Being such a deep draft class, it was easy for teams to select core players in the first round of the draft last Thursday in an effort to bolster their production on the field. 32 players went off the board in the first night of the draft, but not all of those players will make an immediate impact with their teams. Here’s the five players that will make the biggest splash with their respective teams in 2014.
5) Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Bills gave up way too much to move up from ninth overall to fourth overall. Those five picks cost the Bills the ninth overall pick in this year’s draft and next year’s first and fourth round picks. That being said, Watkins will make up for the departure of Stevie Johnson. The selection of Watkins ensures second year quarterback E.J. Manuel will have a reliable target in the passing game. Whether Manuel can continue to develop is a whole different issue, but Watkins will be a driving force in the Bills’ offense moving forward.
4) Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times in 2013, the third highest total in the NFL last season. That has to change if the Falcons, who many believe can turn their fortunes around this season. Matthews may not be a play maker in the sense of scoring touchdowns, intercepting passes or blowing up opposing quarterbacks. Still, he’ll be invaluable in protecting Ryan in the future. If he can do that well, the Falcons may find themselves back in the playoffs next January.
3) Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are in the process of adding impact players for the future, something their roster sorely lacks. Mack fits that mold perfectly. He has the potential to be a monster in Oakland for many years to come, and he’s the type of linebacker that can anchor an entire defense. Although his coverage abilities have been in question, his value in the running game and rushing the passer far outweigh any concerns about his ability to cover receivers down the field.
2) Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans
Clowney will be entering his rookie season with huge expectations, but he has all the ability in the world to back up that hype. Alongside J.J. Watt, the Texans may have one of the most feared defensive fronts in the NFL. In today’s NFL, teams have to be able to rush the passer and pass the ball on offense. Clowney will help the Texans stop opposing quarterbacks from ever putting the ball in the air. Nothing a defense can do is more valuable than just that.
1) Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
Johnny Football enters the NFL with the media hype of the Tim Tebow, and he’s charged with putting the Browns back in the playoffs. Oh, did I mention he has almost no help on offense to do that? If Josh Gordon is suspended for the 2014 season, Cleveland’s offensive production will be placed on Manziel’s shoulders (unless he can’t beat out Brian Hoyer for the starting job). Whether his impact will be positive or negative is yet to be determined, but it seems likely Manziel will have a bigger impact on his team this season than any other draftee in the 2014 draft.