2014 NFL Draft: Projecting Best Fits for Draft's Biggest Talents

Tim KeeneyContributor IMay 3, 2014

Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins makes a catch during a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy

In the NFL, success hinges on environment. 

A prospect can have all the talent in the world, but if he doesn't land with the best possible fit—right team, right system, right coaching staff, right city, etc.—it's going to be difficult to completely live up to his potential. 

That being said, let's take a look at some of the most talented players in the upcoming draft and where they would best thrive (within reason, so no Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers for Jadeveon Clowney, folks).


Jadeveon Clowney: Houston Texans

Some worry that Clowney is more of a 4-3 defensive end and thus won't fit into Bill O'Brien's 3-4 defense. 

But consider the Houston Texans' new head coach's recent comments, via CBS Sports' Pete Prisco, regarding the fluidity of defensive schemes: 

The first day of minicamp we'll line up in this 3-4 and that's what we run. After that, it goes to some three-down looks, some four-down looks, some odd looks where he'll (J.J. Watt) be moving around. It's just a very multiple defense. 70 percent of the game now is played in nickel. When we went through our snaps, I think against last year's Texans offense, I think 75 percent of the snaps were played in nickel or dime because a lot times, Houston was in 11 personnel. He's going to fit in very well with what we do.

If O'Brien isn't concerned about J.J. Watt lining up in that defense, then Clowney will be just fine. 

We're getting to the point where teams don't play just one base defense, and even if they did, Clowney is the type of absurdly talented prospect who transcends scheme. When you have someone with his amalgam of size, strength, quickness, explosiveness and ability to command double-teams, you simply put him on the field and let him do damage. 

So, now that we're all in agreement that it's a fit for Houston, what exactly makes this the ideal landing spot for the former South Carolina stud himself? 

The simple answer: He'll best maximize his production with the Texans. 

Going up against Watt, who many believe to be the most dangerous pass-rusher in the league, as well as Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed, defenses wouldn't be able to send extra blockers toward—or flat-out play away fromClowney. As NFL Philosophy on Twitter noted, that's what he became accustomed to seeing in college: 

A dynamic force like Clowney is going to find a way to make an impact wherever he goes, but with the Texans' already stout defense, he becomes an incredibly scary one-on-one matchup on the outside. 

For many other teams early in Round 1, Clowney would become the focal point of opposing offensive lines. With Houston, he's more likely to see less attention and will be set up for immediate success.


Sammy Watkins: Detroit Lions

The same concept applies here. Just like Clowney would benefit from all the attention Watt receives on the opposite side of the field, explosive wide receiver Sammy Watkins would essentially go unnoticed playing in the same neighborhood as Calvin Johnson. 

Megatron, the most dominant wide receiver in the league, has averaged just over 1,700 receiving yards during the past three seasons and consistently commands double- and triple-teams because of his insane ability over the top. 

If you line Watkins up on the other side against single coverage, he immediately becomes a game-breaking threat.

Well, more of a game-breaking threat than he already is. 

Watkins (6'1", 211 lbs) may not have the size of a Johnson or a Josh Gordon, but he is a consistent pass-catcher, and his blend of strength and speed makes him extremely dangerous after the catch. 

"He’s essentially a young Anquan Boldin, with speed to burn," wrote Sports Illustrated's Greg A. Bedard.

Watkins being available at No. 10 is unlikely at this point, but as the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett noted, rumors are swirling that the Lions will be trying to trade up to acquire the former Tiger: 

If the Detroit Lions want to land the best receiver in the draft, Clemson's Sammy Watkins, they'll have to trade up to get him.

And the growing sense in league circles is that's the all-in sort of move the Lions, a team desperate to reverse its downtrodden luck, could be willing to make.

The Lions haven't been short on offensive firepower the last couple of years, and with Joique Bell emerging next to Reggie Bush in the backfield, that trend isn't likely to conclude any time soon. 

But adding a game-changer in Watkins helps stop the over-reliance on Johnson and makes it easier for Matthew Stafford, whose completion percentage has decreased and interceptions have increased the last two seasons, to spread the ball around. 

Everyone wins.

Except secondaries in the NFC North. 


Khalil Mack: Jacksonville Jaguars

Michael Conroy

Last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars finished last in the NFL with just 31.0 sacks, and it's quite obvious that Gus Bradley, who helped build the defensive monster that is the Seahawks, is intent on changing that right away. 

The Jags have added Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Ziggy Hood this offseason, and it wouldn't be surprising if they spent the third overall pick on another pass-rusher to truly fortify the front seven. 

Enter Khalil Mack, whom Bradley raved about on the Schein on Sports radio show, via NFL.com's Mike Huguenin:

He's one of those guys you feel like that's going to play for a long time; just extremely talented. And I think if you're a 3-4 team, you look at him and you say, 'God, the guy can rush. He can drop.' There's so many different positions that you can put him in. ... I know that each team probably looks and says, 'We have a place for him, and he would fit in very nicely.'

Bradley and general manager David Caldwell are building a defense centered on speed, and Mack could serve as the perfect face for the future. 

Blessed with impressive speed, athleticism, explosiveness and versatility, the Buffalo standout would be welcomed with open arms by Jacksonville. Moreover, the youngster, who has a ceiling of potential as high as the clouds, would benefit under Bradley, one of the best defensive minds in football.