The NFL draft is still four months away. Yet with more underclassmen making their decisions about whether or no to go pro and the dwindling number of teams left chasing a Super Bowl title, the draft is already starting to garner a lot of attention.
While prospects still have a chance to improve their stock through the workout and interview process, the number of players who make major jumps after the college season ends is normally limited. But there are always some who do, which is the motivation for every player making the jump.
As it stands now, the 2014 class is shaping up as a very good one thanks to several high-profile quarterbacks and strong overall depth. With that in mind, here's full mock draft of the first round with a deeper dive into three intriguing picks, as denoted by italics.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Texans are in a great position. They have the option to trade down and still acquire a solid quarterback prospect, or they can stay in the first spot and select whichever QB they believe is the most prepared to get the team right back in playoff contention.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
St. Louis sits in another spot where a trade would make sense. As other teams jockey for position to get the quarterback they covet most, the Rams are set at the position as long as Sam Bradford is able to make a full recovery. If they stand pat, Clowney is the best option.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Even though the Jaguars swung and missed with Blaine Gabbert, they can't shy away from investing another high pick on a quarterback. The lack of consistency under center is the biggest problem holding the team back right now, and Bortles is ready to fill the void.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
One thing Manziel certainly doesn't lack is the star quality. Every time he took the field for Texas A&M there was a sense something special was going to happen, and he often delivered. Exactly how much of that playmaking ability will translate to the NFL is the biggest question mark.
So far, a comparison that's come up is Tim Tebow, who enjoyed plenty of college success but never fully established himself at the next level. Colin Cowherd of ESPN doesn't believe it's an accurate assessment of the Aggies star's ability:
Johnny Manziel isn't Tebow. Not close. He can make the throws. He's 70% Flutie. 25% R Wilson and 5% Charlie Sheen.— Colin Cowherd (@ESPN_Colin) January 9, 2014
Ultimately, Manziel is a more polished passer than Tebow and has a more fluid motion that should help him better handle the jump. For a team like the Browns, which are in desperate need of a game-changer under center after a string of lackluster options, he's a good fit.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
It's clear the Raiders need more playmakers on offense. Although quarterback is still an issue that will need to get resolved, it would be hard for Oakland to pass up on Watkins, who has all the tools to become a superstar wideout at the next level.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Falcons roster isn't nearly as bad as the team's 4-12 record would suggest. Injury woes early in the campaign, highlighted by the loss of Julio Jones, sent things into a tailspin, and they never fully recovered. Matthews provides a needed boost to the offensive line.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Tampa Bay showed signs of progress during the second half of the season, including all four of its wins in a five-game span. There's still plenty of work to do before the team is playoff-ready, starting with becoming more reliable along the offensive line, which Robinson can help do.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman have all had opportunities either with the Vikings or another team to prove they are franchise quarterbacks, and none have done so. Minnesota should jump at the chance to take the last top-tier QB available.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Mack is prepared to step right into an NFL starting lineup. He's proven capable of attacking the quarterback, helping stop the run and dropping into coverage, making him the most complete linebacker on the board and a good fit to stay in Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The cornerback group isn't as strong as it has been in recent years, which should allow Dennard to become a coveted commodity. He made steady progress during his time at Michigan State and would provide instant help to a lackluster Lions secondary.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
One of the many battles during the draft process will be between Barr and Mack as the top outside linebacker. Mack is the more NFL-ready prospect, but Barr possesses more natural upside and should develop into a very effective pass-rusher within a few seasons.
Which OT is a better overall prospect?
12. New York Giants: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
It's no secret the Giants offense was a mess. The front office must find a way to overhaul the offensive line, whether it be through free agency, the draft or both, to give Eli Manning and Co. a better chance at success heading into 2014.
13. St. Louis Rams: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
If the Rams don't trade out of the second slot and upgrade the defensive line with Clowney, their second pick of the round will likely focus on the other line. Ogbuehi is the best remaining tackle on the board and would be a nice fit.
14. Chicago Bears: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Chicago ranked last in the NFL in rush defense after giving up over 160 yards per game on the ground. Finding somebody who can provide some stability in the middle of the line is essential if its going to make strides toward fixing that obvious problem.
Nix is the ideal target. He's got the size, strength and explosiveness to become a major force along the defensive line. Having players like that who can constantly make their presence felt in the opposing backfield is the first step toward better run stopping.
Although Nix has all the tools to become a key piece of the line, there were times at Notre Dame when he wasn't as disruptive as he should have been. It's something that can be improved and definitely shouldn't cause the Bears to shy away.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Steelers are a team that could go any number of directions with their first pick. There isn't one area where it's clear they must upgrade first, so taking the best value on the board at one of the positions of need is the way to go, which is Jernigan.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Evans and Manziel created quite a dynamic combo at Texas A&M and should now both get selected in the first round. The Ravens didn't get nearly enough big plays from their offense, which makes Evans a very intriguing option at this point.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Dallas must hope the offense rebounds from what amounted to a mundane season given the amount of talent on the unit. The defense is a more pressing concern heading into the offseason with several areas of need, including defensive end.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, UNC
A lack of options in the passing game has been a major issue for the Jets in recent seasons. In today's game, where playmaking tight ends continue to take on bigger roles, rebuilding to receiving corps could very well start with Ebron in New York.
19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Dolphins should have finished 10-6 and earned a playoff berth. Instead, they lost winnable games against the Bills and Jets to miss out. Despite that disappointment, they are trending in the right direction overall as they look to upgrade in the trenches.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Shazier is a player to watch at the NFL Scouting Combine. His athleticism allowed him to make plays all over the field for the Buckeyes, and that should translate well to a workout atmosphere. Capable of shifting around the linebacker level, he would provide solid value for Arizona here.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Selecting Mosley would fit right in with how the Packers have created a consistently competitive roster. He doesn't fill the biggest need on the roster, but he's a very talented prospect who would work his way into the lineup and ultimately outplay his draft position.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Getting more pressure on the quarterback is one way to help alleviate Philadelphia's pass defense woes while it also works on rebuilding the secondary. Tuitt is still a bit raw, but his upside is enough for the Eagles to take a chance at this point in the round.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Lee posted monster numbers as a sophomore, catching 188 passes for over 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns. He wasn't able to match those numbers as he fought through various ailments as a junior, which raised questions about whether he would stay at USC, but he announced he was still going pro.
To all Trojan fans, I have decided to forego my senior season at USC and declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. I want to thank my coaches ...— Marqise Lee (@TeamLee1) January 4, 2014
The hype surrounding Lee has faded since last year, but the talent is still there. It could work out very well for the Chiefs, who will be able to get a wide receiver with top-five potential outside of the top 20 because of a down season.
Kansas City actually has reasonable depth at receiver but lacks a true No. 1 option, which was a major factor in star running back Jamaal Charles leading the team in receptions and yards. Lee might not be able to fill that role right away, but he has the potential to do so within a few years.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
Beasley is still working toward becoming a complete linebacker, but there's little doubt about his ability to step right in to have a situational impact as a pass-rusher. His speed off the edge is terrific, and the Bengals could use another rusher.
25. San Diego Chargers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Chargers finished the regular season with the 29th-ranked pass defense in the league. Gilbert isn't a shutdown corner capable of fixing those issues by himself, but he's good enough to work his way into a high number of snaps as a No. 2 corner or in the slot early on.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Cleveland's defense is good enough to help the team get in playoff contention. The offense isn't anywhere close. That's why, after drafting Manziel earlier in the round, the Browns stay on that side of the ball to give him a weapon in Benjamin.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
The Saints have enough playmakers on offense to think they can find whatever depth they need in free agency or the later rounds. The main focus should be bolstering a defense that made strides in 2013 but still has work to do.
28. New England Patriots: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Crichton seems like an ideal fit for the Patriots. He's a defensive lineman who showed good versatility and a well-rounded skill set during his time at Oregon State, which is something New England would use to its advantage by moving him around.
29. San Francisco 49ers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
A lack of depth at wide receiver was an issue for San Francisco last offseason, and it didn't get fully addressed. Robinson should be the pick unless the coaching staff thinks Quinton Patton is going to take a major step forward in his second year.
Which WR will be a better pro?
30. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Another NFC contender that lacks players capable of making big plays on the outside. Cooks doesn't possess ideal size for the position, but he makes up for it with speed and elusiveness, allowing him to turn short routes into long gains.
31. Denver Broncos: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Broncos secondary remains the team's biggest concern. Although they could go with a corner here, Clinton-Dix provides too much value to pass on considering safety is also an area of need. He also brings big-game experience to the table.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame
A wide receiver or tight end would also make sense for the Seahawks. But for a team that relies so heavily on its running game, making sure the offensive line remains solid is essential, which leads to the selection of Martin to finish the opening round.