As soon as the clock hit zero at Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seahawks hoisting the Lombardi trophy, all 32 NFL teams officially started their offseason. This allows all fans to fully turn their attention to the most important event of the spring: the 2014 NFL draft.
The beauty of the draft is that one or two key additions can transform an entire squad immediately. While some prospects might take a few years to develop, there are some serious game-changers in this year's class.
A lot can change between now and May, but here is a look at a first-round mock of the NFL draft.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Texans obviously have a lot of options for the first overall pick, including a trade. However, this roster is a good quarterback away from contending for a Super Bowl.
With that in mind, Houston has to find the best player at the position who can come in and start on day one and succeed. Without a doubt, that person is Teddy Bridgewater.
The Louisville quarterback has the arm strength, accuracy, mobility and composure in the pocket that teams look for in a No. 1 overall pick. Of course, there is some disagreement, according to Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com:
Still, the Texans should not care what others think. Bridgewater is the complete package at quarterback and must be selected with the top choice in the draft.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
At this point, it would almost be surprising if the Rams did not trade out of this pick. At the end of the season, general manager Les Snead explained the situation, via Peter King of MMQB:
There are going to be some teams that want to pick a quarterback, and that could increase the value of our pick. I have told people I’m not sure I know how to draft without multiple first-round picks, so I’m always going to be interested when it comes to making sure I can continue to do that.
The Rams do not really need a quarterback or a defensive end, so they can trade back while everyone else fights for positioning. That being said, Jake Matthews would be the smart pick if they remain here as someone who can solidify the offensive line and protect Sam Bradford.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Jaguars not only need a quarterback, but they also need someone who can jump-start the team and the fanbase after years of ineptitude. There is no better option in the draft to do that than Johnny Manziel, who is no stranger to big plays and constant headlines.
Johnny Football makes things happen even without talent around him. He can excel with his arm or legs and provide a boost to an offense that finished dead last in scoring this season.
The good news is that even if he struggles, he will certainly be exciting.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Cleveland failed miserably in its draft of Brandon Weeden, but Blake Bortles would be a much safer pick. He not only has the arm strength and accuracy to succeed in the NFL, but he also has the size and mobility that allows him to extend plays and find receivers down the field.
That ability would lead to some huge plays to Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron while finally making the offense formidable. New head coach Mike Pettine will have the defense rolling next year, and in Bortles, he'd get his franchise quarterback.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Raiders have not necessarily made a habit out of drafting the best player available, but this might be a pick that even they cannot ignore. Jadeveon Clowney is considered by many to be the best prospect in the entire draft with his size and pure athleticism on defense.
Clowney would give Oakland a dominant pass-rusher, and his abilities would help upgrade the entire defense next season.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
In a dream scenario, Clowney would drop to the Falcons at this spot. If he is off the board, however, they will likely select another pass-rusher in Anthony Barr.
Barr is extremely athletic and came in to UCLA as a running back. He uses his speed to beat offensive linemen on the edge and cause problems for opposing quarterbacks. Considering only two teams had fewer sacks than Atlanta last season, he would be a nice addition.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
If the Buccaneers feel confident in giving Mike Glennon another season to prove himself as a franchise quarterback, they need to give him more weapons. Vincent Jackson is one of the better players in the league at his position, but he had more than twice as many targets as anyone else on the team.
Sammy Watkins is clearly the best receiver in the class thanks to his elite speed and playmaking ability. Pairing him with Jackson could create one of the best tandems in the NFL and a scary offense for opposing players.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Vikings have needed a franchise quarterback for years, but they do not want to make the same mistake they made with Christian Ponder. The former first-round pick was a reach at the time and ended up being very underwhelming in the NFL.
However, Minnesota should not have to worry about that with Derek Carr. Although some were concerned that the Fresno State product built up his stats against inferior competition, he proved himself at the Senior Bowl practices.
ESPN's Adam Caplan was there to sing his praises:
Carr has a strong arm with good accuracy and timing. While he might take some time to adjust to the speed in the NFL, Minnesota can give him the chance to ease into the role to truly live up to his potential.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Bills had one of the best pass rushes in the NFL this season, finishing second in the league with 57 sacks. However, they need depth at linebacker, and Khalil Mack can do more than just rush the quarterback. He can also stop the run and sit back in coverage as well as anyone in the class.
This versatility could help him pair with Kiko Alonso to create a truly dominant front seven on defense.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
While the Lions were solid against the run last season, they still could not stop teams defensively due to the struggles in the secondary. With Darqueze Dennard, that would not be a problem.
The winner of the Jim Thorpe Award—an honor given to the best defensive back in college football—can be a true shutdown cornerback thanks to his physicality and instincts in the secondary. The Lions might want a receiver to pair with Calvin Johnson, but cornerback is a bigger need this offseason.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Titans had a surprisingly good defense last season, as the young players gelled to form a quality unit. But they could still use a stud middle linebacker to bring it all together.
C.J. Mosley is the best in the class at his position as someone who can make plays all over the field on defense. He was a star for Alabama over the past two seasons, and he is likely to keep it up in the pros.
12. New York Giants: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Greg Robinson proved at the BCS National Championship that he is worthy of being a high pick in the draft. He has the strength to be a dominant run-blocker and is still improving on pass plays.
If he is still on the board at this stage, the Giants would be crazy to pass on him. They need more protection for Eli Manning, and he could be instrumental in getting them back to playoff contention.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
After filling a need on the offensive line with their first pick, the Rams will look to improve the defense with their second.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has performed at a high level for Alabama and has the speed to cover a lot of ground in the secondary. Additionally, his physicality will fit in perfectly in the hard-nosed NFC West.
14. Chicago Bears: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Injuries contributed to problems defensively for the Bears this season, but upgrades are still needed in the middle of the field. They simply cannot give up the most rushing yards in football and expect no changes.
Louis Nix is someone who can help in this area, as he can add depth and youth to the defensive line. He can clog up the middle of the field and take on blockers to free up others to make plays.
It is rare in Chicago for the offense to be this far ahead of the defense, but the Notre Dame star will help his side of the ball catch up.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Over the past few seasons, the Steelers have missed on a number of offensive line picks. Still, that should not stop them from attempting to improve once again.
Hopefully, Taylor Lewan can live up to his potential and finally provide some protection for Ben Roethlisberger. If he cannot, the veteran quarterback might see his career end much sooner than expected.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
A year after winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens struggled throughout most of the 2013 season, especially on the offensive end. The unit ranked 25th in the NFL in points scored and 29th in total yards from scrimmage.
While the team could use some improvement on the offensive line, adding an elite weapon would also help. Joe Flacco had few reliable targets this season, and it led to a stagnant offense.
Adding a dynamic playmaker like Marqise Lee would provide the team with someone who can score from anywhere on the field. The USC star is excellent with the ball in his hands, and he can turn a short slant into a touchdown. This explosiveness makes him a better fit than Mike Evans.
His presence would also force defenses to back off the line of scrimmage, which would then help the run game. All of these factors would make Lee a valuable addition to the Ravens and a complement to Torrey Smith.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Timmy Jernigan was a key member of Florida State's run to a national championship, anchoring the defense with his strong play at tackle. He has the ability to penetrate into the backfield and cause problems for the opposing offense against both runs and passes.
Considering the Cowboys had the worst defense in football this past season, they could use all the help they can get on that side of the ball.
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Geno Smith struggled in his rookie year, but it is hard to blame him without much talent on the Jets offense. He needs another chance with someone who can make plays at receiver.
Mike Evans would certainly help out thanks to his size and ability to catch the ball at its highest point. When Smith gets in trouble, he can simply lob it up to his rookie receiver and expect him to make a play.
If the Jets cannot find a way to get Smith more help, they are only setting him up to fail.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Ryan Tannehill made big strides in his second season, but he was also the most-sacked quarterback in football by a wide margin. Things only got worse with the absences of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.
Miami needs someone who can step in from day one as a starting tackle, and Cyrus Kouandjio is that player. He has the size and strength that scouts love at the position, yet he still has not reached his top potential. If he can realize his natural abilities, he will be a big upgrade for the Dolphins.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The offensive line seemed better than last year because Carson Palmer did not take as many sacks as his predecessors. However, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) still rated the Cardinals as the worst offensive line in football this season, with Bradley Sowell being the worst offender at left tackle.
Adding Zack Martin to a line that will also get Jonathan Cooper back from injury will completely turn things around and help the Cardinals get over the hump in the NFC.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
When healthy, the Packers offense is as good as they come. This means that the team must look for upgrades on the defensive side to truly complete the roster and fortify its depth.
With safety being the biggest need, Calvin Pryor appears to be the perfect fit as a physical safety who can also cover plenty of ground in the passing game. With big receivers like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in the division, this addition is a necessity for Green Bay.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
If the Packers pass on Pryor, he would be a good fit for the Eagles at No. 22. However, with him off the board, the squad will look to upgrade the defense in another way.
Kony Ealy is a versatile player who can upgrade the pass rush and also provide a lot of help against the run. Even with other quality ends and linebackers on the roster, the Missouri star will force his way onto the field and be a quality addition to an inconsistent defense.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Based on talent alone, Eric Ebron could be drafted as high as the top 10. However, not many teams have pressing needs for tight ends, and the position is often devalued on draft day.
Of course, this is only good news for the Chiefs, who could use another impact player on the offensive side of the ball. According to Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, the North Carolina product can certainly help out:
Many people love to mock Alex Smith, but he had very few options to throw to during the year. Jamaal Charles was the team's leading receiver last year, but Ebron could become a safety net for the quarterback and have a big season as a rookie.
The tight end will be able to make an impact even if Smith cannot throw the ball down the field. He'd also open things up for Dwayne Bowe.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Although the Bengals have one of the more complete rosters in football, this season showed that the secondary could use some more depth. Injuries to key players left plenty of question marks on the defense.
That would make it smart to add an elite athlete like Justin Gilbert. He is someone who has the ability to make big plays in the secondary that can lead to even more wins next season.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Jason Verrett might not have the size of Dennard or Gilbert, but his quickness and agility make him one of the best cornerbacks in the class. That will be huge for San Diego, which truly needs an upgrade at the position.
While the Chargers were able to mask some of the problems on defense thanks to a solid run game down the stretch, they still need someone who can cover speedy receivers, and Verrett has that ability.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
With Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron already on the roster, the Browns do not necessarily need another receiving target early in the draft. Still, wouldn't it be nice to get one more quality player after drafting a quarterback with their first pick?
Kelvin Benjamin has the size and agility to be a go-to target, but he will not receive much defensive attention in this lineup. He can provide Blake Bortles (or anyone else) with an elite group of options that will help make the transition to the NFL much easier.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Thanks to Rob Ryan, the Saints had a dramatic improvement on defense from 2012 to 2013. However, they still have room to improve in order to match up with the best units in the NFC.
Ryan Shazier is not only a playmaker, he is also a leader who makes everyone around him better. He possesses great closing speed and will put a hurt on many opposing running backs.
28. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Few players had a better week of practices at the Senior Bowl than Jordan Matthews. The 6'3", 206-pound receiver was extremely productive throughout his career at Vanderbilt, but he showed in Mobile, Ala., that he can carry that over to the NFL.
Not only did he showcase his impressive hands with his ability to attack the ball in the air, but he also went the extra mile by running routes after practice. And Bleacher Report's Matt Miller points out that his dedication did not stop there:
Matthews is a coach's dream as someone who will continue to improve himself. Of course, quarterbacks will also love him with his ability to grab almost any ball in the area.
Cam Newton has had inconsistent weapons throughout his career, but Matthews would be a huge boost to this squad.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots were at their best offensively when they had two elite tight ends creating mismatches for the defense. Between Rob Gronkowski's injuries and a lack of proven talent at wideout, Tom Brady had no one to throw to in the middle of the field.
Adding Jace Amaro would change that in a hurry. The 6'5" target has the size that will help out in the red zone and the speed to beat linebackers down the field. There might be other needs, but this pick would once again make the Patriots offense a tough team to stop.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Odell Beckham does not have the ideal size that the 49ers are looking for in a receiver, but he does have a skill set not currently on the roster. He has top speed that allows him to stretch the field, as well as the agility to make defenders miss after the catch.
San Francisco might use its plethora of picks to trade up in the first round, but Beckham remains a quality fit alongside Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin.
31. Denver Broncos: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
While Shaun Phillips had a productive year for the Broncos, they could still use plenty of help along the defensive line. With Stephon Tuitt, they can add a versatile player who can contribute at defensive tackle or defensive end and help against both the run and the pass.
With Von Miller set to return next season, Denver's defense could turn into a strength.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Almost everything was perfect for Seattle this year, but the squad could still use upgrades on the offensive line. Russell Wilson tied for third in the league with 44 sacks, which is not exactly what the Seahawks want to see from their franchise player.
David Yankey can help in pass protection while also clearing plenty of space for Marshawn Lynch, whether he needs it or not.
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