With the NFL Scouting Combine behind us, the first-round picture for May's draft is clearing up. We still have the start of free agency to sort through before hitting the draft, but the book on prospects is starting to close.
Many prospects will work out in pro days, but aside from quarterbacks actually throwing and a few 40 times still to be turned in, not much new information will be gained.
Of course, none of this ensures the accuracy of my below mock. It takes just one unpredictable move near the front of the draft to send all predictions sailing violently off course.
At any rate, here is how I see things unfolding.
Langford's 2014 NFL Mock Draft
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The Houston Texans may be tempted to take the otherworldly talents of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but in the end, this franchise can't pass on finding the quarterback it feels is the best in this draft.
That, as Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller reported, appears to be Bortles:
Bortles impressed at the combine. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports helps explain:
[Bortles] didn't disappoint with the spotlight on him, displaying his smooth set up and release and tossing darts down the field. Bortles' accuracy and footwork on his three-step drops were excellent, showing very good rhythm, timing and precision to rip it with very good target placement. He was a tick late with his seven-step drops and has room to improve his feet and balance in this area, but Bortles was still able to be accurate down the field, especially on deep bucket throws.
Also, on a scale of one to 10 with 10 being the highest, ESPN's Pat McManamon gave Bortles a "solid eight, pushing nine" for his combine performance.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Jadeveon Clowney, DL, South Carolina
The St. Louis Rams may end up trading this pick. They aren't desperate for a quarterback and defensive end is already a position of strength.
If they get a strong enough offer, I expect they will. What I see as more likely, however, is the Rams drafting the once-in-a-generation talent that is Clowney and then shopping Chris Long for draft picks.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater didn't do himself any favors at the combine. He waffled on his decisions to throw and run. CBS' Dane Brugler highlights:
Teddy Bridgewater Saturday afternoon: "I will be running here. I will run at the combine." Why back out a few hours later?— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 24, 2014
This puts extra emphasis on Louisville's pro day for Bridgewater, but I expect him to perform fine. He is the most pro-ready quarterback in this class.
The Jaguars need a quarterback of the future, and Bridgewater's poise and leadership will serve them well.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There are reports pointing toward the Cleveland Browns not taking a quarterback with this selection.
NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah was on The Dan Patrick Show, and NFL.com's Marc Sessler passed along this quote from Jeremiah on the Browns' thought process: "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."
In the end, I don't see the Browns going this direction.
Johnny Manziel is too rare a talent to pass on, and the Browns must realize there is a strong chance Carr won't be there when they make their second first-round selection.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is an option here, but I expect defensive-minded Dennis Allen to make a case to bring in the immensely talented Khalil Mack.
Mack's ability to pressure the quarterback is badly needed in Oakland, and it will also allow the Raiders greater scheme versatility within their hybrid defense.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Auburn tackle Greg Robinson has made a rapid rise up draft boards, and for good reason. Outside of Jadeveon Clowney, there isn't a player in this class more physically dominant than Robinson.
He has all the measurables and skills to be an elite tackle for a long time, and the Falcons must improve along the offensive and defensive trenches.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Wide receiver is not the biggest need for the Buccaneers. They have Vincent Jackson in place. Also, tight end Timothy Wright has proved to be a capable option in the passing game.
Still, Sammy Watkins is the best receiver in this class and a strong value at No. 7. He will help the Buccaneers open up the field on offense and take defensive attention off Jackson and Wright.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Which QB will have the best NFL career?
The perception on the draft stock of quarterback Derek Carr varies wildly. For instance, of the four mock drafts posted by CBS, Rob Rang agrees with me that Carr is the selection here, while the other three don't have Carr going in the first round.
Quarterbacks have a way of going off the board earlier than many expect, however, and I don't expect this particular signal-caller to last past the Vikings' selection.
Minnesota must find a competent quarterback to help take pressure off Adrian Peterson and the running game.
9. Buffalo Bills: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Buffalo Bills have some excellent young talent on defense, and Kiko Alonso is coming off a great rookie season at inside linebacker.
Still, the Bills lack athleticism at the outside linebacker position. Anthony Barr will definitely bring that.
The converted running back is raw, but he will be an instant pass-rushing threat.
10. Detroit Lions: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Detroit Lions must gain consistency. One way to do this on defense is to have a reliable and athletic middle linebacker who can clean up behind the Lions' fierce defensive line.
C.J. Mosley is that guy.
He isn't a dominant pass-rushing linebacker, but he is a complete and disciplined linebacker.
11. Tennessee Titans: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Tennessee Titans need to upgrade the tackle position, which makes this an easy mock selection in the scenario I have laid out.
Jake Matthews is an elite tackle prospect and a strong value at No. 11, and he fills a need for the Titans.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The New York Giants have many needs, but the primary need must be helping get quarterback Eli Manning back on track.
Having a tight end who can exploit the seam and command deep safety attention will open things up on the outside of the Giants' passing game and help keep Eli Manning from forcing the ball into double coverage.
Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen helps highlight Ebron's potential:
#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
13. St. Louis Rams: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The St. Louis Rams will turn to their offensive trenches with their second first-round selection. The Rams have Jake Long, but he's injury prone and declining.
Taylor Lewan would give them a tackle of the future to build around.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
It's no secret that the Chicago Bears must upgrade their anemic defense.
Adding an anchor to their defensive line is a good place to start. Timmy Jernigan has the size and strength to lock down the middle of the line and eat up blockers.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
With an impressive combine, Oklahoma State corner Justin Gilbert has the potential to be the first corner off the board. In the case of the Steelers, I still see Darqueze Dennard as the selection.
He is a talented and physical corner who will fit right in with the Steelers system, while giving Pittsburgh a replacement for Ike Taylor, who is about to turn 34.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Dallas Cowboys need to take a long look at defensive line here. I have them taking Calvin Pryor, however, because I like his value here more than any of the defensive linemen available.
Pryor is athletic and disciplined. He will be a massive improvement to the Cowboys' terrible pass defense.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Both of the Ravens' starting tackles this past season are free agents, and after a terrible showing, the offensive line needs to be rebuilt anyway.
Zack Martin will definitely help that process. The question is where. Rob Rang helps highlight the concern over Martin at tackle: "Martin does not possess great height, arm length or foot speed."
Rang's opinion is far from universal. NFL Network's Mike Mayock believes he can play anywhere:
No matter where he lines up, he will help the Ravens improve one of their weaknesses.
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The New York Jets lack offensive weapons, and if they want to have any hope of quarterback Geno Smith developing, they must give him someone to help move the offense.
Mike Evans will do that. He is a big and reliable target who will help the Jets convert third downs and find success in the red zone.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Miami Dolphins have a lot of reshaping to do along the offensive line. So, while Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio is a risky pick here, he is worth it for Miami.
Pro Football Talk helps explain the risk:
Report: Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio fails some physicals because of arthritic knee http://t.co/6kxZSSo1ET— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) February 22, 2014
Kouandjio has a lot of successful experience against tough competition, and Miami will not be able to pass on that.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
The Arizona Cardinals are not going to enjoy the run on offensive linemen that comes before their selection. This franchise must get a competent group in the offensive trenches. This is especially true considering the tough defenses in Arizona's division.
Morgan Moses' draft stock has been on the rise, which is understandable. He has ideal size and moves his feet well, which you can view in the video in the below tweet from the NFL:
21. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt
The Green Bay Packers must get stronger at the point of attack on defense.
Aaron Donald's draft stock is soaring after the combine. He is a bit undersized for the tackle position, but at the combine, he proved he has the athleticism to make up for it.
NFL on ESPN tweets Donald's impressive showing in the 40:
Pitt DT Aaron Donald weighs 285 pounds and unofficially ran a 4.65 in the 40 yard dash today. #FasterAndFaster— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 25, 2014
The Packers won't hesitate to grab that athleticism.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
After coming in dead last in the NFL in pass defense, the Philadelphia Eagles must spend this premium pick on someone who can help them improve upon that weakness.
Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has the speed and range to help keep the Eagles from being so vulnerable to the deep ball.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
It is amazing what the Kansas City Chiefs offense was able to do with screens and short passes last season, but having Jamaal Charles lead this team in receiving, as he did last season, is not ideal.
The Chiefs have Dwayne Bowe as a solid No. 1 option at receiver, but the addition of Marqise Lee and his ability to get deep would help open up this offense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
After a stellar combine, there is a chance that Gilbert will not be on the board this long. With a deep crop of corner talent available for the later rounds, however, I see him lasting until pick No. 24.
Corner is not the biggest need for the Bengals. They do need more depth, however, as counting on 35-year-old Terence Newman is a risky proposition.
25. San Diego Chargers: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
The San Diego Chargers can't afford to wait to select a corner. This team needs to boost its pass defense.
Marcus Roberson has good size and feet. He will bring a physical presence to the Chargers secondary.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Cleveland Browns may as well just go all in on offense in this first round. I have them taking Manziel at No. 4 and then giving Manziel the lengthy Kelvin Benjamin.
At Texas A&M, Manziel had a similar target to Benjamin with Mike Evans.
Benjamin would give the Browns another option to help spread defenses out as the shifty quarterback exploits the pocket.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The New Orleans Saints made great strides on defense last season, but they still need to get much more physical in the front seven.
Ryan Shazier will help them do just that. He is athletic, strong and good at the point of attack. He will help clean up the Saints' poor tackling.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks checks in under 6'0". That is terrible for a wide receiver. Cooks has the skills to make up for that, though.
He runs strong routes, is explosive in and out of his cuts, has good ball skills and has good hands.
He also has a bit of speed, which sportswriter Bryan Fischer points out:
29. New England Patriots: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Free-agent cornerback Aqib Talib may or may not be back in New England next season. Either way, the Patriots need more help in the secondary.
Jason Verrett is undersized, but he can cover. If he can't make it on the outside, he still projects to be strong guarding the slot.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Odell Beckham Jr. would bring a needed deep threat to the San Francisco 49ers.
Beckham's ability to stretch the field will keep teams from stacking the box against the 49ers, and it will create even more space for Colin Kaepernick when he scrambles.
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Kony Ealy may not be a complete defensive end, but he is a natural pass-rusher. He uses his hands well, and his quickness and good feet are on full display in this stat pointed out by CBS' Will Brinson:
Kony Ealy 6.83 3-cone drill compares favorably to ... LeSean McCoy?? Shady had 6.82 at Pitt Pro Day: http://t.co/LYdruturz4— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) February 24, 2014
The Denver Broncos need an improved pass rush. They also need to find players who can make an immediate impact. Ealy should be able to do that.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ra'Shede Hageman needs to figure out how to turn his impressive athleticism into results on the football field, but he's definitely got the athleticism, which Pioneer Press' Marcus Fuller helps highlights:
Ra'shede Hageman's 35.5" vertical jump led all D-tackles. Remember him bragging about being able to 360 dunk. Imagine him on the bball team.— Marcus R. Fuller (@GophersNow) February 24, 2014
Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks like to identify athletes who fit their vision and then mold them into players to fit their system.