Given the nature of the NFL draft, many picks in the first round—despite an ideal fit on paper—wind up as busts.
Whether it turns out to be a bad fit on the field, a player not living up to expectations or some other variable, busts being selected each year within the top 32 picks is an inevitability. Sometimes a prospect's "bust" potential is apparent early in his NFL career, or it may take three or more years of struggles before the player is deemed worthy of the label.
Regardless, a mock draft that makes its picks based on a combination of value and need will still end up with its fair share of busts.
Note: Italics denote potential biggest busts.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
No surprise or bust here.
As badly as the media and NFL want to make Houston's pick a surprise, Teddy Bridgewater is still the man for the job. He concurs, via Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Teddy Bridgewater: “Oh yes, no doubt, I feel that I’m the best quarterback in this draft,” when asked if #Texans should draft him first.— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) February 22, 2014
There is no better overall prospect than Bridgewater this year and handing off to the likes of Arian Foster and throwing to names such as Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins will only make his transition that much smooth.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
This is what happens when a team takes a forward-looking gamble and nabs two first-round picks in a talented class.
While one could argue Greg Robinson should be the pick in order to better protect quarterback Sam Bradford, offensive tackle is deep in this draft, and a prospect like Jadeveon Clowney does not come around too often.
Clowney insulates the Rams from the potential departure of Robert Quinn, who is currently set to be a free agent after next season; in the meantime, the addition of Clowney gives St. Louis one of the scariest pass-rushing rotations the league has to offer.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The Jacksonville Jaguars must stop dancing around the issue under center, and the best way to do that is with a kid who played college ball locally and has a dramatically high ceiling.
While Blake Bortles will by no means come in right away and take the league by storm, he is a safe bet, with a few years of proper coaching, to be a sound pro quarterback.
In other words, Bortles will grow right along with his rebuilding franchise.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Already the most predictable pick in the 2014 draft, Johnny Manziel to Cleveland also represents the one with the most bust potential.
The allure with Manziel is obvious...but so are the negatives. Manziel's ability to escape the pocket and extend plays with his feet is ideal, but it is also a trait that could backfire in a big way at the pro level, since most players on the field are elite athletes and can take advantage of the dynamic quarterback's ofttimes questionable decision-making.
ESPN's Ron Jaworski is one who has been vocal in his negativity toward Manziel:
Ron Jaworski on Johnny Manziel: "I wouldn't take him in the first three rounds." http://t.co/SzsnLcfBVy— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 26, 2014
While radical in his take, Jaworski shares the same concerns as many in that Manziel's game may not hold up at the pro level. It also does not help that he will join a franchise stuck in neutral.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
As a versatile weapon who can contribute in more ways than one, Sammy Watkins' transition to the pros could be a rather seamless one—even with a Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin throwing him the ball.
Whether he is beating defenses deep or taking a short pass for a hefty gain, Watkins has the hands, vision and speed to give any NFL defense trouble.
This is an extremely easy pick for Oakland and one that will pay dividends down the line when the time is right for the Raiders to develop a rookie signal-caller.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
This one is a toss-up between offensive line and pass rush here, especially with top players in both regards still on the board.
The deciding factor is Khalil Mack, who also should have an easy transition to the pros. Atlanta can grab an offensive tackle in free agency or later in the draft, but Mack is a franchise-changing player who immediately upgrades an entire defense thanks to his nose for the football and ability to put consistent pressure on passers.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Greg Robinson blew away the NFL at the combine, but this is far from an overreaction to one underwear-clad performance by the Auburn product.
No, Robinson has some of the most dominant film many analysts have seen to date. One such expert is Rotoworld's Evan Silva:
Most dominant college prospect I've watched to this point is #Auburn OT Greg Robinson. He does amazing things.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) March 1, 2014
Robinson is pro-ready and would fit well in Tampa Bay, where the coaching staff needs a better-protected Mike Glennon in order to figure out if he is a franchise quarterback.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Derek Carr's stock has been all over the place in the past few months, but at the combine he showed well athletically and measured in the same neighborhood as Manziel.
In fact, some NFL coaches appear to rank Carr above Manziel:
Report says no fewer than 17 NFL QB coaches polled at combine favored Derek Carr over Manziel: http://t.co/iyCSCrySUC— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 27, 2014
Like Manziel, questions will undoubtedly arise about Carr's ability to see his game translate well to the next level. His ability to avoid pressure and deliver strong passes is a great trait to have, but one that may backfire.
Carr is helped with the presence of weapons such as Cordarrelle Patterson and Adrian Peterson, but if another top-10 pick is going to bust in 2014, it will be Carr.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It is seemingly hard for a tight end to be a bust in today's NFL.
Any player at the position rated this highly is at least adequate as a blocker and already an elite physical specimen.
There is no better example of this than Eric Ebron, who would fit well in Buffalo as the staff attempts to give EJ Manuel more weapons. It may not be apparent right away, but Ebron is a great pick for the Bills.
10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
How can any dynamic prospect fail when lined up across from Calvin Johnson?
It is safe to say Mike Evans will not be one to answer that question. Evans is an impressive physical force who blurs the lines between tight end and wideout.
Evans' sure hands and ability to reel in receptions at their highest point make him an obvious chain-mover across from Megatron. He will excel in pass-happy Detroit.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
C.J. Mosley is the next big thing at linebacker in the NFL.
Premature? Sure, but Mosley managed to fly under the radar at Alabama. Flip on the tape, and one finds a rangy linebacker who can cover well and has a nose for the football. CBS Sports' Dane Brugler echoed these sentiments recently:
Alabama LB C.J. Mosley has been one of the toughest evals this year...only because it's so tough to find holes in his game #NFLDraft— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 18, 2014
Mosley can start on about any team in the NFL and play well as a rookie, which is especially nice for the Titans here considering the team desperately needs a leader and an identity on that side of the football.
12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The New York Giants do not have a lot of options here after a down year from Eli Manning. While the addition of Justin Pugh in the first last year may cause some to think offensive line is not the pick here, Pugh can move inside to make way for Jake Matthews.
Matthews at one point was a contender to be first off the board. He remains an instant starter and upgrades a porous New York line. He cannot stop interception-happy Manning from turning the ball over, but he can make his life easier.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
As seemingly the consensus No. 1 safety in the class, some may scoff at the idea of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix becoming a bust.
But the struggles for most defensive backs upon entering the NFL are real, and Clinton-Dix will not be one of the exceptions to this rule. His ability to play center field has come into question at times, and even he admits he struggles in comparison to Louisville safety prospect Calvin Pryor in at least one area, as captured by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:
Ha Ha Clinton Dix said he might be faster than Calvin Pryor but "I can't hit like him"— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) February 23, 2014
In all seriousness, Clinton-Dix may be limited to a one-dimensional role in St. Louis, making it difficult for him to excel. If a first-round safety is going to bust, it will be Clinton-Dix.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
It's hard to imagine NFL teams ever again allowing an elite player like a Geno Atkins to fall out of the first round.
Chicago makes sure Aaron Donald comes off the board in one of the more predictable picks of the draft. With Henry Melton on his way to free agency and recovering from an ACL tear, the Bears need another 3-technique tackle who can apply pressure.
Donald does just that. Given his role and set of abilities, Donald is sure to find success on the same line as Julius Peppers, should he and his hefty contract stick around.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Chalk this up as another predictable selection.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have an obvious need in the middle of the defense as the rebuilding project on that side of the ball continues, and there is no better way to spearhead the youth and productivity movement than by grabbing a dominant nose tackle like Louis Nix III.
The Steelers seem to be an excellent fit for Nix, as Pittsburgh's scheme could ease his transition to the NFL. And Nix, for his part, is a good addition for the Steelers, as his imposing size should immediately improve the defense's play in the trenches, which would create a ripple effect on the rest of the unit.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Any help in the trenches is good help for the Dallas Cowboys, considering how raw the secondary is, so Kony Ealy is a smart play.
There's some lofty expectations around Ealy, as noted by CSN Houston's James Palmer:
Kony Ealy said J.J. Watt is 1 of 2 NFL players he compares himself to. Said in terms of Watt it's his ability to bat down passes. #texans— James Palmer (@JPalmerCSN) February 22, 2014
The jury is still out on that one, but Ealy does flash on film an ability to be an every-down player who fits well in Dallas.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
By now Raven fans are well-versed in this notion: Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco needs a big receiving option across from Torrey Smith to help consistently move the chains.
Allen Robinson is the answer here as a reliable player who caught nearly everything thrown his way despite a horrible quarterback situation at Penn State.
Robinson, with defenses focused on Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta, will find success early in his career as long as Baltimore hits on its other major need this offseason: offensive line.
18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
This bust projection factors in a combination ability and destination.
Let's be honest—Rex Ryan's New York Jets are not exactly the best place for an offensive talent to land. This is especially the case with a second-year quarterback like Geno Smith under center.
As for Amaro, Doug Kyed of NESN put it best:
I would be surprised if Jace Amaro gets drafted in the first round.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyedNESN) February 22, 2014
Amaro is a nice flex tight end prospect, but his size is a bit worrisome and his overall fit at the next level is hard to nail down. This problem will rear its head in defensive-minded New York and potentially hinder Amaro's success.
19. Miami Dolphins: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Another predictable one, but the Miami Dolphins dug this hole for themselves.
Ryan Tannehill was the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL a season ago, so the best tackle on the board is the remedy to the problem.
Here, that solution is Morgan Moses. While a late riser for some, Moses has a complete body of work over which scouts and teams can swoon before Miami takes him to help rebuild a miserable unit.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The issue for Cyrus Kouandjio is simple—health. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport has the scoop:
Bad news for #Bama OT Cyrus Kouandjio. I’m told several teams have failed him on his physical. Arthritic knee from failed surgery. “Ugly.”— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 22, 2014
The good news is, it does not sound as if each team hit Kouandjio with a red flag, and those desperate enough for help, who still believe in his talent, will grab him.
Such is the case for Arizona. Carson Palmer has to stay upright for Bruce Arian's offense to work and Kouandjio remains an elite prospect who bulldozed his way through the SEC. It is a smart fit for Arizona but a risky one.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ra'Shede Hageman's tantalizing combination of speed and power makes it a lock he will find success at the pro level, but he will need the help of proper coaching and scheme to make it all come together.
He will get just that in Green Bay, which may have a hard time hanging on to B.J. Raji when free agency starts. At least on paper, Hageman fills the void perfectly, and it seems just a matter of time before he emerges as a productive if not dominant interior defender.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Philadelphia Eagles have major issues in the defensive backfield, but can shore up some of those concerns here with the second of just two noteworthy safeties in this year's draft.
Calvin Pryor is a rangy safety who fits well in Philadelphia and has enough versatility to thrive as the unit around him goes through a mini-rebuild.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Andy Reid already has one of the NFL's most talented rosters at his disposal, but quarterback Alex Smith needs more reliable targets on the field outside of running back Jamaal Charles.
Thanks to a wild, up-and-down ride at USC during his final year, Marqise Lee took a tumble down draft boards after being hailed by many as the top receiving prospect heading into the 2013 campaign.
But the fact remains that injuries and a chaotic program were not Lee's fault. He is still the same receiver who catches most of the balls thrown his way and consistently moves chains.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Offensive lineman or corner is the way to go for Cincinnati in the first round, and both positions are so deep that the Bengals are a team to watch as one that may trade out of the round entirely.
That said, Cincinnati loves the best-player-available approach. In this case, that player is Justin Gilbert, who covers well in any scheme and has great ball skills to compete in the pass-happy NFL.
The best part is the fact Gilbert can be insulated from failure, as he will not have to start as a rookie thanks to the depth of Cincinnati's defensive backfield.
25. San Diego Chargers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
While not the consensus No. 1 corner anymore, Darqueze Dennard remains a top prospect who is aggressive in coverage and whose play at Michigan State is sure to translate to the next level.
San Diego's biggest issue is stopping the pass, so the fit makes sense. Dennard will struggle early on like most rookies at his position, but he is a great add as a franchise cornerstone.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
It is only fitting that the organization that fires its new head coach after one year has two picks in this year's first round who both qualify as potential busts.
The projection is not unwarranted for Kelvin Benjamin. The Florida State product has drop issues and catches passes with his body more often than he should. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller put it best:
.@FPerdueSports I'm not taking Kelvin Benjamin in the first round off what I've seen. No way I'd touch him Top 10.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 16, 2014
Still, Benjamin's blend of size and speed is hard to ignore. The ceiling is there for Benjamin to be one of the best receivers in the league, but given his location, the talent around him and past habits, the deck is not exactly stacked in his favor.
27. New Orleans Saints: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
It is hard for anyone to get a read on how Anthony Barr will pan out in the NFL, but he has a strong chance to succeed if he takes a tumble this far and ends up with defensive guru Rob Ryan.
Barr still has plenty of upside, but he simply needs the right fit. Luckily for him, a tumble here would be a blessing as Ryan's amoeba scheme would allow him to do what he does best—rush the passer from multiple spots and put his extreme athleticism to use.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Given that notion, the folks in charge of the Panthers have to stop dragging their feet when it comes to pursuing wide receivers.
Luckily for Carolina, the dragging was likely strategic with the understanding that this is the deepest class of receivers the league has seen in quite some time. Brandin Cooks is one of the better prospects and has the blazing speed and overall skill set that will immediately remind fans of Smith.
29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
With Vince Wilfork hurt, now would be the time for the New England Patriots to grab even more talent to throw in the defensive trenches.
Timmy Jernigan is a smart play here thanks to his versatility. The New England defense was quietly a strong unit last year and gives Jernigan a great place to grow while he works his way into the starting lineup.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Michael Crabtree is but one facet of the passing game in San Francisco. Regardless of Boldin's future with the team, an insurance policy who can line up across from Crabtree and move the chains is a must.
With that in mind, Jordan Matthews makes too much sense here. He is a bigger target who has displayed sure hands despite quarterback issues at Vanderbilt. He can start right away.
31. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
In today's pass-happy NFL, depth at corner is a must.
The knock on TCU's Jason Verrett is his size, but a quality slot corner in today's NFL is a great thing to have. As long as Verrett can continue to play at a high level when matched up with NFL talent, his size will not matter and keep him far away from the "bust" label.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
The Seattle Seahawks are in a position of luxury here and could go a multitude of ways, but grabbing another defensive end to rotate in and eventually take over a starting role is a smart move.
Before nailing down a starting gig, Dee Ford can rush from a variety of different positions and be effective in doing so. Not a bad deal for the champs at the end of the round.