Believe it or not, NFL teams do more mock drafts than even Mel Kiper Jr. could dream up on the path to the draft.
The process serves as a way to figure out how the board will fall, which in turn will give a team an idea as to which prospects will be around when it comes time to pick. In turn, this may also encourage some teams to move up or down via trade.
With the NFL Scouting Combine on the horizon, this process is in full swing. As teams enter and leave Lucas Oil Stadium, their opinions on the safest prospect for the future of the franchise may be altered drastically.
For now, the safest picks for each organization based on needs are a bit obvious upon examination.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Do not believe anything the top team in the draft says. Ever.
While some may clamor for a Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles here, that should be considered nothing but a smokescreen to get other teams to panic and give up the farm to move up.
This is especially the case when it is so painfully obvious Teddy Bridgewater is the best signal-caller in the class. NFL Network's Mike Mayock, via NFL.com on Twitter, put it best:
Mayock: Teddy Bridgewater is most NFL-ready QB in the draft.— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 18, 2014
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The definition of "safe" is very much open for discussion, but it does not get much better than Jadeveon Clowney.
St. Louis already has two stud defensive ends, but adding Clowney to eventually replace Robert Quinn—who is surely gone after the 2014 season when he hits the open market—is a genius move that insulates the franchise from regression at an important position.
It helps that the Rams have two picks in the opening round.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Jacksonville badly missed with Blaine Gabbert, but general manager David Caldwell is surely not afraid to take another risk.
Blake Bortles is a bit polarizing, but there is no questioning his size, arm and attitude as he prepares to hit the combine:
Dreamt about the combine since I was a kid! Fired up to compete in all aspects of it, especially throwing!— Blake Bortles (@BBortles5) February 18, 2014
Bortles is a local player who can make most of the throws and will hopefully continue to improve as the roster around him evolves. Given the state of said roster, there is no "safe" pick, but Bortles is about as good as it gets.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
With Kyle Shanahan in town, it only makes sense for the Cleveland Browns to roll with Johnny Manziel after the work he was able to do with Robert Griffin III in Washington.
Manziel makes questionable decisions at times and has a tendency to lose his footwork, but his ability to extend plays with his feet is something that is valuable in the defense-heavy AFC North.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Any number of positions can be had here for Oakland, but for a roster in such a state of disarray, the best strategy is to simply go with the best player available.
Mayock has strong words about Sammy Watkins too:
Mayock: @ClemsonTigers' Sammy Watkins is special player. Usually don't get excited about drafting a WR in top 10. He's different.— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 18, 2014
Watkins is a special player who can contribute in a number of ways. Even if the quarterback situation is still a mess, he can make big plays on returns as the roster continues its upheaval.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Let's just roll with Mr. Mayock one more time:
Mayock: Khalil Mack runs like a safety. Explodes off the edge. One of elite edge guys in draft. I've yet to find a hole in his game.— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 18, 2014
While not a big name in the eyes of many, scouts have known about Khalil Mack for years. Small school, big game. Mack is an elite player who will make a difference from day one, especially in Atlanta, where the front office is still searching for that hybrid rusher.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are seemingly set on offense outside of possibly wide receiver, but the class is deep enough that new head coach Lovie Smith can go get himself some defense here.
Anthony Barr's stock has been all over the place as of late, but his extreme athleticism will blow the NFL away at the combine. While raw, Barr has a skill set the NFL will not allow to slip very far. In Tampa Bay, he fits a hybrid role perfect for the scheme.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Derek Carr has a monster arm, which is something the roster in Minnesota has missed for quite some time.
Any competent quarterback will be able to stretch the field with weapons such as Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph, which Carr will surely be able to do starting with his first pro snap.
There are areas Carr must improve, but he is a clear upgrade over the current likes of Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel. He also has plenty of room to develop into a top player.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Buffalo Bills need bookend tackles if EJ Manuel is going to trend upward in his rookie season.
Greg Robinson is the safest choice of all here. He can slide right in and start at right tackle if need be due to injuries. Down the line, he has the athleticism that projects him to be a pretty good pass-blocker too.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The notion that an NFL team can have too many defensive backs vying for playing time is a flawed one in various ways.
For one, injuries happen. Second, and most importantly, the NFL and its pass-happy ways (an overdone narrative, yes, but Aaron Rodgers is pretty good) dictate that there is no such thing as too many quality defensive backs. The same rule that applies to pass rushers.
Darqueze Dennard is a top-flight corner thanks to his physicality and well-rounded skill set. He'd start in Detroit right away.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
If linebackers were valued a bit more, C.J. Mosely would probably be off the board much sooner.
Mosley is the definition of a top prospect, as CBS Sports Dane Brugler illustrates:
Alabama LB C.J. Mosley has been one of the toughest evals this year...only because it's so tough to find holes in his game #NFLDraft— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 18, 2014
The Tennessee Titans need leadership and attitude on defense, two characteristics Mosley undoubtedly brings right away as an immediate upgrade.
12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews has taken a seat behind Robinson as the best tackle in the draft, which is just fine in the minds of the brass in New York.
The Giants need help in a few areas, but a chief concern is improving the line play in front of the erratic Eli Manning. If he plays in a similar matter next season, jobs in the organization will be lost as they miss the playoffs again.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Another pick, more defense for St. Louis.
The Rams have a sound offense in place. Even if one believes the roster needs an upgrade at wideout (debatable), the class is deep enough that the team can wait to grab a quality prospect.
The same cannot be said for safeties.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is as good as it gets this early, and the Rams have an obvious need. He immediately upgrades the run defense at the very least.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
This is as easy as it gets in any mock.
The Chicago Bears have an obvious need at defensive tackle with the pass-rush proficient Henry Melton on his way to free agency. Aaron Donald is one of the fastest risers in the stock department thanks to his dominant showing at the Senior Bowl:
It writes itself. Donald starts right away in place of Melton and provides an interior rush.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Louis Nix is the best nose tackle in the draft and an ideal fit for a franchise that needs an upgrade in its 3-4 scheme.
Louis Nix to the Pittsburgh Steelers is a perfect marriage.
Nix is a dominant force in the trenches in all aspects and is the type of centerpiece a unit can build around for years to come.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
This is a toss-up here, as Baltimore could go with either the top tight end or receiver on the board and be happy with the decision.
But as it stands right now, the Ravens are fine with Dennis Pitta at tight end and need more accountability on the outside. That is where Allen Robinson comes in as a dependable prospect who moves the chains on a regular basis thanks to his great hands and large frame.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
At this point, Dallas has to understand that the best way to mask a bad or developing secondary is to field a strong pass rush in front of it.
Pretty simple—less time to throw equals less time to exploit said secondary.
With that in mind, Dallas gets a strong end prospect here in Kony Ealy. He is a physical freak who can come in on a rotational basis right away and take over at a later date. Either way, he upgrades an element the Dallas defense desperately needs.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The New York Jets benefit from Baltimore's decision here and pick up an elite weapon in Eric Ebron who easily makes life easier for Geno Smith.
Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com aptly summarizes Ebron:
If you haven't had a chance to watch UNC TE Eric Ebron play, do yourself a favor and check out his work. Special player.— Bryan Broaddus (@BryanBroaddus) February 14, 2014
The Cowboys passed on Ebron, but Rex Ryan and the Jets know better. He is an immediate contributor who helps Smith progress.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
While easy to see coming and quite boring, the Miami Dolphins have no other choice than to pick multiple offensive linemen in this draft.
Zack Martin is a savvy pick here because of his versatility. He is an immediate star on the interior of a line, but he may also have what it takes to kick to the outside in a few years if necessary.
Martin is far from the last lineman the Dolphins will take, but he is the surest thing by far—and perhaps the surest prospect in the first round.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Arizona Cardinals need offensive line help, and this happens to be a roundabout way of getting it.
Given Carson Palmer's statuesque nature anyway, Bruce Arians may want to give him more weapons in order to get the ball out quicker. Jace Amaro paired in tandem with the quality outside receivers makes for one nasty offense that defenses will have a hard time trying to stop.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
With the future of B.J. Raji in doubt given his free-agent status, Green Bay's best bet in the first round is to grab another defensive lineman.
This time, Ra'Shede Hageman is the smart play as a scheme-friendly fit who stands tall in all facets of the game. His rare blend of size and speed makes him an ideal candidate for Green Bay and a name to watch for years to come, as his skill set will give lines around the league issues.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Calvin Pryor is the other consensus top safety in the draft and just so happens to fall here to Philadelphia, a team with a serious need at the spot.
As Brugler hints, fans are far from done hearing about Pryor on the path to the draft:
A NFL prospect who I expect to receive a lot more ink after the Combine is Louisville S Calvin Pryor. Star potential, one of my favorites— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 17, 2014
Pryor fits right in on the Eagles defense thanks to his stout play in all phases of the game. In a few years, he is the type of pick a team looks back on as the turning point for a unit.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Opinions are typically split on Mike Evans. Some say he made Manziel better, while some argue the inverse.
Either way, there is no denying that he has a frame and speed that blurs the lines between wideout and tight end. This versatility will make him a hot commodity at the next level, as will his ability to go up and get the ball at the highest point.
With Dwayne Bowe on one side and Evans on the other, Andy Reid's offense gets much more consistent.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Cincinnati Bengals are a team that could go any number of ways thanks to the way the roster is already structured, but going luxury in the first does not seem like something the team would do at this juncture with the pressure on after so many consecutive playoff losses.
Corner is an obvious need, with Dre Kirkpatrick still a question mark and the top three players on the depth chart beginning to show their age. Some argue Justin Gilbert is the top corner in the class, but either way, the Bengals get a potential long-term solution here who does not even have to play a snap in 2014.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The next step for the San Diego Chargers after a playoff win is to rebuild the defense to complement the revitalized offense.
To do so, better talent in the secondary is a must. There is already a strong pass-rush element in place, but better overall players in the secondary will enable the team to take the next step.
Jason Verrett has the answer. This late in the round, the Chargers are lucky he fell down the board. Verrett can start right away, and while he will be far from perfect, he is a much better option than what is currently on the roster.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Kelvin Benjamin has a rare speed-size combo that puts him above most at his position this year. In Cleveland, where the Browns already have a superstar in Josh Gordon, his addition would leave no excuses for a rookie quarterback.
Benjamin is a large target who can beat defenses deep. The only knock is his tendency to drop passes, but the good far outweighs the bad here, especially for an offense that needs a complementary receiver to put things over the top.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
After taking home the MVP award at the Senior Bowl, Dee Ford has been one of the draft's biggest risers as of late.
The secret is out, but Ford is someone New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has likely had his eye on for quite some time. He is versatile and an ideal fit in the Saints amoeba defense.
Ford is by no means an every down player just yet, but his ability to consistently rush the passer, especially in New Orleans, as teams have to pass a lot to keep up with the offense, is an invaluable trait.
28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Carolina Panthers have their choice here from any number of wideout prospects, but Odell Beckham Jr. is a player who stands out on film thanks to his size and impressive catch radius.
The time is now for the Panthers to start building for the future after Steve Smith. Beckham Jr. fits the mold of bigger outside receivers that is currently sweeping the league and can block steadily on the outside on what is a run-first team.
29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
With Vince Wilfork on the mend, the New England Patriots could use some high-end insurance in the trenches.
Timmy Jernigan fits the scheme and has tremendous upside as a force in all phases. While many will mock a tight end here, that is all too obvious for Bill Belichick. Besides, the Patriots did pretty well for themselves last year, even with a perceived lack of weapons.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
The jury is out on whether or not the San Francisco 49ers will be able to bring back wideout Anquan Boldin.
Even if Boldin does return, the 49ers would be wise to grab a top prospect via a forward-looking approach.
Jordan Matthews is a bigger receiver who fits well and has an obvious upside—especially if he can learn from a guy like Boldin.
31. Denver Broncos: Cyrus Kouandjio OT, Alabama
The Denver Broncos do not need a lot of help in the trenches, despite what the unit's Super Bowl showing might suggest, but Cyrus Kouandjio this late in the round is hard to pass up.
Kouandjio is a mauler who bulldozed his way through the SEC and has a game that translates well to the next level.
More talent in front of Peyton Manning is nothing but a good thing.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee has taken a nosedive compared to preseason expectations, but much of that can be blamed on injuries and a dysfunctional program at USC.
Lee is the perfect fit for the Seattle Seahawks. With Golden Tate on his way to free agency, the Seahawks need more versatile talent. Lee is an adequate starter right away if necessary and will have no problems building chemistry with Russell Wilson.