It's mock draft season, and the 2014 NFL draft should feature one of the most talented first rounds in recent memory. There are a bevy of players at skill positions who have the potential to come into the NFL and make immediate impacts.
Mock drafts can change week to week based on reports on team needs, new coach hirings and the like. This makes keeping track of all the action difficult. But have no fear, football fans.
As it stands at this point in time, you can bet on the first round shaking up something like this. Here are your best bets for each first-round pick.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater may not be the consensus No. 1 pick anymore, but the Houston Texans would be foolish to select anybody different. Bridgewater has the chops to step in from Day 1 and be "the guy" ahead of Case Keenum and Matt Schaub.
New head coach Bill O'Brien should want nothing more than to start his tenure in Houston with a young quarterback who can grow with him. Bridgewater should be that guy.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
A 7-9 record should be considered a success for a St. Louis Rams team that played without signal-caller Sam Bradford for much of the season. The defense, led by Robert Quinn, was superb. It's the offense that can use a bit of work.
Building from the inside out on offense is the best strategy. Selecting Jake Matthews to strengthen the offensive line and create running lanes for Zac Stacy would vastly improve this offense. Plus, it would help to keep Bradford off his back.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
It's already time to find Blaine Gabbert's replacement in Jacksonville. And, no, Chad Henne shouldn't be that guy either.
The Jaguars need someone to build around. Blake Bortles is fresh off taking UCF to its first-ever BCS bowl game, and he has the size and presence in the pocket to be a difference-maker. This team has decent-enough weapons at wide receiver to ease Bortles' transition to the NFL.
4. Cleveland Browns, Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reports that the Cleveland Browns "are willing to trade up to land Johnny Manziel in the draft if need be, sources said, and have an owner, Jimmy Haslam, who is committed to spending their abundant cap space to try to win quickly."
With the other three teams ahead of them in the draft selecting other players, I don't see the Browns needing to move up to get their guy. If they want Manziel, they should be able to get him at No. 4.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney is a game-changer defensively, and the Oakland Raiders will be sure he falls no further than No. 5.
The Raiders will be drafting Clowney based on his production from 2012 (not 2013), as it was the far more productive season. That being said, Clowney was still a disruptive force this season for the Gamecocks.
Oakland still needs a quarterback, in my opinion, but Clowney is too talented to pass up.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
Anthony Barr is a terror coming off the edge at either an end position or outside linebacker. Hybrid types have been a hot commodity in the NFL recently because of the versatility they provide defensive coordinators.
Barr has good technique getting around offensive linemen and has a quick start that allows him to catch linemen flat-footed. He'll be a force on an Atlanta Falcons defense that could really use some help.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack simply knows how to get into the backfield and pressure the quarterback. A young, fast defense like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could really benefit from adding a talent like the Buffalo product.
Tampa is a team with potential over the next couple of seasons. The Buccaneers will need a defense to get there, though.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
With Bridgewater, Bortles and Manziel off the board, the Minnesota Vikings have a few options. They can trade back in the first round to select a quarterback there, or they can select Fresno State star Derek Carr at No. 8.
Trading back might bring in a better haul with possibly more picks in later rounds, but Carr's 50-touchdown season will be appealing to Minnesota.
9. Buffalo Bills: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Sammy Watkins is by far the top wide receiver in this class, and Buffalo Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel would really benefit from his explosiveness.
The space Watkins can create off the line of scrimmage because of his speed will create huge windows for Manuel to throw through. A young signal-caller like Manuel would really benefit from that luxury.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Inconsistencies across the board hampered the Detroit Lions this season. Despite the offensive issues, they are set at most skill positions. This makes Spartans corner Darqueze Dennard an ideal target.
He is very quick with good instincts in coverage and has the ability to leap for balls in the air. He has the potential to be a lockdown corner, but he'll have to prove that at the next level. Dennard can come in from Day 1 and start on this defense.
11. Tennessee Titans: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The potential is there for Jake Locker to lead the Tennessee Titans if he can (1) stay healthy and (2) get better production from his weapons.
The Titans' brass can help him out significantly by drafting Mike Evans. Evans' huge frame makes him an asset in the vertical passing game. It's not easy to out-leap him, and jump balls over the middle are basically a cakewalk for the 6'5" receiver.
12. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The New York Giants have several holes to fill, but drafting a linebacker to quarterback the defense is ideal. Alabama star C.J. Mosley has the chops to step in and start right out of training camp.
Mosley has the rare ability to help a defense in both the passing and run games. He has good instincts and a knack for bringing the ball-carrier to the ground. Pairing him with Jon Beason would make a strong tandem for the Giants.
13. St. Louis Rams: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Rams already have a strong defense. Robert Quinn is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line. Pairing him with Kony Ealy on the opposite side has the potential to be dynamic.
Drafting another wide receiver to pair with Tavon Austin is another option with this pick, but passing up on a talent like Ealy will prove too difficult. The Rams stand to be one of the most improved teams after Day 1 of the draft.
14. Chicago Bears: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Even with four new faces on the offensive line, the Chicago Bears started the same five guys on the offensive line in all 16 games and allowed just 30 sacks. That being said, they weren't all that good in short-yardage situations and need to start thinking of the future on the line.
Rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills started all 16 games last season. Auburn product Greg Robinson could easily follow in their footsteps. At the very least, he can learn from some of the veterans before taking on a larger role. This would be a safe pick at No. 14.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
In my humble opinion, it's hard to go wrong in the draft if you take an offensive lineman in the first round.
The Pittsburgh Steelers already have a solid line that helped Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell put up good numbers in 2013. Drafting Taylor Lewan, despite the lack of urgency on the offensive line, would be a smart idea.
Lewan is a strong run-blocker who can pave the way for Bell in the future.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Joe Flacco loves to air it out, and Marqise Lee loves to run the deep route. Match made? I think so.
Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones are not impact receivers. They are quality receivers in certain situations, but Lee has the ability to be a go-to No. 1 wideout on a balanced Ravens offense.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Defense needs to be the top priority for the Dallas Cowboys in the draft. Their production was embarrassing and the real reason why they couldn't overtake the Philadelphia Eagles.
The secondary has potential with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, but they need to be complemented with strong safety play. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix represents a nice addition that could have a Kenny Vaccaro-like impact on this defense.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Tight ends are a young quarterback's best friend. Geno Smith had Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland in his rookie campaign, but bringing in Eric Ebron from UNC would help Smith continue his growth in the NFL.
You can make the argument for Marqise Lee with this pick if he drops, but based on my predictions, that won't happen. The New York Jets simply need weapons for Smith to grow with. Ebron would be a nice first step.
19. Miami Dolphins: Stephon Truitt, DE, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt is a very unique defensive lineman prospect in that he has the size and athletic ability to make all the types of plays the NFL will throw at him. This type of versatility would make him an asset to a Miami Dolphins front line that could use some depth.
Tuitt's strong-suit is run defense. He closes on ball-carriers quickly and catches offensive lineman off guard when he bursts through the line of scrimmage. He's not Jadeveon Clowney, but he has the potential to be a difference-maker.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Alabama has been great with the fundamental aspects of football over the past several seasons, and keeping A.J. McCarron standing upright has been one of those fundamental areas where the Crimson Tide have excelled.
Cyrus Kouandjio was one of the main players in this success, and the Arizona Cardinals would do well to take him at No. 20. Alabama is perhaps the closest college can get to an NFL-style system, so Kouandjio's transition to the pros would likely be nearly seamless.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
I've previously said that the Green Bay Packers need to take a tight end with this pick—Jace Amaro, perhaps. I've learned since that last mock draft that the safety position is a far greater need.
Calvin Pryor is a physical athlete who is quick in diagnosing the run. He's a great tackler who hits hard and doesn't hesitate to make plays. The Packers could use someone like this in the run game, and his skills in man coverage make him arguably the most complete safety in the draft.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma
Philadelphia allowed a league-worst 289.8 yards per game through the air in 2013. Drafting a corner, then, would appear to be the most logical course of action.
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert fits at No. 22 in my draft, but it will come down to whether or not other teams value him higher. It would be somewhat of a steal if Philly could grab him here.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Kansas City Chiefs live and die by their defense. When the defense was dominant to begin the year, they were 9-0. Afterward, the team was just 2-5.
Grabbing a wide receiver to help the offense when the defense is struggling is the best bet at No. 23. Kelvin Benjamin is fresh off catching passes in the BCS National Championship Game from Jameis Winston, and Alex Smith will look for him often alongside Dwayne Bowe.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The Cincinnati Bengals are just a few pieces away from possessing a Super Bowl-caliber defense. Selecting Ifo Ekpre-Olomu from Oregon to help in pass coverage might be the final piece to the puzzle.
He is an aggressive, physical corner who will have a clear role on the team from Day 1. He might not start right away, but it shouldn't take long.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
It's time for the San Diego Chargers to start thinking about the post-Antonio Gates era.
Tight end Jace Amaro is the perfect candidate to eventually replace one of the game's all-time greats. He tallied 1,352 yards this season at Texas Tech, and the fact that he hauled in seven touchdowns suggests that he has a presence in the red zone.
Philip Rivers enjoyed a career year in 2013. He would be even better in 2014 with Amaro in the fold.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com reports that the Browns are interested in taking Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde. Seeing as that is unreasonable for No. 4 and that he might not be there in Round 2, Cleveland needs to take him at No. 26.
Hyde rushed for over 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013. He stands to be the only running back taken in Round 1.
27. New Orleans Saints: Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
The New Orleans Saints are one of the few teams in the NFL that use the nose tackle. Louis Nix III is a traditional nose tackle out of Notre Dame who is the perfect fit for this defense.
Rob Ryan loves to run his 3-4 defense against opponents. He's the best nose tackle available in the draft, and the Saints would really be dropping the ball if they let him slip past them.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks posted video game numbers in 2013. He totaled 128 receptions, 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns at Oregon State.
Cam Newton developed well this year, but he needs another weapon to continue his growth. Combining two speed guys like Steve Smith and Cooks would make for an explosively fast offense that will be difficult for defenses to match up with.
29. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Drafting an interior lineman like Ra'Shede Hageman would help the New England Patriots address their aging defense.
Hageman is a monster of a lineman. He stands 6'6" and weighs 311 pounds. The Pats already have a monster of a lineman in Vince Wilfork, and he would be able to be a mentor for Hageman from the start.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The San Francisco 49ers have an exceptional defensive unit, but the secondary is its worst component. Enter Jason Verrett.
He deflected 14 passes and intercepted two others for the TCU Horned Frogs in 2013. This gave him the reputation as a lockdown corner that opposing passers didn't want to test. He has that type of potential in the NFL.
31. Denver Broncos: Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame
Peyton Manning has an unbelievably quick release time that helps to make his offensive line look like a collection of superstars. That's the perfect situation for a young guard like Zack Martin.
Martin is more of a run-blocker, though. He will help create holes for Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, while also doing just enough in the passing game to keep Manning upright.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Penn State standout Allen Robinson totaled 1,432 yards and six touchdowns on 97 catches in 2013. Wilson is the perfect game manager and possesses the accuracy to make Robinson a weapon in the NFL.
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