Check out the following mock draft to see where South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and others are projected.
Though the college football season has been over for nearly two weeks, the stocks of many 2014 NFL draft prospects are as fluid as ever.
Two significant college football all-star games, the East-West Shrine Game and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, were played on Saturday. As many of the nation’s senior draft hopefuls tried to prove themselves as NFL prospects in front of team scouts, coaches and executives, the draft pool also expanded by nearly 100 players as the underclassmen declaration deadline came last week.
This week, draft boards will continue to shift as more than 100 NFL prospects participate in the 2014 Senior Bowl. But before Senior Bowl week begins, we take a look at one possible scenario for how the first four rounds of this year’s draft picks could play out.
Notes: The official order of the No. 16-17 overall selections will be determined by a coin flip at the NFL Scouting Combine. The official order of the Nos. 29-32 overall selections will be determined by the results of the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl.
Compensatory picks have not yet been announced by the league and are not included here.
Though it has seemingly become trendy in the NFL draft media for Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater not to become projected as the No. 1 overall pick, one thing hasn't changed: his three years of collegiate play, which were more impressive than any other quarterback in the draft class.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, UCF quarterback Blake Bortles and even South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney could all certainly be in play; with the draft still nearly four months away, it would be foolish if the Texans weren’t still debating the merits of at least those four potential No. 1 overall picks and probably numerous others.
Still, Bridgewater would be the best choice for them. He might be the only quarterback in the draft class who is really ready to step in and lead an NFL offense as a rookie.
Some have expressed concerns about Bridgewater’s slight frame or inconsistent deep balls, but he has the most complete skill set of any signal-caller in the draft class.
Bridgewater has the mechanics and footwork of a polished veteran. He throws the ball downfield with strong accuracy and velocity, both inside the pocket and on the run. He is a smart decision-maker with demonstrated leadership qualities and toughness.
The St. Louis Rams could very well put the No. 2 overall pick, part of the king’s ransom they acquired from the Washington Redskins for the No. 2 pick in 2012, on the trade block again. The Rams could certainly entice a team looking to move up for one of the draft’s top quarterbacks or for a rare talent in South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Should St. Louis stay put, its best choice would be Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews. Arguably the best prospect in the entire draft class, Matthews could provide an immediate upgrade to a concerning offensive line.
The Rams could make multiple positions on their offensive line better by drafting Matthews. Having played on both sides of the line at A&M, he could be an immediate upgrade at right tackle, which would allow Joe Barksdale to shift inside and improve an area of greater need at guard.
Matthews could also fill in at left tackle should Jake Long have any setbacks in his recovery from his torn ACL and MCL in his right knee.
The stigma against right tackles being early first-round picks was shattered last year when three of the top five overall picks in the 2013 draft were selected to start at right tackle. Matthews would be the best selection here for both need and value.
Though the Jacksonville Jaguars need a quarterback as badly as any team in the entire NFL, they might be better off waiting in this scenario. Any signal-caller on the board would be a high-risk selection, and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney might be too good to pass up.
The Jaguars tied for dead last in the NFL this season with only 31 sacks. The selection of Clowney could go a long way in changing that.
An explosive athlete with an exceptional combination of size, speed, power and pass-rushing moves, Clowney projects as an immediate-impact pass-rusher in the NFL.
Skeptics might point out that Clowney had only three sacks for the Gamecocks in 2013, but that was largely due to the consistent double- and triple-team blocks he drew. He can bring pressure both off the edge and inside, and he enables the players around him to make more plays by freeing them up.
With one of the NFL’s most starved-for-talent rosters, Jacksonville really needs to get an impact player from the No. 3 overall selection. With Bridgewater off the board, Clowney is the best bet to be that.
When the Cleveland Browns held the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, they faced a difficult decision: Draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, or wait to draft a quarterback with their second first-round pick and instead select Alabama running back Trent Richardson or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon?
The Browns chose Richardson and used their second first-round pick at No. 22 to select Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. Two years later, with Richardson already gone from the Browns and Weeden possibly on his way out, Cleveland is in a remarkably similar situation.
Once again, the Browns’ choice could come down to drafting a Texas A&M quarterback—Johnny Manziel—or adding an impact player at another skill position in Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, then using the No. 26 overall pick, acquired from the Indianapolis Colts for Richardson, to draft a signal-caller.
That’s not to say their 2012 failure should dictate their 2014 selection. The Browns have a different front office than they did in 2012 and will also have a new, yet-to-be-determined head coach. Projecting who would be the best fit for the Browns, especially if he is a quarterback, will be very difficult until Cleveland has its coaching staff in place.
That said, Manziel could be the guy for Cleveland. Though selecting him is a high risk considering the many flaws in his game, the Browns also miss risking out on a special talent should they pass him up.
The Browns have been forcing fans to cross names off their quarterback jerseys since they returned to the NFL in 1999. Manziel must develop significantly to have sustained long-term NFL success, but his physical tools and uncanny playmaking ability should make someone take a chance on him early in the draft.
The Oakland Raiders defense needs an impact player and specifically a pass-rusher, especially with defensive end Lamarr Houston slated for unrestricted free agency.
With Jadeveon Clowney off the board, there is no true 4-3 defensive end prospect available with top-five value. That said, UCLA’s Anthony Barr is an explosive, versatile playmaker who the Raiders could deem worth a shot at the No. 5 overall pick.
If not quite as exceptional of an athlete, Barr is a similar prospect to Dion Jordan, who the Miami Dolphins selected after acquiring the No. 3 pick from the Raiders last year, but with more pass-rushing ability. Though his game remains technically raw, as he did not switch to defense from offense until prior to his junior season at UCLA, he has a demonstrated penchant for bringing pressure off the edge.
If he is going to play defensive end in the NFL, he is going to have to become stronger at the point of attack. If he is going to play linebacker, he is going to have to become a more sure tackler and improve in coverage.
Nonetheless, Barr is a terrific all-around athlete with the potential to be a three-down playmaker, likely as a linebacker who kicks down to defensive end in pass-rushing situations. Already a playmaker, he has the potential to become significantly better and develop into an NFL star.
With needs for reinforcement on both sides of the line of scrimmage, the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round pick is likely to address either the offensive or defensive line. While a pass-rusher like Buffalo’s Khalil Mack would be a promising selection, the more natural fit and better overall talent might be Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson.
Atlanta’s recently hired offensive line coach Mike Tice is, as Bleacher Report’s Scott Carasik described him, a “smash the opponent in the face, punch him in the gut, and ask questions later type” of offensive line coach. Robinson, a listed 320-pounder who is a terrific power run-blocker, embodies that style.
Robinson can drive his opponents off the line of scrimmage and knock them into the dirt. He has terrific size and length for the position and is also a very fluid athlete.
One of the fastest-rising prospects in this year’s NFL draft, Robinson’s best fit might be at right tackle, where he would be an upgrade over projected starter Lamar Holmes. He could also provide insurance at left tackle should Sam Baker, who is recovering from a season-ending knee injury, has any setbacks in his recovery.
Either way, Robinson has the potential to be an exceptional NFL offensive lineman and would be among the best available values in this scenario.
Regardless of whether or not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stick with Mike Glennon as their quarterback, they should look to add another skill-position weapon to their offense. In this year’s draft class, there is no more dynamic playmaker than Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
The Buccaneers have a solid set of starting wideouts in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams but little else at the position. Watkins projects as an immediate impact player either on the outside or from the slot, while he can also contribute as a return specialist and gadget-play runner.
Watkins would give the Buccaneers another dimension to their offense, being a wide receiver with the potential to turn any play into a big play. He is a downfield missile who can burn defensive backs deep with his speed. He also has the open-field quickness to make defenders miss and the strength to run through contact.
His athleticism is often enough for him to separate from defenders, but he is also a strong route-runner. He has good hands and the body control to make tough adjustments to the football.
All in all, Watkins is a player defenses will have to account for every time he steps on the field. He is a projected top-10 pick who would add a spark to the Tampa Bay offense.
The Minnesota Vikings went from a playoff team to far from it in 2013, and one of the biggest reasons why was the revolving door of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and for one game Josh Freeman at quarterback.
The Vikings are reportedly set to hire Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. Turner’s offenses have traditionally been centered about pocket-passing quarterbacks who can throw the ball quickly and efficiently at all levels.
With that in mind, Vikings brass will almost certainly be keeping a close eye on Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr at this week’s Senior Bowl.
After leading the FBS with 5,083 passing yards and 50 passing touchdowns in 2013, he could very well be the No. 8 overall selection if he impresses in Mobile. He is a skilled pocket passer with a very good arm and the ability to zip the ball through tight windows downfield.
The stage is set for Carr to perform very well, perhaps misleadingly well, during Senior Bowl week. He has to become better with his mechanics and decision-making under pressure to be a successful NFL quarterback, but in practices where he will not have to worry about taking hits in the pocket, his tools as a pocket passer should stand out.
UCF quarterback Blake Bortles would be another option in this scenario, but while each has both impressive physical upside and kinks to clean up from his game, Carr is the better downfield passer of the two.
Considering Khalil Mack is the best NFL prospect to ever come out of the University of Buffalo in its football program’s history, many local Buffalo Bills fans might clamor for him to be the selection if available with the No. 9 overall pick. But while the Bills would be smart to target a linebacker early in the draft, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is a better fit for their need.
Projected picks based upon regional ties rarely come to fruition, and while Mack would be a great value selection at the No. 9 pick, the Bills are already stocked with hybrid pass-rushers. What Buffalo really needs is another inside linebacker who can play alongside Kiko Alonso and improve its run defense.
Mosley fits the bill. A terrific all-around linebacker, he could team with Alonso to give the Bills two interchangeable, every-down impact players at the position.
Though he does not have great size for the position, listed at 6’2” and 238 pounds by Alabama’s official athletics website, he is a physical run-stopper who has little trouble getting off of blocks. He is a very good athlete who has sideline-to-sideline playmaking range, is an exceptional blitzer and is adept in coverage.
Mosley would give the Bills the option of playing both he and Alonso at middle and weak-side linebacker between different packages and allow each player to play to his strength. One of the league’s most promising defensive front sevens could become even better and have one of the league’s best young inside linebacker combinations with this draft choice.
Projecting Kyle Van Noy ahead of Khalil Mack might be just as unconventional as Mel Kiper Jr. positioning Johnny Manziel as the No. 1 overall pick, but it is a conversation worthy of debate, especially if it happens in the Detroit Lions’ war room.
Van Noy’s draft “stock,” or at least the amalgamated estimation of his draft position, has gone down this season, while Mack has become widely projected as a top-10 pick.
Still, Van Noy is arguably the most complete player at the position and might be a better fit as a 4-3 strong-side linebacker, where either would project in Detroit’s defense.
Van Noy could really do it all from that position. He is a fluid athlete and sound tackler who can make plays all over the field against the run. He excels at dropping back into coverage but could also be used situationally as a defensive end in pass-rushing situations.
The Lions received promising results from another BYU product, Ezekiel Ansah, in his rookie season in 2013. Van Noy needs to be impressive at this week’s Senior Bowl to prove himself as a top-10 pick, but if he is, reuniting him with Ansah could be a strong play to make one of the NFL’s best defensive front sevens even better.
The Tennessee Titans need playmakers on their defensive front seven, and Buffalo’s Khalil Mack could be considered the best player available in this scenario.
With Ray Horton set to be hired as defensive coordinator, according to a report by Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, the Titans are expected to switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme. That should put them in the market for an outside linebacker early in the draft.
They shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to draft Mack if they get it.
A fantastic all-around athlete, Mack can provide an explosive pass-rushing spark off the edge. He is a strong run defender both at the point of attack and in pursuit, and his ability to drop back into coverage and make plays will make him a tough player for opposing offenses to game-plan against.
Mack was one of college football’s best playmakers in 2013, recording 19 tackles for loss (10.5 sacks), 100 total tackles, 10 passes defensed (three interceptions) and five forced fumbles. He has the measurables and polished skill set to come in and immediately continue to be an impact player in the NFL, especially if able to make the natural transition into a 3-4 defense.
The New York Giants have a massive need at linebacker, so a scenario where Anthony Barr, C.J. Mosley, Kyle Van Noy and Khalil Mack are all off the board by the No. 12 overall pick would be far from ideal.
In that scenario, the Giants’ best bet might be to draft a cornerback, where a replacement should be sought for Corey Webster, who is unlikely to be brought back by the team after playing just four games in 2013.
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert is the top playmaker among defensive backs in this year’s draft class. A very good athlete who excelled throughout his career at making plays on the ball, he emerged as a true shutdown cornerback in his senior year.
Gilbert combines great size (6’0", 200 lbs) and athleticism with terrific instincts and ball skills. Opposite Prince Amukamara as an outside cornerback, he could turn a position of concern into a strength.
Having returned six kickoffs for touchdowns in his Oklahoma State career, he could also provide an upgrade for the Giants if used in that capacity. All in all, Gilbert is the most talented cornerback in this year’s draft class, and he would give the Giants another impact player in their secondary.
If the St. Louis Rams don’t trade down from the No. 2 overall pick, they could work the phones again at No. 13. Should they stay put in this scenario, targeting a defensive playmaker would make sense after going offensive line with their first pick.
One addition the Rams could greatly benefit from is a rangy playmaker at the free safety position. Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a difference-maker at the position who could provide an immediate upgrade, especially in coverage, over Rodney McLeod.
Clinton-Dix is a very good athlete who could handle the center-field coverage responsibilities that the Rams currently do not have a strong candidate for. He needs to become a more disciplined all-around player, but he is a physical hitter who is typically a sound tackler on the back end.
Clinton-Dix might not be a top-15 talent, but a demand for safeties and a lack of top prospects at the position could push him that high. A cornerback like Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard could also be an option, but St. Louis would be smart to take advantage of the opportunity to draft Clinton-Dix.
Even if the Chicago Bears are able to re-sign Henry Melton, they should be looking to reinforce an interior defensive line that struggled mightily against the run this season. Their best bet for a run-stopping defensive tackle would be Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III.
Nix had a disappointing final season at Notre Dame and is recovering from a torn meniscus, but he remains the most talented defensive tackle in the draft class.
A gigantic nose tackle listed at 6’3” and 342 pounds by Notre Dame’s official athletics website, he does a terrific job of filling gaps and occupying blockers. He can dominate opponents with his size and power but also has very good quickness for his size.
If the Chicago Bears think the first round of the draft is where they should start rebuilding their interior defensive line, they shouldn’t have to look far from Lake Michigan. Nix has the potential to be the powerful interior presence on their defensive line that Stephen Paea hasn’t quite panned out to be.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a history of strong defensive lines and addressing that position early in drafts, and it would not be a surprise to see them do so again with the No. 15 overall pick in this year’s draft class.
With 35-year-old Brett Keisel and underperforming Ziggy Hood both slated for unrestricted free agency, the team should be in the market for another 5-technique defensive end to start opposite Cameron Heyward. Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt projects as a great fit for the Steelers defensive front.
While it might be in the Steelers’ best interest to trade down, as Tuitt is more accurately a second-round pick than top-15 talent, there are not many prospects like him in this draft, which could push them into drafting him early.
He has the size of a defensive tackle, listed at 6’6” and 312 pounds by Notre Dame’s official athletics website, with the athleticism of a defensive end. He does not have the explosion off the edge to be a serious pass-rushing threat in a 4-3 defense, but he projects well as an interior pass-rusher and run-stopper in a three-man front.
Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard is another prospect who fits the Steelers’ defensive style well and would fill a need here. But should Pittsburgh continue to emphasize its defensive line, Notre Dame’s defensive line could have two early draft choices.
If Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans falls to the No. 16 or 17 overall selection, the Baltimore Ravens could be hard-pressed to pass him up.
A big, strong and physical wide receiver with great body control, Evans has many of the same traits that Anquan Boldin brought to the Ravens offense from 2010-12. While Evans might not blow anyone away with his speed, he makes up for it with his ability to make plays against coverage.
Evans has fantastic size for the position (6’5”, 225 lbs) and is a good open-field runner for his size. He has to develop as a route-runner and catch the ball more consistently, but he has star potential.
The Ravens found one big receiver to make plays for their offense last season in undrafted rookie Marlon Brown, but the addition of a bona fide playmaker like Evans to start opposite Torrey Smith would be a good start for an offense that needs an influx of talent.
Though it is largely considered a surprise that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has been retained by the Dallas Cowboys, one of their biggest needs to get their defense back on track is to retool their interior defensive line.
Jason Hatcher is a strong penetrator, but he is an unrestricted free agent, while Nick Hayden was a weak link as the starting nose tackle. A good fit for the middle of Dallas’ 4-3 defense would be Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman, who has the versatility to play either defensive tackle spot.
Hageman has the frame (6’6”, 311 lbs) and strength of a nose tackle, combined with freakish athleticism for his size. While his technical game is still rough around the edges, he is a difference-maker, both powerful and quick, on the inside.
Dallas could benefit greatly from the addition of a versatile player like Hageman, who can be used to occupy blocks or shoot gaps inside as both a run-stopper and pass-rusher. He also has the athleticism to kick out to defensive end, especially if the Cowboys employ three-man fronts, versus the run.
With a premium on defensive line talent often early, Hageman is the most valuable player available in this scenario and would address a major need.
The New York Jets need to upgrade at tight end and add a downfield playmaker to their offense. They could get the best player available in both of those capacities by selecting North Carolina’s Eric Ebron.
The Jets do not currently have a single weapon on their offense who can consistently create defensive mismatches. They can get that from Ebron, an explosive athlete who is essentially a 6’4”, 245-pound receiver.
Though Ebron lines up at tight end and does his best work over the middle, he is typically flexed away from the offensive tackle and can also be used outside or in the slot. His size and speed alone make him a problematic matchup for safeties and linebackers, while he leaps well to high-point catches and can make defenders miss with open-field moves.
Ebron is a subpar in-line blocker, but he could be an immediate weapon for a Jets passing offense that desperately needs one.
The Miami Dolphins need a new pair of starting offensive tackles. Fortunately for them, there should be strong options available when they are on the clock with the No. 19 overall pick.
North Dakota State’s Billy Turner is not nearly as well-known as large-program standouts in Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, but he has the best left tackle potential of anyone outside of Matthews and Robinson in this year’s draft.
Given he played at a lower level of competition in the FCS, Turner needs to have a strong week at the Senior Bowl to prove himself as a worthy first-round selection. That said, he was a dominant force for the Bison who has the tools to make the big jump to the NFL.
Turner has great size (6’6”, 314 lbs) and regularly controls his opponents with power at the line of scrimmage. He has good foot skills, though those will certainly be tested in Mobile, which he can use to handle speed-rushers and pick up blocks at the second level.
Kouandjio and Lewan would be strong options here as well, especially if the Dolphins were to start one out at right tackle, but Turner has a chance to shoot up the board if he carries the momentum of his outstanding FCS career into a strong performance in front of NFL scouts and executives.
The Arizona Cardinals could roll into 2014 with Carson Palmer as their starting quarterback, but they should be looking for his long-term successor. It seems likely they could pull the trigger in the first round if UCF’s Blake Bortles were available at the No. 20 overall pick.
A big quarterback with a strong arm and good mobility, Bortles has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger, who Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians worked with as Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator from 2007-11.
Bortles still needs to become more consistent with his footwork, downfield accuracy, mechanics and reading defenses. That said, he has the ability to make big plays and to make plays both from the pocket and on the run, giving him arguably as much developmental upside as any quarterback in the draft class.
All in all, Bortles could be what the Cardinals are looking for in their next potential franchise quarterback. He could be given the opportunity to develop upon his physical tools for a year rather than starting right away, and he fits the mold of quarterback Arians likely wants in his offense.
Generating serious buzz since he declared for this year’s draft, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor has a great shot to be a mid-first-round pick. With a significant drop-off among the draft’s safeties after he and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Green Bay Packers would be smart to pounce on Pryor in this scenario.
After years of strong play at free safety from Nick Collins and Charles Woodson, the position has become one of Green Bay’s serious weaknesses with M.D. Jennings as the starter. With two teams sitting directly behind them that also need free safety help, the Packers will likely need to hold onto the No. 21 overall pick to land a first-round talent at the position.
Pryor can give the Packers a playmaker and coverage upgrade in that spot. A fluid athlete with great size (6’2”, 208 lbs), Pryor excels at making plays on the ball while he is also solid in run support on the back end.
Two other options to meet both value and need for the Packers here could come with a tight end in Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro or Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, or in an offensive lineman in Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio or Michigan’s Taylor Lewan. There is more depth at those positions, however, than there is behind Pryor at safety.
With Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin both set to become unrestricted free agents, the Philadelphia Eagles have a potential need at wide receiver. Yet even if Cooper and/or Maclin are brought back, USC’s Marqise Lee would still make sense at the No. 22 overall pick as the arguably best player available.
Lee doesn’t wow with speed like Sammy Watkins or size like Mike Evans, but he might be the draft class’ most well-rounded receiver. He is a natural hands catcher who glides in the open field and runs terrific routes.
Likely to have his best success as an intermediate receiver, Lee has the skill set to line up both outside and in the slot. He might not burn many NFL cornerbacks deep, but he can extend plays into bigger gains with his vision and quickness.
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly should know Lee well, as the USC wide receiver caught 20 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns in his two collegiate games against Kelly-coached Oregon teams. Lee’s former collegiate quarterback, Matt Barkley, can also vouch for his wide receiver as a member of the Philadelphia roster.
Either Calvin Pryor or Marqise Lee would make a lot of sense for the Kansas City Chiefs if one of them fell a pick or two further to the No. 23 overall selection.
The Chiefs’ biggest needs might be for a free safety and a No. 2 wide receiver, but with those players off the board, they could look in another direction for value.
Offensive line is not necessarily a need for the Chiefs, but it could be dependent on if Kansas City re-signs right guard Geoff Schwartz, left tackle Branden Albert or backup guard Jon Asamoah. If those players move on as unrestricted free agents, and considering left guard Jeff Allen has been unspectacular through his first two seasons, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio would make sense as good value late in Round 1.
Kouandjio could take over at right tackle if Eric Fisher moves to left tackle, but more likely, he could be an upgrade at either guard spot with Donald Stephenson playing right tackle.
Though Kouandjio has been one of the top left tackles in the nation at Alabama, he has some issues with speed-rushers on the outside and might be better suited to play inside at the next level. His combination of power, length and athleticism might make him a great fit at left guard, where he could be an upgrade at the position.
With no major roster needs, the Cincinnati Bengals have the flexibility to truly go into the early rounds with a best-player-available strategy. In this scenario, Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy might be considered the top prospect on the board, and he would fit an area the Bengals should look to address.
Defensive end isn’t necessarily a need for the Bengals, but adding another pass-rusher certainly wouldn’t hurt with Michael Johnson likely on his way as an unrestricted free agent.
Ealy is a high-upside prospect with a terrific combination of length, strength and burst for the defensive end position. He is far from a finished product, especially as a run defender, but he has the ability to both beat blockers around the edge and penetrate inside.
In a Bengals defense where he could start out as a rotational player and potentially develop into a starter in time, Ealy would have a chance to make an immediate impact without being relied upon to take a role beyond his current game.
Cincinnati doesn’t necessarily need its draft picks to become immediate starters this year, but the addition of Ealy at the No. 24 overall pick could well turn out to be a steal in the long run.
Derek Cox’s first and likely only season with the San Diego Chargers went disastrously, leaving the team in desperate need of upgrades at the cornerback position.
Among a number of quality cornerback options who could be available late in the first round, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard might be considered the best value if available at the No. 25 overall selection.
An instinctive, physical cornerback, Dennard excels in press-man coverage but has the versatility to also make plays in off and zone coverage. He does not have great speed or size for the position but is a technically sound player who breaks up passes and is strong in run support.
An offensive lineman such as Michigan’s Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame’s Zack Martin would also make sense for the Chargers in Round 1, but Dennard’s value could be tough for San Diego to pass up given its depleted roster at his position.
A strong case could be made here for Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, considering how important the contested-catch abilities of big wideout Mike Evans have been to Johnny Manziel’s success at Texas A&M. A more critical piece of Manziel’s success at A&M, however, was playing behind an athletic offensive line that could keep up with his extended plays.
The Browns already have one star wide receiver in Josh Gordon but have a major need to upgrade at right guard, where Cleveland failed to find an adequate answer in 2013 between Shawn Lauvao, Oniel Cousins and Garrett Gilkey.
Stanford’s David Yankey would be a good fit for the athletic demands of pass protection with Manziel at quarterback. He has very good footwork and quickness for the position, while he also is a gritty, strong lineman who uses his hands well and has good size (6’5”, 313 lbs).
The most agile and well-rounded guard in the draft class, Yankey also has experience playing offensive tackle and could provide insurance at that position.
Junior Galette came into his own as a hybrid edge defender for the New Orleans Saints under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in 2013, but the Saints should still be in the market for another pass-rushing threat off the edge who can allow them to transition more seamlessly from even and odd fronts.
As a late first-round value, Oregon State’s Scott Crichton would be a great fit for that role. A great all-around athlete, Crichton is a well-rounded defensive end who should also be able to fluidly play in a stand-up role as an outside linebacker.
Crichton is an explosive edge-rusher who can beat his opponents with his speed, pass-rushing moves and also his strength. Though he is still developing as a point-of-attack run defender, he is a sound tackler who can make plays out in space and in pursuit.
The Saints defense took a big step forward in 2012, but adding a playmaker like Crichton to the defensive front seven can help it continue to blossom. One of the best talents available in this scenario, he should be a solid late first-rounder if the top pass-rushers go off the board early.
Both of the Carolina Panthers’ starting offensive tackles are unrestricted free agents. While bringing back Jordan Gross would be a good short-term option, Carolina should be in the market for an upgrade over Byron Bell at right tackle and a long-term heir apparent to Gross at left tackle.
That is exactly what Michigan’s Taylor Lewan has the potential to be. A great value selection late in the first round, Lewan has a great frame (6’8”, 315 lbs) and a good combination of foot skills and power.
Lewan is at his best as a run-blocker, where he can pick up devastating open-field blocks with his quickness and strength or truck defenders off the line of scrimmage to open holes.
He has some vulnerabilities in pass protection, but he is polished enough to be a solid starter as a rookie. His length and lateral agility should help him make a quick transition, and he might be the best suited of any of the second-tier left tackles to switch to the right side.
Anquan Boldin has been a crucial addition for the San Francisco 49ers offense this season, but it would be a surprise if the team made a long-term commitment to the 33-year-old unrestricted free agent. Even if Boldin does return next season, the 49ers should be in the market for more speed and dynamic playmaking ability from their receiving corps.
Enter LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., who established himself as a worthy late first-round selection with an outstanding 2013 season. Combining the speed of a deep weapon with the quickness and route-running skill of an intermediate playmaker, Beckham could be an immediate difference-maker both on the outside and from the slot.
A big-play threat with the ball in his hands, Beckham has emerged as a very well-rounded wideout who can also be a difference-making kickoff returner. He has the potential to make the 49ers better on both offense and special teams.
If Boldin is gone, a big, contested-catch receiver in Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin would also fit the bill at this selection. Beckham’s ability to scythe defenses from a variety of positions, nonetheless, might make him the best choice for a No. 2 weapon to pair with Michael Crabtree.
The Denver Broncos’ best cornerback, Chris Harris, is a restricted free agent facing a tough recovery from a torn ACL, suffered just last week, that could keep him from being back in time for the start of the 2014 season. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie an unrestricted free agent and Champ Bailey very much in the decline of his career, the Broncos need to bring in another cornerback.
Within the last four picks of the first round, they might deem Ohio State’s Bradley Roby to be worth taking a chance on.
Roby didn’t play like a first-round pick in a wildly inconsistent junior season, but he has arguably the most potential of any cornerback in this year’s draft. His outstanding speed is unteachable; his ability to make plays on the ball is proven.
Roby has no shortage of big-play ability; his problem is his constant big-play mindset. Though capable of being a shutdown cornerback in both coverage and run support, his affinity for pass breakups and big hits leads to too many blown coverages and missed tackles.
If Roby can become a more disciplined player, he could be a star. The Broncos have a deep enough roster to take that chance with their first-round pick, and whether on the outside or in the slot, he could be an immediate asset at a position of need.
Losing Rob Gronkowski to multiple injuries and Aaron Hernandez to a murder charge forced the New England Patriots to adjust their offense. Traditionally known for their multifaceted, two-tight end passing attack, the Patriots’ tight ends have primarily become blockers this year in a power run-based scheme.
That adjustment has worked out just fine for New England (at least going into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game), but it ideally shouldn’t be a long-term adjustment. While the Patriots will hope for Gronkowski to return healthy in 2014, they should also seek another downfield weapon at the position to make two-tight end passing sets a dynamic once again.
Both Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro and Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins are first-round-caliber talents with off-field question marks, but Amaro would be the better fit to pair with Gronkowski. While his measurables might be similar to Gronkowski, he has the athleticism to be flexed out more frequently and extend more plays in the open field.
If the Patriots passing offense is going to have one more run of excellence before Tom Brady’s career hits its decline, it all starts with the re-emergence of its tight ends as top playmakers. Amaro has the skill set to help make that happen immediately.
Even if the Seattle Seahawks end up rolling with promising young gun Michael Bowie as one of their starting guards in 2014, they should still be in the market for another upgrade at a position where neither James Carpenter nor J.R. Sweezy has emerged as a valid starting option.
Among a number of solid choices late in Round 1, the best might be UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo. A well-rounded lineman who has experience playing a number of offensive line positions, he has star potential but should be able to step in right away and start on the interior line.
Su’a-Filo can add a combination of athleticism and core strength that the Seahawks currently do not have at that position, while his versatility gives him the flexibility to also kick out to tackle if needed.
If the Seahawks want a more mammoth, power-driven guard, either Baylor’s Cyril Richardson or Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson would be a good choice. The lateral agility and technical prowess Su’a-Filo possesses might make him the best choice.
Projected No. 35 overall selection Carlos Hyde.
33. Houston Texans: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
34. Washington Redskins: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
35. Cleveland Browns: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
36. Oakland Raiders: Dion Bailey, FS, USC
37. Atlanta Falcons: Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
39. Jacksonville Jaguars: David Fales, QB, San Jose State
40. Minnesota Vikings: Louchiez Purifoy, CB, Florida
41. Buffalo Bills: Zach Martin, G/OT, Notre Dame
42. Tennessee Titans: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
43. New York Giants: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
44. St. Louis Rams: Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor
45. Detroit Lions: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
46. Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
47. Dallas Cowboys: Lamarcus Joyner, CB/FS, Florida State
48. Baltimore Ravens: Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
49. New York Jets: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
50. Miami Dolphins: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
51. Chicago Bears: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
52. Arizona Cardinals: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
53. Green Bay Packers: Wesley Johnson, OL, Vanderbilt
54. Philadelphia Eagles: Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
55. Cincinnati Bengals: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
56. San Francisco 49ers (from Kansas City Chiefs): Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
57. San Diego Chargers: Jack Mewhort, OT/G, Ohio State
58. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
59. Indianapolis Colts: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
60. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
61. San Francisco 49ers: Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor
62. Denver Broncos: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
63. New England Patriots: DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
64. Seattle Seahawks: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
Projected No. 92 overall selection Ross Cockrell, a Shrine Game participant.
65. Houston Texans: Trevor Reilly, OLB, Utah
66. Washington Redskins: Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
67. Oakland Raiders: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
68. Atlanta Falcons: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
69. New York Jets (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
70. Jacksonville Jaguars: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
71. Cleveland Browns: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
72. Minnesota Vikings: Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
73. Buffalo Bills: Jimmie Ward, FS, Northern Illinois
74. New York Giants: Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
75. St. Louis Rams: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
76. Detroit Lions: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
77. San Francisco 49ers (from Tennessee Titans): Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
78. Dallas Cowboys: Trai Turner, G, LSU
79. Baltimore Ravens: Kareem Martin, DE, UNC
80. New York Jets: Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
81. Miami Dolphins: Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
82. Chicago Bears: Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State
83. Cleveland Browns (from Pittsburgh Steelers): Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
84. Arizona Cardinals: Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
85. Green Bay Packers: Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville
86. Philadelphia Eagles: Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon
87. Kansas City Chiefs: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
88. Cincinnati Bengals: Christian Jones, OLB, Florida State
89. San Diego Chargers: Yawin Smallwood, ILB, Connecticut
90. Indianapolis Colts: Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma
91. New Orleans Saints: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
92. Carolina Panthers: Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
93. San Francisco 49ers: Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
94. Denver Broncos: Joel Bitonio, OT/G, Nevada
95. New England Patriots: Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
96. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle Seahawks): Telvin Smith, OLB, Florida State
Projected No. 100 overall pick Jimmy Garoppolo, a Shrine Game participant.
97. Houston Texans: Daniel McCullers, NT, Tennessee
98. Washington Redskins: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
99. Atlanta Falcons: Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton
100. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
101. Jacksonville Jaguars: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
102. Cleveland Browns: Marqueston Huff, FS, Wyoming
103. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Steen, G, Alabama
104. Minnesota Vikings: Sean Parker, SS, Washington
105. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
106. St. Louis Rams: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
107. Detroit Lions: Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State
108. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
109. New York Giants: Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia
110. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Baltimore Ravens): Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
111. New York Jets: Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
112. Miami Dolphins: James Hurst, OT, North Carolina
113. Chicago Bears: Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
114. Pittsburgh Steelers: Victor Hampton, CB, South Carolina
115. Dallas Cowboys: Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
116. Arizona Cardinals: Craig Loston, SS, LSU
117. Green Bay Packers: Richard Rodgers, TE, California
118. Philadelphia Eagles: Vinnie Sunseri, FS, Alabama
119. Cincinnati Bengals: Keith McGill, CB, Utah
120. Kansas City Chiefs: Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State
121. San Diego Chargers: Michael Sam, OLB, Missouri
122. New Orleans Saints: Chris Smith, DE/OLB, Arkansas
123. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Lamin Barrow, ILB, LSU
124. Carolina Panthers: Dri Archer, WR/RB, Kent State
125. San Francisco 49ers: Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State
126. Denver Broncos: Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida
127. New England Patriots: Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State
128. Seattle Seahawks: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
Check back next Sunday for a full seven-round mock draft with post-Senior Bowl updates and updated draft order!
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.