Despite the fact that much of the focus on the NFL currently relates to the playoffs, it's nearly impossible for fans and observers not to look ahead to the NFL draft. Only eight teams are still alive in their quest to win the Super Bowl, which means that 24 fanbases have other things on their minds.
The 2014 NFL draft is an exciting one due to the fact that there appears to be plenty of top-flight talent as well as depth throughout the first round. Every team should have an opportunity to get better immediately, and that isn't always the case when it comes to the draft.
Here is a full first-round mock draft with early predictions for every team that will be selecting in the opening round on May 8.
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
As difficult as it may be to pass up a talent like Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1, the Texans desperately need a quarterback. Bridgewater appears to be the best that this class has to offer, and he can help Houston get back to the playoffs quickly if he's as good as advertised.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (projected trade w/ STL from WAS): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The St. Louis Rams are currently scheduled to pick No. 2 after acquiring the Washington Redskins' first-round selection two years ago when Washington moved up to take quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The Rams could very well stay put and nab an elite player, but with so many teams likely clamoring to move up, the Rams would be wise to trade down and pick up more draft choices yet again. There are a few potential trading partners, but expect the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make an aggressive move.
Whoever that general manager is, though, he will almost certainly want to put his mark on the franchise. Trading up and selecting defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who could be one of the best prospects of the past decade, would be a bold and popular move.
Clowney had his struggles at South Carolina during the 2013 season, but his physical ability is unmatched. He has all the tools necessary to be a superstar in the NFL, and he even seems to be maturing as a person after thanking the South Carolina community in a farewell letter, courtesy of The Herald.
I want to thank all of you for the love and support that you have shown me in my years at the University of South Carolina. I have been blessed to have attended the University of South Carolina, and I will forever be a Gamecock. It is hard to believe that the years have gone by so fast and my time here has come to an end, but I will always carry you with me in the NFL and wherever I go in life. I am extremely excited about the opportunity to play in the NFL. This dream would not have been possible without each and every one of you, and you will always be in my heart.
Clowney is the total package, and he could be a franchise-changing player for the Bucs. With the division rival Atlanta Falcons possibly looking to trade up as well, Tampa needs to be proactive and aggressive by outmaneuvering them.
There is plenty of debate regarding who might be the best quarterback after Bridgewater, but there is no denying that Bortles boosted his stock significantly in the Fiesta Bowl. The Jags will keep the UCF product in state and pray that he works out better than Blaine Gabbert did.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Manziel may be the most explosive prospect in this class, but he is also the most polarizing. Some view him as a surefire star, while others believe he'll be a bust. Johnny Football is worth the risk for the struggling Browns, though, as he will re-energize the fanbase if nothing else.
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Although the Raiders aren't traditionally known for fortifying the trenches early in the draft, Matthews is easily the best player available at No. 5, and he addresses a fairly significant need at offensive tackle, so it's a no-brainer pick.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Thanks to a virtuoso performance in the BCS National Championship Game, Robinson established himself as the clear No. 2 offensive tackle in this draft. The Falcons had problems on both lines in 2013, but Robinson will help significantly.
7. St. Louis Rams (Projected Trade w/ TB): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Rams have moved around masterfully in the first round over the past couple years, and they'll do so again in 2014 by moving down to No. 7, acquiring additional picks and still getting their man to pair with Tavon Austin in the form of Watkins.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
It may seem as though Barr isn't a great fit for the Vikings defense, but he is too talented to pass on at No. 8, and it is entirely possible that Minnesota could tailor its defense to Barr with a new coaching regime coming in.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Buffalo's defense is seemingly on the brink of becoming a dominant unit after ranking second in the league in sacks this past season, and local product Khalil Mack is just the guy to put the Bills over the top due to his incredible versatility at linebacker.
10. Detroit Lions (7-9): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Lions rarely struggle to put points on the board, but stopping opposing offenses has been a greater challenge. The secondary has been neglected for far too long, so Detroit would be wise to take an elite cornerback in the form of Dennard.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Tennessee is a team that appears to be fairly solid everywhere, but the nucleus of the defense struggled at times. Mosley was a true leader while at Alabama, and he is a guy who can help provide a culture change for the Titans while producing as well.
12. New York Giants (7-9): Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Giants have some deficiencies on defense, but protecting quarterback Eli Manning should be the main concern. Kouandjio barely ever let AJ McCarron touch the turf at Alabama, and he should keep Manning fairly clean too.
13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The run on Crimson Tide players continues at No. 13 with the Rams nabbing Clinton-Dix. After fortifying the offense with Watkins a few picks earlier, St. Louis would be wise to address its biggest hole defensively.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Chicago's defensive line was an absolute mess in 2013 on every level. Taking a defensive tackle may be ideal, but with none worth grabbing here, the Bears can take Ealy in order to complement Julius Peppers and allow him to once again become a high-impact player.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Defense used to be the Steelers' biggest strength, but most of the team's needs now reside on that side of the ball. Cornerback Ike Taylor isn't getting any younger, and he could definitely use a running mate, which is where Gilbert fits in.
16. Baltimore Ravens (8-8 pending coin flip): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
He has enough talent to be taken in the top 10, but with so few teams desperately needing a wide receiver, Evans could very well fall to No. 16. That would be a dream come true for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who lacked weapons in 2013.
17. Dallas Cowboys (8-8 pending coin flip): Ra'Shede Hageman, DL, Minnesota
With defensive tackle Jason Hatcher potentially leaving via free agency, the Cowboys absolutely must find a replacement or a running mate should they get Hatcher to stay. The big, athletic and versatile Hageman would be impossible to pass up.
18. New York Jets (8-8): Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The fact that the New York Jets went 8-8 in 2013 can be viewed as a mini miracle. The defense was very good, but the offense was a mess on most Sundays. Growing pains were expected with quarterback Geno Smith, especially after the front office failed to give him anything to work with.
Smith was leaning on the likes of Jeremy Kerley, Santonio Holmes, David Nelson, Stephen Hill, Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow, so it should come as no surprise that he looked lost at times. Perhaps that will change in 2014, though.
New York has a chance to provide Smith with some offensive help, and it seems like a virtual lock that Gang Green will go with a wide receiver or tight end here.
Wide receiver Marqise Lee out of USC is a very real possibility, but Smith would benefit even more from a tight end due to the fact that he can dump the ball off when he's in trouble.
North Carolina's Eric Ebron and Texas Tech's Jace Amaro are clearly the two best tight ends in this class, and while both may end up being stars, it's tough to ignore Amaro's collegiate production, as seen in this tweet courtesy of Texas Tech associate director of athletics communications Scott Lacefield.
Amaro is bigger than Ebron, and he is also more dynamic as a pass-catcher. Blocking shouldn't matter as much to the Jets since they simply need a guy who can make plays for Smith. Amaro proved this past season that he can do that in a big way. The Jets admittedly need about three or four more weapons on offense, but Amaro would be an ideal start.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
Picking No. 19 isn't ideal for the Dolphins considering the current state of their offensive line, but they're lucky in that this draft is rich with talent at offensive tackle. They'll have their pick of three potential studs, but Erving seems to have the highest ceiling among them.
20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Erving would be a nice fit in Arizona as well, but Lewan wouldn't be a bad consolation prize. Lewan is one of the most polished prospects in this class, and he should be able to help protect quarterback Carson Palmer right away.
21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
The Packers defensive line struggled both in terms of rushing the passer and stopping the run this year. Additionally, Green Bay could lose several linemen due to free agency. With that said, Tuitt makes perfect sense as a 3-4 defensive end.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
With everything squared away on the offensive side of the ball, it's time for the Eagles to focus on defense. The secondary has been shaky for the past few years, but Verrett could become part of a formidable cornerback duo with Brandon Boykin.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith proved down the stretch that he is capable of making some big plays, but he could certainly use another weapon. Lee would look awfully good across from Dwayne Bowe, and he would make life much easier for Smith.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Bengals were failed primarily by quarterback Andy Dalton during the playoffs, but Cincinnati's defense didn't do it any favors either. The Bengals could really use a shutdown cover corner, and Roby has the potential to become one.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame
The Chargers succeeded in spite of issues along their offensive line this season, but selecting a player like Martin would strengthen the running game with Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead even more, and it would give quarterback Philip Rivers more protection as well.
26. Cleveland Browns (from 11-5 Indianapolis Colts): Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Taking a running back in the first round is rare these days, but after selecting Manziel at No. 4, the Browns absolutely must surround him with talent. He'll already have some good options in the passing game, but Cleveland has nothing at running back right now, which is why Carey is a great fit.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The Saints improved by leaps and bounds defensively in 2013, but they can still stand to get better. Outside linebacker is an obvious position of need for New Orleans, and Shazier has everything defensive coordinator Rob Ryan could possibly ask for.
28. New England Patriots (12-4): Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
Quarterback Tom Brady is getting older, and it is more important to protect him now than ever. Richardson is a huge, talented guard who could be the latest in a long line of fantastic Patriots offensive linemen.
29. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Niners don't have any needs per se, but they could use a stretch-the-field wide receiver to complement possession guys like Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Some might view this as a slight reach, but Beckham has blazing speed and a great track record.
30. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
As good as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been to start his career, he has done it without much help.
Carolina's defense obviously became elite this season, which was a driving force behind the team's improvement, but the Panthers haven't gone out of their way to bring in weapons for Newton. Tight end Greg Olsen has definitely been a good target for Newton; however, getting him a bona fide No. 1 receiver could potentially work wonders.
Steve Smith has been that guy over the course of his career, but he isn't any longer. Smith had just 745 receiving yards on the year, and he is clearly on the decline. Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn are decent supporting guys, but Newton can't trust them on a regular basis.
The Panthers have to go out and find Newton a true stud at the receiver position, and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin qualifies. Benjamin was a big-play guy with the Seminoles as he caught the national title-winning score and reeled in 15 on the season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Benjamin is a terror in the red zone due to his 6'5" frame, but he can also make plays down the field by outleaping defenders. That is ideal for Newton since he likes to show off his big arm and air the ball out. Benjamin's stock is rising quickly after Florida State's undefeated season, so the Panthers will be thrilled if he is available at this point.
Even if All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady returns to full health next season, the Broncos would benefit from help at offensive tackle. Ogbuehi could potentially be somewhat of a project, but he would make it that much tougher for opposing defenses to get to quarterback Peyton Manning.
32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It might shock some if Ebron falls all the way to No. 32, but there is little doubt that Seattle would pounce on him. Quarterback Russell Wilson has been great without elite weapons on offense; however, Ebron would open things up even more.
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