Super Bowl XLVIII is in the books, and the Seattle Seahawks have taken the league's top prize, so all 32 teams now firmly have their eyes set on the 2014 NFL draft.
The Seahawks, who expertly handled the historic offense of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, are the perfect example of how a team can use the draft to find success.
As a third-round pick, quarterback Russell Wilson has an insanely cheap deal thanks to the rookie wage scale, which gave the Seahawks financial flexibility that turned into production in the big game, as Grantland's Bill Barnwell points out:
The Seahawks can take the $16.8 million difference and go spend it elsewhere, which changes the value proposition. The Seahawks made three big free-agent signings this offseason, and they each contributed to the win. Harvin ($4.9 million cap hold this year) had the kickoff return for a touchdown, while Michael Bennett ($4.8 million) and Cliff Avril ($3.8 million) were part of a pass rush that battered Manning all day.
A smart pick gave the team not only a potential player but also countless cap benefits that help other areas of the team.
Every team should attempt to follow Seattle's lead in 2014.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The task for the Houston Texans is rather simple—grab a quarterback who can win now, as the team is in the middle of a championship window.
That quarterback would be Teddy Bridgewater.
The Louisville product has his naysayers, including NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, via Rotoworld: "The thing with Bridgewater is he is solid in all areas, but he doesn't have that wow characteristic. He doesn't have off-the-charts size. He doesn't have a humungous arm. He's not a great athlete. He's good, he is proficient in all these different areas."
But that is exactly the type of quarterback the Texans need at this point. Bridgewater's ceiling is incredibly high, and he can come in and play at a high level right away.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
As teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals have shown in recent years, the best player available is the right move.
This is especially true for a team with two selections in the first round.
While defensive end is surely not a need with Robert Quinn and Chris Long in town, the former's contract is up after next season. The team could also use another strong pass-rusher to rotate in, just as the aforementioned Bengals do.
This is where Jadeveon Clowney comes into play. He can contribute right away but is also a long-term solution—especially in the cap department, as explained in the intro.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan has made it known that the team is drafting a quarterback this year, via Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union:
Shad Khan: "Everybody knows we're going to draft a quarterback - maybe two." #jaguars— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) January 31, 2014
Get real—a team would never announce its intentions beforehand, right?
Wrong. Whether he likes it or not, Khan understands that quarterback is the biggest need. Blake Bortles is the surest thing at the position left on the board, and he's a local product and a talent who has the potential to develop into the franchise quarterback the Jaguars so desperately need.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Mike Pettine is the new coach in Cleveland. Given his defensive background, Pettine is going to need a versatile new quarterback to pair with new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Johnny Manziel is the perfect fit when one considers that Shanahan just worked wonders with another dual-threat quarterback by the name of Robert Griffin III. (Coincidentally, Washington and Cleveland have plenty in common in terms of dysfunction.)
Manziel can succeed in the AFC North thanks to his legs, which will surely play a factor in his selection here.
5. Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Given the wealth of talent available at other positions, it's hard to give the Oakland Raiders a quarterback here, but Derek Carr is making a case that is hard to ignore.
As ESPN's Adam Caplan points out, Carr was the best quarterback at the Senior Bowl:
Quarterback is the most important position of all, and Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin are simply not the answer.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Osi Umenyiora experiment was not a wild success after John Abraham left, so now is the time for general manager Thomas Dimitroff to build the line the right way—through the draft.
Khalil Mack is a lock to go in the top 10. His workouts are sure to impress, and his film in which he bullied Ohio State will stand out.
Mack starts right away and is a massive upgrade for a roster that was hit by the injury bug a year ago.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
New head coach Lovie Smith may already have a franchise quarterback in Mike Glennon, and it is a safe bet he will get the most out of his defense.
With that in mind, Smith makes an already talented roster even more dangerous with the selection of Clemson's Sammy Watkins.
Watkins is easily the best player on the board and will be a breakout star as a rookie, as defenses will be focused on Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise that Minnesota misses out on a quarterback in what is a pretty iffy class.
Instead, the Vikings can grab a stud pass-rusher such as Anthony Barr, who will do well to ease the minds of those concerned about the future of Jared Allen.
New head coach Mike Zimmer will get the most out of Barr, who is a bit of a project player. Overall, the Vikings can win a lot of games in 2013 with a strong defense and run game.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Believe it or not, the Buffalo Bills do not have a major need as they head into the 2014 draft.
This means the Bills can make a bit of a luxury pick, but it has to be a smart one. In other words, more quality beef in front of EJ Manuel is the best move.
According to ESPN, Greg Robinson is the No. 2 overall prospect available in the draft. That is a great value here, and it insulates the Bills from potential issues down the line.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Like the Bills, the Detroit Lions do not have a major need that sticks out. A receiver across from Calvin Johnson would be nice, as would a few quality cornerbacks.
When one applies the best-player-available strategy, this one is easy—Darqueze Dennard is the answer.
Detroit needs a player who can contribute right away and act as a cornerstone for the unit. The secondary has been an absolute mess, so Dennard fits perfectly.
11. Tennessee Titans: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
With new defensive coordinator Ray Horton on his way to town, the Tennessee Titans are going to have quite the defense in the coming years.
The offense is a bit more of a question mark. The future at the quarterback position is a bit unknown, so now is as good a time as any to grab a top offensive tackle prospect and get him some experience before more changes happen.
12. New York Giants: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
While it's not necessarily a sexy draft for fans, it makes a ton of sense for the Rams to use both picks in the first round on defense, especially when one takes into account how the board has developed.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is one of the two top safeties in the class and joins a secondary led by Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins that will quickly develop into one of the league's best—especially thanks to the addition of Clowney up front.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
With Henry Melton on his way to free agency, this pick is all too easy. The Chicago Bears need help defensively, as confirmed by general manager Phil Emery, via Kevin Fishbain of
Phil Emery: "I will guarantee you one thing…We're going to be a younger defense. The draft will be focused in that area."— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) January 2, 2014
Timmy Jernigan is the obvious answer thanks to his skill set, which closely resembles Melton's. Jernigan rushes the passer with relative ease and holds his own in the run game.
Jernigan helps in the pass-rush department, but, perhaps more importantly, he also helps to open things up for the linebackers behind him—which was the team's overall weakness last season.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
"Decline" is the word of the offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the team has more than a few defensive stars who are in the middle of regression periods that will hurt the team in the coming years.
It is now important for the Steelers to find young talent that can contribute right away and learn from the veterans before taking over completely.
The addition of Shamarko Thomas was not enough last year. Calvin Pryor is a perfect fit at this slot and is even considered by some, including Jeremiah, to be the best safety in the class.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The national consensus seems to be that the Baltimore Ravens will hit on a wide receiver here.
Which receiver it turns out to be is a different conversation entirely.
The Ravens already have a speedster in Torrey Smith. What it is missing is an Anquan Boldin-esque wideout who can move the chains consistently and take pressure off quarterback Joe Flacco.
Kelvin Benjamin is a raw prospect, but his upside is quite alarming given his size and big-play ability. Flacco cannot be happier with a pick.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Kony Ealy would take the NFC East by storm in the scheme the Dallas Cowboys run.
The Cowboys need help all over their unit, with Ealy being the best player on the board. Ealy is a freakish athlete who combines raw speed and power with proper technique to weave or bully his way to the quarterback.
As many fans know, arguably the best way to improve a shaky secondary is to reduce the amount of time it has to spend in coverage. Ealy helps this endeavor in a big way.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Eric Ebron is easily the best tight end in the draft class, as Jeremiah points out:
Studying UNC TE Eric Ebron. Excellent speed, strong hands and precise route-runner. Pro Bowl potential— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 8, 2014
The New York Jets need to surround quarterback Geno Smith with talent, and Ebron helps accomplish that feat.
Ebron opens up the offense as a consistent chain mover and someone defenses must account for at all times. The Jets know a thing or two about the importance of a talented tight end, as they hail from the division that started the trend that is sweeping the league.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio OT, Alabama
Call it predictable, but the Miami Dolphins have their backs against the wall as far as the offensive line goes.
Multiple spots need fixed, and free agency can only do so much, so the top tackle on the board here is a must.
That would be Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, who is an absolute bulldozer in the run game and strong enough so far in the pass. It is quite the head start for a unit with a lot of work in front of it.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
If offensive guru and Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians is going to continue to squeeze the maximum amount of production out of Carson Palmer, he is going to need more talent.
A load of talent is already in place with receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and tight end Rob Housler.
But the addition of Jace Amaro would put things over the top. Arians is a fan of the two-tight end approach, and defenses would simply have a tough time accounting for all of the weapons at once. Two massive tight ends also help mask what is potentially a ragged offensive line protecting the immobile Palmer yet again.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
There is no doubt the Green Bay Packers and general manager Ted Thompson are on the hunt for a flashy new defensive prospect in the first round.
Like last year, expect the pick to be on the defensive line. As ESPN's Rob Demovsky writes, the Packers are unlikely to strike a deal with B.J. Raji:
That’s currently a hot topic of debate within the organization. There’s also the chance that Raji will make that decision for them. He already has reportedly turned down an offer for $8 million a year. Perhaps Raji would prefer to play in a defense that allows its linemen more freedom to rush the passer.
That is a major issue, but Ra'Shede Hageman can help fix it. He has a similar skill set and does the same thing for a much cheaper cost—which opens things up for the Packers to also upgrade elsewhere.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Philadelphia Eagles need help at cornerback and linebacker, with one not necessarily taking precedence over the other at the moment.
For now, the best player on the board is Justin Gilbert.
Gilbert joins a shaky secondary and brings a ball-hawking presence it lacked a season ago on a unit that was asked to be on the field entirely too long. Gilbert is athletically up to the challenge and could be a long-term cornerstone.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Coach Andy Reid understands better than anyone that the team cannot continue to rely solely on Dwayne Bowe in the passing game.
With quarterback Alex Smith under center, the Kansas City Chiefs rely on big wideouts who can seemingly double as tight ends.
That is exactly what Mike Evans brings to the table. He catches nearly everything thrown his way and is big enough to be mistaken for a tight end, which means he creates plenty of viable mismatches against linebackers and safeties—not to mention smaller cornerbacks.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
The Cincinnati Bengals could go a wide range of ways here, as no particular position stands out as a major need.
But a deeper look does reveal one problem—the team needs as much stability in front of quarterback Andy Dalton as possible, especially as he heads into the final year of his rookie contract.
Zack Martin is an immediate starter at left guard for the Bengals. Even better, he has the potential to take over at left tackle when Andrew Whitworth retires, which will presumably be in the next few years.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The San Diego Chargers seemingly have no choice but to upgrade the secondary so that quarterback Philip Rivers is not consistently playing from behind.
TCU's Jason Verrett is the best on the board and falls this far thanks to his physical measurements, which Greg Gabriel of the National Football Post elaborates on nicely:
Except for size, Verret has the tools and mental makeup to be a good corner in the league. What will hurt him on draft day is his size. Many teams will not draft corners under 5’10 and that’s what Verrett is. With his speed and quickness I see him as a nickel corner. He can do a great job lined up on many of the quick small slot receivers we see in the NFL. If he has to line up outside and matchup against some of the bigger receivers in the league, he will be at a huge disadvantage. While his play on tape says he should be a first round pick, his size says he will go in the second.
Teams need as many quality defensive backs as possible in today's NFL, so taking a nickel corner this high in the draft is in no way outlandish—and that is if fans totally dismiss Verrett's merits as an outside corner, which they should not.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
The staff in Cleveland is a bunch of geniuses for this one.
While Trent Richardson flounders in Indianapolis, the Browns now have a new franchise quarterback and a consistent rookie receiver to match with the addition of Allen Robinson.
Robinson is the type of receiver who moves the chains, while a guy like Josh Gordon goes deep. Pair those two with tight end Jordan Cameron and a potential running back via free agency or later in the draft, and the new offense in Cleveland is bound to find success.
27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
With a premium on passing and stopping the pass, it makes sense for an inside linebacker whose primary strength is stopping the run to fall this far.
That is perfect news for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and the New Orleans Saints, who could use some youth and better production at inside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme.
C.J. Mosley is the definition of an elite player, as ESPN's Kevin Weidl points out:
Also Mosley is a flat out stud. ELITE instincts and eyes. Vastly improved taking on blocks in tight quarters this year. Definition of alpha— Kevin Weidl (@KevinW_ESPN) January 24, 2014
Mosley starts right away and is the physical leader Ryan needs in the middle of his unit.
28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Protecting and helping quarterback Cam Newton is the name of the game this offseason for the Carolina Panthers.
The wide receiver class is deep, but the Panthers want a big-play talent who can act as a complement across from Steve Smith right now, not a prospect who will bloom later.
Odell Beckham Jr. is the obvious choice as a big-bodied wideout who can overpower corners and take seemingly any reception for a score. He is an obvious heir apparent when Smith moves on to other things.
29. New England Patriots: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Tom Brady went from an elite supporting cast to one with the fragile Danny Amendola as the top target in just one offseason.
Brady and the Patriots by no means fell off a cliff last year, but one has to wonder what could have been if the team had more reliable targets down the field.
While the emergence of a power running game is nice, Brady needs to be able to air it out consistently. Marqise Lee fits the mold of the offense and has sure hands, which the team missed last year.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews is built for the NFL and is putting in the work to ensure he is a first-round pick, as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller helps illustrate:
With so many kids dropping out of Sr. Bowl, sure makes you appreciate Jordan Matthews--who contacted them for film on all the CBs.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 17, 2014
Matthews is a lock for the first round, especially with the way the board has fallen to this point.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick relied on big receiver Anquan Boldin, but he is headed to free agency. Matthews replaces Boldin's presence at a much cheaper cost.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Denver looked like it needed as many top draft picks in the offensive trenches as possible during the Super Bowl, but, in reality, the unit simply needs to get healthy.
Instead, the Broncos can focus on doing a better job of generating a pass rush with Ryan Shazier. This is a unit that was put together with rubber bands and glue via free agency last year—that simply will not work two years in a row.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
It is luxury pick time for the Seahawks.
As detailed in the intro, Seattle has written the book on how to hit on draft picks in order to better spend money elsewhere.
This time, the pick is Dee Ford, who provides depth and can one day move into a starting role with the upside of one of the NFL's best pass-rushers. This stops the Seahawks from doling out big cash to other defenders while they focus on getting extensions done for guys such as Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman.