Logan Ryan (New England, third round), S Duron Harmon (New England, third round), LB Khaseem Greene (Chicago, fourth round), TE D.C. Jefferson (Arizona, seventh round), RB Jawan Jamison (Washington, seventh round), ILB Steve Beauharnais (New England, seventh round), CB Marcus Cooper (San Francisco, seventh round)

It was a record-breaking year for Rutgers, as seven of its own were taken in the 2013 draft. This year's group doesn't appear to be quite as deep but could certainly yeild higher selections, with junior wideout Brandon Coleman a potential top-20 talent, and senior guard Antwan Lowery looking like a guy who could compete for a starting role early in his NFL career.

Top Rutgers prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft

* Indicates underclassman

1. WR Brandon Coleman (6-5, 220, 4.59)*

A preseason third-team All-American (Sporting News) heading into his junior season, Coleman is one of college football's most dangerous scoring threats with 16 TD catches in just 26 career games. While his size is often the attribute most talked about, it's Coleman's feet that give him his biggest advantage, as he routinely defeats press coverage with an explosive first step, and then agility and quickness to surpass his opponent within the first five yards. You'd typically expect an athlete this long to struggle to redirect or shift with suddenness, but Coleman exhibits good hip-sink and flexibility to separate out of cuts and consistently create space for himself, despite lacking elite straight-line speed. Where Coleman struggles the most is really in his concentration and awareness. He'll drop a ball that hits him in the hands when there isn't a defender within 10 yards, or he'll round off a route when he doesn't have to, allowing the defender to close on the ball and knock it away. He's shown good hands and off-body catch coordination on many occasions, yet will elect to move his body in front of a throw in order to chest-trap the ball, rather than plucking it. These flaws are ones that are often cured with more experience and coaching, and considering the flashes we've seen out of Coleman, the expectation should be that he'll only improve in 2013. Coleman is an elite talent with first-round ability.

2. OG Antwan Lowery (6-4, 305, 4.96)

After switching from right guard to left guard in 2012, Lowery earned first-team ALL-BIG EAST honors, and put himself on the NFL draft map in the process. There's nothing overtly explosive about Lowery's game, but he's as sound of a technician as there is on the Rutgers offensive line, and exhibits intelligence in both facets of the offense. One of his biggest strengths is his use of arm length to establish control immediately, as he routinely gets his hands inside the chest of his opponent, and is rarely grabbed or dictated off the snap. He keeps his weight just forward enough without doubling over, sustains a wide, balanced lower half with good bend, and displays good short area quickness and agility to keep his feet moving and sliding on contact. He appears a bit heavy-footed in a straight line, but his strong initial burst enables him to get out in front as a run blocker, and be effective at the second level. Another year to build on his success could mean an early-round selection next May.

3. OL Kaleb Johnson (6-4, 300, 5.05)*

After being named to the FWAA Freshman All-American team following the 2011 season, Johnson moved from right tackle to left for his sophomore season and despite some consistency issues, held his own. Rumor has it that he has taken some reps at left guard and is being considered for the starting role there this season, with fellow junior Keith Lumpkin a candidate to take over at the blind-side tackle spot. If indeed a a move to guard does happen for Johnson, it could be a much more natural fit for him when considering that he possesses flexibility, quickness and anchoring strength, yet is limited in the amount of distance he can cover laterally -- a limitation which manifests itself most obviously in his kick-slide. He exhibits powerful, violent hands when electing punch rather than push, and can dictate a defender -- seemingly with ease -- once he has him on his heels. He displays good awareness when multiple rushers occupy his area and does a good job of transferring from one station to the next. He'll need to continue cleaning up some technical bugs such as bending his arms and giving up personal space on contact, or doubling-over at the waist when firing into defenders at the second level, and should work to do a better job of absorbing more with his knees as he'll lock up at times and rely soley on his upper half to stop momentum. All in all, Johnson has the physical and instinctive makings of an NFL lineman, and his best fit seems to be on the inside. However, the combination of having not established himself at one true position yet along with still having some significant technical improvements to make, could mean that 2014 is a year too early to come out. Then again, his lack of true position could be credited to him having great versatility, and could cause his stock to rise.

4. DE Jamil Merrell (6-3, 255, 4.83)

A first-year starter in 2012, Merrell contributed 5.5 sacks on the year, including two in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas. What's a bit misleading about the sack statistic is the fact that Merrell primarily lined up as a 3-4 end, meaning he was double-teamed often, and was rushing the gap more than he was the edge - the latter being where he would project to fit best at the next level -- so the sack total could be considered impressive in such a light. Merrell possesses long arms, an explosive first step, and agility to redirect in space. He's active and quick with his hands, constantly swatting and ripping at his opponent -- a technique that really began to yield results toward the end of last season -- and when facing an open lane, can close in a hurry. Edge technique and ideal hip flexibility are not evident as of yet, so there are a couple of things to look for this year in determining where his draft value will be next May.

Other Rutgers prospects worth watching:

FS Jeremy Deering (6-2, 210, 4.48)

A tremendous athlete who has played running back, wide receiver and even quarterback in his time at Rutgers, and now undertakes the safety position as a senior. One of the nation's best kick returners in 2011, averaging 31.4 yards per attempt. Could this be the year he solidifies himself at a position, and can he turn the heads of NFL scouts in the process?

TE/FB/HB Paul Carrezola (6-2, 240, 4.88)

Fifth-year senior who has seem majority of action as a lead-blocker, but with D.C. Jefferson departing for the NFL, has an opportunity to show off his pass-catching ability in a more traditional tight end role. Versatility could be his ticket to an NFL roster.

OLB Jamal Merrell (6-3, 220, 4.67)

Long, athletic 'backer -- and twin brother of Jamil -- who plays well in the box, but will need to show this year that he can be more instinctive and rangy against the pass.

C Dallas Hendrikson (6-2, 295)

Tough, smart center who missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL but rebounded to have a good year in 2012. Will get overpowered off the snap due to inactive feet at times, and appears limited when asked to slide laterally. A true center who will need to improve technically to draw a selection next year.

DT Isaac Holmes (6-3, 275)

Quick, athletic lineman who missed eight games due to injury last season, after showing some promise in 2011.

DE Marcus Thompson (6-2, 260, 4.64)

Speedy, athletic end who appeared in all 13 games last season, with 2.5 tackles for loss, two QB hurries and a half sack.

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