When an NFL team invests a first-round pick in a prospect, it expects to receive an impact player. Perhaps not right away, but at some point within the first three seasons, the team needs to get high-level production in order to consider the selection a success.
As always, there were a couple picks from the opening round that stood out. It normally happens when a player that wasn't directly on the radar goes earlier than expected. The selection is often labeled a reach, and it's up to the player to prove the doubters wrong.
Let's examine three prospects who fall in that category this year. They will all be under immense pressure to prove they warranted going on Day 1. Should they live up to the hype, the teams will deserve plenty of credit for making the right call.
D.J. Hayden (Oakland Raiders)
The Raiders are betting on a storybook comeback from Hayden. He suffered a life-threatening injury during his final season at Houston, which caused his draft stock to go through turmoil. It's always tough to get a read on how a player will rebound from that type of scary situation.
Oakland had enough faith to use the 12th overall pick on him. Based on talent alone, it's a reasonable selection. He was having a strong season with the Cougars, showcasing solid cover skills and NFL-worthy closing speed.
Once he returns to game action, the Raiders will see if he's all the way back to full strength. That's what it would take for him to excel at the next level. Until that happens, there will be question marks, but the risk could pay off in a big way.
EJ Manuel (Buffalo Bills)
The Bills needed to draft a quarterback of the future. In that respect, they accomplished a goal in Round 1. The decision to take Manuel over Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib, who was new head coach Doug Marrone's college QB, was a surprise.
Manuel is a talented prospect, but he's very much a work in progress who's going to become a project for the Bills coaching staff. The team must figure out a way to turn his raw talent into NFL ability on the fly. That's always a tall task.
The size, athleticism and arm strength are there, which is something the Bills haven't been able to say about a quarterback in awhile. But normally, teams take these types of chances later in the draft. Buffalo's need at the position was the trump card. Now, Manuel must prove the front office right.
Justin Pugh (New York Giants)
It's a deep offensive line class that should produce a solid group of starters. Pugh's name wasn't generating nearly as much hype as those tackles and guards drafted around him. The Giants didn't let that stop them form picking him at No. 19.
Whereas the Raiders and Bills are two franchises going through extended playoff droughts, the Giants have had a lot of success in recent years. Due to that, they would usually receive the benefit of the doubt, but taking Pugh was a perplexing choice.
Listed as a tackle, Pugh would be better served as a guard in the NFL. He doesn't possess great size and will need to bulk up to thrive on the interior. The Syracuse product is a good overall athlete, so that's what the Giants are probably banking on, but there's work to do.
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