Each first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft will be expected to make a big impact with his new team, and those who are drafted high have even more pressure on them to succeed.
With a handful of teams in dire need of a franchise passer, along with a deep class of defensive specialists, receivers and trench warriors, the 2014 draft is full of potential stars at every position.
Here's a look at how the first round could go down on May 8, 2014, when Roger Goodell starts calling young men up to the podium in New York City.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
It will be shocking if the Houston Texans go with a non-quarterback at No. 1. This team won just two games last year because it didn't have a viable option at the most important position on the field.
Charles Davis of NFL.com isn't a believer in Bortles at No. 1, but he thinks the Texans could take the quarterback, via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:
To me, Bortles might get the nod from Houston because of what he did last year, going to Penn State and beating Bill O'Brien's team. Those are the types of things that linger with a coach and a decision-maker. ... Plus, Bortles has the best size out of the three. The old-school, ideal quarterback size. When his upside comes up, a lot of people think he has his best football ahead of him."
There are plenty of other reports that suggest the same, which is why, at this time, Bortles to Houston makes sense.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
One player who hopes Houston picks a non-quarterback is Jadeveon Clowney, who recently made news with a strong declaration on the Dan Patrick Show, via Will Brinson of CBS Sports.
"I'd really be happy anywhere I go. But if I go [to Atlanta] I'd be excited. I'd be close to home still. I just think I should be the No. 1 pick taken overall in the draft."
When specifically asked about being the first overall pick, Clowney responded definitively.
"Yes sir, I should."
Houston's loss (in this case) would be the gain of the St. Louis Rams. St Louis already has two dominant pass-rushers on its roster, but that would be smart to hedge for the future by taking the top player in this year's draft class.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
There's no way to dispute Teddy Bridgewater's ability to make plays under pressure. He did it throughout his tenure at Louisville, where he piled up 9,817 passing yards and 72 touchdowns in three years.
He's ready to step in and start from day one for the team that drafts him. In this case, it's the Jaguars, who haven't had a starting-caliber quarterback since David Garrard.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Speaking of teams that need a quarterback, Cleveland fans will tell you there isn't a more dire situation in the league than the one facing the Browns.
Johnny Manziel brings excitement to every game he starts, and he could be the answer Cleveland's been seeking for the past few decades.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
Oakland needs to bring in as many talented players as possible at every position conceivable. Khalil Mack isn't universally thought of as a top-five lock, but enough view him in this light to consider the Raiders could, as well. The team struggled to pressure the quarterback last year, and Mack is one of the most talented pure pass-rushers in this year's draft class.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
If Matt Ryan ever does make his way into the "elite" category of NFL quarterbacks, then he'll need better protection next year than he got in 2013. Jake Matthews is this year's premier plug-and-play left tackle, and he'll be an instant upgrade for Atlanta going forward.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Buccaneers will be jumping for joy at the chance to land Sammy Watkins, who would instantly make Tampa Bay's offense formidable playing opposite Vincent Jackson. Mike Williams has shown promise, but he's coming off a knee injury, and he's never going to reach Watkins' potential.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
It's no secret that Minnesota needs a quarterback. Christian Ponder proved unworthy of the starting job, and the Vikings have already wasted the best years of Adrian Peterson's career. It's time to take another stab at drafting a first-round quarterback.
Derek Carr looks promising, however, and he possesses all the physical, mental and emotional attributes teams look for in a franchise leader.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
With C.J. Spiller and EJ Manuel, the Bills feature a couple of excellent playmakers in the backfield, but both need more help in 2014 to surpass last year's mediocre campaign. Greg Robinson isn't as polished as Matthews, but he may have more upside as a franchise left tackle in the NFL.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Detroit's secondary has been mediocre—at best—for years. It's time for a real change.
It's time for Justin Gilbert, who comes into the draft as the top cornerback in the class, per B/R's Matt Miller:
The top-graded cornerback on my board since Patrick Peterson, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert has all the tools to excel in the NFL.
At 6'0" and 200 pounds of solid muscle, he has the size to meet the demand of NFL scouts and general managers. He's also shown straight-line speed to cover deep routes and has become a playmaker with the ball in his hands. And he can get the ball into his big mitts as a ball-hawking cornerback or return man.
The Lions desperately need a superstar defensive back in order to compete against Green Bay and Chicago, and Gilbert is that guy.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
While new head coach Ken Whisenhunt will surely be eager to build his offense, the Titans must take the best player available in order to avoid continued mediocrity. Anthony Barr could easily be a top-10 pick, and he'll give Tennessee a huge boost on passing downs from day one.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Eli Manning's going to fall apart before his time if he doesn't get better protection from his offensive line in the years to come. New York must continue what it started last year drafting Justin Pugh in Round 1. Adding another athletic tackle like Taylor Lewan would give the Giants a much better chance of offensive success going forward.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Les Snead has built a championship defense in St. Louis—minus a couple of competent safeties.
With talent and depth galore in the front seven, the Rams are still missing a key element, but it's one Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would provide.
14. Chicago Bears: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Old-school Chicago Bears fans were likely sick with grief over the team's poor tackling last year. Chicago finished the season with the league's worst run defense, and the Bears were embarrassed more than once by poor defensive performances.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Dynamic 3-4 defensive ends don't come along on a regular basis, so teams are always eager to snatch up potential dynamos like Ra'Shede Hageman.
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks recently called him a "freakish athlete with tremendous potential":
Just finished studying @GopherFootball DT Ra'Shede Hageman. Freakish athlete w/tremendous potential. Tape doesn't match ability, yet..— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) December 26, 2013
Pittsburgh's defense hasn't featured a dynamic defensive lineman in a few years. While Hageman will likely take some time to develop—much like Dontari Poe of the Kansas City Chiefs—he'll be an incredible player when he's ready.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Joe Flacco needs another receiver who can step in right away and become productive in 2014. Of all the receivers in this year's class who aren't named Sammy Watkins, USC's Marqise Lee fits the bill better than any of the others.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Featuring one of the league's worst pass defenses in 2013, the Cowboys desperately need to bring in defenders capable of thriving in a 4-3 scheme.
In particular, the team struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks, which is why a guy like Kony Ealy makes so much sense in Round 1. He's at his best with his hand in the dirt rushing the passer, but Ealy also possesses the strength to stand his ground and hold the edge on running plays.
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Geno Smith won't get any better next year without some serious help from his front office. The Jets have nobody for Smith to throw to on offense. Mike Evans out of Texas A&M is young, talented, big and athletic. He routinely made Johnny Manziel look like a genius for throwing the ball up where only he could reach it, and he'll do the same for Smith and the Jets.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Ryan Tannehill is an excellent young quarterback, but he'll go to waste in Miami without better protection in the future after getting sacked 58 times last year. Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio isn't as athletically gifted as Robinson or as polished as Matthews, but he's more than capable of holding his own against NFL defensive ends.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
While Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd both thrived playing with Carson Palmer, the Cardinals lacked a key element to a successful passing attack in 2013 without a competent tight end. Eric Ebron has the talent to become a league superstar, and he'd be heavily featured in Bruce Arians' vertical passing attack.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
There isn't a more pressing defensive need for the Packers going forward than at the safety position, where Green Bay's top options last year routinely played below-average football. Thankfully, Calvin Pryor is a player who could instantly improve things on that front in 2014.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
With both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper set to hit free agency, the Eagles may be inclined to replace one or both of them through the draft. If so, then Kelvin Benjamin out of Florida State is an intriguing option. The 6'5" receiver is a huge red-zone target, yet he also possesses the athleticism and speed to make an impact as a deep threat.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Odell Beckham out of LSU is the perfect Andy Reid receiver. At 6'0" and 200 pounds, he's extremely quick and agile, and he possesses excellent hands. His speciality is making plays after the catch, yet he's also been known to make spectacular grabs deep downfield.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Cincinnati needs another dynamic receiver to pair with A.J. Green, because every time the Bengals get into the playoffs, teams are able to shut Green down. With Brandin Cooks playing opposite Green on Sundays, teams will need to pick their poison, as both receivers are capable of taking it to the house on every single catch.
25. San Diego Chargers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Chargers got by without a top cornerback last season, but team discipline can only get you so far. Talent matters in the NFL, and San Diego's defensive secondary was sorely lacking it in 2013. Adding a top-notch cover guy like Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan State would be a quick way to fix the problem.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
After landing Johnny Football, the Browns should look at adding another top receiver to play alongside Josh Gordon. Allen Robinson was highly productive at Penn State, showing excellent after-the-catch abilities and sure hands. He'd be the perfect possession receiver to complement Gordon's raw talent on the perimeter.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense will grow best with young players who are quickly molded into his specialized tools. Ryan Shazier is a player who fits Ryan's aggressive style to perfection. An undersized guy, at 6'2" and 230 pounds, Shazier is extremely quick off the snap and possesses elite speed to get around the corner.
28. Carolina Panthers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Cam Newton will never live up to his immense potential without better talent around him. Steve Smith isn't the same dominant player he used to be, and there isn't another receiver capable of taking a game over currently on Carolina's roster.
While Jace Amaro isn't a receiver, per se, he is a highly skilled receiving tight end who would be able to move all over the field in Carolina's system, playing as a second tight end with Greg Olsen.
29. New England Patriots: Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame
Losing Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork during the 2013 season highlighted a dire lack of depth on New England's roster at the defensive tackle position. Furthermore, it's not a given Wilfork will return to his dominant form after suffering his Achilles injury.
Louis Nix is a run-stuffing nose tackle who would be a perfect fit for Bill Belichick's defense, and he'd quickly turn into a star for the Patriots.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
The biggest position of need facing the 49ers heading into 2014 is at wide receiver, where the team hasn't been strong for the better part of a decade. Jordan Matthews out of Vanderbilt is a talented prospect who really turned heads in a positive way at the Senior Bowl. His ability to beat defenders off the line of scrimmage may be just what the doctor ordered to help San Francisco beat the Seattle Seahawks next year.
31. Denver Broncos: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The broncos looked great against the run toward the end of the season and into the playoffs, thanks to the stellar effort of Terrance Knighton and others in the middle. However, the team wasn't as successful rushing the passer last year, which is where a dynamo like Aaron Donald comes in.
Much like Geno Atkins or Henry Melton, Donald is a pass-rushing defensive tackle who would make things much more difficult on opposing offensive guards on passing downs.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Nobody really has any clue about whom the Seahawks will pick at any point in the draft, thanks to the team's penchant for making "questionable" decisions (worked out pretty well, don't you think?). That said, landing a top tight end prospect seems like it would greatly improve Seattle's offensive production in 2014 and beyond.
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