NFL Draft 2014: Latest Predictions for Top Prospects in Star-Studded Class

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2014

COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 30:  Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies leaves the field after the Missouri Tigers defeated the Texas A&M Aggies 28-21 to win the game on November 30, 2013 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There are two things everyone wants to know about the NFL draft—who their team will draft and where the top prospects on the board will end up. For most of the offseason, we argue that very topic and literally have no idea which teams value whom, and why.

Smoke screen season is upon us, after all.

But we can make our educated guesses. Below, I'll break down where I think the top prospects in this draft will end up.

Somewhat surprisingly, I think the top five players will be gone in the top five pickssomething that often doesn't happen as teams reach for needs.

1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 24: Former South Carolina defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney looks on while sitting out position drills during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With no can't-miss quarterback prospect on the board, the Houston Texans would be wise to take the top player on the board.

While a prospect like Khalil Mack might make a bit more sense schematically, Jadeveon Clowney is too much of a freak for the Texans to pass on.

Yes, there have been plenty of high-profile media members ripping Clowneypresumably to inject themselves into that day's news cycle. There are also concerns that he didn't play well last season, though SEC opponents made stopping him a primary aspect of their game plan.

So, yes, there are mixed feelings about Clowney, as Albert Breer of found when speaking to several NFL executives:

'Right now, today, he's a damn good NFL player, no matter what,' a veteran NFC personnel executive said. 'The kid could've started in the NFL his freshman year, the way he played. It's not that he doesn't have good tape. And if you hit on him, he's Reggie White. His God-given talent is better than 99 percent of the NFL. ... He's gonna be 275 to 285 pounds, and he moves like he's 250. If you hit on him, he changes the game.'

That assessment certainly doesn't lack for superlatives, but to some, the "ifs" are seen as a bigger deal.

'What are you buying?' another NFC personnel exec said. 'I'm not sure. He can be a big-time player, but is he gonna be? The wiring, the motor, the questions about shutting it down—it's really scary. It's boom or bust. I don't know how important football is to him.'

It's hard to overlook that athleticism, though. It looks as though the Texans are going to target one of the two most dynamic players on the boardat least according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle:

Clowney is the one player in this draft that could be transcendent, and if you have the top overall pick, can you really afford to pass on that ability?

Probably not. The Texans would be wise to roll the dice on Clowney—the reward will far outweigh the risk.

2. St. Louis Rams: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

The Rams will have plenty of options with the No. 2 pick, and the one they'd likely be happiest with would be trading the pick, though it's unlikely in such a deep draft.

However, they could do far worse than taking the top receiver in the draft and finally filling the void at the No. 1 receiver slot.

Watkins isn't Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green, the sort of long freak of nature that will pluck the ball out of the sky. It's not that he can't go up and get it, which he can, but Watkins' game is about what he does once he has the ball in his hands more than anything else.

A running back after the catch, Watkins is versatile enough to also beat teams over the top or work the intermediate routes, using his quickness to beat coverage.

He's a new breed of receiver, perhaps, but trying to game-plan for dynamic playmakers such as himself and Tavon Austin would make facing the Rams a scary proposition. 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo

Michael Conroy

While Khalil Mack appears better-suited to playing the outside linebacker role in a 3-4 defense, the league has embraced hybrid schemes enough that the Jaguars could find a unique way to unleash Mack on opposing offenses.

Through and through, Mack is a gamer. He's the type of guy who squeezes every last drop out of his ability, has a natural feel for the game and appears to love playing.

He's the type of guy you plug in immediately and never worry about.

Head coach Gus Bradley is going to want to continue to build this defense, especially in a draft with no consensus top quarterback. Mack will be making plays for years to come in Jacksonville.

4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Kyle Shanahan. The reason that Johnny Manziel makes so much sense for the Cleveland Browns is Kyle Shanahan. 

Why does the team's new offensive coordinator matter?

Because he coached up Robert Griffin III, a similar player to Manziel, for two years. That's why. Manziel is the type of prospect you have to build a system around and playing to his strengths has to be the top priority for any team that drafts him.

Plus, with a dynamic talent like Josh Gordon out wide, adding a player who can consistently get him the ball down the field should be a priority in Cleveland.

Manziel would give this team the most exciting offensive player it's had in years and could end up being the best quarterback it's had since Bernie Kosar.

5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 22: Former Auburn offensive lineman Greg Robinson takes part in a drill during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 22, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With Matt Schaub signed this offseason, the Raiders will probably wait to draft a quarterback later on to groom for a year or two down the line. The offensive line is a major need, and Greg Robinson is my top prospect at tackle this year.

Jake Matthews is the more polished player, sure, but Robinson's upside is immense and his athletic ability at the position makes him potentially the next Jason Peters.

The Raiders would be wise to upgrade the offensive line in this year's draft.


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