The NFL regular season is winding down, and the 2014 NFL draft is now less than five months away.
Although the official first-round draft order has yet to be determined, there are no secrets surrounding the topflight prospects set to take the stage in New York City next spring.
Below I'll project where the most coveted talents will land next May.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: No. 1 Houston Texans (2-13)
With Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston ineligible for the 2014 NFL draft, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is arguably the top quarterback available this year.
Which QB would the Texans be better off drafting?
Therefore, you can expect him to go No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans, who are poised to go in a new direction under center following a shockingly bad year from veteran Matt Schaub. Unlike many teams in search of a franchise quarterback, the Texans are built to win right now, ranking seventh in total defense and boasting one of the best running backs in the game in Arian Foster.
Consequently, adding a player of Bridgewater's caliber to the mix could result in a quick turnaround.
Bridgewater boasts prototypical height, weight and speed for an NFL quarterback and is capable of making all the throws he'll be asked to make at the next level. In addition to his accuracy, Bridgewater possesses excellent arm strength and pocket mobility.
His poise and work ethic set him apart as well.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11)
With the Houston Texans likely eyeing a quarterback and the St. Louis Rams already boasting a ferocious defensive front led by sack masters Robert Quinn and Chris Long, the Jacksonville Jaguars look to be the best fit for South Carolina stud Jadeveon Clowney at No. 3 overall.
Although his 2013 season has paled in comparison to his previous two seasons with the Gamecocks, Clowney has all the physical tools to be a future Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL.
He recorded 21.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks in 2012 and has seven forced fumbles for his career.
At 6'6", 270 pounds, Clowney is an undeniable presence on the edge with the ability to turn in an impact play on each and every down. He'll have to erase doubts regarding his work ethic, but unless something dramatic happens between now and next spring, Clowney looks to be a surefire top-five selection.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: No. 5 Cleveland Browns (4-11)
With several teams in dire need of a quality offensive signal-caller, expect Texas A&M's Johnny Football to make his way off the board early on next spring.
One team that could take Manziel inside the top five is Cleveland, a team that has seen a plethora of quarterbacks come and go over the years. While the Browns obviously have several key needs they'll need to address, it's difficult to imagine them taking the next step without a franchise quarterback under center.
ESPNCleveland.com's Aaron Goldhammer tweets that, according to colleague Tony Grossi, some within the Browns organization hold Manziel in high regard and believe he could be the first quarterback taken in May:
Grossi on how the Browns feel about Manziel: "The owner loves him." Says coaches will have huge say in decision.— Aaron Goldhammer (@HammerNation19) December 13, 2013
Grossi says he thinks Manziel will be gone by the time the Browns pick. Could be first QB off the board...— Aaron Goldhammer (@HammerNation19) December 18, 2013
The biggest questions facing the explosive dual-threat passer are his size, accuracy and focus. If he can impress at the scouting combine and perform well during the interview process, he'll have a shot to win over a desperate franchise like the Browns.
Keep in mind that Manziel is only a redshirt sophomore and still has two more years of college eligibility if he opts to return to Texas A&M in 2014.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: No. 7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11)
There isn't a more explosive offensive playmaker set to enter the NFL in 2014 than Clemson's Sammy Watkins. The junior wideout boasts ideal size and speed for the next level and possesses tremendous big-play ability.
For a team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who rank 32nd and 22nd in passing and rushing offense, respectively, Watkins would be a welcome addition.
His ability to separate from defenders and attack the ball make him a coveted weapon that's sure to come off the board early, per NFL.com's Charles Davis:
Watkins, a junior, has yet to declare for the draft -- but the talk from NFL circles indicates Watkins is viewed as potentially the best wide receiver in the draft. That debate will intensify as we get closer to the draft, but scouts love his speed and big-play ability. He can be a major factor as a kick returner, too. Every time he touches the ball, it can be a huge play.
In Tampa Bay, Watkins would complement Vincent Jackson nicely and provide the Bucs with a much-needed threat down the field and on special teams.
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