2014 NFL Mock Draft: Ideal Homes for NCAA's Top Stars

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2014 NFL Mock Draft: Ideal Homes for NCAA's Top Stars
Michael Conroy

Sometimes an NFL hopeful's pro career hinges on a fit that is just right, which is something that rings true for a number of elite players making the jump from the NCAA to the NFL in the 2014 draft.

It's not always the case, as some talents can supersede poor fits in terms of scheme, staff and personnel. More often than not, however, a rookie needs to enter an ideal environment to develop at the quickest possible pace.

Here's an updated look at the first round of the 2014 draft, where each prospect lands in the best possible situation for his talents based on a blend of his overall stock and team needs.

 

1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Timothy D. Easley

It's smokescreen time in the NFL, and Teddy Bridgewater is the main victim. His stock continues to rapidly fluctuate as teams and media pick apart every minute flaw in his game.

Regardless, the Louisville product remains best in class and can't land in a better place than Houston. Unlike the majority of the top 10, Houston has a sound roster in need of a signal-caller to contend.

Bridgewater gets two star receivers in DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson, as well as a star back in Arian Foster. It's nearly impossible to name a better situation.

 

2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

Sammy Watkins is a talent who can overcome nearly any situation, but St. Louis surely has to be in contention for No. 1 on the list of best fits.

A true No. 1 target, Watkins is exactly what the Rams need to take the proverbial next step. Watkins gets to be that while defenses also have to account for tight end Jared Cook and Zac Stacy in the backfield.

As long as quarterback Sam Bradford can stay upright, Watkins will have a massive rookie year.

 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Since Jadeveon Clowney surely won't escape the top three picks, his best bet is in Jacksonville with Gus Bradley.

While extremely athletic, it's ill-advised to stand up Clowney as a linebacker in Houston, and St. Louis already has two elite ends.

In Jacksonville, Clowney is the face of the franchise for years to come, fits well schematically and is complemented by an underrated unit that will only continue to improve.

 

4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Luckily for Johnny Manziel, experts such as CBS Sports' Dane Brugler agree that he won't make it to Oakland at No. 5 overall:

Manziel couldn't ask for a better situation given his skill set. In Cleveland, he gets to work with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the man who got the most out of Robert Griffin III in Washington.

He also gets to throw to No. 1 wideout Josh Gordon, utilize Andrew Hawkins in the slot, consistently hit top-tier tight end Jordan Cameron and play behind a superb offensive line.

 

5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

In time, Greg Robinson is also a talent who can overcome any issues he encounters with his pro team.

Robinson's potential is staggering. He's an elite athlete who bullied his way through the SEC. Oakland will surely throw him to the wolves as a rookie, and he'll respond well enough.

The front office in Oakland seems to have a good head on its shoulders and will feature Robinson as a franchise left tackle. It's not a bad way to start for a rookie who is not necessarily as pro-ready as others at his position.

 

6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

Experts agree that Khalil Mack is a sound option for the Atlanta Falcons so early. ESPN's Mel Kiper is one such guru, via Jay Adams of Falcons.com:

With the Atlanta defense continuing to blur the lines between a 4-3 and 3-4, Mack couldn't ask for a better destination. He gets to be the primary pass-rusher on a playoff-bound team and can rush with his hand in the dirt or from an upright position.

 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

A prospect like Mike Evans is best utilized as a secondary option across from a No. 1 receiver to start his career.

Many will point to Detroit as a better landing spot, but there are only so many balls to go around with others like Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Golden Tate on the field. It also doesn't help that Evans continues to elevate his stock and make the most sense for the team:

In Tampa Bay, Evans would be the primary target opposite Vincent Jackson and see plenty of opportunities to contribute and develop.

 

8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

Blake Bortles is similar to Robinson in that he is not necessarily the most pro-ready option at his position, but the tremendous upside has the league drooling.

Bortles' fall ends at No. 8, and he can't ask to land in a better situation.

Not many rookies can blow it handing off to Adrian Peterson and throwing to Cordarrelle Patterson. Backed by a strong defense, Bortles can start right away if the team wishes.

 

9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina 

A rookie tight end can't ask for much better than being a borderline No. 1 option in a pass offense, which is what appears to be on the horizon in Buffalo.

The lucky rook is Eric Ebron, who can line up at any spot and create mismatches. His connection to the franchise has already been well-established, per Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:

Ebron has a chance to score a bevy of touchdowns in the red zone for Buffalo, which is an ideal way to get a pro career started.

 

10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

No rookie corner has an easy transition to the pros. It's simply the nature of the beast.

Darqueze Dennard is unlike any other in this regard, and he'd get a trial by fire in Detroit as teams continually pass against the Lions in an effort to keep up.

That's fine as Dennard enters a rather deep depth chart and can ease his way into the starting gig. It's much preferable to being an every-down player opposing teams build game plans around.

 

11. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Aaron Donald needs to land with a team that will allow him to play multiple roles as a rookie, so Tennessee comes to mind when forced to also accommodate for his high stock.

Donald is highly coveted thanks to his similar skill set to that of Geno Atkins, as his effectiveness as a pass-rusher is a tad rare.

He gets a chance to make a name for himself in Tennessee's 3-4 scheme right off the bat.

 

12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Easily the most pro-ready tackle in the draft, Jake Matthews gets a great deal at No. 12 overall in New York.

The Giants have an immediate need to help Eli Manning stay upright, so Matthews gets the nod right away. He's a rare talent who was previously in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick, but the boredom associated with an elite tackle prospect has apparently taken its toll.

 

13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

Michael Conroy

A rookie safety will sometimes struggle as much as corners do, which is why fit and role are so important.

For Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the ideal scenario is in St. Louis with Jeff Fisher.

This has been obvious, as illustrated by NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah:

Clinton-Dix is an absolutely perfect fit in the scheme and gets to run wild next to T.J. McDonald as an every-down starter. He'll have his gaffes, but the opportunity to shine is his.

 

14. Chicago Bears: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

"Rare" gets thrown around a lot these days, but Ra'Shede Hageman's blend of speed and strength is worthy of the description. ESPN's Todd McShay concurs:

It gets better. That questionable motor won't be an issue with a guy like Jared Allen keeping Hageman in check. Flanked by superb ends Allen and Lamarr Houston, Hageman enters the perfect environment to produce and avoid the "bust" label.

 

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Justin Gilbert will also struggle as a rookie, but a better position than Pittsburgh is simply difficult to name.

Backed by experienced players like Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and even safety Troy Polamalu, Gilbert lands in a nurturing environment.

Best of all, he too doesn't have to play in an every-down capacity. Given the circumstances, he could very well be one of the top corners the league has to offer in a few seasons.

 

16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

While he won't wow fans with his pass-rush ability, Kony Ealy is a superb every-down defensive end prospect who can rush when asked and hold his own against the rush.

In Dallas, that's a vital skill set to have, so Ealy would be an instant starter and benefit by playing next to a guy like Henry Melton.

The defense in Dallas has a long way to go, but Ealy at the very least is the best end suited for the job as his fate is in his own hands as he gets a massive number of snaps.

 

17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

There are issues involved with Taylor Lewan, as Brugler hints:

Lewan was known for losing his cool on the field as a Wolverine, but the right environment will once again help to quell those concerns.

Said environment is Baltimore. There's an obvious need for a starter at tackle right away, as well as a strong group of veterans in place to ensure Lewan is nothing but a resounding success as a rookie.

 

18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Some offensive weapon has to be the one selected by the New York Jets this year as they attempt to get the most out of Geno Smith.

It may as well be Jace Amaro.

Amaro is another big-bodied target who can line up at any position on the field and create mismatches. He benefits from this already, but New York does him one better by likely making him the focal point of the aerial attack.

 

19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame

Rookie offensive linemen want nothing more than to come in and start right away while being accredited as the primary reason an entire line turned things around.

The opportunity does not get any better than the one in Miami.

Miami is attempting to rebuild the worst unit in the NFL last season, and as ESPN's Louis Riddick illustrates, Martin comes with a versatility most teams will covet:

This is especially the case in Miami, where Martin gives the Dolphins lineup options as he can start at any position on the line.

 

20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Michael Conroy

The same applies to Cyrus Kouandjio in the desert.

Arizona has a subtle need at right tackle and may as well go for broke in order to get the most out of veteran Carson Palmer and promising running back Andre Ellington.

Kouandjio is a prototypical, mauling tackle who excels in the run game. The Cardinals plug him in and let him run free, which is all he can ask for as a rookie.

 

21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

For C.J. Mosley, any situation is a great fit—he's that good.

Mosley's problem is one he cannot help, as the NFL simply doesn't value run-stuffing inside linebackers enough for him to go much higher.

In Green Bay, he gets to start on the interior of a sound 3-4 scheme and be the face of the unit next to Clay Matthews. That's hard to be disappointed about despite a drop down the board.

 

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

NFL Network's Mike Mayock has lofty praise for Calvin Pryor, as captured by NFL.com's Mike HugueninMayock said, "This is a bigger version of Bob Sanders" and that Pryor "flies to the football, and he's always around the football. Every tape you put in, you see violent collisions."

In other words, Pryor just needs a chance to shine and potentially even act as the face of an entire unit in need of a leader.

Philadelphia, step on up.

 

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

After a wild final ride at USC marred by injury and complete program ineptitude, Marqise Lee enters the 2014 draft a tad underrated.

No matter, as he'll be better for it in the long run by landing with a team that is both ready to use him consistently and contend for a title.

Andy Reid surely sees the value in Lee at No. 23 overall. His blend of sure hands and overall quickness meshes well across from Dwayne Bowe. Sooner rather than later, Lee should be able to take over as the top wideout on the depth chart.

 

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

Arguably the last corner on the board who can make an impact right away, Kyle Fuller has certainly turned heads as of late:

Funnily enough, Fuller enters the perfect situation and will rarely see the field. He gets mentored by Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Adam Jones before taking over as the starter across from Dre Kirkpatrick in a season or two.

 

25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

Interior linemen simply want a chance to start as a rookie, and Louis Nix will do that in the majority of places he could land.

San Diego makes the most sense as a team with an immediate need at nose tackle. Nix will have no issues filling the void. He won't tally enough stats to be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation, but his overall impact will be very similar.

 

26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

Odell Beckham Jr. has had a hard time differentiating himself from the deep pack of wideouts in the class, but he finds himself in the perfect situation as a result.

Beckham would benefit from the attention thrown at Gordon and Cameron, so his arrival in Cleveland is the best possible fit. He'll produce as a rookie regardless of who resides under center.

 

27. New Orleans Saints: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA

Alex Gallardo

It's safe to say nobody has a clue as to where Anthony Barr will come off the board.

It's not unreasonable that he takes a tumble on draft day, although the allure of a pass-rusher is hard to pass up—major risk or not.

If Barr does take a tumble, he can't land in a better situation than the one in New Orleans. He'd be coached up and put in the best position to succeed by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

 

28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State 

In order to land in the best possible situation, Allen Robinson has to hope the run on receivers does not start until late in the first round.

Jayson Braddock of 790 AM in Houston sums up Robinson's stock best:

Robinson gets his chance to shine in Carolina as the No. 1 wideout. Not bad for falling to No. 28 overall.

 

29. New England Patriots: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame

The dream scenario for any tight end at this point is landing in New England.

Troy Niklas sees this realized as the Patriots look to add a complement and injury insurance to Rob Gronkowski.

Niklas will produce in the pass-happy offense regardless, which is a great win for a prospect who isn't getting enough love.

 

30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

There are a number of teams that are great fits for Brandin Cooks, but given his stock, his best option is in San Francisco.

He would be the big-play threat on an offense that already touts Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. While the others move the chains and sometimes go for huge gains, Cooks can take the top off defenses and create a highlight reel to envy.

It's true his numbers will be hurt by a run-first offense, but he can get over that as he contends for Super Bowl rings.

 

31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

Ryan Shazier is an absolute steal near the bottom of the first round, and he'll get the chance to make the rest of the league pay as a member of the Denver Broncos. 

McShay put it best on ESPN's First Draft podcast, via Rotoworld:

He's got to get stronger, but he's explosive. As he continues to develop his instincts and gets work with professional coaches... I think he's going to continue to get better and better. You don't find many guys that can run the way he can run, that have his athleticism, in a league where you've got to be able to cover, where you have to provide something as a blitzer; he can do both. Any team that drafts him late in the first is going to be happy if they put him in the right situation.

The right situation is Denver, where Shazier will get to show off his coverage and blitz skills while also doubling as a run-stuffing presence for a Super Bowl contender.

 

32. Seattle Seahawks: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Every rookie corner wants to play in Seattle, right?

Jason Verrett is the lucky man at the end of the first round, as the Seahawks know not to pass on such a value. Besides, the team needs more depth and could always use an impact rookie who has the skill set to blossom into an every-down starter rather quickly.

 

Note: All free-agency signing info courtesy of ESPN.

 

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