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Big Board: Big year for QBs should underclassmen come out

by | NFLDraftScout.com
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Could Tajh Boyd be the next Russell Wilson? (USATSI)
Could Tajh Boyd be the next Russell Wilson? (USATSI)

The Buffalo Bills made former Florida State star EJ Manuel the only quarterback selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, but this year's class could prove a bumper crop at the premier position should a number of underclassmen choose to leave early for the pros.

Louisville junior Teddy Bridgewater has dominated the discussion to this point, but scouts are already salivating about a quartet of redshirt sophomores who could crash the party. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel certainly has the buzz appeal to intrigue every NFL team, but scouts are just as excited about the potential of three Pac-12 stars - UCLA's Brett Hundley, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Stanford's Kevin Hogan.

The Big Board isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or the projected selection order. It is simply a ranking of the 32 best prospects potentially eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.

1. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (6-6, 268, 4.65)* -- Three tackles, including two for loss and a sack of Aaron Murray should quiet some of Clowney's critics. But with the bar set so high due to his preseason hype, he's going to have a hard time living up to his billing. Clowney is a difference-maker in the mold of Julius Peppers and Mario Williams, but he could fall lower than expected on draft day should the team with the first pick be in need of a franchise quarterback.

2. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (6-3, 220, 4.65)* -- Through two games, Bridgewater's statistics are sparkling. He only has 14 incompletions and perhaps the only things more impressive than his 9:1 touchdown to interception ratio are Bridgewater's talent and poise. The competition jumps in Week Three against Kentucky, however.

3. OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (6-5, 305, 5.14) -- All eyes will be on Manziel and how well Alabama is able to contain him, but an important storyline scouts will be following is Matthews' play at left tackle against the Tide's talented defense. Matthews enjoyed a strong effort a year ago against Alabama, but that was at right tackle. The son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews will be making just his third start of his collegiate career at left tackle against Nick Saban's bunch.

4. OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA (6-4, 238, 4.73) -- As the No. 5 pick of the 2013 NFL draft, Ziggy Ansah showed just what a breakout season can do for a pass-rusher. Barr, a former running back, exploded onto the Pac-12 last year to the tune of 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. He started the 2013 campaign just as he left off, recording two tackles for loss among his five stops against Nevada but faces a much more talented opponent this weekend at Nebraska.

5. OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama (6-5, 312, 5.12)* -- Some questioned the wisdom of moving Barrett Jones from left tackle (where he'd won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the SEC's best lineman) to center in 2012. The reason for the switch was Kouandjio, a physically-blessed athlete who some have compared to former Redskins' Pro Bowler Chris Samuels, the No. 3 overall pick out of Alabama in 2000.

6. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan (6-7, 310, 5.04) -- Possessing an incredible combination of size and athletic ability, Lewan has earned comparisons to former Michigan standout Jake Long throughout his career with the Wolverines. Lewan played well versus Notre Dame and the Irish's talented defensive line in Michigan's impressive Week Two victory.

7. DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame (6-3, 326, 5.17)* -- Possessing broad shoulders, a thick lower half and surprisingly quick feet, Nix III is a classic run-stuffer with enough burst and determination to threaten the pocket, as well.

8. WR Marqise Lee, Southern Cal (6-0, 195, 4.51)* -- The reigning Biletnikof winner as the nation's top receiver, Lee possesses extraordinary agility and burst, making him a threat to score every time he touches the ball. With the Trojans lacking experience at quarterback, however, Lee won't duplicate his prior success in 2013. Through two games, including a shocking home loss to Washington State, Lee has caught 15 passes for just 131 yards (8.7 average) and has not yet scored.

9. CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State (5-11, 190, 4.42)* -- The Buckeyes used to churn out first round defensive backs annually. Roby, who possesses spectacular straight-line speed and quick hands, will renew the tradition. A year ago, Roby impressed in a showdown against then-Cal star Keenan Allen. He'll get a second chance to star against the Bears on Saturday.

10. QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson (6-1, 225, 4.68) -- Less-than-ideal size will always bring some detractors but critics are finding it tougher to identify flaws in Boyd's game after leading the Tigers to stirring victories against LSU and Georgia in his past two games. A true dual-threat quarterback, Boyd is earning comparisons to Pro Bowlers Russell Wilson and the late Steve McNair from scouts.

11. OLB C.J. Mosley, Alabama (6-2, 232, 4.56) -- Athletic and instinctive, Mosley is a true three-down linebacker capable of making plays against the run and pass. He's among the best all-around football players in what appears to be a much stronger 2014 draft class but his lack of elite size could keep him out of the top 10. Expected to serve in a bit of a "spy" role against Manziel, Mosley will be one of the more fascinating evaluations for scouts in Week Three.

12. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (6-1, 200, 4.49)* -- It was Watkins, not USC's Lee, who was the more impressive pass-catcher as a freshman but injuries and suspension led to a disappointing sophomore campaign for the Clemson star while Lee won the Biletnikof Award. Possessing a rare combination of size and athleticism, Watkins looks poised to rebound in 2013.

13. QB Brett Hundley, UCLA (6-3, 227, 4.68)* -- The turnaround last season at UCLA was dramatic and scouts attribute much of it to the rapid development of Hundley, who completed 66.6 percent of his passes with 29 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. It would be a surprise to see Hundley -- or any of the other highly regarded redshirt sophomore quarterbacks -- leave early for the NFL, but there is no denying where his future lies.

14. DT Anthony Johnson, LSU (6-3, 305, 5.29)* -- Four former Bayou Bengals have heard their name called in the first round since 2008. Johnson will have his work cut out for him with Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery in the NFL but his prototypical blend of size, power and athleticism makes him a strong bet to continue LSU's dominance along the defensive line.

15. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon (6-3, 214, 4.52)* -- Boasting a skill-set that is already drawing comparisons to 49ers star Colin Kaepernick, Mariota is quickly proving that he's far from simply a product of Oregon's fast-paced offense. Scouts can't wait to see how he'll fare against Tennessee, which visits Eugene on Saturday.

16. OT Cameron Erving, Florida State (6-5, 310, 5.26)* -- Erving played in 13 games as a redshirt freshman defensive tackle but looked like a natural when moved to left tackle a season ago. Long, balanced and athletic, he offers immense upside.

17. OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU (6-3, 235, 4.67) -- While Ziggy Ansah received most of the hype at BYU, Van Noy was far and away the more consistent defender, registering an eye-popping 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions and two blocked kicks. He was similarly productive in the Cougars' 2013 opener against Virginia (four tackles, including 2.5 for loss), as well as BYU's win over Texas (eight tackles, sack).

18. OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee (6-6, 332, 5.16)* -- Nicknamed "Tiny," Richardson and his game proved anything but last season at left tackle for the Vols. Richardson is certainly a bit raw after just one season of starting action but he's shockingly smooth for a man of his size.

19. OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor (6-5, 335, 5.27) -- A dominating drive blocker who projects best at guard but spent the entire 2011 season protecting Robert Griffin III at left tackle, Richardson is massive, powerful and shockingly athletic.

20. CB Jason Verrett, TCU (5-10, 182, 4.49) -- Verrett lacks the size so en vogue in today's NFL but agility and ball-skills never go out of style for cornerbacks. Verrett led the Big 12 with 22 passes defended and six interceptions in 2012. He fared well against LSU in the 2013 season opener (seven tackles, three passes broken up, sack) and shut out Texas Tech wideout Eric Ward, who had caught at least one pass in 27 consecutive games before matching up with Verrett Sept. 12.

21. OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (6-2, 226, 4.58)* -- Shazier may be 10-15 pounds lighter than scouts would prefer but his instincts, speed and bone-jarring hits make him a fearful defender that offenses must account for on every snap.

22. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State (6-1, 288, 4.79) -- Sutton is undeniably smaller than scouts would prefer, but he uses his natural leverage advantage well, slicing through gaps to terrorize opponents. Sutton led the Pac-12 in both tackles for loss (23.5) and sacks (13) in 2012. Scouts will be watching Sutton closely when Wisconsin's massive offensive line visits Tempe on Sept. 14.

23. DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State (6-2, 298, 4.98)* -- Losing productive pass-rushers Bjoern Werner, Cornelius Carradine and Brandon Jenkins to the NFL is certainly going to hurt the Seminoles but Jernigan's explosive hands make him a terror up the middle.

24. DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota (6-6, 312, 4.98) -- The Golden Gophers haven't enjoyed a first round NFL talent since the Patriots nabbed running back Lawrence Maroney in 2006, but that is precisely the sort of buzz the Minneapolis native is generating. The preseason First Team All-Big Ten defensive tackle has eight tackles, including two for loss and a blocked kick that was returned for a touchdown over his first two games.

25. DL Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame (6-5, 303, 4.89)* -- Despite linebacker Manti Te'o and nose guard Louis Nix III generating most of the attention, Tuitt was a standout last season. Reportedly as much as 20 pounds heavier this year, Tuitt hasn't been as impressive in 2013. He recorded an interception against Michigan, but was otherwise blanked by the Wolverines' experienced offensive tackles, Lewan and Michael Schofield.

26. OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo (6-3, 248, 4.66) -- With an eye-popping 56 tackles for loss, 18 sacks and 11 forced fumbles already on his resume entering the 2013 season, rest assured that scouts knew Mack well. Proving that his instincts and big play proficiency could stand up when facing Ohio State (9.5 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown), however, has Mack's stock soaring.

27. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa (6-6, 265, 4.65) -- A throw-back tight end capable of dominating opponents as both a blocker and receiver, Fiedorowicz (pronounced feh-DOR-uh-wits) may lack in name recognition and production (five catches, including one touchdown in Iowa's first two games) but not in talent.

28. OLB Adrian Hubbard, Alabama (6-5, 252, 4.76)* -- Hubbard is the next Crimson Tide star on defense to keep an eye on. The lanky pass-rusher recorded 10 tackles for loss, six sacks and three forced fumbles in a breakout sophomore campaign and could be on the verge of much bigger things. His length, athleticism and versatility (lines up as a DE, OLB) is even more intriguing than his statistics, to this point.

29. TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina (6-4, 245, 4.67)* -- A highly athletic and versatile prospect who stars not only as a matchup nightmare and powerful in-line blocker but as an occasional defensive end, as well, Ebron could leap to the top of the tight end class with more consistency in 2013.

30. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington (6-6, 267, 4.75)* -- A two-sport star for the Huskies (football, basketball), ASJ provides a unique combination of size, overall athleticism and ball-skills, making him a true mismatch for opponents. His 2013 debut won't occur until a showdown with Illinois at Soldier Field September 14 as he was suspended for the Huskies' season-opening win over Boise State for an off-season DUI.

31. DE/OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford (6-4, 261, 4.80) -- Murphy registered 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks to lead the Cardinal in both categories a season ago. He started off his 2013 season in fine form, sacking David Fales, NFLDraftScout.com's No. 4-ranked senior quarterback, twice in Stanford's Sept. 7 win over San Jose State. The stout, broad-shouldered athlete may project best as a defensive end rather than as a stand-up linebacker for some.

32. DE Aaron Lynch, South Florida (6-5, 248, 4.76)* -- Along with fellow Big Board prospects Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III, Lynch starred at Notre Dame before sitting out last season per NCAA rules regarding transfers. Long, athletic and powerful, Lynch boasts undeniable talent that hasn't translated into production yet for the Bulls, as Lynch has just five tackles (none for loss) in his first two games. With questions about his maturity already a concern, Lynch is in danger of falling out of my Top 32.

Just missed the cut:

OG David Yankey, Stanford*

TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon*

OT Cedric Ogbehi, Texas A&M

RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor

WR Jordan Matthews, South Carolina

CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida

FS Hasean Clinton-Dix, Alabama*

DL Dominique Easley, Florida

ILB Denzel Perryman, Miami*

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M*

Rob Rang is a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. He can be found on Twitter @RobRang.

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