With Florida State's thrilling win over Auburn in the BCS title game, the college football season gives way to thoughts of next season, the NFL playoffs and May's NFL draft.
The picture for the 2014 draft is still far from complete. We have the combine and free agency, among other things, that will all have a big impact on how the draft will play out.
Still, there is ample information about prospects and teams' needs. So mapping out a solid mock draft is not an impossible task. Here is how I see things shaking out.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Houston Texans need to identify their quarterback of the future, and that will make it nearly impossible for them to draft to anyone other than Teddy Bridgewater.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller likes Bridgewater as his top signal-caller in this year's draft:
And so begins the 5 month debate over which QB should go first overall--Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles. I like both, but give me Teddy— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 6, 2014
Bridgewater is the most complete package of all the quarterbacks who have a chance to be in this draft, and although he may not be the most overwhelming overall prospect, he is a solid talent to go in the draft's most coveted spot.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jadeveon Clowney, DL, South Carolina
I expect the St. Louis Rams will investigate trading this pick, but in the end, I doubt they get enough value to make passing on Jadeveon Clowney worth it.
Defensive line is far from the Rams' biggest need, but talent like Clowney possesses is a rare commodity, and it will also allow him to excel in whatever role the Rams want to put him in.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
After Bridgewater, the pecking order of quarterbacks gets a little muddied. Blake Bortles has the tools to separate himself from that pack as he has the kind of size and arm talent that NFL teams love.
Bortles is far from a polished product, but his potential, and the fact that the Jacksonville Jaguars are desperate for a franchise quarterback, will be enough to make him the No. 3 selection.
4. Cleveland Browns: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Cleveland Browns are another team that will give quarterbacks a long look. In the end, however, I see the talent of Jake Matthews being too much to pass on.
Matthews is a safe and elite prospect. The Browns could stick him at right tackle, slide Mitchell Schwartz to guard and have a vastly improved offensive front five.
5. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Oakland Raiders also need to identify their quarterback of the future, but with general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen entering their third year on the job and being desperate for results, the Raiders will look for someone to give their defense an added pass rush and set versatility. Anthony Barr is definitely the answer to that question.
ESPN's Adam Caplan agrees Barr is good enough to go in the top five:
Caplan (@caplannfl) January 2, 2014
Oakland has other needs, but tabbing a playmaker like Barr is a safe choice.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
No player looked more physically dominant on the field of the BCS title game than Auburn tackle Greg Robinson.
He moves well for a 320-pound man and he is a beast in the run game. Robinson is not as polished in pass blocking as other tackles in this draft, but his physical tools are impressive.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
With wide receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Timothy Wright, the Buccaneers have a solid foundation for passing success. Throw the dangerous Sammy Watkins into the mix, and the Buccaneers will be very tough to defend.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Minnesota Vikings desperately need defensive help. Still, they also need to identify their quarterback of the future. It is not too early to give up on Christian Ponder, and it is too late to build around Matt Cassel.
So the Vikings will grab Johnny Manziel and pair his arm talent and mobility in the backfield with Adrian Peterson.
9. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
With a rare set of skills, C.J. Mosley can play any linebacker position. He would look great on the interior of the Bills linebackers corps.
Mosely is excellent in pass coverage and would team up well with the Bills' Kiko Alonso.
10. Detroit Lions: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack should hope this mock selection comes true. The Detroit Lions have a talented and menacing defensive line. This will help keep blockers off Mack and allow him to make plays all over the field.
11. Tennessee Titans: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Tennessee Titans are in a difficult position with Jake Locker. He made strides last season and showed the ability to be a franchise quarterback for the Titans. However, he can't stay healthy and has a big option on his contract looming for the 2015 season.
This led NFL.com's Chris Wesseling to discussing how this could play into the Titans' offseason plans:
If the Titans pick up Locker's fifth-year option, it will run them in the neighborhood of $15 million for 2015. It's quite the conundrum: Locker has a checkered injury history, and there will be an abundance of premium quarterback prospects available at Tennessee's draft slot.
Carr has a strong arm but will need seasoning at the pro level. Still, he'd offer a new direction in Tennessee.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The New York Giants have many needs. One of those is finding a tight end who can make plays and is a threat down the seam. The athletic Eric Ebron is a threat all over the field.
13. St. Louis Rams: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Rams will double-dip on defense in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. Darqueze Dennard is the most talented corner in this draft, and he would team with Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson to give St. Louis a talented, young group of corners.
14. Chicago Bears: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Bears were abysmal on defense this past season, and that started with a weakness in the trenches.
Stephon Tuitt had a strong season and is climbing draft boards, as ESPN's Joe Schad suggested on Twitter:
ESPNs Scouts Inc says ND DL Stephon Tuitt is the #11 rated player in the next NFL Draft— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 6, 2014
Tuitt cemented his status as an elite prospect with four tackles and 1.5 sacks in Notre Dame's 29-16 over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had issues along the offensive line for years now. It has led to an anemic rushing attack and not much time for Ben Roethlisberger to get comfortable in the pocket.
Taylor Lewan will be an instant upgrade. He has the size and technique to handle the NFL blind side from Day 1.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
Offensive line play suffered a significant drop-off in Baltimore this past season. The running game was almost completely inept, and Joe Flacco faced an endless stream of pass-rushers.
On top of that, both starting tackles, Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher, are unrestricted free agents this offseason. Erving is a logical choice here and already possesses good technique for such a young player.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
For years, the Dallas Cowboys have needed a playmaker at free safety. With the abysmal showing Dallas had in pass defense this past season, the Cowboys cannot allow that need to exist next season.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is Matt Miller's top-rated safety should he declare and would be a nice playmaker in Dallas' secondary.
If he enters, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. If not, Calvin Pryor RT @1509lucky: Who's the Best Free Safety prospect this year?— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 5, 2014
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
With just 12 touchdown passes against 21 interceptions this past season, Geno Smith met his share of struggles in his rookie outing. It is tough to give him a full evaluation, however, given the lack of weapons he had at his disposal.
The Jets need playmakers on offense. The lengthy and explosive Mike Evans would be an excellent addition.
His coach at Texas A&M, Kevin Sumlin, praised Evans' work ethic and development, via ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr.:
It's been a pleasure watching Mike's development as a receiver and a person the past two seasons. Mike was one of the team's hardest workers in whatever he was doing, and it paid off for him on the field.
His presence would be a nice boost to Smith and the Jets' offense next season.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
After a disastrous Sugar Bowl, junior Cyrus Kouandjio may be tempted to return to school. Still, his athletic ability and size is not likely to push him past the first round should he enter the draft. Especially when there are teams like the Miami Dolphins that are desperate for help in the offensive trenches.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame
Speaking of teams that need help in the offensive trenches, let's ask Carson Palmer if the Cardinals could use a boost.
Palmer can make plays at quarterback. The problem is, those plays come for both teams. He can make terrible decisions, and that is amplified when he is under pressure. He was under pressure all season in Arizona, so adding someone like Martin to the mix would be a logical move.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ra'Shede Hageman is one of the more interesting prospects in this draft. He has the kind of size, strength and explosiveness at defensive tackle that could have him being drafted much higher. His modest college production, however, is not the kind usually attached to a first-round prospect.
The Packers are constantly on the lookout for ways to upgrade their team in the trenches, and Hageman's potential will prove to be too much for them to pass on.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
The Philadelphia Eagles finished 32nd in the league in passing yards allowed and they need to find athletes who can help them improve in that area.
Vic Beasley will help the Eagles improve with his ability to put pressure on the passer.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Kansas City Chiefs made great strides on offense as the season progressed.
Still, the offensive attack if far too reliant on the rushing and receiving skills of Jamaal Charles and the pass-catching ability of Dwayne Bowe. They were the only two players to pass the 600-yard mark in receiving.
Marqise Lee's explosiveness will help the Chiefs offense spread out defenses.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Cincinnati Bengals should be on the lookout to draft a quarterback, considering Andy Dalton has been a disaster in the postseason. Still, it will be tough for the Bengals to trade up to draft one of the top four signal-callers, and finding an upgrade at No. 25 will be difficult.
So enter cornerback Justin Gilbert. With tighter coverage in the secondary, the Bengals defense will have a far easier time of finding consistently positive results.
25. San Diego Chargers: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
The San Diego Chargers are succeeding despite a suspect pass defense. The Chargers finished the season 29th in pass defense this past season.
E.J. Gaines excels in man coverage and has the ability to be a shutdown corner in the NFL.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
This past season, wide receiver Josh Gordon announced himself as one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. He doesn't have a consistent threat to line up opposite of him, however, and he is staring at a year ban should he fail another drug test.
Kelvin Benjamin can be a threat all over the field. It is his 6'5", 234-pound frame that really is making scouts drool. As we saw in the BCS title game, his size can make a big impact in the red zone.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The New Orleans Saints made drastic improvements on the defensive side of the ball from the 2012 season to this past season, but New Orleans must continue to strive to get even better.
The Saints still struggle to stop the run, and Ryan Shazier has the instincts and tackling ability to give New Orleans a consistent and reliable presence in run defense.
28. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Louis Nix III is hard to project for this draft, and his selection at No. 29 is assuming that he checks out healthy prior to the draft after coming off of December knee surgery.
As far as his talent, Nix has the strength and size to be a presence on the interior of the defensive line. He would add depth and help the Patriots improve upon a run defense that has struggled.
29. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The San Francisco 49ers defense would be even more formidable if it had corners it could rely on.
Jason Verrett is a ball-hawking corner with the ability to succeed in man or zone defense.
30. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
I'm guessing this will be a popular mock selection. With wide receiver Steve Smith rapidly approaching the end of his NFL career, few receivers have emerged from the college ranks with as similar a style to Smith as the one Brandin Cooks has.
Cooks is 5'10", but his explosiveness and grit make him a threat all over the field.
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Denver Broncos must look to improve their defense this offseason. That should start with rebuilding a pass rush that all but disappeared this past season.
Kony Ealy is not a pure pass-rusher, but he can get to the quarterback and his ability to occupy blockers will free things up for other pass-rushers.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
The Seattle Seahawks need more talent at wide receiver to make life a little easier on quarterback Russell Wilson.
There is no doubt that a healthy Percy Harvin will help that, but Seattle shouldn't leave the improvements all on the hopes of Harvin staying healthy.
Robinson has the size and speed to be a threat on the outside, and that is exactly what the Seahawks need.
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