Having success in college does not always mean a player will translate to the NFL. However, quite a few college stars will be among the early selections in the 2014 NFL draft.
These prospects have been productive on the field and have enough size, speed, strength and general ability to make it big at the next level. At the very least, they are worth taking a chance on if you were a general manager.
Here is a full first-round mock draft with a look at where some of the bigger college stars will land, as noted in italics.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Texans have a lot of options with the No. 1 pick, but there is no reason they should do anything besides draft the best quarterback available.
When healthy, Houston's defense is already among the best in the NFL, while the offense has plenty of weapons. Adding a quarterback could get this group back into the playoffs within a year.
Teddy Bridgewater has everything that a GM is looking for in a quarterback, and he should be the top player off the board in May.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Sam Bradford will likely get another chance to prove he can lead the Rams to success. However, he needs to be protected, which makes Jake Matthews a smart selection with the second pick.
He could have been a top-10 pick a year ago, but he returned to school to show he can handle playing left tackle. He did that and should now get his chance to perform in the NFL for the Rams.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Jaguars will not win too many games without a quarterback, so grabbing one in the draft has to be the primary need. Still, the question is which one should be taken with so many good options available.
While Blake Bortles has the talent to succeed in the NFL, no one in the draft is as electric as Johnny Manziel. The former Heisman winner can simply make things happen during a game—with his arm or his legs—and that leads to offensive success.
Still, there is plenty of risk, as no one knows what kind of NFL player Manziel will be. ESPN's Colin Cowherd tries to take a guess:
Johnny Manziel isn't Tebow. Not close. He can make the throws. He's 70% Flutie. 25% R Wilson and 5% Charlie Sheen.— Colin Cowherd (@ESPN_Colin) January 9, 2014
No matter what happens, Manziel is the type of exciting player who will bring a much-needed buzz to Jacksonville and possibly bring wins along with it. It is a risk but one worth taking for the Jaguars.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
While Cleveland only won four games this season, the roster has a lot of talent. This is evident by the fact that five players were named All-Pro.
The team only needs a quarterback to bring it all together, and Blake Bortles has the tools to make that happen. He has the size and mobility to extend plays and then find teammates down the field for big gains.
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Pairing him with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron could lead to big numbers out of the gate.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Considering the Raiders have struggled in the past while drafting for need over talent, they should change that strategy this year.
Many analysts will call Jadeveon Clowney the best player in the entire draft. He has the size and athleticism to make him a monster on the defensive side of the ball and almost unblockable in certain situations.
Even though the Raiders have needs on offense, Clowney can make the entire team better when he plays to his peak ability.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Falcons would love to see Clowney drop to them to improve the defensive line, but the offensive line also needs help if their first choice is unavailable.
Greg Robinson saw a huge boost to his stock in the BCS National Championship Game, as he cleared plenty of room for Tre Mason and Nick Marshall. The Falcons could use a good run blocker, and Robinson would be a big help immediately.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
After remaking the defensive secondary last offseason, the Buccaneers need to complete the defense by adding an intimidating pass-rusher off the edge.
Anthony Barr started his career at UCLA as a running back, but he became a star when he moved to the defensive side of the ball, reaching double-digit sacks in each of the past two years. With the right coaching, he could help the Tampa Bay defense become one of the best in the league.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Derek Carr dominated inferior competition throughout the regular season, leading the nation in passing yards and touchdowns. However, his struggles against USC in the Las Vegas Bowl were concerning.
Still, the Vikings need a fresh start at quarterback, and Carr can be brought along slowly until he is ready to contribute at a high level for Minnesota.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
It is true that Buffalo was second in the NFL with 57 sacks on the year and that there are big needs than another pass-rusher. That being said, grabbing Khalil Mack could allow the Bills to be dominant in the front seven, which will lead to more wins going forward.
He is a local product who can either get into the backfield or drop back into coverage, and this versatility would be a huge addition to any defense.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
There should be little debate about who is the best defensive back in this class. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi did a good job of explaining what makes Darqueze Dennard so good, via ESPN:
Darqueze is one of the best corners I've coached really in my 23 years of coaching. He was a Thorpe winner, I think that says enough. He's a lockdown corner, and people talk about how we put him on islands out there. We've got him on safety watch, but we put him on islands out there, and they do a pretty good job of putting people in lockdown.
Dennard has the size, quickness and instincts to be a very good cornerback at the next level, and he is skilled enough to make an impact right away.
Considering the Detroit Lions could use help at the position, this would be a great addition.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Titans have invested high picks in outside linebackers Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers in recent years, but now they need a middle linebacker who can bring it all together.
C.J. Mosley is a defensive leader who was all over the field for Alabama over the past few years. He should be able to step onto an NFL roster and instantly become the quarterback of the defense while making more than 100 tackles every season.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Although the Giants used a first-round pick on a tackle last season, they still need another one to protect Eli Manning's blind side. Taylor Lewan did this throughout his college career at Michigan.
Hopefully for New York, having time to throw will stop Manning from tossing so many interceptions.
13. St. Louis Rams: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Yes, the Rams drafted Tavon Austin early in the first round last season. However, Sammy Watkins is a completely different animal at wide receiver as someone who can be a true No. 1 target. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks he should be taken early in the draft:
On grades alone, not another WR in this year's crop that's close to Sammy Watkins.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 4, 2014
Watkins is a prototypical receiver who can pair with Austin and Chris Givens to give Bradford all the weapons he needs.
14. Chicago Bears: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Anyone who watched the Bears this season noticed one thing above everything else: They could not stop the run. The defense ranked dead last in the NFL, allowing 161.4 yards per game on the ground.
Adding the top-rated defensive tackle in the draft will at least help a little bit in this area. Louis Nix can clog the middle of the field and slow down the opposing attack, as long as someone else on the roster can tackle.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Pittsburgh has been unsuccessful at drafting offensive linemen over the past few seasons, but that does not mean the team should stop trying. It still needs to protect Ben Roethlisberger and clear room for the running game.
Although Cyrus Kouandjio was a bit inconsistent this year, he still has the potential to be an All-Pro offensive lineman, and he will fit well in the Steelers offense.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
A year after winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens looked lost on offense. Much of that was due to the poor play of the offensive line, and this is an area the team could look to improve.
However, the organization could also help out Joe Flacco by giving him an explosive weapon like Marqise Lee.
Despite a down year dealing with injuries, Lee is one of the best playmakers in this draft. He can get open and make big plays after the catch. Chris Sprow of ESPN had good things to say about him:
Marqise Lee has played 36 games and caught 248 passes for #USC. Time he got paid for it. Easy top-18 pick. Good call.— Chris Sprow (@SprowESPN) January 4, 2014
Although he does not have the size of someone like Mike Evans, Lee does more on his own and can score from anywhere on the field. His addition would improve this struggling offense from Day 1.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Cowboys were excited to switch back to a 4-3 defense at the start of last season, but they did not have the personnel to pull it off. Once DeMarcus Ware got hurt, there was no one capable of rushing the passer.
Kony Ealy is a versatile player who can fit in either the 3-4 or 4-3, and he can get into the backfield regardless of where he lines up. This type of pass rush will help improve the entire defense next season.
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Geno Smith did not have the rookie season that Jets fans were hoping, but he also did not have much around him to work with. Adding Mike Evans would give him a go-to option and make things a lot easier on the young quarterback.
Besides, it would be almost impossible for Smith to overthrow the 6'5" target.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
No team in the NFL allowed more sacks than the Dolphins this past season, and it seriously hurt Ryan Tannehill's ability to be effective down the stretch.
Although Zack Martin could end up playing guard at the next level, he has the talent to stick at tackle. Either way, he would aid a Dolphins unit that could use an upgrade almost across the board.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Arizona surprised many people this season with its strong play on both sides of the ball. However, the offense still has potential to get better with the addition of a legitimate weapon at tight end.
Eric Ebron is one of the more athletic players in the draft and can bolster an already solid corps of receiving targets for Carson Palmer.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Many of the Packers' problems this season had to do with injuries on the offensive end. That being said, the secondary was still an issue that led to a number of defeats over the course of the year.
Clinton-Dix is an impact player who is quick enough to cover ground in the defensive backfield and make up for mistakes from the rest of his teammates. Filling the biggest need with the best player at the position is a good way to draft.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Although Darqueze Dennard is the best cornerback in the draft, Justin Gilbert is not too far behind, as his athleticism could make him tough to beat at the next level.
With this pick, the Eagles would add a legitimate shutdown corner who can match up with some of the big receivers already in the NFC East.
23. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals have one of the more complete rosters in the NFL, but injuries showed that they lacked depth at cornerback. This immediately makes the position one of the bigger needs in the draft.
Jason Verrett would be the next best available CB. He has good speed and instincts to cover receivers either on the outside or in the slot.
24. Kansas City Chiefs: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Although Jace Amaro might not have been a household name at the college level, few players at the position were more impressive.
The Texas Tech star finished seventh in the country with 106 receptions, and his 1,352 yards ranked 11th. Both of these stats were the best among tight ends.
He has great hands as well as the size at 6'5" to be a great target all over the field. This could make him a dangerous weapon in the red zone.
On the Chiefs, he could be a safety net for Alex Smith and help expand an offense that was too one-dimensional.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Although this might be a bit of a reach, Bradley Roby has shown the potential to be a quality cornerback in the NFL. The question is whether he can maintain any sort of consistency at the position.
San Diego can use an upgrade at cornerback, so it might be worth taking this chance in the first round.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
After adding a quarterback earlier in the draft, the Browns must make sure to continue to load up on weapons to help him out. Odell Beckham does not have elite size, but he has great hands and is quick enough to make people miss with and without the ball.
Adding a running back is also a priority, but plenty should be available in the next few rounds.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The Saints defense improved tremendously from a year ago, but it could still use some upgrades. Ryan Shazier would help as a consistent tackler with great closing speed against the run.
He should be able to slide right into the middle of the defense and make an impact in his first year.
28. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
New England's run defense was poor this season, although a lot of that can be blamed on injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. However, this is just another reason that the team should add depth and youth at defensive tackle.
Ra'Shede Hageman has enough size to take on blockers on the defensive line, but he is also agile enough to get into the backfield. Learning from Wilfork will also advance his career going forward.
29. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Although Kelvin Benjamin has not yet declared for the draft, the 23-year-old sophomore has a chance to move onto the next level after a breakout season.
The 6'5" receiver made the biggest catch in college football this year with this touchdown grab over Auburn's Chris Davis:
Here's a photo of the game-winning Florida State TD pass from Jameis Winston to Kelvin Benjamin (US-Presswire): pic.twitter.com/D3yChmJCI4— Daniel Martin (@DMartinCSN) January 7, 2014
In reality, his size will allow him to replicate this feat very often at the next level. He can jump for 50/50 balls, and he is just as skilled in making plays after the catch.
The 49ers have some talented players in the receiving corps, but few of them have the size to be a dominant target. Benjamin could make a difference immediately and become an impact player in San Francisco's biggest area of need.
30. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Carolina has put together a surprising season thanks to an elite defense and a strong rushing attack. One area that needs to be improved is the passing game, which is only weak due to the lack of weapons for Cam Newton.
Allen Robinson is still raw as a receiver, but he has the measurables that everyone looks for at the position. He could be a big help to the offense.
31. Denver Broncos: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Broncos struggled to generate a pass rush this season. Shaun Phillips filled in well when Von Miller was unavailable, but more help is always appreciated in this area.
Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt has been productive throughout his career and should be able to translate this success to the next level.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Jordan Matthews has been one of the most productive players in college football over the past two years, totaling 206 catches for 2,800 receiving yards.
Although the Seahawks have a quality set of receivers already on the roster, Matthews would be yet another option for Russell Wilson.
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