Thanks to what could very well be the deepest class to come along in years, the 2014 NFL draft promises to be jam-packed with excitement from start to finish. With so many top-notch prospects ready to make the leap to the next level, it is certainly possible for every team to make marked improvements.
Of the NFL's 32 teams, 30 have at least one pick in the first round, and they have to be feeling confident in terms of nabbing a future star. There are inevitably going to be some slip-ups along the way, but all of those teams have a golden opportunity in front of them.
Along with a full first-round mock draft, here is some further analysis regarding how every first-round team will improve by virtue of the 2014 draft.
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
After Matt Schaub and Case Keenum threw away the Texans' season, there is no question that they desperately need a franchise quarterback. Bridgewater has all the tools necessary to be a Pro Bowl signal-caller at the next level.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (projected trade with STL from WAS): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Rams are in an extremely advantageous position at No. 2, with several teams likely dying to move up in order to select Clowney. St. Louis can demand a king's ransom, which the Buccaneers will ultimately pay so new head coach Lovie Smith can have a true defensive weapon.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Perhaps no team in the NFL has had a worse quarterback situation than the Jags over the past several years. Jacksonville will have a few intriguing options to consider at No. 3, but it will ultimately stay in state by going with Bortles out of UCF.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There is no getting around the fact that the Cleveland Browns have to find themselves a quarterback of the future. The Brandon Weeden experiment was an obvious failure, and Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer aren't long-term options. As much as the Browns need a quarterback, though, they also need a face of the franchise fans can get excited about. If the top three picks go as expected, Cleveland will have the perfect player fall into its lap in the form of Johnny Manziel.
It seems as though every talent evaluator feels differently about Johnny Football's ability to translate his skill set to the NFL, but he is worth gambling on. He proved his toughness and will to win while at Texas A&M, and he pulled off some of the most amazing plays in recent memory. Dual-threat quarterbacks are the new flavor in the NFL, so there is reason to believe Manziel can succeed. Also, if the reports are to be believed, the Browns feel good about Manziel's NFL prospects too, according to Fox Sports Ohio.
Whichever team ends up with Manziel is going to have a ton of buzz surrounding it. That alone could be enough to convince the Browns. They have been so bad for so long that they need to do something huge in order to inspire confidence from the fans. Drafting Manziel is clearly the best option in that regard. Add the fact that Manziel has a chance to be the best NFL quarterback from this class, and it's truly an obvious pick from Cleveland's perspective.
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Raiders could potentially be gun shy when it comes to selecting an offensive tackle high in the first round after Robert Gallery busted in 2004, but it is a definite need, and it can be argued that Matthews is the safest prospect in the entire draft.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Matthews may be the safest, but Robinson has the highest ceiling of any offensive tackle available. He was instrumental in an Auburn running game that led the nation, and he would be hugely helpful to a Falcons team that often gets pushed around in the trenches.
7. St. Louis Rams (Projected Trade with TB): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
One reason the Rams can afford to trade down from No. 2 is the fact that this deep draft class ensures a great prospect will be available at No. 7. That comes to fruition with the Rams selecting Sammy Watkins to pair with 2013 first-round pick Tavon Austin at wide receiver.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The fact that Barr is very likely to be available at this juncture says a lot about the star power within this draft class. It remains to be seen what type of defense the Vikings will employ, since they don't currently have a coaching staff in place, but Barr would be too good to pass up.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
No NFL team has had more opportunities to watch Mack over the past couple of years than the Bills. Mack put together a fantastic collegiate career and is now garnering national attention. Buffalo would be wise to keep him at home, as he could bolster a fast-rising defensive unit led by Mike Pettine.
10. Detroit Lions (7-9): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Detroit's defense has the potential to be great thanks to a dominant front four, but it needs some players who can cover in the secondary. Dennard is undoubtedly the best cover corner in this draft, and he makes a ton of sense for the Lions at No. 10.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Titans are solid in several areas but dominant in none. In order to stop hovering around the .500 mark, Tennessee needs a true impact player, and Mosley is a guy who can take charge and change the entire complexion of its defense.
12. New York Giants (7-9): Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
As bad as he looked in 2013, quarterback Eli Manning is the key to the Giants' success moving forward. He isn't mobile, so protecting him his absolutely paramount, and Kouandjio would be up to the task after keeping A.J. McCarron off the ground at Alabama.
13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
After addressing a need on offense, the Rams now have an opportunity to take care of their biggest hole on defense. The safety position gave up too many big plays in 2013, but Clinton-Dix would almost certainly nip that in the bud.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Chicago's defensive issues up front contributed directly to missing the playoffs in 2013, but Ealy could change things significantly in 2014 by generating a pass rush in his own right while also opening things up for Julius Peppers on the other side.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Steelers looked great offensively down the stretch this past season, but their defense was uncharacteristically shaky. Cornerback Keenan Lewis signing with the New Orleans Saints hurt Pittsburgh badly, but Gilbert should be able to render that loss moot.
16. Baltimore Ravens (8-8 pending coin flip): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Quarterback Joe Flacco deserves some blame for the Ravens' failure to make the playoffs in 2013, especially after signing a monster contract in the offseason. With that said, his supporting cast was depleted, but a big, athletic playmaker such as Evans would put him back in a position to succeed.
17. Dallas Cowboys (8-8 pending coin flip): Ra'Shede Hageman, DL, Minnesota
The Cowboys always seem to have one of the best groups of skill-position players heading into every season, but that never gets them anywhere. They need to start building their lines up in order to win the little battles, and Hageman will help immensely in that regard.
18. New York Jets (8-8): Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Quarterback Geno Smith is doomed to fail unless the Jets go out and get him some help, so taking a pass-catcher at No. 18 is integral. There are a few solid options, but Amaro makes the most sense because Smith should be able to trust him in almost any situation.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
Perhaps no team in this draft has a more glaring weakness than the Dolphins. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill ate the turf far too often in 2013, but Erving should help immensely after keeping Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston out of harm's way at Florida State.
20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The offensive line has seemingly been a huge topic of conversation for years in Arizona, and while it wasn't exactly awful in 2013, it could take a big step forward next season with the addition of a polished tackle such as Lewan.
21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
Green Bay's defensive line could look totally different next season, as several key players will be hitting free agency, but Tuitt would definitely stem the tide thanks to his pass-rushing ability and penchant for taking up blockers in a 3-4 scheme.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Philadelphia's defense certainly made some strides in 2013, but there is no question that it remains the team's weak link. Pass defense was an issue at various times throughout the season, but Verrett could potentially put a stop to that.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Most people will likely remember the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs' 2013 season ended in severe disappointment when the team blew a 28-point lead against the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs, but that shouldn't negate what they accomplished. After selecting No. 1 in the 2013 NFL draft, the Chiefs went 11-5 and reestablished themselves as players in the AFC. The play of quarterback Alex Smith was a big reason for that.
Head coach Andy Reid utilized Smith as more of a caretaker than anything early in the season, but the offense really opened up late in the year, and Smith put up some impressive numbers. He was fantastic in the narrow loss to Indy, but his defense ultimately failed him. Smith may have the tools necessary to be a Pro Bowler, but he could use a little bit of help. Wide receiver Marqise Lee would be a huge steal at this juncture, and he would add another dimension to KC's offense, as seen in this video courtesy of Pac-12 Networks.
With running back Jamaal Charles doing it all and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe getting the job done on the other side of the field, Lee would add a much-needed third option to the offense. It would also allow Donnie Avery to slot in as the No. 3 receiver, which would strengthen the offense as a whole significantly. Lee is a potential game-breaker at the next level, and he could be the last missing piece in terms of elevating Smith to top-10 status.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Bengals defense showed some chinks in the armor during the playoffs after suffering through a number of injuries during the regular season, so there is no question that depth is needed throughout the unit. Cornerback is a great place to start, and Roby seems like a good fit.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame
San Diego possesses a fine offensive nucleus, but it needs some help in the trenches in order to truly thrive. Martin is easily the top guard in this draft, and he will make life much easier for Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, et al.
26. Cleveland Browns (from 11-5 Indianapolis Colts): Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Taking a running back at any point in the first round seems like a reach these days, but aside from quarterback, there is no doubt that running back is the Browns' biggest need. Manziel will need a running game to support him, and Carey can provide it.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
In order for the Saints to excel on the road, they need to continue building on the defensive side of the ball. Shazier can truly do it all as an outside linebacker, and he would be a fantastic complement to Curtis Lofton in the middle.
28. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
One thing that became evident during the Panthers' playoff loss to the 49ers was the fact that quarterback Cam Newton needs some help. Steve Smith and Greg Olsen are nice targets, but they aren't elite players. Benjamin has the potential to become one thanks to his combination of size and explosiveness.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
The Patriots appear to be evolving, as the power running game has been their bread and butter in recent weeks. Nabbing a big guard such as Richardson will aid in that evolution, and he'll help keep quarterback Tom Brady's uniform clean as well.
30. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
San Francisco pretty much has it all, but a deep threat for quarterback Colin Kaepernick couldn't hurt. A.J. Jenkins simply didn't work out a couple of years ago, but there is reason to believe Beckham will be a success due to his polish.
31. Denver Broncos (13-3): Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Quarterback Peyton Manning's health will be a question mark until he retires, and the only way to ensure his health is by preventing him from getting sacked. The Broncos have done a solid job in that regard, but Richardson would make it even tougher on opposing defenses.
32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Many would argue that the Seattle Seahawks are the most complete team in the NFL, which means they have the luxury of doing pretty much whatever they please with their first-round draft pick. Quarterback Russell Wilson continued to develop in his second season, and he did so without any truly elite options in the passing game. The return of a healthy Percy Harvin helps immensely, but getting him a dangerous weapon at tight end such as Eric Ebron would be a major coup.
Wilson has made the most of Zach Miller and Luke Willson at tight end; however, they aren't exactly dynamic players. Ebron certainly is, and his presence would open things up for the wide receivers as well as running back Marshawn Lynch. Ebron recently signed with agent Bus Cook, and Cook had high praise for the likely first-round selection, according to Rick Cleveland of the Sun Herald.
"Don't be surprised if Eric's the next great NFL tight end," Cook said.
Cook has represented some incredible, Hall of Fame-caliber players, so his opinion is worth taking note of. Cook could prove prophetic if Ebron lands in Seattle. Opposing defenses already have so much to worry about that Ebron would likely find himself open quite often in the Seahawks offense. Add the continued progression of Wilson, and Ebron is a perfect fit.
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