Each NFL Team's Best-Case Scenario for the First Round of the 2014 NFL Draft
Every team should go into the 2014 NFL draft with an idea of what the best-case and worst-case scenarios could be for each of their picks.
The best-case scenarios might be easier to determine for teams like the Houston Texans, who can select any player they want with the No. 1 overall pick, or the Seattle Seahawks, who hold the last pick of the first round but have few needs with arguably the NFL’s most complete roster.
For teams picking in the middle of Round 1—those with more pressing needs to fill and a possible wide range of options depending on what prospects teams picking of them take—determining best-case scenarios might be more optimistic than they are realistic.
With nearly three months remaining until this year’s draft, even NFL teams have at best a limited idea as to how this year’s selection meeting will play out. Nonetheless, it’s possible to play out scenarios in which every team with a first-round pick is in position to pick a first-round-worthy talent, one who should make the team drafting him better.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Houston Texans sit in the enviable position of determining their own draft scenario, but that doesn’t mean they have an easy choice.
ESPN’s Todd McShay most recently projected the Texans to draft South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Sports on Earth’s Russ Lande wrote last week that the Texans are “initially leaning” toward drafting either UCF quarterback Blake Bortles or Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Yet the best choice might not even be among that trio.
Though Clowney is arguably the draft’s top talent, awful quarterback play was the biggest reason the Texans finished last season with two wins and the top spot in the draft. If they are to fill that need with the No. 1 overall pick, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater represents both the best talent and fit.
Bridgewater might not be the biggest, fastest or strongest quarterback in this year’s draft class, but he demonstrates all the fundamental tools—accuracy, velocity, mechanics, footwork, toughness, leadership—to step in immediately and be a great NFL signal-caller.
Despite a horrendous 2013 season, the Texans have enough talent to be the third consecutive team to go from the No. 1 overall pick to making the NFL playoffs the next season. That will only happen, however, if they add a quarterback capable of immediate success.
Bridgewater can be that.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
If someone is willing to give them a king’s ransom like the Washington Redskins did for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams’ best-case scenario would be to trade down again from their last pick remaining from that 2012 deal.
If not, the Rams’ best bet would be to draft Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, who could be a provide an immediate upgrade to a shaky offensive line.
Arguably the most complete prospect in the entire draft class, Matthews has terrific feet and a great frame for the offensive tackle position. He is experienced playing on both sides of the line and is polished both in pass protection and run-blocking.
By drafting Matthews, the Rams could improve multiple spots on their offensive line. He would be an upgrade at right tackle over Joe Barksdale, who could then kick inside and fill a need at guard, where St. Louis’ holdover starters underperformed in 2013 and are slated for unrestricted free agency.
On an offensive line where the Rams might also seek insurance for left tackle Jake Long, who tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee late in the season, Matthews would be a value selection at an area of need.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
In this scenario, the Jacksonville Jaguars would be left with a tough decision between the most talented player remaining on the board, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, or whoever they determine to be the best quarterback available on the board.
The Jaguars badly need a quarterback, but they also need more impact players on both sides of the ball. Considering every available quarterback would be a high-risk selection at No. 3 overall, the addition of a projected star like Clowney would make the most sense.
With only 31 sacks in the 2013 season, the Jaguars tied for dead last in the NFL in pass-rushing production. An explosive athlete who can beat his opponents with speed, power and his hands, Clowney could provide an immediate spark to the Jaguars defensive front.
Even at the NFL level, Clowney will be physically superior to most of his competition, which should lead to him drawing double-teams immediately from opposing offensive lines. Even with some technical flaws in his game, he has the skill set to bring pressure right away from both outside and inside.
Clowney might not fill Jacksonville’s biggest need, but he’s a talent the Jaguars could easily regret passing up if they did so. There’s little doubt that he’ll make a big impact for the team that drafts him, and that’s the type of player Jacksonville needs.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Cleveland Browns haven’t had a stable franchise quarterback since their return to the NFL in 1999, so the best-case scenario in this year’s NFL draft is any scenario that changes that for the better.
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel might be a riskier choice than the other top quarterbacks available in this scenario, but he also has the most star potential.
Manziel’s playmaking ability both inside and outside the pocket makes him a special talent. He is a terrific athlete with a strong arm, and he has an uncanny ability to make things happen and extend plays under pressure
At the next level, Manziel will not be able to get away with as many long play extensions and risky decisions, but he is a dual-threat NFL defenses will immediately have to account for. If Cleveland has confidence in its ability to develop Johnny Football, he would be the best choice if available at the No. 4 overall pick.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
A quarterback, offensive playmaker or offensive lineman could each be possibilities for the Oakland Raiders’ first-round pick. However, their best move might be to draft a pass-rusher, especially if that defensive playmaker is the University of Buffalo’s Khalil Mack.
The true best-case scenario for the Raiders, who have quarterback uncertainty and desperately need a pass-rushing boost off the edge, would be for Teddy Bridgewater or Jadeveon Clowney to fall. If both of them are off the board, Mack would be a worthy top-five selection.
A well-rounded hybrid edge defender, Mack is an explosive athlete who has the strength to kick down to defensive end in a 4-3 defense. He is a very good outside pass-rusher who also sets the edge well against the run, while he could also kick back to linebacker and make plays in space and in coverage.
With Lamarr Houston expected to leave via unrestricted free agency, the Raiders have a serious lack of front seven playmakers on defense. Mack can give them the versatility to play multiple positions and wreak enough havoc that opponents will need to game plan for him.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Atlanta Falcons need reinforcements in the trenches. They could get that from Auburn’s Greg Robinson, one of the best prospects in this year’s draft class, should he be available with the No. 6 overall pick.
Robinson isn’t as polished or experienced as Jake Matthews, but his ceiling is arguably higher. He is a 6’5”, 320-pound behemoth who plays with power and has tremendous athleticism for his size.
Robinson would be a good fit for the power run-blocking scheme that new Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice will likely employ in Atlanta. He could be an immediate upgrade for the Falcons at right tackle over projected starter Lamar Holmes but will also provide insurance at left tackle for Sam Baker, who is recovering from a season-ending knee injury.
The best prospect available in this scenario, Robinson would bolster an area of need for the Falcons whether he lines up on the right side, left side or even inside at right guard.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have bigger needs than wide receiver, but Clemson’s Sammy Watkins could be awfully tough for them to pass up if available at No. 7 overall.
Tampa Bay has a solid set of starting wideouts in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, but little else at the position. Watkins, the most dynamic offensive playmaker in the 2014 draft class, would add explosive speed and open-field playmaking ability that the Buccaneers do not currently have in their passing offense.
Watkins projects well for playing both outside and from the slot, while he can also contribute as a kickoff returner and on gadget running plays.
The big-play threat would add a new dimension to the Buccaneers offense. Watkins, a crisp route-runner, could also give second-year Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon another reliable pass-catching target.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the Vikings will be looking to ditch the revolving quarterback door of the 2013 season and replace last year’s trio with a strong-armed downfield pocket passer.
Likely out of range to land Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota’s best-case scenario should be one that includes the availability of either Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr or UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. In this scenario, the Vikings would have their choice between the two.
Both quarterbacks have impressive physical tools, but while Bortles might get the edge in many projections because of his size and athleticism, Carr is the more NFL-ready quarterback. He is a skilled pocket passer who can deliver the ball quickly and efficiently as Turner’s offenses have traditionally demanded.
Carr has some issues with footwork and decision-making under pressure, but his game has no fatal flaws. He has demonstrated the ability to throw the ball with velocity and accuracy to all levels of the field, both during his 5,083-yard, 50-touchdown senior season and at the Senior Bowl in January.
9. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Buffalo Bills struck gold in Round 2 of the 2013 draft with rookie sensation Kiko Alonso, but as their defense adapts to yet another new scheme in 2014 under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, another middle or weak-side linebacker to play alongside Alonso is a need.
Alabama’s C.J. Mosley would be a great fit as the No. 9 overall pick. He can bring immediate value to the Buffalo defense as an every-down linebacker.
Defending the run continued to be a problem for the Bills in 2013; the addition of a physical, downhill tackler like Mosley could help remedy that issue. Despite being slightly undersized with listed measurables of 6’2” and 238 pounds, he uses his hands well and has little trouble getting off blocks.
A very good all-around athlete, Mosley can make plays from sideline to sideline and like Alonso be a significant asset in pass coverage. His addition would give Buffalo an interchangeable pair of young linebackers who can be on-field leaders as well as both run-stoppers and pass defenders.
10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Detroit Lions have the NFL’s best wide receiver in Calvin Johnson, but a fairly uninspiring receiving corps outside of him, which might make Texas A&M’s Mike Evans too good to pass up with the No. 10 overall pick.
The addition of the 6’5”, 225-pound Evans would give the Lions a pair of skyscraper receivers who attack the ball in the air. Detroit needs a legitimate No. 2 receiving threat to stop opposing secondaries from locking in on Johnson, and that’s what they can get immediately from Evans.
Evans doesn’t have the speed and overall athleticism Johnson does, but his physicality and vertical ability allow him to make plays against coverage even when he does not separate. For a receiver of his size, he has good open-field running ability thanks to his vision and strength.
An outside linebacker such as BYU’s Kyle Van Noy or UCLA’s Anthony Barr would also make sense with the No. 10 pick. However, with new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin planning to keep Detroit in a 4-3 scheme rather than adding rush linebackers to the mix, according to Justin Rogers of MLive.com, an offensive weapon like Evans might have more value.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
As the Tennessee Titans shift to a hybrid, pressure-heavy defensive scheme under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton, one of their biggest needs is to add a premier pass-rusher to the edge of their defense.
UCLA’s Anthony Barr would be a best-case confluence of value and need if he is available at the No. 11 overall pick. A dynamic defensive playmaker whose explosive athleticism makes him well worth a top-10 selection, Barr could play multiple roles in Tennessee’s new defensive scheme.
First and foremost, Barr is a skilled pass-rusher off the edge. He combines a terrific burst off the line of scrimmage with great speed, while he has the power and moves to get off blockers and close on the quarterback.
As a run-defender and in pass coverage, Barr’s game is still a work in progress, but he can cover significant ground in space and make plays on the ball. In a hybrid scheme, the Titans can play him as a 3-4 outside linebacker, while he has the versatility to play other linebacker spots against the run or line up at end in pass-rushing situations.
12. New York Giants: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
The New York Giants have one of the NFL’s worst linebacker units, so any of the 2014 draft’s top four linebackers would be a smart choice with the No. 12 overall pick. In this scenario, they could add a valuable and versatile player at the position in BYU’s Kyle Van Noy.
From rushing the quarterback to making tackles from sideline to sideline and dropping back into coverage, Van Noy can do it all. In a 4-3 defense like the Giants run, Van Noy has the skill set to play any of the three linebacker positions while he could also kick down to defensive end in some pass-rushing situations.
The Giants’ once-vaunted defense has started to lose its luster over the past two seasons as some of its top players have grown older and/or moved on. The addition of a versatile playmaker with a high degree of athleticism like Van Noy could start to bring that back.
All three of New York’s starting linebackers from the 2013 season are unrestricted free agents. Van Noy could be an immediate upgrade at either linebacker spot over Keith Rivers or Spencer Paysinger.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
If the St. Louis Rams want to continue stockpiling draft picks and young talent, trading down from No. 13 might become the optimal option if they do not move down from the second pick. Should they stay put, the Rams would make a smart investment by selecting the draft’s top safety, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The Rams had issues with their secondary throughout the 2013 season, and though they had problems with the cornerback position too, their biggest need is for a premier coverage safety who can be a center fielder and a last line of defense. They can get that from Clinton-Dix, a rangy athlete who plays the ball well and is a sound tackler.
The Alabama product’s play can be inconsistent and lack discipline at times, but he would be a big upgrade athletically and in deep coverage over St. Louis’ current starting safeties, Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald.
Clinton-Dix might not be the best talent on the board at the No. 13 overall pick, but in a draft where safeties look to be in high demand, the Rams should take advantage of the opportunity to select the top prospect at the position.
14. Chicago Bears: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
In 2013, the Chicago Bears defense ranked dead last in the NFL against the run, allowing 161.4 rushing yards per game.
A big reason why was their interior defensive line consistently got pushed around.
The Bears could get the strength and run-stopping power they need up front by drafting Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III.
A gigantic nose tackle listed at 6’2 1/2” and 342 pounds by Notre Dame’s official athletics website, Nix can often overpower his opponents. He combines size with an explosive quickness that allows him to penetrate and make plays in the backfield.
Nix had a disappointing final season for the Fighting Irish and is coming off a torn meniscus, but he has the most playmaking potential of any defensive tackle in this year’s draft class.
He could be an upgrade over Stephen Paea, who has not panned out to be the run-stuffing presence the Bears drafted him to be at nose tackle. Additionally, his athleticism gives him the versatility to play multiple spots; Nix could be really difficult for offensive linemen to handle.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ need for a new No. 1 cornerback became amplified in 2013 as the aging Ike Taylor’s play continued to decline. Should Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert still be available when the Steelers pick at No. 15 overall pick, they shouldn’t pass him up.
Gilbert brings a combination of length, athleticism, ball skills and instincts that the Steelers lost when Keenan Lewis left the team as an unrestricted free agent last offseason.
It was not until a great senior season that Gilbert established himself as a first-round talent, but he showed playmaking ability throughout his Oklahoma State career. Gilbert finished his collegiate career with 12 interceptions, 39 total passes defensed and eight total touchdowns (six kickoff returns, two interception returns).
Pittsburgh needs to continue adding young defensive talent to its roster this offseason. With cornerback arguably looming as the team’s biggest need, there might be no better first-round scenario than landing Gilbert, the draft’s best player at his position.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Baltimore Ravens need to add playmaking ability to their roster of pass-catchers this offseason. North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is the best pass-catching prospect available in this scenario and would give Baltimore an explosive receiver at the tight end position.
In essence, Ebron is a big wide receiver playing tight end. He combines terrific athleticism, not only in terms of straight-line speed but also in leaping ability and open-field quickness. And all of that is there in a 6’4”, 245-pound frame.
Ebron is not much of a blocker, but his physical traits give him the versatility to be moved everywhere from in-line to slot receiver...even outside. He can create mismatches wherever he is lined up on the field and give the Ravens a legitimate No. 2 downfield receiving threat next to Torrey Smith.
Baltimore tight ends Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark are all unrestricted free agents. Resigning Pitta would be a smart move, but even if the Ravens do so, they would be smart to add more athleticism and versatility to the position with Ebron.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Dallas Cowboys reorganized their defensive coach staff in January by promoting Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator and demoting Monte Kiffin. That said, if the Cowboys defense is going to improve from a dismal 2013 season, the most important step is improving its personnel.
Their biggest need might be at defensive tackle, where 3-technique force Jason Hatcher is an unrestricted free agent, and Nick Hayden doesn’t provide the presence they need at nose tackle.
Dallas’ best move might be to draft Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman, an outstanding physical specimen with the skill set to play both defensive tackle spots. A 6’6”, 318-pound strongman with an explosive burst off the line of scrimmage, Hageman has immense physical potential. His game is still technically raw, but he was inconsistently dominant during his senior season at Minnesota and at the Senior Bowl.
Hageman’s length, power and athleticism make him a tough matchup for any offensive lineman, allowing him to beat blockers and penetrate into the backfield but also to draw double-teams that can free up his teammates.
The Cowboys might need multiple reinforcements for their defensive line this offseason, but Hageman would be a good start.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Like the Ravens two picks before them, the New York Jets might go into the first round of this year’s draft with a best pass-catcher available strategy.
At No. 18 overall, USC wideout Marqise Lee would add the playmaking ability that New York’s current receiving group sorely lacks.
Lee doesn’t have the exceptional athleticism of Sammy Watkins or size of Mike Evans, but he might be the most well-rounded wide receiver in the draft class. He is a consistent hands-catcher, a developed route-runner and a silky smooth open-field runner.
The USC product projects as a weapon on intermediate routes who could play both outside and in the slot. He will not physically overwhelm NFL cornerbacks, but he has the natural acceleration and open-field vision to extend shorter receptions into bigger gains.
One of the most important steps in second-year Jets quarterback Geno Smith’s development will be how much the front office improves the talent around him. Adding a reliable receiver with big-play potential like Lee would be a good start.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Miami Dolphins have a clear need to rebuild their offensive line after allowing a league-high 58 sacks in 2013. They shouldn’t hesitate to select Notre Dame’s Zack Martin if he is available at the No. 19 overall spot.
Martin doesn’t have the physical measurables of a top offensive tackle prospect, but he makes up for it by being fundamentally sound.
He has strong hands which he consistently places properly on his opponents, and he rarely loses a battle when he is able to engage his opponent off the snap. The Notre Dame graduate also has very clean footwork and has demonstrated the strength to move defenders off the line of scrimmage.
Martin’s technical mastery of the position should allow him to continue playing left tackle in the NFL, but he could also address needs for the Dolphins at right tackle or guard. Miami should be looking to draft the best available offensive lineman with its first-round pick, and Martin is in this scenario.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
UCF’s Blake Bortles would be an ideal selection for value, fit and need if the Arizona Cardinals are able to land him with the No. 20 overall selection.
The Cardinals are expected to stick with Carson Palmer at quarterback in 2014, but the 34-year-old is not the long-term answer. Arizona would be smart to draft and develop his heir apparent at the position this year, and Bortles could be exactly what the Cardinals are looking for.
A big quarterback with a strong arm and good mobility, Bortles is physically reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger, whom Bruce Arians coached when he was offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2007-11.
Of the four projected first-round quarterbacks in this year’s draft, Bortles could benefit the most from having a year to work on the fundamentals of his game before being thrown into the fire. He could have that opportunity in Arizona, where his abilities to throw the ball deep and on the move could lead him to great success as an NFL quarterback.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Green Bay Packers have a major need at free safety, where M.D. Jennings has failed to be an adequate starting option. Their best-case draft scenario would be for one of the draft’s top two safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor, to be available at No. 21 overall.
In this case, the Louisville product could give Green Bay the playmaker and coverage upgrade it needs at the position. A fluid athlete with great size (6’2”, 208 lbs) and very good ball skills, Pryor has the potential to be the best safety from this year’s draft class.
Pryor could have some growing pains if thrust into a center field-coverage role right away, but he has the speed and hip fluidity to keep up with wideouts and tight ends over the middle.
A big hitter, Pryor can separate receivers from the ball and is strong in run support. He could be a difference-maker for the Green Bay secondary at a position where it needs one.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Another team in desperate need of safety help, the Philadelphia Eagles’ ideal scenario would be for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor to fall to them to the No. 22 overall pick. With both off the board, however, the Eagles could still make a strong play to bolster their secondary by drafting Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
The Eagles don’t have a true No. 1 outside cornerback between Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher; Dennard has the potential to be a shutdown player capable of playing on an island and handling an opponent's top wide receiver.
Dennard does not have exceptional size or speed, but he makes up for it with his physicality and instincts. He is at his best when he can be physical with his hands in press coverage, but he looks fluid playing in zone coverage as well.
He won’t be one of the NFL’s top pick-six candidates, but he has demonstrated that he can track the ball in the air and take it away from receivers.
Also a strong tackler in run support, Dennard could make Philadelphia better at the cornerback position in all phases.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Lamarcus Joyner, FS/CB, Florida State
If Lamarcus Joyner were three inches taller, he might be a top-15 draft selection. The Florida State product doesn’t fit the physical prototype for an NFL defensive back at 5’8” and 190 pounds, but he’s still well worth the Kansas City Chiefs’ consideration at the No. 23 overall selection.
Joyner combines outstanding instincts with the explosive speed and quickness to act on them. A consistently physical player with great ball skills, Joyner has a game similar to many defensive backs who are significantly bigger than him.
Joyner has experience at both safety and cornerback from his time at Florida State, and projects as a similar player to Tyrann Mathieu, who achieved immediate stardom as a hybrid free safety/cornerback in his rookie season before suffering a torn ACL.
Mathieu was a third-round pick after off-field issues cost him an entire season of college football.
Joyner, on the other hand, was a consensus All-American in his senior season for the Seminoles. He could prove to be a major asset at a position of need for Kansas City.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
With no major roster needs, the best-case scenario for the Cincinnati Bengals is one that nets them a high-upside player with the No. 24 overall selection. Missouri’s Kony Ealy could be exactly what the Bengals are looking for in value and developmental potential with their first-round pick.
With Michael Johnson expected to leave Cincinnati as an unrestricted free agent, the Bengals could benefit from adding another disruptive defensive lineman early in this year’s draft.
Ealy is an explosive defensive end with an impressive combination of size (6’5”, 275 pounds), athleticism and strength. He can line up both outside and inside, and can use his hands to fight through blocks and penetrate into the backfield.
He is far from a finished product, but Cincinnati could be an opportunity for him to develop his skill set while contributing as a rotational pass-rusher. His physical skill set makes him a difficult matchup for blockers, and he could end up emerging as a steal should he fall to the bottom of the first round.
25. San Diego Chargers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT/G, Alabama
Even after drafting D.J. Fluker with the No. 11 overall pick in last year’s draft, the San Diego Chargers need to continue reinforcing their offensive line.
The Chargers would be smart to draft Cyrus Kouandjio, who bookended Alabama’s offensive line as a left tackle opposite D.J. Fluker.
Kouandjio might not be the Chargers’ answer at left tackle. They already have an adequate starter there in King Dunlap, and Kouandjio’s game might actually be better suited for guard, where he could be an upgrade on either side of the San Diego center position.
Nonetheless, the addition of Kouandjio would put pressure on Dunlap to perform. Kouandjio was exposed somewhat in his junior season as he struggled with outside speed-rushers, but he still has huge potential on the merits of his power, length and athleticism.
He is able to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage, while he is a good pull blocker who can pick up defenders at the second level. For a team in need of more new talent on its offensive line, Kouandjio would be a good value choice at the conclusion of the top 25 picks.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): David Yankey, G, Stanford
If Johnny Manziel is going to have success in an NFL offense, he needs to have an offensive line capable of giving him time to make plays. If the Cleveland Browns draft Manziel, upgrading over Shawn Lauvao at right guard will be a very important next step.
In this scenario, the Browns would have their choice among this draft class’ top guard prospects, and the best among them might be Stanford’s David Yankey.
Yankey brings the footwork and athleticism as a pass protector that an offensive line in front of Manziel will need to have. He is also a strong run-blocker who can move defenders off the line of scrimmage.
Having also played offensive tackle during his time at Stanford, Yankey brings versatility to an NFL offensive line. His agility, toughness and fundamentally well-rounded game would make him a strong late first-round choice for the Browns.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
The New Orleans Saints didn’t play from the 3-4 defensive alignment as much as expected in Rob Ryan’s first year as defensive coordinator, and one reason for that might have been a lack of talent at outside linebacker, other than Junior Galette.
The Saints can increase their defense’s versatility—and its pass-rushing potential—by selecting Auburn’s Dee Ford with the No. 27 overall selection. An explosive athlete who can burst off the edge and into the backfield, Ford is a great fit to make the transition to OLB in a hybrid defensive scheme.
Ford is a natural bender who flies around the edge, while he moves very well in pursuit and in space. His size and strength are concerns, as he is listed at only 6’2” and 243 pounds. But at the very least, he could add playmaking ability as a situational pass-rusher.
A strong finish to his Auburn career and a dominant week at the Senior Bowl have led to a meteoric rise in his draft stock. Likely to end up as a late first-round pick, the Saints might be his best fit.
28. Carolina Panthers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Left tackle Jordan Gross will be 34 years old before next season, right tackle Byron Bell is a subpar starter and both are unrestricted free agents, so the Carolina Panthers should be looking to make a new investment in at least one offensive tackle this season. Should he be available at the No. 29 pick, Michigan’s Taylor Lewan could be an ideal choice.
Lewan carries a massive frame at 6’8” and 315 pounds, while he has very good movement skills and the strength to overpower his opponents.
The Michigan product is at his best as a run-blocker. He can make devastating open-field blocks with his quickness and strength or plow defenders away from the line of scrimmage to create running lanes.
He has some vulnerabilities as a pass protector, but the four-year collegiate starter has the physical tools and blocking prowess to be a great NFL offensive tackle. Should the Panthers resign Gross to a short-term deal, Lewan could be an upgrade right away at right tackle, then potentially be developed into Gross’ long-term successor at left tackle.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
As legendary quarterback Tom Brady nears the end of his career, the New England Patriots should do as much as possible this offseason to rebuild the receiving talent around him. The most important step might be adding another playmaker at tight end, and Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro would be a great fit if available at No. 29.
The gold standard for a two-tight end passing offense just a couple years ago, the Patriots lost that luster in 2013, when Rob Gronkowski went down with multiple injuries and Aaron Hernandez was cut after being charged with murder.
Amaro would be the Patriots’ best option in this scenario to restore that standard, as the former Texas Tech Red Raider has the ability to create mismatches against pass defenders. A talented downfield receiving threat with great size (6'5", 260 pounds), Amaro also possesses the speed and agility to gain yardage in the open field.
By pairing Amaro with a hopefully healthy Gronkowski, the Patriots would have two big vertical threats who can stretch the field from the tight end position. Amaro is not nearly as powerful as Gronk, especially as a blocker, but he can be flexed out and provide an additional dynamic to the Patriots' passing game.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Even if the San Francisco 49ers retain unrestricted free agent Anquan Boldin, they would be smart to add speed to their wide receiver group in this year’s draft. With few major needs and 12 total draft picks, the 49ers can afford to draft for value with their first-round selection, and Odell Beckham Jr. would be that at No. 30 overall.
In an outstanding junior campaign, Beckham Jr. showed all the skills to be a big playmaker at the next level. He is an explosive athlete who can beat defenders with both his downfield speed and sharp cuts in the open field, while he is also a crisp route-runner who displays strong hands.
Listed at 6’0 and 193 pounds, the LSU product does not have great size for an outside receiver, but he aggressively tracks the ball and holds up well against physical corners. He can be a weapon both outside and from the slot, while he also adds value as a terrific kick returner.
The 49ers could benefit greatly from adding one of the draft’s most dynamic offensive playmakers.
31. Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
With Chris Harris coming off a torn ACL, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie set for unrestricted free agency and Champ Bailey turning 36 years old prior to the 2014 NFL season, the Denver Broncos should be looking to add talent and depth at the cornerback position in this year’s draft.
They could be hard-pressed to pass upon the talent of Ohio State’s Bradley Roby. Though he didn’t look like a first-round pick in a tumultuous redshirt junior season for the Buckeyes, his speed and ball skills give him as much potential as any cornerback in the 2014 draft class.
Roby has no shortage of big-play ability, but his overaggressive, big-play mindset often leads too often to getting caught out of position. His affinity for pass breakups and big hits has led to blown coverages and missed tackles, but if he can become a more disciplined player, he has shown the ability to be a true shutdown cornerback.
Despite their embarrassing, 43-8 loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos have enough talent on their roster that they can afford to take some chances in this year’s draft. Taking a chance on Roby, who came into his final collegiate season with top-10 projections, could pay off with big dividends for the Denver secondary.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA
The NFL Super Bowl champions had few weaknesses in its 2013 roster, but subpar starting guards was one of them. With the core of Seattle’s Super Bowl-winning team set to be back for at least the 2014 season, the Seahawks should be looking to land at least one guard early in this year’s draft.
UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo would fit the bill. Combining very good athleticism and footwork with the power to manhandle opponents, his ceiling might be the highest of any guard prospect in this year’s draft class.
As the last pick of Round 1, Su’a-Filo could solidify one guard spot for the Seahawks while also providing the versatility to play tackle if needed. He is both an efficient pass protector and a powerful run-blocker.
A guard might not be a flashy first-round pick, but it’s what would benefit the Super Bowl champions in their effort to remain the NFL’s best team heading into the 2014 season.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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