The rigors of another full season exposed weak spots in every NFL team's roster, but the 2014 NFL draft offers each one an opportunity to instantly fill some of those needs.
With the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine still upcoming and many top underclassmen yet to decide whether they'll stay in school or declare for the draft, the stage isn't quite set for the first round in May.
However, given the information at hand, this is one way the first round could play out.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Texans could look to draft a top pass-rusher to pair with J.J. Watt. Such a move would certainly add strength to strength, but it wouldn't address this team's greatest need.
Houston won't pass up on the opportunity to land a franchise quarterback, and Bridgewater is the best of the bunch coming out in 2014 (assuming he does).
After the junior had the game of his career against Miami in the Citrus Bowl, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller tweeted a ringing endorsement for him as the top pick:
Hopefully everyone saw tonight why Teddy Bridgewater will be the No. 1 overall player in the 2014 NFL draft class...if he enters.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 29, 2013
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Rams are building a championship defense, but the team's offense is still a work in progress. Even if Jake Long returns healthy after suffering a season-ending knee injury, St. Louis needs help on the offensive line.
Jake Matthews is the smoothest, cleanest offensive tackle in this year's draft, and he'd be able to immediately slide into the starting lineup on either side of the line.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Which QB will have the most NFL success?
Jacksonville needs a quarterback, pure and simple. Drafting a top pass-rusher would be nice, but this team isn't going anywhere without a franchise passer. Blake Bortles has seen his draft stock soar in the month of December, and he'll have a chance to solidify his status as a top player during the scouting process.
4. Cleveland Browns: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
It's hard to know what Cleveland will do after the franchise jettisoned head coach Rob Chudzinski at the end of his first season. That said, the Browns are in need of a quarterback, like most of the bottom-feeders in the league.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Oakland could certainly look for a quarterback with this pick. Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor both proved incapable of playing with any consistency in 2013, and this team needs a new leader on offense.
That said, there's no way Jadeveon Clowney will slide if he's still available. Oakland's defense needs just as many improvements as its offense, and Clowney is a once-in-a-generation talent as a pass-rushing freak.
Oakland likes to mix up its defensive scheme, but Clowney can play in any scheme in the eyes of Albert Breer of NFL.com:
Anyone tweeting me about Jadeveon Clowney's scheme fit is overthinking things completely. Dude can find a home in any scheme.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 29, 2013
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
Atlanta likely wishes Jake Matthews were still on the board, as the offensive line needs work. However, landing Barr is a nice consolation prize. He's a gifted athlete with long arms and a quick first step who projects as a terror off the edge in the NFL.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
Tampa Bay finished the season in the bottom half of the league (No. 23) in sacks for the second year in a row. The Buccaneers invested heavily into the secondary before the 2013 season, signing Dashon Goldson and trading for Darrelle Revis. Without a strong pass rush, however, this unit will continue to struggle.
Khalil Mack is a disruptive pass-rusher who has a knack for knocking the ball loose. He finished his career at Buffalo as the national record holder with 16 career forced fumbles, as relayed by CollegeFootball 24/7:
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There is no middle ground when it comes to Johnny Manziel. Some analysts love him and believe he'll thrive in the NFL, while others expect him to flop.
All it takes in the NFL is for one team to fall in love, however, and the Minnesota Vikings could be that team. With explosive playmakers already in place, Manziel would be in a position to succeed playing for the Vikings.
9. Buffalo Bills: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
EJ Manuel had an up-and-down rookie season for the Bills, but the kid showed promise as a potential long-term answer for a team that hasn't had a franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly.
The best thing the Bills can do for him at this point is give him the weapons to succeed. There isn't a more complete offensive playmaker in this year's draft than Sammy Watkins.
10. Detroit Lions: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
After landing Ziggy Ansah in 2013, the Detroit Lions would be thrilled to add another dynamic pass-rusher in Kony Ealy out of Missouri. At 6'5" and approximately 275 pounds, Ealy has the physical tools to become dominant off the edge.
He also proved himself as one of the SEC's top pass-rushers in 2013, as pointed out by Mizzou Recruiting:
Most Sacks During SEC Play 1. Michael Sam, Missouri: 7.5 2. Markus Golden, Missouri: 6.5 3. Kony Ealy, Missouri: 6 3. Dee Ford, Auburn: 6— Mizzou Recruiting (@MIZ_Recruiting) December 24, 2013
With Ansah, Ealy, Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, Detroit's defensive line would be unstoppable.
11. Tennessee Titans: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
There are many different players Tennessee could choose here, given the team's many needs. However, cornerback Darqueze Dennard is a player who has the talent to go in the top five. He's a shut-down cover guy who routinely shut out opposing top receivers at the college level.
12. New York Giants: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Rookie Justin Pugh had a good season for New York, but it would behoove the Giants to add another young offensive tackle as soon as possible. Will Beatty isn't the answer, but Greg Robinson is. The athletic tackle out of Auburn possesses the size, athleticism and agility to become an elite left tackle in the NFL.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
NFL teams are always looking for offensive playmakers who possess game-breaking attributes, and Mike Evans out of Texas A&M fits that mold.
At 6'5" and 225 pounds, the redshirt sophomore's play is reminiscent of current Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson. Remarkably, he's only played three years of football, as pointed out by head coach Kevin Sumlin, via the Aggies on Twitter:
He's improved having only played 3 years of football. His best days are ahead of him. He just continues to get better - Sumlin on Mike Evans— Texas A&M Football (@AggieFootball) December 30, 2013
Adding Evans to the same lineup with tight end Jared Cook and slot specialist Tavon Austin would give St. Louis a dangerous trio that would present matchup nightmares for opposing defenses in the years to come.
14. Chicago Bears: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Chicago's defense was pathetic in 2013 (No. 30 in total defense and scoring defense).
On a completely unrelated note, Brian Urlacher retired after the 2012 season (sarcasm).
Clearly, the Bears need to get younger and more athletic at the linebacker position (not to mention get a guy who likes to tackle), and C.J. Mosley is as NFL-ready as any player in this year's draft. He's rock solid in every aspect of the game and is an underrated athlete too.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Ben Roethlisberger has always been a magician behind center, but the Steelers must improve the offensive line if he's going to remain upright in the years to come.
Taylor Lewan isn't the best pass-blocking offensive tackle in this year's draft, but he's solid. Furthermore, his abilities in the run game make him a perfect fit for Pittsburtgh (No. 27 rushing offense), which desperately needs to get tougher up front.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Baltimore's passing offense struggled to get going all season long without Anquan Boldin. Torrey Smith is a fantastic receiver, but he needs help. Adding a skilled receiver like Marqise Lee would solidify the entire offense, helping Joe Flacco spread the field.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The secondary of Dallas features two excellent cover corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, but the team lacked talent at the safety position in 2013. Therefore, it wasn't surprising that the Cowboys finished the season with the league's third-worst pass defense.
Adding a balanced safety such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be a great first step for Dallas to improve in this obvious area of need.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Geno Smith was wild in his rookie season, but the talented quarterback showed promise. With some talented and reliable playmakers, he will thrive. Eric Ebron has the size, speed and athleticism to become a big-time playmaker in the NFL. His presence in the middle of the field would greatly assist in Smith's development.
Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times in 2013—10 more times than any other quarterback. The team's offensive tackles have been veritable turnstiles. While Matthews receives all the hype, his teammate Cedric Ogbuehi is a promising prospect in his own right.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Cardinals will get guard Jonathan Cooper back in 2014 after he suffered a season-ending injury, but Arizona still needs to address its deficiencies at the offensive tackle position. Carson Palmer was sacked 41 times, and the team's running game sputtered throughout the season.
Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio is more athletic than D.J. Fluker, who has been magnificent for San Diego this season. He'd be a terrific addition to the Cardinals—a team that wants to be physical on both sides of the ball.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Green Bay's offense hasn't been the same since Jermichael Finley was lost for the season. The Packers need to find another playmaking tight end, and the athletic Jace Amaro out of Texas Tech would be a perfect fit in the team's dynamic offensive attack.
22. San Diego Chargers: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
San Diego's Achilles' heel all season long was its porous secondary, which was the fourth-worst pass defense in the league. Adding a physical cornerback like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu would go hand in hand with the team's aggressive defensive approach.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
No team in the NFL gave up more passing yards in 2013 than the Philadelphia Eagles.
Adding one of the most talented cornerbacks in the nation just might be of assistance. The Eagles would be foolish to pass up on Justin Gilbert should he fall to this point in the draft.
24. Kansas City Chiefs: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Andy Reid is going to want to bolster his offense in Kansas City. Allen Robinson was phenomenal for Penn State this season, displaying all the traits you look for in a No. 1 NFL receiver. He'd be a terrific addition to Reid's impressive collection of talent.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Michael Johnson won't likely be with Cincinnati next season as a free agent, and the Bengals need to get younger at the defensive end position. Vic Beasley might not be ready to step in and dominate from day one, but he possesses the pass-rushing skills to become highly successful at the next level.
26. Cleveland Browns: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Greg Little experiment has run its course in Cleveland. After landing the quarterback of the future in Carr, the Browns would be smart to give him another top-flight receiver opposite Josh Gordon. Kelvin Benjamin is a physical freak who will demand attention on the other side of the field.
27. New Orleans Saints: Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
It's remarkable how well the New Orleans defense held up in a transitional season under Rob Ryan. The 2014 NFL draft will be a prime opportunity for the Saints to draft for his 3-4 scheme, and there's no better cornerstone than nose tackle Louis Nix III.
28. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly highlighted New England's desperate need to add youth and talent to its defensive line. Ra'Shede Hageman is a behemoth on the field with strength to match, and he'll blossom into an elite talent quickly for Bill Belichick.
29. San Francisco 49ers: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Justin Smith is still one of the league's top 3-4 defensive ends, and Ray McDonald isn't shabby either. Rookie Tank Carradine also waits in the wings, but the 49ers didn't assemble a Super Bowl contender by waiting for needs to arise.
If Stephon Tuitt is still on the board at the bottom of Round 1, Trent Baalke likely won't hesitate to add to his impressive collection of talented defenders.
30. Carolina Panthers: Zach Martin, OG, Notre Dame
Carolina's offense is predicated on a strong running game. There's no better way to fuel a rushing attack than by inserting a road grader for an offensive guard. Zach Martin is such a player, and he'd be a tremendous addition to one of the league's burgeoning powerhouses.
31. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Denver's pass defense could well cost the Broncos in the playoffs. Ranking No. 27 this season against the pass, the Broncos desperately need to bring in talented defensive backs to turn things around. Jason Verrett would be a great fit as a nickel back in his rookie season.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Assuming Percy Harvin comes back healthy in 2014, the Seahawks will be set at the receiver position. However, there's plenty of room for improvement when it comes to the tight end spot, and adding a freak athlete like Austin Seferian-Jenkins would be a brilliant move.
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