The NFL Scouting Combine is the most important job interview of many young prospects’ lives, and now that it is over teams have a better idea of where everyone in the 2014 draft class stands in relation to their peers.
Who is the best quarterback in the draft?
All that’s left is to actually pick the players.
With that in mind, here is a mock draft for the first round consisting of picks that will help each team immediately.
1. Houston Texans: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
The drama surrounding the No. 1 pick is seemingly coming down to which quarterback the Houston Texans will select.
There are certainly a number of talented ones to choose from, but if you ask Teddy Bridgewater, there is only right pick (via Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle):
Teddy Bridgewater: “Oh yes, no doubt, I feel that I’m the best quarterback in this draft,” when asked if #Texans should draft him first.— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) February 22, 2014
Bridgewater has the talent to back his words up. If he is the No. 1 pick, he will be expected to do just that by the entire city of Houston.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
The St. Louis Rams already have their franchise quarterback of the future in place (in theory) and could use some weapons around Sam Bradford.
Enter Sammy Watkins.
The Clemson wide receiver has speed to spare and can make plays on long passes or in the bubble screen game. The Rams need playmakers, and they don’t come better than Watkins in the 2014 draft.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel is arguably the most electrifying player in the entire 2014 draft, but he will mean even more than production on the field for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Perhaps more than any other team, the Jaguars needs a boost in fan interest. Manziel is a public relations department’s dream, and he is clearly comfortable playing in the spotlight with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
The Jaguars need a franchise quarterback. Manziel fits the mold.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
The Cleveland Browns may want Manziel for the same reasons he is appealing to Jacksonville, but getting Blake Bortles with the No. 4 pick is a solid consolation prize.
Bortles is strong enough to stand in the pocket and make every throw and is more athletic than he gets credit for. Look for him to start right away for Cleveland and finally give some consistency to the quarterback position.
5. Oakland Raiders: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
There may still be some questions about Jadeveon Clowney’s work ethic and overall production from this past year, but he showed NFL scouts just how tantalizing of a prospect he can be at the combine.
He posted a running back-like 40-yard dash time, as Will Brinson of CBS Sports pointed out:
Clowney would've been 29th fastest WR, 14th fastest RB ... and fastest QB at combine.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) February 24, 2014
Good luck keeping speed like that out of the backfield at the next level.
6. Atlanta Falcons: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller sees Greg Robinson and the Atlanta Falcons as a solid fit for the long-term future. He projected the former Auburn Tiger to go here:
Finding Greg Robinson on the board at No. 6 wouldn't be a bad thing. Protecting your $100 million investment in Matt Ryan is a smart play for a front office that just hired renowned offensive-line evaluator Scott Pioli to help their scouting department.
Robinson is a once-in-a-decade athlete at the position, and he looks to be a franchise left tackle and elite run-blocker early in his career.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
The debate over which linebacker will be taken first between Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack may be the best non-quarterback question of the draft.
The guess here is the UCLA product is the first defender not named Clowney taken off the board.
Barr is a pass-rushing machine, which is a skill that often translates to the next level. Look for him to rack up plenty of sacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next year.
8. Minnesota Vikings: QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
Derek Carr seems like the forgotten man with so much hype around Manziel, Bridgewater and Bortles, but he is incredibly talented in his own right.
He has the athleticism necessary to avoid pass-rushers in the pocket and reach the sticks with his feet and the arm to make plays in the passing game. Carr is also accurate enough to deliver on the short slant routes that win games in the NFL.
9. Buffalo Bills: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
In almost any other year, Jake Matthews would be looked at as a top-five pick, but there is such a need for quarterback atop the board this season that a number of players will slip a bit.
He is still an elite prospect with the reach and lateral quickness needed to thrive at the NFL level. Look for him to help make the Buffalo Bills' potent rushing attack even more formidable next year.
10. Detroit Lions: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Imagine trying to stop Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Mike Evans.
Even Matt Stafford’s numerous interceptions may not slow the Detroit Lions down if that was the case. Bleacher Report’s Miller likes Evans going to the Lions at No. 10 as well:
Adding Evans may seem like a luxury pick—and the Matt Millen haters will point to another wide receiver in the first round—but this is a need for Detroit. Adding a legitimate target opposite Johnson will open up the offense and make the Lions one of the league's best when they have the football.
11. Tennessee Titans: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
With Anthony Barr going earlier in the draft, the Tennessee Titans will turn to Khalil Mack of Buffalo.
Peter Schrager of Fox Sports explains why:
The Titans have needs on offense, but Mack is the type of OLB that would fit perfectly in a Ray Horton coached 3-4 defense. There are some promising young defenders on that Titans D; Mack would be a wonderful addition. If Bortles, Carr, Bridgewater or Manziel are still on the board, Ken Whisenhunt could go QB, too.
12. New York Giants: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Kony Ealy is an absolute beast from the defensive end position.
He has incredible speed and can get around the edge to attack the quarterback, while also possessing the versatility to stop the run when necessary. The New York Giants need help across the board after their disastrous 2013 campaign.
Drafting Ealy would be a good place to start.
13. St. Louis Rams: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The St. Louis Rams, who already landed Watkins with the No. 2 pick, land another elite playmaker in Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State.
Gilbert is arguably the best cornerback in this class, but he also has the speed and versatility to be a kick returner at the next level. That gives the Rams the chance to add depth in two areas of the game with one pick.
14. Chicago Bears: DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Frankly speaking, the Chicago Bears need help against the run more than any team in the NFL needs anything.
Long gone are the days of Brian Urlacher and the Monsters of the Midway winning games by themselves without the help of the offense. Enter Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota.
Hageman is a large presence who can easily fill holes along the front against the run. He is also athletic enough to get to the passer in third-down situations, which is something the Bears will need with Julius Peppers’ future in doubt.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
The defensive backfield of the Pittsburgh Steelers isn’t getting any younger.
Darqueze Dennard made a name for himself by dominating the Big Ten and then helping his Michigan State Spartans win the Rose Bowl over Stanford with physical defense and the ability to make a play on the ball when it is in the air.
He will do just the same in Pittsburgh.
16. Dallas Cowboys: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Everything that was said about the Bears’ need for run defense can be said about the Dallas Cowboys’ need for pass defense.
Calvin Pryor from Louisville is a physical presence at safety that will immediately give the middle of the Cowboys defense an enforcer. He can help against the run and lay a hit on receivers who come across the middle.
If Pryor is still available at No. 16, Dallas will surely grab him.
17. Baltimore Ravens: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Taylor Lewan has the talent to possibly go earlier than this, but with so many elite players in this draft he slots in at No. 17.
Fox Sports’ Schrager explains that the Ravens have a desperate need elsewhere but would be happy with the former Michigan Wolverine:
The Ravens, as thin as any team outside the Jets at wide receiver, would have this pick's envelope in to Commissioner Goodell before the clock even starts if Mike Evans is still on the board. In this scenario, he's not. So they go with Lewan, the accomplished offensive tackle who handled the competition in the loaded Big Ten.
18. New York Jets: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
The New York Jets need wide receivers badly, and they will get one with Kelvin Benjamin.
The Florida State product has national championship experience and will likely start from day one if drafted here. He has the hands to make plays in the red zone, as we saw all year, and the speed to get behind defenses.
19. Miami Dolphins: DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
Louis Nix can be a force when he plays up to his potential.
He will help the Miami Dolphins fill in holes on the defensive front to stop the run and occasionally get to the passer up the middle. If nothing else, the former Notre Dame lineman will give Miami more depth on the defensive side of the ball.
20. Arizona Cardinals: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
The Arizona Cardinals already have a dominant defense, and it will get even better with the addition of Aaron Donald from Pittsburgh.
Fox Sports’ Schrager feels this is the right move at No. 20:
How important is the Senior Bowl? Donald dominated and raised a lot of eyebrows. How important is the Combine? He did the same and solidified his place in the first round of May's Draft. Arizona already has a solid front seven. Add Donald to the mix and this D is right up there with the other three NFC West units.
21. Green Bay Packers: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
There may not be a more obvious pick in the entire draft than the Green Bay Packers selecting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama.
Bleacher Report’s Miller explains why:
The safety position is among the biggest needs the Green Bay Packers have as the combine closes. A great safety can pull together an entire defense and make everyone around him better. That's the type of player Mike McCarthy needs. That's also the type of player Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is.
Clinton-Dix fits the role of the single-high safety and is an ideal player for today's NFL. He can run and shows great range to the flats, which is where teams want their safeties to be now. But Clinton-Dix isn't just a coverage guy. He'll come down into the box and hit guys.
With the Packers' needs at safety, this pick is a match made in heaven.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: DE/OLB Dee Ford, Auburn
Dee Ford has been a fast riser in the draft process, but medical issues kept him out of the combine. NFL Network’s Rich Eisen reported that Ford didn’t get the chance to back up his challenging words to Mr. Clowney:
Looks like Dee Ford won't be able to back up his claim that he's better than Clowney today. Combine medical crew scratching him.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) February 24, 2014
Assuming Ford is alright come draft day, he has the speed and versatility necessary to play along the defensive line or at linebacker in a 3-4 set. Wherever he is, Ford will be a menace to opposing quarterbacks for the Philadelphia Eagles.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
The Kansas City Chiefs need a playmaker at wide receiver to open up the field for their potent rushing attack.
Odell Beckham Jr. provides them with just that, as he has the hands to contribute on underneath routes and the speed to get over the top on cornerbacks and safeties. This would immediately make Kansas City’s offense more dangerous.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
With health concerns surrounding Leon Hall and age issues with the other cornerbacks on the team, the Cincinnati Bengals will look to add some depth at that position.
With guys like Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard off the board, they will look to Jason Verrett of TCU.
Verrett is a ball hawk and makes plays in the secondary with his excellent speed and instincts. This would be a solid pickup for Cincinnati’s defense.
25. San Diego Chargers: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
The best part about Notre Dame’s Zack Martin is his versatility.
He can play either tackle or guard, which makes him even more attractive as a potential first-round pick. He is also solid opening up holes in the rushing attack or protecting the passer, which is something Philip Rivers will appreciate.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Carlos Hyde missed an opportunity to demonstrate his speed at the combine when he pulled up in the 40-yard dash with a hamstring issue.
While he could have cemented his status as the best running back in the draft with an impressive showing, he will still be taken in the first round by the Cleveland Browns. Hyde has speed to burst through holes and power to run over defenders in the open field.
He will be tough to bring down at the next level, especially with Josh Gordon keeping defenses honest on the outside.
27. New Orleans Saints: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Rob Ryan needs speedy linebackers in his 3-4 defensive set to attack the quarterback, and that’s exactly what he will get in Ryan Shazier.
Shazier is one of the fastest linebackers in the draft and rarely misses a tackle in the open field. He can get into the backfield, stop the run and cover tight ends in the passing attack, which is the type of versatile defender that thrives in Ryan’s system.
28. Carolina Panthers: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
There is nothing wrong with getting even more protection for a franchise quarterback like Cam Newton, and that is what Cyrus Kouandijo of Alabama provides.
He is an excellent pass and run blocker who has experience in big-game atmospheres. That will work perfectly for the Panthers, who plan on making last season’s postseason trip a more regular occurrence in the near future.
29. New England Patriots: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
With Rob Gronkowski seemingly always dealing with health issues, the New England Patriots could use another tight end to stretch the field for Tom Brady.
Eric Ebron may be as good as it gets in the 2014 draft. He has impressive size and speed and will make plays up the vertical seams for the Patriots all season long. It would not be a surprise if Ebron was a breakout fantasy star from day one if he was paired with Brady.
30. San Francisco 49ers: WR Marqise Lee, USC
The San Francisco 49ers’ receiving corps may not be as mediocre as a certain cornerback from Seattle thinks, but it could use someone else with the speed and hands to stretch the field.
In-state product Marqise Lee looked like the best player in college football at times the past two seasons and has the size and hands to make plays against almost any defense. There may be more intriguing options at the receiver spot in this draft, but Lee will be just as ready as anyone to contribute right away.
31. Denver Broncos: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Timmy Jernigan is a better talent than the No. 31 pick in the draft, but in this mock he slips to the Denver Broncos.
They will be happy to oblige.
Jernigan would instantly give the Broncos a force on the inside that can help stuff the run and get after the passer. Denver scores so much that the defense is on the field a lot throughout the game, so having another body on the defensive front will help with depth and winning.
32. Seattle Seahawks: TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
The Seattle Seahawks may have fewer overall needs than any other team in the entire NFL, but they could use a tight end of the future.
If Jace Amaro of Texas Tech falls to No. 32, that is exactly what they will get.
Amaro has everything a team could ask for in a modern tight end. He is fast in the open field, has excellent hands and possesses the size to create mismatches on safeties. Russell Wilson would be pleased with this pick.
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