There's been endless debate regarding former Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel heading into this month's 2014 NFL draft.
But with fans, scouts and pundits still at odds over whether Manziel will pan out at the next level, there's a good chance that he'll be the marquee prospect that slips down the board in 2014. After all, crazier things have happened.
Here's a look at my latest projections for Round 1, where I'll highlight some late-first-round picks that are sure to surprise next season.
Note: Late-first-round picks who are set to surprise are italicized.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Houston Texans can't afford to pass on a franchise-changing talent like Jadeveon Clowney. The former South Carolina defensive end is a physical specimen and a game-plan destroyer.
It's possible that a team like the Atlanta Falcons could trade up to this spot, but for now the pick belongs to Houston, and there are few other possibilities at No. 1.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
St. Louis could go in a variety of different directions at No. 2 overall. Clemson's Sammy Watkins is a real possibility based on his rising draft stock and explosive style of play. However, the Rams need to protect the injury-prone Sam Bradford while also generating a stronger push at the point of attack to spark their lackluster running game in 2014.
Therefore, Auburn's Greg Robinson makes perfect sense at this spot.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the market for a franchise quarterback, but Watkins is arguably the most dynamic skill-position player available in 2014.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Central Florida signal-caller Blake Bortles boasts an ideal frame and impressive mobility that has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger. Teams will love his durability, clutch factor and, of course, his accuracy.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
Like a majority of the teams drafting toward the top of Round 1, the Oakland Raiders have a plethora of needs this spring. But Buffalo's Khalil Mack is the best player on the board at this stage, and he would offer tremendous value for the Raiders, who certainly need to improve their pass rush in 2014.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Falcons would probably love to get their hands on either Clowney or Mack in Round 1, but they'll likely have to move up in order to do so. In this scenario, they stay put and shore up the offensive line by drafting steady tackle Jake Matthews.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
It's possible that a team which is high on Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans could trade up to this spot, but if not, watch for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select him and pair him with Vincent Jackson on the outside next season.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater's accuracy and poise in the pocket make him one of the premier quarterback prospects available in 2014, and he would certainly be a superb fit in an offense led by dynamic running back Adrian Peterson.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Offensive tackle is perhaps Buffalo's biggest need, and with Taylor Lewan's stock rising ahead of Thursday's first round, this looks like a perfect fit.
10. Detroit Lions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
There's been a lot of chatter that the Detroit Lions could possibly target a wide receiver in Round 1. But since Detroit signed Golden Tate this offseason as well as the fact that this year's draft class is deep at the wideout position, the Lions would be better off drafting a defensive player at No. 10.
Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would not only provide depth at safety, but he would give Detroit a natural playmaker on the back end.
11. Tennessee Titans: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert isn't just a topflight cornerback, but he is a playmaker who can also star as a return man on special teams. It just so happens that he fills a big need for Tennessee, who will want to add depth at cornerback this spring.
12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Losing Linval Joseph in free agency was a big blow for the Giants. Therefore, adding the top defensive tackle in this year's class makes sense for New York.
Aaron Donald possess super quick hands and knows how to use them to his advantage.
13. St. Louis Rams: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
After bolstering the offensive line with the No. 2 overall pick, the Rams could look to the defensive side of the ball with their second first-round pick. In that case, Louisville's hard-hitting Calvin Pryor would make a lot of sense.
Clinton-Dix would likely be St. Louis' first option, but Pryor has solid cover skills and is phenomenal in run support.
14. Chicago Bears: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Chicago's defense was shredded last season and was the main reason why the Bears failed to reach the playoffs. As a result, adding a physical cornerback like Darqueze Dennard makes a whole lot of sense at No. 14.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU
Having lost two offensive weapons in Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders over the past two offseasons, it's time the Pittsburgh Steelers added another target for Ben Roethlisberger. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. has experience running an NFL route tree and brings big-play ability to the table.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
Despite being undersized (6'2", 252 lbs), Auburn's Dee Ford possesses the strength, motor and pass-rushing skills to force opposing linemen to their heels. His efforts at the Senior Bowl in January certainly helped his stock and could propel him into Round 1.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Tackle is a big need for Baltimore, and Notre Dame's Zack Martin has the experience to step in right away and succeed. Plus, he's extremely versatile and could potentially shift over to guard if necessary.
18. New York Jets: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
There's plenty of depth at the wide receiver position in this year's draft, opening up opportunities for teams like the New York Jets to add talent in the mid- to late-first-round.
Oregon State's Brandin Cooks offers tremendous speed and would complement recently-acquired wideout Eric Decker in the Big Apple.
19. Miami Dolphins: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
The Dolphins would probably prefer Lewan or Martin here, but with big needs up front, Virginia's Morgan Moses will have to do in Round 1. Moses is outstanding in pass protection and possesses good awareness that will make him a first-round selection.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
In this scenario, Johnny Manziel falls all the way to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 20. While Carson Palmer helped lead the Cards to a 10-6 record a year ago, he is interception-prone and doesn't appear to be the long-term answer under center.
Arizona has needs on the defensive side of the ball which trump their question marks at quarterback, but Manziel may just be the best player on the board at this stage.
21. Green Bay Packers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
If North Carolina's Eric Ebron falls this far, the Green Bay Packers will have no other choice but to take him. He provides excellent value at No. 21 and would provide Aaron Rodgers with another playmaker to get the ball to.
Not to mention that the loss of Jermichael Finley has opened up a need at the tight end spot.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Chip Kelly's Eagles are known for their explosive offense, but in order to challenge for the Lombardi Trophy, Philadelphia needs to address some holes on defense.
Alabama's C.J. Mosley is a defensive leader with very few weaknesses.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin has major bust potential, but if the 6'5", 240-pound wideout can figure out how to play at the next level and improve his ball skills, he has the physical tools and big-play ability to become a star.
Per Kipp Adams of 247 Sports, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock believes many teams are high on the Florida State receiver:
Mike Mayock thinks 6 WR's could go in the 1st rd. Watkins & Evans going first, then Beckham & Cooks, then Kelvin Benjamin & Marqise Lee.— Kipp Adams (@KippLAdams) May 1, 2014
Mayock says Mike Evans, along w/ Kelvin Benjamin, are what NFL is all about now - outside & redzone WR. Says Sammy Watkins is better player— Kipp Adams (@KippLAdams) May 1, 2014
Considering the fact Andy Reid isn't shy about throwing the football, Benjamin could become a surprise story in 2014 if he lands on a contending squad like the Chiefs.
Benjamin averaged nearly 19 yards per catch and recorded 15 touchdowns last season at Florida State. He'll need to polish up his route-running skills, but his ability to separate in the air and get to balls that most other receivers cannot makes him a first-round talent with tremendous potential to surprise.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals need a young cornerback, and TCU's Jason Verrett would be a superb fit at No. 24 overall. Verrett plays much bigger than his frame (5'9", 189 lbs) suggests, and he changes direction in a hurry.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
Anthony Barr has a lot of developing to do but would offer great value late in Round 1 for a team like the San Diego Chargers, who could be patient and snag a cornerback in the later rounds.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Cleveland Browns are one of the many teams that will be looking to acquire a cornerback in Round 1. And although Bradley Roby has had more than his fair share of off-field issues, his coverage skills are second to none and make him an intriguing late-round prospect.
Having played his college football at Ohio State, Roby is a local product, but more importantly, he is arguably the most physically gifted corner in this year's class.
If he can behave himself away from the field, Roby has the potential to become one of the first-round's biggest surprises next season.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, ILB, Ohio State
We know about the New Orleans Saints' offensive prowess, but they still have some steps to take on defense before they can overtake the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC.
Ohio State's Ryan Shazier is an outstanding talent who displays excellent range against the run.
28. Carolina Panthers: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
The bottom line for the Carolina Panthers is that Cam Newton needs somebody to throw the ball to next season with Steve Smith now in Baltimore.
Indiana's Cody Latimer doesn't necessary possess big-play ability, but his size (6'2", 215 lbs) and ball skills make him a first-round talent—one that could fill a big need for the Panthers.
29. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota
The New England Patriots' defensive line is aging, so adding a young, athletic defensive tackle like Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman would make a lot of sense late in Round 1.
Hageman boasts an elite mix of size (6'6", 310 lbs) and speed, and he also possesses the quickness and power to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. And if anyone can get the most out of him, it's Bill Belichick. At this point, Hageman's one glaring weakness is a lack of toughness and intensity, but Hageman could learn to play that way in New England.
Hageman recently talked about developing the intensity it requires to dominate at the highest level, per USA Today's Tom Pelissero:
To be nasty or ruthless, having that anger and having that swag that yeah, I can do whatever I want — that's the alter ego, because when you're on the field, that's what it takes to beat double teams. You don't give a (bleep). You're crazy and you don't care.
If the 6'6", 310-pound defender is able to capitalize on his physical tools and land on a contending team like the Patriots, there's a good chance he'll turn out to be one of this year's top late-first-round surprises.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The 49ers need another weapon for Colin Kaepernick, and if they don't trade up to select a top-level talent like Watkins or Evans, USC's Marqise Lee could be a potential target.
Lee has exceptional in-game speed and put up huge numbers as a sophomore in 2012.
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Denver added veteran defensive end DeMarcus Ware in free agency, but the team could use Kony Ealy's versatility and pass-rushing prowess right away. With Peyton Manning entering the twilight of his career, the Broncos' Super Bowl window won't be open forever.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Replacing Red Bryant on Seattle's dominant defensive line will be no easy task, but Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt has the size (6'5", 304 lbs) and athleticism to wreak havoc for the defending Super Bowl champions in 2014 and beyond.
Tuitt will be a handful for opposing linemen, and if he remains focused he's sure to turn into one of the more productive first-round talents in 2014.
All height/weight information courtesy of NFL.com.
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