With football season just months away, NFL and college programs are chomping at the bit to get another season underway. Though a lot can happen from now until the 2014 NFL draft, there are some college stars who will almost certainly be selected early in next year's draft.
Players like Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater are ready to make their cases as potential No. 1 draft picks in 2014, and this upcoming season will likely shape the course of their professional careers.
This mock draft is an exercise showing how players rank in terms of value rather than an attempt to predict where teams will be selecting in 2014. The NFL season is long and arduous, and there's no way to tell how teams will fare.
The order of this mock draft is based on where teams stand at this present time in terms of roster talent and shouldn't be viewed as a prediction for next year's draft.
A few selections will be highlighted with italics for additional analysis.
1. Oakland Raiders—DE Jadeveon Clowney
If Clowney had been eligible to enter the 2013 NFL draft, he would have been the No. 1 overall pick. Clowney's ability to rush the passer, combined with his exceptional size and speed has NFL teams drooling at what kind of impact he will make at the next level.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars—QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne?
How about neither.
Both of these quarterbacks possess backup talent, and the Jaguars will almost certainly be taking a signal-caller early in the 2014 NFL draft.
Unlike the quarterbacks selected in the 2013 NFL draft, Bridgewater has the talent and leadership to step into a starting lineup in the NFL as a rookie. He is a pure pocket passer who can move swiftly if he has to, but he would much rather make plays with his arm than with his legs.
He'll be a huge upgrade for the team that lands him early in Round 1.
3. New York Jets—OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
After rolling the dice with Geno Smith in the second round, general manager John Idzik would be smart to provide his young quarterback with proper protection. Matthews could have been one of the top tackles selected in this year's draft but opted instead to stay in school.
4. Arizona Cardinals—QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Carson Palmer may be an upgrade for Arizona this year, but this is a team that will still be looking for its quarterback of the future in the 2014 NFL draft. Manziel is a quarterback in the mold of Russell Wilson, and he'll be another dynamic quarterback NFC West teams will have to contend with twice a year.
5. Tennessee Titans—OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
After loading up on offensive guards this year to assist Chris Johnson and the team's running game, the Titans would be smart to provide Jake Locker with a talented young offensive tackle to protect his blind side in the years to come.
6. Buffalo Bills—WR Marqise Lee, USC
If EJ Manuel pans out in Buffalo, Buddy Nix will need to provide him with a worthy stable of receivers. Stevie Johnson and Lee's USC teammate Robert Woods are a couple of fine pass-catchers, but neither compares to Lee in terms of raw, explosive talent on the field.
7. San Diego Chargers—OLB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
The Chargers have a fine front seven on defense, but adding an experienced, talented pass-rusher like Mosley to play opposite Melvin Ingram would give this team the firepower it needs to become a dominant force in the AFC West.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
The Buccaneers made a concerted effort to improve the talent and depth of their secondary, but the team still lacks pass-rushers. Barr will be a huge addition to the team's front line in 2014, and consistent pressure up front, Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson and the rest of the team's defensive backs will lock down the back end.
9. Philadelphia Eagles—QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Yes, the Eagles drafted Matt Barkley this year, and yes, Michael Vick is still capable of putting up big numbers. Those facts don't preclude Chip Kelly from taking a shot at landing a superstar for his offense in 2014. Boyd has the speed, athleticism and passing prowess that has helped Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick emerge as stars, and he would shine in Kelly's system.
10. Cleveland Browns—QB David Fales, San Jose State
If Brandon Weeden doesn't work out for the Browns in 2013, Norv Turner will set his eyes toward the college ranks to find a quarterback to groom.
Fales is a perfect player for Turner's West-Coast offense. He possesses a rocket for an arm and balances out his arm strength with excellent accuracy and touch.
The JUCO transfer out of Monterey Peninsula College put together an outstanding junior campaign in 2012, completing 72.5 percent of his passes for 4,193 yards with 33 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
He's the quarterback the Browns need to take the next step as a legitimate contender for the AFC North divisional crown for the next decade or longer.
11. Kansas City Chiefs—NT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
The Chiefs are a team that is close to being a playoff contender in terms of pure talent. Adding a defensive stud like Nix to dominate the middle of the team's 3-4 scheme would solidify the front seven and give the Chiefs a formidable defensive unit.
12. Dallas Cowboys—OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
Whether you love or hated Jerry Jones' decision to select Travis Frederick in the first round this year, he had the right idea about bolstering his horrible offensive line. This process must continue in 2014, and adding a big-time run-blocker like Jackson will be critical to the team's success on offense.
13. Carolina Panthers—TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
If Seferian-Jenkins can stay out of trouble and focus on football, he has a chance to turn into a special player in the NFL. This young man is indefinitely suspended after an arrest for DUI (h/t AP, via Yahoo! Sports), but if he can get his act together he has a chance to be an early first-round pick in 2014.
14. Detroit Lions—DE Morgan Breslin, USC
The Lions made a bold move to land Ezekiel Ansah this April, but Martin Mayhew must continue to be aggressive about reloading his stock of pass-rushers in the years to come. If Breslin can improve upon his impressive 2012 campaign in which he racked up 13 sacks and 19.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, he might be top-five pick.
15. St. Louis Rams—S/CB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
The Rams added T.J. McDonald to play in their secondary this year, but Les Snead will more than likely still be looking to upgrade the safety position in 2014. Joyner's range, speed and ball skills would be a nice complement to McDonald's big-hitting tendencies.
16. Miami Dolphins—CB Jason Verrett, TCU
Selecting Jamar Taylor in the second round was a stroke of genius by Jeff Ireland, but he'll need to keep the hits coming in 2014. Miami must continue to add talented defensive backs, and Verrett would be a smart pick in the middle of the first round.
17. Minnesota Vikings—DE Ben Gardner, Stanford
Gardner made the decision to stay in school for the 2013 season, which will likely turn out to be a good decision. His game has progressed nicely every year at Stanford, and a standout senior season will boost him into the first round in 2014.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers—OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
After smartly picking up Jarvis Jones this year, Pittsburgh would greatly improve its pass-rushing capabilities by selecting Van Noy in 2014. This young man has the potential to become a dominant edge-rusher in Dick LeBeau's 3-4 sceme and would be a perfect fit opposite Jones.
19. New York Giants—DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Damontre Moore may turn out to be one of the biggest steals of the 2013 NFL draft as a third-round pick, but the Giants will still be looking to add pass-rushers in 2014 and beyond. Jerry Reese hasn't shied away from making that one of his top priorities year in and year out.
Jeffcoat may have been a high draft pick in 2013 if not for a pectoral injury in October that knocked him out of the entire season. He posted 7.5 sacks in his sophomore campaign and had racked up four in his first six games before getting injured in 2012.
His strength gives him the flexibility to play inside on nickel formations—much like what the Giants saw from Justin Tuck over the years—and he would be a valuable addition to the team's front line.
20. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins)—OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
Snead will need to continue improving the team's defense in 2014. Adding a speedy hybrid player like Attaochu to play with James Laurinaitus and Alec Ogletree would give the team the athleticism it needs to cover the middle of the field against the incredible young quarterbacks in the NFC West.
21. Indianapolis Colts—S C.J. Barnett, Ohio State
The Colts signed LaRon Landry, who is experienced at playing in a 3-4 scheme, but he's not a cover safety so much as a big-hitting thumper who enforces over the middle. Indy needs a true center fielder, and Barnett would be a nice addition to the team's secondary.
22. Chicago Bears—DT Dominique Easley, Florida
Chicago's front line must continue to get younger or Phil Emery will see a significant drop off in production from his run defense in the years to come. Adding a physical, nasty player like Easley to play next to Henry Melton would give the Bears as solid a front line as any team in the league.
23. New Orleans Saints—WR Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
After busting out with 10 touchdowns last year, the 6'6" receiver out of Rutgers has a chance to vault into the first round of the 2014 NFL draft with another big year. The Saints would be smart to reload their receiving corps, too, as Marques Colston will turn 31 before the 2014 NFL season.
24. Baltimore Ravens—OT Sentreal Henderson, Miami (FL)
Ozzie Newsome added a couple of offensive tackles late in this year's draft, but the Ravens still need to acquire a top-shelf left tackle to protect Joe Flacco's blind side. Henderson has the talent to turn into an elite player in the NFL and would be a nice value pick at this point in the first round.
25. Cincinnati Bengals—DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
If Geno Atkins could be cloned, the Bengals' front seven would be the most dangerous unit in the NFL. Sutton looks like an Atkins clone, and his ability to get to the quarterback from his defensive tackle spot will be in high demand in 2014.
26. Green Bay Packers—C Bryan Stork, Florida State
The offensive line continues to be a weak link for the Green Bay Packers. Ted Thompson is one of the league's top drafters, but he continually seems to shy away from drafting interior linemen early on in the proceedings. Should Stork still be on the board when Green Bay selects next year, Thompson should pull the trigger on this star center.
27. Houston Texans—DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Hageman is a physical freak. At 6'6" and 302 pounds, he had the size, strength and explosiveness to become a phenomenal 3-4 defensive end. Adding him to play opposite J.J. Watt would give the Texans a fearsome front line on defense.
28. Atlanta Falcons—CB Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M
The Falcons landed cornerback Desmond Trufant this year, and he'll be a phenomenal player in the NFL. That said, Mike Nolan's defense can't feature enough skilled defensive backs, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if Thomas Dimitroff goes all in on another top cornerback in 2014.
29. Denver Broncos—OT Chaz Green, Florida
Protecting Peyton Manning is the biggest key to Denver's success on offense. Green is an athletic young tackle who is a bit underrated at this point in his career. In an article for SI.com, draft insider Tony Pauline projects him as a first-round pick when he declares for the draft, whenever that may be.
30. Seattle Seahawks—DE James Gayle, Virginia Tech
The Seahawks are going to continue loading up on pass-rushers as long as Colin Kaepernick is the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Gayle might not be a starter as a rookie, but his ability to get upfield and attack the quarterback will earn him playing time early in his career.
31. New England Patriots—WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
The Patriots don't draft receivers in the first round as a rule, but Matthews might be the exception to the rule. This talented young man was highly productive for the Commodores last year, catching 94 passes for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns, and he would thrive playing with Tom Brady in New England.
32. San Francisco 49ers—CB Marcus Williams, North Dakota State
The 49ers loaded up on pass-rushers this year and addressed their need for a starting safety, but this team will be in need of cornerbacks in 2014. Carlos Rogers and Nnamdi Asomugha are both firmly into their 30s, and youth is needed at this position. Williams isn't as well-known as many of the prospects on this mock, but his talent is undeniable. He would be a steal at the end of Round 1.
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