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2015 NFL DRAFT

2014 NFL Draft: Firstborn Favorites

By Dane Brugler | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

Draft coverage: Rang's Gang | Mock Drafts | Prospect Rankings | Big Board | News

The 2014 NFL Draft class is loaded with talent and has been a fun crop of talent to study. And like every evaluator, I came away with a few personal favorites at each position, players that I would bang the table for on draft weekend.

A longtime NFL scout and one of my scouting mentors has a term for these types of players, calling them “Firstborn Favorites” – the prospects you would give up your firstborn in order to draft them. Now while he meant this figuratively (I think), it's a phrase that has stuck with me because we all have our personal favorites each year.

Below are my favorite prospects at each stage of the 2014 NFL Draft, players I consider my “Firstborn Favorites.”

QUARTERBACK

Day One (1st round)
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville – While some have soured on him, I'm holding my ground that Bridgewater will be the top passer from this draft class. His lack of ideal size and physical tools are clear, but his mental approach and ability to read defenses are why I'll roll the dice with Bridgewater.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois – Yes, he struggles with pressure and can get happy feet at times, but Garoppolo has a lightning fast release combined with a quick-thinking processor to read and make decisions. He needs some time, but projects as a down-the-road NFL starter.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Keith Wenning, Ball State – A very natural passer, Wenning understands touch and delivers a very catchable ball with the right velocity. His lower body technique is undeveloped, but he has the timing and anticipation to be an accurate NFL quarterback with some pro coaching.

Undrafted
Connor Shaw, South Carolina – An absolute gamer, Shaw showed much improved consistency as a senior passer last season and has the tough-minded approach that is needed for the NFL level. His lack of physical tools will probably leave him undrafted, but we haven't heard the last of Shaw.

RUNNING BACK

Day One (1st round)
None – I didn't grade a running back this year that I would feel comfortable drafting on day one.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Terrance West, Towson – The rare FCS junior to declare early, West rewrote the record books with 2,509 rushing yards and 41 rushing scores in 2013. He has some durability concerns, but brings a balanced mix of power and quickness to be an effective ballcarrier and pass-catcher.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State – Arguably the most talented back in this draft class, Crowell was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011, but was dismissed due to an off-field arrest. Character and coachability issues will drop him down boards, but he is gifted with impact potential if he stays clean and motivated.

Undrafted
Darrin Reaves, UAB – A surprise junior declaration, Reaves is short, but not small and delivers a pop to defenders. He catches the ball well out of the backfield and displays good vision and patience to allow blocks to develop, quickly getting through the line of scrimmage and to the linebacker level.

WIDE RECEIVER

Day One (1st round)
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State – I'm a big Mike Evans fan, but Cooks gets the edge here and remains one of the more underrated players in this class. He is a more polished Tavon Austin with crisp routes, reliable hands and the speed and explosive feet to create before, during and after the catch.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Kevin Norwood, Alabama – An underrated senior pass-catcher, Norwood is rarely mentioned among the possible wideouts who could be drafted in the top-100 picks, but he belongs in that group. He has solid size and speed, but is above average ballskills and hand-eye coordination to make tough grabs look easy.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
John Brown, Pittsburg State – Brown produced consistent production over his three seasons at the Division-II level with a school-record 6,244 career all-purpose yards. He has marginal size, but boasts gifted athletic tools to create yardage on his own as a receiver and return man.

Undrafted
Willie Snead, Ball State – A highly productive receiver, Snead decided to capitalize on his junior stats and with his quarterback graduating, he decided to turn pro. He won't stand out with his size, speed or strength, but has some polish and is a very reliable receiver at every level of the field.

TIGHT END

Day One (1st round)
Eric Ebron, North Carolina – A pretty easy pick here, Ebron is a special athlete for his size and although I think he'll need some time to adjust to the NFL game, he projects as a potential Pro Bowler. He needs to mature on and off the field, but those raw physical gifts are simply special for the position.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Troy Niklas, Notre Dame – The moment Niklas is drafted, he will already be one of the top blocking tight ends in the league with potential to be the best in a few years. A former defensive end, he lumbers as a route runner and is unpolished as a receiver, but is an ideal No. 2 tight end.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State – A former defensive end, Gillmore is still developing on offense, but is an impressive receiver with the acceleration and catching radius to make impressive grabs with sticky hands. It doesn't always look pretty, but more often than not, he gets the job done.

Undrafted
Ted Bolser, Indiana – Whether lined up inline, in the backfield or flexed out, Bolser was an effective ingredient to the Hoosiers' offensive success the past few seasons. He blocks with a chip and controls defenders, using his natural athleticism to gain release off the line and secure tough grabs.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

Day One (1st round)
Taylor Lewan, Michigan – While Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews are excellent prospects, Lewan absolutely belongs with them in the top tier of tackles available in this class. He's a mean guy and needs to control that aggression, but has the kickslide quickness and balance to be an above average starter.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Charles Leno, Boise State – The latest Bronco left tackle to make the jump to the pros, Leno has the athleticism, balance and mobility to mirror in pass protection with a naturally wide base. He isn't the most physical, but has the traits to survive in the NFL and be an eventual starter.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff, McGill – A Canadian med school student, Duvernay-Tardif moved from the defensive line to the offensive line two years ago and has the movement skills and smarts that make him appealing to the NFL. He will need time to develop, but projects as a down-the-road starter.

Undrafted
Chris Martin, UCF – A late bloomer, Martin had a bumpy road to arrive at this point, but he proved to be a reliable blocker as a senior. He lunges too much and has room to improve his angles, but he has a quick ignition and set up with the light lower body to recover and cut off pass rushers.

OFFENSIVE GUARD

Day One (1st round)
Zack Martin, Notre Dame – Probably my favorite player in this draft class, Martin has few holes to his game and is as safe as a prospect can be. He has a strong punch, stays square and competes on every snap with the four-year resume and graduate level understanding of the position to excel.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Billy Turner, North Dakota State – A college left tackle, Turner was an unsung hero for the Bisons' back-to-back-to-back FCS National Titles the past three seasons. He is mean and athletic and if he learns to sink his hips and not bend so much at the waist, he is a NFL starter and future Pro Bowler.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Kevin Danser, Stanford – While David Yankey gets most of the attention, he isn't the only Stanford guard worth drafting as Danser plays with the aggressive mentality to eliminate defenders in the run game. He plays out of control and off-balance too often, but his nasty approach will endear him to NFL coaches.

Undrafted
Donald Hawkins, Texas – Texas' starting left tackle, Hawkins does his best work in a phone booth, using his light feet to stay mobile and shield the pocket. He doesn't pack much ammo into his hand use, but is active with his limbs and has the aggressive mentality to fight through the whistle.

OFFENSIVE CENTER

Day One (1st round)
None – I didn't grade a center this year that I would feel comfortable drafting on day one.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Weston Richburg, Colorado State – A country strong farm boy, Richburg plays with advanced technique and the base strength to anchor at the point of attack. He struggles to generate power from his lower half, but has the competitive temperament to finish blocks and fight through the snap.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Corey Linsley, Ohio State – A two-year starter, Linsley received praise from his coaching staff for his improvements the past few seasons. He isn't the most explosive, but he doesn't have many holes in his game with the core strength, attitude and foot quickness to start, just needs to do it consistently.

Undrafted
Zac Kerin, Toledo – A mean, tough-minded blocker, Kerin has playing experience at tackle, guard and center and brings veteran presence to the field. He is limited and will never dominate, but mirrors well in pass protection and usually does just enough to get the job done.

DEFENSIVE END

Day One (1st round)
Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State – Versatile athlete who can move around the front seven with his coordinated quickness and natural pass rush skills. His multiple one-game suspensions are a question mark, but his athletic prowess and pass rush upside have me enamored with this prospect.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Scott Crichton, Oregon State – Despite mediocre measurables and little fluidity, Crichton is powerful with his first step explosion and relentless motor to be disruptive. He wins with his initial momentum to bully blockers backwards with impressive hustle, quickness and unyielding effort.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Zach Moore, Concordia – Attempting to be the first player drafted from Division-II Concordia-St. Paul, Moore struggled with academics in college, but had FBS-level skills. His technique needs an overhaul, but the tools and attitude lead you to believe his best football is ahead of him.

Undrafted
Terrence Fede, Marist – Most have never heard of him, but Fede knows how to get to the quarterback. He was a FCS All-American in 2013 with a school-record 13.0 sacks, leaving as the program's all-time leading sack artist with 30.5 over his career – he just finds ways to collapse the pocket.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Day One (1st round)
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh – No, he doesn't look like much, but how can you not enjoy watching this kid wreak havoc on the football field? Donald uses his natural leverage, get-off explosion and active hands to maneuver his way through blockers and lives in the backfield.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Dominique Easley, Florida – If it weren't for the injuries, the debate would be, who is the top defensive tackle in this class, Easley or Donald? But with two non-contact ACL injuries, the long-term durability is a question mark, but if he can stay healthy, he's an active, energetic disruptor.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Davon Coleman, Arizona State – In the later rounds, Coleman is the type of player I'd love to add to my roster because he never takes a play off and wears many hats. He lines up inside, outside and can play on his feet and would provide versatile depth along with his fiery motor.

Undrafted
Chris Whaley, Texas – Taking the Henry Melton path to the NFL, Whaley's journey was sidelined by an ACL injury last fall, but once healed, he's a player who has a NFL future ahead of him. He is still relatively new to the defensive line, but is an excellent pet project for a defensive line coach.

LINEBACKER

Day One (1st round)
Khalil Mack, Buffalo – Those who followed me on Twitter last summer already know this, but Mack has been a personal favorite for a while now. His relentless, energetic versatility allows him to be productive as a hand-on-the-ground rusher or on his feet playing the run or dropping in space – complete player.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Marcus Smith, Louisville – Smith arrived at Louisville as a quarterback, but moved to defense as a sophomore and gradually developed into an impact pass rusher. His technique is still developing, but his initial burst and energetic style allows him to be effective rushing the passer or playing the run.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Avery Williamson, Kentucky – Although often overlooked, Williamson finished second in the SEC in total tackles the past two seasons, eclipsing triple digits in the category both years. He is so-so in coverage, but is physical, smart and anticipates the action well, wasting little time before attacking.

Undrafted
Will Smith, Texas Tech – Although wild and undisciplined as a tackler, Smith is rangy and always appears around the football with NFL read/react skills. He can be taken away too easily by blockers and might never start, but he should be able to find a spot on special teams coverage.

CORNERBACK

Day One (1st round)
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech – Simply a fun player to watch, Fuller plays the game the right way, with heart, hustle and smarts. He can play man or zone, inside or outside and the game appears to come very natural to him, displaying the confidence and instincts to make plays all over the football field.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Marcus Roberson, Florida – Despite a 4.6 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, Roberson is one of the more talented cover corners in this draft class. He has balanced, quick, agile feet to mirror receivers up and down the field in man or zone coverage – the tools are there, just needs to stay healthy.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Ricardo Allen, Purdue – A four year starter, Allen racked up 28 passes defended and 13 interceptions over his career, including a school-record four defensive scoers. He is undersized with average speed, but is scrappy, hard-working with a good feel and smarts for the position.

Undrafted
Demetri Goodson, Baylor – A former Gonzaga point guard, Goodson made a return to the gridiron and has steadily improved as a cover corner. He needs to show he can stay healthy, missing 20 games the past three years, but the athleticisms and ballskills are there for him to make plays.

SAFETY

Day One (1st round)
Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois – If you put an Alabama helmet on him, Ward would be widely talked about as a first round player, but he is still vastly underrated at this point. He has the feet of a cornerback, the toughness of a safety and the instincts to play either spot at a high level.

Day Two (2nd-3rd round)
Jamea Thomas, Georgia Tech – Another versatile defensive back, Thomas lined up at safety and corner in college and has the aggressive nature and fluid feet to make an impact vs. the run and pass. Another player flying under the radar, Thomas has the versatility and smarts that fits what the NFL wants.

Day Three (4th-7th round)
Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama – Despite an ACL tear last season, Sunseri decided to leave school early and test the NFL waters. He is a football junkie with an advanced understanding of the game, showing the smarts and instincts needed with the confidence and decisive nature to at worst be a special teams stud.

Undrafted
Christian Bryant, Ohio State – Another victim of injury in 2013, Bryant was the heart and soul of the Buckeyes defense in 2013, playing a hybrid safety role. He will likely go undrafted due to a foot injury that hasn't allowed him to work out prior to the draft, but he has NFL intangibles.

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