NFL Draft 2014: Breaking Down Top Prospects at Skill Positions

Kenny DeJohnAnalyst IIIDecember 30, 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

Teams selecting early in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft will be pleased to know that they'll be getting big-time talent at skill positions that will make an impact in the league for years to come.

Drafting quality skill players can be difficult. Oftentimes highly touted skill players don't pan out (names like Ted Ginn Jr. and Ron Dayne immediately come to mind). Relying heavily on scouting and making smart decisions will ultimately be what leads teams to making the right selection on draft day.

This year's draft is chock full of talented skill players. The wide receivers class is especially deep, as are the cornerback and quarterback classes. Some of the best players in the nation happen to play at these three positions, and they'll be the ones who hear their names called early on draft day.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 30:  Sammy Watkins #2 of the Clemson Tigers listens to music as he warms up before their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Leck
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is a near-lock to be the No. 1 wideout taken on draft day and also a near lock to be selected within the top 10.

The 6'1" junior hauled in 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns this season at Clemson, and his speed and explosiveness off the line of scrimmage made him a threat in the vertical passing game on every snap.

Watkins posted eerily similar numbers in 2011, so to say this season was a fluke would be inaccurate. This guy is the real deal, and the team that drafts him will be getting a stud for the foreseeable future.

The separation he gets from defenders off the line because of his speed makes him an easy target for a quarterback. He creates so much space between himself and defenders that quarterbacks can afford to be less than perfectly accurate. Plus, his hands and receiving skills make him a reliable option even in decent coverage.

Rob Rang of CBSSports.com projects Watkins to play similarly in the NFL to one of the game's faster receivers:

Quick, strong and possessing the explosive speed to burn corners who challenge him in bump and run coverage, Watkins projects as an ideal flanker in much the same mold as Pierre Garcon (6-0, 212).

Garcon has found plenty of success in the NFL. So will Watkins.

Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 07:  Darqueze Dennard #31 of the Michigan State Spartans breaks up a pass to Devin Smith #9 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Big Ten Conference Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 7, 2013 in Indianapolis, In
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Cornerback Darqueze Dennard highlights a deep class of corners and safeties, and Dennard will likely be the first of the group to get selected. He looks like a nice option at No. 12 for the Detroit Lions.

Dennard recorded four interceptions and deflected 10 passes during his senior season at Michigan State, and the talented Spartans defense certainly benefitted from having him match up against the opposition's best receivers.

With 51 tackles on the year, it's also evident that Dennard is capable of making hits in the open field. He is on the smaller side compared to most wide receivers (5'11", 197 pounds), but that doesn't stop him from matching up well against them.

He won the Thorpe Award for the nation's top defensive back in 2013, as he allowed just three completions in 31 attempts of balls thrown at least 15 yards against him. That type of dominance is too valuable to pass up for teams in need of defensive help.

It may take him some time to get used to the flow of the NFL, but Dennard has the speed and instincts to make an impact in his rookie season.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 30:  Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies scrambles as defensive lineman Harold Brantley #90 of the Missouri Tigers chases during the game on November 30, 2013 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty I
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There are conflicting opinions regarding Johnny Manziel's future in the NFL, but the sophomore quarterback is more than athletic enough to make plays at any level. While he might not be the superstar in the NFL that he has been at Texas A&M, there's still a strong chance he develops into a consistent signal-caller in the pros.

George Whitfield, a quarterbacks coach who has trained Manziel, told Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com that Manziel has an interesting physical trait that makes him special.

"Having those big hands not only helps him tote the ball in traffic, but he can basically go all through his motion and still pull the ball back."

Feldman, who then proceeded to note that Whitfield has worked with Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger in the past, considers Manziel a freak in terms of athleticism.

The sophomore passed for over 3,700 yards and 33 touchdowns following his Heisman-winning 2012. His ability to make plays both in the air and on the ground make him an attractive option for teams willing to take a chance on a less-traditional quarterback.