The 2014 NFL postseason is nearing a conclusion, with just the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks left standing and ready to duke it out for the title of Super Bowl champion.
Fans of the other 30 teams in the league are all looking forward to the upcoming offseason. Free agency and the draft represent a chance to tweak the roster and potentially field a title-worthy team next season.
Let’s take a look at the best first-round picks for these franchises in the latest mock draft.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Texans have a number of options here, but it would be prudent to address the glaring issue of quarterback with the top pick.
With Arian Foster expected to return at full strength and Bill O’Brien taking over the head coaching duties, this team is starting to look better by the day. It just needs an elite signal-caller to build around, something Bridgewater would undoubtedly be.
While Johnny Football is another option here, the Texans have always leaned toward drafting high-character, safe players. This Louisville product fits the bill and should be the face of the franchise for years to come. He’s a major upgrade over Matt Schaub due to his arm strength and snap decision-making skills.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney is a physical freak who has the potential to become the best player from this class when all is said and done.
Because the Rams pass rush ranked among the league’s best (No. 3 in sacks in 2013), it would be wise for general manager Les Snead to consider trading down in exchange for a plethora of picks.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Bortles has the look of a franchise quarterback, and that is exactly what the Jags need at this juncture. Their defense should be more than respectable in 2014, but the team won’t amount to much unless the man under center is managing the game well and not making awful mistakes like Blaine Gabbert tends to do when he touches the rock.
This cannon-armed prospect should be able to take the reins and help turn this team around in a hurry if he’s selected with the No. 3 overall pick.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller believes Bortles' skills are similar to many of the young quarterbacks who took their respective teams to the playoffs this year:
Look at playoff QBs this year and you see value of mobile QB. Bortles has speed/body to pick up tough yards o designed/improvised runs.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 13, 2014
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Football is an ideal fit with the Browns. The former Heisman Award winner has the charisma and star power to make this franchise relevant again as well as solid fundamentals and elite mobility.
He made significant strides as a passer in 2013, and he should only get better in the pros. It would be very tough for Cleveland to pass on him at No. 4.
Ian Rapoport has found that this team is reportedly “very interested” in acquiring Manziel:
5. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Oakland could use upgrades all over the field, but this mock has the downtrodden organization locking up an elite pass-rusher in UCLA’s Barr.
This explosive athlete can fit any system and will be an asset due to his ability to cause disruption in the backfield, constantly pressure the quarterback, drop back into coverage and do everything else the Raiders may task this versatile outside linebacker with.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Falcons need to keep Matt Ryan protected, and Matthews is the perfect pick to accomplish that. He’s the best left tackle prospect in this class, and Atlanta shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger if he’s on the board when it comes time to select.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Bucs are getting an absolute steal with Watkins at No. 7. He’s a freakish athlete who produced at a high level in college and projects to have a seamless transition to the NFL.
Mike Glennon is sure to endure a high amount of scrutiny next season as Tampa tries to figure out if it has a franchise quarterback on its hands, so having weapons such as Watkins available will make life much easier for the young man.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Unless they trade up, the Vikings will have to reach to get an upgrade at the quarterback position with this pick.
Carr isn’t a terrible prospect, but he’s likely not worthy of a top-10 selection in the eyes of most competing franchises. The kid can make plays and has a great arm, but it’ll be interesting to see if he has what it takes to change Minnesota’s fortunes.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Mack is a machine who finds a way to create chaos in the backfield and bring down the opposing quarterback. He’s the best on the board at No. 9, a luxury the Bills can afford with EJ Manuel on the roster and a run of signal-callers getting called ahead of this selection.
In addition to his world-class pass-rushing skills, Mack is solid in coverage and can get sideline to sideline in a hurry. Don’t think for a minute this local Bisons product will fail to develop into a bona fide NFL star.
10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Lions struggled to generate anything on offense without Calvin Johnson in the lineup this year, making Evans excellent injury insurance at No. 10.
When Megatron is playing, Evans will be able to capitalize on soft single coverage and make the opposing secondary pay for focusing in on the future Hall of Fame wideout.
11. Tennessee Titans: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Titans have to bolster their offensive line with Michael Roos set to hit free agency. Robinson is the best available talent and an absolute steal at No. 11, giving Tennessee another big body that can be plugged in at a number of spots to help protect the passer and aid in run blocking.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Big Blue must find a way to keep Eli Manning from feeling the pressure and making poor decisions with the football.
Lewan can jump into the starting left tackle spot, allowing Will Beaty to move to right tackle and Justin Pugh to assume his natural guard spot, instantly improving this threadbare line.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Rams are getting a ton of pressure at the point of attack, but they have to get better once the ball is in the air. Clinton-Dix represents a major improvement over Rodney McLeod, as the rangy, smart safety can defend against the home run ball, make plays in the passing game and come up to support against the run.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears were absolutely abysmal against the run this year, giving up the most yards in the league to opposing rushers. Jernigan can use his big body to plug up the holes and has the skill to knife into the backfield and cause disruption.
It’s a home run selection for a team that likely would have made the playoffs had it been able to stop anyone on the ground.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Steelers struggled to get off the field in 2013 and direly need someone who can lock down the opposition’s top wideout.
Gilbert, coming off a terrific 2013 campaign with the Pokes, would immediately inject this secondary with youth, speed, size and skill.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Lee is the type of playmaker the Ravens need to emerge as the top team in the AFC North and make another playoff run.
He suffered through an injury-plagued season and saw his stats suffer for it over the past year, but it’s hard to discount the fact that this kid found the end zone 25 times during his first two years in Los Angeles. He’s going to keep finding paydirt in the pros and is well worth heavy consideration at No. 16.
Joe Flacco would love to have a versatile receiver such as Lee across from the streaky Torrey Smith and plodding Dennis Pitta. He’s the missing link this offense needs.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Cowboys defense was a mess in 2013, giving up historically high numbers to opposing offenses on a weekly basis.
They couldn’t get after the quarterback or stop the run, which is why a big body like Nix will help in the middle of the defensive line. He can clog up the running lanes and is surprisingly agile when he needs to get into the backfield and after the quarterback.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, UNC
The Jets have to bring in playmakers to help out Geno Smith. Ebron is the best on the board at a position Gang Green received very little production from.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Dolphins suffered through major offensive line woes in the midst of the 2013 campaign, and restocking their supply of big bodies has to be the top concern this spring. Kouandjio is a great value pick at No. 19, as he can protect Ryan Tannehill’s blind side from Day 1.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
It’s important to protect the passer in the NFC West, as the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams are all capable of getting after the quarterback in a heartbeat.
Martin can play almost anywhere along the line and will help the Cardinals keep Carson Palmer upright for another season as they try to find a long-term solution under center.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Packers' injury-ravaged linebacking corps wasn’t able to get stops when they counted most, which became evident in the playoffs.
If Green Bay desires to win another Super Bowl, it’s going to need a star inside linebacker who can make plays and come up with huge, game-changing stops. Mosley fits the bill and should shore up the interior of this defense for the foreseeable future.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Benjamin is the big receiver Philly needs to continue developing Nick Foles and make Chip Kelly’s offense one of the toughest in the league to stop.
He’s a perfect complement to the diminutive DeSean Jackson and is the red-zone target Foles would rely on to finish off drives with touchdowns.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Robinson should be the wideout of the future in Kansas City. There is no one with his level of talent on the roster, and he would open up the playbook a bit more for head coach Andy Reid.
Jamaal Charles was this team’s leading receiver in 2013, a concern that must be addressed via the draft.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Bengals have to consider challenging Andy Dalton with another quarterback in training camp, but drafting one with their first pick isn’t the right play.
Dennard is a much better value at No. 24, as he would be another youthful, skilled member of a secondary that has to start phasing out Adam Jones and Terence Newman.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Roby is an athlete who can make up for any mistakes in coverage with pure speed. He’s a project and will need some time before he can hang with the NFL’s top receivers, but the upside is here, and the Bolts can afford to roll the dice to land an elite coverage man.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Tuitt is a powerful, quick defensive end who can knife into the backfield and make good things happen for his defense. The Browns would be wise to add more players like this to their young defense.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Shazier will be a monster coming off the edge in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense.
He’s a big linebacker who can bully past blockers or blow by them with his elite athleticism and speed. Expect him to outperform expectations of his draft position if he comes off the board this late.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Cooks may not be the biggest wideout, but neither is Steve Smith, the Panthers all-time leading receiver. This Beavers product is blessed with immense blazing speed and the ability to create separation, two skills that will make him a major asset in the NFL.
Don’t sleep on Cooks being remembered as one of the better wideouts in a stacked class when all is said and done.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Pats need to get better production from the tight end position if—or when—Rob Gronkowski goes down again with injury.
Amaro has sneaky speed for his massive frame, great hands the ability to line up out wide as a receiver. He’s the type of versatile prospect Bill Belichick would love to have on his roster.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Is Pryor a good pick for San Francisco here?
Pryor is a massive safety who can simply deliver big hits. He is a smashmouth defensive back and exactly the kind of player who would fit in perfectly with the culture Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers have cultivated.
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Broncos defense needs to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. Ealy would immediately moves this team from the middle of the pack in sacks up to the top quarter, using his gifted athleticism and shiftiness to get after the opposing signal-caller.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman is a great developmental piece for the Seahawks to integrate into their defensive front. He’s capable of plugging up holes to stop the run and is also athletic enough to bring consistent pressure on the quarterback in passing situations.