The Best Picks from the 2014 NFL Draft

Nick KostosContributor IMay 10, 2014

The Best Picks from the 2014 NFL Draft

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    Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

    The 2014 NFL draft is in the books, and each franchise has added a number of prospects with the goal of one day achieving Super Bowl glory and raising the Lombardi Trophy. With that in mind, it's time to determine the best picks made throughout this year's draft.

    How were these 10 selections chosen from the 256 total picks made from Thursday-Saturday? I'm glad you asked!

    In some instances (including No. 1 overall), the obvious choice was the right one.

    One team added two punishing players to their trenches, while another tabbed two gigantic targets for the passing attack. Two quarterback selections made the list: one in Round 1 and another in Round 6, and for entirely different reasons. A few franchises added weapons to help their quarterbacks, and one drafted a safety that will strike fear into the hearts of opposing receivers.

    And one stands out above the rest not only for the player who was drafted but also for the prospect who was passed over (you got this one right, Jerry Jones!).

    It's true that we won't know the full impact of each draft class for a few years, but that shouldn't stop us from speculating as to which players represented the finest selections in this year's iteration.

    Here are the best picks from the 2014 NFL draft.

Texans Select South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney with No. 1 Overall Pick

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    Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

    Forget about the other prospects in the draft. They weren't worthy.

    Dismiss the notion of any potential trades. They wouldn't have been smart.

    The Houston Texans did the right thing, standing pat at No. 1 overall and selecting South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

    And the choice was an absolute home run.

    Clowney is the best player in the 2014 NFL draft, a transcendent prospect who will immediately help reverse the fortunes of the downtrodden Texans.

    With no quarterback meriting selection with the No. 1 overall pick, the drafting of Clowney was a no-brainer for coach Bill O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith. He'll join stud defensive lineman J.J. Watt to form one of the premier pass-rushing duos in the NFL and should have Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck waking up in a cold sweat come September.

    Clowney marries electrifying speed with sheer brutality and will be a star at the next level. 

    He was the right choice for the Texans. He was the only choice for the Texans.

    Thanks to Houston, the rest of the AFC South now has a problem.

    And his name is Jadeveon Clowney.

Rams Select Auburn OT Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald on Day 1

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The St. Louis Rams play in the NFC West, which happens to be the most rough-and-tumble division in the NFL.

    With that fact in mind, coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead drafted two players in the first round who will instantly improve play in the trenches and provide toughness and physicality: Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson (No. 2 overall) and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald (No. 13 overall).

    Robinson is a physical freak (6'5", 320 lbs) who will likely play guard as a rookie. He's an absolute mauler in the run game and should provide lots of space for incumbent running back Zac Stacy and fellow rookie Tre Mason. He can kick out to tackle in year two or year three when he's further developed and protect the blind side of whomever the St. Louis Rams quarterback ends up being.

    While Donald was tabbed with the 13th overall selection, if he were a bit taller (6'0"), he would have likely gone in the top five. He contributed a ridiculous 28.5 tackles for loss to go along with 11 sacks last season at Pittsburgh and is an extremely disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line.

    Donald will join fellow defensive tackle Michael Brockers and ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn to form the best and most exciting young defensive line in the NFL.

    The selections of Robinson and Donald instantly made the Rams a better team and provided them with the ammunition to challenge the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals for NFC West supremacy.

Cowboys Select Notre Dame OL Zack Martin on Day 1, Pass over Johnny Manziel

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    For the first time in a long time, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones helped himself.

    Jones wasn't seduced by the prospect of ticket and jersey sales. He didn't fall victim to choosing glitz and glamour over winning football games. He didn't make what would have been the stupidest pick in the history of the NFL draft.

    With the 16th overall selection, Jones tabbed Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin, and in doing so, he passed over Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

    For Jones, a master marketer, the temptation to draft Manziel must have been overwhelming. Speaking with reporters on Friday, Jones had this to say about Manziel (via ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon):

    It was too significant for him to be an insurance policy. There's just too much dynamic here for him, for the franchise, for everybody. That's just too much for insurance, and it's not the usual development guy behind an accomplished quarterback. He's a celebrity. He's Elvis Presley.

    Credit Jones for not bringing the circus to town and drafting Martin instead.

    Martin is a versatile lineman who will join left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick to give the Cowboys one of the best young offensive lines in the NFL. Keeping 34-year-old quarterback Tony Romo upright is of paramount importance, especially as he comes off a second back surgery. Plus, with Dallas needing to make more of a commitment to the run game, this pick makes all the sense in the world.

    This isn't meant to knock Manziel. As you'll read in the next slide, I love him as a prospect. But he would have been an awful fit in Dallas, especially with Romo as the established starter.

    The selection of Martin makes this list not only because of what he brings to the table but also because Jones chose on-field success over off-field exposure.

Browns Select Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel at No. 22 Overall

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    For weeks, I wrote that the Cleveland Browns needed to exit the first round of the draft with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as their new franchise passer.

    Credit general manager Ray Farmer, coach Mike Pettine and owner Jimmy Haslam, because they got their man, trading up to the No. 22 overall selection to bring Manziel to Cleveland.

    The Browns represented the perfect fit for Manziel. He'll get the opportunity to learn under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who worked wonders with quarterback Robert Griffin III in Washington back in 2012. Shanahan knows how to take advantage of Manziel's unique skill set and will unleash the full fury of Manziel's improvisational genius on the AFC North.

    This is also a major win for the star-crossed city of Cleveland, which badly needed someone with Manziel's energy and charisma.

    Do you think the man known as "Johnny Football" will be intimidated going into Baltimore, Cincinnati or Pittsburgh? Absolutely not. 

    Manziel will inject swagger and confidence into a franchise in desperate need of both and bring his unique brand of playmaking ability to the "Dawg Pound."

    All of a sudden, the Browns have transformed into one of the most interesting, must-watch franchises in the NFL.

    And it's thanks to Johnny Football.

Bucs Select Texas A&M WR Mike Evans and Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Earlier this offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Josh McCown to be their new starting quarterback, and he sparkled last offseason in Chicago, throwing the ball to 6'4" Brandon Marshall and 6'3" Alshon Jeffery.

    With 6'5" receiver Vincent Jackson already in the fold, the Buccaneers added two more pass-catching giants to the fold in 6'5" receiver Mike Evans (seventh overall) and 6'6" tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (38th overall).

    And in doing so, the team likely made McCown the happiest person in the state of Florida.

    The trio of colossal catchers earned the nickname "Dunkaneers" from general manager Jason Licht, who has seemingly assembled a basketball team of receivers.

    Jackson, Evans and Seferian-Jenkins will be matchup nightmares in the red zone, and when considering the team's formidable stable of running backs (with third-round rookie Charles Sims joining incumbents Doug Martin, Mike James and Bobby Rainey), the Bucs offense suddenly has the look of a potential juggernaut.

    Credit Licht and coach Lovie Smith for formulating a plan and executing it to perfection. Bucs fans should be thrilled about the additions of Evans and Seferian-Jenkins.

Cardinals Select Washington State Safety Deone Bucannon at No. 27 Overall

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    Dean Hare/Associated Press

    When one ponders which team claims the title of best secondary in the NFL, the first club that comes to mind is the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

    But the Arizona Cardinals are doing their best to make sure that the Seahawks won't even have the best secondary in their own division in 2014.

    Cardinals general manager Steve Keim traded back in the first round and selected Washington State safety Deone Bucannon with the 27th overall pick, and it was a brilliant decision.

    Bucannon is a bone-rattling hitter who will intimidate opposing receivers and is also solid in coverage. He will join cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie and safety/cornerback hybrid Tyrann Mathieu to form one of the best secondaries in the NFL.

    This doesn't mean that the Cardinals secondary will overtake Seattle's "Legion of Boom" for the title of best in the NFL, but Keim took a step toward potentially making that a reality with the selection of Bucannon.

Jaguars Select USC WR Marqise Lee and Penn State WR Allen Robinson on Day 2

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    With the third overall pick of the draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected UCF quarterback Blake Bortles to be their franchise passer.

    And with two selections on Day 2, the team surrounded him with explosive young weaponry at the receiver position.

    In the second round on Friday night, the Jaguars drafted a pair of receivers: USC's Marqise Lee (39th overall) and Penn State's Allen Robinson (61st overall). Both players fill a need, and both should be able to produce as neophytes and beyond.

    With the Jaguars not expecting receiver Justin Blackmon to play in 2014 as he serves his suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, it was important for general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley to bring in a young pass-catcher or two, and they did just that.

    The hope in Jacksonville is that Bortles, Lee and Robinson will join incumbent receiver Cecil Shorts and form the foundation of Jacksonville's passing attack for years to come.

Jets Select Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro at No. 49 Overall

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    After selecting Louisville safety Calvin Pryor with the 18th overall pick, the New York Jets needed to add a skill position player in the second round to help advance their offense into the 21st century.

    And they accomplished that goal with the selection of Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro at No. 49 overall.

    Amaro was a pass-catching demon for the Red Raiders, hauling in 106 passes last season for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. He'll provide instant offense over the middle of the field for whomever the Jets quarterback ends up being (Geno Smith or Michael Vick).

    While Amaro can't be counted upon as a blocker, the Jets were rightfully more concerned with adding a dynamic pass-catcher to join new receiver Eric Decker and running back Chris Johnson in the team's revamped offense. He represents a fantastic selection by general manager John Idzik.

49ers Select South Carolina WR Bruce Ellington at No. 106 Overall (Day 3)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Even though the San Francisco 49ers swung a trade on Friday afternoon for Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson, general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh still needed to add a speedy pass-catcher with the ability to take the top off an opposing defense.

    Enter South Carolina receiver Bruce Ellington, whom the club selected with the 106th overall selection (Round 4).

    Ellington ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at February's scouting combine, and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller wrote this about Ellington in his scouting report:

    Ellington has the speed and burst to stretch the field and take the top off a defense. He's incredibly quick in and out of cuts and has shown the pure speed to affect the game as a receiver and as a return man. 

    That's exactly what the 49ers offense needs. 

    While receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis are tremendous options in the passing attack for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, none of the three possesses game-changing speed.

    Ellington does, and that's why he was a fantastic pick by Baalke and Harbaugh.

Titans Select LSU QB Zach Mettenberger at No. 178 Overall

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    Since being selected with the eighth overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft, Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker has failed to sparkle and shown an inability to stay on the field, missing 16 games over the past two seasons.

    So with the Titans having a new head coach in Ken Whisenhunt whose background is on the offensive side of the ball, it seemed logical that the club would add a quarterback at some point during this year's draft to compete with Locker.

    General manager Ruston Webster did so with the selection of LSU passer Zach Mettenberger with the 178th overall pick (Round 6).

    Mettenberger possesses ideal size (6'5", 224 lbs) and has a cannon attached to his right shoulder. He threw 22 touchdowns last season at LSU and was the fifth-rated quarterback in the draft by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.

    While Mettenberger does come with his share of red flagsincluding a torn ACL suffered in late November and the fact that he produced a diluted urine sample at February's scouting combinehe also projects as a potential fit in Whisenhunt's offense.

    With the Titans opting not to pick up Locker's fifth-year option, his future in the Music City is nebulous. And given Locker's injury history, there could be an opportunity for Mettenberger to see the field sooner rather than later, provided he can beat out presumed backup Charlie Whitehurst.

    In a few years, we could be looking back on the selection of Mettenberger as one that helped change the fortunes of the Titans franchise. He provides great value for a sixth-round selection, making him one of the best picks in the draft.