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2014 NFL Draft: The Phantom Top 47

Draft Phantom takes a gander at the top 40 prospects and 7 more he just really likes


The Phantom 47

Aloha fellow Buc faithful and all you worshippers of other teams who may drop by.  Last time out I did the DP Top 40 in honor of Casey Kasem.  This time I thought I would tribute to my favorite Buccaneer of all-time, John Lynch.  I loved his tough physical play and I remember defending him vehemently in my youth to other Bucs fans who thought he was too slow to play safety and not physical enough to be a linebacker…happy memories of being right in a positive way when Lynch became a Pro Bowler.

I stack the players in order of impact…much will change between now and D-Day but its certainly allowable to start peeking. Of note, this is the order I would rank them today, not necessarily where I expect them to be drafted.  Additionally, I’ve removed Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley since neither appears likely to enter next May’s draft.

Top Flight Impact – Guys you build a team around

1. Teddy Bridgewater 6’2" 220 lbs QB Louisville – The Junior QB has shown me enough to maintain him as not only my top QB prospect but also as my top overall player.  The talent around him on the offensive line at Louisville is embarrassing. They can run block "ok" but their pass blocking is somewhere between bad and wretched.  He has one good WR flanked by a plethora of average players.  Through all this Bridgewater still never hangs his head when he steps up and makes a throw and gets whalloped by a linebacker.  He comes out and puts the ball on the money, he puts the slant right on the extended arms of the WR, he drives the deep ball with tremendous zip and routinely throws one of the best 15-17 yard out routes I’ve seen. His comeback passes strike right between the WRs' numbers.  The one pass he does not throw at NFL level currently is the endzone fade; it needs work as too often the ball is too high.

2.  Jadevon Clowney 6’5" 260lbs DE South Carolina – Hobbled some by injuries this season, Clowney is the best DE prospect since Julius Peppers.  When he’s fully healthy and on his game he cannot be blocked. He’s going to be a terror on all but the NFL’s elite left tackles.  Clowney goes beyond being a physical freak. He diagnoses plays so quickly and leaps into the offensive backfield, he’s going to mandate a double team on nearly every play he lines up against someone other than Joe Thomas. He has speed to go sideline to sideline like a linebacker and the power of a strong side defensive end.  What I find most tantalizing is his closing speed and burst; a defensive end who can drag down unobstructed running backs going away from him even when the left tackle attempts a block is such a dynamic weapon he can allow the defense to dictate to the offense.

3.   Anthony Barr 6’4" 244lbs OLB UCLA – Really destructive defensive playmaker, Barr charges into offensive backfields and makes negative plays for the offense.  His pass rushing ability is better than good what I don’t think gets nearly enough praise is his pass coverage ability.  He’s that rare outside linebacker that lets you sleep at night when you match him up against the TE or RB.  He can play man coverage against either but seems to have a good feel for zone and sideline to sideline defensive ability. Only liability will be the knee surgery history.

4.  Jake Matthews 6’5" 309lbs OT Texas A&M – As clean as they come in pass blocking while also being an effective point of attack run blocker.  Matthews is a rare prospect who should be a day one starter on any offensive line and probably stay there for a decade and a half.  That’s going to be hard for a good many teams to pass up.  He’s behind the 3 above him on this list but, at this point I wouldn’t pass on him for anyone below regardless of need.

Game Changers

I wouldn’t build around these guys by themselves but they could have some serious impact

5. Eric Ebron 6’4" 240lbs TE North Carolina – Blocks, catches, and runs after the catch.  Nightmare matchup against all but an elite linebacker or safety.  Ebron runs through tackles of smaller players and is shifty enough to move away from larger defenders.  The only thing missing is breakaway speed but I don’t know many TEs who have that and can actually block.  He’ll be an instant game changer.

6.  Louis Nix III 6’3" 340lbs NT Notre Dame – 34 Nose Tackles with his sort of size and upfield playmaking just don’t come along that often.  He’s Dontari Poe with better technique and more collegiate production.  It shouldn’t be too long before he has an impact like Poe.  He’s gonna be great for someone.

7.  Mike Evans 6’5" 220lbs WR Texas A&M – He’s going to be an impossible matchup on the outside and a true #1 WR in the NFL.  That’s a rare thing. He won’t get massive separation from defensive backs at the NFL level but its not likely to matter. His ability to run routes, power through tackles, and above all elevate to make plays on the deep ball is too rare a combination to be passed on.

8.  Taylor Lewan 6’7" 314lbs OT Michigan – Good pass blocker, great run blocker.  Obviously has some temper issues so its going to come down to an evaluation of maturity and learning from his mistakes.  The combine interviews will be key to Lewan holding his draft position.  His game play merits a top 10 pick …will his interviews?

9.  Sammy Watkins 6’0" 205lbs WR Clemson – Good hand catcher not letting the ball consistently get into his body frame and his work after the catch is near flawless.  Just too good after the catch.  He’s going to have a large impact for someone.

Safe First Round Talent

Guys I’m not sure are Game Changers but I feel good they are first round pick worthy

10.  Marqise Lee 6’0" 195lbs WR USC – His body of work merits being a step above this but I’m a little conservative with physical receivers who are undersized to do so in the NFL. He might not be able to translate into a true #1, but has a high floor since he would be an excellent #2 WR.

11.  C.J. Mosley 6’2" 235lbs ILB Alabama – A tad undersized for an NFL MLB but Mosley has really good range sideline to sideline.  He plays the pass well and can impact the run.  My concern comes with his ability to disengage from blocks. He’s ok at it but not elite.  Not quite the impact of a stellar player but occupies the middle and can make defensive signal calls in short order.  Range and pass coverage ability are major assets in today’s NFL.

12.  Greg Robinson 6’6" 335lbs OT Auburn – I can’t really say anything about the redshirt sophomore except "WOW".  I don’t see many high school guards shift to tackle at the next level, whats really perplexing to me is how fast he’s learned technique.  He missed all of spring practice to a family emergency and looks like a natural at left tackle.  He’s still got some growing to do but his combination of power and lateral agility is just scary.  My compliments to coach Gus Malzahn and his staff.

13.  Khalil Mack 6’3" 245lbs OLB Buffalo – I called this section safe first round talent with the idea that Khalil Mack would be in it, the talent is first round and probably above this point the off-field character concerns should be scary.  The issue is some 34 team is going to draft him as a pass rusher but buyer beware of the off field issues.

14.  Ifo Ekpre-Olumu 5’10" 190lbs CB Oregon – Consistency.  I give major points for consistency (probably more than some others) there are some more talented overall cornerbacks in this draft with better recovery speed and more height.  No one over their collegiate career has been as durable and as much of a #1 collegiate CB as Ifo.  Really really clean game tape and a more than adequate run supporter.  If he continues to stay healthy he’s probably going to be one of these guys that starts for a decade in the NFL, maybe not at a top notch level but someone better than good who lets you sleep at night about your back 4.

15.  Justin Gilbert 6’0" 200lbs CB Oklahoma St. – Physically gifted cornerback who had a great 2011, poor 2012 and now is riding high again.  Seems to have put in the work in the off-season and is doing a much better job of route recognition.  Above average top line speed and really good agility combined with a physical presence.

16.  Gabe Jackson 6’3" 333lbs OG Mississippi St. – Lots of prospects in the running for "top guard" this season but Jackson is the most clean of the bunch to me.  He’s a modern day guard for a man blocking scheme; good pass blocker , great run blocker.  Initial hand punch is my favorite. Tends to make contact and disrupt even the biggest of defensive tackles.  When his pads are low he can place the defensive tackle on roller skates and he’s above average pulling to the outside.

17.  Cyrus Kouandjio 6’5" 310lbs OT Alabama – High floor, high ceiling player.  Much better run blocker at this point than a pass blocker.  Watching the edge right now he’s highly inconsistent in terms of technique; he has the lateral agility but hasn’t put it all together yet.  He might, though, so what you’ve got is a project left tackle who is a guaranteed success at right tackle.  That’s good insurance in case the left side doesn’t pan out.

18.  Paul Richardson 6’1" 170lbs WR Colorado – If you missed Colorado Football the past decade, don’t worry, everyone else did as well.  Richardson though is going to leave after his junior season holding 29 team records and as of this writing leads the NCAA in total receiving yards.  His hands are exceptional, he’s always making the tough catch and he has 4.4 speed on any playing surface.  The projection issue is his size/weight ratio. He needs to add weight to play consistently in the NFL and larger NFL cornerbacks could jam him at the line.  I do like Richardson all in all though; if he adds muscle he could develop into a #1 NFL WR, if he adds it and plays well with it on he should be a solid to good #2 (most probable outcome). Even if he fails to do that, you’ve got a #3 WR who can stretch the field vertically.  Top it all off with some real maturity from him as a prospect and by all accounts a very humble player and I’m starting to be sold.

19.  Stephon Truitt 6’6" 303lbs DE Notre Dame – Going to be a 34 DE at the NFL level and a really good one.  Obviously at 300 plus pounds doesn’t come with the explosiveness of an edge rusher but has an unstoppable motor and high drive to excel.  Powerful point of attack man with good lateral agility and some deceptive suddenness.

20.  Tim Jernigan 6’2" 285lbs DT Florida St. – Some sloppy technique at times but good explosion and run stuffing ability.  Should be a heavy factor for a defense that needs a classic 4-3 off tackle to provide interior pass rush while combining it with run stuffing.  Doesn’t have an elite ceiling but has a really high floor as well.

21.  Ha Ha Clinton-Dix 6’1" 208lbs S Alabama – I’d prefer to see him play free safety at the pro level. Not an enforcer but has excellent range in the secondary.  Ball skills are good but not elite.  Some off the field issues but if you can get past those everything may be just fine.

22. Carlos Hyde 5’11" 240lbs RB Ohio St. – Wow! A big back with power who has agility to hit the hole, vision to find the hole, catches well out of the backfield , and blocks for the pass.  I love it , well advanced of most other collegiate backs. While the bell cows may be a dying breed, Hyde plays like a man 30 pounds light…until you try to tackle him.  Will make someone very very happy at the start of the season.  He’s a rare back that deserves to be a first rounder.

The First Round Should Come Calling

Guys I believe have first round talent but I still want more answers on..even more so than the players above

23.  Austin Seferian-Jenkins 6’6" 266lbs TE Washington – I’d hate to say a DUI did someone good , but maybe it did for Austin.  I wasn’t as high on him as others to start the season: too much inconsistent effort last year with blocking and receiving. The talent has always been clearly there but not the consistent high motor he’s shown this year (particularly the second half of this season).  I don’t know what changed in this young man but something did, maybe being in a one car accident while impaired made him realize how precious life is.  I have no clue why but previously he’s just been a talented guy, now he’s got and is showing the effort to back it up.  He’s a mauling point of attack blocker with a wide catching radius, lacks top notch vertical speed but is a solid route runner particularly in zone coverage and is willing to make the tough catch.

24.  Blake Bortles 6’4" 230lbs QB UCF – I could really skyrocket Bortles here on my rankings but I have one huge concern first: he has an inconsistent throwing motion.  I’m not talking about changing the angle of delivery, I mean his windup; he has a hitch in his delivery that’s not there all the time but it is sometimes there.  When Blake brings the ball back like most quarterbacks (just below shoulder level) then comes over the top with his release the ball comes out crisp generally on target and in a tight spiral.  However, Bortles also will occasionally "hitch" his delivery, dropping the ball down below his hip then bringing it up. Not only does this elongate his throwing motion (giving the defense more time to react) but the passes come out wobbly and lack the accuracy of an NFL QB.  He seems to be aware of this but it looks like a mental in-game challenge for him. He’ll have a hitched throw one play then make three to five good throws then another hitch.  He looks to be mentally fighting it. It scares me but the fact that he’s already correcting it bodes well.  I’ll save the rest of the Bortles evaluation till later.

25.  Johnny Manziel 5’10" 200lbs QB Texas A&M – He’s not the same jump ball thrower he was last year.  He’s still a gunslinger no doubt, but this season Manziel has actually played the quarterback position as opposed to just relying on instincts.  He’s gotten better in nearly every cerebral aspect of the game and could continue to improve a the pro level.  I really wish he would head back next season but I don’t predict that’s going to happen.  Arm strength is below average, playmaking ability is elite, foot speed is good, accuracy is good (though not elite), and read and recognition is improving.  Really, really tough call on Manziel. I can’t even begin to guess, other than to guess that I’ll spend a lot of time leading up to my draft guide rewatching Manziel and I’m guessing I still won’t have an answer.  At some point he becomes value but I doubt he makes it to that point. It comes down to this: If you romanticize the legacy of Joe Willy Namath and you believe in the very real swagger that Manziel brings to a team, he’s your guy. If you don’t believe, then he’s not the QB for you.

26. Ra’Shede Hageman 6’6" 300lbs DT Minnesota – Good player on a bad team. Some days he’s the most disruptive player on the field and then he goes into stretches where he loses leverage and gets totally driven out of the play.  Has the potential to be a highly effective pro defensive lineman though either inside in a 43 or outside in a 34.

27.  Scott Crichton 6’3" 260lbs DE Oregon St. – If he adds bulk he should make an excellent strong side 43 defensive end.  He’ll get pressure but lacks the elite closing speed of a true pass rusher.  Plays the run very well, though and still manages consistent penetration.

Top End Stretch Players

28.  David Yankey 6’5" 311lbs OT-OG Stanford – Plays LT at Stanford but should kick inside as a pro.  Really nice blocker in space but has some heavier feet that I think will keep him inside.  Nice run blocker overall and does an excellent job of identifying blitzers.

29. Vic Beasley 6’2" 230lbs DE/OLB Clemson – Solid all-around pass rusher without a clear defensive position.  Good upfield mobility but too light to be a defensive end and may not have the agility to stand up at outside linebacker.  Qualifies as a very high end project player who can be a situational pass rusher at the start.

30.  Jason Verrett 5’9" 175lbs CB TCU – No player on this list has improved more in his collegiate career than Verrett.  Verrett got abused as a freshmen but has quietly (even as TCU declines) become a better one of the top flight collegiate CBs.  He doesn’t get a lot of press, but I expect that to change.

31.  Ryan Shazier 6’2" 226lbs OLB Ohio St. – Will have a nice NFL career as a 43 Weakside linebacker but his value is hurt by playing that position.  Not a pass rusher but good in coverage with solid range.

32.  Melvin Gordon III 6’1" 210lbs RB Wisconsin – Powerful and agile , Gordon has the ability to run away from linebackers.  He could be a starting running back in the league in short order.

33. Jordan Matthews 6’3" 201lbs WR Vanderbilt – Sucks up everything thrown his way, will be the ultimate definition of a possession receiver at the NFL level.  He’s a good route runner but I’m concerned he may not have the break away speed necessary to be a top flight NFL WR.

34. Cyril Richardson 6’4" 335lbs OT-OG Baylor – Will look much better as a prospect projecting inside to guard as opposed to staying at tackle. Battle tested road grader but lacks the speed to get to the outside so won’t draw much interest from zone blockers.

35.  De’Anthony Thomas 5’9" 168lbs RB Oregon – Pint sized home run hitter.  The concern certainly isn’t the speed or pass catching ability which he brings in oversized quantities, its durability, can he survive NFL pounding?

Bottom End Stretch Players

36.  Domonique Easley 6’2" 285 DE/DT Florida – Injured right now, has first round ability but hasn’t gotten to try and put it all together due to health situation.

37.  Jace Amaro 6’5" 245lbs TE Texas Tech – Plays in the slot often and will be a project as a move TE.  He’s going to need to learn to play inline TE.

38.  Cameron Erving 6’5" 320lbs OT Flordia St. – Incredibly athletic but hasn’t put the whole package together yet.  Needs to refine his technique in a big way and not rely on superior athletic ability alone.

39.  Cedric Ogbeuhi 6’5" 300lbs OT Texas A&M – Could go the Jake Matthews route , return to A&M for next season and threaten the top overall OT spot in the draft next season.  Really nice prospect who projects as a swing tackle.

40.  Odell Beckham Jr. 5’11" 210lbs WR LSU – One of the better players in space after the catch.  Superior change of direction ability and room to mature as a pass catcher.

On the Bubble: QB Derek Carr Fresno St.; RB’s Ka’Deem Carey Arizona, Lache Seastrunk Baylor, Andrew Williams Boston College, Bishop Sankey Washington; WR’s Donte Moncrief Mississippi, Kelvin Benjamin FSU, Brandin Cooks Oregon St.; OT Brandon Scherff Iowa, La’el Collins LSU; OG Antonio Richardson Tennessee; C Travis Swanson Arkansas; DT’s Ego Ferguson & Anthony Johnson LSU, Will Sutton Arizona St.; DE’s Kareem Martin UNC , Chris Smith Arkansas; OLB Trent Murphy Stanford; CB’s E.J. Gaines Missouri Darqueze Dennard Michigan St., Louchiez Purifoy & Marcus Roberson Florida; CB/S Antone Exum Virginia Tech.

Seven Guys I wanted to write about

Not 41-47 but I’d love to see these guys in pewter – consider them value later on

A. Robert Herron 5’9" 187lbs WR Wyoming – If not for the lack of height ahh…what could be.  Really plays the game like a #1 WR but also comes with electric speed and change of direction ability.  Can make some tough difficult catches.  Will be someone’s slot WR and rack up 400-600 yards a season from that position.

B. Jeff Janis 6’2" 220lbs WR Saginaw Valley St. (D-II) – Even adjusting for the lack of competition this kid is something special.  He put up a 300 yard receiving game earlier in the season and has just dominated.  He’s simply a man among boys at this point.  He’s stronger than the linebackers on the field and faster than anyone he’s played against this season.  His stop and go move is already really nice.  He’s extending his hands to make catches as well.  The combine is key for Janis if he measures like a top end Division 1 prospect, he’s going to go very high.  He’s another WR that at worst should be a good deep ball WR and at best could be one of the best in the NFL.

C. Dri Archer 5’8" 180lbs RB Kent St. – Fits the team name to a T, "The Golden Flashes". Archer is a combo RB/WR with exceptional speed and change of pace ability – not just good but elite.  Doesn’t have the power or size to be an every down back and has had some off-field issues but he’s too dangerous for an innovative offensive mind not to use.

D. DeNarius McGhee 5’11" 212lbs QB Montana St. (FCS) – Wanted to play QB coming out of high school but a lack of height kept many Division I programs from offering him a scholarship.  Mobile, athletic , a tremendous leader with  a strong, accurate arm.  Will need some serious schooling on NFL level offenses, but I missed on Russell Wilson and don’t care for repeating mistakes.  I’m not comparing the two but I think McGhee could be a nice backup QB in the NFL (who also comes with a running dimension – he’s WR fast) and come at a bargain basement price.  Seems to have a passion for playing quarterback so should be a developmental player and eventually make the regular roster.

E. Crockett Gillmore 6’6" 255lbs TE Colorado St. – Underappreciated pass catching TE who is a developing blocker with good size.  Mackey award finalist who isn’t fast enough to start in the NFL but has great hands and gives maximum effort as a blocker, began his career as a defensive end so blocking is still new to him but if he develops technique…well then we are talking.  Powerful finisher after the catch.  Undervalued in my opinion because he can be a reserve TE who is capable of doing damage right around the goalline and plays the game with a passion.

F. Ty Zimmerman 6’1" 204lbs FS Kansas St. – Shifted around a number of positions early and is a good all around athlete.  Covers a lot of ground in the secondary and would make a quality "last line of defense" for an NFL team that uses a lot of single high safety.  Team Leader at K St. and should be an NFL starter at some point.

G. Shayne Skov 6’2" 220lbs ILB Stanford – Not going to test well at the NFL combine by all accounts.  I never say "I don’t care" about that sort of thing but I care less in Skov’s case, as he’s consistently making plays and plays with great anticipation. He must be a film room guy because he seems to always know what play is coming.