The NFL draft is a minefield lined with two extremes in busts and Pro Bowlers and everything in between.
This is especially the case for the 2014 draft, a class that at face value is one of the deepest in perhaps more than a decade. It's even easier to make the wrong decision with so many quality options to choose from in the first round.
Players, outside of their own talent, motivation and the like, succeed or fail for a multitude of reason, including which teams draft them. Let's take a look at some of the future Pro Bowlers and busts of the 2014 class.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Smokescreens have been strong of late, and names such as Teddy Bridgewater have been losing ground as a result.
In the end, the best move is for Houston to grab an elite quarterback prospect who can play right away but still has room to grow.
It's easy to guess the Texans grab a defender, but Bill O'Brien is a smart man who knows the value of a tough quarterback. Surrounded by an elite crop of weapons, Bridgewater makes a seamless transition and lives up to the billing of coming off the board No. 1 overall.
Verdict: Pro Bowler
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
St. Louis and Sammy Watkins are linked by more than just due diligence, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins visiting Jaguars today; scheduled to visit Rams on Monday, then have private workout with Rams on Fri April 18th.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 9, 2014
Watkins is the next big thing at wideout in the NFL. He can play special teams, but his complete overall package and elite speed put him over the top as a No. 1 wideout.
He'll be just that in St. Louis, where defenses also have to account for tight end Jared Cook and running back Zac Stacy. Watkins might not make the pro bowl as a rookie, but it won't take long.
Verdict: Pro Bowler
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
As perhaps the rarest prospect in the draft, Jadeveon Clowney will come off the board higher and be a shoo-in for a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Wrong on both accounts. Clowney doesn't make a lot of sense at either of the first two spots and may find it tough to stand out in Jacksonville.
There's no question Clowney has a sound pro career ahead of him all things considered, but a string of Pro Bowls to start his career would be a surprise.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Cleveland Browns are more than willing to take a leap of faith on Johnny Manziel's sporadic play and skill set at No. 4 overall given the fact they have two picks in the first round.
Manziel is a risk given his questionable off-field decisions at times, but there's an allure to his high ceiling that is hard to ignore.
Surrounded by weapons such as receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron, Manziel will stick in the league quite a while as a winner. His gambling ways might not be enough to get him more than that.
5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Greg Robinson is very far from a sure thing at offensive tackle.
Sure, he's an elite prospect, but that doesn't mean he'll turn out to be a strong player on every down for years to come. Plenty of highly touted offensive linemen have been busts over the years.
Robinson relied on his physical superiority to dominate at the collegiate level, but he won't be able to do that in the pros. He'll need a masterful coaching staff to teach him up, and there's no guarantee he gets that in Oakland.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack lands in a great situation in Atlanta. The coaching staff should know as much after their workout with him, per NFL Network's Gil Brandt:
Mack is an ideal fit as he'll get to act as a versatile pass-rusher in multiple defensive fronts. In time he can be the face of the defense in Atlanta, although as of now it's hard to tell if he'll ever crack the elite group of pass-rushers the league touts.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
There's plenty to like about Mike Evans, but his lack of speed may hurt him at the next level. He has good hands and great size, but his numbers in college seem more the result of playing with Manziel than anything else.
One general manager put it best, per CBS Sports' Pete Prisco:
It's funny the slobbering over Mike Evans today. GM to me the other day at meetings: Not that impressed— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) March 27, 2014
That sums up Evans' film rather well. Compounding the issue is Tampa Bay, where no real No. 1 quarterback resides and weapons are limited once Vincent Jackson leaves.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Good news for Blake Bortles—he enters a situation in Minnesota where he can sit for a year or more if need be.
Vikings fans surely don't want another year of Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder, but the payoff down the line will be worth it when one takes into consideration Bortles' impressive ceiling.
Even if he does start right away, the presence of weapons such as Adrian Peterson suggests Bortles will be able to get by.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Let's allow ESPN's Todd McShay to take it away for a moment (subscription required):
For one, there aren't many glaring holes on this team, opening things up for the Bills to take the best available player. Also, second-year QB EJ Manuel would really benefit from having an elite downfield threat with seam-stretching speed like Ebron at the tight end position, giving him another weapon alongside WRs Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and Mike Williams and steady TE Scott Chandler.
The focal point of the strategy in Buffalo is to get the most out of Manuel as quickly as possible. Given Ebron's elite speed, he'll have more than a few plays as a rookie that make the highlight reel.
With the quarterback position such a question mark it's hard to forecast Ebron as a Pro Bowler, but he'll have a productive career.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Detroit needs more talent in the defensive backfield and finds itself in a great spot at No. 10 with the best cornerback in the class on the board.
Darqueze Dennard is physical in all facets of the game and has what it takes to start right away, which does much to improve a secondary that simply looked gassed at times last year.
At worst, he's a solid No. 2 corner.
11. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald is a bit of a risk for the Tennessee Titans both so high and because of his fit in the scheme.
That said, it's hard to ignore what Donald brings to the table as both a pass-rusher and force against the rush. Donald compares favorably to Cincinnati's Geno Atkins and can play at any spot on the line in a 3-4 alignment.
12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews is the definition of an elite prospect, but his stock has dipped a bit because—well, he's boring.
It's boring that Matthews dominates no matter where he lines up. It's boring that there has been no controversy, no bad numbers or poor workouts or unfavorable interviews.
Matthews could easily come off the board No. 1 overall, but the New York Giants aren't complaining. Even if for some reason he falters on the outside, he'll just bounce inside to guard or center and be one of the best the NFL has to offer.
Verdict: Pro Bowler
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The missing piece to any unit is always tough to find.
Except for Jeff Fishers' Rams, apparently, as they get exactly that with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, McShay's No. 10 overall prospect (subscription required):
Clinton-Dix shows really good range, instincts and playmaking ability from the safety position. He didn't run all that well at the combine (4.58 40), but he displays good speed on tape. I think he is the best defensive back prospect in this entire draft class.
Clinton-Dix starts right away and will have a rough transition, but he'll come around in time.
14. Chicago Bears: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Chicago will be none too pleased that Aaron Donald is off the board, but Ra'Shede Hageman looks like a similar prospect—on paper.
Hageman is quite rare from a physical standpoint thanks to his impressive combination of strength and speed. The problems on film are motor and overall game. CBS Sports' Dane Brugler puts it best:
What am I missing with DT Ra'Shede Hageman? Tough to justify using a top-40 pick on him IMO #NFLDraft— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 13, 2014
Hageman is an ideal replacement for Henry Melton, but it's hard to project him turning into a solid every-down contributor.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
It seems rather obvious that Pittsburgh either will look to get Ben Roethlisberger another target or upgrade the secondary in the first round.
Given the impressive depth of the wideout class, bank on Justin Gilbert being the pick.
Gilbert is as pro ready as they come and can step in and start right away. He'll be mentored by the likes of veteran corner Ike Taylor, which only further swings things in his favor.
Verdict: Pro Bowler
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Dallas is also rather predictable, as that miserable defense won't fix itself.
Henry Melton was a nice way to start, but the Cowboys defense still needs efficient pass-rushers on the edge if the unit is actually going to turn things around.
Kony Ealy is a great pick because not only does he provide a proficient rush, he stands tall against the run as a quality all-around end.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
There are those who have their reservations about Taylor Lewan, as a couple of NFL personnel and front office people noted to Mark Eckel of The Times (Trenton, NJ):
“There are question marks there,” the personnel man said. “He’s one of those love/hate guys. He worked out well, but he’s not that tough.”
“Real inconsistent,” the executive said. “You see some games, and you think he’s another Jake Long. Then, you watch him struggle. He’ll go first round; I’m just not sure where.”
The fact remains that Lewan is arguably the most physically gifted tackle in the class who just needs proper coaching in the technique department. Unlike Robinson before him, Lewan will actually get that in a low-pressure environment and eventually succeed.
Verdict: Pro Bowler
18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Jace Amaro enters the draft as a versatile weapon who can line up at any spot on the field and provide a team with a reliable pair of hands.
That's a valuable commodity, but Amaro lands in a tough situation in New York.
There's little to suggest Geno Smith will take a significant leap and little to make anyone think the running game won't be the focal point of the offense moving forward.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
It's no secret Zack Martin is the best fit for the Miami Dolphins at No. 19 overall.
Holes abound on what was the league's worst offensive line a year ago, so it only makes sense the Dolphins would roll with Martin, who can start at any spot on the line and be effective.
The problem for Martin is his lack of a true position, which makes it hard to project how he'll turn out. This is especially the case in Miami.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Bruce Arians understands that he doesn't have a lot of time before he enters the quarterback search. Carson Palmer isn't getting younger and his injury history speaks for itself.
There's no doubt Cyrus Kouandjio is a bit of a risk, as illustrated by ESPN's Mel Kiper (Insider subscription required):
But there are a couple of risk factors: For one, there are questions about how well he'll hold up physically, particularly with his knees, and his injury history isn't completely clean. Secondly, he didn't really take a step forward in performance this season, with some sloppiness in his technique, and I'd say his run blocking is ahead of his pass blocking at this point. He was once a first-round lock, but if he goes there now, I'd call it a bit of a risk.
But that's the beauty of the situation in Arizona. Kouandjio starts at right tackle with Jared Veldheer on the left side and gets to play to his strengths for years to come.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Here is the problem for C.J. Mosley, via Bob Labriola of the Pittsburgh Steelers website:
Kevin Colbert on talent available 2014 draft class: As deep across the board as I've seen in 30 years— Bob Labriola (@BobLabriola) February 12, 2014
Well, it's a good problem in all areas except personal finances. Mosley lands in Green Bay, a team in dire need of a sideline-to-sideline beast in the middle.
Mosley is that and much more as, in tandem with standout linebacker Clay Matthews, he quickly becomes the face of the unit.
Verdict: Pro Bowler
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Philadelphia has a major need in the defensive backfield next to Malcolm Jenkins, so Calvin Pryor is the obvious selection.
The problem with Pryor is that he relies on major hits, which may come back to hurt him at the pro level where everyone is as big as he is and can reciprocate.
Pryor will have his issues in general adaptation to the pros, but he'll come around in time as long as his body holds up.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
There is an outside shot Marqise Lee ends up being the best overall receiver in the class in hindsight.
He's got solid speed, is an excellent route-runner and, though he had issues with drops in 2013, he often displays good hands. He also flashed a terrific ability as a playmaker after the catch. I think his overall game is similar to Watkins, who will come off the board at No. 2.
All that holds Lee back at this point is a down year as a junior at USC—though a lot of his subpar production could be traced to instability at quarterback.
Lee can thrive in Andy Reid's offense, especially with defenses focused on Jamaal Charles and others. His ability to get open will ensure that he sees plenty of opportunities.
Verdict: Pro Bowler
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The cornerback situation in Cincinnati is a great one for a rookie to enter.
With Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick clogging the first three slots on the depth chart, a rookie like Kyle Fuller can come in and learn and not being attacked by offenses.
It helps that Fuller is a superb prospect. He's violent against the run and great in coverage. All things considered, he'll be making plenty of trips to Hawaii. Or Arizona. Or wherever.
Verdict: Pro Bowler
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Louis Nix is easily the best 3-4 nose tackle in the draft, although that niche makes it more likely he falls out of the first round.
He won't thanks to San Diego, a team that has perhaps its biggest question mark at the defensive tackle spot.
Nix won't get the credit he deserves, but he'll be the primary reason guys like Manti Te'o look great in the coming years.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Now that the Browns have a new franchise quarterback, the front office should go ahead and kill two birds with one stone in the same class and help to ensure that the new QB doesn't bust.
Odell Beckham Jr. is a superb prospect who just needs a bit of height, as noted by Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon:
If Odell Beckham were 3 inches taller he'd be a top-10 lock. Which tells me he should probably be in that convo anyways.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) March 31, 2014
As the No. 3 option on the offense for the time being, Beckham will find it rather easy to post productive numbers. He's quietly one of the next big things in the NFL.
Verdict: Pro Bowler
27. New Orleans Saints: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Anthony Barr takes a tumble for good reason, as explained by ESPN's Kiper on the aforementioned First Draft Podcast, via Rotoworld:
"He's got to get more instinctive, learn more about being a defensive football player; looks a little lost out there at times, doesn't play with a defensive mentality, plays like more of an offensive player, which he once was."
Barr is high on athleticism and little else at the moment, and even with guidance from New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, things look dim at the moment.
28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Allen Robinson is in a tough spot.
He's easily one of the great sleeper picks of the draft overall, but this lands him in Carolina, where the run game figures to take priority. Even worse, there's no other true threat in Carolina's receiver corps to take the attention off Robinson.
Still, Robinson is too big, physical and crisp in his routes to not succeed. He's an obvious No. 1 receiver, even in an iffy situation.
29. New England Patriots: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
How could a tight end in New England not succeed?
But seriously, Troy Niklas is already a complete package who needs to land in the right situation. He gets that with the Patriots, which means a bevy of accurate passes from Tom Brady while defenses focus on Rob Gronkowski.
If Gronk succumbs to another injury, Niklas likely becomes the No. 1 target on offense. Not too shabby for No. 29 overall.
Verdict: Pro Bowler
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks says he can be better than DeSean Jackson, via Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com:
The man can blow the top off, catch the deep routes, catch the underneath routes, produce in the return game. He’s just special. He’s a freak. I definitely admire his game. Maybe Chip Kelly is looking to take another speedy receiver in that first round, and that could be me. Who knows? And if that’s the case, a lot of people will wonder ‘Can he do it like DeSean Jackson?’ In my opinion, I can do it like him and do it better.
No one should argue that analysis. The only issue for Cooks is that he lands in San Francisco. The 49ers tout a run-first offense and have two priorities in the passing game with Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.
Cooks will get his via big plays, but not enough to justify a vacation with the best of the best.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Denver is in a position of luxury as the team goes all out during the last few years of Peyton Manning's career.
Ryan Shazier is an obvious choice in the first round as he can come in and play multiple roles. His uncanny speed for the position makes him an obvious force against the run, but also ensures he can be effective as a pass-rusher and in coverage.
For a unit weak at the position, Shazier is a welcome sight. He'll have a sound career all things considered.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Jason Verrett is one of the most physical cornerbacks the 2014 class has to offer. Todd McShay concurs:
Two of the smallest corners in draft --TCU's Verrett and FSU's Joyner -- also happen to be two of the most physical CBs in class.— Todd McShay (@McShay13) March 21, 2014
Translation: Verrett fits right in with the Seattle Seahawks, a team that can take the best player available and needs depth at the spot.
Verrett won't have a seamless transition, but his game has the look of one that eventually succeeds.
Note: All free-agency signing info courtesy of ESPN.