Best and worst draft marriages


It's that time of year again, the moment when we take a long look at what transpired during the NFL draft and make some bold predictions. We call it the best and worst draft marriages of the coming season, the unions that should the most exciting to watch and also the most frustrating.

As usual, it's important to clarify that this isn't a projection of how these players will fare over the course of their pro careers. It's only an attempt to gauge what kind of impact they'll have this fall.

With that said, here are the five players who will make huge contributions this coming season and five others who will struggle to live up to the hype:


1. Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis: Donald becomes the fourth defensive lineman the Rams have selected in the first round since 2008. He also will help make this unit as formidable as any front four in football. St. Louis already has a Pro Bowl defensive end in Robert Quinn (who finished 2013 with 19 sacks), while fellow end Chris Long and defensive tackle Michael Brockers have both developed into solid players. Add Donald to that mix, a player who can be disruptive against both the run and the pass, and the Rams defense suddenly has the potential to go to another level.

St. Louis general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher obviously understand that keeping pace in the hyper-competitive NFC West -- where Seattle won the Super Bowl, San Francisco reached the NFC Championship Game and Arizona won 10 games -- involves shrewd personnel decisions. By taking Donald with the 13th overall pick, they landed a major talent who can plug in and play from day one ... and potentially dominate.

2. Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland: Given the news that Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon is facing a one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, the Browns need something to look forward to this fall. Gilbert's addition to a quickly improving defense will be one of those options. The first-round pick has his flaws -- despite being 6-feet and 202 pounds, nobody is lauding him for his run defense -- but he's the perfect fit for a unit that already has one Pro Bowl cornerback in Joe Haden.

With Haden on one side and Gilbert on the other, the Browns have two defenders who can thrive in the man coverage, which is essential to the aggressive defensive schemes head coach Mike Pettine favors. Gilbert also gives the Browns a dangerous returner, as he produced six returns for touchdowns in his career at Oklahoma State. If the Browns defense improves immensely this fall, Gilbert's play will have a lot to do with that.

3. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans: The Saints traded up to select Cooks and it's easy to see why: He's exactly the kind of receiver who should flourish in that wide-open offense. Cooks has speed, explosiveness, polished route-running skills and the ability to gain yards after the catch. Even in a league where wide receivers generally struggle to find their way as rookies, his chances of helping the Saints immediately seem strong.

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