NFL Draft 2014: Safest Early-Round Choices for Risk-Averse GMs

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NFL Draft 2014: Safest Early-Round Choices for Risk-Averse GMs
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When draft day finally arrives, some NFL teams will remember their kindergarten lessons and employ a safety first approach.

And there's nothing wrong with that. While fortune often favors the bold, recklessness also beckons despair and years of repair. Gambles are risky for a reason.

Instead of playing the lottery for the next superstar, some general managers will prefer a safe bet, even if that prospect carries less upside. A stellar organization often just needs a solid starter or two to replace a departed free agent.

Then those teams can hunt for upside in the later rounds, when a failed pick is hardly the end of the world. In the first round, however, a sturdy contributor often does the trick.

 

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

He can't improvise like Johnny Manziel. His arm can't match Blake Bortles' cannon. Throw in a dull pro day, and scouts and fans alike are losing interest in Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.

Their loss. The team that snags him will have secured its future quarterback, who has a much higher floor than the other major contenders.

In NFL Media Analyst  Daniel Jermiah's latest mock draft, Bridgewater fell to the Cleveland Browns. That doesn't sound too bad—except that he's not slated at No. 4, but instead the No. 26 overall selection obtained from the Indianapolis Colts via last season's Trent Richardson trade.

Bridgewater finished his junior campaign as a strong candidate for No. 1 billing, earning a 71.0 completion percentage, 31 passing touchdowns and four interceptions on 9.3 yards per attempt. Yet, after failing to unveil any super powers on pro day, disliking him has become the cool thing to do.

Many people have jumped up on the board, turning a dissenting opinion into popular belief. B/R's Adam Kramer tackled this baffling conundrum.

One of the most consistent, accurate and downright productive quarterbacks to leave the college ranks in quite some time is quickly becoming one of the most polarizing players in the draft. There’s no reason this should be the case, of course, but the scouting process often targets a select few like an overzealous bacteria with no antidote to speak of.

In the case of Bridgewater, the contrarian opinion has gone mainstream. It’s no longer different enough to be different—it’s how different are you. And taking the stance that one of the best college quarterbacks in recent years is actually pretty good is slowly—and shockingly—becoming the minority.

It only takes one NFL organization to make these draft-day whispers moot. According to B/R's Mike Freeman, Bridgewater "is definitely still in the mix" for the Houston Texans' No. 1 pick. He's certainly not the most exciting top choice, but he's the most pro-ready quarterback by a mile.

 

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

We'll now divert our attention from sports' most glamorous position to the most unheralded spot. Offensive tackle Jake Matthews won't reignite a listless fan base, but any bottom-dwelling team who snags him will procure a vital piece to its puzzle.

Son of Hall of Fame guard Bruce Matthews and cousin to Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, Jake comes from a fruitful football gene pool. At 6'5" and 308 pounds, he is surprisingly nimble, with great hands and body control.

When Manziel constantly extended plays outside of the pocket, Matthews held the fort in check. He projects as a plus talent anywhere a team chooses to place him on the offensive line. 

Whether Matthews is taken before or after Auburn's Greg Robinson, neither offensive lineman should slip past the top 10. Matthews could feasibly go as high as No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams, but the Atlanta Falcons (No. 6), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7) and Buffalo Bills (No. 9) are his most likely landing spots.

Whichever team grabs him should feel comfortable about finding a starter for the next decade.

 

Zack Martin, OT/OG Notre Dame

Zack Martin personifies dependability.

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Through four years at Notre Dame, the offensive lineman started a record 52 games, never missing any action for the Fighting Irish. He was part of a corps that led Notre Dame to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.

After four years of steadfast service, Martin drew hefty praise from head coach Brian Kelly, who commended his lineman's leadership.

"(Martin) is the best offensive lineman I've ever coached, and I've coached some great ones," Kelly told the South Bend Tribune's Al Lesar

Only in the NFL can a 6'4", 308-pound man be considered too small, but his hands and arm length fell below average measures for offensive linemen. Yet, he's a smart player who is quick on his feet, and he displays stellar technique. 

Martin could find a new home with the Baltimore Ravens, who allowed 48 sacks last season. If not, he shouldn't fall past No. 19, as the Miami Dolphins desperately need to fortify their offensive line.

 

Note: Official height and weight information courtesy of NFL.com.

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