2014 Draft Skinny Dipping

Sonic Seastrunk - Ronald Martinez

An absurdly-early look at prospects for the 2014 Draft.

It’s now been three weeks since the conclusion of the 2013 NFL Draft. I’m sure you’ve had some time to read, breakdown, and form some early opinions on the players Seattle has added (I’m a fan of Jordan Hill, Luke Willson, and Chris Harper is growing on me…I’m not very high on Jesse Williams, or the LSU-two…I really like the UDFA class; especially Ray Polk, Matt Austin, and the linebackers). So, if you suffer (like me) from some form of draft ADD/OCD, now is as good as any time to start looking forward to the 2014 class.

The following will be just a brief, cursory look at some of my early favorites at each position moving into the 2013 college football season. Here’s the skinny on the offense:

QB

The early buzz is that the 2014 QB class will be a huge rebound from the slim pickings of the 2013 draft. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Clemson’s Tahj Boyd are two early front-running names, but the class also includes San Jose’s David Fales, Fresno’s Derek Carr, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, and possibly the underclassman Johnny Manziel. Those are the names you’ve probably heard of (some more than others), but this class also has a couple lesser-known names that will be buzzing come the season: Wyoming’s Brett Smith and, from the Ivy League, Cornell’s Jeff Matthews.

For today’s piece, I’m focusing on Matthews because, upon one viewing of his new draftbreakdown.com game cutup against Yale, it was love at first sight. Currently listed at 6’4”/225lbs, Matthews is as close to prototypical QB size as you get. He’s got similar build to Ryan Tannehill but his play was reminiscent (to me) of a young Tom Brady. High praise right? Well take a look:

The things I noticed first about Matthews are 1) his control of the line of scrimmage presnap, 2) his rocket arm…he makes all the throws and all on a line, 3) his read progressions…always scanning for the open receiver, and absolutely shreds Yale’s zone coverage. Clearly he is not a running QB, but he does display enough elusiveness to extend plays and occasionally he’ll get you a first down with his legs.

For the 2012 season Matthews led the Ivy League in passing yards (3196), yds/gm (355.1), completions (251), also finished 2nd in pass TD’s (18) and 3rd in comp% (62.0…and note how many drops his WR’s had)…all this while playing only 9 games. Worth noting Jeff’s 355.1ypg average would have ranked 1st in all of FBS (1st-Rakeem Cato=350.1, Geno Smith=322.9, Mike Glennon=310.1, Fales=322.5, Carr=315.7, Boyd=299.7, Bridgewater=286.0). Project his stats forward to a 13-game season: 362 completions, 4616 yards, 26 TD, 16 INT. That total passing yards projection would have also ranked 1st in all of FBS (1st-Nick Florence=4309, Geno=4198). His comp%, however, would only rank 54th in FBS. I feel like a good chunk of that blame falls on his receiver’s, though (#6 needs to just quit football altogether and keep studying). Regardless, there are enough exceptional positives in this game from Jeff Matthews to warrant our attention for this season.

RB

There were literally 61 running backs that broke 1000 yards rushing in 2012 and a really big percentage of them have now left for the NFL. So, whereas the QB group is primarily comprised of incoming Seniors, the RB list will have a lot of incoming Sophomores and Juniors.

One of last year’s leaders in yards/carry (8.99), Kent State’s Dri Archer, will become a senior this year and will look to add to his impressive junior campaign where he was one of the country’s most exciting all-purpose yardage players. Archer rushed for 1429 yards, caught 561 yards-worth of passes, and returned kickoffs for another 591 yards; including 3 returns for TD. Archer is a svelte, burner in the Tavon Austin mold…listed at 5’8”/175 and, I’m estimating, 4.2 speed. Archer will be fun to watch, but is by no means the type of player the Seahawks are currently looking for.

The best rusher in the country, and a player PC/JS would absolutely LOVE, might be Georgia’s Todd Gurley. Listed at 6’1”/220, Gurley is a grown-ass man, but he’s only going to be a true-sophomore this year, and therefore ineligible for the draft till 2015. Still he’s an incredible talent to watch. Numbers like 1324yds, 6.24ypc, 17 TD were put up while splitting carries with fellow-freshman Keith Marshall.

I’m surprised one of these two hasn’t transferred to a school where he can be lone featured back. Oh, one more quick note on Gurley: he returned 7 kickoffs for 34.71yds/return…Dri Archer led all qualifying kick-returners with a 34.76 average. So enjoy that 220lbs coming at you with a 15-20 yard headstart/runway.

UW’s Bishop Sankey will be a junior this year and there is already some nice buzz (and comps to the likes of Ray Rice) after his 1439 yd/16 TD sophomore performance. I won’t say too much about Sankey as I’ve already got another Husky coming up in a bit…can’t be a total homer ;)

My current favorite RB that will be eligible for the 2014 draft is former Oregon Duck, current Baylor Bear: Lache Seastrunk. Seastrunk is 5’10”/205 and an absolute gyroscope of a runner. His legs move about as though independent from his body.

Just kidding! But if Doug Martin can be the "Muscle Hamster", I'm sure Lache can be a "Sonic Hedgehog". The real video:

Seastrunk didn’t have an overly impressive 2012, running for 1012 yards and 7 TD’s. But…Baylor was also a hugely pass-oriented team, with their QB Nick Florence leading the country in passing yards. Lache did make the most of his opportunities though, averaging a huge 7.73ypc on a below-average 131 carries (there were at least 100 ball carriers that had over 159 carries in all of FBS last year…including 16 QB’s). Florence has moved on, Baylor’s leading WR Terrance Williams is now in the NFL, so I’d expect the Bears to rely on Seastrunk much more next year, and he should put up huge numbers if he remains healthy.

TE

This is such a no-brainer. UW’s Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is #1 TE for 2013. As long as he keeps his nose clean, he should be the first TE to come off the board…by a long shot. In 2012 Austin tied with Zach Ertz for the country-lead in receptions by a TE (69). Ertz had a slight edge over ASJ in receiving yards (898 to 852), but Austin had one more TD. The next closest TE was over 100 yards and 12 receptions back of those two. Do I need to mention that ASJ, at 6’6”/266 is an absolute rhino?

The only other TE names I’m hearing this early are Oregon’s H-Back Colt Lyerla, UNC’s Eric Ebron, and I’ll add in Oklahoma State’s Blake Jackson who I’m anxious to get some tape on. Jackson was 4th in the entire FBS in ypc for ALL receivers with over 20 yards/catch. He’s currently listed a little undersized for a TE at 6’3”/235, so it will also be interesting to see if he adds weight, or if he stays put and fits more in the Joker TE mold.

OL

It feels a little bit like QB was to 2012 what OL was to 2013. Just a plethora of talent at their respective position groups in their respective years, and a lot of it went off the board early. But then, if my premise is true, the question becomes: “will there be the same dropoff in OL in 2014 as there was at QB in 2013?” Interesting, right? Perhaps there will be less of a talent dropoff, but simply more of a “need” dropoff.

In the meantime we’re free to speculate on the best of the OL. Top 2 should easily be Michigan’s Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews. Mel Kiper has recently rated Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio #1, but that is just silliness. At this point, I’m going with Matthews. I think he was better than Luke Joeckel last year. He’s got the incredible Matthews family pedigree. The only question will be how he makes the transition from RT to LT.

WR

I’m soooo excited about some of the underclassmen tape of the next WR class (CB too, but we’ll cover the defensive players next week). This year we had 3 WR go in the first round, and I’m tempted to project next year’s top 3 WR will all have better careers than any of the 2013 trio.

Preseason, most pundits will slot USC’s Marqise Lee as the #1 wideout. Tough to argue with him after he put up the most catches and second-most yardage in FBS last year. But he’s not my favorite. In fact, recently he was demoted to 3rd on my board. I’m currently ranking WR’s: 1) Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, 2) Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, 3) Lee.

Watkins reminds me a ton of Percy Harvin: incredible speed, really great hands, and special versatility to run the ball and return kicks. Watkins has a bit of an edge on Harvin though with his 6’1” stature (Harvin is 5’11”). Watkins needs to put together an entire, healthy 2013 season and he could/should overtake Lee. It also doesn’t hurt that Watkins has his QB returning (Boyd) whereas Lee has lost his QB (Matt Barkley) to the pros.

Now, as for Jordan Matthews, I’ve come across his name repeatedly and would catch glimpses of him while studying Vanderbilt QB Jordan Rodgers pre-draft, but only in the last week have I sat down and focused on Matthews intently. I think he is going to surprise people. The surprise isn’t going to be something crazy like the way AJ Jenkins became a 1st rounder. I think the surprise will be: Matthews projects late 1st round all year, then at the combine he will run a sub 4.50 forty, post insane jump numbers, and then become a top-10 pick. Basically, if you remember, he’ll do what Julio Jones did a couple years ago.

Listed at 6’3”/205, Jordan is a really nice sized receiver. Although he is a cousin of the GOAT, Jerry Rice, Matthews actually reminds me more of another ex-Niner WR: Terrell Owen. With that size, and its complimentary long stride-length, it is really deceptive how fast he is on game tape, but it is clear that Matthews will run away from DB’s. He’ll also outjump them. But, perhaps, my favorite aspect of his tape might be his eye-hand coordination that demonstrates itself in his over-the-shoulder catches with a player draped all over him. Observe:

Matthews will be looking to build upon a year where he caught 94 passes for 1323 yards and 8 TD’s, and (like Marqise Lee) he’ll be forced to do it with a new QB. Even if his production slips, I’d still put money on Matthews making a Louie Anderson sized splash in the next draft.

For now…we’re just barely dipping our toes in the 2014 draft pool.

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