Thanks to the great people at Draft Breakdown, I’ve been able to watch cutups of a lot of draft prospects over the last two years. One thing that has always bothered me is having to trust rankings and player opinions of other people. I don’t regularly watch college football, but even if I did, I couldn’t possible watch enough to evaluate draft prospects. A guy might jump off the screen, but otherwise you are missing a lot. There is also a big difference between focusing on a single player and watching a game—different things matter.
Here is a list of guys I liked a lot last year:
Star Lotulelei – My favorite player in the draft. The whole package.
Barkevious Mingo – My favorite pass-rusher. Flexibility with room to improve.
Sheldon Richardson – Liked him almost as much as Lotulelei. Impact player on every down in college.
D.J. Hayden – Didn’t get to watch him until late like most people, but he and Xavier Rhodes were 1A/1B at the cornerback position to me. Don’t give up on him yet Raider Nation.
Tyler Wilson – I learned that the quarterback position is a different animal with this one. What we don’t know about a player is even more important. In this case, Wilson’s struggles learning protections.
Eric Fisher – Rocky start to his career in KC, but has time to develop.
Arthur Brown – We’ll see if he gets more playing time this year.
Christine Michael – He will take over for Lynch eventually.
Markus Wheaton – Taking over a starting job this year. Could be a good fantasy value.
Kawann Short – Could see he was going to be a good interior rusher if he developed a little bit.
Datone Jones – Limited impact as a rookie, but I think he’ll be a solid player at the very least. Gil Brandt of NFL.com thinks he’ll have a big season in 2014.
I’m sure there were others players I liked, but these are the guys I remember. If there were others, feel free to remind me. It’s far too early to judge the class, but I’d say I have a pretty good eye for talent save the quarterback position.
Guys I didn’t like as much as other people:
Dion Jordan – I still liked him, but I felt like he wasn’t going to be an every-down player for a year or two.
Alec Ogletree – Athlete playing football.
Tavon Austin – Size does matter. Didn’t like him in the first round at all.
D.J. Fluker – Not as a tackle. Feet too slow in pass pro.
Jarvis Jones – Scheme made him good in college, but talent was never that great.
Desmond Trufant – Needed right scheme. Turns out, he landed in the perfect one.
Dee Milliner – NFL-level talent, but had a lot to learn about playing the position in the pros.
Sharrif Floyd – Impact greatly overstated. Short arms were a legit concern.
Bjoern Werner – One-trick pony. Talent not good enough to use that trick to great effect in the pros.
Manti Te’o – Always lost in the wash. Not an elite athlete.
Geno Smith – Had potential, but never looked like a first-round quarterback to me.
Just because I didn’t like them as much as others, doesn’t mean I didn’t see potential or wouldn’t have drafted them at some point. Smith ended up being drafted about where I thought he should. Same with Te’o. Fluker turned out to be good in San Diego’s offense, but would have been a nightmare in a pass-heavy one. Again, if I missed any, remind me and I will add them.
There isn’t as much to this scouting thing as some would have you believe. The reason some scouts never advance is that they don’t have an eye for talent or they aren’t willing to voice a strong opinion because they are too afraid of being wrong. That’s not to say you can become a scout easily or without some knowledge, but there are plenty of people not employed by NFL teams doing great scouting work.
2014 prospects I like better than their consensus ranking (in no particular order):
Odell Beckham Jr. - If he was a little bigger, people would think he’s the best in the class. If the Raiders got him at No. 5, I would not be disappointed.
Kyle Fuller - He does everything pretty well and has room to grow.
Zach Mettenberger - He has his issues, but most of them can be corrected. He may sit a year due to the knee injury anyway, making him an interesting target in the second round.
David Fales – If he can develop some arm strength, he’s got everything else you look for in a franchise guy.
Jarvis Landry – He’s not a burner, but he’s fast enough. Reminds me of guys like Hines Ward, Anquan Boldin and Jason Avant. Ceiling may be a little limited, but his floor is high.
Brandin Cooks - Slot receivers are becoming more and more important. Cooks is like a smaller Beckham.
Khalil Mack – He can do it all. He’s not quite Von Miller as a pass-rusher, but he’s still quite good. At SAM in a 4-3 is a great spot for him.
Greg Robinson – He has some pass pro limitations, but as I learned from Fluker last year, his length will help him overcome it. He has lighter feet than Fluker, so he has more upside and should be able to play on the left. He’s a beast in the run game. At worst, he’s an All-Pro guard.
Kony Ealy – Underrated pass-rusher.
Scott Crichton – Reminds me of Lamarr Houston, but with more upside as a pass-rusher.
Aaron Donald - Can be a liability against the run, so I might put him outside on early downs or surround him with a good nose and inside backer. He’s so quick once he starts moving, but I found his snap anticipation to be lacking at times. He’s going to be a good interior rusher, but he might not be a three-down player initially.
Sammy Watkins – I have concerns about him being elite at the NFL level because of his build and athleticism, but he does everything so well that I can’t not love him.
Players I don’t like as much as the consensus:
Mike Evans – Can he separate? If so, he’ll be the best in the class. I’m not convinced he can separate from NFL cornberbacks and get open without pushing off.
Kelvin Benjamin – He’s big, but that’s about it. Effort is iffy. Routes are sloppy. Stay away.
Anthony Barr – Inconsistent. Could be very good, but I am not taking him in the top 10.
Johnny Manziel – He’s Terrelle Pryor and Tim Tebow wrapped into a slightly different package. If those guys had developed into good passers, they might have been the next big thing. Manziel has a chance, but even if he does his size and style of play could lead to injury. Unlike Tebow and Pryor, he’ll also have to compensate for his lack of height. Huge risk. I’d take him in the second round.
Blake Bortles – So much work to do, but looks the part. Not the kind of quarterback I want in the top five. Needs to sit a year.
Jadeveon Clowney – I’d still love to have his talent, but is he Julius Peppers or Albert Haynesworth?