The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine has come and gone, so the picture for the NFL draft is beginning to come into focus.
With the combine out of the way, fans are getting a much better idea of where the top prospects will fall. Sure, some could have good pro days, but at this stage, they've done about all they can to impress NFL scouts.
The best general managers in the league are able to wring every bit of value out of their pick. Maybe they take the best available. Maybe it's taking a chance on the prospect with the higher ceiling, rather than the more polished player.
Here's a prediction for how the first round will unfold. The players underlined will provide the most bang for the buck come May.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Houston Texans need a quarterback, but Jadeveon Clowney is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime talent you can't pass up. The idea of playing Andrew Luck twice a year for the next 10 years should also be a motivating factor.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Having Clowney off the board would make this decision a lot easier for the St. Louis Rams. They desperately need an offensive tackle, and Greg Robinson's stock is only on the rise. He's a tremendous run-blocker, and over time, his pass-blocking will get to the same level.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback in the draft. He's poised in the pocket, has enough mobility to buy some more time and has an accurate arm. You wouldn't be surprised to see the Jacksonville Jaguars take either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles if all three are available, though. Any of them would be a massive upgrade from what they have now.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel isn't beating around the bush when it comes to picturing a future with the Cleveland Browns.
"If something happens and it's the Cleveland Browns, I'm going to pour my heart out for the Dawg Pound and try to win a Super Bowl for Cleveland," he said, per Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer. "I don't care if they've had 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999. I'm going to be the 21st and the guy that brought them the Super Bowl."
With confidence like that, how can you pass him up?
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Oakland Raiders would have two options here. The first is Blake Bortles, who could finally provide the team with a franchise quarterback. The other is Sammy Watkins, who is far and away the best receiver in the draft. Although a wideout isn't of more necessity than a quarterback, between the two, Watkins may be the better choice.
Finding an All-Pro WR can be an invaluable asset. Look at how good Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon and A.J. Green make their quarterbacks appear. Watkins has the right combination of pure athleticism and precise route-running.
For those wondering about his work ethic, he's already back in training following the combine.
Even the Raiders can't mess a player like this up.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Pass protection was a major problem for the Atlanta Falcons last year. Jake Matthews is one of the best offensive linemen in the draft. He's strong enough to handle NFL linemen, and he's athletic enough to get out and stop the pass-rushers coming off the edge. Matthews would be a great upgrade for the Falcons.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack is a complete linebacker. He can come off the edge and pressure the quarterback, or he could get inside and defend the run. That's why Mack would fit so well in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers could use him in a number of ways, and there isn't a threat that he won't be productive.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
It will be interesting if the Minnesota Vikings are sitting here and the top three quarterbacks are off the board. Do they take Derek Carr or go elsewhere? Luckily, in this mock, it's a question they don't have to answer. The Vikings can take Bortles hoping he's the future at QB.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Ideally, Sammy Watkins falls here. If he's gone, Mike Evans is a solid Plan B. The Texas A&M star is a great athlete for his size (6'5", 231 pounds). Plus, that height makes Evans a different option from what the Buffalo Bills already have.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
At this moment, Justin Gilbert is the best corner on the board. He's tall enough to handle the bigger NFL receivers, and he's fast enough that there is little threat of getting beat over the top. The Detroit Lions secondary wasn't awful last year, but it's about time to start planning for the future.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller believes that Anthony Barr would be a great fit for the Tennessee Titans' new defense:
Anthony Barr would be so perfect in Ray Horton's defense, but I'm not sure he makes it to pick No. 11. #Titans— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 2, 2014
With Khalil Mack's stock rising, it's meant that Barr has dropped a bit. That allows the Titans to get their man.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
No matter if he fills in at right or left tackle, Taylor Lewan would be a great addition for the New York Giants. Their offensive line was a mess last year, and they need to add an impact player this offseason. Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson aren't falling this far, so Lewan's as good as it will get.
13. St. Louis Rams: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
If the Rams don't draft Sammy Watkins at No. 2, they'll almost certainly draft a WR with their second first-rounder. Marqise Lee is the best available. Although he had a problem with drops last season, that shouldn't overshadow his entire career at USC. As long as he can add some bulk in the NFL, Lee won't have any problems.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
This would be a risk for the Chicago Bears, as Aaron Donald is small for a defensive tackle. Both Kyle Williams and Geno Atkins are 6'1", though, so there's precedent for Donald in terms of becoming a major success.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is rapidly aging. Perhaps they have one more Baltimore Ravens-like run left, but in the meantime, they should start grooming a successor for Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the best safety in the draft. He could sit back and learn for a year before taking over the starting duties.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Calvin Pryor can read the game very well. He's rangy and flocks to the ball. He would be a great addition for a Dallas Cowboys defense in need of a safety who can help in coverage. The one knock on Pryor is that he can get a little too physical, picking up needless flags with rash tackles. If he can cut that out, he'll be just fine in the NFL.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Wide receiver might be the bigger need for the Ravens, but Ebron is of the class of tight ends who play like wideouts. He posted an unofficial 40 time of 4.5 at the combine, per B/R's Matt Bowen:
#UNC TE Eric Ebron (6-4, 250) posted a 4.50 40 time... No. 1 TE in '14 class can be a matchup issue for safeties at the NFL level.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 22, 2014
Here's what Bowen wrote after Ebron's performance in Indianapolis:
At 6’4”, 250 pounds, Ebron has the ability to produce after the catch, separate within the route tree and use that size to gain leverage versus defensive backs. Think of matchups here and the multiple alignments NFL offenses can use to showcase Ebron’s skill set.
Ebron can be aligned as the in-line “Y” tight end or removed from the core of the formation (slot, backside of a 3x1 set) to run the option routes, seam, dig, skinny post, 7 (corner), etc. He's a player who gives offensive play-callers some formation flexibility within the game plan to cater to his talents.
Ebron will immediately present matchup problems in the NFL. He's quick enough to outrun almost any linebacker, and he'll be too big for safeties to handle. The Ravens would have their best tight end since Todd Heap in the event they draft the North Carolina star.
18. New York Jets: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Say what you want about Geno Smith, but it would be hard for any QB to succeed when you have no weapons in the passing game. Taking Kelvin Benjamin is a bit of a risk, some of which is mitigated by not overreaching for him. If he can come through, Benjamin would help speed along Smith's development very well.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Miami Dolphins lost two offensive tackles in the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito affair. Even at No. 19, they can still get a talented tackle like Zack Martin. He doesn't have the same upside as Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson, but he can come into the team and immediately help.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Like the Dolphins, the Arizona Cardinals are in need of offensive-line help. Morgan Moses isn't the kind of bulldozer you'd ideally want from an offensive tackle, but the technique and athleticism are both there. Over time, he should gain the strength necessary to handle the more powerful defensive linemen.
21. Green Bay Packers: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Speaking of powerful defensive linemen. The future of B.J. Raji is still up in the air, and the Green Bay Packers could opt to address the problem in the draft. Louis Nix is part of a dying breed as the running game loses more and more influence. Still, he could fit well into the Packers defense and eat a lot of space on the line.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
A safety would be the optimal pick here, but both Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor are gone. Darqueze Dennard isn't gone. Dennard doesn't have the physical upside of Justin Gilbert, but he's a physical corner who demonstrated on multiple occasions last year that he can lock down a team's best target.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Odell Beckham Jr. wasn't the most consistent wide receiver at LSU. He's probably never gonna be the kind of wideout who'll record 100-plus receptions. When he has the ball in his hands, though, Beckham is extremely dangerous.
He could help the Kansas City Chiefs right away. They lack a player who can spread the field like Beckham can. Down the line, he can possibly supplant Dexter McCluster as the primary return man.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Cincinnati Bengals really need to add a cornerback. After Leon Hall, the cupboard is pretty bare, and Dre Kirkpatrick isn't coming along well. Maybe the Bengals can get it right with Jason Verrett. Although he's a bit undersized, the TCU star is physical and quick enough to make up ground in a hurry should he lose his man.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The San Diego Chargers made a lot of defensive improvements last season. That doesn't mean the unit couldn't use some help this offseason. Bradley Roby's stock took a big hit with his performance during the 2013 season, but at this point, he offers nice value.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Cyrus Kouandjio is a work in progress. Like Chance Warmack coming into last year's draft, he lacks the feet to fit in at left tackle. With Joe Thomas on the left, the Browns could put Kouandjio on the right, where he'd be a much better fit.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Although he's listed as a defensive end, Dee Ford will likely transition to outside linebacker at some point. As long as he's not tasked with too much, he should succeed in the NFL. The New Orleans Saints will have to cater to his skill set.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Steve Smith isn't getting any younger, and after him, the production only drops off for the Carolina Panthers. Brandin Cooks is a burner, and his hands are good enough that he shouldn't turn into a Ted Ginn Jr. clone.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
With Rob Gronkowski's injury and Aaron Hernandez's legal problems, the New England Patriots could use a new tight end this offseason. Jace Amaro isn't an athletic freak like Eric Ebron, but he's still the kind of tight end who is the future of the league. Amaro is a tremendous pass-catcher, more than making up for his lack of pass-blocking.
Getting him at No. 29 would be a great coup for the Patriots. Even if Gronk doesn't make a full recovery, just having Amaro would demonstrably help the passing game.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The San Francisco 49ers have the luxury that they could take Timmy Jernigan and store him away until he's ready. Justin Smith has a little bit more time left, and once he's gone, Jernigan would be more than prepared to take over starting duties.
31. Denver Broncos: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
The secondary has been a problem for the Denver Broncos for a few years now. With the best offensive tackles gone, they should look to cornerback. Marcus Roberson is one of the best on the board at this stage, and he would be ready to help the Broncos defense right now.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
As the season went on last year, the Seattle Seahawks offensive line became more and more of a problem, at least as big of a problem a Super Bowl-winning team can have. Xavier Su'a-Filo had a great showing at the combine:
In maybe the most important OL drill, the 20-yard shuttle, Xavier Su'a Filo was 4th overall and led all OG prospects. Great performance.— Jacob Ruffman (@JacobRuffman) February 22, 2014
And the official 2014 NFL Draft Mancrush is... Xavier Su’a-Filo. Dude's a BOSS.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) February 22, 2014
Offensive guards aren't as coveted as offensive tackles, but at the end of the first round, Su'a-Filo is a massive steal. He knows exactly how to use his hands at the line, and he's an absolute brute. The center of Seattle's offensive line would be a lot better off with Su'a-Filo.