The 2014 NFL draft is expected to be a year of the quarterback, as scouts are expecting at least five signal callers to hear their name called during the first round selection process. More than 90 early entries have thrown their name into the mix, beating the previous high from 2013.
Out of these early entries, five individuals that are not be household names have unlimited potential and could flourish in the NFL.
University of Clemson standout Sammy Watkins is regarded as the best wide receiver in the draft class, but his teammate Martavis Bryant could blossom into the bigger NFL star. Standing 6’5″ and more than 200 pounds, this early entrée has the frame and speed that scouts are salivating over.
Bryant is a raw talent, his production at Clemson left a lot to be desired for. For the 2013 season, Bryant had 42 receptions for 828 yards including seven touchdowns. But, lining up on the other side of Watkins, who caught 100 passes, little was left for Bryant. During spring ball, Bryant reportedly ran a 4.28 40-yard dash. “Experts” rate the Clemson receiver as a third or fourth round pick, but look for the lengthy wide-out to skyrocket up the boards with a solid combine showing.
I question why Bryant would leave considering the departure of Watkins. With receiving mate out of the picture, Bryant would be the first option and could have a huge statistical season. The Clemson offense is an aerial assault and receivers flourish under the system. But, also departing is standout quarterback Tahj Boyd, which may have led the receiver to pursue the NFL.
Bryant is a physical specimen that lacks the consistent play on the field that top receivers, Watkins and Marquise Lee, have. But, you can’t teach size and in a pass-happy league, a 6’5″ receiver is cherished.
Much like Bryant, University of Oregon Tight End, Colt Lyerla, passes the eye test. Lyerla is 6’5 and weighs 240 pounds and possesses blazing speed. But, his off-the-field habits cost him the most of the 2013 season and a first-round grade.
In 2012, Lyerla caught 25 passes for 392 yards to go with six touchdowns. He also had 13 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown. His versatility makes Lyerla a threat but in lieu of cocaine charges and multiple suspensions during his time at Oregon, scouts and general managers are gauging if he is worth the risk.
Lyerla draws comparison to Jeremy Shockey, with his tenacity and ability to run defenders over. But, he also draws comparisons to Aaron Hernandez, the once talented playmaker, that is now behind bars for first-degree murder.
An NFC South scout was asked of Lyerla and he offered the following statements (via NFL.com):
“He’s a big-time player. … Strong, athletic with good hands. … He’s a plyometric freak (running and jumping) with remarkable athletic ability. … If he puts it all together, he could be a monster at the next level.”
That same scout offered a character assessment of Lyerla. “He’s going to be a problem. He reportedly has some issues with alcohol, fights and other stuff at school. … Bad dude. … Nothing malicious, but the kind of stuff that makes you worry about how he will handle the pro lifestyle. … He has a tendency to go off the rails when he leaves a structured environment.”
While it’s unlikely that Lyerla will have his name called during the draft (May 8-10), I think it’s likely that he will be signed as a free agent. Tyrann Mathieu and Janoris Jenkins had checkered past, not quite like Lyerla’s, but both were drafted and have excelled at the next level. Lyerla should take a page out of Mathieu’s book and have a mentor, someone who can positively influence him and show NFL brass that he is making the essential steps to righting his wrongs. The best situation for the 21-year-old is to sign with a team that possesses a veteran-laden locker-room, that will take the oft-troubled Lyerla under their wing.
Following the cast of potential versus’ productivity, Aaron Lynch has also thrown his name into the ring. Lynch played his freshman season at Notre Dame, before transferring to University of South Florida in order to be closer to home.
His only season in South Bend was a success. The Florida native earned Freshman All-America honors as he registered 33-tackles, including seven for loss and a team high five-and-a-half sacks. He sat out the 2012 season due because of transfer rules and returned to the field this season for the Bulls.
He is currently measured at 6’6 and a slim 244, though he was listed at 270 while he was at Notre Dame.
Viewed as a early-round prospect, Lynch had 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. With 4.6 speed and lofty expectations, Lynch will surely hear his name called early. The ongoing trend in the NFL will benefit Lynch as NFL teams are looking for playmakers to rush to the quarterback.
The 2013 draft had five defensive ends taken in the first round, three of them being tabbed as “raw” and “projects.” Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah and Barkevious Mingo were all selected within the first six picks last draft and similar to Lynch, all have the skyscraper frame.
Lynch is another prospect that will need a stellar combine performance to enhance his grade. As much as I dislike this thought process that a player can improve his stock, while running with a t-shirt and shorts on, Lynch’s size and speed will be off the charts. While at USF he displayed glimpses of a ferocious edge-setter but not on a down-by-down basis. Look for Lynch to be off the board early and give offensive coordinators a reason to forego sleep. But, questions regarding his motor will be of major concern.
Unlike the previous subjects, Lache Seastrunk was a household name…then he wasn’t. He was a five-star recruit coming out of Temple, Texas and signed with Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks. The excitement was through the roof as many thought skies the limit for a burner in Kelly’s high-speed offense. The excitement was unfounded, as Seastrunk redshirted his freshman year and then was released from his scholarship.
He returned home and joined the Baylor Bears, where he did not play in 2011 due to NCAA transfer requirements. His first season in Baylor brought the excitement that Oregon had hoped for. He carried the ball 131 times for 1012 yards and seven touchdowns. Averaging nearly eight-yards a carry, Seastrunk made the bold prediction that he would win the Heisman in 2013.
As we know now, that didn’t happen. But, through the first four games of the season, Seastrunk was living up to the hype. Against inferior competition, the junior running back had 589 yards on just 53 carries and eight touchdowns. Seastrunk’s name was gaining momentum and his preseason prediction was making him look like the modern Nostradamus.
Seastrunk’s second half of his junior campaign left a lot to be desired for. He accounted for 588 yards and three touchdowns in the final nine games of the season. He did miss two-games due to a groin injury, but in the seven games that he did play, only in three of them did he amass for more than 100-yards.
Under Art Briles, current Baylor Head Coach, the Bears are a pass-first, run-second program. This preference didn’t pay dividends for Seastrunk. But, it’s important to consider that Seastrunk does not have the wear-and-tear that other backs have from extensively toting the rock for three to four years. For comparison’s sake, Seastrunk finished his career with 289 carries. Heisman finalist Andre Williams of Boston College had 355 just this year, 704 total carries for his career.
Fresh legs and Olympic speed is the strengths that Seastrunk brings to the table. When backs have a shelf life of three to four years before decline, it’s essential to find a runner that doesn’t have the tread that others, like Williams and fellow early entree Tre Mason who finished his Auburn career with 516 carries.
Given the lack of running backs drawing first round consideration in past seasons, Seastrunk would be a great option in the second or third round for a team looking to implement a two-back scheme. He could also jump start the special teams as a return man. He’s a jack-of-all-trades back, that will most likely perform better as a professional than he did as an amateur.
Last on my list of surprises also totes the rock. Running back Terrance West didn’t play in a BCS bowl, nor did he even play FBS football. Starring at Towson University, West racked up more than 2,500 yards this past season as he led the Tigers to a berth in the 2013 FCS National Championship game against North Dakota State University.
After high school, West attended the well-known Fork Union Military Academy that has produced the likes of Eddie George, Plaxico Burress and Vinny Testaverde. Though the latter went on to star at major DI programs, West’s academic issues caused University of Maryland and Clemson University to shy away.
West stayed in-state and the results were well worth it. In his first season for the Tigers, West rushed for 29 touchdowns and 1,294 yards. He was an integral part in leading Towson to the CAA conference championship and automatic bid into the FCS playoffs. Though they lost in the second round to Lehigh, West was beginning to put the Tigers on the map.
The following season didn’t have quite the video-game-like numbers for West as he carried the ball 195 times for 1,051 yards and 14 touchdowns. Towson finished 7-4 including two losses to FBS programs, Kent State and Louisiana State University (LSU).
Then the third-ranked program in the country, West proved that he was capable of playing across from soon to be NFLers. Against a Les Miles defense and in Death Valley, West ran for 79 yards and two-touchdowns on 22 carries. Though the scoreboard depicted a 16 point loss for the Tigers, the scouts definitely added West to their radar.
The Baltimore native saved his best football for his junior season, his final season for the Tigers. The 2013 season opened up with a test from an FBS program. The University of Connecticut hosted the Tigers and while most FBS programs schedule cupcakes for week one, the Tigers had a weapon that was ready to be heard.
West carried the ball 36 times for 156 yards and two scores against UCONN. His breakout performance led the Tigers to a victory over an FBS program. The UCONN performance was just a table-setter for the rest of the year as West put the program on his back and ran for a whopping 41 touchdowns.
West ran for 150 yards or more in eight contests over the 2013 season including a 354 yard performance against Eastern Illinois in the FCS playoffs. West’s heroics allowed the Tigers to experience a season like no other, including a berth in the FCS championship. Though they were upended by the FCS-powerhouse known as North Dakota State, the program and West held their own.
West’s junior season was ground-breaking as he racked up more than 2,500 yards, more than his freshman and sophomore seasons combined.
With his stock sky-high, West’s decision to forego his senior season was a shocker to none. He has received an invite to the combine in Indianapolis and pending on his workout results; he could skyrocket up the charts and receive second-round consideration.
Built like Mark Ingram, West stands 5’11 and weighs 223 pounds. He lacks the top-end speed you want in a running back, but his patience and ability to bounce off tacklers makes him an enticing pick.
The previously discussed talents have all foregone college eligibility to pursue a dream that many have but so few get to experience. Not a single one of these spoken about players are shoe-ins to be called in the first round and will be relying upon a solid combine outing to improve their current grade.
The meat-market known as the combine will be their biggest job interview to date and General Managers will leave no rock unturned. Lyerla will be questioned about his off-field antics, Lynch’s work ethic will be a concern, while Bryant’s lack of production will be a major issue. Seastrunk’s injury woes will be looked at with a microscope and West will receive a lot of inquiries about his ability transferring from an FCS program to the NFL.
Predictions are as follows: Bryant (third-round), Lyerla (undrafted), Lynch (second-round), Seastrunk (third-round) and West (fourth-round).