After months of mock drafts, rumors, scouting reports, highlight films, dissections of team needs and arguments in comments sections of team pages, the speculation is over and the first round of the NFL draft is upon us.
As always, there will be surprises, trades, picks that will be looked upon as potential reaches and players who dropped down the board. In other words, it was brilliant as ever.
Let's take a look at the full 32 selections of Round 1 and break down some of the notable names who will come off the board on the first day of the draft.
|2||St. Louis Rams|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|12||New York Giants|
|13||St. Louis Rams|
|18||New York Jets|
|21||Green Bay Packers|
|23||Kansas City Chiefs|
|25||San Diego Chargers|
|27||New Orleans Saints|
|29||New England Patriots|
|30||San Francisco 49ers|
Jadeveon Clowney, DE
Arguably the most talented player in this draft, Jadeveon Clowney should make an instant impact at the next level. His combination of size (6'6", 266 lbs), strength, speed and overall athleticism is rare for any position, let alone defensive end, and he has the potential to be dominant at the next level.
There were whispers that Clowney coasted on his talent or lacked heart during the predraft process, but such notions reeked of propaganda by teams hoping he would drop down the board as much as anything else. If Clowney plays up to his huge potential at the next level, he'll be a superstar.
Sammy Watkins, WR
Few players are more exciting to watch in this draft class than Sammy Watkins. A true No. 1 receiver, Watkins can beat defenders deep, makes plays after the catch with his quickness and surprising strength and was even used at times as an option in the running game for Clemson.
His production speaks for itself. In 2013, he caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns, which was his second season with at least 1,200 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Not too shabby. It's his versatility that makes him so dangerous, as Greg A. Bedard of Monday Morning Quarterback wrote before the draft:
Watch Watkins bowl over an Ohio State defender after catching a short pass; watch him block for a teammate; and watch him catch a pass falling out of bounds with a defender all over his back. These are rare qualities to see in a prospect at the nascent stage of his pro career. Even better is Watkins’ ability to catch the ball with his hands—instead of trapping it against his chest—and make receptions outside the frame of his body. Again, these are elite-level qualities for any receiver, let alone one who turns 21 on June 14.
Then there’s Watkins’ ability to use his speed to take the top off a defense while making over-the-shoulder catches seem so natural. Here are but two examples of that speed: against Syracuse and against Georgia.
Watkins doesn't have the normal height (6'1") or build of dominant receivers at the NFL level, but as Bedard notes in his piece, he may just break the mold given his unique skill set. He'll certainly be fun to watch.
Johnny Manziel, QB
Speaking of fun to watch, there's Johnny Football. Electrifying on the field—and often a whisker away from trouble off of it—the Heisman Trophy-winner was one of the biggest question marks coming into the draft.
Was he big enough? Could he play enough of a traditional game for NFL teams while not losing his playmaking ability? Would he be an injury concern? Could he make all of the throws?
One thing became obvious about Manziel during the scouting process—while he was always considered an excellent "player," he was also a very, very good "quarterback." It's an important distinction. He has a natural feel for the position. He can, in fact, make all of the throws, with very nice touch to boot. He'll need to continue sharpening his reads and timing at the next level, but he improved a lot in the pocket in 2013.
If he learns to use his legs to extend plays more instead of only using them to race down field as a glorified running back, he could become a more athletic, more exciting and perhaps more clutch version of Tony Romo. And boy, should that make him one heck of an exciting player.
Khalil Mack, DE/OLB
It's the versatility that makes Khalil Mack so intriguing, and it's his overall skill set that makes him pop on tape.
Could he be a defensive end in a 4-3? Probably. An outside linebacker in that same scheme? Most likely. Is he probably best-suited to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or some type of roving pass-rusher in a hybrid system? Yes.
Mack will remind people of Von Miller, but he has the potential to be even better, as he can also drop off into coverage when called upon to do so. His athleticism and strength are top notch, and he always seems hungry to ensnare whomever is holding the football when he is on the field. He doesn't have the name recognition of the three guys listed above, but he might just have the better career.