NFL Draft Predictions 2014: Projecting Shocking Picks That Will Thrive in Pros

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 23, 2013

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 23: Sammy Watkins #2 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the game against the Citadel Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)
Tyler Smith/Getty Images

Making predictions for the 2014 NFL draft this early on is exciting and open to plenty of creative latitude and interpretation, because a myriad of factors are still to be decided.

The final order has to be set, free agency still has to run its course, collegiate players still need to declare and there are even a couple of games remaining this season for teams to evaluate what they have now.

Based on what the league landscape looks like now, though, some franchises are positioned to utilize their draft leverage to make shocking selections.

Let's take a look at some of those prospective controversial picks and how they will thrive with their pro teams if they land there.


Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina) No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 30:  Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates after defeating the Clemson Tigers 31-17 after their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Get
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

General manager Rick Smith has an interesting decision to make. Choosing a quarterback is wise, but the prospect of having Clowney and J.J. Watt on the same defensive line should prove to be too irresistible to pass up.

Plus, Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler is due to be a free agent, and Smith could also make a play to trade for Washington signal-caller Kirk Cousins.

Veteran beat writer John McClain of the Houston Chronicle has a rather maverick draft strategy that involves Clowney, per Ari Temkin of 1250 ESPN San Antonio:

Clowney is 6'6" and 274 pounds with incredible speed and athleticism for a young man his size. Even from the outset in the NFL, he will likely command double-teams, rendering him and Watt just about unstoppable on paper.

There is also the possibility that the Texans could trade down out of the No. 1 spot if it doesn't drop them too far, swapping picks with a team desperate to take a QB.

However, if Clowney is the desired target, maybe one team would pass on him before he would go off the board.

This is one of the most unique defensive prospects in the history of football. Houston may already have plenty of resources on defense, but adding Clowney to the fold would make the Texans defense terrifying for any opponent.


Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson): No. 2 overall to the St. Louis Rams

CLEMSON, SC - AUGUST 31:  Sammy Watkins #2 of the Clemson Tigers during their game at Memorial Stadium on August 31, 2013 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Thanks to the huge trade Washington swung to land Robert Griffin III in 2012, St. Louis is armed with two first-round picks. QB Sam Bradford needs more weapons, namely a true No. 1 wide receiver.

That is what Watkins would provide, but there's a good chance he'll be gone by the time the Rams have another pick. Tavon Austin was chosen ninth overall last year and can fill the slot role and be electric as a returner.

What St. Louis lacks is a bigger target on the outside who can win jump balls on a consistent basis and run precise enough routes to create separation and become a star.'s Bucky Brooks provided his take on Watkins in a Nov. 15 evaluation:

...It is apparent that Watkins has regained his spectacular form as a junior. He has been sensational as an all-around playmaker on the perimeter and has displayed noticeable improvement as a route runner. Factoring in his renewed concentration and focus, Watkins will captivate the imagination of coaches and scouts looking for a Torrey Smith-like playmaker to add to the line-up.

Chris Givens has speed but lacks polish and is still a bit of a project. Brian Quick's talent hasn't converted into becoming the top receiver the Rams expected entering his third season.

Watkins is the clear-cut best wideout in a class loaded with playmakers, so St. Louis would be wise to flank Bradford—who is coming off an ACL tear—with as much firepower as possible to see if he truly is a franchise signal-caller.


Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina): No. 14 overall to the New York Jets

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 17:  Eric Ebron #85 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Kenan Stadium on October 17, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Taking a tight end this high is almost unheard of. The last one to pan out with such gaudy status is San Francisco 49ers star Vernon Davis, who was chosen sixth overall in 2006.

Ebron still needs to pack on a few more pounds at 6'4", 231 pounds, but he is an outstanding pass-catcher and the type of game-changer the Jets need on offense.

Quarterback Geno Smith has had a roller-coaster rookie campaign that has consisted of more valleys than peaks and a ton of turnovers. Jeremy Kerley is the leading receiver with 33 receptions and 413 yards, so Smith needs help.

Tight end Jeff Cumberland leads the Jets with four TD receptions. Upgrading to the more athletic Ebron could really open up the offense in the red zone, where the Jets were 30th in the league entering Week 16, scoring touchdowns just 48.5 percent of the time, per

With the matchup problems tight ends create, it would be smart for the Jets to invest in Ebron, since he's able to split out wide as well.

As the tape showcases, Ebron has incredible hands and the ability to make acrobatic catches, and he uses all of his frame to snag the ball at its highest point whenever possible. He's also taken some punishing hits and is dangerous after the catch.

All of those factors point to Ebron being a polarizing pick since he'll be off the board so early. GM John Idzik will have made a wise choice, though, giving Smith and Co. a cornerstone at tight end for years to come.