NFL draft prep: Top 25 prospects 2.0

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NFL draft prep: Top 25 prospects 2.0
October 4, 2013, 9:00 am
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South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews lead a sturdy 2014 NFL draft class. (USA Today Images)

As the college football season enters Week 6, NFL scouts have had an opportunity to observe many of the prospects eligible for next May's NFL draft. This is an important time of year for all 32 teams as they prepare for the future and identify prospects who give them the ability to upgrade positional weaknesses on their current roster.

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.

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 and production. 

For example, Oregon playmaker De'Anthony Thomas, who prior to the start of the season was my 17th-rated prospect and now has ascended to 10th overall on my board, compares to former Cal star and current Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson when he left the Golden Bears.

How Thomas and other prospects ultimately pan out at the next level is anyone's guess. But, I truly believe that 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.

With that said, here's a look at the second edition (here's the first) of my top 25 prospects ...

*Denotes juniors
**Denotes redshirt sophomores

1. *Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (Previous Rank: 1)
At just 20 years old, the 6-foot-5, 268-pound 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. While he's still my top-rated prospect, the spotlight has dimmed on Clowney a bit over the past month. He's gotten off to a slow start and is expected to have surgery on his right foot to remove bone spurs at the season's end. 

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. *Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame (Previous Rank: 5)
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 most certainly will be in high demand on draft day.

Prospect Reflection: Vince Wilfork (Miami), 2004: First round (21st overall) by New England Patriots

4. 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. If NFL decision-makers can look past Boyd's stature 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

5. *Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal (Previous Rank: 6)
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 has hurt his production so far this season. Ultimately, the drop in Lee's production won't concern scouts because they know how special he is and the unfortunate situation he's been dealt. It's almost a certainty that Lee will declare for the draft, and he should still be a top-10 pick in the spring.

Prospect Reflection: Lee Evans (Wisconsin), 2004: First round (13th overall) by Buffalo Bills

6. *Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (Previous Rank: 7)
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 promising as Bridgewater is, it's difficult to analyze his overall game. The competition he faces each week is mediocre at best and that allows him to post the virtual reality-like numbers he's generated thus far.

Prospect Reflection: Geno Smith (West Virginia), 2013: Second round (39th overall) by New York Jets

7. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (Previous Rank: 10)
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 that 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

8. 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

9. **Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (Previous Rank: 25)
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 by delivering the ball on time and with touch, and is one of the most exciting players in the nation on the move as he displays tremendous vision and elusiveness. If Hundley decides to declare for the draft, there is a strong possibility he could be the top-rated quarterback on a number of NFL teams' boards.

Prospect Reflection: Donovan McNabb (Syracuse), 1999: First round (second overall) by Philadelphia Eagles

10. *De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon (Previous Rank: 17)
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 or a definitive position at the next level, but his playmaking ability puts him in a class of his own.

Prospect Reflection: DeSean Jackson (California), 2008: Second round (49th overall) by Philadelphia Eagles

11. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (Previous Rank: 3)
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 (second overall) by Jacksonville Jaguars

12. *Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama (Previous Rank: 13)
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kouandjio possesses impressive athleticism, footwork, strength and has the ability to dominate up front. 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

13. *Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (Previous Rank: 16)
Blessed with tremendous playmaking ability and a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Watkins has to prove to scouts that he can be a No. 1 wide receiver. He has all of the attributes NFL teams are looking for, and so far this season, Watkins has been a reliable playmaker for Boyd.

Prospect Reflection: Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland), 2009: First round (seventh overall) by Oakland Raiders

14. *Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (Previous Rank: 15)
At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, Roby brings the perfect blend of athleticism, durability, physicality and speed to the field. He is widely recognized as the top cornerback eligible for the draft with his lockdown ability and ball skills. He could potentially be a top-10 draft pick.

Prospect Reflection: Shawn Springs (Ohio State), 1997: First round (third overall) by Seattle Seahawks

15. *Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State (Previous Rank: 12)
At 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, Shazier is extremely instinctive and make 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

16. **Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (New Addition to Big Board)
Starring in Oregon's high-powered offense has created a mystique around the 6-foot-4, 211-pound Mariota, whose dynamic skill set and knack for the big play have captivated the scouting community. 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, 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

17. *Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (Previous Rank: 9)
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

18. *Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (Previous Rank: 14)
An exciting and 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

19. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (Previous Rank: 18)
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 despite being cast in his brother's 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, with a strong showing this year and a standout performance during the draft process, 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

20. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young (Previous Rank: 19)
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Van Noy is one of the most underrated defenders in the nation. A tremendously instinctive player who excels as a pass rusher and is solid in coverage, Van Noy is scheme diverse and plays the game with maximum effort. Van Noy will be very 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: First round (29th overall) by Green Bay Packers

21. **Aaron Lynch, DE/OLB, South Florida (Previous Rank: 11)
A former Notre Dame recruit, the 6-foot-6, 244-pound Lynch sat out the entire 2012 season after transferring to South Florida. He brings tremendous athleticism and versatility to a defense and plays with maximum effort. He has the ability to be a dynamic defender who can alter the opposition's game plan. 

Prospect Reflection: Mathias Kiwanuka (Boston College), 2006: First round (32nd overall) by New York Giants

22. *Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida (Previous Rank: 23)
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

23. **Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor (Previous Rank: 24)
The explosive 5-foot-10, 210-pound Seastrunk is a tough runner and is dangerous in the open field, but he has to continue to improve his all-around game. If he can prove he's more than just a situational runner, he will draw interest from teams in the first round.

Prospect Reflection: Jahvid Best (California), 2010: First round (30th overall) by Detroit Lions

24. *Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama (New Addition to Big Board)
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

25. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State (Previous Rank: 22)
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: Second round (40th overall) by Carolina Panthers

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