In terms of big-name talent, it can be argued that the 2014 NFL draft boasts the most significant class in recent memory. That doesn't necessarily guarantee that the top prospects will be successful at the next level, but the potential is undeniable.
Based on the relative lack of star power in the 2013 draft, the 2014 class certainly jumps off the page. Not only does it feature players with intriguing NFL skills sets, but there are also plenty of guys who became generational stars at the college football level for one reason or another.
Here is a closer look at the most talked about players in the 2014 NFL draft pool, along with predictions for where each of them will land.
Great pass-rushers are arguably more important in the NFL now than ever before. With so much emphasis on the passing game, it is incumbent upon defenses to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. Perhaps nobody is more capable of that than South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney is a freakish athlete who was burdened with huge expectations from his very first day of college football. He certainly lived up to them early on, but Clowney's junior season was somewhat disappointing. He finished the 2013 campaign with just 40 tackles and three sacks after tearing up the SEC to the tune of 13 sacks one year earlier.
A mixture of injuries and offensive emphasis on stopping him contributed heavily to his struggles, but questions regarding his work ethic exist as well. According to Mark Eckel of NJ.com, an anonymous NFC personnel man blasted Clowney's effort level.
He's spoiled, and he's lazy. He's never worked hard a day in his life, now all of a sudden you're going to give him a bunch of money and expect him to work hard. I don't see it. (...) Oh, he's going to be a high pick. Some team will fall in love with him. But wait and see, just wait and see. I just don't think you can count on him. I'm betting the under on him.
Despite that less-than-ringing endorsement, there is little doubt that Clowney will come off the board early. The big question relates to whether he will go No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3. None of the top three teams necessarily have a big need at defensive end, but Clowney has all the makings of a generational talent.
According to Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com, the Houston Texans recently met with Clowney:
That doesn't necessarily guarantee anything, but it certainly shows that they are interested. Per Josh Norris of Rotoworld.com, it is tough to imagine Houston passing on Clowney at No. 1:
Since it seems likely that at least one of the draft's top quarterbacks will still be available at the top of the second round, the Texans can afford to go for the best player available, and that is undoubtedly Clowney.
Nobody knows for sure how well his game will translate to the NFL level, but there is no question that Johnny Manziel is one of the most exciting draft prospects in recent memory. Johnny Football was a stud at Texas A&M, where he had arguably the greatest freshman year in the history of college football. Manziel enters the NFL with a Heisman Trophy and all kinds of other accolades to his credit, but none of that matters now.
It all comes down to Manziel's ability to do the same things against NFL competition. Robert Griffin III was a similar player in college, and he took the NFL by storm as a rookie. At the same time, RG3 and Manziel have similar body types. Griffin's penchant for running led to an injury that ultimately zapped his effectiveness in his second year.
There is understandable concern regarding Manziel since he could be prone to injury and forced into becoming a pocket passer, which is something that he doesn't necessarily excel at. Even so, Manziel has skills that no other quarterback in the draft can match.
Several teams picking in the first eight selections desperately need a quarterback, so Manziel should land somewhere in that area. One franchise that immediately jumps off the page, though, is the Cleveland Browns at No. 4. Not only do they need a quarterback, but they also need a guy who can re-energize the fanbase.
Manziel has the ability to do precisely that, and the team has shown interest, according to NFL on ESPN:
That could easily be a smokescreen, but Manziel to Cleveland makes so much sense. There is obviously risk involved with taking him; however, former Browns quarterback Gary Danielson believes the reward outweighs it, per Tony Grossi ESPNCleveland.com:
The Jacksonville Jaguars could potentially nab Manziel at No. 3, but they may be more intrigued by in-state product Blake Bortles. Cleveland could opt to select a quarterback at No. 26 instead, but Manziel won't be there. He is a perfect fit, and he should be the pick at No. 4.
Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has received a ton of publicity since he announced that he is gay back in February. There is no question that it was a significant revelation for the NFL and professional sports as a whole, but Sam is worth monitoring for his on-field accomplishments as well.
Clowney is considered by most to be the No. 1 prospect in this draft, but Sam dwarfed his accomplishments in 2013. He racked up 11.5 sacks for the Tigers and helped lead them to one of their best seasons in team history. Sam was ultimately named the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and he put his name on the draft radar.
Things haven't gone perfectly for Sam since the end of the season, though. His NFL Scouting Combine and pro day performances didn't match up with his stellar on-field play, and there is some question regarding whether or not he can be an effective NFL player.
He is somewhat undersized at 6'3" and 263 pounds, and he didn't display impressive speed at the combine with a 40-yard dash time of just 4.91 seconds.
Sam has always been more of an in-game performer, though, and it is certainly possible that it will continue at the next level. Sam isn't a first-round prospect, and he may not even be a Day 2 pick, but he will undoubtedly end up on a roster.
According to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, the New York Jets have shown some interest in Sam:
The Jets would be a great fit due to head coach Rex Ryan's ability to get the most out of his pass-rushers. With three selections in the fourth round, Gang Green can afford to roll the dice a bit on a player like Sam.
Look for New York to jump at Sam with the No. 137 overall pick.
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