The 2014 NFL draft is still a ways away, but plenty of fanbases are already looking ahead to the time when their teams can improve after disappointing seasons.
A better quarterback class is expected this time around after only one was drafted in Round 1 last year. Thus, there should be plenty of shakeups under center, along with several other moves at the top of the draft that rock the pro football world.
Let's take a look at the best selections for the teams fortunate enough to have a first-round choice, with an emphasis on the picks that will generate the biggest buzz.
Note: Draft order is based on teams' records entering Week 17, and is courtesy of CBSSports.com's Dane Bugler.
1. Houston Texans (2-13): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Although Case Keenum is a former local star at the University of Houston and Matt Schaub once led the league in passing, neither should be the long-term answer at QB for the Texans.
That's where Bridgewater comes in at No. 1 overall. With poise in the pocket, underrated mobility and accuracy to all parts of the field, he has many of the desirable attributes of a franchise quarterback.
A slight frame (6'3", 196 pounds) might hurt the Cardinals star's stock in some evaluators' eyes, but he doesn't lack the arm strength to make all the throws that will be required of him at the next level.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The heavy investment in quarterback Sam Bradford prohibits the Rams from seeking out a signal-caller here, so it's worth surrounding him with the best offensive lineman in the 2014 draft class.
Matthews will be a Week 1 starter and instant franchise cornerstone, which is now necessary due to Jake Long's torn ACL and MCL and right tackle Rodger Saffold's impending free agency.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Carr has the most arm talent in the draft, and he has run a 4.56 40-yard dash, per NFL.com's Bucky Brooks. Head coach Gus Bradley has done a great job improving the Jags throughout 2013, and with the addition of a franchise QB, they could be primed to surprise this coming season.
Even though Carr didn't play well in his final game at Fresno, his upside should outweigh one meager performance, especially since he threw for 50 touchdowns and just eight interceptions as a senior.
4. Oakland Raiders (4-11): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
General manager Reggie McKenzie will have a plethora of draft picks and cap space for the first time as he enters his third season at the helm. Don't expect anything tricky.
As Howie Long points out, the Raiders have two promising young QBs in Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin who have both played well under dire circumstances. A big part of what's plagued Oakland is defense, and Clowney is one of the best prospects to come along in recent memory.
5. Cleveland Browns (4-11): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The new regime led by Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi bring excitement, hope and swagger to the city of Cleveland by nabbing Manziel in the sixth spot.
Manziel will join a QB-friendly offense, with plays called by Norv Turner and head coach Rob Chudzinski influencing the game plan. Wide receiver Josh Gordon is, safe to say, a superstar, and Jordan Cameron will benefit from Manziel's arrival, too.
Some interesting rumors have emerged about the link between the Browns and Manziel. ESPNCleveland.com's Aaron Goldhammer has documented a couple of interesting tidbits from his prolific colleague Tony Grossi:
Grossi on how the Browns feel about Manziel: "The owner loves him." Says coaches will have huge say in decision.— Aaron Goldhammer (@HammerNation19) December 13, 2013
Grossi says he thinks Manziel will be gone by the time the Browns pick. Could be first QB off the board...— Aaron Goldhammer (@HammerNation19) December 18, 2013
Whomever the Browns find at running back in 2014, Manziel will open up lanes with his electricity in the open field. Plus, if the play breaks down, Johnny Football can scramble with the best of them and make the type of plays that galvanize a franchise on the cusp of turning the corner.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-11): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
It's all about defense in Atlanta. Simply put, Barr is the best defender on the board at this juncture and GM Thomas Dimitroff shouldn't take any chances in plugging in an immediate upgrade to his team's weakest side of the ball.
Barr can get pressure on the quarterback off the edge—something the Falcons need, since they rank tied for last in the NFL with 28 sacks entering Week 16's Monday night game against San Francisco.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins has been superb and really come into his own as a junior at Clemson, catching passes from impressive QB Tajh Boyd and displaying incredible explosiveness, route-running, ball skills and finesse.
Quick, strong and possessing the explosive speed to burn corners who challenge him in bump and run coverage, Watkins projects as an ideal flanker in much the same mold as Pierre Garcon (6-0, 212). Of course, Watkins' dominance in college football has come against elite competition, whereas Garcon had to work his way into a starring role after playing collegiately at Mount Union.
A skill player coming off the board this early is always going to be controversial, but it's not so when Watkins is a rather clear-cut No. 1 prospect in a deep crop of wide receivers.
Mike Glennon has looked like a franchise quarterback this season. Pairing Watkins with Vincent Jackson and with Doug Martin returning at running back, Tampa Bay should be stacked on offense for years to come.
8. Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Although Matt Cassel has played solid football toward the end of the 2013 campaign, these games don't mean much with Minnesota out of the playoff chase.
The Knight in shining armor meant to save Minnesota's quarterback situation is Bortles, who has shown the ability to run the read-option. That should help ease the pressure on Adrian Peterson. Bortles could turn out similar to Ryan Tannehill, whose ceiling is still to be determined but is promising.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-9): Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Kouandjio has the motor to fit in with Doug Marrone's uptempo offense and the pro-readiness to aid the development of Manuel, receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin along with the rest of Buffalo's promising young nucleus.
10. Tennessee Titans (6-9): Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Having three athletes like Mack, Colin McCarthy and Zach Brown in the linebacker corps would make Tennessee downright scary.
There are plenty of weapons in the passing game, and bringing in Mack would give Tennessee a versatile backer who could drop in coverage, stuff the run and wreak havoc as a pass-rusher. In the rather wide-open AFC South, Mack could help the Titans be a force to be reckoned with next season.
11. New York Giants (6-9): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Help is needed just about everywhere in the Big Apple, but drafting Dennard would be a good start. Pairing the physical Spartan opposite Prince Amukamara would bolster the Giants on defense immensely.
As MLive.com's Josh Slagter points out, opponents have completed just three out of 31 passes on him this season on passes that traveled in the air 15 yards or more from the line of scrimmage. Limiting explosive plays is something New York has struggled with, making Dennard an even more logical option.
12. Detroit Lions (7-8): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Changes are necessary in Detroit. There are few teams more frustrating to watch not capitalize on an abundance of talent, and the Lions' biggest shortcoming is in the defensive backfield.
At 6'0" and 200 pounds, Gilbert has nice size, isn't afraid to hit and has picked off six passes in 2013, returning two of them for touchdowns. Plus, the senior has taken a kickoff to the house, so if he doesn't pan out right away in the secondary, he should at least provide a spark on special teams.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Evans has an NFL-ready body and would thrive even in a complementary role in his maiden season.
Further making the case for this pick is that Evans is used to an improvisational QB in Manziel from his college days. Thus, he would likely develop chemistry with Big Ben in that regard more quickly than most emerging prospects.
14. New York Jets (7-8): Marqise Lee, WR, USC
If Geno Smith is meant to have a fair chance at being the man to carry the Jets offense into a flourishing era, he needs a bit more help.
Lee provides that and then some, as he's also a threat on special teams and could be a game-changer in flipping field position, putting Smith in an even more favorable position to succeed.
15. St. Louis Rams (7-8): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Safety is the biggest need on an otherwise solid defense. The Rams have an excellent front seven with Robert Quinn and Chris Long at defensive ends, and James Laurinaitis and 2013 first-rounder Alec Ogletree in the linebacker corps.
There isn't anyone on the back end to keep big plays in check, which is where Clinton-Dix would come in. He is the best safety prospect available and comes from a program that seems like a production line for future pros.
16. Green Bay Packers (7-7-1): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The unfortunate injury situation involving Jermichael Finley, who underwent spinal fusion surgery on Nov. 15, leaves a void that the Packers should fill.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers would certainly benefit from having a viable pass-catcher at tight end again, and Ebron is the best in this class in that regard.
17. Chicago Bears (8-7): Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Injuries along the defensive line have led to a severe decline in Chicago's defense. After a lackluster campaign at Notre Dame (27 total tackles, two TFL in eight games), Nix will have fallen here, and the Bears may have one of the steals of the first round.
18. Baltimore Ravens (8-7): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
It doesn't seem possible that both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce could drop off so drastically after having success amid last season's Super Bowl run. Part of it has been Joe Flacco's regression, but his decline has been in part due to shoddy blocking.
Baltimore would be wise to bring in a mauler like Lewan. The Ravens are reportedly hoping to retain forthcoming free agent Eugene Monroe, but right tackle Michael Oher is also set to hit the open market.
Lewan—who should be able to play either tackle spot—presents better value in terms of his prospective contract regardless of what Monroe or Oher do.
19. Dallas Cowboys (8-7): C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
I mean, it's bad in Dallas. The defense is atrocious, and an inability to land quality personnel and inconsistency on the coaching staff have been to blame. America's Team should switch back to a 3-4 after this year's disaster under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
It helps that Mosley hails from a powerhouse program, and he would be an excellent option to help the Cowboys' struggling run defense from being gashed on such a regular basis. Mosley's coverage ability will also help the league's 31st-ranked unit against the pass.
20. San Diego Chargers (8-7): Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Regardless of how Manti Te'o fares moving forward—he hasn't been great—there is a need for playmakers and smart additions to San Diego's front seven.
With far superior speed and more swagger, Shazier brings an attitude that the Chargers need. Among his 135 tackles for the Buckeyes this season (per CFBStats.com), he's racked up seven sacks, forced four fumbles and broken up four passes.
21. Miami Dolphins (8-7): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The offensive line has allowed Tannehill to be sacked a league-high 51 times. Some of those are on the QB, but some are a product of the trenches being filled with slim pickings.
Daniel Jeremiah outlined his opinion of Robinson in a recent report, noting that he is a big-time performer in both dimensions of the offense:
Robinson is a smooth, easy mover and he dominates in both the run and passing game. As a run blocker, he has very quick feet, strong hands and a powerful base. He can move defenders at the point of attack, and he's very fluid to adjust at the second level. He is equally impressive on the backside (when they run the ball to the right) because of his ability to reach/cut-off defenders. I also love his tenacity to finish to, and occasionally through, the whistle.
All those skills suggest Robinson could not only enhance the blocking for Tannehill, but also help Miami's rather stagnant backfield get rolling a little better.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6): Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
This makes almost too much sense. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly coached at Oregon before leaving for the pros in 2013, making this an ideal NFL fit for Ekpre-Olomu.
While Kelly's offensive wizardry has translated well to the NFLx, it has left his defense sucking for air and very vulnerable to the pass. Since Ekpre-Olomu has experience dealing with that, he is the ideal antidote for the Eagles' defensive backfield.
23. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The redshirt sophomore stands at 6'5" and has crazy athleticism and explosiveness after the catch. It would be beyond helpful to help hone his raw skills with the mentorship of one of the league's consummate young pros in fellow receiver A.J. Green.
24. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
It may be tempting to take a swing at Kelvin Benjamin here if he's still on the board, but Cleveland is better off sticking with someone in Matthews who stands at 6'3", 206 pounds and has better hands. Plus, he's played superior competition in the SEC and has hauled in 201 receptions over the past two seasons.
Matthews would be a great fit in Turner's scheme and a wonderful addition alongside Gordon on the outside, serving more as a possession receiver who is still reliable in the red zone.
25. Arizona Cardinals (10-5): Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
With a statuesque QB like Carson Palmer dropping back as often as he does for long-developing pass plays, all help up front is necessary.
That's why the Cardinals will go offensive guard in the first round for the second year in a row. Jonathan Cooper didn't even play a snap in his rookie year, so putting him and Richardson in would help protect Palmer and also open up Arizona's 23rd-ranked rushing attack.
26. New Orleans Saints (10-5): Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
There isn't much to nitpick about what the Saints currently have in place, but it never hurts to keep Drew Brees' jersey dirt-free.
Erving has kept opponents off of Seminoles' Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston all season long at left tackle. He should be able to do the same in New Orleans, if given the opportunity.
27. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4): Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The next tight end selected in Round 1 should be Amaro, who would be an invaluable asset in head coach Andy Reid's offense.
QB Alex Smith benefited from having Vernon Davis in San Francisco, and he would be getting a 6'6", 260-pounder to throw the ball to in Kansas City with the addition of Amaro. The junior has amassed 1,240 yards on 98 receptions with seven touchdowns this season.
28. New England Patriots (11-4): Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
Brandon Spikes will be a free agent this offseason, and Jerrod Mayo will be coming off a torn pectoral muscle. Skov is a smart player who is always in the right place and is the type of heady linebacker head coach Bill Belichick covets.
29. San Francisco 49ers (11-4): Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
Speaking of not getting any younger, such is the case with Niners star defensive end Justin Smith (age 34). Murphy would be reunited with former Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh, stay in state and likely settle into a big role as a run-stuffer.
30. Carolina Panthers (11-4): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Beyond an aging Steve Smith, a somewhat resurgent Ted Ginn Jr. and borderline No. 2 Brandon LaFell, the receiving corps of the Panthers is a bit thin in terms of depth.
No longer would that be so with the 20-year-old Robinson (6'3", 215 pounds), whose presence would likely extend Smith's career and expedite the progression of 2011 No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton.
31. Denver Broncos (12-3): Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The awesome part about Tuitt is that he has the frame (over 6'6", 312 pounds) to play anywhere along the defensive line. Whether Denver needs a bit of a bull rush at the end position or more athletic penetration from the inside, Tuitt is the man to get the job done.
32. Seattle Seahawks (12-3): Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
The uncertain status of receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin once again have the Seahawks in the market for a wide receiver. Russell Wilson can only make magic happen with Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate—no disrespect—for a certain amount of time.
With experience in the SEC, great returning ability and an average of 19.6 yards per catch, Beckham is ready to fill in and bolster one of the areas of need on Seattle's loaded roster.