If the NFL draft were today, who would be the No. 1 overall pick?
The easy answer is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but would a team like Jacksonville or Oakland pass on a quarterback for the once-in-a-decade pass-rusher? That's the question we aim to answer.
The first mock draft of the season isn't published for accuracy, but to give an idea of where teams have needs and where players' stock currently sits. Not every underclassman listed here will enter the 2014 NFL draft, but this is an idea of how the draft would look if the top eligible juniors and redshirt sophomores were to enter the lottery.
And as always, the draft order here is taken from Bovada Super Bowl odds and adjusted for playoff seeding.
The Pick: Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End, South Carolina
New Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell showed in the 2013 NFL draft that he will take the highest-ranked player on their board, regardless of position. That's important to note heading into 2014.
While quarterback is a bigger need than defensive end, the smart money is on Jadeveon Clowney being the top player in the draft class. If he is sitting atop the Jaguars' draft board, expect Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley to welcome him to Florida with open arms.
Clowney would wreak havoc in Bradley's patented pressure 4-3 schemes. Much like Chris Clemons did in Seattle, Clowney would be set loose to attack offensive backfields off the right side of the defensive line. Matching the nation's top player against AFC South right tackles could be exactly what this defense needs.
And for anyone doubting that Clowney is still the top player in the country after the season opener against North Carolina, he is. One game cannot undo his athleticism, productivity and upside. Clowney didn't make every tackle in the opener, but no defensive lineman could.
All season, analysts will battle with fans as the hype surrounding Clowney leads to unfair criticism of his play and the impact of his position.
The Pick: Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback, Louisville
There is still a chance that Terrelle Pryor proves he is worthy of being the Oakland Raiders' starting quarterback of the future, but heading into the season it's safer to bet against that possibility.
Teddy Bridgewater will be a player any team drafting in the No. 1 spot must consider. The junior quarterback has the pocket presence, arm strength, accuracy and mobility to open up a dysfunctional offense in Oakland and give general manager Reggie McKenzie his first true building block player.
There's a strong chance Bridgewater is the first player drafted in 2014—all depending on who has that first overall pick. If he's here at No. 2, the Raiders have an easy decision.
The Pick: Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Oregon
Just one year after NFL teams passed on all but one quarterback (EJ Manuel) in the first round, the 2014 class sees two going in the top three. That'll be the trend as long as the highly touted underclassmen enter the draft.
Oregon's Marcus Mariota may scare traditionalists, but he's the perfect example of what NFL teams are looking for in a quarterback. He's big (6'4", 215 lbs), has great touch on his passes and is a runner outside the pocket if need be.
In Tennessee, if the team is drafting this high, it's because Jake Locker couldn't get the job done at quarterback. That will open the door for Mariota, who is equally athletic but more of a finished product as a passer.
The Pick: Tajh Boyd, Quarterback, Clemson
If the Cleveland Browns are drafting at No. 4 overall, it's time to move on from Brandon Weeden. Period.
Since the good people at Bovada see the Browns as a bottom-five team, it's likely that the new Browns regime would move on from the second-year quarterback. Weeden did look improved in the preseason, but he also turns 30 this season and hasn't shown franchise quarterback qualities thus far. If he does, it's unlikely the Browns will be drafting this high come May.
Tajh Boyd is the anti-Weeden. He's young, mobile, creative in the pocket and shows better touch and placement on underneath passes.
Boyd is not a can't-miss prospect, though. Questions about his height—some NFL scouts tell me he's closer to 6'0" than 6'1"—could drive his stock down. Or he could be sending Russell Wilson a "Thank you" card in the mail if a team like Cleveland finds itself needing a quarterback at the top of the first round.
Boyd has first-round talent. If teams can get over his lack of ideal size, a top-four selection isn't a stretch.
The Pick: Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
The Buffalo Bills are an up-and-coming young team, but they're not quite there yet. Where are the holes?
Cordy Glenn had an up-and-down rookie season at left tackle, but his best position in the NFL may be at right tackle or even guard. Glenn could prove this wrong in Year 2, though early signs point to the offensive line being the weakest point on this roster.
The 2014 draft class will be loaded with elite tackle talent. Jake Matthews may have been the first pick in the 2013 draft had he entered early as a junior. Now the senior is one of the top players in the entire country. With experience at both left and right tackle, plus a long line of NFL pedigree in his blood, Matthews will be too good for the Bills to pass on.
The Pick: Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Clemson
Where does the rebuild start in New York? For the Jets, the goal should be adding as much talent as possible.
Let's assume that 2013 second-rounder Geno Smith will be given a few years to prove himself at quarterback. With Smith, tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold as the centerpieces on offense, the logical answer with the No. 6 pick overall is to address the outside.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is an explosive, dangerous player on the outside. He showed in the season opener against Georgia that his run-after-catch ability is just as strong as his hands—and that's very impressive. Watkins would give Smith a go-to underneath receiver to match up with deep threat Stephen Hill on the other side of the field.
Balancing the field with talent at receiver may seem like a luxury pick, but the Jets must draft the highest-rated player on their board. Heading into Week 1, that's Watkins on my Big Board.
The Pick: Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
The Arizona Cardinals are still banking on Levi Brown at left tackle, but his days are numbered. Or rather, should be numbered.
The Cardinals' offensive line consists of Brown and Eric Winston, who was signed to a one-year deal this past offseason. With Brown's high salary and long-term contract, it may be Winston who opens the door for a younger player at tackle.
No matter who is staying and who is going, the Cardinals cannot afford to let Taylor Lewan slip past them.
The blue-chip Michigan prospect is an ideal NFL left tackle thanks to his long arms, quick first step and mammoth reach. He's the type of player you need to face the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks six times per year.
The Pick: Anthony Barr, Linebacker, UCLA
The Carolina Panthers have drafted well of late, but this team is still lacking in the overall skill needed to compete at a high level in a tough division. There aren't many holes to fill, but on defense they must focus on adding a standout outside linebacker and a tough cornerback.
The philosophy with the No. 8 overall pick should be to draft the highest-rated player on their board at a position of need. Looking at the top outside linebackers, wide receivers and cornerbacks on the board, there is talent, but Anthony Barr ranks as the best.
Barr, a former running back, is an athletic phenom at UCLA. His aggressive, hungry style of play on the edge is refreshing—unless you play offense in the Pac-12.
With Jon Beason and Thomas Davis both aging and struggling with injuries lately, Barr is a slam-dunk addition.
The Pick: C.J. Mosley, Linebacker, Alabama
The rebuilding process in Tampa is over. Now the Buccaneers are ready to start challenging for a spot in the NFC South.
For the front office, the goal is to make sure to lock up the right free agents and add the right complementary pieces through the draft.
Calling C.J. Mosley a complementary piece may be an insult. Mosley is a terrifying defender for the Alabama defense, where he's able to show his abilities as a run-stopper, pass-rusher and coverage 'backer. Mosley is a missile on the field, and the ball is his target.
Adding Mosley alongside Mason Foster and Lavonte David might not be fair to the rest of the NFL, but it'd be fun to watch.
The Pick: Cyrus Kouandjio, Offensive Tackle, Alabama
One of the highest-rated prep players of the last decade, Cyrus Kouandjio has not disappointed at Alabama. The left tackle is ready for the big leagues, and the San Diego Chargers are ready for a player of his caliber protecting Philip Rivers' blindside.
Kouandjio would line up opposite his former 'Bama teammate D.J. Fluker to give the Chargers their best tackle duo since Rivers became the quarterback. With the power of the two big SEC tackles on the edges, the Chargers' run game would also get a significant boost.
Kouandjio may opt to return for his senior season and the chance to win yet another national championship, but the NFL is ready and waiting for his services.
The Pick: Bradley Roby, Cornerback, Ohio State
Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman made an interesting pairing in the 2013 offseason, but they filled holes on the roster and will introduce an exciting, uptempo offense to the NFL this season.
That won't matter if the talent on defense can't keep up with opponents.
The Eagles' offense will be unique, but the defense lacks the talent in the secondary to win in a shootout. Even with four new starters in the defensive backfield, an infusion of young ability is needed.
Enter Bradley Roby.
The top cornerback in the 2014 class, Roby looks like another Joe Haden. He's big enough to be physical, fast enough to run with receivers down the field and smart enough to keep himself in position to make a play. Add him to the Philadelphia secondary and this instantly looks like a better defense.
The Pick: Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver, USC
The Kansas City Chiefs have talent and depth at many positions, but wide receiver isn't one of them.
Outside of veteran Dwayne Bowe, there is a surprising lack of talent here. Donnie Avery has struggled with drops and injuries. A.J. Jenkins was traded after one season in San Francisco. There's just not much to work with.
That's what makes Marqise Lee the perfect preseason pick for the team.
Lee's stats will take a hit this season due to USC's quarterback issues, but make no mistake, he is special. A talented all-around receiver, he has the ability to step into the NFL and be a high-impact contributor right away. Similar in many ways to A.J. Green, Lee is the answer to Andy Reid's wide receiver problem.
The Pick: Cyril Richardson, Guard, Baylor
Two picks in the 2013 first round brought the St. Louis Rams athletic cornerstones Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree. With two more picks in the 2014 first round, look for general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher to focus on improving the interior of the team.
Signing Jake Long at left tackle will give the team a force on the blindside, but the middle of the offensive line needs work.
Cyril Richardson could change that. The huge Baylor prospect has the strength to push in the run game, but his experience at tackle and quick feet make him an imposing presence in the passing game, too.
Richardson next to Long would give Sam Bradford a comfort level he's never known in the Rams' backfield.
The Pick: Brett Hundley, Quarterback, UCLA
Christian Ponder has been to the playoffs as quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, but he's not a sure thing to be the leader of this team moving forward. A performance that nets them the No. 14 overall pick in the draft would likely mean Ponder has failed to develop and deliver.
That opens the door for his successor to come in.
Redshirt sophomore Brett Hundley may not be NFL-ready from Day 1, but he has amazing potential and from the first practice would be competitive with Ponder and Matt Cassel. What Hundley lacks in experience, he makes up for with instincts, vision, arm strength and size. This is a 6'3", 227-pound man throwing the rock with Colin Kaepernick-like power.
Hundley has the physical traits and athletic ability to become a high-profile prospect by season's end. If the Vikings can't win with Ponder, they should give him a call.
The Pick: Antonio Richardson, Offensive Tackle, Tennessee
The only offensive tackle to really shut down Jadeveon Clowney during the 2012 season was Tennessee's Antonio "Tiny" Richardson. That's a pretty damn good calling card.
Richardson is a blue-chip level tackle prospect. Finding him available at pick No. 15 speaks to the talent level of the 2014 draft class and to the recent history of teams drafting tackles earlier and earlier—surprisingly few teams still have holes at left tackle. The Dolphins are one of those teams.
Jon Martin will get the call at left tackle this season, but he's done nothing in game-time situations to show that is his best position moving forward. The ideal situation puts Richardson at left tackle and Martin at right tackle. This is the easy, logical pick for Jeff Ireland and Co.
The Pick: Khalil Mack, Linebacker, Buffalo
The Detroit Lions are a team of superstars. Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are all household names at this point.
What the team lacks are those second-tier players who show up on Sunday ready to do whatever it takes to win.
The 2014 draft should be about rounding out the roster in Detroit. Adding defenders who play tough assignment football with athleticism would be a coup for this roster.
In Khalil Mack, the Lions can add that player.
Mack nearly single-handedly kept the Buffalo Bulls competitive against Ohio State in the season opener. A Von Miller-like prospect, he can rush the quarterback, attack the run in space or even drop into coverage. Mack does it all at full speed, and he's the rare playmaker who doesn't deviate from his assignment.
If that sounds like what the Lions need behind their front four, it's because it is. Mack to Detroit would be a match made in football heaven.
The Pick: Stephon Tuitt, Defensive End, Notre Dame
A potential top-10 player in the 2014 draft class, the Indianapolis Colts should do backflips down the aisle to hand in their card with Stephon Tuitt's name on it.
As the Colts build their roster to match Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defense, they're finding that adding stud defensive ends isn't easy. Cory Redding is very solid, but he'll never be an elite playmaker at the position. Tuitt may not be the next J.J. Watt, but he's held in the same high esteem that Watt was as a college prospect.
The Colts' focus will be on adding pieces like defensive ends and safeties over the next offseason. This is a team on the brink of taking control of the AFC South, and general manager Ryan Grigson knows all he has to do is plug a few holes.
The Pick: Ryan Shazier, Linebacker, Ohio State
The St. Louis Rams hold this pick as part of the 2012 trade that sent the No. 2 overall pick to Washington. With their second straight year of two first-round draft picks, the Rams are in a great position to add high-level talent to an already stacked roster.
What's missing on the Rams' roster? They added linebacker Alec Ogletree in the 2013 draft, but opposite him there is a need for a marquee linebacker.
Ryan Shazier is that type of player.
With an amazing first step and the total-field range he brings to the table, Shazier would be an instant starter in the attacking defense Jeff Fisher has installed.
Shazier and Ogletree are the type of athletes you need to stop Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson when they get loose on the edge. Filling holes and building up to stop the kings of the division is the type of smart football we've come to expect from the Rams.
The Pick: De'Anthony Thomas, Wide Receiver, Oregon
The New York Giants may not seem like an ideal fit for an offensive weapon like De'Anthony Thomas, but that's what makes this pick so intriguing.
Eli Manning has been great with the targets he has at his disposal, but why not try to make that advantage even greater? Adding a speedy, elusive, dynamic playmaker like Thomas isn't something anyone would expect. And that's why it would work.
Imagine a three-wide receiver set with Thomas, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks for the Giants. Whom do you cover? Defenses would be forced to substitute to six defensive backs anytime they saw this personnel grouping in the huddle—and that's when you line Thomas up in the backfield and let him run all over the spread-out dime defense.
Thomas may not be your normal Jerry Reese pick, but he would be a smart addition.
The Pick: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Cornerback, Oregon
Back-to-back picks from the University of Oregon just goes to show that Chip Kelly recruited like few others in his time with the program. Now that Kelly is gone, his prized pupils will be flooding the NFL. Up next, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
His name may be tough to pronounce, but his game is easy to appreciate. With track star speed, Ekpre-Olomu can keep pace with slot receivers and speedsters on the edge. While he doesn't have elite size (5'10, 170 lbs.), he is big enough to stick his nose on the ball and make plays off the edge.
The Steelers have three starters over 30 years old in the secondary, and they lost Keenan Lewis in free agency this past summer. Adding young playmakers with speed is not just a priority, it's a necessity.
The Pick: Aaron Lynch, Defensive End, USF
Few college football players have enjoyed more pre-draft hype after missing a full season. South Florida's Aaron Lynch is truly unique.
The former Notre Dame prospect decided he was too far from home after his 2011 campaign in South Bend, so he transferred home to South Florida. After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, the former prep stud is ready to attack the American conference.
Lynch is a bit of a boom-or-bust prospect, but his ceiling is very high. An impressive athlete, he has the body type to play in a 3-4 scheme and the athleticism to attack off the edge in a 4-3. He's the type of dual-threat end who generally ends up in the top half of the first round.
In Dallas, Lynch would step right in and replace Anthony Spencer, who is likely to leave through free agency after the season.
The Pick: Jordan Matthews, Wide Receiver, Vanderbilt
The Baltimore Ravens are facing a desperate lack of talent and depth at wide receiver heading into the 2013 season. After the season, general manager Ozzie Newsome will have to get creative in adding talent here.
The first move for Newsome will be to address the position through the draft—as he always does when the team has a need. The good news is that the 2014 class should be loaded with talented receivers in all shapes, sizes and styles. A player to complement deep threats Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones will be needed.
Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt is the perfect blend of big-play and possession receiver for the Baltimore offense. He has the size (6'3", 205 lbs.) to be a matchup problem no matter where he lines up. With improved speed and burst this season, he has shown he can line up in a number of spots.
Matthews would allow Jones to slide back to the slot and give defenses someone other than Smith to focus their attention on. He's a game-changer by position and ability.
The Pick: Timmy Jernigan, Defensive Tackle, FSU
Henry Melton is one of the best players on the Chicago Bears' defense. He's also set to be a free agent after the season. Losing Melton would be huge, unless general manager Phil Emery can find his replacement early in the 2014 draft.
Melton is an athletic 3-technique pass-rusher, and finding those in the college game can be tough on scouts. In Chicago, where the scheme is very defined, that job is made easier because scouts and coaches know exactly what to look for. The ideal prospect? Quick, aggressive and explosive.
Florida State's Timmy Jernigan may be small (6'2", 300 lbs.) by some standards, but in Chicago his speed and overall athletic ability are a major plus. And remember, Geno Atkins was also thought to be too small at one time.
The Pick: Ra'Shede Hageman, Defensive Line, Minnesota
The move to a 3-4 defense in New Orleans will eventually work out well in a division where athletes and passing games dominate, but for now it's going to be rough.
The key for head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis will be finding those dynamic defenders who can attack the offense while bringing the strength needed to stop the run and play in a one- or two-gap defense.
That's not easy.
A scouting trip to Minnesota may be in order. That's where big Ra'Shede Hageman plays. The 6'5", 310-pound Gopher can play defensive end or defensive tackle, but he has the long arms and quick feet of an edge player.
The Pick: Kyle Van Noy, Linebacker, BYU
The talent level in Cincinnati has risen dramatically over the years, to a point where this team is favored to win the AFC North.
To maintain that advantage, the Bengals must continue hitting on draft picks.
The weakness on this roster comes at linebacker. Vontaze Burfict is great, but Rey Maualuga and James Harrison are question marks long-term. With this likely to be Harrison's last year, replacing him on the outside becomes an immediate need.
It helps that one of the top players left on the board is BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy. An attacking edge player, Van Noy has the ability to come off the tackle and pressure the quarterback. He's also a sound tackler in space and smart enough to put himself in position to key on the ball. His most natural fit in the NFL is yet to be determined, but there's no mistaking his impact on defense.
To stay on top, the Bengals need instant-impact rookies. Van Noy is that and more.
The Pick: Colt Lyerla, Tight End, Oregon
Mike McCarthy's Green Bay Packers may not be a Super Bowl team this year, but they'll once again be close. That gap between contender and champion can be closed if the team continues to add athletic playmakers who give defenses fits on game day.
Tight end Colt Lyerla is a Packer type of athlete.
Blessed with unreal size, strength and speed, he's able to affect the defense from multiple positions. For example, the big tight end lined up at running back for Oregon in the season opener. He will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Aaron Hernandez on the field.
While Lyerla isn't quite as fast as the former Florida Gator, he is equally dynamic. That multiple-threat ability is one way the Packers can get back to competing for Super Bowl championships.
The Pick: Louis Nix, Defensive Tackle, Notre Dame
Defense has become a strength of the Houston Texans thanks to additions like J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Johnathan Joseph. Now the front office must look at rounding out the cast.
That starts in the middle of the line.
The talent at nose tackle has been solid but never great since the team moved to a 3-4 defense. Investing a first-round pick in a nose tackle, though, has become more common since Wade Phillips took over the defense in Houston. Now Rick Smith in the front office can justify using a prime draft pick on a position that's becoming more and more impactful on game days.
Big defensive tackle Louis Nix has top-15 talent, but position value has him falling down the board some. His ability to anchor against blockers makes him a natural fit in a three-man front. With added lateral agility and quickness, he's also able to bump down the line when the Texans move to a four-man line on passing downs.
Nix next to Watt should strike fear in any NFL quarterback.
The Pick: Will Sutton, Defensive Line, Arizona State
The defensive line in Atlanta will be what keeps this team from winning a Super Bowl.
That's why general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith must focus on finding talent, speed and youth at every spot along the defensive line in the upcoming offseason.
A speed-rushing defensive end would be great here, but none are on the board at a good value at pick No. 28. Instead, the team will grab something it's lacked under Smith—a pass-rushing defensive tackle.
Will Sutton will be called too small, too short and a product of the system at Arizona State. I prefer to call him a playmaker. Sutton has an unbelievable motor on the field and attacks the ball with speed, power and vision that are uncommon in a college defender. He's the type of player the team needs attacking the rest of the NFC South from right up the gut.
The Pick: Brandon Coleman, Wide Receiver, Rutgers
Brandon Coleman isn't just a Rutgers player, though. He's a big, strong, fast wide receiver. And that's exactly what the Patriots need.
With Danny Amendola in the slot and newcomers Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson fighting for the No. 2 wide receiver job, the team still lacks a big threat to stretch the field and scare defenses. Coleman can do that for Tom Brady.
While he may never be Randy Moss in the New England offense, Coleman would give Brady a legitimate top-tier talent to work with on the outside and up the field. That's all this offense lacks currently.
The Pick: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tight End, Washington
Predicting the draft board of the Seattle Seahawks would keep even the best mystics up at night. Head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider do their own thing on draft day.
That may mean trading for Percy Harvin, or it could mean drafting Bruce Irvin when few experts had him tabbed as a first-round pick.
Whatever the method, it seems to work.
There are needs on the roster, and that's one thing the duo isn't afraid to do on draft day—attack needs. Given the chance to add a big tight end with crazy athletic ability, the Seahawks' decision-makers shouldn't take long in deciding whom to use their first-round pick on.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins has had some off-field issues, but the Seahawks have taken on other character risks in the past and shown the ability to rehabilitate (or at least control) big personalities. This could be another Carroll/Schneider project that turns the team into even more of a competitor each year.
The Pick: A.J. Johnson, Linebacker, Tennessee
The suspension handed down to Von Miller has caused the Denver Broncos to shift their linebacker corps, exposing what looks like a major weakness in the middle of the group. After the 2013 season, John Elway may be ready to spend draft picks to address it.
Miller and Wesley Woodyard are special talents, but Woodyard shouldn't be playing middle linebacker in the NFL. Putting your best coverage linebacker in the middle of the field may seem logical, but Woodyard excels at jumping routes and taking away tight ends and backs in the flats and seam routes.
Instead of playing him out of position, the team should bite the bullet and draft a true middle linebacker.
A.J. Johnson, a junior at Tennessee, is a true middle linebacker. He has the size to take on blockers and fight through traffic to get to the ball off the edges while still showing the speed to attack in space.
Johnson, if flanked by Miller and Woodyard, would be free to lock down the run inside the tackles. That in turn would free up the athletic outside linebackers to do what they do best—which is attack the offense.
The Pick: Jason Verrett, Cornerback, TCU
The San Francisco 49ers remain a favorite to win the Super Bowl, but they'll do it with obvious holes on both sides of the ball.
General manager Trent Baalke must head into the offseason looking at two positions—cornerback and wide receiver. Injuries have decimated the wide receiver corps, while age and short-term contracts leave the depth at cornerback more questionable than you'd expect.
Replacing Carlos Rogers after the season will be a priority, even with Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver in place. Jason Verrett is the type of physical, attacking cornerback who fits the team's aggressive 3-4 scheme. With his size, mentality and quick feet, he could step into the nickel corner role for the 49ers in Year 1.