Super Bowl XLVIII did not go as planned.
Few fans could have predicted the Seattle Seahawks thrashing the Denver Broncos 43-8. It was a shocking way to end the season, and now it's time to shift gears.
Fans of all 32 organizations in the NFL are officially in the offseason, meaning the focus is on free agency, the combine and the NFL draft.
I’m here to focus on the latter. Let’s highlight the best picks for every club with a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft and discuss how they would be an ideal fit on the roster.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater is the franchise quarterback the Texans need to go from a bottom-feeding team in the league’s basement to a perennial contender in the AFC. Remember, this team had back-to-back seasons of 10 or more wins and consecutive divisional-round appearances before imploding and going 2-14 in 2013.
Much of the credit for that failure is split between poor coaching, untimely injuries and awful play under center. With head coach Gary Kubiak out and replaced by Bill O’Brien, the first issue is taken care of. Stud running back Arian Foster, star linebacker Brian Cushing and other injured stars should also be back and healthy in 2014, leaving only the quarterback position to address.
Bridgewater is the best pick here at No. 1. He is a high-character prospect with immense arm strength and elite decision-making skills. There are other options here, such as Johnny Manziel, but the Cardinals product is the safest bet on the board for Houston.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney is a freakish athlete who has the most potential of anyone in this class. There is a good chance that he winds up the best player coming out of this draft, largely due to his special pass-rushing skills.
The Rams may elect to trade out of this position, given that they ranked No. 3 in sacks last season and aren’t in dire need of improvement in that area. General manager Les Snead will have a tough decision to make on draft day, but if the Rams stick at No. 2, adding Clowney would add another dimension to this defense in an increasingly tough NFC West.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The Jags are in dire need of talent at the quarterback position. It is more than clear that Blaine Gabbert isn’t an NFL-caliber player.
Bortles was great in 2013 and truly stood out when it counted most in bowl season.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller believes that his versatile skill set is in line with a number of other quarterbacks in the NFL, many of which are taking their teams on postseason runs:
The Knights product also has a cannon for an arm and is ripe for development, making him a perfect pickup for the Jags at No. 3.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
According to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, the Browns are intrigued with the idea of adding Manziel:
The former Heisman winner is exactly the type of star they need to drum up some excitement around this young, up-and-coming team. Given that he’s improved immensely as a passer from his freshman year, it’s a good bet that the Browns go with Johnny Football to solve their longstanding signal-caller issues.
5. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Raiders need help at almost every spot on the roster, so they are able to take one of the better prospects on the board.
Barr is explosive and capable of playing multiple positions and tackling multiple assignments, including rushing the passer, dropping back into coverage and supporting the run. His upside is tremendous.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Falcons have to keep Matt Ryan protected if they are going to avoid another miserable campaign.
Matthews is the top tackle prospect in this class and would be an instant starter on the Atlanta line. He’s the ideal pick for this club at No. 6.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Bucs have to put some more skill-position talent around Mike Glennon if they are going to develop the second-year pro as the quarterback of the future.
Watkins is the best receiver in this loaded crop, which says a lot about his skills. He’s big, fast and has a real nose for the end zone, as evident by his 27 touchdowns in college (including only three scores in 2012).
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
This is admittedly a bit of a reach, but the Vikings have to land a franchise quarterback. With slim pickings available in free agency, the team would be wise to roll the dice to try to land a player it can build around for years to come.
Until this team finds some consistency under center, it’s going to continue to flounder and never truly have a chance to contend in Adrian Peterson’s prime.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Mack is a hometown hero in Buffalo and should be a no-brainer if he’s still available when the Bills are picking at No. 9. The Bills need help and depth at linebacker, and Mack is a pure all-around linebacker.
This prospect can play all three downs, get after the quarterback with his relentless motor, drop into coverage, and come up to stop the run. What else could you ask for from the outside linebacker position? New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would likely be thrilled to pair Mack with Kiko Alonso.
10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Evans is the perfect insurance policy for Megatron. The Lions are absolutely dreadful on offense when Calvin Johnson is out of the lineup. They need to get a quality second receiver to complete their offense.
This Aggies star is as consistent as they come. He uses his big frame and strength to clear a path to the ball, and he possesses the athleticism to jump up and get the ball at the highest point.
He’s the perfect No. 2 receiver and should be able to cobble together some monster performances with Johnson drawing double coverage.
11. Tennessee Titans: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Robinson is a physical beast who absolutely dominates the line of scrimmage. He’s better at bulldozing a path for the run, which is an area the Titans want to keep getting better at after averaging a solid 118.4 yards per game in 2013.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan is a great tackle prospect who finds a way to get the job done regardless of the circumstances.
He’ll be able to help the G-Men make over their line immediately, slotting in at left tackle while Will Beatty moves to the right side. Justin Pugh, last year’s first-rounder, can then line up at his natural guard position, hopefully a change that keeps Eli Manning upright and improves the running game.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
It’s been mentioned that the Rams are productive along their front seven and are capable of getting tons of pressure on the quarterback.
What they aren’t so good at is defending the ball once it’s in the air.
Clinton-Dix immediately changes that. He would be a solid last line of defense against the big play and a major upgrade over Rodney McLeod. The 'Bama product has the range, athleticism and ball-tracking skills to become the next big thing at the safety position.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears gave up the most rushing yards per game to opposing teams this past season, an Achilles' heel that ultimately doomed them.
Jernigan can come in and change that by himself, using his big body to plug up the middle. Factor in his immense quickness and agility, and you are looking at a top-tier defensive tackle whom the franchise can build around for years to come.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert is the best corner in the class. He has the perfect combination of size, speed, athleticism and talent to shut down the best receivers the NFL has to offer.
Considering the Steelers struggled at times to get off the field and feature a number of aging players in the secondary, it’s undoubtedly time to nab a bona fide star at the corner spot.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Lee is a playmaker, plain and simple.
He may have had a down year in 2013, but injuries and internal turmoil are to blame. He’s a prime candidate to be overlooked due to those reasons, but he’ll show up every team that passes on him with a breakout rookie year.
The Trojans product scored 25 times during his first two seasons and has a knack for finding paydirt. With his big frame and speed, he’s able to go through and around defenders on his way to scores.
The Ravens need a prospect like this to develop alongside Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta. He would give the offense the balance it needs to get back to the playoffs and make a Super Bowl run.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Cowboys were all sorts of awful in 2013. They gave up tons of yards through both the air and on the ground, a reason why they yet again missed the playoffs despite competing in one of the weakest divisions in football.
Nix is a defensive lineman who will fix both of their major defensive deficiencies. He can plug up holes in the run game using his 345-pound frame, but he can also get after the quarterback and get some sacks to help a team that ranked in the bottom third of the league in that department.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, UNC
The Jets are doomed to have another failure at quarterback on their hands if they don’t bring in elite skill-position players to complement quarterback Geno Smith in his second year.
Ebron will be a reliable safety net for this young signal-caller, giving him a big, athletic target to look for all over the field, but especially in the end zone.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Dolphins must replenish their offensive line after losing a number of players there during the 2013 campaign. Kouandjio is a perfect value pick at No. 19. He should help protect the investment of Ryan Tannehill with his SEC-polished pass-protection skills.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
If you can’t protect your quarterback in the NFC West, you don’t have a chance. The Cardinals know this and should draft Martin to bolster the depth and nab a potential starter on the offensive line.
Quarterback Carson Palmer took a ton of hits this past year and is in the final years of his career, meaning the team needs to start investing for the future by grabbing players who can protect him and his eventual replacement. The team could look to develop a signal-caller with a selection later on in this event or wait until next year’s draft to use a first-round pick.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Mosley is a beast who deserves to be taken in the first round, despite the relative abundance of top-notch interior linebackers in the league.
He’s fast with unmatched natural instincts and a knack for making the big play. When the Packers need to get off the field, Mosley will come up with the stop. That’s something this team couldn’t do with regularity in 2013.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Benjamin is the receiver Nick Foles needs to continue his path to becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Benjamin showed off his entire array of tools when he made the game-winning catch in the national championship game. He used his big body to box out defenders and flashed his ability to go up and get a ball that only he could grab.
That is exactly what the Eagles need next to DeSean Jackson, who succeeds with an entirely different type of skill set.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Robinson is the sort of high-upside talent the Chiefs could plug in and play from Day 1. This team has to stock up on wideouts, as running back Jamaal Charles was the top receiver in 2013. The Chiefs are too predictable and won’t be as successful next year with defenses prepared to stop them on offense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Dennard was one of the top corners in the nation this year, playing both man and zone with equal efficiency. That will allow him to become a quality player in this league.
Given the aging talent in the Bengals secondary, he’s the best option on the board here at No. 24. Don’t be surprised if this Spartans stud passes Adam Jones and Terence Newman on the depth chart sooner than later if Cincy selects him.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Chargers' weakness in 2013 was their pass defense, which is something the team has to address with this pick.
Roby isn’t as skilled right now as some of the corners who will go ahead of him, but he’ll be a fine addition to the Bolts due to his speed and quickness—two talents that just aren’t teachable.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Tuitt represents value for the Browns here, who will look to capitalize on the Trent Richardson trade by landing a more productive talent than the player they sent to the Colts.
This pass-rusher has what it takes to knife into the backfield and come up with big plays, whether they be stuffs on the running back or sacks of the quarterback.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Shazier is going to be deadly if he comes off the edge in the Saints’ 3-4 defense.
The Buckeyes star is capable of going right through opposing blockers—especially if they try to chip at him with a tight end—or using his speed to go around them to get after the signal-caller.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Cooks is a tad underrated due to his diminutive size. Considering Steve Smith is the best wideout in franchise history and stands just 5’9”, the Panthers shouldn’t be afraid of drafting this kid.
The 5’10” speedster finds a way to get separation and is always dangerous as a playmaker, which should make him a perfect replacement for the veteran Smith in time.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Pats can no longer count on Rob Gronkowski staying in the lineup. Even though he produces when he’s healthy, he is far too injury-prone to rely on to play an entire season, let alone the playoffs.
Amaro is a smart selection for this team if it wants to add depth and talent at a position that it sorely lacked skill at in 2013. He’s fast and represents a big target for Tom Brady to hit in the end zone.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Pryor would be an excellent fit with this old-school Niners squad. He’s a massive hitter and uses his 6’2”, 208-pound frame to bully opponents and deliver crushing blows.
He’s surprisingly talented in run support and coverage as well, which should help him crack the starting lineup sooner than later in San Francisco.
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Ealy is the type of pass-rusher the Broncos need; he can step up if Von Miller is missing any additional time and complement him if he stays on the field.
He’s a gifted athlete and more than equipped to find a way to bring down the opposing quarterback.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman is the type of luxury pick a loaded team like Seattle can afford to make. He’s a big body that can plug up holes in the running defense, while also having the nimbleness to rush the passer when needed.
In addition, this Golden Gopher will be learning from some of the best defenders the NFL has to offer and should be able to see some situational snaps in his rookie year.
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