The more this NFL draft class gets dissected, the more uncertainty will ensue over how the opening round will play out.
There's no can't-miss prospect to start everyone's predictions off to a one-for-one start. For that matter, all the teams picking at the top must consider targeting a great all-around talent at a position other than quarterback.
Not a quarterback? It's sacrilegious to say, but football is a team sport, and none of these pending rookies look the part of a superstar signal-caller.
Yet this is the NFL, so quarterbacks will fly off the board early. In what order they will fall is the truly confounding question.
As is tradition around this time of year, the nation will join hands and project the NFL draft until their eyes bleed and they get slightly nauseous upon hearing "upside" or "40 time." What a wonderful time, indeed.
Who will your favorite team grab in the first round? The draft is months away, but let's fast-forward the clock and circle the block with another mock...draft. (Jean-Ralphio Saperstein wrote that last sentence.)
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Losers of their last 14 games, the Texans will need to make a splash to appease their restless fans who toss and turn at night with Matt Schaub pick-sixes haunting their dreams. Although drafting a stud defensive lineman at No. 1 worked with Mario Williams, look for them to take a quarterback here.
The quarterback that Houston takes holds the advantage of joining a squad with a firm offensive line and stout defense. That led one unnamed scout to tell Sports Illustrated's Peter Bukowski that Bridgewater could thrive in Houston.
I don't see Bridgewater as a franchise savior like RGIII was in Washington. ... Now if he went to the Houston Texans, which is a damn good team already, could he turn them around kind of like the Chiefs did this year? Yeah, he could.
Bridegewater holds less downside than Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles, which makes him this year's No. 1 pick.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Few mockers have Sammy Watkins going off the board this high, but the Rams can badly use an explosive offensive playmaker. If it makes skeptics feel any better, there's a good chance St. Louis trades down, possibly to the Cleveland Browns at No. 4, where Watkins would still be available for the taking.
B/R's Matt Bowen broke down Watkins' game. Here is the thesis of his scouting report: "Watkins is a legit prospect with size, speed and big-play ability. He grades out as a true talent who can produce within the route tree while forcing opposing defenses to account for his skill set after the catch."
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Blaine Gabbert is clearly not the answer at quarterback, so the Jaguars might want to come away with a quarterback here. With Jadeveon Clowney on the table, however, there's too much value to pass up.
Clowney entered his final collegiate season looking like the runaway No. 1 pick, but he did not consistently manhandle opponents the way everyone anticipated. That said, he's a freakish athlete with a higher ceiling than anyone else can touch. The Jaguars aren't exactly strong on the defensive side, so they'll grab the best overall player.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Browns want Manziel. In January, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora said "they are willing to trade up to land Johnny Manziel in the draft if need be." If other mock drafts are any indication, they probably will need to hope the Texans pass and barter with the Rams to snag the No. 2 choice.
They have good reason to want Johnny Football. Tossing aside any personal dislike for him, Manziel posted comparable numbers to Bridgewater last season. Per ESPN the Magazine's Twitter:
Knowing Cleveland's history, someone will intervene with its desire to draft Manziel. But if he's there, the Browns will grab him.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The last of the trio of top quarterbacks available, Blake Bortles is headed to Oakland in hopes of bringing the Raiders their first winning season since 2002. Quarterback coach Steve Clarkson is so impressed with Bortles that he used the L word to describe him. No, not love. Luck. Per Fox Sports' Ross Jones:
The guy who has the skillset that everybody is looking for in terms of size, arm strength and mobility is Blake Bortles. To me, he possesses all the skillsets that you’re looking for in an NFL caliber quarterback, [which] seems to be the new franchise quarterback, if you will. He’s probably the closest thing to me to an Andrew Luck out of this class.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Falcons can thank me for pairing Watkins with the Rams, as that allowed offensive tackle Jake Matthews to slip to No. 6. They shouldn't need any help at wide receiver if Julio Jones returns strong, but some more protection in the trenches never hurt anybody. At least not the quarterback, and Matt Ryan is too valuable of an asset to leave unprotected.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
No Matthews, no problem. A lovely consolation prize is waiting in offensive tackle Greg Robinson, a blocker with great footwork and power to boot. The Sideline View's Lance Zierlein and B/R's Sigmund Bloom would argue that Robinson should have been snatched up way earlier.
Got the same feeling when I watched him RT @LanceZierlein Greg Robinson will be the 2nd pick of the draft.— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) February 10, 2014
8. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
A disastrous season could pressure the Vikings into taking quarterback Derek Carr with their first-round choice. Given how the "There's better talent on the board, but we can use a quarterback" approach worked with Christian Ponder, they're resisting the temptation on my watch.
Instead, here's Anthony Barr, a fierce pass-rusher who can heal a Vikings defense that became pushovers in the aerial game last season.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
The Bills can hit a home run here (given their recent success, they might have better luck in baseball) by drafting Khalil Mack, a linebacker who went to school nearby and is drawing rave reviews from scouts.
ESPN's Todd McShay tweeted that he compares favorably to Barr.
Studying LB Khalil Mack after watching Anthony Barr. Barr has length adv but Mack more explosive, versatile FB player. Mack is a finisher!— Todd McShay (@McShay13) February 11, 2014
Watched Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr last night, and Barr isn't in Mack's galaxy as a football player. That includes projectability.— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) February 7, 2014
Mack, who forced 16 fumbles throughout his collegiate career, could give Buffalo the league's scariest pass rush in 2014.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The league's No. 23 passing defense needs a cornerback who can help take some pressure off an offense burdened with constantly partaking in shootouts with little room for error. Detroit is way too talented to pick in the top 10, so it needs some toughness in the secondary from Justin Gilbert.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Titans lack a defensive identity, which Alabama's C.J. Mosley can change by becoming a leader at linebacker. Playing four years under Nick Saban in the SEC makes this tackling machine ready to handle the NFL spotlight from Week 1.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Excluding the miracle play to David Tyree, Eli Manning benefited from a clean pocket during the Giants' two improbable Super Bowl runs. That peace of mind vanished last season, causing a flustered Manning to surrender 31 turnovers.
They're not about to replace a quarterback with two titles, so the Giants need to bolster the offensive line by drafting Michigan's Taylor Lewan.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
How St. Louis spends Washington's pick will sway what it does with its own selection at No. 13. Unless the Rams go for Clowney, they'll focus on the defensive side and address a secondary that served as a decent defense's weak link last season.
With a name that belongs in the East vs. West Bowl, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will prove to be more than just a punch line.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears were atrocious against the run last year, allowing a league-worst 161.4 yards per game. To remedy the beating they took in the ground game, look for them to grab an overpowering defensive tackle at this spot.
Notre Dame's Louis Nix III is also an option, but Timmy Jernigan offers more quickness along with his size and leverage. He should stop running backs from gushing it down Chicago's throat at will.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Ike Taylor is 33, Troy Polamalu will turn 33 before the draft, and Ryan Clark is 34 and testing out a future career in broadcasting. Pittsburgh needs some young blood in the secondary.
Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard plays a physical style that will make him welcomed in Pittsburgh. Some mock drafts tout him as a late first-rounder, so Dennard can use a strong combine to fortify his draft stock. According to MLive.com's Mike Griffith, the cornerback is ready to do just that. Dennard said:
I still feel like I have a lot to prove. There are some who say there are some flaws in my game, and I can't wait to prove them wrong. I have another stage coming up at the combine, and I'll be ready.'
16. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Joe Flacco shattered his previous season high in pass attempts with 614 last year, but the quarterback had little to work with outside of Torrey Smith. A year after winning the Super Bowl, Baltimore's offense ranked 29th in total offensive yards.
Mike Evans provides the Ravens with another big-play receiver who can help Flacco dearly in goal-line situations. A possession wideout might better suit Baltimore's needs, but Evans is the most talented receiver on the board.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The league's worst defense needs a big-time defensive talent who could turn its bad fortune around. Kony Ealy has the potential to make a DeMarcus Ware-like impact if he reaches his full potential.
Once Ealy declared for the NFL draft, B/R's Matt Miller labeled him a top-10 prospect.
Kony Ealy declares for NFL draft in post-game interview. Top 10 talent.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 4, 2014
The Missouri defensive end is another hybrid defender who could wreak havoc rushing the passer as a linebacker. He's not a polished player yet, but the Cowboys are the type of team that will take a chance to make a major splash.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California
Jeremy Kerley. David Nelson. Greg Salas. Jeff Cumberland. An injured Santonio Holmes. No wonder why the Jets finished 31st with 183.3 passing yards per game.
Gang Green needs a dynamic playmaker that can run a clean route and allow Geno Smith to utilize his strong arm downfield. USC's Marqise Lee saw his stats dip in 2013, but his 118-catch, 1,721-yard sophomore season shows his capability.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
If you listen carefully enough, you can hear Ryan Tannehill wincing in pain, begging the Dolphins to draft an offensive lineman here. I'll oblige and give them Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, who should help slash the NFL-worst 58 sacks Miami's quarterback suffered last season.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Those Cardinals would have made the playoffs if they called any other division home, but they now must figure out how to keep up with the NFC West megapowers. Juxtaposing Larry Fitzgerald with Michael Floyd was a huge step, and actually playing Andre Ellington will do wonders for the ground game.
The missing piece to that puzzle is an athletic tight end who can shed defenses as a pass-catcher. (Or a better quarterback, but that's getting greedy.) Luckily for them, Eric Ebron is available at their pick.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah endorsed the versatile tight end on Twitter.
Studying UNC TE Eric Ebron. Excellent speed, strong hands and precise route-runner. Pro Bowl potential— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 8, 2014
21. Green Bay Packers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
After the Bears passed him up for Jernigan, their NFC North rival will sweep in and swipe Nix. The 342-pound tackle can clog up the trenches, which is helpful for a squad that has to play Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte four times a season.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Chip Kelly's uptempo offense is running just fine, but he'll need to improve a defense that ranked last with 4,636 passing yards allowed in 2013. Safety Calvin Pryor is a good start to that cause.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
While a leaky Kansas City defense led to a thunderous passing attack in its playoff result, that was an outlier for a team that can use some pizzazz in the aerial assault.
Odell Beckham is just the man to kick the Chiefs into another gear with an offensive weapon to stabilize their offense. CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman described Beckham as a phenomenal athlete and underrated prospect.
It'll be fun to see whether Lee proves to be a better NFL player than Odell Beckham, who I think is underrated at least when I look at some of these mock drafts out there.
Beckham is a fantastic athlete. You're talking about a guy who is really explosive; could've been an elite soccer player, can throw the ball very well with either hand; has excellent return skills and some of the best hands in the Draft. The coaches I know at LSU say he could've played any position in their secondary and been a star there too.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Unless you believe the Bengals can do better than Andy Dalton, they don't have any glaring holes to address. With that said, a linebacker wouldn't hurt a defense that struggled to stay healthy all year.
Ryan Shazier is an interesting player due to his above-average speed at the position. His size (6'2", 230 lbs) could in turn present a concern, but it's worth aiming for the stars late in the first round.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Although the Chargers rode a fortunate string of events into the postseason, the No. 29-rated pass defense ultimately wasted Philip Rivers' career year. The secondary needs some tinkering for them to become anything more than a fringe playoff squad, and Bradley Roby has the potential to fix that.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Browns got their man in Manziel, so they'll now scour the list of offensive linemen to ensure his safety over the next decade.
A four-win team picking near the bottom of the first round, it's OK for Cleveland to take a safe bet here. Zack Martin lined up on the line every game during his four years and Notre Dame and can help rebuild an offense that has the skill players to make some noise.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ra'Shede Hageman is a tough player to peg. Some general manager might fall victim to his upside and grab him much earlier, but he also could easily exit the first round undrafted.
The athletic beast is raw around the edges, but he can operate in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme and fluster opposing linemen in either spot. New Orleans' rushing defense lagged behind a significantly improved passing defense, so the risk makes sense for Sean Payton and Rob Ryan.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Kelvin Benjamin, who was last seen snatching a game-winning touchdown grab for Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game, can relieve Smith of some pressure and allow Newton to open up the passing attack.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Jace Amaro is calling the Patriots, who ran the ball the most during the waning days of 2013 since Tom Brady's initial years. Amaro would give Brady the versatile threat at tight end Brady missed in all but seven games last year.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The 49ers found out firsthand what a terrific cornerback can do for an NFL team when Richard Sherman batted away their Super Bowl hopes late in the NFC Championship Game. San Francisco boasts one of the NFL's deepest rosters (hence picking at No. 30), but Jason Verrett gives it a new reinforcement in the secondary.
31. Denver Broncos: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
The Broncos won the AFC despite losing Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore and Von Miller to a torn ACL. It finally caught up to them in the Super Bowl, which is why they're taking linebacker Kyle Van Noy from BYU.
Van Noy made big play after big play during the season, and he's gradually vaulting up most draft boards. Don't be shocked if someone reaches for him much higher.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
A wide receiver such as Brandin Cooks would have looked good here a month ago, but Jermaine Kearse and Jon Baldwin spent the postseason proving that unit is not a liability. Throw in a healthy Percy Harvin and Seattle's passing game should return to heights it briefly reached at the end of 2012.
So what do you get the team that just hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy? Guard David Yankey is a solid addition to conclude the opening round.