It's always dangerous to look back and assess a draft less than three years after it took place. To do it four weeks into the first season borders on lunacy.
But that's not what this is, and it's not just an assessment of four games. I've seen quite a few of the rookies in person at training camps, in games during the preseason and regular season, and have talked to coaches on almost every team.
Below is a stab at what the first 16 picks might look like if the 2014 NFL Draft were held today, knowing what we now know (which isn't a whole lot) five months removed from the draft. These are players who are playing the best through the first four weeks of their NFL careers. We made no attempt to match team and need; this is best player available.
You'll notice the absence of Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Texans, and Greg Robinson, who went No. 2 overall to the St. Louis Rams. I didn't know what to do with Clowney since he's been injured most of the season and hasn't played much. And Robinson's contributions have been limited to the punt and PAT teams after being moved inside to guard and behind Rodger Saffold on the depth chart.
So here goes nothing ...
1. Houston Texans
Original pick:Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Do-over:Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Comment: Bortles went third overall to the Jaguars, who shocked many taking him that high. But he has quickly transitioned to the NFL even though Jacksonville's stated plan was to have him sit his entire rookie season behind starter Chad Henne. Plans changed quickly midway through Jacksonville's Week 3 matchup with the Colts. Staring 0-3 in the eye, the Jaguars turned to the future, and even though the results haven't changed (Jacksonville is one of two winless teams, and the other just fired its coach), Bortles has acquitted himself nicely. He's big, tall and strong. In his first start on Sunday, he completed more than 78 percent of his passes and the Jaguars were an impressive 9-of-14 (64 percent) on third down. I had him ranked No. 8 in my Hot 100 draft prospects, but his better-than-anticipated mobility (7 rushes, 54 yards) moves him to No. 1.
2. St. Louis Rams
Original pick:Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Do-over:Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Comment: There was a lot of talk early in the draft process that Matthews was in the mix for the top overall pick, but he ended up going sixth overall to the Falcons. From what I've seen so far, a good case could be made for him going No. 1 in a do-over (uber importance of QB positions gives Bortles the nod here). I think he's going to be a left tackle like Cleveland's Joe Thomas or Tyron Smith of the Cowboys, players who'll play at a Pro Bowl level for a dozen or more years. He missed one game with an ankle injury, and it was noticeable in the Falcons' line play. Atlanta was easing him in at right tackle, but a season-ending knee injury to Sam Baker in mid-August forced Atlanta to move their rookie to the left side. He has been near-flawless in protecting Matt Ryan's blind side.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Original pick:Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Do-over:C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Comment: Mosley went to Baltimore with the No. 17 overall pick and was the second linebacker selected (Ryan Shazier went two picks ahead of him). Ravens coach John Harbaugh raved about him in the pre-draft process and recently told me that Mosley has been even better than he thought he'd be. Mosley has started all four games for Baltimore and has 34 tackles, a forced fumble, and four passes defensed. In the Ravens' victory over Carolina on Sunday, he had 11 tackles and knocked down two passes, giving him a nomination for Pepsi Rookie of the Week. I had him ranked as the 23rd best player in the draft in my Hot 100, but I didn't see the impressive coverage skills at Alabama that he has displayed in the NFL. That's the reason for his move way up the do-over board.
4. Buffalo Bills
Original pick:Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Comment: While he has lacked "splash" plays through the first four weeks of his NFL career, Watkins is as advertised. He has started all four games for the Bills, with 17 catches and a pair of touchdowns. It doesn't help that he is playing on a run-first team that is currently going through a change at quarterback, or that he has also been battling a rib injury. He's a better route runner than I thought. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be a star in the league.
5. Oakland Raiders
Original pick:Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Do-over:Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Comment: The Cowboys took a lot of grief from their fans for passing on Johnny Manziel, and as tempting as it was for owner Jerry Jones to take the Texas A&M quarterback, the Cowboys stuck with their plan of building up their offensive line and took Martin with the 16th overall pick. Martin has paid immediate dividends, stepping in at right guard for the Cowboys from Day 1. I thought he was a really good player coming out of Notre Dame (No. 14 in my Hot 100), but he has exceeded expectations. His pass protection is excellent, and his presence on the interior of the Cowboys' offensive line has helped them lead the league in rushing at 165.0 yards per game.
6. Atlanta Falcons
Original pick:Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Do-over:Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Comment: Fuller went to the Bears with the 14th overall pick. I might have put him even higher in this draft do-over if I hadn't seen the Green Bay game on Sunday where he really struggled. Still, on the season he has three interceptions, four passes defensed, three fourced fumbles and one NFC Defensive Player of the Week honor. There's no fear with this kid; he will come up and smack you. He's a factor in run game as much as he is in pass game (he is third on the Bears with 22 tackles).
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Original pick:Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Do-over:Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Comment: Mack, who was taken by the Raiders with the fifth overall selection, has been a bright spot on a poor defense. He is tied for third on the team with 24 tackles, including a team-leading three tackles for loss. He came into the league with a solid reputation as a pass rusher, but is still looking for his first sack. However, he has done a good job against the run.
8. Cleveland Browns
Original pick:Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Do-over:Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Comment: I had Bridgewater as my third-ranked quarterback and 13th-ranked player overall in the 2014 draft, but he slid all the way to the final pick of the first round, where Minnesota claimed him. The last two weeks, including his first start on Sunday, he's completed 31-of-50 passes for 467 yards. Maybe even more impressive is he hasn't turned the ball over and has been sacked just twice. He's a classic case of where character counts. He took a pretty good beating after a poor pro day, but he came to the draft in New York despite the criticism and no guarantees of getting taken on the first day. His lean lower body still concerns me, but he puts a lot of zip on the ball and is more of a threat as a runner (11 rushes, 54 yards, 1 TD) than I thought.
9. Minnesota Vikings
Original pick:Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Do-over:Ryan Shazier, LB Ohio State
Comment: Shazier was off to a great start with the Steelers, who took him with the 15th overall pick, but a sprained right knee forced him to miss Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay. He was playing inside linebacker before the injury, started the first three games (a rarity for a rookie to start on a Dick LeBeau defense), and had 20 tackles and a pass defensed. More than stats, however, he was all over the field making plays. He has unbelievable speed for a 240-pound guy.
10. Detroit Lions
Original pick:Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Do-over:Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Comment: I have to admit, I didn't like him as a first-round pick. There was some baggage there that I thought would hold him back. The Panthers took him at the back end of the first round at pick No. 28, and he's been something of a revelation. In four starts, he has the same number of catches as Calvin Johnson (21) and one more touchdown (3) than the Lions' star receiver. Benjamin is a big, strong target for Cam Newton with great hands. He isn't a great route runner yet, but I suspect he will be one day if he continues to dedicate himself to it. Right now, he relies on out-jumping opponents for the ball.
11. Tennessee Titans
Original pick:Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Do-over:Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Comment: Barr was the Vikings' ninth overall pick. There aren't a lot of opportunities at strongside linebacker, where he's playing in Minnesota, but he does have two sacks and is third on the team with 23 tackles. He's also very consistent with at least five tackles in all four of his starts. He's a better pass defender than what I remember of him at UCLA.
12. New York Giants
Original pick:Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Do-over:Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
Comment: Say what you want about the Raiders, but they drafted, in my opinion, two top-12-worthy picks, finding Jackson in the third round. He reminds me a lot of Larry Warford, who was also taken in the third round (by the Lions in 2013) and has far outperformed his draft position. Strength is his strength. He lacks speed but it doesn't show in his game. I like that he stayed in school; he was a five-year player, and it shows. He's a finished product and a bright spot on a spotty offense line in Oakland.
13. St. Louis Rams
Original pick:Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Do-over:Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Comment: Cooks went No. 20 overall to the Saints. He's not very big, but because of his speed and quickness he'll catch a lot of passes for them (he has 23 receptions for 199 yards and a TD). He also returns punts and has four rushing attempts for 49 yards. The Saints are trying to get him involved, but so far, he doesn't have a lot of "splash" plays. Sean Payton has told me he thinks Cooks will be a special player.
14. Chicago Bears
Original pick:Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Do-over:Weston Richburg, OL, Colorado St.
Comment: The Giants found Richburg in the second round (No. 43 overall). He has started all four games at left guard, where he has helped the Giants solidify their line over the past two weeks (Eli Manning had little pressure on him Thursday night at Washington). One of the more versatile linemen in the draft, Richburg could seamlessly slide over to center if the Giants ever asked.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Original pick:Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Do-over: Sentreal Henderson, OT, Miami (Fla.)
Comment: Henderson slid to the seventh round (No. 237 overall) because of off-the-field issues, not because of talent. The Bills took him and he outplayed second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio for the starting right tackle job. Credit Cordy Glenn for taking Henderson under his wing and helping him stay clean. Henderson didn't play well in Sunday's loss at Houston, but he played very well in the first three games. He could easily play left tackle if something ever happens to Glenn.
16. Dallas Cowboys
Original pick:Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Do-over:Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Comment: The Jets took Pryor two spots lower than here. As bad as the Jets' secondary is, their run defense is pretty good, and Pryor has played a part in the success. He also is a solid pass defender, too. He has started all four games.
Moving on up
Teams that selected players who have outperformed their draft position so far:
» Bengals: RB Jeremy Hill (Round 2, 55 overall) and C Russell Bodine (4-111) would be picked higher, but probably not in the first round.
» Browns: I would take RB Terrance West (3-94) higher than the back end of the third round, maybe in the second.
» Jaguars: WR Allen Hurns (undrafted) is one of the biggest rookie surprises. Done all over, he could be a third-round pick.
» Dolphins: I'm including OT Ja'Wuan James (1-19) here because of all the criticism Miami took for reaching. He definitely belonged in the first round.
» Chargers: LB Jeremiah Attaochu (2-50) has pass-rush ability that might place near the bottom of first round.
» Cardinals: WR John Brown (3-91) picked today would have a chance at the first round. He's a little guy, but has strong hands and runs routes well for a guy from a small school.
» Panthers:Trai Turner (3-92) is starting for Carolina at guard; move him up into the second round. CB Bene Benwikere (5-148) is a good-looking player. He could go as high as the second round today.
» Giants: RB Andre Williams (4-113) would move up a round earlier, and one more round if he could catch.
» Seahawks: I really liked LB Brock Coyle coming out of Montana. He went undrafted, but he probably is a fourth-rounder today. He just makes plays.
» Redskins: I'd take WR Ryan Grant (5-142) a couple of rounds higher than where he went. He hasn't played much because of the depth Washington has at the position, but he had an impressive preseason and caught five passes for 57 yards in Week 2 of the regular season.