The dust has barely settled following the 2013 draft, but it's never too early to take a look at the top prospects for next year's draft.
Initial film study on the 2014 draft will begin next week, but here's an early look at some of the top prospects we'll be evaluating as part of next year's class, including several who will be draft-eligible nonseniors during the 2013 season. Those players are noted with an asterisk.
Analysis: Clowney would have been the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, and he's the clear favorite to be the top pick in 2014. He possesses a rare blend of size, athleticism, upper-body power and playmaking instincts. I'd like to see him improve his lower-body strength and play with more consistent leverage, but Clowney was unblockable when playing at full strength last season. His tape from the Georgia game is one of the most dominant individual defensive performances I've seen in recent years.
Analysis: Bridgewater has a quick release, above-average accuracy and is a good athlete who can buy time and pick up the occasional first down with his feet. He's at his best in the pocket, though, from which he can pick apart defenses with his brain and arm. He sees the entire field and does not get stuck on his primary target. Bridgewater is also tough -- he played through a wrist injury in 2012 -- has the right temperament for the position and is coming off a career game in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Florida.
Analysis: Kouandjio developed into a complete left tackle last season and still has room for improvement. He has the frame (6-foot-6, 311 pounds) and feet to excel in the NFL and is ready to follow in the footsteps of former teammates Chance Warmack (Tennessee Titans) and D.J. Fluker (San Diego Chargers), who were selected 10th and 11th overall, respectively, in the 2013 draft.
Analysis: Lee is a burner with big-play ability both as a vertical route-runner and after the catch. He showed the ability in 2012 to consistently separate from double coverage, and, while you'd like to see him get a little stronger, there's no doubting his competitiveness. Lee is the top draft-eligible wide receiver prospect entering the 2013 season and projects as a top-10 pick.
Analysis: Barr exploded on the scene last season and the arrow is pointing way north. He's straight out of central casting with his long, athletic frame (6-4, 235 pounds), and with his long arms and thick trunk, he has even more size potential. Barr holds his ground well for his size, has a good first step and shows impressive closing burst. He also has quick feet and does a decent job when asked to drop into underneath coverage. His versatility only makes him more attractive.
Analysis: Matthews would have been a first-round pick in this year's draft, but his decision to return to school makes sense for a few reasons. Expectations are extremely high for the Aggies this season, his brother Mike is the starting center and the departure of No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville Jaguars) will allow Matthews to show NFL scouts he can move to the left side and thrive there.
Louis Nix III
Analysis: Nix is a massive nose tackle with the size (6-3, 326 pounds) and strength to be a two-gap plugger in the NFL. He was one of the only Notre Dame defenders who consistently held his own against Alabama in the national title game, and the Fighting Irish were not nearly as effective against the run when he was out of the lineup. Nix also shows surprising quickness and agility for his size.
Analysis: Boyd displays the competitiveness, work ethic, toughness, arm strength and mobility to develop into a good starter in the NFL. He can improve his draft stock with more consistent decision-making and accuracy in 2013, but he has already begun building momentum by putting together the best overall game of his career in Clemson's Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU.
Analysis: Manziel is expected to leave school after the 2013 season and will likely be the most polarizing prospect in the 2014 class. He's a unique talent with rare athleticism and instincts, and he can make throws on the run that most quarterbacks could only dream of. Still, he can become more disciplined with his reads and decisions, and his true size is a question. You have to wonder whether he can hold up physically for another full season in the SEC, but the traits of a "prototypical" NFL quarterback are being blurred, and that should work in Manziel's favor.
Analysis: Hubbard emerged as a highly disruptive defensive standout for the Crimson Tide in 2012. He shows the ability to convert speed to power and can bend the edge as a pass-rusher. He could be a top-15 pick if he continues to improve in 2013.
Analysis: Roby has shutdown man-to-man cover skills and led the nation in passes defended per game (1.73) in 2012. His size is just average (5-11, 190 pounds), but Roby has very good top-end speed and is a quick-twitch athlete with fluid hips. His instincts also continue to improve with more game experience.
Analysis: Mosley emerged as the top playmaker on Alabama's stout 2012 defense and likely would have been a first-round pick had he left school early. He's athletic, naturally instinctive and will push to be one of the top linebackers selected in 2014 if his take-on skills continue to improve.
Analysis: Lewan elected to return to school after a strong junior season and battled admirably in a one-on-one matchup versus Clowney in the Capital One Bowl. Lewan has good feet and technique, and he can improve his stock if he continues to get stronger.
Analysis: Jernigan is a classic 3-technique with his quick first step and ability to consistently penetrate and disrupt. He shows the ability to change directions and pursue plays outside the tackle box, and he recorded eight tackles for loss last season.
Analysis: McCarron has played his best in the Tide's biggest games, and he's much more than a game manager. He flashes big-time anticipation and the ability to make NFL throws down the field. He's a better athlete than most seem to think, though we'd like to see more consistency out of him in 2013.
Analysis: Richardson is a massive left tackle who forced 2012 third-round pick Dallas Thomas (Miami Dolphins) inside to guard last season. Richardson is still developing his footwork and hand placement but has the size, natural mobility and strength potential to emerge as a first-round pick in 2014.
Analysis: Ekpre-Olomu had some trouble versus bigger receivers in 2012, and he can improve his strength. Still, he has very good speed and agility to go with loose hips. He led the Pac-12 with 20 passes defended.
Analysis: Tuitt has top-10 potential, but we want to see him play with more consistent leverage and effort in 2013. His bulk is well-proportioned, and he is athletic for his size, but can he take it to the next level? He can play the 3-technique in a four-man front or the 5-technique in a three-man line.
Analysis: Purifoy has experience at wide receiver, but his NFL value is at cornerback and possibly as a punt-return specialist. He was burned at times against Louisville and needs to improve his eye discipline, but he is a fantastic natural athlete with length and top-end speed.
Analysis: Attaochu is flying under the radar, but he has the build, torso flexibility and body control when bending the edge to develop into an impact pass-rusher in the NFL. He recorded 10 sacks last season.
Analysis: One NFL scout I spoke to said Watkins would have been a first-round pick after his freshman season, but he failed to build on that momentum and had a disappointing 2012 season. He needs to stay out of trouble off the field and take better care of his body, because he has all the talent in the world.
Analysis: Johnson is a talented interior lineman who showed big-time flashes as a true freshman, though he was inconsistent in 2012. He needs to play with better leverage, improve his lower-body strength and must also improve counter moves as a pass-rusher, but Johnson has a high ceiling due to his size and natural movement skills.
Analysis: McCullers is a monster of a man. He is unpolished in terms of technique and must keep his weight in check, but you just don't find many 6-8, 380-pounders. He played nose tackle last season but will transition to defensive tackle in the Vols' new 4-3 scheme this season.
Analysis: Clinton-Dix is a talented youngster who finished strong last season and has the range, instincts and ball skills to emerge as a first-round pick. He recorded an interception in each of the team's final three games last season.
Analysis: Verrett lacks ideal size and is coming off a knee injury in 2012, but he's quick-twitched with very good man-to-man cover skills. He locked down some big-time playmakers in the Big 12 in man-to-man coverage last season.
Analysis: Yankey brings versatility to the table. He moved from guard to tackle last season and made significant strides as the season progressed. He is tall with adequate bulk, adequate-to-good movement skills, is technically sound and takes very good angles.
Analysis: Van Noy was the most consistent playmaker on BYU's outstanding defense, which featured 2012 No. 5 overall pick Ziggy Ansah (Detroit Lions). Van Noy must continue to get bigger and stronger, but he has versatility as a pass-rusher who can also hold up in underneath coverage. He's at his best pursuing the run, though. He has a nose for the football, outstanding intangibles and work ethic.
Analysis: Lynch transferred from Notre Dame, where he led the Irish with 5.5 sacks as a true freshman in 2011. He needs to return to form in 2013 after redshirting last season.
Analysis: Carey is a quick and versatile back who led the nation in rushing with an average of 148.2 yards per game in 2012.
Analysis: Evans emerged as Manziel's go-to receiver in 2012, ending his redshirt freshman season with more than 1,100 receiving yards. Evans has to develop his route-running skills, but he has an enormous frame and very good athleticism for his size.
Analysis: Shazier is a big-time playmaker who always seems to be around the ball. He's undersized but has room on his frame to add bulk and strength, and he's a good tackler with outstanding range both versus the run and in coverage.
Analysis: Thomas is a less-accomplished/less-developed version of 2013 first-round pick Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams). He's the fastest player in the nation with the ball in his hands, but he needs to make a more consistent impact in 2013.
Ten more to monitor
• DE Morgan Breslin, USC
• DE Scott Crichton*, Oregon State
• WR Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
• QB David Fales, San Jose State
• OLB A.J. Johnson*, Tennessee
• OLB Christian Jones, Florida State
• OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford
• RB Lache Seastrunk*, Baylor
• TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins*, Washington
• DE Will Sutton, Arizona State