NFL Draft 2014: Predicting Where Top Prospects Will Land

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistMarch 16, 2014

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks gets the crowd excited in the first half of their game against the Wisconsin Badgers at the Capital One Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

NFL draft hopefuls find themselves in a precarious position. They're the most wanted college job applicants in the world, yet they can't determine their future employer.

Unless they pull an Eli Manning, these prospects will sit idly by and hope they get selected by an organization that suits them well. Will they see eye to eye with the coaches? Are the players pleasant colleagues? Do the team's personnel and schemes bode well for playing time and success?

It's a scary day for all members of the 2014 NFL draft class, even those virtually guaranteed a cushy top-10 spot. They still must sweat out the announcement of their future destination in the year's most highly anticipated, jam-packed night of a man reading a name every 10 minutes.

These stars should all be bestowed with a premium first-round selection, but where exactly will they wind up? Let's try to project their new homes after the draft.

NFL Draft - Projecting Top Picks
1. Houston TexansQB Teddy BridgewaterLouisville
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington)WR Sammy WatkinsClemson
3. Jacksonville JaguarsDE Jadeveon ClowneySouth Carolina
4. Cleveland BrownsQB Johnny ManzielTexas A&M
5. Oakland RaidersQB Blake BortlesCentral Florida
6. Atlanta FalconsOLB Khalil MackBuffalo
7. Tampa Bay BuccaneersOT Greg RobinsonAuburn
8. Minnesota VikingsOLB Anthony BarrUCLA
9. Buffalo BillsOT Jake MatthewsTexas A&M
10. Detroit LionsCB Justin GilbertOklahoma State
11. Tennessee TitansILB C.J. MosleyAlabama
12. New York GiantsOT Taylor LewanMichigan
Author's predictions


Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

How many teams can possibly let Jadeveon Clowney slip between their fingertips?

For the Houston Texans, it makes sense to select a quarterback with No. 1 overall pick after last year's endless string of pick-sixes. The St. Louis Rams, at No. 2, already have Robert Quinn and Chris Long lined up at defensive end, so they're excused for taking Sammy Watkins, Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews.

When the clock starts for the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3, they should not let the explosive defender fall any further. 

The South Carolina stud was considered a future consensus No. 1 overall choice before his senior campaign, during which he recorded just three sacks for the Gamecocks. Then again, if you were playing a physical sport and knew an injury was the only thing blocking your path to millions of dollars, wouldn't you play at less than full throttle?

Physically speaking, Clowney has it all. Officially measured at 6'5" and 266 pounds, Clowney ran a sizzling 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He also completed 21 bench reps, which, according to ESPN Stats & Info, gave him the same results as another star.

While there are questions about his work ethic, NFL Media analyst Charley Casserly said on Path to the Draft that Clowney is too talented to pass up (via's Bryan Fischer):

What you want to do is when you wake up the next morning, feel good that you took the best player in the draft. The best talent in the draft is Jadeveon Clowney. Guy makes rare plays against the run, rare plays against the pass. Maybe the most talented defensive end I've ever scouted. There's a lot of questions to answer, but he's a rare talent at his position."

Jacksonville ranked 27th with 379.4 yards allowed per game and tied for last with 31 sacks. If Clowney is available, the Jaguars should waste little time in grabbing him.

Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars (Pick No. 3)


Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

There's no consensus No. 1 quarterback in this draft, which means some wacky things could happen in the beginning.

This is an unusual draft, where as many as seven or eight guys can make a case for No. 1 consideration. Even if we establish that the Texans want a quarterback, that narrows the options down to three.

Blake Bortles is the exciting, trendy pick of the three. Johnny Manziel has been boxed into an easy villain narrative that fluctuates his draft projection wildly. Teddy Bridgewater, by contrast, is the boring selection with an accurate arm and higher floor. 

That leaves us with Bortles, a junior from the relatively unknown Central Florida, who earned 9.4 yards per attempt while amassing 25 touchdown passes last year. At 6'5" and 232 pounds, he looks the part more than his peers, which is great for a team looking to cast a film about NFL stereotypes.

He boasts a Ben Roethlisberger build and a strong arm, which means the team that drafts him should be heavily invested in a vertical game. That sounds perfect at No. 5 for the Oakland Raiders, who clamor for gifted offensive athletes with size and speed.

They're known for taking big, fast wideouts such as Darrius Heyward-Bey, so why not target a passer with a cannon for an arm?

Prediction: Oakland Raiders (Pick No. 5)


Khalil Mack, DE/LB, Buffalo

Fair warning to everyone other than the Texans: Khalil Mack might not be available at your turn.

The Mack fan bus sells more seats by the day, and there probably won't be any tickets available by May. Two of its fans are highly influential analysts that could quickly sway public opinion.

Appearing on Minnesota's KFAN during the combine, NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock touted Mack as his No. 1 pick.

"He's explosive off the edge, he's tough, he's twitchy, he's got a little edge about him," Mayock said. "You talk about a kid like [Jadeveon] Clowney, who's just got superhuman abilities, versus this kid, and if I had a choice between the two, I think I'm taking Mack."

In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. jumped on board with Mack going No. 1.

The versatile Buffalo defender is earning rave reviews, but the allure of a fresh slate at quarterback and Clowney's sky-high upside will likely win out in the end. With passing dominating the league, Clemson's Sammy Watkins also warrants a top-five selection.

That leaves Mack on the board at No. 6, in which case Atlanta has no need to deliberate for the full 10 minutes.

The Falcons amassed 32 sacks last season while finishing 30th in Football Outsiders' DVOA. Mack shoots off the snap, whether in pursuit of the ball-carrier or pressuring the quarterback. He can deliver immediately for a team that nearly made the Super Bowl during the 2012 season.

Prediction: Atlanta Falcons (Pick No. 6)


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