I hate the Underwear Olympics.
What’s that, you ask? It’s that period between January and April in which the value of future NFL players is determined largely by how they perform in their underwear and not based on what they put on tape in college. I write about college football for a living, and it mystifies me when Oregon’s third-best defender goes in the top five based on the results of a battery of physical tests performed with nary a football in sight.
So when Peter King asked if I would create a top-50 draft eligible list and keep it updated throughout the season, I was thrilled. This list probably won’t look anything like the top 50 in the 2014 draft because I’ll be using actual performance on the football field as the main criterion. Obviously, factors such as size, speed and fit within the NFL game will be addressed, but if Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton wrecks half the plays the opposing offense tries to run—as he did last year—I’m not going to care that he did it at 6-foot-1 and 275 pounds. I’ll move him even closer to the top of the list—which for this season will be referred to as Clowneyland. Like the NFL teams, I’ll place more value on certain positions. Quarterbacks, left tackles, defensive tackles, pass rushers (defensive ends and hybrid linebackers) and cornerbacks probably will dominate the list because the separation between good and great is more pronounced at those positions. That doesn’t mean the other positions aren’t valuable. Had I done this list last year, Alabama guard Chance Warmack would have come in at No. 1 on several occasions.
You’ll notice quite a few juniors on this list. Obviously, there is no guarantee that these players will leave school early. I’m making my best guess, and that guess will become more educated as the season progresses. So if you’re wondering why I didn’t list Oregon redshirt sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota, it’s because he doesn’t seem like a lock to come out. I could be wrong, and if that changes, I’ll update the list to reflect it. If a player declares that he is staying in school, I’ll take him off the list. The list will change a lot between now and January. Expect some big swings early in the season. One of the best things about college football is that a player known only to the most dedicated message-board crawlers can be a household name two months from now. This time last year, you had probably never heard of Johnny Manziel. Now everyone knows Johnny Football. He’s on this list, by the way. Read on to find out where.
Draft Board 1.0
Jadeveon Clowney DE; Junior; University of South Carolina; 6-6, 274 (Last week: 1) Clowney needs surgery on his foot, but we’re only hearing this now that his production has tailed off. Doesn’t matter. He’ll still go No. 1 unless someone absolutely needs a quarterback.
Teddy Bridgewater QB; Junior; Louisville; 6-3, 196 (Last Week: 2) Bridgewater didn’t have a monster day against Kentucky (16 of 28, 250 yards, 1 TD), but he still seems like the most appealing quarterback from an NFL standpoint.
Taylor Lewan OT; Senior; Michigan; 6-8, 308 (Last Week: 3) Lewan injured his right leg against Akron but returned to the game. He arrived at Michigan’s media session on Monday in a walking boot. “The walking boot’s a fashion statement,” Lewan joked to MLive.com. The injury sounds about as serious as Lewan.
Louis Nix III DT; Junior; Notre Dame; 6-3, 340 (Last Week: 6) Nix is living the “double-team life”—his term, not mine—but he’s still clogging gaps and turning the game into a 10-on-nine matchup.
Jake Matthews OT; Senior; Texas A&M; 6-5, 305 (Last Week: 4) Matthews protected Johnny Manziel well on Saturday, though Manziel didn’t seem to mind when Matthews’ linemates let a few rushers through.
Stephon Tuitt DE; Junior; Notre Dame; 6-6, 303 (Last Week: 8) Though Tuitt’s numbers are down this season, Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said the junior is playing well. Kelly was especially pleased with Tuitt’s play against Purdue, even though Tuitt recorded only one assisted tackle. “This was probably his best game of the year in terms of being on every play, just physically at the point of attack, two-gapping, doing the things that we want him to do, and effort level,” Kelly told reporters.
Cyrus Kouandjio OT; Junior; Alabama; 6-6, 310 (Last Week: 7) The Crimson Tide offensive line was a wall against Texas A&M, and Kouandjio was the best of the bunch.
James Hurst OT; Senior; North Carolina; 6-7, 305 (Last Week: 9) After dealing with Clowney in Week 1, the next few should feel like a breeze. An Oct. 5 trip to Blacksburg should provide a challenge.
AJ McCarron QB; Senior; Alabama; 6-4, 214 (Last Week: 15) As great as Manziel was Saturday, McCarron wasn’t far behind. He always had Alabama in the correct play, and he completed 20 of 29 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns.
Anthony Barr LB; Senior; UCLA; 6-4, 245 (Last Week: 12) Barr did have a monster day in Lincoln. Even though Nebraska did everything imaginable to stop him, he still made 11 tackles and forced three fumbles.
De’Anthony Thomas RB; Junior; Oregon; 5-9, 176 (Last Week: 5) Thomas is averaging 9.9 yards a touch. The scary part is he hasn’t really had a breakout game as Oregon has spread the wealth in three blowout wins.
Sammy Watkins WR; Junior; Clemson; 6-1, 205 (Last Week: 13) The ACL injury to Charone Peake may allow defenses to focus more on Watkins.
Will Sutton DT; Senior; Arizona State; 6-1, 305 (Last Week: 14) Sutton was contained by Wisconsin’s massive offensive line Saturday.
Ryan Shazier LB; Junior; Ohio State; 6-2, 222 (Last Week: 17) Shazier racked up 11 tackles (with one sack) in the Buckeyes’ win at Cal.
Johnny Manziel QB; Redshirt Sophomore; Texas A&M; 6-1, 200 (Last Week: 24) Manziel accounted for 562 yards of total offense and five touchdowns against a Nick Saban defense. That just doesn’t happen. The guy is special. Someone in the NFL will figure out how to use him.
Marqise Lee WR; Junior; USC; 6-0, 195 (Last Week: 28) Lee only caught two passes against Boston College, but one catch was an 80-yard touchdown.
C.J. Mosley LB; Senior; Alabama; 6-2, 232 (Last Week: 19) Mosley led the Crimson Tide with 12 tackles against Texas A&M. Spread offenses seem to bring out the best in him.
David Yankey OG; Senior; Stanford; 6-5, 311 (Last Week: 21) Pay special attention Saturday. Yankey and Arizona State’s Sutton should collide a few times.
Kyle Van Noy LB; Senior; BYU; 6-3, 245 (Last Week: 22) After a week off, Van Noy will play in his final Holy War against Utah on Saturday
Jason Verrett CB; Senior; TCU; 5-10, 176 (Last Week: 25) How versatile is Verrett? He smothered receiver Eric Ward (6-0, 205) and tight end Jace Amaro (6-5, 260) at different times last Thursday. It wasn’t enough for TCU to win, but the loss would have been worse if not for Verrett.
Bradley Roby CB; Redshirt Junior; Ohio State; 5-11, 192 (Last Week: 26) Against Cal’s Bear Raid offense, some of the 50-plus passes will slip through, but Roby had two breakups and 6.5 tackles and helped Ohio State shut down Cal early—which allowed the Buckeyes’ offense to jump on the Bears.
Cyril Richardson OG; Baylor; 6-5, 335 (Last Week: 29) Speaking of ugly early-season schedules, Baylor plays Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. We won’t see Richardson against an AQ-league defense until Oct. 5.
Tajh Boyd QB; Senior; Clemson; 6-1, 225 (Last Week: 10) Boyd will have the Thursday night spotlight this week at NC State.
Adrian Hubbard LB; Redshirt Junior; Alabama; 6-6, 252 (Last Week: 30) Hubbard had two pass break-ups and chased Manziel without much luck.
Mike Evans WR; Redshirt Sophomore; Texas A&M; 6-5, 225 (Last Week: 20) Anyone who didn’t know Evans before Saturday knows him now. He caught seven passes for 279 yards and a touchdown. On that 95-yard score, he ran away from the Alabama defense. If Calvin Johnson is Megatron, Evans might be Galvatron. If you don’t get that reference, ask a nerd who grew up in the ’80s.
Braxton Miller QB; Junior; Ohio State; 6-2, 215 (Last Week: 18) Miller sat out the Cal game with a knee injury. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Miller will start this week against Florida A&M if healthy. Don’t expect the Buckeyes to take many risks with Miller. He should be ready to play against Wisconsin on Oct. 28.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix S; Junior; Alabama; 6-1, 208 (Last Week: 31) Clinton-Dix nearly became a victim of college football’s well-meaning but tough-to-properly-enforce targeting rule on Saturday. While making a play on the ball in the second quarter, he collided with an Alabama receiver and their helmets made contact. Clinton-Dix was flagged for targeting and ejected, but a video review showed he hadn’t actually done anything wrong and he was allowed to stay in the game.
Colt Lyerla TE; Junior; Oregon; 6-5, 246 With NFL teams actively seeking Gronk- and Graham-esque flex tight ends, why not grab a tight end who is so flexible that his team occasionally lines him up at tailback? Lyerla averaged 15.7 yards a catch and 5.7 yards a carry last season on limited touches, but expect his production to rise in 2013. Teams will load up to stop De’Anthony Thomas and will fear the legs of quarterback Marcus Mariota. That should leave Lyerla matched up often against a defender either too small or too slow to cover him. Lyerla probably will get questions from NFL teams about the March incident in which he tweeted support for a theory that the Sandy Hook shooting was part of a government conspiracy, but Lyerla handled those questions effectively this spring when they came from reporters. So he should be prepared.
Loucheiz Purifoy CB; Junior; Florida; 6-1, 189 (Last Week: 23) Tennessee has an open quarterback competition this week. That means it could be open season for interception-hunter Purifoy on Saturday.
Zack Martin OT; Senior; Notre Dame; 6-4, 304 (Last Week: 34) Martin will have his hands full Saturday when Michigan State and its ferocious defense come to South Bend.
Antonio Richardson OT; Junior; Tennessee; 6-6, 327 (Last Week: 35) Richardson will get a big test Saturday against Florida rushers Dante Fowler Jr. and Ronald Powell.
Khalil Mack LB; Senior; Buffalo; 6-3, 245 (Last Week: 37) Mack had 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the Bulls’ five-overtime scare against Stony Brook.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu CB; Junior; Oregon; 5-10, 190 (Last Week: 36) Ekpre-Olumu and the Ducks held Tennessee to just 126 passing yards this past Saturday.
Aaron Lynch DE; Redshirt Sophomore; South Florida; 6-6, 244 After the Champs Sports Bowl in 2011, future Buffalo Bill Zebrie Sanders came away most impressed with the Notre Dame freshman he’d had to block for much of the night. Sanders, then an offensive tackle at Florida State, predicted big things for Lynch. Had Lynch stayed at Notre Dame, those big things likely would have happened in 2012. Teamed with Nix and Tuitt, Lynch would have been part of the most feared defensive line in college football. But Lynch, from Fort Myers, Fla., opted to transfer closer to home. He sat out last year in Tampa, and now he’ll have to work his way back. If he has improved at all since his freshman year, NFL scouts will flock to Tampa to watch him play.
Derek Carr QB; Senior; Fresno State; 6-3, 218 (Last Week: 32) Carr and the Bulldogs were supposed to play at Colorado on Saturday, but the game was postponed. It may be played on Dec. 7, but that won’t happen if Fresno State makes the Mountain West Conference title game. Still, Carr will get his chance to shine Friday when the Bulldogs host Boise State.
Anthony Johnson DT; Junior; LSU; 6-3, 294 (Last Week: 38) Johnson has been nursing a sore shoulder since the season-opener against TCU, but he seems determined to play through it.
Aaron Murray QB; Senior; Georgia; 6-1, 208 (Last Week: 11) Murray enjoyed a week off after a brutal opening duo of Clemson and South Carolina.
Hakeem Smith S; Redshirt Senior; Louisville; 6-1, 179 Smith had an interception Saturday in the Cardinals’ win against Eastern Kentucky.
Trent Murphy LB; Redshirt Senior; Stanford; 6-6, 261 (Last Week: 40) Murphy added another tackle for loss against Army. He’ll need to be great against Arizona State.
Damien Williams RB; Senior; Oklahoma; 5-11, 214 Williams averaged 5.7 yards a carry in 2012 even though an ankle injury suffered against Notre Dame hampered him for most of the second half of the season. The JUCO transfer from San Diego should get plenty of opportunities in 2013 as the Sooners break in a new starting quarterback.
Logan Thomas QB; Senior; Virginia Tech; 6-6, 257 Physically, Thomas has everything an NFL GM would want. He’s big and mobile. He has a huge arm. He’s intelligent. But for some reason, Thomas doesn’t put all these traits together on the field. Last year, he threw 18 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions while completing only 51.3 percent of his passes. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer overhauled his offensive staff this offseason, so it will be interesting to see how Thomas responds. Thomas and new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler—who made his name coaching Tom Brady, Brian Griese and Chad Henne at Michigan but comes to Virginia Tech following a disastrous stint at Auburn—have a lot to prove this season. Together, they may finally blend Thomas’ ample talents into a mix that works on the field.
Dri Archer RB; Senior; Kent State; 5-8, 175 Did your team miss Tavon Austin in 2013 and De’Anthony Thomas in 2014? Fear not. Another mighty mite will be available further down the 2014 draft board. Archer rushed for 1,429 yards while averaging nine yards a carry. (Yes, you read that correctly. Nine. Yards. A. Carry.) He also averaged 14.4 yards a catch and 36.9 yards a kickoff return. Of the 16 kickoffs he returned, he took back three for touchdowns.
Jordan Matthews WR; Senior; Vanderbilt; 6-3, 205 (Last Week: 42) Teams know the Commodores are going to throw to Matthews, but they can’t stop it. In Saturday’s loss at South Carolina, Matthews caught eight passes for 106 yards.
Quandre Diggs CB; Junior; Texas; 5-10, 200 The younger brother of Quentin Jammer has proven that covering receivers runs in the family. Diggs won a starting job as a true freshman because of his willingness to mix it up with bigger receivers. This season, Diggs will play the nickel position, which requires him to cover like a corner, hit like a safety and play the run like a linebacker. He has the tools to do all three.
Timmy Jernigan DT; Junior; Florida State; 6-2, 298 (Last Week: 27) Thanks to West Virginia bailing on a scheduled game after joining the Big 12, we won’t get much meaningful tape from any of the Florida State players until October.
Darqueze Dennard CB; Senior; Michigan State; 5-11, 188 (Last Week: 44) Dennard will have a showcase against Notre Dame on Saturday.
Max Bullough LB; Senior; Michigan State; 6-3, 242 (Last Week: 46) Bullough had only two tackles in a warm-up against Youngstown State. The real games for the Spartans start on Saturday at Notre Dame.
Xavier Su’a-Filo OG; Junior; UCLA; 6-3, 304 (Last Week: 45) Su’a-Filo helped the Bruins wear down Nebraska’s defense in the second half of a comeback win.
A.J. Johnson LB; Junoir; Tennessee; 6-2, 243 Johnson will face his toughest test of the season at Oregon on Saturday.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins TE; Junior; Washington; 6-6, 265 Sefarian-Jenkins will wow scouts with his speed and agility for a player his size. The question now is when he will wow them next. Sefarian-Jenkins is recovering from a broken finger, and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday that the tight end hasn’t been medically cleared to play Saturday against Boise State. Sarkisian declined to discuss whether Jenkins may also be suspended for the game after pleading guilty last month to a DUI charge stemming from a one-car crash in March.