NFL Draft 2014: Projecting Career Paths of 1st-Round Sleepers

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NFL Draft 2014: Projecting Career Paths of 1st-Round Sleepers
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Given the nature of the class set to hear their names called at the 2014 NFL draft, there are a wealth of prospects who can currently be classified as first-round sleepers.

The depth of the class has led to plenty of analysis and debate, which has only been compounded by the fact the draft was pushed back this year. At face value, several names have first-round talent and may shock many on draft day when they take a walk to the podium.

Talent certainly has the propensity to trickle down the board more so than ever this year, but the following guys have first-round talent and intriguing careers ahead.

 

Dominique Easley, Defensive Tackle, Florida

Get to know the name Dominique Easley.

Easley is quite the risk from a medical standpoint, as he tore both ACLs during his tenure in Gainesville, but he's on the road to recovery and quite the prospect in the trenches. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller goes as far as comparing him to Sheldon Richardson:

It's easy to say this now, but were it not for two ACL injuries (to opposite knees), Dominique Easley would be a top-15 talent. Much like Tank Carradine last year, his value will be skewed because of injury, but Easley has incredible ability to penetrate and pressure offenses from the interior. He's a Sheldon Richardson clone when healthy. His stock could fluctuate depending on how teams view his readiness after surgery, but a late first-round grade is in order.

CBS Sports' Pete Prisco only reaffirms the notion Easley may be well on his way to being a first-round pick:

Easley is a scary presence who can both apply pressure with violence and consistency or clog gaps and make running a nightmare for opposing offenses. If one assumes his knee issues were fluky (and knee injuries these days aren't what they used to be, anyway), it's easy to see Easley as an every-down contributor for a long time at the pro level.

 

Derek Carr, Quarterback, Fresno State

It's easy to get scared of Derek Carr given the past transgressions of his brother at the professional level, but Derek is simply focused on himself, as ESPN The Magazine captures:

Carr has bloodlines, yes, but also a strong arm and mobility in the pocket that helped him succeed at the collegiate level. His statistics—5,083 yards and 50 touchdowns—were inflated by a quarterback-friendly offense, but there is work to do for Carr in the transition, as he needs to take more snaps from under center while reading the defense as he drops back.

That said, Carr is lost in the shuffle of the 2014 quarterback class, as nobody has any clue how things will play out. Carr is a bit of a developmental type, so odds are he'll wind up somewhere with a strong supporting cast like Minnesota and be a bit of a late bloomer as he adapts to the pro game.

 

Cyrus Kouandjio, Offensive Tackle, Alabama

Another victim of collegiate knee issues, Cyrus Kouandjio has been through the ringer on his path to the draft in the court of public perception.

Alas, mauling right tackles aren't that easy to find. As Miller points out, Kouandjio is all but a lock to come off the board in the first round:

Whispers of technique issues and medical concerns will continue to plague Kouandjio throughout his pro career, but he's mostly strong in pass protection against speed rushers for a man his size (6'7" and 322 pounds) and a force in the ground game.

While certainly not a left tackle despite a tremendous amount of upside yet to be unleashed, Kouandjio will have a lengthy pro career as a bulldozing right tackle in a power offense.

 

Jimmie Ward, Safety, Northern Illinois

J Pat Carter

While bigger names like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor have taken center stage in the safety discussion held by the masses, those with a keen eye for versatility know that Jimmie Ward could come off the board before one, if not both, of those names.

CBS Sports' Dane Brugler is one such name who thinks Ward has a skill set teams in the first round will covet:

Why? NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah helps to explain:

Now sprinkle in the fact Ward can play slot corner if need be, and what an NFL team gets is a complete all-around package who rarely has to come off the field if the transition to the pros goes smoothly.

Size may turn out to be an issue for Ward (5'11" and 193 pounds), but at the end of the day, his rangy skill set and prowess in man-to-man coverage mean he'll always be a contributor, even if it doesn't mean he's No. 1 on the depth chart.

 

All height/weight information courtesy of NFL.com.

 

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