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Which NFL Draft Prospects Are in Play for the No. 1 Overall Pick?

Michael SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterDecember 18, 2013

Which NFL Draft Prospects Are in Play for the No. 1 Overall Pick?

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    While a handful of teams are still jockeying for playoff seeding, many fanbases have shifted their focus toward the NFL draft, where hope springs eternal and everyone is a future Hall of Fame player—at least for one night. 

    A group of teams still have the ability to lose their way into the first overall pick, and a number of prospects still have tough decisions to make about their draft status. Because of that, a bunch of possible combinations still exist for that top spot. 

    Bridgewater vs. Clowney: That's the showdown we've been talking about since last April. Would South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney continue to reveal himself as a once-in-a-lifetime prospect, or would Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater simply be too enticing for a franchise looking to change its fate with a talented passer?

    Months later, even more names have joined the fray as an exciting college season has played itself out and the NFL has produced some interesting bottom-of-the-barrel teams that no one expected. 

    Who could take the honors that go with being the top pick? Click ahead and see. 

Just Outside the Field

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    Blake Bortles (QB Central Florida)—The fast-rising QB prospect has drawn plenty of praise over the course of the past season, as UCF is headed to the Fiesta Bowl.

    Fringe first-rounder to No. 1 overall is a pretty massive jump, but with Oregon QB Marcus Mariota back to school and LSU's Zach Mettenberger dealing with an injury, Bortles could vault the field—especially if Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater decides to stay in school. 

     

    Johnny Manziel (QB Texas A&M)—If you had asked me after last season (and plenty did) whether Manziel would be a good pro quarterback, I would've answered "no." Yet, after an offseason working with noted QB guru George Whitfield, Manziel has taken huge strides as a passer.

    Johnny F'in Football is a polarizing prospect, but it only takes one team to fall in love with a guy to make him No. 1.

     

    Sammy Watkins (WR Clemson)—Watkins may be the best offensive player in the draft who isn't named Bridgewater. If the top team decides it doesn't need a QB or doesn't like the options available, Watkins is going to be whispered. Still, receivers don't usually go No. 1, and it would take a considerable pre-draft push to get Watkins up there. 

     

    Cyrus Kouandjio (OT Alabama)—2013 was the "fatty draft," as many have coined it. With so many linemen going in the first round, it seems unlikely that trend will continue, but if Kouandjio works out well, he could jump into the top spot. Remember, no one thought Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher was a top prospect in December of last year, either. 

Jake Matthews (OT Texas A&M)

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    Matt Miller's Latest Mock: No. 2 to St. Louis Rams (from Washington)

    Possibly Interested Teams: Houston, St. Louis, Atlanta

     

    Last year, as scouts and media were dissecting top tackle prospects like Eric Fisher, the Jacksonville Jaguars' Luke Joeckel and the Philadelphia Eagles' Lane Johnson, many cast their eyes also toward 2014, where Jake Matthews and Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan looked to be prized prospects as well. 

    Although Lewan has struggled, Matthews has taken this season to prove he's more than just a right tackle-only prospect and certainly not many steps behind Joeckel, who protected Johnny Manziel's blindside when he and Matthews bookended him at Texas A&M. 

    Matthews is this low on the list because two of those interested teams above would probably consider him a right tackle prospectthey already have Duane Brown (Houston) and Jake Long (St. Louis). Even Atlanta, with Lamar Holmes and Sam Baker, might believe those two are "good enough" to handle the spot in 2014. 

    It might take a massive push for Matthews to reach the highest height of this draft class, but the athleticism, technique, pedigree and upside are all there to at least keep him in the conversation between now and the draft on May 8. 

Anthony Barr (LB UCLA)

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    Matt Miller's Latest Mock: No. 3 to Atlanta Falcons

    Possibly Interested Teams: Houston, St. Louis (from Washington), Atlanta, Minnesota, Jacksonville

     

    Perhaps the most intriguing piece to Anthony Barr's draft "stock" (a term that exists in the media, but not really in league circles) is how many teams will covet his services. As a linebacker who can rush the passer and fits in both the 4-3 and the 3-4, he's drawn comparisons to the Denver Broncos' Von Miller—well, maybe without the off-field issues. 

    In addition to the teams listed above, teams like the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders could find themselves wanting to move up to grab him. The more teams that are interested in him, the crazier the market could become. Throw in some instability if more top picks return to school, and we could have a bidding war in a hurry. 

    Every team needs another pass-rusher. The way the game is played today, there's always room for dynamic athletes who can disrupt the explosive offenses that aren't just the hallmark of elite teams these days, but almost every team is bringing a potential 300-yard passer to Sunday afternoon. 

Derek Carr (QB Fresno State)

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    Matt Miller's Latest Mock: No. 5 to Jacksonville Jaguars

    Possibly Interested Teams: Houston, St. Louis (from Washington), Minnesota, Jacksonville

     

    With Oregon's Marcus Mariota returning to school, Derek Carr has become the de facto No. 2 quarterback in this draft class. Now, with reports that Teddy Bridgewater is still undecided on leaving for the NFL, Carr may find himself as the top dog. 

    The potential storyline of Carr going to Houston, where his older brother, David, failed spectacularly, is almost too good not to talk about. Derek has 10 times the pocket presence of the former Texans quarterback and the team is much better equipped to support a franchise passer, but a large segment of the fanbase would likely revolt at the notion of another Carr in the garage.

    Can Carr possibly jump Bridgewater? It's possible, as the measurables and arm strength are certainly there. Still, tape rules in the minds of most NFL decision-makers, and that tape says Bridgewater is a few clicks above his passing peers. 

    Remember what I said in the first slide about Johnny Manziel, however. It only takes one team, and if the team with the top pick falls in love with Carr in a workout or in the interview room, stranger things have certainly happened. 

Jadeveon Clowney (DE South Carolina)

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    Matt Miller's Latest Mock: No. 1 to Houston Texans

    Possibly Interested Teams: Houston, St. Louis (from Washington), Atlanta, Minnesota, Jacksonville

     

    Here's the battle we've all expected to see: Can Jadeveon Clowney wrest the top pick from Teddy Bridgewater?

    Clowney has had a disappointing season, in part because the overblown hype was almost impossible to live up to. In NFL circles, scouts are still very high on Clowney, and high-ranking personnel men I've talked to still consider him a near-perfect pass-rushing prospect. You don't hear the same knocks from those guys that one does from the media—nonsense like conditioning, drive, motor, etc. 

    In Houston, Clowney could bookend with defensive end J.J. Watt in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 (depending on what the new coach decides to run). He could even have the potential to stand up and be a rush-only outside linebacker in a 3-4—a position for which Houston has gone to the well many times and come up empty. 

    St. Louis is an even more interesting situation. First, how badly could Washington's defense use a player like Clowney—especially with linebacker Brian Orakpo coming up on a big contract? For the Rams, though, it's tough to figure out where Clowney would even play with stud defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long in town. 

    Guess what: You find a spot for a player like Clowney. 

    Atlanta and Minnesota both have clear needs. Minnesota, for sure, as it's likely defensive Jared Allen ends up elsewhere after the season. Some Jacksonville fans wanted Clowney at No. 1, so they'd be very happy if both he and they end up a match a few spots later. 

    Wherever Clowney ends up in the draft or in the NFL, he'll be an impact player for years to come. 

Teddy Bridgewater (QB Louisville)

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    Matt Miller's Latest Mock: No. 4 to Minnesota Vikings

    Possibly Interested Teams: Houston, St. Louis (from Washington), Minnesota, Jacksonville

     

    If Teddy Bridgewater enters the draft, he should be the top pick...period. 

    At least, that's my opinion. Others in the media have differing opinions. My colleague Matt Miller, as you can see above, has Bridgewater falling because he sees bigger needs for the top three teams in his mock—Houston, St. Louis and Atlanta.

    Atlanta I can agree with, as Matt Ryan is the franchise passer there. However, in Houston (with Case Keenum) and in St. Louis (with Sam Bradford's deal looking financially viable to jettison in 2014), the case can certainly be made that Bridgewater is a significant upgrade. 

    The biggest knock on Bridgewater is his size, which is slight, at a listed 6'3" and just under 200 pounds. You know what, though? He's going to show up to the combine and not run, having packed on 10 pounds of pure muscle from pre-combine training. That's how this game works. 

    Then (and with all due respect to the University of Louisville), Bridgewater is going to be inserted into an NFL-caliber weight room, nutrition program and football 24/7 (even more so than college football) where he'll continue to grow, mature and shed any talk of him being "small"—a silly notion in the first place. 

    Wherever Bridgewater ends up—in 2013 or 2014—the team will be receiving a franchise-caliber passer who can immediately change the stars of the entire team in one pick. He'll make everyone on the offense better and put less pressure on the defense. He has that kind of ability, even right away. 

     

    Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.

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