Now that the Super Bowl has passed, it's officially time for all 32 NFL teams to look ahead to the 2014 draft.
With an improved quarterback class from last year's crop, an unprecedented 98 underclassmen entered overall and a slew of franchises seeking to accelerate their progress, there should be no shortage of drama in the first round.
Here is an updated look at the first-round picture, with a breakdown of every pick and a particular focus on the QBs that should come off the board near the top of the order.
Note: A coin flip will determine whether the Baltimore Ravens or Dallas Cowboys receive the No. 16 overall pick, per NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah.
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
This is a pick that hometown fans may not enjoy as much as, say, Johnny Manziel, but that is the apparent dilemma facing the Texans at the moment.
According to Russ Lande of SportsOnEarth.com on Feb. 4, Houston is torn between going with the sentimental favorite in Manziel and taking a flier on Bortles:
According to trusted sources, the Texans are initially leaning towards taking either Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel with the top pick. Although Manziel would obviously be the choice of owner Bob McNair, [head coach Bill] O'Brien is not sold that Manziel possesses the work ethic and intangibles necessary to be the face of a franchise.
This is O'Brien's team, and he was selected to replace Gary Kubiak and spark an instant turnaround. Although Manziel may be the more exciting proposition, with a QB guru like O'Brien at the helm, general manager Rick Smith should go with the pick that has the most upside.
Bortles comes from a smaller program but is 6'4", 230 pounds with a cannon arm and exceptional athleticism. All of those physical attributes bring to mind another recent top overall pick in Andrew Luck.
That isn't to say Bortles is Luck, but O'Brien has the chops to mold him into something similar. Having worked with Tom Brady in New England, the new coach knows what he's doing. Heck, he turned Matt McGloin into an NFL-caliber quarterback.
Imagine what O'Brien could do with a natural talent such as Bortles, who would have a talented receiving duo in Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins to work with from the beginning.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
This pick could very well be traded to give the Rams even more assets as they seek to break free from the cellar of the elite NFC West. However, if they do stay here, look for Watkins to be a hot commodity to give QB Sam Bradford a legitimate No. 1 receiver on the outside.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Among the teams near the top of the draft—as bad as this is about to sound—the Jags are probably the furthest from being a true competitor. Then again, in the AFC South division, it's possible they could have an unforeseen resurgence in 2014.
But with a strong prospective bunch of signal-callers coming in the next draft, picking up one of the most impressive defensive athletes in history in Clowney will help Jacksonville fortify its foundation on that side of the ball.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The hiring of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan set off speculation that he could bring Kirk Cousins over from Washington, but with Brian Hoyer already in the fold, it wouldn't make all that much sense.
Neither Hoyer or Cousins are proven commodities given their limited experience, but neither are quite the dynamic, franchise-changing force that Manziel has the makings to be.
Shanahan worked with a similar top-flight draft pick in Robert Griffin III over the past two years and helped him flourish as a rookie, utilizing both his skills as a runner and a passer.
As long as Manziel isn't as reckless as Griffin has been at times with his body, this prospective partnership could really take off. Cleveland already has pieces in place such as Pro Bowlers Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron to give Manziel some strong pass-catching targets and create a dynamic offense.
Even with a passable running back—something the Browns didn't have last season—instant balance could be created, and the talented defense would have an easier time doing its job absent the offensive ineptitude.
Manziel is the instant jolt of energy Cleveland needs, but he also has the underrated arm talent, moxie and production against top-flight collegiate competition in the SEC that suggests he can get it done in the pros for a long time.
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Being the third quarterback off the board might sting Bridgewater's pride, but it would also create at least a small chip on his shoulder to drive his stead as the Raiders' QB of the future.
Bridgewater is arguably the most pro-ready out of the top three quarterbacks in terms of football IQ and intangibles. What may hurt his cause is a lack of elite arm strength and a somewhat slender stature that could see him absorb a lot of big hits.
That sounds somewhat similar to another quarterback who nosedived far further than this projection: Green Bay Packers Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers. With some weight lifting, time to learn behind Brett Favre and fuel from draft doubters, he's turned out just fine.
The same could happen for Bridgewater—even if it's not right away. In any event, Oakland needs to win immediately for head coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie to have much of a shot at staying beyond 2014.
Bridgewater at least gives the impression that the Raiders aren't necessarily set on rebuilding in an AFC West division that saw all three other teams make the playoffs this past season.
Although incumbents Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin are both young and have shown signs of promise, neither stood out as surefire long-term answers under center.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
A case could be made for another franchise-caliber offensive tackle in Jake Matthews. Having said that, Robinson is the superior mauler in run blocking—something Atlanta needs after finishing dead-last in rushing in 2013.
Matt Ryan has the awareness to get rid of the ball quickly even when pressure gets to him. Robinson is not the pass protector Matthews is but he can help complement Ryan better by aiding the rushing attack.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
This should be a case of selecting the best player available, and it just so happens to fill a need for Tampa Bay. New head coach Lovie Smith will want to build a strong defense. There's already a lot of talent in place, so imagine what the potential defensive end-outside linebacker hybrid Barr could do lined up in a front seven featuring Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
This is almost a default selection, yet Carr is an unquestionable upgrade from Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel, at least from the pure ability to spin the pigskin. Carr has a rocket strapped to his right arm, which draws the Jay Cutler comparison.
ESPN's Todd McShay does have one bone to pick with Carr, though—his mechanics, which make the Cutler analogy even more logical:
Another concern is the spread scheme Carr ran at Fresno State, where he had a clear go-to guy in Davante Adams and a ton of quick reads. That shouldn't be much of a problem in Minnesota, given what the Vikings have to work with.
Defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer should look to win on his side of expertise, meaning a heavy dose of superstar running back Adrian Peterson and an old-school mentality to whip Minnesota back in shape.
Norv Turner is a known QB-friendly play-caller who has also overseen success with the likes of Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield.
Oh, and the Vikings have a ton of weapons. Greg Jennings is a strong No. 1 receiver who can line up anywhere, Cordarrelle Patterson is poised to explode after a promising rookie year, Kyle Rudolph is a strong tight end and even Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright should make some big plays.
Add all those factors up—along with falling past three underclassmen—and Carr may wind up as the best of the bunch of quarterbacks based on the situation he's walking into in the Twin Cities.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Another weapon in the passing game would benefit second-year QB E.J. Manuel. So would some guaranteed protection on his blindside, which Matthews would provide for over a decade if Manuel holds up as the proverbial "man" in Buffalo after an injury-riddled rookie year.
10. Detroit Lions (7-9): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
If there is indeed another Joe Haden at the top of this draft as the above comparison suggests, Detroit would do well to nab him. Dennard is a physical cover cornerback whose skills have been a big need for the Lions for years to deal with the premier receivers in the NFC North.
With a high-flying offense already in place and a strong front seven, there aren't many other directions to go at the 10th slot.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
This is an excellent value pick. Mack has just the type of hard-working mentality and relentless motor that head coach Ken Whisenhunt will be seeking. With an ability to play the run, rush the passer and drop in coverage, the complete package is there for Mack to contribute right away.
12. New York Giants (7-9): C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Hailing from a strong NFL producer in Tuscaloosa, Mosley has the tools to be an effective inside linebacker and the type of playmaker the Giants need on defense.
Cornerback could be another position that New York seeks out here, but there isn't much risk involved in taking a tackling machine in Mosley who has a great understanding of complex schematics and should fill in as a Day 1 starter.
13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The tenacity that Lewan brings to the gridiron is a great fit for the hard-nosed identity head coach Jeff Fisher is establishing in St. Louis. Not to mention, the position is unstable after Jake Long's ACL and MCL tears, and Lewan would eliminate another possible excuse for Bradford not to succeed this coming season.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
A decimated defensive line crushed the Bears, who finished last in the league defending the run. Enter the massive Nix, whose presence should bring an instant upgrade to the place of need and help those around him on early downs.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Imagining the physical Evans in a Steelers uniform is terrifying. Antonio Brown is definitely a No. 1-level receiver but needs a better threat opposite him—precisely what Evans would be.
QB Ben Roethlisberger could also do well to get rid of the ball sooner on back-shoulder throws and quick slants. Evans has the size at 6'5" and the mean streak to gain separation, win 50-50 balls and out-muscle NFL defenders to be a success story as a rookie.
T16. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
With the terrible year Joe Flacco had after breaking out as the Super Bowl XLVII MVP, Baltimore must protect its heavy investment in Flacco with a good-faith effort to keep him upright.
Few if any prospects are as polished as Kouandjio is all-around, and his smooth movement in pass protection will aid Flacco's efforts to bounce back from the worst season of his young career.
T16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): HaHa Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The second straight Nick Saban-coached player to come off the board becomes a starter for America's Team.
Defense is holding the Cowboys back from any sort of sustainable success. Clinton-Dix is a winner from a great program who is ready for anything the NFL has to offer with his instincts in coverage and physicality—both of which will help the all-around poor defense in Dallas.
18. New York Jets (8-8): Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No doubt about it: The Jets need some skill position help in the receiving corps. Evans would have been more of an ideal option, but Lee also brings electricity to the return game that should entice GM John Idzik to pull the trigger here.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Given the gruesome nature of Dustin Keller's preseason knee injury, there isn't a guarantee that he'll be back to his usual pass-catching self. Enter Ebron, a superb athlete who has soft hands and precocious route-running ability to give Ryan Tannehill another friendly option to throw to.
The offensive line is a big concern but one that can be addressed in the second round and in free agency with a talent like Ebron still on the board.
20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
The national championship game and Senior Bowl standout can bring a speed-rushing force with him to the desert, adding another intriguing piece to Todd Bowles' defense. Ford would be a logical option to spell the likes of John Abraham, who had 11.5 sacks in 2013 but is going to be 36 in May.
21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
GM Ted Thompson will feel fortunate if Gilbert falls this far. The former Cowboy has incredible ball skills and better size to deal with top-level NFL wideouts. With recent first-rounders Datone Jones and Nick Perry figuring to be bigger contributors to the front seven, Gilbert would help lock things down against the pass.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The array of pass-rushing moves Ealy has, his lateral quickness and burst up the field should make him a strong candidate to aid the Eagles' defensive upgrade.
For a team that finished last against the pass, Ealy would wreak havoc as a new member of the Eagles and convert nicely to a standup outside linebacker spot. The 6'5", 275-pounder is a freak athlete and just what Philadelphia needs to seek out in Round 1.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Tight ends are becoming a bigger part of offenses in the NFL every year, so it makes sense that Amaro is the second off the board in the first round if he goes to Kansas City. Alex Smith can use all the help the Chiefs are capable of acquiring, and Amaro has the size (6'5", 260 pounds) and hands to be a great red zone target in 2014.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
As loaded as the Bengals' roster is, there aren't many places of dire need outside of cornerback, where Verrett would be an excellent option. He has the quickness to stick with slick slot wideouts and the aggressiveness and technique even at 175 pounds to hold his own against bigger foes.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
All Shazier did for the Buckeyes was make plays, thanks largely to his incredible speed that will make up for his undersized stature at the next level. San Diego could use someone like Shazier to bring added pop to a lackluster defense.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Running backs aren't worth a first-round pick, eh? Tell that to all the teams who passed on Eddie Lacy, a powerful runner who went on to win AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. The Browns need to get physical in the AFC North, which the 235-pound Hyde would help with.
It's conceivable that Hyde or another at his position will be there early in Round 2, but securing Hyde here and adding a receiver like Jordan Matthews there seems like a more reassuring strategy to build the offense.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
As finesse and explosive as the Saints' passing attack is, they could use a little bit of attitude in the trenches, something defensive coordinator Rob Ryan brought to his unit that helped push New Orleans to the playoffs.
With the potential to develop as either a guard or tackle, Martin has the versatility and will also play even harder since he's considered to be less than elite in terms of athletic ability and size.
28. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
The Panthers can't look at Cam Newton and tell him with a straight face that they're not making receiver a big priority this offseason. Although they might land one in free agency, Robinson provides insurance as a developmental option who can also be a big contributor immediately.
At 6'3" and 210 pounds, he is a big target and could be a better No. 2 option for 2014 than just about anyone on Carolina's current roster and a viable top replacement for aging All-Pro Steve Smith.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Few players stood out at the Senior Bowl more than Donald did, and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport offered this simple yet effective analysis when Donald was named the player of the week in Mobile:
Ever since Vince Wilfork tore his Achilles, it's been evident that the Pats are thin at defensive tackle. Donald is a great athlete who had 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in his final collegiate season. With the shaky QB play in the AFC East between Miami, Buffalo and the Jets, Donald could feast on the competition even in his maiden season in New England.
30. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
When he was off the field during the BCS title game, Jernigan's impact on the Seminoles' stacked defense was evident. Now that Jernigan has faced the up-tempo Auburn offense and will have to deal with similar packages in the pros, he will be better conditioned and groomed to thrive in San Francisco as Justin Smith's future replacement if he's selected at No. 30.
31. Denver Broncos (13-3): Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The disparity between the Super Bowl secondaries was evident. Bringing in a rangy and hard-hitting safety such as Pryor will help the Broncos' weakest spot and create much needed competition, enthusiasm and an attack-oriented mindset to the defensive backfield.
32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
General manager John Schneider has not been shy about taking gambles on players in the past, and the Seahawks tend to favor speed and size as much as anyone. That should lead to the 6'5", 234-pound Benjamin being brought into a great situation to help the reigning Super Bowl champions as a big-bodied weapon in an undersized receiving corps.
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