With the NFL regular season over—finally, for some teams—the offseason has officially begun for 20 out of the 32 teams. For the teams that didn't make the playoffs and are looking to improve, the 2014 NFL draft is now the top priority.
Teams looking to fill holes at positions all over the field will be looking to the draft for not only great players but also fresh, young talent.
While not everyone can land the next Andrew Luck, Luke Kuechly or Giovani Bernard, the talent in this year's draft certainly appears to be NFL-ready. With the current draft order in mind, here are predictions for every team's first-round selection.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
All Teddy Bridgewater did during the college football season was prove every analyst right for putting him as the No. 1 quarterback in this year's draft. Is Bridgewater the most talented player? No, probably not. But he certainly fills a need for a Houston Texans team that finished with a combined 19 passing touchdowns and 20 interceptions between two different quarterbacks.
In what could be—nay, should be—the final game of Bridgewater's college career, he torched Miami for a total of 447 passing yards, four total touchdowns and no picks. Needless to say, he didn't fall on draft boards, according to Rob Rang of CBS Sports.
While Bridgewater is still undecided about whether he will forgo his senior season for the 2014 NFL draft, that didn't stop Texans general manager Rick Smith from stopping by the Russell Athletic Bowl on Saturday night, according to Garret Heinrich of CBS Houston.
After a season in which his stats actually improved under the pressure of being seen as the No. 1 draft pick—he threw four more touchdowns and cut his interceptions in half—Bridgewater will be the Texans' first-overall pick if he decides to make the leap to the NFL.
2. St. Louis Rams (From Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
When it comes to needs for the St. Louis Rams, it simply comes down to protecting their assets. Whether or not Sam Bradford is the future for the Rams, Zac Stacy is an emerging star and needs more protection to truly flourish.
This might be the perfect position for the Rams to pull another trade for a team that falls in love with a quarterback and doesn't want him to fall to the Jacksonville Jaguars—like the Minnesota Vikings—but adding Jake Matthews to the team is definitely a safe pick.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Blake Bortles' draft stock has been on the rise throughout the bowl season, and he hasn't even played another game. Thanks in large part to players such as Derek Carr not living up to expectations, the 6'4", 230-pound quarterback has jumped to the top of most draft boards.
Now comes his biggest feat of the season: living up to expectations set for him in a BCS bowl game against Bryce Petty, a player many believed was snubbed of a Heisman invitation. If he can do that, he'll fit nicely with a Jacksonville Jaguars team that has talent on offense but no quarterback to run it.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The best decision for the Cleveland Browns would likely be to wait on a quarterback if they're not sure, but when has any decision the Browns made this year made sense?
Johnny Manziel, one of the most polarizing figures in college football for both his play on the field and his antics off it, proved this season that he is worthy of being a first-round pick. With Rob Chudzinski officially fired after just one season, the Browns likely won't go in the direction of starting Brian Hoyer.
Look for Cleveland to add a player such as Manziel to its roster to not only add excitement but also bolster a roster that includes the likes of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron for him to target.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DL, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney has been one of the most talented college football players over the last three seasons and did nothing to disprove that this year. While there were questions about his effort and off-the-field issues this season, Clowney is still seen as possibly the best prospect in this class.
The only question now: Can the Raiders or any other team afford to take the risk? Hopefully, he'll live up to those lofty expectations.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Somehow, after several seasons with a winning record, the Atlanta Falcons have found their way into the top 10 of the NFL draft with a plethora of talent already on the roster. With the No. 6 pick in the draft, the Falcons will likely go with the most talented player left, Anthony Barr.
The senior has emerged as the No. 1 linebacker in this year's draft and could very well go earlier, but he would fit too perfectly into the Falcons system for them not to take him if he falls into their lap. While there are other positions to fill, such as offensive line, the Falcons still need to improve in the front seven.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
After Greg Schiano was yet another casualty of Black Monday in the NFL, the new coach and general manager will want to make a huge splash with their first overall pick. With one of the most talented wide receivers still on the board, Sammy Watkins will be that splashy pick.
Whether Mike Glennon is the franchise quarterback of the future or a new head coach ultimately decides to go in another direction, Sammy Watkins is a huge asset for any team looking to spread the field. Watkins not only has the speed to play the position, but his playmaking ability is likely the best in the draft.
Added to a receiving corps that already includes the experience of Vincent Jackson on one side and a young Timothy Wright at the tight end position, Watkins can be the one piece down the field the Buccaneers are missing.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
It is no secret that the Minnesota Vikings need a new quarterback. Christian Ponder didn't work. Josh Freeman didn't work. Matt Cassel looks capable, but he's not exactly the future for the Vikings.
What Derek Carr offers is a player who has the physical tools to make him a good quarterback in the NFL. Though he fell on several draft boards after a lackluster performance in the Las Vegas Bowl, Carr is still a top-10 pick and is capable of leading an NFL team in the not-too-distant future.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
No, that isn't a typo. If the Buffalo Bills select Khalil Mack, he would go from the Buffalo Bulls to the Buffalo Bills. With an already-impressive defense that includes Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and standout rookie Kiko Alonso, the Bills could have one of the best young defenses in the NFL with the addition of Mack.
While Bucky Brooks of NFL.com sees Mack as a late first-round pick, he does make a comparison to another current NFL linebacker who's been successful:
If I had to point out an example, I would cite the San Francisco 49ers' Ahmad Brooks as an ideal comparison. Sure, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman garner most of the headlines when observers discuss the 49ers' suffocating defense, but insiders understand and respect the contributions of Brooks to the unit.
I see Mack playing this role for a team in need of a sidekick for a veteran edge player. Therefore, I don't believe Mack is a top-10 talent, but a late first-round pick with the potential to become a difference maker on a defense with a few key contributors already in place.
With the three aforementioned pieces the Bills already have in place, Mack would make the perfect addition to his next Buffalo team.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
What a plummet the Detroit Lions went through to close the season. The only bright side is that it led the Lions back into the top 10 picks of the 2014 NFL draft. For a defense that gave up 247 passing yards per game, the Lions desperately need a cornerback.
The best defensive back in this year's draft just so happens to be a man by the name of Darqueze Dennard. The Spartans defender is not only a great cover corner, but his physical style of play with Michigan State will also translate well to the NFL.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Tennessee Titans rushing defense this season was atrocious, and that's putting it lightly. After finishing 20th in rushing yards allowed per game (112.2) and last in the AFC with 21 total rushing touchdowns allowed, the Titans need a stopgap up the middle.
C.J. Mosley is a perfect fit for a team that needs a physical linebacker who can cover the field and shore up the porous rushing defense.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Brandon Myers is a good player for the New York Giants, but he certainly isn't a player who will ever—and I mean ever—be categorized as a playmaker. Needless to say, that's what the Giants offense was lacking this season.
What Eric Ebron brings to the table is not only a great playmaking ability but also an ability to haul in just about any pass thrown his way. That just might be the exact fit the Giants need after the type of season Eli Manning had, as he threw the ball to the other team 27 times and into his own end zone just 18 times.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
After already grabbing an offensive lineman with the second-overall pick, the Rams will look to add more talent to a defense that is beginning to blossom. The Rams weren't terrible against the pass, ranking ninth in the NFC, but in a division with three of the top six passing defenses in the conference, they will need to continue improving.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a player who can cover well, and he had another standout season with the Ducks, recently seeing his draft stock rise. If the Rams can't get a guy like Dennard, Ekpre-Olomu will be a great fit for a team that still needs to improve in passing defense.
14. Chicago Bears: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt was already viewed as a first-round pick before playing his last game in his junior season. All he did in the Pinstripe Bowl was dominate the game, finishing with four tackles and 1.5 sacks to help Notre Dame pull off a 29-16 win over Rutgers.
Following the game, Mike Huguenin of NFL.com wrote that Irish coach Brian Kelly spoke about Tuitt and said his decision on whether to stay for his final season of eligibility or enter the draft will come "very, very soon."
The Chicago Bears knew they would experience a drop-off after losing Brian Urlacher to retirement and multiple players to injuries, but no one expected them to be the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL.
Tuitt offers Chicago an ability to rush the passer and make a great complementary piece to a line that already includes Julius Peppers, but he also knows how to stop the run after moving inside at tackle a few times for Notre Dame this season.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
With Ben Roethlisberger still getting pummeled behind center and an emerging running back in Le'Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers will look to protect those assets. Kouandjio, at 6'5" and 310 pounds, might be just the guy to serve as protection for both of those prized possessions.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
With all of the first-round talent Texas A&M had this season, it's a wonder they finished with four losses. The Baltimore Ravens are currently left with a quarterback starving for a physical wide receiver after they let go of Anquan Boldin.
At 6'5", 220 pounds, Mike Evans is not only a physical presence but also one of the most lethal receivers in the college game. Evans won't be getting confused for either Sammy Watkins or Marqise Lee anytime soon, but he is certainly a dependable target for Joe Flacco.
Evans finished with 1,322 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns in what could be his final season with the Aggies if he leaves for the NFL, which is exactly what Derek Harper of CBS Sports is reporting he will do.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Dallas Cowboys were horrendous in pass defense during the 2013 season. Actually, they were terrible on several fronts, but the passing defense was definitely the worst. At 6'1", 208 pounds, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has great hands, vision and the ability to read a quarterback's eyes. He would almost certainly improve a pass defense that finished 30th in the NFL this season.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Coming into the season, Marqise Lee was viewed as the No. 1 wide receiver in the college football and was a unanimous pick as a preseason All-American by CBS Sports. But his draft stock dropped due to nagging injuries and so did his production, finishing with just 673 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season.
But Marqise Lee finally returned to form in the Las Vegas Bowl, finishing with seven receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Fresno State. His performance changed Bucky Brooks' mind so much that he now sees Lee once again as the best wide receiver in the 2014 class, according to Dan Greenspan of NFL.com:
At the end of it, Marqise Lee will be the best receiver in the draft when it comes to playing because he is so explosive. He has the ability to score from anywhere on the field. We got a glimpse of how special he was in the Vegas Bowl when he was healthy. You saw the Marqise Lee that lit up everyone in 2012. I think he has the ability to be a difference-maker for any team in any role at the next level.
Anyone who has watched the New York Jets this season knows they are desperately missing a playmaker who can stretch the field and take some of the pressure off of Geno Smith. If the Jets really want to turn things around under Rex Ryan, they would be wise to go with Lee with their first pick.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
With an emerging quarterback in Ryan Tannehill and a young receiving corps and backfield, the Miami Dolphins have the parts to get the job done offensively. Now, all they need to do is keep Tannehill upright, which is why Cameron Erving makes perfect sense here.
Tannehill was sacked a league-high 58 times this season, eight more times than the lowly Jaguars gave up all year. With Erving shoring up one spot on the line, the Dolphins might be searching for more help in later rounds as well.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame
Not many offensive linemen ever earn any sort of attention, especially not in the form of individual awards that are typically given to skill-position players. But after his performance in the Pinstripe Bowl, Zack Martin was named MVP for the game.
According to Lamond Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times, Martin remained modest about the honor and said, "They had to choose someone, so they chose me I guess."
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly gave Martin a little more praise than he gave himself in Pope's article:
He’s not only the best offensive lineman that I’ve ever coached … in terms of his play is one thing, but he’s had three first-time starters with him most of the year and now four. I call it the ‘Larry Bird effect’ where an offensive lineman can make others better around him. He does that.
With talent at the running back position thanks to Rashard Mendenhall and rookie Andre Ellington, the Arizona Cardinals need a player who can effectively open up lanes to move the ball down the field. If the Cardinals decide to go with Martin, they will be getting a player who can not only open up those lanes but also do it at an MVP level.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Jace Amaro made it official that he will be entering the 2014 NFL draft, according to Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal:
The tight end finished the season with 1,352 yards, breaking the receiving record by a college tight end, and tallied seven touchdowns for the Red Raiders.
With the future of Jermichael Finley in question after a spinal injury this season, the Green Bay Packers need to have an insurance plan. In Jace Amaro, the Packers would have not only a great blocker but also an outstanding pass-catcher.
22. San Diego Chargers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The San Diego Chargers made it to the playoffs thanks to their great passing offense, but it's their passing defense that needs help. Justin Gilbert, who has better size than most corners in this year's draft, has an ability to not only improve the Chargers defensively but also create more possessions for Philip Rivers and the offense.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
Much like the Chargers, the Philadelphia Eagles arrived in the playoffs due to a great offense but still have holes to fill defensively. With Vic Beasley sliding down draft boards because of other great players taken earlier in the draft, the Eagles would be wise to snatch him up and fill one of those holes immediately.
24. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Kelvin Benjamin is everything the Kansas City Chiefs need to get to the next level but don't yet have. Out of the four wide receivers the Chiefs currently have at the top of their depth chart, only one is above 6'0", and that's Dwayne Bowe.
With Bowe beginning his eighth season in the NFL next year, the Chiefs will need to begin looking for a replacement. At 6'5", 234 pounds, Benjamin is not only one of the tallest receivers in the draft but also one of the most versatile.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe has been around a lot of college football since becoming an assistant with Tennessee back in 1982, so when he talks about a player, he's usually taken seriously. According to Huguenin, Cutcliffe won't soon forget Benjamin after the ACC Championship: "We don't have anybody that can line up and match up physically with Benjamin. He's just a monster, and with great skills."
With a defense that can win several games and an offense that already has the likes of Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles and Bowe, Kansas City could do much worse than selecting Benjamin late in the first round.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
The Cincinnati Bengals have improved defensively as of late, but the improvement won't stop this season. If the Bengals add E.J. Gaines, who is a fantastic corner who can cover just about any receiver in the college game, they would bolster a stout defense that ranks No. 1 in the AFC.
26. Cleveland Browns (From Indianapolis Colts): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Ideally, the Cleveland Browns would like to see Marqise Lee drop to this pick, but Allen Robinson is certainly a good second option. At 6'3", 210 pounds, Robinson would make a great option alongside the likes of Cameron and Gordon for whoever the Browns have at quarterback.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
After one of the most horrific seasons a defense has ever experienced in 2012, the New Orleans Saints rebounded with Rob Ryan to finish fourth defensively in the NFC behind only the Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers.
With the addition of Ryan Shazier, the Saints would get a playmaking linebacker who can cover the field and is a sure tackler. Lacking consistency at linebacker, the Saints would be foolish to pass up on Shazier if he does fall this far in the draft.
28. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
If Tuitt were to fall this far, the New England Patriots would likely take him. But with the star defensive end already off the board, the Patriots will take his teammate Louis Nix III.
Nix will have to prove he is healthy before earning a first-round selection after knee surgery in December. When he's healthy, Nix has proved himself to be one of best at stopping the rush in the nation.
29. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The San Francisco 49ers already have a lethal defense but could be looking to add another key defensive player in Jason Verrett. With great footwork and the ability to cover receivers in man coverage, Verrett would fit in perfectly with both the 49ers and NFC West mold.
30. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
What Brandin Cooks has done this season is go from relative unknown to budding superstar for Oregon State. At just 5'10", he is actually an inch taller than Steve Smith and has the same explosiveness the Carolina Panthers wide receiver had coming out of college.
Cooks has put together two straight seasons with over 1,100 yards, but this season was spectacular. The junior hauled in 128 receptions for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also showed he has big-play potential every time he touches the ball, as he rushed for 217 yards and two touchdowns for the Beavers.
Not to say that anyone will ever perfectly fill Smith's shoes in Panthers fans' hearts, but Cooks is certainly another great receiver to add to the stable for Cam Newton.
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Denver Broncos' situation went from one of the best in the NFL in 2012 to just being in the middle of the pack in 2013. Kony Ealy could easily go higher on draft boards, but with his size and ability to shed blocks, he would be a perfect fit for a defense that needs to find a new identity.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Seahawks already have a great defensive secondary and a very young but effective linebacking corps. Filling a need on the defensive line could turn a great defense into one of the best for a long time to come.
In Ra'Shede Hageman, the Seahawks would be adding a nasty player who will do just about anything to get to the passer. This Instagram video posted by the Gopher Gridiron account shows just how ferocious Hageman can be as he goes for a tackle after losing his helmet:
Hageman is currently a fringe first-rounder, but his talent is undeniable. He could immediately help the Seahawks defense, which is already one of the best in the league.
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