With the doors closed on the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, I'll run through the picks that were high on my list along with some that I questioned based on need and fit at the next level.
Five Picks I Loved
Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (No. 1)
There isn’t a prospect in this class that compares to Clowney when breaking down his athleticism, speed and power on the edge of the defense. He’s a legit talent at the top of the draft.
And I love the pick because of the fit in Houston with defensive line coach Bill Kollar.
I was with Kollar back in St. Louis and Buffalo during my playing career. He is an excellent motivator, demands accountability, preaches technique and doesn’t allow his guys to take plays off. And that’s exactly what Clowney needs as he makes the transition to the NFL.
I know there are concerns on where Clowney fits in a 3-4 defensive front, but I’m not buying that talk. He will rush the passer from a variety of alignments in both the base/nickel packages.
Working with Kollar, and playing alongside J.J. Watt on the defensive line, I expect the South Carolina product to develop quickly as a pro.
Falcons: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (No. 6)
Matthews doesn’t have the athleticism of Auburn’s Greg Robinson (No. 2 to the Rams), but the A&M product is an NFL-ready tackle who should be expected to play at a high level as a rookie.
Given the protection issues the Falcons had last season along the offensive line, Matthews is an immediate upgrade who can slide in at right tackle or align on the left side, depending on where the Falcons decide to play veteran Sam Baker.
Smart move from the Falcons to take the sure pick here with Matthews as they solidify the offensive tackle position.
Browns: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (No. 8)
I had Gilbert graded as the top cornerback in the draft because of his 4.37 speed, man-coverage skill set and ball skills at the point of attack.
A cornerback who can play press, or align in an off-man position, he has the talent (and technique) to make an immediate impact outside of the numbers.
With Gilbert lining up opposite Joe Haden (along with a solid front seven), the Browns have the opportunity to play an aggressive style of football that relies on man coverage in the secondary in single-high and 2-man schemes.
Think of the pressure looks the Browns can show on defense with Gilbert and Haden plus the matchups they can win on the outside by challenging receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Every defense in the league wants to play man-free. And the Browns will have that opportunity with two coverage corners in the lineup.
Rams: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh (No. 13)
Donald is the best interior defensive lineman in the draft because of his speed off the ball, technique (countermoves) and his ability to play with leverage at the point of attack.
In St. Louis, Donald will line up with Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers to give new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams a ridiculous amount of talent up front.
This will allow Williams to show more coverage looks over pressure (think two-deep, quarters) while taking some stress off his defensive backs.
I loved watching Donald at the Senior Bowl and on tape throughout the draft process. He lived in the backfield during his senior season at Pitt, and the Rams should expect him to produce consistently as a rookie under Williams.
Saints: WR Brandin Cooks (No. 20)
Cooks is a dynamic playmaker who will provide consistent matchups for nickel corner in the NFL because of his top-end speed and open-field ability.
With Cooks, think of the wide receiver exposing defensive backs inside of the numbers on a “two-way-go” (release inside or outside). This allows Cooks to use his lateral quickness to work away from a defender’s leverage and produce after the catch where he can use his electric talent to eliminate angles from the secondary.
I love the idea of Cooks in Sean Payton’s offense because of the multiple bunch and stack looks we see on the Saints tape. And with Darren Sproles now in Philadelphia, Cooks gives the Saints a new matchup weapon for quarterback Drew Brees to target inside of the numbers.
The Saints didn’t have to overpay to move up to No. 20 in order to land Cooks (sent No. 27 and No. 91 to the Cardinals), and I’m excited to see him play in Payton’s system.
Five Picks I Questioned
Jaguars: QB Blake Bortles, UCF (No. 3)
Bortles could develop with time and become a solid No. 1 quarterback for Gus Bradley’s team down in Jacksonville because of his size (6'5", 232 lbs), movement skills in the pocket and the ability to make every throw you need in an NFL playbook.
But I’m looking at the talent the Jaguars left on the board at No. 3 with linebacker Khalil Mack, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and offensive tackle Jake Matthews.
I understand the need here for the Jaguars to draft and develop at the quarterback position. However, in that situation, I would have a tough time passing on Mack given his ability to provide an immediate impact to the Jacksonville defense this season.
Bills: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (No. 4)
I’m putting this on the list solely based on the premium price the Bills had to pay in order to move up to draft Watkins.
There are no questions about Watkins’ skill set or his ability to transition to the pro game. Given his vertical acceleration up the field, ability to produce after the catch and the formation flexibility he provides to an offense, Watkins can become one of the top targets for EJ Manuel as the Bills quarterback continues to develop in his second season in the NFL.
However, the Bills gave up the ninth pick in this year’s draft to go along with their first- and fourth-round picks in the 2015 draft to move up just five spots to No. 4. That’s too much in my opinion.
And while Watkins is a real talent at the wide receiver position, is this team one player away from contending in the AFC?
Lions: TE Eric Ebron, UNC (No. 10)
Ebron is going to a tough matchup because of his straight-line speed up the seam and the ability to align as a receiver removed from the core of the formation.
That puts stress on the second level of the defense and the secondary from a scheme perspective.
However, was this a luxury pick from the Lions with tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria already on the roster?
With the Lions on the clock at No. 10, there was an opportunity to target the defensive side of the ball and focus on upgrading the secondary with cornerback Kyle Fuller and safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor still on the board.
Dolphins: OT Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee (No. 19)
The Dolphins have multiple issue along the offensive line, but was this a situation where Miami made a panic move and drafted for need over taking the best player available?
James has the athletic ability to play outside on the edge for the Dolphins because of his lateral movement, and he could also transition inside to offensive guard position. But he needs to develop his overall strength and technique at the point of attack.
We can all agree that the Dolphins have to rebuild their offensive line to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill. However, there was a lot of talent on the board at No. 19 when Miami reached for James.
Let’s see how this plays out for the rookie from Tennessee and if he can show the ability to win in pass pro at the tackle position.
Panthers: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State (No. 28)
I’m not surprised at all to see Benjamin come off the board in the first round given his size (6’5”, 240 lbs) and the raw talent he has at the wide receiver position.
But given the need the Panthers have at wide receiver, can Benjamin make an immediate impact as a rookie for Cam Newton and the Carolina offense?
Benjamin is still developing as a route-runner (footwork, hips at the top of the stem) and needs some time versus pro defensive backs to improve his overall game outside of winning on the fade and slant inside of the red zone.
There is plenty of upside with Benjamin, but I have to question the level of production Carolina can expect from the Florida State product as a rookie while he continues to progress at the position.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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