The 2014 NFL offseason is in full swing with the NFL Scouting Combine completed and free agency fast approaching. But the league's 32 franchises will soon be turning their attention to the upcoming draft.
Will Johnny Manziel be the first pick?
Much of that attention will be on which signal-callers are taken early in the process, but there is plenty of talent coming from the collegiate ranks across every position.
With that in mind, let's dig into a mock draft for the first round.
1. Houston Texans: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The question doesn’t seem to be whether the Houston Texans will take a quarterback, but rather which one they will take.
UCF's Blake Bortles has stirred the discussion with his strong combine, but Houston needs a spark, and nothing would achieve that better than selecting in-state product Johnny Manziel.
There are injury risks inherent with the way he plays, but his playmaking and marketability will be too much to overlook.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
Jake Long tore his ACL late in the season, which means the St. Louis Rams need help along the offensive line.
With a strong need to protect Sam Bradford, the Rams will pick Greg Robinson from Auburn. The credit for the Tigers’ incredible running game went to the electric playmakers in the backfield, but Robinson and the offensive line were the ones blasting through defenses to open up the holes.
Look for him to do the same in St. Louis, as he's the top run-blocking tackle in the class and has the upside to be an elite pass-protector in time.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
From a marketability standpoint, the Jacksonville Jaguars could use Manziel, but he won’t be available.
That means they will go with Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville.
Bridgewater can fire the ball deep, hit on the shorter routes and has enough athleticism to scramble or evade tacklers in the pocket. There may be less of an injury risk with him than Manziel, though, simply because Bridgewater stays in the pocket more than the former Heisman Trophy winner.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Perhaps no team needs stabilization at the quarterback spot more than the Cleveland Browns.
They will get that from Blake Bortles, who led his Central Florida Knights to a BCS victory this season behind a powerful right arm. He impressed at the combine and has ideal size at the position.
Renowned analyst and NFL Films producer Greg Cosell had praise for Bortles and has him as this year's top signal-caller, via NFL.com's Dan Parr: "I think ultimately he's a pocket passer who can execute boot action. He can extend plays and he can run effectively if that's what you want to do. So, I think that he's someone I would look to as, given time, he could be a quality NFL starter."
Look for him to continue making headlines leading up to draft day.
5. Oakland Raiders: QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
If the Browns need a stable situation at quarterback more than anyone else, the Oakland Raiders aren’t that far behind.
Let Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller paint the picture as to why the Raiders need a franchise-changing signal-caller:
The Oakland Raiders are stuck in quarterback hell these days, but that could change in the 2014 draft.
The procession of quarterbacks to come through Oakland since Rich Gannon led the team to a Super Bowl appearance in 2002 has been large and embarrassing. Kerry Collins, Marques Tuiasosopo, Andrew Walter, Aaron Brooks, Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper, JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer, Kyle Boller, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin and Matt Flynn make up that list and are a perfect example of why the team has struggled.
The answer will come in the form of Derek Carr from Fresno State, largely because the other top-notch quarterbacks will be gone by pick No. 5. However, NFL.com reports the Raiders prefer Carr over Johnny Football.
6. Atlanta Falcons: DE Jadeveon Clowney
There is a very good chance Jadeveon Clowney goes No. 1 overall, so if he falls to No. 6, the Atlanta Falcons will jump at the chance to grab him.
They let John Abraham go and didn’t have the best of luck with Osi Umenyiora last season, so they could use a long-term answer at defensive end. Clowney can make an immediate impact in Atlanta.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Sammy Watkins is arguably the most explosive playmaker in the entire draft class, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to surround Mike Glennon with guys who can find the end zone.
Outside of his ability to stretch the field with incredible speed, Watkins may be able to help in special teams as well. If nothing else, he may change more fantasy drafts than any other player in this class.
8. Minnesota Vikings: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
The debate between who will be the first linebacker taken is a worthwhile one, but the Minnesota Vikings will grab Anthony Barr with the hope that his success against the Pac-12's quarterbacks will transfer to the NFL level.
He is a pass-rushing machine, which is an area of need for Minnesota, given Jared Allen’s increasing age and status as a free agent. The team needs a quarterback, but with the top names off the board, Barr is a playmaker that the Vikings can't pass up.
9. Buffalo Bills: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
With Barr going at No. 8, Khalil Mack will slide to the Buffalo Bills immediately afterward.
Despite a less-than-stellar record, they don’t have a lot of gaping holes on the roster, but linebacker is one of them. Adding just one linebacker could change the dynamic of the defense, and fitting Mack alongside Mario and Kyle Williams would be imposing.
Buffalo could also consider tackle Jake Matthews or receiver Mike Evans, but the hometown product Mack would be a nice boost to the linebacking corps.
10. Detroit Lions: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
The Detroit Lions already have the best wide receiver in the game, but if they could add another game-changer to play alongside Calvin Johnson, the offense would be nearly unstoppable.
Mike Beacom of Football.com imagines that combination:
Good luck to defenses that try to stop that offense.
11. Tennessee Titans: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports projects Jake Matthews of Texas A&M to go to the Tennessee Titans at No. 11, largely because he is as close to a surefire thing as there is in this draft:
They could go in a few directions, including taking one of the talented safeties left on the board, but we'll project them to take a rock-solid top-10 talent in Matthews, who had a very clean season and would represent a big upgrade over David Stewart (a likely cap casualty) at right tackle. Left tackle Michael Roos will be a free agent after next season, and drafting Matthews also would provide some insurance for that situation. He's as low-floor a prospect as there is in this class.
He would be huge addition as Tennessee continues to improve the offensive line for the future.
12. New York Giants: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
After struggling to get to the quarterback last season, the Giants add Kony Ealy of Missouri to help improve that area of need.
He has the coveted combination of athleticism, speed and power that is necessary to get around the edge against the pass or fill lanes against the run. He looks like a productive starter for years to come at the NFL level.
13. St. Louis Rams: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The St. Louis Rams may have bigger areas of need, but if Justin Gilbert falls to No. 13, they will be happy to scoop him up.
He is a ball hawk who simply makes plays. He will set the tone in the defensive backfield by making interceptions, coming up to help against the run and using his speed to stay with some of the league’s best wide receivers.
14. Chicago Bears: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
The days of Brian Urlacher and Co. shutting down opposing offenses in Chicago were long gone last season for the Bears.
They have a dire need to draft a run-stopping defender, given that they had the league’s worst rush defense in 2013. Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan fits that bill.
While it’s easy to think about how much his draft stock would have plummeted if Florida State had lost the championship game with him huffing and puffing on the sidelines, he has the talent to justify an early first-round pick.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Bleacher Report’s Miller breaks down why Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would help a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that struggled to stop the pass last season:
The front office can look at key positions on defense for immediate upgrade. Spots like free safety, defensive end and even cornerback need a youth movement. Finding value among those positions points the Steelers to Alabama's wonderful free safety prospect, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
A dynamic player with the range needed to succeed at high levels in the NFL, Clinton-Dix has the size to be a hitter and the speed to play in coverage. He's a true three-down threat at safety and has the tools to excel in any scheme.
Getting a game-changing player like him at No. 15 would be a coup for the Steelers, who need to inject youth and talent into the defense.
16. Dallas Cowboys: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
The Dallas Cowboys need to improve their pass defense in the worst of ways, and safety Calvin Pryor of Louisville will do just that.
He has the speed and range to make an impact in the passing game against wide receivers or tight ends. He is also a hard hitter who isn’t afraid to attack the line of scrimmage against the run or in a blitz.
17. Baltimore Ravens: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
The Baltimore Ravens fell a long way from Super Bowl champions to missing the playoffs entirely in 2013, and they could use some playmakers for Joe Flacco to throw to next year.
Kelvin Benjamin has the speed to stretch the field and the hands to make an impact on slant routes or fades in the red zone. More importantly, at 6'5", he has the size to fight for jump balls and make plays over defenders. The Ravens offense would be more potent immediately upon this selection.
18. New York Jets: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Last year, we saw the Rams grab dynamic playmaker Tavon Austin to provide Bradford with another weapon. The New York Jets could take a similar approach this year.
If Geno Smith is to be the long-term answer for the Jets, surrounding him with talented wide receivers is a must.
Brandin Cooks may be a bit of a reach at No. 18, but he has game-changing speed that would require opposing defenses to shade in his direction. That will make reading the field a bit easier for the young quarterback.
19. Miami Dolphins: OT/OG Zack Martin, Notre Dame
The Miami Dolphins need stability along the offensive line, and Zack Martin of Notre Dame will help shore it up. He has the versatility to play either tackle or guard, which is critical for a team that is trying to rebuild nearly half of its line from scratch.
20. Arizona Cardinals: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
The Arizona Cardinals, like so many other teams, could use assistance along the offensive line, and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan is the prototypical mold of a long-term answer at tackle.
He has the strength and lateral speed necessary to protect the quarterback’s blind side and is also a formidable blocker in the run game.
21. Green Bay Packers: LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
This could be a steal for Green Bay. The Packers need a clean bill of health next year, but improvement on the defensive side of the ball is necessary if they hope to contend for a Super Bowl.
Edholm of Yahoo! Sports breaks down just how valuable Mosley of Alabama could be for the Packers:
Mosley certainly is a better football player than where we have him going. In fact, he's probably one of the 10 best pure players in this class. But positional need and positional value might slide him down into the 12-25 range, and we think the Packers would be nuts to pass on him here if he was available. Their linebacker depth is awful, and we're not sure Brad Jones should be starting next season. Mosley would be a perfect fit inside, although their needs could change depending on what happens with free-agent NT B.J. Raji.
The Alabama product has already proved his talent and could emerge as an immediate fixture in the Packers defense.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Marqise Lee, USC
Riley Cooper (five-year deal) and Jeremy Maclin (one-year deal) both re-signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. The team has other needs beside wide receiver, but if it could get Marqise Lee of USC at No. 22, Philly would have an embarrassment of riches on the offensive side of the ball.
In any case, Nick Foles, Lee, Jackson, Cooper, Maclin and LeSean McCoy would present quite a threat offensively, and NFC East defenses would have even more difficulty stopping the Eagles’ high-octane offense than they did last season.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Bleacher Report’s Miller explains why Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU would fit in perfectly with the Kansas City Chiefs:
One real fix is to address the position through the draft. And with no second-round pick after the team traded for Alex Smith, the Chiefs have to pull the trigger early and strike while the top talent is on the board. LSU's Odell Beckham definitely qualifies as talent.
One of the most dynamic receivers in this year's class, Beckham is as sure-handed as they come and still shows the speed to make plays after the catch. Put him in an offense with Alex Smith's pinpoint accuracy and the threat of Jamaal Charles in the backfield, and watch out.
Alex Smith had a solid season in 2013, and adding more targets would only help him continue to improve. Suddenly, the Chiefs may have some more offensive firepower to pair with that solid defense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
The Cincinnati Bengals have depended on Leon Hall in the secondary, but he dealt with health issues all of last season.
Adam Jones and Terence Newman aren’t long-term answers, and Dre Kirkpatrick hasn’t produced at the expected level just yet. Don’t be surprised if the Bengals go for another cornerback in the draft by taking Lamarcus Joyner from Florida State.
His instincts alone will give him a chance to contribute from Day 1.
25. San Diego Chargers: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
If Joyner goes to the Bengals at No. 24, another great cornerback will go in the next pick: Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State.
He would immediately help the San Diego Chargers pass defense with his physical style and knack for making big plays. He was at his best when the Spartans won the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl and wouldn’t shrink from the moment under the lights in the NFL.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
The Cleveland Browns came out on top of the Trent Richardson trade, but they could still use a running back.
They will look in-state to Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, who is a battering ram with the ball in his hands. He has underrated speed in the open field and will get the tough yards through the middle in an offense that already has the likes of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron in the passing game.
27. New Orleans Saints: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
The New Orleans Saints need speed on the outside to fit Rob Ryan’s blitz-heavy 3-4 defensive scheme, and that is what Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier provides.
He is an athletic specimen who will get to the quarterback. He is also a capable pass defender when necessary and rarely misses tackles in the open field.
28. Carolina Panthers: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Cyrus Kouandjio had a disappointing combine, which also raised some red flags about his health. However, he is still a talented player who would offer intriguing value for the Carolina Panthers this late in the draft.
They will be happy to oblige.
He has a high ceiling and the athleticism necessary to excel at the NFL level. The failed physicals are a concern, but it's worth taking a chance on him based on talent.
29. New England Patriots: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Tom Brady needs some new weapons to throw to, especially with the long-term health concerns surrounding Rob Gronkowski.
Brady will get just that in the form of Eric Ebron from North Carolina. Let Bleacher Report’s Miller, who projects Ebron as the No. 18 pick to the New York Jets, praise the tight end:
This athletic tight end from North Carolina not only wears Vernon Davis' number, but he also plays like him. Ebron has the speed of a wide receiver in a tight end's body, and during the 2013 college football season, he showed improvement as a blocker and route-runner. Ebron is a true three-down threat for the Jets, as well as a matchup nightmare all over the field.
He is a dynamic athlete who can stretch the seam for Brady. He'd be a lethal pass-catching addition in New England.
30. San Francisco 49ers: WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
The San Francisco 49ers were one play away from the Super Bowl and don’t have a lot of needs, but Colin Kaepernick could use another game-changer at the wide receiver spot.
He will get just that in the form of the underrated Allen Robinson from Penn State. His best trait is his ability to pick up chunks of yardage after the catch, which will help stretch the field for the 49ers’ powerful run game.
31. Denver Broncos: CB, Jason Verrett, TCU
Ignore the Super Bowl for a minute and realize the Denver Broncos were the second-best team in the NFL this season.
That means they have few needs. However, the record-setting offense was better than the defense, which means looking to the defensive side of the ball in the draft is probably the way to go.
Edholm of Yahoo! Sports believes that Jason Verrett of TCU is the answer for the Broncos at No. 31:
Their needs changed when Chris Harris suffered a torn ACL in the divisional round of the playoffs, and the timing of the injury means that Harris could go into August before he's cleared medically to return. One look at Quentin Jammer and Champ Bailey playing major snaps tells us all we need to know about the need at corner: it's legit. Verrett isn't big, and he probably needs to add a little good weight to hold up against physical receivers. But he's a playmaker who always shows up around the ball on film.
With Champ Bailey on his last legs, Verrett would be a logical addition to the secondary as someone the team could ease into the lineup.
32. Seattle Seahawks: DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
It was apparent during the Super Bowl that the Seattle Seahawks don’t have many holes.
That means they will select the best player available at No. 32, which will be Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota. He can get to the quarterback through the middle of the line or stuff rushing holes in the blink of an eye.
He will make the league’s best defense even better as Seattle defends its Super Bowl title.