With free agency on the approach and teams already enshrouded in negotiations to retain their own, how the first round of the 2014 NFL draft will shake out is as good as an educated guess.
But as things stand now, team needs are not hard to figure out. Teams surely know them. The media and fans do too. Even if there is some disagreement as to which need reigns supreme on each roster, the front offices themselves may have tipped their hand a bit at the combine thanks to meetings with specific positions.
Not every team can draft based on need thanks to the randomness of the board, but a proper mix of value and need can be had no matter how it falls.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Put all the nonsense to the wayside—the Houston Texans have the biggest need of all with a void under center, and Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback in the class.
Bleacher Report's Aaron Nagler put it best:
Teddy Bridgewater is clearly the best QB in this class. The rest is just noise.— Aaron Nagler (@Aaron_Nagler) February 26, 2014
Like the conversation about contenders to Peyton Manning's MVP award last season, the talk of which prospect could steal Bridgewater's top spot is simply talk.
Bridgewater is the most pro-ready quarterback and the missing piece in Houston, not to mention the perfect blend of value and need.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
St. Louis does not have to hit its utmost need here because the team has two first-round picks.
With extra selections to play with, the Rams can grab Jadeveon Clowney here to address a need down the line with elite end Robert Quinn headed to free agency after the 2014 season.
Clowney reinforces the trenches in St. Louis for quite some time and gives the Rams some wiggle room with their next pick.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Blake Bortles is the next best thing at quarterback in this class, especially for a franchise like Jacksonville that cannot afford to miss yet again at the position.
Bortles fills Jacksonville's biggest need, and while he does not have the drawing power of a Johnny Manziel, his upside is promising and can be built around for years to come.
There is pitfall potential here if a signal-caller taken after Bortles succeeds while he falters, but it is a risk the front office has to take as the franchise continues its modernization process.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
As is the case for most teams picking in the top 10, quarterback happens to also be the top need in Cleveland, with a strong defense and sound offense already in place. Well, unless there are those who still believe Brian Hoyer is the answer.
While polarizing, Johnny Manziel is arguably the draft's top quarterback depending on who is asked. His ability to extend plays with his feet makes him a viable weapon in Cleveland, and there are those who believe he already has the arm to succeed:
From more than one standpoint, the Browns do not have another option here.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Go ahead, try to name the top need in Oakland.
Right. For the Raiders, any additional talent is a move in the right direction, but the front office has to play the board smart or suffer yet another setback.
The best player available is Sammy Watkins, who can contribute in more ways than one thanks to his ability on special teams. Two birds with one stone and all that—the Raiders take out one need in a massive way here.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Atlanta Falcons have a serious need for a hybrid pass-rusher and have probably learned their lesson to not rely on free agency to fill the need.
Khalil Mack is easily the best rusher not named Clowney in this year's class. He dominated his entire collegiate career in all facets regardless of whether he was lining up across from MAC talent or a team like Ohio State.
Some have heard that Atlanta prefers Mack to all others, anyway:
Mack instantly upgrades a unit in Atlanta that needs more physicality and presence while reducing the amount of time the secondary spends in coverage.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
With Lovie Smith as the man in charge, the defense in Tampa Bay will likely be back to form without a top talent here.
Instead, Smith can use this gift of a selection to improve the protection in front of potential franchise quarterback Mike Glennon. Greg Robinson blew away scouts at the combine and is easily the top tackle available.
The Donald Penn weakness is no more upon Robinson's arrival.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Minnesota Vikings are in a tough spot here with some of the top quarterbacks already off the board, but now is not the time to wait with Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel still around.
Derek Carr was another player who massively helped himself at the combine, as his athleticism was right up there with Manziel's in most drills.
This ability to extend plays and hit a guy like Cordarrelle Patterson will make his transition to the pros that much easier. It also helps that he will be handing off to Adrian Peterson.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The need in Buffalo is rather simple: whatever it takes to put EJ Manuel in a position to succeed.
One such need is more weapons. Sammy Watkins did not make the fall as some may hope, but Eric Ebron is one heck of a consolation prize.
Ebron is a massive target who seemingly catches anything thrown his way and can stretch the field to open things up for guys like Stevie Johnson. As Manuel heads into his sophomore year, Ebron is a nice building block to help insulate him from a slump.
10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Mike Evans did much to help himself at the combine and cement his status as a high pick.
This helps the Detroit Lions in a number of ways, with a massive void opposite Calvin Johnson, but as Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon points out, the team may want to take a precautionary approach:
Mike Evans 6’5″, 225lbs, 4.53 40 time, 37″ vertical Mike Williams 6’5″, 229lbs, 4.56 40 time, 36'5" vertical. Lions pick 10th in 2005 & 2014— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) February 26, 2014
Evans is a strong prospect and the Lions seem intent on giving Matthew Stafford another weapon, so at this juncture, he is the best bet.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
C.J. Mosley drops right into the starting lineup in Tennessee and does much to turn things around for a unit that always seems one step away from being formidable.
Mosley had a quiet career at Alabama of all places, but he is a prototypical interior linebacker with smart reactions and sideline-to-sideline speed that will have him in the Rookie of the Year discussion when all is said and done.
12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
New York has a bevy of needs going into the draft regardless of how it performs in free agency, but chief among them is keeping Eli Manning upright.
Manning was miserable last year behind an oftentimes porous offensive line, so Jake Matthews—who used to be in consideration for the No. 1 overall pick—is quite the get right here.
Boring? Sure, but it beats having to pick even higher in the next few years as the franchise searches for a new quarterback.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
A major concern in St. Louis has been on the defensive side of things. Namely, the team has had a difficult time taking that next step, whereas the offense has talent in place but needs Sam Bradford to simply stay healthy.
Matthews would have been a nice pick here to help with that venture, but Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a great option to shore up a defensive secondary that at times has looked soft against the run.
Clinton-Dix will be far from perfect right away, but an unheralded unit will get a much-needed dose of adrenaline and attitude.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
While the Chicago Bears want Henry Melton back, the safe bet is on the 3-technique tackle taking his talents elsewhere after his ACL tear.
This is just fine, as Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald is both cheaper and potentially a better player than Melton. There are those, such as the NFL Network's Mike Mayock, who have sung Donald's praises as of late:
Mike Mayock's Monday combine takeaways: Pitt's Aaron Donald just as impressive as Clowney. http://t.co/vfJ6Cuniu7— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 24, 2014
Every little bit in the trenches will help to improve the poor linebacker play from a year ago. Donald gets the nod right away, and the Bears will be better for it.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Nose tackle is the primary concern in Pittsburgh. Like any good unit, things simply collapse if the war horse up front does not play at a high level.
Louis Nix is a prototype for what the Steelers run and will help lead the charge in a mini rebuild on a unit that's lacked youth and production in recent years.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The NFL knew going into the combine that Kony Ealy was a special player, but as an overall athlete, he still managed to steal the show with some jaw-dropping numbers:
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
Ealy will slide right in and boost a Dallas pass rush in need. The secondary needs more time to develop and less time in coverage, so Ealy in tandem with other names in the unit may be exactly what the Cowboys need to adequately defend in the high-flying NFC East.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Allen Robinson has every right to be confident with his decision to turn pro despite a deep wideout class, as captured by Ken Laird of TribLive Radio:
Allen Robinson: "I feel comfortable w/ the decision I made. I believe I'm a first round pick"— Ken Laird (@Ken_Laird) February 22, 2014
Despite the depth at the spot, Robinson will come off the board early to a Baltimore team in serious need of a big-bodied wideout similar to Anquan Boldin.
Robinson is the answer across from Torrey Smith as the reliable presence who consistently moves the chains. Getting Joe Flacco back on track is the biggest concern of all, and Robinson will surely fulfill his end of the deal.
18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
There is simply no reality in which the New York Jets take a defensive player here. Much like their AFC East brethren in Buffalo, the Jets need to find a way to help their young quarterback succeed.
Jace Amaro is the only right answer here. Smith needs a reliable option underneath to keep drives alive, but Amaro can also double as a deep threat on what figures to be a retooled passing attack next season.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Perhaps the most obvious need of all, the Miami Dolphins will be dipping into the offensive lineman well multiple times in this year's draft.
Zack Martin is a versatile piece and obvious choice here. Martin can play inside or out, although he seems more suited on the interior. Based on how free agency and the rest of the draft goes, he can start in either capacity on a revamped unit that's looking to rebound after allowing Ryan Tannehill to be the most-sacked quarterback last season.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
With Carson Palmer beginning to show his age and Arizona talented in most areas, offensive line is the smart play for Bruce Arians and the Cardinals.
Cyrus Kouandjio is a mauling tackle who at one point was also considered a top-10 talent before knee concerns popped up in recent months.
Said concerns vary by team, and Kouandjio is not the type of prospect the Cardinals can afford to pass on at this juncture. He is an immediate upgrade and furthers the team's credibility in all facets.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
B.J. Raji is headed to free agency, so a very big (pun intended) hole has now opened up on the defensive side of things for Green Bay.
That hole is easily filled by Ra'Shede Hageman, yet another physical freak in the class who is much faster and stronger than he should be considering he stands at 6'6" and 310 pounds.
Hageman fits what the Packers do well in the trenches and comes at a cheaper cost. There is no better way to address a need.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Philadelphia Eagles must find a way for the defensive unit to keep up with the fast-paced offense. The best start is to grab more talented defensive backs, which is exactly what they'll do here with Calvin Pryor.
Pryor is a versatile safety who upgrades the defense in Philadelphia right away. The unit still has plenty of work to do as it continues the transition to a new scheme that started a year ago, but Pryor has the look of a player who will be around for the long haul.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
After a tumultuous final season at USC, Marqise Lee did much to save his draft stock at the combine. Now that he is back on the minds of those in the NFL, there is no question he will go in the first round, despite it being such a deep class.
Lee is a strong fit in Kansas City, where quarterback Alex Smith needs a reliable target to properly execute Andy Reid's offense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
With Leon Hall an injury wild card, Terence Newman and Adam Jones aging and Dre Kirkpatrick unproven, it is pretty apparent the Cincinnati Bengals will grab a corner in the first.
Luckily enough, corner is ridiculously deep this year, if not a bit thin at the top in an overall draft class that pushed the position down the board.
In normal years, Justin Gilbert would likely be gone in the top 15, but Cincinnati lucks out here and gets a prospect who could turn out to be a starter in a few years.
25. San Diego Chargers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Now the fun begins at cornerback.
San Diego was miserable against the pass last season and needs as much help as possible through free agency and the draft if necessary.
Darqueze Dennard at one point was considered the top corner in the draft. While his stock has dipped since, his physicality and overall skill set make him an obvious rookie starter who may have few hiccups during his transition.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
With Manziel on the roster, the Browns have to continue to add talent to help him succeed. Thanks to his ability to extend plays with his feet, receivers who can beat defenses deep will find plenty of success in the offense.
One such player is Kelvin Benjamin.
Benjamin is a massive target who has had his struggles with drops, but his rare combination of size and speed makes him an easy pick here for a team with two selections in the first round.
27. New Orleans Saints: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Rob Ryan needs more pass-rushers in New Orleans for his amoeba scheme that is one year into a transition, and Anthony Barr is a great add here.
Barr's stock has been all over the place, but there is no chance he gets past Ryan. In the confines of the New Orleans defense, Barr will strictly be asked to get to quarterbacks, which happens to be his specialization.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
With the future of Steve Smith cloudy because of his age, the Carolina Panthers have to start thinking about long-term solutions at wideout. Not only that, but Cam Newton needs more weapons in general if the Carolina offense is ever going to match the prowess of the defense.
Brandin Cooks was one of the more explosive names at the combine and is almost a carbon copy of Smith. He is a great get for so late in the round.
29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The New England Patriots could go any number of ways with this pick, but conventional wisdom says they need help in the trenches with Vince Wilfork injured.
Timmy Jernigan is versatile enough to fit right in with the Patriots. While he may not be needed right away, the Patriots will have a use for him down the line as a viable potential starter.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Jordan Matthews is another quality wideout who is reliable when it comes time to moving the chains, so it makes sense San Francisco would want to grab him here in order to surround Colin Kaepernick with even more weapons similar to Boldin.
While it is hard to say how much playing time he would see as a rookie, Matthews' upside and fit in the 49ers offense ensure he will be around for the long haul.
31. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Denver Broncos are in a bit of a luxury position here to grab the best player on the board, but they can also address a need in the defensive backfield.
Jason Verrett gets knocked for his size, but a slot corner in today's NFL is a worthwhile commodity. John Fox and the Denver front office understand this and will scoop up Verrett, who can make contributions right away.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Another team in a position of luxury, the time is now for the Seattle Seahawks to grab an explosive weapon to help supplement the offense, especially with Percy Harvin's health never a guarantee.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins has seen his stock fall over the past few months in exchange for bigger names already off the board, but he remains a quality prospect who fits what the Seahawks do well enough to warrant a selection in the first.