When I worked as a scout for the Seattle Seahawks, my college scouting director -- Scot McCloughan, who went on to become general manager of the San Francisco 49ers before returning to Seattle as a senior personnel executive -- told me in pre-draft meetings that each NFL draft typically offers 18 to 24 blue-chip prospects. Even though the first round features 32 selections, McCloughan told me that it's OK to have fewer prospects above the cut line, because the subjective nature of the scouting world would lead to several players coming off the board sooner than expected. To emphasize that point, he explained that every franchise uses a different grading scale based on various physical standards and scheme requirements established by the head coach and/or general manager. Additionally, he suggested that some decision makers' final evaluations are significantly impacted by team need, causing several players to creep up the board on draft day.
Looking ahead to the 2014 NFL Draft, I believe there are a handful of prospects who are widely projected as Day 2 picks but actually could come off the board in the first round. Below, you'll find 10 such players, listed in alphabetical order. I've also provided potential NFL fits for each, but I'm not necessarily pointing to those teams' current first-round positions -- remember, trades happen in Round 1.
Joel Bitonio, OT, Nevada: The buzz about Bitonio's potential began building -- albeit quietly, in NFL circles -- when he shut out UCLA's Anthony Barr in Nevada's 2013 season opener and then performed well against Florida State a couple of weeks later. He's kept up the momentum with standout performances at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine. Given the value of his position and the number of teams searching for a quality starter on the edge, Bitonio's stock could peak on draft night.
Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State: In today's pass-happy NFL, safety has become a marquee defensive spot. Although observers have frequently cited Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor as the two difference makers at the position in this draft, the league-wide hunger for athletic safeties with an aggressive temperament could push Bucannon into the first round. The Washington State standout is a "box safety" with a knack for punishing runners in the hole, and his outstanding performance at the combine suggests he could develop into a credible cover man at the next level. With Clinton-Dix and Pryor poised to come off the board early, Bucannon could surge up the charts due to the effect of supply and demand on draft day.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: This Hokie has intrigued scouts over the past two seasons due to his athleticism, length and toughness. He is a gritty press-man corner capable of snuffing out elite receivers on the edge without safety help. Most importantly, Fuller is an ultra-competitive defender with the physical tools to thrive as a No. 1 corner. Bigger corners are en vogue following the success of the Seattle Seahawks' "Legion of Boom," and the six-foot Fuller could vault into the conversation as a legitimate first-round pick.
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Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: The running back position has been devalued on draft day, but teams still appreciate a big back with outstanding vision, feet and power. Hill, a 6-1, 233-pound freight train with nimble feet and loose hips, certainly qualifies. He amassed 1,401 rushing yards last season, averaging an SEC-record 6.9 yards per attempt. Most impressively, he posted seven 100-yard games -- including a 200-yard effort in the Outback Bowl -- and showed he can be a dependable workhorse in a power-based scheme. With several contenders in need of a young, powerful runner to anchor a ground attack, it's not hard to imagine Hill coming off the board at the bottom of the first round.
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana: Latimer suddenly is one of the hottest names in the draft, following a spectacular pro-day workout that showcased his explosive athleticism -- just a few months after foot surgery, to boot. With the game tape confirming Latimer's dynamic traits as a playmaker in space, scouts and coaches are pegging the Indiana product as a potential No. 1 receiver. Thus, he has emerged as a legitimate candidate for selection at the bottom of the first round.
Demarcus Lawrence, DE/OLB, Boise State: The Boise State standout is an athletic edge defender ideally suited to play as a 3-4 rush linebacker in an aggressive scheme. Lawrence exhibits excellent balance, body control and closing quickness while also displaying impressive hand-to-hand combat skills on pass rushes. In addition, he flashes the strength to hold the point and is an effective run defender despite his slender frame. Factor in Lawrence's disruptive production (34 tackles for loss and 20 sacks in 2012/2013), and it's definitely conceivable that a team in need of a pass rusher will target him near the end of Thursday night.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: McCarron is one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft, despite a college résumé that includes a .900 winning percentage and two BCS national titles as a starter. Some critics question whether he is capable of carrying an offense on the strength of his right arm, but the fact that he performed well in big games (see: the contests against Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn last season, plus the 2012 and 2013 BCS National Championship Games) suggests he's underrated as a playmaker. McCarron is, quite simply, a superb game manager with a knack for guiding his team to the winner's circle. Thus, he could interest any team with the supporting cast in place to make a run at a playoff berth. Given the uncertainty surrounding the top QB prospects in this draft class, it is quite possible McCarron goes at the end of Round 1 to a team in need of a cerebral playmaker at the position.
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU: Mettenberger is just three months removed from ACL surgery, but the LSU quarterback is making a strong push to enter the discussion as a first-rounder following a sensational pro-day performance that showcased his A-plus arm talent. He is a classic dropback passer in the mold of Drew Bledsoe, with a game suited to flourish in a pro-style offense built on the vertical attack; he also has experience working under former NFL head coach/offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Some scouts and coaches believe Mettenberger could be the biggest sleeper in the 2014 quarterback class.
Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia: The 2014 offensive tackle class is loaded with blue-chip talent at the top of the board, but scouts are eyeing potential gems in the second tier, as well. Moses is a savvy technician with the athleticism, balance and body control to play left or right tackle as a pro. Most vitally, he will enter the league ready to contribute immediately, with 43 collegiate starts under his belt, leading several teams to view him as a plug-and-play starter from Day 1.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU: Van Noy's disruptive capability was on full display throughout his BYU career -- as evidenced by 61.5 tackles for loss, 26 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, seven interceptions and 21 pass breakups -- yet observers rarely have mentioned him in the first-round conversation. Skeptics question his physicality and toughness instead of looking at his versatility and athleticism -- blue-chip characteristics that could make him a special player at the next level. A team with a creative defensive play-caller could put Van Noy in a position to thrive as the designated playmaker in an exotic scheme.