The 2014 NFL draft is approaching fast. The event is scheduled for May 8-10, and the chatter around the league has shifted toward the latest projections and predictions for the most polarizing players in this year’s class.
Mainstream names like Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater have all been projected to go No. 1 overall at some point in their collegiate careers, and where each will ultimately land is the focus of much debate.
Here are the latest projections for the most talked about prospects in the 2014 draft class.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Where He’ll Land: No. 1 Overall (Houston Texans)
While there is no questioning the raw talent that former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel possesses, the debate about where he should be drafted has already begun heating up.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has Manziel going to the Cleveland Browns at No. 4, but veteran draft guru Mel Kiper has him being selected No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans:
The Texans already have three quarterbacks on the roster with Matt Schaub, T. J. Yates and Case Keenum. None of these players proved they deserve the franchise quarterback moniker, and drafting a quarterback at No. 1 overall must be a consideration.
Houston had a terrible year in 2013, but there is enough talent on the offensive and defensive side of the ball for them to be an immediate threat in the AFC South next season. Led by new head coach and quarterback specialist Bill O’Brien, taking the educated risk with Manziel could be a stroke of genius.
Just as Pete Carroll hit the jackpot with Russell Wilson in Seattle, O’Brien will be looking to make an instant impact that will launch his team into the postseason.
There are questions about Manziel’s character and his ability to adapt to the NFL at a smaller size, but his one-of-a-kind elusiveness, agility and arm strength make him a prospect that the Houston Texans shouldn’t pass on.
Picking Manziel is a risk, but the upside for the former Heisman Trophy-winner is undeniable.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Where He’ll Land: No. 2 Overall (St. Louis Rams; pick will be traded)
There are still several opportunities for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to prove that he deserves to be considered for the No. 1 overall draft position, but currently, he is projected to go No. 2.
It won’t be the St. Louis Rams selecting him, though.
Known as one of the more savvy teams in the NFL, the Rams will trade the pick to the highest bidder as the frenzy over a pass-rushing defensive end and other top quarterbacks envelops the top five.
With St. Louis being solid at both of those positions, the franchise would be smart to trade down.
There is no denying the raw size, athleticism and speed of Clowney. At 6’5” and 275 pounds with unbelievable first-step explosiveness, the defensive end is the kind of athlete that doesn’t come around often.
There are concerns about Clowney’s character, though, as an unidentified AFC East scout told CBS Sports' 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.
Whether Clowney was mailing in his effort in his final collegiate season or his lack of production can be attributed to being overwhelmed by the attention sent his way by blockers, he has the chance to erase all of the doubt with a stellar showing at the scouting combine and the right attitude throughout the draft process.
If an organization feels Clowney is mature enough to become the face of a franchise, the Rams will trade the No. 2 pick and allow another team—like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Atlanta Falcons—to make a blockbuster move.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Where He’ll Land: No. 3 Overall (Jacksonville Jaguars)
With Manziel projected to go No. 1 overall, the next quarterback left on most scouts’ boards would be Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville.
As previously mentioned, St. Louis boasts Sam Bradford at quarterback already, making the team a favorable candidate to trade the No. 2 pick away to the highest bidder.
That leaves the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3 to grab a player the franchise will hope blossoms into their franchise quarterback. Failed experiments like Blaine Gabbert have plagued the franchise for too long, and a talented prospect like Bridgewater offers a promising solution.
Bridgewater is rough around the edges and will take time to adjust to the speed and intensity of the NFL, but with his raw power and accuracy in the pocket—not to mention his ability to get out of trouble using his legs—Jacksonville will have the long-term answer at the position.
If Bridgewater is still there at No. 3, the Jaguars will have its perfect selection.