Week five is moving along and the sands keep shifting towards which teams and players will mark the top of the 2014 NFL draft. How do the top ten selections look after another stretch of games?
#1 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater – QB – Louisville
Until they look like they have absolutely any hope of winning a game, the Jacksonville Jaguars will stay atop the board for favorites to claim the first overall pick. If they are there at #1 in May, they cannot, repeat, CANNOT afford to pass on taking a quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville has looked the most consistent and dominant against every opponent he’s faced so far. He has all the physical tools along with a maturity level that is rare for college quarterbacks.
#2 – New York Giants – Jadeveon Clowney – DE – South Carolina
It’s hard to believe a team that won the Super Bowl two years ago looks this bad to start the 2013 season but that is the sad state of the New York Giants. Aside from week one they have been blown out in all their other games, scoring a combined 30 points in that stretch. Yet their biggest problem is the continuing decline of their defense. Everything starts up front in that regard, and the Giants need somebody to step up and help Jason Pierre-Paul. Landing Jadeveon Clowney is just the medicine to cure their ills and could jumpstart a rapid revival next year, giving them arguably the most talented duo of defensive ends in football.
#3 – Oakland Raiders – Tajh Boyd – QB – Clemson
It is basically an open audition for the quarterback job for the Oakland Raiders at this point. Matt Flynn failed his not once but twice. Terrelle Pryor showed signs of promise but perhaps runs too much for his own good, suffering a concussion three games into the season. Undrafted rookie Matt McGloin seems competant but not starter material. That means unless Pryor ups his play over the rest of the year the Raiders will start fresh with a new quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft. With Bridgewater off the board, the next available is Clemson star Tajh Boyd. Compared to his Louisville counterpart, the only thing Boyd seems to lack is height. At 6’1″ he doesn’t have the ideal vertical but the rest of his game is tailor-made for the pros, and the Raiders can’t over think that.
#4 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Bradley Roby – CB – Ohio State
Probably the biggest regret the Pittsburgh Steelers have right now is letting Keenan Lewis go in free agency. His coverage skill is something they’ve sorely missed dropping to an 0-4 record, their worst in over a decade. While protecting Ben Roethlisberger is still a high priority, maintaining a level of defensive excellence has remained the key to their winning ways. If that’s to continue they must have a succession plan in place for veteran Ike Taylor. Arguably the best corner in the draft is Bradley Roby out of OhioState. Though not the tallest, his speed and athleticism allow him to stick to receivers like glue. After a slow start to his season Roby has two interceptions over the past two weeks. His game is maturing at just the right time, and the Steelers would be happy to have him.
#5 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – C.J. Mosley – OLB – Alabama
It’s really hard to believe a team so heavy with talent on both sides of the ball can look as bad as they have. Granted all the games have been close but as the saying goes bad teams find a way to lose. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t have any glaring needs on their roster, so they can pretty go after whatever player they want. However, if they do decide to address a weaker area of their roster they might consider linebacker. In that case C.J. Mosley out of Alabama is probably the best 4-3 style player available. He is a tackling machine and comes from a system that regularly produces good linebackers.
#6 – St. Louis Rams – Jake Matthews – OT – Texas A&M
Taking a quarterback isn’t out of the question for the St. Louis Rams if they end up here. It would mean Sam Bradford regressed from 2012. Still, it’s impossible to know which underclass passers could come out in the 2014 NFL draft, so it’s hard seeing the Rams reach for one this early. What they do need badly on the other hand is offensive line help. Injuries and erratic play continue to hamper the unit and has made life difficult every week for Bradford. Texas A&M standout Jake Matthews is the most polished, experienced and talented offensive tackle in the class as he’s shown regularly blocking for Johnny Manziel. The bloodline alone speaks for itself but adding Matthews to their front would provide an enormous boost for St. Louis to both their run and passing game.
#7 – Buffalo Bills – Hasean Clinton-Dix – FS – Alabama
This pick falls in direct correlation to a likely free agency outcomes. Unless there is a drastic change, it’s expected that free safety Jairus Byrd will leave the team to pursue a better deal than the Buffalo Bills have offered him. That could open a hole in the secondary they’ve managed to mask so far but is there. With their offense largely in place around E.J. Manuel, there is no harm in Buffalo going after Byrd’s replacement. Hasean Clinton-Dix has rated by far the best safety on the big board through four weeks. His unfortunate suspension by Nick Saban for violation of team rules could deal a serious blow to his draft stock. Still if he returns in enough time he is just the player the Bills would want patrolling the back end of their defense.
#8 – Minnesota Vikings – Ryan Shazier – OLB – Ohio State
Another team that doesn’t seem to have a lot of weaknesses on paper but for some reason can’t win games. The Minnesota Vikings would probably take a quarterback if they end up here but like St. Louis can’t risk a reach if none of the underclassmen come out early. In that case an area they could really use help is linebacker. Having fortified their secondary and defensive line in the 2013 draft, finding some help in the middle would certainly complete the puzzle. Since Mosley is off the board, their best bet is Ryan Shazier out of OhioState. Fast and instinctive first, he can fly around the football field making tackles. Scouts believe he should add some weight before going pro, but once he does he’s an ideal fit for the Vikings defense.
#9 – New York Jets – Sammy Watkins – WR – Clemson
Wide receiver is still a sore spot for the New York Jets regardless of who is quarterback. Geno Smith needs time to develop but he can’t realize his true potential until the Jets are sure they’ve provided him enough weapons. Having used the first round this year to fortify the defense, New York can’t put off the offense any longer. Sammy Watkins from Clemson is playmaker in every sense of the word. He’s big, strong and fast with ability to catch a pass and then break tackles for extra yardage. The Jets have nobody like that on their roster. Stephen Hill is still learning and Santonio Holmes makes the big catches but isn’t a superstar. Watkins can become that for New York.
#10 – Cleveland Browns – Anthony Barr – OLB – UCLA
The unfortunate injury to Brian Hoyer robbed the Cleveland Browns of a chance to see how far he could go. It leaves them once again in the hands of Brandon Weeden. Clearly the team is a lot better than they were a year ago but Weeden just doesn’t seem like a franchise quarterback. Cleveland may choose to replace him, but not in the first round. That’s because they cannot afford to pass up outside linebacker Anthony Barr. He’s one of the top pass rushers in the 2014 NFL draft class and a perfect fit for the Browns 3-4 scheme. Best of all they can pair him with Barkevious Mingo, giving them a one-two punch for quarterbacks to deal with for the next decade.