Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2013 NFL Draft just ended but that
doesn't mean we can't start looking ahead to next year's annual event.
The 2013 class was considered by many to be one that lacked the flashier names
and potential superstars of past years. That won't be the case a year from now
with a ton of star power likely to be available.
Chief among those players is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
The 6-foot-6 junior was an absolute force in 2012, terrorizing quarterbacks
while playing in the SEC. To put that in perspective the conference set a NFL
Draft record with 63 selections this year. Clowney has already been cutting
his teeth against NFL-ready competition and with another year under his belt
the transition to the professional level may be as seamless as any player
In 2012, Clowney was sixth in Heisman voting and finished tied for second
nationally with 13.0 sacks. Clowney made a big statement in important games as
well, such as when he recorded 4.5 sacks in a 27-12 win over rival Clemson.
Perhaps his most memorable effort was the punishing hit he laid on Michigan's
Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl that was still making the rounds on
highlight shows in April.
Perhaps the only name that would grab more headlines next year than Clowney
would be that of defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. With the
moniker 'Johnny Football' the Texas A&M freshman lit up the college football
world last season en route to earning a trophy case full of awards and honors
including the nation's highest. A stellar athlete with speed and an ability to
make plays on the run, Manziel would bring instant excitement and publicity to
any NFL team willing to make the pick. Manziel will be just a sophomore next
season but after seeing Matt Barkley slip to the fourth round in this year's
draft, Manziel may opt to come out in 2014.
Another Aggie, offensive tackle Jake Matthews, might actually go higher than
the quarterback he will be protecting this season. Offensive linemen are never
considered the 'sexy' pick but every team is in constant need of talented
players in the trenches. Matthews may just be the best option for any team
trying to rebuild up front, especially if he can repeat as a First-Team All-
Another offensive linemen to watch is tackle Cyrus Kouandjio from the
defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. At 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds
he is the ideal height and size for the professional level and as was
mentioned with Clowney, is already seeing some of the talent he could come up
against once he starts playing on Sundays.
Staying in the SEC, which seems to be the closest thing to an NFL feeder
program at this point, another defensive player that could be picked day one
in 2014 is Alabama's C.J. Mosley. The senior linebacker was a Consensus First-
Team All-American and All-SEC performer in 2012 and a finalist for the Butkus
Award. Mosley wasn't just great as an individual performer as he was one of
the key cogs in the Crimson Tide's National Championship winning defense that
ranked at the top of the nation in most statistical categories.
Though they would like to make you think so, the SEC is not the only
conference in college football and won't be the only conference to have
players drafted early in the first round.
Wide receiver Marqise Lee went into last season at USC as second fiddle to
Robert Woods and without the name recognition of Matt Barkley. By year's end
Lee was without a doubt the most dangerous offensive weapon for the Trojans
and arguably of any team in the country. Lee won the Biletnikoff Award and was
a consensus All-American selection in a sophomore season in which caught a FBS
best 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Pac-12 will also have some defensive players at the top of many NFL team's
draft boards ,especially if UCLA defensive end Anthony Barr lives up to the
considerable hype he has accrued. Under first-year head coach Jim Mora, Barr
really strived in his junior season as he recorded 13.0 sacks and 21.5
tackles for loss en route to a First-Team All-Pac-12 selection. A talented and
versatile athlete, Barr can shift from the end to outside linebacker which
would make him extremely attractive to any professional squad.
Speaking of defensive playmakers, cornerback Bradley Roby of Ohio State is
another first-round lock if he continues to play to the degree he did in 2012.
Though he did not post eye-popping numbers (63 total tackles, 17 passes
defended, 2 INTs) in 2012, he still considered entering this year's draft.
Buckeye fans will be thrilled to see him back on the field this season though,
especially after he was such an integral part of an Ohio State team that went
Next year might just be dominated by the state of South Carolina as Clemson's
Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins could join Clowney at the top of the national
rankings and in the top 10 of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Like Roby, Boyd had to think before deciding to return to the Tigers for his
senior season. After seeing fellow ACC member E.J. Manuel of Florida State be
selected as the first quarterback in this year's draft, Boyd may be regretting
that slightly but should also feel tremendously optimistic about 2014. Like
Manuel, Boyd is a dual-threat quarterback that can run and pass. In 2012 alone
he threw for 3,828 yards and 33 touchdowns, while rushing for 218 yards and
five more scores. Like Manuel, Boyd was extremely accurate (67.2 completion
percentage) but unlike Manuel, Boyd was actually named ACC Player of the Year.
Watkins however, did not enjoy similar success in 2012. After smashing records
and gaining national attention as a freshman in 2011, Watkins missed the first
two games of 2012 due to an arrest and then once he returned, played in the
shadow of DeAndre Hopkins for most of the year. Hopkins, and his 1,405
receiving yards, were taken 27th overall in the 2013 Draft by the Houston
Texas. That leaves a hole in the Clemson receiving corps that Watkins is more
than capable of filling. Though his production suffered last season (57
receptions, 708 yards, 3 TDs) Watkins is a freakish athlete with lethal speed
that should return to form and in doing so, raise the eyebrows of a number of
There will be another signal caller that many teams may consider as the
building block for their franchises in Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. The
knock against Bridgewater is of course that he played in the diluted Big East
Conference and even worse this season will be in the American Athletic
Conference. Those aren't exactly the same leagues as other star players on
this list. However Bridgewater seemed just fine against some of the nation's
best in January when he led the Cardinals to a steam-rolling of the SEC's
Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl. Bridgewater threw for 266 yards and two
scores and was named the game's MVP, all while dealing with the country's No.
1 pass defense. Bridgewater was sixth in the nation in completion percentage
during the regular season and could be even better this fall.
The Sports Network