Just like last year, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the best 2014 NFL Draft prospects in the biggest games of the week. Every Friday, I’ll highlight 2-3 games with prospects you’ll need to keep an eye on. Some teams – cough, SEC, cough – will be appearing regularly, so I’ll do my best to space out the future stars.
Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, Saturday, 5:30 ESPN
CJ Mosley, LB, Senior: Could have gone pro last year, and would have been a 1st rounder. The latest in a long line of swift, strong linebackers. At 6-2, 230, he’ll be the wheel linebacker for Bama, and can cover TEs or RBs, and if you’d like to watch some tape of him, check out how fluid he plays (vs. Notre Dame). First round lock, only question is “how high?” I had him 11th in my April mock draft.
Hasean Clinton-Dix, S, Junior: The 6-1, 205-pound safety will be the leader of the secondary. Great hands. Here’s the one cautionary note for Alabama defensive backs as pros: They’ve been hit-and-miss. Javier Arenas, Kareem Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick have all underachieved in the NFL so far. Mark Barron looks like a stud in Tampa, though. Based on last year, “Ha-Ha” Dix right now looks like a 2nd-3rd round selection if he leaves early.
Logan Thomas, QB, Senior: Everyone’s been waiting on Thomas for years. At 6-6, 250, he has the potential to be a poor man’s Cam Newton, but he’s never lived up to the expectations. He’s been plagued by inconsistency. Guess: Thomas is awful in the opener, Alabama wins 50-7, and then Thomas plays great the rest of the year, but nobody takes him seriously because he soiled himself against one of the best defenses in the country.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Senior: Arrived in Blacksburg amid zero recruiting hype, and has turned into a future pro. He has an enormous test Saturday when he’s matched up with Amari Cooper, Alabama’s star sophomore receiver. Tech’s secondary is injured and young (Antone Exum is hurt) and they’re going against a future NFL QB in AJ McCarron. Fuller looks like a 2nd-3rd round pick right now, but could play his way into 1st round contention with a strong senior year.
Georgia at Clemson, Saturday, 8 PM, ABC
Sammy Watkins, WR, Junior – I’m an unabashed Watkins fan. Have been since he broke onto the scene as a freshman and had the look of a future NFL star. Watkins slipped a bit last year due to injuries (25 fewer catches, 9 few TDs). Fear not. His QB is back, and he knows he’s playing for a spot in the 1st round next May (my last mock had him 14th overall). Chad Morris, one of the most creative offensive minds in college football, should set Watkins up all over the place.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Senior – Good junior season was capped with a brilliant bowl performance against mighty LSU, and now Boyd must pick up where he left off and prove he’s an early 1st round pick in a draft loaded with good QBs. Part of the Boyd hype was due to the success of Russell Wilson in Seattle (similar size, style). Boyd just needs to be a little more accurate (like his 67 percent completions last year instead of 59 percent as a sophomore) and he’s looking at being a first round pick. The only real question is how many teams need QBs.
Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Junior: Arrived on campus as a receiver, then moved to defensive back at the start of his sophomore year, then back to WR later in the season. Is he ready to breakout as a star WR in the SEC this season? Defenses will have to respect RB Todd Gurley, which should open things up for Mitchell to post big-time numbers. Cooper (Alabama) and Matthews (Vanderbilt) will receive the most praise (as they should) but Mitchell is a sleeper to be the best receiver in the SEC.
Aaron Murray, QB, Senior: Has had a very nice college career and will end up being perhaps the best QB in the program’s history. The problem – he’s been overshadowed in the SEC by record-setting Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel two of the last three years. I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t see Murray as an early-round pick. He’s 6-1, not terribly mobile, and frankly, I’m not sure he’s a better prospect than Matt Barkley was, and he fell to the 4th round. Did Murray make a mistake not leaving school early?
LSU vs. TCU, Saturday, 9 PM, ESPN
Jason Verrett, CB, Senior: He had a nice junior year – six INTs, 16 pass breakups, five tackles for losses. Good instincts. He’s arguably the best defensive back in the Big 12. Question about his pro prospects is that he’s only 5-10, 180, and size at corner could mean the difference between going in the first round or 3rd. The good news for Verrett this season – he won’t be going against any elite tall receivers. The best of the Big 12? Josh Stewart (OK State) and Eric Ward (Texas Tech) are both barely 6-foot. I’m excited about Verrett vs. LSU’s Odell Beckham.
Casey Pachall, QB, Senior: Star-crossed career has featured highs (outstanding 2011 campaign) and rock-bottom lows (DWI, drugs, alcohol issues). He’s 6-foot-4 and durable, and the last QB to come out of TCU, Andy Dalton, is off to a nice start with the Bengals. There will be too many red flags for a team to draft him in the first few rounds, but if he keeps his nose clean off-the-field and has a strong senior season, he could be a late-round steal for someone.
Anthony Johnson, DT, Junior: Beastly. Animal. Remember this play as a true freshman? The freak was overshadowed last year because eight LSU defenders ended up getting selected in the NFL draft. Johnson, a menacing 6-3, 305, has first round written all over him. I had him 26th in my last mock, but there’s no reason he won’t warrant Top 10 consideration later this season.
Craig Loston, Safety, Senior: Fifth-year DB will anchor the Tigers defense this season. History says the NFL is in his future: “If he is drafted next spring, it will mark the eighth consecutive year and ninth of the previous decade that an LSU defensive back was selected. Since 2005, seven LSU defensive backs have gone in the first three rounds of the draft.” I’d peg him as a mid-round pick entering his final year in Baton Rogue.