No matter how a team finished the year before, the NFL draft gives every franchise a great opportunity to improve going forward, especially if that team fills a key need.
Obviously, it is important to get value in the draft and recognize that most elite players can be utilized in any system. This also means that squads should not reach too far to get someone simply based on immediate need if it ends up hurting the team in the future.
Still, every team has its weaknesses, and the draft is the best place to get better. This first-round mock draft gives virtually every squad an opportunity to fill one of its biggest needs and greatly improve heading into next season and beyond.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
In order to win in the NFL, you need at least a capable quarterback under center who can make plays when needed. Super Bowl winners Russell Wilson and Joe Flacco are not going to put up huge stats, but they usually can be counted on when needed.
The Houston Texans do not have anyone like that on the roster, and they need to start over at the quarterback position. Interestingly, Russ Lande of Sports on Earth reports that the Texans already are leaning toward their choice:
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, O'Brien is not sold that Manziel possesses the work ethic and intangibles necessary to be the face of a franchise.
That being said, it is often difficult to believe anything that is said by teams prior to the draft. Many times it is just misinformation to throw off other teams or to possibly set up a trade.
The fact remains that Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback available in the class and is exactly what the Texans need to get back to the playoffs as early as next season.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
It would not be surprising to see the Rams trade out of this spot as teams look to grab either one of the top quarterbacks or Jadeveon Clowney. However, the Rams should make sure they find a way to grab Jake Matthews wherever they end up drafting.
The offensive tackle has proven himself on both sides of the line, and he could help improve the biggest weakness on the roster. With some protection, quarterback Sam Bradford might finally be able to reach his potential.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel is one of the most dynamic players in college football history with his ability to make things happen with either his arm or his legs. If he can translate this ability to the NFL, he could become an instant star for whichever teams selects him.
Jacksonville has needed a quarterback for the past few years and will not get any better until they land one. The Jaguars must take whomever they like the most at the position and start building toward the future.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Quarterback problems have almost hid the fact that the Browns have a very talented roster full of multiple Pro Bowlers. The offense alone has four in Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.
A legitimate quarterback could take this unit and turn it into one of the better offenses in the league. With Bridgewater and Manziel off the board, Blake Bortles is the best QB available, blessed with a strong arm and ability to extend plays.
He could finally be the person ready to take the Browns out of the dark ages.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Raiders have a lot of needs, including quarterback, but they have reached the point where almost anyone with talent could help. What better way to improve than by selecting arguably the best player in the entire class.
Jadeveon Clowney was a man among boys in college and was still productive despite facing double- if not triple-teams on almost every play. He should make a big impact in the NFL and help make the entire defense in Oakland better.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Falcons will certainly hope that Jadeveon Clowney falls this far, but that seems unlikely. Fortunately, they can get the next best option with outside linebacker Khalil Mack.
While fans will certainly be weary of drafting a player who excelled against weaker competition while playing for the University of Buffalo, Mack also got it done against the big boys, as noted by Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com:
Watching Khalil Mack vs Ohio State…My pen is almost out of ink. Too many positive things to write down.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 28, 2013
Mack is everything you want in an outside linebacker prospect. He can rush the passer, drop back into coverage or make big stops in the run game. This selection will be a big boost to a team that ranked 27th in total defense last season.
Atlanta could also look to upgrade the offensive line, but only two defenses had fewer sacks in 2013. The Falcons need Mack.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Although the Buccaneers need help in other areas, pairing Sammy Watkins with Vincent Jackson could immediately give the squad one of the best receiving tandems in the NFL.
Jackson had a big year, but he was targeted more than twice as often as anyone else on the roster. Watkins can provide a great alternate option, as he is an explosive player who can turn short plays into big ones.
This would certainly make things easier for Mike Glennon as he continues to get acclimated to the NFL.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
There are a number of NFL teams who can use an upgrade at quarterback, but the Vikings are the one that would improve the most by landing a new signal-caller. With a solid offensive line, Adrian Peterson in the backfield and Cordarrelle Patterson out wide, Minnesota could have an impressive offense with a promising prospect under center.
Derek Carr has a strong arm and makes quick decisions with the football. Even though the Vikings will be scared to make another first-round mistake as they did in the 2011 draft with Christian Ponder, taking Carr is not as much of a reach.
In reality, the Fresno State product should be a quality starter at the next level.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
With EJ Manuel slated to be the quarterback in Buffalo for a number of years, the Bills have to make sure they can protect him. Greg Robinson is one of the best overall players in the class, and he will ensure no one touches the franchise quarterback.
Additionally, Robinson is coming from Auburn, where he helped produce the No. 1 rushing attack in the country. This could certainly help Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have big years in 2014.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The defensive line in Detroit prevented teams from running the ball, but the passing defense still suffered due to poor play from the secondary. Adding Darqueze Dennard would be an immediate improvement, and he would be able to come in a play from day one.
Dennard won the Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in the country, and he has shown the ability to be a lockdown cornerback. His physicality and pure instincts will help him against almost any receiver at the next level.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The big question with Anthony Barr is whether he is worth the risk of picking him this early in the first round. He comes with great athleticism and was even a running back to start his career, so you know the speed is there to come off the edge.
However, he is a bit inconsistent on the field, and that has compelled Bleacher Report's Matt Miller to compare Barr to one of the bigger draft busts in recent years:
UCLA's Anthony Barr may have most potential of all OLBs, but I've been burned by his type so often. You hear me, Aaron Curry!?— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 25, 2014
Barr is still raw at the position, which is actually a good thing. This means he still has room to improve, which is a scary thought considering he had double-digit sacks in each of the past two seasons.
Teams at the top will be scared off, but this will be perfect for the Titans who could solidify the defense with an elite pass-rusher.
12. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Giants simply do not draft linebackers in the first round. However, they hadn't drafted a running back or offensive lineman in the first round for over a decade before grabbing one of each in the past two drafts.
C.J. Mosley is worth the change in philosophy. He's a leader and someone who can go sideline to sideline. His presence would instantly improve the Giants defense and help get the squad back into the playoffs.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
After filling their biggest need on the offensive line with their first pick, the Rams will look to address another area of concern: safety. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been a game-changing player for Alabama's defense over the past couple of seasons, and he could help solidify the defensive backs unit in St. Louis.
Adding another receiver also could be possibility, but the team should give the current young group time to develop.
14. Chicago Bears: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
No team in the NFL was worse against the run last season than Chicago, which allowed an embarrassing 161.4 yards per game on the ground. While you can blame injuries, you can also blame age and ineffectiveness.
With a young set a linebackers ready to take over, the Bears will look for an upgrade on the defensive line in the form of Louis Nix. The tackle has the ability to clog up the middle and force opponents to find other places to run, which will help Chicago significantly.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
This goes against some of the team's bigger needs on the defensive side of the ball, but adding a big-time offensive linemen could be huge for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger has taken a pounding over the years, and he has lost some of his effectiveness because of it.
Taylor Lewan should provide an immediate upgrade thanks to his elite size and strength at the position. Not only will he help keep Roethlisberger on his feet, but he could finally clear some room for Pittsburgh's struggling running game.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Joe Flacco made a lot of money after winning the Super Bowl, but last year's offensive line gave him no time to throw the ball and his receiving corps no one to throw to when he did have the chance.
This draft pick will solve one of those problems as Mike Evans could give Flacco a big target who can make plays down the field. The Texas A&M star could fill the void left behind by Anquan Boldin who was traded before the 2013 season.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
While the Cowboys defense was awful at almost every level last year, adding one key player can change a lot. That man is Timmy Jernigan, who was a key for Florida State's run to the national championship.
The defensive tackle takes on multiple blockers and frees up everyone else to make plays. He can also penetrate and blow up plays in opposing backfields. These skills will pay immediate dividends for Dallas if he is drafted.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee was one of the best receivers in the nation in 2012, totaling 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. Although injuries and dropped passes marked a terrible year in 2013, he is still worth a high draft pick.
Lee has a knack for making things happen with the ball in his hands, as he is always a threat to take it to the house. Daniel Jeremiah notes the receiver's best attribute:
Marqise Lee is special after the catch. He's able to make defenders miss without slowing down.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 21, 2013
On the Jets, he would provide Geno Smith with a legitimate weapon. This is something New York lacked this past season, and it contributed to the rookie quarterback's struggles in 2013.
If Smith can gain confidence by having Lee turn short passes into big chunks of yardage, the Jets will experience more success on offense next season.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Miami allowed the most sacks in the NFL last season and it was not particularly close. No matter what happens with Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, the Dolphins need an upgrade on the line to help protect young quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Cyrus Kouandjio, who provided solid protection for AJ McCarron at Alabama, would be that upgrade. He may still have not reached his potential and could be even better in the NFL, making this selection a possible steal for Miami.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Even with Jonathan Cooper set to return next season after missing all of 2013, the Cardinals need a lot of help on the offensive line. The versatile Zack Martin could provide that help since he can play either guard or tackle.
This upgrade alone could make a huge change and help Arizona finally get over the hump and into the playoffs.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Green Bay's defense was exposed during the middle of the season when Aaron Rodgers was on the bench. If the Packers want to return a Super Bowl level of play, they will need to improve on that side of the ball, especially in the secondary.
Calvin Pryor would be a perfect fit as someone who can cover ground on deep balls or make big hits across the middle. He could be a leader in the secondary and make the Packers a tough team to beat in 2014 and beyond.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
The Eagles defense improved throughout the 2013 season, but one top pass-rusher could make things easier for everyone on that side of the ball. Kony Ealy is versatile enough to play either defensive end or outside linebacker, and Chip Kelly will find a way to get production out of him.
While an extra wide receiver could also help, this past season proved that the offense will be just fine without one.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Chiefs had a miracle turnaround under Andy Reid last season, going from 2-14 to 11-5 thanks to a quality effort from the defense. Offensively, there was little action outside of Jamaal Charles.
In order to remain a playoff contender next year, Kansas City needs to provide Alex Smith with a legitimate receiving target who will not disappear like Dwayne Bowe. One good fit could be the extremely talented Eric Ebron.
During the regular season, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks made a notable revelation about Ebron:
I had a chance to watch the #MIAvsUNC game on replay last night. Here are a few thoughts: 1. Eric Ebron is the most explosive TE in CFB— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) October 18, 2013
The tight end could provide Smith with a big-time target who could promote the offense beyond just screens and slants. If everyone stays healthy, a more dynamic offense could lead to a big 2014 season for the Chiefs.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Bengals need to add depth at cornerback and would love to see Justin Gilbert still on the board at this stage of the first round. The Oklahoma State product is a big-time playmaker who can force takeaways and is also a star in the return game.
While he has not shown the consistency of someone like Darqueze Dennard, he is still improving and has a chance to be a game-changing player for an already-talented roster.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Jason Verrett is on the smaller side when it comes to cornerbacks, especially with every team looking to find the next Richard Sherman. However, the 5'10" player has a wide skill set and the speed necessary to stay with some of the best receivers in the league.
The Chargers desperately need help in the secondary, an issue that was masked by great coaching this past season. Verrett is the best player on the board and would be a perfect match for this team.
After Sammy Watkins, who is the best WR in the class?
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
After drafting Blake Bortles with the fourth overall pick, the Browns would be smart to give him yet another weapon. Adding Kelvin Benjamin alongside Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron would ensure that someone is open on almost every play.
While more offensive linemen could always help, Benjamin's size, speed and agility might be too enticing to ignore.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Ryan Shazier can do almost everything from the outside linebacker position. He can rush the passer or drop back into coverage, and he has demonstrated leadership throughout his time at Ohio State.
After the Saints defense improved dramatically from 2012 to 2013, Shazier can help the unit take another step towards being one of the best in the league.
28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Cam Newton took a big step last season, but the Panthers still ranked near the bottom of the league in passing yards due to a lack of receiving options on the outside.
Allen Robinson is a prototypical receiver with good size and great hands. He was highly productive for Penn State this past season, and he should be able to step in immediately and provide the Panthers with an extra boost to the offense.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots defense continues to improve and now has a legitimate starter at almost every position when healthy. However, the offense surprisingly struggled last year, mostly because of ineffectiveness at the tight end position.
Even when Rob Gronkowski is healthy, New England prefers two tight ends on the field to create mismatches. Jace Amaro can do that more than anyone still on the board and could be a new favorite target for Tom Brady.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
San Francisco has reached three consecutive NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl but have not been able to win it all. The problem has been the offense, which can become stagnant and predictable at times.
Odell Beckham, a big-play guy with enough speed stretch the field, can help change that.
During the 2013 season, Beckham's coach at LSU described the receiver's skills and playmaking abilities, via John Roach of The Times-Picayune:
He's elusive, he has great speed and I think he does have vision. He has a want to make a big play, it's a feel.
If you remember the Ole Miss return, it was just something that he was about to do.
San Francisco would love to add another playmaker to the offense to take some pressure off of Colin Kaepernick. This would add a new dimension to that side of the ball and help San Francisco compete with the Seattle Seahawks.
31. Denver Broncos: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Broncos offense hid the many problems that afflicted the Denver defense in 2013.
The 2014 draft is where the team can address these deficiencies so as to make a push to return to the Super Bowl next year.
Stephon Tuitt can solve some problems on the defensive line thanks to his versatility. He can play either tackle or end and get to the quarterback from both spots. This pressure will make things easier for everyone on the Bronco defense.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
As good as Seattle was throughout 2013, there were still problems along the offensive line, which, even when healthy, allowed opposing defenses to pressure Russell Wilson.
Protecting the franchise quarterback should be priority No. 1 this offseason, which makes David Yankey, the best guard in this year's draft class, a smart pick.
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