With the conference championships and Super Bowl XLVIII approaching fast, the offseason chatter has already started to pick up and much of the focus has shifted to this year’s draft class, especially for fans of teams whose seasons are already over.
There is no question that this mock draft will change over the months as each prospect is tested at the NFL Scouting Combine and their pro days, but this is Kiper’s starting point for the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Let’s break it down.
1. Houston Texans: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
New Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien worked with Tom Brady in New England and knows what it takes to be an elite quarterback in the NFL. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel has all the raw talent to be a star at the next level, and Houston has the need for a franchise QB.
If Manziel shows well at the combine and during his individual workouts, Kiper will be correct in his belief that the former Heisman Trophy winner will go No. 1 overall.
2. St. Louis Rams (from WAS): Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
Kiper was not permitted to predict trades. He projected the St. Louis Rams would take Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews as the offensive tackle of the future, but he talked about the No. 2 pick being a hot spot for a possible trade with one of the teams looking for a quarterback.
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3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Jacksonville Jaguars have holes to fill all over the depth chart right now, and passing on arguably the best player left on the board in South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney would not be a wise choice for the franchise.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The Cleveland Browns have made several porous decisions on draft day in the past, but the franchise will redeem itself by filling a position of need with the best long-term investment remaining in UCF quarterback Blake Bortles.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
It's no secret the Oakland Raiders have always loved drafting skill players with plenty of speed, but Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is so much more than that. With elite size and strength, as well as his speed, Watkins is the total package and would be a logical selection at No. 5.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
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The Atlanta Falcons must get pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2014, and Anthony Barr from UCLA is the best pass-rusher available. Whether he plays defensive end or outside linebacker, Barr has the speed and strength to pressure the pocket.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Just as the Falcons need an elite pass-rusher, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also need a player that can impact an opponent’s passing attack. That’s where Buffalo’s Khalil Mack would fit perfectly.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Although the Minnesota Vikings have three former starting quarterbacks on the roster, none deserves to be the face of the franchise. While Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater would be an ideal fit for the Vikings, there is no way that he falls all the way to No. 8. Bridgewater may not have the elite size, but he has all the raw talent to be a starter in the NFL and a team in the top five will take an educated risk on him.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
The Buffalo Bills must refocus on winning in the trenches first and foremost, and that new mindset begins with the selection of standout Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson to protect quarterback EJ Manuel, who was banged up in his rookie season.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
With one of the most impressive defensive front seven in the league, the Detroit Lions must find a cornerback that can play against the toughest receivers in the sport. Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert fits the need to perfection.
11. Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
The Tennessee Titans are another team that must get back to basics and protect franchise quarterback Jake Locker. Selecting Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan would be a big boost in protection.
12. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The New York Giants were gouged by running backs through the middle, but the possible addition of a hard-hitting inside linebacker like Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is exactly what the franchise needs.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The St. Louis Rams added Tavon Austin to the wide receiver group last year, but the offense is still missing the tall pass-catcher that can be a fade threat in the red zone. Enter Texas A&M’s Mike Evans at No. 13.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Another team that couldn’t stop the run was the Chicago Bears. If Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan falls to the Bears at No. 14, this will be the easiest selection of the entire draft.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for a nose tackle that can play the position for the next decade, and the Fighting Irish's Louis Nix could be the ideal fit for the franchise, even if it’s a bit of a reach.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
With Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta both becoming free agents this offseason, it has become abundantly clear that the Baltimore Ravens’ biggest need is at tight end. North Carolina’s Eric Ebron will give the franchise the star it needs.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The biggest flaw for the Dallas Cowboys in 2013 was in the secondary. With a hard-hitting mentality and a willingness to get physical, Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be the perfect fit in Dallas.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
While Kiper thinks the New York Jets should add a weapon like USC wide receiver Marqise Lee to help quarterback Geno Smith succeed, the franchise has bigger needs to fill. With an offensive line that struggles in protection and an inconsistent rushing attack, adding a wide receiver is a move the team could handle later in the draft.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama
The Miami Dolphins had turmoil along the offensive line throughout the season, and a fresh start with Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio will be exactly what the team needs to move forward.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, T, Notre Dame
There's no doubt the Arizona Cardinals proved how talented they are on the defensive side of the ball, but the lack of protection for QB Carson Palmer limited the team’s offensive effectiveness. That’s where Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin fits the mold to perfection.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Green Bay Packers have several areas of need to fill, but none more than the safety position. Louisville’s Calvin Pryor is one of the most talented players in the draft and a perfect fit in Green Bay.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Philadelphia Eagles should not be looking for a wide receiver in Round 1. As much as Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin would be an intriguing fit for Chip Kelly's offense, the needs in the defensive secondary outweigh anything on the offensive side of the ball. With a cornerback like Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard still on Kiper's board, that would be the wiser selection.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Considering the Kansas City Chiefs need help getting pressure off the edge from the defensive ends, the ideal fit for the team would be Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt. As both a run- and pass-stopper, Tuitt offers the versatility needed in the NFL.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
There are many that believe Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard will be selected much higher than No. 24, but the Cincinnati Bengals would get the steal of the draft while filling a position of need if this comes to fruition.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
After getting burned game after game downfield in the passing game, selecting physical Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby in the latter stages of the first round would be the ideal selection for the San Diego Chargers.
26. Cleveland Browns (from IND): Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
The Cleveland Browns traded away Trent Richardson to acquire this pick. In the ultimate twist of fate, the franchise will likely take a running back in Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, who should be the much better long-term player of the two.
27. New Orleans Saints: Antonio Richardson, T, Tennessee
Drew Brees needs protection. With the offensive line falling apart in front of him, it has become clear that the New Orleans Saints can’t ignore the issue anymore and must draft a tackle like Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Carolina Panther boast one of the most impressive defensive units in the NFL, but QB Cam Newton needs weapons around him to help the offense reach its full potential. If Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks is available at No. 28, this will be a smart selection that pays off in 2014.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The injuries to Rob Gronkowski will have the New England Patriots looking to the future, and that starts with the selection of Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
As well as the San Francisco 49ers have played over the last two seasons, the lack of consistency at wide receiver is appalling. The franchise needs to find a skilled player like LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. to establish quality depth.
31. Denver Broncos: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
The Denver Broncos' lack of an elite pass rush hurt them throughout the season, and taking an educated risk reaching for Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton will be the kind of move that complements Von Miller when he returns.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
There aren’t too many holes to fill for the Seattle Seahawks, but one major weakness this season was the lack of elite wide receiver depth. Penn State’s Allen Robinson is a talented prospect that would fit right into Seattle’s offensive system.
*Stats via NFL.com.