The NFL offseason is constantly changing with the franchise tag deadline passing and free agency possibilities looming for every team, but the 2014 NFL draft is one of the biggest focal points for teams hoping to improve heading into the regular season.
Following the NFL Scouting Combine, the elite college prospects will get yet another chance to make an impression on scouts and coaches from around the league.
While much of the headlines have been stolen away by the top quarterback prospects in the class, with three likely to go in the top five picks, several teams are targeting playmakers who have a chance to make a difference in their first season.
Not every player coming out of college is as explosive as either Cordarrelle Patterson or Eddie Lacy, among others, but franchises will put their hopes in names like Sammy Watkins and Eric Ebron in the upcoming draft.
Here is a look at an entire breakdown of the first round along with a focus on the best playmakers in the opening round of the draft.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
It's a decision that's been talked about for months, but after the combine and an entire offseason to evaluate who Bill O'Brien wants to hook his career onto, it appears the Houston Texans will be locking in on a quarterback.
John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports he'll be "shocked" if the Texans don't go quarterback with the first pick:
I've been saying 4 weeks and I will say until I believe differently, but the Texans are taking a quarterback. I'll be shocked if they don't.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) March 3, 2014
I'm not going to bet against a man who has covered the NFL for longer than I've been alive. But when it comes to quarterbacks, there has been some debate over who should go first overall.
While many believe it should be Johnny Manziel, the Texans won't go with flash over fundamentals. As for Teddy Bridgewater, Houston could see more value in him. If the team trades down, they could still get the player they want in either Bridgewater or Manziel.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
By far the most explosive playmaker in the draft, Watkins proved why he's considered the No. 1 wide receiver in the draft with his combine results.
Watkins made a huge impression on scouts and coaches with his performance. Gil Brandt of NFL.com was one of those in Indianapolis and provides his analysis of Watkins from the combine:
Watkins threw the bar up 16 times in the bench press, though he almost made it to 17. He has 32-inch arms, which are pretty long for a receiver. Watkins officially clocked a 4.43 40, but I had him at 4.38 and 4.39.
He has extremely explosive speed, meaning he's one of those guys who will be able to catch a quick screen and beat you downfield on a fly route.
That speed alone easily makes him the best receiver in the class, but his dynamic ability sets him apart. When Watkins gets into open space, he's nearly unstoppable.
The Rams are in desperate need of a tall receiver to go along with Tavon Austin and take some of the attention away. With Watkins sitting there at No. 2, it's hard to resist making this pick.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
After two phenomenal seasons with Texas A&M that put the program on the map, the Jacksonville Jaguars will take a huge gamble in hopes that Johnny Manziel can do the same for them.
The Jaguars have taken a chance before with a quarterback in the top of the first round with Blaine Gabbert, so taking a risk on Manziel might not look like the best idea. But with the potential for Manziel with his arm and speed, Jacksonville might come away with a star.
If he does land with the Jacksonville Jaguars, it would be a match made in heaven. The Jaguars have been without a franchise quarterback since the days of David Garrard taking them to the playoffs.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
It was believed for weeks leading up to the combine that the Cleveland Browns wanted to draft Johnny Manziel. But throughout the event, the Browns never sat down with Manziel for an interview, according to Derek Harper of CBS Sports.
While the Browns might not be intrigued by Johnny Football, that doesn't mean they won't be going with a quarterback at all with their top pick.
If Teddy Bridgewater is still on the board for the Browns with the fourth overall pick, he could be the franchise quarterback for Mike Pettine's new regime. And for a team that tried out nearly everything behind center in 2013, the Browns might finally have consistency with Bridgewater.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The top defensive player in the draft also just so happens to be one of the most talented players in the entire class. And with a plethora of quarterbacks going in the first four picks, the Oakland Raiders will wind up with a chance to take a player who could be the best in the class.
Jadeveon Clowney has been questioned for his effort by his former coach Steve Spurrier and didn't put up huge numbers in 2013, but his athleticism has never been questioned. Following a huge performance at the combine, Clowney is still a highly coveted prospect who won't be passed up by the Raiders.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
One of the highest rising players thanks to his huge game in the BCS National Championship Game, Greg Robinson proved why he's skyrocketed up draft boards with an impressive combine.
Robinson has firmly claimed the title of No. 1 offensive lineman in the 2014 class. The Falcons need to protect Matt Ryan a little better than in 2013 and could look to the Auburn product for help in that department.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
In one of the deepest divisions in the NFL—though it didn't look that way in 2013—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to upgrade defensively to stack up with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.
With the best outside linebacker in the class in Khalil Mack, new head coach Lovie Smith and the Bucs will be on their way. Mack offers both speed and size with the ability to cover the entire field—all things Tampa Bay needs against three great offensive teams in the NFC South.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
With new head coach Mike Zimmer bringing in Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, the days of Christian Ponder starting behind center for the Minnesota Vikings might just be over.
In Derek Carr, the Vikings could be adding the piece that brings together a potent offense that already includes Adrian Peterson and an emerging star in Cordarrelle Patterson. As for the next few picks, expect the Vikings to go defensive after a horrific season in 2013.
9. Buffalo Bills: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
With Anthony Barr still on the board and another hole to fill, the Bills will shore up the spot by grabbing one of the best young linebackers in the 2014 class. Still sitting on the board as a top-10 pick, Barr could wind up being one of the best players in the entire class.
And with a chip on his shoulder after being the second linebacker taken—not a huge one; he is going in the first round, after all—Barr will prove his worth for the Bills in his first season alongside Kiko Alonso and Mario Williams in the front seven.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Coming out of Michigan State, Darqueze Dennard won't have to do much traveling when he's picked on draft day, as the Detroit Lions have a need at the position.
While the race between Dennard and Justin Gilbert for the top overall cornerback is still being debated, the Lions likely have a better idea of what Dennard brings to the table than a player from Oklahoma State. And with the two players' skills being so close together, Dennard will edge out Gilbert on draft day.
11. Tennessee Titans: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
With Greg Robinson taking over as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2014 class, Jake Matthews has slid back into the lap of the Tennessee Titans at the No. 11 pick.
While he doesn't possess the same sort of athleticism and speed as Robinson, Matthews will be a great pickup just outside the top 10 for the Titans. If Jake Locker makes a full recovery, Matthews could be blocking for yet another dual-threat quarterback after blocking for Manziel in college.
12. New York Giants: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The New York Giants took a big step back in 2013, and much of that was due to poor defensive play. The defensive line isn't as fearsome as it once was, but New York has a chance to change that with the No. 12 pick.
Kony Ealy is an outstanding lineman who has a chance to develop into a star with the Giants, and he is the nasty type of player they are looking for to shore up the position and put together a dominant line.
13. St. Louis Rams: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
After getting their receiver with the No. 2 pick in the draft, the Rams will continue to build on the offense with the addition of Taylor Lewan.
The 22-year-old went into the combine with questions about his past, but came away as one of the top prospects in the class. His athleticism and burst off the line were on display and will be a huge part of the Rams' success on offense in the coming years.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
After an abysmal year defensively for the Chicago Bears, they will look to fill a need immediately with their first-round pick. And with the top overall defensive tackle still left on the board, going with Timmy Jernigan is as close to a lock as we'll get in the first round.
In order to contend with the explosive offenses of the NFC North and get back to the playoffs, the Bears need to get better defensively right away. With Jernigan, they get a start in the right direction.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
With both safeties for the Pittsburgh Steelers currently in their 11th and 12th seasons, it's time to start building for the future. And there is no better insurance policy in the draft at the safety position than Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Thanks to his ability to cover the entire field, Clinton-Dix has a chance to be Ryan Clark's successor. After playing in the SEC during his college tenure, the explosive safety fits the mold of AFC North players perfectly.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Dallas Cowboys were a terrible defensive team. And that's putting it nicely.
After reworking the entire defensive coaching staff and suffering against running and passing offenses alike, the Cowboys will go with one of the most athletic tackles in the draft in Aaron Donald.
The Pittsburgh product has proved that he can hold his own against other great linemen even though he's undersized. He might not be the only defensive player the Cowboys take, but Donald is a great start for the deflated group.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Though Watkins is at the top of the class in terms of wide receivers, there is plenty of depth at the position.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock spoke about how deep the class is, according to Taylor Price of 49ers.com. "There’s more quality at the top of this draft that I’ve seen in a long time," Mayock said. "It’s the best wide receiver class that I’ve seen in years."
Of those receivers, Mike Evans is the second-best option after Watkins. If he doesn't get snatched up by another team earlier in the draft, the 6'5" receiver will make a perfect fit for the Ravens in the red zone.
Evans' 40-yard dash time was impressive, but Josina Anderson of ESPN points out why he might actually be able to improve upon it during his pro day:
Mike Evans lumbering too much through that 40. Left time on the track. He tried to use his upper body too much to stabilize & create power— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) February 23, 2014
Mike Evans just put down a 4.47 on 2nd 40. Here's the thing, he's much faster than that time, too. Technique all over the place straight line— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) February 23, 2014
While Evans could go higher than No. 17 overall, his ability in the red zone is exactly what the Ravens need to take attention off Torrey Smith.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It took 18 picks for the first tight end to come off the board, but Eric Ebron will certainly fit in well with the New York Jets.
While the Jets lack a wealth of offensive weapons, Ebron has admitted he has no issue with being double teamed. Prior to one of the biggest games of his college career, Ebron spoke with me about his ability to step up in tough situations:
Every team just double-teams me. At this point, I’ve come to expect it. But one thing teams have got to understand is that it doesn’t matter who you line up against me, I’m going to produce for my team. If you’re in my way, I’m sorry but you’re not going to stop me. I know that may sound like a cocky statement, but it’s not; it’s a confident one.
After a season in which rookie quarterback Geno Smith went through a number of growing pains with an awful offense around him, Ebron might be just the cure for their offensive woes.
Given Ebron's physical tools and his outstanding ability to catch nearly everything thrown in his general direction, there is no better fit for the Jets.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The key to getting the Miami Dolphins offense going in 2014 will be keeping Ryan Tannehill upright throughout the season. They were not very good at that in 2013, but that was, in large part, thanks to a certain situation that lost them two offensive linemen.
If the Dolphins go with the Notre Dame product in Zack Martin, they not only have a viable player who can fill in right now but also a lineman who can hold his own for years to come.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
One of the nastiest players in the draft, Ra'Shede Hageman fits the Arizona Cardinals' new identity perfectly.
The Minnesota tackle would come into a defense that ranked at the top of the NFL in rushing defense and would have the chance to grow under Bruce Arians' style. Coming into the NFC West, where points are already hard to come by, Hageman would become yet another dominant force.
21. Green Bay Packers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
There are several deep positions in the 2014 draft, and defensive tackle is clearly one of them. While the likes of Jernigan, Donald and Hageman might go ahead of Louis Nix III, he is a more-than-capable tackle who could make an immediate impact for the Green Bay Packers.
And in an NFC North Division in which the Packers regularly have to face the likes of Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Reggie Bush, adding Nix to the defensive line only bolsters their chances of separating themselves from the pack.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The late-round addition of Earl Wolff will soon pay off for the Philadelphia Eagles at the strong safety position, but grabbing up one of the most explosive free safeties in Calvin Pryor could help build a strong secondary for the future.
Coming out of Louisville, Pryor has skyrocketed up draft boards and has earned his title as the No. 2 safety in the class. With the Eagles having a need to fill at the position, Pryor is a perfect fit and could help revive a porous secondary from last season.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
A game manager. A short-yardage passer. Call Alex Smith what you want, but he's a worthy quarterback who just needs more complementary pieces around him to continue the success from an 11-5 season.
With that in mind, the Kansas City Chiefs will go with a playmaker from the West Coast who was once regarded as the No. 1 receiver in the class in Marqise Lee.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com offered his analysis of Lee from the combine on Twitter:
Marqise Lee really helped himself today. But Sammy Watkins was head/shoulders above every other WR. #NFLCombine— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) February 23, 2014
Though that's something of a backhanded compliment, Brandt's comments show that Lee is continuing to progress despite a lackluster 2013 season with USC.
Alongside Dwayne Bowe—who will be turning 30 midway through the 2014 season—Lee could be an explosive offensive weapon for the Chiefs to help topple the Denver Broncos at the top of the division.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Despite losing their defensive coordinator, the Cincinnati Bengals have a stout defense that helped get them to the playoffs in 2013.
With that said, the team still needs to fill the cornerback position. Terence Newman is in the twilight of his career, and Adam Jones is entering his ninth season in the league.
If Justin Gilbert is still on the board at the 24th pick, the Bengals would be better off adding him to the roster and letting him flourish in their system.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
With a great combine performance and plenty of tape from his years with TCU to back it up, Jason Verrett is slowly becoming a lock as a first-round pick.
Verrett's name could continue to climb, but for now, he's an ideal fit for the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers need a defensive back, and Verrett is the best one available with the 25th overall selection.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Browns got their quarterback with their first pick. With the 26th pick, they will get him a playmaker who can help him succeed at the next level.
What Kelvin Benjamin brings to the table is not only the ability to make plays and change the game with his physicality. He's also a 6'5" receiver who will offer Manziel a big target to look for in space.
After working with Evans throughout his college career—another 6'5" receiver—Manziel will be able to target Benjamin in the NFL. Not a bad situation, especially with both Gordon and Cameron already in the receiving corps.
27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
In 2013, the New Orleans Saints beefed up a terrible defense as Rob Ryan led them to being a top-five defense in the NFL.
The Saints can continue to grow in 2014 with the addition of C.J. Mosley, one of the best linebackers in the entire draft. With several teams drafting based on need in the first round, Mosley just so happens to slide to the Saints, and he makes for a perfect fit in New Orleans.
28. Carolina Panthers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
After a lackluster combine performance, Cyrus Kouandjio could slide out of the first round. But with the loss of Jordan Gross, according to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, the Carolina Panthers are in desperate need of a replacement at the position.
Kouandjio more than proved his talent on the college stage with Alabama, but the combine sent shock waves throughout the NFL. Despite the sudden doubts about his talent, Kouandjio will still be a first-round selection and will work his way into the Panthers offense.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Two seasons ago, the New England Patriots had a wealth of tight ends that any team would envy. Now New England has lost Aaron Hernandez and was without the services of Rob Gronkowski for much of last season because of injury.
Simply put, Jace Amaro is a perfect fit for the New England Patriots.
With his size and hands across the middle of the field, he fits a hole that the Patriots need to fill desperately. And while his speed isn't a huge asset for any NFL franchise, Ian Kenyon of Bleacher Report comments on why it won't make teams shy away from picking him:
4.62 is a really good time for Jace Amaro. No idea why anyone would complain about that. Dude is 265 pounds.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) February 22, 2014
While the Patriots have other holes to fill in the draft, Amaro should be a top priority and go in the first round.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The San Francisco 49ers have a need at cornerback. Kyle Fuller is a 6'0" defensive back who was a shutdown corner for Virginia Tech on a defense that flourished in the ACC.
With Jim Harbaugh constantly looking to boost his defense, this seems like an ideal selection for the 49ers. In an NFC West in which defenses clearly shine, Fuller might be just the guy the 49ers need to continue their success.
31. Denver Broncos: Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
After a disappointing end to the season for the Broncos, adding to the defense should be the first priority.
While there are certainly other needs for this team, Stephon Tuitt is a great defensive tackle in a loaded class who can make an immediate impact.
If the Broncos can remain healthy on the defensive side of the ball to help the offense out, they can return to the Super Bowl and come away with the Lombardi Trophy. Tuitt can help get them there, even as a late first-round pick.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
The final pick of the first round goes to a player who has been climbing up draft boards all the way into the opening round.
Antonio Richardson of the Tennessee Volunteers is yet another offensive tackle in this ridiculously deep 2014 class. But with his size and ability off the line, Richardson offers much more than just a run-of-the-mill late selection in the first round.
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