2017 NFL Draft

Big Board: Combine performances will affect tight position battles

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

With the proliferation of speed camps preparing athletes for the scouting combine's varied athletic drills, NFL scouts are typically hesitant to adjust their rankings based on workouts in Indianapolis. The class of 2014, however, features hotly contested battles at several positions -- including quarterback, running back, tight end, outside linebacker, cornerback and safety.

A strong showing in workouts and interviews could help determine the pecking order, meaning the combine could spark significant movement in player rankings for the first time in several years.

My Big Board isn't a mock draft and does not factor in individual team needs. It is simply a ranking of the best draft-eligible prospects in the country.

* denotes player is an underclassman

1. Jadeveon Clowney*, DE, South Carolina (6-6, 268, 4.65): There is no question Clowney failed to live up to expectations in 2013 from a statistical standpoint, and Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier did him no favors by questioning his work ethic shortly before the combine. It is important to note the impact Clowney made, despite his underwhelming statistics last season. Opponents made stopping him their top priority, often assigning multiple blockers to slow him down. Boasting a once-in-a-generation combination of size and explosiveness, Clowney offers immediate impact ability at a premium position. He's a virtual guarantee to be the first defender selected and remains the favorite to go No. 1 overall simply because he is unquestionably the most talented player in the draft.

2. Greg Robinson*, T, Auburn (6-5, 320, 5.38): Physical and tenacious, Robinson is a grizzly bear in the running game, mauling opponents with an exciting blend of size (6-5, 320 pounds), strength and athleticism. Auburn's reliance on the running game, however, provided Robinson few opportunities in pass protection. With some polish, Robinson could prove an Orlando Pace-like presence in the NFL. In terms of talent, he ranks ahead of Eric Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick last year by the Kansas City Chiefs.

3. Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M (6-5, 305, 5.14): 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 over his first three years and like his father, projects well to any position along the offensive line. While perhaps not an elite athlete, Matthews is a terrific football player, demonstrating impressive technique, strength and consistency.

4. Sammy Watkins*, WR, Clemson (6-1, 200, 4.49): Watkins doesn't possess 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.

5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (6-3, 248, 4.66): 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 this year (Ohio State, Baylor, Connecticut), it was his game that jumped off the screen. His size, instincts and agility as an edge rusher make him equally intriguing to teams operating out of a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment. That versatility could land him a spot in the top six. Some, in fact, view him as a dark horse candidate for the Texans at No. 1 overall.

6. Teddy Bridgewater*, QB, Louisville (6-3, 210, 4.65): In an era in which college quarterbacks' numbers are often inflated by short passes and relatively simplistic schemes, Bridgewater's sparkling production was due to Pro Bowl-caliber accuracy in the critical short to intermediate levels. His success (71 percent completion rate with 31 touchdowns against just four interceptions) comes out of a pro-style offense that requires him to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage and complete NFL throws. His slight frame is a legitimate concern and he's not an elite deep ball passer, but he has shown great toughness over his career and is a better athlete than many realize.

7. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (6-4, 238, 4.73): 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. Barr exploded in 2012 in his first season on the defensive side of the ball and backed it up with another spectacular campaign in 2013, including 65 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and five forced fumbles, earning him the Lott IMPACT Trophy. His burst and bend around the corner make him an immediate threat as a pass rusher, but he flashes rather than dominates and is not as polished as his hype may lead you to believe.

8. Blake Bortles*, QB, Central Florida (6-3, 230, 4.78): A prototypically built pocket passer with good awareness, athleticism and arm talent, Bortles looks the part of an NFL starting quarterback. He is methodical in his set-up and delivery of the ball and is a bit inconsistent with his accuracy, but he showed impressive poise in guiding UCF to several come-from-behind victories and in seizing the opportunity to compete at the combine. Bortles isn't as polished as Bridgewater, but he may possess an even higher upside. A top-10 pick is likely and it isn't out of the question that he'll rank as the best quarterback for some, potentially including new Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, who Bortles' UCF team beat in 2013.

9. Marqise Lee*, WR, Southern Cal (6-0, 195, 4.51): A nagging left knee injury hampered Lee for much of the 2013 season, robbing the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner of his trademark elusiveness and acceleration. Finally healthy in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State, however, Lee showed off his playmaking ability, hauling in seven passes for 118 yards and two scores. Lee's relatively slight frame could lead to durability issues in the NFL, but his first round skill-set is undeniable.

10. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (6-0, 200, 4.52): With the NFL increasingly favoring the 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.

11. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State (5-11, 197, 4.52): Quick feet, loose hips and a fluid turning motion make Dennard a classic cover corner capable of shutting down half the field. Dennard allowed only three completions in 31 passes of 15-plus yards targeted against him last season. His ability in coverage played a huge role in the Spartans' run to a Rose Bowl victory, and was recognized with Dennard winning the Thorpe Award as the nation's elite defensive back. The only factor keeping Dennard from a selection in the top half of the first round is the question about his straight-line speed.

12. Kony Ealy*, DE, Missouri (6-5, 275, 4.77): While teammate Michael Sam garnered more hype, scouts are increasingly intrigued by Ealy due to his impressive combination of size and athleticism. A highly versatile defender with experience inside and out for the Tigers, Ealy projects nicely to both the 4-3 and 3-4 alignments and the first-team All-SEC pick is just scratching the surface of his potential.

13. Johnny Manziel*, QB, Texas A&M (5-11, 210, 4.45): Manziel's vision, elusiveness and accuracy while on the move make him a magician in the improvisational game. Red flags were raised with mediocre performances against LSU and Missouri to end the regular season, however, as each team was able to contain his backyard-style of play by penning him in the pocket. Unable to create throwing lanes with his legs, Manziel struggled, raising concerns about his anticipation and accuracy in a muddied pocket. Manziel could have alleviated some of their concerns by throwing well at the combine. Instead, he is electing to hold off throwing for scouts until his March 27 pro day.

14. C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama (6-2, 232, 4.56): 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.

15. Stephon Tuitt*, DL, Notre Dame (6-5, 303, 4.89): Clowney isn't the only highly regarded defensive lineman who struggled under the burden of monstrous expectations in 2013. After dominating as a sophomore, Tuitt began his junior campaign out of shape (after missing spring due to hernia surgery) and struggled with consistency all season. Highly athletic and possessing the frame to star as either a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end, Tuitt's upside is just too tantalizing to ignore. Tuitt is earning comparisons to Richard Seymour from some scouts.

16. Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame (6-4, 308, 5.15): The vast majority of Martin's school record 52 career starts came at left tackle but his square-ish frame and 32 1/4" 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 controlling opponents with excellent strength. Martin was the best player on the field in Mobile.

17. Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn (6-2, 243, 4.67): Ford's dominating performance at the Senior Bowl caught my attention and the film study I've done since confirm the exciting improvement he showed in 2013 -- his second season as a starter for the Tigers. Improving his burst, power and fluidity when dropping into coverage, the question is not whether Ford will earn a selection in the top 32 but how high his rapidly escalating stock can take him.

18. Calvin Pryor*, FS, Louisville (6-2, 208, 4.55): With all of the focus on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Pryor was overshadowed a bit with the Cardinals but his stock will climb once scouts turn their attention to the instinctive and hard-hitting defender. Boasting the size, agility and physicality that every team is looking for to lead the deep patrol, Pryor is my top-rated safety of the 2014 draft class and projects as a first-round pick if he can assure scouts of his straight-line speed.

19. Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan (6-7, 310, 5.04): The perception among many in the media is that Lewan's stock has fluctuated over the past two seasons, but among scouts he remains one of the more polished linemen in the draft. There is some debate as to whether he possesses the light feet to remain at left tackle against NFL speed rushers, but his length, power and nastiness make him an easy projection to the NFL. Lewan's biggest test at the combine won't be athletic but in the interview room, where he'll attempt to reassure teams that he possesses the maturity to handle the spotlight that comes with being a first round pick. Lewan had multiple run-ins with the authorities during his collegiate career, though he has never been charged with a crime.

20. Louis Nix III*, DT, Notre Dame (6-2, 345, 5.17): To earn this high of a pick in the draft Nix will have to prove his health after knee surgery cut short his 2013 season. Nix prepared for the combine at EXOS (formerly Athletes' Performance Institute) in Phoenix, and his conditioning and confirmed recovery could make him one of the combine's "big" winners. When healthy, he's proven the best run-plugger of this class, controlling the middle with his girth, power and surprising athleticism.

21. Mike Evans*, WR, Texas A&M (6-5, 225, 4.58): In dominating SEC competition the past two seasons, Evans has earned comparisons to Tampa Bay Buccaneers 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.

22. Eric Ebron*, TE, North Carolina (6-4, 245, 4.67): Ebron possesses a jaw-dropping combination of size and 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.

23. Hasean Clinton-Dix*, FS, Alabama (6-1, 208, 4.54): Seattle's All-Pro Earl Thomas has emerged as the new prototype free safety due to his remarkable speed and ball skills, virtually eliminating opponents' ability to throw deep against the Seahawks. Clinton-Dix possesses the fluidity in coverage, instincts (seven interceptions in 19 career starts) and physicality to take advantage of teams' eagerness to find a Thomas-like weapon in the deep patrol.

24. Ryan Shazier*, OLB, 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. 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 combine to rank among the best seasons from any Buckeye defender over the past quarter century.

25. Timmy Jernigan*, DT, Florida State (6-2, 298, 4.98): Jernigan played a critical role in the Seminoles' rise to the BCS title, showing a unique burst to penetrate gaps as well as the leverage and strength to hold up against the run. His upside is undeniable and could earn him a significantly higher grade for some. The fact that he's started just one year at the collegiate level and was clearly gassed against Auburn raises red-flags about his readiness for the NFL, however.

26. Jason Verrett, CB, 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. Through the end of the 2013 regular season he led again in pass deflections (16) while recording two pass thefts. While light, Verrett is scrappy and tenacious, making him an ideal nickel corner with the tackling ability to threaten on an occasional blitz.

27. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (6-1, 288, 4.90): Donald was arguably the Senior Bowl's MVP throughout the first three days of practice, routinely penetrating to make big plays behind the line of scrimmage in the same fashion that led to his earning CBSSports.com's Defensive Player of the Year, along with a host of other awards. Scouts wonder if he can hold up to the size and power of the NFL as a full-time defender but given his burst, 8-10 sacks a year as a pass-rush specialist three-technique defensive tackle deserves late first round consideration for me.

28. Cyrus Kouandjio*, T, Alabama (6-5, 312, 5.12): Nick Saban questioned draft analysts for pegging Kouandjio as a first-round talent before the season, but given the junior left tackle's exciting skill-set the projection has been an easy one. Long-armed, athletic and aggressive, Kouandjio boasts many of the traits scouts are looking for in a potential Pro Bowl offensive tackle. However, a lack of elite foot quickness was exposed by the Oklahoma Sooners pass rush in their Sugar Bowl upset win over the Tide.

29. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (6-6, 318, 4.95): Just as he did at times during his career with the Golden Gophers, Hagemen flashed a dominating combination of size, strength and athleticism at the Senior Bowl. Scouts wish he was more consistent but given his position and scheme versatility, Hageman is a first round gamble worth taking.

30. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (6-2, 215, 4.78): 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 week in Mobile. While no one questions Carr's arm, some wonder if he has the grit to hold up as the leader of an NFL huddle.

31. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (6-3, 244, 4.70): Van Noy may not be the most physical linebacker in the draft but he's might just be the most efficient. As he demonstrated throughout a spectacular career in Provo and again in Mobile, he's just as slippery and savvy in attacking the line of scrimmage as he is in dropping back into coverage.

32. Xavier Su'a-Filo*, G, UCLA (6-3, 308, 5.18): 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.

Just missed the cut

Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Davante Adams*, WR, Fresno State
Ka'Deem Carey*, RB, Arizona
Bradley Roby*, CB, Ohio State
Troy Niklas*, TE, Notre Dame
Scott Crichton*, DE, Oregon State
Kelvin Benjamin*, WR, Florida State
Austin Seferian-Jenkins*, TE, Washington
Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Brandin Cooks*, WR, Oregon State
Jarvis Landry*, WR, LSU
Jeremy Hill*, RB, LSU
Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville
Marcus Martin*, C, Southern California
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
Jimmie Ward, FS, Northern Illinois
Odell Beckham*, WR, LSU


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