After months of speculation, the NFL Draft finally kicked off on Thursday night. This year’s draft was held later than usual and, it seemed as if everyone’s mock drafts changed several times. But when the first pick was called, there wasn’t much surprise: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney went first overall to the Texans. In a somewhat surprising fall, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel — the most talked-about prospect in this year’s draft — went No. 22 to Cleveland.
Many of the first-round draft choices are considered elite players, which means we should see them on NFL fields a lot during their rookie years.
Here’s a look at the draft’s opening day:
1. Houston Texans — Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney followed up his stellar 2012 season with a disappointing 2013. Since then, the storyline has been: He has once-in-a-generation skills, but does he have the work ethic to succeed in the NFL? As the top overall pick, he'll have very high expectations. But Clowney has the size, speed, and power to dominate. Houston is rebuilding, and if Clowney gives maximum effort despite playing for a losing team he will silence his doubters.
2. St. Louis Rams — Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Drafting an offensive lineman isn’t as exciting for a fan base as selecting a quarterback or receiver, but the best ones can turn a team around. A super-athletic run-blocker, Robinson can help a Rams offense that needs to protect quarterback Sam Bradford. His combination of size and athleticism should open up lanes in the running game.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars — Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Bortles was the first of the much-hyped quarterback class to get drafted. At 6’5” and 232 lbs., Bortles is the perfect size for a quarterback, and is quick enough to make plays out of the pocket. He’ll need all those skills to help turn around the Jaguars, who desperately need a leader and some optimism. He doesn’t have much experience, and will need to develop more as a passer at the next level.
4. Buffalo Bills — Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins is considered the best wide receiver of this year’s draft class. Like NFL playmakers Darren Sproles and Tavon Austin, he’s the kind of player who is extremely dangerous in space and can turn short passes into long gains. Players like Watkins are special because you never know when they can make a big play. Look for him to contribute immediately.
5. Oakland Raiders — Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
The only knock on Mack is that he didn’t play against top competition in college, but he can turn into a great NFL defender. He’s a great pass rusher who should help the Oakland defense pressure the talented quarterbacks in its division. The Raiders need leadership, and after a few seasons, Mack could become an anchor for their defense.
6. Atlanta Falcons — Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Like Robinson, Matthews is just too good of an offensive lineman to pass up. He’s got great technique, and should protect quarterback Matt Ryan for the next several years. He’s also got the pedigree to be a Pro Bowl-level player. His father, Bruce, is a Hall of Fame lineman, and his cousin Clay rushes quarterbacks for the Packers.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
One of the reasons quarterback Johnny Manziel was so productive in college was he had a big target in Evans, whose 6’5” frame makes him a mismatch for defensive backs. Though the cornerbacks he faces in the NFL will have more experience, Evans will still be taller and stronger. He’ll be an instant red zone target for the Bucs, and as he develops into a better route runner, he’ll have the potential to become the team’s No. 1 wide out.
8. Cleveland Browns — Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
He went higher than most people thought he would, but Gilbert has the skill set to be a top-level cornerback. He ran his 40-yard dash in under 4.4 seconds at the Combine, and he’s tall enough to compete with bigger receivers. The best cornerbacks can neutralize the entire side of the field they cover, and Gilbert could one day be that good.
9. Minnesota Vikings (acquired pick from Cleveland) — Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
For his first two years of college, Barr was a running back. Despite having to learn a brand new position, Barr was still a top-10 pick, which means he’s got limitless potential. At 6’5” and 255 lbs. with elite speed, Barr will be a disruptive force as a pass rusher. The level of play will be much higher than at UCLA, but as Barr gets better, he’ll be able to compete at the next level.
10. Detroit Lions — Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Lions’ offense didn’t need to get much better, but it will with the addition of Ebron. An athletic pass catcher, Ebron will give quarterback Matthew Stafford another dangerous option to go along with wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush. Ebron can stretch the middle of the field with his speed, and should make the Lions an even bigger threat to score touchdowns.
11. Tennessee Titans — Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
A physical, tough lineman, Lewan should be able to make an immediate impact.
12. New York Giants – Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Beckham can use his athleticism to be a solid receiver and returner in the NFL.
13. St. Louis Rams – Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald is a versatile defensive lineman who will improve an already great St. Louis defensive line.
14. Chicago Bears – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller wasn’t a marquee name leading up to the draft, but he can help a mediocre Bears passing defense.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Shazier could be the best athlete of any linebacker in the draft, and will help a defense looking to re-establish itself as elite.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Zack Martin, G/OT, Notre Dame
Martin is another offensive lineman who can quickly improve a team’s blocking. The Cowboys need him, as keeping quarterback Tony Romo healthy is a must.
17. Baltimore Ravens – C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Mosley led an Alabama defense that was one of the best in the nation, and should be a leader for Baltimore as well.
18. New York Jets – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Pryor is a big hitter who will help out a New York secondary in need of a talent boost.
19. Miami Dolphins – Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
As an SEC offensive lineman, James played against top competition. That will help him against tough AFC East defensive lines.
20. New Orleans Saints – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Cooks is a speedy playmaker who ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine. He’ll make an already elite Saints offense even better.
21. Green Bay Packers – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
A rangy defensive back, Clinton-Dix can patrol the field and make quarterbacks think twice about throwing in his direction.
22. Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
After being one of the most analyzed draft prospects in history, Manziel gets a chance to energize a Browns team that needs to provide excitement to its fans.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Clowney was the top name among the pass-rushing group, but Ford could also be a solid player for a strong Chiefs defense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan St.
One of the top defensive backs in the draft, Dennard has the coverage and tackling skills to be a versatile cornerback.
25. San Diego Chargers – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Verrett, who is only 5’9” and weighs less than 200 lbs., has heart and talent that should make up for his lack of size.
26. Philadelphia Eagles – Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
Smith probably won’t be a standout as a rookie, but could contribute some solid snaps as a pass rusher for the Eagles.
27. Arizona Cardinals – Deone Bucannon, S, Washington St.
A tough defensive back, Bucannon can help the Cardinals against NFC West receivers like Anquan Boldin and Tavon Austin.
28. Carolina Panthers - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida St.
Like Mike Evans, Benjamin can contribute quickly because of his height. He’ll provide a great target for quarterback Cam Newton.
29. New England Patriots – Dominique Easley, DT, Florida.
Easley can be a strong interior lineman for a New England defense that was in the bottom of the league rankings in yards allowed per game last year.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Ward has coverage skills and can help bring down running backs, which should help him make plays as part of a talented defense.
31. Denver Broncos – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio St.
Roby joins an improved Denver secondary, which could be great if he can play well as a rookie.
32. Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater was the last of the big name QB’s to be selected, but he’s got the smarts and skills to be the best quarterback of the draft class.
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