2014 NFL Draft: 50 Predictions with Under a Month to Go

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIApril 8, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: 50 Predictions with Under a Month to Go

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    Where will Johnny Manziel end up in this year's draft? Read through the slideshow to see one prediction of where he will go.
    Where will Johnny Manziel end up in this year's draft? Read through the slideshow to see one prediction of where he will go.Patric Schneider

    The 2014 NFL draft looks as unpredictable as ever, but despite it being unclear as to whom the Houston Texans will draft or whether they will even keep the No. 1 overall pick, predictions are running as rampant as ever in the final weeks leading up to this year’s event.

    South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a number of quarterbacks and even dark horses like Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack could be in play to be the first selection in the draft. The pick itself could also be in play; the Texans are reportedly “trying hard” to deal it, according to Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei.

    What happens at the top will shape the rest of the draft to come, but there’s little doubt that there will be some players picked surprisingly early while others fall further than expected. A few teams just might actually do what they’re expected to do. And with even the No. 1 overall pick potentially on the move, trades should be plentiful.

    There isn’t even one pick that can be considered a stone-cold lock in this year’s draft. Nonetheless, we can take a look at players’ draft stocks and how they fit teams, as well as what each individual team might be looking to get out of this year’s draft, in order to predict some of the action that could play out May 8-10.

Jadeveon Clowney Will Be a Top-2 Pick

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    If you make a draft projection that emphasizes team needs and doesn’t factor in trades, you’ll probably have Jadeveon Clowney falling to at least the No. 3 overall pick. Factor in Clowney’s sheer potential, however, and it seems unlikely that he falls any further than the second pick.

    Despite having a major need for a franchise quarterback, the Houston Texans might deem Clowney too good to pass up with the first pick.

    A 6’5”, 266-pound defensive end with extraordinary athletic ability, the South Carolina product is a ferocious pass-rusher and powerful run-stopper who should be an immediate impact player in the NFL. That’s even with some questions about his technique, instincts and motor; if he can maximize his physical ability, he could be one of the NFL’s elite defensive players.

    With a need to add more talent and pass-rushers around J.J. Watt on its defensive front seven, Houston should be enticed by Clowney’s potential, even though selecting him would leave quarterback as a lingering need.

    The St. Louis Rams don’t have a need for Clowney at all. They already have one of the NFL’s best defensive end pairings in Robert Quinn and Chris Long, plus a talented third DE in William Hayes. Still, the Rams might be enticed enough by Clowney’s potential to draft him if he is the top player on the team’s board.

    It doesn’t necessarily have to be the Texans or Rams who select Clowney, however, for him to be a top-two pick.

One of the First Two Picks Will Be Traded

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    Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons could seek to trade up in this year's draft.
    Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons could seek to trade up in this year's draft.Associated Press

    While it would be hard to blame the Texans for drafting Clowney, that might not be a selection that holds the key to Houston quickly returning to playoff contention. If the Texans don’t believe there is a franchise quarterback worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, it makes sense for them to be inclined to trade down.

    Whether the first pick ultimately gets traded might be determined by how much the Texans believe the pick is worth and whether any team is willing to pay that price.

    That price might not be as steep as the precedent that has been set for trading top draft picks. In a Sulia post, Pompei said he doesn’t discount the possibility that the Texans might be “willing to take less,” adding that he had heard Houston was “shopping the pick aggressively.”

    On the other end of the equation, Clowney is the caliber of prospect for which NFL teams could be willing to pony up. One team frequently linked to trading up for him is the Atlanta Falcons, who need another pass-rusher, and in 2011 traded five picks to move up for Julio Jones in that year's draft.

    According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Falcons recently set up a private workout with Clowney.

    One team that almost certainly wants the Texans to stay put—and draft a quarterback—is the St. Louis Rams.

    The Rams hold the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft. That pick was part of a four-pick package the Rams received in exchange for the second selection in the 2012 NFL draft, which turned into Robert Griffin III. As the Rams might not be in the market for a quarterback or for Clowney, trading down would seemingly be St. Louis’ ideal move should it be able to net a similar package to what it received two years ago.

Teddy Bridgewater Will Be a Top-5 Pick

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    No player’s perceived draft stock has fallen more in recent months than Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Once widely considered the draft’s top quarterback and favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick, he is now expected by some, including former NFL scout and 95.7 The Game radio host John Middlekauff, to fall as far as Round 2.

    That said, it only takes one team to believe in Bridgewater—and realize that he is the most NFL-ready, mechanically sound passer in this year’s draft class—for him to end up being a very high selection. Even if the Texans aren’t sold on him, there are three other teams that could benefit greatly by making him a top-five overall pick.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars (selecting No. 3 overall), Cleveland Browns (No. 4) and Oakland Raiders (No. 5) are all in need of franchise quarterbacks. While it’s possible all three of those teams could draft different quarterbacks or not draft the position at all, there might not be a better pick for any of them than Bridgewater.

    If the Jaguars want the most dramatic upgrade they can get over Chad Henne, they’d be smart to draft Bridgewater.

    The Raiders have also been linked to Bridgewater. In February, Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle told B/R’s Adam Lefkoe that he believed Bridgewater was the quarterback the Raiders would target in Round 1.

    Bridgewater might not have the highest upside in this year’s quarterback class, but he has the tools needed to be a very good NFL starter. That would make him a smart choice for any of the teams searching for a first-round quarterback, though the Browns might be inclined to look in another direction.

Johnny Manziel Will Be a Cleveland Brown

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    The Cleveland Browns created a stir and convinced some that they wouldn’t draft Johnny Manziel when they were one of two teams who didn’t attend his pro day.

    In the season of smokescreening, that might be exactly what the Browns want their peers to think.

    With a roster that includes just Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney at the position, quarterback stands out as Cleveland’s biggest need. Bridgewater, UCF’s Blake Bortles and Fresno State’s Derek Carr could all also be in play as potential first-round picks, but Manziel might be the best fit for Cleveland.

    The Browns haven’t had stability at the quarterback position since their franchise resumed play in 1999. That’s not necessarily what they would get from Manziel, but they would get a spark from a quarterback with uncanny playmaking ability, someone who forces defenses to adjust their game plans.

    With a new head coach (Mike Pettine), general manager (Ray Farmer) and offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan), the Browns should be looking to make a significant investment in a franchise quarterback. A mobile quarterback like Manziel would be nothing new for Shanahan, who coached Robert Griffin III the past two seasons in Washington.

    The Browns won’t necessarily draft Manziel at the No. 4 overall pick. They could trade down, or wait and see whether he or another top quarterback falls to them at the No. 26 overall pick, which they acquired from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for running back Trent Richardson in September 2013.

    Manziel isn’t a fit for every team, so it is quite possible that he could slide well down the draft board if Cleveland doesn’t select him with the fourth pick. However, he would make sense for the Browns regardless of where they are able to select him.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Will Draft a WR at No. 7

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers already had a need at wide receiver before trading Mike Williams to the Buffalo Bills on April 4.

    It’s no big surprise that the Buccaneers traded Williams, as he has had a tumultuous offseason, including an arrest on multiple charges and being stabbed by his brother. But his departure leaves Tampa Bay with very little at the receiver position outside of Vincent Jackson.

    The ideal No. 7 overall pick for the Buccaneers might be Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, whose speed and open-field running ability would make him a perfect complement to the big, physical Jackson. It’s even been suggested by NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah that the Buccaneers could look to trade up to secure Watkins.

    That said, Tampa Bay might be better off staying put at the No. 7 overall pick. While the Rams, Browns and Raiders could all consider drafting Watkins, or another team might look to trade up, it is very possible that the Clemson wide receiver could still be available at No. 7.

    If Watkins is off the board, the Buccaneers could instead set their sights on Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, who is also one of the draft’s top prospects. He is expected to be available when Tampa Bay is on the clock.

    The 6’5", 231-pound Evans seemingly wouldn’t be as strong of a complement to Jackson as Watkins, as Evans is known more for his size than speed. In fact, he has actually drawn comparisons to Vincent Jackson for his physical attributes and style of play.

    Having two big, physical receivers, however, wouldn’t be anything new for first-year Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith and quarterback Josh McCown, both of whom were in Chicago (Smith in 2012, McCown in 2013) when a pair of big but dynamic wideouts, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, wreaked havoc on opposing secondaries.

    Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, who thinks the Buccaneers will pick Evans at No. 7, believes the Williams trade “guarantees the Buccaneers go WR early.”

Minnesota Vikings Will Draft a QB, but Not at No. 8

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    Holding the No. 8 overall pick, the Minnesota Vikings are another quarterback-needy team with an early draft selection. That doesn’t mean the Vikings will actually select a signal-caller with their top draft choice.

    Minnesota probably shouldn’t pass upon Bridgewater if he is still available at No. 8 overall, but in this scenario, it’s predicted he would already be off the board. Even if he is, however, the Vikings still might be prepared to go in another direction.

    Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press wrote in late March that “it's becoming clear that Minnesota will choose a defensive player with its first-round pick,” even if Bridgewater is available. More specifically, Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net said several sources have indicated that the Vikings are looking at Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack with the eighth pick and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger as a second-round choice.

    Mack might not be available at the No. 8 overall pick—the Jaguars, Raiders, Falcons and Buccaneers all stand out as potential suitors—but it makes sense that the Vikings might not be sold enough on any of the available quarterbacks at No. 8 to use their first-round pick on one of them.

    Still, the Vikings should draft a quarterback sooner than later in this year’s draft; they need an upgrade over Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder in order to be a serious contender. The most likely place for that to happen seems to be with their second-round pick, though they might trade back into the first round should one of the top four quarterbacks fall in this year’s draft.

Four Quarterbacks Will Be Drafted in Round 1

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    Teddy Bridgewater (left) and Blake Bortles should both end up as first-round picks.
    Teddy Bridgewater (left) and Blake Bortles should both end up as first-round picks.Michael Conroy

    Bridgewater, Manziel, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr have all been projected as top-10 picks by some draft prognosticators, but each of them also has his doubters. Despite their critics, all four QBs are likely to be among the top 32 selections.

    It’s also likely that one or more will fall outside the top 10 and into the latter half of the first round, but it’s improbable that any of them will drop to the second round, given the high potential each has to be an NFL starting quarterback.

    If the Browns don’t draft a quarterback at No. 4 overall, expect them to select one with the 26th pick. Two dark-horse teams that might draft quarterbacks in the first round are the Arizona Cardinals (selecting No. 20 overall) and Cincinnati Bengals (No. 24), both of which are set at the QB position for 2014 but face uncertainty at the position after that.

    It would also come as little surprise if a team (or teams, depending on how many quarterbacks fall) trades up into the late first round to select a quarterback who is falling down the board. While every quarterback in this year’s draft class has his flaws, it’s likely that each will have at least one team willing to take a first-round chance on him.

Zach Mettenberger Will Be Fifth Quarterback Drafted

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    Gerald Herbert

    While most agree that Bridgewater, Manziel, Bortles and Carr are the top four quarterbacks in this year’s draft, the fifth spot is more wide open.

    That fifth quarterback, however, could easily be an early second-round selection if the top four are all off the board by the 33rd pick.

    That quarterback, at least on talent, should be LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. A 6’5”, 224-pound signal-caller with a cannon of an arm and downfield accuracy, Mettenberger has the skill set to develop into a very good NFL starting quarterback.

    Having been arrested for sexual battery and subsequently kicked off the Georgia football team in 2010, and having suffered a torn ACL last November, Mettenberger has injury and character red flags that should keep him out of the first round.

    In Round 2, however, a team such as the Vikings, Raiders or Bengals might be more willing to take a chance on the talented-but-troubled QB. Doing so would be a risk worth taking, as he has more starting potential than Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, Alabama’s AJ McCarron or any of the other quarterbacks who could be the fifth taken this year.

Five Wide Receivers Will Be Drafted in Round 1

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    Odell Beckham Jr. is one of five projected first-round wideouts in this year's draft class.
    Odell Beckham Jr. is one of five projected first-round wideouts in this year's draft class.Rogelio V. Solis

    There is no stronger position in this year’s draft class than wide receiver, and the first round should reflect that.

    Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans are both widely projected to be top-10 draft selections, while LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., USC’s Marqise Lee and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks have all done enough to establish themselves as players who should be chosen in Round 1.

    Even if Watkins and Evans both make it out of the top six picks, the Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills (selecting No. 9 overall) and Detroit Lions (No. 10) could all be suitors for either of those wideouts. Later in the first round, teams that could target Beckham, Lee and/or Cooks include the New York Jets (No. 18), Philadelphia Eagles (No. 22), Kansas City Chiefs (No. 23), Carolina Panthers (No. 28) and Seattle Seahawks (No. 32).

    With the Jets and Eagles standing as likely suitors to snap up Beckham and Lee, it’s quite possible that a sixth wide receiver such as Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin or Fresno State’s Davante Adams could end up going in Round 1.

    It’s more likely, however, that the five first-round talents will push fringe first-rounders like Benjamin into Round 2.

Eric Ebron Will Be Only First-Round Tight End

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    A 6’4”, 250-pound playmaker with great hands, leaping ability and the speed to stretch the field, Eric Ebron is essentially a big wide receiver who can line up anywhere and create mismatches. Despite being a subpar blocker, he stands out as the best tight end in this year’s draft class.

    The Buffalo Bills (selecting No. 9 overall), Detroit Lions (No. 10) and New York Giants (No. 12) all stand out as potential suitors for Ebron. It’s possible he could fall as far as the New York Jets (No. 18) or to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 20 overall, but it would come as a major surprise if Ebron was not a top-20 draft pick.

    Considering that, it’s possible that another tight end could go in the late first round, but the value at the position wouldn’t be great in that scenario.

    Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas are all likely to be second-round picks, but unless the New England Patriots fall in love with one of them at No. 29 overall, there’s unlikely to be a suitor for any of those three in Round 1.

    While all three of them are well-rounded tight ends who could be big playmakers and mismatches for their NFL offenses, they come with more questions and less athleticism than Ebron.

Justin Gilbert Will Be First CB Off the Board

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    Sue Ogrocki

    The cornerback position is another which could have as many as five first-round picks. But while some draft analysts might favor Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby or even TCU’s Jason Verrett as the top cornerback in this year’s class, the first player selected at this position will be Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert.

    Gilbert has all the tools to be a No. 1 NFL cornerback and could be valued as a top-10 draft choice. A 6’0", 202-pound cornerback with great ball skills and who plays with physicality and possesses 4.37-second 40 speed, Gilbert should be an immediate playmaker in an NFL secondary.

    Dennard isn’t nearly as athletic as the other top cornerbacks, Roby is coming off a disappointing 2013 season, and Verrett is significantly smaller than the others.

    While any of those three could emerge as the best cornerback from the draft class, none of them come into the league with as complete or impressive a skill set as Gilbert. It would be an upset if one of them was drafted ahead of the former Oklahoma State Cowboy.

Aaron Donald Won’t Leave the Top 15

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    A 6’1”, 285-pound defensive tackle isn’t typically projected as a top-15 draft selection. A typical defensive tackle, however, also doesn’t have a resume that includes a senior season with 28.5 tackles for loss, a dominant week at the Senior Bowl and an incredible combine highlighted by a 4.68-second 40-yard dash.

    Aside from suddenly growing two inches, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald has done just about everything he possibly could since the start of his senior season to elevate his draft stock. His size might downgrade him on some teams’ boards, but that shouldn’t be enough for him not to be the draft’s first defensive tackle selected.

    Donald has been linked to the Dallas Cowboys at the No. 16 overall pick by DraftInsider.net’s Tony Pauline and by Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in the video above, but the problem for Dallas is that Donald might not get there.

    He could be in play for the New York Giants at No. 12 overall or the St. Louis Rams at No. 13. That said, he projects as an ideal choice for the Chicago Bears, who have a major need at defensive tackle and hold the No. 14 overall selection.

Ra’Shede Hageman Will Be Second DT Drafted

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The competition to be the second defensive tackle drafted behind Donald seems to be a three-way competition between Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman, Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan and Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III.

    Jernigan has been projected as high as the 14th pick by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, while CBS Sports’ Will Brinson has mocked Louis Nix III as the No. 15 selection. But if both of them fall further down the board, they could be surpassed by Hageman.

    Hageman is an incomplete product who had an inconsistent collegiate career, but his potential might be the highest of any defensive tackle in this year’s draft class. A 6’6”, 310-pounder with explosive athleticism, great strength and long limbs, the Minnesota product can be inserted anywhere from nose tackle to defensive end and provide versatility necessary to play in multiple fronts.

    Jernigan was more productive than Hageman in college, but his physical attributes don’t stand out the way Hageman’s do. Nix has high upside as a 6’2”, 331-pound nose tackle, but he has less athleticism and versatility than Hageman.

    It’s quite possible that Hageman, Jernigan and Nix could all end up as first-round picks or all end up in Round 2. It’s the Minnesota defensive tackle, however, who projects as the most promising talent and the highest draft choice.

Miami Dolphins Will Avoid Character Concerns

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    Miami coach Joe Philbin needs to spark a change in the Dolphins locker room, and that could all start with whom the team drafts.
    Miami coach Joe Philbin needs to spark a change in the Dolphins locker room, and that could all start with whom the team drafts.USA TODAY Sports

    After their 2013 season was marred by a bullying scandal that exposed toxicity within their locker room, the Miami Dolphins should look to avoid bringing in players who could set back the effort to improve the team’s reputation.

    If the Dolphins are going to distance themselves from last year's public relations nightmare, they’re not going to do it by drafting players with questionable off-field histories. Instead, Miami should put extra emphasis into their interview process this offseason and look for players who can improve the team’s overall attitude and behavior.

    Whether the Dolphins actually take this strategy to heart could come into play as early as their first-round pick. Miami could make a safe pick like Notre Dame offensive lineman Zach Martin, who has no known character concerns, rather than take a risk on a player with more on-field potential but who also could create off-field problems.

Taylor Lewan Will Drop to No. 20 or Further

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    If the Dolphins don’t factor character concerns as heavily into their draft equation as they probably should, then need and talent would dictate that they shouldn’t pass up Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan if he is available at the No. 19 overall pick. That said, character concerns would be the only reason he should even still be available at that point.

    A four-year starter for the Wolverines with an outstanding combination of size, athleticism and strength, Lewan has the potential to develop into a standout on either end of an NFL offensive line. His off-field issues could raise legitimate concerns, however, as he is set to be arraigned on three misdemeanor assault charges in May.

    Having also developed a reputation for being a bully on the field, it won’t help his draft stock that he is coming into the league at a time when the league is still reeling from the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal from last year. 

    That could lead Lewan to drop outside the draft’s top 20 selections, although the Arizona Cardinals might see him as too good to pass up if he is available at the No. 20 overall pick. Should he make it past the Cardinals, however, he might fall significantly further due not only to his red flags, but also due to teams having greater areas of need than at offensive tackle.

Kyle Van Noy Will Be a Top-25 Pick

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    Cathleen Allison

    BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy might finally be starting to get the attention he deserves as a potential first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft. On a recent ESPN First Draft Podcast (h/t Rotoworld.com), draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said he was “tremendously impressed” by Van Noy, whom he considered to be “a very underrated player.”

    That said, Kiper also suggested that Van Noy “probably should go a little higher” than the second round, but “probably won’t.” In the latter half of the first round, however, there are a number of teams that could heed the first part of Kiper’s words and get one of the draft’s most versatile, well-rounded defensive prospects.

    The ideal landing spot for Van Noy might be the No. 24 overall pick, where the Cincinnati Bengals should be looking for a strong-side linebacker and could present an opportunity for Van Noy to thrive. A great athlete who could play any linebacker spot and be a situational pass-rusher while having the ability to excel in both run defense and pass coverage, he could add another high-quality playmaker to a highly talented defensive front seven.

    Other potential suitors could include the Arizona Cardinals (selecting No. 20 overall), Green Bay Packers (No. 21) and San Diego Chargers (No. 25). His talent could also be promising enough to entice a team to trade back up into the late first round.

Xavier Su’a-Filo Will Be Only First-Round Guard

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    Alex Gallardo

    The 2013 NFL draft saw guards come off the board with rare value. Two guards, Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack, were top-10 draft selections. Another guard, Kyle Long, was taken by the Chicago Bears at No. 20. 

    This year’s draft isn’t likely to follow suit, but there is one guard prospect who will be selected in the first round. UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo is a well-rounded, agile and powerful interior offensive lineman who should be able to start quickly with success for an NFL team.

    It’s possible that Su’a-Filo, as the draft’s top guard, could make a push into the top 20, but there are many potential suitors for him late in the first round. The Kansas City Chiefs (selecting No. 23 overall), San Diego Chargers (No. 25), Cleveland Browns (No. 26), Denver Broncos (No. 31) and Seattle Seahawks (No. 32) would all be destinations where Su’a-Filo could fill an immediate need at the position.

    There aren’t any other guards likely to make a strong first-round push, especially since Clemson’s Brandon Thomas recently tore his ACL, according to ESPN’s Adam Caplan. The most likely first-round candidate among other guards in this year’s draft would be Stanford’s David Yankey, but he has less athleticism and versatility than Su’a-Filo and therefore is a Round 2 prospect.

New Orleans Saints Will Bolster Pass Rush in Round 1

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    Dee Ford would be a good fit for the New Orleans Saints if available at the No. 27 overall selection.
    Dee Ford would be a good fit for the New Orleans Saints if available at the No. 27 overall selection.USA TODAY Sports

    Drafting a pass-rusher isn’t necessarily a major need for the New Orleans Saints. They have an excellent all-around defensive end in Cameron Jordan and two hybrid pass-rushers in Junior Galette and Parys Haralson, both of whom can start as outside linebackers when the Saints run a 3-4 front.

    That said, the Saints would still be smart to look for another explosive edge-defender, someone who could be an upgrade over Haralson and make the New Orleans defense more dynamic. That could be the team’s direction with the No. 27 overall pick.

    Two defensive ends who would stand out as great value, should they be available when the Saints are on the clock, are Auburn’s Dee Ford and Oregon State’s Scott Crichton.

    Ford is smaller but more explosive than Crichton, who is stronger against the run. That said, both players have NFL-ready skill sets, which include a range of pass-rushing moves.

    A pick like Ford or Crichton would provide defensive coordinator Rob Ryan the diversity his defensive schemes require.

Carolina Panthers Will Double-Dip at WR in Rounds 1, 2

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    Brandin Cooks could be the Carolina Panthers' first-round pick.
    Brandin Cooks could be the Carolina Panthers' first-round pick.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    The Carolina Panthers went into last year’s draft with a massive need at defensive tackle. A weakness immediately became a strength when the Panthers used their first- and second-round picks on the position and Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short both ended up emerging as standouts in their rookie seasons.

    The Panthers could look to duplicate that success at wide receiver, a position of similarly great need this season.

    While Carolina has signed Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and most recently Jason Avant to free-agent contracts, they still have a severe lack of talent at the position after releasing Steve Smith and seeing Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. departing as free agents.

    The Panthers could look to land either Odell Beckham Jr., Marqise Lee or Brandin Cooks at No. 28 as a potential No. 1 wideout. Even if all of the top five wide receivers are off the board, Carolina might still be inclined to upgrade at wide receiver by selecting a fringe first-rounder such as Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin or Fresno State’s Davante Adams.

    Given the breadth of the team’s need at the position, any first-round pick at wide receiver should not preclude the Panthers from addressing the same need in Round 2. A player like Adams could potentially still be available with the No. 60 selection, but other options might include Clemson’s Martavis Bryant, Colorado’s Paul Richardson and Wyoming’s Robert Herron.

San Francisco 49ers Will Trade Up in Round 1

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    The San Francisco 49ers and general manager Trent Baalke could look to trade up in this year's draft.
    The San Francisco 49ers and general manager Trent Baalke could look to trade up in this year's draft.John Froschauer

    There are few teams in the NFL with deeper rosters and fewer holes than the San Francisco 49ers. That could lead the 49ers, who have 11 total draft picks, including six in the top 100, to trade up, considering that they already possess more selections than they need.

    The question for the 49ers isn’t whether they have the resources to trade up, but rather if there is a player they deem worth trading up for. If they want to move up, they shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a partner willing to move down if they throw at least one top-100 pick into the equation.

    If San Francisco trades up, it very well could be for one of the draft’s top cornerbacks, which looks like the team’s biggest need after it released Carlos Rogers and lost Tarell Brown to free agency. The aforementioned Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard are cornerback prospects who have the physicality and versatility to fit San Francisco’s defense and might be deemed valuable enough to warrant a trade up from the No. 30 overall selection.

    While they should look to draft at least one first-round cornerback, the 49ers have real flexibility to draft for value and move up for a player with value even if he’s not at a position of need. It’s quite possible that the 49ers could move up should a top talent at wide receiver, on the defensive line or even at another position falls into a reasonable range for them to trade into.

    If the 49ers decide not to trade up, it’s likely they would continue their trend of stockpiling for future drafts by giving up at least one of their early-round picks this year in order to land an even better pick in 2015.

    Either way, the 49ers sit in a great position in this year’s draft, with more flexibility to move up and take risks than any other NFL team.

New England Patriots Will Trade Out of Round 1

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    Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots will likely look to deal down in Round 1.
    Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots will likely look to deal down in Round 1.USA TODAY Sports

    The New England Patriots have made a trade during the first round of every draft since 2007, so precedent would indicate that the Patriots are likely to make a deal again.

    The Patriots hold the No. 29 overall pick, the same exact slot they were in last year when they traded out of Round 1 and acquired four selections from the Minnesota Vikings in return.

    Unless New England is targeting a player it really likes at No. 29, expect the Patriots to attempt to move down and again stockpile selections.

    While a defensive tackle such as Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman or Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III would make a great deal of sense if available at the 29th pick, there are no obvious first-round choices for the Patriots this year. That could lead them to undertake their familiar trade-down strategy.

    Should one of the top quarterbacks fall, New England would sit in prime position to trade down with a team such as the Vikings or Oakland Raiders, two quarterback-needy teams with picks in the first eight overall selections that could look to move back in Round 1.

Defending Champions Will Draft Pass-Rusher in Round 1

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    Scott Crichton projects as the Seattle Seahawks' ideal first-round pick.
    Scott Crichton projects as the Seattle Seahawks' ideal first-round pick.Don Ryan

    One of the many strengths that led the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl championship this past season was the team’s dynamic pass rush. But while the Seahawks will return their two most explosive edge-rush threats in defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, they also released Red Bryant and Chris Clemons this offseason and should therefore look to restock their defensive line rotation.

    Seattle’s unsuccessful push to sign veteran free agent Jared Allen made it clear that the Seahawks are looking to make a significant investment in another pass-rushing defensive end. That makes the position a likely focus for the team’s first-round pick.

    Should he still be available at No. 32 overall, Oregon State’s Scott Crichton might be the ideal draft choice for Seattle. A well-rounded defensive end who could be an asset at both bringing heat off the corner and setting the edge as a run defender, Crichton would be a strong addition to the Seahawks’ defensive line depth.

    Auburn’s Dee Ford and Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence are other possibilities who could be available to close out the first round and help Seattle’s defensive line remain one of the league’s best units.

No First-Round Running Backs

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    Tre Mason should be an early-round pick, but probably not a first-rounder.
    Tre Mason should be an early-round pick, but probably not a first-rounder.Mark J. Terrill

    Last year’s draft was the first in 50 years to have no running backs selected in the first round, but that rarity may be on the verge of becoming a trend.

    The running back position has been devalued to an all-time low. As the NFL has become a heavily quarterback-driven league, teams are no longer looking to make big investments in running backs, many of whom are easily replaceable, have short careers and are role players.

    While a year without any first-round running backs might have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago, it might soon become an exception only for star prospects at the position to go in Round 1.

    This year’s draft class has no star running back prospect, which means history is likely to repeat itself in 2014.

Carlos Hyde Will Be First Running Back Selected

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    Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde should be valued as a second-round selection, but if any running back were to be drafted in Round 1, he deserves to be the choice.

    Known for his size and between-the-tackles power at 6’0” and 230 pounds, Hyde proved in an impressive senior season that he also has a very good burst out of the backfield, catches the ball well and can work capably as a pass-blocker.

    There would be no better choice in this year’s draft for a team looking for a potential every-down tailback who can wear out defensive opponents.

    Potential second-round landing spots for Hyde include the Tennessee Titans at No. 42 overall, the New York Giants at No. 43 or the Denver Broncos at No. 63.

Cleveland Browns’ Draft Gets Revealed One Month Early?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Beginning on Friday, moviegoers will have a chance to get a glimpse into an NFL draft war room as general manager Sonny Weaver leads the Cleveland Browns’ efforts in this year’s draft.

    Fortunately for the Browns, that’s just the plot of a fictional movie that’s about to hit theaters this week, and their general manager is Ray Farmer, not a fictional character played by actor Kevin Costner.

    The following predictions might prove to be as accurate as that movie will be in foreshadowing what happens in the actual draft, but let’s get back to predictions that at least have a legitimate chance of coming true. 

Four Second-Round Picks for Florida State

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    Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

    Despite having a roster loaded with NFL-caliber talent, the Florida State Seminoles are at risk of being the first national championship-winning college football team since the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes to have no first-round picks in the subsequent draft.

    Should competition at the wide receiver and defensive tackle positions push Kelvin Benjamin and Timmy Jernigan into Round 2, the Seminoles are unlikely to have any picks among the top 32.

    The second round, however, could be where Florida State really flexes its guns. In addition to Benjamin and Jernigan, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner should be a second-round pick as a slot cornerback/safety, while Terrence Brooks belongs in the top 64 as a top-five safety prospect in a year when the position is in greater demand.

    The Seminoles could potentially have even more than four second-round picks. Linebackers Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, running back Devonta Freeman and center Bryan Stork are all expected to be mid-round selections, and it’s not implausible that all of them could end up going in Round 2.

Cyrus Kouandjio Will Be a Second-Round Pick

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    Butch Dill

    Cyrus Kouandjio entered his junior season as Alabama’s left tackle with many expecting him to emerge as a top-10 draft selection. Instead, it seems increasingly unlikely that Kouandjio will even be a first-round pick.

    While Kouandjio has an outstanding frame at 6’7” and 322 pounds and has demonstrated great power as a run blocker, he might not be a strong-enough pass-blocker to remain at offensive tackle in the NFL. He struggled against speed-rushers in 2013 and continued to show his athletic shortcomings when he ran a 5.59-second 40-yard dash, the slowest of any offensive lineman, at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.

    Kouandjio should project well inside as a mauling guard, and teams might still look at him as a left or right tackle given his length and potential to continue developing.

    Still, a first-round pick might be too rich an investment. Kouandjio could end up being a great NFL offensive lineman, but he must still develop significantly to achieve NFL greatness.

Chris Borland Will Be a Top-40 Draft Pick

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    There aren’t many players in this year’s NFL draft who performed as consistently well in their collegiate career as Wisconsin middle linebacker Chris Borland.

    A physical tackler with outstanding instincts, Borland is a terrific run-stopper who shows enough coverage ability to be a three-down player in the pros.

    Borland plays like a first-round pick but is projected to fall as far as the third round by some due to his measurables. At just 5’11” with 29 1/4” arms, he lacks the ideal height and length desired in an NFL linebacker, which leads to questions about his ability to hold up against bigger blockers. 

    All it takes is one team, however, to look past Borland’s limited size and feel confident that his outstanding play can translate to Sundays. With the toughness, intelligence and technique to make up for subpar physical attributes, he could prove to be well worth an early second-round pick.

    The Houston Texans (selecting No. 33 overall), Washington Redskins (No. 34), Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 39) and Minnesota Vikings (No. 40) are all among the teams that could fill needs at linebacker by adding Borland.

Buffalo Bills Will Draft a Big Target in First 2 Rounds

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    Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews would be a strong second-round choice for the Buffalo Bills.
    Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews would be a strong second-round choice for the Buffalo Bills.USA TODAY Sports

    After re-signing tight end Scott Chandler and trading for wide receiver Mike Williams, the Buffalo Bills’ need for a big receiving target doesn’t seem as pressing as it had been earlier this offseason. That’s not to say, however, that those moves should preclude the Bills from still drafting another playmaking receiver early.

    While Chandler is an adequate starting tight end, the Bills could really benefit from adding a receiver who can better stretch the field and create mismatches. Williams is good enough to compete for a starting job and does give Buffalo much-needed size and vertical speed at wide receiver, but his contract structure might mean he is only with the Bills for one season.

    The Bills should strongly consider Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans with the No. 9 overall pick, though a more likely pick there might be the aforementioned Eric Ebron.

    Should Buffalo go in another direction in the first round, the team could shift its focus back to adding a receiver in Round 2. With the No. 41 pick, the Bills could end up with a player such as Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews or Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, both of whom could make the Buffalo offense more dynamic and aid in quarterback EJ Manuel’s development.

Denver Broncos Will Add More Weapons to Offense

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    Broncos general manager John Elway will continue looking for ways to bolster the Denver Broncos' championship hopes.
    Broncos general manager John Elway will continue looking for ways to bolster the Denver Broncos' championship hopes.USA TODAY Sports

    If you were asked to consider NFL teams that need more weapons at the offensive skill positions, the Denver Broncos would probably be one of the last teams that come to mind. From running back Montee Ball to tight end Julius Thomas and wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos have set quarterback Peyton Manning up with a stacked supporting cast.

    That supporting cast still might not be stacked enough yet for a team that seems to be approaching the 2014 season with an “all in” mantra. After an aggressive approach to the free-agency period, the Broncos will look to add impact players early in this year’s draft.

    Whether it be another running back to complement Ball and Ronnie Hillman or another receiving threat to further confuse opposing defenses, the Broncos will likely use the draft to make a great offense even better.

    While the team’s biggest need offensively is to upgrade at left guard, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Denver uses its second- or third-round pick to draft another player who can make a difference with the ball in his hands.

Jaylen Watkins Will Be First Florida CB Selected

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Jaylen Watkins has been largely overshadowed, both during his Florida career and leading up to the draft, by fellow Gators cornerbacks Louchiez Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, but he might actually be the best prospect—and the first player picked—of the trio.

    Purifoy built a reputation on being a playmaker and dynamic athlete in the Gators secondary, but his failure to back up that athleticism has hurt his stock. Though he is a more polished technician than Purifoy, whose coverage skills have a long way to go, Roberson has limited speed and strength and can be overwhelmed by bigger, faster wideouts.

    Watkins, on the other hand, has bolstered his stock this offseason by impressing at the Senior Bowl and running a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He is an instinctive defensive back with good short-area quickness and instincts. He plays with physicality and has experience at safety as well as cornerback.

    As a slot cornerback with the flexibility to plug himself in to safety or an outside cornerback position when needed, Watkins should be a solid second- or third-round choice and deserves to be picked ahead of his teammates.

Billy Turner Will Be First FCS Player Drafted

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    R Brent Smith

    Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the 2013 Walter Payton Award winner as the Football Championship Subdivision’s most outstanding offensive player, has been hyped as a potential second-round draft choice. Another possible second-round pick who might actually be the best FCS prospect in this year’s draft, however, is North Dakota State offensive lineman Billy Turner.

    A dominant four-year starting offensive tackle for the Bison, Turner’s size and strength make him a strong candidate to successfully make the jump from the FCS to the NFL.

    He didn’t have to go up against many explosive speed-rushers in his NDSU career, and his struggles with kick-sliding out to pass protect against them was exposed at the Senior Bowl. That might have Turner projected as a guard rather than a tackle, but his physical tools and outstanding play still should be enough to warrant a top-64 selection.

    Garoppolo’s draft stock, on the other hand, could be determined by the demand at the quarterback position. If he is one of the top six quarterbacks selected, he has a good chance to end up in Round 2, but his more appropriate value would be in the third or fourth round.

Pierre Desir Will Be First Division II Player Drafted

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    Jeff Roberson

    The winner of the inaugural Cliff Harris award, Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir stands out as the top prospect from the Division II ranks in this year’s NFL draft class.

    The league has been shifting toward bigger cornerbacks, and 6'1", long-armed Desir fits this new mold.

    He will have to make a big jump between levels of competition, but he exhibits the ball skills, footwork and explosive athleticism to develop into a starting-caliber NFL cornerback.

    Desir likely is the only Division II prospect who will go in the top 100 selections in this year’s draft. He could be drafted as highly as the second round.

Dri Archer Will Be a Top-75 Draft Pick

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    G.M. Andrews

    There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about Kent State’s Dri Archer as an NFL draft prospect. At 5’8” and 173 pounds, Archer is a diminutive player who might be too small to be used exclusively as a receiver or running back in the National Football League.

    Even so, it’s likely that someone will take a chance on Archer within the first 75 selections.

    The fastest player at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, Archer is an incredibly explosive athlete who runs a 4.26-second 40-yard dash and possesses a 38-inch vertical jump. While he is too small to be a between-the-tackles runner and needs to improve his pass-catching skills to play wide receiver, he is a dangerous player any time the ball in his hands.

    Though slightly smaller and not as skilled of a receiver, Archer’s measurables are similar to those of Tavon Austin, who was the No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft. Bleacher Report’s Ian Kenyon believes that because Austin was a top-10 pick, Archer should be a top-75 selection.

    A triple threat who can make plays as a runner, receiver and returner, Archer’s potential is likely to intrigue at least one team enough to draft him in the early rounds.

Cincinnati Bengals Will Draft a QB in the Top 100

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    Publicly, the Cincinnati Bengals have been nothing but supportive of their current starting quarterback, Andy Dalton. According to Paul Dehner Jr. of Cincinnati.com, head coach Marvin Lewis told reporters at the NFL Annual Meetings that the team is hopeful it “can get a deal done that works and Andy can put it behind him.”

    Unless the Bengals plan to sign Dalton to an extension prior to the draft, however, they would be smart to hedge their bet on their incumbent signal-caller and draft his potential successor. Dalton, who has lost all three of his postseason appearances and been highly inconsistent as a starter overall, is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2015.

    The Bengals don’t have many pressing needs, so they have the flexibility to draft a developmental quarterback.

    Should one of the top quarterbacks fall to No. 24 overall, it’s possible (but unlikely) that Cincinnati could draft a signal-caller there. It’s more likely that in Round 2 or 3 the Bengals would draft a quarterback such as LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Murray of Georgia or Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech.

Arizona Cardinals Will Draft a Top-100 QB

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    Like the Cincinnati Bengals, the Arizona Cardinals are set at starting quarterback for the 2014 season but face uncertainty at the position for 2015 and beyond. While Carson Palmer had a solid first season last year while leading the Cardinals offense, he should not be the long-term answer, as he is 34 years old and playing on an expiring contract.

    The Cardinals have a number of needs to address in this year’s early rounds—offensive line, safety, outside linebacker and tight end among them—but they would be smart to draft their quarterback of the future and begin developing him this year.

    Should one of the top quarterbacks such as UCF’s Blake Bortles or Fresno State’s Derek Carr fall to No. 20, Arizona should be hard-pressed to pass up a potential franchise signal-caller.

    If none of the top quarterbacks fall, or if the Cardinals aren’t looking to make that level of investment, a strong-armed signal-caller such as Zach Mettenberger or Logan Thomas would seem to be a good Day 2 pick for Bruce Arians' offense.

Logan Thomas Will Be a Top-100 Draft Pick

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    You might be wondering why Logan Thomas, who never completed more than 60 percent of his passes in a season at Virginia Tech and threw 39 interceptions over the past three years, is still being thrown around as a possible pick for teams seeking a quarterback in the first three rounds.

    With Thomas, it’s all about projecting how far his physical gifts can take him. His current game is littered with flaws, including erratic decision-making, inconsistent accuracy downfield and poor mechanics under pressure. That said, there is no quarterback with better physical tools than the 6’6”, 248-pound Virginia Tech product, who is blessed with a rocket arm and terrific athleticism for his size.

    Any team that were to draft Thomas expecting him to quickly emerge as a starter would be making a huge mistake. It’s still far more likely at this point that he’ll be a bust than a successful starter. But it’s also not hard to see a team looking for a developmental quarterback to take a chance on Thomas and his upside.

    Justin Higdon, an NFL draft writer for DraftBrowns.com, told BuffaloBillsDraft.com in February that he “openly wondered” if teams would have preferred Thomas over EJ Manuel, the first quarterback selected in last year’s draft. Higdon also does not believe Thomas will make it out of Round 2, though the third round might be more realistic value considering the quarterback’s many shortcomings.

Trai Turner Will Be a Top-100 Draft Pick

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    USA TODAY Sports

    LSU guard Trai Turner surprised many when he decided to declare for the 2014 NFL draft as only a redshirt sophomore. He also might turn heads with how highly he ends up being selected in the draft.

    There’s a lot to like about Turner as a prospect. He is a big, powerful guard who consistently stonewalls defenders and is explosive off the snap. While he still has room to grow as a player and is not a tremendously fluid athlete, he has the skill set necessary to be a starting NFL guard.

    If offensive linemen are in high demand, Turner should end up being a second- or third-round draft choice. Stanford’s David Yankey, Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson and the aforementioned Billy Turner and Cyrus Kouandjio (who might move inside from tackle) could be among the players with whom he is jockeying to be one of the top guards off the board.

Jerick McKinnon Will Be a Top-100 Draft Pick

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Considering he wasn’t a full-time running back at Georgia Southern and played most of his games against FCS schools, Jerick McKinnon is a tough player to evaluate on film. Nonetheless, he has consistently displayed explosive physical traits that could make him one of the first running backs an NFL team takes a chance on late in this year’s draft.

    McKinnon was one of the most spectacular athletes at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. At 5’9” and 209 pounds, he ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, vertically jumped 40.5", broad jumped 11'0" and put up 32 repetitions on the bench press.

    McKinnon’s numbers were arguably even more impressive than those of Christine Michael, whose athletic potential vaulted him into the second round of last year’s draft despite a tumultuous career marred by injuries and off-field trouble at Texas A&M.

    While athleticism shown in shorts doesn’t always translate to the football field, McKinnon has indicated, both in his big plays at Georgia Southern and in an impressive showing throughout Senior Bowl week, that he has huge potential as an NFL running back. It’s likely that someone will take a chance on that talent by the end of the third round.

Ross Cockrell Will Be a Top-100 Draft Pick

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    Michael Conroy

    Though there is no shortage of draftable cornerbacks in this year’s class, and five with the potential to be first-round picks, there is a significant drop-off in talent outside the top group. One overlooked cornerback who deserves to end up as a third-round draft choice, however, is Duke’s Ross Cockrell.

    Cockrell is no spectacular physical specimen, but he is a fluid, physical athlete who has clean footwork and excels at tracking and making plays on balls in the air. He has held his own against top receivers at the college level and projects as a solid No. 2 or No. 3 cornerback for an NFL team. 

    The competition at the cornerback position should become steep around the third round, as Cockrell could be jockeying with a group of players that includes Pierre Desir, all three of the aforementioned Florida cornerbacks (slide 31), Utah’s Keith McGill, Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Rice’s Phillip Gaines, among others.

    Cockrell’s projections haven’t been as high as most of the members of that group, but he is arguably as good as any of them.

Tennessee Titans Will Draft a QB By Round 4

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    David Fales is among the quarterbacks who could intrigue the Titans in this year's draft.
    David Fales is among the quarterbacks who could intrigue the Titans in this year's draft.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The Tennessee Titans are in a similar boat as the Bengals and Cardinals in that they have a set starting quarterback for the 2014 season, but uncertainty beyond that.

    Jake Locker should get a full opportunity to lead the Titans offense in 2014, but if he continues to be plagued by injuries and inconsistency, Tennessee might let him walk as an unrestricted free agent in 2015.

    With that in mind, the Titans would also be smart to seek a quarterback in the early or middle rounds to develop with the future in mind.

    Round 3 would probably be the ideal spot to draft a developmental quarterback, but the Titans’ third-round pick belongs to the San Francisco 49ers. It’s unlikely the Titans would draft a quarterback at the No. 42 overall pick unless one of the top signal-callers were to fall, so their most likely move would be to draft one with their fourth-round choice (No. 112 overall selection).

    Quarterbacks who could be available and of interest to the Titans in the fourth round could include Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and/or San Jose State’s David Fales.

New England Patriots Will Draft a Quarterback

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    The New England Patriots created some unexpected pre-draft buzz by visiting with two of the projected top quarterbacks, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, last week, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

    While it’s highly unlikely that either Manziel or Bridgewater will end up as a Patriot (and just as unlikely that New England would draft any quarterback with its first-round pick), the team does seem to be showing legitimate interest in taking a signal-caller. 

    The Patriots still have one of the NFL’s elite QBs in Tom Brady, but as he will be 37 years old when the season starts, New England should be thinking about the future. With Ryan Mallett set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2015, the Patriots might need a new quarterback whom they can develop as Brady’s potential successor.

    New England’s draft picks are often unpredictable, so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise if the Patriots take a chance on a signal-caller in the third or fourth round. A more likely scenario, however, might be New England making a low-risk quarterback such as Ohio State’s Kenny Guiton or South Carolina’s Connor Shaw its pick in the sixth or seventh round.

Michael Sam Will Be a Day 3 Pick

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    Assuming he does not end up as a top-100 draft selection, there might not be a bigger story on Day 3 than that of if and when Missouri edge defender Michael Sam gets drafted. Already a well-known name as an SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, Sam is attempting to make history in becoming the NFL’s first openly gay player.

    An undersized defensive end who lacks top-end athleticism, Sam’s draft stock isn’t as high as one might expect it to be given his production at Missouri last season. That said, he’s still worth a shot at some point on Day 3 as a situational pass-rusher with a knack of getting in the backfield and making plays.

    Sam might be best suited to play outside linebacker for a team that runs a 3-4 defense, such as the New York Jets or Green Bay Packers.

    He’s unlikely to be drafted as a starter and will likely be left to fight for a roster spot, but even if some teams decide to avert controversy and pass upon drafting him, it would be a surprise if he wasn’t among the draft’s 256 overall selections.

Matt Patchan Will Be a Fifth-Round Selection

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    Michael Conroy

    A 24-year old with just one year of starting experience as Boston College’s left tackle, Matt Patchan compiled a laundry list of injuries in five previous seasons at Florida that included a torn ACL, fractured wrist and strained pectoral muscle.

    Those risk factors would be enough to make most prospects go undrafted, but Patchan is worth a shot in the fifth round. Despite a rocky collegiate career, he has the potential to emerge as a starting-caliber NFL offensive tackle.

    He combines an impressive 6’6” frame with tremendous footwork for an offensive tackle. He handles rushers off the edge well as a pass protector, while he uses his physical attributes to get outside and to the second level on runs and screens.

    It’s not typical to find an offensive tackle with his physical traits as late as Round 5, so a team in need of a swing backup or looking for a project at the position would be smart to roll the dice with him.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif Will Be Drafted from North of the Border

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    It’s unusual for a player from a Canadian college to be drafted, but Laurent Duvernay-Tardif isn’t the usual Canadian football player. A 6’5”, 321-pound offensive tackle from McGill University, Duvernay-Tardif attracted nine NFL teams to his private workout in March, according to Herb Zurkowsky of The Gazette (Montreal).

    Rated as the No. 1 prospect north of the border by the Canadian Football League’s scouting bureau, Duvernay-Tardif could end up being selected as early as the third or fourth round.

    As teams start searching for potential starting offensive tackles in the middle rounds, Duvernay-Tardif’s talent could make him worth taking a chance on despite the heavy leap in competition ahead of him from Canadian college football to playing professionally in the United States.

    After no Canadian college players were drafted last year, Duvernay-Tardif would be the first selected by an NFL team since the New Orleans Saints drafted University of Regina’s Akiem Hicks (who actually started his collegiate career at LSU) in the third round of the 2012 draft.

Colt Lyerla Won’t Go Before Round 7

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla went into his junior season in contention to be a first- or second-round draft pick, but things went downhill for the former Ducks standout. After leaving the Oregon football program in October, Lyerla was arrested less than a month later for cocaine possession.

    With fairly serious character red flags looming over him, Lyerla’s draft stock has taken a massive hit. Despite being an unusual offensive talent who can line up in a variety of spots and create yardage both out of the backfield and as a receiver, he is an unpolished talent who not only might fail to reach his potential, but could also create problems with his attitude and off-field behavior.

    It’s quite reasonable to believe a team will take a chance on Lyerla in this year’s draft, but he’s not quite the prospect Tyrann Mathieu was as the No. 69 overall selection last year. If a team is going to select him, it should wait until Round 7, where the pick would come with minimal risk and make him easy to release if he runs into any further off-field trouble.

    Teams with an abundance of late-round picks that could be inclined to take that chance include the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys.

Mr. Irrelevant Will Be a Kicker

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    The Houston Texans could use the draft's last pick on a kicker like Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro.
    The Houston Texans could use the draft's last pick on a kicker like Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro.Patrick Semansky

    It’s always fun to guess who the draft’s “Mr. Irrelevant” will be, even though the selection’s impact is often no more meaningful than the nickname suggests. One way it could become meaningful is if the Houston Texans, who were awarded the No. 256 overall selection this year, use it to select a placekicker.

    The Texans need to bring in competition for Randy Bullock after his tumultuous season last year, but they might not be inclined to use a draft pick to do it. At the final spot in the draft, however, it would give them a chance to bring in the kicker of their choice before the undrafted free-agent rush begins.

    If there are no kickers selected in the top 255 selections, options in play could include Clemson’s Chandler Catanzaro, Rice’s Chris Boswell, Anthony Fera of Texas and Cairo Santos of Tulane.

Deion Belue Will Go Undrafted

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    Butch Dill

    Players from major programs sometimes get more credit in pre-draft projections than they deserve, in large part because of the college teams they played for. One such player who shouldn’t be drafted as high as some have projected him—or at all for that matter—is Alabama cornerback Deion Belue.

    Belue was an evident weak link while playing on a defense stocked with future NFL talent. He is a physical player but doesn’t have any exceptional athletic attributes and isn’t a big playmaker.

    If there is any defense on which Belue’s flaws should have been hidden, that defense would have been the Crimson Tide’s, but instead, they were repeatedly exposed.

    Belue, who is currently ranked as the draft’s 164th-best overall player by NFLDraftScout.com, would be more appropriately valued as an undrafted free agent.

James Wilder Jr. Will Go Undrafted

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Another player who had a name made for him on a national championship-winning program, despite not doing much to make the name for himself, is Florida State running back James Wilder Jr.

    As the son of 10-year NFL veteran running back James Wilder, the younger Wilder was always going to garner attention at Florida State. That said, he ran for just 1,363 yards over the past three seasons.

    Wilder has the size to be a big between-the-tackles runner, but he doesn’t assert his power as well as he could. Beyond that, Wilder lacks the burst and speed to be a breakaway runner in the open field and goes into the draft with character red flags, having been arrested three times between February 2012 and January 2013, according to Mike Huguenin of NFL.com.

    Wilder’s bloodlines are impressive, but his game is nothing special. In a deep yet devalued class of running backs, he shouldn’t be among the prospects selected in this year’s draft.

Many Predictions Will Be Wrong

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    Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

    Making 50 predictions about the NFL draft and expecting them all to be correct would be about as naive as one thinking he/she was going to fill out a perfect NCAA tournament bracket and win a billion dollars.

    While it’s fun to project what will happen this year, there’s little doubt that most mock drafts—and many of these predictions—will quickly be covered in red ink once the actual draft gets underway, and smokescreens will fade while teams start to make selections that no one saw coming.

    Which predictions do you think will be proven correct or blatantly wrong for this year's draft?

    All measurables courtesy of NFL.com.

    Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.


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