While general managers and other front-office personnel always have differing opinions regarding the players in the NFL draft, each of them have the same goal: to make their team better.
The trick is finding the right strategy and picking the right players. If this were easy, there would be no busts and all 32 teams would entering each year expecting to win the Super Bowl. Even with a great deal of parity throughout the league every season, we all know this is not the case.
Still, each team drafting in the first round has an opportunity to get better, either this year or in the future. Here is a look at the latest mock draft based on projections from around the league.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Texans clearly need a quarterback to become their new face of the franchise. However, if the Seattle Seahawks showed us anything, it is that a dominant defense beats a great offense.
Pairing a unique talent like Jadeveon Clowney with J.J. Watt would be almost unfair for opposing offenses, and it would instantly create one of the best defenses in the NFL.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
If the Rams decide to stay in this spot instead of trading down, it will be vital for them to draft a cornerstone left tackle that can actually provide some blocking for Sam Bradford.
Although Auburn's Greg Robinson has the athletic advantage over Jake Matthews, the latter is more polished, especially when it comes to the passing game. Matthews has played on both sides of the offensive line and will be a solid contributor in either spot right away.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There will continue to be debate over exactly who the best quarterback in the class is, but it all comes down to scheme fit. The fact remains that no one will be able to turnaround the Jaguars quite like Johnny Manziel.
The former Heisman Trophy winner can make things happen with his arm or his legs, and he has a knack for making big plays out of nothing. Even without an elite offensive line or running game, Manziel can move out of the pocket and find one of his talented, young receivers down the field.
Besides, the infusion of some excitement to the Jaguars' organization can only be a good thing.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
You cannot always trust the news that is coming from teams before the draft, but Bleacher Report's Matt Miller explains in the above video that the Browns do not want to select a quarterback with their first pick.
Browns GM Ray Farmer's explanation of the situation seemed to be in agreement, via John Breech of CBS Sports:
I've studied the quarterbacks and I've studied other players, and I've already started to formulate the rank and order of each position. I do know what I'd do if I was held down at the moment. It doesn't mean that can't change, but I currently have somebody in front.
I'd say that No. 4 is not necessarily where I would take the guy that I like. Again, it may not be the name that everybody thinks is the latest, greatest, and the easy one to spot. There's definitely an art to selecting people in the draft and it's finding the right name that fits who you want to be.
This spot is too high to grab other big needs on offense, like a running back or guard, so instead the Browns should take a luxury, like another receiver. Sammy Watkins is the most complete player at his position, and he would be ready to contribute immediately at the next level.
No matter who is under center for the Browns, they would certainly be happy throwing the ball to Watkins, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron all day.
5. Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Once considered the top player in the draft, Teddy Bridgewater has seen his stock fall due to a less-than-stellar combine performance. However, he still has the mental and physical tools necessary to be a star in the NFL.
Oakland has a lot of needs on both sides of the ball, but it would be smart to draft a franchise quarterback with this pick and build around him.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Last season, Atlanta finished in the bottom 10 both in terms of sacks allowed on offense and total sacks on defense. If the squad wants to get back to the playoffs, it must add players who can get to the quarterback on defense as well as those who can protect the quarterback on offense.
Which is the best offensive lineman in the draft?
One of the best offensive linemen in the class, Robinson can help in one of those areas. He can also clear space in the running game, something that has not been a strength for a long time in Atlanta.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
After making big improvements to the defensive secondary last offseason, the Buccaneers now need to provide help to the front seven.
Khalil Mack will not only provide a much-needed pass rush, but he is versatile enough to drop back in coverage or play against the run. The versatility he shows as a three-down linebacker will make a big impact on the defensive side of the ball.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
There is a chance that Blake Bortles will be selected with the first-overall pick, but you can be certain that he will not fall beyond this point. The Vikings need a quarterback after years of struggles, and they would love to see the UCF star still on the board at this point.
With good accuracy and enough mobility in the pocket to avoid sacks, Bortles has the potential to be a solid starter at the next level.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
For a long time, Taylor Lewan was a distant third in the offensive-tackle rankings behind Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews. However, the gap is no longer as big as some may think.
The Michigan product showed off incredible explosiveness at the combine along with his incredible size, as noted by NFL on Fox:
Michigan OT Taylor Lewan (6'7", 309 lbs) records the FASTEST official 40-time among offensive linemen: 4.87— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) February 22, 2014
He also led all offensive linemen in the broad jump and was among the best in the vertical jump and three-cone drill as well. This all shows off a great deal of athleticism for a player who can move around in space and handle even the quickest pass-rushers across the line.
That performance is likely to make him a top-10 pick and a perfect for the Bills, who must improve their offensive line.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Although there are bigger and faster cornerbacks in this class, Darqueze Dennard should still be the first player taken at his position. He has perfected his coverage skills and can truly be a shut-down corner in the NFL.
The Lions need a player with his ability on defense, and they would be smart to grab the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Tennessee has slowly built a solid defense consisting of talented, young players. With the addition of an edge rusher like Barr, who is capable of putting pressure on the opposing quarterback, this unit could be unstoppable.
Barr is a smart selection due to his high ceiling. The former running back has great athleticism along with the pure speed to beat any opposing tackle. The only question is whether he can improve his technique to be more consistent at the next level.
12. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Everyone knows that the Giants do not use early draft picks on linebackers. Then again, everyone knows that one of the biggest holes on the team's roster comes at the linebacker position, especially over the long term.
C.J. Mosley not only has the talent to cover from sideline to sideline, but he also has the confidence and composure to be a leader on defense. After years of ineptitude in the middle of the field, Mosley will solidify this spot for years to come.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Grabbing a wide receiver at this spot would certainly be more exciting, but it would not necessarily be the smarter pick. The Rams drafted Tavon Austin early last year and have a number of other young wideouts who can be developed into legitimate starters.
On the other hand, picking up Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would greatly improve an already solid defense. This would help the squad compete with the rest of the hard-nosed NFC West.
14. Chicago Bears: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
For an organization known for its perennially tough defense, the Bears were awful on that side of the ball in 2013. Injuries were responsible for some of the issues, but the unit could simply not defend the run, as teams were able to create big holes in the middle of the field.
Louis Nix III can clog those holes with his huge frame and big-time strength. The Notre Dame star can take on multiple blockers and free up his teammates to make plays, something that could end up being very useful for the Bears.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
There are a lot of reasons Gilbert is considered by many to be the top cornerback in this draft. He has good size for the position to go along with elite speed and an incredible leaping ability, which allows him to make a play on any pass. Additionally, the cornerback has a knack for making big plays and can score whenever the ball is in his hands.
The only problem is that he is still raw with his technique, as noted by Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com:
Justin Gilbert runs 4.35 .. he's got a high ceiling, but has a few flaws in his coverage skills right now— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) February 25, 2014
Bleacher Report's Darren Page also notes that his man coverage skills are especially a problem:
I don't trust Justin Gilbert in man cvg at all really, but against WR's with NFL level acceleration, off man a no-no. http://t.co/hMRDqLqupk— Darren Page (@DarrenPage15) March 3, 2014
Of course, this only slightly drops Gilbert's grade, and he could end up being a steal for the Steelers, who must get younger in their secondary, at No. 15.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Onlookers were impressed with Aaron Donald's play throughout the college football season, but many assumed that he would be too small to compete in the NFL. However, the more he plays, the more impressed people are that he can get it done at any level.
On a Cowboys squad that could use help at all levels of the defense, Donald can make a big impact due to his ability to penetrate into the backfield. If he is blowing up plays before they start, it will make everyone behind him look better.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
If the Ravens are unable to re-sign Eugene Monroe, left tackle will become a giant area of need that must be addressed immediately. Assuming he sticks around, the Ravens' next biggest need is at wide receiver.
Joe Flacco could not do much with his huge contract last season due to the lack of weapons around him. Having Dennis Pitta for a full year will help, but Mike Evans could be even more useful as a consistent downfield threat.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Jets did not have anyone on the offense that truly scared defensive coordinators last season. Marqise Lee can change that thanks to his ability to make plays after the catch.
He can make things easier for Geno Smith by coming up big on slants and other short passes, as he would quickly become the young quarterback's favorite target.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Zack Martin has the ability to play left tackle, but he might be better off moving inside to guard, where he can dominate on both passing and running plays. Either way, he could help the Dolphins offensive line, which was bad even before Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin left the team.
Martin can fit into either position and help protect Ryan Tannehill as the latter continues to improve as a passer.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
While the Cardinals will improve along the offensive line when last year's first-round pick, Jonathan Cooper, returns to full strength, they still need more help. This leaves an opportunity to draft Morgan Moses out of Virginia.
The big man stands at 6'6" and has been dominant at times when protecting the blindside. However, there are questions about his consistency as well as his overall agility. If he remains focused, though, he could be among the best players in the class.
21. Green Bay Packers: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Although many are noting that the Packers need a tight end, the past few years have proven that anyone can step into the offense and be successful as long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy.
This means that Green Bay should use this pick to improve the defensive side of the ball, and Timmy Jernigan might be the best player on the board at this point. The defensive tackle explained his value to Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
I feel like now in the NFL a lot of nose tackles, especially with three-man fronts, the big 340-, 350-pound guys, a lot of times in the pass situations, those guys have to come off the field. I feel like that’s where I can benefit a team at. I’ve played in a shade [technique], I’ve played over the center, I’ve played in the three-technique. So I can play a three-technique and when it’s a pass situation and you want to go to a three-man front, you can put me on the nose guard, right on the zero [gap]. I can get pressure from the middle of the offense. I feel like that’s where my game changes from anyone else.
This versatility can be huge for the Packers, who need someone capable of both stopping the run and providing a pass rush. With B.J. Raji appearing unlikely to remain with the team, Jernigan remains the perfect replacement.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
After locking up most of the contributors on offense already this offseason, the Eagles should clearly look to improve things on the defensive side of the ball. More specifically, the team has to improve its weak secondary.
With Gilbert and Dennard off the board, the Eagles will be smart to add a quality safety in Calvin Pryor. He does not have great size, but he can cover a lot of ground and is not afraid to come up in order to make a big hit.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Running back Jamaal Charles basically represented the entire offense for the Chiefs this past season. Alex Smith performed well at quarterback, but he needs another weapon to help stretch the field and take the pressure off Charles.
Ebron can do that as one of the best athletes in the class. He has the size, speed and strength to serve as a mismatch against virtually any defense, and he will help the Chiefs put points on the board right away.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
The Bengals want to draft the best player available, but they have to make sure it is someone who can help the team. Luckily, Kony Ealy satisfies both of these desires as a quality pass-rushing specialist.
Ealy might not be an every-down player just yet, but he can come in for key situations and help the Bengals maintain versatility on the defensive end.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
At some point in the offseason, the Chargers have to find a way to improve at cornerback. This was a big area of concern at the start of last season as well, and it only seemed to improve later in the year thanks to some excellent coaching and strong play of others on defense.
Jason Verrett represents the best option available at the position thanks to his speed and overall athleticism. Although he does not have the size (5'9", 189 lbs) of some of the bigger names in the draft, he should be just fine contributing at the next level.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
After passing on the bigger names at quarterback with the No. 4 pick, the Browns can get the player they really want at this point.
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.
Cleveland has been burned in the past by taking quarterbacks at the end of Round 1 (Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn come to mind), but if they think Carr is the answer, it should not matter what anyone else thinks.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Although the Saints could look to add another receiving target for Drew Brees, it makes more sense to continue improving the defense, which took a big jump last year under Rob Ryan.
Ryan Shazier would fit in perfectly as a versatile prospect who can do a lot of things from the linebacker position. He showed his athleticism at the combine, posing the best vertical jump (42") of any of the prospects that participated in the event. With the right coaching, he could be a star in the NFL.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Carolina earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC thanks to an elite defense. However, the passing attack ranked only 29th in the league. This was not just the fault of Cam Newton, as it was also due to a lack of targets that could stretch the field.
Kelvin Benjamin would not only be a quality deep threat, but he would be a dominant player in the red zone thanks to his 6'5" frame. Putting him on the field with Newton, Mike Tolbert and others near the goal line would be almost impossible for opposing defenses to stop.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots offense worked best when there were two tight ends on the field. Unfortunately, the legal problems of Aaron Hernandez and injury issues with Rob Gronkowski limited the team last season.
While Gronkowski may be healthy at the start of next season, the Patriots still need another target to create mismatches down the field. Jace Amaro has that ability along with soft hands that are not often found in a tight end. It likely will not take long for the rookie to become one of Tom Brady's favorite targets.
Which of these receivers will have a better career?
30. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Wide receiver is no longer a huge need for the Niners with Anquan Boldin returning, but the team still needs someone who can provide something different for the offense.
Boldin and Michael Crabtree are physical players, but neither of them can stretch the field and open things up underneath for the run-heavy offense.
Odell Beckham can change that and become a dynamic presence in the slot.
On the other hand, San Francisco could instead use this pick to shore up the defensive secondary, as a few free agents from this unit may depart from the team this offseason.
31. Denver Broncos: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
As the Broncos saw in the Super Bowl, it does not matter how good an offense is unless it comes with a good defense. Stephon Tuitt can help create the good defense the Broncos are lacking thanks to his talent and versatility along the line.
Tuitt can line up at either end or tackle in any system, and he should be able to contribute early, no matter where he lands. With the Broncos, he should move inside and be someone who can both stop the run and provide a quality pass rush on a consistent basis.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
One of the biggest weaknesses for the Seahawks in 2013 was the interior offensive line. When injuries hit, this was even more apparent.
David Yankey is the best guard available in the draft, and he should be able to clear even more room for Marshawn Lynch (not like he needs it, though). Most importantly, he will provide additional blocking for Russell Wilson, ensuring that the quarterback will be around for a long time.
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