2014 NFL Draft Stock – Post-New Year’s Bowls

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

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Manziel went out in style against Duke. The superstar led a big comeback for the Aggies to pull out a win in the fourth quarter despite them not hitting on all cylinders in the first half. In the early going, Manziel threw some good deep balls that his receivers simply weren’t tracking down. Eventually, he and his receivers got in sync as Manziel had great ball placement on a few of his touchdown passes.

In the third quarter, Manziel had a crazy play where he scrambled up in the pocket before jumping in the air to bounce off a defender. Manziel then escaped to the corner and hit a receiver on the sideline to let him run for a 19-yard touchdown. It was a jawdropping highlight-reel play. The Aggies were down by 10 midway through the fourth quarter when Manziel made an incredible throw. He lofted in a perfect bomb to lead Derel Walker into the end zone for a 44-yard touchdown. Manziel finished completing 30-of-38 passes for 382 yards with four touchdowns. He ran for 73 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown.

Manziel completed 70 percent of his passes in 2013 for 4,114 yards with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. On the ground, he ran for 923 yards (759 net) with nine touchdowns. There is a wide-open debate about the top quarterback prospect between Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles. Manziel has dominated the SEC the past two seasons and has incredible mobility – two things Bridgewater and Bortles can’t claim. Manziel has done enough to warrant being a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
From start to finish in the Cotton Bowl versus Oklahoma State, Ealy put together a big-time performance to cap his college career. Early on, he had a pressure to help cause an interception. At the start of the second quarter, Ealy came close to a strip sack from the blind side, but Cowboys quarterback Clint Chelf got the pass off. Also in the second quarter, Ealy beat the left tackle with an inside rush to get a sack of Chelf. Ealy the beat the left tackle with a speed rush and a bit of a rip move a couple plays later to shed the block on the outside before chasing down Chelf for another sack. Ealy had two sacks, six tackles and a pass batted.

In 2013, Ealy recorded 9.5 sacks, 43 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, six passes broken up and an interception. The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder has an excellent combination of size and speed. The junior definitely helped his draft stock. All season, Ealy was tough at the point of attack on run downs and demonstrated his pass-rushing prowess off the edge. Ealy looks like a first-round pick and could go high.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Reportedly, Hundley is going to return to UCLA for the 2014 college season, which is a good decision for his development. Prior to that, there were many reports that he was going to enter the 2014 NFL Draft and his impressive display of athletic ability in his Bowl game against Virginia Tech had added fuel to that fire.

Hundley killed a good Hokies’ defense with his feet before settling in as a passer in the second half. Early in the first quarter, he escaped a sack and ran for 25 yards. Hundley finished the drive by dodging another sack to run around the corner for a seven-yard touchdown. In the second quarter, he took off on another scramble and exploded down the field for an 86-yard touchdown run. Hundley started to complete more passes in the second half when UCLA began to utilize a quick passing game with slants and crosses. He dropped in an eight-yard touchdown pass to the back corner of the end zone during the fourth quarter.

In garbage time, Hundley threw a perfect pass for a 59-yard touchdown. That ended finished his game as he completed 16-fo-27 passes for 223 yards with two touchdowns. The redshirt sophomore also ran for 161 yards and two scores on 10 carries. This tape performance showed Hundley’s big skill set.

Hundley completed 67 percent of his passes in 2013 for 3,071 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. On the ground, he ran for 970 yards (748 net) with 11 touchdowns. Assuming the reports are true, Hundley did a good job of making a mature decision to develop his game at the college level rather than going to the NFL when he wasn’t ready.

Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Injuries derailed what was turning into an excellent senior season for Fuller. While he didn’t get to finish the year, Fuller did enough to impress NFL scouts. WalterFootball.com spoke with scouts who said Fuller is receiving second-round grades. Sources say they like Fuller’s cover skills, grittiness and flexibility, but his lack of speed is the likely reason he won’t go in the first round.

In 2013, Fuller notched 24 tackles, 10 passes batted and two interceptions. He was excellent versus Alabama and did a superb job of smothering Amari Cooper in man coverage. Fuller had four tackles, an interception, at least one pass batted away, some good hits and solid play on special teams. He also had a huge performance against Georgia Tech. The 6-foot, 181-pounder has some upside. Fuller looks like a nice value as a second-day pick.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins was a dominant force to help lead Clemson to a five-point win over Ohio State in bowl season. The Buckeyes didn’t have an answer for Watkins as he beat their defenders with elite speed and explosiveness. The junior also showed some power on occasion. Watkins’ first reception went for 27 yards on a quick swing pass that he broke down the field. A few plays later, Tajh Boyd threw a perfect strike 34 yards down the field to hit Watkins in stride as he ran into the end zone.

Watkins also had a ridiculous run in the open field as he broke the ankles of a few defenders to rip off a run of 29 yards. He powered through Ryan Shazier for about five yards in an impressive display of strength. To follow that up, Watkins skyed over a cornerback for a 30-yard touchdown catch.

Watkins finished with 16 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He has elite speed and an explosive first step that looks similar to Percy Harvin. Watkins also has good hands and can play big when he needs to. In 2013, Watkins caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards with 12 touchdowns. With the way he dominated this season, it isn’t out of the question for Watkins to be a top-five pick.

Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
Beasley ate up Ohio State left tackle Jake Mewhort throughout the Orange Bowl. Mewhort is a potential mid-round pick, but he was clearly overmatched by Beasley’s speed and explosiveness off the snap. Beasley had a sack on a third down, but performed a throat-slash celebration to draw a penalty.

In the third quarter, Beasley came off the edge to snag a tackle for a loss on Braxton Miller on a third-and-short. On the next possession, Beasley got up to block a pass. He then drew a holding call from Mewhort with a dip of his hips on a speed rush; without the hold, Beasley would have had a sack. Still, his pressure caused a bad throw that was intercepted. He finished the bowl with five tackles, four tackles for a loss and a sack.

In 2013, Beasley recorded 13 sacks, 41 tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and six passes batted. This tape will help him to be a first-round pick while Mewhort hurt himself with this performance. Beasley looks like a good fit in a Von Miller-type role in the NFL. He also could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

2014 NFL Draft Stock Down

A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
The bowl against Oklahoma revealed some of McCarron’s flaws that have been disguised by his supporting cast over the past three seasons. The Sooners able to get a lot of pass rush on McCarron, who quickly became rattled into turning the ball over. He also was playing from behind, which he rarely had to do in college. McCarron finished the evening 19-of-30 for 387 yards with two scores, two interceptions and a comeback-killing fumble. He was rattled by Oklahoma’s pass rush and had some missed throws to go along with some uncharacteristic bad decisions. His two interceptions were terrible passes to well-covered receivers that should have never been thrown.

McCarron also did some slight damage to his stock by turning down the Senior Bowl. Scouts don’t like it when players who aren’t high first-round picks pass on playing in the Senior Bowl. Other first-round quarterbacks who had prolific college careers played in the Senior Bowl include Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers and Tim Tebow. Not playing in the Senior Bowl could be taken as McCarron knowingly having something to hide.

McCarron completed 63 percent this saeson of his passes for 3,063 yards with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He doesn’t have a very strong arm and is more of a game-manager rather than a play-maker. The way he finished the 2013 illustrates why McCarron is a second-day or mid-round pick rather than a Thursday-night selection.

Cyrus Kouandjio, QB, Alabama
While McCarron hurt his draft stock, Kouandjio did the even more damage. Kouandjio and the Alabama offensive line struggled with the speed of Oklahoma’s defense throughout the night. In the second quarter, Kouandjio was beaten by Eric Striker on a speed rush and Striker almost sacked McCarron. That set the tone for the night as it got much worse for Kouandjio. Just before halftime, Striker burned Kouandjio with a speed rush around the corner to get a sack.

The speed threat of Striker caused Kouandjio to false start. Late in the fourth quarter with only a minute remaining and Alabama down by a touchdown, Striker beat Kouandjio with a speed rush to get a strip-sack of McCarron. Oklahoma recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown to give the Crimson Tide its second-straight loss.

Kouandjio has a good athletic skill set, but he was slow to get depth in his pass drop to handle Striker’s speed. It makes one wonder what a rusher like Von Miller would do to Kouandjio. The junior’s struggles against Striker illustrate that he may not be ready to go against elite NFL pass rushers in one-on-one situations.

Kouandjio had a rocky start to the season before playing well in the second half of the year. He was said to be 50-50 about returning to school, and this performance could prompt him to go back to Alabama. This tape definitely hurts Kouandjio’s draft grade and shows that he is going to need developmental time in the NFL. Kouandjio is not a plug-and-play starter.

Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
In the Capital One Bowl against Wisconsin, Quarles’ struggles in run defense were completely exposed. The Badgers had success running straight at Quarles down the middle of the Gamecocks’ defense all day. Quarles was owned at the point of attack as both Melvin Gordon and James White ran by him for consistent gains of good yardage. Quarles did have a pressure on a screen pass to help set up an interception, but he was unblocked on the play.

Versus Wisconsin, Quarles had only three assisted tackles. This tape will hurt his draft grade. He finished with 9.5 sacks, 39 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, one pass batted and zero forced fumbles. For the NFL, Quarles looks limited to being a situational pass-rusher until he becomes a better run-defender. This tape could help push him lower on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft.

De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Thomas made a bad decision to enter the 2014 NFL Draft. He had a disappointing 2013 season and became a role player in the Ducks’ offense. That could be seen in Oregon’s bowl win over Texas when Thomas recorded only three carries for 13 carries and two receptions for 24 yards.

Prior to the season, the expectations were that Thomas would take over as the featured back with Kenjon Barner in the NFL. Injuries limited Thomas, but other backs got more carries when he was healthy. Thomas finished the season with only 96 carries for 594 yards (6.2 average) and eight touchdowns. He had 22 receptions for 246 yards.

The 5-foot-9, 176-pound Thomas is an undersized back who will probably be a slot receiver, returner and occasional running back. He missed four games with an injury in 2013, and his durability at the smaller size is a negative for his draft stock. Thomas looks like a mid-round luxury pick.

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