Future NFL stars are found throughout the draft, but there's no doubt expectations are higher for those who are selected in Round 1.
Every team picking in the first round is looking for a player who can start right away, and there are plenty of prospects with a chance to be counted among this group.
The scouting process has already begun in earnest with the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and East-West Shrine Game. Up next is the Senior Bowl, and then later in the spring the NFL Scouting Combine and team pro days will take place.
With so much evaluating still yet to be done, a mock draft at this point in the process should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, here's a look at what could happen when Roger Goodell kicks off the 2014 NFL draft in May.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
What if Houston doesn't love any of the top quarterbacks coming out of the draft?
There's really no consensus No. 1 signal-caller, and given the amount of first-round flops at the quarterback position, it's crazy to pick a guy you're not completely sold on.
So, if the Texans find themselves stuck with the top pick, and if they aren't 100 percent happy with a quarterback, then Jadeveon Clowney would be a hell of a consolation prize.
Albert Breer of NFL.com and B/R's Matt Miller concur:
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Rams general manager Les Snead isn't afraid of making bold moves to land players he likes, and there's a lot to like about receiver Sammy Watkins. St. Louis has accumulated some great offensive pieces but still lacks a No. 1 receiver. Adding Watkins to the mix would quickly fix that problem.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Gus Bradley is going to feature an excellent defense, but the Jaguars won't win many games, regardless, without a franchise quarterback.
Teddy Bridgewater showed accuracy, leadership and poise during his tenure at Louisville—not to mention excellent athleticism and arm strength. He's more pro-ready than any other quarterback in the draft and could compete for the starting job immediately.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Cleveland is reportedly willing to trade up in order to land Johnny Manziel, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, but it won't have to in this mock. The Browns desperately need an injection of life, and there isn't another player in this year's draft that can give that to a franchise right away like Johnny Football.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The Raiders are looking for a legitimate franchise passer, according to general manager Reggie McKenzie, as ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez relayed:
We've got two young players who played this year (and) from an experience standpoint there wasn't any, so neither one of them stepped up and said, ‘I'm the franchise quarterback.' So absolutely, we're going to always continue to upgrade and find that guy. Now how we find them, we'll figure that out in the next few months, to what's available to us.
Blake Bortles has been getting a lot of positive hype since the beginning of December. His ability to run a pro-style offense without the need to look to the sidelines for assistance shows a level of maturity and smarts that will serve him well early in his career.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
The Falcons were mediocre on defense in 2013 in large part because of a mediocre pass rush. Osi Umenyiora led the team with 7.5 sacks, and Atlanta managed 32 on the season.
Anthony Barr racked up 23.5 sacks the past two years at UCLA, and he's still getting used to the idea of playing defense after beginning his career as a running back. The sky's the limit with this young man, who should give the Falcons a boost from Day 1.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Mike Glennon was sacked 40 times in 13 starts during his rookie season. The young signal-caller showed plenty of promise, but he'll do much better with better protection. Jake Matthews is the best pass-blocking left tackle in this year's draft. He'll be an instant starter and upgrade for the Bucs, allowing Donald Penn to move over to the right side where he belongs.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
People want to compare Derek Carr to his older brother David, who was the No. 1 overall pick back in 2002, but it's not fair to do so. The younger Carr is more accurate and possesses a stronger arm, and he's not going to have the pressure of being the first pick of an NFL franchise.
Not to mention, if he's selected by Minnesota, then Carr will have Norv Turner as a tutor, which has worked out well for others.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Bills have their offensive centerpiece in quarterback EJ Manuel. Now it's time to protect that investment, and offensive tackle Greg Robinson out of Auburn projects as an absolute terror of a left tackle. He's more naturally gifted than Matthews, and once Robinson is molded by NFL coaches into a technician, he'll dominate defensive ends on the edge.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Detroit hasn't featured a competent secondary in years, and it finished the 2013 campaign with the No. 23-ranked pass defense in the league. In a division with quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, that's not exactly helpful.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com notes Gilbert's playmaking tools and NFL size (6'0", 200 lbs):
He'd be a tremendous addition to an ailing secondary and an instant starter, and you can't ask anything more from a first-round pick.
11. Tennessee Titans: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
New head coach Ken Whisenhunt might be angling for an offensive player with this pick, but the Titans would be crazy to let Khalil Mack slide any further. He's a pass-rushing linebacker with elite agility, excellent speed and quickness who could immediately provide a boost to Tennessee's defense.
12. New York Giants: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Eli Manning suffered through the most miserable season of his career in 2013, thanks in large part to a terrible offensive line.
Former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said as much after retiring, as relayed by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily Post: “I would say the offensive line, first and foremost, has to be addressed. I think they need another significant upgrade in the O-line and certainly some added depth.”
Justin Pugh performed well in his rookie season for the Giants. Adding another bookend offensive tackle like Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio would certainly go a long way toward improving the team's offensive line play in the future.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Rams need to improve their defensive secondary after getting torched for 29 passing touchdowns last season. Safety play was an issue, but selecting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is at least part of the solution. He's a two-year starter out of Alabama who racked up seven interceptions in 19 games.
14. Chicago Bears: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
C.J. Mosley reminds B/R's Miller of NaVorro Bowman, and he has the talent to be an instant impact player for Chicago as a rookie:
The Bears featured one of the league's worst defenses in 2013, in large part because the team's linebacking corps lacked any depth and talent behind Lance Briggs, who battled injuries. Mosley is a leader who would fit right in and improve Chicago's defense from the start of training camp.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Pittsburgh needs to get younger on defense at just about every position. Adding a skilled man-to-man specialist like Darqueze Dennard would allow Dick LeBeau to be more aggressive with his blitzes, and he's a perfect fit for the Steelers, given his inclination toward physical play.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Joe Flacco needs more weapons in order to live up to his big contract. Torrey Smith is a proven player, but he's not going to beat defenses by himself every weekend. Adding a talented receiver like Marqise Lee out of USC would give the Ravens two viable perimeter weapons, which should significantly open things up offensively.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Dallas' defense lacked outside pressure in 2013. DeMarcus Ware struggled with injuries and only managed 6.5 sacks, and it's clear the Cowboys need to bring in a few young pass-rushers to bolster this ailing unit.
Kony Ealy out of Missouri looks and plays much like fellow Tigers star Aldon Smith, who's been tearing up NFL left tackles the past few years for the 49ers. He's raw, yes, but there's no doubting his natural talent.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Geno Smith will suffer the same fate as Mark Sanchez if New York doesn't bring in some viable offensive playmakers for him to play with. A great start would be drafting Eric Ebron out of North Carolina. He's a prototypical big tight end who moves exceptionally well for his size and has the speed to run past linebackers in the NFL.
19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Ryan Tannehill's talent will be wasted if he continues to get hammered in the pocket. He was sacked 58 times in 2013—10 more times than any other quarterback. Protecting him is vitally important for Miami going forward, and Taylor Lewan possesses the ability to become an elite left tackle in the NFL.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Arizona Cardinals have a couple of excellent receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, but Rob Housler wasn't exactly a world-beater this past season at the tight end spot. Adding a big-play tight end like Jace Amaro to roam the middle of the field would give Carson Palmer the ability to attack any part of the field with confidence.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Green Bay's safeties were atrocious in 2013—just ask any Packers fan.
Adding a do-it-all safety like Calvin Pryor out of Louisville would be a significant upgrade for a team that desperately needs to improve its porous pass defense in the pass-happy NFC North.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Nick Foles proved to be a brilliant young quarterback who made the most out of his chances in 2013 with the Eagles. He made Riley Cooper look like a star, so imagine what he could do with a physical freak like Mike Evans, who is a tremendous red-zone threat.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Andy Reid certainly has a certain "type" of receiver that fits his scheme. Just look at the roster in Philly, with Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson as featured weapons—both players well under six feet tall.
Odell Beckham isn't a big receiver at 6'0", 197 pounds, but he does possess the quickness and agility Reid loves.
Even better, he's a tremendous playmaker when the ball is in the air. Possessing excellent hands and body control, it's always a good chance he's going to come down with the ball when it's thrown his way.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Adding a powerhouse defensive tackle like Timmy Jernigan to play alongside Geno Atkins would give Cincinnati one of the most explosive defensive fronts in the league.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Chargers missed nose tackle Antonio Garay in 2013, allowing 4.6 yards per carry against them. Louis Nix out of Notre Dame is the best run-stuffing nose tackle in this year's draft, and he'd be able to step in immediately to upgrade this unit.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Josh Gordon can stretch the field, and he was spectacular for the Browns even without much help in 2013. Imagine how much better he'll be—not to mention the Browns—with an exciting quarterback like Manziel throwing him the ball and an excellent possession receiver like Brandin Cooks out of Oregon State playing on the other side of the field.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
One of the hallmarks of a Buddy Ryan-inspired 3-4 defense is aggressive blitzes that feature speedy defenders coming off the edge. Ryan Shazier out of Ohio State is a speed demon who plays much bigger than his size (6'1.5", 227 lbs), and he's a perfect fit with the Saints.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Steve Smith's best days are behind him, and the Panthers haven't yet drafted his replacement. Brandon LaFell is a decent player, but he's not a No. 1 guy. Kelvin Benjamin, on the other hand, certainly could be. Blessed with elite size, leaping abilities and capable hands, he has the potential to become one of the league's very best.
29. New England Patriots: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Bill Belichick loves to mix things up schematically to confound his opponents. But you can only scheme to the ability of your players, and New England's defensive line was lacking in depth and talent this past season. Adding a player like Stephon Tuitt, who can play any scheme, would allow for more flexibility and creativity.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
There's no guarantee Anquan Boldin will be re-signed by San Francisco, and even if he returns, the 49ers will be looking to upgrade the receiver position. Allen Robinson was extremely productive at Penn State, and his ability to get open and make tough catches will serve him well in the NFL.
31. Denver Broncos: Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
The Broncos need to add another pass-rusher to play opposite Von Miller for the next handful of years or more. Trent Murphy won't put up jaw-dropping numbers at the combine, but he does a lot of little things right. He's the perfect complement for Miller, who is more of a wild card on any given play.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ra'Shede Hageman is a towering presence on the defensive line at 6'5", 315 pounds. He's strong enough to play inside and quick enough to play on the edge, making him a perfect fit in Seattle as a developmental backup who can spell the starters and future stud.
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