There's no better way to build an NFL franchise into a championship contender than through the NFL draft, which kicks off this offseason on May 8, 2014, in New York.
Mock drafts all over the web prove one thing: There's no consensus No. 1 in this year's draft class.
If the Houston Texans keep their pick, then there are a number of different directions the organization could go, given the lack of a "can't-miss" quarterback prospect. Depending on which player Houston selects, the rest of the top half of Round 1 could go many different ways.
Mocks shouldn't be taken as gospel—they are simply tools with which to gauge where players could potentially land on draft day.
With that in mind, here's a look at one way the first round could go down.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Houston lost 14 games in 2013 for lack of a franchise passer, and it's looking more and more like this team will address this need with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft.
And, even though there's no consensus No. 1 quarterback, the growing sentiment around the league is that new head coach Bill O'Brien will favor Blake Bortles. Charles Davis of NFL.com doesn't like the pick but does agree with the sentiment, 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.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Even if Jake Long returns fully healthy in 2014, the Rams need to bring in another skilled offensive tackle. Jake Matthews is the top left tackle in this year's draft class, and he's also highly experienced on the right side, where he'd likely start in St. Louis until Long is no longer with the team.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
While Jacksonville could certainly use a quarterback, head coach Gus Bradley would love to build up his defense into a powerhouse. Adding this year's top defender would be a nice step in the right direction, and he'll be playing with a huge chip on his shoulder.
Clowney recently spoke about his thoughts on where he should be drafted 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."
Nobody will be surprised if Clowney ends up as the top player from this year's draft class. Jacksonville would be smart to build a defense around this talented young man.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
With Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron already in place as potent offensive weapons, the Browns must address the quarterback position first and foremost in this year's draft. Thankfully for Cleveland, Johnny Manziel possesses the arm strength, intelligence, accuracy, leadership and panache to become the answer to the franchise's quarterback problem.
5. Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Until the Raiders land a franchise passer, it won't matter how much progress Reggie McKenzie makes with the rest of the roster. And with a guy like Teddy Bridgewater on the board—a player many feel is the best signal-caller of this year's draft class—this is an easy call to make.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
Mike Nolan is an aggressive defensive play-caller, but there aren't enough playmakers on his roster to truly challenge opposing offenses right now. Khalil Mack is a talented pass-rusher who would instantly improve Atlanta's pass-rushing capabilities, and he's the kind of impact player who can turn an entire defense around, given time.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Thanks in part to a porous offensive line, rookie quarterback Mike Glennon was sacked 40 times in 2013, and Tampa Bay's rushing attack averaged a measly 3.8 yards per carry. Adding an athletically gifted, natural left tackle like Greg Robinson would help the Bucs improve on both fronts.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
As much as Minnesota needs a quarterback, the team needs a cornerback just as badly. The Vikings finished the 2013 season with the league's second-worst pass defense, allowing 287.2 yards per game and 37 total passing touchdowns.
Justin Gilbert is the best cornerback in this year's draft class—or any other in recent memory, 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...Gilbert is as close to a can't-miss cornerback as you're going to get in this year's draft class. Or last year's draft class. Or the one before that.
With quarterbacks like Zach Mettenberger, Jimmy Garoppolo and others available in Round 2 or later, the Vikings would be smart to consider taking Gilbert instead of Derek Carr or any other quarterback at this point.
9. Buffalo Bills: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Adding Sammy Watkins to the mix in Buffalo to play alongside Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin would give second-year quarterback EJ Manuel a full arsenal of deadly passing weapons.
That's as much help as any young quarterback could hope for, and Manuel would thrive in such an arrangement.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Losing Cliff Avril to the Seattle Seahawks last year in free agency really hurt Detroit's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Ezekiel Ansah showed plenty of promise, but he needs help on the other side of the line.
Adding a productive pass-rusher like Anthony Barr (23.5 sacks the last two years at UCLA) would swiftly improve this area of need for the Lions.
11. Tennessee Titans: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The jury's still out for some on whether Jake Locker is a viable starting quarterback in the NFL. From this author's perspective, Tennessee would be smart to move on, and Derek Carr would be a tremendous fit in Ken Whisenhunt's offense.
12. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Offensive line is a huge concern for the Giants, but the team could easily be swayed into selecting C.J. Mosley in Round 1. The Giants have long operated with a mediocre linebacking corps. Adding Jon Beason via trade was a huge step in the right direction last year, and drafting Mosley would have a similar impact in 2014.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
St. Louis hasn't given up on Sam Bradford at quarterback, so it seems logical that the team would want to continue bringing in offensive weapons to help him succeed. Mike Evans is a huge target, at 6'5" and 225 pounds, and he's deceptively athletic. Adding him to work the perimeter would be a smart move to help maximize the talents of Tavon Austin and Jared Cook inside.
14. Chicago Bears: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
It won't be shocking if the Bears release aging superstar defensive end Julius Peppers this offseason. He's been increasingly ineffective, and Chicago needs to replenish its talent pool at the defensive end position.
Kony Ealy has the talent, size and athleticism to become an elite pass-rusher in the NFL. While he enters the league without polish, the raw abilities he possesses will quickly shine under the pressure of competition.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The draft grades for Ra'Shede Hageman are all over the place, but one thing analysts can agree on is this young man's immense potential for greatness. A tremendous athlete, Hageman possesses J.J. Watt-like physical traits, and he's expected to put on a show at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, much like Watt did.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Dallas' pass defense was laughably bad at times this past season, due in large part to the team's lack of talent at the safety position. Louisville's Calvin Pryor has been skyrocketing up draft boards since the end of the season, and he'd be an instant upgrade over any safety currently on Dallas' roster.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Ravens were lost offensively without Anquan Boldin last season, which is why you can be sure the team will be looking to add a receiver or two in the upcoming draft. Marqise Lee was highly productive during his time at USC, catching 29 touchdowns in three years. He still needs to improve his route-running, but the young man possesses everything else needed to thrive immediately as a rookie.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
For lack of offensive playmakers, Geno Smith's rookie campaign was a comedy of errors. Odell Beckham is the definition of a playmaker, however, and he'd make a huge impact on Smith's development and the success of the Jets in 2014.
19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Miami could go a number of different directions in Round 1, but offensive tackle should be the team's top priority after Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times last season. Taylor Lewan's stock slipped after a less-than-stellar season, but the left tackle out of Michigan is still one of the most talented linemen in this year's draft.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
In order to continue building off last year's success, the Cardinals must improve Carson Palmer's protection and get tougher in the running game. Adding offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio out of Alabama would assist the team with both of those tasks, and he'd quickly develop into a star for Arizona.
21. Green Bay Packers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Nobody knows if Jermichael Finley will be in Green Bay or not for the 2014 season, and the Packers clearly missed him after his scary injuries took him away from the game last year. Eric Ebron could turn out to be even more dangerous as a pass-catcher than Finley, and he'd be incredibly deadly with Aaron Rodgers pulling the trigger.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Philly is at a crossroads this offseason. The Eagles continue to be molded by Chip Kelly's vision, as both Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are set to hit free agency. Rather than re-sign one or both veterans, it's conceivable the Eagles could go a different direction altogether.
If so, then Kelvin Benjamin out of Florida State would be a tremendous prospect to add. He's the most dangerous red-zone threat of this year's draft class, and at 6'5" and 234 pounds, he's a huge target teams must respect down the field.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Alex Smith and Vernon Davis used to be best buddies on the gridiron while the quarterback was still in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the Chiefs don't currently feature a top tight end, which is why it makes sense to project Jace Amaro to Kansas City in Round 1.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
For as long as A.J. Green and Andy Dalton have been in Cincinnati, the Bengals have been looking for a viable No. 2 receiver. Perhaps Brandin Cooks will finally give Dalton the ability to come up big when the playoffs approach.
25. San Diego Chargers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Without a single star cornerback on the roster, the Chargers gave up more passing yards last year than all but three teams. Darqueze Dennard is the top man-to-man specialist in this year's draft. With him locking down half the field, safety Eric Weddle will be free to make a few more gambles for big plays.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
With the quarterback of the future in the fold (crosses fingers), the Browns should look at bringing in another talented playmaker to pair with Josh Gordon on the perimeter. Allen Robinson looks like another star in the making, and with him, Gordon and Cameron running routes, Cleveland's offense would turn dynamic in a hurry.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Rob Ryan needs a pure pass-rusher he can count on to regularly wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier fits the bill. Though not a big linebacker, at 6'2" and 230 pounds, Shazier possesses elite quickness and speed, which he utilizes to great effect when attacking passers. He's also highly capable of dropping back in coverage, which is a must for 3-4 outside linebackers.
28. Carolina Panthers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Carolina got by without a starting-caliber safety all year long, but the Panthers must address this area of need in the draft. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a do-it-all safety who'd be a terrifying addition to one of the league's most disruptive defenses.
29. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
Bill Belichick needs to build up his defensive line again, and there's no better player to begin the process with in 2014 than Louis Nix, who is a dominant run-stuffing defensive tackle. Playing him next to Vince Wilfork would make New England's defense an impenetrable wall against the run.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Colin Kaepernick needs help to become all he can be. Anquan Boldin may bolt via free agency, and beside Michael Crabtree, the 49ers don't have any reliable receivers currently on the roster. Jordan Matthews showed plenty of promise during his time at Vanderbilt, and he impressed at the Senior Bowl with his physique, quickness and competitive spirit.
31. Denver Broncos: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Despite John Elway's best efforts last offseason, Denver's defensive front still needs an upgrade. Aaron Donald out of Pitt would be a terrific addition. He's a pass-rushing defensive tackle who would complement run-stuffer Terrance Knighton to perfection, giving the Broncos a much-needed boost.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
After winning the Super Bowl in blowout fashion, it's clear Seattle doesn't have many needs. However, the team's offensive line languished throughout the year and could certainly use added depth. Zack Martin would challenge for a starting job immediately, either at guard or right tackle.
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