Time for Style vs. Substance

February 18, 2014 by Andy Staples

The bowl games and the postseason all-star games have provided even more clarity thanks to some matchups that allowed players to either shine or get exposed. Now comes the really silly part.

From this point forward, players will be judged mostly by what they do in their underwear. This process explains how Oregon outside linebacker/defensive end Dion Jordan got selected No. 3 overall last year while Ducks inside linebacker Kiko Alonso—the best player on the 2012 Oregon defense—fell into the second round. Guess who wound up being the much, much better rookie? That’s right. The guy who actually demonstrated his skills at a high level in college. So this list will be heavy on guys who produced against good competition and light on guys whose numbers didn’t match their potential.

This also isn’t a mock draft. It doesn’t take into account the order in which the teams will select. Positional need will supersede sheer talent in many cases. That likely will be the case for the guy who finds himself back at No. 1.

2014 NFL Draft Big Board
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jadeveon-clowney

1. Jadeveon Clowney

DE; Junior; University of South Carolina; 6-6, 274

We dinged Clowney—ever so slightly—during the season for an effort that didn’t measure up to his stellar sophomore year. Whether that dip was the consequence of nagging injuries or something else remains to be seen. But Clowney’s decision to do everything at the combine suggests he’s taking this process very seriously. On The Dan Patrick Show last week, guest host Kay Adams asked me what Clowney’s biggest challenge at the combine would be. My answer? Avoiding tripping over the dangling tongues of personnel people after each drill. I was only sort of kidding. Clowney probably will get some tough questions about his production, but he’ll likely leave a supremely positive impression on those evaluating him. Will it be enough to make him the No. 1 pick in the draft? Probably not as long as the Texans have the No. 1 pick. They have the best defensive end in the NFL and a glaring need at quarterback. The question is whether some team will be willing to trade up to grab Clowney.

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teddy-bridgewater

2. Teddy Bridgewater

QB; Junior; Louisville; 6-3, 196

Central Florida’s Blake Bortles has shot up most draft boards, and he did win the head-to-head matchup this past season. But Bridgewater was steadily excellent for three years. His shyness may raise some questions for coaches and general managers, but he’s a different person on the field. A look at the film will show that.

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anthony-carr

3. Anthony Barr

LB; Senior; UCLA; 6-4, 245

Barr should be catnip to NFL GMs. He’s demonstrated an ability to produce at a high level in college, but because he didn’t play defense until his junior season, he remains well below his ceiling.

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johnny-manziel

4. Johnny Manziel

QB; Redshirt Sophomore; Texas A&M; 6-1, 200

During the Super Bowl, a great-but-immobile quarterback was shut down by a defense mostly rushing four while the mobile quarterback on the winning team was ruthlessly efficient thanks to an ability to create time to throw. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson's success on the sport's biggest stage made Manziel even more intriguing. Manziel and Wilson are physically similar—between 5-11 and 6-0 but with huge hands. Both have decent arms. But on the field, Manziel looks quite a bit faster. That comparison plus the fact that Manziel succeeded in his stated goal of getting more comfortable in the pocket in 2013 should encourage NFL general managers considering him. This also should make them equally excited about Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who will be available in the 2015 or 2016 draft.

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greg-robinson

5. Greg Robinson

OT; Redshirt Sophomore; Auburn; 6-5, 320

Auburn’s run to the BCS title game gave the nation a chance to see Robinson against some of the best defenders in the nation, and he dominated. On top of that, his speed and quickness should make him a top performer in the Underwear Olympics portion of the pre-draft process.

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jake-matthews

6. Jake Matthews

OT; Senior; Texas A&M; 6-5, 305

Robinson may unseat Matthews as the presumptive first tackle taken, but Matthews won’t fall far. He excelled for four years in College Station, and—barring injury—he’ll anchor an NFL line for much longer.

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timmy-jernigan

7. Timmy Jernigan

DT; Junior; Florida State; 6-2, 298

Jernigan was a bit difficult to evaluate as the Seminoles dominated the ACC. He didn’t have to play entire games because of blowouts, and the players around him were so good that it was often difficult to determine who was making the biggest impact. That changed in the BCS title game. Against an excellent Auburn offensive line, Jernigan looked like the most important player on the defense. That was even more evident when he came off the field to recharge.

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blake-bortles

8. Blake Bortles

QB; Redshirt Junior; Central Florida; 6-4, 230

It’s easy to understand why Bortles has rocketed up these draft boards. He played in a pro-style offense, meaning his learning curve is shorter than his fellow quarterbacks. He has a strong arm, and just as important, he has the athleticism to buy himself more time to throw. A quarterback doesn’t necessarily need the escapability of Johnny Football, but in today’s game, he’s got to be able to move.

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cj-mosley

9. C.J. Mosley

LB; Senior; Alabama; 6-2, 232

I’ve been in the tank for Mosley for a long time. In November, I tried to mount a Heisman Trophy campaign for him. To handle the Wilsons, the Kaepernicks and the RG3s, teams need linebackers who can run all day. Just as Mosley’s importance to Alabama’s defense increased as spread offenses invaded the SEC, his importance to an NFL defense will increase as more dual-threat quarterbacks enter the league.

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aaron-donald

10. Aaron Donald

DT; Senior; Pittsburgh; 6-0, 285

Donald won’t go this high, but I have a feeling teams around this spot will wish they’d taken him. Donald is undersized, but led the nation with 28.5 tackles for loss. At practices for the Senior Bowl, he dispelled any notions that his gaudy stats were a result of inferior competition. He dominated nearly every drill. He’ll drop a little because of his size, but that performance will be difficult to ignore.

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taylor-lewan

11. Taylor Lewan

OT; Senior; Michigan; 6-8, 308

Though he never shoved a fan, Lewan’s situation has some parallels with Oklahoma State basketball player Marcus Smart’s. Lewan might have been the top pick in the draft had he left school last year. Instead, he came back, put some unflattering images on tape and generally got his game picked apart as the Wolverines bumbled their way to a 7-6 record. He’s still probably going to get taken in the first round, but he likely would have gone higher last year.

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sammy-watkins

12. Sammy Watkins

WR; Junior; Clemson; 6-1, 205

Watkins dominated Ohio State in the Orange Bowl with 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns. After a lost sophomore season, he showed as a junior why he deserves to be chosen early.

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mike-evans

13. Mike Evans

WR; Redshirt Sophomore; Texas A&M; 6-5, 225

From a physical standpoint, Evans should probably go even higher. He’s huge, strong and has breakaway speed. But watch what Texas A&M did with him. (Hint: It wasn’t much beyond line-up-wide-on-the-right-side-and-be-a-better-athlete-than-that-cornerback.) Evans will have to prove himself more versatile to be the featured receiver in an offense. His physical gifts make him extremely valuable either way, but if he can expand his game, he could dominate.

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louis-nix

14. Louis Nix III

DT; Junior; Notre Dame; 6-3, 340

Nix told the South Bend Tribune he signed with an agent in December—thus missing his final bowl trip—to get the best care possible for his surgically repaired knee cartilage. That’s probably a good sign. Nix struggled with his weight throughout college, and a bum wheel plus buffets usually equals trouble. When Nix is in shape, he’s an ideal 3-4 nose tackle. If he arrives in good condition as a rookie, he’ll make a team very happy.

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marqise-lee

15. Marqise Lee

WR; Junior; USC; 6-0, 195

On a deeper team, Lee might not have had to play with so many nagging injuries. But NCAA sanction-depleted USC had few other options. Given time to get healthy and given teammates of similar ability, Lee should excel.

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eric-ebron

16. Eric Ebron

TE; Junior; North Carolina; 6-4, 245

Ebron emerged as the nation’s most intriguing tight end prospect late last season. His combination of size and speed makes him ideal for a team that likes to flex its tight ends to create coverage mismatches.

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stephon-tuitt

17. Stephon Tuitt

DE; Junior; Notre Dame; 6-6, 303

Tuitt’s Instagram account is a great way to track his quest to trim down to 305 pounds. If he can do that, watch out. A 3-4 team in need of a defensive end should scoop him up quickly.

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ryan-shazier

18. Ryan Shazier

LB; Junior; Ohio State; 6-2, 222

Just like Mosley, Shazier’s speed will make him a critical piece against offenses that favor dumping the ball to fast playmakers in space. Shazier is undersized, but there won’t be another linebacker in this draft who moves as fast in pads.

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haha-clinton-dix

19. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

S; Junior; Alabama; 6-1, 208

Clinton-Dix is the most complete safety prospect in the draft. He can run, he can cover, and he can lay the wood.

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zack-martin

20. Zack Martin

OT; Senior; Notre Dame; 6-4, 304

Martin helped his cause at practices for the Senior Bowl. He showed he could play against top competition at left tackle, and he also proved he could handle left guard. That versatility should serve Martin well.

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darqueze-dennard

21. Darqueze Dennard

CB; Senior; Michigan State; 5-11, 196

Dennard was the best cornerback in college football in 2013. An NFL team can just plug him in and go.

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justin-gilbert

22. Justin Gilbert

CB; Senior; Oklahoma State; 6-0, 200

I’m always a little wary of cornerbacks with huge interception totals. (Gilbert led the Big 12 with six in 2013.) The best cornerbacks usually have few picks because the receivers they cover are blanketed so tightly that quarterbacks look elsewhere. But Gilbert played in the Big 12, where quarterbacks launch with impunity. He also played in a defense that stressed creating turnovers. Gilbert also will help the team that selects him in the return game, giving him added value.

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will-sutton

23. Will Sutton

DT; Senior; Arizona State; 6-1, 305

The chatter at the Senior Bowl involved Sutton’s weight, and the truth may be that Sutton needs to play at a relatively light weight to succeed. Even though he looked heavy, Sutton’s quickness and explosiveness were evident in drills. If he can maintain the best weight for him, he could be a disruptive force.

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khalil-mack

24. Khalil Mack

LB; Senior; Buffalo; 6-3, 245

Mack was one of the most productive linebackers in the country for the past four seasons. There will be no concerns about his size.

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kelvin-benjamin

25. Kelvin Benjamin

WR; Redshirt Sophomore; Florida State; 6-5, 234

At media day for the BCS title game, I was standing next to another college football writer who has seen more than his share of great players, but he had never seen Benjamin in person. “Whoa,” he said, shaking his head. That’s a common occurrence. With no jersey number, Benjamin could easily be mistaken for a rangy defensive end. He knows how to use his size and strength around the goal line, as evidenced by the catch that clinched the national title for the Seminoles. But Benjamin is still pretty raw, and he had an issue with drops in 2013. Still, considering his development from signing with Florida State in 2011 to this season, it’s a good bet Benjamin still hasn’t found his ceiling.

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Cyrus-Kouandjio

26. Cyrus Kouandjio

OT; Junior; Alabama; 6-6, 310

We often remark that college players can make quite a bit of money by excelling in certain matchups, but that pendulum swings both ways. Kouandjio cost himself some money in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma speed rusher Eric Striker blew past Kouandjio on several occasions and wrecked Alabama’s offense. Kouandjio has all the measurables NFL teams want, and he had put out a lot of good tape in two seasons as a starter. But he’ll face rushers in the NFL just as fast as Striker—and they’ll weigh a lot more than Striker’s 220 pounds.

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david-yankey

27. David Yankey

OG; Senior; Stanford; 6-5, 311

For teams that still prefer to run the ball, Yankey is a perfect fit. He can open holes by drive blocking, or he can pull and wipe out an end or a linebacker. He plays with a nasty streak, and his natural athleticism should give offensive coordinators a lot of options when drawing plays.

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kyle-van-noy

28. Kyle Van Noy

LB; Senior; BYU; 6-3, 245

The GMs who prefer combine results probably will drop Van Noy because he won’t run the fastest 40 in his group or put up the most reps on the bench. The GMs who prefer game video will love Van Noy because he finds ways to produce for his team on almost every play. Like UCLA’s Barr, Van Noy is the football equivalent of a basketball stat sheet stuffer. He’ll offer a mix of tackles for loss, forced fumbles, quarterback hurries and interceptions. Most importantly, he’ll find a way to make an impact.

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loucheiz-purifoy

29. Loucheiz Purifoy

CB; Junior; Florida; 6-1, 189

Purifoy was an excellent cover guy for most of his time at Florida—though he may want to burn all copies of his performance against Florida State’s Benjamin in November. Purifoy is fast and fluid, and he also may help the NFL team that drafts him in the return game.

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trent-murphy

30. Trent Murphy

LB; Redshirt Senior; Stanford; 6-6, 261

Murphy may not run as well as some similarly sized players at the combine. That shouldn’t overshadow the fact that against quality competition, he led the nation in sacks. Murphy is a relentless rusher who occasionally dabbles in steer wrestling. He’s also a long, lanky player who knows how to get his hands up to block a throwing lane. (Stanford doesn’t beat Washington if he doesn’t.)

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lamarcus-joyner

31. Lamarcus Joyner

CB; Senior; Florida State; 5-8, 187

Forget his height. Joyner is a lit stick of dynamite on the football field. He can cover, but his experience playing safety at Florida State should help him when he isn’t on an island.

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michael-sam

32. Michael Sam

DE; Senior; Missouri; 6-2, 255

Sam won’t go anywhere near this high. That was the case before he revealed on Sunday that he is gay. Sam was always going to face questions about his size. He excelled in college as a 4-3 end, but he projects more as a 3-4 linebacker. The problem is he may just be a better 4-3 end, and The MMQB’s Greg Bedard isn’t so sure that’s the case, either. I had Sam a little higher on my last big board, but some players played their way up. This list weighs actual production as much or more than projection or ceiling, which is why you’ll see several players who won’t be drafted anywhere close to where they appear on this board. The guy who got to the quarterback better than anyone else in the SEC in 2013 has demonstrated an ability that NFL teams consider very valuable. If you can get in the backfield consistently in the deepest league in college, the chances are better that you can do the same in the NFL.

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jason-verrett

33. Jason Verrett

CB; Senior; TCU; 5-10, 176

Like Joyner, Verrett plays much bigger than he is. He’s fearless against larger receivers, and he’s still relatively new to the position. He moved to cornerback in junior college, so much of what he showed at TCU was sheer natural ability.

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calvin-pryor

34. Calvin Pryor

S; Junior; Louisville; 6-2, 208

The hunt for the next Kam Chancellor continues with Pryor, who earned a reputation at Louisville as a ferocious hitter who could knock an opposing receiver out of the game with a clean shot. Pryor has excellent instincts, and those hits usually aren’t attempts at highlight-reel plays. They’re usually fundamentally sound tackles that happen to rattle the ballcarrier’s fillings.

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aaron-murray

35. Aaron Murray

QB; Senior; Georgia; 6-1, 208

This is the point where the draftniks will stop reading entirely. The people who watched a lot of college football the past four years, on the other hand, will nod and smile. Murray isn’t getting picked close to this spot. He was already a mid-round guy even before he tore his ACL in November. But just remember this in two or three years when Murray comes off the bench to replace an injured starter and lights it up with his smarts, his mobility and a good enough arm to get the job done, and then locks down a starting job for years. Or come back and laugh at me if he doesn’t.

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brandin-cooks

36. Brandin Cooks

WR; Junior; Oregon State; 5-10, 186

With Markus Wheaton in the NFL, Cooks became an even more frequent target for Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion. Cooks caught 128 passes and led the nation in receiving yardage (1,730).

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jace-amaro

37. Jace Amaro

TE; Junior; Texas Tech; 6-5, 260

While in Lubbock for a story last year, I kept noticing this guy leading all the players through seven-on-seven drills. Since coaches aren’t allowed to lead such drills in February, I was tempted to ask Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury if they were breaking an NCAA rule in front of me. Then I realized the “coach” I kept seeing was Amaro, who only looks like he’s 36. Amaro has a great combination of size and speed. He’s big enough to operate as a closed tight end but fast enough to cause some serious mismatches as a receiver.

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zach-mettenberger

38. Zach Mettenberger

QB; Senior; LSU; 6-5, 235

Like Murray, the hobbled Mettenberger runs the risk of getting overlooked because he’s rehabbing a torn ACL. Unlike Murray, Mettenberger has ideal size for the position. The question for Mettenberger will be whether his injury made him even less mobile than he was. Still, Mettenberger’s progress under longtime NFL coordinator Cam Cameron at LSU cannot be overlooked. He made a great leap playing in an offense that probably looks a lot like what he’ll be asked to play in at the NFL level.

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jordan-matthews

39. Jordan Matthews

WR; Senior; Vanderbilt; 6-3, 205

Matthews entered every game knowing defenses would focus on stopping him—and he rarely got stopped. He led the SEC in receptions (112) and receiving yards (1,477).

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davante-adams

40. Davante Adams

WR; Redshirt Sophomore; Fresno State; 6-2, 212

Adams led the nation in receptions (131) and receiving touchdowns (24) in Fresno State’s pass-happy attack. He’s raw, but he’s expected to run an excellent 40-yard dash. That combination of production and potential should excite anyone seeking a receiver.

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jared-abbrederis

41. Jared Abbrederis

WR; Redshirt Senior; Wisconsin; 6-2, 190

Abbrederis is not some plucky former walk-on placed here on the strength of his story. OK, he is a former walk-on. But Abbrederis is an elite athlete who gained 1,081 receiving yards in 2013 in spite of the fact that—just as with Matthews at Vanderbilt—every opposing defense knew Abbrederis was the Badgers’ only legitimate threat in the passing game. When defenses have to focus on other receivers as well, Abbrederis will be even more dangerous.

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antonio-richardson

42, Antonio Richardson

OT; Junior; Tennessee; 6-6, 327

Richardson is an excellent straight-line run blocker, and his sheer size makes it difficult for pass rushers to beat him off the edge. That’s an excellent combination of traits, even if he isn’t the best athlete of the bunch among the top tackles.

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aj-mccarron

43. AJ McCarron

QB; Senior; Alabama; 6-4, 214

I had McCarron much higher for most of the year, but like Kouandjio, his Sugar Bowl performance cost him. The knock on McCarron is that the talent surrounding him at Alabama made him look better than he was. I still consider that unfair—go back and watch the BCS title game from January 2012 against a filthy LSU defense for proof—but McCarron didn’t create a lot of opportunities for himself against Oklahoma. He’ll have to do that at the next level.

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ra'shede-hageman

44. Ra'Shede Hageman

DT; Senior; Minnesota; 6-6, 311

Life is always a bit tougher for extremely tall defensive tackles because staying low is a challenge, but Hageman played with excellent pad level during Senior Bowl practices. He might be the most athletic specimen among the defensive tackles, and that’s going to intrigue teams that might consider Donald and Sutton too small.

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allen-robinson

45. Allen Robinson

WR; Junior; Penn State; 6-3, 210

This is a deeeeeeeep receiver class. In a lot of years, we’d be talking about Robinson as one of the first receivers off the board. Robinson won’t run the fastest 40, but he knows how to use his body to get open, and he made some absolutely mind-bending catches —this one, for example—at Penn State.

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carlos-hyde

46. Carlos Hyde

RB; Senior; Ohio State; 6-0, 235

We finally come to our first back. Let’s face it. The position requires taking so many collisions that risking a first-round choice seems foolish unless the guy is the next Adrian Peterson. That doesn’t seem to be the case with any of the backs this year, but Hyde can carry the load for an NFL team. When Ohio State’s offense got bogged down in 2013, it fed Hyde and things magically began working again. Hyde gained 1,521 yards and averaged 7.3 yards a carry. He played behind a good line, but many of those yards came because of his ability to hit the hole and his unwillingness to go down on first contact.

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deanthony-thomas

47. De'Anthony Thomas

RB; Junior; Oregon; 5-9, 176

Thomas compares favorably to the Rams’ Tavon Austin. He’s going to run a blazing 40-yard dash, and tape from his freshman and sophomore seasons will show a special athlete who does wonders with the ball in space. Thomas’ production dropped off in 2013 following an ankle sprain, so he’ll have to show GMs he’s healthy again.

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odell-beckham

48. Odell Beckham Jr.

WR; Junior; LSU; 6-0, 193

Beckham isn’t as big or rangy as the other top-end receivers, but he knows how to move with the ball. He averaged 19.5 yards a catch in 2013.

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derek-carr

49. Derek Carr

QB; Senior; Fresno State; 6-3, 218

Carr led the nation in passing yardage with 5,082 in 2013, but he’ll have to prove he can pilot a more sophisticated offense. His ability to diagnose defenses from the shotgun and his accuracy on short and intermediate throws should make him attractive to teams that base their scheme on a West Coast offense.

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dee-ford

50. Dee Ford

DE; Senior; Auburn; 6-2, 240

Ford was explosive in Senior Bowl workouts, and he also put on a show in the BCS title game. He’s a weight-room rat whose size belies his strength. He’s also a heck of a piano player.