2014 NFL Mock Draft: Bold Predictions and Analysis for First Round

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

Waiting for the NFL draft this year is like waiting for Christmas or Hanukkah when you know you've got a great gift coming that you've wanted for a long time. The anticipation is brutal.

Because this year's NFL draft is so, so deep, just about every team outside of Washington has to be eagerly awaiting the class of players entering the league. Even the teams drafting later in the first round have a great chance of landing a stud. 

So in the spirit of snooping through your parents' closet looking for gifts, let's take a look at how this year's draft might play out. We're getting closer to the big day, folks, and I can't wait.


1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

If the Texans want the best player in this draft, they'll take Jadeveon Clowney. If they want the most exciting player, they'll take Johnny Manziel. If they want the quarterback with the most potential, they'll go with Blake Bortles. And if they want the smartest player most capable of stepping in and leading their offense immediately, Teddy Bridgewater will be the guy.

I may be in the minority, but I think Bridgewater will win over Bill O'Brien and the Houston front office with his intelligence and his familiarity reading opposing defenses and changing things at the line. Remember, the Texans aren't far removed from being a playoff team—add an NFL-ready quarterback to the roster, and they'll give the Indianapolis Colts a run for their money.

Nonetheless, the Clowney-to-Houston rumors have been heating up. Consider the following from Lance Zierlein of Sports Talk 790 in Houston:

If the Texans go out and sign a veteran stopgap such as Michael Vick, they'll almost certainly pick Clowney at No. 1 and then look for a quarterback in the later rounds. But until that happens, I'm still mocking Bridgewater to Houston.


2. Cleveland Browns (from St. Louis via Washington): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

I'm so torn on this pick. I could see the Rams simply staying put, not getting a package they want from another team unwilling to give up picks in a deep draft and selecting Sammy Watkins, Greg Robinson or even Clowney.

But I still think the Browns are going to offer their No. 4 and No. 26 picks (and probably a few later-round selections as well) to move up and select Johnny Manziel. 

Look, dynamic playmakers Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron need someone throwing the ball, and the Browns desperately need a player to energize the franchise. Manziel doesn't come without risks, but he's a dynamic player and would certainly put butts in seats. I think Cleveland moves up and begins the Johnny Football era.


3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

If Clowney falls to No. 3 and Bridgewater and Manziel are already off the board, I think the Jags will snag Clowney. Defensive end is almost as big of a need as quarterback, and Clowney is arguably the best player in this draft. Some solid quarterbacks will be waiting in the second round, and this team could always sign a temporary fix at the position in free agency.

This could also become a popular pick to deal, as the Rams would likely consider adding Clowney if he dropped to No. 4. But the Jags would be wise to make Clowney their guy.


4. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

This could also be Sammy Watkins, but Robinson is a stud at a more important position, and I think we've yet to see what Tavon Austin is capable of if utilized correctly. He did show flashes at the end of last season, and that could be enough for the Rams.

Robinson seems like one of the safer picks in the draft and fills a need, so I think the Rams improve in the trenches rather than upgrading on the outside. 


5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

Oakland could go in a ton of different directions here, but if the quarterback with arguably the most upside in this draft falls to them, it's hard to imagine them passing him up. This team desperately, desperately needs a franchise quarterback. 


6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo

The Falcons need to add playmakers on defense, and if you ask Mike Mayock, Mack might be the best player in this draft, period. He'll be a terror coming off the edge for this Falcons squad.


7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

If Watkins drops this far—and it's very possible he could be the second player off the board—you have to think the Bucs would be more than happy to snag him. He's as polished a top-10 receiver as you'll generally see hitting the NFL, and his playmaking ability is unquestioned. 

An offense with Watkins, Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin would be tough to game-plan against. And with the top three quarterbacks coming off the board already, the Bucs may give Mike Glennon another year to show what he can do.


8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

This will probably be one of my more controversial selections, but this is the team that drafted Christian Ponder. And I'm not alone in thinking it could happen.

From Bleacher Report's Matt Miller: "Ready for a curveball? Derek Carr to the Vikings. Mike Zimmer is rumored to want a big-armed quarterback, and Carr has the best velocity of any passer in the class. He's also a mature, no-nonsense leader at the position."

Of course, it's also possible the Vikings will look to add a quarterback via free agency and will improve other positions here. Adrian Peterson has already said he would love to add Vick, after all:

So there's that. But unless that happens, don't be surprised if the Vikings turn some heads and make Carr the fourth quarterback off the board in the first eight picks.


9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M  

Right tackle is a big need for the Bills, and Matthews could come in and man the position admirably. The Bills could also look to safety to replace the surely departing Jairus Byrd, though that might be a bit of a reach at No. 9. 


10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Cornerback is arguably the bigger need, but this seems a bit high for any player at the position. Besides, the prospect of pairing Mike Evans with Calvin Johnson might be too tempting for the Lions to pass up. Evans would be an instant contributor and would force defenses to either roll coverage away from Megatron or leave Evans on an island. 

Think Brandon Marshall paired with Alshon Jefferybut even more explosiveand you get the Megatron and Evans pairing.


11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA

Barr is just raw enough that he'll drop out of the top 10, but he's got explosive upside and will perfectly fit the Titans' new hybrid 3-4 scheme. One of the most exciting athletes in this draft will fill arguably the biggest need the Titans have.


12. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama 

The Giants could also go with the offensive line here, but Mosley is a dynamic talent at linebacker and would fill a pretty huge need. His experience and athleticism will instantly upgrade this New York defense.


13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

The man with the best name in the draft probably won't get past the Rams if he drops to this point in the draft. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is exactly the type of rangy center fielder they need at the position. He would perfectly fit into Gregg Williams' defense, allowing T.J. McDonald to play up near the line of scrimmage. This is a perfect scenario for the Rams.


14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Chicago's run defense was about as reliable as a windbreaker in Antarctica, so upgrading the interior of the defensive line is a huge need. After a strong combine, the Bears could look at Aaron Donald rather than Jernigan here, but, in either case, it would be shocking if they didn't somehow upgrade the run defense.


15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State   

Is Kelvin Benjamin a reach here? Perhaps. But Pittsburgh only has smaller, speedy receivers and desperately needs a playmaker who can beat teams over the top or bring down jump balls in the red zone. Benjamin is a bit raw, but his upside is immense, and he would fit what the Steelers really need at the position. I say they reach to bring aboard the Florida State star.  


16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

The Cowboys have playmakers on offense, but their defense is atrocious. Pretty much every position could be upgraded, but improving in the trenches is a good place to start. Donald was a consistent performer at Pittsburgh and turned heads at the NFL Scouting Combine, so Dallas would be getting great value with this selection.


17. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC 

If you are drafting Marqise Lee to be your No. 1 option in the passing game, you might end up unhappy with the player you've drafted. But if you want a No. 2 option, a guy who can beat man-to-man coverage with quickness and crisp routes, Lee is the perfect fit.

The Ravens already have a No. 1 receiver in Torrey Smith. They have a reliable tight end in Dennis Pitta. They have a red-zone threat in Marlon Brown. But they don't have a solid, reliable No. 2 receiver out wide. Lee is just what the doctor ordered. 


18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina 

No matter who ends up throwing passes for the Jets next season, they'll need someone to catch them. The Jets may have had the poorest set of skill-position players on offense to work with I can remember seeing in years, so adding an athletic tight end such as Eric Ebron makes so much sense it hurts.

Think Vernon Davis here. Ebron isn't a great in-line blocker, but he can line up in the slot and give teams matchup nightmares. And the Jets could really use someone on offense capable of creating matchup nightmares.


19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan 

The Dolphins very well may turn to free agency to fill their left tackle need, as there is no guarantee a day-one starter will be available to them in the draft. But if Lewan falls to them at No. 19, they'll waste no time bringing him aboard. Without question, the position is the team's biggest need.


20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame  

You could pretty much take the paragraph I wrote for the Dolphins and put it down here. In my opinion, there is a bit of a dropoff after Lewan at offensive tackle, but Martin is still a first-round talent and hardly a reach here. If the draft falls this way—and if the Cardinals don't address the position in free agency—they'll be pleased with this selection. 


21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

Calvin Pryor is a heat-seeking missile at strong safety. He would not only fill a huge need, but he would also be an excellent value at No. 21. I wouldn't be shocked if he went as high as No. 9 to the Buffalo Bills, but he won't last past the Eagles at No. 22 if he makes it that far. The Packers will be quite pleased to have Pryor's physical presence in their secondary.


22. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

It's possible I have Justin Gilbert a bit low here—and I still think the Eagles' biggest need is safety—but if he were to drop to No. 22, the Eagles would probably be doing cartwheels in the war room. I really think the Eagles will be one of the front-runners to land Jairus Byrd, and the fact that they brought back both Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin makes it unlikely they'll go after a wide receiver here. 


23. Kansas City Chiefs: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State 

There probably isn't a better press-man corner in this draft, as Dennard thrives on an island. If you don't think the Chiefs could use an upgrade at the position, look up tape from the second half against the Colts in the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs. Dennard is needed.


24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU 

The Bengals will probably be a bit perturbed that the top two available corners are off the board here, as they really need to add some young blood to a rapidly aging corps at the position. But Verrett is a very, very good consolation prize, and he should make an instant impact in Cincy.


25. San Diego Chargers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota 

Hageman has a top-15 skill set, but inconsistency is an issue. Still, the Chargers will feel like they got excellent value here and filled a need along the way. 


26. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland via Indianapolis): Odell Beckham, WR, LSU 

The beauty of this draft for the Rams is that they can fill other, more pressing needs early and still have their pick from a slew of talented receivers later. Odell Beckham is climbing up a lot of boards and is a great value here, so St. Louis will come out of this first round looking pretty savvy.


27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn 

Dee Ford is no blind dog in a meat market, folks. Whether that's a good thing remains to be seen, but he can get after the quarterback, and his tenacity coming off the edge will be much appreciated in New Orleans.


28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

Regardless of whether Steve Smith stays or goes, the Panthers will need to upgrade at wide receiver. Robinson is athletic and dangerous down the field, and he's able to go up and bring the ball down over shorter corners. He's exactly the type of weapon Cam Newton needs. 


29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Rob Gronkowski can't be trusted to stay healthy. New England's young receivers are still developing a rapport with Tom Brady. The Patriots are dangerous when they can roll out two-tight end sets and create mismatches, so adding Jace Amaro will return this offense to its more dynamic days.


30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

While the odd feud/power struggle/veiled contract negotiation between Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers rages on and steals headlines, this team still has needs to fill. Perhaps none is bigger than adding another dynamic receiver to stretch defenses. Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin are solid weapons, but the Niners need a player who can stretch the field, such as Brandin Cooks.  


31. Denver Broncos:  Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri 

Kony Ealy is athletic enough to stand up but strong enough to play with his hand in the ground. He'll get after the quarterback in Denver, which is a need for a team that is probably questioning how much it can trust Von Miller after last season. 


32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

A huge need? Check. A talented player? Check. A guy who played his college ball in the same state? Check. A pretty obvious selection? You guessed it. Check. 



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