Six games into the regular season and the top ten teams for the 2014 NFL draft are almost nothing but surprises. How will this impact the picks and who are the players that could go early?
#1 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater – QB – Louisville
His team may have lost but nothing has changed for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He is still atop most boards for the draft next year. The combination of talent, poise and measurables have continued to show in his development. No team needs a quarterback more than the Jacksonville Jaguars and they can’t afford to miss on one in 2014. Bridgewater is as safe a bet as they’ll probably get. If anything else he can finally end the Blaine Gabbert nightmare.
#2 – New York Giants – Jadeveon Clowney – DE – South Carolina
If there were any lingering doubts about whether Jadeveon Clowney was all hype considering his poor 2013 start, he emphatically put it to bed against Tennessee. Facing another possible first round pick in tackle Antonio Richardson, Clowney dominated the game. He spent most of it in the Vols backfield, blowing up runs and harassing the quarterback. No sacks appeared on the stat sheet but it didn’t matter. The tape alone will showcase that rare combination of size, speed and strength that has scouts drooling over his limitless potential. Considering they have the worst pass rush in the league, it’s almost impossible seeing the New York Giants passing on a once-in-a-decade talent like that.
#3 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Brett Hundley – QB – UCLA
Greg Schiano is fast coaching his way out of a job. If he is gone by next year then the players he’s put in place are no longer safe from the next man in charge. One of them is rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. The 2013 third round pick has lots of potential according to experts but he, like any other player is at the mercy of the man in charge. He may not fit into the new plans, especially if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers end up with the third overall pick in a draft loaded with quarterback talent. Here they take talented underclassman Brett Hundley from UCLA. Highly-athletic with a pro arm, he’s spent his time under a coaching staff rich in NFL experience. Were he to choose going pro early he is likely the best choice after Bridgewater who can join a team and start right away.
#4 – St. Louis Rams (from WAS) – Marcus Mariota – QB – Oregon
The Washington Redskins are the gift that keeps on giving for the St. Louis Rams. Thanks to their trade for Robert Griffin III and the subsequent slide by Washington this season, St. Louis lands a top five pick. With another first round choice to come, they can afford to be aggressive here. Since Sam Bradford has not progressed enough to the point of looking like a franchise quarterback, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher might want to look at some competition. Another uber-talented underclassman who could be available is Marcus Mariota. Far more mobile that Bradford, he has a terrific arm and rather advanced understanding of pocket passing despite playing in a read-option style attack at Oregon. He might take a little more time than Hundley to adjust, but once he does he can become a star.
#5 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Jake Matthews – OT – Texas A&M
The biggest problem was, is, and continues to be the offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Either they’ve been drafting bad players or employing bad coaches. Either way, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has endured a beating almost like no other in the league. Keeping him upright is a top priority, even if it means taking another offensive lineman in the first round. This time though they can get it right. Jake Matthews was born to play offensive line. His father Bruce is a Hall of Fame center for Houston and Tennessee. Jake has the expected combination of size, length, power and agility to play left tackle at a high level. He is the best of the 2014 NFL draft class and has played the best of anybody in college.
#6 – Minnesota Vikings – Tajh Boyd – QB – Clemson
Can Josh Freeman right the ship? He better because it’s clear the Minnesota Vikings are about done with the Christian Ponder experiment. Matt Cassel is too old to build a team around. That means it’s Freema’s job to lose. If he can’t pull off even a modest turnaround from their difficult start then the Vikings must look to invest in a new quarterback early next year. With three passers already off the board, they have no choice but to strike in the first round. Tajh Boyd may seem like slim pickings in that light. That is to sell short how good the Clemson senior is. Aside from his limited height at 6’1″ he is a mobile, strong-armed leader who has gotten more and more accurate over the course of his college career. He’s not the first choice, but he is still a very good one.
#7 – Atlanta Falcons – Sammy Watkins – WR – Clemson
It’s amazing how a team strength went to a team weakness in just one season. After lighting up the league in 2012, the Atlanta Falcons receiving corps looks like it’s in a state of implosion. Tony Gonzalez is readying for retirement. Julio Jones is out with a season-ending injury and Roddy White looks nothing like his Pro Bowl self at age 31. The Falcons cannot afford to lose their potency on offense with Matt Ryan still in his prime. So unless they give him some protection, they must look at adding another playmaker. They can’t do better than Sammy Watkins A star at Clemson, he has an excellent blend of size and speed coupled with the mentality to make a catch take it up the field. He might not replace White outright, but he would be the perfect heir.
#8 – Oakland Raiders – Taylor Lewan – OT – Michigan
Terrelle Pryor has done some good things for the Oakland Raiders at quarterback and may just earn an encore next season. If so then his team must find a way to protect him. The Raiders offensive line has given up a league-high 27 sacks in six games including 10 against Kansas City. They desperately need more talent up front. Whether or not Jared Veldheer returns is up in the air, but that shouldn’t divert Oakland from taking an offensive lineman. Taylor Lewan is among the best on the board. He’s big, physical, experienced and technically sound. His athleticism isn’t the highest but he makes up for it with intelligence and power. He may not have every tool in the box but that doesn’t mean he can’t maximize the ones he has to become a franchise left tackle.
#9 – Houston Texans – Anthony Barr – OLB – UCLA
The bad luck continues for the Houston Texans. After the demise of Matt Schaub the team obviously would have hopes to find a talented rookie to take over. Unfortunately the early run on quarterbacks has left the cupboard somewhat empty. They could go after Johnny Manziel or Zach Mettenberger from LSU but that might be a reach. On the other hand one of the best pass rushers in the 2014 class is still on the board. Anthony Barr is an ideal fit for the Texans’ 3-4 scheme, has a very high motor and the dual capability of rushing the passer and dropping into coverage to make tackles. Putting him in the same front with J.J. Watt just sounds unfair.
#10 – Buffalo Bills – Mike Evans – WR – Texas A&M
Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and Marquis Goodwin give the Buffalo Bills plenty of speed in their wide receiving corps. The one thing they’re missing for quarterback E.J. Manuel is a guy with size who can win jump balls and create mismatches in the red zone. There isn’t anybody better at that of late than Texas A&M standout Mike Evans. Not as athletic as Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green, he is nonetheless a 6’5″ monster who gains separation and is adept at coming back to the football and wrestling it away from defenders. Just watch his games against Alabama and Auburn for an idea.