2014 NFL Draft Big Board
by Andy Head
It's that time of the year when I go into Sports Geek overdrive for my favourite three days of the year, the NFL draft. Those of you who know me are probably aware that I love the NFL, but my favourite event of the season by far is the draft, even over the Superbowl (possibly because my team, the Arizona Cardinals are at least involved in the draft every year, unlike the Superbowl, or even, the playoffs).
A Big Board is where you rank all the available players in order of ability. Mine is also broken down by position as well and colour coded by round grade.
The difference between my rankings and the ones you will see in the media and from most draftniks is that mine are done "partially sighted". Being in the UK we don't see college games, and most of us don't have any college allegiances, so the first time I look at tape of the years draft crop is not until after the combine in February. I try not to read too many of the early season mock drafts so that when I look at the draftees I'm going in with as open a mind as possible. Obviously I'm not entirely unaware of the bigger names, with Clowney, Manziel, Bridgewater and Sam making headlines from thousands of miles away and guys like Matthews and Lewan who almost came out for the draft last year still fresh in the memory but I'd not seen anything of the likes of Robinson, Ebron, Watkins and Mack until the draft process began. I think that this gives me a unique perspective as I'm going solely on what I see on tape. I use the combine invitees as the basis for my Big Board and grab what tape I can online on each and every player.
As you'll see from my Big Board I have some wildly differing opinions from the norm. However, I'm not shying away from this and backing my own judgement. Last year I was a big fan of some unheralded players who then went on to be unexpected successes, guys such as Joe Fauria from UCLA who went on to be a spectacular early season success for the Detroit Lions. Terrance Williams was my second overall Wide Receiver but only heard his name called by Dallas in Rnd 3 before having a highly impressive debut season.Tyrann Mathieu, the troubled defensive back was also a big favourite of mine and he ended up among the Rookie of the Year candidate discussions. Likewise the year before I was a proponent of gambling on the undrafted Vontaze Burfict who has since gone on to be the highest tackling defender in the league. Equally I've had my failures (Matt Barkley's 1st Rnd Grade was a particular lowpoint!) but that's the fun of it.
Things that will jump out at those with a reasonable knowledge of this years draft class:
- Johnny Manziel 2nd best player in the draft? - Yes, you read it correctly. Other than Clowney there is nobody in this draft I rate as highly as Manziel. He has thrown and run for thousands of yards in college, and the only knock anyone seems to have is that "he likes to party". Show me the college guy who doesn't. He can make every throw, take off as a running threat greater than any QB currently in the NFL, and he still hasn't had NFL coaching to make him even better. The guy is going to transfer a failing franchise.
- Isaiah Crowell best running back? - On pure talent, he's well ahead of the opposition. Nobody else consistently runs between and through tackles for big gains like this kid. By all accounts he has a plethora of off-field issues, but with this much talent someone will have to take a chance. See Burfict and Matthieu.
- Kony Ealy and Demarcus Lawrence only 4th and 5th Rnd picks? - I can only go on the tape I see and neither displayed anything like the skills that have seen most draftniks grade them as Rnd 1-2 prospects. Ealy's burst is overrated and he still looks a year and a few pounds away from fulfilling his potential to me. Lawrence was wildly inconsistent and tends to fly around at speed but, again, he's slight and often sloppy with his technique.
- Khalil Mack only rated 18? - Mack is rated in most people's Top 5 players in the draft. Whilst I liked him, I didn't see anything that wowed me. I prefer both Van Noy and Barr as edge rushers, although I think Mack is more versatile. I'm sure he'll go on to have a great career, but I just don't think he's the elite prospect that the consensus does.
- ILB - Preston Brown at 8, and CJ Mosley only 3rd Rnd? - Preston Brown impressed me more than any other linebacker except Van Noy. One of those occasions where a player unexpectedly jumps off the tape. As I'd never heard of him before I watched the tape, I did due diligence and watched extra games to see if I'd fluked a couple of exceptional games from an inconsistent player, but he was awesome every time. Big, imposing, and with a habit of always being close to the action, either making tackles himself or backing up the guy who was, I struggled to fault him. Until last week he had been broadly ignored by the draft community, although he has now moved into NFL Network guru Mike Mayock's top 5 ILB rankings and since then a few others have sneaked him onto their board, although still no higher than Rnd 4. Brown is my guy in this draft, and I'm certain he will catch on with whatever team is smart enough to select him. Mosley was the leader of the Alabama defence so you would expect great things, but I could see nothing from his tape that made me think he would be anything than Just Another Guy in the NFL. He's a little slow, his anticipation is not always all it could be and there was nothing that he did well enough to make me see a first or second rounder.
- Safeties - Jimmie Ward 3rd Rnd, Deone Bucannon 4th, and Dixon and Berhe 2nd Rnd? - Again, I go with the tape. Bucannon is another that flies around, but often misses tackles in his enthusiasm to make a hit for his own highlight reel. Ward just didn't pop. Dixon and Berhe however did, and whilst I don't see either as definite blue chip 1st Rounders, they both have great individual qualities and high consistency levels. Two teams could pick up some excellent value in the mid-late rounds with these guys.
- Aaron Colvin Rnd 1, but Verrett and Gilbert Rnd 3? - Colvin would easily have been in Rnd 1 contention and would probably been the first CB off the board if he hadn't been injured. He hits like a linebacker, has great instincts and the speed and size to play anywhere across the backfield. Verrett suffers because of size. Whilst he has great technique, he gets outmuscled by average college wide receivers. He can't be seen as anything other than a risk at NFL level and this in turn effects his stock. Gilbert is many people's top CB and is still being mocked in the Top Ten picks. I think of him as a cake that has all the right ingredients but still doesn't taste quite right. He's another that seems to be amassing flashy film, but when you watch a whole game there's sloppiness there that will get exploited at the next level.
- Sefarian-Jenkins at 5 overall? - Just can't see him being anything other than a star in the NFL. Huge size, great hands, awesome blocker. I know there are questions marks regarding attitude and durability but I haven't heard anything too disquieting and the tape is exceptional.
Hope you enjoy the Big Board. I will attempt a mock before Thursday to accompany this and then I'll crawl back into my bloghole for another year in all probability! Couldn't let Draft season come and go without throwing my neck on the line though!