NFL Draft 2014: Surefire Projections for Biggest 1st-Round Steals

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NFL Draft 2014: Surefire Projections for Biggest 1st-Round Steals
Michael Conroy

With all the research teams do ahead of the NFL draft, it's amazing that teams are able to find hidden gems and that talented players manage to drop a few spots lower than they should.

With the combine and pro days out of the way, this seems to be the prospect-bashing phase. Teams are using deception to try to hide how they really feel. The sad thing is that it actually works sometimes.

Whether it's the result of a well-planned smear campaign or merely poor scouting, these three players are bound to drop a little further than they should in the 2014 draft.

 

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville Cardinals

By now, you've probably read Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's tweets about an AFC North coach comparing Teddy Bridgewater to Willie Beamen of Any Given Sunday:

The draft machine is running off the rails. The amount of hate surrounding Bridgewater at the moment is staggering:

Former NFL general manager Phil Savage told SiriusXM NFL Radio, via NFL.com's Bryan Fischer, "I think the media has Teddy Bridgewater in the top 10, but around league circles he's more like a late first, early second-round pick."

Simply put, that's absolutely ridiculous.

Nothing in Bridgewater's performances over the past three years should lead you to believe he's all of a sudden going to be a terrible quarterback in the NFL.

Whatever "red flags" he has appear to be concerns about a pro day nobody should really care about, vague platitudes about his mentality and energy, and concerns about his hand size, as if that precludes anybody from being a successful quarterback in the NFL.

Bridgewater is the best QB in the draft, and if he were to fall out of the top five, he'd offer massive value for a team. The Minnesota Vikings couldn't possibly pass up the chance at No. 8, could they?

Projection: No. 8 to the Minnesota Vikings

 

Aaron Donald

With the rise of speedy pass-rushers, defensive tackles are slipping down the defensive hierarchy. Aaron Donald is the cream of this year's crop, and there's a good chance he slips out of the top 10.

Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar raved about the Pittsburgh star in his newest batch of defensive tackle rankings:

The reason is clear—Donald uses tremendous speed and power to upend blockers and disrupt plays over and over, and his effort is never questioned. He probably projects best as a 3-tech in a four-man front at the next level, but don’t be surprised if a more creative coaching staff puts him in multiple positions to succeed—from end to nose tackle—and Donald looks great just about everywhere. This is a franchise-defining player in the right system.

The beauty of Donald is that his pressure through the middle allows defensive coordinators a little more freedom with their play-calling. They don't have to blitz extra linebackers and defensive backs in order to get a strong pass rush.

Look no further than Geno Atkins and Gerald McCoy to see how impactful a great defensive tackle can be.

Donald should be the first DT off the board, but it doesn't look like it will happen in the top 10. The Atlanta Falcons and the Buffalo Bills are probably the likeliest landing spots, but they'd value linebackers such as Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack a bit more.

The Chicago Bears would likely jump at the chance to take Donald at No. 14. He'd be a great fit for their 4-3 defense.

Projection: No. 14 to the Chicago Bears

 

Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA

Alex Gallardo

Speaking of players whose positions are undervalued.

Chance Warmack was drafted 10th overall in 2013, but he's the exception to the rule when it comes to offensive guards in the NFL draft. While Xavier Su'a-Filo isn't the prospect Warmack was, he's the best guard in this year's draft.

His stock has been soaring over recent months, per Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register:

Two scouts told Mora that Su’a-Filo is the best guard prospect in the draft since five-time All-Pro Steve Hutchinson, who was drafted out of Michigan in 2001.

That claim might be a bit hyperbolic, but the combine and UCLA’s Pro Day did go quite well for Su’a-Filo, who’s widely believed to be a first-round pick and the top guard available.

Su’a-Filo said a few teams mentioned he could even play tackle or center at the next level.

As Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated wrote, Su'a-Filo started his career at UCLA as a left tackle, which means footwork won't be a problem:

Really excels with that element of his game, using his quick feet to stand his ground on passing downs and to get out in front when asked to pull. Often beats opposing defenders off the snap, getting his weight into them before they can drive into the backfield. Would be a fit for either a man-blocking or zone-blocking scheme, meaning he should be on just about every draft board. At the bare minimum, holds his own against powerful tackles.

Su'a-Filo is better at run-blocking than pass-blocking, but both are at the level you'd expect for a rookie offensive guard.

If he can fall to them, the Seattle Seahawks would love to have Su'a-Filo.

Projection: No. 32 to the Seattle Seahawks

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