As the college football bowl season starts grinding to a halt, we're nearing NFL draft season, when the most talented playmakers eye the big leagues.
It's nothing short of impossible to correctly predict all 32 picks from the first round, and plenty of mock drafts will end up being nowhere near accurate when the picks are called. There's no denying that, for better or for worse, the stocks of many highly touted players will change drastically in the time between their last collegiate game and April's draft.
The NFL playoffs are just about to start, but the offseason has already begun for all but 12 teams. They're looking ahead at what positions to address in the draft and beyond. Some clubs go with the most talented player on the board, while others target specific needs, but this mock is geared toward a blend of the two.
Let's break down a first-round mock draft right in the midst of bowl season.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
In a draft in which quarterbacks will be flying off the board early, the Houston Texans are awfully happy to be the first team able to grab Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater isn't the most talented player in the draft, but he's emerged as the top gunslinger and has showcased more than enough ability to lead an NFL team as a starting quarterback. He's a mature and poised leader who can make all of the throws.
The Texans need such a player. Matt Schaub went from formidable to invisible in one season, and Case Keenum was hit-or-miss in his many chances to win the job in 2013.
There are many unknowns with the draft so far away, but the only way Houston will end up with any other player in this draft is if it decides a QB isn't the right pick and potentially trades down.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
For the second time in three years, the Rams have a high pick in a draft in which quarterbacks are quickly becoming the stars of the class. But with the franchise still believing in Sam Bradford, the Rams will take the best available player, and there's no doubt who that is.
Jadeveon Clowney is a once-in-a-generation talent who can do it all on defense—rush the passer from the outside, line up in the interior or drop back into coverage. As long as he comes into the league with plenty of hunger and doesn't continue to show effort problems, he'll be a nightmare for offensive lines for years to come.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Once regarded as a player whose skill set might not translate to the NFL, Johnny Manziel has skyrocketed up draft boards, and he now looks to be a formidable threat to the top few picks.
Manziel can't compete with Bridgewater as a draft prospect, but he's able to shine above other guys such as Blake Bortles and Brett Hundley. Johnny Football is a playmaker who can extend plays and turn nothing into something, all while maturing heavily as a pocket passer against the nation's best defenses and not losing much of his ground threat.
The Jaguars have been marred by poor draft decisions (see: Gabbert, Blaine), and their success-thirsty front office will be salivating at the prospect of landing a dangerous playmaker everybody is buying into as a future NFL star.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Plenty of teams are circling the wagons for a quarterback at the top of this draft, but none needs one more than the Cleveland Browns.
They will certainly like what they see on tape from Blake Bortles of UCF. He hasn't been the most consistent QB in the class, but he has the prototypical size—6'3", 230—and toughness to survive the rigors of the NFL, and he has a lot of intelligence to mature in an offensive scheme.
If a Bridgewater or Manziel doesn't fall to Cleveland, it'll have to settle for the next best thing. Or trade up, of course.
5. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
As if there weren't enough quarterback-hunting teams in the top of the draft, Oakland may be one too. But the Raiders would likely rather take the draft's best defensive player than the fourth-best quarterback.
Barr joined UCLA as a running back but maxed out his potential by switching to the defense, where he's become an elite pass-rusher who runs a blisteringly fast 40 and can cover from sideline to sideline. For a Raiders team that has plenty of holes, filling one key position for the near future will be a good idea.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Last year, Jake Matthews could have been a top-10 pick and was among the best offensive linemen in the draft before returning to College Station. Now, he should easily be the first lineman off the board.
Matthews might have found himself with a more favorable pick if the top teams in the draft weren't so starved for quarterbacks. But he falls to an Atlanta Falcons team that could seriously use a lineman like Matthews, who is the surest thing to a future NFL anchor in this draft.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Tampa Bay's offense has begun to take shape, with Mike Glennon making a case to be the franchise quarterback and Doug Martin set to return from injury as one of the league's top backs. All that's left is more help at wideout.
Sammy Watkins makes perfect sense. Tampa Bay lacks playmakers, and the Clemson star is the best in all of college football at that very thing. The Bucs already have Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams on the outside, but adding another element in Watkins will help this offense put up many more points.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Few teams need a quarterback more than the Vikings, and despite the reality that they will see plenty of QBs fly off the board before the eighth pick, they will land a big-time player in Derek Carr.
His mediocre performance in Fresno State's Vegas Bowl loss to USC won't quiet any critics, but he still possesses an NFL arm and can make throws from screen passes to bombs with high accuracy. His brother, David Carr, was a No. 1 overall pick and had some success in the NFL, so having that correlation should only help his stock (for every team but the Texans, that is).
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Bills are in desperate need of a solid linebacker to anchor their defense after giving up nearly 130 rushing yards a game in 2013, and Khalil Mack would be a heck of a snag.
At 6'3" and 248 pounds, he's already big enough to handle the rigors of being a NFL linebacker and will immediately start inflicting pain onto opposing backfields. He has forced 16 fumbles over his career and has many more ahead of him at the next level.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
A lot of what the Lions decide to do in the draft will depend upon their new head coach, but whoever it is will have the secondary as a huge position of need to address with the 10th pick.
Darqueze Dennard looks to be the best lockdown corner in the draft. He won the Thorpe Award—for the nation's top defensive back—and dominated in the most susceptible defensive position for an impenetrable Michigan State defense. Detroit's front office will be looking long and hard at this corner.
11. Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
A second straight offensive line pick in the top 15 might make Titans fans cringe, but they certainly need this one. Taylor Lewan has been rivaling Matthews as the nation's top tackle and addresses an area of need for Tennessee.
Starting tackles David Stewart and Michael Roos are both 31 years old, so the Titans will need to start thinking of their replacements sooner rather than later. Health was also a big issue for the line in 2013, so having a start-worthy guy available will do wonders for a Titans team that traditionally pounds the rock.
12. New York Giants: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
NFL-ready offensive line talents in the state of Alabama are usually reserved for Nick Saban's team, but Auburn produced one of the top talents in the draft in Greg Robinson.
The Giants offensive line was absolutely putrid in 2013, ranking 29th in rush yards per game and leaving Eli Manning under duress all season long. Robinson won't fix all of those problems, but he will be quite the start.
13. St. Louis Rams: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
It's shocking to see the first Alabama name come after the first 10 picks, but the Rams will be ecstatic to shore up another side of their line in this draft by picking Cyrus Kouandjio.
Kouandjio is a man among men and matches up nearly identically from a physical standpoint to D.J. Fluker. Fluker was picked 11th in the 2013 draft and immediately became a huge presence on the Chargers offensive line. Oh, and he helped them make the playoffs.
If the Rams can get anything close to that out of the 13th pick—and their second pick of the first round—they'll be happy.
14. Chicago Bears: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
There is a long list of positions the Bears need to improve upon, but none is more glaring than the defensive line.
With the 14th pick, Chicago will be happy to pick up Stephon Tuitt, who has been devastating elite offensive lines for Notre Dame over the last few seasons.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
If the Steelers offensive line hadn't been so putrid in the early stretches of the season, Mike Tomlin and Co. would've had no trouble making the playoffs. The front office will remember that come April.
Cameron Erving has been a huge part of Florida State's offensive tear in 2013, keeping Jameis Winston safe from trouble. But what's most impressive about his game is his unique foot speed, as the Seminoles often draw up plays for him to block for receivers and backs at the second level.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Torrey Smith is just about the only Ravens wide receiver teams really have to game-plan for, and he will be a free agent in the offseason. Even if Baltimore re-signs him, which it should, receiver will be at the top of the priority list.
Mike Evans was one of Manziel's only formidable targets in 2013, and had an absolutely huge season with 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns. Perhaps the most insane thing about his season is that he excelled despite having teams put blanket coverage on him, and that will excite Baltimore very much.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Cowboys like what they see in SEC secondary players after taking LSU's Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick, but it's still a huge issue, as Dallas ranks 30th in pass defense.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix won't have the expectations of Claiborne, but he does come from a more sure-fire system at Alabama. Perhaps the tempered expectations will help him emerge. Dallas will hope so, at least.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Jets have head-scratchingly decided not to pick highly talented receivers with early draft picks. For that reason, it's still by far their biggest position of need.
They won't make that mistake again after seeing Marqise Lee—one of the more talked-about wideout prospects in recent memory—available in the second half of the first round. Lee has the complete package for a receiver, and his skill set translates perfectly to the NFL.
19. Miami Dolphins: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Despite losing two straight to fall out of playoff position, the Dolphins made great strides in 2013. But they still can't run the ball to save their lives, and Ryan Tannehill is under pressure much more than Joe Philbin would prefer.
Antonio "Tiny" Richardson is a mammoth of a tackle at 6'6" and 330 pounds, but he can move awfully well and was the star on a Tennessee offensive line that was among the nation's best. He looks like an immediate impact player at the next level and a sure thing to develop into a formidable starting tackle.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Just like Miami, Arizona made huge strides in 2013 by winning 10 games. A large part of that has been the team's defensive intensity and playmaking ability.
Ryan Shazier fits right into that scheme. The Ohio State linebacker makes plays all over the field, most notably the backfield, and would bring even more splash plays to the Arizona defense.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Packers were miraculously able to make the playoffs after sputtering throughout the season, but there's no doubt they have a huge hole in the defensive line, as they have let teams run all over them in 2013.
Ra'Shede Hageman has an incredible burst, and at 6'6", 310 pounds, he can use his size to blow through offensive lines. He's faster than most defensive linemen and will be able to stay in pursuit of plays that get to the outside.
22. San Diego Chargers: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The Chargers made the playoffs in 2013—no thanks to their secondary, which ranked 29th in pass defense. Philip Rivers kept them in a lot of games they otherwise would've had no business winning.
Getting Ifo-Ekpre Olomu out of Oregon would give San Diego a potential future lockdown corner to develop. After playing Pac-12 offenses, he may even be able to become a quick contributor.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
Philadelphia is another playoff team that has plenty of problem positions, but none is more important than the outer edge of the defensive line, where players haven't been getting to opposing quarterbacks and have been giving them all day to make plays.
Vic Beasley would fill that hole quite nicely. He's one of the ACC's premier pass-rushers and is able to absorb offensive line blockers or get past them. Philly needs pressure on the quarterback, and Beasley will deliver.
24. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Kansas City is glad it has enjoyed one of the NFL's best ground games, because it has hardly any wide receivers to throw to. With a handful of great receivers on the board with the 24th pick, the Chiefs should go with Florida State wideout Kelvin Benjamin.
Benjamin's size should already scare NFL defenses. He's 6'5" and 234 pounds, and he can sprint past you if you aren't careful. This star will be a matchup nightmare on Sundays for many years to come.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Bengals have one of the NFL's top defenses this season, but long-term durability of their cornerbacks will become more and more of an issue. Adam Jones and Terence Newman have a combined 18 years of league experience.
Bringing on a talented cornerback like Justin Gilbert in the first round would be a huge piece for the future. He'll be able to contribute immediately to take the load off the older starters and will soon be comfortable enough to hold down his own starting spot.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Having already answered the quarterback problem with their earlier first-round pick, the Browns will look to find a partner in crime for the young Bortles, and Allen Robinson makes sense at this pick.
The Penn State star wideout made big play after big play in 2013 en route to 1,432 yards and six touchdowns. He failed to surpass 100 yards only four times in 2013, and that level of consistency will bode well for such an inconsistent franchise.
27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
This year's version of the sought-after Alabama linebacker in the NFL draft is C.J. Mosley, and the Saints will jump at the chance of getting him this late in the first round.
Mosley is a bruising tackler who uses his smarts and speed to make plays all over the field, but his fundamentals need work and may allow him to slip in the draft quite a bit. New Orleans will be far from upset to see him slip, however.
28. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Patriots have overcome plenty of injuries in 2013, but the loss of Vince Wilfork is not one of them. Usually the anchor of the defensive line, Wilfork's absence has caused New England to fall to 30th in run defense.
Louis Nix III will be a welcomed commodity. The massive tackle has the size (6'2", 352 pounds) to plug up the middle and has been playing in a NFL-like system. If he and Wilfork are both healthy and playing well, the trenches will be fun to watch whenever New England plays.
29. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Add the 49ers to the long list of good teams in desperate need of a wide receiver. Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are the only receivers to go over 290 yards on the season.
Brandin Cooks will add some epic playmaking ability to the 49ers offense in the passing game, which will be welcomed after becoming quite reliant on the run in recent seasons.
30. Carolina Panthers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Greg Olsen has become a star at tight end in 2013, as he leads Carolina in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Adding a formidable pass-catching tight end to the other side of the line will be huge for a Panthers offense that loves its jumbo sets.
The junior nearly surpassed 1,000 receiving yards on the season. The 6'4", 245-pound prospect has all the blocking capabilities you would look for in a tight end, so he can get his feet wet with some other responsibilities before Carolina feels urged to throw the ball to him.
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Broncos lost Elvis Dumervil over the offseason, which wasn't a huge deal for them until they emerged as one of the league's worst defenses in 2013.
Drafting a defensive end talent out of the SEC who could very well go earlier in the round will be huge for the Broncos, who are looking to find some consistency for the side of the ball not featuring Peyton Manning.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
As is usually the case with 32nd picks, the Seahawks don't have many needs to address, so they can afford to pick a talented defensive lineman who can start with a small workload and slowly develop.
Trent Murphy is a good pick for them. At 6'6" and weighing only 261 pounds, he's big enough to hold his own on the interior but quick enough to cause problems for slow guards and get into the backfield.
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