Easley most definitely is on NFL radars, and his small frame and quickness off the snap are more in line with the tackles NFL teams seek to rush the passer these days.
But Easley now has torn two ACLs in his career, and his stock could suffer. Can he still be a first-round pick? For sure. But he might not be fully mobile until after the May draft and will have to convince teams throughout the pre-draft process that he is on track to be ready for minicamps, OTAs and, more important, training camp.
Following his surgery, Easley will be about 10 months out from the start of most NFL camps.
Muschamp praised his star player entering the draft, and even gave Easley a strong endorsement that the NFL scouting community can file away.
"I think that's the best move for him right now, to prepare himself (the draft) and get ready for that," Muschamp said. "He and I talked briefly about it, and that's what he wants to do. I support it 100 percent.
"He'll be a productive guy on the next level. He's a really good football player. He's extremely intelligent. He gets the game. His tape speaks for itself and how he plays the game and approaches the game. He'll be fine. There will be a lot of organizations that want him."
Pre-injury, Easley was firmly in the first-round picture. Now, his stock remains volatile. But he’ll have every chance to convince scouts he should be taken in the first 32 picks in what appears to be a far thinner defensive tackle class than in 2013.
The premature 2014 mock draft, picks 1-16 (order based on inverse of current power rankings)
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater
They drafted what now will be the left tackle of the future — Luke Joeckel, with Eugene Monroe gone — so it only makes sense that they give him someone to protect. Blaine Gabbert will get the remainder of the season to show something, anything, and the return of Justin Blackmon could help, but confidence in Gabbert has been waning for some time.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
Clearly, the Bucs’ issues lie mostly on offense, but it’s not like they could not use a talent of Clowney’s ilk. Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is not starter-grade, and Da’Quan Bowers might be a lost cause. If Gerald McCoy had a teammate such as Clowney, he’d see fewer double teams.
3. New York Giants
Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio
There are those in the NFL who feel that Kouandjio, and not the more decorated Taylor Lewan or Jake Matthews, has the highest upside at tackle. William Beatty isn’t cutting it so far as a left tackle and might be better suited inside.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews
We’re talking about an experienced, gifted left tackle who might turn out better than any of the top-3 picks at the position — including Joeckel, his former teammate — this past draft. And forget Levi Brown: The Steelers need a long-term solution, and Matthews easily could shift back to right tackle (where he played in 2012) for a year or two.
5. St. Louis Rams
Too high? Not likely given that they spent a top-10 pick on a receiver last year? Possibly. But they have multiple first-round picks (and, as of right now, two top-10ers) and can go with the top offensive talent available here. And they still need another receiver, it appears.
6. Oakland Raiders
UCLA OLB Anthony Barr
With Lamarr Houston heading for free agency, they must lock him up — but also add some pass-rushing punch up front. Barr can do that and would give the Raiders another face on a rebuilding defense. We also need to be convinced, of course, that Terrelle Pryor is the guy past this season.
7. St. Louis Rams (pick traded from Washington Redskins to Rams)
Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
This is not a perfect match, but it would bolster a flawed offense. Lewan could handle the right side for a few years before Jake Long’s inevitable slide comes. Safety is another position they could address, but not this high.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Last week we gave them Johnny Manziel; this week we’re going with Mariota. Both have ties to Chip Kelly, and this could foreshadow an offseason-long debate. Michael Vick appears fine in the spot now, but he’s taking a beating and is not a long-term option. You know Kelly wants to bring in his own engineer.
9. Arizona Cardinals
UCLA QB Brett Hundley
They’d be prime candidates to go offensive line here, but with the top three tackles off the board, we’ll go with the other position of need: quarterback. No, Hundley might not be Bruce Arians’ ideal QB, but Hundley can make every NFL throw and should be able to adapt to a deep-passing system while still making plays with his feet.
10. Minnesota Vikings
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
They won’t be chanting “Cassel, Cassel!” at The Metrodome TCF Bank Stadium next year, not after the Vikings draft a quarterback this high. Boyd has the perfect, diverse skill set to match this offense — that is, if the current staff is allowed to keep their jobs. They should be given another chance, it says here, and Boyd could re-stoke the fires up north if he wins the job.
11. Buffalo Bills
Off-the-line linebackers such as Mosley don’t often go in the top 15, but he is making a case to go this high. His leadership was praised heartily by Nick Saban and Crimson Tide players following the Ole Miss win, and Mosley has the athleticism to fill a number of roles defensively. Did you see him spy Manziel a few weeks ago? Pretty impressive and tough assignment.
12. New York Jets
Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
Put Evans across from Santonio Holmes (if he’s a Jet next year) and Stephen Hill, and you might have something pretty good for Geno Smith. Evans immediately would be the biggest and most physical wide receiver in the division from Day 1.
13. San Diego Chargers
TCU CB Jason Verrett
The Chargers need to improve a leaky, under-talented secondary, but the status of Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (indefinite suspension by Saban) has us looking at corner instead. Verrett has the chops to be the first corner taken.
14. Cleveland Browns
Texas A&M Johnny Manziel
A trade up for one of the other quarterbacks is possible, given the extra first-rounder they now have via the Trent Richardson trade. Not sure that Manziel is a perfect fit for what they want in a QB, but oh boy, it would be interesting.
15. Carolina Panthers
Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
Don’t be stunned if he ends up going higher. His intrigue is off the charts, and he’s tough and competitive despite not possessing great size for the position. The Panthers need cornerback help badly.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
A bit of a projection here, but Ed Dickson has been terrible and Seferian-Jenkins is the kind of massive, dynamic player who would intrigue Ozzie Newsome.
LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
What stands out to date this season are his poise and confidence. Those traits showed up at times in 2012, but Mettenberger appears vastly more precise and lethal with another year of seasoning.
His throws have purpose and velocity, and he stood toe to toe — in a tough environment — with Georgia’s Aaron Murray, with Mettenberger completing 23-of-37 passes for 372 yards and three scores in a thrilling 44-41 loss to the Bulldogs.
Routinely looking off safeties, fitting balls into tight windows and elevating his play the more taught the game got were all we needed to see to proclaim him firmly in the first round — and potentially high — discussion.
Mettenberger just looks like a different animal this season.
Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Last week, we had Roby going No. 8 to the Giants in our mock draft. This week, we have him out of the top 16. It was a tough evening, chasing around Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis, who caught 10 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown — much of it on Roby’s watch.
On a few of the plays, Roby was in tight coverage, and he tried to muscle with Abbrederis most of the night, but it resulted in a poor game. Really, Roby has been off to a slow start this season, as he was suspended for the opening game and hasn’t put his best foot forward to date.
Roby is still considered one of the best defensive backs in the class, and he could back that up with a strong rest of the season and a quality pre-draft performance, given the kind of athleticism and ball skills he possesses.
SOME MORE DRAFT TIDBITS
Things have unraveled at USC with the firing of head coach Lane Kiffin, and it could have an effect on the draft stock of a few Trojans. Compound that with a knee injury to star WR Marqise Lee, and we might be talking about a one-time top-10 pick tumbling to the bottom portion of Round 1, and perhaps even out of the first 32 picks. He’ll have plenty of chances to get back into the lottery picture with his rare athleticism and tools. … Last week we talked about the stock of Oklahoma C Gabe Ikard, but another center who deserves mention is Arkansas’ Travis Swanson who could be the first senior off the board at the position. But in advance of the Razorbacks’ game against Florida, some smack talk — and allegations — are starting to fly. Florida DT Damien Jacobs has accused Swanson of dirty play. Scouts have talked about Swanson’s mean streak; often times, there is a fine line between that and what Jacobs is talking about. … Keep an eye on Iowa junior DT Carl Davis. The nation is starting to figure out what the Hawkeyes found out this spring: Dude can play. In advance of Iowa-Michigan State on Saturday, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said he looks at Davis and sees some similarities with ex-Spartan Jerel Worthy, who was a second-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2012 (he's currently on IR). Davis is big and physical and could find himself considering whether to turn pro by season’s end.
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