The 2014 NFL draft is going to be shaped by the top quarterbacks. This isn't out of the ordinary, but it's especially true in this draft.
There is no quarterback in this draft who sticks out as being the absolute No. 1 choice, but there are several worthy of consideration. There are also plenty of teams at the top of this draft in need of finding their franchise signal-caller.
As you'll see in my mock below, I think this has teams taking a gamble early to land the top quarterbacks in this draft.
That will create great value on the non-quarterback prospects in this draft, and all of this sets up for what should be an interesting draft.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Which quarterback is the best in this class?
After a disastrous season, the Houston Texans find themselves in rebuilding mode. Well, at the very least, it is reshaping mode. The Texans still have talented players worth building around, like the menacing J.J. Watt, but none of those players happens to be a quarterback.
So, enter Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. Most people agree that Bridgewater's combination of arm talent and size make him the best quarterback in this class. Like B/R's Matt Miller.
There is a chance that the combine changes the pecking order for quarterbacks, but don't look for the Texans to draft anyone but a quarterback.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jadeveon Clowney, DL, South Carolina
The St. Louis Rams already have exciting talent on the defensive line, so that area of the field is far from their biggest need. Still, I expect the Rams to stick with quarterback Sam Bradford and then draft the best prospect and most physically gifted athlete in this class.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
There isn't a lot of hope—nor should there be any—that quarterback Blaine Gabbert will mature into a franchise quarterback.
This should lead the Jacksonville Jaguars to drafting Blake Bortles. He is not the most polished quarterback, but he has the size and arm to be a stud in the NFL.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel is really difficult to mock-draft. The first freshman Heisman Trophy winner ever is an amazing talent.
He is also short for the position, and his off-the-field behavior may deter some teams.
In the end, I don't see him sliding past fourth. Unless trades shake up the top of the draft, with three of the first four teams so desperate for quarterbacks, Manziel won't last until pick No. 5.
5. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Oakland Raiders would also like to identify their quarterback of the future, but there is pressure for the current regime in Oakland to win now.
Both general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen are moving to their third year on the job, and if things don't get better next season, I don't expect them to get a fourth.
That is where Anthony Barr comes in. The multi-talented linebacker will give the Raiders the kind of athlete they need to put pressure on the quarterback and feature a more diverse group of defensive sets.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
It's not like the Atlanta Falcons are void of talent. In particular, this team has a good set of skill-position players.
What Atlanta needs is to get more physical in the trenches on offense and defense.
That makes Jake Matthews a great selection. He is a good value at No. 6 and is polished enough to step right onto an NFL field and be a stud.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have good pass-catching options with wide receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Timothy Wright, but Sammy Watkins would give the offense a level of explosiveness it doesn't currently have.
Combine that with Watkin's value at No. 7, and this is a strong selection.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Minnesota Vikings are another team desperate for talent at quarterback. That brings Fresno State's Derek Carr into play here.
With the disappointment of Christian Ponder still hanging over this franchise, however, I see them going with a safer pick.
Robinson is that safer pick. This mauling lineman needs some polish in the pass game, but his physical skills and run blocking are outrageous.
9. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
After making solid defensive strides this season, the Buffalo Bills will look to continue that trend by adding C.J. Mosley.
Mosely has the athleticism to play inside or outside, and his ability to cover the entire field will pair well with the emerging Kiko Alonso.
10. Detroit Lions: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Detroit Lions have to find some defensive consistency. Khalil Mack will help bring that. With the Lions' talented defensive line, Mack would be free from the attention of offensive linemen, and he would be able to make impact tackles in the run game.
11. Tennessee Titans: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Quarterback Jake Locker has shown promise and great signs of development. He's also never proven he can stay healthy. That makes Locker a costly gamble at the quarterback position.
NFL.com's Chris Wesseling further highlights this situation:
If the Titans pick up Locker's fifth-year option, it will run them in the neighborhood of $15 million for 2015. It's quite the conundrum: Locker has a checkered injury history, and there will be an abundance of premium quarterback prospects available at Tennessee's draft slot.
The above situation makes Carr an ideal fit. The younger brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr has fantastic arm talent, but he needs seasoning. He could get that while the Titans make their ultimate decision on Locker. This will give the Titans great flexibility moving forward.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Eric Ebron is an athletic tight end with the ability to get down the seam and hit for big plays.
The Giants have many needs, but giving Eli Manning a tight end who can space the field should help the sinking quarterback avoid some interceptions.
His rare set of size and speed has been catching the attention of scouts.
2 players generating a ton of buzz with NFL scouts/execs-- Auburn OT Greg Robinson and UNC TE Eric Ebron.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 15, 2014
13. St. Louis Rams: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Cornerback is not the biggest need for the St. Louis Rams, and this team would be wise to scope offensive talent after going defense at No. 2.
Still, Darqueze Dennard is a good value here. He, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson would give the Rams defense the back end to blitz the passer at will.
14. Chicago Bears: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Chicago Bears can't look to draft anything but defense. I don't just mean this selection. I mean all but one or two of their selections. The defense needs help on all levels.
Drafting an anchor like Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt is a great place to start, and a good value.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
If the draft plays out like this, I don't think the Pittsburgh Steelers will complain.
Taylor Lewan is a polished tackle. He would be an instant upgrade for the Steelers at a place they desperately need one.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Speaking of teams in need of offensive line help, the Baltimore Ravens are at the front of that line.
The play along the offensive line was abysmal this season. On top of that, starting tackles Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher are unrestricted free agents this offseason.
Cyrus Kouandjio was terrible in the Sugar Bowl, and he will have to perform at the combine to help erase the stain of that performance.
He has the athletic ability and size to do just that. It's not like all his performances in big games were bad:
Cyrus Kouandjio played really, well against Auburn...I'm about to peep this Bowl game you are all warning me about tho.— Mr. Parsons (@ap575) January 13, 2014
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Defense did not go well for the Dallas Cowboys this past season. They finished 27th in rushing yards allowed and 30th in passing yards allowed.
That leaves them with many needs, and in my mock draft, one clear answer for their selection. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a good athlete and well-rounded safety, and the Cowboys have needed a free safety for years.
He is also a good value at No. 17.
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
At 6’5” and 225 pounds, Mike Evans has the kind of size at wide receiver that makes scouts drool. Evans also has the ball skills to make his size especially potent.
Still, there is always the concern that a receiver with this kind of size won't have the athleticism needed to get any separation in the NFL.
As his Texas A&M coach, Kevin Sumlin, points out, via ESPN's Sam Khan Jr., Evans has the kind of work ethic that will help him prevent this:
It's been a pleasure watching Mike's development as a receiver and a person the past two seasons. Mike was one of the team's hardest workers in whatever he was doing, and it paid off for him on the field.
This should all be music to the ears of the New York Jets.They are in dire need of playmakers on offense.
19. Miami Dolphins: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
The Miami Dolphins are in need of a makeover in the offensive trenches.
I expect Antonio Richardson to rise after the combine and offseason events. He is 6'6" and 327 pounds with the arms and size to handle playing tackle in the NFL. He needs work on his footwork, but his natural ability is worth the risk at No. 19.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
There is going to be a run of offensive linemen in this portion of the draft. Like the teams that came before them, the Arizona Cardinals must get better in the offensive trenches.
With the top tackles off the board, the Cardinals will take the physical Zack Martin. Martin has been playing tackle at Notre Dame, but he may be better suited for guard in the NFL.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
At 6'6" and comfortably over 300 pounds, Ra'Shede Hageman has the kind of athleticism that could get him drafted in the top 10. The problem is, his performances were not as dominant as his talent would suggest they should be.
Green Bay hasn't shied away from project picks in the trenches, and it won't pass on Hageman.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The Philadelphia Eagles were dead last in passing yards allowed, and they must look to solidify their defense.
Ryan Shazier's ability to cover and rush the passer will be a boost to the Eagles' pass defense.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marquise Lee would give the Chiefs someone to line up opposite of Bowe to take the top off of the defense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Cincinnati Bengals showed flashes of defensive dominance last season. They couldn't sustain a high level of defense due to inconsistent play in the secondary.
Justin Gilbert has the strength and speed to be a shutdown corner in the NFL, and this will leave opposing quarterbacks struggling to find open receivers against the Bengals.
25. San Diego Chargers: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
Part of the reason the San Diego Chargers became a run-heavy team as the season progressed was because running the ball limited the time their 29th-ranked pass defense was on the field.
E.J. Gaines will help that ranking. He is a physical corner who can lock down receivers with his man coverage.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Browns have an explosive playmaker on the outside in Josh Gordon.
Gordon, however, is just one failed drug test away from a year ban from the NFL. Also, the Browns don't have anyone to line up opposite him.
27. New Orleans Saints: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Jason Verrett can play man or zone, and he has great balls skills. His penchant for turnovers would help the New Orleans Saints continue to get better on defense.
New Orleans could use some added strength in the defensive front seven, but Verrett is a good value here. He'll enable the Saints to put eight men in the box when they need to.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Carolina Panthers have everything they need except a consistent passing game. Part of that deficiency is due to the progress needed from Cam Newton.
The other problem is that Carolina doesn't have many weapons in the passing game. On top of that, receiver Steve Smith is showing signs of slowing down with age.
Enter Brandin Cooks.
At 5'10" and with explosion in and out of his cuts, he is eerily reminiscent of Smith.
29. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
It's hard to tell what the Patriots need on defense. Their front seven was decimated by injuries. New England struggled mightily on rush defense this past season.
Stick Louis Nix III next to Vince Wilfork in the middle of the defensive line, and those run concerns will quickly vanish.
Of course, Nix will first have to prove he is healthy after coming off of December knee surgery.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
The San Francisco 49ers already boast a fearsome defense. But when quarterbacks are given time, they can pick on the secondary, which is the 49ers' weakness.
Marcus Roberson would be a good fit with the 49ers. At 6'0", he has the size that will allow his physical play to translate to the NFL.
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Denver Broncos defense has sprung to life in the playoffs, but that came after an up-and-down season. Especially in the passing game.
At this point in the draft, the Broncos will have a hard time finding the secondary help they need. Kony Ealy gives them a good value and a player to help the Broncos generate a pass rush with their down linemen.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
With Russell Wilson's production dropping at the end of the season, it became clear the Seattle Seahawks needed to give him more weapons.
Allen Robinson isn't an explosive playmaker, but he is a skilled receiver with a 6'3" and 205-pound frame.
He will work well outside of Percy Harvin...if Harvin can ever stay healthy.