This new section highlights which players have improved or worsened their 2014 NFL Draft stock as the draft approaches.
By Charlie Campbell.
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2014 NFL Draft Stock Up
Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Bortles has received a lot of acclaim as a top quarterback prospect late this season. Some pundits have stated they rate Bortles above Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. Bortles completed 24-of-35 passes for 242 yards and ran for two touchdowns against SMU to finish off his strong regular season. The junior led Central Florida to a win over Louisville, a near upset of South Carolina, a conference championship and a bid in a BCS bowl. He has completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,280 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder has a nice skill set for the NFL. He has a strong arm with good size and the athletic ability to scramble and run for yards. Bortles should improve his footwork for the NFL. He needs to become more uniform and could stand to improve his throwing mechanics, too. That would improve his accuracy and ball placement.
The quarterback-needy NFL could make Bortles a first-round pick this May, but his development would be better served if he returned to the Knights for his senior year.
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Auburn's tremendous rushing attack is led by running back Tre Mason, quarterback Nick Marshall and a superb offensive line. The Tigers' formidable front is led by left tackle Greg Robinson, who has had a great redshirt sophomore season. Against Missouri, he put on a clinic. Robinson had power blocks to spring long runs all day. He was dominant in the ground game. Robinson did a superb job of sustaining his blocks to keep his defenders from making tackles. In the second half, he and Mason continued to run over Missouri. Auburn didn't throw much, but when it was a pass play, Robinson performed well in pass protection.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder has an impressive skill set. He is very strong to push defensive linemen at the point of attack. Robinson also has quickness and good feet to be a pass-blocker in the NFL. The redshirt sophomore looks like a future first-round pick, but he could be better off returning for his junior season before going to the NFL.
Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Mason was the star of the SEC Championship as he carried Auburn to the conference title. All day, he was getting to the second level before contact as he showed a great burst to hit the hole before it closed up. Mason ripped off a 52-yard run around the right side to set up his second short touchdown run. By halftime, he had 195 yards on 23 carries with two scores.
Robinson and Mason continued to run over Missouri in the second half. In the fourth quarter, Mason powered into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown before clinching the game by running up the middle for a 13-yard score. He finished with 304 yards on 46 carries with four touchdowns.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Mason has an excellent burst and elusiveness. He runs with excellent pad level and body lean. In 2013, Mason averaged 5.7 yards per carry for 1,621 yards with 22 touchdowns. He has 11 receptions for 121 yards. Mason looks like he deserves second-day consideration.
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Missouri defense was torched by Auburn, but Ealy was one of the only Missorui defenders who made some impact plays against Auburn. In the early going, he was able to trip up Nick Marshall for a loss of two on a read-option run. Ealy went unblocked on the very next play and ran down Marshall again. Ealy slapped the ball out of Marshall's hands and Missouri recovered the ball in Auburn territory. With Missouri down four, Ealy lined up at defensive tackle over the right guard. He fired into the backfield and as he ripped Marshall to the ground, the popped the ball out. Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines scooped up the ball and bolted into the end zone for a touchdown.
Against Auburn, Ealy recorded five tackles with three tackles for a loss, one sack and two forced fumbles. The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder has a nice mix of size and speed for the NFL. He is a natural 4-3 defensive end with the power to shed blocks. In 2013, Ealy has 37 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He could be a first-round pick in 2014 or 2015 NFL Draft.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Dennard capped a superb regular season with a clutch performance to help the Spartans upset Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship. The senior had tight coverage on his receivers all night and didn't allow them to get open. After halftime, Dennard had a tackle in zone coverage and ripped out the ball, but it rolled out of bounds. Ohio State tied the game on the next play. On their next possession, the Buckeyes tested Dennard deep in the end zone. He had blanket coverage and slapped the ball away to force a punt.
On a huge third down in the fourth quarter, Dennard slapped another pass away for an incompletion. During the Ohio State's final drive, the Buckeyes threw at Dennard twice, yet each time the ball fell incomplete as there was nothing open. He totaled three tackles with two passes broken up, but his presence was a lot bigger than the numbers indicate.
Dnnard has 59 tackles with four interceptions and 10 passes broken up this year. This performance will help his bid to be one of the first cornerbacks selected in the 2014 NFL Draft. He could be a first-round pick.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Sutton's performance against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game mirrored his senior year. After a quiet start, he came alive to make some plays. On a number of runs by the Cardinal, Sutton caused disruption to set up his teammates for tackles. He had an impressive play on which he beat David Yankey for a sack with a bull rush. Sutton had good leverage on Yankey to charge down the pocket. Just before halftime, Sutton came close to another sack while fighting off a hold.
Overall, Sutton frequently caused disruption in the backfield. This tape should be a positive for his draft grade. He has 44 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss and four sacks in 2013. Despite a slow start to this season, Sutton was named the conference defensive play of the year even though other players like UCLA's Anthony Barr and Stanford's Trent Murphy had a lot more production. Sutton looks to be solid as a second-day pick.
JuWaun James, OT, Tennessee
Left tackle Antonio Richardson got most of the attention at Tennessee, but James turned in a fine career for the Volunteers as a 4-year starter at right tackle. The senior had good performances against South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Missouri's speed-rushers this season.
James is a tough run-blocker and a reliable pass-protector. He is surprisingly athletic for his size. The 6-foot-6, 332-pounder could be a quick contributor in the NFL. At most colleges, James would have been a starting left tackle. Sources have told WalterFootball.com they see James going on Day 2 of the 2014 NFL Draft. He could be a nice sleeper pick.
E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
Gaines had a statement game in the regular-season finale when he led the way for Missouri to hold Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans to only four catches for eight yards. In the SEC Championship, Gaines scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown. He has 68 tackles with four interceptions and two passes defended in 2013.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Gaines is a tough defender who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He doesn't shy away from getting physical with defenders and has demonstrated some man-coverage abilities.
Gaines is a sleeper cornerback who could rise in the lead up to the 2014 NFL Draft. He broke into the lineup early for Missouri and enters the next level with a lot of experience. Gaines could see the field as a nickel corner with the potential to develop into a bigger role.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin, Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
2014 NFL Draft Stock Down
Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
Sam did some damage to his stock during the SEC Championship. In the second quarter, he missed a tackle in the backfield on a good gain for Auburn. Auburn moved him around all night, and he didn't make any plays to slow down Tre Mason or Auburn's ground game. It wasn't just offensive linemen who were having success blocking Sam. Auburn has a good fullback in Jay Prosch, yet he pushed Sam around as well. Getting beaten by a fullback is not what Sam wants to show NFL scouts.
This was a rough performance for Sam as he totaled just three tackles. Sam really struggled to defend the run as he was getting moved around and blown off the line of scrimmage. Sam will have to move to outside linebacker in the NFL and may only fit as a situational pass-rusher. He has 10.5 sacks this season, but only .5 sacks across his last five games. This tape will hurt Sam's draft stock.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater hasn't played poorly to close out the season, but he hasn't been dominating in a weak conference. Over the past month, Bridgewater hasn't had a 300-plus-yard passing game and Louisville squeaked out close one-score wins over Cincinnati, Memphis and Houston. Bridgewater has completed 70 percent of his passes this season for 3,523 yards with 28 touchdowns and four interceptions.
The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Bridgewater has a good arm, but not an elite cannon. He also has some mobility in the pocket, but he isn't a true dual-threat quarterback. While Bridgewater will still go early in the first round, he may not be proving to be worthy of the first overall-pick.
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