A record 98 underclassman declared on January 15th by the 4 pm deadline for the 2014 NFL Draft. The trend of increasing declared underclassmen in previous years [2013 (73), 2012 (65), 2011 (56) and 2010 (53)] has recently become a hot NFL topic for discussion.  

Central Florida QB Blake Bortles was an unknown player coming into the 2013 and by mid-season blossomed into an elite quarterback prospect. Scouts are intrigued by his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame, arm strength and athleticism. Bortles completed 65% of his passes for 6,640 yards, 50 TDs and only 16 interceptions the last two years.  Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M Heisman Trophy Winner Johnny Manziel have been on the radar of scouts since their breakout freshman seasons as both are projected to be a top 5 draft pick.

The skill positions received a big boost with the quality number of talented underclassmen that declared. It's an average senior draft class at the running back, receiver and tight end. There isn't a running back projected to go in the first round which could lead to a second straight year that has happen. But it is still a good overall group with Auburn's Tre Mason, Washington's Bishop Sankey, LSU's Jeremy Hill and Baylor's Lache Seastrunk adding great value to the running back position in this draft class.

The wide receiver and tight end group has the most talent of the underclassmen that have declared. There are about 7-10 pass catchers who could go in the first round and make an immediate impact in the NFL. Clemson's Sammy Watkins headlines the list with Texas A&M's Mike Evans, USC Marquise Lee and Florida State's fast rising receiver prospect Kelvin Benjamin following right behind. Highly regarded junior tight end's Eric Ebron, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins are projected top 20 picks.

Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson was dominant all season and impressed scouts with his quick feet and strength as he shoots up draft boards. Cyrus Kouandjio from Alabama is another projected first round projected that has shown great potential and athleticism. But his inconsistent play have scouts wondering if he will be a staring left or right tackle at the next level.

South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney is the top rated player at the defensive end position as he terrorized offensive backfield for three seasons. He had a disappointing junior season but possesses a rare combination of size, speed and athleticism that scouts heavily covet. Kony Ealy from Missouri is another intriguing defensive end with great size, quickness and strength.

Defensive tackles is another group that is deep with talent where NFL teams can fine lineman that can fit in a either a 3-4 and 4-3 defensive scheme. Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, Notre Dame's Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt along with South Carolina's Kelcy Quarles could all go in the first round. Nix battled injuries this past year but is still the top rated defensive tackle that fits perfect in a 3-4 defense. Jernigan is a strong, explosive lineman who displays great quickness and speed.

Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, Arizona State's Carl Bradford, Alabama's Adrian Hubbard along with UConn's Yawin Smallwood leads the linebacker underclassmen position. Shazier is the only prospect out of the group projected to go in the first round. He's undersized but is a very instinctive weak side linebacker who fits best in a 4-3 defense. Bradford initially announced he was coming back to school but quickly changed his plans as he was exceptionally productive the last two seasons at ASU. Smallwood was a big time player for the UConn Huskies and is versatile enough to play either inside backer positions.

The value of bigger cover corners is increasing with each NFL Draft season. Bradley Roby from Ohio State has the best natural talent and size out of this group. But he had an up and down 2013 after having an outstanding sophomore season in 2012. Both Roby and Florida's Marcus Roberson could be selected in the bottom of the first round. Another Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and South Carolina's Vic Hampton will have a great opportunity to raise their draft status if they perform well at the NFL Combine next month.

The safeties that declared are an elite group filled with talented players such as Alabama's All-American Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Stanford's Ed Reynolds. Clinton-Dix is a ball hawking safety with great size, range and instincts. He is the top ranked safety in the draft followed by Pryor and Reynolds. USC's Dion Bailey is an interesting safety prospect that played his first two seasons at outside linebacker before moving to safety in 2013. He made a smooth transition in leading his team with five interceptions.

 

 

Declared Underclassmen list

Quarterbacks (4)

Blake Bortles*, QB, Central Florida

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Johnny Manziel*, QB, Texas A&M

Brett Smith*, QB, Wyoming

 

Running Backs (20)

George Atkinson, RB, Notre Dame

Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State

Brendan Bigelow, RB, California

Alfred Blue, RB, LSU

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona

Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State

Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State

Jeremy Hill*, RB, LSU

Storm Johnson, RB, UCF

Henry Josey, RB, Missouri

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State

Darrin Reaves, RB, UAB

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor

Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse

John Spooney, RB, Brown

De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

Terrance West*, RB, Towson

James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida

 

Receivers (19)

Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State

Odell Beckham, WR, LSU

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Chris Boyd, WR, Vanderbilt

Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson

Brandon Coleman*, WR, Rutgers

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State

Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU

Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana

Marqise Lee, WR, USC

Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss

Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

Allen Robinson*, WR, Penn State

Willie Snead, WR, Ball State

Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

 

Tight Ends (10)

Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Eric Ebron*, TE, North Carolina

Xavier Grimble, TE, USC

Nic Jacobs, TE, McNeese State

A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State

Colt Lyerla*, TE, Oregon

Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame

Richard Rodgers, TE California

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

 

Offensive Lineman (10)

Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina

Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford

Terrance Hackney, OT, Bethune-Cookman

Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Marcus Martin, C, USC

Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA

Trai Turner, OG, LSU

David Yankey, OL, Stanford

 

Defensive Ends (4)

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

Chris McCain, DE, California

 

Defensive Tackles (11)

Dominique Easley*, DT, Florida

Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU

Carlos Gray, DT, North Carolina State

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU

Viliami Moala, DT, California

Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

Jeoffrey Pagan, DL, Alabama

Kelcy Quarles, DL, South Carolina

Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame

George Uko*, DL, USC

 

Linebackers (8)

Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State

Khairi Fortt*, LB, California

Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama

Demarcus Lawrence, OLB, Boise State

Aaron Lynch, DE, USF

Ronald Powell, LB, Florida

Ryan Shazier*, LB, Ohio State

Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn

 

Cornerbacks (9)

Nick Addison, DB, Bethune-Cookman

Bashaud Breeland, DB, Clemson

Vic Hampton, CB, South Carolina

Kameron Jackson, CB, California

Albert Louis-Jean, DB, Boston College

Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon

Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida

Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida

Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

 

Safeties (7)

Dion Bailey, S, USC

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DB, Alabama

Jonathan Dowling, S, Western Kentucky

Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford

Vinnie Sunseri, DB, Alabama

Pierre Warren, FS, Jacksonville State