Even though we are only headed into Week 16 of the 2013 NFL season, and many teams are still fighting for position in this year's playoffs, it's never too early to look ahead and decide where college football's best prospects will land in the upcoming draft.
The final draft order is nowhere near set yet, and bowl games, pro days and the scouting combine have yet to take place. That being said, there will certainly be many shifts on draft boards from now until the draft finally rolls around in May.
Let's take a look at where these first-round prospects have a strong possibility of landing in the 2014 NFL draft.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
This one seems line a no-brainer. The Texans are in dire need of a quarterback who can bring this team back into contention. There were high hopes for the Texans before the 2013 NFL season began; however, due to sloppy quarterback play, they now find themselves with the worst record in football.
Bridgewater may be the most NFL-ready quarterback prospect in the draft. Houston already has a solid core of players and could use a young signal-caller to come right in and click with the rest of the offense.
The days of Matt Schaub are well and done. Case Keenum brought us a glimmer of hope that was dashed quickly. Bridgewater will make Texans fans forget about the woes of 2013.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Rams already have one of the most talented offensive tackles in the league in Jake Long. Now they have the opportunity to own one of the most formidable lines in the NFL by selecting Matthews.
St. Louis' offense has begun to click in recent weeks, as rookies Tavon Austin and Zac Stacy have shown tremendous promise. If the offensive line can dominate in the trenches, these players will be able to shine in 2014—no matter who winds up under center.
3. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Raiders really need to bring back the defensive tenacity that the team has been lacking for years. Clowney could single-handedly make that happen. He is one of the most athletic prospects to come out of college football in quite some time, and the Raiders would be foolish to pass up on his services.
With 34 sacks through Week 15 and a roller-coaster run defense, Clowney would shore up that defensive front, making Oakland more of a threat in a division that consists of some of the NFL's most prolific offenses.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Scouts are all over the place as far as where Manziel should be drafted. However, his athleticism is off the charts. One of the most exciting quarterbacks in college football, Manziel would immediately spark a lackluster offense and bring fans back into the stadium.
The Jaguars have a talented, young receiving corps. All they have been missing is an efficient passer to effectively get them the ball. Manziel has improved dramatically in that department, making him the logical selection here.
5. Cleveland Browns: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Yes, another quarterback is coming off the board. Carr has been fantastic for Fresno State this year and is certainly worthy of a top-five selection. The Browns have been trying to find a quarterback for what seems like an eternity, and Carr could be the answer.
Earlier this season, Brian Hoyer showed some great ability as the Browns signal-caller; however, it was short lived, and the team cannot afford to hang their hat on such a small sample size. Drafting Carr will immediately bring a very healthy quarterback competition to Cleveland in 2014.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Due to the need at quarterback for many aforementioned teams, Barr has fallen right into the lap of the Falcons. Atlanta has been absolutely miserable on the defensive side of the ball in 2013, and Barr would be able to come in and immediately contribute.
A tackling machine and fantastic pass-rusher, Barr would be an instant upgrade for a defense that is lacking in quarterback pressures. Getting the top linebacker in the draft is an opportunity that Atlanta will not pass up.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Buccaneers and quarterback Mike Glennon have struggled to find a complementary wide receiver to veteran Vincent Jackson. Watkins is one of the most explosive and versatile wide receivers in this year's draft class, and would be a very welcomed addition in Tampa Bay.
One big way to get Tampa Bay out of the gutter in the NFC South is to surround their young quarterback with as many weapons as possible. Watkins is the perfect answer.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Bortles has been soaring up draft boards recently. He has the size and the arm that NFL scouts are looking for. After so many failed experiments with different quarterbacks, Minnesota would be wise to give Bortles a long look here.
The Vikings aren't getting any younger, and they have a great amount of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. They need an intelligent, competent quarterback to distribute the ball immediately. With Adrian Peterson in the backfield, creating a balanced offense, Bortles will not be under an immense amount of pressure as a rookie.
9. Buffalo Bills: Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
Erving has been rising quickly up draft boards. He is one of the most athletic and physical offensive linemen in the 2014 draft class. With EJ Manuel still adjusting to the speed of the NFL, it makes perfect sense for the Bills to go after a player who will afford their quarterback more time in the pocket.
Through Week 15, Manuel has thrown 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions—not a great ratio. However, with better protection in front of him, those numbers could improve in dramatic fashion next season.
10. Tennessee Titans: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack has absolutely dominated while at Buffalo. He has a huge motor and is capable of wreaking havoc behind the line of scrimmage. After all, Mack does hold the record for most tackles for a loss in NCAA history.
On the other hand, the Titans need lots of help in that department. Tennessee has the NFL's 23rd-ranked run defense, allowing an average of 119.1 rush yards per game. This seems like a match made in heaven. With an improved defense, the Titans could finally make a run at the AFC South.
11. New York Giants: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Giants could use a little help in the secondary alongside Prince Amukamara. Terrell Thomas has not fared well this season, and that is reflected by his 67th-overall ranking out of all NFL cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Dennard is a fantastic cover corner and will bring a very physical playing style to New York. He would fit as a perfect complement to Amukamara, and this union could provide the Giants with a top-10 pass defense in 2014.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The offensive line has been the Achilles' heel of the Pittsburgh offense for quite some time now. Shoring up that unit with Lewan makes perfect sense for this team. Ben Roethlisberger is not getting any younger and needs to remain upright.
Blocking for the run has also been an issue for the Steelers this season, as rookie running back Le'Veon Bell has only been able to average 3.3 yards per carry. Lewan would immediately upgrade this line for the physical AFC North.
13. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It's no secret that the Jets are lacking explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith simply does not have enough weapons around him, and this has partly led to his atrocious season.
Ebron, a huge 6'4" target would be a very welcomed addition for Smith and Co. The tight end is a freak athlete who demands attention. He must be accounted for each and every time he is on the field, which will allow more opportunities for the rest of the Jets offense.
A big tight end is a young quarterback's best friend. Geno Smith, meet Eric Ebron.
14. St. Louis Rams: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Now that the Rams have already solidified their offensive line, it's time to take a look at another problem area—the secondary. The Rams currently have the NFL's 27th-ranked pass defense and are allowing an average of 257.5 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks.
Ekpre-Olomu had a stellar season in Oregon and has continued to see his draft stock rise. Despite his rise in stock, the corner remains humble. He recently elaborated on the upcoming draft during an interview with The Oregonian:
Projections are something, but you never know until that day comes when your name is called. I'm not really worried about projections and what somebody says because what influence do they really have? They might have heard stuff, but at the same time it could be all talk.
Great play and a great attitude. The Rams would benefit greatly by selecting this talented corner.
15. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Evans would come into Baltimore and immediately fill the void left by Anquan Boldin. The Ravens offense just has not been the same since they lost their reliable, over-the-middle possession receiver. Evans fits that bill perfectly.
Pairing him with the likes of Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown would give Baltimore a devastating trio at the wide receiver position. Quarterback Joe Flacco needs to get back into form, and Evans would be the catalyst for exactly that.
16. San Diego Chargers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Chargers drafted one inside linebacker last year, taking Manti Te'o in the second round. This year they will acquire his long-term counterpart in the first round. Donald Butler has not bee solid in 2013, as he was given a negative-13.7 rating by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
San Diego needs more efficiency in the middle of the field, and that is exactly where Mosley comes into play. In a highly competitive AFC West, the Chargers need every possible advantage. Mosley will immediately upgrade a defense that has had a roller-coaster 2013 season.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Cowboys need a tremendous amount of help in the secondary. Currently, Dallas ranks dead last in the league and is giving up an average of 297.4 passing yards per game. Clinton-Dix will be able to come in and contribute immediately due to his SEC pedigree.
Clinton-Dix has the perfect combination of ball skills and vision and has the ability to revamp a stale defense. He has the ability to roam the field and is agile enough to cover plenty of ground in a hurry.
18. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
At first glance, tight end does not seem like a huge position of need for the Packers. However, it most certainly is. After Jermichael Finley suffered a neck injury this season, there is no timetable for his potential return. This has left the Packers lacking at the position.
Once Aaron Rodgers is healthy, it is important to continue to surround the prolific quarterback with plenty of weapons. Green Bay must get its skill positions back on track if they are to recreate its once-dominant offense. Amaro would certainly help in that department.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Despite their high-octane offense, the Eagles have dropped games simply because they could not contain the opposing quarterback. This was all the more apparent during a 48-30 loss to the Vikings at the hands of Matt Cassel in Week 15.
Gilbert has the size to be a formidable outside cornerback at the NFL level. He has the ability to remain in tight coverage and create turnovers, giving Philadelphia's offense more time on the field. The Eagles have the league's 31st-ranked defense against the pass, and Gilbert would play a major role in turning that around.
20. Chicago Bears: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Tuitt's size makes him a very versatile player in the Bears' defensive scheme. Chicago would have the option of using him either at the defensive end or defensive tackle position, depending on the situation.
The Bears are by far the worst defense against the run, as they are allowing an average of 154.2 yards per game on the ground. Not only will Tuitt help fix issues in that department, but he would be able to serve as another capable pass-rusher as well.
21. Detroit Lions: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
With the top picks at the cornerback and safety positions already off the board, the Lions will go ahead and take the best player available at this point. That just happens to be Shazier. He will bolster Detroit's already-effective front seven and maintain their image as one of the NFL's most feared units.
One of the best linebackers in all of college football, Shazier is a tackling machine. He has the ability to shed blocks and flourishes in the open field. If he is available at 21 overall, it would be very difficult for Detroit to pass up on his skill set.
22. Miami Dolphins: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
Over the second half of the 2013 season, the Dolphins offense has begun to click. One thing that they could use is additional protection for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Not only will Ogbuehi be an instant starter and improve pass protection, but his large frame will hold up nicely when blocking for the run.
The Dolphins have struggled to consistently run the football this season, as they are ranked 24th in the league in that category. Ogbuehi's athleticism would make him a perfect fit for Miami's budding offense.
23. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Now that the Browns have shored up the quarterback position with their earlier pick, it's time to surround him with weapons. Cleveland already has a dynamic wide receiver in Josh Gordon, and now it's time to bring in a player that will take away some of the pressure. Enter Robinson.
At 6'3" and 210 pounds, Robinson is a big receiver, but he also has enough speed to keep defenses honest. With Jordan Cameron at the tight end position as well, this could form a very daunting trio in Cleveland.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
The most pressing need for Cincinnati is most likely in the secondary. However, the Bengals will continue to take the best player available when it's time to make a selection. The best player right here is Beasley.
He is one of the most talented linebackers in the draft, accumulating 12 sacks during the 2013 regular season with Clemson. James Harrison will not be around much longer, and the Bengals will be looking to inject some youth in the linebacker corps opposite Vontaze Burfict.
25. Arizona Cardinals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Cardinals boast a very stingy run defense; however, they are lacking when it comes to the secondary. Verrett has the ability to come in and contribute right away, as he is a physical corner who can flourish in man coverage.
With Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Co. already in the Cardinals secondary, the addition of Verrett could put this unit over the top. If he can translate his play to the NFL level quickly, the Cardinals defense could become one of the best units in the league in 2014.
26. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Patriots have struggled against the run throughout the 2013 season. They currently rank 31st in the league in this department, allowing an average of 132.5 rush yards per game. Nix's huge frame in the middle of their defensive front would give that unit a much-needed boost.
Nix has flourished while at Notre Dame, and the 357-pound defensive tackle looks the part of an NFL-ready defensive lineman. Head coach Bill Belichick will not be able to pass up this kind of talent at this point in the draft.
27. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Panthers could get an absolute steal with Lee at 27 overall. Lee's stock has dropped due to multiple injuries that he had to deal with through the 2013 season. However, Lee is still one of the most talented wide receivers entering the draft this year.
With Steve Smith getting a little long in the tooth, it becomes necessary for the Panthers to continue to surround quarterback Cam Newton with weapons. Lee's explosiveness and athleticism would make him an idea candidate opposite Brandon LaFell once Smith departs.
28. San Francisco 49ers: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
Gaines has been the highlight of Missouri's secondary over the course of the 2013 season. With four interceptions and 51 solo tackles, he is a perfect combination of a coverage corner and sure-tackler.
The 49ers already have one of the NFL's most talented defenses. Adding Gaines to a defensive secondary that already ranks fourth in the league against the pass almost seems unfair.
29. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Since Rob Ryan entered New Orleans, the 4-3 became the base defense for the Saints. As a unit, they have improved in leaps and bounds this season. However, they could still benefit from another formidable pass-rusher.
This is where the 6'5", 275-pound defensive end comes into play. His size allows him to shed blocks and find his way into the backfield quickly. In a division with quarterbacks such as Cam Newton and Matt Ryan, that skill set becomes very important.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
This is another perfect example of a team going out to get a complementary wide receiver to ease the burden of the rest of the offense. The Chiefs offense has been outstanding this season due to the stellar play of Alex Smith.
Now, Kansas City must find a receiver to take some of the pressure off of Dwayne Bowe. Benjamin's size, speed and strength makes him a perfect candidate to come in and make an already dynamic offense that much more explosive.
31. Denver Broncos: Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
After losing Dan Koppen to injured reserve this season, the Broncos have been making due with Manny Ramirez at center. It would be difficult to pass up a prospect like Swanson here. After all, what can possibly be more important than protecting Peyton Manning?
The 6'5", 315-pound center was named All-SEC First Team this season. He has also started all 50 of his career games while at Arkansas. Without a history of injuries, the Broncos should be very intrigued by Swanson, as he could be a solid NFL center for a long time.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame
Martin has the athleticism and pass-protecting ability to climb into the first round. His skill set would be welcomed by the Seahawks, as protecting quarterback Russell Wilson remains their top priority.
This is a luxury pick for Seattle, as most will be in this year's draft, because the Seahawks are one of the NFL's most complete and deep teams. Due to injuries suffered along the offensive line in 2013, the Seahawks should jump on the chance to increase depth up front.
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