2014 NFL Draft: Previewing the Best Match for Every Team's Biggest Need
While free agency allows teams to upgrade their rosters by adding experienced veterans who can help their teams, the primary method for addressing team needs remains the annual NFL draft.
While every NFL team varies in the emphasis it puts on need versus value in the draft selection process, every team will have needs it is looking to address at one point or another in this year’s draft.
In the following 32 slides, we highlight one need that might be most pressing for each NFL team, along with one possible early-round selection who could be the right choice to address a specific need.
The players selected as possible answers to each team’s primary need could all reasonably be available and be worthy value with one of that team’s first- or second-round draft picks. Some of them will not be available while there are many other players not included in this slideshow who will factor in the first-round conversations, but all of these players could make an immediate impact on teams with needs at their positions.
Note: Teams are listed in alphabetical order. This slideshow is not intended to be a mock draft—players who are on this list are not necessarily expected to be selected ahead of who are off the list, as an emphasis has been made here on filling needs rather than drafting for the best value at any position.
Arizona Cardinals: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
The Arizona Cardinals have cycled through a number of offensive tackles in recent seasons, none of whom have emerged as solid long-term starting options. As a result, the team should still be in the market for upgrades on both sides of the offensive line.
While the Cardinals are likely to miss out on top first-round prospects Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) and Greg Robinson (Auburn), they should still have a number of intriguing offensive tackle options available in the draft’s first two rounds.
One of those options is Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson, who declared for the NFL draft in December. While Richardson did not quite emerge as a top prospect as expected in his junior season, he remains a likely first- or second-round pick with the potential to end up as a starter on either side of an NFL offensive line.
Richardson is a raw talent but his size (6’6”, 327 lbs) and athleticism give him huge potential. He moves his feet well for an offensive tackle with his measurables.
He is a solid pass protector who has slowed down some of college football’s best as an SEC starter. As a run-blocker, Richardson is strong enough to push opponents off the line of scrimmage but athletic enough to make key blocks at the second level.
Richardson has not received considerable attention in a draft class loaded with potential first-round offensive tackles, but the Cardinals should keep a close eye on him as a potential fix.
Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Atlanta Falcons have a major need to rebuild their defensive line this offseason, and especially to improve their pass-rush. The opportunity to draft South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 6 overall pick would be an ideal scenario.
Clowney has elite pass-rushing potential and could immediately bolster a defensive line that ranked just 29th in the NFL this season with 32 sacks per NFL.com. With a rare combination of size (6’6”, 274 lbs), athleticism and strength, Clowney can add a level of explosiveness Atlanta does not have on its current roster.
Also an impactful run-stopper, Clowney could be an immediate starter at defensive end for Atlanta. With his size, power and gap-shooting ability, he could also potentially work as an inside rusher in some pass-rushing situations.
A consensus top-five talent and the best defensive line prospect in this year’s draft class, Clowney might not make it to the Falcons’ draft pick unless they trade up. If he is available, he should be a clear selection for both need and value.
Baltimore Ravens: Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
The Baltimore Ravens have a myriad of minor-to-major needs on both sides of the ball, but their most evident might be at center. Gino Gradkowski failed to live up to expectations as Baltimore’s center this season, leaving the team in need of an upgrade on an all-around shaky offensive line.
The top center in this year’s draft class, Arkansas’ Travis Swanson, could be a strong option for Baltimore with its second-round draft pick this year.
A four-year starter at center for the Razorbacks, Swanson has ideal size (6’5”, 315 lbs) and is technically refined. He has the strength to generate effective power at the line of scrimmage while he also moves his feet quite well for the position.
Swanson can be both an effective anchor for the middle of an offensive line in pass protection and a difference-maker for a team’s inside running game. If the Ravens could draft Swanson in Round 2, it could go a long way to ensuring the Baltimore offensive line bounces back from a rough 2013 season.
Buffalo Bills: Cyril Richardson, LG, Baylor
After a year of poor play at the left guard position that started with Colin Brown and ended with Doug Legursky, the Buffalo Bills should be looking for a real replacement for Andy Levitre in 2014.
There are no guards worthy of top-10 draft selections like Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack were in last year’s draft, so the Bills should not target that position with the No. 9 overall pick. If available in the second round, Baylor’s Cyril Richardson might be their best option.
Richardson has been dominant since switching to left guard from left tackle prior to his senior season. He is massive, listed at 6’5” and 340 pounds by Baylor’s official athletics website, and has good athleticism for his size.
Richardson is a powerful run-blocker who consistently drives opponents off the line of scrimmage. He shows the ability to pick up lead blocks at the second level of the opposing defense, while he uses his length and footwork well as a pass-blocker.
Adding a guard of Richardson’s caliber could potentially set up Buffalo’s left side of the offensive line, along with left tackle Cordy Glenn, for many years to come.
Carolina Panthers: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
Both of the Carolina Panthers’ starting offensive tackles are unrestricted free agents. While bringing back Jordan Gross would be a good short-term option, Carolina should be in the market for an upgrade over Byron Bell at right tackle and a long-term heir apparent to Gross at left tackle.
Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi could be a candidate to fill both of those roles. The junior has not yet declared for the NFL draft. That said, he has received a first-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, according to ESPN’s Alex Scarborough.
After starting his A&M career at right guard, Ogbuehi has been excellent in his first season at right tackle. A consistent pass protector with very good footwork and strong hands, he has the skill set needed to step in and immediately compete for a starting spot at that position on an NFL roster.
While Ogbuehi is a natural fit to step in as a right tackle upgrade, he also has the developmental potential to emerge as a long-term option at left tackle. He needs to become more active off the snap, but is otherwise technically sound. He has a good combination of size (6’5”, 300 lbs) and athleticism.
The Panthers should look to upgrade their offensive tackle roster as early as the first round of the 2014 draft, and Ogbuehi would be an attractive option if still on the board.
Chicago Bears: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The starting safety tandem of Major Wright and Chris Conte was a liability at the back end of the Chicago Bears defense this season, leaving the team in need of multiple upgrades at the position.
If the Bears choose to address that need in the first round of this year’s draft, the best choice if available would be Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Clinton-Dix would be an upgrade in both coverage and run support over any safety currently on Chicago’s roster. Best cast as a free safety, Clinton-Dix is a rangy athlete with the ability to take on center-field responsibilities as a playmaker in the Bears' secondary.
He has good size, listed at 6’1” and 208 pounds by Alabama’s official athletics website. Though his tackling form could use some work, he is a big hitter who can blow up plays. He is also very good at making plays on the ball in the air in coverage.
Also at risk of losing unrestricted free agent cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Kelvin Hayden, the Bears need to add playmakers to their secondary. Clinton-Dix fits that description. Louisville’s Calvin Pryor could also be an early-round option to address the safety need.
Cincinnati Bengals: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
With the luxury of no major needs going into the 2014 offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals can afford to take a chance early in the draft.
One area Cincinnati should strongly consider addressing is quarterback. Andy Dalton will likely continue to be the Bengals’ starter in 2014, but his long-term future with the team is in doubt. He is entering the final year of his contract, and his subpar play has held the Bengals back from getting past the first round of the playoffs in each of his first three NFL seasons.
The Bengals should be looking for a quarterback to develop and put pressure on Dalton to perform. That’s why Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, if available, could be the right first-round pick for Cincinnati.
Manziel is as high-risk, high-reward as any player in this year’s draft class. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner is a good athlete with a strong arm and uncanny playmaking ability. However, there are many mechanical flaws in his game as a passer that need to be developed for him to have sustained success as an NFL quarterback.
With the Bengals, Manziel would not have to become an immediate starter. The team could continue to give Dalton an opportunity to prove himself while attempting to harness Manziel’s potential.
That said, the Bengals appear to need a spark at the quarterback position to become serious Super Bowl contenders. They might be able to get that from “Johnny Football.”
Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
It would be a surprise if Teddy Bridgewater was still available at the No. 4 overall pick, where the Cleveland Browns are scheduled to select in this year’s NFL draft. If he were to fall out of the top three, the Louisville quarterback could make Cleveland’s draft selection an easy one.
The Browns have not had a solid, long-term answer at the quarterback position since the team resumed operations in 1999 (this jersey sums it up well). They are not going to become serious contenders in the AFC North until they find that answer.
Bridgewater is the best bet among quarterbacks in this year’s draft class to be that long-term answer. He is a mechanically-sound quarterback with great footwork, good athleticism and consistent accuracy and velocity on his throws.
Bridgewater has all the tools to be a great NFL quarterback, including demonstrated toughness and leadership, but he is still considered far from a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick. In the event that the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars favor other quarterbacks or decide to draft a different position early, the Browns could have a shot.
Regardless of who they hire as their new head coach, the Browns should take advantage of that shot if they get it. With the abilities to throw it deep and make plays outside of the pocket, Bridgewater can be a good fit for any offensive scheme the Browns’ new coaching staff might choose to implement.
Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
It is uncertain whether or not the Dallas Cowboys will stick with the Tampa 2 defense and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin for the 2014 season, but they need an upgrade at defensive tackle regardless. Specifically, the Cowboys need a big nose tackle who can provide a stronger interior run presence than they got from starter Nick Hayden this season.
Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III could be a perfect fit.
Listed at 6’2” and 342 pounds by Notre Dame’s official athletics website, Nix can be a massive space-eater in the middle of the Dallas defense. That said, he also has rare quickness and penetrating ability for his size.
Projected as a top-10 pick going into the 2013 season, Nix’s stock might be down a bit after a torn meniscus cut his year short, but he would be good value in the middle of the first round. Dallas will either hold the No. 16 or 17 overall selection in this year’s draft, depending on the result of a coin flip with the Baltimore Ravens at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Nix could immediately improve the Cowboys’ run defense but also have an impact as an interior pass-rusher, which will be important if the team loses Jason Hatcher to unrestricted free agency. Nix is the best defensive tackle prospect in this year’s draft class.
Denver Broncos: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
The Denver Broncos do not appear to have any major needs going into the 2014 draft, which will allow them to be flexible and draft for value. One area where they should be targeting more talent and depth, however, is on their defensive line.
With defensive ends Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips slated for unrestricted free agency, the Broncos could use their first-round pick in an effort to add an impact player at that position. Oregon State’s Scott Crichton is a well-rounded defensive end with the potential to be the type of player Elvis Dumervil was in Denver before he left for the Baltimore Ravens last offseason.
Crichton is an athletic pass-rusher who explodes off the line of scrimmage and can beat blockers with his speed, strength and pass-rushing moves. He is also very good at setting the edge as a run defender and is a strong tackler in pursuit.
Well suited for a 4-3 scheme like Denver’s, Crichton could immediately compete for a starting spot on the Broncos. He is an impactful player in both pass and run defense, and as a potential late first-round pick, he could improve a shaky Denver defense.
Detroit Lions: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
The Detroit Lions have two very good starting linebackers in DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch, but should be in the market for an upgrade over Ashlee Palmer at strong-side linebacker. BYU’s Kyle Van Noy could be an option anywhere from their No. 10 overall selection to their second-round pick.
The potential to reunite Van Noy with 2013 first-round pick and former BYU teammate Ezekiel Ansah should be an intriguing one for the Lions. Detroit already has one of the league’s most talented defensive fronts, but adding Van Noy could be the missing piece to make that front seven truly elite.
A versatile playmaker, Van Noy could be an immediate impact player as a run defender with sideline-to-sideline range. He is a sound tackler and effective blitzer who can make plays up front, but is also very good at dropping back into coverage and still make plays on the ball.
Palmer was a part-time player, used mostly only in base sets in Detroit’s 4-3 defense, in 2013. With a new coaching staff coming in for 2014, however, a more impactful strongside linebacker could be used in a much more expansive role.
Van Noy could make the coaching staff want to expand that role. He could kick down to the defensive line in pass-rushing situations and bring pressure opposite Ansah, while he would also project well if the new Lions coaching staff opts to make a switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
If their division rival Chicago Bears pass him up with the No. 14 selection in this year’s draft. the Green Bay Packers just might be ready to pounce on Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix if he falls to their No. 21 overall pick.
The Packers badly need an upgrade over M.D. Jennings, who is an unrestricted free agent, at free safety. They could get that immediately from Clinton-Dix, who would provide good value if he falls outside of the draft’s top 20 selections.
Clinton-Dix has the potential to be the type of playmaker Green Bay had at free safety when Charles Woodson, and before him Nick Collins, held that position on the Packers defense.
Clinton-Dix can adequately handle the deep coverage responsibilities with which Jennings has struggled. He can make plays on the ball while he can also be a big upgrade as a hitter in run support.
If Clinton-Dix is off the board, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor could be another strong option in the draft’s early rounds.
Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater
The Houston Texans hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and desperately need a quarterback. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater stands out as an obvious possibility to start the 2014 draft.
Bridgewater fits the profile of a quarterback worthy of the draft’s top selection. A skilled pocket passer with refined mechanics and the ability to throw the ball to all levels with accuracy and velocity, Bridgewater is the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year’s class.
Under new head coach Bill O’Brien, the Texans offense will be expected to revolve its quarterback’s ability to pass from the pocket. Bridgewater can do so efficiently, as he has great pocket presence and footwork and consistently makes smart decisions with the football.
Some draft prognosticators, such as CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler, have predicted that O’Brien might prefer one of the draft class’ other quarterbacks, such as UCF’s Blake Bortles.
Still, it seems likely the concept of Bridgewater not fitting O’Brien’s “mold” for a quarterback will prove unfounded. While Bortles’ size (6’4”, 230 lbs vs. Bridgewater’s 6’3”, 205 lbs) might give him slightly more physical potential, he needs to improve significantly to be a successful NFL quarterback.
Bridgewater has a more complete and polished skill set, and would seem to be the ideal choice for a quarterback guru coaching arguably the league’s most quarterback-needy team.
Indianapolis Colts: Travis Swanson
The Indianapolis Colts have no first-round pick in this year’s draft, but should strongly consider using at least one of its Day 2 draft picks to upgrade its interior offensive line, which has struggled at all three positions this season.
That has been in large part due to Donald Thomas missing nearly the entire season due to injury and Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes being only rookies, but the Colts should still be looking to add talent in that area before too long in the draft.
Arkansas’ Travis Swanson could be an attractive option because of his potential to play any of the three positions on an interior offensive line.
He has four years of starting experience at center, where he is the draft class’ best prospect at his position. He also has the size, footwork and strength to also make a smooth transition to guard.
Swanson could be an immediate upgrade for the Colts over Samson Satele and would be good value if still available at Indianapolis’ late second-round selection.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater
If the Houston Texans were to pass upon Teddy Bridgewater for Blake Bortles, another quarterback or another position altogether, the Louisville quarterback could fall into the Jacksonville Jaguars’ laps at the No. 3 overall pick, where he would seem to be an ideal choice.
The Jaguars aren’t going to make it far out of the league’s basement until they upgrade at quarterback from Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, and that upgrade is likely to come with their first-round pick in this year’s draft. If Bridgewater is still available, he should be that upgrade.
As aforementioned in earlier slides, Bridgewater is the draft’s most complete quarterback prospect.
Bridgewater is an accurate passer from the pocket with a good arm and great mechanics. He can also extend plays outside of the pocket as a scrambler, and he continues to throw with accuracy on the run.
If Bridgewater is off the board with the No. 1 overall pick, drafting a quarterback should still be an early route for the Jaguars. UCF’s Bortles, Fresno State’s Derek Carr and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel could all be possibilities at No. 3. The Jaguars could also opt to trade down or wait until Day 2 to get better value at the position.
Kansas City Chiefs: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Kansas City Chiefs will be looking to fix their defense after giving up 45 points to the Indianapolis Colts in their first-round postseason collapse. One of that defense’s most glaring problems is at free safety, where Kendrick Lewis is a subpar starter slated for unrestricted free agency.
There might not be a safety worth taking at the No. 24 overall draft selection if Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is off the board, but one player who could end up being an option at that spot is Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.
Quickly generating buzz since declaring for the NFL draft as a junior, Pryor is a playmaker with great size (6’2”, 208 lbs) and athleticism.
He is a strong cover safety who can play as a deep center-fielder and is very good at making plays on the ball. He is also a hard hitter who has made more than his fair share of plays in run support.
Pryor could be an upgrade in both capacities over Lewis, who especially struggled down the stretch and in Kansas City’s playoff loss.
Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Picking one spot ahead of the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the draft, the Miami Dolphins also have a need for offensive tackle upgrades on both sides of their offensive line.
Both teams could end up looking at many of the same players as potential first- or second-round selections to fill their need at offensive tackle. With Jonathan Martin unlikely to return to the team, the Dolphins need both a left and right tackle, and should start looking as early as Round 1.
Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio had a disappointing junior season, but he is still one of the most promising offensive line prospects in this year’s draft class.
As the left tackle of one of college football’s most talented offensive lines for the past two seasons, Kouandjio has exhibited great size (6’6”, 310 lbs), solid strength and power and good foot skills.
He has some issues with speed rushers off the edge and might not be a good fit to start out his NFL career at left tackle. That said, he could be a quick upgrade for the Dolphins at right tackle or even right guard, another spot of need on the Miami offensive line.
After firing both their offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, who the Dolphins choose to bring in as offensive tackle options could vary significantly based on the scheme the new members of the coaching staff implement. Other first- and second-round options at offensive tackle could include Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson, Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi, North Dakota State’s Billy Turner and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan.
Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Minnesota Vikings cycled through three starting quarterbacks in 2013, none of whom were good enough for the Vikings to be contenders this season. Minnesota has enough talent on their team to be playoff contenders once again in 2014, but they need to improve under center to do so.
Holding the No. 8 overall pick, the Vikings would likely have to trade up to have any shot at Teddy Bridgewater. However, they could have a choice of one or more quarterbacks considered to be potential first-round possibilities, including UCF’s Blake Bortles, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Fresno State’s Derek Carr.
It is unknown which quarterback would be the best fit for the Vikings offense until Minnesota decides upon its new head coach and subsequently, an offensive coordinator. The most solid prospect among that trio, however, might be Carr.
Carr is a strong pocket passer with a great arm, good size (6’3”, 218 lbs) and the ability to complete passes anywhere on the field. He is not much of an athlete outside the pocket and his decision-making remains a concern, but he very well could end up being the best passer from the 2014 draft class.
The Vikings have an offense full of playmakers, but they need a quarterback who can consistently get the ball to those playmakers. With a strong deep ball and accuracy even within tight spaces, Carr could become what the Vikings need.
New England Patriots: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The New England Patriots have been neglectful of their need at defensive tackle in recent drafts. That came back to bite them this season, as season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly exposed a serious lack of depth at the position.
Wilfork is a great nose tackle, but at 32 years old and already seemingly on the decline prior to his torn Achilles, the Patriots need to find a new impact player at the position. They could get that from Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman, a possible late first-round pick with the potential to play both interior defensive line spots in New England’s 4-3 defense.
The Patriots should be looking for multiple defensive tackles in the 2014 draft, but Hageman would be a good start with their first-round pick.
He would be best cast as a 3-technique alongside the nose tackle, where he can take advantage of his explosive athleticism as a penetrator and pass-rusher. That said, he has terrific size (6’6”, 311 lbs) and enough strength to also play nose tackle as the defense’s primary run-stopper.
Hageman’s game remains raw, but he has the physical potential to be a star. If the Patriots decide to address their defensive tackle need in this year’s first round, he might be the best choice for his versatility and skill set.
New Orleans Saints: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
Junior Galette has emerged as a very good starting outside linebacker in the Saints’ switch to a 3-4 defense this season. Nonetheless, the Saints should still be looking to add another playmaker at the position with preseason acquisition Parys Haralson slated for unrestricted free agency.
Clemson’s Vic Beasley could be a great fit if still available when the Saints are on the clock late in the first round. A terrific athlete with explosive pass-rushing ability off the edge, Beasley is perfectly suited to play 3-4 outside linebacker.
At the very least, he should be able to make an immediate impact as a situational pass-rusher. He combines tremendous burst and quickness with a good array of pass-rushing moves.
Beasley, who is only 6’2” and 235 pounds according to Clemson’s official athletics website, needs to become physically stronger to be a solid NFL run defender. That said, he is a solid tackler who moves well in space and has some experience dropping back into coverage.
Outside linebacker is one of the strongest positions in this year’s draft class, which could lead an even better prospect in UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Buffalo’s Khalil Mack or BYU’s Kyle Van Noy to fall to the Saints’ draft pick. Either way, Beasley has as much upside as any of them and could add a spark to New Orleans’ defense off the edge.
New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
All three of the New York Giants' starting linebackers—Keith Rivers, Spencer Paysinger and Jon Beason—are unrestricted free agents, and none of them have played well enough to earn a long-term commitment. The Giants should be looking for upgrades at the position early and often in this year’s NFL draft.
If the Giants opt to select a linebacker with their first-round pick, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley would be a great choice if available. Mosley is an athletic and well-rounded linebacker with the potential to be any of the three linebacker positions in New York’s 4-3 defense.
Mosley could be the playmaker the Giants currently lack in their group of linebackers.
He is a strong tackler who excels at blitzing and has sideline-to-sideline playmaking range. He attacks the run with authority while he is fluid when dropping back into coverage.
Considering the Giants’ need to completely revamp their linebacker corps, other options could include UCLA’s Anthony Barr and Buffalo’s Khalil Mack should the Giants lock in on addressing this need in the first round. The versatility and completeness of Mosley’s game, however, would make him the best choice if he is still on the board at the No. 12 pick.
New York Jets: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Another team greatly in need of a free safety is the New York Jets, who were desperate enough to sign an aging Ed Reed midseason and make him an immediate starter. Very much on the decline of his career, Reed struggled in his short stint with the team, which should leave them looking for an upgrade in 2014.
As aforementioned, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are the premier options at the position, with Clinton-Dix getting the slight edge. The Jets would be smart to address this need in the early rounds considering the lack of depth at the safety position in this year’s class, and either Clinton-Dix or Pryor could be a strong possibility.
Alongside a strong safety in Dawan Landry who is best in run support closer to the line of scrimmage, the Jets need a player who can handle deep coverage responsibilities. The athletic Clinton-Dix has the range and coverage skills needed for that role.
In general, the Jets could use another playmaker in their secondary. That is what they should get if they end up with Clinton-Dix, a big hitter with great ball skills.
Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney
Jadeveon Clowney’s talent could certainly convince one of the teams with a top-four draft selection to pick him on value. The biggest obstacle to the Atlanta Falcons landing Clowney, however, might be the Oakland Raiders sitting one pick ahead of them with the No. 5 overall selection.
Oakland’s best defensive end, Lamarr Houston, is an unrestricted free agent. Even if Houston was brought back, the Raiders would still be in need of an upgrade opposite him at the position, preferably one who can be a premier pass-rusher off the edge.
Clowney could be exactly what the Raiders need. On a defense in serious need of playmakers, Clowney could quickly emerge as its star.
The Raiders had no players with more than six sacks this season, but the explosive Clowney could likely surpass that as a rookie. Meanwhile, his potential to command double-teams even in his first year could help make the other players on Oakland’s defense look better.
Considering the limited talent of their entire defensive roster, the Raiders could be smart to simply draft the best defensive player available. If Clowney is still on the board at No. 5, he would fit that criteria while also addressing the team’s greatest position of need.
Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor
At this point, it should already be quite clear that there are many teams in need of safeties in this year’s draft and not nearly as many players at the position worthy of early-round selections. One of those teams in need is the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles might already have its answer at strong safety for next season in 2013 fifth-round pick Earl Wolff. That said, the team should still be looking for an upgrade over Patrick Chung and unrestricted free agent Nate Allen to play alongside him.
That upgrade could come in the form of Louisville’s Calvin Pryor as a first- or second-round pick.
Wolff, like the other safeties on the Eagles’ current roster, is better at playing run support in the box than he is in deep coverage. Philadelphia needs a playmaker at the position like Pryor who has the athleticism, range, fluidity and ball skills to not consistently allow big plays on the back end.
If the many teams in need of safeties push the Eagles down to a later round in drafting one, Florida State’s Terrence Brooks or Wyoming’s Marqueston Huff could be options.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Brett Keisel is 35 years old and Ziggy Hood has never lived up to expectations, so the Pittsburgh Steelers should be in the market for a new 5-technique defensive end to play opposite Cameron Heyward on their defensive line next season.
Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt projects as the best fit among defensive linemen in this year’s draft class. A good athlete who is listed at 6’6” and 312 pounds by Notre Dame’s official athletics website, Tuitt has promising upside and fits the model of big defensive ends the Steelers utilize.
Within Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense, Tuitt can take advantage of his abilities to rush the passer from both inside and outside. He does not have terrific explosiveness but he has good bend and effective pass-rushing moves.
Tuitt is a strong point-of-attack run defender who can also use his athleticism to chase runners in pursuit and make plays in space.
Though Tuitt’s talent might not dictate him being a top-15 draft choice, the Steelers should still consider selecting him or trading down from the No. 15 overall pick to add him to their team. He is the best fit in the draft class to play defensive end in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme.
San Diego Chargers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Derek Cox completely failed to live up to the expectations the San Diego Chargers had when they signed him as a free agent last offseason, leaving the Chargers without anything close to a No. 1 cornerback.
Regardless of whether or not Cox is released this offseason, the Chargers need to upgrade a unit whose best players are currently Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall.
Coming off a strong senior season, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert is arguably the draft’s top cornerback prospect.
Gilbert is a very good athlete with great size for the position (6’, 200 lbs). He uses both his size and speed well to lock down opponents in man-to-man coverage, while he is very adept at making plays on the ball.
Gilbert has the skill set to be a No. 1 cover cornerback, and he is a solid tackler in run support as well. He is also a very good kickoff returner who could be a potential upgrade for a team who averaged just 22.1 yards per return in that capacity this season.
The Chargers will be picking outside of the top 24 and could miss out on a chance to draft Gilbert as a result, but he would be strong value as a late first-round pick if available. Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, TCU’s Jason Verrett and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby could also be potential first- or second-round upgrades at the position.
San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Anquan Boldin has been a crucial addition for the San Francisco 49ers offense this season, but the 49ers are unlikely to make a long-term commitment to the 33-year-old unrestricted free agent. With the potential to lose both Boldin and fellow unrestricted free agent Mario Manningham, the 49ers could be in need of more weapons to supplement Michael Crabtree.
Regardless of whether or not the team brings back Boldin, it could certainly use some more speed in its receiving corps. It could get that from LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., an explosive playmaker who has emerged as a first- or second-round draft selection with a strong 2013 season.
Beckham has good deep speed while he can also extend plays in the open field with his agility. He catches the ball consistently and has developed into a very good route-runner.
Crabtree and promising young receiver Quinton Patton give the 49ers options at receiver even if they lose their free agents, but Beckham can add something new to the San Francisco offense.
He could be a playmaker both on the outside and in the slot and give quarterback Colin Kaepernick another weapon to work with. He would be solid value where San Francisco is selecting late in the first round of this year’s draft.
Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, G, Stanford
The Seattle Seahawks’ biggest weakness is at guard, where both J.R. Sweezy and Paul McQuistan are subpar as starters.
The Seahawks should have a number of options to upgrade that position in the early rounds of the draft, but the best might be Stanford’s David Yankey. Yankey has not yet declared for the NFL draft and is no lock to do so, but he would be a strong possibility for the Seahawks late in the first round if he does enter this year’s class.
Yankey is a strong guard with an effective punch and good power off the line of scrimmage. He also has very good feet for the position and ideal size, listed at 6’5” and 313 pounds by Stanford’s official athletics website.
Having also received playing time as a left tackle at Stanford, Yankey is ideally suited to play left guard, where he could be an immediate upgrade on the Seattle offensive line. The Seahawks might be best off waiting to draft a guard until Day 2 for better value, but Yankey would be worth the first-round investment.
St. Louis Rams: Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA
Though the St. Louis Rams have two first-round picks, their need for a guard might be best served on Day 2. There are no guards worthy of selection at the No. 2 or 13 overall picks, but the Rams should have solid options available in the second and third rounds of the draft.
One of the best options would be UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo, a talented junior who declared for the draft earlier this month.
Su’a-Filo does not quite have the length to play offensive tackle at the next level, but he has good size (6’3”, 304 lbs) to be a natural fit at guard. He has very good foot skills for an interior lineman and can also drive opponents off the line of scrimmage with power.
The Rams would need upgrades at guard even if unrestricted free agents Rodger Saffold, Chris Williams and Shelley Smith were to return to the team. Su’a-Filo has as much upside as any guard prospect in the draft and should be a player the Rams consider to fill that need in the second round.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
Upgrading the team’s pass-rush should be one of the first major tasks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ new general manager. The impact of Michael Bennett’s departure was noticeable on the Tampa Bay defense this season, as the team lacked premier pass-rushers, especially at defensive end.
Landing Jadeveon Clowney would be an ideal scenario for the Buccaneers, but it is unlikely unless they move up from the No. 7 overall selection. Instead, Tampa Bay might want to draft better value at another position of need and focus back on drafting a pass-rusher in Round 2, where Stanford’s Trent Murphy could be among the best options available.
The nation’s leader with 15 sacks in his senior season, Murphy is a skilled pass-rusher off the edge. While he might not have a tremendously explosive burst, he has a very good combination of size (6’6”, 261 lbs), athleticism, strength and pass-rushing moves.
He turns the corner fluidly around the edge and can beat blockers with his speed, but also by breaking them down with his hands. And though he might be best known for his pass-rushing ability, he is also a very strong run defender who holds his ground well at the line of scrimmage.
Murphy could end up working his way into the late first round of the draft, but if available at the Buccaneers’ second-round pick, he would be great value.
Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley
The Titans have a major weakness at middle linebacker, where neither Moise Fokou nor Colin McCarthy has proven to be an adequate starting option. If the Titans have the opportunity to select Mosley—at No. 11 overall, one pick before the New York Giants are on the clock—they should take advantage.
Mosley is a bit undersized for a middle linebacker, listed at 6’2” and 238 pounds by Alabama’s official athletics website, but he does just about everything a team should want from the position.
He is a very good run defender who can make plays from sideline to sideline, fill gaps effectively, blitz into the backfield and tackle soundly. He is a strong coverage linebacker who has also shown the ability to line up as a blitzing pass-rusher and bring pressure in that capacity.
The Titans did not have a middle linebacker in 2013 who could be both a physical run defender at the line of scrimmage and an effective second-level coverage player. They could get both from Mosley if he makes it out of the draft’s top 10 picks.
Washington Redskins: Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
London Fletcher is retiring after a brilliant 16-year career, which leaves the Washington Redskins in need of at least one new starter at inside linebacker.
The Redskins’ No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft was traded to the St. Louis Rams in 2012 as part of the Robert Griffin III trade, but Washington should have a number of potential inside linebacker options available on Day 2 if that is when it chooses to address that need.
A possibility in either the second or third round could be Stanford’s Shayne Skov. Skov is a well-rounded linebacker who attacks the line of scrimmage with physicality, has the range to make plays all over the field and can drop back into coverage successfully.
Skov would be best suited for the 3-4 defense that the Redskins ran under head coach Mike Shanahan, but he has the skill set needed to play either middle or weakside linebacker should Washington’s new coaching staff switch the defense to a 4-3 scheme.
All in all, the Redskins need a player in the middle of their defense who can both stop the run soundly and pick up players in coverage when needed. Skov can be the difference-maker at linebacker that Fletcher once was but will no longer be.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
For a closer look at each NFL team’s three needs, check out this 32-team slideshow written for B/R in December.