Mel Kiper releases his first 2014 NFL Draft Big Board

South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) is the biggest, scariest dude in college football right now. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) is the biggest, scariest dude in college football right now. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The 2013 NFL Draft came and went with surprises and storylines aplenty. Some of the events of the weekend were directly related to on-field issues, while others came as complete surprises. ESPN Draft expert Mel Kiper had Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o rated as the top player at his position prior to the start of the 2012 season. After a 100-plus tackle year and a runner-up Heisman Trophy finish, Kiper’s pick of Te’o looked more gold than the Irish star’s helmet.

However, no one could have known his dead girlfriend was a fake. As much as teams will say his slip was directly related to physical testing, why would general managers want to bring such a distraction into the locker room?

USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley looked like a surefire, No. 1-overall pick when he decided to return for his senior year, but he wound up being taken in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles. Ouch.

Well, Kiper tries his expert hand at it once again with his first 2014 NFL Draft Big Board. While we just spent the last few paragraphs pointing out his mistakes, the reality is that those are only two players and, for the most part, Kiper knows what he’s talking about.

So, with all that nonsense out of the way, who does Kiper see as the most valuable player for next year’s NFL Draft?

[Related: Sport Illustrated releases way too early 2014 NFL Draft]

25. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M Aggies

24. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington Huskies

23. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU Cougars

22. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU Tigers

21. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson Tigers

20. Aaron Lynch, DE, USF Bulls

19. Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State Seminoles

18. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M Aggies

17. CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama Crimson Tide

16. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson Tigers

15. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State Seminoles

14. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon Ducks

13. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

12. Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama Crimson Tide

11. Antonio Richardson, OT, Texas Longhorns

10. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB/WR, Florida Gators

9. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State Buckeyes

8. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan Wolverines

7. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

6. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M Aggies

5. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA Bruins

4. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama Crimson Tide

3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC Trojans

2. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville Cardinals

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina Gamecocks

No surprises here. We are going to be hearing a lot about Clowney, Bridegwater and Lee throughout the year. All are the very early preseason favorites, along with Johnny Manziel, to make a run at the Heisman Trophy — barring any fake girlfriend hoopla on the part of Clowney, he could be the first exclusively defensive player to win the dang thing.

Anthony Barr plays all the way out on the West Coast and only made the switch from offense to defense recently. However, the move has been a real home run, and he should be the premier defensive player in the Pac-12 in 2013.

The 2013 Draft was dominated by the “big uglies,” and there will be plenty to choose from yet again in ’14. Michigan’s Taylor Lewan probably sacrificed a top 10 selection by deciding to stay in school, as did A&M’s Jake Matthews. As for Alabama’s Kouandjio, well, the guy’s just a freak of nature. If he comes out early, he will be selected before he even turns 21.

Of course, the big elephant in the room is the small quarterback. After becoming the first freshman to ever win the Heisman, Manziel barely cracks the top 25. At this juncture, scouts are doubtful of his arm strength and apprehensive over all the running and improvisation. Should he continue to get stronger and smarter and stay healthy, he will continue to rise up Kiper’s Big Board.


PREP YOURSELF: You have never heard of these guys, but you will be toasting them in 2013