BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The 2014 NFL draft remains nearly eight full months away as it moves to May on the NFL calendar this year, but the speculation for which teams will be picking where and who they will be selecting with their picks has already begun.
Just two weeks into the NFL season, it remains impossible to project an accurate draft order, but the following projected order is based on how each team’s play thus far and resulting outlook. The draft stocks of each potential first-rounder are also very much in their preliminary stages, as the college football is just three weeks deep.
Nonetheless, it is fun to start thinking ahead and considering which players could make each team better this season. Although we are still a long way from knowing what teams’ greatest needs will be and what position they will be in to fill them come May, we can take a hypothetical look at where some of the best college football players could play on Sundays in 2014.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (Jr.)
The Jacksonville Jaguars had the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, and have started their season with losses to the teams that held the No. 1 and 3 picks in last year’s draft, so they clearly stand out as the NFL’s worst team through two weeks.
They have many needs, but the quickest way to climb back into contention is to find a legitimate franchise quarterback. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is an elite quarterback prospect who could be an immediate upgrade over Blaine Gabbert.
2. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (Jr.)
The Oakland Raiders have needs throughout their roster, but if they are in this position, they should be making a decision between the best quarterback available and Jadeveon Clowney.
While Terrelle Pryor is unlikely to be the long-term franchise quarterback in Oakland, it would be tough for the Raiders to pass up Clowney for the likes of Clemson’s Tajh Boyd or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Clowney is a rare talent who can be the immediate star and game-changer that the Raiders’ defense currently lacks.
3. Cleveland Browns: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden, who already turns 30 in October, has done nothing in the Cleveland Browns’ first two games to change the perception that the Browns will be in the market for a first-round quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft. If they are drafting this high in May, it is unlikely that perception will have changed.
Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is off to a hot start this season and has all the physical tools to be a great NFL quarterback. While his pocket passing and accuracy is still a work in progress, he is an dynamic dual-threat passer with playmaking ability and upside that Weeden simply doesn’t have.
4. New York Jets: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The New York Jets would draft a defensive front seven player in the first round for a fourth consecutive year if they select UCLA’s Anthony Barr, but the missing piece to the puzzle for their defensive front remains a premier pass-rushing outside linebacker.
As a prospect, Barr is comparable to Dion Jordan, who went No. 3 overall in the 2013 draft, and Barr is a better pass-rusher. Adding Barr opposite Quinton Coples could potentially give the Jets an elite pair of young pass-rushing outside linebackers.
5. Carolina Panthers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
If the Carolina Panthers offense is going to maximize quarterback Cam Newton’s ability, their offensive line must provide better pass protection.
The 2013 draft was an indicator of how valued offensive tackles are in the NFL draft, including right tackle. Jake Matthews is an elite offensive tackle prospect who can be an immediate upgrade over Byron Bell at right tackle, but also an heir apparent to Jordan Gross, who will be 34 by next season, at left tackle.
6. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
After adding a franchise quarterback and receiving weapons for him in the 2013 draft, the Buffalo Bills need to solidify the offensive line in front of him next offseason. Michigan’s Taylor Lewan is the second-best offensive line prospect in the 2014 draft class, and would be one of the best players available in this scenario.
Some have suggested the Bills should move left tackle Cordy Glenn to right tackle or left guard, which drafting Lewan would allow them to do. That said, Lewan could simply be an upgrade at right tackle, where the Bills could use an upgrade in a division where they play Cameron Wake twice a year.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (RS So.)
Carson Palmer’s season is off to a solid start for the Arizona Cardinals, but the 33-year-old quarterback is only signed through 2014 and is only a short-term fix at the position. The Cardinals would be smart to find their franchise quarterback in the 2014 draft.
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is only a redshirt sophomore, but he is a rising prospect who could easily push to be the No. 2 quarterback selected in this year’s draft. He is a productive dual-threat quarterback who can beat defenses with both his arm and his legs, and could give the Cardinals their own dynamic playmaker in a division with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (Jr.)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be in the market for a new quarterback in the 2014 draft, but any quarterback still on the board would be a reach as a top-10 draft selection. In this scenario, the Buccaneers would be best suited by waiting until the second round for a quarterback such as San Jose State’s David Fales, UCLA’s Brett Hundley or Miami’s Stephon Morris who can compete with 2012 third-round pick Mike Glennon to be the team’s quarterback of the future.
Instead, the Buccaneers would be smart to add another weapon for whoever their quarterback will be to work with. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands who has outstanding speed and open-field running ability but also good size. He can contribute as a receiver, returner and runner. If Tavon Austin was a top-10 pick, Watkins deserves to be too.
9. San Diego Chargers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama (Jr.)
King Dunlap is not a long-term answer for the San Diego Chargers at left tackle, so even though they drafted D.J. Fluker in the first round of the 2013 draft, they should be in the market for another offensive tackle in 2014. The Chargers could reunite the offensive tackle pairing that led Alabama to a national championship in 2012 by plugging in the powerful, physically-gifted Kouandjio at left tackle opposite Fluker.
Kouandjio still has to prove himself as an NFL-caliber left tackle, so if he fails to earn a top-10 draft selection, the Chargers would have other options in this scenario as well. Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby and BYU outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy are both top-10 talents who would address positions of need.
10. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is the complete package as a middle linebacker, where the Tennessee Titans need an upgrade over Moise Fokou and Colin McCarthy.
Mosley has tremendous playmaking range, is fluid in coverage and is both a sound tackler and skilled blitzer. He can be an immediate three-down player and an impact player for a defense that lacks star power.
11. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame (Jr.)
Jay Ratliff’s best years are behind him and Jason Hatcher is slated for unrestricted free agency in 2014, so the Dallas Cowboys need to add an impact player at defensive tackle. Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III is a massive yet explosive nose tackle who can be that impact player in the middle of the Cowboys’ Tampa 2 defense.
Nix can occupy multiple blockers but also has the quickness to shoot gaps as a penetrator.
12. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC (Jr.)
Alex Smith is looking like a strong addition as the Kansas City Chiefs’ starting quarterback, but he isn’t a quarterback who is going to create big plays on his own. The Chiefs need to add a wideout who can do that for him, and USC’s Marqise Lee has that ability.
Lee is a dynamic downfield threat who glides as an open-field runner and makes plays on the ball. He could immediately thrive as the No. 2 wideout in Kansas City opposite Dwayne Bowe.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (Jr.)
Ike Taylor is 33 years old and the Pittsburgh Steelers lost Keenan Lewis this offseason, so it’s time to restock at the cornerback position. Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby is a playmaker in the secondary with the athleticism, ball skills and aggressiveness to be a star.
Given the continued struggles of the Steelers’ offensive line, Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson is another player who could be on their radar, but Roby will be great value if the 2014 NFL draft if he falls out of the top 10 picks, and the Steelers need young defensive talent.
14. Detroit Lions: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee (Jr.)
The offensive tackle premium is likely to continue in the 2014 NFL draft, and the Detroit Lions are another team who could be in the market for an upgrade early. The Lions need an upgrade over Jason Fox at right tackle, and Tennesee’s Antonio Richardson is a very talented offensive tackle with the potential to really rise in this year’s draft class.
Listed at 6’6” and 327 pounds by Tennessee’s official athletics website, Richardson is a massive offensive tackle who also has very good feet.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama (Jr.)
The Philadelphia Eagles’ best safety, Nate Allen, is slated to be an unrestricted free agent next season, but even if they bring him back, they should be in the market for an upgrade at either safety position.
Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be an immediate upgrade over Patrick Chung at free safety. He is an athletic, hard-hitting safety who can be a difference-maker in both coverage and run support.
16. Minnesota Vikings: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State (Jr.)
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman knows a thing or two about great Ohio State linebackers — his brother, Chris, was an All-American at OSU and an NFL All-Pro — and he should also recognize that his team needs a long-term answer at weakside linebacker to complete the linebacker corps.
Ryan Shazier is undersized, but he is an explosive athlete who flies around the field, makes big hits and is very good in coverage. With Jared Allen and Kevin Williams both unrestricted free agents next offseason, the Vikings will need an impact player on their defensive front seven and they can get that from Shazier.
See page 2 for picks 17-32.