2014 NFL Draft: 5 Prospects Primed for Pro Bowl in Rookie Season
At the end of each NFL season, the league recognizes some of its best players in the Pro Bowl.
Voted on by coaches, fellow players and fans, athletes who are selected to the Pro Bowl are regarded as the elite in the NFL.
While veterans typically take up the majority of the spots on the roster, rookies are quickly becoming more and more likely to get named to the Pro Bowl after their first seasons.
In order to make the Pro Bowl after his rookie season, a player needs to have an impact on his team from Day 1.
While every team hopes that it is drafting a potential Pro Bowler with each of its draft picks, most rookies will not have that honor after their first season.
Here are five prospects who are primed for a Pro Bowl in their rookie seasons.
Chris Borland, Linebacker, Wisconsin
When discussing linebackers in the 2014 draft, typically pass-rushing specialists like Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr come to mind. Despite the fact that those players are getting all of the attention, Wisconsin's Chris Borland has quietly been moving up draft boards.
He has everything you are looking for in a middle linebacker. He is a great downhill tackler with a nose for the football, can quickly read and diagnose plays and competes with the passion that fans clamor for from their teams' stars.
Chris Borland is such a natural at LB. He played mostly offense in HS, but was still B1G Frosh POY in 2009. Instints/intangibles are awesome— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 11, 2014
Despite his production and intangibles, one of the biggest knocks on him is his size. According to NFL.com, he measured in at the combine at 5'11" and 248 pounds, which is considerably smaller than the typical middle linebacker prototype.
Best known for his ability to stop the run, Borland is an underrated pass-rusher who excelled at times as a blitzer. History has proved that smaller linebackers like London Fletcher and Zach Thomas can still excel in the NFL.
Decided to put Chris Borland in my top 50 after watching him up close at the SR Bowl. Love his timing/burst/finish as a blitzer— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 9, 2014
Borland likely will not hear his name until the second round of the draft, but he is the type of player who has excelled against the run and as a blitzer. If put into the right situation, he could rack up some impressive tackle totals that would be too tough to ignore for Pro Bowl voters.
Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End, South Carolina
After a terrific sophomore season in 2012, it was all but assured that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney would be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
He had his share of up and down moments in 2013, but he continued to prove that he had the ability to be the top overall selection.
According to ESPN's Ed Werder, one NFL personnel director thinks that Clowney is the best player in this draft:
One NFL personnel director told me that Jadeveon Clowney should be No. 1 overall even if Andrew Luck were included in this year's draft.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) April 23, 2014
He was impressive at the NFL Scouting Combine, posting an official 4.53 40-yard dash, according to NFL.com. At 6'5" and 266 pounds, he combines impressive size with strength and speed.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller touched on Clowney's speed: "Explosive. Violent. Rare. Clowney has running-back speed in a defensive end's body. With his combination of first-step burst, agility and then closing speed, few blockers can keep up with him."
He has faced criticism this offseason from guys like Warren Sapp and Merril Hoge, who alleged he takes plays off, but he has shown that he is able to fight past the criticism, telling the NFL Network's Kim Jones (via Bryan Fischer of NFL.com): "I wouldn't question that about me personally. I love the game and don't think I take plays off. And I wouldn't question how much I love it because I wouldn't be playing this game if I didn't love it."
Despite all the criticism, Clowney is one of the most talented players at any position in this draft. He has the ability to be a game-changer, not only as a pass-rusher but also as a run-stopper.
Regardless of where he lands in the draft, he likely has the most pressure of all the rookies in this class to succeed. As long as he can stay healthy and show that he doesn't take plays off, he stands a good chance of making the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M
Measuring in at 6'5" and 231 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to NFL.com, Texas A&M's Mike Evans appears to be a guy that will not make it out of the top-15 picks in next month's draft.
I'm told Texas A&M wide receiver @MikeEvans13_ will attend the NFL draft in NYC. He won't be waiting long to hear his name called.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 22, 2014
A former Division I basketball recruit, Evans is a big, strong and physical wide receiver has the ability to jump and get the ball and has the potential to be a dominant presence in the red zone.
He spoke about his basketball background at the combine and how it has effected his game, telling Doug Farrar of SI.com:
It’s helped a lot. I think a lot of other basketball players should play football. We have the qualities. If there’s a jump ball in the air, treat it like a rebound. It helps me get off the press, use my quickness like when I used to dribble. Everything just incorporates into football.
After a redshirt year in 2011, Evans finished 2012 with 82 catches for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. In 2013, he gained 1,394 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on just 69 catches, averaging just over 20 yards per catch.
Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle thinks Evans could be the most dangerous wide receiver in this draft, tweeting:
As good as Sammy Watkins is, Mike Evans could be the more dangerous matchup in the NFL.— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) April 15, 2014
I get a lot of Vincent Jackson comparisons, and that's a great comparison, but I think Brandon Marshall. He's vicious after the catch. A big, physical guy, can go up and get it, blocks real well. So I've modeled my game after him since high school.
Regardless of whether he goes to a team to be their No. 1 receiver or their No. 2, Evans has all of the tools to be named to a Pro Bowl following his rookie season in 2014.
Kyle Fuller, Cornerback, Virginia Tech
A physical presence on the field, Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller plays the game like an intimidator, despite his smaller size (5'11", 189 lbs).
According to NFL.com, he impressed with his speed at the combine by running a 4.40 40-yard dash, and that speed translates on film. He has great awareness and reads and reacts well, but will need to work on his footwork at the next level.
Kyle Fuller is going to run your routes for you, WRs.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 30, 2014
While Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard have been getting most of the spotlight at cornerback, CBS Sports' Dane Brugler prefers Fuller:
Great to see CB Kyle Fuller getting some love, he's deserved it the past few years. Very natural. I'll take him over Justin Gilbert— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 25, 2014
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller lists Fuller as the second-best cornerback in this draft: "Fuller is pro-ready, and now that he's fully recovered from a sports hernia that limited his offseason, he's in place to get stronger and start working on NFL-level technique that can take him over the top. Teams drafting in the middle of Round 1 will get a quality starter with Fuller."
Regardless of the defensive system, Fuller's instincts and physical play will fit in with any style.
His experience playing both inside and outside, as well as safety and linebacker, gives him flexibility and has helped improved his instincts.
If his physical play and awareness can translate onto the field quickly, he has a chance to not only be the best cornerback taken in the 2014 draft, but also stands a good shot at making the Pro Bowl.
Dominique Easley, Defensive Tackle, Florida
The boldest prediction on this list—Florida's Dominique Easley—suffered a torn ACL in both of his knees during his tenure in Gainesville, leaving his draft position in question.
If Dominique Easley's knee is good and he works out fine, he could go back end of the first. That's how good I think he is.— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) April 17, 2014
At 6'2" and 288 pounds, according to NFL.com, he is a bit undersized as a defensive tackle. Despite his size and his prior injuries, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has him as one of his prospects on the rise, writing:
It's easy to say this now, but were it not for two ACL injuries (to opposite knees), Dominique Easley would be a top-15 talent. Much like Tank Carradine last year, his value will be skewed because of injury, but Easley has incredible ability to penetrate and pressure offenses from the interior. He's a Sheldon Richardson clone when healthy. His stock could fluctuate depending on how teams view his readiness after surgery, but a late first-round grade is in order.
The comparison to Richardson is high praise from Miller, considering Richardson is viewed as one of the most explosive young players in the league.
When healthy, Easley displayed quick feet, a good first punch and the ability to be disruptive on a consistent basis. He has a terrific motor and shows off excellent pursuit on plays downfield.
Where he ultimately gets drafted is still up for debate, but he has a chance to be a steal for a team and could wind up being one of the most productive defensive lineman chosen in the 2014 draft. As long as his knees remain healthy and he does not suffer any setbacks, he could shock a lot of fans by being named to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
All stats and measureables courtesy of NFL.com.
Matt Eurich is an NFL/Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.