Looking ahead at the NFL draft helps ease the shock and pain over the sudden end of the NFL season.
I guess the end isn't all that sudden. There is an ample lead up to it, but for devoted fans of the gridiron, the passing of an NFL season always comes too soon.
Personally, I try to force this pain out of reach by honing in on the upcoming draft.
All opportunities for players to impress scouts in game settings have passed. So, although there are still things like the Combine that will play into the draft order, we should have a pretty good feel for where players will go at this point.
Here is how I see things shaking out:
Langford's 2014 NFL Mock Draft
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Which QB will have the best NFL career?
The most physically gifted player in this class is not a quarterback. This leaves the Houston Texans in a conundrum. They could go for the player they feel is the best, or try to find a quarterback to build around.
The Texans still have talent on offense, and I believe this will lead them to the signal-caller position. With rookie quarterbacks finding more and more success in the NFL, a quarterback has a chance to come in and quickly turn the Texans around.
I go with Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. He may not have the highest ceiling of the quarterbacks in this class, but I believe he has the highest floor.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jadeveon Clowney, DL, South Carolina
Speaking of the most gifted player in this class, hands down, it is Jadeveon Clowney.
The Rams already have a strong defensive line, but the only reason to pass on Clowney would to be in the search of a quarterback. St. Louis is not in a desperate position in that regard with Sam Bradford.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Although Blake Bortles will send some fans screaming simply because of his similarities to bust Blaine Gabbert, this is a good pick for the Jaguars.
I've seen this a few times and simply don't get the comparison. RT @thmiga81 Blake Bortles = Blaine Gabbert— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 10, 2014
He may be from a small school and relatively unknown, but that is where the similarities to Gabbert stop. Bortles is big and strong with the body to stand in the pocket and deliver accurate passes in the face of a pass rush.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel's lack of size combined with his entertaining and effective style of play—often putting him in harm's way—will likely leave him on the board beyond Bortles and Bridgewater.
He won't last past the Browns.
Add Manziel to the Cleveland offense with Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon and the Browns will have an explosive group indeed.
5. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Anthony Barr is raw. While at UCLA, he converted from running back to linebacker. He is, however, a freakish athlete with a natural ability to get to the passer.
The Oakland Raiders badly need a pass rusher, and Barr will also help Oakland to be better suited in their hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Greg Robinson is far from the most polished pass-blocker in this class, but next to Clowney he is the most physically gifted athlete available.
Robinson will be a bully in the run game from his first snap, and he will hold his own in pass-blocking. The Falcons need this kind of infusion of strength along the offensive line.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
With wide receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Timothy Wright, young quarterback Mike Glennon showed some real promise.
So, although wide receiver is not the biggest need for Tampa, Sammy Watkins would help open up the offense with his big-play ability. He is also too good of a value to pass on here.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Derek Carr has the arm to excel in the NFL, but he has bad footwork. He underwhelmed while facing a step up in defensive competition against USC in the postseason, and he did not hold up well in the face of a rush.
Nevertheless, the Vikings are desperate for a quarterback, and Carr's potential makes this a strong selection.
There is a chance, however, that his arm talent will have him going off the board before the Vikings pick:
I'm firmly on the Derek Carr to Jacksonville train. And yes, I mean at pick No. 3.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 31, 2014
9. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Buffalo Bills have a strong defensive line and rookie Kiko Alonso cleaned up last year making tackles from his linebacker position behind that line.
C.J. Mosley would help complete Buffalo's front seven. He has range and is strong in coverage. He also has a nose for the ball.
10. Detroit Lions: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Like the Bills, the Detroit Lions have a strong defensive line. Now they need to find a linebacker like Alonso to help bring consistency to their defense by making lots of tackles.
Khalil Mack has the strength and speed to put pressure on the passer, but it is his ability to stuff the run that makes him a good fit for Detroit.
11. Tennessee Titans: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Tennessee Titans will be doing back flips if the draft plays out like this, and with Robinson climbing draft charts, it might.
The Titans' offensive line needs help on the edges. Jake Matthews is a well-rounded lineman with the ability to handle a quarterback's blind side.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
This is pretty lofty draft real estate for a tight end, but talented tight ends are making a big impact in the NFL.
This is a good class for tight ends, and Eric Ebron's ability to get downfield separates him from the pack. It also makes him a good fit in New York.
The Giants need a threat down the seam to help open things up on the outside.
13. St. Louis Rams: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The St. Louis Rams should strongly consider an offensive tackle here. I debated mocking them Michigan's Taylor Lewan. In the end, I like the value of Darqueze Dennard here better.
He is the best corner in this class and would give the Rams' young group of cover men its most talented player.
There is a concern that his lack of speed will hurt him:
Darqueze Dennard: Great press-man tech. Not afraid to get physical. Long speed is a concern tho, forces him to be too physical downfield.— Terry Lambert (@LambertScouting) February 1, 2014
Give him a safety over the top, however, and he will be able to lock down receivers.
14. Chicago Bears: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Chicago Bears can go in a lot of directions with this pick, as long as all those directions are on defense.
Stephon Tuitt has flashed the kind of talent that could have him off the board sooner than this, but CBS' and NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang explains what could keep him hanging on:
Clowney isn't the only highly regarded defensive lineman who struggled under the burden of monstrous expectations in 2013.
After dominating as a sophomore, Tuitt began his junior campaign out of shape (after missing spring due to hernia surgery) and struggled with consistency all season. Highly athletic with the frame to star as either a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end, Tuitt's upside is just too tantalizing to ignore.
Still, Tuitt has a high ceiling, and he will be an instant upgrade for the Bears.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
It was weird how the Pittsburgh Steelers began to turn this past season around as their offensive line improved. Wait, no it wasn't. Having an offensive line that is arguably not the worst in football is essentialto winning games.
At any rate, Pittsburgh shouldn't let those improvements lead to them passing on Lewan should he be available. He is a good value here.
Also, with right tackle Marcus Gilbert under contract for just one more season and due for a big raise and left tackle Kelvin Beachum not being an ideal long-term answer, Lewan is a great pick.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
As has been said, the best game for an offensive linemen is when you never hear their name called on the broadcast. Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio's name was called a lot during the Sugar Bowl.
Still, he is a good athlete and performed well in other big games while at Alabama.
Considering Baltimore's offensive line was horrid last year and both tackles are free agents this offseason, Kouandjio is the right pick for the Ravens.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Passing defense in Dallas last year was only played by the Cowboys' opponents. The Cowboys secondary was shredded.
Calvin Pryor's range and instincts would help that. Pryor hasn't been the most hyped safety in this class, but he is grabbing peoples' attention at the right time:
Sounds like the Calvin Pryor secret is out. 1st round stud #NFLDraft— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 15, 2014
Pryor not only has the range to make plays in the passing game, but he has the size to make impact tackles in the run game.
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Geno Smith suffered an up-and-down season for the New York Jets as a rookie, and it was mostly down.
I'm not sure Smith is the answer in New York, but I am sure that it wouldn't be fair to answer that question until he gets some talent around him.
Mike Evans' size would make him a great target for Smith on third downs and in the red zone. That would be a big boost for Smith's development.
19. Miami Dolphins: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
As you may have heard, the offensive line of the Miami Dolphins is going to look a bit different this next season than at the start of last.
Antonio Richardson has some disturbing flaws in the consistency of his mechanics, but a lot of that is due to his size. He is 6’6″ and 330 pounds.
What he also has is the potential to dominate.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
There are a lot of talented offensive linemen in this class. There are also a lot of teams that need help in that department.
The Arizona Cardinals must get better protection for quarterback Carson Palmer. Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin could help with that. Although, it may not be from the tackle positon.
As CBSSPORTS.com's Rob Rang describes: "Martin does not possess great height, arm length or foot speed."
That is not a great pairing of traits for a tackle. It shouldn't hurt him much at guard, however, and Martin has the strength to excel in a phone booth.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ra'Shede Hageman has the talent to go in the top 10 of this draft. He has the production to not get drafted.
Obviously, this is a bit problematic. Still, his athletic 6'6", 311-pound frame has a chance for this youngster to make a difference.
The Green Bay Packers are always on the lookout for help in the trenches, and drafting Hageman will be a gamble they are willing to take.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix brings great athleticism, range and play-making ability to the secondary. He needs to become more consistent, especially in the run game.
After finishing this past season last in pass defense, the Philadelphia Eagles will be thrilled if they can draft his coverage skills.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Quarterback Alex Smith needs someone to help spread out the defense, and Marqise Lee's ability to get downfield will do just that.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Cincinnati Bengals are far from desperate for help at the corner position. That group does not, however, have anyone who can be left on an island consistently.
At 6'0" and 200 pounds, Gilbert has the size and speed to be that type of corner.
25. San Diego Chargers: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
The San Diego Chargers are desperate for corner help.
E.J. Gaines is just a touch smaller than Gilbert, and he too has shown the explosiveness needed to handle NFL receivers in one-on-one settings.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
At pick No. 4, I talked about the possibility of a passing offense featuring Cameron, Gordon and Manziel.
Well, the Browns have two picks in the first round, and a decent young defensive group.
So, why not give Manziel the kind of tall, safety-blanket option like he had at Texas A&M with Mike Evans.
As we saw with his game winning catch in the national championship game, Kelvin Benjamin has the ability to go up and get the ball over almost any defender.
27. New Orleans Saints: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Saints made drastic improvement on pass defense last season, but that side of the ball still needs athletic improvements on all levels.
Jason Verrett would definitely be a boost. He is a little small at 5'10" and 176 pounds, but if nothing else, he will be excellent in the slot. Verrett is a natural cover man.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Carolina Panthers biggest weakness comes in the offensive passing game. Cam Newton needs more weapons to help stretch the field and spread out the defense.
Brandin Cooks will do that. Although he is under 6', he has good strength and ball skills. He is also explosive out of his cuts and can be a threat all over the field.
29. New England Patriots: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Ryan Shazier isn't the typical high defensive pick from Bill Belichick. He is not a freakish athlete and he isn't a good fit to line up at multiple positions.
But h is a well-rounded linebacker with a nose for the ball. His ability to play coverage and tackle will free up Belichick to flash exotic blitzes with other players.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Marcus Roberson isn't the most athletic corner in this class, but he is strong and physical. He is a ready tackler in the run game, and has strong coverage skills.
He will fit in right in with the San Francisco defense and the 49ers could use an infusion of young talent at the corner position.
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Denver Broncos came achingly close to their supreme goal this past season, and the window to taking that next step is rapidly closing.
To help capitalize on that small window, Kony Early would be a wonderful selection. There are some questions about the consistency of his effort, but he has the talent to be a force in the pass rush and do so from his first snap in the NFL.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
The Seahawks wide receivers held up well this past season, but this group struggles to get separation consistently.
Allen Robinson is not the most explosive receiver in this class, but he runs good routes and is a natural catcher of the football.
He would be a reliable weapon for quarterback Russell Wilson to grow with.