Every NFL team is looking for its first-round selection to become an instant-impact player, which is why so much value is attached to these picks.
The 2014 NFL draft class is loaded with potential superstars, but it's anyone's guess who they are at this point. From the No. 1 overall pick to Mr. Irrelevant, there's an equal chance for everyone to succeed. That said, the men selected in Round 1 are getting paid all the money for a reason.
With that in mind, here's a look at first-round prospects who have a good chance to become difference-makers.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teams that select first usually need a quarterback, and Houston is no different. After winning just two games last season, it's time for a change.
Teddy Bridgewater hasn't gotten as much recent hype as Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles, but many scouts still view him as the top passer in this year's draft class, including Bucky Brooks of NFL.com:
He's well-versed in running a pro-style, run-first offense, which makes him a perfect fit for the Texans.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
If the Texans didn't need a passer so badly, then Jadeveon Clowney would be a lock as the top pick in this year's draft. He's a dynamic pass-rusher who can line up all over the place and wreak havoc wherever he goes.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley liked what he saw out of Derek Carr during the Senior Bowl, according to B/R's Matt Miller. Carr is ready to step in from the first day of training camp to lead Jacksonville's offense to greater success than it's experienced the past few years with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
After the latest news coming out of Cleveland, it's anyone's guess what the Browns will do in the draft. However, we do know they need a franchise passer, and many believe Johnny Manziel has what it takes to become an electric and productive player in the NFL.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
Don't expect Oakland to reach for a quarterback. Reggie McKenzie marches to the beat of his own drum, and he has many needs to fill across the board. With that in mind, pass-rusher extraordinaire Khalil Mack out of Buffalo would be a smart addition to a defense that desperately needs the help.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Falcons could go for a pass-rusher here, but this team's greatest strength is putting points on the board offensively. However, Matt Ryan won't be able to reach his full potential without better protection up front. Offensive tackle Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M can slide in right away and play on either side of the line.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
There are plenty of excellent receiver prospects entering the 2014 NFL draft, but Sammy Watkins is in a class by himself. As Miller put it, general managers will get fired if this kid slides out of the top 10:
If Sammy Watkins drops to 10, GMs will be fired. RT @HiJakeGriffith: if sammy drops to 10...— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 24, 2014
He'd be an instant-impact player for the Buccaneers, who featured one of the league's most anemic offenses in 2013.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Minnesota won't compete with the other NFC North teams until it finds a franchise passer, which is why it will be shocking if the Vikings don't attempt to land one of the top signal-callers this year.
Bortles is likely receiving a bit too much hype by the media leading up to the draft. He's not a can't-miss player, but he does possess all the tools to become a star in the NFL.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Buffalo must keep quarterback EJ Manuel healthy to have any chance of competing in the AFC East. He was banged up a couple of times in 2013, but bringing in a stud left tackle like Greg Robinson would ensure better protection this upcoming season.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Despite a loaded defensive line, Detroit ranked among the league's worst in terms of sacks last season. Anthony Barr tallied 23.5 sacks the past two years at UCLA, and he's still learning how to best utilized his phenomenal athleticism on defense after starting his career as a running back.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Titans have many needs, but this team really needs to get tougher on defense. C.J. Mosley is a do-it-all defender who can line up all over the field. He's also a leader and would be a tremendous boost for Tennessee on and off the field.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Giants won't get going offensively until Eli Manning starts getting better protection up front. This team's line has gotten progressively worse the past few years, and it's time to add another piece to the puzzle. Taylor Lewan is highly skilled, but he's also a trench warrior who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty, so to speak.
13. St. Louis Rams: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Rams are starting to assemble the offensive playmakers necessary to take on the brutal defenses of the NFC West. Adding another playmaker like Marqise Lee out of USC to play on the perimeter would give Sam Bradford all the help he needs to either make or break his career in St. Louis.
14. Chicago Bears: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are both free agents—and aging players at that. Chicago's defense isn't what it used to be, and there are needs on all three levels. However, Justin Gilbert is the highest-rated defender left on the board, and he meets a big need for the Bears.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
It's been a few years since the Steelers featured a dynamic defensive front.
Ra'Shede Hageman has incredible potential to become one of the league's premier 3-4 defensive ends. And even though he's a bit raw and this could be a bit of a reach, the Steelers shouldn't pass on a player with his abilities.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Matt Elam showed promise last year for Baltimore, but he's in need of help on the back end of the team's defensive secondary. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix out of Alabama is ready to step into the starting lineup for the Ravens immediately. He'd provide a big boost to the secondary and the entire defense as a whole.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
With the high priority given to elite pass-rushers, there's a chance Kony Ealy will be long gone by the time Dallas picks in Round 1. However, if he does drop, then there's no way the Cowboys should let him slide any further. He's a natural 4-3 pass-rusher who would instantly boost the team's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks on passing downs.
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
It's no secret the Jets needs offensive playmakers, and Mike Evans certainly fits the bill.
In addition to being a huge target at 6'5" and 225 pounds, Evans brings toughness, good hands and surprising explosiveness to the table, according to Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports:
Got to see #Texas A&M WR Mike Evans train this wk in CA. Knew he was tough & had good hands. Didn't realize he had so much explosiveness.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) January 18, 2014
That's exactly what New York needs to get back to competency on the offensive side of the football. Geno Smith showed promise in his rookie year, but he needs serious help.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Ryan Tannehill did well to stay relatively healthy last year, as Miami's offensive line surrendered an ungodly 58 sacks. Clearly, this is an area of need for the Dolphins, and adding a stalwart offensive tackle would do a lot to fix the problem.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Arizona's offense has the potential to do serious damage downfield with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, but the team's tight end situation is less than stellar.
Eric Ebron is the most explosive tight end prospect of this year's draft class. He has the potential to quickly become a league superstar, and he'd get plenty of chances to shine in Bruce Arians' offensive attack.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Green Bay's secondary was laughable at times last year, and the players manning the safety positions were too blame for much of the ineptitude. Calvin Pryor has become a favorite of many a draft analyst thanks to his ability to make bone-crunching hits and play the pass like a pro.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
There's a possibility that both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper will be gone via free agency in 2014. Even if the team retains one or both players, it would be smart to continue upgrading the position as Nick Foles develops in Chip Kelly's system.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Everybody wants to knock Alex Smith for having limitations as a passer, but the truth of the matter is that he is a phenomenal quarterback capable of putting up points in bunches given the right weapons around him.
Odell Beckham is an intriguing prospect who made many big catches downfield during his time at LSU. He's also quite capable of taking the ball short and running with it, which makes him a perfect fit in Andy Reid's system.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Adding a lockdown man-to-man specialist like Darqueze Dennard to the front line of Cincinnati's defense would be a match made in heaven. Dennard is the best pure cover corner of this year's draft class, but the real question scouts have right now is how well he'll run at the combine, as pointed out by Josh Norris of Rotoworld.com:
Remember all the positive things everyone is saying right now about Darqueze Dennard. Might hear differently depending on Combine runs.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 1, 2014
If he runs in the 4.4-4.5 range, then Dennard could go a lot sooner. Just as true, if he runs slow, then he could fall out of Round 1.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame
One of the keys to featuring a dominating 3-4 defense is stuffing the run, but San Diego allowed 4.6 yards per carry last season, which ranked No. 27 in the league. Louis Nix is the draft's premier nose tackle, and the run-stuffing prospect would be an instant upgrade up front.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Smooth athlete, skilled pass-catcher, explosive playmaker—these are the qualities Allen Robinson brings to the NFL. He's an under-the-radar receiver who could become a star in no time playing with Manziel, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Rob Ryan's defense was outstanding last year given the team's roster limitations. A top-flight pass-rusher would be a huge boost in 2014. Shazier is as quick as a cat off the snap, and he has the speed to get past offensive tackles in similar fashion to Von Miller.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Steve Smith can't play forever, as much as he might wish to do so, and Carolina's offense desperately needs an infusion of new talent. Brandin Cooks was a highly productive, highly reliable receiver at Oregon State. He'd be an instant starter who would give Cam Newton a big boost going forward.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Rob Gronkowski appears to be a distant relative to Glass-Jaw Joe, and nobody knows what the future holds for him and his body. Even if he does come back fully healthy and plays an entire season, New England could certainly use another dynamic tight end—a strategy the team has has plenty of recent success with.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Colin Kaepernick's ceiling is still unknown, but most everybody agrees that he has the potential to become a top-five quarterback in the NFL. But he won't reach his full potential without a talented receiving corps, which currently has Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, and that's about it.
Jordan Matthews out of Vanderbilt is a highly competitive receiver with athleticism and skill to match. He'd finally give the 49ers another top young receiver, and if Anquan Boldin is re-signed, then all the better for Kaepernick.
31. Denver Broncos: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Denver would be smart to continue building up its defense with young players. Aaron Donald out of Pitt is a dynamic pass-rushing defensive tackle who was the best player on the field throughout Senior Bowl week.
He'd give Denver a big boost up front, which would make a big impact on the team's defensive secondary.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
Seattle loves to stockpile pass-rushers and dynamic linebackers. Kyle Van Noy out of BYU fits both descriptions, and he'd give the Seahawks another fearsome weapon with which to destroy opposing offenses with in the years to come.
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