Final NFL Draft Preview

By Bryan Knowles

With the 2014 NFL Draft starting on Thursday, we're finally going to get to find out where the top prospects will end up for this upcoming season. This includes many SEC prospects, including those you were rooting for when you were betting on SEC football. If you feel like this draft season has gone on forever, you're not alone; the draft was pushed back three weeks due to scheduling conflicts at Radio City Music Hall.It's scheduling conflicts like this that has caused the NFL to consider moving the draft out of its longtime home in New York.

All that's for future drafts. For the next week, everyone will be paying attention to the current draft, and the top prospects.

Have you not been following along for the past month and a half, and have missed out on what your team needs, and which players are good? Have no fear, we're here with a handy cheat sheet for you. We'll tell you which teams are looking for which position, who the top players at that position are, and about where they should fall in the draft proper.

There's a degree of subjectivity in the draft grading process, of course—some people, for example, consider Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr a first-round pick, while others have him go as late as round four. That's what makes the draft so exciting, though. Let's take a quick, cheat-sheet-style glance at who teams will be targeting come Thursday night and through the weekday.

Quarterback

Teams most in need: Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland, Minnesota

Top 5 prospects:
  1. Blake Bortles, UCF—1st round pick
  2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M—1st round pick
  3. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville—1st round pick
  4. Tom Savage, Pittsburgh—2nd round pick
  5. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Michigan—2nd/3rd round pick

Plenty of teams in need for a quarterback, but there'll be a scramble for the top few names. This is why players like Derek Carr and AJ McCarron could slip into earlier rounds; there's a shortage of gameday-ready players at the position.

Final NFL Draft Preview
Feb 23, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA: Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel runs the shuttle dash during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Photo courtesy by - Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports.

Running Back

Teams most in need: Tennessee, Jacksonville, NY Giants, Baltimore, Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, Arizona, Carolina.

Top 10 prospects:
  1. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State—2nd round pick
  2. Bishop Sankey, Washington—2nd round pick
  3. Jeremy Hill, LSU—2nd round pick
  4. Tre Mason, Auburn—3rd round pick
  5. Charles Sims, West Virginia—3rd round pick
  6. Devonta Freeman, Florida State—3rd round pick
  7. Andre Williams, Boston College—3rd/4th round pick
  8. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon—3rd/4th round pick
  9. Dri Archer, Kent State—4th round pick
  10. Terrance West, Towson—4th round pick

Bad year to be the Tennessee Titans, who need to find a replacement for the departed Chris Johnson. There should be plenty of value on days two and three, however, for teams willing to wait a bit.

Wide Receiver

Teams most in need: Detroit, Baltimore, NY Jets, Kansas City, Seattle, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, New Orleans, Carolina, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Arizona.

Top 15 prospects:
  1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson—1st round pick
  2. Mike Evans, Texas A&M—1st round pick
  3. Odell Beckham Jr, LSU—1st round pick
  4. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State—1st round pick
  5. Marqise Lee, USC—1st round pick
  6. Cody Latimer, Indiana—1st/2nd round pick
  7. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State—2nd round pick
  8. Davante Adams, Fresno State—2nd round pick
  9. Jarvis Landry, LSU—2nd round pick
  10. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt—2nd round pick
  11. Bruce Ellington, South Carolina—2nd/3rd round pick
  12. Paul Richardson, Colorado—2nd/3rd round pick
  13. Martavis Bryant, Clemson—3rd round pick
  14. Brandon Coleman, Rutgers—3rd round pick
  15. Allen Robinson, Penn State—3rd round pick

This is a fantastic year to be looking for a wide receiver, as the pool is one of the deepest it's been in years. This class has the talent to challenge the '96 receiving class as best of all time. 1996 saw Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Marvin Harrison, Eric Moulds, Muhsin Muhammad, Terrell Owens, Joe Horn and Jermaine Lewis all have Pro Bowl careers in the NFL. This class could be every bit as good.

Tight End

Teams most in need: New England, Buffalo, Green Bay, Atlanta, NY Jets.

Top 5 prospects:
  1. Eric Ebron, North Carolina—1st round pick
  2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington—2nd round pick
  3. JaceAmaro, Texas Tech—2nd round pick
  4. Troy Niklas, Notre Dame—2nd round pick
  5. CJ Fiedorowicz, Iowa—3rd round pick

Eric Ebron should be one of the most interesting players to watch during the first round of the draft. On a pure talent perspective, he's one of the top 10 players available in this year's draft. There isn't a team who desperately needs a tight end, however, so it'll be interesting to see when his pure talent overcomes team needs. I could see him going as early as number 9 to Buffalo or as late as number 29 to New England. His rise or fall could have a cascade effect on the rest of the draft.

Offensive Tackle

Teams most in need: Atlanta, NY Giants, St. Louis, Miami, Arizona, Carolina.

Top 5 prospects:
  1. Greg Robinson, Auburn—1st round pick
  2. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M—1st round pick
  3. Taylor Lewan, Michigan—1st round pick
  4. Morgan Moses, Virginia—1st round pick
  5. Zack Martin, Notre Dame—1st round pick

This year's an off-year for tackles, compared to last year's draft. To get to five first-rounders, I had to include Martin, who projects as more of an interior lineman in the NFL. With six teams potentially looking for first-round tackles, one or two of them will find themselves odd-men out after Thursday night.

Offensive Guard/Center

Teams most in need: Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Miami, New England, San Francisco, Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle.

Top 10 prospects:
  1. Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA—2nd round pick
  2. Marcus Martin, USC—2nd/3rd round pick
  3. Weston Richburg, Colorado State—2nd/3rd round pick
  4. Brandon Thomas, Clemson—2nd/3rd round pick
  5. Trai Turner, LSU—3rd round pick
  6. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State—3rd round pick
  7. Russell Bodine, North Carolina—3rd round pick
  8. John Urschel, Penn State—3rd/4th round pick
  9. Cyril Richardon, Baylor—3rd/4th round pick

Lots of teams with needs on the interior, but not a lot of top players to fill those needs. You're looking at Su'a-Filo or converting Zack Martin if you're looking for potential first-round selections in the middle of your offensive line, and that's pretty much a stretch as it is. I'd expect New England and San Francisco to end up with the top two centers, Martin and Richburg. After that, it's all up in the air.

Defensive End

Teams most in need: Minnesota, NY Giants, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Detroit, Buffalo, Baltimore, San Francisco.

Top 10 prospects:
  1. JadeveonClowney, South Carolina—1st round pick
  2. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame—1st/2nd round pick
  3. KonyEaly, Missouri—1st/2nd round pick
  4. Dee Ford, Auburn—1st/2nd round pick
  5. Scott Crichton, Oregon State—2nd round pick
  6. Kareem Martin, North Carolina—3rd round pick
  7. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas—3rd round pick
  8. Chris Smith, Arkansas—3rd round pick
  9. Marcus Smith, Louisville—3rd/4th round pick
  10. Taylor Hart, Oregon—4th round pick

After arguably the best player in this class in Clowney, the defensive end position cools off a little bit. There's some serious value to be found in the 20th-40th pick selection, however, meaning teams like San Francisco or Cincinnati could hit a big-time name without reaching much. If you're stuck in the middle of the round, though, you're probably missing out on Clowney and yet would have to significantly reach for the next tier. It's a rough spot to be in.

Defensive Tackle

Teams most in need: Dallas, Chicago, Miami, Cincinnati, San Diego, New England, Oakland, Tampa Bay, NY Giants, Seattle.

Top 10 prospects:
  1. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh—1st round pick
  2. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State—1st round pick
  3. Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota—1st round pick
  4. Louis Nix III, Notre Dame—1st/2nd round pick
  5. Dominique Easley, Florida—2nd/3rd round pick
  6. Daquan Jones, Penn State—2nd/3rd round pick
  7. Brent Urban, Virginia—2nd/3rd round pick
  8. Caraun Reid, Princeton—3rd round pick
  9. Shamar Stephen, Connecticut—3rd round pick
  10. Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina—3rd/4th round pick

It's a great draft for people clogging up the center of your defensive line. While rumors have the Cowboys seriously considering taking quarterback Johnny Manziel, I think they'd be better off adding to their defensive front with a player like Donald. Chicago and New England could also be early defensive tackle selectors come draft day.

Linebacker

Teams most in need: New Orleans, Houston, Washington, Tennessee, Arizona, Green Bay, San Diego, Denver, Cleveland, Oakland.

Top 10 prospects:
  1. Khalil Mack, Buffalo—1st round pick
  2. CJ Mosley, Alabama—1st round pick
  3. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State—1st round pick
  4. Anthony Barr, UCLA—1st/2nd round pick
  5. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech—1st/2nd round pick
  6. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise Stat—1st/2nd round pick
  7. Chris Borland, Wisconsin—2nd round pick
  8. Kyle Van Noy, Brigham Young—2nd/3rd round pick
  9. Adrian Hubbard, Alabama—3rd/4th round pick
  10. Telvin Smith, Florida State—3rd/4th round pick

It's a tale of two positions at linebacker. If you're looking for a pass-rusher on the outside, you're spoiled for choice. Eight of the top 10 prospects ply their trade on the outside, and that ratio continues through the first five rounds of the draft. If you're looking for the next Ray Lewis on the inside, however, your choices are limited. C.J. Mosley is as good as anyone in the draft, and Chris Borland shows promise, but you're probably waiting until day three if you're looking for anyone else.

Cornerback

Teams most in need: Washington, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Diego, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia, Tennessee.

Top 15 prospects:

  1. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State—1st round pick
  2. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State—1st round pick
  3. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech—1st round pick
  4. Jason Verrett, TCU—1st/2nd round pick
  5. Bradley Roby, Ohio State—1st/2nd round pick
  6. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State—2nd round pick
  7. Stan Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska—2nd round pick
  8. BashaudBreeland, Clemson—3rd round pick
  9. Philip Gaines, Rice—3rd round pick
  10. Keith McGill, Utah—3rd round pick
  11. Marcus Roberson, Florida—3rd round pick
  12. Vic Hampton, South Carolina—3rd round pick
  13. Pierre Desir, Lindenwood—3rd/4th round pick
  14. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma—3rd/4th round pick
  15. Jaylen Watkins, Florida—4th round pick

Day two should be a cornerback feeding frenzy, with as many as 11 cornerbacks well within range to be taken in rounds two and three alone. The first round would be even more cluttered if Washington and Indianapolis still had their first-round selections; as it is, there should still be a massive run on the position in 20s.

Safety

Teams most in need: Chicago, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Oakland, St. Louis.

Top 5 prospects:
  1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama—1st round pick
  2. Calvin Pryor, Louisville—1st round pick
  3. DeoneBuchannon, Washington State—2nd round pick
  4. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois—2nd round pick
  5. Terrence Brooks, Florida State—2nd/3rd round pick

The winner of the best name in the draft goes, unquestionably, to Hasean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix, but he's not just a great name—he's the top player at his position. There's a significant drop-off after Brooks, all the way down to the fourth round, so if your team needs a top safety, they'd better take one sooner rather than later.

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