2014 NFL Draft: Loston, Smallwood steals in 2nd or 3rd rounds
Extra time before the draft reveals some solid picks after the first round. LSU safety Craig Loston and UConn linebacker Yarwin Smallwood look to have solid second- or third-round value.
There have been objections to moving the draft back, but waiting till May 8 gave injured players like Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger and Cody Latimer a chance to demonstrate they were healthy enough to be drafted higher.
The extra two weeks also gives me a chance to form a better opinion on players' values, like the following five players I see as non-first round talent but can help a team early.
LSU safety Craig Loston: I watched tape of Loston vs. Mississippi liked what I saw. He plays like a strong safety but has the coverage skills to be a half-field safety in Cover 2 and he understands route combinations. He has good closing skills from deep and passes teammates to get to the ball. He is a solid open-field tackler and had a game-saver in this game. He can line up on a slot receiver and it appears he gets his teammates lined up. There should a small run on safeties in the second round and it wouldn't surprise me to see him in that range or in the third round at the latest. Teams asking their safeties to be interchangeable will like Loston.
Connecticut LB Yawin Smallwood: Watching Smallwood on tape vs. Maryland and Rutgers, he made his presence known in those games. He can play Tampa 2 coverage as MLB because of his ability to get deep drops. He has a very solid ability to get through traffic and get to the ball. He sees things quickly and is capable of sideline-to-sideline flow and strike. He regularly passes teammates on his way to the ball. Yarwin plays with passion and he has the athletic ability to recover when he's out of position. He slips blocks with little effort and looks like a solid second- or third-round pick.
North Carolina DE Kareem Martin: People have mixed reviews in the 6-foot-6, 295-pound DE, but after spending a week with him at the Senior Bowl and watching him on tape vs. Cincinnati, it reminded me of what Bill Walsh once told me. "If you see a guy do it on tape even once it's the coach's job to get him to do it all the time." Simply put, you can't teach what Martin has. A tall, well-built athlete with long arms. He lines up at RDE, LDE, DT on passing downs and is athletic enough to play the "spinner" role. He has the quickness to stunt inside, the long arms to keep blockers off him and he can close on a QB coming off a block. I saw a decent spin move to go with his speed and speed to power rushes. There just aren't many athletes like him and it will be hard to pass on him in the second or third round.
Clemson WR Martavis Bryant: With all the attention on teammate Sammy Watkins, Bryant really hasn't received his due. He has long speed and in the Ohio State game, he resembled Watkins on a run after the catch; I even thought it was Watkins until I saw the end zone tape. But the Georgia Tech game showed me Clemson's second receiver should not be ignored. If he's still there in the third round, I would take him.
LSU LB Lamin Barrow: Barrow looks like a decent fit in a 4-3 as a WLB but isn't a complete player. In the Mississippi game, he appeared to have som some formation recognition issues and where to lineup. He did get the opportunity to be the dime MLB but was easily cut as a blitzer by the running back and is more of a zone dropper than man-to-man cover guy. He likes contact but he occasionally throws himself at the ball-carrier instead of making a solid tackle. I would consider him in the fourth round.
Three once-a-decade players
This week, somebody asked me, "Are there any once in a decade players in this draft?" Many would expected the answer to be Jadeveon Clowney, but he wasn't on my list of potential once-in-a-decade types.
I believe three players (which is a lot) in this draft have a chance, and I emphasize chance, to be once-in-a-decade players.
• Wide receiver Sammy Watkins snatches footballs like Larry Fitzgerald, runs with the ball like a top running back and reminds me of Sterling Sharpe.
• Auburn tackle Greg Robinson has athletic ability like Walter Jones.
• I've waited years to see a one gap penetrator like Pitt's Aaron Donald.
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