Calvin Pryor, Louisville (6-2, 208lb 40 time - )
- Calvin Pryor, S
- Brandon Cooks, WR
- Stanley Jean Baptiste, CB
- Weston Richburg, C
Listed at 6-2, 208 pounds, Pryor has a chance at the NFL scouting combine to separate himself from the rest of the NFL draft safety class. A dearth of top-half first-round talent at both the safety and cornerback positions will put Pryor in a position to not only elevate himself to the first round but also high in the first round -- maybe even top 10.
There may be no other defensive player who stands to hit a bigger NFL payday with a headliner showing at the combine than Pryor.
Pryor fits the prototype of safety that some teams have recently relied upon to center their secondaries around. Safeties Earl Thomas of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and Eric Berry of the revitalized Kansas City Chiefs were both high first-round draft picks in 2010 and have since proven their indispensable value as versatile safeties who assume several responsibilities in both run and pass defense.
Pryor has the ability to attain that type of draft altitude, but even a more pedestrian showing at the combine should still position Pryor as a late first-round or early second-round pick. His skill set is similar to that of Cincinnati Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson, who himself was a first-round pick in 2007 and entering his age 31 season in 2014 may be a prime candidate for Pryor to replace when the Bengals use the #24 overall draft selection.
Pryor is the most physical of secondary defenders entering the 2014 draft. His years at Louisville were marked by signature hits and scores of tackles. His presence in the secondary as a physical enforcer with the athletic ability to make plays all over the field will be the biggest loss to the Louisville defense in 2014.
That same physicality will also be one of his biggest attributes to the NFL team that drafts him, because his presence on the field will force NFL offenses to account for his ferocity whether he detonates over the middle of the field, deep downfield, at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. Pryor brings the same level of boom that marks the play of safeties taken in the first round in recent years.
There is one play in pass coverage by Pryor that will resonate in NFL front offices from the time the combine starts to the draft: It is the most remarkable interception snared by Pryor during his career at Louisville. The amazing pick of quarterback Blake Bortles is not the end all to his coverage and ball-hawking skills, but the play does demonstrate all of the facets of pass coverage that will allow an NFL team to rely on Pryor at times in man coverage against tight ends, running backs and even wide receivers when the defense calls for it.
His skills in pass coverage are first-round quality for a NFL safety and will prove to be the biggest challenge for Louisville to replace, especially with fellow safety Hakeem Smith also moving on from the school. Pryor left many highlights during his career at Louisville, but the pick against Central Florida may linger for some time at Louisville -- not only for how remarkable the interception was but also how Louisville fortunes turned with the eventual gut-wrenching loss to Central Florida that cost the school its most successful season ever.
Brandon Cooks, Oregon St. (6-3, 204 lb. 40 time - )
Cooks immediately stands out as one of the fastest receivers in this year's class, but its more than just his straight-line speed that makes him so dangerous. While many receivers are track-fast, Cooks has the functional speed and agility to make him extremely elusive in the open field. His athleticism also makes him a fluid route runner, with the potential to improve in this area. Due to the depth in this year's class at receiver, he may fall the second day, but from a pure talent perspective it's difficult to argue that Cooks isn't a first round talent.
STRENGTHS: Lacks the ideal measurables, but has the athleticism to make up for it and carve out a productive role for himself in the NFL.
Elite start-and-stop ability which makes him extremely difficult to contain in the open field.
Ability to get up to full speed quickly keeps defensive backs on their toes and likely makes them think twice about playing press coverage.
His ability to get over the top of the defense requires the attention of a safety at all times.
Hands are above average.
Does a great job adjusting to poorly placed balls.
Played in a well-balanced passing attack at Oregon State and was asked to run a full complement of routes.
Depth and timing of his routes are consistent, and he seemed to always be on the same page with quarterback Sean Mannion.
An explosive punt returner, who will likely start immediately in this role in the NFL.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska) Sr 6'2" 214
Cornerbacks with a solid 6'2" build don't grow on trees. That's too bad for NFL general managers, because a big-bodied cornerback with the quick hips and feet needed to excel in coverage is hard to find and rarer to secure the rights to. That's what makes Stanley Jean-Baptiste so intriguing.
The Nebraska cornerback certainly looks the part. He's tall with long arms and a very solid build. He isn't a lanky defender but rather a solidly built grown man with muscles on top of muscles. If there's an eyeball test for corners, Jean-Baptiste not only passes—he's the curve you're grading on.
Size is important, but a cornerback is nothing if he's not agile and quick. Jean-Baptiste is both. He may not be as shifty as a smaller player, but he uses his speed and length to make up ground and attack the ball. And few receivers are getting over the top on a player with his combination of size and speed.
STRENGTHS: Richburg comes into this draft as one of the more polished players at his respective position group. CSU's success was directly related to his tenure there, where the team had its best offense in school history. As a smart but still top-tier physical specimen, Richburg proved that he could anchor a line.
Whether it's a powerful bull-rusher inside or a speed coming inside from a dog blitz or TE stunt, he could pick it up. And when it comes to the rushing attack, he still has the nimbleness, force and timing to hit his blocks and get to the second level uninterrupted.
With all that, he plays with a chip. Richburg is eager to engage and plant defenders in the ground.
WEAKNESSES:For a mid-round center, this is a pretty solid piece of marble the 49ers will begin chiseling at. He is also one of two or three centers that most project to be able to come into the NFL and start right away. There isn't too much wrong with Richburg that pro coaching couldn't solve.
NFL Comparison: Nick Hardwick, C, San Diego Chargers—a similar sized and balanced interior linemen who can evolve into the lynchpin of the offensive front.