With only five weeks remaining in the college football regular season schedule, NFL scouting departments are on a quest to identify the prospects they want to get a closer look at during the draft process.
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 latest big board as 17 of the 25 prospects listed are either juniors or redshirt sophomores. While it’s easy to identify the prospects eligible for the draft, those who actually declare won’t be known until January.
To help fans further acquaint themselves with the prospects listed on my big board, I've added their prospect reflection. A lot of analysts like to compare draft prospects to players currently playing in the NFL, as a way to project their future; I prefer to compare draft prospects to prospects of the past.
There are many factors that go into comparing players, including similarities in athleticism, body type, production, etc. For example, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota reflects former Nevada and current San Francisco 49ers star quarterback Colin Kaepernick when he left the Wolf Pack.
How Mariota and other prospects ultimately pan out at the next level is anyone's guess. But, I am a true believer that a prospect’s success is determined by the situation he’s placed in, namely 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
1. *Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (Previous Rank: 1)
The 6-foot-5, 268-pound Clowney hasn’t been the dominant force many anticipated this season, but his defensive skill set is rare, and he’s still one of the most anticipated defensive prospects to come along in quite some time. Despite needing offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his right foot, Clowney should hear his name called as a top-three selection next May.
Prospect Reflection: Julius Peppers (North Carolina), 2002: First round (second overall) by Carolina Panthers
2. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (Previous Rank: 2)
The son of Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bruce Matthews, Jake Matthews, who stands at 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, has the pedigree scouts love and the game that projects to being a future star at the next level. So far this season, the move from the right side to the left side hasn't been a problem for the athletic Matthews, which will only help his draft stock.
Prospect Reflection: Joe Thomas (Wisconsin), 2007: First round (third overall) by Cleveland Browns
3. **Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (Previous Rank: 16)
Starring in Oregon's high-powered offense has created a mystique around the 6-foot-4, 211-pound Mariota, who has elevated his status dramatically due to his dynamic skill set and knack for the big play. There's a lot to like about Mariota, and he fits the mold of the "new-age" NFL quarterback with his superb athleticism and ability to make plays outside of the pocket. However, after his lackluster performance against Stanford, NFL evaluators have to determine if he's purely a product of the system or if he can adapt to any situation.
Prospect Reflection: Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), 2011: Second round (36th overall) by San Francisco 49ers
4. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (Previous Rank: 7)
A former running back and wide receiver during his first two years at UCLA, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Barr has quickly developed into one of the most feared pass rushers in the nation. The scary thing is Barr is still learning the nuances of the position and is far from being a polished defender. But, his natural gifts are hard to ignore and he will be an intriguing prospect for a 3-4 team in need of an explosive edge rusher.
Prospect Reflection: Julian Peterson (Michigan State), 2000: First round (16th overall) by San Francisco 49ers
5. *Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (Previous Rank: 6)
At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Bridgewater has good size and speed and displays a strong, accurate arm. It's those attributes that have made him one of the most coveted prospects eligible for the draft. But, as polished as Bridgewater has looked against a mediocre schedule, he’s a bit of an enigma and not necessarily the “can’t miss” quarterback many believe he will be at the next level.
Prospect Reflection: Geno Smith (West Virginia), 2013: Second round (39th overall) by New York Jets
6. Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal (Previous Rank: 5)
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Lee plays much bigger than his listed size and has incredible game changing ability, but the transition from Matt Barkley to Cody Kessler and nagging injuries he’s endured this season have hurt his production. Ultimately, the drop in Lee's production won't concern scouts, because they know how special he is and the unfortunate situation he’s dealt with. It's almost a certainty that Lee will declare for the draft, and he should still be a top-10 pick.
Prospect Reflection: Lee Evans (Wisconsin), 2004: First round (13th overall) by Buffalo Bills
7. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (Previous Rank: 13)
One of the fastest rising prospects in the country, the 6-foot-1, 205 pound Watkins possesses tremendous playmaking ability and is a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands. Watkins has all of the attributes NFL teams are looking for, and so far this season he’s shown evaluators that he has what it takes to be a No. 1 wide receiver.
Prospect Reflection: Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland), 2009: First round (seventh overall) by Oakland Raiders
8. Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame (Previous Rank: 3)
At 6-foot-2, 330 pounds, Nix is a hard worker, who flashes dominance and possesses a unique blend of size and athleticism. With more and more teams converting to a 3-4 defense, it's crucial for those teams to find a playmaking interior presence. Nix hasn’t been as dominant this season as he was last year, but his presence is felt, and he will be in high demand on draft day.
Prospect Reflection: Vince Wilfork (Miami), 2004: First round (21st overall) by New England Patriots
9. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (Previous Rank: 11)
Standing at an imposing 6-foot-7, 308 pounds, Lewan has been a consistent force on the Michigan offensive line since 2010 and brings the kind of intensity and athleticism scouts salivate over. As much experience as Lewan has, he still has to improve certain areas of his game, most notably his footwork and technique.
Prospect Reflection: Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M), 2013: First round (2nd overall) by Jacksonville Jaguars
10. De’Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon (Previous Rank: 10)
Pound for pound, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Thomas is the most dangerous player in the nation. Known for his blazing speed, joystick like maneuvers and versatility, Thomas doesn't have the size scouts covet. Durability will also be a concern, and not having a definitive position at the next level could be a huge factor in where he’s selected, but his playmaking ability puts him in a class of his own as a high first-round pick.
Prospect Reflection: DeSean Jackson (California), 2008: Second round (49th overall) by Philadelphia Eagles
11. C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama (Previous Rank: 8)
The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Mosley is very close to being the complete package. He has outstanding range and instincts, breaks down well in space, uses his hands to his advantage and is a reliable tackler. He's also dependable in coverage and gets good depth on his drops. The two concerns teams may have about drafting Mosley high in the first round are his lack of bulk and durability questions at the next level.
Prospect Reflection: Patrick Willis (Ole Miss), 2007: First round (11th overall) by San Francisco 49ers
12. **Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (Previous Rank: 9)
For such a young player, the 6-foot-3, 222-pound Hundley has great pocket awareness and feels the rush extremely well. He makes quick decisions, showcases a strong, accurate arm and is one of the most exciting players in the nation outside of the pocket. However, Hundley has struggled recently against the likes of Stanford and Oregon, and questions of him not being ready for the next level have emerged. If Hundley declares for the draft, he’ll be a first-round pick, but staying in school another year will only help his progression as an all-around signal caller.
Prospect Reflection: Donovan McNabb (Syracuse), 1999: First round (second overall) by Philadelphia Eagles
13. *Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama (Previous Rank: 12)
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kouandjio possesses impressive athleticism, footwork, strength and has the ability to dominate upfront. At this point in his development, Kouandjio is much better in the run game than he is in pass protection. He has to be more consistent with his initial punch and technique, but the skill set is there, and with continued progress, he will only increase his draft position.
Prospect Reflection: Branden Albert (Virginia), 2008: First round (15th overall) by Kansas City Chiefs
14. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (Previous Rank: 4)
One of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football, Boyd, who is generously listed at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, has everything a team is looking for in a franchise quarterback. But, after a disappointing and shaky showing against Florida State in a huge ACC battle, Boyd’s stock, fairly or unfairly, has taken a hit, but there’s a lot of time for him to recover.
Prospect Reflection: Russell Wilson (Wisconsin), 2012: Third round (75th overall) by Seattle Seahawks
15. *Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (Previous Rank: 17)
At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, Tuitt is a scheme-diverse defensive lineman who flashes a solid burst and natural pass rush skills. While he can play inside, Tuitt translates best to being a five-technique in a 3-4 defense.
Prospect Reflection: Tyson Jackson (LSU), 2009: First round (third overall) by Kansas City Chiefs
16. *Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State (Previous Rank: 15)
At 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, Shazier is extremely instinctive and makes plays all over the field. He needs to add bulk to his frame and display more consistency getting off blocks, but he's a difference maker and is always around the ball.
Prospect Reflection: Lawrence Timmons (Florida State), 2007: First round (15th overall) by Pittsburgh Steelers
17. **Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (New addition)
It’s hard to ignore the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Evans. Being the favorite target of Johnny Manziel helps with attention, but Evans has been one of the most dominant playmakers in the nation this season and continues his climb on draft boards. Evans will have a huge decision to make at the end of the season, as he has two years of eligibility remaining, but his performance in the Aggies' loss to Auburn -- he hauled in 11 receptions for 287 yards and four touchdowns -- could be the instance that propels him to the NFL.
Prospect Reflection: Vincent Jackson (Northern Colorado), 2005: Second round (61st overall) by San Diego Chargers
18. *Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (Previous Rank: 14)
At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, Roby brings the perfect blend of athleticism, durability, physicality and speed to the field. From a talent standpoint, he is the top cornerback eligible for the draft with his lockdown ability and ball skills. However, Roby tends to lack concentration and give up big plays. If he decides to declare for the draft, he could potentially be a top-10 draft pick, but he’ll need to shine on and off the field and impress NFL decision makers.
Prospect Reflection: Shawn Springs (Ohio State), 1997: First round (third overall) by Seattle Seahawks
19. *Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama (Previous Rank: 24)
A tremendously athletic and fluid safety, the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Clinton-Dix possesses outstanding awareness, instincts and ball skills. While gifted athletically, Clinton-Dix doesn't possess the strength or consistent physical play that some teams desire, but he anticipates the action extremely well and displays a willingness to be physical in coverage and at the line of scrimmage.
Prospect Reflection: Kenny Phillips (Miami), 2008: First round (31st overall) by New York Giants
20. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (New addition)
Most fans haven’t heard of the 6-foot-2, 248-pound Mack, but he’s been on scouts’ radars since last year after he erupted for 94 tackles, 21 for a loss and eight sacks. Plus, to kick off the 2013 campaign, he showcased his impressive talent against Ohio State, collecting nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception. The consistency and improved play that Mack has demonstrated this season has only increased his draft stock and it should propel him to being a top-25 selection.
Prospect Reflection: Jon Beason (Miami), 2007: 1st Round (25th overall) by Carolina Panthers
21. *Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (Previous Rank: 18)
An exciting yet deceptively physical runner with big-play ability, the 5-foot-10, 196-pound Carey has top-10 talent, but his off-the-field history could keep him from realizing his true draft value. If he decides to declare for the draft and teams are comfortable with his makeup, he should ascend on many draft boards.
Prospect Reflection: Reggie Bush (Southern Cal), 2004: First round (second overall) by New Orleans Saints
22. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (Previous Rank: 19)
The brother of 2002 No. 1 overall pick David Carr, Derek, who stands at 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, has made a name for himself while being cast in his brothers shadow. There are many similarities between the Carr brothers as NFL prospects and how they operate on the field, but it's unrealistic to think Derek could ascend to being the top pick in next year's draft. However, the younger Carr should hear his name called in the 15 - 25 range during the draft's opening frame.
Prospect Reflection: David Carr (Fresno State), 2002: First round (first overall) by Houston Texans
23. *Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida (Previous Rank: 22)
The 6-foot, 185-pound Purifoy has an incredible skill set and the ability to be a shutdown corner at the next level. He has to be more disciplined in his assignments, but the versatility that he features will excite many evaluators during the draft process, if he declares.
Prospect Reflection: Aaron Ross (Texas), 2007: First round (20th overall) by New York Giants
24. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young (Previous Rank: 20)
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Van Noy is a tremendously instinctive player who excels as a pass rusher and is solid in coverage. He’s scheme-diverse and plays the game with maximum effort. Van Noy will be attractive to many teams in the draft, especially those who run a 3-4 defense, where his skills as a pass rusher will be best suited.
Prospect Reflection: Nick Barnett (Oregon State), 2003: 1st Round (29th overall) by Green Bay Packers
25. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State (Previous Rank: 25)
The massive 6-foot-4, 335-pound Jackson has the experience, size and athleticism NFL personnel are looking for in a potential first-round prospect, and the durability and toughness he's shown during his career will only help his chances of being a top-25 selection.
Prospect Reflection: Amini Silatolu (Midwestern State), 2012: 2nd Round (40th overall) by Carolina Panthers
Top 10 off the board ...
*Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
**Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
RaShede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
*Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson
*Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
*Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
*Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
*Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
*Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford