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Shutdown Corner

The ones to watch: A possible Top 10 for the 2014 NFL draft

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

So, the 2013 draft is just over, and we're already talking about the Class of 2014? Well, sure. While the 2013 draft roster featured a lot of outstanding linemen on both sides of the ball and a relative lack of truly elite skill position guys, next year's group looks to have a great deal of talent at just about every position -- and a far more impressive set of quarterbacks at or near the top. We'll be writing much more about these gentlemen, of course, but here are 10 to watch for the 2014 draft -- and our buddy Frank Schwab has 10 more prospects of interest.

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Clowney is primarily known for this unblocked hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl (and it is a magnificent play), but this is no one-highlight wonder. NFL teams watching his tape on a game-to-game basis have to be champing at the bit for Clowney to make himself eligible for the 2014 draft. Not only does he attack the line and move to the pocket with terrifying speed, he also has a fully-grown bull rush, a spin move that seems to defy physics, and amazing agility to get around blockers. Brings an embryonic array of hand moves, and once in a while, will pull out a rip or swim move that just devastates the poor soul trying to block him. Clowney is the most impressive NCAA defender I've seen since Ndamukong Suh, and the first since Suh where I have to keep pulling back to the previous play to insure that I saw what I thought I saw -- put simply, he does things on the football field that no 6-foot-6, 268-pound person should be able to do.

2. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: Aggies fans aren't mourning the loss of Luke Joeckel when it comes to the left tackle position, because Matthews, the son of Hall of Famer Bruce, has been groomed to take over that spot. The scary thing is, Matthews might be even better than Joeckel over time -- he's already quicker to a spot and more agile in space, and his ability to strike defenders is truly special. I'd like to see him sustain blocks a bit longer, and he's going to have to refine his pass-pro arc at his new position, but Matthews has everything it takes to be the first offensive player taken in the 2014 draft.

3. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: ...unless Bridgewater continues to progress and takes that spot away from him. I'm of the belief that the Louisville star would have been the top quarterback in the 2013 class, just ahead of Geno Smith -- Bridgewater is more functionally mobile, has a more dynamic downfield arm, and makes better decisions. Like Robert Griffin III at Baylor, Bridgewater has far better on-field intelligence and is able to do many more things than your standard, stereotyped "read-option" quarterback.

4. Marqise Lee, WR, USC: With Matt Barkley and Robert Woods off to the NFL, it's Lee's time to shine as never before. He's already established himself as one of the NCAA's most dangerous playmakers, and depending on how USC's quarterback situation pans out, could have more success on the deep routes Barkley didn't often throw. Lee freelances too much and needs to get that under control, but there are few targets in the college game better able to alter a defense's game plans.

5. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame: Nix was perhaps the most impressive part of Notre Dame's outstanding defense in 2012, no matter what some say about that linebacker guy. At 6-foot-3 and 326 pounds, Nix possesses NFL-level strength at the line, impressive speed to close, and a preternatural understanding of how to use angles to disrupt. Can play anywhere from the nose tackle slot (where he succeeds despite double and triple teams) outside to end.

6. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: Perhaps the best pass-rushing "endbacker" among the 2014 draft-eligibles. Barr shows great speed around the turn and to the pocket, but that's not all he's able to do. Like Oregon's Dion Jordan (who went third overall to the Miami Dolphins), he has a rare ability to cover from the line out to the slot. Also like Jordan in college, Barr needs to pack on a a little weight and address some game fundamentals. But he's already shown some pretty special traits on the field. Recorded 13.5 sacks in 2012 and could move up this list with a quickness if he's able to escape the "one-year wonder" designation.

7. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: Lewan could have more upside potential than anyone else on this list. He's a freakishly long, strong blocker with outstanding strength and speed to the second level. He will lose leverage battles and needs to do some finishing work on his technique -- at times, he'll seem to unravel against better defenders -- but he's got the same combination of athletic ability and nasty demeanor that made Central Michigan's Eric Fisher the top pick in 2013.

8. C.J. Mosely, ILB, Alabama: At 6-foot-2 and 232 pounds, Mosely fits the NFL's new paradigm for lighter, quicker linebackers who can cover in space. But his top skill, and the one that will have NFL teams humming, is his ability to blitz from anywhere at linebacker depth. Mosely has top-level burst, a nose for the ball, and a real nasty streak. When the Crimson Tide sends its traditional handful of defenders to the pros next year, expect Mosely's to be the top name on that list.

9. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State: Roby plays well in both press and off coverage, but what sets him apart -- especially for his size (5-foot-11, 190) -- is his aggressiveness on the field in ways that make a difference for Ohio State's defense. Reminds me of Alabama cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner (both first-round picks) in his ability to play the run and careen in on delayed blitzes.

10. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: Boyd will intrigue because he's played well in all manner of option packages and looks especially good when running the Pistol, but make no mistake -- this is also a pure quarterback with a great arm and the ability to make stick throws into tight windows. In addition, his touch on intermediate throws and back-shoulder fades is singularly impressive. At 6-foot-1, he'll go through the whole "short quarterback" thing pre-draft, but at least he'll have Drew Brees and Russell Wilson to talk to about that.

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