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2015 NFL DRAFT

Big Board: Pitt penetrator Donald reaches No. 7 as steadiest riser

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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Scouts get two extra weeks to study prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft and develop the feared paralysis by over-analysis sometimes at play when workout warriors slide ahead of better football players in the draft pecking order.

The medical re-checks taking place last week in Indianapolis, interviews and police blotter are the only legitimate reasons for player movement at this late stage.

A clean bill of health for Indiana wideout Cody Latimer could cement him as a first-round target. Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas, on the other hand, are first-round talents who could slip into the third because of health concerns. Below is my personal ranking of the top 100 prospects available in the 2014 NFL Draft.

* Denotes underclassmen

1. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (6-5, 266, 4.53)*: There is no question Clowney failed to live up to expectations in 2013 from a statistical standpoint but as he demonstrated in Indianapolis and again April 2 at his pro day, the South Carolina star possesses a once-in-a-generation combination of size and explosiveness. Whether at defensive end or outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, he'll make an immediate impact in the NFL -- precisely why he has been my top-rated prospect since last spring.

2. OT Greg Robinson, Auburn (6-5, 332, 4.92)*: Physical and tenacious, Robinson is a grizzly bear in the running game, mauling opponents with an exciting blend of size, strength and athleticism. Auburn's reliance on the running game, however, provided Robinson few opportunities in pass protection. With some polish, he could prove an Orlando Pace-like presence in the NFL.

3. OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo (6-3, 251, 4.65): With an FBS-record 16 career forced fumbles and record-tying 75 career tackles for loss, Mack's statistics jump off the page. Against the most gifted opponents he faced last year (Ohio State, Baylor, Connecticut), it was his game that jumped off the screen. Whereas Clowney is largely a projection as a rusher from two-point stance, Mack is a proven commodity in this regard. As I've been reporting since January, he is a very legitimate candidate for the Texans at No. 1 overall and isn't likely to get by Jacksonville at No. 3.

4. OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (6-5, 308, 5.07): The son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, Jake proves the cliche true -- the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. He played well at left tackle last season after starring at right tackle for three years and like his father, projects well to any position along the offensive line. Matthews isn't an elite athlete but may just be the safest prospect in the draft.

5. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (6-1, 211, 4.43)*: Watkins lacks the elite size that helped A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson earn top six selections since 2007, but he does possess virtually everything else - including instant acceleration, impressive body control and the natural hands to pluck the ball outside of his frame. Watkins could go as high as No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams.

6. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M (6-5, 231, 4.53)*: In dominating SEC competition the past two seasons, Evans has earned comparisons to Tampa Bay Bucs star Vincent Jackson, exhibiting a shocking combination of size, strength and deceptive speed. He is a nightmare to defend in jump-ball situations, a trait teams are finding increasingly valuable with the size of cornerbacks growing throughout the NFL.

Donald has earned some comparisons to Hall of Fame lineman Warren Sapp. (USATSI)
Donald has earned some comparisons to Hall of Fame lineman Warren Sapp. (USATSI)
7. DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh (6-1, 285, 4.68): Given the way he dominated competition in the ACC and at the Senior Bowl and combine, no player has enjoyed a steadier rise up draft boards this year than Donald. His size likely limits him to a three-technique role in the 4-3 alignment, but given the NFL's increasing reliance on the pass, he is entering the league at the perfect time to star in just this capacity.

8. OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA (6-5, 255, 4.66): Barr's emergence as one of the nation's elite NFL prospects after languishing as a running back early in his career has been well documented. He exploded in 2012 in his first season on the defensive side of the ball and backed it up with another spectacular campaign in 2013, though he didn't make the gains in technique to match his hype. Questions about his physicality are legitimate but so are his burst, bend and size. Pass rushers are worth gambling on, especially those with Barr's upside.

9. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (6-2, 214, 4.67)*: Bridgewater's pro day struggles are often used as the rationale for why he could slip on draft but the red flags have more to do with his lack of size. As one GM put it to me, Bridgewater has the build of a wide receiver rather than a franchise quarterback. Sure I have concerns about his relatively slim frame, but Bridgewater has shown toughness, poise and accuracy -- traits I believe make him the most pro-ready quarterback of the class.

10. QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida* (6-5, 232, 4.93): A prototypically-built pocket passer with good awareness, athleticism and arm talent, Bortles looks the part of an NFL star quarterback. He also played well against top talent (including South Carolina, Penn State and Baylor) and showed impressive gains in his technique throughout the off-season workouts. I like Bortles' game and believe he has the most upside of any quarterback in this class, but I'd have a tough time using a top-10 pick on any player I believe would be best served watching from the sideline as a rookie.

11. OLB C.J. Mosley, Alabama (6-2, 234, 4.65): 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. Mosley lacks the bulk scouts want in a pass rusher but his awareness in coverage is special. While the tape is phenomenal, Mosley has undergone multiple surgeries (knee, shoulder) over his career and could be the latest Alabama player to receive medical red flags from some evaluators.

12. OL Zack Martin, Notre Dame (6-4, 308, 5.22): The vast majority of Martin's school record 52 career starts came at left tackle but his square-ish frame and 32 1/4-inch arms will earn him a projection inside to guard for many. Regardless of where he lines up, Martin plays with the controlled aggression I love along the offensive line, latching on and dictating the action.

13. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (5-11, 199, 4.52): Quick feet, loose hips and a fluid turning motion make Dennard a classic cover corner capable of shutting down half the field and he plays with an aggressive, physical mentality against the run, as well. Dennard allowed only three completions in 31 passes of 15-plus yards targeted against him last season, and was recognized with the Thorpe Award as the nation's elite defensive back. He is a better athlete than some give him credit for and is poised with the ball in the air.

14. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (6-0, 202, 4.37): With the NFL increasingly favoring offenses, the value of playmakers on either side of the ball has never been higher. Gilbert led the Big 12 with seven interceptions in 2013 and returned six kickoffs for touchdowns over his career. There are other defensive backs in this class who offer a more well-rounded game, but in terms of size, agility and speed, no cornerback offers a more intriguing skill-set than the Cowboys star.

Ryan Shazier made a consistent impact with big plays and big hits at Ohio State. (USATSI)
Ryan Shazier made a consistent impact with big plays and big hits at Ohio State. (USATSI)
15. OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (6-1, 237, 4.58)*: Shazier may lack elite size but his instincts, speed and bone-jarring hits make him a fearful defender offenses must account for on every snap. Statistics don't always tell the story, but they do with Shazier, whose 143 tackles, including an eye-popping 22.5 tackles for loss, not only led the Big Ten last season, they combined to rank among the best seasons from any Buckeye defender over the past quarter century.

16. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan (6-7, 309, 4.87): Massive, durable and ridiculously athletic for the position, Lewan's talent is obvious. The former defensive lineman plays with the tenacity and physicality you'd expect but remains overly reliant on his natural tools. Further, he sometimes allows his emotions to get the better of him, too often drawing silly penalties throughout his career. Lewan has top 10 talent but in order to maximize his potential, he'll need to show improved maturity in the NFL.

17. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (6-0, 207, 4.68)*: Manziel's vision, elusiveness and accuracy on the move make him a magician in the improvisational game but I have concerns about his accuracy when penned in the pocket. The team that selects Manziel better have a plan for him. To force him to adapt to a rhythm passing attack would be to take away the very backyard-style that makes him special.

18. FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville (5-11, 207, 4.58)*: Pryor was overshadowed a bit by Bridgewater with the Cardinals but could easily wind up being selected ahead of his more well-known former teammate. Pryor didn't run as well in workouts as I would have liked but he plays fast due to terrific instincts, has good hands for the interception and is an intimidating hitter.

19. DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame (6-2, 331, 5.42)*: Though neither his combine nor pro day workout necessarily drew oohs and ahhs from scouts for aesthetic (or athletic) qualities, the portly nose guard proved during drills that he is fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his collegiate career prematurely. Stout, strong and surprisingly quick, Nix is not only the run-stuffer his frame indicates, he's also an effective interior rush threat.

20. TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina (6-4, 250, 4.60)*: Ebron possesses a jaw-dropping combination of size a1nd athleticism that has earned comparisons to 49ers star Vernon Davis. Like Davis, however, Ebron struggles with consistency, relying too much on his athleticism rather than dedicating himself to learning the finer techniques of the position. Some team may very well gamble earlier on Ebron's incredible upside than my ranking indicates, but he drops too many easy passes for a spot in the top 15 for me.

21. DE Kony Ealy, Missouri (6-4, 273, 4.92)*: While teammate Michael Sam generates more media attention, scouts are increasingly intrigued by Ealy due to his impressive combination of size and athleticism. He led all defensive linemen at the combine with a 6.83-second time in the 3-cone drill, a test designed to show change-of-direction ability, and shaved more than a fifth of a second off of his combine 40-yard dash time (4.92) at his pro day (4.70). He remains a bit rough around the edges, but Ealy is a highly versatile defender who projects well to the 4-3 and 3-4 alike.

22. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (5-10, 189, 4.33): Cooks has enjoyed quite the past six months, first winning the Biletnikoff as the nation's top receiver and then $100,000 at the combine from Adidas for running the fastest 40-yard dash time for anyone wearing a pair of the company's cleats. The real winner, however, could be the NFL team that takes the dynamic athlete in the first round.

23. FS Hasean Clinton-Dix, Alabama* (6-1, 208, 4.58)*: While Pryor ranks as my top all-around player at the position, Clinton-Dix possesses the fluidity, instincts and ball-skills (seven interceptions in 19 career starts) to earn the title of the draft's best coverage safety. Clinton-Dix isn't without red-flags, however. He flashes rather than dominates and wasn't as athletic during combine drills as expected. It is also worth noting how few of Alabama's highly-regarded defensive backs have lived up to their draft status since leaving Nick Saban's tutelage.

24. WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (5-11, 198, 4.43)*: Given the competition he faced in the SEC, it is a testament to Beckham's athleticism that he stood out as a big-play threat throughout his career. It is the overall improved concentration and consistency he demonstrated in his first season in Cam Cameron's pro-style offense, however, that makes him such an easy projection to the NFL. Beckham's well-built frame and explosiveness make him potentially dynamic as a receiver and returner.

25. DE/OLB Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State (6-3, 251, 4.80)*: A gifted pass rusher with enough athleticism to occasionally slip inside or drop back into coverage, Lawrence is eerily reminiscent of Bruce Irvin, the Seattle Seahawks "surprise" first round pick in the 2012 draft. His length and varied pass rush skills are enough to intrigue 4-3 and 3-4 teams, alike.

26. DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State (6-2, 299, 5.06)*: Jernigan played a critical role in the Seminoles' run to the BCS title, showing a unique burst to penetrate gaps as well as the leverage and strength to hold up against the run. He possesses a powerful frame that makes him well-suited to handling interior duties in the 4-3 or 3-4 alignment and possesses exciting upside. Only one starting season, however, makes him a gamble in the first round.

27. WR Marqise Lee, Southern Cal (6-0, 192, 4.52)*: Lee looked like a future Pro Bowler during his first two seasons at Southern Cal but a nagging left knee injury hampered him for much of the 2013 season, robbing the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner of his trademark elusiveness and acceleration, and his production plummeted as a result. When healthy, he's proven himself to be a dynamic weapon but in a draft as blessed with receiver talent as this one, Lee's stock is very much on the bubble.

28. CB Jason Verrett, TCU (5-9, 189, 4.38): Verrett lacks the size so in vogue in today's NFL, but agility and ball-skills never go out of style for cornerbacks. While light, Verrett is scrappy and tenacious, making him an ideal nickel corner with the tackling ability to threaten on an occasional blitz. Inch for inch, Verrett is the best cornerback in the 2014 draft.

29. QB Derek Carr, Fresno State (6-2, 214, 4.69): Carr's staggering production (68.2 completion percentage, 50 TDs, 8 INTs) was certainly inflated by head coach Tim DeRuyter's QB-friendly spread attack and legitimately talented receiving corps, but any questions about his talent were put to rest with a stellar Senior Bowl week and an eye-popping pro day workout. In short, there is no doubt Carr is the most gifted thrower in this year's draft class. But there are questions about his poise, in part due to the fact that he was 0-2 in bowl games with the Bulldogs.

Xavier Su'a-Filo could add a powerful presence to any NFL offensive line. (USATSI)
Xavier Su'a-Filo could add a powerful presence to any NFL offensive line. (USATSI)
30. OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA (6-4, 307, 5.04)*: Despite playing out of position at left tackle due to injuries to teammates, Su'a-Filo was voted the top offensive lineman in the Pac-12 by those who'd know -- the conference's defensive linemen. Quick, powerful and balanced, he's equally effective driving defenders off the ball in the running game or settling in pass protection.

31. WR Cody Latimer, Indiana (6-3, 215, 4.45)*: Intriguing developmental prospect whose experience on the basketball court shows with his fluidity, balance and soft hands. Plays with the grit to endear him to coaches, blocking well for teammates and showing rare strength at the combine (WR-leading 23 reps in the bench press). Tests at the combine confirmed that Latimer's foot is healing and his stock continues to soar.

32. OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU (6-3, 243, 4.71): Van Noy plays with more of a finesse rather than forceful style that will turn off some scouts, but in terms of versatility and production, he ranks among the elite defenders in the entire class.

33. DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State (6-3, 274, 4.84)*: Crichton (pronounced CRY-ton) is a blue-collar pass rusher who combines initial burst off the snap, heavy hands and a high-revving motor to generate consistent pressure. Fits best as a 4-3 defensive end due to some lower body stiffness.

34. CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State (5-11, 194, 4.39)*: Roby boasts all of the athletic traits scouts are looking for including size, speed, fluidity and physicality. In terms of tools, in fact, Roby is the most intriguing corner in the class. He struggled with consistency in 2013 and could scare off some with his operating a vehicle while intoxicated arrest April 20 (and guilty plea to a lesser charge April 29).

35. OL Joel Bitonio, Nevada (6-4, 302, 4.97): Dominated at left tackle the past three seasons and made a seamless transition inside to guard at the Senior Bowl, impressing with his physicality and underrated athleticism. Seen by some as a poor man's Zack Martin and may join him as a first-round pick.

36. FS Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois (5-11, 193, 4.59): Ward starred at cornerback and safety in the MAC and proved just as athletic and instinctive while splitting time at the two positions in Senior Bowl practices. Given the NFL's increasing focus on the pass, it isn't out of the question that Ward sneaks into the first round, despite less-than-ideal size.

37. OT Morgan Moses, Virginia (6-6, 314, 5.35): Played well at right tackle early in his career but enjoyed his best season after making the switch to the left side as a senior. Helped his cause with a stellar performance in Mobile, showing balance, long arms (35 5/8) and strong hands to latch onto opponents.

38. WR Donte Moncrief, Mississippi (6-2, 221, 4.40)*: Stood out against SEC competition throughout his career and wowed at the combine with his raw athleticism. Has the upside to warrant a first round gamble but remains a better athlete than football player to this point and may require some patience.

39. CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (6-0, 190, 4.49): Quick, instinctive and physical, Fuller may be the best zone corner in the draft. Concerns about his relatively slim build, however, could push him outside of the draft's top 32.

40. DE/OLB Dee Ford, Auburn (6-2, 252, 4.67): Ford dominated the Senior Bowl with his burst off the edge and surprising power. He has also shown intriguing agility when asked to drop into coverage, making him a candidate for virtually every team in the NFL. Medical red flags were raised at the combine due to an old back injury, but he worked out quite well at his March 4 pro day.

41. DL Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame (6-5, 304, 4.92)*: There is no questioning Tuitt's talent. He's shown a combination of size, strength and athleticism to earn comparisons to Richard Seymour from some scouts. However, there are plenty of red-flags with the talented defender, not the least of which was his decision to turn pro a year early despite a disappointing junior campaign that began with him clearly playing his way into shape and a return to Indianapolis for a combine re-check on his foot.

Allen Robinson has an impressive combination of size, speed and athleticism. (USATSI)
Allen Robinson has an impressive combination of size, speed and athleticism. (USATSI)
42. WR Allen Robinson, Penn State (6-2, 220, 4.60)*: Boasting size, acceleration and leaping ability, Robinson looks like a classic WCO split end -- precisely what Houston Texans' head coach Bill O'Brien used him as with the Nittany Lions.

43. OT Ja'Wuan James, Tennessee (6-6, 311, 5.34): Savvy pass protector with excellent length, patience and surprising quickness. Four-year starter who may never be a superstar but is a safe bet to contribute immediately.

44. OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State (6-3, 336, 5.51): Like 2013 first-round pick Chance Warmack, Jackson is a mauler in the running game with surprising balance and lateral agility to mirror in pass protection.

45. WR Davante Adams, Fresno State (6-1, 212, 4.56)*: Dominated in 2013, leading the country with a staggering 24 touchdowns receptions, Adams is a broad-shouldered, physical receiver who consistently beats corners in jump-ball situations because of his size, body control and leaping ability.

46. DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota (6-6, 310, 5.02): A true gamble on greatness, Hageman (pronounced Hayg-men) is an athletic freak capable of dominating the line of scrimmage but too often disappears. Undeniable upside and scheme versatility could earn him a spot in the first round but that's too rich for me.

47. DE Marcus Smith, Louisville (6-3, 251, 4.68)*: Athletic, instinctive and aggressive edge rusher who initially signed with the Cardinals as a quarterback. Impressive fluidity to attack off the edge or drop back and is well respected for his passion and work ethic.

48. QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois (6-2, 226, 4.97): Proved a man among boys at the FCS level and stunned observers by performing just as well at the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl and combine. Makes quick decisions and has a snappy release, making him a nice fit in a rhythm-based offense.

49. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington (5-10, 209, 4.49)*: Sankey may not boast any one elite trait but his combination of vision, burst and underrated power makes him tough to tackle one on one. He's also a reliable receiver with the work ethic and experience in a pro-style scheme to contribute immediately.

50. DT Dominique Easley, Florida (6-2, 288, 4.93): If Easley had not twice suffered torn ACLs (both knees) he might be competing with Pitt's Aaron Donald as the elite interior rusher of the 2014 draft. In a draft lacking three-techs, Easley could surprise some if he's drafted in the first or early second round.

51. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State (6-1, 303, 5.36)
52. OC Weston Richburg, Colorado State (6-3, 298, 5.10)
53. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (6-3, 252, 4.68)
54. SS Deone Bucannon, Washington State (6-1, 211, 4.49)
55. ILB Carl Bradford, Arizona State (6-1, 250, 4.76)*
56. WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson (6-4, 211, 4.42)*
57. CB/FS Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State (5-08, 184, 4.55)
58. CB Jaylen Watkins, Florida (6-0, 194, 4.41)
59. FS Terrence Brooks, Florida State (5-11, 198, 4.42)
60. RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State (6-0, 230, 4.66)

61. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington (6-6, 272, 4.75)*
62. OC Marcus Martin, Southern Cal (6-3, 320, 5.28)*
63. TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech (6-5, 265, 4.74)*
64. ILB Chris Borland, Wisconsin (6-0, 248, 4.83)
65. WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (6-3, 212, 4.46)
66. WR Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (5-09, 197, 4.45)*
67. CB Marcus Roberson, Florida (6-0, 191, 4.61)*
68. WR Jarvis Landry, LSU (5-11, 205, 4.77)
69. RB Jeremy Hill, LSU (6-1, 233, 4.66)*
70. DT DaQuan Jones, Penn State (6-4, 322, 5.35)

71. CB Phillip Gaines, Rice (6-0, 193, 4.38)
72. DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina (6-4, 297, 5.03)*
73. OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee (6-6, 336, 5.30)*
74. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State (6-5, 240, 4.61)*
75. QB Aaron Murray, Georgia (6-1, 207, 4.84)
76. RB Tre Mason, Auburn (5-09, 207, 5-07, 207, 4.50)*
77. OT Billy Turner, North Dakota State (6-5, 315, 5.16)
78. DE Kareem Martin, North Carolina (6-6, 272, 4.72)
79. DT Ego Ferguson, LSU (6-3, 315, 6-3, 315, 4.98)*
80. OG Dakota Dozier, Furman (6-4, 313, 5.42)

81. DE/OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford (6-5, 250, 4.86)
82. OLB Trevor Reilly, Utah (6-5, 245, 4.70)
83. DE Will Clarke, West Virginia (6-6, 271, 4.77)
84. WR Paul Richardson, Colorado (6-0, 175)*
85. OT Cameron Fleming, Stanford (6-5, 323, 5.28)
86. OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama (6-5, 322, 5.59)*
87. QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU (6-5, 224, 5.0)
88. OLB Telvin Smith, Florida State (6-3, 218, 4.52)
89. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, 6-6, 265, 4.76)
90. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona (5-09, 207, 4.70)*

91. OT Jack Mewhort, Ohio State (6-6, 309, 5.37)
92. CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood (6-1, 198, 4.59)
93. TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame (6-6, 270, 4.84)*
94. QB A.J. McCarron, Alabama (6-3, 220, 4.94)
95. RB Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State (5-08, 206, 4.58)
96. QB Tom Savage, Pittsburgh (6-4, 228, 4.97)
97. CB Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State (5-10, 189, 4.51)
98. OG Trai Turner, LSU (6-3, 310, 4.93)
99. WR Kevin Norwood, Alabama (6-2, 198, 4.48)
100. QB David Fales, San Jose State (6-2, 212, 4.99)


Rob Rang (@RobRang) is a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com.


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