With the 2014 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. And to that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.
The SI 64 -- which can be found in its entirety here -- uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and why they’re slotted as such. We are deep into the real impact players on our countdown, and the player at No. 7 on our list does not vary off-course. In fact, few soon-to-be rookies project to be as productive as early in their careers as does this former SEC star.
No. 7: Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
Bio: Alabama, then 8-0 and trending toward another berth in the BCS title game, had its hands full with rival LSU last Nov. 9. The Tigers knotted the game at 17 early in the third quarter, then stuffed the Crimson Tide on a 3rd-and-1 from their own 42.
Momentum threatened to slip away from 'Bama. So what did Nick Saban do? Put the ball in the hands of linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Lined up as a blocker in his team's punt formation, Mosley took a direct snap, drew the defense to his left, then handed off to Jarrick Williams, who was headed the other direction. Williams gained six yards to move the sticks, and Alabama went on to score 21 unanswered points for the victory.
"I trust C.J. to do anything -- watch my kids, take care of my house. So a [punt] fake is not much," Saban said afterward. "C.J. is just so conscientious about everything he does that you know he's going to execute and do it exactly like you told him to do it. He did a good job."
Mosley was far from the flashiest Crimson Tide player during his four-year career, but he was as close to irreplaceable as anyone on the roster. A consensus first-team All-America in 2012 and then both the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Dick Butkus Award winner in 2013, Mosley totaled more than 300 tackles at Alabama -- 215 coming over his junior and senior seasons.
His career numbers may have been even more striking had he not battled so many injuries. Mosley missed two games in 2011 with an elbow injury, sat out the '12 BCS championship after dislocating his hip, and needed surgery prior to the combine to fix a labrum issue. Because of that last setback, Mosley skipped the 40-yard dash and the bench press at the combine, adding to the concerns about his ability to withstand the rigors of an NFL schedule.
At Alabama's pro day last month, Mosley told NFL.com the worries were all for nothing.
"Everything went well. Before the combine even happened, in January, I got MRIs on everything I hurt in the past all the way to my freshman year," he said. "Everything was good then. [There] were [not] red flags thrown up or anything they had questions on, I got an MRI or X-Ray on, so it turned out well."
A healthy Mosley is considered far and away the top inside linebacker in this draft, though he excelled playing on the weakside for Alabama's 3-4 attack. He likely will be ticketed for an ILB or MLB slot in the NFL, depending on the defensive scheme. As he showed Saban, he'll produce no matter what he is asked to do.
Strengths: Earned those lofty tackle numbers by showing an exceptional ability to find and chase the football. Moves well sideline to sideline, diagnosing plays quickly while avoiding blockers. Rarely misses a tackle; form is very solid there, with Mosley seldom lunging unless it's a last-ditch effort. Can take on playcalling/audible responsibilities if the team drafting him so desires -- displays great awareness and football intelligence.
Fluid enough to drop into coverage, particularly in a zone look or when tracking a RB out of the backfield. Should be able to move around in a defensive alignment if need be, making him a reliable three-down option. Very few mysteries in Mosley's game as he heads to the next level.
Weaknesses: Franchises seeking a pass-rushing linebacker will have to look elsewhere, as Mosley failed to record even a half-sack last season and does not really have those attributes in his arsenal, save for an occasional blitz. Needs to add some bulk -- or at least functional strength -- if he's going to play in the middle of an NFL defense. Right now, he has a hard time shedding blockers if he fails to find a free release toward the football.
Better against the run than against the pass; he'll need to show the ability to cover more ground than he currently does in coverage. Mosley also should be better than he is at getting in front of passes, given his quickness. Size (6-foot-2, 234 pounds) probably will be an issue if he finds himself matched up against tight ends. It may be problematic on the whole, too, if Mosley continues to get banged up as he did at Alabama.
And on those injuries ... they're a clear potential headache. A team will draft Mosley to lock down a starting LB spot from Day 1 through Week 17. Is he physically capable of handling that responsibility?
Conclusion: The general consensus is that Mosley's stock has slipped some due to his lengthy list of prior injuries, landing him somewhere just below the mid-point of Round 1 -- Miami at 19, Arizona at 20 and Green Bay at 21 sets up as a promising stretch for Mosley's draft hopes. His skill level, however, leaves him in play as high up as LB-needy Minnesota at No. 8 or NFC North foe Detroit at No. 10. Either could use an infusion of athleticism in their linebacking corps. The same goes for a handful of teams between the Lions and Dolphins, in that 11-18 range.
Linebackers with the advanced instincts that Mosley possess are fairly rare entries in the draft. He will have to prove that he can handle the beating he'll take as a pro, but if he does this, he could be the Defensive Rookie of the Year.