2014 NFL Draft Projections: Updated Predictions for Top 1st-Round Playmakers

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIApril 24, 2014

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 23: Sammy Watkins #2 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the game against the Citadel Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)
Tyler Smith/Getty Images

The 2014 NFL draft is loaded with playmakers, but there are so many of them that some talented, pro-ready prospects may fall past the first round on May 8.

At least two wide receivers in this extremely deep pool figure to go in the first 10 overall picks, though, along with a dynamic dual-threat quarterback and a potential game-changing tight end. Two of these players combined to form one of the most lethal combinations in college football last season, while the others are consensus No. 1 players at their respective positions.

Let's take a closer look at the offensive weapons in this draft who should make a massive splash in their rookie NFL campaigns and beyond.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

There's no guarantee that Johnny Football is even the first quarterback off the board, but he's undoubtedly the most intriguing of all the signal-callers. Manziel can make every NFL throw and has a sixth sense for eluding defenders along with a knack for moving the chains and lighting up the scoreboard.

These unique abilities will tempt teams to take Manziel early despite the fact that he's just under 6 feet tall and has a sometimes reckless style of play that could get him hurt at the professional level. What he brings in terms of intangibles, passion and star power, though, is unparalleled by any of his peers.

Just about any team in the top five is in play. NFL.com's Marc Sessler conducted a poll in which the Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3), the Cleveland Browns (No. 4) and even the St. Louis Rams (No. 2) seemed like feasible possibilities:

Bear in mind that the Rams also have the 13th selection in the first round, which could be a destination for teams seeking to trade up with St. Louis or an ideal spot for the Rams to land Manziel if he slides that far.

It's hard to see general manager Les Snead passing on an elite prospect at another position when he might already have his answer under center in Sam Bradford, though. St. Louis may just be putting up a smoke screen, enticing teams to trade up.

Since Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack are such outstanding defensive prospects and should go in the top three, the new Browns regime led by GM Ray Farmer will take the plunge on Manziel. Cleveland has the means to move up if need be and is in dire need of stability at the most important position.

Prediction: Browns draft Manziel No. 4 overall

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

The Houston Texans, owners of the top draft choice, don't need a wide receiver, as DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson are already there. St. Louis could perhaps bring in Watkins, but it will probably look to one of the two elite offensive tackle prospects in Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews to address that area of uncertainty.

That brings us to Jacksonville in the third slot. For a franchise in need of some serious excitement, Watkins is much less of a character concern than the cautionary tale of Justin Blackmon, the Jaguars' top-five pick in 2012.

But either Clowney or Mack should be on the board, prompting defensive-minded head coach Gus Bradley to insist on one of the two.

Since the Browns are projected to nab Manziel, Oakland Raider fans can rejoice in this scenario, as Watkins won't get past the fifth pick. Not with Oakland's current receiving corps, which veteran Matt Schaub is apparently expected to mold into a passable unit.

Bleacher Report expert Matt Miller mentioned Watkins first among the players he feels are the safest picks in the draft:

Watkins would become an instant No. 1 receiver over Rod Streater and Denarius Moore, who are strong complementary pieces in the defense. With his blinding acceleration, precise route running, sure hands and dangerousness after the catch, Watson doesn't any glaring holes in his game.

More than anything, the Silver and Black need weapons to score touchdowns and keep up with the explosive offense in the AFC West. This is a big pick for GM Reggie McKenzie and his future at the helm of personnel, so if Watkins is there, he'd better pull the trigger.

Prediction: Raiders draft Watkins No. 5 overall

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

The gap between Watkins and Evans and the rest of the receivers is substantial. Although Watkins is almost the universal top option, there's a chance Evans exceeds the Clemson product's output in the pros.

Questions about Evans' speed were put to rest after he ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Combine that with his 6'5", 231-pound frame, which he uses to his advantage in both breaking free of press coverage and outmuscling defensive backs on 50-50 balls, and Evans has all the makings of an NFL star.

Respected NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt made a bold proclamation about Evans that just might come true if Evans lands in the right spot, per SiriusXM NFL Radio's Twitter account:

Evans is perhaps more comparable to Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Vincent Jackson than to Randy Moss with regard to his physical tools. Imagine if Evans joined Jackson and got to learn the nuances of the game from him. There almost couldn't be a better mentor.

As long as the draft plays out in the way it should based on these circumstances, there's no reason for the Bucs to let Evans get by them at No. 7. Mike Williams was traded to Buffalo this offseason, and Tampa Bay needs another pass-catcher to complement Jackson.

Prediction: Buccaneers draft Evans No. 7 overall

Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

Keith Srakocic

Freakishly athletic tight ends who can catch the ball well have taken the league by storm in recent years, and Ebron has the ability to do just that.

Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen hinted at the matchup problems Ebron can present with his massive size but also said the ex-Tar Heel has room to improve:

That upside is worth gambling on in the top half of the first round.

Other than the Buffalo Bills—who may look to shore up the offensive line or seek help elsewhere after adding Williams at receiver to go with incumbents Stevie Johnson, T.J. Graham, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin—the New York Giants seem like the best fit.

New York is transitioning to a new offense for the first time in two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning's career. Having Ebron, who can win easily versus linebackers down the seam and become a friendly red-zone target, would be ideal, especially since receiver Hakeem Nicks left for Indianapolis this offseason.

Ebron may have shortcomings as a blocker and won't help the G-Men rushing attack get back on track, but he will be a weapon that will help Manning bounce back from his 27-interception campaign in 2013.

Prediction: Giants draft Ebron No. 12 overall

All four of these players have the ability to be special at the NFL level. Wide receivers are often wild-card prospects with diva tendencies, but neither Watkins nor Evans gives off those vibes. Both seem like perennial Pro Bowlers in waiting.

Manziel and Ebron are riskier. The letdown of Manziel busting in the league would be sad for whichever fanbase buys into him. Hopefully for the woeful Browns, Manziel is a raging success if he does land there.

Whichever teams draft these four players should be excited by their potential to make immediate impacts and their high ceilings.


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