Nobody wants to draft the next JaMarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf.
The NFL draft is littered with well-intentioned general managers who leveraged their team's future on the wrong horse. Sometimes it was easy to see. Other times, not so much.
Let's not forget how hotly contested the battle between Leaf and Peyton Manning was for the top overall pick in the 1998 draft.
Looking ahead to this year's class, it's hard to find any player who's a surefire bust or will at least be taken way too early.
Here's a look at how the 2014 draft might play out. The players underlined have the highest chance of blowing up in their new team's face.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
It would be somewhat ironic if we went through this entire draft process, all the back-and-forth about whom the Houston Texans would take, only for them to end up selecting Clowney—the guy everyone pegged as a No. 1 overall pick two years ago. Clowney is the most talented player in the draft and gives the Texans a pass-rusher capable of hounding Andrew Luck for the next decade.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Greg Robinson may not be as polished as Jake Matthews at this stage, but his ceiling is arguably higher. He's ridiculously fast for an offensive tackle and strong enough to keeping pushing defensive linemen forward. Although Robinson will need some time to adapt to a pro-style offense, that shouldn't be a problem with a St. Louis Rams team that is still in rebuilding mode.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Jacksonville Jaguars can go in a few different directions here. The temptation of what Khalil Mack can become makes him the likeliest selection. Mack can become a great pass-rusher, but he can also fit into a variety of defensive roles over time in the league.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Say what you want about Johnny Manziel, but if the Cleveland Browns do draft him, he'd be the best quarterback on the team by a wide margin. Manziel isn't without some flaws, but he did make major strides as a passer during his final season at Texas A&M. You wouldn't put it past the Browns to find a way to completely ruin him, though.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Oakland Raiders get the best of both worlds here. Sammy Watkins is both a fast wide receiver and somebody who can help the Raiders' offense. He's the kind of wide receiver who can raise the level of his quarterback. Watkins doesn't fit into any one mold as a pass-catcher. He can be both a home run threat and somebody who can go over the middle on short- to medium-range routes.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews was once considered the best offensive tackle in this year's draft, so the Atlanta Falcons would be getting great value if the Texas A&M star falls this far. Although Matthews isn't the high-ceiling prospect Greg Robinson is, the fact that he's ready-made for the NFL is arguably a much more valuable asset for a Falcons team that should make a quick turnaround from last season's disappointment.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
With the departure of Mike Williams, there's a hole in the Buccaneers' offense—one that can be filled by Mike Evans. Before the combine, Evans' critics made it seem as if he had the speed of a wounded elephant. Then he went and posted a 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine. That's a great time for somebody 6'5". Evans will need some time to grow in the NFL, but in a year or two he could be one of the best WRs in the league.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
If the Minnesota Vikings pass up Teddy Bridgewater here, they'll be ruing the mistake for years. Blake Bortles screams being the next Blaine Gabbert or possibly Ryan Tannehill.
Quarterbacks in today's NFL are rarely given much time to develop. They're thrown right into the fire immediately, and they either sink or swim.
Bortles' fundamentals are a bit lacking for such a highly regarded prospect. He doesn't always step into his throws, and his delivery can be inconsistent when facing pressure. Maybe if Minnesota is patient with him, then Bortles can succeed. But I think the Vikings will start to worry at the first sign of trouble, much like the New York Jets have with Geno Smith.
For what it's worth, Bortles seems to feel that Minnesota would be a great destination. UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press:
"He likes the Vikings,'' Taaffe said in a phone interview. "He feels very comfortable with them. He likes the coaches, (general manager) Rick Spielman, who was (on campus). I know Blake told me he had a real comfort level with them.''
Don't say I didn't warn you, Vikings.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
With the two best wide receivers off the board, the Buffalo Bills look to the tight end position. Eric Ebron is a tremendous athlete and pass-catcher. EJ Manuel was arguably further along in his development than some expected in 2013, but in order for him to continue moving forward, the Bills will need to give him at least one more target in the passing game.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Lions don't have a terrible secondary, but what they lack is that one cornerback who can nullify an opposing team's best wide receiver. That's becoming more and more of a necessity. Justin Gilbert is the best corner in this year's draft. With his combination of speed and coverage skills, he could turn into that elite DB the Lions need.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Where can you go wrong drafting an athletic freak at pass-rusher? Oh yeah, you can end up with Vernon Gholston or Aaron Curry.
Anthony Barr is one of those players who will either be a perennial Pro Bowler or turn into a huge bust. There's not too much in the middle. Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey wrote about how Barr is causing teams fits due to his unpredictability:
There's no room for error with him. He's either a pass-rushing threat or he's a constant reminder of what he could've been. A lot of what makes him great is measurable and a lot of what makes him maddening is correctable.
Some team is going to spend a high pick on Barr, and he's likely to reward that pick with good pass-rush productivity. But the chance he doesn't will keep a bunch of teams from pulling the trigger.
No other pick in the first round has that kind of range. Teams starting in the top five will be asking themselves whether he's the pick. If numerous teams say no, it shouldn't surprise anyone.
If Barr can learn to harness his physical tools, he'll be a monster in the NFL. But that's a big "if" right now, and plenty of teams have thought before that they could mold a great athlete into a premier pass-rusher, and it didn't work out at all.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
In some years, Taylor Lewan would have been the first offensive tackle selected. He started four years at Michigan, which tells you something about both his talent and toughness. Lewan isn't the kind of can't-miss tackle Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson are, but he's undoubtedly a good blocker and an upgrade for the Giants.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
If the Rams do go offense with their first pick, they should look to defense with their second. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is your prototypical rangy safety. He can drop back and make plays against the pass or step up and defend the run. There isn't much to dislike here.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
With Henry Melton having left for the Dallas Cowboys, the Bears need a defensive tackle. If Aaron Donald is still available, the Bears would be foolish not to bite. He's a great pass-rusher on the inside, and having him on the defensive line means you don't have to send extra players on the blitz in order to pressure the quarterback.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
If you haven't read it, check out B/R's Matt Bowen's breakdown of Darqueze Dennard. He explains exactly how the Michigan State star can turn into a consistent cornerback in the NFL. Bowen ends his article thusly:
As I said above, Dennard’s style of play meshes with the NFL game because he can challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage and win throughout the route stem to finish at the point of attack.
While Dennard doesn't have the vertical speed or lateral quickness compared to some of the top prospects at the position, he can develop into a solid corner who contributes early in his career because of his ability to win with technique and compete physically versus NFL wide receivers.
Although Dennard doesn't have blinding speed, his ability to press opposing wide receivers will serve him well in the NFL.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Ideally, Aaron Donald falls here, or the Cowboys move up to grab the Pittsburgh star. If Dallas stays pat, Timmy Jernigan would surely be available, giving the Cowboys the defensive tackle they need this offseason.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois
Pairing Jimmie Ward with Matt Elam would give the Ravens an imposing safety duo for the next decade. Ward has a lot of aggression on the field, which can go both ways. You love to have a big-hitting safety over the middle, but you prefer that he simply makes the tackle rather than launching himself at the ball-carrier to make the highlight-reel hit.
Still, Ward is one of the best safeties in the draft and a better fit for the Ravens' defense than Calvin Pryor.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Odell Beckham Jr. and the New York Jets might not be the best fit. Without a consistent quarterback to throw him the ball, Beckham might end up failing to make a major impact.
Although Michael Vick is an upgrade in the short term over Geno Smith, he's far from a safe bet to succeed in 2014. Between injuries and his drop in production, the Jets may be plagued by the same quarterback issues that have cropped up over the last four or five seasons.
In the right offense, Beckham would be a huge hit in his rookie year. If New York takes him, it's a recipe for disaster.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OG/OT, Notre Dame
Even if Zack Martin ultimately shifts to the inside when he gets to the NFL, he'd still be an upgrade to a Dolphins offensive line that's lost Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito in the same offseason. Zack Martin can move laterally, and his low center of gravity makes it hard to overpower him. As long as Martin isn't put at left tackle, he'll be fine in the NFL.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
With Karlos Dansby gone, the Cardinals need to add a linebacker in the draft. While Ryan Shazier isn't a natural inside linebacker, he has the type of game that will allow him to be used in a variety of ways. C.J. Mosley is an option here, but Shazier's upside is slightly higher and tougher to pass up for the Cardinals.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Speaking of Mosley, the Green Bay Packers are also in need of a rangy linebacker who can fly around the field making tackles. Because of injury issues, Mosley will likely fall much further than he should. If he's around at No. 21, the Packers will pounce.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
When you run a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine, people stand up and take notice. Bradley Roby's speed will never be in question. What some do question is his consistency in coverage. The Wisconsin game against Jared Abbrederis stands out the most. But that speed will make NFL coaches gamble on Roby with the expectation that he'll figure it out at the next level.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Calvin Pryor can be aggressive to a fault. You like your safeties laying the wood in the secondary but not when it comes at the cost of a 15-yard penalty. Once Pryor adapts more to NFL officiating, that shouldn't become much of a problem.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Say what you want about Andy Dalton, but the Bengals' biggest problem area is their secondary. Kyle Fuller loves a fight at the line of scrimmage. He's great at throwing receivers off their routes. If Leon Hall can stay healthy, Fuller would be a nice No. 2 corner.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Louis Nix is an old-fashioned space-eater on the defensive line, which is what the Chargers lost with Cam Thomas' departure. If Nix can maintain some consistency, he'll also grow to be more than just a run-stuffer at the line of scrimmage.
26. Cleveland Browns: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Imagine a secondary with Joe Haden on one side and Jason Verrett on the other. Verrett's height limits his NFL potential somewhat, so having Haden in Cleveland would allow the TCU star to play a more comfortable secondary rather than primary role in pass defense.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Kony Ealy does carry some risk. Despite being a great athlete, his technique leaves a lot to be desired. Ealy offers little resistance against the run and is a bit too reliant on his physical tools. At 27, the Saints would be smart to take the gamble that Ealy grows into a dominant pass-rusher.
28. Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
This pick needs to be either a wideout or an offensive tackle. The Panthers have been ravaged in those two areas this offseason. Morgan Moses' movement isn't a major problem, but his strength is at this point. If he can add a little more power to his game, he'll become a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle.
29. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Few players are as volatile as Ra'Shede Hageman in terms of potential. If he comes good, Hageman can become a force on the defensive line. However, his motor is a worry, as he can disappear for stretches of a game. You'd bet on the Patriots bringing out the best in Hageman. If he can't be motivated to play for Bill Belichick, he can't be motivated to play for anybody.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Colin Kaepernick needs a home run threat to balance out the combination of Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree, who are more possession-based receivers. Brandin Cooks was the fastest wideout at the combine, so there's no question about his big-play ability. He'd be a nice, athletic contrast to both Boldin and Crabtree.
31. Denver Broncos: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
The Broncos' defense was exposed in a big way in the Super Bowl. The signing of DeMarcus Ware helps to remedy some of the Broncos' issues, but he's still a bit of a short-term solution. Denver could draft Dee Ford with the intention of easing him into the NFL. Ford will likely transition to outside linebacker once he's in the league, so learning from a guy like Ware would be a huge help with his progression.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
When you're the reigning Super Bowl champions, you're drafting from a position of strength. Xavier Su'a-Filo is the best pure guard in this year's class. He could help what has become a somewhat inconsistent Seahawks offensive line on the inside.
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