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
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Oregon hasn’t played anything close to a tough schedule this year, but finally had a quality opponent when going on the road to Washington. Mariota was phenomenal as a runner and passer against the Huskies.
Early in the third quarter, Josh Huff streaked down the field and a beautifully thrown ball by Mariota dropped in for a 65-yard touchdown. After that, Mariota had an impressive touchdown run from five-yards out. Mariota threw some fourth-quarter bullets to move the ball for points. He also made some big plays with his legs. Mariota sealed the wing by tossing a short touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter. He completed 24-of-31 passes for 366 yards with three touchdowns. Mariota added 88 yards rushing on 13 carries with a score.
The redshirt sophomore has run 462 yards (426 net) with eight touchdowns on the ground this year. He has completed 61 percent of passes for 1,724 yards with 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions. For NFL evaluators, this is a great tape. Mariota showed real accuracy as a passer, throwing some deep balls to hit receivers in stride with some strong fastballs into some tight windows. He made good decisions with the football and used his legs to make some big plays when needed. This performance will help Mariota’s bid to be a high pick when he enters the draft.
Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor
Kansas State’s defense made it its mission to limit Lache Seastrunk, but that opened up the deep part of the field for Reese. He torched the Wildcats for a career high in receiving yards. In the first half, Reese burned man coverage out of the slot for a 93-yard touchdown. After Kansas State took a 25-21 lead in the fourth quarter, he burned the Kansas State again on a go route down the field. Bryce Petty lofted in a perfect pass for a 54-yard touchdown. Reese finished the contest with five receptions for 184 yards with two touchdowns.
Reese has 23 receptions for 609 yards and six touchdowns so far in 2013. He fell under the shadow of Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams earlier in his career, but Reese has stepped up to lead the Bears’ pasing attack this year. The 5-foot-10, 165-pounder is a speedster who projects as a slot receiver in the NFL who can take the top off a defense. Reese’s performance against Kansas State gives NFL teams evidence that he could be a weapon as a mid-round pick.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Aggies’ offense came up with enough points to win a tough game at Ole Miss. Matthews maintained excellent pass protection to help give Johnny Manziel the time to make plays that produced 20 fourth-quarter points. The athletic Matthews mirrored speed rushes and stonewalled bull rushes. He has looked natural in his move to left tackle after starting for three seasons at right tackle.
Matthews doesn’t have overwhelming size, but he is very athletic and is a well-developed technician. Fast-paced offenses are becoming more popular in the passing-driven NFL, and Matthews should be a great fit for such a system. The season is almost halfway over, yet he has done nothing that would invalidate his status as a high first-round pick and a franchise left tackle. Matthews could end up being a better prospect than former teammate Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher.
Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Saturday was rife with upsets and Clemson had a scare with Boston College, but Beasley and Tajh Boyd came up with big plays to keep the Tigers undefeated in 2013. Beasley recorded five tackles with two tackles for a loss, one sack and a fumble returned for a touchdown. He has been college football’s best edge-rusher this season. Beasley leads the nation with nine sacks. He also has 20 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss.
Some say that Beasley is a one-trick pony, but there were some that said the same thing about Von Miller. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Beasley is lightning fast off the edge. The redshirt junior will face an interesting decision after this season. He could go the route of Miller and return for another season of college football while gaining weight and improving his all-around game, or Beasley could enter the 2014 NFL Draft having been one of the top pass-rushers in the nation. Right now, he looks like he would fit best as a 4-3 outside linebacker who is used as an edge-rusher – the same role as Miller.
Derrick Hopkins, DT, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has fielded an impressive and underrated defense this year. While the Hokies are known for their secondary talent, and those players deserve a lot of attention, Hopkins has been the tone-setter who has wreaked havoc at the point of attack with teammate Luther Maddy. Hopkins continued his fabulous 2013 campaign against Pittsburgh, recording two sacks and four tackles. On his first sack, the senior blasted through the line to sack Tom Savage. Hopkins later swam through the guard and center to get his second sack.
Hopkins has 32 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks so far this year. The 6-foot, 310-pounder is strong and quick. He has the ability to play three-technique and nose tackle. Hopkins’ strong senior campaign has done a lot to show that he can compete at the next level and is worth a draft pick.
Ray Drew, DE, Georgia
Georgia’s team is a shell of its former self as draft attrition has talent away from the defense and injuries have killed the skill positions on the Bulldogs’ offense. Drew is the player who has stepped up his game to become a play-maker. Against Missouri, he had two sacks and seven tackles. Drew’s first sack, from defensive tackle, showed his balance and athletic ability as he dodged a cut block from the left guard to chase down James Franklin. Drew’s second sack from left defensive end as he fired to the inside to get the sack.
Drew has been on fire of late with five sacks in the last three games. He has 22 tackles, five sacks and six tackles for a loss so far this year. Two weeks ago, Drew beat Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson, a potential first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, for a sack. Drew has some speed and explosion to go along with versatility. The 6-foot-5, 276-pounder could play as a 3-4 defensive end who rushes from the inside in the sub package. In a 4-3 defense, he could play end on run downs and rush from the inside in passing situations. If the junior maintains this level of play, he’ll skyrocket up draft boards.
Rashaad Reynolds, CB, Oregon State
Reynolds had a few rough moments against Washington State before making some huge plays to lead a second-half comeback. He was beaten by Vince Mayle for a 39-yard completion, but after the catch, Reynolds forced a fumble that rolled out of bounds. Mayle later beat Reynolds for a four-yard score on a fade.
Reynolds had tight coverage in the fourth quarter to pick off a Connor Halliday pass on a deep post. A few minutes later, Reynolds had excellent coverage and leaped to catch the ball at the highest point in front of the receiver. Reynolds’ interceptions were huge in the Beavers erupting for three quick touchdowns to wipe out a 24-17 Cougars lead.
Against Washington State, Reynolds recorded two interceptions, two forced fumbles and six tackles. He has 21 tackles with three interceptions and two forced fumbles for the year so far. The 5-foot-11, 187-pounder could be a better fit as a slot corner in the NFL.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
The Badgers don’t play a tough schedule, but still faced Northwestern, one of the better teams in the Big Ten. Gordon continued his breakout season with a dominant performance over the Wildcats. He ripped off 172 yards on 22 carries with a 71-yard touchdown. The explosive Gordon has burning defenses all season for long plays as they have been unable to match his speed.
Gordon has 870 yards and eight touchdowns this year on only 90 carries. He is averaging 9.7 yards per carry on the season. Gordon has replaced Montee Ball following his moving on to the NFL and is providing the Badgers with a faster running back. The redshirt sophomore is eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft, so it will be interesting to see if he decides to return to school. Gordon (6-1, 203) has been dominating the Big Ten and could make the jump to the NFL.
Honorable Mentions: Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, Virginia Tech defensive tackle Luther Maddy, Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack, Alabama defensive lineman Ed Stinson and Washington running back Bishop Sankey.
2014 NFL Draft Stock Down
Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
Smith has been a non-factor against quliaty opponents in back-to-back weeks. After Florida shut him down a week earlier, he was held without a sack for the second straight game, this time courtesy of South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ rushing attack was problematic as Smith was getting washed out in run defense when runs came straight at him. He did get involved in on some tackles in pursuit, but his run defense illustrated why he should be an outside linebacker in the NFL.
It looks like Smith has a very generous listing of 6-foot-3, 268-pounds and is undersized for defensive end in the NFL. If a 4-3 team drafts him, he will have to be a situational pass-rusher. Smith has 23 tackles with eight tackles for a loss and six sacks in 2013, but half of those sacks came against Southern Miss. This tape won’t help his chances of being a second-day selection.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Murray was in a tough spot as the Bulldogs were without their top running backs and receivers, but the senior quarterback couldn’t carry his team to a home win over a quality Missouri team. Three turnovers from Murray were crucial. He had a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and two interceptions. Murray’s first interception was a bad overthrow. His second pick came when he threw to a well-covered receiver and the ball was easily snatched away by the cornerback. Murray completed 25-of-45 for 290 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions versus Missouri.
The senior has completed 63 percent of his passes this year for 1,824 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has been prone to these kind of games throughout his collegiate career; he seems to get overwhelmed by the pressure. This performance shows that Murray hasn’t worked those kinks out of his game, and as a result, he could fall to the back half of the top-100 picks in 2014 NFL Draft.
Dishonorable Mentions: Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson.
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