2014 NFL Draft

2014 NFL Draft: Predictions for Teams with Most at Stake in 1st Round

Jeff Fisher, head coach of the St. Louis Rams and member of the NFL competition committee speaks during a news conference at the NFL football annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., Monday, March 24, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux
Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2014

Because Peter King is better at his job than I am at mine—but I'm gunning for you, Monday Morning Quarterback, I'm gunning for you—it's hardly a surprise that he would be able to sum up this draft pretty perfectly in one tweet:

Mysterious, indeed. There's no consensus as to who is the top quarterback. It seems like every team wants to trade down, but no teams want to sacrifice picks in a deep draft. And Teddy Bridgewater's pro day suddenly became the NFL's version of, well, this:

Yikes.

And that really shook up the process. If only he had been like Johnny Manziel, bopping to hip-hop and wearing a helmet and shoulder pads while he made uncontested throws. Would we all have loved Bridgewater's pro day more then?

But the point is this—in such a mysterious and bizarre draft—nailing your picks becomes all the more difficult. And while every pick in the first round is important, a few teams are  afford to screw up their selections. 

So, let's try to predict exactly what those teams will do.

 

Houston Texans

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 21: Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Houston Texans speaks to the media during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 21, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

When you have the first pick in the draft you can't afford to screw it up. It's really that simple. Just ask the Oakland Raiders (JaMarcus Russell, 2007), the Texans themselves (David Carr, 2002) or the poor Cleveland Browns (Tim Couch in 1999 and Courtney Brown and 2000 in what can only be described as The Great Cleveland Calamity). 

The Texans, of course, have a dilemma. Their biggest need is quarterback, but the top player on the board is a defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney. Do you reach for a need, or do you just take the top player available?

Or, do you trade the pick?

I don't think the Texans will do the latter—in such a deep draft, teams are more likely to hold onto their selections—and unless they are completely sold on a quarterback, I don't think they'll go in that direction, either. 

When a game-changing presence like Clowney is available, you take him, especially when you have J.J. Watt on the other side and you're are going to have to deal with Andrew Luck for the next decade. Clowney is a freak of nature and is probably a better prospect coming into the NFL than the team's last top overall pick, Mario Williams.

Plus there's this, from Tania Ganguli of ESPN:

Well, that should make the decision easier. It isn't a no-brainer—the Texans have options. But drafting Clowney is the right move for this organization moving forward.

Prediction: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

 

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have their fair share of needs. They could use a No. 1 safety. An upgrade at safety would be nice. They certainly could add some talent to the offensive line. They could go after a defensive tackle, cornerback or tight end at some point in the draft. 

The prevailing theory in this draft is that the Rams could wait on wide receiver, since there is so much depth at the position this year, but they'll almost certainly have the option to draft Sammy Watkins with the No. 2 pick, who has the most unique skill set of any wide receiver in this draft. 

No, he isn't the long, fluid prototypical No. 1 receiver in the mold of Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green, but he can go up and get the ball. He's also brilliant after the catch, blazing quick, surprisingly strong and he isn't exactly small at 6'1" and 211 pounds.

Just imagine the matchup problems that Watkins, Tavon Austin and Jared Cook could create for defenses. With Watkins taking the top off of defenses and Austin skewering them underneath with his quick routes and run-after-the-catch ability, the Greatest Show on Turf might be reprieved.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 03:  Sammy Watkins #2 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates a touchdown in the first quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo b
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Rams could go with an offensive lineman at No. 2, they could entertain the notion of drafting Clowney if he drops to them or they could look to trade down (see Texans, Houston), but teams coached by Jeff Fisher have never drafted an offensive lineman in the first round, and I'd be shocked if Clowney was available. 

No, Watkins will be the guy.

As for the No. 13 pick, the Rams need to match their needs with the talent on the board, and the safety position will represent the perfect marriage in that regard. I don't know if they'll have Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor higher on their board, but whichever player is there should be the pick.

Clinton-Dix seems like the more pure, rangy, center fielder type of free safety to pair with T.J. McDonald—I see Pryor playing either strong or free safety, given his combination of athleticism and physicality—so he's the pick. But I could see the Rams going with either player at No. 13 if they're both available.

Prediction: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

 

Cleveland Browns

BEREA, OH - JANUARY 23:  Cleveland Browns new head coach Mike Pettine fields questions from the media during a press conference to announce his hiring at the Browns training facility on January 23, 2014 in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Hoping to avoid The Great Cleveland Calamity, Part Deux, the Browns come into this draft with the No. 4 and No. 26 selections. The sexy pick for the team, the intriguing player who looks like he'll be sitting on the board for them at No. 4 is Johnny Manziel, but should they select him?

Yes, yes they should. 

The Browns have a few nice pieces on offense, led by Josh Gordon and including Jordan Cameron and Ben Tate, but they haven't really had a franchise quarterback since Bernie Kosar. (Unfortunately, that wasn't really a joke.)

Johnny Football is a risk, yes. He's a gun-slinging, scrambling, smaller-than-prototypical, partying icon who won a Heisman Trophy before he became the center of the moralizing media universe. He's breathtaking at times, sigh-inducing at others and seems like he could could be Steve Young, Michael Vick, Kordell Stewart or Seneca Wallace at the next level.

But for all the hype, Manziel is a better pure quarterback than he gets credit for. He has a natural feel and anticipation at the position, he throws a pretty deep ball and, at his finest, he uses his escapability to extend the play like Tony Romo. 

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 23:  Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies warms up before taking on the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Manziel will bring star power, yes, but I think he can really play the position. He'll need to learn from Robert Griffin III and be careful about how often he scrambles—at his size, recklessness as a ball-carrier will lead to injury—but he'll also electrify the fanbase and should do amazing things throwing deep to Gordon.

Plus, his offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan just helped to build an offense around RG3. If the Browns are willing to let Johnny Football be himself—and if Manziel is willing to reel himself in a little bit—it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

As for the other selection, well, the team really needs a guard. It's probably their biggest need outside of quarterback. I could bore you with more details on that, but, let's be honest, you care more about the Manziel selection.

We all care more about the Manziel selection.

Prediction: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M and Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA  

 

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