With the college football season underway and the NFL regular season just around the corner, it’s time to identify the to draft-eligible prospects that NFL scouts will have their eyes on as they prepare for the long journey toward the 2014 NFL draft.
Today we conclude our five-part series looking at my top-25 draft prospects.
Like every NFL draft, the infusion of underclassmen is always important to the overall strength of a class, and that notion is evident on my preseason big board, as 16 of the 25 prospects listed are either juniors or redshirt sophomores.
To help fans further acquaint themselves with the prospects listed on my board, I've added their prospect reflection. Many analysts like to compare draft prospects to players currently playing in the NFL as a way to project their future, but I prefer to compare draft prospects to prospects of the past.
For example, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is rated No. 25 overall on my board, and I've compared him to former Syracuse star (and Eagle) Donovan McNabb when McNabb left the Orange.
There are many factors that go into comparing players, including similarities in athleticism, body type and production.
How Hundley and other prospects ultimately pan out at the next level is anyone's guess, but I believe a prospect’s success is determined by the situation he’s placed in; meaning the coaching he receives, the system a team implements, how soon he is expected to perform, the talent that surrounds him, and much more.
**Denotes redshirt sophomores
5. *Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
It's tough not to notice the 6-foot-2, 330-pound Nix in the trenches. As a hard worker who flashes dominance, Nix powered Notre Dame's defensive front last year, collecting 50 tackles, 7.5 for a loss and two sacks.
He possesses a unique blend of size and athleticism, and with more and more teams converting to a 3-4 defense, it's crucial for those teams to find a playmaking interior presence. Entering his junior season, Nix has plenty of momentum, and he will be in high demand with another standout season.
Prospect Reflection: Vince Wilfork (Miami), 2004: 1st Round (21st overall) by New England Patriots
4. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
One of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football, Boyd has everything a team is looking for in a franchise quarterback, although he lacks ideal stature. Coming off of a standout junior campaign in which he completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,896 yards, 36 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and rushed for 514 yards and 10 touchdowns, Boyd has the offensive weaponry around him to generate virtual reality-like numbers once again this season.
If NFL decision-makers can look past Boyd's generously listed 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame and concentrate on his Russell Wilson-like ability, he should be the first quarterback off the board.
Prospect Reflection: Russell Wilson (Wisconsin), 2012: Third round (75th overall) by Seattle Seahawks
3. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
As a three-year starter at left tackle, Lewan, who stands at an imposing 6-foot-7, 308 pounds, has been a consistent force on the Michigan offensive line and brings the kind of intensity and athleticism scouts salivate over.
While he has been a mainstay at left tackle, Lewan didn't start playing on the offensive line until he was a senior in high school. He has to improve his footwork and technique, and he isn't as polished as Jake Matthews is at the tackle position. But with Lewan having more experience on the left side, he will compete with Matthews all season and during the draft process for the right to be the top OT selected in 2014.
Prospect Reflection: Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M), 2013: First round (second overall) by Jacksonville Jaguars
2. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
As the son of Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bruce Matthews, Jake Matthews has the pedigree scouts love and the game that projects him to be a future star at the next level. A three-year starter at Texas A&M, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Matthews will move from right tackle to left tackle this season and replace Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars this past April.
The move to the left side shouldn't be a problem for the athletic Matthews, and if all goes well as expected, it will only enhance his stock and propel him to being a top-three selection next May.
Prospect Reflection: Joe Thomas (Wisconsin), 2007: First round (third overall) by Cleveland Browns
1. *Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
If an NFL evaluator could dream up a fantasy defensive difference-maker, the 6-foot-5, 268-pound Clowney would star in any state of consciousness. At just 20 years old, Clowney already possesses an elite skill set for a pass rusher and is one of the most anticipated defensive prospects to come along in quite some time. It's extremely early and a lot can change, but Clowney, who has amassed 21.5 sacks in just two seasons, seems destined to be the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Prospect Reflection: Julius Peppers (North Carolina), 2002: First round (second overall) by Carolina Panthers