2014 NFL Draft: Ranking The Top Five At Each Position

Kirby Lee USA Today

The 2014 NFL Draft is less than a month away. It couldn't come soon enough for most Rams fans. For amateur "draftniks", it's an exciting time of the year. The next month will be critically important for the Rams, a month that can affect the fortunes of the team for many years to come.

Mike Mayock is a well-respected draft analyst for the NFL Network. His top-5 position-by-position draft prospect rankings - updated many times during draft season - are closely followed by both expert and amateur draftniks. Mayock's latest rankings - version three - were published on April 5, at NFL.com (link).

I'm a passionate follower of the NFL draft - and college football - throughout the year. I'm also part of the small minority who will begin creating 2015 mock drafts a week after the 2014 draft in May. Apart from watching a lot of football games (and video as time permits), I enjoy reading commentary, analyses, and scouting reports related to college football players and the NFL Draft. However, no one will ever mistake me for Mike Mayock, as I'm no more than an interested observer, and a truly amateur draftnik.

The accompanying chart presents my top-5 positional rankings for the 2014 NFL Draft:

Position Player School
Quarterback Blake Bortles Central Florida
Derek Carr Fresno State
Teddy Bridgewater Louisville
Johnny Manziel Texas A&M
Zach Mettenberger LSU
Running Back Carlos Hyde Ohio State
Jeremy Hill LSU
Bishop Sankey Washington
Andre Williams Boston College
Tre Mason Auburn
Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins Clemson
Mike Evans Texas A&M
Marqise Lee USC
Brandin Cooks Oregon State
Jordan Matthews Vanderbilt
Tight End Eric Ebron North Carolina
Austin Seferian-Jenkins Washington
Jace Amaro Texas Tech
Troy Niklas Notre Dame
C.J. Fiedorowicz Iowa
Center Marcus Martin USC
Travis Swanson Arkansas
Weston Richburg Colorado State
Bryan Stork Florida State
Gabe Ikard Oklahoma
Guard Xavier Su'a-Filo UCLA
Gabe Jackson Mississippi State
David Yankey Stanford
Trai Turner LSU
Dakota Dozier Furman
Offensive Tackle Taylor Lewan Michigan
Jake Matthews Texas A&M
Greg Robinson Auburn
Morgan Moses Virginia
Zach Martin Notre Dame
Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald Pittsburgh
Louis Nix III Notre Dame
Ra'Shede Hageman Minnesota
Tim Jernigan Florida State
Anthony Johnson LSU
Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina
Kony Ealy Missouri
Stephon Tuitt Notre Dame
Dee Ford Auburn
Scott Crichton Oregon State
Outside Linebacker Khalil Mack Buffalo
Anthony Barr UCLA
Ryan Shazier Ohio State
Jeremiah Attaochu Georgia Tech
Kyle Van Noy BYU
Inside Linebacker C.J. Mosley Alabama
Shayne Skov Stanford
Chris Borland Wisconsin
Christian Jones Florida State
Max Bullough Michigan State
Cornerback Justin Gilbert Oklahoma State
Darqueze Dennard Michigan State
Kyle Fuller Virginia Tech
Bradley Roby Ohio State
Jason Verrett TCU
Safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix Alabama
Deone Bucannon Washington State
Jimmie Ward Northern Illinois
Calvin Pryor Louisville
Terrence Brooks Florida State

With less than a month to go before the draft, it's evident a consensus is forming regarding the top prospects. While compiling the rankings for this draft, a couple of aspects immediately became apparent: the overall high quality of the draft, and the depth at many positions. With 12 selections - including two picks early in the first round - the Rams are ideally positioned to markedly improve the roster.

Although it will be tempting for the Rams to stand pat with their picks - especially in the first round - it will be equally tempting to trade down and accumulate additional picks. Under Les Snead and Jeff Fisher, the Rams have consummated six trades in the previous two drafts. Four of those trades involved moving down in the draft order. It should come as no surprise if the Rams are involved in multiple trades this year, moving both up and down in the draft order.

The Rams can go in many different directions - and use multiple strategies - in this years draft. They're in an enviable position, for the Rams can choose from among many different players/strategies, and still be reasonably assured of quality results. How will the Rams approach this years draft? Will they trade up/down? GM Les Snead recently summarized the Rams' philosophy heading into the draft [link]:

"I think the way to get it right is you make the right decision for the organization, and I like to say you make the best decision long term because the short term is by definition short—it won’t last as long. But because this draft is really good, it’s a good chance for us to take some shots with picks in this draft to improve the team. Not only tomorrow and opening day, but also four and five years down the road."

The rankings list includes 65 of the top players in the country. I'm convinced the Rams will be active traders come draft day, and end up with a minimum of 4 selections in the first two rounds [a pair of 1st and 2nd round picks]. This draft should have a one-word mantra for the Rams: Dominance. I believe the surest path for the Rams to follow to reach the playoffs is the development of both a dominant offensive line, and a dominant defense.

As an armchair GM, my four selections - from the 65 in the rankings, and after trade downs - would be: Taylor Lewan/Jake Matthews, Justin Gilbert, Gabe Jackson, and Deone Bucannon. On defense, the idea is to develop a secondary that rivals the dominance of Seattle's league-leading unit. The Rams defense needs little else to achieve a top-10 ranking, on par with their division rivals. A strong offensive line will keep Sam Bradford upright, open running lanes for Zac Stacy, and have a dramatic impact on the offense as a whole.

With 65 players in the rankings to choose from, which four players would you like to see in a Rams uniform this September? Which positions should be addressed in the first two rounds of the draft? Should the Rams stand pat, or be wheelers and dealers on draft day? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. We'll tabulate the results, and feature them in a future post.

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