The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine is just days away, which signifies one thing: Draft season is here. As the combine's participants look to improve their draft stock, NFL front offices and scouts continue to compile big boards in the hopes of effectively bolstering their teams for years to come.
A successful draft is one of the best recipes for a successful NFL franchise, and making the right move in the draft's first round is extremely important.
Analyzing draft prospects will continue to be a fluid process, as these NFL hopefuls will rise and fall on draft boards due to their performances in the scouting combine and pro days. However, as things sit right now, let's take a look at how the entire first round of the 2014 NFL draft could shake out.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Texans desperately need a franchise quarterback after seeing Matt Schaub and Case Keenum falter over the 2013 season. Johnny Manziel has expressed his interest in joining the team; however, that simply won't be the case.
Bridgewater remains the most NFL-ready quarterback prospect in this year's draft—he is exactly what the Texans need. This is a team just one year removed from back-to-back playoff appearances. The Texans have a strong supporting cast and just need the right signal-caller to get them back to the postseason.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
It can be easily speculated that the Rams could trade this pick away. However, there are no trades taking place in this mock draft. That being said, St. Louis would be unable to pass up the talents of Clowney here.
Despite having two elite pass-rushers in Chris Long and Robert Quinn on hand, Clowney would bolster an already deep defensive line to create one of the most dangerous and versatile defensive fronts in the NFL. This upgrade would allow the Rams to move pieces around on defense to get the best possible matchups to create pressure in a division that features many strong quarterbacks.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
With the Rams selecting Clowney, the Jaguars' decision just became a whole lot easier. Another team that needs a long-term answer at the quarterback position, Jacksonville will go that route here after the Blaine Gabbert experiment ended in disappointment.
Manziel has the ability to beat defenses with his arm and legs, which makes him a great candidate for the job in Jacksonville. The Jaguars need a spark in their offense—someone who can create something out of nothing. Not only will Manziel be able to do that, but he is a polarizing figure who will surely help fill up EverBank Field.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Again, the Browns are one of those quarterback-needy teams sitting near the top of this draft. With two of the three best prospects now off the board, they will fill the void under center with Bortles.
Bortles has a big frame and the toughness to stand up against some very tough AFC North defenses. He has surprising athletic ability for his size and can scramble when necessary. He has a strong arm, and once he polishes his lower-body mechanics, that arm will shine in the NFL.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Raiders missed out on the quarterback derby here; however, that may not matter. Matt McGloin was rather impressive due to the fact that he started the season as the Raiders' third-string quarterback. Going forward, Oakland must surround him with more capable weapons.
Watkins is easily the most promising wide receiver prospect in this year's draft. He has the size, speed and fundamentals to become a No. 1 receiver at the NFL level. With a wide receiver corps currently made up of unknowns, the Raiders would be doing themselves a favor by selecting Watkins here.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Falcons offense sure took a nose dive during the 2013 season. There were many factors that played in to their lack of success—many injuries being one of them. However, the need to protect quarterback Matt Ryan should be top priority.
Atlanta's offensive line was lackluster last season, as Ryan found himself under constant pressure. That—combined with those key injuries—is one of the biggest reasons why the Falcons are picking sixth in this draft. Matthews' NFL-ready fundamentals will make him a very welcome addition in Atlanta.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Now that Lovie Smith has been hired as the Buccaneers head coach, he should be expected to bring some of his same philosophical ideals that he used in Chicago. One of those is stocking up on speedy, talented outside linebackers.
Mack fits the bill perfectly. A combination of sound tackling, pure speed and strength makes him a great fit for Smith's system. A versatile linebacker, Mack can be used as a pass-rusher, against the run and in coverage. After the Buccaneers only accumulated 35 sacks last season, he would be an immediate upgrade on their defense.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
New head coach Mike Zimmer will look to begin the rebuild of a defense that must become faster and more explosive. Barr would be a great candidate to get that process going.
A natural speed-rusher, Barr can excel as either a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or an outside linebacker in a 3-4 hybrid scheme. Zimmer used both as defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals and should be expected to do the same with the Vikings.
9. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Kiko Alonso was a stud last year as a rookie starting linebacker. The Bills will look to continue to improve their dominant front seven by pairing Alonso with some speed. Mosley will be that guy.
With these two young linebackers playing next to each other, Buffalo will be able to contain many of the league's high-octane offenses. Not only will these two develop chemistry early in their careers, but both Alonso and Mosley could easily be 10-year starters for the Bills.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
In an NFC North division dominated by pass-happy offenses, the Lions have continued to struggle with their lackluster secondary. Bringing in a cornerback who has the ability to play man coverage against a top receiving threat would take a lot of burden off the rest of the defense.
Dennard is quick, has great closing speed and good ball skills. He made a name for himself at Michigan State by taking on teams' top wide receivers on an island, allowing the rest of the secondary to slide to the opposite side of the field. He will do the same for Detroit.
11. Tennessee Titans: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Titans defense got much better over the duration of the 2013 NFL season. The interior of the defensive line is solid, but it could use some more speed at the defensive end and outside linebacker positions.
Ealy will bring that speed. One of the most natural pass-rushers in this year's draft, Ealy will be that outside pass-rusher that the Titans defense currently lacks. His frame and speed make him a candidate to be utilized either as a defensive end or outside linebacker at the NFL level.
12. New York Giants: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
What a tragic season it was for Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants offense. Some serious help along the offensive line is necessary for that unit to get back on track. Manning was under duress quite frequently, which played a part in his 27 interceptions last year.
Robinson, the 6'5", 320-pound offensive tackle, will come in and start immediately to protect Manning's blind side. The former Auburn standout is stout against the run as well, making him the perfect fit to get the Giants back in contention in the NFC East.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Rams already have some nice pieces in place on the offensive side of the ball. Rookies Tavon Austin and Zac Stacy had great seasons in 2013. However, St. Louis still lacks a big target on the outside.
Evans is exactly what the doctor ordered here. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Evans has the frame, agility, speed and hands to excel as the Rams' No. 1 receiver for a long time. The attention he demands on the field will also help take a good amount of pressure off the electrifying Austin.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears need some drastic help on the interior of the defensive line. Finishing dead last in the league last season by allowing an average of 161.4 yards per game on the ground is not a recipe for success. That must change immediately.
Jernigan has the perfect size for a 4-3 defensive tackle at 6'2" and 292 pounds. He excels at plugging up gaps to contain opposing running backs, but he also can knife his way into the backfield and apply pressure to the quarterback on passing downs.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Talk about a match made in heaven. The Steelers need to shore up their nose tackle position. In Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme, having a big, bruising body in there is an absolute necessity.
Nix is a beast of a defensive tackle at 6'3" and 357 pounds. He is the epitome of a true 3-4 nose tackle. This position is even more important in the AFC North—a bruising division that features some of the heaviest offensive lines in the league.
16. Baltimore Ravens (pending coin flip): Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Ravens took a huge step backward in 2013. Without viable weapons on the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Joe Flacco found himself struggling on a weekly basis. His struggles were reflected by his passer rating, which dropped from 87.7 in 2012 to just 73.1 in 2013.
Lee is an explosive receiver who would provide a necessary complement to Torrey Smith. Having two talented, fast wide receivers on the field together would help this offense get back on track. With Marlon Brown still developing, the Ravens could find themselves with a very talented wide receiver corps in the near future.
17. Dallas Cowboys (pending coin flip): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Oh boy. Where to start with the Dallas defense. It gave up the most yards—415.3 per game—of any NFL team in 2013. It needs help in both stopping the run and the pass. Grabbing a safety here will at least help the latter.
Clinton-Dix comes from a pro-style defense, which should translate to him seeing the field on the professional level sooner rather than later. His ability to read a quarterback's eyes and make quick, decisive jumps on the ball makes him a hot commodity at the safety position. A sure-tackler, he is also able to play close to the line of scrimmage in run support.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
No matter who winds up under center for the start of the 2014 season, the Jets need some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. One big contributing factor to the lack of success from rookie quarterback Geno Smith last season was the fact the he didn't have much of a supporting cast.
Ebron would fix that problem immediately. Not only is he fast and quick off the line, but he also has a 6'4", 245-pound quarterback-friendly frame. He can be utilized for shorter, high-percentage throws to move the sticks or to stretch the field up the seam. His size also makes him a viable red-zone target.
19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
After the fallout of the incident regarding Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, the Dolphins suddenly found themselves in severe need of an offensive tackle. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill took some major strides last season, and keeping him upright should be top priority.
Lewan is a mauler in the trenches. With an impressive size of 6'8" and 308 pounds, he fits the mold of a starting-caliber NFL offensive tackle. He needs some work on his technique, but his raw strength is a great building point. After some workouts with position coaches, he should be able to contribute during his rookie season.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Carson Palmer had a resurgent year during the 2013 season. Not only did he flourish, but Larry Fitzgerald restructured his contract to stay with the team going forward. Rookie running back Andre Ellington looked to be the real deal as well.
Now, with all the pieces in place, it's time to bolster the offensive line. Kouandjio stands at 6'6" and weighs 310 pounds. He already has a solid technique and will be able to bookend either side of the Cardinals offensive line to help keep Palmer upright and break Ellington free.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Packers finished 24th in the league against the pass last season. That needs to be rectified, as the NFC North continues to be a quarterback-friendly division. If Green Bay can improve its safety play, a big step will be made in the right direction.
Pryor would start right away for the Packers. His closing ability and sure tackling would both improve the back end of this defense. Pryor uses his speed to play sideline to sideline and can provide much-needed backup to an already talented group of cornerbacks in Green Bay.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Eagles had a lot of problems on the back end last season. They would love a safety here, but with the top two prospects already off the board, a cornerback would be the next best scenario.
Gilbert has great ball skills, vision and the knack of shadowing faster wide receivers. A ball hawk, Gilbert's ability to undercut routes and make a play on the ball before getting to its intended target makes him a big upgrade for this secondary.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Despite having a very good season offensively last year, the Chiefs are still in need of more weapons around quarterback Alex Smith. Dwayne Bowe has been the only legitimate target at the position for Kansas City, and a complement is a necessity.
Beckham is a speedy, polished route-runner and has great hands. He is a very reliable target—especially on short crossing and slant routes—and is a perfect fit for Andy Reid's West Coast scheme.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals need to get younger at the cornerback position. Both Terence Newman and Adam Jones are now in their 30s, and Leon Hall continues to struggle with injuries. After them, Cincinnati has Dre Kirkpatrick on board, but he is still highly unproven.
Verrett is not the biggest cornerback at 5'10" and 176 pounds; however, his speed allows him to keep up with faster wide receivers. He will be able to contribute on the inside and the outside for the Bengals, bolstering the secondary for years.
25. San Diego Chargers: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
San Diego would have loved to grab a cornerback here, but with Verrett now off the board, it will fill another need. Under head coach Mike McCoy, the Chargers featured a resurgent offense last season. Now they must improve along the offensive line to keep Philip Rivers on his feet.
Even though Martin is an offensive tackle, and the Chargers are in need of a guard, this is still a great fit. Martin showed during the Senior Bowl that he is capable of playing both on the outside and the interior of the offensive line. He will add a great deal of versatility and depth in the trenches.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Now that the Browns have their quarterback of the future, it's time to add another complementary weapon to Josh Gordon. If this offense is going to take shape sooner rather than later, this is an absolute priority.
Benjamin, at 6'5" and 234 pounds, is a huge target for any quarterback. He has struggled with drops in the past, but if he can put on a decent showing at the combine, faith will be restored in this big-play wide receiver.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Rob Ryan brought his 3-4 defensive scheme to New Orleans, and the results were impressive. The Saints finished with the fourth-ranked defense last season and should look to continue to add pieces to that unit.
Shazier is a sure-tackling outside linebacker who is a natural leader and has sound fundamentals. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for with technique. Adding this kind of player that can contribute immediately and lead by example is one way to immediately upgrade this already stout defense.
28. Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
The Panthers were one of the biggest surprises last season. Not only did the offense continue to improve, but the defense finished the year ranked second in the league. Cam Newton proved that he is the answer at quarterback for this franchise, and now it's time to protect him.
Moses is a big-bodied offensive tackle at 6'6" and 335 pounds. He has a natural strength about him, which allows him to push speed-rushers out of the pocket. He will keep Newton clean and help pave the way for the running game.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
When is surrounding Tom Brady with more weapons ever a bad idea? After the Patriots lost Aaron Hernandez forever, and Rob Gronkowski continues to be a huge injury concern, there is a sudden hole at the tight end position.
Amaro, at 6'5" and 260 pounds, has sneaky speed for his size. He flourished in Texas Tech's spread offense and could be utilized the same way in Bill Belichick's pass-happy scheme. Amaro will provide needed depth at the tight end position and give Brady another big option in the red zone.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Even though the 49ers already have one of the most talented front sevens in the NFL, some of the big guys up front are getting a bit long in the tooth. Justin Smith has been fantastic for this team, but at the age of 34, it is time for the team to look for his eventual replacement.
Hageman, at 6'6" and 311 pounds, has a perfect combination of size, speed and strength to play either defensive tackle or defense end in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme. He will provide necessary depth immediately and become the heir apparent to Smith.
31. Denver Broncos: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
The Broncos found themselves in a bit of trouble last season in terms of pass-rushing outside linebackers. They lost Elvis Dumervil to the Ravens and Von Miller to injury. Shaun Phillips stepped in nicely, but at the age of 32, he may not have much left in the tank.
Van Noy, a speedy pass-rusher, would be a huge boost to the depth of this defense. He could start in certain packages right off the bat and would be able to learn the position at the NFL level from some of the best in the business.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
The Seahawks are arguably the deepest team in the NFL. That became blatantly apparent after they dismantled the Broncos during the Super Bowl. There are very few pressing needs for this team; however, they are in prime position to address one of them at the end of the first round.
One improvement that must take place on the offensive side of the ball is at the guard position. Russell Wilson was fantastic last season, but he found himself scrambling frequently as the interior of the line broke down. Yankey is the top prospect at his position and can come in and start right away. The rich just got richer.
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