ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has Jadeveon Clowney No. 1 on his early-bird 2014 “Big Board.” No surprise. Kiper says Clowney has been destined for this spot since high school in Rock Hill.

“Clowney marries extraordinary physical talent with an effective and still-growing arsenal of pass-rushing skills,” Kiper says of the junior defensive end. “Sure, he can occasionally play a little high, which allows teams to run on him, but he’s going to continue to get stronger and improve his technique. Let’s not call him a prospect – he’s a highly productive player.”

A bit surprising is Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd’s status ascent, not just in Kiper’s projection (Boyd is No. 20) but other 2014 mock drafts (top 10).

Caution: Kiper a year ago had Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas ranked as the second-best overall prospect for the 2013 draft. Thomas after a disappointing 2012 junior season will return to the Hokies for a senior year.

And Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley was Kiper’s long-range choice for first overall pick for the 2013 draft. Barkley lasted until the Philadelphia Eagles picked him in the fourth round of the draft last month.

Clemson junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins is No. 16 on Kiper’s new list.

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is No. 2 on the “Big Board.”

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.