Now that the Super Bowl is over, football fans across the country will be without their beloved sport for far too long. Thus, it is time for both fans and front offices to turn their collective attention to the NFL draft.
The draft is the surest way to build a long-term contender in professional football today, and with so much parity across the league, one impressive draft can completely turn around the fortunes of a downtrodden franchise.
This mock draft will focus solely on the first round and attempt to match teams with players based on need and overall talent level.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Houston Texans are selecting first in the 2014 NFL draft, and they couldn’t have picked a better draft to need a quarterback. There are plenty of talented signal-callers available this year, and the real question becomes which one Houston will take.
The guess here is that they pull the trigger on Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville.
Let Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller break down why Bridgewater is the top pick:
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.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Many will look for Jadeveon Clowney to be the second pick, but the St. Louis Rams already have plenty of talent on the defensive line.
However, protecting Sam Bradford needs to be a long-term priority, and it will be when Jake Matthews is taken No. 2, as Jake Long’s availability for 2014 is in doubt with an ACL tear.
Matthews has the versatility to play both left and right tackle, which will be critical when Long does return.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Jacksonville Jaguars need a magnetic personality to help sell their team to the local fanbase, and that is exactly what they will get with Johnny Manziel.
No player in college football drew more headlines than Manziel did the past two years, and he will continue to be a magnet for attention at the professional level. There isn’t a lot of elite talent at the skill positions for the Jaguars, so Manziel will be ideal, as he can make plays on his own with his feet or arm.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The Cleveland Browns need a quarterback of the future, plain and simple.
They will hope to get that in Blake Bortles. The lack of production from the quarterback position in Cleveland is alarming, but with Bortles' athleticism in the pocket and his ability to thread the needle with his arm, that may not be an issue in the future.
5. Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Don’t let the lack of success from Derek Carr’s older brother in the NFL scare you. The younger Carr is seen as a franchise-changing quarterback for a reason.
Carr can hit on both short passes and throws down the field and will make the Oakland skill players look better than they are. If necessary, Carr can also use his feet to make plays if the porous Oakland offensive line breaks down.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Atlanta Falcons have their quarterback and plenty of receivers. What they need (outside of good health) is a solid offensive line to make sure Matt Ryan stays off his back.
That means Greg Robinson from Auburn is the selection.
Nate Davis of USA Today breaks down why Robinson is the selection for the Falcons:
Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times in 2013 behind a line that lost Tyson Clabo to a salary cap decision before Sam Baker and Mike Johnson went down to injury. The powerful Robinson might not be ready to guard Ryan's blind side right away, but he could learn the ropes on the right side assuming Baker is able to recover.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Talk about a gift at No. 7 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers if Clowney falls all the way here.
Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports points out that Clowney may not be seen as the surefire selection he was before the 2013 college football season: "No, Clowney's 'draft stock' isn't suddenly on the rise. If anything, there are more questions about him now, as evaluators go back and figure why why he was not as dominant in 2013 as he was the season prior."
Still, in terms of pure talent, it doesn’t get much better than Clowney for this draft.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack may not have played his college football at a BCS powerhouse school, but he may be the best linebacker in the entire draft.
Is Khalil Mack the best linebacker in the draft?
The Buffalo product will fill in nicely as a pass-rusher if and when Jared Allen leaves as a free agent. He is versatile enough to line up as a hands-down rusher or as a traditional linebacker and will immediately make the Minnesota Vikings defense more formidable against the offensive weapons of the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
9. Buffalo Bills: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Pairing Anthony Barr, who has excellent speed off the edge, with Mario Williams will give AFC East quarterbacks nightmares next year when they get ready to play the Buffalo Bills.
Barr has the versatility to play in any defensive scheme and has arguably the most explosive speed in the entire draft when rushing the passer. He tallied 23.5 sacks the past two seasons for UCLA using the coveted combination of speed and size that so many defensive coordinators look for in an outside linebacker.
10. Detroit Lions: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Whenever commentators discuss the Detroit Lions, Calvin Johnson is the first name to come up.
Look for the Lions to pair the explosive Sammy Watkins with Johnson. Good luck to opposing defenses trying to stop that combination.
No wide receiver in this class has the type of speed and big-play ability Watkins does.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Linebacker may not be a position of absolute immediate need for the Tennessee Titans, but if a talent such as C.J. Mosley is available at No. 11, don’t be surprised if they spring for him.
Mosley is versatile enough to fit in a 4-3 or a 3-4 scheme and is excellent against the run. He was a primary reason Alabama’s defense was so stout the past few years and will give some much-needed depth inside for the Titans, especially considering Colin McCarthy’s injury history.
12. New York Giants: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys are two of the best offensive teams in the entire NFL in terms of pure talent level, so the New York Giants can never have enough quality defenders.
Justin Gilbert has the size and speed necessary to be a long-term starter at the cornerback position in the NFL, which would help the Giants defend the high-octane attacks in the NFC East.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
If you are looking for a wide receiver who is ready to contribute at the next level immediately in this draft class, look no further than Mike Evans of Texas A&M.
Evans may have been overshadowed some by Manziel during his college days, but Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller points out why he is the answer for the St. Louis Rams:
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.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
It was not a typical year in Chicago.
As soon as Henry Melton went down with injury, the whole run defense fell apart. Timmy Jernigan of Florida State will help plug the hole in the middle against the run and will ideally shore up Chicago’s defense.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
There was a time when Marqise Lee was seen as a surefire top pick, but USC’s inconsistent performances the past couple of years may hurt his stock.
However, he has the size and speed to be a No. 1 option in the near future. Look for the Pittsburgh Steelers to add him as another offensive weapon as they try to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 campaign.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Davis of USA Today breaks down the simple reason the Baltimore Ravens need some help on the offensive line for the 2014 season: "Starting tackles Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher are ticketed for free agency. Even if the Ravens manage to re-sign one, they'll probably need to draft another to protect $120 million QB Joe Flacco."
With so much invested in Flacco, Michigan’s Taylor Lewan will help keep the quarterback upright and healthy for years to come.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Much like the Green Bay Packers, whom we will get to later, the Dallas Cowboys have the offensive playmakers in place to win a Super Bowl but an incredibly leaky defense.
Drafting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama would help change that narrative for the Cowboys.
You would be hard-pressed to find a defensive player more ready to step in and contribute immediately than Clinton-Dix. He will help shore up the porous pass defense for the Cowboys, which will give their offense a chance to win more games.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The best way to ensure that Geno Smith is a productive quarterback throughout his career for the New York Jets is to surround him with offensive weapons.
Tight end Eric Ebron from North Carolina would certainly fit that bill.
Ebron can make plays downfield in the passing game, which is very highly valued in today’s NFL. Teams across the league are looking for the next Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham, and perhaps Ebron will be that for the Jets.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Lost in the aftermath of the Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito fallout was the fact that the Miami Dolphins offensive line was decimated after losing two critical players.
There are plenty of talented offensive tackles in this draft, and Notre Dame’s Zach Martin will fall to Miami at No. 19. He is versatile enough to play either the guard or tackle position, which is very important for a team with multiple needs along the line.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Darqueze Dennard made a name for himself on the national stage when Michigan State knocked off undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game and Pac-12 Champion Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
He is a cornerback who talks trash on the field and backs it up with his play. Remind you of anyone on the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks?
Dennard is a lockdown corner in man-to-man situations and will make the Arizona Cardinals already impressive defense even better.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The thing the Green Bay Packers need more than anything else is a bill of clean health, but safety is also a pressing need.
Calvin Pryor is a top-15 talent but will fall to the Packers at No. 21. This would be a monumental pickup for a team that has the offensive talent to win a Super Bowl but a porous defense.
Pryor is a terrific hitter in the open field and has the ability to cover receivers or a tight end when opponents drop back to pass.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
If Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks falls to the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 22, Chip Kelly will have another terrific offensive playmaker at his disposal.
Cooks is a speedy deep threat who catches almost everything he gets his hands on. He can play in the slot or on the outside and should fit in smoothly alongside DeSean Jackson.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt is better talent-wise than the No. 23 pick, but he had an inconsistent season at Notre Dame and will have to prove himself on the field at the NFL level.
Look for the Kansas City Chiefs to give him a chance to do just that.
Tuitt is talented enough to play inside as a defensive tackle or on the outside as a defensive end. That type of versatility will give the Chiefs options, especially when they try to pressure Peyton Manning in the two critical divisional games against the Denver Broncos next year.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Cincinnati Bengals have disappointed recently in the playoffs, but adding a formidable pass-rusher such as Kony Ealy of Missouri should help their cause in the future.
Davis of USA Today projects Ealy to land with Cincinnati in the upcoming draft: "The Tigers have produced several stellar defensive linemen in recent years (Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson), and Cincinnati will probably be in the market after franchise DE Michael Johnson's disappointing 2013 campaign."
25. San Diego Chargers: Dee Ford, LB, Auburn
The San Diego Chargers landed Keenan Allen in the 2013 NFL draft and will look to acquire another impact superstar right away in Dee Ford of Auburn.
Ford has incredible speed off the edge and will help pressure Manning when the Chargers go up against the Broncos next season. He also has a notable wingspan, which will help him deflect passes at the line and when covering tight ends in the passing game.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Look for the Cleveland Browns to surprise some by reaching for in-state product Carlos Hyde with the No. 26 pick.
The Browns desperately need a quarterback, which they will get with their first selection, and could use a bruising running back to complement the passing game with Josh Gordon. Hyde is the best between-the-tackles runner in the entire draft and will contribute immediately upon his arrival.
Hyde and Bortles won’t get the Browns to the playoffs in their first year, but they will certainly make the offense more enjoyable to watch.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
The New Orleans Saints will make it two Ohio State Buckeyes in a row when they select linebacker Ryan Shazier.
He is the prototypical explosive outside linebacker and will fit in perfectly in Rob Ryan’s blitz-heavy 3-4 sets. Shazier gets to the quarterback with regularity and has no problems stopping ball-carriers in the open field on the run.
Some may see this as a bit of a reach, but in terms of pure playmaking abilities on the defensive side, it doesn’t get much better than Shazier this late in the first round.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
That is where Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin fits in.
Edholm of Yahoo! Sports throws out an impressive comparison when discussing Benjamin’s potential: "Benjamin is raw, and he could use some refinement in his game, but the size, speed and catch radius all are on display with Benjamin and his big frame. Some scouts have compared him to Alshon Jeffery."
29. New England Patriots: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Odell Beckham is the type of receiver who picks up large chunks of yardage after the catch, which would be ideal in the New England Patriots passing schemes. It’s not much of a stretch to envision he and Brady connecting on a number of short crossing patterns next season.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Even though Michael Crabtree is better than a mediocre receiver, the San Francisco 49ers still need more depth in the pass-catching spots.
All Jordan Matthews did at Vanderbilt was catch passes.
In fact, he caught more passes than any player in the history of the vaunted SEC, which makes him something of a steal at No. 30 if we are going purely off of college statistics.
Jamie Newberg of Scout.com pointed out that Matthews may have helped his cause during Senior Bowl practices:
31. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Denver Broncos had very few weaknesses this season despite the disappointing showing in the Super Bowl, but pass defense was one of them.
In fact, Denver ranked 27th in the league in opposing passing yards allowed per game and will look to shore that up in the draft. Enter Jason Verrett of TCU. Miller of Bleacher Report had high praise for him:
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.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
If the Super Bowl proved one thing, it was that the Seattle Seahawks are loaded with talent across the board.
If there is one area of need, it may be the tight end position, and if Jace Amaro from Texas Tech falls all the way to No. 32, Seattle will be even better next year.
He has the speed of a slot wide receiver but the size of a legitimate NFL tight end, which will open up passing lanes for Russell Wilson across the middle. He would be an absolute steal with the last pick of the first round.
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