NFL Draft Top 50, Nos. 1-10: Jadeveon Clowney tops list despite carrying risks

Eric Edholm

Shutdown Corner is ranking the top 50 players for the 2014 NFL draft in groups of 10 leading up to the draft on May 8-10.

This list, or the previous ones, are not predictors of where players will be drafted but rather how we think they eventually will perform as professionals.

Here are Nos. 10-1 of our Top 50 for the 2014 NFL draft:

10. Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert
6-0, 202

Gilbert first gained national attention in 2011 when, as a sophomore, he intercepted Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill — three of the top eight draft picks the next spring — as part of a brilliant season that also included two kick-return touchdowns. Although Gilbert regressed as a junior (and returned to school because of it), he bounced back with a seven-pick campaign, including two INTs run back for scores. He's a big, strong press-man corner with fluid hips and a great deal of confidence that you're looking for in a No. 1 cornerback. Although Gilbert is prone to freelancing and guessing, he has the natural coverage ability to be the best in a good crop of cornerbacks this year.

NFL comparison: Aqib Talib

Draft range: 10-14 overall

9. UCLA OLB-DE Anthony Barr
6-5, 255

There is some hesitancy with Barr as a prospect for some because he yet to put it all together. After spending two years on offense for the Bruins, Barr was moved by then-new head coach Jim Mora to the defensive side of the ball, and the results were terrific — a combined 41.5 tackles for loss, 23.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles and several other big plays along the way. Barr still is developing insticts on the defensive side of the ball, he looks hesitant and times and still must develop more base strength, especially if he's going to play in a three-point stance at times. But his pass-rush prowess, rare athletic ability, reach and hitting ability all are impossible to teach and will be highly coveted, even if he leaves you wanting just a little more as a prospect.

NFL comparison: Not as strong as Brian Orakpo or as explosive as Jevon Kearse, but somewhere in the middle

Draft range: Top 12 likely; won't get past 16

8. Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
6-2, 234

You can't be too much more productive in college over the past two seasons than Mosley, who has racked up 215 tackles (17 for losses) the past two seasons. He has started for parts of four years for the Crimson Tide, as a big part of the two-time national champs' exceptional defenses under Kirby Smart and Nick Saban. Not only has Mosley received excellent coaching, but he also possesses the type of intrinsic traits — intelligence, heart, outstanding instincts and recognition skills — that any coach would desire. Mosley is a glue player whose only real question is a balky record of health and a frame that could make him prone to nagging ailments as a pro. But otherwise, this all-over-the-field playmaker should be an excellent pro and very much live up to where he's selected. 

NFL comparison: Luke Kuechly

Draft range: He could go in the top 10, but it's more likely he goes somewhere between 16 and 21

 

7. Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald
6-1, 285

One of the cleanest prospects in this class, Donald has ascended immensely since the end of the football season with exceptional performances at the Senior Bowl (completely dominating the competition in one-on-one drills every day of practice), the NFL combine (running the fastest 40 among D-tackles by nearly 0.3 seconds) and at his pro day. For the past three seasons, Donald has been living in opposing backfields, but it really was this past season when he took that next-level step: 11 sacks, 28.5 tackles for loss (most in the country) and four forced fumbles, earning several postseason awards. He's exceptionally quick off the snap, plays with a low center of gravity, uses his raw strength to overpower guards and centers and carries a humble, workmanlike attitude about his craft. Although Donald struggles vs. double teams and doesn't translate well to a 3-4 scheme, he has future Pro Bowl penetrator written all over him.

NFL comparison: Geno Atkins and Jurrell Casey, both of whom have become the rare double-digit sack interior players at comparable sizes

Draft range: 5-8 overall 

6. Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews
6-5, 308

The Matthews name is among the most famous in the NFL annals, with Bruce, Clay and Clay III raising the bar extremely high over the years. Jake shouldn't do anything to besmirch the family name as an extremely polished, smart, tough and massive blocker who should be an anchor for a team for the next decade. Matthews is the best pure pass-blocking tackle in the draft. He's durable, committed and likely could play any spot alone the line if needed — he has played both tackle spots for the Aggies, and has practiced snapping (including long snapping) in practice. Matthews can stand to lock out a little better, and he might not have the raw athleticism of Greg Robinson or Taylor Lewan. But more than one scout said that Matthews grades out even higher entering the NFL than his former teammate, Luke Joeckel, who went No. 2 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars a season ago.

NFL comparison: Joe Thomas and Joe Staley

Draft range: Top 10

5. Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
6-5, 231

Turn on the Alabama or Auburn games and Evans looks like the most dominant receiver in the country. He uses his massive frame and insane reach (35-inch arms, plus that height) to snag Johnny Manziel's sometimes up-for-grab passes out of the air amid two or three smaller, helpless defensive backs. But Evans also has a second gear and can accelerate downfield. He also flashes a mean streak and can be an effective blocker. Evans' confidence was evident in interviews, but it did not turn teams off — they mostly like the swagger with which he played — or make them believe he was immature, despite being only 21 years old. There are some teams who believe Evans, despite his lack of sudden movement, will be a better receiver in the NFL because of the league's penchant for bigger receivers succeeding.    

NFL comparison: Vincent Jackson and Brandon Marshall 

Draft range: 4-9 overall

4. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
6-1, 211

Some casual observers wondered if Watkins is truly an elite burner after running a good but not exceptional 4.43 40-yard dash, but the tape reveals that he plays to that speed on the field. He's a game-breaking, field-tilting and acrobatic receiver who can impact the game in a dozen ways — as a split end, flanker or slot receiver; as a kick returner and running threat on reverses and jet sweeps. There are some who feel that Watkins could stand to add some polish and refinement to his game, and he might still be a bit on the immature side. But that's nitpicking. He's a gifted, soft-handed and more focused player who stands to be a game changer in whatever kind of offense he enters with the right surrounding cast and quarterback play.

NFL comparison: Like Pierre Garcon or Miles Austin (in his prime, without the hamstring injuries) ... only better

Draft range: Top 5

3. Buffalo OLB-DE Khalil Mack
6-3, 251

For a player who was lightly recruited out of high school, Mack has come light years in the past few seasons and become one of the most disruptive defensive players in the country. His performance at Ohio State last fall opened the eyes to fans around the country what MAC opponents have known for years: Mack is a beast. He can bend the edge as a pass rusher, play laterally in space or drop into coverage with ease. Despite being the blocking focus of almost every offense he has faced the past few seasons, Mack totaled an insane 75 tackles for loss, 28.5 sacks, 21 passes defended, 16 forced fumbles and four interceptions (two run back for touchdowns) in his 48 collegiate starts. Yes, his level of competition was not exceptional, and Mack can play a little too out of control at times, but he will enter the NFL with the chance to be a Day 1 impact player as a 4-3 defensive end or linebacker or a 3-4 edge rusher.

NFL comparison: John Abraham, one of the more underrated players at his position the past 20 years

Draft range: Top 6

2. Auburn OT Greg Robinson
6-5, 332

Simply put, it has been a long time since a player of Robinson's mass and athleticism entered the NFL. He blew the roof off the RCA Dome at the NFL scouting combine, putting up running and jumping numbers that players 80 pounds lighter than Robinson would be proud of, and he still managed to knock out 35 reps on the 225-pound bench press despite his very long (35-inch) arms. Robinson still might require some technical work, as he fails to get his feet beneath him at all times and must learn to lock out properly and keep his balance. But it's borderline comical to watch him bulldoze defenders in the run game, absolutely tattooing a few poor souls who have gotten in his way (turn on the Missouri and Florida State games for evidence of this). With refinement, this still-raw prospect — he's still 21 and came out as a third-year sophomore — could be one of the league's best left tackles for the next generation.

NFL comparison: Ryan Clady

Draft range: Top 4

1. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
6-6, 266

Even with questions about his work ethic and commitment to being truly great, Clowney possesses the natural ability to be one of the truly special players in the NFL. He can whip past blockers with a variety of pass-rush moves, bend around the edge and close on ballcarries with ease. Clowney's raw playmaking ability is as good as we've seen the past three seasons, but it's the inconsistency with which those plays occur that concern some evaluators. This past season was Clowney's under-the-microscope experiment, and with unreal expectations, he flopped. But with the right coaching, motivation and mentoring, Clowney could emerge as a rare playmaker whom defenses must account for on every snap. We suspect there will be bumps along the way, but the upside is just too great to list him anywhere but in the top slot.  

NFL comparison: Jason Pierre-Paul

Draft range: Top 3, and the odds-on favorite to go No. 1

 

Nos. 41-50 — 50. Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas; 49. Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo; 48. Washington State S Deone Bucannon; 47. Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief; 46. Tennessee OT Ja'Wuan James; 45. Washington RB Bishop Sankey; 44. Auburn RB Tre Mason; 43. Mississippi State OG Gabe Jackson; 42. Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro; 41. Oregon State DE Scott Crichton

Nos. 31-40 — 40. Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio; 39. Nevada OG-OT-C Joel Bitonio; 38. Fresno State WR Davante Adams; 37. Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan; 36. Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde; 35. Notre Dame DE-DT Stephon Tuitt; 34. Missouri DE-OLB-DT Kony Ealy; 33. Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman; 32. Boise State DE-OLB Demarcus Lawrence; 31. TCU CB Jason Verrett

Nos. 21-30 — 30. Auburn DE-OLB Dee Ford; 29. Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks; 28. Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin; 27. Fresno State QB Derek Carr; 26. Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard; 25. Ohio State CB Bradley Roby; 24. UCLA OG Xavier Su'a-Filo; 23. Alabama S HaSean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix; 22. Notre Dame NT Louis Nix III; 21. Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller

Nos. 11-20 — 20. Notre Dame OT-OG Zack Martin; 19. USC WR Marqise Lee; 18. LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr.; 17. Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier; 16. Louisville S Calvin Pryor; 15. Central Florida QB Blake Bortles; 14. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel; 13. North Carolina TE Eric Ebron; 12. Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater; 11. Michigan OT Taylor Lewan

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!