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How top 2014 NFL draft prospects ranked as high school recruits

Photo: David Allio/Icon SMI

Jadeveon Clowney could be the first top-ranked high school recruit to go No. 1 overall in the NFL draft.

Think the NFL draft is an inexact science? Try predicting what a 17-year-old will look and play like when he's 21. College coaches and recruiting service analysts cast a far wider net than their NFL counterparts, and their success rate suffers because of it.

But judging by the players in Don Banks' Mock Draft 4.0 (which was used for the projections below), the recruitniks did a fairly decent job predicting the fortunes of some future first-rounders. A few slipped through the cracks for various reasons (didn't start playing football until their senior year of high school, didn't blossom until junior college), but for the most part, recruiting analysts and college coaches had keen eyes when evaluating these guys.

In fact, this draft could be a big one for the recruitniks. If Don's No. 1 pick is correct, this will be the first time in the recruiting-service era that a former No. 1 overall recruit is selected No. 1 in the draft.

MORE: 2014 NFL Fan Mock Draft | 2014 NFL draft needs: AFC | NFL draft needs: NFC

1. Houston: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Class: 2011
Hometown: Rock Hill, S.C.
High school: South Pointe
Rivals rank: Five stars

Clowney was already a legend by the time he was a junior in high school, and his senior season highlight video is still spoken of in only the most reverential hushed whispers among the recruiting cognoscenti. Clowney was the top-ranked player in the class of 2011, and there wasn't much argument. There is quite a bit more debate about whether he'll wind up at the top of the draft.

2. St. Louis: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

Class: 2011
Hometown: Fort Myers, Fla.
High school: South Fort Myers
Rivals rank: Five stars

Watkins was a Pop Warner quarterback who switched to receiver as a freshman at South Fort Myers. In the spring before Watkins' sophomore year, South Fort Myers freshman coach Joe Hampton, a former longtime head coach at nearby Estero, told then-Clemson offensive line coach Brad Scott he needed to watch Watkins. Scott, who as Florida State's recruiting coordinator helped sign Deion Sanders out of Fort Myers in 1985, was blown away. He repeatedly told Clemson's receivers coach that he had a line on the best receiver in the country. Receivers coach Jeff Scott had some experience hearing Brad Scott's wisdom. After all, he'd done it since birth. Still, Jeff didn't truly understand until Watkins came to a camp at Clemson two years later. I told the story of that first curl route Watkins ran at camp in the profile I wrote on him for the magazine. The quote from Jeff Scott pretty much says it all: "His acceleration off the line was so fast that he about fell down when he went to make that break," the younger Scott said. "I ran to him and said, 'You're like a 15-year-old kid whose dad just gave him a Ferrari to drive. You've got all this power, and you don't have any idea how to drive it.'" Watkins certainly looks comfortable in the driver's seat now.

3. Jacksonville: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

Class: 2009
Hometown: Fort Pierce, Fla.
High school: Westwood
Rivals rank: Two stars

SI.com's Martin Rickman wrote a fine story last year that explains how Mack managed to fly under the radar in high school. Schools barely knew about Mack, a high school basketball player who played only one season of varsity football after suffering a serious knee injury earlier in high school. The only school that showed much interest in Mack was Liberty, and Mack was set to play there. But Robert Wimberly, the Liberty assistant who had found Mack, got a job on Turner Gill's staff at Buffalo in 2009. Wimberly convinced Mack to visit Buffalo, and Mack wound up signing with the Bulls later that year. He didn't stay under the radar long. By his sophomore year, big-conference coaches who had Buffalo on their schedule were noticing how he jumped off the screen when they evaluated Buffalo's defense.

4. Cleveland: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Class: 2011
Hometown: Kerrville, Texas
High school: Tivy
Rivals rank: Three stars

Manziel was a folk hero in the Texas Hill Country as a high-schooler, but even great games against powerhouses such as Steele High in Cibolo couldn't convince recruiting services -- or most of the college coaches in the state -- that Manziel was the next great made-in-Texas quarterback. Manziel had zeroed in on TCU as a possibility, but despite several unofficial visits, an offer never came. It's telling that two of the coaches who wanted Manziel quite badly were Stanford's Jim Harbaugh and Oregon's Chip Kelly. In fact, Manziel was committed to Oregon before he finally received an offer from a major-conference school in the Lone Star State. Had he gone to Eugene, he and Marcus Mariota would have arrived in the same recruiting class.

5. Oakland: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Class: 2010
Hometown: Missouri City, Texas
High school: Elkins
Rivals rank: Four stars

The son of Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews had a lot of family ties to contemplate during his recruitment. He considered USC, the alma mater of his father, uncle and cousins. Another finalist was Texas A&M, where older brother Kevin played. In the summer of 2009, Jake opted for the closer-to-home option and committed to the Aggies. He wound up becoming a member of what might be the best offensive tackle haul in college football recruiting history. Luke Joeckel started at left tackle for three years and then became the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft. Matthews slid from right to left tackle as a senior and should be a top-10 pick. Cedric Ogbuehi redshirted, played right guard and right tackle and now will shift to left tackle to replace Matthews. Like Joeckel and Matthews, Ogbuehi should also be a first-rounder, barring injury.

SI Now: Johnny Manziel is top NFL QB prospect says Peter King
On Wednesday's SI Now, The MMQB editor-in-chief Peter King discusses why he believes Johnny Manziel is the best quarterback prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft and the pros and cons of drafting the former Texas A&M star.

6. Atlanta: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Class: 2011
Hometown: Thibodaux, La.
High school: Thibodaux
Rivals rank: Four stars

When former Auburn assistant coach Trooper Taylor wasn't waving a towel on the sideline during games, he was landing players such as Robinson, who spurned home-state LSU to play on the Plains. At 6-foot-5 and a solid 296 pounds, the high school version of Robinson was a college coach's dream. He was athletic enough to play at any of the line positions, and he had room to pack on more size without losing speed. He redshirted for the Tigers in 2011 and took over as the starting left tackle during the disastrous 2012 season. When Gus Malzahn returned to Auburn as head coach, he had a mauler ready to open holes in his offense.

7. Tampa Bay: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Class: 2011
Hometown: Galveston, Texas
High school: Ball
Rivals rank: Three stars

Like Mack, Evans only played one year of high school football. He teamed with future Nebraska forward Terran Petteway to form a dynamic duo on the Ball High basketball team, and Evans may have had a future as a small forward, but he saw a brighter future on the football field. Schools began to notice the 6-5, 180-pound Evans during that first year of football. Tulane offered, and UT-San Antonio and Texas A&M got in touch. In December 2010, Evans took an unofficial visit to College Station. Aggies coaches offered a scholarship, and Evans immediately accepted.

8. Minnesota: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Class: 2011
Hometown: Miami
High school: Northwestern
Rivals rank: Four stars

Bridgewater had planned to follow in the footsteps of former Northwestern quarterback Jacory Harris and play for Miami, but the Hurricanes' firing of Randy Shannon rankled Bridgewater so much that he dropped his hometown school and reopened his recruitment. Bridgewater considered LSU but ultimately decided to join Charlie Strong's second recruiting class at Louisville along with Northwestern teammate Eli Rogers and five other players from Florida's Dade and Broward counties.

9. Buffalo: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

Class: 2011
Hometown: Greensboro, N.C.
High school: Ben L. Smith
Rivals rank: Three stars

Ebron had plenty of interest from around the country, but his early commitment to a program outside college football's elite ranks probably affected his ranking a bit. Ebron decided in March 2010 that he wanted to be a Tar Heel, and he stuck by that decision even as an NCAA scandal made headlines and took down a 2010 team that could have made some serious noise at full strength. Ebron signed the following February, but he never played for the coach to whom he committed. The Tar Heels fired Butch Davis in July 2011. Fortunately for Ebron, Larry Fedora took over the program prior to the 2012 season and knew how to use an athletic tight end.

10. Detroit: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

Class: 2011
Hometown: Orlando, Fla.
High school: Dr. Phillips
Rivals rank: Five stars

Clinton-Dix and his high-school teammate, tailback Dee Hart, were each supposed to make an immediate impact at Alabama. Hart got hurt, tried moving to defense and eventually left the program after the 2013 season, but Clinton-Dix was every bit as good as advertised. Rivals.com ranked him as the top safety in the class of 2011, the top player in the state of Florida and the No. 7 overall prospect. Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack might now take issue with that No. 1 in Florida ranking, but it appears NFL executives will agree Clinton-Dix was the No. 1 safety in the class.

11. Tennessee: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

Class: 2010
Hometown: Oviedo, Fla.
High school: Oviedo
Rivals rank: Three stars

Bortles got an offer from UCF in February 2009, but he didn't accept right away. He understood why the school a few miles from his house would be interested, but he thought he could do better. So he waited. And waited. Colorado State and Western Kentucky wanted Bortles as a quarterback. Purdue and a few others tried to talk him into playing tight end. "I kind of waited around for a little bit and realized nobody else wanted me," Bortles said last September. "I thought I might as well go where somebody wants me." The decision worked out fantastically for both parties. Bortles unseated Jeff Godfrey as the starting quarterback and wound up leading UCF to an American Athletic Conference title and a Fiesta Bowl win as a redshirt junior.

12. NY Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Class: 2010
Hometown: Pittsburgh
High school: Penn Hills
Rivals rank: Three stars

The big news in Pennsylvania on National Signing Day 2010 was that the state's top-ranked recruit had crossed the border again. Philadelphia defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd -- a future first-round pick -- had signed with Florida. But in Pittsburgh, a far more lightly recruited defensive tackle had opted to stay home. While Floyd was good at Florida, Donald wound up being more dominant in college and likely will be drafted higher. And Pittsburgh only had to beat Rutgers, Akron and Toledo to land him.

13. St. Louis: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Class: 2010
Hometown: Dry Branch, Ga.
High school: Twiggs County
Rivals rank: Two stars

Dennard is a true diamond-in-the-rough story, right down to a hometown and high school with names that sound as if they were pilfered from the script of a Dukes of Hazzard episode. When Michigan State coaches first noticed Dennard in November 2009, they were in Georgia to see Spartans commit Keith Mumphery, a receiver at nearby Dooly County High. Dennard wowed the coaches that night, and they were even more stunned to learn that he had no scholarship offers. He'd had one to Middle Tennessee State, but it had been pulled because of a numbers crunch. South Carolina and Illinois tried to jump in late, but Dennard stuck with the Spartans and wound up becoming the best cornerback in college football in 2013.

14. Chicago: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

Class: 2011
Hometown: Port St. Joe, Fla.
High school: Port St. Joe
Rivals rank: Three stars

Ron Dugans grew up in Tallahassee and played receiver at Florida State, so he knew Florida's Big Bend area well when he recruited there as Louisville's receivers coach under Strong. Dugans zeroed in quickly on Pryor, who had only lukewarm interest from the Seminoles. The two forged a good relationship, and Pryor wound up choosing the Cardinals over Maryland, Iowa State and UCF. Pryor cited the availability of early playing time as a reason for choosing Louisville. He got it, earning a starting job as a freshman.

15. Pittsburgh: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Class: 2010
Hometown: Huntsville, Texas
High school: Huntsville
Rivals rank: Four stars

Gilbert was traveling to visit Baylor in March 2009 when he received three scholarship offers in an hour. He told SoonerScoop.com that Colorado called first. Then came Oklahoma. Then came Oklahoma State. Two days later, Texas A&M offered. Gilbert, who played quarterback and defensive back at Huntsville, took a few months to decide which school he liked the best. He picked the Cowboys in June 2009, even though Oklahoma State coaches hadn't quite decided if they wanted to use Gilbert on offense or defense. They chose defense, and Gilbert became one of the nation's top corners. But that doesn't mean Gilbert never touched the ball. He also became one of the nation's best kickoff return men.

16. Dallas: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Class: 2011
Hometown: Lake City, Fla.
High school: Columbia
Rivals rank: Four stars

The 2011 Florida State class was absolutely stacked, and Jernigan might have been the best pure player in the bunch. Jernigan took official visits to LSU and Michigan during the 2010 season, and he took a late official visit to Tennessee after visiting nearby Florida State. Jernigan grew up 40 miles from Gainesville, but he canceled his visit to Florida to check out Tennessee. In the end, it came down to LSU and Florida State, and Jernigan decided to stay closer to home. Less than three years later, he might have had a better game than anyone as the Seminoles beat Auburn to claim the national title.

17. Baltimore: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Class: 2009
Hometown: Scottsdale, Ariz.
High school: Chaparral
Rivals rank: Four stars

Rich Rodriguez and his staff discovered Lewan while recruiting Lewan's Chaparral High teammate Craig Roh. Lewan, who had transferred to Chaparral and switched to offensive line for his senior season, wasn't on a lot of recruiting boards at first because of the transfer and position switch, but he piled up the offers quickly when schools learned there was a lean 6-6, 275-pounder in Arizona who looked as if he could carry another 40 pounds easily. Lewan heavily considered his father's alma mater, Minnesota, but he eventually decided to join Roh in Ann Arbor.

18. NY Jets: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

Class: 2010
Hometown: Suwanee, Ga.
High school: Peachtree Ridge
Rivals rank: Three stars

Roby was committed to Vanderbilt for months, but the Buckeyes kept steadily recruiting him. It didn't hurt that Roby's family socialized often with the family of Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, who also went to high school in suburban Atlanta. Roby finally took an official visit to Columbus in January 2010, and that sealed his decision to flip.

19. Miami: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame

Class: 2009
Hometown: Indianapolis
High school: Bishop Chatard
Rivals rank: Four stars

Martin narrowed his choices to Notre Dame, Michigan, Virginia, Illinois and Kentucky shortly after his junior season. After visiting all of his finalists, Martin chose the Fighting Irish in July 2008. After redshirting, he started Notre Dame's next 52 games, setting a school record.

20. Arizona: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

Class: 2010
Hometown: Los Angeles
High school: Loyola
Rivals rank: Four stars

Barr was a hot prospect as a Brandon Jacobs-type back coming out of high school. He was 6-4 and 225 pounds, and different college staffs had different plans for him. One of the more interesting recruiting pitches came from Charlie Weis and his Notre Dame staff. Fighting Irish coaches projected Barr as a defensive end/linebacker hybrid, and Barr was interested even though he had played defensive back along with tailback in high school. Then that Notre Dame staff was fired, and Brian Kelly's staff began recruiting Barr as a big receiver. Florida State tried to jump in late, but Barr decided in January 2010 to stay home and go to UCLA. There, Rick Neuheisel used Barr in an H-back role for Barr's first two seasons. When Jim Mora arrived prior to the 2012 season, he and then-defensive coordinator Lou Spanos decided to move Barr to a hybrid linebacker/defensive end -- a role similar to the one the previous Notre Dame staff had pitched while recruiting Barr. Barr immediately excelled at the position and became one of the nation's top pass rushers as a junior.

21. Green Bay: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

Class: 2010
Hometown: Theodore, Ala.
High school: Theodore
Rivals rank: Four stars

Mosley was going to stay in state, and he visited Auburn and Alabama. But this fight wasn't as contentious as usual. Alabama was a longtime favorite, and Mosley committed to the Crimson Tide in January 2010. He saw the field immediately, and by his junior year he was Alabama's most vital defensive player. But Mosely wasn't an official starter until his senior season. Against pro-style teams, Nick Saban went with a bigger lineup. Against spread offenses and pass-first teams, he favored a smaller, quicker lineup that used Mosley more. Prior to the 2013 season, Saban realized Mosley needed to be on the field all the time.

22. Philadelphia: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

Class: 2011
Hometown: Stockton, Calif.
High school: Lincoln
Rivals rank: Four stars

Cooks had to deal with some heavy stuff growing up, and this story by Lindsay Schnell -- written a few weeks before Schnell joined the SI.com staff -- helps explain why Cooks is so driven. Cooks originally committed to UCLA in June 2010, but he changed his mind after a visit to Oregon State that November. Cooks didn't change his mind again.

23. Kansas City: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

Class: 2011
Hometown: New Orleans
High school: Isidore Newman
Rivals rank: Four stars

Beckham narrowed his choices to LSU and Miami, and after Miami fired Shannon, his apparent lack of interest in the new Hurricanes' staff made his choice fairly obvious even before he donned a purple cap at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

24. Cincinnati: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

Class: 2011
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
High school: Plantation
Rivals rank: Four stars

Shazier committed to Florida in June 2010, but Urban Meyer's resignation that December caused him to re-open his recruitment. He visited LSU and Ohio State and chose the Buckeyes. In Columbus, he wound up playing two seasons for Meyer anyway. I met Shazier in June 2010 while tagging along with his seven-on-seven team to a national tournament in Tuscaloosa. The night before the tournament began, organizers held a 40-yard dash race in the Alabama football complex. De'Anthony Thomas elected not to run, and Shazier dusted everyone else -- receivers, defensive backs, everyone. That speed became apparent at Ohio State, and it didn't decline even as Shazier bulked up. The race wasn't even Shazier's most impressive display that week. He also beat teammate Bridgewater in a rib-eating contest.

25. San Diego: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

Class: 2010
Hometown: Baltimore
High school: Mount St. Joseph
Rivals rank: Three stars

Fuller had watched older brother Vincent play in the secondary in Blacksburg before becoming a fourth-round pick by the Titans in 2005, and the Hokies had also recruited Kyle's other older brother Corey before he signed with Kansas to run track. So it wasn't a surprise when Kyle Fuller chose Virginia Tech over Maryland, Kansas, Duke and Syracuse. The family affair continued when Corey transferred to Virginia Tech to play receiver. (He was a sixth-round pick of the Lions in 2013.) In 2013, youngest brother Kendall signed with the Hokies and became the ACC's Defensive Rookie of the Year.

26. Cleveland: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

Class: 2011
Hometown: Inglewood, Calif.
High school: Junipero Serra
Rivals rank: Four stars

Lee endured a brutal childhood but found sanctuary on the football field and basketball court at Junipero Serra. Lee took official visits to Oregon, Miami and Florida, but he eventually decided to stay close to home and join former high school teammate Robert Woods to create a formidable receiving tandem at USC.

27. New Orleans: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Class: 2009
Hometown: Fairfield, Calif.
High school: Rodriguez
Rivals rank: Zero stars (Three stars out of Santa Rosa JC in 2011)

Verrett was a decent high school tailback who opted to go to community college to raise his recruiting profile. After delaying enrollment at Santa Rosa until 2010, Verrett moved to cornerback and drew the interest of TCU and Boise State. He joined the Horned Frogs, got torched by Robert Griffin III in his first start and almost quit, but Verrett stuck it out in Fort Worth and became one of the nation's best corners.

28. Carolina: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia

Class: 2009
Hometown: Richmond, Va.
High school: Meadowbrook
Rivals rank: Four stars

Moses took his recruitment down to the wire, announcing for the Cavaliers on National Signing Day. He almost took it past signing day, though. Moses had taken official visits to Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, and he had one left. According to Rivals.com, Moses toyed with the idea of visiting Oklahoma, Virginia Tech or Ohio State after everyone else signed their letters of intent. Instead, he decided to make it official with Virginia on signing day.

29. New England: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

Class: 2010
Hometown: Jacksonville, Fla.
High school: Raines
Rivals rank: Four stars

Nix was one of college football's biggest personalities -- literally and figuratively -- and it makes sense that he would defy conventional wisdom during the recruiting process. Nix committed to Miami in November 2008, more than a year before he could sign a letter of intent. He visited Notre Dame in September 2009 but publicly remained committed to the Hurricanes. Then, on Dec. 1, 2009, Nix told reporters he had flipped to Notre Dame. Why was that so odd? Notre Dame didn't have a coach. Charlie Weis was fired the day before, and Brian Kelly wouldn't be hired for nine more days. Nix is the rare player who actually adhered to the words of the National Letter of Intent, which declares that a prospect is signing with a school and not a coach.

30. San Francisco: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana

Class: 2011
Hometown: Dayton, Ohio
High school: Jefferson Township
Rivals rank: Three stars

Latimer committed to the Hoosiers in October 2010, but the firing of coach Bill Lynch caused him to take second looks at Connecticut and Western Kentucky. Latimer stuck with his commitment, and that was the smart move. He flourished in the wide-open offense run by Kevin Wilson, who was hired to replace Lynch.

31. Denver: Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA

Class: 2009
Hometown: Provo, Utah
High school: Timpview
Rivals rank: Four stars

I wrote about Su'a-Filo -- and Manti Te'o -- in a 2009 story about the unique challenges faced by Mormon recruits and by the coaches who recruit them. Su'a-Filo was particularly interesting because his options included BYU, which is run by the Mormon church, and LSU, which is most decidedly secular. Su'a-Filo also considered UCLA and Utah, and he elected to sign with the Bruins on National Signing Day in 2009. He wound up starting every game at left tackle as a true freshman, and then he embarked on a two-year mission in the wilds of north Florida. He returned to UCLA in 2012 to a new coach, a new offense and a conference that had changed from the Pac-10 to the Pac-12, but Su'a-Filo slid in immediately as the starter at left guard and helped start a renaissance in Westwood.

32. Seattle: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Class: 2011
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
High school: MacArthur
Rivals rank: Four stars

Don't be fooled. Though he looks like a 10-year NFL veteran, Amaro actually was a high school student as recently as 2011. In February 2013, I visited Lubbock for a story on young coaches that featured Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury, and I became a bit concerned as I watched players gather for what was supposed to be a player-run seven-on-seven throwing session. "Why is one of your assistants out there, Kliff?" I asked, wondering if I'd witnessed an NCAA violation. "That's Jace," Kingsbury replied, laughing. Amaro looks older than he is, and he played older than he was at Texas Tech after shaking off late interest from Auburn and Oregon to stick to his longtime commitment to the Red Raiders.

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