NFL Draft Top 50, Nos. 31-40: DL talent strong with Lawrence, Jernigan, others

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, the previous one or the ones that follow, are not predictors of where players will be drafted but rather how we think they eventually will perform as prospects. You might see some of the 15 players above (or the 10 below) be drafted in the first round on May 8. Based on study, sources and other factors, we won't agree with all those picks.

Here are Nos. 40-31 of our Top 50 for the 2014 NFL draft:

40. Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio
6-6, 322

At one point, Kouandjio was being talked about as a possible top-10 draft pick, and why not? Heading into the 2013 season, he was another year removed from 2011 knee surgery, had the frame of exactly how you'd draw up a left tackle and was not yet 21 years old. And yet, last season was somewhat of a struggle for Kouandjio, with his slow feet and poor balance showing up way too often. It culminated with a bad bowl game in which Kouandjio was abused by Oklahoma pass rusher Eric Striker, and then Kouandjio got more bad news with some shaky medical reports at the NFL combine. But the upside is just too high for some to overlook, and some team till try to mold this long-arms, massive-framed beast into a quality player.

NFL comparison: Could be Anthony Davis (on the high end) or what we have seen of Mike Adams thus far (on the low end)

Draft range: Could sneak into Round 1 but more likely lower in the top 50

39. Nevada OG-OT-C Joel Bitonio
6-4, 302

A college left tackle, Bitonio is more likely than not going to be an NFL guard — or perhaps even a center, where he has worked out for scouts. He is a quality athlete with a chip on his shoulder and a professional approach to the game whose aggressive style of play shows up on tape. Bitonio studied UCLA pass rusher Anthony Barr all last summer, knowing he'd be facing him in the 2013 opener, and he held Barr sack-less. There's also a great clip of Bitonio chasing down a San Diego State linebacker 40 yards downfield after a turnover — the kind of hustle play that coaches fall in love with. Bitonio's smarts, versatility, nasty streak and movement skills project him to be a quick study in the NFL if he can adjust to playing inside.

NFL comparison: Logan Mankins

Draft range: Late Round 1 to mid-Round 2

38. Fresno State WR Davante Adams
6-1, 212

The junior Adams might not be receiving the same attention as some of the other talented wideouts in this loaded draft class, but he should. Considering Adams led the nation in 2013 in receptions (131) and touchdown catches (24), even in the Wild (Mountain) West, there probably should be more buzz for him. Teams studying QB Derek Carr certainly have seen Adams' great hands, explosion and leaping ability, and even if he's not a burner and doesn't yet possess great strength to beat press coverage, he has the frame and natural athleticism to make it work. Adams could have a Jordy Nelson-like "awakening" in his second or third NFL season with the right guidance and patience.

NFL comparison: Has traits of Hakeem Nicks, Michael Crabtree and DeAndre Hopkins but is younger than all of them coming into the NFL

Draft range: Given how loaded this WR class is, it wouldn't be stunning to see him fall to the late-second/early-third range

37. Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan
6-2, 299

Many people first saw what Jernigan was capable of in the national championship game when he battled an illness to post nine tackles despite having to come off the field. It was a strong effort for the stout nose tackle to cap off his one college season of starting in which the junior led the Seminoles in tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He might not be massive, but Jernigan is country strong and can wreck blocking schemes with his good hands and good first step. What Jernigan is not is a pass rusher — and he never really projects to be one, either. But as a one- or two-gapping nose tackle, he's a solid penetrator and run stopper who can hold down the fort for others to make plays.

NFL comparison: He's Brodrick Bunkley all over again

Draft range: Some team could reach for him late in Round 1; otherwise, he'll be off the board by the Cowboys' second-round pick (No. 47 overall)

36. Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde
6-0, 230

Although Hyde struggled with his weight early on in Columbus and didn't really breakout until this past season, what a year it was. Hyde was a monster throughout but was especially monstrous against the Big Ten (156.1 rushing yards per game in conference play) and ended his college career on a nine-game 100-yard rushing streak. With terrific size, great balance, tackle-breaking ability and surprising short-area quickness, Hyde would seem to be the whole package. But he must prove he can be a reliable pass receiver and blocker, which he has done well but only in small doses because of the role he was asked to play at OSU. Injuries and conditioning also could be long-term issues.

NFL comparison: If you watched the Packers' Eddie Lacy last year, you have a good idea of what Hyde is

Draft range: Somewhere between Nos. 29 and 51, with several RB-needy teams in between

35. Notre Dame DE-DT Stephon Tuitt
6-5, 304

There's a noticeable difference between Tuitt's junior-year tape and that from 2013, when he played following hernia surgery and with pain in his left foot. Still, Tuitt put up impressive production the past two seasons combined (20.5 sacks in 28 games), especially when you consider he played mostly as a five-technique while being asked to occupy blockers more than stalk quarterbacks. Still, with his length, stacking ability and great balance and footwork, Tuitt found his way into the backfield a lot. He also has exceptional hands and hand-eye coordination and will be a plus-athlete by NFL standards on the defensive line. Tuitt can play in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, though he likely would play more over the guard in the latter. 

NFL comparison: A lighter-on-his-feet version of Tyson Jackson

Draft range: Nos. 29-64

34. Missouri DE-DT Kony Ealy
6-4, 273

Ealy was a solid contributor until his breakout junior season in 2013 in which he was first-team all-SEC with 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception run back for a score. He played light on his feet and was a disruptor, able to bend the edge better than teammate Michael Sam, and Ealy routinely faced off against the conference's best left tackles — including top-10 picks Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews, among others. Ealy also kicked inside on passing downs, where he wins with quickness, but he also can play way too high at times and must get stronger to be an interior rusher in the pros. Some 4-3 teams have looked at him as an "under" tackle, and 3-4 teams would consider him as a rush linebacker — it speaks to his versatility and athleticism, even if he might never be an elite playmaker.

NFL comparison: Shares some traits — body- and skill-wise — with Robert Ayers and Michael Bennett 

Draft range: Late Round 1 to mid-Round 2

33. Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman
6-6, 311

If Hageman ever fulfills his potential, then this projection will be way off — he'll be one of the 10 best pure football players in this class. But there is enough variation in his play and oddly long gaps between flash plays where Hageman disappears to make NFL teams wonder about whether he ever will put it all together. At his best, Hageman flashes some explosive movement skills (which were backed up by an insane 35.5-inch vertical jump) and raw strength (35 bench reps) that teams drool over. But he also freelances, doesn't dominate lesser competition and can go invisible for long stretches. That said, players with his combination of physical traits simply do not last long on Draft Day.  

NFL comparison: At times, he's Richard Seymour, but sometimes he looks like former first-round Giants bust William Joseph

Draft range: Little chance he escapes Round 1 — somewhere between 14 and 32 likely

32. Boise State DE-OLB Demarcus Lawrence
6-3, 253

Lawrence quietly amassed 20 sacks, 34 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles combined the past two seasons after coming from junior college. He makes his living as an edge rusher, able to dip and drive and use his great balance and long arms to close on quarterbacks. The Broncos used him as a right end, facing off against left tackles, but he also could stand up in a 3-4 defense on the next level. There are questions, however, about Lawrence's power and pop when teams run right at him and his character (three college suspensions) has had to be carefully scrutinized by teams.   

NFL comparison: We think Shaun Phillips is a pretty good doppelganger

Draft range: You could see him go as early as 27 overall to the Saints, down to about the middle of the second round

31. TCU CB Jason Verrett
5-9, 189

One of the more entertaining evaluations in the 2014 class, Verrett is a hornet who always seems to be around the ball. He's tenacious, quick-twitched, a willing tackler and possesses a good nose for the ball. Verrett was tough enough to be an outside corner for the Horned Frogs, and he also projects to be a nickel in the league — no slouch considering how much NFL teams use sub-defenses. Verrett plays through pain (tore his labrum early in the 2013 season, and re-injured it in November, never missing a game) but might have the kind of smallish frame where injuries are a constant worry. Still, Verrett is extremely athletic and will buzz and go step for step with even the quickest and fastest wideouts.  

NFL comparison: Built in the Captain Munnerlyn-Cortland Finnegan-Brent Grimes mold, although Verrett is faster than all of them

Draft range: Second half of the first round

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

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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