The NFL is an ever-evolving league in which teams are built primarily through the draft. This puts intense pressure on general managers to pick right—especially in the first round, when said picks hold immense value.
Thankfully, there isn't quite as much pressure to get picks right in a mock draft—especially at this point in the proceedings, with the Super Bowl yet to be contested.
The scouting process is only now just beginning in earnest for the other 30 franchises out of the running for the Lombardi Trophy, with the NFL Scouting Combine, pro days and individual workouts still upcoming.
With that in mind, here's a look at the best bets for what could happen in Round 1 on draft day, given the information currently at hand.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
We already know new Houston head coach Bill O'Brien likes Blake Bortles. He said as much after the quarterback ripped his Penn State team to shreds back in September, via Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel:
Anytime you have a quarterback like [Bortles] who is accurate, has a strong arm, is big and can stand in the pocket and can run, it is a difficult challenge. He played a great game tonight and all the credit to him. I think he is a heck of a player.
Bortles looks the part of an NFL franchise quarterback, at 6'4" and 230 pounds, and he proved himself a worthy field general during his time at UCF. He's got the tools to step in and help Houston win games from Day 1.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Rams already have two ferocious pass-rushers in Chris Long and Robert Quinn, but Quinn will be a free agent after the 2014 season. He's likely going to be seeking a huge contract after racking up 19 sacks this past year.
Maybe adding Jadeveon Clowney isn't such a crazy idea after all.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
It won't matter how disciplined the Jaguars play under Gus Bradley—this team won't win many games without a franchise passer. That said, Bradley likes to run the ball, and he needs a quarterback who's comfortable operating a pro-style offense from behind center.
Teddy Bridgewater is a pocket passer who ran a run-first offense at Louisville. He's a perfect fit for the conservative offense Jacksonville needs to run at this time, and his ceiling hasn't yet been hit.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora recently reported Cleveland being so interested in Johnny Manziel that the club would trade up to get him. The fit makes sense, as the Browns need an injection of life, and Manziel is the most exciting quarterback prospect in this year's draft class.
Manziel doesn't have the biggest cannon for an arm, but he surely knows how to use the one he's got. His willingness to let his receivers go up and get balls will be a boon for Josh Gordon, who is just beginning to flourish as a top-five receiver.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
Oakland did well to rack up 38 sacks last year, given the level of pass-rushing talent on the team's roster. Lamarr Houston was the team's leading sack man, with six, and he's going to be a free agent. The Raiders would be smart to add another young stud like Khalil Mack to pair with Sio Moore, who showed plenty of promise in his rookie season.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Only two teams in the NFL earned lower grades in terms of pass-blocking last year than the Atlanta Falcons, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Matt Ryan is a brilliant young quarterback, but he will not be able to thrive in 2014 without help on the offensive line.
Jake Matthews is a technician who can play either side of the line. While Auburn's Greg Robinson may have more upside in the long run, Matthews is a player who can step in immediately to upgrade Atlanta's ability to protect Ryan as well as run the ball.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Tiquan Underwood isn't a viable No. 2 receiver, and while Mike Williams has shown promise, it remains to be seen if he's really the long-term answer for the Bucs opposite Vincent Jackson—his new contract in 2013 notwithstanding.
Sammy Watkins is a player who would not only complement Jackson, but he would eventually overtake him on the depth chart as Tampa Bay's No. 1 receiver before too long.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
With Norv Turner coming on board, and given the extremely talented collection of offensive playmakers on Minnesota's roster, the only thing left for the Vikings to do is land a top quarterback to complete the equation.
Derek Carr drew rave reviews for his work at the Senior Bowl, and he's rising up many draft boards as a result. The biggest thing that makes this fit, however, is that Carr is accurate and possesses excellent anticipation, which will serve him well in Turner's system.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Auburn's Greg Robinson has been rising up draft boards since December when the Tigers started beating up on some of the top teams in the SEC. He has showed excellent mobility for a big man and will be highly coveted once teams see how well he moves without his pads.
Protecting EJ Manuel is going to be a high priority for the Bills in the upcoming seasons, and Robinson is the perfect man to learn on the job with the young signal-caller.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Despite the fact that Detroit's front line could use another pass-rusher, the team's greatest need on defense is at cornerback, where there's been a distinct lack of talent for years. Justin Gilbert not only has the size to defend top perimeter receivers, but he also possesses the athleticism and speed to run with them down the field. He's a perfect player to help Detroit conquer the pass-happy NFC North.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
The Titans have some promising players on the defensive side of the ball, but the lack of a dominant edge-rusher has been an area of need for a couple of years now. Anthony Barr can step in immediately on obvious passing downs to give a boost (23.5 sacks in two years at UCLA), and he'll be an every-down player before too long.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Newly retired offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride pointed to New York's dysfunctional offensive line as a tremendous area of need going forward, as relayed by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:
It just made it impossible for our quarterback to function.
We’ve been kind of a dynamic, explosive, throw-the-ball-down-the-field (offense), let your guys do a lot of vertical read-type of stretch principles. And we had to abandoned those. Those are the things that we’ve done very well that allowed us to be in the Top 10 offensively for a long time. You can’t do it because the quarterback would be on his back while you’re waiting for those things to happen.
Rookie Justin Pugh was a lone bright spot on the line, and the Giants would be smart to add at least one more top offensive lineman to the mix in 2014. Taylor Lewan didn't have his best campaign as a senior in 2013, but he's still an elite prospect who could step in and immediately help the Giants win.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
After landing another pass-rusher to bolster the front seven, St. Louis would be wise to look to improve its back end. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix can do it all from the safety spot. He's big and strong enough to make key stops in the run game, and he's fast and athletic enough to cover the back end.
14. Chicago Bears: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Chicago needs to reboot its linebacking corps. The Bears finished the year with the league's 30th-ranked defense, and no team was worse against the run. Needless to say, adding a star linebacker like C.J. Mosley would be a big help in this regard.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ra'Shede Hageman is an intriguing prospect who was extremely underutilized at the University of Minnesota. The defensive tackle measures in at 6'6" and 311 pounds, and NFL.com's Bucky Brooks recently wrote that the big man could put up numbers at the combine similar to those of J.J. Watt.
With that kind of athletic potential, Hageman will become a monster at defensive tackle in Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Torrey Smith had a big year for the Ravens, but Baltimore's offense languished throughout most of the season with limited offensive weapons available for quarterback Joe Flacco. Marqise Lee out of USC has the tools to become an instant impact player for this team playing opposite Smith on Sundays.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Dallas has two excellent cover corners, but the team's lack of safety help doomed it time and time again this past season. Calvin Pryor out of Louisville would immediately help the Cowboys improve on the back end.
B/R's Matt Miller recently described his game:
Pryor is a physical player from snap to whistle. He loves to use his hands in coverage but does so in a way that allows him to avoid penalties at the college level. He's also physical when he's not near enough to pull and slap at wide receivers, given his top-level closing speed and the way he comes in to lower the boom on anyone with the ball.
Pryor has the athleticism and strength to make an impact as a starter in his first NFL game.
Dallas fans will be drooling at the prospect of finally having a star-caliber safety, and Jerry Jones should oblige them by picking Pryor.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It's no secret that the Jets are lacking talent at the offensive skill positions. Eric Ebron is an exciting prospect who has game-breaking speed and agility from his tight end spot. Though New York certainly needs perimeter receivers, Ebron would be a great player to add in order to give Geno Smith a security blanket in the middle of the field.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
It's not going to go well for Miami if Ryan Tannehill suffers through another 58-sack season in 2014.
The Dolphins desperately need to upgrade the offensive line, and Cyrus Kouandjio is the best remaining player to help in this pursuit.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
It's easy to project an offensive lineman to Arizona at this spot, and it wouldn't be crazy to add tight end Jace Amaro either. That said, Kony Ealy has the potential to turn into another Aldon Smith-type player out of Missouri, and the Cardinals would be crazy to let him slide further down the board.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
B/R's Sigmund Bloom recently projected Jace Amaro to the Packers in Round 1, and it's a pick that makes a ton of sense:
Jermichael Finley may not play again after he suffered a couple of incredibly terrifying injuries this past season. The Packers should make sure they have a plan in place to replace his production. Even if he does return, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for Aaron Rodgers to have two dynamic tight ends on the field.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Philadelphia will have an excellent opportunity to upgrade its offense during this year's draft, as there are plenty of talented receivers coming into the league. However, of all the players coming into this year's draft class, none have the physique of Kelvin Benjamin, who, at 6'5" and 234 pounds, has the frame to become an elite No. 1 in this league.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Alex Smith is extremely effective when throwing short, timing patterns, which is why he fits so well in Andy Reid's system in Kansas City. The Chiefs are lacking a true No. 2 receiver to play alongside Dwayne Bowe, however, which is where Odell Beckham fits in.
Adding Beckham would allow Donnie Avery to work primarily in the slot, where he's most effective, and it would give Smith two potent receivers on the outside to balance the field.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The AFC North isn't the same division these days that it used to be. With guys like Josh Gordon and Torrey Smith wreaking havoc in the open field, it pays to have a handful of excellent cornerbacks to combat the increased emphasis on throwing the football.
Darqueze Dennard is the top press-man corner in this year's draft. He'd immediately compete for a starting role with Cincinnati, which already features one of the league's most complete defensive units.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
San Diego was extremely physical up front offensively in 2013 under new head coach Mike McCoy, but the team's defensive front needs work. The Chargers allowed 4.6 yards per carry last year, which is unacceptable for a team running a 3-4 scheme.
Adding Louis Nix—the guy B/R's Matt Miller calls the best nose tackle in the draft—would certainly help the Chargers improve that number in 2014 and beyond:
Notre Dame's Louis Nix RT @crmetz23: Who is the best 3-4 nose tackle in the draft— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 6, 2014
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Gordon learned how to become exceptionally productive this past year despite the fact that he was working with substandard quarterbacks and didn't have a complementary No. 2 receiver on the other side of the field.
Adding a guy like Brandin Cooks, who racked up 128 catches for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns at Oregon State in 2013, would be a huge move to boost the team's passing totals next year.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Ryan Shazier is the ultimate Swiss Army knife for Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme. He's a devastating pass-rusher who can also cover in space against tight ends and receivers, which makes him a perfect fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker who'll wreak havoc for the Saints.
28. Carolina Panthers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
It will be a crime if the Panthers don't bring in a top receiver for Cam Newton to throw to in the 2014 NFL draft. Steve Smith isn't a spring chicken anymore, and Brandon LaFell is not a top receiver. Mike Evans out of Texas A&M would be a great fit as a vertical threat for Newton in Carolina's offense.
29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Bill Belichick can only scheme so much with inferior talent. Losing Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly showed just how little depth the Patriots have up front defensively, which is something the team will need to remedy going forward.
Timmy Jernigan is extremely quick at the point of attack and has the girth to stuff the run. He's a perfect fit in Belichick's defense, which features multiple looks up front.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Defense wins championships, and the best defenses feature dominant fronts. For years, San Francisco has featured one of the league's best defensive front sevens, but it's going to take continued efforts by general manager Trent Baalke to keep the team going strong in this area.
Adding a defensive stalwart like Stephon Tuitt out of Notre Dame would be a great move immediately for depth. Additionally, he'd be a perfect player to replace Justin Smith in the years to come, playing with Tank Carradine up front for the 49ers.
31. Denver Broncos: Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
Denver's defense needs more pass-rushers. Besides Shaun Phillips, there isn't another dynamic pass-rusher playing for the Broncos with Von Miller out. Trent Murphy isn't a big-speed guy, but his ability to combine the speed he does have with power up front makes him a perfect complement to Miller's raw speed.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Tight end isn't a huge emphasis for the Seahawks, likely because Zach Miller is the team's best option. Austin Seferian-Jenkins has the athletic potential to become as dangerous as any of the top tight ends in the league. He'd be a tremendous addition to a team that appears to have depth at every other position already.
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