The 2014 NFL Draft can claim 17 first-round picks who have been named to at least one Pro Bowl. Another 10 Pro Bowlers were taken later in the draft, including six in the second round. That doesn’t include the seven undrafted free agents from the class who also have been to the Pro Bowl.
But there’s no doubt Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack were the best of them all. Donald, arguably the best current player in the NFL from any position, is a five-time first-team All-Pro and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Mack, originally a Raider before his blockbuster preseason trade to Chicago two years ago, is a three-time first-team All-Pro and one-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Going into their Week 7 head-to-head matchup in 2020 when the Rams host the Bears on “Monday Night Football,” Donald and Mack have each played 100 regular-season games. Donald has 79.5 sacks; Mack has 66.
Mack was the No. 5 overall pick in 2014 for the then-Oakland Raiders. Donald lasted until No. 13, going to the then-St. Louis Rams. Here’s a look back at that draft and how those picks went down in the first round.
Revisiting the 2014 NFL Draft
No. 1: Texans lock into Jadeveon Clowney
The Texans had good fortune in taking edge rushers early in the drafts. The first hit was taking Mario Williams No. 1 overall in 2006, a mild surprise ahead of running back Reggie Bush. They also had smashing success with J.J. Watt at No. 11 in 2011, followed by a solid pick of Whitney Mercilus in 2012. Clowney, with his freakish athleticism coming out of South Carolina, was on top of everyone’s boards, despite some durability concerns. Houston couldn’t pass on pairing Clowney with Watt, despite the future mixed results. Unfortunately, from what we know now, Mack was the best hybrid defender in the class, much more durable than Clowney.
No. 2: Rams go with Greg Robinson first
The Rams made a bust pick at offensive tackle with Jason Smith in the 2009 draft and did OK with second-round offensive lineman Rodger Saffold in 2010. They acquired this pick from Washington in the Robert Griffin III trade before the 2012 draft. Robinson was an extremely enticing athletic pass protector from Auburn, and the Rams finally thought they had their successor for Hall of Famer Orlando Pace. Robinson’s physical skills, however, didn’t translate to the NFL. With this pick, it was critical the Rams didn’t whiff at No. 13. Robinson ended up with off-field issues while resurrecting his career a little with the Lions and Browns.
No. 3: Jaguars surprise with Blake Bortles
Although Jason Mendoza will forever be down with this pick, Jacksonville turned in a mild shocker that in the end turned out to be a moderate bust. Bortles emerged as a hot prospect because of his final season at Central Florida, to the point he was more appealing than Johnny Manziel (No. 22 to Browns), Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32 to Vikings) and Derek Carr (No. 36 to Raiders). The Jaguars were put in “The Bad Place” at QB after the first-round bust of Blaine Gabbert in 2011. Unfortunately, that pulled them away from Mack, whom they also loved, a little more than wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
No. 4: Bills trade up for WR Sammy Watkins
The Bills regretted moving up from No. 9 for this pick from Clemson, at the cost of an extra first-rounder and fifth-rounder in 2015. Watkins has failed to make a Pro Bowl as an underwhelming overall wide receiver. The thought was pairing him as the go-to guy for quarterback E.J. Manuel, taken No. 16 overall in the 2013 draft. Instead, Watkins, oft-injured, was traded to the Rams in 2017 after the Bills declined his fifth-year option. He got a big deal from the Chiefs in 2018, but still hasn’t been worth $48 million over 3 years. What hurt here is the fact the Bills they missed out Mack, who played college football right under their noses for the Buffalo Bulls.
No. 5: Raiders roll with OLB/DE Khalil Mack
Oakland wasted no time in getting a player that former general manager Reggie McKenzie described as the “total package”. Once they took a season to figure out how to best use Mack’s explosive versatility, he became dominant at two positions for defensive-minded head coach Jack Del Rio. When Mack wanted to get paid at the top of the market for his services, he held out from the 2018 preseason. The Raiders then agreed to a blockbuster deal with the Bears, offering up Mack and two picks in the 2020 draft, second- and seventh-rounders. The Bears gave them two first-rounders in 2019 and 2020, plus a sixth-rounder, before also granting Mack to be the highest-paid defensive player ever with a six-year, $141 million deal.
No. 6: Falcons go for OT Jake Matthews
The Falcons really loved Clowney (who didn’t?) and were hoping that Mack fell to them. How different would their defense be now with Mack being a home run of a pick? Anyway, they also desperately needed a left tackle to lock down protection for Matt Ryan, which worked out when Matthews was a great athletic fit for the arrival of Kyle Shanahan’s offense in 2015, in which Ryan also on MVP when the team went to the Super Bowl in 2016. Matthews, from Texas A&M, had can’t-miss family pedigree as the son of Hall of Famer Bruce.
No. 7: Buccaneers take big WR Mike Evans
Make that two Aggies offensive players in a row. The Bucs had eyes for only offense in the 2014 draft, so Donald was not in play for them, either. All six of their picks addressed that side of the ball and none of them other than Evans panned out, including tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and running back Charles Sims. Evans got paired with No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston in 2015, and both first-round tight end O.J. Howard and elite second-round wide receiver Chris Godwin in 2017.
No. 8: Browns waste one on CB Justin Gilbert
Much of the talk about Cleveland in this draft was the big bust of Manziel 14 picks later, especially with the Bills’ trade giving them more powerful draft capital. But this pick was definitely worse because Manziel had half a chance to succeed, while Gilbert flamed out quickly with some future off-field troubles ahead. The Browns loved his size and speed coming out of Oklahoma State. They should have gone for Donald, who would have been awesome paired with Myles Garrett, taken No. 1 overall in 2017.
No. 9: Vikings settle for Anthony Barr
The Vikings love to draft impact defense early under Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman. They would have jumped at Mack, but were fine with the consolation of Barr from UCLA, a versatile second-level playmaker in his own right. But the rub is the fact that the compact, powerful, quick and disruptive Donald was perfect for Zimmer’s 4-3 scheme. He drew comparisons to Hall of Famer John Randle. Barr has been solid, but Donald would have been spectacular.
No. 10: Lions reach for Eric Ebron
The Lions were candidates to trade up during the draft and they were attached to most of the non-quarterbacks taken ahead of them. But they decided to go for the big receiving upside of Ebron out of North Carolina, despite questions about his blocking and hands. Five years earlier, they used a first-rounder on tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Five years later, they used a first-rounder on tight end T.J. Hockenson. There were some staffers in Detroit who wanted them to pick Donald to pair with Ndamukong Suh to create a devastating inside force, but at 6-1, 280 pounds, they weren’t sure his size would be a good fit for Teryl Austin’s 4-3. The Lions also had used a first-rounder, No. 13 overall, on defensive tackle Nick Fairley in 2011. They simply underestimated Donald’s potential disruptive impact, just like nine teams above and two teams below.
No. 11: Titans lock it down with Taylor Lewan
The Titans also had good reason to draft Donald with some defensive tackle weaknesses, which they addressed pretty well with DaQuan Jones in the fourth round, given he’s still a starter for them in 2020. There was less boom-or-bust with Lewan because of his pedigree at Michigan and he easily looked the part of a player who would hold down blindside pass protection for a decade. He’s been mighty witih a variety of quarterbacks thanks to his prototypical size, athleticism and technique, which have gotten him to three Pro Bowls. Lewan was a safe pick in many ways for the Titans, who should have only minor Donald envy.
No. 12: Giants get glossy with Odell Beckham Jr.
Before the drama, there were the amazing catches that burst Beckham on to the scene as a rookie with Eli Manning and all those touchdowns. But then came a few more injury issues for Beckham, not meshing well with the management and his eventual trade to the Browns last March. Instead of Beckham and Sterling Shepard remaining the go-to wide receivers for a long time, the Giants got limited return. At the same time, they needed some key 4-3 help at defensive tackle, but like the Lions, paused on Donald’s size given the volatility of draft picks at defensive tackle. Had Marvin Austin (Round 2 in 2011) and Johnathan Hankins (Round 2 in 2013) and Jay Bromley (Round 3 in 2014) worked out, there would be less focus on the Giants “passing” on Donald. In retrospect, going Donald over offensive glitz would have been a linchpin toward getting back into NFC contention status.
No. 13: Rams steal Aaron Donald
The Rams were attached to Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix (Packers) and Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard (Bengals), who both went just outside of the top 20. But having taken defensive linemen Michael Brockers (2012) and Robert Quinn (2011) in the first round a few drafts earlier and with the luxury of this being the second first-round pick, the Rams ignored the length and height worries and went for Donald’s upside to anchor their defensive line. He simply picked up his big-time production at Pitt and worked hard from the get-go to improve it. He posted nine sacks as a rookie inside pass rusher and has smashed since. The pick right after him was the Bears landing great value in cornerback Kyle Fuller, still a big part of their pass defense behind Mack in 2020.
From Mack through linebacker C.J Mosley (No. 17 to Ravens), a dozen of 13 consecutive picks made Pro Bowls, with Gilbert being the exception. Donald and Mack, however, ended up being non-quarterback game-changers for three defenses. In 2018, Donald was a big reason the Rams played in Super Bowl 53, the same year Mack’s arrival in Chicago ushered in the new “Monsters of the Midway” and a playoff team. As both Donald and Mack continue to climb the sack charts, they are guaranteed to be linked together again in the Hall of Fame.