With the 2014 NFL draft just right around the corner, franchises are exhausting resources and manpower to evaluate every player who is available to be selected.
While free agency is an excellent tool for filling holes on the roster, the draft represents every team's best chance to significantly get better and/or build up the roster.
This year's draft class is extremely deep, and there's no consensus about where the top players will land. With that in mind, it's important to realize that mock drafts should be taken with a grain of salt, as all they really are is suggestions for how Round 1 will go.
Here's one way it could unfold.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Blake Bortles took advantage of his combine opportunity, looking great throwing the ball while others, like Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr, stood on the sidelines watching.
"Bortles was by far the best quarterback,'' former NFL quarterback Jim Miller told USA Today's Jim Corbett. "Bortles is the real deal. ...He probably runs better than Ben Roethlisberger. I'm not going to say he's an Andrew Luck, but when tacklers are draped on him, Bortles can still deliver the football."
The Texans won't improve without a franchise quarterback, and the team might not ever have a better opportunity than now to land one.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, thanks in part to a lack of talent in front of him on the offensive line. Talent isn't an issue when discussing Greg Robinson, who oozes with elite athleticism and size.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel has all the physical tools to become a phenomenal quarterback in the NFL, and it appears he's put his college-boy days behind him. Showing all the polish and poise of a veteran during interviews, he's positioned himself to be one of the top picks in the draft, and the Jags could certainly use him to spark an offense that was nearly catatonic at times last year.
4. Cleveland Browns: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
With both top quarterbacks already gone, the Browns will gladly add Jadeveon Clowney to the mix, bolstering one of the top young defenses in the league.
Clowney blew scouts away at the combine, running an official 4.53-second 40-yard dash, which is just crazy for a man measuring in at 6'6" and 266 pounds. Even better, his 10-yard split was amazing, as pointed out by CBS Sports' Dane Brugler, which will serve him well firing off the edge at the next level:
Clowney's 4.47 40-yd dash is nice, but the 1.56 10-yd split is more impressive. All about quick get off and explosive acceleration at DE— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 24, 2014
5. Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Oakland has suffered through some incredible instability over the past decade, and this team desperately needs a strong leader—not to mention a franchise quarterback who can offer consistency.
Teddy Bridgewater fits this description. He's a rock-solid quarterback who's been unfairly knocked for lacking the flair of Manziel and the size of Bortles. He's also not shy about talking up his abilities.
"No doubt, I feel that I'm the best quarterback in this draft,'' Bridgewater said at the combine, via Corbett. "I'm not going to just say that. I actually feel I can back up these words. I'm just confident in myself and my capability of doing all the things at this position and to go out there and prove that I'm the best guy."
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Offensive firepower is the biggest strength of the Falcons, but Matt Ryan won't be able to get the most out of his loaded crew without better protection from his offensive line. Jake Matthews can slide into either tackle spot from the first day of training camp to help bolster Atlanta's ailing line.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Sammy Watkins showed off impressive overall speed and athleticism all year long at Clemson, and then he put on a show at the combine for good measure. His ability to make game-changing plays on a regular basis makes him the top receiver in this year's draft class.
Adding him to play opposite Vincent Jackson in Tampa Bay would be a tremendous move to further the development of quarterback Mike Glennon, who looked solid in his rookie campaign.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
It's important to be able to stop the pass playing in the NFC North. The Vikings struggled to do so last season, but drafting Justin Gilbert to play opposite Xavier Rhodes in the years to come would ensure Minnesota has the tools to succeed defensively against the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
The Bills could be tempted to draft Taylor Lewan here to fill a need on the offensive line. However, with Khalil Mack still on the board, it would be crazy to let him slide any further. He's one of the most explosive defensive playmakers in this year's draft, and he'd be a dynamo playing next to Kiko Alonso.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Adding a top-flight defensive end to pair with Ezekiel Ansah on the perimeter would turn Detroit's already tough defensive line into a veritable nightmare for opposing offenses. Anthony Barr racked up 23.5 sacks the past two years at UCLA, and his arrow is still pointing up to an undetermined degree for the foreseeable future.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
New head coach Ken Whisenhunt was a tremendous offensive addition for the Titans this offseason, and he'd likely prefer to add an offensive playmaker here. That said, C.J. Mosley's ability to play all over the field, along with his leadership, would help Tennessee's defense make big strides in 2014 and beyond.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Taylor Lewan was an absolute stud at the combine, further demonstrating his freak athleticism and explosive power during the measurable drills. He also looked fantastic moving his feet during the field drills.
The Giants have need of another offensive tackle to pair with last year's first-round pick, Justin Pugh. With two stalwarts bookending the line, Eli Manning will have much more time to throw the ball than he did a year ago.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
After two phenomenal seasons at Texas A&M, Mike Evans is ready to take his skills to the next level, and he has the look of a future Pro Bowler. Measuring in at 6'5" and 233 pounds, he moves like a man with a much smaller frame, which is an amazing combination along with his leaping ability and excellent hands.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Like Clowney, Donald blew up the combine, further bolstering his already hot draft stock. Running a 4.65-second 40, putting up 35 reps on the bench and showing exceptional quickness on the field, he's a prototypical 3-technique tackle, per B/R's Matt Miller, who should become an instant star for the Bears:
I really like Aaron Donald. Might be one of my favorite guys in this year's draft. Underdog in some circles, but he's an ideal 3-tech— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 24, 2014
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
With Heath Miller succumbing to old age and a banged-up body, Pittsburgh would be smart to bring in another tight end who can take over when he's gone. In the meantime, Eric Ebron would be a terrific second tight end who would stretch the field vertically up the seams—something the Steelers have sorely missed the past few years.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Dallas' pass defense in 2013 was horrible, thanks in large part to a lack of talent at the safety position. Therefore, it will not be a surprise if the Cowboys choose to target a safety in this year's draft, and they won't want to let Calvin Pryor fall to another team with so desperate a need.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Joe Flacco has one of the strongest—if not the strongest—arms in the NFL. Speed on the perimeter is something the Ravens can't have too much of thanks to this fact. Torrey Smith is excellent, but he needs a playing partner on the other side, and Odell Beckham would be a perfect fit in this offense.
18. New York Jets: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Jets haven't had a talented receiving corps in a couple of seasons, and last year's roster was full of guys who wouldn't cut it on other teams. It's time to fix this broken system, and adding a speedy receiver with a history of strong production would be the perfect way to get the process started.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The most important number as it relates to Miami's season last year offensively is 58.
That's the amount of times Ryan Tannehill was sacked, which was 10 more sacks than any other team allowed in 2013. Zack Martin is a smooth, strong tackle who can play either side of the line or at guard, and he's someone the Dolphins will certainly consider with this pick.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
There isn't another linebacker in this year's class who can compare with Ryan Shazier when it comes to quickness off the snap. While he's a bit undersized for the role, he's a dream prospect as a 3-4 outside linebacker who would be a pivotal playmaker for the Cardinals.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Green Bay hit a home run drafting Eddie Lacy last year in Round 2, and the Packers could crush another one by drafting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to fix the team's safety problems. Clinton-Dix has plenty of range to cover deep and is a punishing and willing tackler around the line of scrimmage.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Eagles gave up more passing yards last year than any other team in the league. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis did a fantastic job getting his front seven to play together, but he simply didn't have enough talent on the back end.
Darqueze Dennard is the top pure cover corner in this year's draft. His ability to lock down top receivers in college will carry over into the NFL, where he'll become an instant starter.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Kansas City's offense wasn't as balanced as it could have been last year because the team didn't feature a pass-catching tight end who could occupy linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field. Jace Amaro isn't as fast as Ebron, but he is a better receiver and would become an integral part of Kansas City's offense early in the year.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Michael Johnson is likely going to sign with another team in free agency, and the Bengals can't count on Margus Hunt at this time. Kony Ealy would thrive playing on the line next to Geno Atkins, and he'd be a cheap replacement while offering similar results.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
The Chargers weren't exactly killing it against the run last year, allowing 4.8 yards per carry on average, which ranked amongst the league's worst marks. Every 3-4 defense needs a dominant nose tackle to operate correctly.
Louis Nix III is the man who can help San Diego turn things around. With his big body eating up blockers inside, Darius Butler and Manti Te'o would have a much easier time getting to ball-carriers between the tackles.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
After landing Clowney at No. 4, the Browns can get the quarterback they need here at the bottom of Round 1. Derek Carr showed off surprising athleticism and speed at the combine, and his arm has never been in question. Along with excellent physical tools, he's a proven leader who knows how to run a tight ship.
27. New Orleans Saints: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Cameron Jordan was a revelation as a 3-4 defensive end for the Saints last year, but the team could still use another dominant force inside. Adding Stephon Tuitt to play opposite Jordan would give Rob Ryan's defense some serious teeth against both the run and the pass.
28. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
According to ESPN's David Newton, there's no guarantee Steve Smith will be back to play another season for the Panthers in 2014. Even if the old vet returns, Carolina must look to get younger and more talented at the receiver position.
Jordan Matthews impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl and then had himself an outstanding combine. He's a smooth athlete with quickness who can separate from defenders and is a reliable receiver who doesn't drop many passes.
29. New England Patriots: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Tom Brady was a miracle worker last year, but he wasn't able to lead his team to its goal without a solid receiving corps. Aaron Dobson has potential, as does Kenbrell Thompkins, but neither of them is as talented as Marqise Lee out of USC. He's a natural playmaker who makes big gains after the catch—the perfect match for Brady, who loves to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The 49ers have struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone for a few years now, but things might get a lot easier with Kelvin Benjamin running routes around the goal line. He was a red-zone monster during his time at Florida State, and his ability to go up high and catch tough passes would be a tremendous boon for Colin Kaepernick, who isn't afraid to let the ball rip.
31. Denver Broncos: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
There are many draft analysts who believe Timmy Jernigan will be long gone by the time Denver picks, and they could be right. When he's on his game, Jernigan is nearly unblockable, and he'd be a huge difference-maker for the Broncos up front.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Seattle hasn't had a pass-catching tight end since Russell Wilson took over, but he'd certainly benefit if the team did have such a tool at its disposal. Austin Seferian-Jenkins would be a dangerous weapon for Wilson in the middle of the field, making an already strong offense even stronger.
Note: All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
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