2014 NFL Draft: Highlighting Class' Most NFL-Ready Prospects
Every year, 32 NFL teams come together to try to find the superstars in the NFL draft, players they can build a team around and players who will be impactful for many years.
This is mostly true of teams that have struggled of late. For teams that have done well and pick later in the draft, they are looking for players who can start immediately and be solid players. They do not have to dominate, they simply have to be a solid cog in the machine. That's what this list looks at.
These players represent those with the highest floor in the draft, and more importantly, players who can start for their team on day one, needing minimal work to make that transition from college to the NFL.
8. Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
Trent Murphy is not a guy who is going to go high in the first round, and he's not a player who is going to be flashy. If you want a defensive end who can start day one and be simply productive for many years, however, he's your guy.
Murphy had 14 sacks for Stanford last year and has been the anchor of the team's defense throughout his career there. He's played a mix of outside linebacker and defensive end and is comfortable at both positions.
Aside from his productivity, he is a polished player who has good awareness. He is big enough to be able to overpower smaller players, yet quick enough so that those players do not simply get by him.
I'm not convinced he has the athleticism to be great at outside linebacker, but should a 4-3 defensive team take him, he could easily start, say, one on the edge and be a well-rounded talent for that team.
7. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Only once every few years does a wide receiver come along that could be a franchise-type player, one who can not only be a No. 1 receiver from day one, but also notch a couple Pro Bowl bids and be a force in the NFL.
A.J. Green was the last one, and Sammy Watkins appears to be the next. He put up big numbers throughout his time at Clemson, and even when playing alongside other first-round receivers (e.g. DeAndre Hopkins), he still showed himself to be the best one.
Watkins has elite athleticism, and he spent this year fine-tuning any minor issues he had. What keeps me from putting him higher on this list is that he does not have great strength, so those 50-50 passes may be an issue down the road and may limit how good he can be.
He should have no issue being a top-10 selection, and unlike Tavon Austin a year earlier, he should find himself on the field immediately putting up big numbers in the NFL.
6. Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Blake Bortles is not the first quarterback in this year's draft class to come out of nowhere and rise up to first-round consideration. He is the first, however, to come out of nowhere whom I feel legitimately belongs there.
Bortles led UCF to only one loss his senior season and played against a few very tough opponents during that time. His ability to remain calm under pass-rushing pressure and lead his team to convincing wins made him look that much better as an NFL prospect.
Watching Bortles play the game of football is like watching a solid player who has been playing most of his life. He has a good arm and athleticism, but his pocket awareness and his ability to understand defenses are the best in this draft class.
That kind of skill set will always be in demand and should make him a day-one starter. He needs some fine-tuning, but any rough edges can be resolved by him simply playing in the NFL.
5. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Finding a sure tight end is tough, since they have to have the strength to make blocks at the line of scrimmage and handle hits up the middle, yet they have to be athletic enough to act like a wide receiver when the situation calls for it.
Eric Ebron is the only tight end in this year's class who has enough of both where I'm able to consider him a top tight end talent, and that says something for a player with only eight career touchdowns.
Ebron is an athlete, first and foremost, and can be explosive at times, playing almost like a wide receiver who just happens to have a tight end body. His strength isn't fully there just yet, but that's a minor issue, and tight end is the type of position where a player without much experience in the role can flourish.
He has drawn comparisons to Vernon Davis, and from what I've seen of him, the reasoning there is sound. If he can fine-tune his route-running ability and become more of a student of the game, he could easily be a Pro Bowl tight end and can start right away.
4. Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
The defensive front seven in this year's draft class has three players who could be huge names for a long time in the NFL. Jadeveon Clowney is a beast at defensive end and is a big-time boom-or-bust pick. Anthony Barr, meanwhile, looks like the best pass-rusher coming out of college since Von Miller.
Then there's Khalil Mack, a player who managed to get on scouts' radars early and stay on there despite playing at Buffalo. Through four years at the MAC school, Mack looked like a man among boys, picking up sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles like crazy.
Stats are all well and good, but the question is how he will do against NFL talent. Against Ohio State, he had one of the best games of his career, and on film, he shows the abilities needed to move to the NFL.
Mack is the type of player who would benefit big time from a great Senior Bowl and combine just to further convince teams that he can play against top competition. Watching him this season, however, I already know he can do so.
3. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
In most draft classes, there's a quarterback at the top who most scouts are pretty confident will be a sure thing in the NFL. There wasn't one last year, but Andrew Luck and Cam Newton fit the bill the previous two years.
Teddy Bridgewater is the next quarterback in line to be the first overall pick in the draft, and he's someone who has had a polished NFL game for some time.
He has a great arm, great numbers at Louisville and a winning mentality, but what puts him on a list such as this is his technical ability. Greg A. Bedard of The MMQB has noted him as the most NFL-ready quarterback due to "how technically proficient he is at playing the position."
If there's one thing that can separate a bad quarterback from a good one, as well as a good from a great, it's understanding the finer aspects of playing quarterback. Can he stay poised in the face of a blitz? Does he know when to throw and, more importantly, when not to throw? Can he make something out of nothing if up against a great defense or stuck with a lack of talent?
I'm confident that Bridgewater can succeed in all of those points moving forward.
2. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
There are two types of players where scouts can have question marks about their ability to move their skill set to the NFL: those who have not played their position long and are still projects and those who put up big numbers yet might be benefiting from their college's system.
When a player is somehow both raw and productive, however, that strikes me as a player who is as close to a sure thing as one can get at outside linebacker, and that makes Anthony Barr a hot commodity.
The former offensive skill player has spent two years at linebacker and went from a raw prospect to a force extremely quickly, totaling double-digit sacks both years. While numbers don't always translate to the NFL, sacks usually do, so he should have little trouble in the NFL.
Barr's the best pass-rushing specialist in the draft this year, and the worst-case scenario for him would be a player who notches a lot of sacks but doesn't do much else. Best-case scenario? Perhaps he will be better than Jadeveon Clowney when all is said and done.
1. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
For whatever reason, Texas A&M seems to consistently bring the most technically sound tackles to the NFL. Luke Joeckel was the second overall pick last year, Cedric Ogbuehi could be the first tackle taken next year and Jake Matthews may be the best overall player in the draft this year.
Matthews has a strong pedigree, as his father Bruce Matthews was a Hall of Fame offensive tackle. He has strong run-blocking ability, and blocking for a duel-threat quarterback like Johnny Manziel makes it easy to develop that skill.
His pass-blocking ability is just as effective. He knows where his feet need to be to stop a defensive end or linebacker rushing off the edge, and he is able to stop defenders rushing inside as well.
The only downside for Matthews is that his speed and athleticism are not elite. All this does is limit his ceiling, and with how high a floor he has as an NFL tackle, that's not much of an issue. He's as close to a sure thing as can be found in this draft.