The first round of the 2014 NFL draft will feature college football's brightest stars, and it's always fascinating to see if they have what it takes to succeed at the next level.
For every Pro Bowler who emerges from this elite group of prospects, there are seemingly countless busts. The draft is far from scientific. Even the best of the best general managers fail as often as they succeed.
This high-stakes game makes for high drama every year, which is why millions tune in to watch the picks come in live.
Here's a look at what could happen when the draft kicks off in New York City on May 8, 2014.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Blake Bortles drew high praise from many analysts for his strong combine performance.
"Bortles was by far the best quarterback,'' former NFL quarterback Jim Miller told USA Today Sports' 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 could easily take Jadeveon Clowney, but defense wasn't the problem last year. This team needs a viable starting quarterback, and Bortles can be that guy.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Greg Robinson looks like the next Jason Peters, after his eye-popping combine performance. He was already considered to be a physical marvel and an excellent—albeit raw—offensive tackle before the combine. After what he did in Indianapolis, he's a lock to become the first offensive tackle selected in this year's draft.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel has charisma, natural talent and, best of all, natural leadership abilities. He isn't fazed by pressure-packed moments, either, and is a phenomenal playmaker when the going gets tough. The Jaguars haven't had a guy who can lead a team to victory since David Garrard in his heyday.
4. Cleveland Browns: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Sure, Cleveland needs a quarterback, but after striking out so many damn times in the past 20 years, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for the Browns to go with the top defender in this year's draft class at the top, and then look for a signal-caller later on.
5. Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater isn't as flashy as Manziel or Bortles, but he's got the best chance to succeed immediately. He's accurate, smart, athletic, has a strong enough arm to make all the throws at the next level and is a hard-working young man who will almost assuredly stay out of trouble.
And there's more, as noted by Michael Marot of the Associated Press (h/t Kentucky.com): "Bridgewater's completion percentage and touchdown passes continued to steadily increase each of the past three seasons at the same time his interception totals declined."
He is exactly the kind of stable leader Oakland's offense needs right now.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
Khalil Mack out of Buffalo is one of the most exciting players at any position in this year's draft. Heck, Mike Mayock of NFL Network said he'd take him No. 1 overall over Clowney, or any of the quarterbacks, before he blew up the combine.
His vocal response was equally impressive, as relayed by CollegeFootball 24/7:
Khalil Mack on Mike Mayock saying he'd take him as top pick: "Mike Mayock is the man. Now I have to prove him right." #NFLCombine— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 22, 2014
Mack would be a nightmare for offensive lines playing for Mike Nolan. His quickness, speed and raw power will translate well to the pro game.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Pairing Sammy Watkins with Vincent Jackson would be a brilliant move to help second-year quarterback Mike Glennon become a top quarterback in the NFL. He showed promise last year, and he'd absolutely thrive with two top receivers on the field.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Not only is Justin Gilbert big (6'0" and 202 pounds) and fast (4.37-second 40-yard dash), but he's also a pretty amazing player. The Vikings featured a porous pass defense a year ago, and adding top cornerback talent is a must in the NFC North.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Though Jake Matthews isn't the physical freak Robinson is, he is much more polished and technically sound than the former Auburn standout. The Bills need to provide young quarterback EJ Manuel with better protection up front this year to ensure he stays healthy. Matthews would be an instant starter on either side of the line and would provide a big boost on passing downs.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Cliff Avril left via free agency last year, and Detroit's ability to rush the passer went down the toilet. The Lions finished the year with just 33 sacks, which was the third-least in the NFL.
Anthony Barr would certainly help the team improve. He racked up 23.5 sacks the past two seasons at UCLA, and he'd be a terror playing opposite Ezekiel Ansah in the years to come.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
C.J. Mosley is easily the top inside linebacker in this year's draft class. He combines excellent speed with elite instincts and a physical style, which is the ideal mixture teams are looking for in today's pass-happy league. If the Titans are going to compete with the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South, then they'll need an inside backer like Mosley to keep the middle of the field on lockdown.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Recently departed offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride made some stark comments about the state of New York's offensive line after he retired in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio, via the New York Daily News.
He said he had been “concerned about the depth on the O-line for a while” and as the injuries mounted “It kind of all came to a head this year.”
“It just made it impossible for our quarterback to function,” Gilbride added.
If Eli Manning is going to rebound from what was one of his worst seasons as a pro, then the Giants would be smart to bring in offensive linemen to protect him. Taylor Lewan is a good one, and he showed elite athleticism at the combine.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Already armed with Tavon Austin and Jared Cook, the Rams need to upgrade the receiving corps with a legitimate No. 1 receiver who can dominate the perimeter. Mike Evans is that guy, and he'd be a huge help to quarterback Sam Bradford, who has struggled without top weapons during his career thus far.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Chicago featured one of the league's worst defenses last year, but adding a young stalwart like Aaron Donald would help the team quickly turn things around in 2014. A penetrating defensive tackle, Donald would provide a big boost against both the pass and the run.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Steelers are expected to let Emmanuel Sanders hit the free-agency market this offseason, leaving the door wide open for the team to land one of the top receivers early in the draft. Odell Beckham is exactly the kind of receiver that fits into Pittsburgh's scheme. He makes his living downfield, which is where Ben Roethlisberger loves to go with the ball.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Dallas' pass defense was laughably bad last year because the team doesn't have a starting-caliber safety on its roster. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is not only capable of starting right away, but he has the potential to develop into a Pro Bowl safety in the years to come. So natural and fluid dropping back into coverage, he's the best safety in this year's draft class.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Ravens need to bolster their receiving corps, and while Eric Ebron is listed as a tight end, he'll do some serious damage as a receiving threat in the NFL. Even if Dennis Pitta does return, the Ravens would be smart to add Ebron to stretch the field vertically down the seams.
18. New York Jets: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Geno Smith was hopelessly lost last year without any talented receivers. Brandin Cooks has talent, and then some. He posted a blazing-fast 40 time of 4.33 seconds at the combine and was one of the most productive receivers in college football in 2013.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Fixing the offensive line should be the primary focus of Miami's front office this offseason. The team is reportedly interested in signing Branden Albert and/or Eugene Monroe in free agency, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
But even if both players are signed (unlikely), then Zach Martin could slide inside and line up as a guard, offering Ryan Tannehill a huge improvement over last year's 58-sack debacle.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Assembling legendary defenses seems to be an NFC West pastime these days. The Cardinals could significantly add to their collection of defensive stars by drafting Ryan Shazier to fire off the edge as a pass-rusher. He's the quickest, most explosive pass-rusher in this year's draft.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Green Bay's secondary was atrocious last year, and the year before, because the young safeties the Packers were counting on to develop never did. Calvin Pryor isn't quite as good on the back end as Clinton-Dix, but he's a stellar safety who would become an instant starter for the Packers.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Philly would gleefully put in the card with Darqueze Dennard's name on it if he slides this far after featuring the league's worst pass defense in 2013. He's the top cover man in this year's draft, and he proved speedy enough by running a 4.51-second 40 at the combine.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Jace Amaro didn't wow at the combine like Ebron, but he's still a top tight end who will be able to step in immediately and produce at a high level for his new team. The Chiefs desperately need a reliable tight end, and Amaro would quickly become Alex Smith's favorite target on Sundays.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Like Dennard, Kony Ealy might never make it to the Bengals.
The long-armed pass-rusher has one of the quickest first steps of any prospect coming into the league this year, as clearly demonstrated by his 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash, per Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:
1.66 10-yard-split for Kony Ealy is very good. Guy with the ability to play 6-5-3 for teams. Great length— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 24, 2014
He'd be a steal here at No. 24, and the Bengals would be crazy to let him slide.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
San Diego's run defense was abysmal last year, as the Chargers allowed 4.8 yards per carry without a true nose tackle manning the middle. Louis Nix is a run-stuffing monster who'd clog up the middle, thus significantly assisting Manti Te'o's development.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
For a while, there was buzz coming out that the Browns liked Manziel, but a recent report suggests otherwise. Via Marc Sessler of NFL.com, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah reports Derek Carr is on the team's radar in an interview with "The Dan Patrick Show":
Their guy is (Fresno State quarterback) Derek Carr and they're going to take a different player with the fourth pick and they want to take Derek Carr with their second one (at No. 26). ... I heard that from several different places.
If Carr is available here at No. 26, then the Browns would be crazy to let him slide. He's a better-than-advertised athlete with the ability to step into the starting lineup from the first day of training camp and give the Browns a chance to win.
27. New Orleans Saints: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Drafting Stephon Tuitt to play opposite Cameron Jordan would give Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense a tremendous base in the middle. The former Golden Domer is a tremendous athlete and has the strength and leverage to stuff the run while also possessing the agility to break into the backfield on passing downs.
28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Carolina must get younger and more skilled at the receiver position to ensure Cam Newton's immense potential for greatness isn't wasted. Marqise Lee out of USC is an excellent after-the-catch receiver who has enough speed and wiggle to take every pass he catches to the house.
29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Last year's injury-ridden campaign shed light on the reality that New England's defensive line isn't very deep. Timmy Jernigan has the talent to become the next Vince Wilfork for the Patriots, and he'd be amazing playing next to Wilfork until the veteran retires.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee recently told Bleacher Report that the 49ers would be willing to trade up to land Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin to bolster the receiving corps. In this mock, the team won't have to, because Benjamin will be there for the taking at No. 30.
31. Denver Broncos: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Eric Decker isn't likely to be back with Denver next year, and the team doesn't have another perimeter receiver capable of stepping into the starting lineup to take his spot. Jordan Matthews would be able to come in and work his way into the lineup in no time, however, and would quickly become a productive member of Peyton Manning's offense.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
There isn't much room for criticism on Seattle's roster, but one position the team lacks talent in is at tight end, where Zach Miller has been the top guy for the past two years. Adding an athletic freak like Austin Seferian-Jenkins would make Seattle's offense more dangerous than it already is.
Note: All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
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