2014 NFL Draft Projections: Early Predictions for Where Top Stars Will Land

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2014

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies rolls out and looks downfield to pass during the the Chick-fil-A Bowl game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

The 2014 NFL draft has no shortage of stars who can change the fortunes of a franchise in the blink of an eye.

This classification is not limited to a top-heavy quarterback class, although the inclusion of a pro-ready gunslinger from Louisville and the first-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy helps assure the position will be barren midway through the opening round.

There are defenders and skill players with the ability to change a franchise as well. These stars with a rare impact certainly will not last long come draft day. For now, their destinations are clear.

1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Dec 28, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; Louisville Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) sets to throw during the second half of the Russell Athletic Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Spo
Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

There is no question that Teddy Bridgewater is the top quarterback in the 2014 class.

While detractors will surely rear their heads on the path to draft, they will be like those people in search of "contenders" for Peyton Manning's MVP award this season—they are just on the hunt for entertainment in a race that has already been decided.

Former Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien has worked with Tom Brady in the past, so he has to love this description of Bridgewater from NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, per Chase Goodbread:

Teddy Bridgewater is like Aaron Rodgers to me. Aaron Rodgers entered the league at 6-2, 202 pounds. He was a guy that I graded as a bottom-of-the-first-round player. It took him a couple years in the league before he found his niche, then he (went on) to be an NFL MVP. ... I think Teddy Bridgewater's a fascinating player, he's just not in that Andrew Luck category.

O'Brien needs a franchise quarterback to bet his job on, and a player such as Bridgewater with an Aaron Rodgers aspect to his game is the safest bet of all.

The Texans are one solid quarterback away from contention, and Bridgewater may have what it takes thanks to his devotion to the sport and his pro-ready game.

2. St. Louis Rams: Jadeveon Clowney, DE

Jan 1, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) in the second quarter as the South Carolina beats Wisconsin 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl at Florida Citrus Bowl. Shaw was named game MVP. Mandatory Credit: David M
David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney will not be going deep and hauling in touchdown receptions, but a comparison to Randy Moss made by one AFC East scout makes sense, per CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler:

He's a modern day Randy Moss. J.C. doesn't have the same type of criminal background as Randy did when he was his age, but the dependence on natural talent and problematic effort concerns are very similar. Difference is, Clowney won't fall out of the top-seven like Randy did.

Clowney battled a foot injury and was seemingly fatigued at some points last season, which caused some to wonder if he was playing not to get hurt.

But there is no question Clowney is a top player in the 2014 draft. While he will not always make bone-jarring hits worthy of the highlight reel, he is a player offenses must scheme around at all times.

St. Louis is a logical fit, especially if the Rams fail to pull off another highway robbery and trade down. They already have a franchise quarterback and can wait until their second first-round pick to address the offensive trenches in a deep class.

Clowney joins Chris Long and Robert Quinn on what was already one of the NFL's most feared defensive fronts.

4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Nov 30, 2013; Columbia, MO, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) scrambles to the outside against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

In what is becoming a popular notion, the Cleveland Browns and Johnny Manziel seem like the perfect marriage. Todd McShay concurs, per NFL on ESPN:

Manziel makes sense in the first round. In today's NFL, teams simply cannot afford to pass on a player with the abilities Manziel brings to the table, which would explain why the NFL Draft Advisory Committee gave him a first-round grade, per ESPN's Joe Schad:

Fans could drown in the overwhelming statistics from Manziel's two collegiate seasons, but more impressive is his fit at the pro level. Manziel has an escapability that is comparable to that of Dallas' Tony Romo or Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger—meaning he can escape in a blitz-happy league and take advantage through the air. 

Pair that trait with a receiver such as Josh Gordon or a tight end such as Jordan Cameron, and the Browns are suddenly a serious threat in the AFC North and beyond. 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

Jan 3, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Sammy Watkins (2) carries the ball during the first half in the 2014 Orange Bowl college football game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has some words about Sammy Watkins that still ring true today:

But some, such as ESPN's Adam Caplan, are hearing that Watkins' height may be an issue:

Tell that to Tavon Austin, who went No. 8 overall to the Rams last year.

The reality is simple—the NFL now greatly features game-changing slot receivers and moves them around to increase their impact. Watkins has elite speed, unquestioned hands and the ability to turn any touch into a touchdown.

There is no competition to Watkins' status as the No. 1 receiver in the class. A fit with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers makes the most sense. Quarterback Mike Glennon earned another look at the starting job, and Watkins would see plenty of attention with defenses focused on Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin.

Watkins is the best choice for Tampa Bay, as he is a weapon that can take any offense to the next level.

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