NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 OLBs

This year’s crop of outside linebackers have the potential to be game changers. Explosiveness and the ability to rush the passer are what NFL scouts look for. This group definitely has that skill set and should be taken by the third round.

1. KHALIL MACK (BUFFALO) 6-3/251

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Some experts believe Khalil Mack is a better prospect than Jadeveon Clowney. He reminds me of Von Miller coming out of Texas A&M who was a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker. Mack would preferably be more productive in a 3-4 scheme being able to rush the passer and also drop in coverage. He has a high motor and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He hasn’t always been the anointed, elite prospect since high school a la Clowney. The only thing that scares me is that he did not consistently play against top competition but he did show his raw talent against Ohio State this past season.

2. ANTHONY BARR (UCLA) 6-5/255

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This former running back turned outside backer is an imposing figure at 6-5 and 255 pounds. Anthony Barr is still rough around the edges but he showed enough at UCLA to be a top 10 pick. What stands out is his closing speed and agility which helps him wreak havoc in the backfield. Stand him up in a 3-4 defense and turn him loose. Barr is still improving as a run defender but that will come with time. His running back days definitely give him a natural burst off the snap that is a plus. Bottom line, in three more seasons Barr can end up being the best outside linebacker coming out of this draft class.

3. KYLE VAN NOY (BYU) 6-3/243

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Put on Van Noy’s tape and you will witness an instinctive and explosive linebacker who knows how to bring down the ball carrier at all costs. His reaction skills are elite even though some scouts think his athleticism is not at the standard as some of the other prospects. I disagree. Van Noy can reads offenses well and can stop the run while being savvy in pass coverage. He earned even more respect by returning for his senior season and battled late season injuries to keep playing, an absolute leader on defense. Van Noy is a mid-round sleeper who will make an NFL team with no problems.

4. RYAN SHAZIER (OHIO STATE) 6-1/237

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Ryan Shazier looks like a safety but hits like a backer. He is undersized and his frame is leaner than most at his position. Despite his size, he makes plays and uses speed to get to the ball. Reminds me of Lavonte David who has been productive for Tampa Bay so far in his young career. David also has acceleration and burst which helps him blitz with ease through any gap. We will see how tough he is at the next level where blockers are much larger and more physical. Shazier’s stock has been soaring because of his impressive combine and pro day numbers.

5. MARCUS SMITH (LOUISVILLE) 6-3/251

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Marcus Smith played quarterback in high school before converting to linebacker as a true freshman. Smith is raw and is a definite sleeper because of his pass rush ability. Racked up 14.5 sacks in 2013 and projects to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. His QB experience has helped him on the other side of the ball and must be coachable since he did change positions. Must get stronger to go against NFL offensive linemen so he may start out as a situational pass rusher. In this day and age, it doesn’t hurt to have a few of those on your depth chart.

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 DEFENSIVE TACKLES

1. AARON DONALD (PITTSBURGH) 6-1/285

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Put Donald at the 3-technique in a 4-3 front and you have a disruptive force a la Warren Sapp. He excels at leverage and a first step to penetrate inside the trenches. Quick enough and strong enough to hit the gap while using his hands violently. Yes, he is undersized at 285 pounds but that should not discount his strength at all. Bottom line, the kid has a motor and is deceptively athletic who is skilled at stopping the run. Aaron Donald also has upside rushing the passer because he already has sound technique and can afford to bulk up.

2. TIMMY JERNIGAN (FLORDA STATE) 6-2/299

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Jernigan is another prospect that I think would fare well as a 4-3 defensive tackle. He’s a bit bigger and thicker than Aaron Donald but still has good quickness. Does a good job of using his hands and shedding blocks while controlling the line of scrimmage. One knock is that he is still raw after starting his first season full time in 2013. I see him get driven back at times when he is head up on the center so nose tackle is probably not the best fit for him. Finally, he must learn more pass rush moves or he won’t be on the field every down.

3. RA’SHEDE HAGEMAN (MINNESOTA) 6-6/310

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Now here is a big man that can be a versatile fit on the defensive line with the right coaching. His size and frame allow him to be  3-4 defensive end or a 4-3 defensive tackle. Hageman can even be a nose tackle if he adds just a little bit more weight. I like that he has a nasty attitude to his game and puts an emphasis on finishing a sack or tackle. Hageman has a knack for getting after the quarterback and has a high ceiling for improvement. Physical specimen that has to polish up on his technique and use his hands much more.

4. STEPHON TUITT (NOTRE DAME) 6-6/304

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Tuitt has playmaking upside that could definitely boost his stock before the draft. He carries 300 pounds nicely on his frame and is explosive off the snap. Played defensive end in a 3-4 scheme at Notre Dame but can probably shift inside to the 3-technique at defensive tackle. You can see that he loves the art of pass rushing so he is not just a run stopper. The key is being consistent and accountable which was a problem for him in 2013. If a coaching staff can mold his combination of power, quickness, and range, Tuitt will be a absolute factor.

5. LOUIS NIX (NOTRE DAME) 6-2/331

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The first thing you notice about Louis Nix is his huge size. His frame allows him to fit in at nose tackle in a 3-4 defense by anchoring down and taking on double teams. His ability to drive blockers back will automatically improve a run defense. Athletic and moves well for his large size. Most scouts may compare to him to B.J. Raji from the Green Bay Packers. One red flag is post season knee surgery that could cause his weight to creep up. 

 

 

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 DEFENSIVE ENDS

One of the cornerstones of a strong, winning football franchise is the defensive end. This is the monster that lines up against the quarterback’s blind side and wreaks havoc. This draft class has some beasts with similar but different skill sets. You HAVE to hit on this pick if the opportunity for an elite pass rusher is present. It can make or a break a team’s future because in the end defense wins championships and there are too many amazing quarterbacks that must be contained.

1. JADEVEON CLOWNEY (SOUTH CAROLINA) 6-5/266

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I don’t know how a scout, GM, or head coach could NOT fall in love with Jadeveon Clowney. He is the most gifted athlete at the defensive end position since Mario Williams in 2006 who went 1st overall to Houston. The Texans are in the same position this year with the No. 1 pick and Clowney is arguably the best prospect in this whole draft. Clowney is an awesome combination of size, strength, and speed with a ton of upside. He uses his long arms to fight through blocks without using an array of moves. It almost seems as if he can knife through the inside of offensive tackles but also use the speed rush around them. In his last season at South Carolina, many teams were double teaming and sometimes triple teaming him, also running the ball the opposite way most of the game. If the right coaching staff and veteran leadership can guide Clowney onto the professional and mature path, he can be one of the best pass rushers to play in the NFL.

2. DEE FORD (AUBURN) 6-2/252

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Dee Ford can produce right away as a pass-rusher if he goes to the right team. Ford fits the 3-4 scheme perfectly as a stand-up outside linebacker. Defensive coordinators will turn him loose but I’m not sure if he’s an every down player due to his size. Ford did add 50 pounds to his frame since coming to Auburn so hopefully he will add more muscle mass at the next level. When he does put his hand on the ground, he is not as effective using a bull rush. Bottom line, Dee Ford has the high motor and burst to be a threat to the quarterback consistently as he matures.

3. KONY EALY (MISSOURI) 6-4/273

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Mike Mayock may not agree with me ranking Kony Ealy at No. 3 but I do see some flaws. Ealy’s awareness on the field can improve and he gets too high off the snap. His large frame and size will help him but he is still raw and unpolished. If he gets the right coaching staff to tap into his abilities, he can be a monster but I see that taking 2-3 seasons. One thing he does know how to do is close on the quarterback and that’s why he will be drafted earlier than he should be.

4. SCOTT CRICHTON (OREGON STATE) 6-3/273

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Pure pass-rusher with a knack for getting to the quarterback. Crichton’s motor will never be caught turned off and is an underrated athlete. Will probably fit a 4-3 scheme with his hand on the ground but some teams may experiment with him as a 3-4 outside backer. Brings the wood during contact and wraps the ball carrier up with his strong hands. Scott Crichton is still a little raw but has shown more than enough flashes to entice a coaching staff.

5. TRENT MURPHY (STANFORD) 6-5/250

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There was no way I could leave this prospect off this list. Trent Murphy was a two-time All-American at Stanford where some experts say he was surrounded by defensive talent. I won’t argue with that but I do believe Murphy was the best player on that defense, making the Cardinal unit tick against some of the best offenses in the Pac-12. He has perfect height and size combined with a high motor and use of hands. Plays with great instinct and toughness on every play. This is a blue-chip defensive end that also knows how to play in a 3-4 scheme. Mid-round pick with possibly no red flags at all.

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 CENTERS

The man snapping the ball to your quarterback may be in the next, most important position on the offensive side of the ball. Elite centers make the correct calls against a variety of defensive fronts and blitzes. They also have to be athletic enough to pull in the run-game and quick enough to get set for a bull-rush from a defensive tackle. This class boasts some adequate competition at the center position.

1. MARCUS MARTIN (USC) 6-3/320

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Marcus Martin has attractive upside and a solid skill set to start at center in the NFL for a long time. His size is stout and perfect for the interior of the o-line. He has just one year of starting experience at center but looks so smooth at the position. Quick feet and a solid anchor while always chopping his feet helps him produce way more positive plays than negative. Martin is physical and moves well at 320 pounds but can whiff on pass protection when he doesn’t stick to the right technique. Season this kid with some professional coaching and let him play the minute he’s ready.

2. WESTON RICHBURG (COLORADO STATE) 6-3/298

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Swanson is an undersized center, barely weighing 300 pounds but he is definitely durable. He has started 49 games during his college career so game experience would help him transition to the NFL. Swanson uses quickness and change of direction to make his blocks but he will need to get stronger to last at the next level. If he can handle professional defensive linemen, his intelligence and toughness will earn playing time.

3. BRYAN STORK (FLORIDA STATE) 6-4/315

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Bryan Stork has the perfect attitude to play center in the NFL. He’s aggressive in the run-game and has a strong motor. In his final season at Florida State, he led the protection for Jameis Winston and won the Remington trophy for being the nation’s top center. Stork has 40 career starts and has started six games at guard so he is versatile. I like his chances competing for a starting spot and being reliable when injuries occur.

4. TRAVIS SWANSON (ARKANSAS) 6-5/312

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Travis Swanson is a large-framed center from the SEC so you know he has went head to head with some of the toughest defensive tackles in college football. He has 50 career starts under his belt and was elected team captain twice, proving leadership and character. He has the explosiveness to get after defenders to seal them off but can also afford to bulk up and fill that frame. Could be a steal in the 5th-6th round.

5. GABE IKARD (OKLAHOMA) 6-4/304

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The last center on this list may not have the NFL athleticism that other linemen may have but Gabe Ikard does have the intelligence and character. His academic performance helped him graduate early (May, 2013) with a 4.0 and on the field he uses his brains to get the job done. Ikard started 50 out of 52 games and has an exceptional sense of position blocking. Again, you want a smart guy leading the o-line to keep all five bodies in sync and Ikard did that consistently, earning All-Big 12 three times at Oklahoma.

 

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 GUARDS

The interior of the offensive line is crucial to the run-game and in this year’s draft, there may be two blue-chip guards that can go in the early first to late second round. 

1. XAVIER SU’A FILO (UCLA) 6-4/307

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Su’a Filo is a nasty blocker who uses his hands violently and is a nimble athlete on his feet. Some scouts may think he is undersized but he is versatile. 38 starts on the resume is impressive and that experience in the Pac-12 makes Su’a Filo extremely pro ready. Balanced blocker in the run and pass and will probably add size as he matures.

2. DAVID YANKEY (STANFORD) 6-6/315

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Two-year All-American, three-year starter with 40 starts makes David Yankey a very attractive prospect at guard. He has the size, strength, and smarts to play for a very long time. Played in a Stanford offense that has prepared him for the NFL while making him a true professional. Solid athlete with lower body explosion and the ability to pull with ease. Footwork is exceptional for his large size but seems to lack the toughness and tenacity that Su’a Filo seems to show.

3. GABE JACKSON (MISSISSIPPI STATE) 6-3/336

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Jackson is a massive guard with raw power but is less polished the men above. Powerful run blocker but will get caught reaching for pass rushers. Will probably get drafted in the 3rd-4th round and has upside but hopefully will keep his weight down and work on technique.

4. TRAI TURNER (LSU) 6-3/310

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Physical and aggressive blocker that latches onto opponents with his long arms. Square frame and large size but moves quickly. Seems to have big bear claws when fitting his hands onto rushers. Carries more of his weight in the middle so weight gain may be an issue. 

5. CHRIS WATT (NOTRE DAME) 6-3/310

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Watt is an anchor that absorbs contact and has powerful hands. Just looks like a hog and is a physical, tough guy. Three-year started with 37 starts all at left guard means he can play right away. May not be the quickest guy but you know Watt will compete every play with high effort.

 

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 OTS

Franchise left tackles are literally giant building blocks to a team’s foundation. Investing in your quarterback’s blindside is crucial and this year could have five offensive tackles go in the first round alone. Blue-chip big boys like these may not be the flashy pick but it is necessary to anchor the o-line.

1. GREG ROBINSON (AUBURN) 6-5/332

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UPSIDE is an understatement when describing Greg Robinson. The left tackle who started 2 years at Auburn has broad shoulders, tree trunk-thighs and the bubble to anchor down. Robinson did not pass-block a lot during his college career but was a mauler in the run game. His strength is obvious when he drives defenders down field and gets good bend in his knees. Robinson showed off his raw talent at the Combine and could be a top-3 pick.

2. JAKE MATTHEWS (TEXAS A&M) 6-5/308

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The NFL bloodline continues as Jake Matthews enter pro football. Once considered the top offensive tackle in the draft, some critics like myself rank him second. Matthews does everything right and his technique is almost perfect but he may have peaked sooner than Robinson. Matthews had no problem transitioning from right tackle to left tackle after Luke Joeckel left to the NFL. The knock on Matthews is that he isn’t an elite athlete but I haven’t seen a kick-step quicker than his in a long time. Once he gets his hands on the defender, he is in control which will give him a positive blocking grade consistently. No doubt, Matthews will start for 10 years on the blind side.

3. TAYLOR LEWAN (MICHIGAN) 6-7/309

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Lewan reminds scouts of a baby Jake Long, the former first overall pick from Michigan. Lewan has a nasty attitude on the field and is used to run-blocking. He has been playing offensive line for 5 years after converting from the defensive line in high school. Struggles with pass-blocking technique and it showed against Jadeveon Clowney last year. His strength in athletic ability will help him get by for now but is still a raw player.

4. CYRUS KOUANDJIO (ALABAMA) 6-7/322

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Massive offensive lineman that can probably play guard just as well as tackle. Bonus being that his body-fat percentage is low for his huge frame and Kouandjio is light on his feet. Athletic pass-blocker and will move defenders in the run game. Impressive skill-set but may have some lingering knee problems that affect his long-term mileage. On the plus side, he will be a 21-year-old rookie with upside to mold.

5. ZACK MARTIN (NOTRE DAME) 6-4/308

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Martin is quick off the snap and can play guard if needed. Aggressive run-blocker that keeps his feet moving when he gets his hands on the defender. I don’t know if he has the athleticism to kick-slide and keep up with NFL pass rushers. You know you’re getting a strong kid with sound technique who will show up every game.

NFL DRAFT 2014: MY TOP 5 TES

Tight ends that can block and also be a threat in the passing game are not easy to find. There are probably two tight ends in this draft that will go in the first round. Even those two players are mainly receiving weapons. Blocking can be taught and improved but finding the end zone is a natural gift. Every team is looking for the next Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski.

1. ERIC EBRON (NORTH CAROLINA) 6-4/250

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I love watching this kid’s film simply because he makes plays consistently. Eric Ebron is an intriguing mix of Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis. His body size is perfect and his speed has been clocked at an unofficial 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. Ebron is fluid as a route runner and knows how to adjust to inaccurate throws. Confident, soft hands and a knack for getting yards after the catch make him a very attractive prospect. Offensive coordinators can line up him up anywhere on the field but don’t expect him to overpower defenders in the run game. Top-15 pick that will be a perennial Pro Bowler in the right offense.

2. AUSTIN SEFERIAN-JENKINS (WASHINGTON) 6-5/262

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ASJ is a mismatch for safeties and linebackers. I like the ceiling on this young man because he has not fully developed yet, especially in the run/pass blocking area. Seferian-Jenkins is another athlete that looks like a basketball player when he goes up for the ball. His size and length will also help him gain the extra yards that make a difference in a game of inches. Pushing 6’7″ but also being exceptionally agile with deceptive speed, the 2013 John Mackey Award winner should be productive in the NFL.

3. JACE AMARO (TEXAS TECH) 6-5/265

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Amaro is ranked third because he may not fit in every offensive scheme. He lined up mostly in the slot at Texas Tech and should probably bulk up. He gets open well and has very reliable hands but I don’t see the speed needed to produce the chunk plays. He is possession receiver that is not easy to tackle after the catch. Overall, Amaro looks like he has the attitude and tenacity needed to play tight end although his upside isn’t close to Ebron’s or Seferian-Jenkins’.

4. C.J. FIEDOROWICZ (IOWA) 6-6/265

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I’m not too sure on how to pronounce my No. 5 tight end’s last name but the skills are obvious. This big guy can move like a receiver and can run all the routes. Gets out of breaks quick and rarely drops the ball because he uses his hands, not his body. Moves well on the line of scrimmage and drive-blocks aggressively. The measurables are all positive with a 6’6″ frame, 265 pounds, 4.7 40-yard dash and a 31.5 vertical. Fiedorowicz shows quickness and acceleration after the catch and should be a sleeper potentially becoming a starting NFL tight end.

5. TROY NIKLAS (NOTRE DAME) 6-6/270

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Troy Niklas is a blue collar tight end that is traditional to say the least. He is going to block his tail off in the pass and run game. Played in a pro-style offense at Notre Dame and ran basic routes from the tight end spot. Niklas is well-built with a large frame and long arms that helps him get physical with defenders. A bonus is that he used to play defensive end so the getting dirty in the trenches is not a problem. One observation in the passing game is that Niklas does not create enough separation after coming out of his breaks. His hands are reliable but may not threaten the premier coverage backers in the league. Solid tight end with a second round grade that will give a 100% but I don’t see a superstar.