It's NFL draft season, folks.
Whether you're a fan of a team out of playoff contention or one fighting for a Super Bowl, you can start looking ahead to the 2014 NFL draft with more certainty heading into Week 13. As the draft order comes into focus, and as underclassmen start making their intentions known for next season, there's a ton of information to digest.
Each Thursday morning you can get all the updates, analysis and rumors you need to keep on top of the craziness that is draft season.
Let's get started.
|Aaron Donald||DT||Pittsburgh||The Pitt defensive tackle wasn't on many preseason watch lists, but that was before he posted 10 sacks and 26 tackles for loss in 11 games this season. Donald isn't the biggest guy (6'0", 285 lbs) but his quickness and agility are off the charts. Donald's size will hurt him with some teams, but he's a top-100 player for me.|
|Brandin Cooks||WR||Oregon St.||A Biletnikoff Award finalist, Brandin Cooks has enjoyed a great season statistically. What he's shown in terms of speed, route-running and catch radius is more impressive. The Oregon State wideout makes tough grabs in traffic, but he has the second gear to make big plays when given the ball in space. Cooks is a potential top-40 player.|
|Andre Williams||RB||Boston College||Boston College's Andre Williams has the performance, production and tools to be a star at the next level. Williams (6'0", 227 lbs) has the size to bash defenders, but enough speed to run for over 2,000 yards this season. He's quickly moving into the top-100 range.|
|Darqueze Dennard||CB||Michigan St.||Good luck finding a physical cornerback who has the recovery skills of Darqueze Dennard. He's big enough (5'11", 197 lbs) to play at the line of scrimmage, but he'll turn and run with speedy receivers, too. Dennard is the total package and a likely first-rounder.|
|Dee Ford||OLB||Auburn||Dee Ford has the distinction of being a preseason watch list player for me but then really disappearing from my notes until recently. Now that I've had time to dig in and focus on the Auburn defense, I'm falling in love. Ford is a natural pass-rusher, and he's athletic enough to stand up and play in a 3-4 or slide in as a situational rusher in a 4-3 front. He has a postseason grade in my top 100.|
|Aaron Murray||QB||Georgia||A torn ACL in Week 13 will be a devastating blow to Aaron Murray's draft stock. With normal recovery time and expectations, Murray is looking at missing most (or all) of the 2014 NFL season. Keep in mind that it was his left knee, which, for a right-handed quarterback, is the weight-bearing leg while throwing. Murray would be wise not to rush his rehab and let the chips fall where they may in the draft.|
|Marcus Mariota||QB||Oregon||Marcus Mariota's play is not a concern, even though he did throw his first (and second) interception of the season in the upset loss to Arizona. Instead, Mariota's injuries are starting to become a factor. He has reportedly passed concussion tests and will play Friday against Oregon State, but for a 20-year-old sophomore, you worry about the shots he's taking. Mariota may be tempted to make the jump to the pros, but from my vantage point, he would be better off spending one more year in college—where he can gain size and strength without being hit by NFL defenders.|
|Brett Hundley||QB||UCLA||An early-season darling of the draft media community, Brett Hundley is a case study in why full-season evaluations are needed. There are flashes of brilliance to his game, and it's easy to fall in love at times. But overall his consistency is not up to NFL standards. Hundley, who has been linked to NFL agents, would be wise to head back to UCLA for more development before testing his skills against the pros.|
|Kyle Fuller||CB||Virginia Tech||Injuries can derail a player's stock, even when recovered from the injury. That's the case for Kyle Fuller, who is dealing with his second straight injury-marred season. Last year it was a shoulder injury; this year it's a core muscle injury that's required surgery. Fuller is talented. He's big, strong and physical for a cornerback, but injury woes are pushing his stock in the wrong direction.|
|Jameis Winston||QB||Florida St.||I have a rule to not spend time evaluating players until they are draft-eligible, but in the case of Jameis Winston, I made an exception this week. He's supremely talented, and he looks like a future first overall pick on the field. Off the field, the questions are growing. Winston's alleged involvement in a sexual assault case will have major implications for his NFL future. Even if proven innocent, the doubt and connection alone will turn away some NFL teams. Remember, the Carolina Panthers didn't even want the face of their franchise to have tattoos. Something like a sexual assault allegation will carry weight with NFL decision-makers.|
Matt Miller's 2014 Big Board
The Scout's Report
— Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby is in the 2014 draft class. The junior participated in senior day and is leaving school early. Roby opened the season as the No. 1 cornerback on my board. He’s since dropped slightly, but he has the size and athletic ability to make scouts and general managers fall in love with him between now and May. Roby has first-round ability.
— I’m told by sources close to Marcus Mariota that he’s now leaning toward returning for his redshirt junior season. Injuries have knocked Mariota and the Ducks from the national title race, and the belief is next year they'd be loaded for another title run with Mariota back at quarterback.
— Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff received praise here last week, and in talking to sources this week, it sounds like the Hawkeye is ready to jump to the NFL. He’s currently a top-15 player on my board and grades out higher than former Iowa tackles Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff.
— The season-ending knee injury to Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III shouldn’t affect his draft stock if his rehab goes as expected. The normal timeline for rehab is two to four weeks, but a big body like Nix's can be harder on the knee. How well his recovery goes will be huge in determining whether he declares for the draft before the Jan. 15 deadline.
— All signs point to Alabama junior HaHa Clinton-Dix leaving school for the next level. Clinton-Dix was suspended earlier this year when it was learned a coach gave him a loan. That coach has since been fired and the incident isn’t likely to affect his prospects. His high draft stock (the No. 1 ranked safety) and his disgruntlement with the school will lead to his entering the 2014 draft.
— The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a franchise quarterback in Mike Glennon. The North Carolina State product had all the physical tools to be a downfield thrower coming out of college, but concerns about his ability to handle pressure in the pocket and his lack of mobility caused him to fall in the draft. The Buccaneers have protected him well, though, and he’s stepping up in the pocket and making big throws with a ton of poise.
— If the draft were held today, the Jacksonville Jaguars would have the first overall pick. The Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers would round out the top five,
— Of the teams with two first-round picks, the Cleveland Browns would hold picks No. 7 and 24, while the St. Louis Rams would have picks No. 5 and 17.
— North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron will enter the draft. He’s a matchup nightmare at 6’4”, and he has solid speed for a big body. Ebron isn’t a great blocker yet, but his ability to make plays in the open field and in the red zone make him a top-15 talent.
— The 2013 draft gave us two guards drafted in the top 10. The 2014 class could get a comparable player, as Stanford's David Yankey may be ready for the pros. Coach David Shaw said he wouldn't be surprised to see the powerful interior lineman head to the NFL. He's good enough right now to be a starter and would command a top-40 pick.
— ESPN's Mel Kiper ranked Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd as his No. 8 senior quarterback recently. That's a good indicator that Kiper—and arguably NFL teams—are putting too much emphasis on height and arm strength. For Boyd to come behind Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, scouts could only be grading athletic potential and not accuracy, vision or actual ability to throw the football. Kiper is on the NFL draft media Mt. Rushmore, but he's wrong on this one.
— Keep an eye on Stanford's Trent Murphy as the draft season heats up. The current FBS leader in sacks, Murphy is tailor-made to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and recently drew a comparison to Clay Matthews Jr. in my talks with a Pac-12 scout.
A Day in the Life of an NFL Scout
Each week you’ll get a glimpse inside the life of everyone’s dream job—being an NFL scout.
Payday. No matter what you do for a living, at some point you have to worry about paying the bills. Being an NFL scout may be your dream job, but you might need to adjust the lifestyle you can expect from everyone’s favorite profession.
Before the 2010 season, I personally interviewed with an NFL team (which asked not to be mentioned here due to their salary structure). The personnel assistant job started at $35,000 in a major market with a high cost of living. That’s on the high side from horror stories I’ve been told.
I polled five current and former NFL scouts about the pay structure in the league, and it’s not very consistent. One former personnel man told me area scouts made $65-75,000 per year. Others listed the range between $30-40,000 for a first-year scout, $40-90,000 for area scouts, $90-150,000 for national scouts, and a huge range, $110-450,000, for college scouting directors.
Like most jobs, the pay depends on experience, performance and the market. But as one team scout told me, his first job in the league was for $25,000 a year. If you’re not willing to grind it out for very little pay, the dream job of being an NFL scout is not for you.
Aaron Murray, Georgia
Strengths: Seeing the field, reading the defense and getting the ball to his playmakers. That’s what Aaron Murray does best. He’s smart before and after the snap and shows the poise and experience to work within the framework of his offense and get the ball out quickly to receivers and tight ends.
Murray uses all of his targets and is a high-level distributor from the pocket and on the move. While not a great athlete, he’s mobile enough to move and extend the play if needed. Murray is accurate and throws with excellent touch, which results in a very catchable pass.
Weaknesses: Before his recent ACL tear, he was viewed as a smart game manager-type with the mobility to make plays outside the pocket. At a listed 6’1”, he’s on the small size for scouts.
Murray was similar to an Alex Smith-type QB who can make plays over the middle and on the run, but who lacks the arm to push the ball hard on routes deeper than 30 yards. He’s smart, shows good instincts and has a feel for the pass rush, but he lacks the arm to be a starter in most systems.
With the knee injury, Murray’s stock hinges on his rehab. Murray should slip from a third- to fifth-round prospect to a late-rounder.
Pro Player Comparison: Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
The Big Board
|2014 NFL Draft Big Board: Top 20|
|3||Jadeveon Clowney||DE||South Carolina|
|4||Jake Matthews||OT||Texas A&M|
|9||Derek Carr||QB||Fresno State|
|11||Mike Evans||WR||Texas A&M|
|12||Ryan Shazier||OLB||Ohio State|
|15||Jace Amaro||TE||Texas Tech|
|19||Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M|
|20||Eric Ebron||TE||North Carolina|
|Matt Miller's 2014 Big Board|
See the full big board, always updated here.
10. I love the way Tajh Boyd throws the football—with velocity, good arc and a ton of confidence. The Clemson quarterback is among my favorites.
9. I love that Oklahoma State's Clint Chelf is playing fearless football. The senior signal-caller is putting himself on the table for a late-season evaluation.
8. I love watching Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch making plays with his arm and feet, but he’s not a starting NFL prospect at quarterback.
7. I hate that so many NFL fans want to fire their head coach, but I love the idea of Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin coaching in the pros very soon. If Johnny Manziel heads to the NFL, Sumlin will follow.
6. I love AJ McCarron the college quarterback, but the belief that he’s a top quarterback prospect for the NFL is laughable. Wins in college football mean very little—if anything—in draft scouting.
5. I hate that the media and some in the Washington football organization are going after Robert Griffin III. He's struggling, to be sure, but most quarterbacks do in their second year—especially coming off a knee surgery that, in hindsight, seems he rushed to recover from. Patience, Washington.
4. I love that the LSU Tigers pinned their ears back and attacked Johnny Manziel. Too many teams try to contain him with the pass rush, but the Tigers used inside penetration from Anthony Johnson and others to fluster the Heisman trophy winner.
3. I love the way Carlos Hyde and Bishop Sankey approach contact. Neither player is afraid to bulldoze a defender.
2. I hate to see so many players injured on a weekly basis. When you start tracking several hundred players for the upcoming draft, you realize how bad injuries are in the college game.
1. I hate that Alabama plays Chattanooga and Florida State plays Idaho in the final weeks of the season. It is what it is, but what a waste of a week.
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
@seniorbowlPhil, Phil Savage, Executive Director of Senior Bowl
A former NFL general manager, player personnel director and scout, few people have the experience Savage brings to the table. As the executive director of the Senior Bowl, he’s responsible for overseeing the selection of the North and South teams for the week-long scouting frenzy in Mobile, Ala.
What I’m Watching This Weekend
1. Oregon vs. Oregon State
|Oregon offense||Oregon defense||Oregon St. offense||Oregon St. defense|
QB Marcus Mariota
OW De'Anthony Thomas
C Hroniss Grasu
WR Josh Huff
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
DE Taylor Hart
OLB Boseko Lokombo
QB Sean Mannion
WR Brandin Cooks
DE Scott Crichton
CB Rashaad Reynolds
If you love quarterbacks and skill players, this is a must-see game. Being able to grade Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion head-to-head at QB will be great for 2014 and 2015 draft scouting. We'll also get to see Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu take on speedster Brandin Cooks at wide receiver.
2. Fresno State vs. San Jose State
|Fresno State offense||Fresno State defense||San Jose St. offense||San Jose St. defense|
QB Derek Carr
TE Marcel Jensen
OT Austin Wentworth
No ranked players
QB David Fales
WR Noel Grigsby
CB Bene Benwikere
This one is all about the quarterbacks. David Fales entered the year as a sleeper first-round prospect, but he has been overshadowed by Derek Carr's big arm. The two will get a chance to compete on the same field in what should be an excellent shootout.
3. Alabama vs. Auburn
|Alabama offense||Alabama defense||Auburn offense||Auburn defense|
QB AJ McCarron
OT Cyrus Kouandjio
OG Anthony Steen
DE Ed Stinson
DE Jeoffrey Pagan
LB Trey DePriest
LB C.J. Mosley
LB Adrian Hubbard
FS HaHa Clinton-Dix
CB Deion Belue
RB Tre Mason
FB Jay Prosch
DT Jeffrey Whitaker
OLB Dee Ford
The biggest game of the college football weekend also has major NFL draft implications. Alabama is loaded on both sides of the ball, but we'll get a clean look at how well its offensive line handles Dee Ford and how well the Crimson Tide defense can shut down running back Tre Mason. This is a prove-it game for the Alabama offensive line and linebackers, and a huge chance for Auburn's Mason to break out on a national scale.
4. Clemson vs. South Carolina
|Clemson offense||Clemson defense||South Carolina offense||South Carolina defense|
QB Tajh Boyd
WR Sammy Watkins
OG Brandon Thomas
DE Vic Beasley
QB Connor Shaw
DE Jadeveon Clowney
DE Chaz Sutton
CB Jimmy Legree
A huge rivalry game, Clemson vs. South Carolina doesn't feature a ton of draft prospects, but the players on the field are of a high caliber. Four players—Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney—all carry a top-32 grade heading into December. It will be the matchup of Clowney versus the Clemson offense that has scouts paying close attention to the defensive end's impact and how well Boyd handles his presence.
5. Iowa vs. Nebraska
|Iowa offense||Iowa defense||Nebraska offense||Nebraska defense|
TE C.J. Fiedorowicz
OT Brandon Scherff
OLB Christian Kirksey
ILB James Morris
OT Jeremiah Sirles
OG Spencer Long
DE Randy Gregory
CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
You could focus on just two players in this game and make it worthwhile viewing: right defensive end Randy Gregory (No. 44) against left tackle Brandon Scherff (No. 68). The Cornhuskers will move Gregory around, but anytime he's matched up against Scherff, pay attention. The two underclassmen are future top-15 players—and both are eligible for the upcoming draft. This is the best one-on-one matchup of the weekend and must-see football for draft fans.