The 2014 NFL draft is full of intrigue, but it's really no different than any other year, with the shifting taking place just weeks before the first round gets underway.
Names like Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins and others have been mainstays at the top of the board for months, but a recent rise in popularity might just thrust a handful of prospects to stardom in the first round.
While some have been projected to go in the opening round in several mock drafts, others have sneaked into the pinnacle for college prospects just recently. Thanks to that late climb, it might just lead to a first-round selection with a team that is already a playoff contender.
Ahead of the draft starting on May 8, here's a look at several prospects who have recently ascended to the top of boards.
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
It's no secret that Khalil Mack is a first-round talent and top-10 worthy, but his rise into the first five picks on most boards shows the Buffalo star is on the cusp of a meteoric climb to the top.
Clowney may still be the top overall player and defensive prospect in the class, but Merril Hoge of ESPN is not convinced that Mack should be behind the South Carolina lineman, 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
This sudden rise in popularity is extremely similar to the 2006 NFL draft. A young man by the name of Mario Williams was coming off a spectacular season with N.C. State and was likely to go in the top 10 in the first round.
But as the draft neared, the Houston Texans made a brash move by signing Williams over Reggie Bush, who many believed was the clear No. 1 choice.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated writes that sources have told him there is potential for a similar story with the Texans once again at No. 1 overall:
Houston, at No. 1, isn’t set on Jadeveon Clowney. In fact, one FORS (Friend of Rick Smith) told me the Texans general manager likes Khalil Mack over Clowney, and we still don’t know which quarterback Houston would choose if it chooses one first overall. I still think the Texans would go with a more sure thing with the first overall pick than a quarterback—and that sure thing could also be tackle Greg Robinson.
With many of the top draft analysts currently projecting Mack to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3 overall, it's a much better projection than when the draft process got underway.
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Remember all that talk about Cody Latimer when the draft process started? No? That's because there wasn't any to be heard.
But as the draft nears, Latimer's name has been popular in recent mock drafts, even reaching the opening round in several projections. Todd McShay of ESPN (subscription required) shares his thoughts on the wide receiver, who he projected to be picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles in his personal picks:
This is a bit of a reach based on where I have Latimer ranked on my board -- 34th overall -- but the Eagles need a receiver and I'm a big fan of Latimer's game. He has very good size, toughness and instincts in addition to good straight-line speed, strong run-after-catch ability and a big catching radius. He also has reliable hands -- in the five game tapes I watched of his, he didn't drop a single pass. I think he could be a very good fit in Chip Kelly's offense.
While not many have Latimer that high in mock drafts, the fact that he's near the first round shows just how much progress he's made since declaring after his junior season.
The 6'3", 215-pound receiver has the frame and hands to get the job done and apparently is drawing interest from teams looking for his physicality in open space. Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reports that the wideout met with the Baltimore Ravens.
After receiving a third-round grade from the NFL advisory board, via Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star, Latimer now has a chance to defy all odds in a deep receiver class. With his stock on the rise and his potential shining through, Latimer could wind up with a playoff team and have the chance to grow in the correct system.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Skill position players typically move up as the draft nears, but Odell Beckham Jr. has been slowly creeping up boards since the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.
His stock continues to find new peaks with personal workouts, as analysts have varying views of the former LSU wide receiver. According to CBS Sports mock drafts from five different writers, Beckham could go as high as No. 13 to the St. Louis Rams and as low as No. 22 to the Eagles.
Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com divulges the receiver's skill set and why he would make a perfect fit for the New York Jets:
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.
Given that disparity, when Beckham's name is ultimately called on May 8 will come down to which team falls in love with his physical skills and takes a chance on the 5'11", 198-pound wideout.
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