NFL Draft Prep: Top 25 Prospects 4.0

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NFL Draft Prep: Top 25 Prospects 4.0
December 5, 2013, 7:15 pm
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Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw 25 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season. (AP)

It’s hard to believe, but the college football regular season is coming to a close, and bowl season is right around the corner. And, for some of the prospects listed in my top-25, it’s the last opportunity to showcase their skills before the draft process begins.

NFL scouting departments have done their homework since August, gathering information and filing reports on draft-eligible prospects, but there are many more months of work ahead. Over the next five weeks, NFL front offices will have a clear understanding of the draft landscape as they anxiously await to hear the declarations of the nation’s top underclassmen.

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, production, etc. For example, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney reflects former North Carolina and current Chicago Bears star defensive end Julius Peppers when he left the Tar Heels.

How Clowney 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.

With that said, here's a look at the fourth edition (here's 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0) of my top 25 prospects:

Note: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota announced that he is returning to school for his junior campaign and is no longer listed as a draft-eligible prospect.

*Denotes juniors
**Denotes redshirt sophomores

1. *Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (Previous rank: 1)

2013 STATS: 35 TKL, 3 SACK

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 having a down year and needing offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his right foot, Clowney projects to be a cornerstone defender at the next level and will still be a strong candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick in 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)

2013 STATS: 12 GP, 12 GS

The son of Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bruce Matthews, Jake Matthews, who stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 305 pounds, has the pedigree scouts love and the game that projects to being a future star at the next level. The move from right tackle to left tackle wasn’t a problem this season, and it has only enhanced the draft stock of the athletic Matthews, who will ultimately be a top-5 pick.

Prospect reflection: Joe Thomas (Wisconsin), 2007: First round (third overall) by Cleveland Browns

3. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (Previous rank: 4)

2013 STATS: 62 TKL 10 SACK 0 INT

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

4. *Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (Previous rank: 5)

2013 STATS: 71.0%, 3,268 YDS, 25 TD, 3 INT

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 in the NFL.

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

5. *Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal (Previous rank: 6)

2013 STATS: 50 REC, 673 YDS, 2 TD

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 the nagging injuries he’s endured this season, have hurt his production. Ultimately, the drop in Lee's numbers 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 despite his down year, he still has the entire draft process to boost his draft stock back into the top-10 picture.

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

6. *Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (Previous rank: 7)

2013 STATS: 85 REC, 1,237 YDS, 10 TD

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 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

7. *Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame (Previous rank: 8)

2013 STATS: 27 TKL, 0 SACK, 0 INT

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. Statistically, Nix didn’t dominate the way that he did in 2012, but his presence was felt on the field, and he will certainly get noticed during the draft process and be in high demand on draft day.

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

8. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (Previous rank: 9)

2013 STATS: 12 GP, 12 GS

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

9. *De’Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon (Previous rank: 10)

2013 STATS: 93 ATT, 581 YDS, 8 TD, 20 REC, 222 REC YDS, 1 REC TD

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 possess the size scouts covet, which will lead to concerns about long-term durability. Another factor teams will have to consider is that Thomas doesn’t have a definitive position in the NFL, and that could determine where he’s ultimately selected. But his playmaking ability puts him in a class of his own, and he should hear his name called as a top-15 pick.

Prospect reflection: Tavon Austin (West Virginia), 2013: First round (eighth overall) by St. Louis Rams

10. C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama (Previous rank: 11)

2013 STATS: 102 TKL, 0 SACK, 0 INT

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

11. **Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (Previous rank: 17)

2013 STATS: 65 REC, 1,322 YDS, 12 TD

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 the past two seasons and continues his climb on draft boards. It’s unclear if Evans will declare for the draft with two years of eligibility remaining; his decision could be based on which direction Manziel decides to go, but Evans’ performance in the Aggies’ loss to Auburn -- where he hauled in 11 receptions for 287 yards and four touchdowns -- could be the instance that influences his departure from College Station.

Prospect Reflection: Vincent Jackson (Northern Colorado), 2005: Second round (61st overall) by San Diego Chargers

12. *Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama (Previous rank: 13)

2013 STATS: 12 GP, 12 GS

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

13. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (Previous rank: 20)

2013 STATS: 94 TKL, 10.5 SACK, 3 INT

Most fans haven’t heard of the 6-foot-2, 248-pound Mack, but he’s been on scouts’ radars for over a year after he erupted for 94 tackles, 21 for a loss and eight sacks in 2012. Mack got off to a fast start in 2013 and showcased his impressive talent against Ohio State in the first game of the year; he collected nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception. The consistency and dominant play that Mack demonstrated this season has positioned him to being a potential top-10 pick.

Prospect reflection: Jon Beason (Miami), 2007: First round (25th overall) by Carolina Panthers

14. *Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (Previous rank: 15)

2013 STATS: 45 TKL, 6 SACK, 1 INT

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

15. *Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama (Previous rank: 19)

2013 STATS: 46 TKL, 0 SACK, 2 INT

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

16. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (Previous rank: 22)

2013 STATS: 70.3%, 4,462 YDS, 45 TD, 5 INT

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 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 the draft. Depending on who you talk to, there are many scouts who are extremely high on the younger Carr, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he ascends to being a top-15 pick, even after his Bulldogs suffered a disappointing loss to San Jose State and ended their BCS bowl hopes.

Prospect reflection: David Carr (Fresno State), 2002: First round (first overall) by Houston Texans

17. *Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (Previous rank: 18)

2013 STATS: 63 TKL, 0 SACK, 3 INT

At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, Roby, who announced he will forego his senior season and enter the draft, 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, he tends to lack concentration and give up big plays. Roby has top-10 talent, but he needs to impress evaluators during the draft process to realize his full draft potential.

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

18. *Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon (New addition)

2013 STATS: 78 TKL, 0 SACK, 3 INT

At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Ekpre-Olomu doesn’t have the ideal size scouts look for in an outside corner, but he understands his assignments, demonstrates tremendous awareness and instincts and is not afraid of mixing it up against a bigger, more physical opponent. Ekpre-Olomu offers versatility to a team’s secondary and has the ability to play in the slot. Not to mention, being a former safety recruit, his skill set translates well to playing safety at the next level, if needed.

Prospect reflection: Sheldon Brown (South Carolina), 2002: Second round (59th overall) by Philadelphia Eagles

19. *Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (Previous rank: 21)

2013 STATS: 322 ATT, 1,716 YDS, 17 TD

An exciting yet deceptively physical runner with big-play ability, the 5-foot-10, 196-pound Carey has displayed workhorse-like ability this season and has proven he has what it takes to be an every-down runner. As special as he is on the field, Carey had some off-the-field issues in his past that NFL personnel will have to look into, which could keep him out of the opening frame. If he decides to declare for the draft and teams are comfortable with his makeup, he should be selected in the 20-35 range.

Prospect reflection: Reggie Bush (Southern Cal), 2004: First round (second overall) by New Orleans Saints

20. *Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State (Previous rank: 16)

2013 STATS: 122 TKL, 6 SACK, 0 INT

At 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, Shazier is extremely instinctive and makes plays all over the field; he’s one of the most productive defenders in the country. While he generates eye-popping statistics, Shazier needs to add bulk to his frame and display more consistency getting off blocks. If he improves in those two areas, he has the ability to be a game-changer in the NFL.

Prospect reflection: Lawrence Timmons (Florida State), 2007: First round (15th overall) by Pittsburgh Steelers

21. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (Previous rank: 14)

2013 STATS: 68.2%, 3,473 YDS, 29 TD, 9 TD, 134 RUSH ATT, 273 RUSH YDS, 9 RUSH TD

One of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football, Boyd, who is generously listed at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, has the ability to be a franchise quarterback, but scouts are concerned with his inability to shine when the lights are brightest. Boyd had a chance to make a statement against Florida State and South Carolina and to erase any doubt, but unfortunately, he came up short in those two losses and his draft stock has taken a hit as a result. There’s still time for Boyd to rebound and prove his worth during the draft process, but the questions will come from every angle.

Prospect reflection: Russell Wilson (Wisconsin), 2012: Third round (75th overall) by Seattle Seahawks

22. Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford (Debuted 21st Overall In 1.0)

2013 STATS: 51 TKL, 13 SACK, 1 INT

A consistent force from the outside linebacker position, the 6-foot-6, 261-pound Murphy is a hard-working, physical defender who has tremendous pass-rushing skills. Murphy is a perfect fit for a 3-4 defense at the next level. He has the ability to play with his hand in the dirt, but his ability to create in space and attack off the edge will catch the attention of a 3-4 team drafting in the mid-to-late first-round that's in need of a steady playmaker.

Prospect reflection: Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), 2011: First round (16th overall) by Washington Redskins

23. *Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech (New addition)

2013 STATS: 98 REC, 1,240 YDS, 7 TD

In today’s NFL, it’s important to have playmaking tight ends that can stretch the field and make an impact. And there isn’t a tight end in the country that has made a bigger impact in a passing game than the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Amaro. Whether he’s in the slot or on the outside, Amaro has the ability to exploit a defense with his natural receiving skills and vision. It’s unknown if Amaro will declare for the draft, but if he decides to cash in on his breakout season he could land in the first-round if he tests well during the draft process.

Prospect reflection: Gavin Escobar (San Diego State), 2013: Second round (47th overall) by Dallas Cowboys

24. **Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (Previous rank: 12)

2013 STATS: 67.8%, 2,845 YDS, 22 TD, 150 RUSH ATT, 587 RUSH YDS, RUSH 9 TD

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 had an up-and-down year overall and questions of him not being ready for the NFL have emerged. If Hundley decides to declare for the draft, he’ll likely be a first-round pick, but staying in school another year would help his progression as an all-around signal caller.

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

25. *Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State (New addition) 

It wasn’t too long ago when the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Erving lined up on the defensive side of the ball as a promising run-stuffing tackle for Florida State. But, in need of offensive line depth, the coaching staff felt Erving had the length and athleticism to make the transition from the defensive line to the offensive line as a left tackle during the spring of 2012. It was a struggle at first for Erving, which was expected, but he caught on quickly and has now developed into one of the best offensive linemen eligible for the draft. With the emergence of Jameis Winston and the undefeated Seminoles this season, Erving’s draft stock is ascending at a rapid rate.

Prospect reflection: Eugene Monroe (Virginia), 2009: First round (eighth overall) by Jacksonville Jaguars

Top 20 off the board…

1. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young
2. *Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
3. *Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
4. *Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson
5. **Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
6. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
7. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
8. *Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
9. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
10. *Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
11. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
12. *Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
13. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
14. *David Yankey, OG, Stanford
15. **Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
16. *Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
17. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
18. *Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
19. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
20. Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor