By Nate Davis
Though there are some outliers who believe the Houston Texans might take University of Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack with the top pick of the 2014 NFL draft tonight, it's widely believed Jadeveon Clowney will hear his name called first — either by the Texans or whomever they can convince to take the No. 1 pick off their hands.
So the more intriguing question heading into Thursday night might be, "Who's No. 2?" The St. Louis Rams currently hold that selection. Here are cases for a half dozen candidates:
Mack: Just maybe, he's the best player in the draft. He certainly seems a safer option with a far lower bust factor than Clowney. Mack probably isn't a scheme fit for the Rams, who already have a loaded front seven defensively, but he could very well be a talent a team like the Atlanta Falcons makes a bid for in a trade scenario.
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: He's massive (6-5, 332), nimble afoot and probably has more long-term potential than the other elite tackle prospects. Robinson needs to improve his pass protection, but the Rams are a perfect destination given he can start on the right side while LT Jake Long is still on the roster.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: He played on the right and left sides for the Aggies and helped launch Johnny Manziel to stardom. His father, Hall-of-Fame lineman Bruce Matthews, was a cornerstone on the Oilers and Titans teams of Jeff Fisher, who now coaches the Rams. Jake Matthews may be the closest thing to "can't miss" in this draft class.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: At 6-1, 211 pounds, his build doesn't really compare to Julio Jones or A.J. Green, yet NFL general managers think Watkins could have the same kind of offensive impact out of the chute. His run-after-catch ability is surreal – think Percy Harvin – and would really be a boon to Rams QB Sam Bradford or any other team that targets Watkins.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: He cleaned up on the college football postseason awards circuit, winning the Bronko Nagurski Award (best defensive player) and Outland Trophy (best lineman), among others. Donald is on the smallish side (6-1, 285) for a lineman but could have a Warren Sapp-esque effect, especially for teams that run four-man fronts and don't like to blitz.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Polarizing. Transcendent. Gifted. Maddening. Small. When it comes to the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, pick your adjective. But someone's going to pick him Thursday, and maybe even as high as No. 2. Manziel is almost beyond comparison to NFL predecessors, so it's hard to project his impact. That could be a great thing for his next team … or the opposite of great.