There is no question South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney is a special prospect that every team in the league would be overjoyed to add to their roster. However, depending on how the draft order shakes out Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater could very well end up being the first player off the board in the 2014 NFL Draft. Even though the Jags selected Blaine Gabbert in the Top 10 overall just a couple of years ago they did an absolutely horrendous job of developing their young signal caller. In fact, they basically broke every rule in the book. As a result Gabbert is in a career death spiral and itís becoming increasingly difficult to envision a scenario in which he is ultimately regarded as anything other than a colossal bust. Bridgewater isnít quite the once every couple of decades, canít miss prospect that Andrew Luck was coming out of college but he isnít far off the pace
will be a very valuable commodity on Draft Day. Think along the lines of Robert Griffin III. Bridgewater is a terrific athlete with a strong arm and all of the physical tools that you look for but the most impressive aspect of his game may be an innate feel and natural instincts for the position. In short Bridgewater is the type of prospect that can quickly turn around the fortunes of a franchise. Even one in dire straits like Jacksonville. The Jaguars will consider Clowney as well but at the end of the day itís quarterbacks, not defensive ends, that win championships.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE, SOUTH CAROLINA
The situation in Tampa seems to be reaching a critical mass, with the team muddling through an extremely disappointing season and Greg Schianoís abrasive style causing more problems every day. On paper the Bucs would appear to have enough talent to compete with anyone but for one reason or another there is a huge disconnect and itís just not translating to the field. Exactly what direction this franchise is heading remains to be seen and significant changes are most likely forthcoming. Regardless of what happens with the coaching staff the Buccaneers could use another pass rusher to team with Adrian Claborn since DaíQuan Bowers hasnít developed as hoped. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney is a truly rare talent who most feel is the best defensive end prospect to come along since Julius Peppers in 2002. Some even go as far back as Bruce Smith in 1985. A freakish physical specimen with an eye-popping blend of size, speed and athleticism, Clowney possesses everything that you look for in a stud pass rusher. At times this season Clowney has struggled to live up to unrealistic expectations as offenses scheme to minimize his impact with quick passes and screens. With that said it is important to remember that
Peppers and Mario Williams were criticized for being inconsistent and underachieving during their final years in college as well. Tampa Bay could also use an upgrade at right tackle, which has been in flux for years, so Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Taylor Lewan of Michigan could be possibilities as well. If Schiano is indeed sent packing a new coaching staff might want to bring in their own quarterback to build around so donít completely rule out Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville or Marcus Mariota of Oregon.
Few teams have done a better job of managing their roster over the last decade or so than the Giants. Thanks to a strong front office theyíve drafted well and always kept an eye on the future so even when they do suffer a loss there is usually a youngster that theyíve been developing ready to step in. For one reason or another the train has come off the tracks this season but there is still plenty of hope for the future and a quick turnaround seems not only possible but probable. One area the G-Men have neglected over the years is linebacker, where they have continually attempted to get by with journeymen and unproven youngsters. It may finally be time to make a significant investment in the position. UCLA OLB Anthony Barr began his college career as a fullback / tight end hybrid but has been nothing short of a revelation since making the conversion to defense as a junior.
A dynamic athlete with an incredible blend of size and speed as well as top-notch intangibles, Barr is an absolute terror rushing off the edge and the scary part is heís just beginning to tap into his immense potential. Itís not a stretch to suggest that Barr is a better prospect than Dion Jordan, who was the #3 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. The offensive line has been a major problem this season and will most likely require some attention as well so Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Taylor Lewan of Michigan will be options too.
Most of the pieces are in place for the Vikings to make a serious Super Bowl run but unfortunately they are falling short at the games most important position. A few years ago Minnesota reached for Christian Ponder in the top half of round one even though most viewed him as more of a second round value. That bold move hasnít worked out as the organization had hoped and they essentially gave up on Ponder by bringing in Josh Freeman mid-season. Minnesota will attempt to revive Freemanís career but that is probably a long-shot so there is a very good chance theyíll be back in the quarterback market next offseason. There are legitimate concerns about whether uber-productive Oregon QB Marcus Mariota will be able to make the transition from a wide open college
system to the pros but he is beginning to turn even the skeptics into believers. A great athlete with prototypical size, a strong arm and superb speed, Mariota is drawing favorable comparisons to Colin Kaepernick within the scouting community. At this point Mariota has bypassed fellow redshirt sophomore Brett Hundley of UCLA and some are even beginning to wonder if he could ultimately present a challenge to Louisvilleís Teddy Bridgewater. If the Vikes don't opt for a young signal caller UCLA OLB Anthony Barr would be the most likely alternative.
For a long time the Texans primary identity was that of an offensive-minded team with a shaky defense. Over the past couple of years those roles have been reversed with the defense now one of the most dominant in the league and the offense sputtering. Poor play from the quarterback position is the main culprit behind the offensive struggles and Matt Schaub has suddenly morphed into a turnover machine. Itís highly unlikely either T.J. Yates or Case Keenum are the long-term solutions under center so itís probably time for Houston to bring in a top young signal caller. In terms of raw tools UCLA QB Brett Hundley has everything that you look for including size, arm strength and top intangibles. Hundley is also a fantastic athlete and the type of dual threat weapon that is currently taking the league by storm. Hundley is still rough around the edges and could use another year of development under the tutelage of Jim Mora, Jr.
but there are so many teams in need of a quarterback that someone would likely roll the dice in the top half of round one based on sheer potential alone. Then again Hundley could also opt to stay in school and would be among the early front-runners to be the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Houston could also use some reinforcements along their defensive line or perhaps another weapon for the passing attack since Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels are both firmly on the wrong side of thirty.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (f/WAS): JAKE MATTHEWS, OT, TEXAS A&M
St. Louis has been stocking up on young talent the past couple of years with a big assist from the blockbuster trade that landed Robert Griffin III in Washington. In fact, that bill still isnít completely paid and the Rams will once again have multiple first round picks. Even though St. Louis seemingly solved their long-standing problem at offensive tackle last offseason by spending big money on Jake Long there are still some underlying issues. After all Long is going to be thirty soon and has had some health issues over the years while the other starter Rodger Saffold is going to be a free agent. Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and their family tree is chock full of outstanding football players including uncle Clay Jr., cousins Clay III and Casey as well as brothers Kevin and Mike. When it comes to football bloodlines it just doesnít get any better than the Matthews clan. Jake is a well-rounded blocker with all of the physical tools and intangibles that you look for.
In fact many believe Matthews is a better pro prospect than former teammate Luke Joeckel, who was the #2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. With Sam Bradford going down with yet another major injury and not exactly setting the world in fire when healthy the Rams will have a very interesting decision to make at quarterback. If St. Louis is indeed ready to move on from Bradford this would probably be the optimal time since they could wind up with two selections in the Top 10 overall.
One of the keys to the Steelers remaining consistently competitive for decades has been an ability to reload rather than rebuild. Unfortunately theyíve made some mistakes when it comes to the offensive line and are currently paying dearly for them. Needless to say Pittsburgh would likely jump at the opportunity to add a top-notch blocker with this pick. Michigan OT Taylor Lewan most likely would have been a Top 10-12 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft but opted to return to Ann Arbor for his senior campaign. Lewan has drawn favorable comparisons to Jake Long and there are indeed a lot of similarities, most notably their large frames, well-rounded games and blue-collar mentalities. Some question whether Lewan will be able to stick at left tackle in the pros or if a move to right tackle might be in the offing. However, similar concerns were raised when Long
was coming out of college and any naysayers should have been quieted when he more than held his own against Jadeveon Clowney in their highly-anticipated matchup in the 2013 Outback Bowl. The Steelers could also be in the market for a long-term solution at nose tackle and Louis Nix of Notre Dame would be an ideal fit in the middle of their defensive line. Other possibilities could include Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt, Clemson WR Sammy Watkins and Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley but offensive tackle is clearly a heavy favorite.
The Falcons have done a poor job at the defensive end position in recent years and they just havenít seemed to place a high priority on a position that most deem to be extremely important. Going from John Abraham to Osi Umenyiora was a lateral move at best and so far none of their young pass rushers have stepped up and proven themselves to be anything more than backups. At his best Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt looks like a poor-manís version of Mario Williams due to a freakish blend of size and athleticism. Tuitt has shown the ability to make an impact against the run and pass and is also extremely versatile with experience lining up at defensive end and defensive tackle as well as in both an even and odd front. Tuitt got off to a slow start due in large part to conditioning issues stemming from offseason surgery but is now once again making the type of impact that youíd expect from such a talented player.
This may be a bit early for Tuitt but donít be surprised if he gets pushed up the board a bit. After all there are always a lot of teams searching for pass rushers and at this point Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina and Tuitt are the only two consensus first rounders at the defensive end position. Both offensive tackle and linebacker could be possibilities as well. Atlanta must also find a successor to future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez but there doesnít appear to be a tight end worthy of a Top 10 pick.
Not that long ago it appeared as though quarterback would be the Raiders top priority but Terrelle Pryor has shown some flashes and emerged as a potential long-term solution under center. With that being the case Oakland is now free to address one of their other needs and there are quite a few to choose from. Despite pleasantly surprising play from Pryor the Raiders passing attack still ranks among the worst in the league and the addition of a true go-to target would go a long way towards remedying that situation. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins burst onto the scene as a true freshman but injuries and off-the-field issues led to a major sophomore slump.
Fortunately Watkins has bounced back this season and should not only be a first round pick like his former teammate DeAndre Hopkins but battle to be the first wideout off the board. An explosive athlete who can take the top off a defense, Watkins is still rough around the edges but possesses all of the physical traits to be a dynamic playmaker at the next level. Then again the Raiders could also use help at defensive end, defensive tackle, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, safety, tight end... Well, you get the picture.
So far scoring points hasnít been a problem under Chip Kelly but the defense is still one of the worst in the league and a real liability. The secondary in particular has been a major problem area, which is somewhat surprising because the organization has devoted significant resources in both free agency and the draft toward resolving those issues. After bypassing the chance to potentially be a first round pick last year Ohio St. CB Bradley Roby has struggled at times this season. A terrific athlete with good size and outstanding speed, Roby looks every bit the part of a Top 10 overall pick but the results on the field have left something to be desired.
There is still plenty of time for Roby to turn things around though and few programs have a better track record when it comes to producing pro cover guys than the Buckeyes. Other possibilities could include Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt or perhaps Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. If Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is still on the board Kelly might jump at the opportunity to be reunited with his former Ducks protťgť in the City of Brotherly Love, especially since Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley have all had their struggles.
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