2014 NFL Rookie Season Predictions for Every 1st-Round Pick
The next generation of NFL talent has a home now that the 2014 NFL draft's wild proceedings have climaxed with Mr. Irrelevant at Radio City Music Hall in New York—which means it's time to break down the stats each first-round rookie will post next season.
Like the fickle thing that is attempting to pick the draft's proceedings, stat predictions for the most notable rookies can be a difficult tightrope to walk. Remember last year, when the St. Louis Rams took the draft's top receiver in Tavon Austin? The West Virginia product responded with 40 receptions for 418 yards and four scores.
Sorry, but there is no exact science when it comes to stats. We knew what Austin had to offer, but we couldn't have predicted the organizational ineptitude at all levels that would see his talents flounder in his debut season.
Still, stat predictions can serve a purpose as an examination of a prospect's skill set married with his new home—which includes his schematic fit and chemistry with both the coaching staff and the players already on the roster.
Let's get started.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Season predictions: 16 games, 45 total tackles, six sacks, one forced fumble
Like Mario Williams before him—the last defensive player drafted No. 1 overall, by Houston no less—Jadeveon Clowney will find it difficult to live up to expectations.
Clowney will be just fine as a pro, but his rookie year will be a struggle. He is accustomed to lining up with his hand in the dirt in a 4-3 alignment, so asking him to stand up at times as a linebacker in a 3-4 look will come with quite the learning curve.
Fortunately for Clowney, he'll still line up in a familiar role in certain packages and benefit from talent around him, such as J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed, to the point that his stat line won't look all that disappointing by season's end.
It just won't look like one posted by a No. 1 overall pick.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Season predictions: 16 games
Nothing too fancy here, as Greg Robinson will quietly pave the way for the likes of Zac Stacy and Tre Mason no matter where he lines up as a rookie.
Robinson may have both good and bad performances, but coach Jeff Fisher will stick with his new prized possession to the bitter end. The Auburn product is quite raw in pass protection, but he's a force in the ground game that instantly improves the unit as a whole.
Robinson's rookie season will be quite important and one that will pay dividends down the line as he continues to develop. Don't be too shocked when the St. Louis Rams get near the lead in league rushing by the end of his rookie campaign.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Season predictions: 16 games, 2,845 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 55 percent completion percentage
So yes, it was entirely too quiet on the Blake Bortles front leading up to the draft.
The new head man for the Jacksonville Jaguars gets compared physically to Ben Roethlisberger and game-wise to Blaine Gabbert, but it's unfair to make a final decision based on comparisons.
Jacksonville has done all it can to surround Bortles with the tools to succeed thanks to fellow rookies such as Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Of course, general manager David Caldwell claims Bortles won't be the starter on opening day, per the team's official website:
That's the plan that Chad (Henne) is going to be the guy. We told him and we were very honest with Chad through the process. We told him there was a chance we were going to draft a quarterback. Chad knew all along when we re-signed him in the offseason, we were honest with him and he's been great. [Chad] will probably give us the best chance of winning this year and Blake will be the guy of the future.
Fine, Bortles is a developmental-type player, but bank on him winning the job this offseason. This is a "What have you done for me lately?" league, and the UCF signal-caller will do enough in the preseason to make the staff comfortable. From there, Bortles will make do as best he can with positive hints for the future.
4. Buffalo Bills: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Season predictions: 16 games, 45 receptions, 850 yards, seven total touchdowns
The Buffalo Bills paid quite a steep cost for the man they believe to be the No. 1 wideout of the future, especially with Stevie Johnson gone.
Sammy Watkins is an elite weapon to be sure, but his stat line will look a little rough around the edges when all is said and done. The quarterback situation isn't dire by any means, but sophomore signal-caller EJ Manuel will have his growing pains, and it will be Watkins' stat line that suffers.
While a force on special teams if used in that capacity, Watkins will still get his, as he can take short outs for big gains. Just be careful with high expectations, as the quarterback situation and unknown variable in the coaching staff could make for a rather disappointing rookie campaign.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Season predictions: 16 games, 30 total tackles, 11 sacks
The Oakland Raiders had an easy decision at No. 5 overall, as Buffalo's Khalil Mack had flirted with going No. 1 overall at some points during the offseason.
Mack brings an elite pass-rushing skill set to Oakland right away, and in tandem with Sio Moore, he quietly gives the Raiders a borderline elite crop of linebackers. "Talented" is a new word to describe the roster in Oakland, but Mack is what many would call a centerpiece.
There's no doubt he has a pro-ready game that will see him consistently in the backfield. The coaching staff will let him run wild in a sense, and as a result, he will be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Season Predictions: 16 games
It's a shame offensive linemen don't get widely noticed from a statistical standpoint, because not only is Jake Matthews arguably the best rookie both now and in the long term, he will also have the biggest impact on his team in 2014.
Matthews is the total package and has the NFL deep in his veins. The son of Hall of Fame guard Bruce Matthews, Jake appears to be on his way to a starting gig on the edges of the Atlanta Falcons' offensive line. He's a huge upgrade over the horrific play from a year ago and will help to keep Matt Ryan's jersey much cleaner this year.
It's funny, because Matthews received little hype in the draft process. He won't see much as a rookie either, but his impact will quietly alter the Falcons in an extremely positive manner.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Season predictions: 16 games, 62 receptions, 1,007 yards, eight touchdowns
At first glance, it's easy to think Mike Evans may get a tad lost in the shuffle in Tampa Bay, as Vincent Jackson receives the majority of the looks in the passing offense.
But remember that the likely starter is Josh McCown, who evenly distributed the ball last year to two massive receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Granted, that was in the confines of a quarterback-friendly Marc Trestman offense, but everybody should get to eat next season in Tampa Bay too. That includes Evans, who will benefit from minimal attention thrown his way as defenses focus on Jackson, running back Doug Martin and even tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
It may not be enough to reel in individual awards, but Evans appears destined for a major rookie year.
8. Cleveland Browns: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Season predictions: 16 games, 45 total tackles, seven interceptions
It's going to be an up-and-down rookie campaign for Justin Gilbert with the Cleveland Browns, which is fitting for a boom-or-bust prospect who spent the majority of his time in college in press coverage creating highlight-worthy plays.
Gilbert is going to have a target on his back all season. A rookie across from an elite corner like Joe Haden is quite the appetizing plate for opposing quarterbacks, and for that reason, Gilbert will tally some nice statistics in the interceptions department.
Just don't expect it to be all rosy. Gilbert will play physically against the run and maybe even take a pick back to the house. But overall, it's going to be a mixed bag for a corner many concur came off the board too early in the proceedings.
9. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Season predictions: 16 games, 35 total tackles, 4.5 sacks
Mike Zimmer knows his defenders. He's accustomed to taking scrap-heap units composed of leftover junk and molding elite units.
This is why it was an eyebrow-raising choice for the first-year head coach to grab a risky prospect like Anthony Barr, a converted running back who touts limited moves and often struggles in other facets of the game not associated with applying heat to passers.
Barr is going to get blown away on the ground. He's a nice nickel asset who will get his at times, but overall his rookie year looks like it will be rather forgettable.
10. Detroit Lions: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Season predictions: 16 games, 49 receptions, 515 yards, four touchdowns
Believe it or not, there may just not be enough balls to go around in Detroit.
Calvin Johnson. Golden Tate. Brandon Pettigrew. Even Ryan Broyles and Joseph Fauria.
Now add Eric Ebron to the mixture.
It's fun to throw out speculation that he'll be used like the New Orleans Saints use Jimmy Graham, but Ebron is an unproven talent who certainly had his detractors on the path to the draft.
Thanks to a pass-happy offense, Ebron will get his. Were it a normal offense, he would perhaps be lost in the shuffle. Thanks to his ability to break a long gain after a short reception, his numbers won't look too horrific.
11. Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Season predictions: 16 games
Taylor Lewan is a physical specimen—so much so that he's arguably more gifted than last year's top two tackles who came off the board, Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel.
Lewan needs some serious technique refinement and could learn when to use his temper and when to chill out, but either way, he is one heck of an addition in the trenches for the Tennessee Titans.
The Michigan product won't lose his starting job with the Titans by any means, regardless of which side he starts on, which should be the right side as he works on improving his ability to drop back and protect his passer.
12. New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Season predictions: 16 games, 44 receptions, 645 yards, seven touchdowns
Odell Beckham Jr. slides right into the starting lineup in New York across from the likes of Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle. He'll benefit greatly as a result, as long as his quarterback can stop being so turnover-happy.
Beckham is one of the more exciting rookies overall because of his ability to be wildly productive on special teams along with his contributions in the confines of the normal offense.
While far from the first option in the passing game with the New York Giants, Beckham will produce at a consistent pace, although draft selections such as running back Andre Williams suggest the offense will trend more toward the ground game next season.
13. St. Louis Rams: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Season predictions: 16 games, 46 total tackles, nine sacks
What. A. Steal.
As if grabbing arguably the top offensive lineman in the draft wasn't enough, the St. Louis Rams were also able to land a Geno Atkins-esque player in Aaron Donald.
Donald provides the Rams with the most important thing of all in the NFL—a consistent interior rush.
There's no question he is a surefire Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, as he joins a loaded line that includes ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and tackle Michael Brockers.
When Donald isn't putting quarterbacks down on his own, he's ruining the pocket and driving the signal-caller to the outside and into the hands of his edge defenders. He's a game-changer, to say the least.
14. Chicago Bears, Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Season predictions: 16 games, 75 total tackles, two sacks, six interceptions
"NFL-ready" gets thrown around entirely too often these days, but it's hard to find a prospect who better encompasses the definition than Kyle Fuller.
Given that corner is the position with the most difficult transition to the pros, that's lofty praise.
Fuller has experience at outside corner, slot and even linebacker in certain looks. He's violent against the run, physical in coverage and can be placed alone on an island with the biggest of receivers.
His support in the run game will notch him plenty of tackles, while his coverage skills will result in more deflections than most rookies.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Season predictions: 38 total tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles
It sounds hyperbolic, but Ryan Shazier could not have landed in a better position.
The Ohio State product touts elite speed, which makes him effective in coverage against tight ends and the like but also means he excels as a sideline-to-sideline enforcer against the run.
In Pittsburgh, Shazier will line up next to Lawrence Timmons on the interior of the Steelers' vaunted 3-4 alignment and wreak havoc on any who dare enter his territory. He's not a pass-rusher who will tally eye-popping stats by any means, but he's a much-needed steady contributor on an aging defense.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Zack Martin, OG/OT, Notre Dame
Season predictions: 16 games
Zack Martin stood out at the Senior Bowl as the only offensive lineman who could hang with Aaron Donald in the trenches.
In other words, he's more than capable of holding his own against NFL-caliber defenders.
Martin figures to get the nod at left guard in Dallas next to last year's surprise first-rounder, center Travis Frederick. While often cited as too small and not athletic enough to play on the edge, Martin could likely make the move to a tackle spot if necessary.
17. Baltimore Ravens: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Season predictions: 16 games, 88 total tackles, two sacks, four forced fumbles, one interception
So much for Arthur Brown.
C.J. Mosley takes over on the inside next to the wildly underrated Daryl Smith for the time being and instantly catapults into contention for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
It's rather simple: Mosley is an enforcer. Bone-jarring hits inflicted on running backs aren't uncommon, and his sideline-to-sideline range is a major upgrade for the Baltimore Ravens right away.
As long as Mosley stays healthy, he will wind up being one of the more productive rookies overall from a statistical standpoint.
18. New York Jets: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Season predictions: 12 games, 65 total tackles, two interceptions, three forced fumbles
A human highlight reel thanks to his ability to level big hits, Calvin Pryor may be in for a tough rookie season if Rex Ryan asks too much of him.
Pryor is best in the box as a run enforcer, which isn't a bad thing. Like any other defensive back, he'll struggle at times in his adaption to the league, but he'll eventually emerge as a force against the rush.
That alone makes him rather conducive to strong stats.
19. Miami Dolphins: Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
Season predictions: 16 games
Oh yes, the pick that left all outside of the Miami front office scratching their heads.
Interestingly enough, Ja'Wuan James projects best as a left tackle in the pros thanks to his strong skills in pass protection. However, Branden Albert isn't moving from that spot in Miami.
While seemingly weak in the run game, James looks like he'll get the nod at right tackle over a hodgepodge of names.
It's going to be tough sledding for James as a result, but his presence is still a boost. Things were that bad for the league's worst line last year, and James will at least help to prevent Ryan Tannehill from being the league's most-sacked quarterback two years in a row.
20. New Orleans Saints: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Season predictions: 16 games, 65 receptions, 745 yards, eight touchdowns
Kudos to the New Orleans Saints for seeing a weapon they want and being aggressive enough to go get it.
Brandin Cooks is going to explode in the last years of the Drew Brees era, but especially as a rookie out of the slot. He's a game-breaker of the utmost sense thanks to his speed and elusiveness in the open field, and he's a weapon Brees is sure to utilize early and often.
In an offense that saw a relative unknown in Kenny Stills succeed last year, Cooks will be the worst-kept secret in the league. While defenses attempt to tend to Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and the like, Cooks will exploit coverages. Constantly.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Season predictions: 16 games, 105 total tackles, one interception, three forced fumbles
Center fielders tend to post sound stats regardless of experience, and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix will be no exception to the rule in Green Bay.
Clinton-Dix's range is rather impressive, which will allow him to sit in the middle of the field as a safety valve and clean up any messy plays. He can also come up and forcibly stop the run or line up in man-to-man, so his usage by the Packers staff will be rather diverse.
Based on his situation, well-rounded skill set and the strong pass rush in front of him, Clinton-Dix appears to have the best rookie season of any first-round safety in the cards, although one near the tail end of the round may have something to say about that.
22. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Season predictions: 16 games, 2,800 passing yards, 525 rushing yards, 22 total touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 62 percent completion percentage
Mike Pettine can say all he wants that Johnny Manziel won't necessarily be the starter in Cleveland next season, but deep down, he knows the deal.
Manziel is the starter through and through. His freestyle play when things break down will cause more harm than good at times, but he'll make do both on the ground and through the air. Just don't expect a very positive touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Cleveland has its franchise quarterback. That doesn't mean Manziel will lead the Browns to the playoffs as a rookie. While it would not be a shock, AFC North defenses will have something to say in that regard.
Strictly talking statistics, Manziel is in for some rather sound numbers under the tutelage of Kyle Shanahan, the man who got the most out of Robert Griffin III in Washington.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
Season predictions: 16 games, 32 total tackles, three sacks
As it stands now, Dee Ford will be a sub-package edge-rusher behind the likes of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston in Kansas City.
That's not a horrific role for a young player with his fair share of medical concerns who is viewed by some as a "one-trick pony," via The Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn, although Mr. Anonymous NFL Scout has absolutely been wrong in the past.
Ford brings much to the table from a pass-rusher sense, but he'll need development time to earn the right to be an every-down player. Andy Reid and Co. surely understood this when making the pick, so don't expect fireworks from Ford just yet.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Season predictions: 16 games, 55 total tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles
Darqueze Dennard was the obvious choice for the Cincinnati Bengals by the time the 24th pick rolled around, although his selection should be viewed through more of a long-term lens.
The staff in Cincinnati is known for starting veterans in the majority of cases, so it's hard to predict that Dennard will see a large number of snaps as a rookie, barring injury.
With the likes of Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick in front of him, Dennard's best statistical years won't come until later in his career. That said, recent injury history suggests he may see the field enough to still garner a noticeable stat line.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Season predictions: 16 games, 88 total tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble
Jason Verrett does much to rectify the corner issue in San Diego, although some unfairly pigeonhole him as a slot corner thanks to his shorter stature.
That's where we will project Verrett until the staff says otherwise, but either way, the TCU product is a player who will simply produce while on the field.
Verrett is alarmingly violent against the run and was often seen in the offensive backfield at the collegiate level. He'll help in that regard but make most of his money in coverage against tough, bigger assignments and in run support.
26. Philadelphia Eagles: Marcus Smith, DE/OLB, Louisville
Season predictions: 38 total tackles, eight sacks
Marcus Smith is quite the hybrid. He came to Louisville as a quarterback before switching to his hybrid linebacker role as a lengthy edge defender with a knack for getting to the quarterback.
In Philadelphia, Smith is going to have a hard time getting past Trent Cole and Connor Barwin, which should sound familiar. Like Dee Ford, he's going to be a sub-package guy who gets in the game on a situational basis.
The good news is, odds are teams will be passing a lot to keep up with Chip Kelly's offense. While attention is driven toward the likes of Barwin and interior disruptor Fletcher Cox, Smith will be a pleasant surprise in the sacks department.
27. Arizona Cardinals: Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State
Season predictions: 16 games, 85 total tackles, one interception, three forced fumbles
For those who had seen his tape from his time with Washington State, it was nice to see Deone Bucannon sneak into the first round.
Bucannon is the proverbial missing piece in Arizona next to Tyrann Mathieu. He's a bit shaky in pass coverage, but his skills in the box against the run are arguably the best in class.
In that regard, Bucannon will be a big producer as a rookie, although superb talent in front and around him will do much to hurt his chances for taking home individual hardware by the end of his rookie campaign.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Season predictions: 16 games, 45 receptions, 550 yards, six touchdowns
A lock as a starter in Carolina, not because of his ability but because of the depleted wideout depth chart, Kelvin Benjamin will have a major chance to be the boom in the "boom-or-bust prospect" label.
Thanks to his elite high-pointing ability, Benjamin will work wonders for the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton in the red zone next year.
While he is mired in a bit of a run-first offense, the only thing truly holding Benjamin back (as long as weight does not become an issue) is a drop issue that plagued him at the collegiate level. Still, there are not many lanky defensive backs who match him on a jump ball.
29. New England Patriots: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Season predictions: 16 games, 60 total tackles, 12.5 sacks
Let's go ahead and assume (you know what they say about those who...blah blah) that Dominique Easley, who has torn ligaments in both knees, remains healthy for the duration of his rookie season.
With that in mind, Easley will have no issue pushing Tommy Kelly out of the starting lineup and winding up next to Vince Wilfork.
He can do it all in the trenches and may be looked back on as the best pick in the draft if his knees hold up. He can apply adequate pressure and command a line with multiple blockers on his own against the run.
Expect big things if the former Florida Gator can stay on the field.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois
Season predictions: 16 games, 52 total tackles, one sack, one interception
Kenny Vaccaro...erm...Jimmie Ward is in for a big year.
It helps that those in front of him form one of the NFL's most fearsome defensive units, but Ward on his own is so talented in all facets that he'll simply produce when given the opportunity.
He can come up in the box and help to stuff the run, although one has to think he will spend the majority of his time in coverage, whether it's on a man assignment or deep center field. Regardless, he's a major addition to what is already one of the league's best units, even if he spends the majority of his rookie season as a nickel corner and backup safety.
31. Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Season predictions: 16 games, 36 tackles, three interceptions
They say speed kills, and in this case, it may not be enough to save Bradley Roby as a rookie. In Denver, Roby will be the main focal point of most opposing offenses' game plans.
Quarterbacks won't want to toy with Aqib Talib much, and Chris Harris in the slot is certainly not one to be trifled with.
That leaves the quick-twitch Roby, who showed at the collegiate level that he is susceptible to being a victim of savvy route-runners. He'll have his moments and likely return a pick for a score given his elite speed, but fans certainly won't see the best he has to offer this season.
32. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Season predictions: 16 games, 3,375 yards, 25 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 61 percent completion percentage
Teddy Bridgewater's selection at No. 32 was very much a business decision in that the Minnesota Vikings got that coveted fifth-year option that comes exclusively with first-round rookies.
But it runs much deeper than that, as Bridgewater was also arguably the best quarterback in the class.
Hailing from a difficult pro-style offense at Louisville, the only true knocks on Bridgewater are his frame and his quiet demeanor (oh no!). He's careful with the football, confident under pressure and can move defenders with his eyes.
Add in the fact that he'll be handing off to Adrian Peterson, plus throwing to Cordarrelle Patterson and the game's most underrated tight end in Kyle Rudolph, and the last pick of the first round will post numbers worthy of the first slot. Funny how things work out sometimes, no?