The Best Team Fits for Top NFL Draft Prospects
No draft prospect would turn down a chance to be selected No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans, but that doesn't mean that is the place everyone should go. Heck, No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams or No. 3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars are nice spots too...at least in draft terms.
We outline the ideal spots for some of the NFL draft's top talents in this slideshow, matching up prospects with teams, supporting casts, coaching staffs and the markets they play in.
This draft appears to be heavy on early-Round 1 candidates at quarterback, like Teddy Bridewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles. We also take a look at the top pass rusher, Jadeveon Clowney, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and running back Carlos Hyde. There doesn't seem to be a top-10 candidate right now at defensive tackle, linebacker, safety or cornerback, but we hit on some of those positions in the best of the rest in the final slide.
Spoiler alert: Manziel can make plays anywhere for anyone against any team, but there is only one place a renegade wild card like him belongs...Oakland.
Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Atlanta Falcons
Every team in the NFL could use an impact pass-rusher. In a copycat league, it was the way the Seattle Seahawks went from good to great to Super Bowl champions.
Clowney has some "red flags there" with regard to passion for the game and might not go in the top five picks—as NFL draft insider Mike Mayock said on the NFL Network, according to NFL.com's Mike Huguenin—but no one can deny he is a physical marvel.
He officially had a 4.53 40-yard dash, which is fast for a defensive back, wide receiver or running back. This is a 6'5", 266-pounder who is going to be chasing down quarterbacks. Incredible.
Some might question how the Houston Texans pass up on him as the No. 1 overall pick, but they already have 2012 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. The St. Louis Rams at No. 2 already have Robert Quinn and Chris Long as their bookends.
At No. 3, the Jacksonville Jaguars' No. 1 need is a quarterback, which is just ahead of pass-rusher in the NFL's pecking order. The Cleveland Browns at No. 4 and Oakland Raiders at No. 5 are in the same boat.
Clowney might be the best pass-rusher in the past 20 years of the NFL draft, so the Atlanta Falcons—another team that is sorely in need of one—might need to make a move up from the No. 6 spot...just in case Mayock is wrong about Clowney falling out of the top five.
Thomas Dimitroff, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, told ESPN's Vaughn McClure:
When I first heard that he was the best that people had seen in 20 years or whenever, I was skeptical because I never fall into the trap of comparing people over that many years. But obviously, he is an incredible talent with wild upside. He’s going to be a very big contributor on a football team from Day 1. We all know that. The league knows that. He has the potential to be one of the marquee-type pass rushers.
Clowney carries a big-market name and belongs in a place where he can contend right away. Also, having a sack-fumble master like Osi Umenyiora as a mentor is an optimum opportunity for him.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville: Houston Texans
Everyone needs a Jadeveon Clowney, because no one can have too many elite pass-rushers, but every draft pick's best landing spot is No. 1. That said, we could call every draft prospect's "best fit" as the Houston Texans.
The Texans earned that draft position with their awful 2013, mostly because Arian Foster declined physically and the defense couldn't make up for the error-prone ways of their quarterback(s). They have been a quarterback away from being a Super Bowl-caliber team for years, and if there is a head coach who is picking in the top five that knows quarterbacks, it has to be new Texans head coach Bill O'Brien.
He was a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots. He worked with arguably one of the greatest pocket passers of all time in Tom Brady.
Some have Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel as a candidate for the Texans, but Bridgewater might be the better fit as a game manager of a defensive-minded, run-oriented team.
Houston has an elite receiver in Andre Johnson, an emerging one in 2013 rookie DeAndre Hopkins and solid tight ends in Owen Daniels and Ryan Griffin. You can make a case the Cleveland Browns have better young talents in wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron, but the Texans play in a better climate in Houston/the AFC South, making it a better place to star statistically long term.
The Texans might pick Manziel or even Clowney, but Bridgewater's best fit would be in Houston and the AFC South, as NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki writes:
A calculated, football-smart, precision-matchup rhythm passer, Bridgewater would be best suited entering a warm-weather or dome environment such as those most common in the South divisions. Would stand to benefit heavily from operating a short, dink-and-dunk rhythm passing game. Compensates for a lack of elite arm talent and prototype measureables with the intangibles and football intelligence that could elevate the other 52 players around him. Instinctive passer with the laser-beam determination to become a Pro Bowl-caliber passer in the right system.
Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins, Clemson: St. Louis Rams
Sammy Watkins is widely seen as the best of this wide receiver class, a true No. 1. Looking around the top 10, the St. Louis Rams need one of those most of all—even if few expect the Rams to pick another receiver after selecting speedy slot guy Tavon Austin last year.
Watkins is a top-eight talent, and the only team picking in that group that sorely needs a go-to man is St. Louis.
The Houston Texans have Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. The Cleveland Browns have Josh Gordon. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings have quarterback questions. The Atlanta Falcons have Matt Ryan, as well as Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Sam Bradford might not be the choice of many as a long-term answer, but perhaps with a talent like Watkins, he can become serviceable against the rugged defenses of the NFC West.
"This isn't about the Rams needing to draft a receiver; this is about the Rams needing to draft THE receiver," as ESPN's Nick Wagoner writes.
The Rams could leverage their No. 2 overall draft position with the quarterback-needy Jags, Browns, Raiders or Vikings by trading down and still getting the outside, downfield threat they—and Bradford—sorely need. If they fear losing out on Watkins by dealing down, then they can likely pick the best offensive tackle...another position of need to help bolster the offense.
Offensive Tackle Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: St. Louis Rams
Texas A&M's Jake Matthews might have fallen behind Auburn's Greg Robinson as the best offensive tackle in this NFL draft, according to NFL draft insider Mike Mayock, but Matthews has something working for him that Robinson doesn't: bloodlines and familiarity.
The St. Louis Rams pick No. 2, and head coach Jeff Fisher used to be Bruce Matthews' head coach with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. If the Rams pick a tackle, figure a loyal guy like Fisher to keep it in the family.
Matthews told NFL.com's Jonathan Webb at the NFL Scouting Combine in February: "I knew him a little bit, not too well. Obviously, my dad played for him and he's got a great relationship with him. I was just a kid running around while my dad was playing. There is that connection for sure, but I would love to play for him."
The Rams can parlay other teams' desperation for a quarterback by trading down from No. 2 and taking either wide receiver Sammy Watkins or Matthews. If they somehow trade down too far and those two are gone, then Auburn's Robinson should still be on the board at least. This is a nice position to be in.
As for the best fit for Matthews, familiarity is a nice thing to have. Also, with an offense that features a workhorse back in Zac Stacy and a lot of young talent—like quarterback Sam Bradford and wide receiver Tavon Austin—you would be hard-pressed to find another spot Matthews can step into and take a team from bad to good or even great.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Oakland Raiders
Johnny Manziel proved to be a big-time talent in his two years at Texas A&M, but he also proved to be a renegade—someone who behaves and plays his own way. If there was only a team like that in the NFL...
Um, the Oakland Raiders, hello!
Of the teams that need a quarterback in the top five, the Houston Texans need a precision pocket passer to complement their defense and running game. The Cleveland Browns hope to be a similar team in that regard under new head coach Mike Pettine. The Jacksonville Jaguars can go in any direction but don't offer the marketing cachet to a Manziel like the Raiders do.
The Bay Area might not be a huge media market, but fans across the country love the Silver and Black of Oakland. Manziel just looks like type of wild-card, Brett Favre-like gambler that the Raiders need to add excitement to a stagnant offense.
You have to figure the Raiders will play a lot of wide-open games in the AFC West, unlike the Texans, Browns and Jaguars in their divisions. Manziel is at his best when the game is played at a frantic pace and without regard to rigid structure. He would have his best chance to play his way with the Raiders.
Running Back Carlos Hyde, Ohio State: Cleveland Browns
Ohio State's Carlos Hyde is not fast, running just a 4.66 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to NFL.com, but he is a bruiser. He is exactly the type of back that belongs in the AFC North, pounding the rock at the defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
Of those teams, the Browns have the highest draft position and the biggest need for a running back, even if there is no way a running back goes in this top five. Still, Hyde might not have to leave the state of Ohio to find his next NFL home.
Assuming he slips to No. 26 overall—a running back didn't go in Round 1 a year ago—the Browns could pick up their ground workhorse with their second first-round pick, which they received as compensation for trading Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts last fall.
Hyde can add attitude and a running game to the 27th-ranked rushing offense. Head coach Mike Pettine is a former defensive coordinator for Rex Ryan. He is the type of head coach that wants to pound the rock and play tough defense.
Hyde is arguably the best running back in this class and easily the best fit here in that regard.
He told Tom James of the Cleveland Browns' official website:
I think that I could help them with their running game. I had a chance to watch a couple of Browns games (last season). Being at Ohio State, you see their games all the time. There were some games (they) struggled running the ball. And to be successful in the league, you have to be able to run the ball. And I feel like I can definitely help with that.
Quarterback Blake Bortles, Central Florida: Houston Texans
Again, what draft prospect wouldn't be best served to be the No. 1 overall pick? Blake Bortles might have risen up the rankings quickly in the past few months, but he would be best served to be the next Houston Texans quarterback, just as we said with Teddy Bridgewater in a previous slide.
Bortles is widely considered more of a cerebral quarterback. He won the combine's interview process, according to Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller in the video above. New head coach Bill O'Brien figures to be a perfect mental fit for Bortles.
The Texans also have the best supporting cast among the teams that need a quarterback, even if you prefer the Cleveland Browns' young downfield weapons in wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Andre Johnson is a veteran go-to man, and DeAndre Hopkins is arguably more of a route technician than the flashy Gordon.
Bortles is highly unlikely to make it all the way up to No. 1 in this draft, but that doesn't mean Houston wouldn't be the best situation for him.
Matching Up the Top Fits Among the Best of the Rest
There are dozens of instant starters in this draft class, but here are some of this writer's favorites during this draft process and where they best fit.
Linebacker Khalil Mack, Buffalo: The Buffalo Bills need an outside linebacker and might not have to leave their city to find their first-rounder. Mack is a favorite of NFL draft insider Mike Mayock.
Offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Auburn: Assuming Mayock is mistaken with his belief Jadeveon Clowney can slip out of the top five, the Atlanta Falcons figure to turn to tackle. If Matthews goes off the board to the St. Louis Rams, Robinson would be a nice fit for the Falcons. The Falcons would suit him, too, because of that high-powered offense Matt Ryan directs.
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: The Chicago Bears need to revamp a defense that fell off the map when they went from Lovie Smith to Marc Trestman. This safety will help against the run and the pass.
Running back Bishop Sankey, Washington: The New York Giants missed on David Wilson (neck) apparently, but the speedy Sankey could be an instant starter for a team that needs one.
Tight end Eric Ebron, North Carolina: The New England Patriots love impact players at this position and are without Aaron Hernandez (released), and Rob Gronkowski is coming off reconstructive knee surgery and cannot stay healthy. Ebron would be most productive with the New England Patriots, who can feature two tight ends even if Gronk comes back quickly.
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: He is the No. 1 cornerback on Mayock's board, and no team needs a corner more than the San Diego Chargers, who have the unenviable task of challenging the most prolific passing offense in NFL history in the AFC West, the Denver Broncos.
Wide receiver Marqise Lee, Southern California: Assuming the St. Louis Rams pick Jake Matthews at No. 2 overall instead of Sammy Watkins, Lee could be the next best go-to receiver on the board for a team that needs one and also picks at No. 13 overall, where Lee should be available.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.