It's silly season in the NFL offseason, and the extra time given to teams with the 2014 NFL draft has made things even nuttier.
Players at the top of draft boards are now being criticized, while prospects who appeared to be second or third-round locks are now being pushed up to the first round. Much of that is due to teams drafting for need, but the bashing of some players is unwarranted.
With pro days and the NFL Scouting Combine in the past, individual workouts for elite players are all that remains in the process.
Before the draft officially kicks off May 8, here's a look at the latest projections for the first round with an analysis for each player.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Nearly every analyst has an opinion about where the Houston Texans should go with the No. 1 overall pick. Almost as many have their thoughts on whether or not Jadeveon Clowney will make a great NFL player.
In fact, some like Merril Hoge of ESPN are questioning whether or not he is a good football player in general, per Evan Silva of Rotoworld:
ESPN's Merril Hoge called Jadeveon Clowney's fundamentals "atrocious." "Not a very good football player .. Gets controlled & trucked a lot."— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 21, 2014
As for Adam Schein of NFL.com, he provides his thought's on the top prospect:
I live for a great sports debate. I love sports drama. I yearn for intelligent sports discussion. But when it comes to what the Houston Texans should do with the No. 1 overall pick, there's no discussion.
Jadeveon Clowney is the best player in the 2014 NFL Draft. That's it. Story over.
With widely differing views of the defensive end, only the Texans will actually be the ones to decide whether or not they pull the trigger on the South Carolina product. And if they do, the tandem of J.J. Watt and Clowney could put a few quarterbacks in the hospital.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Throughout the entire college season, Greg Robinson appeared to be just behind Jake Matthews at the top of the impressive 2014 offensive lineman class. But over the course of the BCS National Championship game and offseason workouts, he has proved his athleticism and strength that puts him above the rest of the prospects.
St. Louis has a need to keep Sam Bradford upright and protect other assets like Zac Stacy, the St. Louis Rams will put stock in taking a great lineman over any playmaker behind him. That is, if they decide to keep the pick and not trade down, which seems much more likely.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Though he's not the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the class like he once was believed to be, Blake Bortles has tremendous upside and a frame that has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger.
After getting burned in the past by taking a signal-caller at the top of the draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars could look elsewhere at the top of the board. But the need is real with Chad Henne as the projected starter, so the Jaguars will ultimately look to Bortles to help save the franchise in the coming years.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
At the beginning of the college football season, Teddy Bridgewater could do no wrong. He was projected as the top overall pick by some and a Heisman hopeful.
Nowadays, Bridgewater is being shoved down draft boards outside of the top ten and into the second round by a few analysts. But he's still the best quarterback on the board and an intriguing selection for a struggling Cleveland Browns team in need of a leader on offense.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Easily the most talented wide receiver in the 2014 class, Sammy Watkins won't fall past the top five picks with his elite speed and has a chance to be the No. 1 wideout for the Oakland Raiders for the next decade.
While the Raiders could certainly use some help in the quarterback department along with others, getting one of the best playmakers in the draft will go a long way toward returning to relevancy in the coming years.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Clearly one of the best offensive linemen in a stacked class, Jake Matthews will come into the NFL with a pedigree and strength to get the job done. Thanks to the fact the Atlanta Falcons have a need at the position, Matthews will narrowly fall outside of the top five and join a team that can compete right away.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Talk about a perfect fit. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made several moves to improve the defense this offseason, but adding arguably one of the best defensive prospects in the class to the front seven will put this defense in the same conversation as the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.
How good is Khalil Mack? So good that Merril Hoge of ESPN said he would take Mack over Clowney, widely considered the best player in the draft, in the first round, per Evan Silva of Rotoworld.com:
ESPN's Merril Hoge also said he would take Khalil Mack "in a heartbeat" over Jadeveon Clowney. "In the first round, all day."— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 21, 2014
Is this just a man crush from Hoge and maybe some anger toward Clowney? Even if it is, Mack is still the best linebacker in this class and offers both explosiveness and sure-tackling ability.
In a division where defense is becoming a necessity to contend with Carolina and New Orleans, Lovie Smith won't miss out on taking Mack if he's still on the board.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Just imagine this for a second: Johnny Manziel drops back, fakes the handoff to Adrian Peterson and rolls out to his left for a huge gain. Or maybe you want to see him snap off a short pass to Greg Jennings or Cordarrelle Patterson for chunk yardage.
Either way, putting Johnny Football in a Minnesota Vikings uniform just makes sense for both sides. With the window closing on Peterson's productiveness, it's time to get a quarterback who can flourish with an experienced running back by his side.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Easily the most athletic tight end in the draft, Eric Ebron comes out of North Carolina after being the team's best receiver—not just tight end—over the last several seasons.
Here's a look at some of his biggest highlights with the Tar Heels:
Though the Buffalo Bills have a good receiving corps with Steve Johnson, Robert Woods, T.J. Graham and Mike Williams all battling for attention this upcoming season, pairing Ebron with E.J. Manuel will create a sensational connection for years to come in Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Every time it comes to this choice, it just makes too much sense to not slot Darqueze Dennard to the Detroit Lions. Dennard already has experience playing in Michigan and makes a perfect fit for the Lions' hard-nosed defense.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
If Mack wasn't in the 2014 class, every scout and analyst would be raving about how explosive Anthony Barr is and why he's the best linebacker in the draft.
Barr will come into the league with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. That fits in perfectly with the Tennessee Titans, who have dealt with being overlooked for years now behind the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans.
12. New York Giants: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Simply put, Watkins is one of the best receiving prospects to come along in a few years. But in many other years, Mike Evans would be slotted as the No. 1 wideout in most classes.
Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated gives his thoughts on the 6'5", 225-pound receiver:
Of all the receivers in this draft class, Evans has the most obvious potential to be the kind of touchdown machine and consistent gamebreaker that can define an offense. Sammy Watkins may be more explosive, and speed merchants like Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks can burn it up the slot, but players like Evans are more rare and valuable to NFL teams because of one simple truth: Size and speed beats everything else when the football skills are there. And Evans is well on his way to adding his name to the list of players who embody this theory.
Drawing comparisons to Vincent Jackson of the Buccaneers, Evans will make an immediate impact after the loss of Hakeem Nicks. And thanks to his size and speed, the former Texas A&M receiver has a chance to explode in a division where the defenses are atrocious.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
This one is simple: after picking up a position of need at No. 2 in the draft with Robinson, the Rams will then take the best safety in the class with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. After filling two positions of need, St. Louis can start looking at skill positions in the later rounds.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
After an abysmal year defensively for the Chicago Bears, they will look to fill a need immediately with their first-round pick. And with the top overall defensive tackle still left on the board, going with Aaron Donald is as close to a lock as teams will get in the first round.
The Pittsburgh product proved he can hold his own against other great linemen even though he's undersized (6'1", 285 pounds). He might not be the only defensive player the Bears take, but Donald is a great start for the deflated group and would add plenty of excitement alongside newly signed Jared Allen.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
After a season where the Pittsburgh Steelers fell just short of making the playoffs thanks to a late season run, it's clear the team simply needs to make moves to bolster its future. Well hello, Justin Gilbert, a player some will argue is the best cornerback in the NFL draft.
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report gives his analysis of the defensive back:
Love him. Prototypical cornerback. RT @DrMoserr: what do you think of Justin Gilbert this year?— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 20, 2014
Dennard may be slotted above him in this mock draft, but Gilbert isn't far behind in the physical tools. His size and tackling ability will make him a perfect fit for the Steelers, and they'll need it in a division where Josh Gordon, A.J. Green, Steve Smith and Torrey Smith are all running wild.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
As atrocious as last season was for the Dallas Cowboys defense, there is no immediate fix for the team. But grabbing Timmy Jernigan, an athletic defensive tackle who can be a stopgap in the running game and help rush the passer, will help the team right away.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
There are plenty of question marks about Taylor Lewan coming into the draft, but his ability alone makes him a potential top-10 pick. Unfortunately, red flags usually mean a drop in stock, which works out well for the Baltimore Ravens at the No. 17 spot in the first round.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Eric Decker was one of the hottest commodities in all of football this offseason, and the New York Jets got him. But just one player who's been a No. 2 receiver his entire career is not going to solve the offensive woes the team experienced last season.
One player still on the board who can make an impact immediately alongside Decker is Odell Beckham Jr. The former LSU wideout makes a great fit for the team, as Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com points out:
If the Jets select a wide receiver with the 18th pick -- and there's a good chance they will -- the name to watch is LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. He's a versatile receiver with the speed and ability to get deep, and we all know the Jets need a player that can scare the daylights out of a defensive coordinator.
Beckham Jr. led the BCS's automatic-qualifying schools with 26 receptions on passes of 15 yards or longer last season. He had multiple receptions on passes of that distance in seven of 13 games, proving he could burn defenses even when they knew what was coming.
Needless to say, Beckham and the Jets are a match made in heaven. While the team hasn't necessarily given up on Stephen Hill, adding Beckham to the receiving corps will rejuvenate the offense and help return the team to relevance.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
After coming up just short of making the playoffs, the Miami Dolphins need one simple fix to put them over the top. Many teams might need to add a playmaker or shutdown defensive player, but the Dolphins simply need an offensive lineman to help keep Ryan Tannehill upright.
Miami allowed a league-high 58 sacks—eight more than second-place Jacksonville—and couldn't stop the bleeding after the incident midway through the season. With Zack Martin serving as the stopgap, look for the Dolphins to once again make noise in the AFC East.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Being a great defensive end in the NFL takes not only grit, strength and determination, but also a certain amount of confidence. Kony Ealy has all of that packaged into one player.
Ealy spoke about his talent and where he sees himself in the deep defensive end class that also includes Clowney, per Tom Pelissero of USA Today:
I feel like I'm the best guy in this draft, period. And that's not a cocky thing — that's just a confidence thing. It's not just talk. It's been proven. My numbers show for it. My size and speed and agility show for it. What else can you want?
... There's no knocking [Clowney]. But I'm the best defensive end in this draft. I may not have a whole lot of hype, but I don't (need) anybody to acknowledge me.
Ealy, meet the Arizona Cardinals. Both sides have a bit of an inferiority complex currently and can benefit each other. In a division where the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks run the show, Ealy has the potential to shine in the front seven for the Cardinals and help the team compete in the NFC West.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois
During this offseason, the Green Bay Packers have locked up players like Julius Peppers along with a plethora of mainstays from last season. But with a void still to fill at the safety position, adding an elite player on that side of the ball like Jimmie Ward will help keep the Packers at the top of the division.
After putting together a great career with Northern Illinois, Ward will join a franchise with history of being a great team. Thanks to his talent and physicality in the backfield, he can help keep the tradition going for Green Bay.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Much like the debate over the best corner in the 2014 class, the debate over the best free safety has come down to Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. What the selection at No. 22 means for the Philadelphia Eagles is they get a player right away who is looking to prove he's the best at his position.
Motivation can be a huge asset for a rookie, and Pryor will show why he shouldn't have dropped below the Alabama product in the draft. Bringing a hard-hitting style and speed to cover the entire field, watch for Pryor to make a huge impact next to emerging strong safety Earl Wolff.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
All Brandin Cooks did during the 2013 season with Oregon State was shatter his career high with 128 receptions, 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. Despite his size—he's only 5'10", but undersized receivers are so in right now—Cooks can do it all on the football field.
Lining him up at slot receiver would be a perfect complement to Dwayne Bowe for the Kansas City Chiefs, but Cooks also has the speed to be what Steve Smith was for the Carolina Panthers early in his career.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Let's be honest, before the draft process got started, not many people outside of ACC circles had ever heard of Kyle Fuller. But with a 6'0", 194-pound build, Fuller is both an outstanding cover corner and has the toughness to make a difference on the gridiron.
Fuller is a sure tackler and would have time to learn under the tutelage of Terence Newman and Adam Jones before taking the reins in the Cincinnati Bengals secondary.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
At 5'10", 176 pounds, the TCU cornerback has both the speed and tackling ability to shine at the NFL level. But in a class where both Gilbert and Dennard have shined and Fuller has emerged as a top prospect, Jason Verrett will have to settle for playing with a playoff contender.
On a team where the offense is good enough to carry them through the playoffs, the San Diego Chargers need a player like Verrett to bolster the defense. Though he might not be able to come in right away and be a man corner against quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Alex Smith, Verrett will develop into a great player in San Diego's system.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Another pick, another cornerback coming off the board. If any position is as deep as the offensive line class this season, it's clearly the defensive backs.
The Cleveland Browns will take Bradley Roby after getting the quarterback of the future to continue a trend of great defense in the AFC North. Against receivers like Smith—Torrey or Steve, honestly—along with A.J. Green and Antonio Brown, Roby's services will be in high demand right away for the Browns.
27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
After one of the most miserable years for a defense in the history of the NFL, Rob Ryan was able to right the ship and turned the New Orleans Saints into a top five defense in a few statistical categories. The only problem is the Carolina Panthers are still better.
Ryan won't have any of that, and he'll be lobbying to help build the defense into a juggernaut to complement an already explosive offense. With C.J. Mosley still on the board, the linebacker has both the instincts and athleticism to give the Saints a huge asset in the front seven.
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated shares his thoughts on the Alabama product:
The general consensus is that Mosley’s stock has slipped some due to his lengthy list of prior injuries, landing him somewhere just below the mid-point of Round 1. ... His skill level, however, leaves him in play as high up as LB-needy Minnesota at No. 8 or NFC North foe Detroit at No. 10. Either could use an infusion of athleticism in their linebacking corps. The same goes for a handful of teams between the Lions and Dolphins, in that 11-18 range.
Linebackers with the advanced instincts that Mosley possess are fairly rare entries in the draft. He will have to prove that he can handle the beating he’ll take as a pro, but if he does this, he could be the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
While Burke sees Mosley going much higher, the Saints will gladly take the linebacker if he falls into their laps. In a division where Luke Kuechly is clearly the best linebacker, Mosley could shine early for New Orleans.
28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
It's been a rough offseason for the Panthers, with the release of Steve Smith, losses of Brandon LaFell to the New England Patriots and Jordan Gross to retirement, there are some crucial holes to fill.
Draft analyst Mel Kiper of ESPN believes the needs at wide receiver outweigh the spot on the offensive line, per Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer:
Carolina can’t get just one. They probably have to get two receivers.
They haven’t had great wide receiver play, even with Steve Smith. Steve Smith was a heck of a player. Who was the other guy? Brandon LaFell dropped a lot of balls. So it’s not like this team had a great receiving corps, or a good receiving corps, anyway. Now they need multiple receivers.
With Marqise Lee still on the board and a desperate need at the position, look for the Panthers to pull the trigger on him. Lee looked like a surefire No. 1 receiver at the start of the college season and could return to form after injuries in Carolina.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots have made some big moves with the signing of LaFell and re-signing of their leading receiver in 2013, Julian Edelman. But with the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski, who has struggled to remain healthy, New England still needs to land a proven tight end to continue its dominance in the AFC East.
If Jace Amaro is still on the board, the Pats will pull the trigger on a guy who opens up the middle of the field for Tom Brady.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
It's been a rough offseason for the San Francisco 49ers, but with a team still intact at the moment and a need at wide receiver, the Niners will select Cody Latimer.
The draft sleeper will make an immediate impact for San Francisco and have at least a full season to learn under Anquan Boldin. With Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis lining up across from him, Latimer will be able to learn from three of the best in the game.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
After a huge year where they came up just short, the Denver Broncos have just a few holes to fill to get back to the Super Bowl and complete the journey for Peyton Manning. Having a late-round selection in hand, they'll look to help protect their biggest asset by plugging Xavier Su'a-Filo into the offensive line.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Bringing back Sidney Rice was a good start for the Seattle Seahawks, but improving in the passing game is still a necessity for the team to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
While Kelvin Benjamin may be seen as a project with upside, that's exactly the type of player Pete Carroll flourishes with in his system. Inserting Benjamin into the lineup would not only improve the team offensively but also gives Russell Wilson a huge target to look for across the middle or down the field.
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