Whether it's speed, strength or simply smarts, NFL coaches and scouts know what they're looking for in a player.
They have been tirelessly evaluating prospects in preparation to determine whom they'll pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, but nearly every single selection is still a toss-up at this point.
And with free agency completely changing the landscape of the league for teams and their needs, the look for several franchises will once again look drastically different after the draft comes to a close.
With names like Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel all the perceived top quarterbacks heading into the draft, any of the three could take a tremendous tumble if one of the top eight teams in the draft decides to look the other direction.
As for players like Sammy Watkins, Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, Eric Ebron and others at the top of their respective positions, the teams that decide to take them will end up with great players with a huge amount of upside during their NFL careers.
With the draft fast approaching, here's a look at the entire first round highlighting the players with the most potential upside at the next level, noted in italics.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
After not having his name mentioned near the top of the draft throughout much of the college football season, Blake Bortles seems like a lock to be the first quarterback taken off the board when the NFL draft begins.
The 6'5" quarterback has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger as a college player. He could be the last key for a successful team like the Houston Texans to reach a Super Bowl with the talent they already have on the roster.
Due to his size and upside, Houston will snag Bortles over other top names at the position.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
This one just looks like a home run.
Maybe the St. Louis Rams decide to go with a safer pick or even trade down in the draft. But with Sammy Watkins on the board, snatching up the talented wideout would give the franchise more weapons offensively to contend with the supreme defenses of the NFC West.
As for Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, the tandem of Watkins and Mike Evans ranks pretty high in the discussion of best top two receivers in a single draft:
I'm not quite ready to put Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans up there with AJ Green and Julio Jones, but one of the best WR one-two in my years.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 28, 2014
By far the most explosive playmaker in the draft, Watkins proved why he's considered the No. 1 wide receiver in the draft with his official combine results.
With the Rams still in need of a breakout star in the receiving corps like they had with Torry Holt years ago, Watkins will fill that role alongside Tavon Austin and Chris Givens (and maybe even Kenny Britt, who recently signed with the team). Thanks to breakaway speed and great hands, the Clemson wideout will be a difference-maker for the Rams.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
For a while, the thought process seemed to be that the Jacksonville Jaguars would nab a quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick. Now, it appears they are comfortable with keeping Chad Henne at the top of the depth chart.
Head coach Gus Bradley spoke about that and said he favors bringing in a young quarterback to wait in the wings and learn, per John Oehser of Jaguars.com:
It’s probably a little different. But that’s the approach we’re going in with. It’s similar to Seattle (in 2012). Matt Flynn was the quarterback and was the guy. Russell Wilson got drafted and there were no expectations of him being the starter. Because of that world, it gave him a chance to put all of his energy into competing. You saw him progress very nicely.
Not that that’s a model, but that’s an example of how it can work. If it takes a year, it takes a year. That’s why we signed Chad Henne.
Given that thought process, it sounds likely that the Jags will look to improve defensively and lock up the most talented player on that side of the ball in Jadeveon Clowney. With Clowney in hand, look for Jacksonville to go after a quarterback in the second or third round to mentor for a few years before handing over the keys.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Cleveland Browns are done waiting for a savior at QB and will pull the trigger on one of the most polarizing figures in college football over the last two seasons.
Johnny Manziel is still considered a boom or bust prospect in the draft, but with the talent that the Browns have on offense, getting a dual-threat quarterback like Manziel will change the franchise for the next several years.
He will immediately spark buzz in Cleveland and give new head coach Mike Pettine a dynamic signal-caller to build the offense around.
5. Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater didn't participate during many of the important workouts in the NFL Scouting Combine. He didn't fare well during the Louisville pro day in throwing drills.
But what is known about Bridgewater is that he can play the quarterback position and proved that throughout his career with the Cardinals. While the Raiders have locked up veteran Matt Schaub, it was for just one year on what appears to be a trial basis and a stop-gap solution for the upcoming season.
Bringing in Bridgewater to start or even learn behind a veteran quarterback like Schaub before taking over, the Raiders would be set for the future after making several great moves in free agency.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Easily one of the most talented players in the entire draft, Khalil Mack is another player that is guaranteed to succeed as a pro.
Baylor head coach Art Briles spoke about the talent of Mack during the college football season, via Josh Friemel of The Dallas Morning News:
"All the talk that he's generated for himself, he certainly deserves," Briles said. "He's a big-time, good football player. If I had to compare him to somebody, I watched two or three plays and said Von Miller."
When a player is getting the same praise as one of the top linebackers already in the league, that means he's going to be successful.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
In one of the deepest divisions in the NFL—though it didn't look that way in 2013—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to upgrade defensively to stack up with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.
With one of the best outside linebackers in the class in Anthony Barr, new head coach Lovie Smith and the Bucs will be on their way. And with a chip on his shoulder after being the second linebacker taken, Barr will prove his worth for the Buccaneers against three great offensive teams in the NFC South.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
With new head coach Mike Zimmer bringing in Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, the days of Christian Ponder starting behind center for the Minnesota Vikings might be over.
In Derek Carr, the Vikings could be adding the piece that brings together a potent offense that already includes Adrian Peterson and an emerging star in Cordarrelle Patterson. As for their next few picks, expect the Vikings to go defensive after a horrific season in 2013.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
With the Buffalo Bills having a defense that can help contend in the AFC East division, continuing to build on offense seems like a necessity.
Thanks to the addition of Greg Robinson, the most athletically gifted offensive tackle in the class with plenty of upside, the Bills can start touting a better offense as well. He'd be a strong complement to starting tackle Cordy Glenn in Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
There's been much debate since the combine and even before it about who the best cornerback in the class is. With his shutdown abilities shining at Michigan State and his combine performance doing everything to confirm them, Darqueze Dennard is the best fit for the Detroit Lions with the No. 10 pick.
The Lions have already filled a hole on offense with the addition of Golden Tate at the wide receiver position and could address another need with Dennard lining up across from any team's No. 1 wideout in the future.
11. Tennessee Titans: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Following the loss of Alterraun Verner to the Buccaneers in free agency, the Tennessee Titans are in need of a shutdown defensive back.
With Justin Gilbert still on the board, the Oklahoma State product would be able to immediately fill that role and thrive in Tennessee.
12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
If Greg Robinson is off the board, Jake Matthews will slide back into the lap of the New York Giants at the No. 12 pick.
He is seen as one of the safest picks in the first round with his measurables and consistency on the line for Texas A&M over his tenure. And after blocking for Manziel for the last two years, he could be doing the same for Eli Manning, who could use some help staying in the pocket long enough to find open receivers.
Matthews is technically sound already and has a very high floor for a rookie. This would be a great fit for both sides.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Rams got their receiver with the No. 2 overall pick and will look to shore up the defensive side of the ball with their second selection in the draft. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is still on the board here, so taking the top free safety in the class will help St. Louis toughen up the secondary.
With Clinton-Dix roaming in the backfield for the Rams defense, St. Louis will have more pieces along with the likes of Robert Quinn and Chris Long to build another great corps in the NFC West.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
After an abysmal year defensively for the Chicago Bears, they will look to fill a need immediately with their first-round pick. And with the top overall defensive tackle still left on the board, going with Aaron Donald is as close to a lock as teams will get in the first round.
The Pittsburgh product has proven that he can hold his own against other great linemen even though he's undersized (6'1", 285 pounds). He might not be the only defensive player the Bears take, but Donald is a great start for the deflated group and would add plenty of excitement alongside newly signed Jared Allen.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
This offseason has been an up-and-down one for the Pittsburgh Steelers with several players coming and going in free agency, but the addition of Mike Evans would heal some of the wounds for the Steelers offense.
After making up for the loss of Emmanuel Sanders with the addition of Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, as the team announced Wednesday, the Steelers will once again look to one of the most talented receivers in the draft by getting Evans.
Along with Miller's assessment of Watkins and Evans, Mel Kiper of ESPN also believes the wideout is just behind Watkins when it comes to talent, per NFL on ESPN:
Mel Kiper's top 5 WRs in the 2014 NFL draft: 1. Sammy Watkins 2. Mike Evans 3. Brandin Cooks 4. Odell Beckham Jr. 5. Marqise Lee— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 29, 2014
Both have a chance to break out in the NFL, but in completely different fashions. With the speed and breakaway ability of Antonio Brown already on the roster, the addition of Evans is a perfect fit for Pittsburgh thanks to his size and strength.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Coming off perhaps one of their worst defensive seasons in the history of the franchise, the Dallas Cowboys will try to get an immediate difference-maker with Timmy Jernigan.
After reworking the entire defensive coaching staff and suffering against running and passing offenses alike, the Cowboys will go with one of the most athletic tackles in the draft in Jernigan. The team already added Henry Melton this offseason, so continuing to add talented depth is a logical move.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Just over a year removed from winning a Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens are still trying to rebuild one of the best defenses in the NFL from a few years ago.
Calvin Pryor has skyrocketed up draft boards and earned his title as the No. 2 safety in the class. With the Ravens having a need to fill at the position, Pryor is a perfect fit and could help revive a secondary that struggled last season after several seasons of dominance.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The addition of Eric Decker is a good start for the New York Jets, but that signing alone doesn't make them competitive with the New England Patriots in the AFC East.
That's where Eric Ebron comes in. After being an explosive playmaker for North Carolina for two different coaching staffs, he will be an immediate asset for sophomore quarterback Geno Smith.
Ironically enough, Ebron entered college as an overlooked athlete, something he tweeted about earlier in the offseason with fellow three-star player Manziel:
With his ability to catch just about any ball thrown his way and get down the field with what he calls "illegal" speed, per Teddy Mitrosilis of Fox Sports, Ebron will be the perfect complement to Decker across the middle of the field.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The key to getting the Miami Dolphins offense going in 2014 will be keeping Ryan Tannehill upright throughout the season. They were not very good at that in 2013, but that was, in large part, thanks to the Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito situation that served as a major distraction and cost them two offensive linemen.
If the Dolphins go with Notre Dame's Zack Martin, they'll not only have a viable player who can fill in right now but also a lineman who can hold his own for years to come. His versatility is exactly what Miami needs to continue building after adding Branden Albert in free agency.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
One of the nastiest players in the draft, Ra'Shede Hageman fits the Arizona Cardinals' new identity perfectly.
The Minnesota tackle would join a defense that ranked at the top of the NFL in rushing defense and would have the chance to grow under Bruce Arians' style. Points are already hard to come by in the NFC West, so Hageman would become yet another dominant force.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
With the moves the Green Bay Packers have already made in free agency, they are an improved team from the NFC North winner in 2013. And with the addition of C.J. Mosley to shore up the middle of the field, the Packers will continue to grow defensively.
Alongside Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, who will move to linebacker this offseason, Mosley will have a chance to learn under two of the best defensive players in the game. And with his talent already apparent at Alabama, he will thrive in Green Bay.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
It's unclear how the loss of DeSean Jackson will affect the Eagles offense next season. But picking up Brandin Cooks, a speedy receiver with a similar skill set, means Chip Kelly can pick up right where he left off.
Will he be as supremely talented right away as Jackson? No, but with time Cooks has an opportunity to develop into a great wideout in Kelly's system in Philly.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner came into the season as one of the top wide receivers in college football. While injuries and reduced production in 2013 dropped him behind the likes of Watkins and Evans, Marqise Lee still has the potential to flourish with the right system.
And at the combine, Lee did enough to earn a compliment from Gil Brandt of NFL.com about his workouts:
Marqise Lee really helped himself today. But Sammy Watkins was head/shoulders above every other WR. #NFLCombine— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) February 23, 2014
With Dwayne Bowe on the other side, Lee could step in and immediately be the No. 2 target for Alex Smith in the Chiefs offense. Thanks to his explosive speed, he will make an impact right away for Kansas City.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Despite losing their defensive coordinator, the Cincinnati Bengals have a stout defense that helped get them to the playoffs in 2013.
However, the team still needs to fill the cornerback position. Terence Newman is in the twilight of his career, and Adam Jones is entering his ninth season in the league.
If Kyle Fuller is still on the board at the 24th pick, the Bengals would benefit both in the short term and long term from adding him to the roster and letting him flourish in their system.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Jason Verrett had a great combine performance and has produced plenty of tape from his years with TCU to back it up. As a result, he is slowly becoming a lock as a first-round pick.
He could continue to climb, but for now, he's an ideal fit for the San Diego Chargers. They need a defensive back, and Verrett is the best one available with the 25th overall selection.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Not only is Kelvin Benjamin one of the biggest wide receivers in the 2014 draft class, but he's also a project that could pay off for Pettine and his offensive staff.
Sigmund Bloom of FootballGuys.com gives his thoughts on Benjamin following the combine:
Kelvin Benjamin created consistent deep separation on tape. I don't really care what he clocks in the 40. Speed = good enough to scare you— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) February 23, 2014
Aside from his measurables that pass the eye test for scouts, coaches and executives, he also fits perfectly for Manziel if the Browns pull the trigger on the Aggies quarterback at No. 4. With a 6'5", 240-pound wideout, the undersized signal-caller will have an easy target to find down the field or across the middle to go along with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The New Orleans Saints have made several moves to improve their team, including the addition of Jairus Byrd along with several re-signings of their own free agents. But one more defensive standout in the front seven could make Rob Ryan a very happy man.
That extra addition will come in the form of Kony Ealy. The standout defensive end with Missouri has the chance to be one of the best at his position in the class and will make an instant impact in a tough NFC South division.
28. Carolina Panthers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
After a lackluster combine performance and medical red flags, Cyrus Kouandjio could slide out of the first round altogether. But with the loss of Jordan Gross, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports the Carolina Panthers are in desperate need of a replacement at the position.
Kouandjio more than proved his talent on the college stage with Alabama, but the combine sent shock waves throughout the NFL. Despite the sudden doubts about his talent and long-term health, Kouandjio will still be a first-round selection and will work his way into the Panthers offense.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots have made some big moves with the signing of Brandon LaFell and re-signing of their leading receiver in 2013, Julian Edelman. But with the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski, who has struggled to remain healthy, New England still needs to land a proven tight end to continue its dominance in the AFC East.
With Jace Amaro still on the board, the Pats will pull the trigger on a guy who opens up the middle of the field for Tom Brady.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
With both great speed and experience dealing with talented defenses in the SEC, Odell Beckham Jr. would join a San Francisco 49ers team that is already primed for a potential run to the Super Bowl.
Beckham Jr., 21, would give the Niners a wideout for the future of the franchise alongside Michael Crabtree. Getting the chance to learn under Anquan Boldin, a Super Bowl champion with the Ravens before signing with the Niners, wouldn't hurt his development, either.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA
Several needs have already been addressed for the Denver Broncos with the signings of defensive stars DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib, and the only remaining needs for the team are inside linebacker and offensive guard.
While Xavier Su'a Filo is a fringe first-rounder, the Broncos are in a good position to take a chance on him. Denver has several rounds remaining to continue the improvement and set the stage for Peyton Manning to win his second Super Bowl.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Taylor Lewan entered the combine with questions about his past but came away as one of the top prospects in the class. His athleticism and burst off the line were on display, and he will be a huge part of the Seattle Seahawks' success on offense in the coming years.
It has yet to be seen whether his most recent off-the field legal issues will affect his draft stock, but with the talent that he offers, he is still worthy of a first-round selection.
He might have some time to develop with the Seahawks, but his addition will be necessary to protecting the most prized possessions of all in Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter. He's got huge upside.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!