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2016 NFL DRAFT

Big Board: Big matchups reveal future stars, prospects' flaws

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst
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Jadeveon Clowney consistently beat Tennessee's Antonio Richardson, disrupting the Vols' offense. (Getty Images)
Jadeveon Clowney consistently beat Tennessee's Antonio Richardson, disrupting the Vols' offense. (Getty Images)

The highly anticipated head-to-head matchups in several marquee games last weekend led to significant reshuffling of the Big Board, with two talented but inconsistent quarterbacks taking a tumble.

One can't blame NFL scouts for falling in love with the guts and athleticism of UCLA's Brett Hundley and Clemson's Tajh Boyd, but both struggled in critical conference showdowns, raising questions about their NFL readiness.

While two of the nation's most prominent passers struggled, terrific performances from several others, including top-ranked prospect Jadeveon Clowney, Florida State offensive tackle Cameron Erving and Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans, has their stock skyrocketing at the midway point of the season.

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. Jadeveon Clowney*, DE, South Carolina (6-6, 268): Clowney has failed to live up to our astronomical expectations, but scouts aren't as concerned about his mediocre production as the media seems to be. When on the field, Clowney remains a dominant presence capable of making game-changing plays on each snap of the ball. He produced his best game of 2013 in a highly anticipated rematch with Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson.

2. Teddy Bridgewater*, QB, Louisville (6-3, 220): In an era in which college quarterbacks' numbers are often inflated by short passes and relatively simplistic schemes, Bridgewater's sparkling production is due to Pro Bowl-caliber accuracy. His success (72 percent completion rate with 20 touchdowns against just two interceptions) comes out of a pro-style offense that forces him to make tough throws. Bridgewater's slight frame and level of competition are concerns.

3. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (6-4, 238): A running back until last season, Barr exploded in 2012 to the tune of 21½ tackles for loss and 13½ sacks. He has been equally dominant this year (34 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles in six games) but was largely held in check by Stanford's Andrus Peat. He faces a different kind of challenge this week traveling to Eugene to face Marcus Mariota and the ultra-athletic Oregon offense.

4. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (6-5, 305): Any question about Matthews' ability to hold up at left tackle may have been answered with a dominating performances against Arkansas' speedy Chris Smith and Mississippi's powerful Robert Nkemdiche this season. The son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, Jake proves the cliché -- the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

5. Marcus Mariota*, QB, Oregon (6-3, 214): In completing a season-high 77.4 percent of his passes against a talented Washington defense in Seattle two weeks ago, Mariota demonstrated great accuracy and poise. Moments after the loss, Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian assessed the redshirt quarterback as a "top-five pick." Couldn't agree more, coach.

6. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (6-7, 310): With 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 has been the obvious bright spot up front for Michigan, which has struggled with injuries and penalties.

7. Sammy Watkins*, WR, Clemson (6-1, 200): Watkins was one of the few Clemson players who appeared unfazed by Florida State's speed. Watkins accounted for nearly double the all-purpose yardage of any other Tiger against the Seminoles, demonstrating the explosiveness and soft, reliable hands that help him project as a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.

8. C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama (6-2, 232): While a bit undersized, Mosley might be the best pound-for-pound player in the country. Athletic and instinctive, he is a true three-down linebacker capable of making plays against the run and pass.

9. Eric Ebron*, TE, North Carolina (6-4, 245): Ebron doesn't get nearly the national attention of Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins or other highly regarded tight ends, but scouts are fascinated with his rare combination of size and speed. The UNC staff was so enamored with Ebron's athleticism and physicality that they lined him at defensive end at times last season. The junior needs polish, but is precisely the type of physical mismatch the NFL is looking for in today's tight end.

10. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (6-3, 248): With an eye-popping 56 tackles for loss, 18 sacks and 11 forced fumbles already on his résumé entering the 2013 season, rest assured that scouts knew Mack well. The best player outside of BCS schools, he stepped up with dominating efforts against Ohio State and Connecticut this year to establish himself as a legitimate top-20 prospect.

11. Cameron Erving*, OT, Florida State (6-5, 310): 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's a hidden factor in the dynamic play of freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. On Saturday, Erving erased Clemson's Vic Beasley, who entered the big ACC matchup leading the country with eight sacks.

12. Johnny Manziel*, QB, Texas A&M (5-11, 210): After the season scouts will poke holes in Manziel's grade due to less-than-ideal size and the distraction he may prove to be off the field. During the season, however, it is impossible not to simply marvel at his magical ability. Showing the same remarkable elusiveness as a year ago and improved arm strength, Manziel is a first-round pick whenever he elects to leave College Station.

13. Brett Hundley*, QB, UCLA (6-3, 227): Another of the extraordinary redshirt sophomore class of quarterbacks, Hundley has an ideal blend of size, athleticism and arm talent. He's a fluid athlete with an easy throwing motion whose success comes from a pro-style attack, making him an easy projection to the NFL. While scouts love Hundley's upside, he struggled against Stanford, missing several open targets in the loss.

14. Mike Evans*, WR, Texas A&M (6-5, 225): Like his famous quarterback, Evans is just a redshirt sophomore, but he could have quite the decision to make after the season if he continues to dominate the SEC. Deceptively fast with great body control as well as timing, Evans is an exciting split end prospect who reminds scouts of Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Vincent Jackson.

15. Antonio Richardson*, OT, Tennessee (6-6, 332): Boasting an exciting combination of size, athleticism and power, "Tiny" looks like the second coming of former Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl tackle Erik Williams. After containing Clowney a year ago, however, Richardson struggled in his rematch with the South Carolina star, consistently getting beaten off the snap.

16. Cyrus Kouandjio*, OT, Alabama (6-5, 312): Some questioned the wisdom of moving Barrett Jones from left tackle (where he 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 Bowl tackle Chris Samuels, the No. 3 overall pick out of Alabama in 2000.

17. Marqise Lee*, WR, Southern Cal (6-0, 195): Lee has been hampered by a knee injury and unsteady play at quarterback this season, but he has also dropped too many passes. A year after scoring 14 touchdowns as part of a Biletnikoff-winning campaign, Lee only has one this year. Further, he missed USC's Oct. 12 win over Arizona and didn't play in the second half of an Oct. 19 loss to Notre Dame due to a knee injury.

18. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor (6-5, 335): A dominating drive blocker who projects best at guard but spent the 2011 season protecting Robert Griffin III at left tackle, Richardson is massive, powerful and shockingly athletic. Scouts love Richardson's talent, but the extended splits in Art Briles' scheme fooled us before with former first-round picks Jason Smith (No. 2 overall in 2009) and Danny Watkins (No. 23 in 2011).

19. Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford (6-6, 261): A true outside linebacker in Stanford's 3-4 scheme, Murphy is asked to not only rush the passer but also drop into coverage. While an impressive athlete for his size, Murphy's future likely lies as a 4-3 defensive end. He recorded two sacks in tough matchups against Washington and UCLA.

20. Ryan Shazier*, OLB, Ohio State (6-2, 226): 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. The Buckeyes' leading tackler and most consistent defender, Shazier stood out in a comeback win against Iowa.

21. Cedric Ogbuehi*, OT, Texas A&M (6-5, 300): Overshadowed by the other talent on the Aggies' roster, Ogbuehi is an exciting prospect in his own right. A standout at right guard a year ago, Ogbuehi (pronounced ah-BOO-hee) stands to make a lot of money if he continues his stellar play at right tackle.

22. Vic Beasley*, OLB, Clemson (6-3, 235): Beasley led Clemson with eight sacks in limited duty as a sophomore and already has nine through seven games in 2013. Like most of the Tigers, Beasley struggled against Florida State, recording just two tackles. Beasley is similar to surprise 2012 first-round pick Bruce Irvin with his slim frame and explosive burst, but Beasley also flashes rather than dominates.

23. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix*, FS, Alabama (6-1, 208): Death, taxes and a Nick Saban-coached defensive back earning first-round grades from NFL scouts are among the sure things in life. Clinton-Dix has an exciting combination of athleticism and instincts. He quickly proved back to his playmaking ways following a two-week suspension for accepting a loan from an Alabama coach by logging five tackles and recording his first interception of the season against Arkansas.

24. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (6-1, 225): Boyd's stout frame, toughness and dual-threat capabilities have earned him comparisons to Russell Wilson and the late Steve McNair, but he sure didn't look the part of a future NFL star against Florida State's speedy defense. Boyd appeared flustered and misfired on multiple occasions. He also turned the ball over three times (two interceptions, fumble).

25. Louis Nix III*, DT, Notre Dame (6-3, 326): With broad shoulders, a thick lower half and surprisingly quick feet, Nix III is a classic run-stuffer with enough burst and determination to also threaten the pocket. The junior hasn't been as dominant in 2013 as he was a year ago, but remains a standout in a less-than-inspiring crop of defensive tackles.

26. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU (5-10, 182): 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. His stellar coverage (six tackles, two passes broken up) against Oklahoma on Oct. 5 made him the top prospect of Week 6.

27. Stephon Tuitt*, DL, Notre Dame (6-5, 303): Offseason sports hernia surgery may have played a role in Tuitt adding 20 pounds this season, and early on the extra weight seemed to be slowing him. He has played much better of late, however, and is simply too gifted to fall far on draft day should the junior elect to leave South Bend early.

28. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (6-3, 235): While Ziggy Ansah received most of the hype at BYU, Van Noy was far and away the Cougars' more consistent defender, registering an eye-popping 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions and two blocked kicks in 2013. Van Noy isn't as physically dominating as his former teammate, but his instincts and agility make him a playmaker, nonetheless.

29. DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State (6-3, 333): Jones was the Nittany Lions' most dominant player in an instant classic four-overtime victory against Michigan. Stout but athletic enough to handle duties all over Penn State's defensive line, Jones' strength and quickness is tough to handle.

30. Bishop Sankey*, RB, Washington (5-10, 203): Sankey is winning over scouts with his vision, balance and surprising combination of power and speed. He has proven his toughness against Stanford's physical defense and his big-play ability against Oregon's speed, and is a true three-down back due to excellent hands and awareness in pass protection.

31. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (6-6, 311): Penn State's Jones may be the Big Ten's most impressive defensive lineman but Hageman may be its most gifted. The Golden Gopher's length and athleticism make him a schematic fit in the 3-4 and 4-3. He flashes dominant ability but has struggled with consistency.

32. Austin Seferian-Jenkins*, TE, Washington (6-6, 267): His unique combination of size, body control and soft hands made him an immediate standout in each of his two seasons at Washington. However, an offseason arrest for DUI and broken pinkie served as an inauspicious start to Seferian-Jenkins' junior year and the Huskies have featured other playmakers thus far in 2013.

Just missed the cut

Lache Seastrunk*, RB, Baylor
Kevin Hogan*, QB, Stanford
David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Jordan Matthews, WR, South Carolina
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Denzel Perryman*, OLB, Miami
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

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