Potential Risers: 2014 NFL Draft

In this article, I wanted to explore the thought of prospects that I think have a very real chance of making the jump to a first-round grade for me. I don’t think it is as valuable of an exercise to pick out people that I’ve given sub-first-round grades who I believe will ultimately go in the first round (see Taylor Lewan). So, without further ado, here are a few prospects that I could see making the leap to 1st Round Caliber Grades.


1. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida

Dominique Easley has long been a favorite of mine. I have a certainly affinity for the defensive line, and last year, the thing that I was obsessed with was Barkevious Mingo’s first step. Easley’s first step at the DT position is just as elite as Mingo’s. Now, there are a few reasons that Easley didn’t earn a first-round-caliber grade from me. He wasn’t winning with his initial quickness as frequently as I would have liked and was mediocre when moving laterally. Both of these issues can potentially be explained by the fact that he was coming off a major knee injury. Also, Easley spent far too much of his time at DE, and he’s not nearly as effective there. He’s someone who deserves a #Freedom campaign. Let him play at DT and cause havoc. If I were grading Easley purely based on his bowl game vs. Louisville, I would have given him the 1st Round Caliber grade. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this guy in the upcoming season:

2. Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama

The player comparison that I’ve fallen in love with for Hubbard is Chandler Jones. I see the school he played at being akin to Chandler Jones’ bloodlines. Hubbard’s got tremendous length, a fantastic initial punch and active hands. All of which makes him a unique, and potentially a special length/strength pass-rushing prospect. However, there were many times when he had issues with bending, which is a major reason why I couldn’t pull the trigger on giving him a 1st Round Caliber grade. In addition, despite potentially being a very good run-defender due to his ability to stack and shed, Hubbard simply has some of the worst ball/spatial awareness I’ve seen from a football player. He has a variety of moves, but has no idea how to put them together in space, in addition to a poor understanding of positioning and angles. Here’s what I want to see more of in the upcoming season (Hubbard is #42, going up against Taylor Lewan):


3. The Quarterbacks (Devin Gardner and Marcus Mariota)

I will preface this by saying that I don’t think either is particularly likely to declare since it’s a near certainty that Teddy Bridgewater is going to be the top QB prospect. I have late 1st Round Caliber grades on both David Fales and Tajh Boyd at this point, and I honestly find it tough to believe that either will improve their stocks significantly in my eyes. However, I have 2nd Round Caliber grades on both Gardner and Mariota, and I could see them both ending up as top-10 prospects after this season. I’ve compared Gardner to Ryan Tannehill because like Tannehill, Gardner’s time at WR is evident in his play as a QB. He shows natural anticipation skills, as well as the willingness to throw his receivers open and fit passes into tight windows. Gardner also shows the same plus velocity and pocket movement skills that Tannehill did. However, also like Tannehill, Gardner is inconsistent with his mechanics and decision-making.

With Mariota, it’s hard to not see Colin Kaepernick when watching him. He’s proficient in the read option game, shows a willingness to pull the trigger on tight window throws with impressive velocity and flashes plus ball placement. Everything just needs to be more consistent for him to become an elite QB prospect.

4. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

Hageman checked in at No. 2 on Bruce Feldman’s freaks list (behind only Jadeveon Clowney). The following quote comes from that article:

“He's certainly the most athletic. Not only does he have the 36-inch vert, but he also has bench-pressed 465 pounds and clocked an electronically timed 10-yard sprint in 1.57 seconds. For comparison sake, no DT at this year's NFL Combine jumped higher than 33 inches, and Terron Armstead, the offensive tackle who ran the blazing 4.71 40 at the combine, did a 1.64 in his 10.”

I know some of my peers already view Hageman as a 1st Round Caliber guy. I personally think there’s more bad tape than there is good tape with Hageman. Now, he obviously has the athletic talent, possesses an ideal frame (although he does appear to have short arms for someone listed at 6’6”), but I’ll post Hageman’s self-evaluation from that same Feldman article, when talking about what he wants to improve in the upcoming season.

“play with better pad level, play with more urgency off the ball and not take plays off.”

His pad level is undoubtedly his biggest issue, but he also needs to be much more aggressive with his trigger when engaging blockers. Hageman must also clean up his aiming points because when he does, the results can be very, very good:

5. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Mike Evans’ game is similar to that of Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson’s, although at this point, he lacks Jackson’s suddenness. Evans is adept at beating press coverage, and he knows how to get himself open on comeback routes and slants. Due to his immense size, Evans is also extremely difficult to bring down after the catch. However, I would like to see Evans use his size more consistently. He has been able to win jump balls frequently due to his length, but too many times he will allow himself to be moved to the sideline on go routes. Evans also fails to consistently box his man out. Additionally, Evans must do a better job of hanging onto the football when his hands are being hit. One of the biggest reasons Evans’ grade was knocked down for me was his lack of explosiveness off the line and into his routes. While he’ll never be a burner, Evans was dealing with a hamstring injury last year, which could explain his reduced burst.



Others Considered: Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk, Florida CB Marcus Roberson, North Carolina TE Eric Ebron, Fresno State QB Derek Carr



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