First, a note about those who just missed the cut. As we spent the past few months refining and tinkering our top 50 list, as many as 75 players' names appeared in it — that's how close the talent is, and how one little bit of information (an injury update, more tape study, a good or bad scouting report given to us anonymously from NFL teams) can shake up the rankings.
There are some good football players who ended up just outside the Shutdown Corner Top 50. Nos. 51-65 were Penn State WR Allen Robinson, BYU LB Kyle Van Noy, Virginia OT Morgan Moses, Florida DT Dominique Easley, Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LSU WR Jarvis Landry, Georgia Tech OLB-DE Jerry Attaochu, Florida State CB-S Lamarcus Joyner, USC C-OG Marcus Martin, Northern Illinois S Jimmie Ward, Stanford OG David Yankey, Indiana WR Cody Latimer, Alabama QB A.J. McCarron, Colorado State C Weston Richburg, and Clemson CB Bashaud Breeland. That gives you an idea how deep this draft is.
This list, 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. 50-41 of our Top 50 for the 2014 NFL draft:
50. Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas
The Irish's recent factory of NFL tight ends (John Carlson, Anthony Fasano, Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert) has a new entrant that could, eventually, be the best of the lot if he develops fully. Niklas was a surprise underclassman entry who has a massive frame and yet still is learning the finer points of the position after switching from outside linebacker. After backing up Eifert in 2012, Niklas showed what he's capable of in 2013, but also that he must work on his strength and route running. In time, though, he could be a real gem.
NFL comparison: What you'd get if you combined Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler
Draft range: Somewhere between the 45th and the 75th pick
49. Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo comes into the NFL like many quarterbacks these days: with less-than-ideal height, having run a fast-break, spread offense in college. The difference with him is that he played his college ball in Charleston, Ill. and was completely under the radar until he lit up Northern Illinois for 450 yards and 6 passing touchdowns at the start of the 2013 season. From there, scouts took note of Garoppolo's lightning-quick release, athleticism, competitiveness and moxie, and he did good work in the offseason at the East-West Shrine Bowl, Senior Bowl, his pro day and the combine. A very interesting project passer who must incubate before being thrown into the fire.
NFL comparison: Tony Romo's body and quick release but not as talented (or chaotic)
Draft range: It's possible he goes late in Round 1, but Round 2 more likely
48. Washington State S Deone Bucannon
We first got an up-close look at Bucannon at the Senior Bowl and were impressed with how well built he was for a safety. Through the week in practice it was clear that he was not a great lateral mover and that he could be juked in space, but the more we watched his college tape the more it was clear that he could hit and make plays on the ball. The three-time captain is WSU's all-time leading tackler (384) and interceptor (15). Bucannon might not be a standout in all coverages, but he brings some vinegar to a defense and loves playing on special teams, too.
NFL comparison: Similar to Duke Ihenacho and James Ihedigbo, but with a better nose for the ball
Draft range: Somewhere in Round 2, especially with the lack of safety depth in this draft
47. Mississippi WR Donte Moncrief
The more we saw of Moncrief, the more we liked him — and it was clear that even with some inconsistent quarterbacking at Ole Miss, he has some special athletic traits. The 21-year-old also spoke confidently at the combine about his abilities as a wide receiver, and he then showed his explosion with an 11-foot broad jump (tied for the most among wideouts). Although he's a bit of a long strider and doesn't always play to his size, Moncrief has some real upside as a top-two wideout in a vertical offense that can use his length and speed well. It's also fun watching him compete on 50-50 balls and as a run blocker.
NFL comparison: A more fleet-of-foot (and maybe not quite as physical) Dwayne Bowe
Draft range: Second round, even in this deep WR class
46. Tennessee OT Ja'Wuan James
As Bill Belichick pointed out, the Volunteers' offensive line was so talented this past season that all five members were invited to the combine. In our eyes, the best of the lot — though he has flown beneath the radar the past year — is James. He has been a rock at right tackle, starting a school-record 49 games there, and never missing a start. James really has everything you're looking for in a tackle, frame-wise, and is regarded by the UT coaches as extremely coachable, hard-working and mature. His weakness at this point is technique, mostly with shortening his steps and coverting his strength to power in the run game. But that can be fixed. James has all the makings of a very, very solid professional.
NFL comparison: Michael Oher, but with better snap-to-snap consistency
Draft range: Don't rule out a team taking him as high as late Round 1, and he should be off the board in the top 50 picks
45. Washington RB Bishop Sankey
The Pac-12's leading rusher really gained draft steam at the end of the season after he had scored a touchdown in every game and averaged 143.8 yards on the ground, and Sankey took it to another level with a banner combine workout: 26 reps on the bench, a 126-inch broad jump and blazing times in the 3-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle. He's built solidly for his size and can pick through holes well, and Sankey showed no wear for such a heavy workload the past two seasons (677 touches). He's not a burner and isn't a complete back yet with pass-blocking issues, but Sankey can find a Day 1 role as a runner and receiver.
NFL comparison: A better runner than Shane Vereen but not quite the receiver
Draft range: Middle to late in Round 2 feels about right, but he could leak into the early third
44. Auburn RB Tre Mason
The Heisman Trophy finalist had about an impressive a three-game span — rushing for 663 yards against Alabama, Mizzou and Florida State down the stretch — as any running back in college football last season. Mason runs extremely low to the ground, is incredibly shifty (he showed some Reggie Bush-like jump cuts last season) and always seems to fall forward. There might be questions about Mason's size, his ability to take a pounding long term (he has a wrist injury that might require surgery) and even his ball security (eight fumbles the past two seasons). But for our money, his explosiveness and home-run ability make him an instant contributor in the NFL.
NFL comparison: Like with Gio Bernard, there's timed speed and there's playing speed, and Mason has the latter
Draft range: Somewhere in Round 2, especially with the lack of safety depth in this draft
43. Mississippi State OG Gabe Jackson
The SEC run continues with Jackson, who is a short-area mauler — plain and simple. There might not be a lot of prettiness to his game, and honestly, some scouts think he can play with even more pop behind his pads. But Jackson has the look — like the Lions' Larry Warford last year — of being a Day 1 NFL starter who far exceeds his combine test numbers. Jackson is smart, has quick recognition of stunts and blites, adjusts well and can punch to shock defenders despite a lack of foot speed.
NFL comparison: Very comparable to Chance Warmack and Warford, first- and third-round picks in 2013
Draft range: We'd like to think teams would be smart enough to consider him in Round 2, but like Warford, he might have to wait a bit longer
42. Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
With one stunningly good season — 106 catches, 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns — Amaro has opened scouts' eyes with his ability to flash down the seam as a massive slot receiver in the Red Raiders' offense. He was a mismatch nightmare for most college teams, and Amaro's length (34-inch arms, too) will translate to the NFL well, too. Amaro appears pretty straight-linish as a receiver, he can be stiff running routes and has had consistency issues with his hands. But he shows good effort as a blocker (though very little of it was as a true, in-line tight end) and the potential to refine his game.
NFL comparison: We're having a hard time coming up with an exact comp, but the VIkings' Rudolph is close
Draft range: After being talked about as a possible first-rounder, Amaro's stock rightfully has settled into the second-round range
41. Oregon State DE Scott Crichton
The Beavers' all-time leader in forced fumbles (10) and third all-time sacker (22.5) projected to be a first-round prospect in 2015 before he declared early to help his family, which, as he revealed as the NFL combine, is struggling financially. And though Crichton is still raw despite his production, there's a lot to like. He has a strong build, a nose for the ball and plays with some evident power. Crichton will need work on his technique, specifically polishing his pass-rush moves and learning to work angles better. He certainly will be worth investing in and likely will be better in Year 2 than in Year 1.
NFL comparison: Derrick Morgan, who is not explosive but has turned himself into an effective pro
Draft range: There's a chance he could slip to Round 3, but mid-second round is possible for the right 4-3 team
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