The NFL's offseason is in full swing, and teams are beginning to look toward the draft to improve their squads heading into the 2014 season. After all, building through the draft is a crucial element for any successful NFL team. It's important to create a solid young core of players who can produce for years to come.
Some teams have more needs than others; however, every team has holes that must be filled. Surely some franchises will look to free agency to bolster their rosters, but most of these needs will be filled through the draft.
Even though many things will change between now and May's draft, we have a good idea of what teams' needs are and who they may select to fill them. Let's take a look at how the first round of the 2014 NFL draft would shake out if it happened today.
1. Houston Texans: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There are plenty of opinions going around regarding who the Texans should select with their first-round pick. Their biggest need looks to be the quarterback position, as Matt Schaub faltered last season and Case Keenum proved that he is not the answer.
During an interview with Will Grubb of CBS Houston, former Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips suggested the team take Manziel. Said Phillips:
Those kinds of guys who can make first downs when you're not supposed to, I think they give you something. I just think he makes plays that nobody else can make. I thought it would be the Earl Campbell of Houston, the reincarnation. Having the Heisman trophy winner come to Houston from the state of Texas.
Phillips was not far off. Manziel is a dual-threat quarterback who can make plays out of absolutely nothing. His presence will allow for a whole new dimension on the offensive side of the ball in Houston. The Texans struggled to make those first downs a year ago, and Manziel would be the perfect answer.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Rams will probably trade out of this pick. However, without any trades taking place in this mock draft, they will remain here for all intents and purposes. With the second pick, the Rams can fill a huge need by taking Matthews.
With a young, budding offense, St. Louis desperately needs to protect its quarterback so he can efficiently distribute the ball to all available weapons. Improving the protection will benefit electrifying players like Tavon Austin and Zac Stacy.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Sure, the Jaguars could go with a quarterback here. But with arguably the most talented player left on the board, they'll fill another need. Jacksonville has been lackluster in terms of rushing the passer, and Clowney will be able to come in and contribute immediately.
With Gus Bradley now in Jacksonville, his defensive mind will create ways for Clowney to flourish. With Clowney now in the fold, Jacksonville can look toward filling the void at the quarterback position in Round 2.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
It seems as though the Browns haven't had a decent quarterback under center since Ronald Reagan was president. Well, that is all about to change with the selection of Bridgewater. One of the most polished quarterbacks in this year's draft, he will certainly be able to come in and ignite this offense.
Cleveland already has a good amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receiver Josh Gordon lit it up during the 2013-14 season. Tight end Jordan Cameron really came into his own as well. With Bridgewater under center, they finally have a signal-caller who can effectively distribute the football.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Raiders could look at other needs here; however, it will be difficult to pass up on a talent like Watkins. Oakland is in severe need of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and they have a perfect chance to grab the best one in this year's draft.
Watkins, the speedy 6"1', 205-pound receiver has all of the makings to be the NFL's next elite offensive weapon. He demands a great amount of respect on the field and can really open things up for Oakland's offense. Quarterback Matt McGloin is still rather inexperienced, and Watkins will have a big hand in improving the quarterback's confidence.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
In the Falcons' 4-3 defensive scheme, Mack will serve as a defensive end. That's not a stretch for the versatile pass-rusher. Mack has some of the most natural ability of any defender in this year's draft and will immediately improve a stagnant Falcons pass rush.
With the ability to stand up as an outside linebacker or put his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end, Mack's versatility will allow him to succeed immediately in a Falcons defense that utilizes a base 4-3 with some 3-4 looks.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Now that Lovie Smith has inherited the Buccaneers, he will undoubtedly bring with him similar philosophies that served him well in Chicago. One such philosophy is stocking up on talented pass-rushing linebackers.
Barr is still a bit raw; however, watching him on film is purely incredible. His explosion off the line, athleticism and strength gives him the skill set of an elite NFL linebacker. With a little bit of coaching, Barr could turn out to be one of the most dominant linebackers in the league.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Now that the Vikings are basically out of viable options at the quarterback position, it's time to pull the trigger on one early in the draft. Luckily for Minnesota, Bortles is still on the board.
After an impressive 2013 season, the 6'5", 230-pound quarterback quickly shot up draft boards. This wasn't only because of his impressive size, but also because of his strong arm and deceptive speed and athleticism. The Vikings are certainly looking for an answer at quarterback, and Bortles is their guy.
9. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Bills have a fair amount of holes to fill if they are to compete in the AFC East. Even though they already have a very talented front seven, adding Mosley to the mix would just become unfair for opposing offenses.
With Kiko Alonso already in the fold after an impressive rookie season, pairing him with Mosley could possibly begin the makings of one of the league's most terrifying linebacker corps. Alonso and Mosely have so much speed, they will undoubtedly be able to slow down some of the more high-octane offenses in their division.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Lions already have an explosive offense, but it is the defense that has been holding the team back. Detroit's secondary was responsible for many big plays last season at the hands of divisional quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler. Adding Dennard would be an instant fix to that problem.
With Michigan State, Dennard put his ability to shadow receivers and locate the ball in the air on display. Despite remaining in coverage without any additional help, quarterbacks refused to throw in his direction with any consistency. If he can bring that same type of prowess to Detroit, the entire defense will immediately improve.
11. Tennessee Titans: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Tennessee finds itself in a tough situation here. The Titans would love to add another pass-rusher; however, with the best prospects off the board, they will have to fill another need. Taking the best safety in this year's draft class is a nice consolation prize.
With an already talented, athletic defense, Tennessee could still use more of an aggressive cover corner. Clinton-Dix has a good mix of tackling and coverage ability. He finds success by reading quarterback's eyes and making quick, decisive jumps in the direction of the throw.
12. New York Giants: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Giants just struck gold. Their offensive line was in shambles during the 2013-14 season, which led to a horrible showing by quarterback Eli Manning. Fortunately, due to other team's needs before them in the draft, they get a top-10 offensive tackle with the 12th selection.
Robinson possesses a big frame and can absolutely dominate in the trenches. His physicality makes him a stout pass-protector and a force in the running game. He has surprising athleticism and can get to the second level quickly when blocking for the run.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Now that the Rams have shored up their offensive line, it's time to add more weapons to a growing offense. Wide receiver is a big need for this team, as they have remained inconsistent at the position for quite some time now.
Although Tavon Austin looks to have a bright future, his size and skill set will keep him in the slot. The Rams still need a legitimate No. 1 receiver, and Evans can be just that. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Evans is a tall, athletic receiver and will constantly demand attention from opposing defenses. His presence will take a good amount of pressure off of the rest of the offense as well.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
What was the biggest reason that the Bears missed out of the playoffs last season? Well, one argument could go for the fact that they failed to stop the run on almost every occasion. With running backs like Eddie Lacy, Reggie Bush and Adrian Peterson in their division, this needs to be rectified immediately.
Donald is not the largest defensive tackle; however, he is just as physical as any in this year's draft, but he also encompasses a high amount of athleticism. He would be able to serve both as a run-stuffer and pass-rusher given his versatility. Problem solved.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Steelers are another team that is in dire need of a big defensive tackle. Well, at No. 15 overall, Pittsburgh has a chance to nab the biggest one in this year's draft. At 6'2" and 342 pounds, Nix has the frame to dominate in the trenches from the interior of the defensive line.
Pittsburgh has produced one of the most stout defensive units for years. Unfortunately, they took a huge step backward against the run last season. By adding a big-framed defensive tackle, this injection of youth to their front seven will get them right back on track.
16t. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC (pending coin flip)
There aren't many situations that would afford the Ravens to take anything but a wide receiver at No. 16 in the 2014 NFL draft. This is hands down the biggest need for Baltimore after a season in which their entire offense sputtered due to a lack of weapons.
Adding Lee here would be greatly beneficial for the Ravens. They will finally regain a complementary receiver to Torrey Smith, and quarterback Joe Flacco will be able to right the ship. If the Ravens are to make an improbable run as they did two years ago, they must start by improving their offense.
16t. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri (pending coin flip)
The Cowboys defensive units were awful across the board last season. They were completely dismal against the pass—partly due to an ineffective secondary, and partly due to a pass rush that needs a major upgrade.
Dallas will take option two here. By selecting Ealy, the Cowboys will get the quick speed-rusher that they desperately desire. Ealy has enough versatility to produce either as a down lineman or standing up on the outside in hybrid packages. With Ealy in the mix, additional pressure on opposing quarterbacks will increase and the Cowboys defense will flourish.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Jets need to add many pieces on the offensive side of the ball. Typically, they would love a wide receiver here, but the pickings are slim. A big, athletic tight end, however, will do the trick.
No matter who is under center for the Jets in 2014, he will certainly need additional weapons than New York was able to produce last season. Ebron would bring a high amount of versatility to the offense and quickly become a favorite target in the red zone.
19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
In the wake of the aftermath revolving around Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, the Dolphins suddenly find themselves in need of an offensive tackle—especially after quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed immense signs of improvement over the 2013-14 season.
Lewan is a fantastic physical specimen. He may not be the most polished offensive tackle in the draft, but his high motor, athleticism and raw strength make him a worthy first-round candidate. After some coaching from the Dolphins staff, Lewan should be able to anchor this unit for the long run.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Cardinals could easily go another direction here—after all, they have a big need along the offensive line. But despite the resurgent play of quarterback Carson Palmer last season, they may look to gain their quarterback of the future.
After wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald restructured his contract to remain with the team, the need for a long-term answer at the quarterback position become increasingly important. Carr is a smart athlete who can make all of the throws. He has a great leadership ability and could really benefit from learning from a veteran like Palmer.
21. Green Bay Packers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Packers can certainly use an upgrade in the secondary. Selecting either a safety or a cornerback here should be their top priority. With the top two safeties already off the board, they'll go with the latter.
Gilbert is an absolute ball hawk and will bolster a secondary that is generally under a heavy amount of duress. In a pass-happy league, you simply can't have enough corners, and Green Bay will get a great one here with the 21st overall selection.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Sure, the Eagles could look at improving their secondary here. Although adding another elite pass-rusher would be just as effective. The Eagles defensive scheme relies heavily on applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks. They aren't getting any younger up front on the edges, and Ford will be a much-needed injection of youth.
With Ford in the mix, the Eagles can begin to bring a new style of versatility to their defense that resembles the way they run the offense. If the defense can get up to speed quickly, this team could become a major contender in 2014.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Quarterback Alex Smith needs help on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, the Chiefs have an amazing running back in Jamaal Charles; however, Smith does not have many options at the wide receiver position.
Dwayne Bowe has been the only formidable receiver on this team, and Benjamin can rectify that problem right away. Benjamin is a big, friendly target for Smith. He can line up on the outside and stretch the field, allowing other targets to open up underneath. He will add a while new wrinkle to Kansas City's offensive scheme.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
With the aging Terance Newman, injury-prone Leon Hall and unproven Dre Kirkpatrick as Cincinnati's options at corner, they will need to make an upgrade quickly. This team has a very deep roster and does not have many holes to fill; however, this is a big one.
Verrett is fast enough to trail receivers and possesses enough quickness to make up ground quickly. This allows him to undercut routes and get in between the ball and intended target to break up passes or come away with an interception. He will still have time to learn the speed of the NFL since the Bengals still have enough corners on their roster to last through the 2014 season.
25. San Diego Chargers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Chargers offense really took a huge step forward last season under head coach Mike McCoy. One thing that side of the ball can improve upon is the offensive line. Keeping quarterback Philip Rivers upright should be priority No. 1.
Although the Chargers' big need is on the interior of the offensive line, Kouandjio makes sense here. He is a versatile offensive lineman who can slide to the interior if necessary. His addition would allow the Chargers to put players on the offensive front in the best possible positions to succeed.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Browns finally have their quarterback of the future, and now it's time to provide him with more weapons. Gordon needs a legitimate complement at the wide receiver position, and Beckham fits the bill perfectly here.
A smaller receiver, Beckham flourishes when used in underneath routes. He excels in short crossing routes and slants that can pick apart defenses. When safeties drop underneath to give him attention, Gordon will be able to take the top off of the defense.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Now that Rob Ryan brought a 3-4 defense to New Orleans, it's time to add necessary components that fit the scheme. The Saints defense improved in dramatic fashion over the 2013-14 season, and another playmaker on the outside would be a huge benefit.
Shazier is a sure-tackling linebacker who is smart and rarely seen out of position. The Saints already have a stout defensive unit, and Shazier's presence will be an instant upgrade. He is a do-it-all linebacker who can stuff the run, rush the passer and drop back in coverage.
28. Carolina Panthers: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
The Panthers were one of the league's biggest surprises last season. Both the offense and defense improved in big ways. The defense finished the season as the league's second-ranked unit. The offense is solid but could fill a couple of needs.
Protecting Cam Newton and providing better blocking for the run is a huge need for this team. Martin has the size and athleticism to come in and make an immediate impact as a rookie. He is physical enough to block for the run and agile enough to fend off faster pass-rushers.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots can never go wrong as long as they continue to surround Tom Brady with weapons. After losing Aaron Hernandez for good and taking into consideration the uncertain future of the oft-injured Rob Gronkowski, tight end suddenly becomes a big priority.
Amaro is quick for having such a large frame. His versatility will allow him to keep the Patriots offense as explosive as it has been in the past. Amaro will become a favorite target for Brady in the red zone, as the tight end stands at 6'6" and weighs 260 pounds.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The 49ers have one of the most devastating defenses in the NFL. However, with players like Justin Smith aging, they will need to make some moves to keep it that way for the long run. Drafting an athletic defensive lineman like Jernigan will ensure their continued dominance.
Jernigan is the type of defensive tackle who is known for his ability to attack offensive linemen after the snap. He is not a one-dimensional player and can excel against the run and the pass. This makes him a perfect candidate to line up either at defensive tackle or defensive end in the 49ers scheme.
31. Denver Broncos: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
The Broncos finished the 2013-14 season as the most dominant offense in NFL history. Their high-octane attack led by Peyton Manning was a sight to behold. However, their defense just wasn't quite up to speed. That is the side of the ball that the Broncos must improve through the draft.
After losing Elvis Dumervil to the Ravens and Von Miller to injury, the Broncos' pass rush struggled. Van Noy isn't the fastest player at his position, but he has great fundamentals and is rarely out of position. He is the type of player that can lead by example and improve the man next to him.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
After winning the Super Bowl with arguably the deepest roster in the NFL, the Seahawks will look to the draft in effort to repeat next season. If they are going to do so, addressing needs along the interior of the offensive line should be their top priority.
Yankey is the top offensive guard in this year's draft class and will certainly help keep Russell Wilson upright. He played in an NFL-style offense in college and has the intelligence to start right away at the next level.
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