The 2014 NFL Draft is still over three months away, but with most of the all-star circuit in the rearview, the draft process is picking up steam. After countless hours of tape and in-person scouting, I put together my initial top-50 draft board of the season. This will fluctuate somewhat throughout the process, especially after the interview process at the NFL combine, but not much.
It was tough to leave certain players off this first list (like Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde and Furman OL Dakota Dozier), but below are 50 impressive prospects for the next level.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (6-feet-2, 205 pounds, Jr.): Yes, his slender frame isn't ideal and his deep ball accuracy needs work. But Bridgewater succeeds with his mobility, arm talent and efficient ability above the neck. He is a pro-style passer who is grounded, mature and has shown the ability to easily digest information.
2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (6-5, 274, Jr.): A freak athlete with a very high NFL ceiling, Clowney has an explosive first step and accelerates quickly up the field to effectively disrupt the offensive game plan. The effort concerns are real, but the potential and natural talent make the risk worth it.
3. Gregory Robinson, OT, Auburn (6-5, 320, rSoph.): A two-year starter at left tackle, Robinson is an impressive athlete for his large frame with the quickness, agility and overall body control to cover a large area. His pass protection is still developing, but he is a devastating run blocker with a mean punch.
4. Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo (6-3, 248 rSr.): A versatile, relentless pass rusher, Mack was extremely productive in college and holds several career NCAA records, including forced fumbles (16) and tackles for loss (75). He is always around the ball with his combination of speed, power and awareness.
5. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (6-5, 305, Sr.): Probably the "safest" prospect in this class, Matthews started three seasons at right tackle before moving to the left side in 2013. He is a technically sound blocker with good quickness and balance to protect the pocket against speed and hold up in space.
6. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (6-4, 248, Sr.): A former running back, Barr moved to pass rusher last season and excelled for the Bruins, totaling 41½ tackles for loss the past two seasons. He needs to refine some technical aspects of his game, but his speed and strength off the edge are exciting.
7. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (6-1, 205, Jr.): Watkins set several Clemson and ACC records over the past three years and is an exciting player to watch when he has the ball. He needs some polish in a few areas, but he has above-average vision and acceleration and projects as a borderline WR1/WR2 in the NFL.
8. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina (6-4, 245, Jr.): A wide receiver in a tight end's body, Ebron is a freakish athlete with the ability to make highlight-reel catches look easy. He is a work in progress as a blocker and will drop some easy ones, but his fluid athleticism and playmaking ability at the position are near elite.
9. Blake Bortles, QB, UCF (6-3, 230, rJr.): From both a physical and mental standpoint, Bortles is the most intriguing quarterback in this draft class. He needs some time to refine his talent and continue to develop, but he has a full toolbox and flashes plays reminiscent of Andrew Luck as a prospect.
10. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (6-5, 225, rSoph.): A physical, imposing target, Evans was Johnny Manziels' No. 1 target and safety valve in College Station the past two seasons. He isn't the fastest or most fluid athlete, but he boxes out defenders and has a large catching radius to dominate at the catch point.
11. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama (6-1, 208, Jr.): A rangy, fluid athlete, Clinton-Dix covers a lot of ground against both the pass and the run and projects to either safety spot. He has the aggressive nature to attack ballcarriers and shows the read/react quickness to diagnose and take accurate angles in coverage.
12. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (6-7, 315, rSr.): A four-year starter, Lewan has a wide, athletic base and plays with the nasty demeanor you want at the position. He needs to keep his emotions under control on the football field and play with more consistency, but he has all the tools to start at left tackle in the NFL.
13. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame (6-2, 345, rJr.): An athletic nose tackle, Nix has monster ability, consistently making plays behind, up and down the line of scrimmage. A knee injury contributed to an up-and-down 2013 season, but he is very active for his size and a double-team magnet -- his impact doesn't always show in the box score.
14. Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville (6-2, 208, Jr.): A heat-seeking missile in the secondary, Pryor has strength and wraps and drives through his target with violence. He will freelance too much at times, but he displays the athleticism and fluid change of motion to hold up in the deep half of the field.
15. C.J. Mosley, OLB/ILB, Alabama (6-2, 232, Sr.): Mosley is a smart, assignment-sound player who was the leader of the Alabama defense. He doesn't play a sexy position, but has an accurate first step with a consistently disciplined approach to the game, playing at the same speed and temperament on each snap.
16. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida (6-0, 195, Jr.): A fearless, confident cover corner, Roberson battled through several injuries in 2013, most notably a left knee issue. But when healthy, he has the footwork, movement skills and competitive nature to blanket receivers along with the instincts to make plays on the ball.
17. Zack Martin, G, Notre Dame (6-4, 305, rSr.): The top prospect at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., this year, Martin manned left tackle the past four years at Notre Dame, but he projects best inside where he could be a future Pro Bowl performer. Martin keeps his frame square and low with the foot quickness to mirror and strong hands to punch.
18. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (6-0, 200, Sr.): After a sensational sophomore season, Gilbert had a rocky junior year, but bounced back nicely this past season as a senior. He has a tall, long frame with the long-stride quickness to hang with receivers down the field, adding value as an impact kickoff return man.
19. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech (6-5, 260, Jr.): Amaro played more of a slot receiver position in college and projects as a joker tight end at the next level. He has room to get stronger and mature both physically and emotionally, but his speed and toughness project well to the next level.
20. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State (5-11, 197, Sr.): The 2013 winner of the Thorpe Award, Dennard has average speed and size for the position, but he is smart, competitive and confident. If he can cut down on the downfield contact, Dennard has a chance to be a very good cover man in the NFL for a long time.
21. Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State (6-1, 243, rJr.): The top defender from an underrated Sun Devils defense, Bradford is an intense and energetic rusher who finds a way to get to the quarterback. He has some tweener traits and won't fit every defense, but he has the initial quickness and power to be effective as a stand-up rusher.
22. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri (6-5, 275, rJr.): A good-sized athlete with plus length, Ealy displays smooth acceleration off the edge and bends the arc very well. He is still a tad raw with ball awareness, but he is a forceful striker with the NFL tools to line up inside or outside at the next level.
23. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (6-1, 288, Sr.): Although he lacks ideal measureables, Donald has an explosive first step with relentless energy from snap through the whistle. He uses his natural leverage and quick hands to fight through blocks and projects best as an impact three-technique in a four-man front.
24. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State (6-2, 230, Jr.): One of the few bright spots on an inconsistent Ohio State defense, Shazier finished his 2013 season with 143 total tackles and 22½ tackles for loss. He lacks ideal bulk and has some discipline issues, but his blend of explosive quickness and initial strength is awesome.
25. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (6-2, 215, rSr.): David Carr's little brother, Derek has top-shelf arm strength with the ability to make every NFL throw needed. His issues with pressure and footwork are easy to see, but he is ultracompetitive with enough size and mobility to start at the NFL level.
26. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State (6-3, 210, Jr.): A fluid, flexible athlete for his larger frame, Robinson was extremely productive the past two seasons and leaves Penn State with several school receiving records. He needs to eliminate the drops, but he is physical with the deceptive acceleration to be a dangerous catch-and-go target.
27. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State (6-3, 265, rJr.): Crichton has a powerful first step with impressive initial momentum to attack blockers and bully them backward like a battering ram. He lacks ideal fluidity, but has some lower body explosion with a nonstop relentless motor to finish plays with hustle and motivation.
28. Cyrus Kouandijio, OT, Alabama (6-5, 310, Jr.): The Tide's left tackle the past two seasons, Kouandjio looks the part with plus athleticism, but needs to refine his discipline and pay attention to the fundamentals. He moves well and has the length and overall reach to be a reliable NFL starter if he learns some consistency.
29. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU (5-10, 176, Sr.): Although undersized with good but not great speed, Verrett is a feisty and physical player with ballhawking read/react quickness. He is ideally suited to be an inside corner with his swivel hips and physical nature to cover slot receivers and be reliable vs. the run.
30. Brandin, Cooks, WR, Oregon State (5-10, 186, Jr.): A receiver with joystick athleticism, Cooks has lightning-fast feet and jitterbug quickness to create separation and do something after the catch. He will have some drops with his smaller hands, but Cooks seems to be moving at a different speed than everyone else on the field.
31. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (6-3, 244, Sr.): The type of player who scratches and crawls his way to the ballcarrier, Van Noy is twitchy off the snap with smooth hips and footwork in space. He needs to get stronger and continue to develop his pass-rush moves, but he can do a lot of things, not just rush the pocket.
32. Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame (6-6, 270, Jr.): The best blocking tight end in this class, Niklas is a former defensive lineman who is still developing on offense. He is a long, lumbering athlete in the Kyle Rudolph mold, but still has room to develop as a receiver with his route running and ballskills.
33. Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn (6-2, 243, Sr.): An athletic edge rusher, Ford has explosive quickness with natural bend, acceleration and flexibility to get around blockers with natural speed. He has some fit questions, but he does a nice job staying low and attacking the body of blockers or bursting around them.
34. Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA (6-3, 305, Jr.): Su'a-Filo lined up at left guard and left tackle this past season for the Bruins and played consistently well for the Bruins' productive offense. He gets himself in trouble when he overextends himself, but he is an easy bender with a strong base to engage at the point of attack.
35. LaMarcus Joyner, FS, Florida State (5-8, 190, Sr.): Despite his height, Joyner is the type of player who is impossible to ignore because of the way he jumps off the tape. His lack of size will show up in man coverage and run support, but he plays fast and decisive with a violent attitude, projecting him to a nickel role.
36. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee (6-6, 327, Jr.): A heavy waist bender who gets lazy at times, Richardson has exciting potential because of his wide base, stout frame and vines for arms. His inconsistent technique makes it tough for him to sustain, but if he irons out the wrinkles, Richardson has a high NFL ceiling.
37. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida (6-2, 285, Sr.): Easley has battled several injuries over his career, most recently an ACL that sidelined him for most of 2013. But when healthy, he has a sudden first step to attack gaps before blockers can set up with the natural athleticism to track and finish at the ballcarrier.
38. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (6-0, 210, rSoph.): A magician at quarterback, Manziel has the arm strength, competitive spirit and natural instincts that make him an exciting football player. But his decision-making and durability are strong question marks, making his transition to the NFL difficult to predict.
39. Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California (6-0, 195, Jr.): Lee set several Trojans records over his career and is a fun player to watch with the ball. He does have some medical concerns with his knee and will have his share of drops, but Lee has cat-like quickness to get open and create as a ballcarrier.
40. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech (6-0, 194, Sr.): A versatile defensive back, Fuller is aggressive and smart and the game appears to come natural to him. He is an inconsistent tackler and needs to stay healthy, but he has the smooth hips, transition skills and ball skills to be a NFL starter at cornerback.
41. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU (5-11, 193, JR): With two of the strongest hands in this draft, Landry has big mitts to secure grabs and make the tough catches look easy. He's not an elite size/speed athlete, but he is a disciplined route runner with above-average body control, ball skills and competitiveness.
42. Odell Beckham, WR, LSU (6-0, 195, Jr.): An impact return man on special teams, Beckham is a speedy, smooth athlete who has improved his hands and route running since he arrived in Baton Rouge. He shows very good shake-and-burst out of his cuts with a large catching radius to elevate and attack the ball.
43. David Yankey, G, Stanford (6-5, 314, rJr.): A three-year starter at left guard, Yankey shows very good initial surge with natural explosion in his lower body to overwhelm defenders. He is a natural athlete and active puller with good coordination to square up his target on the move and open holes at the second level.
44. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (6-6, 318, rSr.): A tall, well-built athlete, Hageman moves well for his size with range to make plays up and down the line of scrimmage. He pops too high off the snap and lacks overpowering strength, but he's at his best when he controls his leverage and length, maybe best fitting at the five-technique.
45. Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois (5-11, 191, Sr.): The top senior safety on the board, Ward is a versatile defensive back with cornerback movement skills and the physical mentality of a safety. He takes aggressive, confident angles in zone, but also shows the feet and athleticism to play tight in man coverage.
46. Billy Turner, G, North Dakota State (6-5, 316, rSr.): The starting left tackle for three-time FCS champions, Turner has quick feet and natural body control to hold his own in space and combo blocks. If he can learn to sink his hips and not bend so much at the waist, he has Pro Bowls in his future, probably best inside at guard.
47. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State (6-2, 298, Jr.): Jernigan is a flexible, bendy athlete for an interior lineman who is a tough guy to slow down when he wins off the snap. He needs to improve his hand use to shed and combat blockers, but when all the cylinders are firing, Jernigan can be tough to handle.
48. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State (6-5, 235, rSoph.): A tall, long athlete, Benjamin is a large target with his huge catching radius to use his long arms to pluck the ball from the sky. He is still unrefined as a route runner and needs to better finish plays, but his size, athleticism and length make him an intriguing prospect.
49. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington (6-6, 276, Jr.): Seferian-Jenkins looks the part and has the athleticism and blocking ability to potentially be the top all-around tight end in this class. He showed minimal improvement over his college career and needs to add more glass to his diet and put in the work to reach his full potential.
50. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (5-11, 192, rJr.): Despite a forgettable 2013 season, Roby has the impressive speed and swivel hips that can't be taught. But his lack of height and length along with streaky technique and awareness make him a work in progress and a player in need of hard-nosed defensive coaching.