Posted: Wed January 15, 2014 12:48PM; Updated: Wed January 15, 2014 1:53PM
Chris Burke
Chris Burke>INSIDE THE NFL DRAFT

2014 NFL draft Big Board 3.0

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Critics will knock Sammy Watkins' size (6-foot-1), but he has all the skills needed to succeed in the NFL.
Critics will knock Sammy Watkins' size (6-foot-1), but he has all the skills needed to succeed in the NFL.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2014 NFL draft hit on Wednesday, with a record number of players opting to skip their final season or two.

The next few months will be the usual whirlwind of activity, from college All-Star Games to the combine to Pro Days, right on up until the draft itself. Here are how the top 40 prospects shake out on the eve of the pre-draft cycle.

(Note: Player movement up and down the Big Board is indicated by arrows; a * means a player is a new addition.)

Chris Burke's NFL Draft Big Board
1
Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina, junior
6-6, 274
DE
Texans owner Bob McNair, whose team owns the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, talked up Clowney in a big way recently. "He's one of these players that's really a once-in-every-10-years kind of physical specimen that comes along."

Maybe that's just posturing on McNair's part, with hopes of enticing some team into trading up for Clowney. But the analysis is not wrong.
 
2
Teddy Bridgewater
Louisville, junior
6-3, 198
QB
Don't believe everything (anything?) you hear in January when it comes to the draft. The Browns love Johnny Manziel? The Texans are eyeing Blake Bortles? Maybe. I'd still guess that any QB-needy team that passes on Bridgewater will regret it later down the road. There is not a quarterback better prepared to jump into an NFL lineup and produce as a rookie.
 
3
Sammy Watkins
Clemson, junior
6-1, 205
WR
I've been flip-flopping all year between Watkins and Mike Evans as the top receiver available. Watkins' performance in a bowl win over Ohio State might end the debate. Some voices will knock his height -- 6-foot-1 -- and how it could affect him as an NFL No. 1 WR. He's so advanced in all areas, though, that he should succeed in that role ... and he'd dominate as a No. 2.
 
4
Jake Matthews
Texas A&M, senior
6-5, 305
OT
Strong, quick and tenacious, with a solid frame (6-5, 305) and technique that should hold up well at the next level. The Johnny Manziel effect is worth debating here: Matthews thrived in his role protecting the mobile Manziel and stayed on his blocks, but pocket QBs will present different challenges than Manziel did.
 
5
Khalil Mack
Buffalo, senior
6-3, 248
LB
It is not often that a player from the MAC plants himself this firmly on the radar for an entire season leading up to the draft. Central Michigan's Eric Fisher did it in 2012; Mack pulled off the trick in 2013. The hype was well-deserved. Mack is a three-down linebacker capable of disrupting offenses in a variety of ways.
 
6
Anthony Barr
UCLA, Senior
6-4, 248
OLB
If Barr continues to progress at the rate he did from 2012 to '13, he could be a dominant NFL defender before very long. He may not be as scheme-versatile as some other LBs in this class, but find a 3-4 outside spot for him and he'll torment the opposition.
 
7
C.J. Mosley
Alabama, senior
6-2, 232
LB
The Butkus Award winner as college football's best linebacker, Mosley reads and reacts to run play with the seasoning of an NFL veteran. He really shows up well on third downs, too, particularly when asked to drop into coverage.
 
8*
Darqueze Dennard
Michigan State, senior
5-11, 197
CB
Enforcement of pass interference in the NFL has become an inconsistent, mind-numbing proposition. How well Dennard proves able to walk the line on the rules there will determine his early success, because he loves to play an in-your-face brand of coverage -- one that will frustrate receivers but may draw him more than a couple flags.
 
9
Mike Evans
Texas A&M, sophomore (RS)
6-5, 225
WR
If you offered all 32 NFL general managers the chance to draft a 6-5 version of Anquan Boldin, how many would leap at the opportunity? Evans' game is very reminiscent of the current 49ers' receiver. Just get past his inevitable 4.6-4.7 time in the 40 and enjoy watching the A&M product overwhelm defenders with his ability to find openings and attack the ball once there.
 
10*
Greg Robinson
Auburn, sophomore (RS)
6-5, 305
OT
Robinson did have one costly holding penalty in the BCS title game. Aside from that, he continued to show why some people believe he could be the first offensive lineman taken come May. His potential is through the roof.
 
11
Eric Ebron
UNC, junior
6-4, 245
TE
Would it be nice to see Ebron show improvement as a blocker moving forward? Of course. Any perceived deficiencies there, though, overlook why he should be a top-15 pick. Ebron is precisely the type of matchup conundrum that has forced defenses to get sleeker and more athletic.
 
12
Taylor Lewan
Michigan, senior
6-7, 308
OT
Lewan's goal over the next three-plus months will be to separate his individual abilities from the mess that was Michigan's 2013 offense. When teams are done wading through the tape, they'll still find a highly aggressive, 6-7 tackle with quick feet and extensive experience.
 
13
Johnny Manziel
Texas A&M, sophomore (RS)
6-1, 210
QB
The quarterback position, more than any other, emphasizes the difference between a Mock Draft and a Big Board. There are four QBs included in the top 40 here -- and from Manziel down, all could be drafted far higher than they're ranked. The reasoning is simple: Winning in the NFL without a dynamic quarterback is extremely difficult.

Manziel is a flawed prospect, and some teams may include his behavior off the field in that statement. He's also remarkable at making plays out of nothing, plus is a far better passer than he's often given credit for. Johnny Football can (and I wager will) succeed in the NFL.
 
14
Marqise Lee
USC, junior
6-0, 195
WR
Injuries scare teams at the draft, so Lee's struggles to stay on the field in 2013 might wind up hurting him. On the other hand, there may just be too much to like here for Lee to slip very far. He possesses high-end speed (Lee ran for USC's track team) and, better yet, utilizes that trait well while running routes.
 
15
Ha'Sean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix
Alabama, junior
6-1, 208
S
Part and parcel of the NFL's aforementioned shift toward faster, more versatile players on defense has been the increased demand for safeties like Clinton-Dix. He has great instincts defending the pass, with enough tackles to back up his willingness to fly into the box in run support.
 
16*
Blake Bortles
Central Florida, junior (RS)
6-4, 230
QB
So, here he is -- the guy you've heard so much about over the past couple weeks. Those who had not yet been introduced to Bortles saw him in action during a Fiesta Bowl win, and he did not disappoint, finishing with 394 total yards and four touchdowns. The reason Bortles is not higher is that I think teams are looking at more of a drawn-out process here than with Bridgewater or even Manziel. Bortles' body type and game will draw Ben Roethlisberger comparisons, but Big Ben hit the ground running once he was drafted. As of right now, I'm skeptical Bortles could do the same in Week 1.
 
17*
Jace Amaro
Texas Tech, junior
6-5, 260
TE
Really can't go wrong between Amaro and Ebron, both of whom should hear their names called in Round 1. Teams will be digging deep on the dreaded character issues here -- Amaro was arrested on credit card fraud charges in 2012 (charges were later dropped) and was ejected from a bowl game for punching a Minnesota player.
 
18*
Trent Murphy
Stanford, senior
6-6, 261
OLB
Is Murphy the most naturally gifted player in this draft? No, sir. But just go ask the league's defensive coordinators how many of them would happily accept a 6-6, scheme-versatile defender with a nose for getting after the quarterback.
 
19
Jason Verrett
TCU, senior
5-10, 176
CB
The consistency with which opposing teams avoided Verrett provides a strong indication of just how talented he is. Verrett really jumped out to me with a shut-down performance against Texas Tech's Eric Ward back in September, then followed it up with strong showings against a few of the Big 12's best.
 
20
Ryan Shazier
Ohio State, junior
6-2, 222
OLB
That phrase "three-down linebacker" was used above in reference to Khalil Mack, but it works for Shazier, too. He's on the small side for an outside linebacker (6-2, 222), which may scare a team or two away. He makes up for that area of concern with phenomenal sideline-to-sideline speed and a growing knack for blitzing.
 
21
Louis Nix III
Notre Dame , senior
6-3, 342
DT
Like his teammate Stephon Tuitt (featured lower), Nix struggled to stay healthy in 2013, so his efforts were a little disappointing. There's enough tape of him dominating when he is 100 percent for NFL teams to jump. Quick 340-pound tackles do not come along all that often. And with more teams implementing hybrid defenses, Nix's ability to slide between the 0-tech and 1-tech DT spots will come in handy.
 
22
Cyrus Kouandjio
Alabama, junior
6-6, 310
OT
Kouandjio's a bit of a frustrating prospect, at least heading into the pre-draft gauntlet. There were times that the strong 6-6 tackle absolutely manhandled the opposition. Then there were plays were his technique failed him, which allowed rushers to sneak inside or outside of his blocking. The talent's there. Will the consistency follow?
 
23*
Allen Robinson
Penn State, junior
6-3, 210
WR
The top tier of WRs in this draft includes Watkins, Evans and probably Lee. There is a slight drop-off after that ... to extremely deep second and third tiers. The players here, like Robinson, project better as complementary pieces than guys you'd build gameplans around. But that said, Robinson reminds me some of Keenan Allen, who became San Diego's go-to weapon. Robinson is a well-rounded receiver.
 
24*
Justin Gilbert
Oklahoma State, senior
6-0, 200
CB
Gilbert could be the first CB off the board come May and no one would blink. His best fit will be on a team that lets him play tight man-to-man coverage -- Oklahoma State switched to that approach in 2013 from mostly zone looks and Gilbert thrived.
 
25
Aaron Donald
Pittsburgh, senior
6-0, 285
DT
Expect Donald to be stuck in "Prove it" mode throughout the next few months and his rookie season. At just 6-0 and less than 300 pounds, he has created a line of thinking that he will be overwhelmed by NFL size up front. He plays bigger than he stands, though, as evidenced by his often-dominant showings at Pitt.
 
26
Cyril Richardson
Baylor, senior
6-5, 335
G
Larry Warford was the guard that held a Big Board spot throughout the 2013 draft process, and he went on to deliver a standout rookie season for Detroit. Richardson, likewise, is not budging. Baylor's offense can mask shortcomings up front, but the 340-pound Richardson is a rock in pass protection and just nimble enough to pave the way on runs.
 
27
Jordan Matthews
Vanderbilt, senior
6-3, 206
WR
As with Allen Robinson, Matthews could be a 70- or 80-catch guy in the right offense next season, because he'll come into the league with an advanced game. Matthews can work all areas of the field, and he's a precise route-runner. He had to work for all of his catches at Vanderbilt, with so-so quarterback play supporting him.
 
28
Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Washington, junior
6-6, 276
TE
Seferian-Jenkins was once the odds-on favorite to be the top tight end drafted in 2014; he slipped some, but still remains a first-round possibility. Unlike Ebron or Amaro, he's going to be more of a traditional TE in the NFL, in that he is a better blocker but may not be as dangerous up the seams.
 
29*
Kelvin Benjamin
Florida State, sophomore (RS)
6-5, 234
WR
Will Benjamin be able to take the next step at the NFL level? That's the prevailing mystery at the moment, as the gifted 6-5 receiver has the full skill set to be a star and yet failed to put it all together for extended periods at Florida State.
 
30
Bradley Roby
Ohio State, junior
5-11, 192
CB
In general, 2013 was a pretty rough year for Roby, who was suspended for Ohio State's opener, sat out the bowl game with an injury and struggled throughout the interim. Still, teams will try to see the forest for the trees here -- Roby measures up as a No. 1 or No. 2 CB in the NFL, if he wants to reach those heights.
 
31*
Ra'Shede Hageman
Minnesota, senior (RS)
6-6, 311
DT
One of the real benefits of Minnesota turning in a decent 2013 campaign was that more people were exposed to Hageman. He'll likely be a star at the combine, too, which should only raise his stock further. Hageman can play inside in a 4-3 or outside in a 3-4, and he should succeed in either spot.
 
32*
Brandin Cooks
Oregon State, junior
5-10, 186
WR
Cooks has earned comparisons to both Victor Cruz and Steve Smith during the season, which counts as pretty high praise. The 5-10, 186-pounder had a whopping 128 catches for more than 1,700 yards this past season, while displaying the make-you-miss moves in the open field that NFL teams covet.
 
33
Stephon Tuitt
Notre Dame, junior
6-7, 322
DE
The Irish defensive lineman should be a first-round pick, but his (possibly injury-hampered) performance in 2013 makes it hard to slot him in as a sure thing. He appears to be an ideal fit for a 3-4 end spot, though teams running mainly 4-3 looks could turn him into a reliable DT or even larger DE.
 
34*
Calvin Pryor
Louisville, senior
6-2, 208
S
Pryor may be the D.J. Swearinger or Jonathan Cyprien of this draft -- a hard-hitting safety whose instincts for finding the football are Round 1 caliber. Again, the name of the game for defenses now is versatility, and Pryor can cover a whole lot of ground in the secondary.
 
35*
Carlos Hyde
Ohio State, senior
6-0, 235
RB
The RB position is setting up like a total crap shoot. There's Hyde, Tre Mason, Ka'Deem Carey, Bishop Sankey, Lache Seastrunk, Devonta Freeman and a boatload of others who fit the bill of being competent NFL backs. Hyde's the No. 1 option here because of an all-around game and 240-pound frame -- the latter of which will allow him not only to survive in the NFL but also dish out a little punishment.
 
36*
Timmy Jernigan
Florida State, junior
6-2, 294
DT
His critics will point to how he pulled himself out of the BCS title game late (he had the flu, for what it's worth). But Pro Football Focus rated him as the Seminoles' best player in that game. That's sort of the Jernigan dichotomy: He can dominate from time to time, but what if he's only really on for 10 or 12 snaps a game?
 
37*
Kony Ealy
Missouri, junior (RS)
6-5, 275
DE
Hesitating a little more than others to jump on the Ealy bandwagon, though the talent is undeniably there. Two factors in that wariness: 1. He's still in need of developing his pass-rush approach, because speed only gets a player so far in the NFL; and 2. He's a bit in between positional projections now, with 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB on the table.
 
38*
Odell Beckham Jr.
LSU, junior
6-0, 193
WR
Beckham has a definite shot to be a Round 1 -- maybe even a top-20 -- pick before all is said and done. The LSU star is coming off a season in which he earned the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player, so he brings that kick/punt-return bonus to the table. Beckham is less polished but more dangerous than the likes of Allen Robinson or Jordan Matthews.
 
39*
Derek Carr
Fresno State, senior (RS)
6-3, 218
QB
Another example of how need drives the vehicle at quarterback. This is about where I would feel comfortable drafting Carr -- somewhere in the top 15 picks or so of Round 2. He might end up as a top-10 guy, if a team wants to take a shot on landing a franchise QB. The upside is there: Carr can make all the throws and has a huge arm. His mechanics remain a concern.
 
40
Kyle Van Noy
BYU, senior
6-3, 245
OLB
Van Noy's best served rushing off the edge, probably in a 3-4 defense (though he should be able to survive as a 4-3 strong-side linebacker). He won't blow anyone away with athleticism like, say, Anthony Barr might. Yet, he produced throughout his college career due to his aggressiveness in taking on blockers and finding the football.
 
 
MORE:
BANKS: Pats shouldn't be in title game, but here they are
COVER-TWO: Grading the latest coaching hires
BURKE: Mock Draft 4.0: Manziel to Jags at No. 3
 
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