It is officially NFL draft season, and there's no better way to kick things off than with a full seven-round mock draft.
Now that the Super Bowl is in the books and the draft order is set, the process of connecting dots between college players and NFL teams can begin in earnest. Some of that may change once the NFL announces the 32 supplemental draft picks awarded to teams that lost priority free agents last season, but for now, a good bit of the work is done.
How does one go about compiling a seven-round mock draft? It's not as simple as dragging and dropping the top-ranked player into the No. 1 pick and so on. My goal is to provide insight with each pick. What are the team's needs? Whom might it lose in free agency, and whom might it gain? What are its long-term issues even after 2014? What schemes does it run?
Much goes into making a complete mock draft, and yet this isn't about pick accuracy. A mock draft is about informing readers about team needs, player value and what the writer would do in each situation. Put it all together, and you have a ton of information at your disposal.
The Pick: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
The need is obvious. The player may not be—at least not at this time.
The Houston Texans rolled with veteran Matt Schaub and youngsters Case Keenum and T.J. Yates in 2013. And why not? That combination got them into the playoffs in 2012 and Schaub got them there in 2011. It didn't work this season, though, as the veteran struggled and was eventually benched. Now, the Texans have a new head coach in Bill O'Brien and need a new quarterback to join him.
Why Teddy Bridgewater?
The Louisville junior is my top-ranked player in the entire draft class. He's poised in the pocket but shows the athleticism to pull the ball down and make plays with his feet. Pre- and post-snap, he's intelligent and in command. How many college quarterbacks change the play at the line of scrimmage these days? Not many, but Bridgewater does it. And once the ball is in play, he's smooth under pressure and shows the touch and ball placement needed to be elite.
Quarterback is the need, and while it's too soon to say anything definitively, this would be my pick if the Texans wanted some free advice.
The Pick: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
What are the chances the St. Louis Rams actually use this pick on May 8? I'd say they're very slim, but I also don't try to predict trades in a mock draft, especially not three months away from the actual draft.
The Rams have needs, though, and if there is no trading partner, this gives you an idea of what they should attempt to do with the pick. General manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher have attacked the draft in their time together, and we should expect them to aggressively fill needs again this year.
So who is the pick? Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews.
The Rams invested heavily in a left tackle during free agency last year, and Jake Long played well for the team. But he also tore his ACL late in the year, putting his start date in question for 2014. And even with Long back healthy in a perfect world, the Rams still need help at right tackle in the worst way.
Matthews played right tackle for two seasons at Texas A&M while Luke Joeckel held down the blind side. It's that versatility that makes this blue-chip prospect so intriguing. He could immediately play on either side of the line for the Rams while giving Sam Bradford the edge protection he's never had once Long is back in the lineup.
The Pick: QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
The Jacksonville Jaguars desperately need a starting quarterback; that's not debatable. What is a point of contention is whom they should draft to fill that void.
Many fans in Jacksonville want Teddy Bridgewater, and I would too, but that option isn't on the table in this mock draft. That leaves Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr—three very talented quarterbacks, but three very different prospects.
Manziel is exciting, electric and would instantly invigorate the Jaguars offense. Bortles is the picture of athletic quarterbacks at 6'4" and 230 pounds of solid muscle and speed. Carr, while not as athletic as the other two, has a huge arm and is the most experienced of the three as the lone senior in the group.
Another point in Carr's favor is the week he spent with the Jacksonville coaching staff and front office in Mobile at the 2014 Reese's Senior Bowl. Maybe that familiarity will mean nothing come May 8, but looking at three very evenly graded prospects, things like comfort level and time spent together can be a difference-maker.
My opinion may change by May, but as of now, Carr looks like the best and most likely option for Jacksonville.
The Pick: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Another top pick and another franchise in desperate need of help at the quarterback position—but unlike the 2013 draft, this year's class has the talent to fill these holes.
The Cleveland Browns come into the 2014 offseason with a new head coach, again, after the firing of Rob Chudzinski after less than one year on the job. Now the job belongs to Mike Pettine, a man with a strong defensive background and an aggressive approach to the game. On offense, he'll be assisted in large part by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Why do those names matter when considering who the Browns will pick at No. 4 overall?
Pettine will want to be aggressive, and as a lifelong defensive coach, he knows how tough it is to game-plan against a dual-threat quarterback. Shanahan just spent the last two years acclimating an Air Raid quarterback to the NFL as Robert Griffin's offensive coordinator. Put those two in a room together, and they're bound to fall in love with Johnny Manziel.
The Browns' interest in Manziel has been reported by many, including CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora. We'll find out in May whether the interest is genuine.
The Pick: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
The Oakland Raiders are stuck in quarterback hell these days, but that could change in the 2014 draft.
The procession of quarterbacks to come through Oakland since Rich Gannon led the team to a Super Bowl appearance in 2002 has been large and embarrassing. Kerry Collins, Marques Tuiasosopo, Andrew Walter, Aaron Brooks, Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper, JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer, Kyle Boller, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin and Matt Flynn make up that list and are a perfect example of why the team has struggled.
The lack of consistency at quarterback has to change. And general manager Reggie McKenzie's time in Green Bay should shed lots of light on this matter. If a quarterback is available with good value, the Raiders can't pass on him.
That happens to be the case with Blake Bortles still on the board here. By the actual draft in May, his stock may be so high that a team will trade up to No. 2 to steal him if Houston passes, but as of today in a mock draft with no trades, this scenario is entirely possible.
Bortles has the athleticism of a Greek god playing quarterback, and there will be style comparisons to Andrew Luck or Ben Roethlisberger. Whether Bortles can develop to that level will be the major question mark, but there is no doubting his raw ability. And for the Raiders, that's enough to invest in long term.
The Pick: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
A dream scenario for the Atlanta Falcons is to somehow wake up on the morning of May 9 realizing the team drafted defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. You're not dreaming, Atlanta fans; in this mock draft, it happens.
The Falcons' struggles at defensive end are well known. The team missed badly on free agent Ray Edwards and then let John Abraham go in a cap-saving move that happened a year too soon. Its attempts to fill that hole with Osi Umenyiora didn't work out too well, either. Now general manager Thomas Dimitroff will go back to doing what he does best: drafting to fill needs.
Clowney has the rare blend of speed, strength and potential rarely seen in a prospect. For Falcons fans, he's the defensive version of Julio Jones in that he's entering the league as a dominant athlete, but his room to develop and improve is considerable.
The Pick: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
New head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht inherit a team with a ton of talent but not much success under former coach Greg Schiano. Most of their battle in Tampa will be changing the team's culture, but with the No. 7 overall pick, they can also start filling in holes and improving the overall talent on the roster.
The biggest areas of need come at defensive end and wide receiver, where a complementary option is needed opposite Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
Looking at the value of the best players left on the board and those needs, the Buccaneers would be wise to draft Sammy Watkins here.
Watkins may not be the biggest need pick ever, but the team has no one like him on the roster. Jackson and Williams are nice receivers, but Watkins' speed, aggressiveness and big-play ability are second-to-none in this year's class. Add him into the Tampa offense, and you have a true game-breaker for young quarterback Mike Glennon to work with.
Filling the biggest need isn't always the smartest choice in the long run. Given Watkins' impressive day-one ability, this pick should excite Buccaneers fans.
The Pick: DE Khalil Mack, Buffalo
The Minnesota Vikings have the misfortune of drafting No. 8 overall in a year with four quarterbacks qualified for a top-10 pick. Those quarterbacks are all off the board by pick No. 5 in this mock. The Vikings will either wait until Round 2 or attempt to trade up in a scenario like this one.
If the team does miss out on the top-tier quarterbacks, waiting would be wiser than reaching. The Vikings have needs other than quarterback, after all, and filling those with a higher-quality player is the best team-building move for general manager Rick Spielman and new head coach Mike Zimmer.
What are those other needs? Defensive end jumps out as the biggest, given Jared Allen's status as a free agent.
With the talent left on the board, the Vikings can fill in a massive hole at right defensive end with the athletic freak Khalil Mack. The Buffalo star was a one-man wrecking crew this season, and his profile as a stand-up or hand-down pass-rusher is exactly what Zimmer needs to attack divisional rivals with quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford.
The Pick: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
The Buffalo Bills are a young team on the rise, but entering the 2014 offseason, they're pressured to hit a home run to close the gap in the AFC East. With the No. 9 overall pick in the draft, they have an opportunity to do just that.
Looking at the team's needs, there truly aren't many positions where an established starter or young player isn't in place. The first impression is that adding a linebacker makes sense, but the value isn't great with the current players on the board. Cornerback has been an up-and-down position, but the team has invested in Stephon Gilmore, Ron Brooks and Nickell Robey at that spot. It's a need, but not a first-round need.
That leaves offensive tackle, where Cordy Glenn has done a solid job holding down the left tackle position for two seasons. Glenn isn't a bad player by any means, but is this the best the offensive line could look? Adding a blue-chip tackle prospect does make sense.
That's where Greg Robinson comes in. The big, nasty Auburn blocker is a dominant run-blocker and jaw-dropping athlete coming off the ball. He's raw when it comes to timing and punching in the passing game, but you can't coach his quickness and balance. Robinson could very well be the No. 2 player off the board, which makes him a value at No. 9 and a need pick for the Bills.
Whether it's Glenn at left and Robinson at right or vice versa, the Bills offense will be much better with these two monsters protecting the edges.
The Pick: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The Detroit Lions have options with the No. 10 overall pick, but the biggest question facing new head coach Jim Caldwell and general manager Martin Mayhew will be value. That's always been Mayhew's philosophy when entering the draft, and it will continue to be with Caldwell running the team.
The Lions could go many directions here and not make a bad pick. Wide receiver opposite Calvin Johnson is a possibility, as is addressing the linebacker position if the team loves someone like C.J. Mosley to pair with Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy. But the biggest need on this roster is at cornerback.
The Lions have drafted and signed free agents, but the production hasn't been top-notch. Youngsters Bill Bentley and Darius Slay may develop into stars, but asking Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis to be long-term solutions isn't prudent. Adding a top-10 talent, however, is.
Justin Gilbert is everything you're looking for at cornerback. He's big at 6'0" and 200 pounds but also plays with the closing speed to attack the ball. Gilbert has the tools to be a No. 1 cornerback early in his career, which should be music to the ears of Lions fans who've watched many secondaries fail to back up a talented front four.
The Pick: OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
The Tennessee Titans have a new head coach in Ken Whisenhunt, and he's bringing defensive coordinator Ray Horton and his aggressive hybrid schemes to Nashville. To run that defense and pressure the offense, the Titans need to add players who can attack off the edge and move around pre-snap.
The top-ranked player left on my big board fits that role perfectly.
UCLA's Anthony Barr is 248 pounds of speed, length and three-down tools to attack the offense. The former running back has the natural ability to set the edge against the run, speed past blockers on passing downs and is smooth enough to even drop into the flats in coverage situations.
That's the type of player Horton and Whisenhunt need to round out a pretty good Titans defense.
The Pick: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
The New York Giants face an interesting and important offseason. A team with a small Super Bowl window left has to get better in a hurry if Tom Coughlin is going to be around to direct the offense and defense of the Giants. It can do that with the No. 12 overall pick.
A big part of this team's problems in 2013 was the pass protection and pass rush, or better yet, the lack of them. With their first-round pick, the Giants should address one of these two weaknesses, and there's a good chance that general manager Jerry Reese will go with the best player available in that situation.
The best player on my board fills a huge need for the Giants. Missouri's Kony Ealy has the length, power and speed the team covets opposite Jason Pierre-Paul at defensive end. Plug Ealy into the four-man rush and let him wreak havoc on the NFC East.
Ealy's athletic profile is incredible, and after the combine, we'll all be talking about his rare combination of speed, power and length. For the Giants, this pick has to be a dream for fans.
The Pick: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
The St. Louis Rams filled an enormous hole on the offensive line with the No. 2 overall pick, but now the front office must focus on adding a bigger-bodied wide receiver for quarterback Sam Bradford to target.
As the depth chart stands today, the Rams lack a physical threat at wide receiver. Brian Quick has the size, but his lack of speed and failure to develop into an NFL-caliber starter means it's time to rethink the position. Even after adding Tavon Austin in the 2013 draft, the need at wide receiver hangs over this team.
That can all be changed with the addition of Mike Evans.
The Texas A&M redshirt sophomore has the size, muscle, speed and range you want at the position. He was a terror to deal with in the red zone and proved to be wise beyond his years in the A&M scheme. Evans' raw ability is exciting, but unlike most receivers this young, he understands the position and is NFL-ready.
The Pick: DT Aaron Donald, Pitt
It wasn't that long ago when the Chicago Bears were thought of as a dominant defensive team. But in 2013, that tide turned. The Bears became an offensive juggernaut based on the play of Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and a much-improved offensive line. Now general manager Phil Emery is tasked with rebuilding the defense as quickly as he built up the offense.
The key to a turnaround in Chicago will be based largely on free agency. The team has to decide whether it wants to re-sign cornerback Charles Tillman coming off a right knee injury at almost 33 years of age. Similarly, it must decide whether to keep defensive tackle Henry Melton, who is also coming off a torn ACL. Melton is talented, but his price tag may be too high.
The smart money at this time is for Emery to invest in the position through the draft. And with the play of Aaron Donald skyrocketing this year, the Bears find themselves in position to add the draft's best defensive tackle with pick No. 14.
Donald is a classic 3-technique defensive tackle, and his quickness and pass-rushing tools are exactly what the Bears lacked in 2013. If the team does re-sign Melton, this pick could easily be a cornerback like Darqueze Dennard or a defensive end in the mold of Trent Murphy.
The Pick: FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2013 season was an odd one. A team that could hardly win a game to start the year finished as one of the league's hottest teams. The goal for 2014 will be to find the chemistry and balance that led to the late-season surge.
One key for the front office is to continue to get younger and faster on defense, especially in the secondary. The team drafted Shamarko Thomas and Jarvis Jones to that end last season, but the job is far from done. Now it must continue to identify talented young players ready to step in for the many established veterans in decline.
The front office can look at key positions on defense for immediate upgrade. Spots like free safety, defensive end and even cornerback need a youth movement. Finding value among those positions points the Steelers to Alabama's wonderful free safety prospect, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
A dynamic player with the range needed to succeed at high levels in the NFL, Clinton-Dix has the size to be a hitter and the speed to play in coverage. He's a true three-down threat at safety and has the tools to excel in any scheme.
The Pick: WR Marqise Lee, USC
The Baltimore Ravens fell from Super Bowl winner to out of the playoffs in 2013, but the talent base on this team is still very good. One solid draft class from general manager Ozzie Newsome, and this team is back controlling the AFC North.
So who do the Ravens go after to achieve that solid draft class?
The team has needs at wide receiver, left tackle, tight end, defensive end and linebacker. It also has only four picks in this year's draft, so the front office must be shrewd in making decisions at each pick. A smart move would be to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. This wipes out three need picks and allows the personnel department to be more versatile on draft day.
That leaves the team with room to draft a talented wide receiver at pick No. 16. After losing Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers, it became obvious that the existing talent at the position wasn't good enough. Torrey Smith is a surefire No. 1, but Jacoby Jones is more of a third option and excellent return man. Marlon Brown played well, but he's not ready for the responsibility of a No. 2 wide receiver role. Marqise Lee is, though.
The USC wideout had some struggles in his career, but his talent is undeniable. Lee has the speed to make plays after the catch, and if he can shore up some issues with drops, he brings the total skill set to be a dynamic option across from Smith.
Note: A coin clip will decide whether the Ravens pick 16th or 17th.
The Pick: FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville
The Dallas Cowboys have the offensive talent to win a Super Bowl, and yet they've struggled to put together a complete season in recent years. Some of that blame is placed on the defense. Because of that, Rod Marinelli is in as defensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin is now an assistant. Coaching will help, but talent is needed.
The Cowboys need help at many spots on defense, notably defensive tackle, left defensive end and at both safety spots. Free agency could be tough, too, given the team's struggles to get under the salary cap. It would be safe to expect both Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher to hit the open market, which leaves two big holes in the Dallas defensive line.
But the best value at a need position isn't on the defensive line; it is at safety. And that's where Calvin Pryor comes into play. Pryor's fierce hitting style and aggressive coverage tendencies are perfect for the Dallas defense. And while defensive line help is needed, the depth there is much greater in this draft class as compared to the free safety group.
Note: A coin flip will decide whether the Cowboys pick 16th or 17th.
The Pick: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
After a strong draft in 2013, the New York Jets must focus solely on building up an offense around young quarterback Geno Smith. That's priority No. 1 for the year, and it should be the goal of the team's first-round pick.
Enter Eric Ebron.
This athletic tight end from North Carolina not only wears Vernon Davis' number, but he also plays like him. Ebron has the speed of a wide receiver in a tight end's body, and during the 2013 college football season, he showed improvement as a blocker and route-runner. Ebron is a true three-down threat for the Jets, as well as a matchup nightmare all over the field.
Smith struggled in 2013, but give him more targets like this one, and we'll see consistency and improvement from him and the entire offense in 2014.
The Pick: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
The offensive line was a bit of a problem for the Miami Dolphins in 2013. OK, that may be an understatement. Two of the team's starters were lost indefinitely when offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the team and offensive guard Richie Incognito was suspended for the events surrounding Martin's absence. It was chaotic and confusing, and battle lines were drawn. They still are, in fact.
What this taught us all is that the Dolphins front office must go into 2014 looking to rebuild the offensive line. And that may have been the goal before Martin and Incognito were lost, as neither player was exactly crushing it. Now, Joe Philbin and Dennis Hickey must find true cornerstone players on the line.
They can do that in the draft, if not through free agency. A talented crop of offensive tackles remain on the board, and none is better than Michigan's Taylor Lewan.
A prototypical left tackle, Lewan has the strength and long arms needed to hold the edge and protect Ryan Tannehill's blind side. With Lewan erasing the team's biggest need, the Dolphins are free to go with best available players in later rounds.
The Pick: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
The Arizona Cardinals were one of the surprises of the 2013 season with 10 wins and a legitimate shot at the playoffs. To keep that momentum going in 2014, the front office has to improve the offensive line and get younger on defense.
They can kick off filling those needs by drafting the best offensive tackle available in the first round. The team survived with Bradley Sowell at left tackle, and his improvement throughout the year was impressive, but he's best served as a backup right now. At right tackle, the team picked up Eric Winston, but he's a free agent and may not be back in Phoenix for another season.
That leaves a potential need on both sides of the line. Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio could easily fill one of them.
Kouandjio wasn't the best technician or most athletic tackle in football this year, but he has good upside in both areas. Much like D.J. Fluker, his former Alabama teammate, Kouandjio's weaknesses in college could easily be hammered out in training camp, and in year one, he could be a viable stud on the line.
That's what the Cardinals need in Bruce Arians' downfield passing game. Adding Kouandjio here and an offensive guard later in the draft would have this line in much better shape.
The Pick: ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Trying to predict what general manager Ted Thompson will do in the draft is about as easy as predicting lottery numbers, but there is some evidence to go off at least.
Thompson and his scouts must be looking at the defensive side of the ball. That's where the team has failed them in the last two postseasons against the San Francisco 49ers. And while they've drafted heavily on defense in recent years, they are also holding on to guys like A.J. Hawk and B.J. Raji who haven't lived up to their draft positions.
Adding new legs and better athletes on defense has to be a focus for Thompson, and he can do that while staying true to his best-player-available mentality. All he has to do is draft C.J. Mosley.
The senior from Alabama is ranked higher than his draft position, but finding a team in the top 20 picks that has an inside linebacker as its biggest need is tough. That pushes Mosley down the board, where the Packers will gladly pick him up to play next to Brad Jones. This duo gives the team the athletes on the inside to have a fighting chance against running teams like San Francisco and Philadelphia in the postseason.
The Pick: OLB Dee Ford, Auburn
Most mock drafts one year ago had the Philadelphia Eagles addressing the outside linebacker position as the team transitioned from a 4-3 defense to Chip Kelly's preferred 3-4. One year later, we still do.
Kelly's preferred athlete is a long, athletic, dynamic pass-rusher to play on the edge of his defense. Just like his offense, he wants speed and an attacking presence there. The team has that in Connor Barwin, a free agent it picked up last year, but the duo of Brandon Graham and Trent Cole on the other side never panned out in the transition to a 3-4 scheme.
You also have to look ahead at the team's future needs. Graham is set to be a free agent after the 2014 season, and Cole's pay jumps from $6.6 million to $11.6 million after the 2014 season. Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman have to look at those numbers and find ways to work around them. The best answer is to upgrade the talent and move on from the player.
That's where Dee Ford comes in. At 6'2", Ford isn't the super-tall athlete many will predict for the Eagles, but his long arms and incredible first-step speed are ideal for Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Plug the speed of Ford in opposite the strength of Barwin, and you have a duo at outside linebacker ready to rival the best in the game.
The Pick: WR Odell Beckham, LSU
The Kansas City Chiefs made the playoffs in 2013, but a crushing loss to the Indianapolis Colts in historic fashion has them looking for the pieces to get over the hump in 2014. The first—and biggest—hump is at wide receiver. The days of Dwayne Bowe being the team's only viable target are over.
Andy Reid did a great job working this offense with the targets he had at his disposal, but he also knows that the Chiefs desperately need talent at wide receiver. The team may look to free agency and attempt to lure Jeremy Maclin back to Missouri and back on a team coached by Reid, but that's looking more like a pipe dream and less like a viable solution.
One real fix is to address the position through the draft. And with no second-round pick after the team traded for Alex Smith, the Chiefs have to pull the trigger early and strike while the top talent is on the board. LSU's Odell Beckham definitely qualifies as talent.
One of the most dynamic receivers in this year's class, Beckham is as sure-handed as they come and still shows the speed to make plays after the catch. Put him in an offense with Alex Smith's pinpoint accuracy and the threat of Jamaal Charles in the backfield, and watch out.
The Pick: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
How do the Cincinnati Bengals stay atop the AFC North after taking the division from their rivals in Pittsburgh and Baltimore in 2013? The key is to improve a defense that just lost coordinator Mike Zimmer.
The Bengals secondary was patchwork at best in 2013, and addressing that moving forward is a huge priority. Leon Hall is a solid No. 1 when healthy, but he's too often not on the field. Adam Jones and Terence Newman filled in well, but both are to the point in their careers where each year could be their last. Dre Kirkpatrick was a first-round pick in 2012 but hasn't developed into a quality starter yet.
Darqueze Dennard is NFL-ready coming out of Michigan State. Unlike Kirkpatrick, he'll come into the league with the technique to play immediately and has the physical coverage style the Bengals love.
As an immediate need and even as a future need, Dennard makes the most sense for Cincinnati.
The Pick: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
The work done by new head coach Mike McCoy in San Diego this past season should have earned him serious Coach of the Year talk. There will be time for that, especially if the Chargers continue to develop under the work of McCoy and his strong coaching staff.
The first order of business for the team in this year's draft will be to get better at cornerback. More than any other position on the roster, the level of talent and the development potential is the lowest. The team cannot go into 2014 with Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright as its starters.
The best-case scenario is that Jason Verrett is on the board with the No. 25 pick. Verrett isn't the biggest cornerback in the class, but his 5'10" frame is packed with muscle, and he backs that up with physical play against the run and in coverage. Verrett has the man-coverage skills teams are in love with, and he brings the hands and range to be a turnover machine at the cornerback position.
The Pick: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
The decision to trade running back Trent Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft, to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick was met with wide criticism from the media, especially from me. But with the season over and Richardson's struggles in Indianapolis so evident, the Browns front office looks smart for dealing the runner for a high draft pick. Now, the Browns are in position to add another talented player to go along with the No. 4 overall pick.
The team used its first pick on quarterback Johnny Manziel, but it needs to keep focusing on offense with No. 26. And the smart move would be to add a wide receiver to work with Manziel and to team with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.
Brandin Cooks has the speed, hands and vision to be an immediate threat for the Browns. And he's versatile enough to play outside the hashes or in the slot, depending on the personnel and the matchup. Put Cooks in the slot with Manziel running a zone read, and you have the makings of a damn good package play that few defenses can run with.
The Pick: OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
The transition to a 3-4 defense in New Orleans went surprisingly well given the number of injuries the defense sustained and the lack of ideal players for Rob Ryan's scheme. Now, with the offseason here and all the draft-pick penalties gone, the Saints can really go after defenders to fit this scheme.
The Saints need speed on the edge more than anything else. Running with Junior Galette at one outside linebacker position is a solid play, but opposite him the team needs better than Keyunta Dawson or Victor Butler coming off injury. It needs a truly exciting pass-rusher with the speed to threaten offenses.
That's Ryan Shazier. The Ohio State linebacker has one of the best first steps in college football and lived as a stand-up rusher for the Buckeyes in the last three years. Shazier's quickness, eye for the ball and experience on the edge are ideal for a seamless transition to the Saints' schemes.
The Pick: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Protect Cam Newton. Those three words should be tattooed to the desk of general manager Dave Gettleman as the Carolina Panthers move to add the pieces needed to repeat as NFC South champions.
Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera have done an incredible job finding and developing talent in their short time together in Charlotte, but the work is not done. With the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers poised for bounce-back seasons and the New Orleans Saints as dangerous as always, the Panthers can't get comfortable.
Protecting Newton and adding targets for him to work with will be high on the team's to-do list this spring and summer. And in the draft, the Panthers can take care of protecting Newton now and in the future by picking up Notre Dame's Zack Martin.
Martin doesn't have the height or long arms of today's left tackle, but his game film shows a premier pass protector. Martin's patience, understanding of space and fluid movements all look top-tier. If the Panthers can get past his lack of ideal measurables and draft him, they'll have a 10-year starter on the offensive line.
The Pick: TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
The New England Patriots ended the 2012 season with the NFL's best duo at tight end. And then the offseason happened. Aaron Hernandez is in prison and Rob Gronkowski is rehabbing from another surgery. The position has crashed from best in the league to a gigantic question mark. Bill Belichick must change that this offseason.
Hernandez isn't coming back, but Gronkowski will be at some point. That gives the team one tight end, albeit a fragile one. Adding a second tight end, someone in that Hernandez mold of athletic, move tight end, would be smart for the Patriots.
Luckily, Jace Amaro is that type of athlete. The Texas Tech tight end moves like a slot wide receiver but has the size to box out defenders and muscle for positioning over the middle of the field. Pair him with Tom Brady, and watch the numbers pile up. Amaro is exactly the type of athletic safety valve Brady missed this season.
The Pick: WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
The window to win a Super Bowl remains open for the San Francisco 49ers, but how long can they keep it open given the number of players on the roster waiting to be paid in the next few seasons? That all depends on how well general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh manage the talent.
The two have done a great job of drafting for future need, but not all of those picks have panned out. Most notably, at wide receiver, A.J. Jenkins was a bust before being traded to Kansas City. Now the team enters an offseason with two wide receivers entering free agency (Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham) and a big question mark opposite Michael Crabtree.
Whether the team re-signs Boldin or not, this is a need for the team. Crabtree is nearing elite status, and Quinton Patton has nice potential, but more talent is needed regardless of who is back. Adding a big (6'3"), fast, long receiver like Allen Robinson just makes sense.
Robinson's length and yards-after-catch ability would balance out Crabtree, Patton, Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis perfectly while giving Colin Kaepernick a young receiver to learn and grow with long term. Because as soon as Boldin is no longer on the roster, Kaepernick needs another option to work with. Robinson can be that guy.
The Pick: DE Trent Murphy, Stanford
Following the Super Bowl you might think Denver would be going for offensive linemen here, but they'll be in better shape with a healthy Ryan Clady on the field next season. That changes the entire scope of the line, and as long as Peyton Manning is in the backfield, they'll be solid there.
Where does this team get better immediately? At defensive end.
Shaun Phillips was a nice pickup in the preseason, but he can't be seen as a long-term solution opposite Von Miller. Trent Murphy, however, can be that guy.
The Stanford pass-rusher has the length, power and speed to succeed as a left defensive end in Denver's schemes. On first and second down he can set the edge and stop the run. Then, he can get to the quarterback on passing situations. And he's versatile enough to stand up when needed.
The Pick: DT Timmy Jernigan, FSU
The Seattle Seahawks look like a team with very few needs, but with free agency coming up, there could be some holes created on the defensive line and at wide receiver.
The team has a strong philosophy of drafting the best player available for its scheme, regardless of what the media or the rest of the league feels about the player. The Seahawks did that with James Carpenter and Bruce Irvin, and they'll do it again.
That said, Timmy Jernigan would be seen as a steal at this point in the draft. And with Michael Bennett set to hit free agency, he's a huge need at the 3-technique position. Jernigan's play in the national championship game has his stock rising, but he also has to answer questions about inconsistencies during the season.
If the Seahawks can get max effort from Jernigan, he'll be one of the steals of the draft here.
Take an already strong group of senior draft prospects and add 102 underclassmen to the list, and you're left with a very deep draft class. The 2014 crop is a good one, and even after the first 32 picks, there's a strong group of talented players with starting potential and big developmental promise.
1. Houston Texans: DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
2. Washington: DE Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
3. Cleveland Browns: RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
4. Oakland Raiders: OG David Yankey, Stanford
5. Atlanta Falcons: OT Morgan Moses, Virginia
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
8. Minnesota Vikings: QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
9. Buffalo Bills: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
10. Tennessee Titans: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
11. New York Giants: OT Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
12. St. Louis Rams: CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
13. Detroit Lions: WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
14. Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
15. Dallas Cowboys: DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
16. Baltimore Ravens: DL Dominique Easley, Florida
17. New York Jets: RB Tre Mason, Auburn
18. Miami Dolphins: CB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
19. Chicago Bears: SS Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
20. Arizona Cardinals: OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
21. Green Bay Packers: TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
22. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
23. San Francisco 49ers (from Chiefs): C Travis Swanson, Arkansas
24. Cincinnati Bengals: OLB Telvin Smith, Florida State
25. San Diego Chargers: C Weston Richburg, Colorado State
26. Indianapolis Colts: WR Davante Adams, Fresno State
27. New Orleans Saints: CB Marcus Roberson, Florida
28. Carolina Panthers: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
29. New England Patriots: DE Trevor Reilly, Utah
30. San Francisco 49ers: SS Deone Bucannon, Washington
31. Denver Broncos: CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
32. Seattle Seahawks: OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
If your team didn't fill its needs for starters in the first and second rounds, don't worry. This year's draft is incredibly deep at most positions, and starting-quality players can still be found in the third round. And that just includes players who are still given a starting-caliber grade, not those sleeper picks who come out of nowhere to be Super Bowl quarterbacks.
1. Houston Texans: OLB Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
2. Washington: OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
3. Oakland Raiders: RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
4. Atlanta Falcons: RB Charles Sims, West Virginia
5. New York Jets (from Tampa): WR Paul Richardson, Colorado
6. Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Bishop Sankey, Washington
7. Cleveland Browns: CB Vic Hampton, South Carolina
8. Minnesota Vikings: OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor
9. Buffalo Bills: ILB Shayne Skov, Stanford
10. New York Giants: OT Billy Turner, North Dakota State
11. St. Louis Rams: FS Terrence Brooks, Florida State
12. Detroit Lions: OLB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
13. San Francisco 49ers (from Titans): CB Keith McGill, Utah
14. Baltimore Ravens: OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
15. Dallas Cowboys: DE Chris Smith, Arkansas
16. New York Jets: FS Ed Reynolds, Stanford
17. Miami Dolphins: OT Joel Bitonio, Nevada
18. Chicago Bears: QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU
19. Cleveland Browns (from Steelers): DE Josh Mauro, Stanford
20. Arizona Cardinals: QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
21. Green Bay Packers: DT DaQuan Jones, Penn State
22. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson
23. Kansas City Chiefs: FS Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
24. Cincinnati Bengals: QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
25. San Diego Chargers: OT Seantrel Henderson, Miami (Fla.)
26. Indianapolis Colts: OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
27. New Orleans Saints: ILB Chris Borland, Wisconsin
28. Carolina Panthers: CB Louchiez Purifoy, Florida
29. New England Patriots: WR Josh Huff, Oregon
30. San Francisco 49ers: NT Ego Ferguson, LSU
31. Denver Broncos: WR Robert Herron, Wyoming
32. Minnesota Vikings (from Seahawks): WR Mike Davis, Texas
1. Houston Texans: RB Marion Grice, Arizona State
2. Washington: ILB Yawin Smallwood, UConn
3. Atlanta Falcons: TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OLB Christian Kirskey, Iowa
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
6. Cleveland Browns: FS Dion Bailey, USC
7. Oakland Raiders: DE Marcus Smith, Louisville
8. Minnesota Vikings: CB E.J. Gaines, Missouri
9. Buffalo Bills: DE Michael Sam, Missouri
10. St. Louis Rams: RB Jeremy Hill, LSU
11. Detroit Lions: FS Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
12. Tennessee Titans: DT Anthony Johnson, LSU
13. New York Giants: RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
14. Dallas Cowboys: OW De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
15. New York Jets: OLB DeMarcus Lawrence, Boise State
16. Miami Dolphins: DT Caraun Reid, Princeton
17. Chicago Bears: CB Walt Aikens, Liberty
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Ravens): OG Anthony Steen, Alabama
20. Arizona Cardinals: OG Brandon Thomas, Clemson
21. Green Bay Packers: TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia
22. Philadelphia Eagles: FS/CB Terrence Mitchell, Oregon
23. Kansas City Chiefs: OLB Adrian Hubbard, Alabama
24. Cincinnati Bengals: DE Kareem Martin, North Carolina
25. San Diego Chargers: RB Devonta Freeman, Florida State
26. Cleveland Browns (from Colts): CB Ross Cockrell, Duke
27. New Orleans Saints: OT JaWuan James, Tennessee
28. Carolina Panthers: SS Craig Loston, LSU
29. New England Patriots: CB Jaylen Watkins, Florida
30. San Francisco 49ers: QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
31. Denver Broncos: LB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA
32. Seattle Seahawks: CB Beshaud Breeland, Clemson
1. Houston Texans: ILB Lamin Barrow, LSU
2. Washington: WR Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Jordan Tripp, Montana
5. Cleveland Browns: OG Dakota Dozier, Furman
6. Seattle Seahawks (from Oakland): WR Bruce Ellington, Maryland
7. Atlanta Falcons: WR Ryan Grant, Tulane
8. Minnesota Vikings: ILB Christian Jones, Florida State
9. Buffalo Bills: WR Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Detroit): QB David Fales, San Jose State
11. Tennessee Titans: QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
12. New York Giants: DT George Uko, USC
13. St. Louis Rams: QB Brett Smith, Wyoming
14. New York Jets: CB Chris Davis, Auburn
15. Miami Dolphins: WR T.J. Jones, Notre Dame
16. Chicago Bears: FS Marqueston Huff, Wyoming
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Nevin Lawson, Utah State
18. Dallas Cowboys: WR Devin Street, Pitt
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Ravens): CB Antone Exum, Virginia Tech
20. Arizona Cardinals: DT Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
21. Green Bay Packers: OT James Hurst, North Carolina
22. Philadelphia Eagles: DT Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech
23. Kansas City Chiefs: DE Will Clarke, West Virginia
24. Cincinnati Bengals: DE Aaron Lynch, South Florida
25. San Diego Chargers: DE Ed Stinson, Alabama
26. Indianapolis Colts: DE Deandre Coleman, California
27. New Orleans Saints: WR Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley
28. Carolina Panthers: CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
29. Philadelphia Eagles (from Patriots): CB Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State
30. San Francisco 49ers: ILB DeDe Lattimore, South Florida
31. Denver Broncos: OC Mike Martin, USC
32. Seattle Seahawks: TE Marcel Jensen, Fresno State
1. Houston Texans: CB Deion Belue, Alabama
2. Washington: CB Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Terrance West, Towson
4. Cleveland Browns: TE Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State
5. Oakland Raiders: DT Jay Bromley, Syracuse
6. Atlanta Falcons: OLB Morgan Breslin, USC
7. Chicago Bears (from Buccaneers): DE James Gayle, Virginia Tech
8. Minnesota Vikings: RB Andre Williams, Boston College
9. Buffalo Bills: OG Michael Schofield, Michigan
10. Tennessee Titans: RB James White, Wisconsin
11. New York Giants: WR Kevin Norwood, Alabama
12. St. Louis Rams DE Cassius Marsh, UCLA
13. Detroit Lions: OC Tyler Larsen, Utah State
14. Miami Dolphins: TE Jordan Najvar, Baylor
15. Chicago Bears: RB James Wilder, Florida State
16. Pittsburgh Steelers: OLB Ronald Powell, Florida
17. Baltimore Ravens: ILB Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky
18. Kansas City Chiefs (Cowboys): WR Cody Latimer, Indiana
19. New York Jets: WR Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
20. Arizona Cardinals: OLB Prince Shembo, Notre Dame
21. Green Bay Packers: SS Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama
22. New England Patriots (from Eagles): OG Chris Watt, Notre Dame
23. Kansas City Chiefs: DE Brent Urban, Virginia
24. Cincinnati Bengals: FB Jay Prosch, Auburn
25. San Diego Chargers: OLB Devon Kennard, USC
26. Indianapolis Colts: SS Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
27. New Orleans Saints: DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
28. Carolina Panthers: FS Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech
29. New England Patriots: OT Justin Britt, Missouri
30. San Francisco 49ers: SS Hakeem Smith, Louisville
31. Denver Broncos: SS Alden Darby, Arizona State
32. Seattle Seahawks: OG Jon Halapio, Florida
1. Houston Texans: C Bryan Stork, Florida State
2. Washington: WR Cody Hoffman, BYU
3. Cleveland Browns: QB Connor Shaw, South Carolina
4. Oakland Raiders: WR Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest
5. Atlanta Falcons: DT Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OG Brandon Linder, Miami (Fla.)
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Cameron Fleming, Stanford
8. Minnesota Vikings: SS Sean Parker, Washington
9. Buffalo Bills: OLB Kasim Edebali, Boston College
10. Carolina Panthers (from Giants): OLB Howard Jones, Shepherd
11. St. Louis Rams: DT Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
12. Detroit Lions: RB Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky
13. Tennessee Titans: DE Ben Gardner, Stanford
14. Dallas Cowboys (from Bears): OT Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Rob Blanchflower, UMass
16. Dallas Cowboys: QB Stephen Morris, Miami (Fla.)
17. Indianapolis Colts (from Ravens): RB Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
18. New York Jets: DE Shamar Stephen, UConn
19. Miami Dolphins: RB Rajion Neal, Tennessee
20. Oakland Raiders (from Cardinals): CB Richardo Allen, Purdue
21. Green Bay Packers: QB Jeff Mathews, Cornell
22. Philadelphia Eagles: QB Keith Wenning, Ball State
23. Dallas Cowboys (from Chiefs): RB Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State
24. Cincinnati Bengals: OG Russell Bodine, North Carolina
25. San Diego Chargers: WR Shaq Evans, UCLA
26. Indianapolis Colts: SS Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
27. San Francisco 49ers (from Saints): CB Philip Gaines, Rice
28. San Francisco 49ers (from Panthers): TE Richard Rodgers, California
29. New England Patriots: ILB Preston Brown, Louisville
30. San Francisco 49ers: WR Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
31. Denver Broncos: RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina
32. Seattle Seahawks: CB Bene Benwikere, San Jose State