NFL general managers who strike out in the first round of the draft don't usually last long at their jobs, which illustrates just how important these opening selections are.
Starters and superstars are found throughout the draft, but the players selected early are expected to become franchise cornerstones. This year's crop of prospects features some incredible pro potential. It will be fascinating to watch how the players integrate into the league.
With free agency fast approaching, this is a glimpse into what Round 1 could look like when Roger Goodell starts calling young men to the podium in May.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Houston won't consistently compete for the AFC South title without a franchise quarterback, and Blake Bortles has drawn the best reviews recently during the scouting process.
"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 opt for Jadeveon Clowney, but he can't lead the offense on scoring drives.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Sam Bradford hasn't been able to properly develop since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2010, thanks in large part to a lack of talent at the receiver position and a lack of protection up front. Greg Robinson is a once-in-a-decade talent at left tackle, and he'd significantly boost the team's offensive line.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel is the biggest wild card of this year's draft class. Either he'll become the league's next superstar quarterback or he'll flop. His potential for greatness will be too tantalizing to pass up, however, and the Jaguars have been hopelessly lost since David Garrard's career went south.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Browns have struck out at the quarterback position more in the past two decades than any other team in the league. For this reason, it makes sense that Cleveland would decide to select the quarterback with the best chance to succeed immediately.
Teddy Bridgewater is highly accurate and has immense experience operating out of a pro-style offense from behind center. He is also an underrated team leader who isn't afraid of big moments, and he'd be a great fit in Cleveland.
Furthermore, he'll likely have a huge chip on his shoulder after Bortles and Manziel were drafted before him.
"I feel that I'm the best quarterback in this draft,'' Bridgewater said at the combine, via Jim Corbett of USA Today Sports. "I'm not going to just say that. I actually feel I can back up these words. I'm just confident in myself and my capability of doing all the things at this position and to go out there and prove that I'm the best guy."
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Playing in the same division as Peyton Manning, Alex Smith and Philip Rivers, Oakland needs to be able to rush the passer effectively. Adding Jadeveon Clowney to the defensive line would be a tremendous start to the endeavor.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
Khalil Mack out of Buffalo is the most exciting pure linebacker in this year's draft. He can cover in space, but his speciality is his ability to wreak havoc on offensive lines as a pass-rusher. Mack would be the perfect weapon to fit into Mike Nolan's diverse defense.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Bucs could certainly go with one of the top offensive tackles here, but the team would be crazy to let a rare receiving talent like Sammy Watkins slide further down the board.
Pat McManamon of ESPN.com recently made a comparison to Josh Gordon: "To understand the impact Watkins can make as he grows, think Josh Gordon. Watkins does not have Gordon's size, but he has more quickness and as much speed."
Gordon blossomed into one of the league's best last year, and any team that lands Watkins can expect similar results.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Christian Ponder couldn't get the ball into the hands of his playmakers in Minnesota, which features a few top receiving threats in Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph. Arm strength and accuracy are traits Derek Carr possesses, and he'd have no issues distributing the ball to the team's receivers.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Second-year quarterback EJ Manuel showed promise as a rookie, but he couldn't stay on the field. Offensive line play was partly responsible, which is why the Bills will likely look to bolster the unit in free agency and via the draft. Jake Matthews isn't as physically imposing as Robinson, but he's far more polished and is plenty gifted himself.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
It's hard to imagine Anthony Barr will fall out of the top 10, especially when considering Detroit's desperate need for a pass-rusher. The Lions finished the season with one of the worst pass-rushing marks in the league. Barr's 23.5 sacks in two years at UCLA proves he's up to the task of helping the Lions improve.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Tennessee needs more athleticism and physicality from its linebacking corps. C.J. Mosley provides both in large quantities, and he's an experienced leader to boot. His presence on the Titans defense would help the team compete with Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Kevin Gilbride made some accurate comments about New York's offensive line after he retired, in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.
Gilbride said he had been “concerned about the depth on the O-line for a while,” and as the injuries piled up, “It kind of all came to a head this year.”
“It just made it impossible for our quarterback to function,” Gilbride added.
Justin Pugh showed promise, but he's a right tackle, and the team still needs a top left tackle to protect Eli Manning's blind side. Taylor Lewan is the perfect man for the job at this point in the draft.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
After providing protection for Sam Bradford, the next thing St. Louis should do is continue adding weapons to its offense. Mike Evans is big, strong, fast and aggressive on the perimeter. He's the perfect complement to Tavon Austin's raw quickness and speed underneath.
14. Chicago Bears: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Justin Gilbert could finally provide Chicago with the well-rounded production it thought it had with Devin Hester years ago. Not only is Gilbert a top cover corner, but he's one of the freakiest athletes in the draft and is a phenomenal return man.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Odell Beckham could provide not only a replacement option for Emmanuel Sanders, who is expected to explore free agency, but he could provide better production in the future. The speedy receiver was one of the fastest at the combine (4.43 seconds), and he plays that fast on the field, too. He's adept at making plays in the intermediate-to-deep range, which is perfect for Pittsburgh.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
This is a dream pick for Dallas. Aaron Donald is the top 3-technique defensive tackle in the draft, and the Cowboys have a desperate need for such a player. He'd be an instant starter and impact player who would quickly become a fan favorite for his effort and drive on every play.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Ravens wasted no time re-signing tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year contract, and the move frees up the team to explore receivers in Round 1. Brandin Cooks was the fastest receiver at the combine, which only further boosted his stock after his incredibly productive 2013 campaign at Oregon State.
Cooks' speed and ability to separate from defenders off the line with his quickness will make him a dangerous weapon in Baltimore's offensive arsenal.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Unless you've been living under a rock the past couple of seasons, you know the Jets have basically zero receiving options right now. Geno Smith's career won't take off under these conditions, but he'd greatly benefit from having a top tight end running routes in the middle of the field.
Eric Ebron is this year's top tight end prospect by a mile. He's basically another receiver in a bigger body, and he'd quickly become Smith's top target on Sundays.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame
It's no secret Miami's offensive line is a train wreck. Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times last year, and the team struggled to consistently run the ball. Adding Notre Dame stalwart Zach Martin would be a good move to help with both areas of concern in 2014.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Arizona's defense isn't weak, but adding another standout like Ryan Shazier could only strengthen the unit. And in the NFC West, that's kind of required. Shazier's ability to get off the line quickly makes him a dynamic edge-rusher, and he'd be a huge addition to this team's already stout defense.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Green Bay's defensive problems on the back end last year were the result of poor safety play. The Packers simply couldn't stop anyone from going over the top of the defense. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has the best range of any free safety in the class, and he's also a stout defender against the run.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
No team gave up more passing yards last year than the Eagles, thanks to a lack of talent at the cornerback position. Darqueze Dennard is the top pure cover man in this year's draft. He is a man-to-man specialist who will quickly develop into a league superstar.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Landing consistent offensive weapons for Alex Smith is something the Chiefs must actively pursue, and there's no better place to start than at tight end, where the team lacked talent in 2013.
Jace Amaro is an excellent receiver who understands how to get open underneath. He'd be a perfect security blanket for Smith in the middle of the field.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
There aren't many holes on Cincinnati's roster, which means the team can truly take the best player available without worrying about needs. Kony Ealy is the best player available at this point. He's a promising pass-rusher with a dynamic first step and long arms. Given a bit more strength and technique, he'll become a nightmare on the edge.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
When you think about dominant 3-4 defenses, you think brick wall against the run. Unfortunately, the Chargers gave up 4.8 yards per carry last year because the team didn't have a true nose tackle in the middle. Louis Nix is a dominant nose tackle, and the Chargers would be tough to run against with him clogging up the middle.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
T.J. Ward could be headed to another team in free agency, which would leave a huge void in Cleveland's defensive secondary. Adding safety Calvin Pryor would certainly soften the blow, however. He's a strong in-the-box safety with enough range to make plays deep in coverage.
27. New Orleans Saints: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt is a perfect candidate for New Orleans here as the team continues to draft for Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme. Slot him in as the starting 3-4 end opposite Cameron Jordan, and you have two bookends who can dominate inside for the next decade.
28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
As Carolina works to sign its high-profile free agents to long-term contracts, it's going to be imperative for the team to draft young, talented offensive playmakers to catch passes from Cam Newton. Marqise Lee would be a terrific (and relatively cheap) addition to the team's receiving corps, and he'd quickly become an integral player.
29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
New England's defensive line depth was found to be lacking last year when Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were injured. Timmy Jernigan would challenge for a starting job immediately, and he'd quickly become an impact player along with Wilfork in the middle for the Patriots.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Colin Kaepernick has plenty of arm strength and isn't afraid to let the ball rip, but he hasn't had a strong receiving corps to this point in his career. Kelvin Benjamin is a red-zone threat who'd immediately boost San Francisco's ability to convert touchdowns, and he'd also be a viable deep threat between the 20s.
31. Denver Broncos: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
With Eric Decker's likely departure via free agency, the Broncos could opt for one of the draft's top receivers in Round 1. Jordan Matthews is big, quick and fast, and he has a talent for making tough grabs in traffic. He'd be a much cheaper replacement for Decker, and Denver's offense wouldn't miss a beat.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No offense to Zach Miller, but he's not scaring anyone with blazing speed from his tight end spot. Miller has been much more of a run-blocker than anything else for Seattle, which needs a speedy tight end to stretch the field.
Note: All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
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