The NFL draft is not a friendly playing ground for cautious decision-makers. Each team is risking millions of dollars on future employees with no promise of receiving any return on its expensive investments.
Imagine having to dole out a nine-figure salary for an entry-level employee. The rookie salary structure is no longer as lucrative for the incoming draft class, but the top selections will make some serious dough in their first year on the job.
Their eventual destinations are entirely dependent on how the draft unfolds. This year more than ever, one or two unforeseen picks at the top can engineer a butterfly effect throughout the entire first round. Only one squad needs to veer off course to rewrite everyone's plans.
What type of ripple effect could occur on May 8? Let's examine the possibilities in the latest 2014 mock draft.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The extra time before draft day has had an ugly effect on the pre-event analysis. To fill the endless loop, commentators—in this case Warren Sapp on NFL Total Access, via NFL.com's Dan Hanzus—make disparaging comments to fuel debates.
My grandfather taught me something a long time ago. You will never get more money by doing less work. I look at Jadeveon Clowney's (game) tape and I don't see a guy that is playing with his hair on fire, making plays, running up and down the field sideline to sideline, doing all of the things.
Weird, because I see a defensive end with freakish strength who can devour the quarterback before starting another sentence about his lack of work ethic. If the Texans also see what a special talent he is, they'll take him with the draft's opening pick.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Another pick up in the air, the Rams eschew the draft's top offensive linemen to instead grab Clemson's Sammy Watkins with the second pick. The wideout caught 101 passes last season for 1,464 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, giving St. Louis an extra offensive gear it has missed since "The Greatest Show on Turf" days.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
Has an underappreciated linebacker from the Mid-American Conference turned into one of this year's most reliable prospects? That's what Newsday's Bob Glauber is hearing.
LB Khalil Mack safest pick in draft? Said one smart NFL man: "You never heard one bad word about Luke Kuechly (in '12). Same with Mack."— Bob Glauber (@BobGlauber) April 28, 2014
While Clowney and the top quarterbacks get dissected to shreds, Mack is universally adored as a havoc-wreaking monster off the edge. Jacksonville buys into the hype at No. 3, keeping the premier passers waiting one pick longer.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
And the quarterback slide ends here. The Browns have their pick of Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater, but they'll fall for Manziel's playmaking prowess and gun-slinging charm. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both agree with the Cleveland-Manziel pairing.
Both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper's latest mock drafts have Johnny Manziel going No. 4 overall to the Browns. pic.twitter.com/4OWyisIC1o— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 29, 2014
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The Raiders need a quarterback with enough poise to help repair a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since their Super Bowl appearance in 2003. According to ESPN's Mackenzie Kraemer, Blake Bortles led all BCS automatic-qualifying quarterbacks with 537 passing yards and nine passes of 25 yards or more when under pressure last season. Looks like he can handle the heat.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
If we found a notebook from an Atlanta scout lying around, it'd likely be full of hearts next to Clowney's name. Rather than forfeiting several assets to climb up to No. 1, the Falcons stay put and bolster their offensive line by adding sturdy tackle Jake Matthews.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Last season, Tampa Bay ranked last in overall passing yards (2,820) and passing yards per attempt (6.2). Only two teams in the bottom 15 of yards per attempt (Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts) made the playoffs last season. The Buccaneers need help in the aerial attack, and Mike Evans is a towering target who can net big gains in the vertical game.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
If the draft happened in January, shortly after Bridgewater decimated the Miami Hurricanes for 447 passing yards and four total touchdowns in the Russell Athletic Bowl, he's the front-runner to go No. 1. He certainly wouldn't have fallen outside the top five, with No. 3 being his likely floor.
The extra study time has exposed some perceived flaws in his arsenal, but nobody will remember the pro days in September. Minnesota steals its Christian Ponder replacement at No. 8.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Speaking of steals, Greg Robinson at No. 9 is a great find for Buffalo, who can use some help in the trenches to support a nucleus of intriguing skill players. This is a prime case of the draft's ripple effect, as the Rams could throw a wrench into this projection by taking Robinson or Matthews instead of Watkins at pick No. 2.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Justin Gilbert has set the bar high, telling USA Today's Jim Corbett, "I believe I'm the best cornerback in this draft. I model my style of play after Patrick Peterson. If Deion Sanders was still playing, I'd compare myself to him."
He just needs to be a productive starting cornerback to nudge Detroit in the right direction after once again underachieving in 2013.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Although Anthony Barr has taken a back seat to Clowney and Mack, he's another ferocious pass-rusher that will absorb quarterbacks throughout his career. B/R's Ryan Riddle discovered an interesting calculation from his combine results.
Interesting tidbit: Anthony Barr is the fastest prospect in the draft per pound when combining all three speed drills.— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) April 25, 2014
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It's all fun and good to remember the Giants' Super Bowl teams as old-school squads that gutted through their opposition with hard-nosed running and defense. That's true for their first run, but the passing offense carried them to the postseason before their second championship stint.
If they want any chance of somehow replicating that magic once more, they need to give Eli Manning another significant receiving option in tight end Eric Ebron.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
To keep everyone happy, St. Louis uses its second first-round selection on the defensive side. Much like how MLB star Evan Longoria outgrew the Eva Longoria jokes with his superb play, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will divert the attention from his name by swarming around the secondary.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears need a run-stopper in the worst way after surrendering 161.4 rushing yards per game last season. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan makes a great deal of sense for them considering their inability to combat the ground game.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Darqueze Dennard is an aggressive, physical corner who excels in press coverage. Pittsburgh is the perfect place to cultivate that ruthless style, and its secondary can use a changing of the guard.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
After Mack, Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald has probably become the most hyped prospect entering the draft. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport passed along some lofty praise divulged from an unnamed AFC executive.
Had an AFC executive call Aaron Donald the “best D-lineman coming out in the last 10 years.” Buzz is real. Comparative player?John Randle.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 25, 2014
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Taylor Lewan would be a great buy for Baltimore at No. 17, but don't be surprised if he doesn't last. B/R's Matt Miller heard from one anonymous team that likes him better than Matthews.
The Taylor Lewan hype is real. Just talked to a team that has him ranked ahead of Jake Matthews at tackle.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 28, 2014
18. New York Jets: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Rather than climb the ladder for a cornerback, the Jets instead grab a premier safety in Louisville's Calvin Pryor. He'll keep receivers on their toes with devastating hits, but he's not a one-trick-pony solely seeking blood.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
The Dolphins can take a massive sigh of relief now that Zack Martin remains on the board for their pick. Ryan Tannehill desperately needs better protection, and Martin is the last remaining lineman worth taking at this spot.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
An unconventional pick from the Cardinals, but they'll get the last laugh when Jason Verrett overcomes his size disadvantage to become a large contributor in their secondary. It's better than reaching for the fourth-best quarterback.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Labeled "a 100-tackle guy waiting to happen" by Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke, C.J. Mosley will make an immediate impact for the Packers. After playing in Alabama for four seasons, the linebacker is one of this year's most polished prospects.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Whoever drafts Brandin Cooks just needs to get the ball in his hands and wait for good things to happen. The speedy wideout is elusive in open space, making him the perfect man to replace DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee's inconsistent college production makes him a dicey Round 1 gamble, but one the Chiefs should take at pick No. 23, especially with Cooks off the board. Once poised to be in the same conversation as Watkins and Evans a year ago, Lee could prove his final collegiate season to be a fluke.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Bengals also take a chance, attaining Missouri's Kony Ealy to add some fire to their defensive line. He needs a little time before evolving into the complete package, but his pass-rushing potency earns him a spot in Round 1.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Sports on Earth's Mike Tanier gave his take on where the Chargers should look to improve in the opening round.
Looking at the Chargers secondary, I get the impression that their strategy is to lose to the Broncos twice, beat the receiver-challenged Raiders and Chiefs by outscoring them, ride a 4-2 division record into the playoffs, hope to face the Bengals in the first round again, then see what happens. As a better strategy, they could actually draft and develop some quality cornerbacks.
Yeah, let's go with the drafting a cornerback thing and give them Ohio State's Bradley Roby.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Another corner goes off the board as the Browns grab Kyle Fuller with the pick they obtained in exchange for Trent Richardson's 3.3 career yards per carry. Fuller is a technical tactician who could maneuver his way into the middle of Round 1.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
The improved Saints defense gets another dynamic weapon in Dee Ford, another superb pass-rusher who makes up for his other deficiencies with his ability to circumvent blockers. He'll fit right in with a Rob Ryan scheme that constantly dials up the notch to 10.
28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Cam Newton has reason to unleash that infectious smile of his now that the Panthers have scooped up Odell Beckham Jr. at pick No. 28. There are a few teams that could have pulled the trigger early, but it's an easy choice for Carolina, who is desperate for receiving help.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
By normal standards, New England enjoyed commendable offensive success in 2013. Even as the No. 7 offense, the Patriots took a step down from their usual dominance without Wes Welker and only a part-time presence from Rob Gronkowski. Jace Amaro can help Tom Brady and Co. regain that luster.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Part value, part fear over Aldon Smith, the 49ers snag Ryan Shazier at pick No. 30. A wide receiver or cornerback would please more fans in terms of team need, but the top targets at each position did not last to them.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
During the Super Bowl, Denver found out the hard way what happens when defenses get in Peyton Manning's face. Xavier Su'a-Filo will assume the starting spot emptied by Zane Beadles and handle his own as a rookie.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Currently loaded with talent, the reigning Super Bowl champions make a long-term investment in Ra'Shede Hageman. The raw defensive tackle could become an imposing force with some seasoning in Seattle.