For football fans who are starving for anything pigskin-related, the NFL draft cannot come soon enough.
While the actual draft will not arrive until May 8, every NFL front office is busy poring over combine results and college film on the country’s best prospects. With that in mind, here is a mock draft for the first round.
1. Houston Texans: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
The race for the No. 1 pick could be seen as just a matter of which quarterback the Houston Texans will take.
With Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel all on the table, Houston will have its pick of potential franchise signal-callers. The thought here is that Bortles, with his combination of size, athleticism and throwing ability, will land at the No. 1 spot.
The former Central Florida quarterback certainly made an impression on Texans coach Bill O’Brien when he led the Knights to a victory over Penn State this past year. O’Brien will be much happier when Bortles is on his side at the professional level.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Will Brinson of CBS Sports breaks down why Sammy Watkins is the pick for the St. Louis Rams:
The Rams have a great setup for this draft. They can auction the pick if Jadeveon Clowney falls (or if someone wants a quarterback) or they can grab their top option at wideout or offensive line. (They could also take Clowney if they want.) Watkins is an elite-level talent and one of the rare wideouts worthy of this high a selection. With line depth in this draft, St. Louis can gamble.
Grabbing Watkins at No. 2 will give Sam Bradford an elite-level wide receiver to make plays in the passing game. Watkins has the speed to beat defenders on the deep ball and the hands to make plays on important slant routes on third downs.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
It would be easy to look at this update from Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union and say the Jacksonville Jaguars are not going to take a quarterback in the first round:
League source on #Jaguars: "With Henne back, I don't expect them to take QB until 2nd round and maybe not until 3rd or 4th round."— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) March 7, 2014
However, this is the season for rampant rumors and a little bit of gamesmanship from franchises, especially those atop the draft board.
If the Jaguars are satisfied with Chad Henne as their quarterback of the future, that is their choice. The thought here is that the lure of Manziel and the marketing opportunities that come with him for a franchise desperate for better Q scores will be too tempting for Jacksonville to pass up come draft day.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
It’s no secret that the Cleveland Browns are in the quarterback market heading into this draft.
With Bortles and Manziel already off the board, they will turn their attention to Bridgewater of Louisville. While the former Cardinal missed an opportunity to impress at the NFL Scouting Combine, his college production and overall skill set are more than enough to land him at No. 4.
Bridgewater is a playmaker and, when paired with Josh Gordon and Co., he will make the Browns offense much more formidable as both a passer and scrambler.
5. Oakland Raiders: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Landing the game-changing defensive end who put up a running back-like 40-yard dash time at the combine at No. 5 is a solid consolation prize for the Oakland Raiders.
Jadeveon Clowney brings more to the table than just speed, though. His strength and athleticism allow him to shed double-teams and beat linemen off the edge on both passing and running plays.
Assuming he maintains and improves his endurance, Clowney will be an every-down player at the next level. That is exactly what a team is looking for if it is going to select a defensive lineman in the top five.
6. Atlanta Falcons: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
It’s been a busy couple of months for Greg Robinson, as Justin Hokanson of Yahoo! Sports points out:
Greg Robinson went from bowl practice, to NC game, to NFL Combine training, to Pro Day, to individual workouts...still hasn't returned home.— Justin Hokanson (@JHokanson) March 4, 2014
Fortunately for Robinson, he has made an impression at all of those stops. His incredible athleticism was on full display at the combine, and his quickness and balance will help on both passing and rushing downs.
Robinson is the type of impact player who could go as high as No. 1 in many drafts, so landing him at No. 6 would certainly be a welcomed addition for an Atlanta Falcons team that is always in the market for more protection for Matt Ryan.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
This is more a pick based on Jake Matthews’ impressive talent than a selection of need for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Perhaps the best part about Matthews is his overall versatility. He can play right or left tackle, as was evidenced by his career at Texas A&M.
That immediately gives the Bucs more depth on both sides of the line, which will be imperative as they attempt to protect Mike Glennon in the long term.
8. Minnesota Vikings: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
With Jared Allen’s status as a free agent, the Minnesota Vikings need to replenish their depth on the defensive side of the ball.
The question here is whether Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr is the right pick. Minnesota can’t go wrong with either, but the thought here is that it will go to the elite pass-rusher from Buffalo.
Mack was a destructive force this past season, even when opposing offenses zeroed in on neutralizing him as the one true game-changing threat Buffalo brought to the table. When he is paired with NFL teammates, Mack will be even more effective.
9. Buffalo Bills: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Much like Mack, Anthony Barr is a dangerous pass-rusher who uses speed and strength to get to the quarterback.
However, he has one advantage that even Mack doesn’t—he used to be an offensive player. NFL draft and college football analyst Joe Everett pointed that out at the combine:
Buffalo has a number of needs, not the least of which is getting more offensive weapons for EJ Manuel, but it needs an impressive pass rush against the likes of Tom Brady and Co. in the AFC East. Barr provides a solid starting point in that area.
10. Detroit Lions: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Good luck stopping the Detroit Lions offense if they manage to draft Mike Evans with the No. 10 pick in the draft.
With Calvin Johnson already in tow and Reggie Bush making plays out of the backfield, Evans would give Detroit yet another threat. The Lions need defensive depth as well, but the possibility of pairing Evans with Johnson will be too tempting to pass up.
Look for Detroit to use its later picks on the defensive side of the ball.
11. Tennessee Titans: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
If Detroit passes on the need for a cornerback at No. 10, the Tennessee Titans will be more than happy to oblige by selecting Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State.
The former Cowboy possesses the sought-after size and speed combination that every team is looking for in a cornerback. He won’t be overmatched physically by the majority of NFL receivers, and has the speed to close on passes and become a ball hawk in the long run.
12. New York Giants: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has the New York Giants selecting Kony Ealy with the No. 12 pick. Here is his reasoning:
A big part of this team's problems in 2013 was the pass protection and pass rush, or better yet, the lack of them. With their first-round pick, the Giants should address one of these two weaknesses, and there's a good chance that general manager Jerry Reese will go with the best player available in that situation.
The best player on my board fills a huge need for the Giants. Missouri's Kony Ealy has the length, power and speed the team covets opposite Jason Pierre-Paul at defensive end. Plug Ealy into the four-man rush and let him wreak havoc on the NFC East.
Ealy's athletic profile is incredible, and after the combine, we'll all be talking about his rare combination of speed, power and length. For the Giants, this pick has to be a dream for fans.
With Ealy on the defensive front, the Giants will address one of their primary needs.
13. St. Louis Rams: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Selecting a defensive tackle with the No. 13 pick may not be a position of incredible need for the St. Louis Rams, but if they can pair Aaron Donald with an already solid defensive line, the depth will be impressive.
The NFC West is loaded with mobile quarterbacks, so the Rams need athleticism on the defensive front.
What’s more, they would have already addressed the offensive side of the ball with Watkins at No. 2 in this scenario.
14. Chicago Bears: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
The Chicago Bears were the worst team in the NFL against the run last year. Improving the defensive line and linebacking depth needs to be options No. 1, 2 and 3 in the offseason in Chicago.
Timmy Jernigan would give the Bears an explosive and game-changing defensive tackle who can plug holes against the run and get to the passer on third downs.
Bears writer Kevin Fishbain anticipated this selection and responded with the appropriate highlight video:
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs last year and are looking to both improve and get younger in the defensive backfield.
Landing Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State at No. 15 would accomplish both with one pick. Dennard is a physical corner who made a name for himself on some of the biggest stages in college football in the Big Ten Championship Game and the Rose Bowl.
He is an absolute ball hawk and would have a chance to start immediately for the Steelers.
16. Dallas Cowboys: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
The Dallas Cowboys need pass defense about as badly as the Bears need run defense, and there seem to be two safeties to choose from in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville.
Clinton-Dix compared himself to the former Cardinal in comments to Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel:
CP is a great player. He plays fast. He's always around the ball. He can hit. He's a physical person, so if I could compare myself, I'd say I'm quick as him. I can't say I could hit like him. He's a big hitter.
While Clinton-Dix took the humble route, he is a terrific player in his own right and will help the Cowboys stop the run and the pass. He has the speed and ball skills to stay with receivers or tight ends and will have a chance to start right away for a vulnerable defense.
17. Baltimore Ravens: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
The Baltimore Ravens have a number of needs, not the least of which is wide receiver.
Kelvin Benjamin would give Joe Flacco a physical presence who can line up wide or in the slot on any down. Benjamin has speed, but it is his size and sure hands that make him so appealing as a potential first-rounder.
As a defending national champion, he certainly won’t shy away from the big moment at the next level, either.
18. New York Jets: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Geno Smith needs weapons around him on the offensive end.
Eric Ebron of North Carolina would be a solid starting point.
Ebron has wide receiver-like speed despite his impressive size, which should remind fans of the likes of Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham. What makes Ebron the best tight end in this draft, though, is his ability to block and open up lanes for the running backs when called upon.
The Jets offense will become much more formidable with an elite tight end.
19. Miami Dolphins: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
As RotoWire points out, drafting Taylor Lewan out of Michigan in the first round will not come without some concerns:
Taylor Lewan shows a tendency to buck into his stance when trying to catch up to speed rushes off the edge. Anyone concerned?— RotoWire NFL Draft (@NFLDraft2K14) March 4, 2014
However, Lewan’s overall talent will be enough to convince the Miami Dolphins that he is worth a first-round pick, especially considering the dire need for offensive line depth. The length of Lewan’s arms may be the most enticing part of his game, as it will allow the former Wolverine to hold off oncoming pass-rushers more effectively.
He also has impressive strength, which will help open holes for the Miami running game.
20. Arizona Cardinals: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
The Arizona Cardinals had the defense to make some noise in the deep NFC West last year, but the offense could use some more depth.
Zack Martin will provide just that along the front line. He has the athleticism needed to play a number of spots along the line, which makes him more intriguing as a first-round selection.
21. Green Bay Packers: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
The Green Bay Packers need help in the secondary, and with Dallas taking Clinton-Dix, the obvious selection here is Pryor from Louisville.
Pryor is arguably the best hitter in this draft, which is saying something considering how deep it is on the defensive side of the ball. He set the tone for the Cardinals defense all last season and has the talent to do the same in Green Bay.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: LB Dee Ford, Auburn
Chip Kelly is still looking for speedy linebackers to fill the slots in his 3-4 defensive set. Dee Ford of Auburn will provide just that, as Bleacher Report’s Miller pointed out:
That's where Dee Ford comes in. At 6'2", Ford isn't the super-tall athlete many will predict for the Eagles, but his long arms and incredible first-step speed are ideal for Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Plug the speed of Ford in opposite the strength of Barwin, and you have a duo at outside linebacker ready to rival the best in the game.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
The Kansas City Chiefs had one of the best defenses in the entire NFL last year, but they didn’t quite have the offensive firepower to be considered a true Super Bowl threat (although their playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts would suggest the exact opposite).
Brandin Cooks may be the most underrated player in the entire 2014 draft class. His speed and overall production will immediately make the Chiefs more dangerous with the ball.
If Cooks is paired with Jamaal Charles, Kansas City will put up more points next year and perhaps find itself in the playoffs yet again.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Leon Hall is an impressive cornerback, but there are legitimate health concerns surrounding the former Michigan Wolverine. Throw in the age of the other corners, and the Cincinnati Bengals are in need of a young corner in the draft.
Enter Bradley Roby from Ohio State.
As Anthony Rothman of 97.1 The Fan in Columbus points out, corners don’t come much faster than Roby:
He had an up-and-down junior year for the Buckeyes, but his athleticism, speed and overall potential will convince the Bengals to pull the trigger on the in-state product.
25. San Diego Chargers: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
The San Diego Chargers need cornerbacks, and fortunately for them, there are plenty of options in this draft.
Bleacher Report’s Miller slated Jason Verrett at No. 25 to the Chargers:
The first order of business for the team in this year's draft will be to get better at cornerback. More than any other position on the roster, the level of talent and the development potential is the lowest. The team cannot go into 2014 with Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright as its starters.
The best-case scenario is that Jason Verrett is on the board with the No. 25 pick. Verrett isn't the biggest cornerback in the class, but his 5'10" frame is packed with muscle, and he backs that up with physical play against the run and in coverage. Verrett has the man-coverage skills teams are in love with, and he brings the hands and range to be a turnover machine at the cornerback position.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
The Cleveland Browns got their quarterback at No. 4 with Bridgewater, so why not get him another weapon at No. 26?
Odell Beckham Jr. will open up the field for Bridgewater with his impressive speed and solid hands. If this came to be, the Browns offense would feature Beckham, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron as dangerous players in the passing game.
The AFC North would officially be on notice.
27. New Orleans Saints: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
The New Orleans Saints need speed at the linebacker position to fit into the 3-4 set that Rob Ryan prefers.
Ryan Shazier has that in spades, as Jerry Emig of OhioStateBuckeyes.com points out:
Ohio State star linebacker Ryan Shazier posted an unofficial 4.36 time in the 40-yard dash. pic.twitter.com/CzI4Oqlnkn— Jerry Emig (@BuckeyeNotes) March 7, 2014
A 40-yard dash performance like that would turn heads if Shazier was a running back, so it’s not hard to imagine a number of front offices salivating over the former Buckeye. Look for the Saints to scoop him up at No. 27.
28. Carolina Panthers: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
The Carolina Panthers need to add some depth on the offensive line to protect Cam Newton.
Look for them to do so in the form of Cyrus Kouandjio from Alabama. Brinson of CBS Sports feels this would be a perfect fit:
With Kouandjio's medicals checking out (via CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora) there's a good chance he might not even last this long. But he's a hog molly who fits what Dave Gettleman wants … and more importantly, needs.
29. New England Patriots: TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Rob Gronkowski’s health issues have been well-documented, so the New England Patriots will look to add depth at the tight end spot.
Jace Amaro will give Brady another wide receiver-like option up the middle. If Amaro is paired with Gronkowski, you would be hard-pressed to find any pair of linebackers that could stop that passing attack, and we aren’t even talking about the wide receivers yet.
30. San Francisco 49ers: WR Marqise Lee, USC
The San Francisco 49ers don’t have a lot of needs, but wide receiver may be one of them.
Marqise Lee was considered one of the best players in college football at one time for a reason. He is incredibly productive, even in the face of double-teams much of the year, and he would open up the field for Colin Kaepernick.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee feels that Lee is one of a number of receivers that the 49ers could take:
31. Denver Broncos: DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Regardless of what happened in the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos don’t have a lot of serious needs.
However, shoring up the defensive front is never a bad idea, and that is exactly what Ra’Shede Hageman will do for the Broncos. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher is an explosive force on the defensive end, especially considering his size.
He is a solid pass-rusher and formidable run defender, and he could find himself on the field from day one in Denver.
32. Seattle Seahawks: WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
Allen Robinson may be a bit of a surprise as a first-round pick, but he would give the Seattle Seahawks another option to stretch the field in the passing game.
The most impressive thing about Robinson is his ability to gather yards after the catch. He caught a number of screen passes at Penn State and turned them into big gains, and he would do the same in Seattle.
Opposing defenses always have to be concerned about Seattle’s rushing attack, which would open up even more space for Robinson to exploit with the ball in his hands.
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