Now that Super Bowl XLVIII is in the books, the NFL offseason is in full swing. All 32 teams are now focused on improving for the 2014 regular season. There's no better way to do that than coming away with a spectacular draft class.
A plethora of talent is available for the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, and teams will have the chance to improve in drastic fashion with the right pick. Some teams will look to rebuild their franchise around a key player, and others will look to bolster an already talented squad.
Draft predictions are very fluid and could easily change between now and May—we still have the NFL Scouting Combine and pro days coming up in the near future. However, as it stands right now, this is how the first round could very well shake out.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
This may be the biggest sure thing in the draft this year. The Texans faltered over the 2013-14 season mostly due to poor quarterback play. Matt Schaub was unable to recreate past success, and Case Keenum proved that he was not the answer.
Adding Bridgewater—arguably the most talented quarterback in this year's draft class—to their roster would immediately give the team a chance to win football games. The Texans already have a solid core of players, and this signal-caller has the ability to be the face of the franchise for years to come.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Many people are expecting the Rams to trade out of this pick. However, for the sake of a mock draft, we'll just go ahead and assume they keep it. If that's the case, taking Matthews here would be the way to go.
The Rams offense began to come alive over the second half of the 2013-14 NFL season, and bolstering the offensive line should be their top priority. With added protection for Sam Bradford and additional toughness in the trenches to open up running lanes for Zac Stacy, this offense will continue to improve in a big way.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Which QB should be the next taken after Teddy Bridgewater?
The Jaguars are in desperate need of a quarterback after the failed experiment with Blaine Gabbert. This franchise needs to begin winning games and entertaining its fanbase at the same time. Manziel is just the man for the job.
Manziel's ability to create yards with his arm and his legs makes him an exciting addition to this offense. He has the capability to flourish without a strong supporting cast—something that any quarterback will need to possess when arriving in Jacksonville.
4. Cleveland Browns: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Browns need a franchise quarterback. They have been sorely lacking at the position for years and need a strong-armed signal-caller to get the job done. Carr possesses the arm required to get the job done, and he has the experience and leadership qualities to take the reins of this team.
With talented weapons already in place on the offensive side of the ball, Carr has the qualities that the Browns will be looking for in a quarterback to distribute the ball in an efficient manner and get this team back on track.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Yet another team lacking in the quarterback department, the Raiders will look to address the issue early in the draft. With Bortles on the board at the fifth-overall pick, it would be difficult for Oakland to pass up his services.
Bortles' athleticism and raw talent allowed him to have a tremendous 2013 regular season with UCF. His college career was capped off with an impressive performance in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl when he passed for 301 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 93 yards and another score.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Falcons' struggles in the pass-rush department over the 2013-14 season have been well documented. After allowing John Abraham to walk away from the team, they have not been able to recreate anywhere near the same type of success.
Bringing in Clowney—arguably the most dominant defender in this year's draft class—would immediately fill the void. Clowney is stout against the run and disruptive when rushing the passer. He is an all-around complete player and will continue to find success on the NFL level.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Buccaneers are in need of an edge-rusher. Unfortunately, Clowney was taken with the previous selection; however, all is not lost for Tampa Bay—Barr will do nicely to fill the need.
One of the fastest linebacker prospects in this year's draft, Barr is able to beat offensive tackles around the edge by using his electrifying speed and agility. His natural skill set should allow for a relatively easy transition to the NFL.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Khalil Mack, DE, Buffalo
Quarterback is arguably the biggest need for the Vikings as we head into 2014; however, all four top-tier prospects at the position are already off the board. Their need now becomes defensive end with Jared Allen possibly heading into free agency.
Mack was very fun to watch while at Buffalo. His versatility as a pass-rusher is something that new head coach Mike Zimmer will be able to utilize in a big way. Mack should be able to come in and contribute immediately, allowing the departure of Allen to become less of a burden on the team.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Buffalo has a great amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback EJ Manuel will be heading into his second season, and running back C.J. Spiller will finally be healthy as we head into the 2014 season. What's missing? A big, bruising right tackle.
Robinson was a monster for Auburn's fast-paced offense. He is always a threat when blocking for the run. Bringing him into the mix will surely allow for some gaping holes for Spiller and provide another big body to give added protection to Manuel.
10. Detroit Lions: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Lions would have a chance to take the best cornerback here; however, passing up the talents of Sammy Watkins is not an option. Detroit desperately needs a wide receiver who is capable of taking some pressure off Calvin Johnson, and Watkins can do exactly that.
His size and speed combination makes Watkins a potential No. 1 receiver on the NFL level. With Johnson already in the mix in Detroit, the rich just got richer. This addition will allow the Lions to be one of the NFL's most potent offenses next season.
Watkins declared early for the draft, knowing that his next step was to join the ranks of the NFL. He released this statement from his school via ESPN.com:
I am very thankful for the past three years at Clemson University that have enabled me to grow academically, athletically, and spiritually. After much prayerful consideration, I have decided to take the next step in pursuing my lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.
I would not have this opportunity without the support and encouragement of my family, coaches, teammates, and the best fans in college football. No matter where my next steps may lead, I will always take pride in the PAW and will forever be a part of the Clemson family.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Titans defense jelled nicely over the course of the 2013-14 regular season. However, middle linebacker remains a weakness. This position is generally the glue that holds the entire defense together, and adding the dominant Mosley would be a perfect fit for the team going forward.
12. New York Giants: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
One of the Giants' strengths last season was their secondary; although, they could still use another cornerback to complement Prince Amukamara. Dennard has the potential to be the NFL's next shut-down cornerback, as his skill set allows him to remain on an island without much help over the top.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Now that the Rams have already addressed their need at offensive tackle, it's time to surround Sam Bradford with more offensive weapons. Even though Tavon Austin looks to have a bright future ahead, he is more of a slot receiver. The tall, athletic Evans has all of the intangibles to become the team's future No. 1 option at the receiver position.
14. Chicago Bears: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Chicago finished dead last against the run in the 2013-14 season, allowing an average of 161.4 rush yards per game. This is not typical of the Bears, and they will need to rectify this problem through the draft. Nix is athletic for such a big body, and the Notre Dame standout will give the team the force in the trenches that it has been lacking.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Steelers have had their ups and downs in terms of drafting offensive linemen. Although they hit home runs with Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro, they still need help along the offensive front. Lewan has the potential to hold up against better defensive ends and provide some much-needed protection for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Ravens fell from grace after winning Super Bowl XLVII. A big part of that was the lack of offensive weapons for quarterback Joe Flacco. Lee has the playmaking ability to come in and start instantly. Once he gets acclimated to playing on the next level, he should be able to become the team's No. 1 threat across from Torrey Smith.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Cowboys struggled mightily against the pass during the 2013-14 season. They finished 30th in the league, allowing an average of 286.8 yards per game through the air to opposing quarterbacks. Clinton-Dix has a great combination of speed, agility and strength. He is a hard-hitter who can also play center field on the back end of the defense.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Jets need more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. A wide receiver would be ideal here, but given the look of the board at this pick, a big, athletic tight end is the way to go. Ebron is a very quick tight end, and his 6'4" frame will be a welcomed target for quarterback Geno Smith.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Dolphins' trouble with their offensive tackles was well documented during the 2013-14 season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill began to come into his own last year and needs improved protection to continue to flourish. Kouandjio is NFL ready and can come in and contribute immediately.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Arizona was a very surprising team last season, finishing with a 10-6 record. With Bruce Arians' downfield passing scheme continuing in Arizona, the need to better protect quarterback Carson Palmer is a priority. Bolstering the offensive line with Martin will allow the offense to continue its success heading into the 2014 season.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Green Bay did make the playoffs last season despite losing quarterback Aaron Rodgers for a good amount of time. However, it was the defense that continued to let the team down. Finishing 24th in the league against the pass by allowing an average of 247.3 yards per game through the air was the Achilles' heel of this team.
Pryor is a quick, physical safety who can play center field and help take away the dangerous receiving threats of the remaining NFC North teams. His addition, along with the improving health of the rest of the defense, will allow Green Bay to get back to its dominant ways.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Kony Ealy spent his time as an athletic pass-rushing defensive end while at Missouri. However, in the Eagles 3-4 defensive scheme, he will stand up as an outside linebacker. His speed, power and length will allow him to make the transition nicely, and he will be able to find the field immediately to help out the league's 29th-ranked defense.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Chiefs have been dealing with one option—Dwayne Bowe—at the wide receiver position for a long time. That is about to change with the addition of Benjamin. The speedy, 6'5" wide receiver has the ability to take the top off a defense and is a big, friendly target for quarterback Alex Smith.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Bengals have one of the NFL's deepest rosters; however, there are question marks remaining at cornerback. Leon Hall has proven to be injury prone, Terence Newman is getting up there in age, and Dre Kirkpatrick is still relatively unproven. Gilbert will be able to provide some added depth and stability at the cornerback position going forward for the team.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
One of the biggest surprises of the 2013-14 season, San Diego was able to clinch a last-second playoff berth. Head coach Mike McCoy really got the offense going; however, the defense is still a work in progress.
The Chargers finished the season ranked 29th in the league against the pass, as they allowed an average of 258.7 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks. Verrett is a physical corner who excels in man coverage and can provide some security in the secondary for San Diego.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Now that the Browns used their early pick on their quarterback of the future, it's time to surround him with more weapons. Cleveland already has a great receiver in Josh Gordon, and the addition of the speedy Beckham will take lots of pressure off of the team's top playmaker.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Shazier had a great career at Ohio State as an outside pass-rusher. Now that New Orleans has adopted defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme, Shazier will fit perfectly with the Saints. Having plenty of experience at the position already, Shazier should be able to come in and contribute immediately.
28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
The Panthers offense really took off over the course of the 2013-14 season. However, with Steve Smith nearing the end of his career, the team should look for his replacement sooner rather than later. Robinson is a tall receiver at 6'3" and has the speed to go along with his size. He has the capability of becoming a No. 1 option for the long haul in Carolina.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots took a step back on the offensive side of the ball last season after losing tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski will get healthy and come back next season; however, his injury history remains a huge concern.
Amaro is a very capable receiving tight end who is comfortable in the slot and seems like a perfect fit for the Patriots offense. While Tom Brady is still at the helm, it is never a bad idea to surround him with as many formidable weapons as possible.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
With Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis already in the fold, the 49ers have some great options for quarterback Colin Kaepernick. However, wide receiver Anquan Boldin is set to become a free agent and could leave a void on the offensive side of the ball.
If the 49ers were to acquire Cooks, they will gain a great complement for Crabtree. Cooks is a smaller receiver at 5'10", but he has the ability to play either opposite Crabtree on the outside or in the slot. He could serve as a nice chess piece for Jim Harbaugh and Co.—much like Percy Harvin in Seattle.
31. Denver Broncos: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Broncos defensive front became decimated with injuries over the 2013-14 season. They were able to rely on players like Shaun Phillips to step in; however, they must also build toward the future. Tuitt has the size and athleticism to play defensive tackle and defensive end. He should be able to help Denver's defense against both the pass and the run.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
The Seahawks were the most complete, dominant team in the NFL over the 2013-14 season. There are very few holes that need filling on this roster. One area that could use an upgrade is the offensive line. The line faltered a bit down the stretch, and quarterback Russell Wilson had to rely on his scrambling ability more than he would have liked.
Adding the 6'6", 325-pound Moses here would give Wilson the protection that he deserves against the great pass-rushers residing on the other NFC West teams. With this pick, the rich get richer.