The 2014 NFL draft is scheduled for May 8-10, but the anticipation surrounding some of the biggest names in college sports has already caused the excitement to reach a fever pitch.
With the stock of TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. all on the rise, these are talented prospects who deserve a top-32 selection.
Here are the players who will be taken in the latter stages of the first round that will blossom into NFL superstars.
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
While NFL.com’s draft analysis of TCU cornerback Jason Verrett has him slated as a second- or third-round pick, there will be a franchise in the first round that believes he is worthy of their selection.
Verrett had a strong final season at TCU and looked strong during the scouting combine, running an impressive 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash and amassing an equally impressive 39-inch vertical jump.
Many teams will question the durability of a player that only measures 5’9” and 189 pounds, but he has the tenacity to cover receivers as the nickel back or step up against much taller No. 1 receivers at the next level.
There is no question that selecting an undersized cornerback in the first round would be a risk, but with the ability to secure tackles and not get beat deep, there should be at least one team willing to spend a late first-round pick on him.
Predicted Landing Spot: No. 25 to the San Diego Chargers
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
One of the unheralded prospects who has watched his stock skyrocket is Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. At 6'6" and 310 pounds, with room to add even more muscle mass, Hageman is a raw prospect with a bright long-term future.
While there have been questions about his consistency and ability to bring his elite play on every down, there is no denying how strong Hageman is off the snap. Against the run, there are few players that can clog a gap as well as Hageman in the 2014 class.
Add in his ability to get into the backfield and disrupt the passing attack, and this would be an ideal selection for any team that has struggled against the run and still wants to contend in the pass-happy NFL.
The Cincinnati Bengals already have a strong defensive front seven, but with Hageman’s ability to wreak havoc in the run and pass games for a long time, this would be a smart pick for the future of the franchise.
Predicted Landing Spot: No. 24 to the Cincinnati Bengals
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
After Clemson’s Sammy Watkins comes off the board, the questions about which wide receiver will be taken next in the draft has fans enthralled. Wherever LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. lands, he will blossom into one of the top pass-catchers in the NFL.
Beckham doesn’t have the ideal size—measured at 5’11” and 198 pounds—but his solid time in the 40-yard dash (4.43 seconds) and elite speeds in the 20-yard and 60-yard shuffle prove he has the speed and acceleration off the cut to be an elite receiver.
Add in his ability to go up and get the ball at its highest point, and Beckham is worthy of a late first-round pick.
Several teams need depth and talent at WR in the first round, but with the ability to play as a possession receiver or burn defenders on the outside as a deep threat, Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs would be an ideal fit moving forward.
Predicted Landing Spot: No. 23 to the Kansas City Chiefs