Every spring, NFL teams are faced with the task of determining whether their first-round pick form three years ago is actually working out.
With 31 other first-rounders from 2014 waiting to hear if they will become free agents after next season, we take a look at their individual chances of receiving the option before the May 3 deadline.
DE Jadeveon Clowney – Texans: After struggling through his first two seasons, Clowney hit his stride in 2016 and proved he could carry the load without J.J. Watt.
WR Sammy Watkins – Bills: Injuries have put a hampering on Watkins’ first few seasons, but when he’s healthy, he’s looked like the elite receiver that can only be acquired at the draft.
DE Khalil Mack – Raiders: 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. Two-time First-team All-Pro. First player ever to be All-Pro at two different positions. Easy decision.
OT Jake Matthews – Falcons: Matthews has proven to be a solid blind-side protector, who has missed just one start in three years.
WR Mike Evans – Buccaneers: This 6-foot-5 red-zone monster is already arguably a top-five receiver in the league.
LB Anthony Barr – Vikings: With Chad Greenway retiring, the Vikings won’t want to lose their new leading linebacker.
OT Taylor Lewan – Titans: Lewan and 2016 first-rounder Jack Conklin gave the Titans one of the best young offensive tackle duos in football last season.
WR Odell Beckham Jr. – Giants: This one is pretty self explanatory.
LB Ryan Shazier – Steelers: Pittsburgh didn’t re-sign Lawrence Timmons this offseason, signifying that Shazier will get the keys to the defense next season.
G Zack Martin – Cowboys: Every bit of Dallas’ offense that works is because of the team’s stellar O-line; Martin is arguably their best blocker.
LB C.J. Mosley – Ravens: No one throws around Ray Lewis’ name lightly in Baltimore, but Mosley has filled in nicely for the future Hall of Famer through three years.
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – Packers: The man with the best first name in sports has been progressing into a quality safety, earning a Second-team All-Pro nod in 2016.
LB Dee Ford – Chiefs: Ford’s breakout season was well-timed in 2016 as his production shot up while Justin Houston and Tamba Hali weren’t so reliable.
CB Jason Verrett – Chargers: Two of his three seasons have been bogged down by injuries, but Verrett’s full 2015 campaign proved he’s a quality cornerback.
WR Kelvin Benjamin – Panthers: Benjamin is far and away the best receiver on the Panthers’ roster and gives Cam Newton an extra large target to hit.
CB Bradley Roby – Broncos: Roby has been often forgotten as the third corner in Denver, but he has filled that role ideally and will be ready to take over once Aqib Talib, 31, hits the wall.
On the bubble
QB Blake Bortles – Jaguars: Financially, the safest move with Bortles is to give him the option, but if the Jags have decided this is his true make-or-break year, they may not wish to anchor themselves to the third overall pick an extra year.
TE Eric Ebron – Lions: Ebron has proved to be a decent tight end, but he isn’t worth 10th overall-pick money. The Lions may opt to not take his option and try signing him to a cheaper deal through free agency.
CB Kyle Fuller – Bears: Fuller flashed a lot of talent as a rookie, but slumped as a sophomore and missed all of last season with a knee injury. The Bears will have to decide if they believe he can recapture his first-year magic or if it’s time to move on from the young corner.
S Calvin Pryor – Jets: The Jets haven’t gotten everything they wanted out of Pryor at safety, but they really aren’t in the position to be turning down talented players, especially at defensive back.
OT Ja’Wuan James – Dolphins: It looks like Laremy Tunsil is setting up to be the Dolphins left tackle, leaving the team with a decision to make on James – keep him in at right tackle or try their luck finding someone more suited for that side?
WR Brandin Cooks – Patriots (from Saints): Cooks surely would have gotten the option if he was still in New Orleans, but New England has a difficult decision to make with the receiver, as he has yet to suit up for the club.
LB Deone Bucannon – Cardinals: This hybrid safety-linebacker will most likely stick around with the Cardinals, but any time a player switches positions after being drafted, their contractual status becomes unclear.
CB Jimmie Ward – 49ers: While Ward hasn’t played to the level of a first-round corner, San Francisco is not in a position to be turning young capable players away.
QB Teddy Bridgewater – Vikings: There is still no timeline on Bridgewater’s injury recovery, so Minnesota will have a tough decision to make, probably based on how his health looks closer to the May deadline.
OL Greg Robinson – Rams: In a loaded draft, Robinson was a major bust, going second overall. He’ll be moving to guard this season and is not expected to have his option picked up, according to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.
CB Justin Gilbert – Free Agent (Browns): Gilbert was traded by the Browns to the Steelers for a sixth-round pick, then released after the season. His career may already be over.
QB Johnny Manziel – Free Agent (Browns): While fellow Browns pick Gilbert may be done, Manziel finished his career over a year ago and is already on the comeback path.
CB Darqueze Dennard – Bengals: Having started four games in three seasons, the Bengals have no reason to give Dennard an extra year in Cincy.
DE Marcus Smith – Eagles: If a pass-rusher gets four sacks in three years, he isn’t lasting long anywhere.
DL Dominique Easley – Rams (from Patriots): Even if Easley was worth it, he’s no longer on his rookie deal after being released by the Patriots last spring.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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