2014 NFL draft Big Board
First ranking of top 40 NFL prospects of the season topped by Clowney
For a few weeks every year after the NFL draft, there's a little time to relax. But then in June, I get cranking again, and it all leads to this first Big Board of the college football season. I did release my first 2014 Big Board a couple weeks after the 2013 NFL draft, but you'll some repositioning as I've had more time over the summer to watch, research and make many, many phone calls to elicit the opinions of the people who've seen these guys up close.
At this point last year there was a lot of uncertainty at the top of these rankings, and that uncertainty carried into the season, and then into the draft process. NFL teams were unsure about the quarterback class, and the skill-position talent was pretty light at the top. So you ended up with a draft in which the top guys taken weren't players many fans knew well during the season. I can't see that happening this year. There are big names at the top, and the QB class is deeper.
A couple of notes:
1. During the season I won't change scouting reports much week to week. I will if I see something that really shifts the profile of a player. I'll add new notes based mostly around matchups.
2. An asterisk denotes a junior; two asterisks denote a draft-eligible sophomore.
Here is the first Big Board of the 2013 college football season:
Clowney combines exceptional strength and quickness with a great work ethic, and the result is a terrifying defensive talent. He has a still-growing arsenal of pass-rushing skills and can occasionally play a little high, which allows to teams to run at him, but he's improved there and is nowhere near a liability. An actual Heisman candidate at defensive end. Hard to beat that.
Still developing, and he'll be doing it behind new tackles, but he's a special talent. Bridgewater rarely looks overwhelmed, and comfortably works his eyes across the field. When he sees a target -- or more likely, a receiver who will come open -- he has a quick release, plenty of arm strength and good ball placement. Has good receivers back and should be extremely productive.
Men this large rarely move this well. He has the rare size and skills to handle a zero-technique role -- Nix can keep multiple blockers occupied and make life easy for linebackers cleaning up against the run -- but he's not limited to that. Well-liked and reliable, he should be the anchor of what will be the strength of the 2013 Irish squad.
To see the rest of Mel Kiper's 2014 NFL draft Big Board -- the first of the 2013 college football season -- you must be an ESPN Insider.