Building through the draft is the recipe for success in the NFL. The importance of adding a young core of talent on a franchise's roster is unequivocal. As the 2014 NFL draft continues to creep closer, the picture of what may transpire during Round 1 is beginning to develop.
The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine and pro days have yet to take place—both of these things can severely alter the way the draft will ultimately shake out. However, as things stand right now, we can begin to predict where prospects will land based on available information and team needs.
Let's take a closer look at the first 32 selections of the impending draft to determine what could possibly transpire when May rolls around.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
What should Houston do with the first pick?
The Texans desperately need a capable quarterback. Even though they are selecting first in this year's draft, they still have a very solid roster. The difference has been lackluster quarterback play over the 2013-14 season.
Matt Schaub and Case Keenum proved that they do not have what it takes to lead this franchise. If any prospect in the 2013 draft is able to do that, it is Bridgewater.
His ability to read defenses, go through his progressions and maintain poise in the pocket makes Bridgewater the top prospect at his position. His intelligence makes him capable of coming in and starting at the quarterback position as a rookie—which is exactly what Houston needs.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
There is a strong possibility that the Rams will trade out of this spot. However, there will be no trades taking place in this mock draft, so here they will remain. With the second selection in the 2014 draft, they will look to take the best-available player who also fills a team need.
That would be Matthews. His ability to play at either tackle position makes him a very sought-after offensive lineman. Even though the Rams offensive line is currently bookended with two good tackles, Matthews would add depth and security to a budding offense.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Jaguars could certainly use a quarterback here after the Blaine Gabbert experiment failed miserably. However, it may be impossible to pass up another huge need on the defensive side of the ball.
Jacksonville needs a pass-rusher as much as a quarterback, and Clowney could be a once-in-a-lifetime prospect at the defensive end position. Stout against the run and dominant rushing the passer, he has the ability to completely alter a rather lackluster unit from a year ago.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Speaking of teams that could really use a quarterback: enter the Cleveland Browns. Without a decent signal-caller, the Browns have remained in the gutter of the AFC North. With talented weapons such as Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron available, now is the time to get their guy.
Is Manziel a good fit in Cleveland?
Manziel has two attributes that could allow him to go far in this division. He has a strong arm and will allow Gordon to continue to stretch the field with a vertical passing game. He can also make plays with his legs—something that is crucial in the pass-rush happy AFC North.
Aside from being a good fit for the team, the Browns have been specifically linked to Manziel. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that sources informed him of the team's interest in the quarterback:
[The Browns] do have game-breaking receiver Josh Gordon, they are willing to trade up to land Johnny Manziel in the draft if need be, sources said, and have an owner, Jimmy Haslam, who is committed to spending their abundant cap space to try to win quickly.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Matt McGloin showed some promise at quarterback for the Raiders last year. The team liked him even before he found some playing time, and he will have a shot to continue starting for the team in 2014. If that's the case, Oakland will need to surround him with more weapons.
Adding Watkins to the roster would be a significant improvement to a virtually unknown receiving corps. Watkins has the ability to become a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL and is exactly what the Raiders have been missing on the offensive side of the ball for years.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The biggest looming need for the Falcons is a pure pass-rusher. They struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks over the duration of the 2013-14 season and need to rectify that problem if they are to compete with the likes of Drew Brees and Cam Newton.
Khalil Mack is going to be a star in the NFL.— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) February 2, 2014
Mack is one of the most elite pass-rushing prospects in this year's draft. He was a one-man wrecking crew in Buffalo and has the ability to do the same in Atlanta. With his ability to stand up as an outside linebacker or put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end, his versatility will allow him to flourish in the Falcons hybrid defensive scheme.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Buccaneers are another team that could use an elite pass-rusher—mainly due to the same reasons as the Falcons. They must contend with Matt Ryan, Brees and Newton on a yearly basis and will need to create more pressure in the backfield.
With Lovie Smith as head coach, he will implement his philosophy of accruing versatile, athletic linebackers. Barr fits the bill perfectly. With a good mix of strength and speed, Barr will be able to serve as an anchor on Tampa Bay's front seven for years to come.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The Vikings need a quarterback after Matt Cassel left town and Christian Ponder showed that he is not the long-term answer. Luckily for Minnesota, Bortles remains on the board for the eighth-overall selection.
After a strong showing over the 2013-14 season, Bortles saw his stock rise as NFL scouts took a liking to his combination of a big frame, strong arm and surprising mobility. He is a quarterback prospect unlike any that Minnesota has seen in quite some time and will be a great change of pace on an offense that is already full of weapons.
9. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Bills have a very strong front seven; however, in today's NFL, defenses must continue to get faster to compete with the ever-changing offensive schemes and personnel. Adding Mosley to a linebacker corps that already includes Kiko Alonso almost seems unfair.
With the dynamic athleticism of Mosley in addition to the rookie sensation Alonso on Buffalo's defense, the team's ability to keep up with offenses such as New England and Miami will greatly improve. Buffalo is looking to climb up the AFC East ladder, and Mosley is a great addition to help that cause.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Detroit could use a bit of help in its secondary. In a division that features the pass-happy offenses led by Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, addressing this position becomes a priority for a team that struggled to defend against the pass last season.
Darqueze Dennard, Mich. State RT @brad_foster10: which cb in this draft class is the most physical and best in man coverage?— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 5, 2014
Dennard is the most talented cover corner in this year's draft. His ability to remain in tight, man coverage without any necessary safety help makes him a valuable commodity. Allowing him to remain on an island on one side of the field and rolling remaining coverage to the other will give the Lions an immediate boost on the defensive side of the ball.
11. Tennessee Titans: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Titans already have a young, athletic defense; however, adding another edge-rusher would be a valued addition. This team is only a few steps away from competing with the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC South crown, and a player like Ealy will help them get there.
Ealy has a unique blend of strength and speed which makes him a force against the run and the pass. The Titans took huge strides on the defensive side of the ball in 2013—drafting Ealy this year will allow them to continue their progress.
12. New York Giants: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
How many interceptions will Eli Manning throw in 2014?
The Giants offensive line struggled mightily over the 2013-14 season. The result of their collective lackluster performance resulted in one of Eli Manning's worst years in the NFL. In fact, the entire offense fell apart, keeping New York from ever really contending.
Adding Robinson would not only give the Giants an immediate starter on Manning's blind side, but would bolster the depth of a unit that has suffered a rash of injuries in recent years. Robinson is a big body who uses his strength to outmuscle defenders in the trenches. The Giants could use more of that hard-nosed play on their offense.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Now that the Rams have bolstered the offensive line, it's time to surround Sam Bradford with more weapons. Tavon Auston had a phenomenal rookie season; however, his size makes him more of a slot receiver. The Rams could still use a legitimate No. 1 target.
If I had to compare Mike Evans to one NFL player it would be Vincent Jackson. That's who you're getting.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 2, 2014
Enter Evans. The 6'5", 225-pound receiver has the size of a tight end but the speed of a wide receiver. He is a big, quarterback-friendly target on the outside who is able to stretch the field and could see plenty of action in the red zone.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Chicago was absolutely atrocious against the run last year. After so many years of dominating on the defensive side of the ball, they finished the 2013-14 season ranked dead last against the run.
Donald will not only bolster the interior of the defensive line against the run, but he possesses quick feet and enough athleticism to create pressure in the backfield against opposing quarterbacks. Adding a dual threat like that on this defense will allow the Bears to get back on track.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Steelers suddenly find themselves with a glaring need on the interior of their defensive line. With Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme still running rampant in Pittsburgh, they will need a big-bodied athlete to fill the gap.
The 6'2", 342-pound Nix would be exactly that. Perfectly suited to clog up gaps in a 3-4 scheme, Nix has the strength to stand up to the large offensive lines of the AFC North. He is raw but has a natural ability that LeBeau will be able to utilize immediately.
16. Baltimore Ravens (pending coin flip): Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Ravens took a huge step backward on the offensive side of the ball in 2013. After trading Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers before the season began, the Ravens were simply not left with enough firepower to remain effective.
Adding Lee would bring an immediate improvement to Baltimore. He would be a perfect complement to the speedy Torrey Smith, as Lee is a reliable receiver who demands attention when he takes the field. This will allow Smith the opportunity to stretch defenses thin, giving both players an increased chance of success.
17. Dallas Cowboys (pending coin flip): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Once the 2013-14 season ended, the Cowboys wound up as one of the worst defensive units in the NFL. They constantly struggled to contain opposing quarterbacks, as safety play became a huge concern for the team.
Clinton-Dix possesses a perfect skill set for an NFL safety. He is a sure tackler and can contribute in run support at the line of scrimmage. However, his specialty is in coverage. He is able to read the quarterback's eyes and make quick, decisive breaks on the ball, effectively breaking up passes or forcing turnovers.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It is still relatively unclear as to who will get the start under center for the Jets in 2014. However, whoever that may be, he will need more weapons than what the Jets were able to muster last season.
Simply put: The Jets need to score more touchdowns, as they were terrible in the red zone last year. Ebron would rectify that problem. The 6'4" tight end is a big, fast target who will flourish across the field and especially within the 20-yard line.
19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Dolphins offensive unit—especially quarterback Ryan Tannehill—took huge strides over the 2013-14 season. They quickly became a formidable offense as the year went on and fell just short of the playoffs.
Adding Lewan will allow them to take the next step, as keeping Tannehill upright will be the key to their success in 2014. Lewan is still raw but possesses an ideal amount of strength for an offensive tackle on the NFL level. After a little bit of coaching, he will become a valuable addition to the Dolphins offensive line.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Cardinals could easily go with an offensive lineman here, as that is certainly a big team need. However, with Carr still on the board, grabbing their quarterback of the future could be too difficult to pass up.
Even though Carson Palmer had a resurgent 2013-14 season, he is in the twilight of his career. Carr could use a year to sit on the bench and learn the intricacies of the NFL. He would have a great mentor in Palmer and will be ready to go when called upon to start.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
When Aaron Rodgers is healthy, the Packers have one of the most dominant offenses in the NFL. The problem is that they are involved in way too many shootouts due to a lackluster secondary.
Safety play has been an issue for this team recently, and the addition of Pryor would give them a playmaker who will be able to immediately contribute. At 6'1" and 210 pounds, Pryor uses his physicality both against the run and when tackling in the open field. He has great instincts when in coverage and is a safety that can simply do it all.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Eagles would probably want a safety more here; however, with the only two viable first-round prospects off the board, they will fill another need. Philadelphia's secondary struggled on many occasions last season, and adding a great coverage corner would solve many of their woes.
Gilbert is a large corner standing at 6'0" and weighing 201 pounds. He is the size of a safety but has the speed to keep up with the fastest NFL wide receivers. A natural ball hawk, Gilbert has a knack for locating the ball in the air and making a play before it gets to its intended target.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Chiefs could add another piece to their secondary here, but with Benjamin on the board, adding another weapon for Alex Smith will be too difficult to pass up. Dwayne Bowe has been the only legitimate threat at the wide receiver position for the Chiefs in recent years, and that must change immediately.
That's the ceiling you draft with Kelvin Benjamin. Big redzone target you can throw it up too. Box-out artist.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 7, 2014
Benjamin is a huge target, standing at 6'5" and weighing 243 pounds. Despite his large frame, he has the quickness of a much smaller receiver. He is a formidable opponent for many smaller cornerbacks and requires extra attention. This will allow Bowe and other receivers to free up and flourish.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Cincinnati has had one of the strongest, deepest defensive units in the NFL for years now. However, the cornerback position is thinning out for this franchise. Terence Newman and Adam Jones are getting up there in age, Leon Hall continues to struggle with injury and Dre Kirkpatrick is still unproven.
Adding Verrett will give the Bengals increased depth in the secondary and give them a future replacement for Newman. Verrett has a good combination of ball skills and speed that will allow him to find success in the NFL. Cincinnati is a perfect fit for him due to the fact that he will not be asked to contribute right away.
25. San Diego Chargers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Chargers would love to get a defensive back here. However, there aren't really any options left in that department at this point in the draft. They do have another need to fill and that would be along the offensive line.
Kouandjio is a versatile athlete who can play multiple positions along the offensive line. Although tackle isn't necessarily as much of a need as guard is for this team, Kouandjio is the best available prospect at this point and will bring much versatility to the Chargers offensive front.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Browns got their guy at the quarterback position early in the draft. Now it's time to give him some weapons. Cleveland already has Gordon and Cameron at its disposal; however, another addition is needed at the wide receiver position.
Beckham excels in shorter crossing and slant routes, as he is a smaller, faster wide receiver. Not only will he allow Gordon to stretch the defense, but he will become a friendly target for an inexperienced quarterback.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Rob Ryan really made a difference on the defensive side of the ball in New Orleans last season. Installing a 3-4 scheme allowed more versatility for the Saints' available players who seemed to find more comfort in the system.
Now, the Saints must add more pieces to the puzzle. One great addition would be that of Shazier. A sure-tackling outside linebacker and natural leader, he will be able to bring sound fundamentals to this Saints defense, thus improving an already solid unit.
28. Carolina Panthers: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Which position should Carolina draft here?
The Panthers may look in the direction of a wide receiver here. Steve Smith is in the waning years of his NFL career and a replacement is needed. However, there is a more pressing issue at hand: protect Cam Newton.
Newton proved last season that he is the future at the quarterback position for this franchise. Adding a talented offensive lineman to protect him would be a smart move. Martin is a technically sound player who is quick enough to keep faster pass-rushers out of the pocket. He would award Newton more time to survey the field, allowing the quarterback to continue to progress as a passer.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Surrounding Tom Brady with more offensive weapons is never considered a bad idea. That is exactly what the Patriots should look to do at this point in the draft. Aaron Hernandez is gone for good and Rob Gronkowski is always an injury concern.
Amaro is a receiving tight end who can either serve as a complement or replacement to Gronkowski. Amaro will be able to contribute right away in New England's spread offense, as it is a similar system to the offensive scheme used by Texas Tech.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The 49ers are fortunate to have one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL. Injecting that defense with young talent is the way that they will be able to keep it that way for years to come.
Hageman is a versatile defensive tackle who excels against the run but can also slice his way through blockers to interrupt the quarterback in the backfield. In San Francisco's 3-4 defense, he will be able to serve either as a defensive tackle or defensive end.
31. Denver Broncos: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
The Broncos finished the 2013-14 season with the NFL's most prolific offense. Peyton Manning and Co. looked absolutely unstoppable—well, until the Super Bowl. Regardless, improving the defensive side of the ball is where Denver must look early in the draft.
Kyle Van Noy really stuck out to me when BYU played Wisco. Having himself a good day here too. Impressive LB prospect.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) January 25, 2014
After losing Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore and Von Miller to injury, the Broncos found themselves rather thin at linebacker. Van Noy is not the quickest at his position but makes up for a lack of speed with great technique and a high amount of intelligence. Pairing him with a healthy Miller would give Denver's defense a huge boost.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
The Seahawks are now Super Bowl champions, and the rich continue to get richer. This is arguably the deepest team in the NFL without many glaring needs. One improvement that could be made is on the interior of the offensive line, and the best guard prospect remains on the board.
Yankey is a technically sound guard who comes from a pro-style offense in Stanford. He is a solid pass-protector but flourishes blocking for the run. Yankey will be able to find success in a tough NFC West conference because of his solid core and above-average strength.