The 2014 NFL draft is now the biggest upcoming event on the league calendar after the Seattle Seahawks annihilated the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Free agency is also on the radar, and there will surely be some big moves made in this arena.
However, when it comes to building a championship roster, there's no doubt the time-proved method of building through the draft is still the way to go.
Just ask John Schneider, who has built a long-term contender in Seattle utilizing this method.
This upcoming mock draft will focus on Round 1, looking at players that pair well with teams in need of their services.
1. Houston Texans: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Everyone knows Johnny Manziel can ball on the gridiron. He's a natural playmaker who dazzles on a weekly basis. And though his off-field persona may grate on some, he showed a knack for getting the most out of his teammates, which is a rare and valuable trait in the NFL.
Greg Gabriel of the National Football Post provides further analysis and postulates Manziel could well be the first quarterback selected:
The one thing I do know is that on game day, Manziel is as competitive a player as you will ever see. Scouts have told me that he has matured in the last year and his game preparation and leadership were much better in 2013 than in 2012. I think there is a lot of “special” to Manziel and he will be a very good NFL player. It would not surprise me to see him drafted in the top-five. He could very well be the first quarterback selected.
Houston needs an offense that can match its dominant defense. With a stellar running game already in place and a couple of phenomenal receivers in Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, Manziel would be the perfect player to spark an offensive revival in the state of Texas.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Like Eric Fisher in 2013, Greg Robinson's draft stock is surging as the NFL Scouting Combine approaches. The 6'5", 325-pound left tackle out of Auburn possesses elite athleticism and agility while combining excellent strength and leverage. Though not quite as polished as Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M, Robinson could surpass him quickly with bigger upside.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley coached the South Team at the 2014 Senior Bowl and apparently fell in love with Derek Carr, as B/R's Matt Miller reported. Carr led South practices all week and then looked sharp during the game. The Jaguars desperately need a franchise passer, and if the team feels Carr is the guy, then he'll be the pick here at No. 3.
4. Cleveland Browns: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
With both top quarterbacks off the board, it's conceivable Cleveland could make a hard choice and abstain from selecting Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater.
But with Jadeveon Clowney being the consolation prize, it's a move worth making if the team isn't sold on either passer.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
At least Cleveland has Jason Campbell.
Oakland has nobody capable of putting together a winning season at the quarterback position. General manager Reggie McKenzie recently touched on this sore subject, as relayed by ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez:
We've got two young players who played this year (and) from an experience standpoint there wasn't any, so neither one of them stepped up and said, ‘I'm the franchise quarterback.' So absolutely, we're going to always continue to upgrade and find that guy. Now how we find them, we'll figure that out in the next few months, to what's available to us.
It's hard to imagine McKenzie will pass on a top guy, and of the two remaining top signal-callers, Bortles would appear to have the biggest upside.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
In addition to the prodigious injury bug that wrecked Atlanta's season, the team's offensive line showed serious flaws. With a healthy roster and good pass protection in front of him, Matt Ryan is one of the league's elite quarterbacks.
It's time for general manager Thomas Dimitroff to make protecting Ryan a top priority. Thankfully, Jake Matthews is skilled enough that he will be able to step in from day one as the team's starting tackle on either side.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
With Mike Glennon looking solid at the quarterback position, the Buccaneers should look at providing him with more offensive weapons to throw at. Vincent Jackson is tremendous, and Mike Williams has shown promise, but there isn't much going on after those two.
Sammy Watkins has the potential to become better than either of them, and he'd be a huge spark plug for Tampa Bay's offense in 2014 as a rookie—an instant-impact starter from day one.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
When Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel are your best options at quarterback, then you know you have a problem.
The Vikings have built a playoff contender, minus the all-important franchise passer. It remains to be seen if Teddy Bridgewater has the stuff to make it in the NFL, but you know he'll be playing with a huge chip on his shoulder after getting passed over by three teams in Round 1.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
Defense is already Buffalo's strength, but adding another impact defender isn't a bad move. Khalil Mack is a nightmare to defend off the edge. He'd be a perfect fit opposite Mario Williams on the weak side of the line.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Lions feature a dynamic front four that can wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, yet the team finished the season with the league's No. 23-ranked passing defense. The secondary is certainly Detroit's weak link, but adding a big, skilled corner who can play both man and zone would go a long way toward fixing the issues.
Justin Gilbert, at 6'0" and 205 pounds, intercepted seven passes in 2013 and another five in 2011 for the Cowboys. He's a rising star who'll instantly help Detroit cover the skilled receivers that roam the field in the NFC North.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
At No. 11, pass-rusher Anthony Barr would be a steal for the Titans.
He racked up 23.5 sacks at UCLA the past two years after being converted as a former running back. At 6'4", 242 pounds, his frame still shows plenty of room for bulk, and he's already a terror for opposing offensive tackles to deal with.
FWAA writer Bryan Fischer detailed why he's such an impact player in an recent interview with Texans Radio, via Deepi Sidhu of HoustonTexans.com:
He does a little bit of everything in their system and really drew a lot of attention from opposing offenses, freeing up other linebackers to make plays when he was double-teamed. He's a very good pass rusher off the edge but also is solid enough to set the edge in the run game—he excels at shedding blocks. With his speed and length, he can also cover tight ends or wide receivers as well. People will watch him and love everything that he can do because he's so flexible.
While many project Barr to be a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker, he's diverse enough to play in any scheme. The Titans will be happy to scoop him up here, and he'll be an instant upgrade on obvious passing downs.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Eli Manning's 2013 campaign was really, really bad (27 interceptions, 69.4 passer rating), largely because he had horrible protection in front of him. While rookie Justin Pugh was solid, the rest of the line was atrocious. Adding an experienced left tackle with elite athleticism like Taylor Lewan would be a huge help in the upcoming season.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
With the left tackle of the future in place, the Rams should look to add another offensive weapon for Sam Bradford to utilize in the passing game. Mike Evans is the ying to Tavon Austin's yang. The big receiver is a perfect complement to Austin's quickness inside, and he'd be a boon in the red zone.
14. Chicago Bears: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Bears featured the worst defense in the NFL in 2013, which is really a huge break from tradition.
Monsters of the Midway Marc Trestman's team was not.
Adding an SEC-tested linebacker who can do it all while calling out plays at the line would be a good first step for Chicago to fix what's broken. C.J. Mosley is a leader and a phenomenal young player who would become a fan favorite in no time.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Dick LeBeau's defense in Pittsburgh has long been known as one of the league's best at shutting down the run. However, the Steelers finished the 2013 season with the NFL's No. 21-ranked run defense, and it's clear new blood is needed up front to get back on track.
Ra'Shede Hageman has J.J. Watt-type potential, given his impressive measurables (6'6", 311 lbs), but the talented big man still needs to learn how to use his gifts, as pointed out by Bucky Brooks of NFL.com:
Once he does begin playing to his potential, Hageman will blossom, much like Dontari Poe did for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
After drafting Matt Elam to fill the void left by Ed Reed, the Ravens would be smart to add his counterpart by selecting strong safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The Alabama product is as pro-ready as any player in the draft, and he'd be an impact starter on John Harbaugh's club.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Dallas' pass defense gave up more yards than all but three NFL teams last year, despite the fact that Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are both talented cornerbacks. Without a viable safety in the middle of the field, the Cowboys were helpless to stop the pass.
Calvin Pryor would certainly be able to help in this regard.
B/R's Matt Miller highlights his strengths:
Pryor is a physical player from snap to whistle. He loves to use his hands in coverage but does so in a way that allows him to avoid penalties at the college level. He's also physical when he's not near enough to pull and slap at wide receivers, given his top-level closing speed and the way he comes in to lower the boom on anyone with the ball.
Pryor has the athleticism and strength to make an impact as a starter in his first NFL game.
The Cowboys have plenty of other needs, but it would be foolish to take a pass on a player of Pryor's caliber at this point in the draft.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Whether it's Geno Smith, Mark Sanchez or someone else behind center for the Jets in 2014, the team won't find sustained success passing the ball without talented playmakers running routes on offense.
Eric Ebron is one such player. The tight end out of North Carolina looks like a slightly slower version of San Francisco's Vernon Davis, and he's shown the ability to make big plays downfield, which is a must in today's game.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
D.J. Fluker proved a lot of people wrong by having a fantastic rookie season for the San Diego Chargers in 2013, and fellow 'Bama product Cyrus Kouandjio will do the same this upcoming season. Miami allowed an astonishing 58 sacks last season, so there's clearly a desperate need for help on the offensive line.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians loves to attack defenses vertically in the passing game. With Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd on the perimeter, Carson Palmer was able to do that to a certain degree in 2013, but Arizona's lack of a competent tight end hampered the team's ability to really press the attack.
Texas Tech's Jace Amaro is a terrific option for the Cardinals as a receiving tight end. His pass-blocking skills are far from impressive, but he makes up for it with savvy route running and great hands downfield.
21. Green Bay Packers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Packers fans will surely rail against this selection, given the team's need for a safety. That said, Darqueze Dennard could go much higher than this on draft day, and the man-to-man specialist would give Green Bay significant help on the perimeter.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
It's not a given that the Eagles will re-sign either Riley Cooper or Jeremy Maclin for the 2014 season. With that in mind, the Eagles would be smart to consider drafting one of the top receivers in this draft class.
Kelvin Benjamin has all the physical tools to become an elite No. 1 receiver. His big body will be a huge help to Nick Foles in the red zone, where he flourished during his time at Florida State.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Alex Smith excels at running Andy Reid's quick-hitting passing attack, but he needs playmakers who can make the most out of those shorter routes. Odell Beckham is capable of making huge plays after the catch, and he's the perfect fit for the Chiefs opposite Dwayne Bowe.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Kony Ealy has the frame (6'5", 275 lbs) and athleticism to compare favorably to San Francisco's Aldon Smith. He also showed solid production in the SEC, racking up 9.5 sacks in 2013. Adding him to Cincinnati's rotation would only strengthen what's already one of the NFL's top defensive fronts.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Fixing San Diego's porous run defense should be a top priority for second-year general manager Tom Telesco. The Chargers allowed 4.6 yards per carry in 2013. Adding this year's top nose tackle is the move this team needs to shore up this deficiency.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Don't be shocked if Zach Mettenberger makes his way into the bottom half of Round 1 come May 8, 2014. The quarterback is reportedly making good progress with his injured knee, as relayed by Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune, and is expected to start throwing again soon.
With prototypical NFL size at 6'5" and 230 pounds, Mettenberger also possesses a big arm and showed improved accuracy under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in 2013, completing 64.9 percent of his passes.
Josh Gordon is a vertical threat who will continue to shine, provided a strong-armed quarterback is behind center.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The Saints need to add speed to their defense—specifically on the edges. Ryan Shazier is a veritable speed demon who makes big plays all over the field. He's the perfect fit for Rob Ryan's aggressive 3-4 scheme.
28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
With an aging Steve Smith as the primary weapon in the passing game, Cam Newton's development won't progress as it should in 2014 without some additional help at the receiver position. Marqise Lee out of USC is a tremendous after-the-catch prospect who showed game-breaking athleticism during his tenure with the Trojans.
29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
It's no secret that the Patriots need to add a receiver or three this offseason, but Bill Belichick is not known for taking receivers in Round 1. Instead, look for him to add a talented defensive lineman to bolster a shallow defensive front. Timmy Jernigan out of Florida State has the talent to become a nightmare playing next to Vince Wilfork on the line.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
With Colin Kaepernick slinging the ball across the yard every Sunday, it's important for the 49ers to provide him with the best weapons at their disposal. Receiver has been a need for San Francisco for a while now, with the team striking out more than a few times this past decade.
Jordan Matthews looks the part of a legitimate star, however, and Josh Norris of Rotoworld recently compared him to Keenan Allen, who was excellent in his rookie season for the Chargers:
31. Denver Broncos: Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
The Broncos could use some help up front rushing the passer, as the lack of depth was apparent this past year when Von Miller was out. Trent Murphy is strong against both the pass and the run, and he'd provide a spark defensively for Denver.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Clearly, Seattle's roster is stacked.
However, if you could point to one area in which the Seahawks don't excel, it would be at the tight end position. Adding a playmaker like Austin Seferian-Jenkins out of Washington—a local kid—would sew up that issue nicely.
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