NFL teams must balance their needs against taking the best player available when the 2014 NFL draft kicks off in New York City on May 8, as every franchise attempts to land a "sure thing" in the first round.
Mock drafts are all about what looks good on paper before prospects have a chance to disappoint us by becoming busts or by blowing us away by turning into league superstars. With that in mind, these upcoming selections will highlight players who have the best chance to positively impact their new teams.
Rest assured, this list will look quite different from the one that actually comes out after the draft. The evaluation process is still going on in earnest, with the NFL Scouting Combine upcoming along with pro days and individual workouts.
That said, here's a look at what could happen once commissioner Roger Goodell starts calling out names in Round 1.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Without a single "sure-thing" quarterback in the 2014 draft class, the Houston Texans would shock nobody by taking Jadeveon Clowney instead of drafting a quarterback the franchise isn't completely sold on.
With Clowney, at least Houston can be sure of possessing as dynamic a defensive front as any other team in the league. Selecting the freak defensive end to play on the line with J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed would give the Texans the ability to dominate the line of scrimmage on defense.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Rodger Saffold has long been a guy the St. Louis Rams hoped would become an elite offensive tackle, but he never lived up to that billing. On the other side, Jake Long will be coming back from a torn ACL and MCL.
Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M is the top offensive tackle in this year's draft class, and he'd be able to step in immediately and start on either side of the line. He was a right tackle before 2013, with Luke Joeckel operating on the left side, but transitioned to the left side effortlessly last year.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com loves what he sees out of this young man:
He has outstanding size, foot quickness and flexibility. In pass protection, he is an easy knee-bender, plays with balance and has the base to anchor versus power rushers. In the run game, he isn't a mauler but he plays with outstanding technique. He is quick off the ball and he does a nice job of reworking his hands and feet to stay in position. He is athletic enough to adjust at the second level and he stays off the ground.
Adding Matthews would give the Rams an excellent cornerstone with which to build around on offense in the years to come.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Jacksonville Jaguars need stability on offense in the worst way, and Teddy Bridgewater is the quarterback who can give it to this franchise.
Completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, the quarterback tossed 58 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions the past two years at Louisville. He understands how to manage the game but also possesses the athletic talent to make big plays when needed.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Cleveland has some pieces in place offensively to become quite good in a hurry, provided a competent quarterback is brought on board. Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Chris Ogbonnaya have all shown promise, with Gordon and Cameron in particular looking like legitimate superstars.
Johnny Manziel is a guy who could take this team to the next level. His ability to make big plays with his legs or arm, combined with his penchant for elevating the play of those around him, would give the Browns something to be excited about for the first time in years.
5. Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
While guys like Manziel, Bridgewater and even Blake Bortles have been receiving a lot of hype for playing well at the end of their seasons, Derek Carr has flown a bit under the radar.
However, his considerable talent and skill was abundantly clear during Senior Bowl practices, as pointed out by B/R's Matt Miller:
The most impressive aspects of his week were shown both on and off the field. His velocity and accuracy were at the highest of levels. Even during a very cold and windy Tuesday practice, the California kid was able to excel in the elements.
Carr also impressed by staying after practice to work with any receiver willing to run routes and work on timing together. He has clearly stepped up as the leader of the South team.
Blessed with the physical abilities NFL teams need at the quarterback position, Carr is also proving he's ready to step in and lead at the pro level. He's the perfect fit for an ailing Oakland franchise that hasn't had a good quarterback since Rich Gannon.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
NFL analysts around the web and on Twitter can't agree about Anthony Barr's pro potential. Count this author among those who see big things from the young man. At 6'4" and 242 pounds, the long-armed pass-rusher racked up 23.5 sacks in two years at UCLA after starting his career as a running back. He's got elite potential off the edge and will bolster Atlanta's mediocre defense.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw rookie quarterback Mike Glennon take 40 sacks in 13 starts last season. Donald Penn is a bit slow-footed to play on the left side, but he's currently the team's best option. Adding an athletic left tackle like Greg Robinson would allow Penn to move to the right side and give the Bucs two capable tackles with which to protect Glennon in the future.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Some may believe Blake Bortles' hype is a product of media obsession, but B/R's Ryan Lownes doesn't see it that way:
Despite the fact that Bortles only received two scholarship offers coming out of high school, the quarterback showed plenty of potential during his tenure at UCF, tossing 50 touchdowns and just 16 picks in his last two seasons.
Minnesota desperately needs a franchise quarterback, as Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel are both backups—at best.
9. Buffalo Bills: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Stevie Johnson is good, and Robert Woods showed promise during his rookie campaign, but neither player compares to Sammy Watkins, who is the top receiver in the 2014 draft class. Adding Watkins to the mix in Buffalo would give EJ Manuel a terrific trio of young receivers to grow with in the seasons to come.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
It's going to be tough for Detroit to compete with Chicago and Green Bay as long as the Lions feature a mediocre secondary. The Lions finished the 2013 season with the league's No. 23-ranked passing defense.
Justin Gilbert is a bigger cornerback, at 6'0" and 205 pounds, who has the athleticism, strength and speed to cover the league's top receivers on the perimeter.
11. Tennessee Titans: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
With new head coach Ken Whisenhunt in place, Titans fans can be comfortable knowing their team's offense will be much improved in 2014. Tennessee's defense could use some help, however, and adding a dynamic pass-rusher would be a smart move.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Eli Manning appears to be dealing with some sort of permanent facial disfiguration, also know as his "struggle face," playing behind a dysfunctional offensive line in New York. Rookie Justin Pugh was the lone bright spot on the line last year. Adding another top tackle in Taylor Lewan would be good for Manning's health, and it would help him avoid an abundance of worry wrinkles in his old age.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Despite featuring one of the league's most impressive defensive front sevens, the Rams struggled to defend against the pass in 2013, finishing at No. 19 allowing over 242 passing yards per game. Poor safety play was a problem all year long, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a player who could instantly help the Rams get better on this front.
14. Chicago Bears: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Without Brian Urlacher, the Bears struggled to stop offenses from imposing their will on a weekly basis in 2013. Lance Briggs, when healthy, is still the best linebacker on Chicago's roster, which is one of the reasons why this team struggled to shut offenses down.
C.J. Mosley was the quarterback of Alabama's defense the past two years, and he's a player who can step into the void left by Urlacher's departure for the Bears. Blessed with physical talent galore, he's also extremely smart, instinctive and knows how to get his defensive teammates into proper position.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
It's easy to project an offensive lineman to Pittsburgh in Round 1, given the team's struggles the past few years on the line. That said, Ben Roethlisberger's talent for avoiding pressure and making big plays on the run has worked in the past, and the Steelers desperately need to get younger on defense to avoid falling apart on that side of the ball.
B/R's Matt Miller recently singled out Darqueze Dennard as the most physical corner and best man-to-man cover guy in this year's draft:
Adding a player who fits those specifications to Pittsburgh's defense would be a good first step toward bringing the Steel Curtain back to the Steel City.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Joe Flacco struggled to replicate his 2012-13 postseason run last season without Anquan Boldin. Torrey Smith still had a big season, but the Ravens only managed 6.3 yards per passing attempt and 19 total passing touchdowns.
Marqise Lee out of USC is a skilled athlete who has the potential to develop into an elite receiver. He must improve his route-running and hands (consistency) in order to realize his potential, but he'd have an excellent chance to shine in Baltimore.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
DeMarcus Ware's best days may be behind him, and the Dallas Cowboys must find his replacement before it's too late. Kony Ealy out of Missouri is a long-armed physical freak of a pass-rusher (6'4" and 277 lbs) who is only beginning to show what he's capable of doing.
He'd be able to contribute instantly as a pass-rushing specialist on obvious passing plays. Once he gains a bit more strength and understanding about what's expected of him as an every-down player, Ealy could turn into one of the league's most dominant edge defenders in the league.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
New York needs offensive playmakers. At this time, there isn't a single receiver, tight end or running back on New York's roster who would be starting for any other team in the league.
Eric Ebron out of North Carolina is the premier tight end in this year's draft. Given his prototypical size (6'4" and 245 lbs), excellent speed and athleticism, it shouldn't be too surprising if he ends up going a lot higher than No. 18 when the actual draft takes place in May.
It's safe to say he would be an instant starter for the Jets, where he'd quickly become Geno Smith's most trusted weapon on Sundays.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
A few more years like 2013 will spell doom for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was sacked a league-high 58 times last season. Offensive tackle needs to be a priority for this club, which could do a lot worse than Cyrus Kouandjio out of Alabama.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Don't be surprised if Arizona goes for one of the second-tier quarterbacks in Round 2 or later to compete with Carson Palmer this upcoming summer. But for now, the Cardinals will be happy to add tight end Jace Amaro, who would be an instant upgrade over Rob Housler—a player who really struggled as a "top" option in 2013.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Poor safety play doomed Green Bay's secondary last season, as Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings were liabilities all year long.
Adding a do-it-all player, as described by Jeremiah, like Calvin Pryor out of Louisville would significantly improve this porous unit:
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Chip Kelly already has an excellent offensive line, two amazing running backs, a burgeoning tight end and a couple of dynamic receivers, but he's missing one key element.
The Eagles are missing a big-bodied receiver who can stretch the field vertically and also make big plays in the red zone.
Enter Mike Evans out of Texas A&M, who reminds many of Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Andy Reid loves quick-hitting passing attacks, and quarterback Alex Smith is a perfect triggerman in such an offense. Besides Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery, however, Kansas City doesn't currently have anyone who can challenge corners on the perimeter.
Odell Beckham is a Jeremy Maclin clone who would be a perfect complement to Bowe on the outside, allowing Avery to primarily work the inside in the slot.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
No disrespect intended, but veteran James Harrison cannot be the best option the Bengals have at linebacker in 2014. He's still as mean as ever, but the aging star isn't nearly fast enough to keep up with running backs and slot receivers.
Ryan Shazier is a speed demon who has a penchant for making big tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He's terrific rushing the passer off the edge, but he can also get out into coverage with skill.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Manti Te'o might have a bright future in the NFL, but he's going to need some help up front to realize his full potential. The Chargers allowed 4.6 yards per rushing attempt in 2013 without a true nose tackle. Louis Nix out of Notre Dame is the best nose tackle in the draft, and he would be an instant starter in base 3-4 packages.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
With a quarterback in place (Manziel), Browns general manager Michael Lombardi would be smart to consider taking a top receiver to play opposite Gordon. Brandin Cooks was one of the most productive receivers in the nation at Oregon State last season, catching 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. He'd be a terrific addition to a team that will be highly competitive in the AFC North.
27. New Orleans Saints: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Cameron Jordan was phenomenal last year in Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme. Imagine how much better the Saints would be with a worthy counterpart on the other side of the line. That's what this team would be getting in Timmy Jernigan out of Florida State. He's a big man with a quick first step and the ability to penetrate on both running and passing plays.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Cam Newton has one of the NFL's biggest arms, and he's learning how to use it to great effect. However, the Panthers haven't invested in bringing in top receivers the past few seasons, and Steve Smith isn't as explosive as he once was.
Kelvin Benjamin out of Florida State is a raw player who possesses elite-level physical ability. He was the key scoring threat for the Tigers throughout their championship season, and he'd quickly become extremely useful to Newton and the Panthers.
29. New England Patriots: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
It's always amazing what Bill Belichick and his coaching staff are able to accomplish when injuries decimate New England's roster. That said, it's even more amazing to watch this team perform when it has a healthy, talented roster.
After missing much of the 2013 season, Vince Wilfork will be back next year. He's one of the game's best defensive tackles, and he'd be even better with a young stud like Ra'Shede Hageman playing alongside him on the defensive line.
Hageman, at 6'5" and 315 pounds, is a veritable nightmare for offensive linemen to handle in the trenches. He's as strong as an ox, possesses excellent agility and a quick first step.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
There's a chance Anquan Boldin will sign with a new team in 2014 after spending one year in San Francisco. The 49ers have some big contract decisions looming, and it could be time to go younger and cheaper at the receiver position.
Allen Robinson out of Penn State was highly productive, catching 174 passes the past two seasons for the Nittany Lions. He's highly athletic with the ability to go up and catch the ball at its highest point, which is a trait that will serve him well playing with Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers.
31. Denver Broncos: Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
Denver's defense has been a lot different this year without Von Miller in the lineup. His absence has highlighted the team's need to bring in more pass-rushers for depth. Trent Murphy out of Stanford is a long, tall, strong defensive end who would be able to contribute early in his career for the Broncos.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Zach Miller has come through in spurts for the Seahawks, catching five touchdowns this past year. That said, he's not an ideal No. 1 tight end, and Seattle's offense would greatly benefit from a playmaking tight end who can stretch the field vertically.
That's where Austin Seferian-Jenkins comes in. He's a top-flight athlete who is a tremendous receiver downfield. He'd certainly need to work on his run blocking to become a complete player, but his ability to put pressure on linebackers and safeties would be immediately helpful.
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