Oregon State "only" had two players selected in the 2014 NFL Draft but while the quantity was limited, wideout Brandin Cooks and defensive end Scott Crichton certainly provided the quality.
Prior to Cooks' selection by the New Orleans Saints with the 20th pick, the last OSU Beaver to get selected in the first round came 10 years ago, when the St. Louis Rams nabbed star running back Steven Jackson at No. 24 overall. The 2004 draft was the last time in which two Beavers were among the first 75 picks (DL Dwan Edwards selected No. 51 by Baltimore), as was the case in May with Crichton getting picked No. 72 overall by Minnesota.
The Beavers may lack the pure athleticism and depth of their in-state rival but scouts appreciate the easy projections that former San Diego Chargers' head coach Mike Riley brings to the program. His pro-style principles on the offensive and defensive side of the ball consistently produce quality prospects - a pattern which will certainly continue in 2015 with a returning star at quarterback and two all-conference picks perhaps on the verge of national recognition.
Oregon State's top NFL Draft-eligible prospects to watch in 2014:
1. QB Sean Mannion, RS Senior (6-5 | 220 | 4.94 | #4)
Reportedly given a third round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee after a record-breaking junior season, Mannion elected to return to Corvalis for a final year of college football before joining former Riley pupils Derek Anderson, Matt Moore and Sean Canfield in the NFL.
Mannion is similar in many ways to Anderson and Canfield. He sports an NFL-caliber frame, has the arm to make every throw and is a classic drop-back passer with limited mobility. When he feels secure in the pocket and has the time to step into his throws correctly, Mannion's touch on intermediate and vertical passes is as impressive as any quarterback in the country. He lofts the ball with perfect trajectory over the shoulder of his receivers and allows them to go get it, demonstrating pinpoint accuracy to lead his target away from defenders.
Mannion has an easy, natural throwing motion and he's well-versed in Riley's pro-style offense, which asks him to take snaps from under center as well as from the gun. While he can drive the ball when needed, it cruises, rather than explodes out of his hand. The result is that Mannion's passes look effort-less but there is some question as to whether he has the top-notch velocity to significantly boost his stock this season.
Where Mannion can improve is poise under pressure. Mannion is intelligent and typically is able to read defenses prior to the snap. When he's fooled and his primary read is taken away, he has a tendency to drop back further into the pocket, rather than stepping up. Mannion is willing to absorb a hit to complete the pass, but too often does so while falling back (rather than stepping into his passes), erasing some of the zip and accuracy from his throws.
Mannion's production (and Riley's track record) speak for themselves. He threw for a Pac-12 record 4,662 passing yards last season, including a school record 37 touchdowns. He's entering his fourth season as the starter and is a three-time team captain.
2. OC Isaac Seumalo, Junior (6-3 | 305 | 5.14 | #56)
While his quarterback gets most of the attention, the Beavers' top NFL prospect may very well wind up being Seumalo, the man who snaps the ball to Mannion. Possessing a squatty, powerful frame prototypical for playing in the trenches, Seumalo (pronounced Say-u-mah-low) is entering his third season as a starter after getting thrust into the starting role as a true freshman in 2012.
He possesses good quickness off the snap and plays on the balls of his feet with knees bent, allowing him to efficiently shuffle laterally to handle athletic rushers as well as anchor against power. He turns and seals defenders from the action efficiently and shows impressive speed and agility in the open field for a center. Seumalo also has earned kudos from the coaching staff for his selflessness, as indicated by his willingness to switch to right tackle for two games last season as injuries mounted along Oregon State's offensive line.
3. CB Steven Nelson, Senior (5-11 | 192 | 4.53 | #2)
Nelson signed with Oregon State as a celebrated JUCO transfer after an impressive tour of duty at the College of the Sequoias where he registered 71 tackles, 19 passes broken up and six interceptions in two seasons. Nelson wasted little time proving a fit with the Beavers, earning a starting role almost immediately and setting an OSU record with four interceptions in the first four games of the 2013 season, including a game-winning pick-six with 2:31 remaining against San Diego State.
Nelson has a broad build for a cornerback and he uses his size and aggressive hands well to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. He is too aggressive, at times, fighting with receivers as they go downfield but doesn't rely on his hands to cover due to the fact that he is a fluid athlete, who turns efficiently and accelerates smoothly. Nelson has a second-gear to close when the ball is in the air and shows excellent hand-eye coordination to make the tough interception, turning six of his 14 passes defensed a year ago into turnovers. Nelson plays the run well also, aggressively fighting through blockers and taking on bigger ball-carriers with no hesitation. He breaks down patiently and makes ball-carriers commit before closing efficiently to make the physical wrap-up tackle.
Pac-12 quarterbacks may have greater success against Nelson with a year to learn his tendencies but his debut in the conference was impressive, earning him honorable mention honors. If the press-corner can duplicate his success in 2014, he'll earn better recognition from media and the NFL, alike.
Other Oregon State prospects worth watching:
TE Connor Hamlett, RS Senior (6-7 | 263 | 4.82 | #89)
Despite two separate knee injuries limiting his throughout the 2013 season, Hamlett caught 40 passes for 364 yards and five touchdowns. Healthy and with OSU needing weapons to pick up the slack with Cooks' departure, he could be in for a monster senior campaign. Hamlett offers extraordinary size and soft hands. He isn't as physical at the point of attack as his size would indicate and is more of a short-yardage security blanket rather than a seam threat.
WR Richard Mullaney, RS Junior (6-3 | 194 | 4.65 | #8)
Mullaney is nowhere near the athlete that Cooks (or former OSU standout Markus Wheaton) are but his height, superb hands and experience should help him emerge as the Beavers' top receiver in 2014. Mullaney tracks the ball well, showing good hand-eye coordination and body control to haul in tough grabs while getting hit. He has functional quickness and speed and uses size, hand strength and precise route-running to get off the line of scrimmage and gain separation.
DE Dylan Wynn, Senior (6-2 | 260 | 4.92 | #45)
While Crichton generated all of the buzz, Wynn quietly led the Beavers' defensive linemen with 67 tackles a season ago. Wynn doesn't possess an ideal build but he's very strong, surprisingly quick and plays with a relentless motor.
OLB Michael Doctor, RS Senior (5-11 | 226 | 4.64 | #40)
Doctor missed all but the opening snaps of the 2013 season due to a hairline fracture in his foot suffered against Hawaii. He is a speedy and productive Will linebacker who returns as the team's active leader with 172 career tackles. Doctor's size limitations are an obvious concern but he's instinctive and tough and could surprise as a special teams' demon.