The 2014 NFL Draft seems to have something for every team that has a particular need. The only thing that appears to be well established in this upcoming draft is the order of selection in tapping this talent-rich pool. Aside from the many individual players who can address a particular team’s needs, there are some interesting game changers near the top of the all the draftniks’ boards.
Game changers are players who can become dominant players at their positions, given the right situation and even a little time. Whether its a quarterback who can make big plays, or a defensive end who constantly needs to be double-teamed, game changers have the ability to wreak havoc on the opposition, while taking over a game. Some are ridiculously athletic, others might simply know how to play the game, but all of them can be exciting players for years to come if they are given a chance on the right team.
The following ten players are some of the top game changers in the 2014 NFL Draft. The potential players they can become are current or former NFL stars that have a similar size or way of playing the game. If each of them are lucky enough to make it big in the NFL, we might someday be able to use their names as a measuring stick when another crop of young draftees comes along.
10. Aaron Donald, DT – 6-1, 285 / Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald is one of the most athletic defensive tackles to ever come to the NFL Combine. Donald ran a sizzling fast 4.68 second 40-yard dash (record for defensive tackle), had a 9’8″ standing broad jump, and showed good strength for his size by bench pressing 225 pounds 35 times. His incredible athleticism makes him perfectly suited to operate next to a bigger man in the middle of a 4-3 defensive scheme.
The crazy part about Donald is that his play on the field might even be better than his accomplishments at the Combine. Donald had 28.5 tackles for loss in 2013 with 11.0 quarterback sacks and 4 forced fumbles. He had a season high 11 tackles against Georgia, and finished the season with 59 tackles from his defensive tackle slot. His strength and quickness should make him a factor if he is able to be free from double teams.
Potential to be JOHN RANDLE (7 Pro Bowl selections, 137.5 sacks, 2010 Hall of Fame inductee)
9. Anthony Barr, LB – 6-5, 255 / UCLA
Anthony Barr did not have great results at the NFL Combine, so he decided to show his athletic skills at the UCLA Pro Day. He went out and ran a 4.45 second 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225 pounds 19 times to top his figures from the Combine. Barr has the speed to cover tight ends, the quickness to get by NFL tackles and the height to bat down passes when he is unable to reach the quarterback. He has the potential, motor and determination to be an outside force.
Barr went from the offensive side of the ball to play linebacker for the first time in his junior season. All he did was respond by leading the nation with 13.5 quarterback sacks, earning him a first-team All-Pac-12 selection. He followed that up in 2013 with 10 quarterback sacks, 20 tackles for loss, and 60 total tackles, while forcing 5 fumbles and recovering four. He earned a second All-Pac-12 selection in just his second season of playing linebacker at the collegiate level.
Potential to be CHRIS DOLEMAN (8 Pro Bowl selections, 150.5 sacks, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team)
8. Brandin Cooks, WR – 5-10, 186 / Oregon State
Brandin Cooks will no doubt add some excitement to any team fortunate enough to call his name. His blazing speed is what lands him on this list. This speed was evidenced by his 4.33 second 40-yard dash time at the Combine, which led all wideouts. The speedster left the Combine $110,000 richer for running the fasting time in Adidas shoes, although he was convinced that he could have run even faster. He is one of the few players in the 2014 draft who can change a game with a single possession of the ball.
Cooks might start out in the NFL by working in the slot, but he has proved he can handle more of a load with his performance in 2013. His 128 receptions and 1,730 yards receiving were both Pac-12 records and mighty accomplishments for a player of his stature. He also had 16 touchdowns receiving and 2 touchdowns rushing, to go along with his 217 yards gained on the ground. Cooks can stretch the field and add an exciting dimension to any team in need of some speed.
Potential to be DESEAN JACKSON (3 Pro Bowl selections, 17.2 yard average per reception for his career)
7. Timmy Jernigan, DT – 6-2, 299 / Florida State
Timmy Jernigan has the ability to change games with his explosive play from the defensive tackle position. The disruptive force logged average figures of 5.06 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 27 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, but what he lacks in speed, size and strength, he makes up for with his knack of making big plays. Jernigan has a motor and strong will that makes him hard to contain.
Jernigan helped control the game in the BCS National Championship contest against the potent rushing attack of Auburn. He had 9 tackles against the Tigers, shortly after recording his season high of 10 in the ACC Championship game against Duke. Jernigan finished the 2013 season with 63 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 quarterback sacks while drawing many double-teams. He was recognized with a first-team All-American selection as well as a second-team AP All-American choice.
Potential to be WARREN SAPP (7 Pro Bowl selections, 96.5 quarterback sacks, 2013 Hall of Fame inductee)
6. Marqise Lee, WR – 6-0, 195 / USC
Marqise Lee burst upon the scene in 2012 playing alongside the current Buffalo receiver Robert Woods at USC. He managed to outperform Woods en-route to a 118 reception 1,721 yard season to become the recipient of the Biletnikoff Award, while earning a unanimous All-American selection. Lee doesn’t have blazing speed (4.52 40-yard dash), but has a 38 inch vertical leap, excellent hands and the capability to make big plays.
Lee battled injuries in 2013 and failed to live up to all the hype that surrounded him following his prolific season in 2012. He finished with just 57 receptions and 791 yards, but still provided plenty of evidence to show that he can take over a game. He did finish the season with 7 receptions, 118 yards and 2 touchdowns in his final game as a Trojan in the Las Vegas bowl game. He always seems to get open, is hard to jam at the line, can catch the ball, and knows what to do with it once he has it in his hands.
Potential to be TIM BROWN (9 Pro Bowl selections, 14,934 yards receiving, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team)
5. Teddy Bridgewater, QB – 6-3, 205 / Louisville
For some reason, Teddy Bridgewater started losing a little steam on draft boards once this past season came to an end. Bridgewater is still capable of taking over a game with his accurate passing and ability to make plays down the field without making costly mistakes. He backed out of the 40-yard dash at the Combine and only had a 30 inch vertical leap, but Tom Brady and other NFL quarterbacks have had combines that they would want to forget. Bridgewater has the numbers that prove he can be consistent and make his share of big plays.
In the 2012 season, Bridgewater led Louisville to a BCS Sugar Bowl berth and eventual 33-23 victory over Florida. This past season, Bridgewater threw for 3,970 yards, had 31 touchdown passes, and completed 71% of his passes. Last season, Bridgewater only had 4 interceptions. He has led Louisville to two straight bowl wins to go along with two consecutive top 15 rankings in the AP poll. He is accurate and seems to have the ability to go through his progressions quite well. He can be a game changing quarterback on a team that needs one right now.
Potential to be KURT WARNER (4 Pro Bowl selections, 32,344 yards and lifetime 93.7 QB rating)
4. Mike Evans, WR – 6-5, 231 / Texas A&M
Mike Evans is a big receiver who makes big plays, as evidenced by his 20.2 yard average per reception in 2013. He can stretch the field and use his 4.53 second 40-yard dash speed to present a challenge for any NFL secondary. He also can rise up to get the ball, with his 37 inch vertical leap that was measured at the combine. On top of that, he seems to have the ability to get open when his team needs a big play.
Evans has been a big part of the Aggie’s offense for the last couple of years. He has 151 receptions, 2,499 yards, and 17 touchdowns in just two seasons. He had a 7 catch 279 yard performance against Alabama in 2013 and then went on to have an 11 reception 287 yard performance against Auburn, scoring 4 touchdowns in that game. He has no problem making his presence known in the big games. His size and speed could present some match up problems in the NFL, making him a game changer without even catching a ball.
Potential to be ANDRE JOHNSON (7 Pro Bowl selections, 12,661 yards, 927 receptions)
3. Khalil Mack, LB – 6-3, 251 / Buffalo
To say Khalil Mack is a disruptive force, might be an understatement. The athletic four year starter has proven to be pretty difficult to block. His 4.65 second 40-yard dash speed is not quite as impressive as his 40 inch vertical leap and 10 foot 8 inch standing long jump. He simply is able to cover lots of ground in a variety of ways. Mack was a first-team All-American and winner of the 2013 Jack Lambert award.
Mack has an NCAA record 16 forced fumbles throughout his four year college career. Many question how his college experience at little known Buffalo will translate into an NFL career. Mack just goes out an puts up big numbers, logging 327 tackles, 75 tackles for loss, and 28.5 quarterback sacks, in his four years at Buffalo. Mack is a special football player in any league, with a nose for the ball that can lead to big plays. Khalil Mack has the potential to make an immediate impact and certainly change his share of games.
Potential to be KEVIN GREENE (5 Pro Bowl selections, 160 sacks, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team)
2. Johnny Manziel, QB – 6-0, 207 / Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel might not be your prototypical NFL quarterback, but he knows how to take over a game. “Johnny Football” can extend plays with his quick feet and create positive yardage with his shifty running down the field. Manziel ran a 4.56 second 40-yard dash at the combine and led all quarterbacks with a time of 4.03 seconds in the 20-yard shuffle. He has a great feel for the game to complement his ability to make big plays.
Manziel passed for 7,820 yards in his two year Aggie career. Add to this, his 2,169 yards rushing and you have a player who accounted for 93 of his team’s touchdowns over two seasons. Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in his freshman year (2012), while also being honored as the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. He followed his freshman season up by completing about 70% of his passes for 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns, all improvements over his Heisman season. He has proven he can run, but in the NFL its his passing that has the potential to translate into more wins.
Potential to be FRAN TARKENTON (9 Pro Bowl selections, 47,003 yards passing, 1986 Hall of Fame inductee)
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE – 6-5, 266 / South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney has the ability to be a game changer every time he steps on a field. He ran a 4.53 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, recorded a 37.5 inch vertical jump, and had a standing long jump of 10 feet 4 inches. He can easily add some weight and still be super quick, or he can play at his current weight and be even quicker than the “freak” (Javon Kearse). Clowney has the athletic ability to make an immediate impact in the NFL coming off the edge.
Clowney had a season to remember in 2012. He ended the season as a unanimous All-American choice as well as the winner of the Ted Hendricks award. He also set school records for quarterback sacks (13.0) and tackles for loss (23.5), while amassing 54 tackles and 3 forced fumbles. His monster season earned him SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. As a Heisman hopeful in 2013, Clowney was plagued by minor injuries and was unable to make the same impact. His will to play with pain has come under fire and his commitment as well, but his ability to disrupt an offense can change any game he happens to be in.
Potential to be RICHARD DENT (4 Pro Bowl selections, 137.5 sacks, 8 interceptions, 2011 Hall of Fame inductee)