Only a small percentage of top college football prospects will end up being selected in Round 1 of the 2014 NFL draft. These elite athletes offer teams a chance to immediately improve, theoretically, and as such, there's tremendous pressure to hit a home run with these selections.
The draft begins this year on May 8 in New York City, when the opening round will take place with millions watching around the world.
There is absolutely no consensus about which player will be selected No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans, which is why mock drafts vary so much. With that in mind, here's one way the first round could play out when teams start making their picks.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
When it comes to raw football talent, nobody in this year's draft class compares to South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney. The biggest concern teams have about the explosive pass-rusher is whether or not he has the strong desire to put his talents to their best use.
Marcus Lattimore, Clowney's former teammate at South Carolina, who's currently with the San Francisco 49ers, believes his work ethic will improve once he enters an NFL locker room, as relayed by NFL.com's Daniel Kim:
I think when he gets around professionals, once he gets around J.J. Watt, those veterans, sees what it takes every single day, he'll be just like those guys. He's going to be fine. That's what happens. You get around pros, and you learn, and you start doing it. When the competition gets high, he'll rise to it...He has all the talent in the world. He kind of reminds me of Aldon Smith with how athletic he is, the quickness. I think he's going to do great.
Pairing Clowney with J.J. Watt on Houston's defensive line would present a brutal challenge for opposing offenses.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Sam Bradford hasn't been able to stay healthy since joining the league in 2010. The Rams haven't provided him with proper protection up front, and he's suffered as a result.
Greg Robinson isn't the most polished offensive tackle in the draft, but he does offer the most upside. The towering offensive lineman is as explosive an athlete as any in this year's draft class, and it won't take long for his technical skills to match his considerable athleticism.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Jacksonville recently re-signed veteran quarterback Chad Henne to a two-year contract, but nobody should expect the Jags to rely on him as the No. 1 option this year. Henne is a backup, and that's all he'll ever be.
Teddy Bridgewater, on the other hand, has the tools to become a superstar. He's also the "most NFL-ready" quarterback in the draft, according to NFL Network's Mike Mayock, via Mike Huguenin of NFL.com.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Blake Bortles has the physical tools to become an elite quarterback, and his junior season at UCF offered a glimpse into his pro potential. He's adept at running a pro-style offense and called out audibles on the line of scrimmage, showing an amount of polish that isn't usually seen in quarterbacks from smaller schools.
Cleveland hasn't had a legitimate starting quarterback in what seems like a lifetime for most Browns fans. Bortles would finally provide some stability at the most important position on the field.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
There's a growing concern that Oakland would be foolish to draft a quarterback at the top of the draft, since the team has no support up front or at the receiver positions.
Former Raiders quarterback and current analyst Rich Gannon recently touched on this, via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com: "Bad fit," Gannon said. "Only from the standpoint that I think a team has to be ready for a young quarterback. I don't think that team is quite ready yet."
There are a few promising quarterbacks that will be available after the first round, and the Raiders could significantly boost offensive production by drafting this year's top receiver in Sammy Watkins.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
Outside linebacker Khalil Mack is exactly the kind of defensive playmaker Atlanta needs to bounce back from a dismal 2013 campaign. He's an explosive athlete who excelled against top competition in college and who will be able to become an instant impact performer as a rookie.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Second-year quarterback Mike Glennon looks like he has a shot to become the team's franchise signal-caller. He'll need better protection up front in the future to blossom into his full potential, however, after getting sacked 40 times in 13 starts last year.
Jake Matthews is the most pro-ready offensive tackle in the draft. He's not as physically imposing as Robinson, but his rock-solid mechanics make up for any athleticism he's missing.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Minnesota has all the offensive pieces in place to get back to the playoffs after last year's disappointing result. Matt Cassel was recently re-signed to a two-year deal, but he's not the long-term answer at the quarterback position.
With a strong running game behind him, Johnny Manziel would be a perfect fit in Minnesota. His ability to make plays on the run combined with his willingness to take shots down the field would give the Vikings a passing game to match Adrian Peterson's incredible production.
9. Buffalo Bills: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Bills have plenty of needs, but the team would be crazy to let a defensive playmaker like Justin Gilbert slide down the board. Gilbert is a terrific cover corner who compares to Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals. Like Peterson, he's also a talented return man who would quickly become a fan favorite in Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Drafting Ezekiel Ansah last year was supposed to boost Detroit's pass-rushing numbers, but the Lions still finished the season as one of the worst teams in the league in terms of sacks (33). Anthony Barr racked up 23.5 sacks in two seasons at UCLA, and he'd be a terrific fit playing opposite Ansah in the years to come.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Tennessee's defense needs a leader in the middle, and C.J. Mosley would be a perfect man for the job.
Just ask Dick Butkus, who recently lauded the young man in an interview with Jim Corbett of USA Today Sports: "Whoever gets C.J. Mosley in the draft is going to be pretty damn lucky. C.J. is a serious kid who is not flamboyant. His approach was my approach: 'Go about your business. Let your actions speak for you.'"
Mosley was a team leader at Alabama and a fine player as well. He's going to quickly become a star in the NFL, and the Titans would be lucky to land him.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Eli Manning won't improve upon last year's dismal performance if he doesn't receive better protection up front.
Taylor Lewan showed up at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine and blew scouts away with his athleticism, speed (4.87 40-yard dash time) and explosion. He has the potential to develop into one of the premier left tackles in the NFL and would be a tremendous addition to Big Blue.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
After landing the top offensive tackle, the Rams would be smart to then take another potential offensive superstar in Mike Evans. The receiver out of Texas A&M has all the physical tools to become a dominant force on the perimeter.
Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey elaborates: "NFL teams are not going to look at Evans and see 'just another receiver.' No, Evans is going to go in the top half of the first round because he can do things that no other player in this class can do."
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Chicago Bears haven't featured anything close to the "Monsters of the Midway" defensively in a couple of years. Adding a ferocious defensive tackle like Aaron Donald would go a long way toward restoring the team's dominance on the defensive side of the ball.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Odell Beckham brings speed (4.43 40 time), production (broke LSU's single-season all-purpose yardage record in 2013 with 2,315 yards) and tenacity to the NFL. He's a terrific intermediate pass-catcher who would be a perfect complement to Antonio Brown on the perimeter for the Steelers—a team that desperately needs to retool offensively.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Dallas' pass defense was laughably bad last year because the team doesn't feature any starting-caliber safeties on its roster. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix not only fits that description, but his ability to play the run and pass with equal skill could make him a potential All-Pro in the not-so-distant future.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Joe Flacco possesses one of the strongest arms of any quarterback in the NFL, and he loves firing the ball deep to Torrey Smith. Adding another speedster like Brandin Cooks, who ran a 4.33-second 40 at the combine, would help stretch the field even more, opening up running lanes for Ray Rice, who struggled badly last year.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Geno Smith won't do much better than he did last year without some legitimate offensive weapons to throw the ball to on Sundays in 2014. Eric Ebron is the top tight end in this year's draft class. His speed and playmaking abilities after the catch will be a huge boon to the team that drafts him, and the Jets certainly need what he offers.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times last year. That number was more than any other team gave up, and the young quarterback won't develop properly if he's under the same kind of pressure this year.
Needless to say, offensive line help is a huge focus for Miami this offseason, and adding a versatile player like Zach Martin would be a strong move to improve things on this front.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Speed and quickness are highly valued commodities in the NFL, and Ryan Shazier is armed with elite levels of both. His ability to get to the quarterback would boost Arizona's already dangerous defense to become one of the league's most potent units.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Fixing Green Bay's secondary is a huge concern, as the Packers haven't been able to stop teams from going over the top on a regular basis, thanks to poor safety play. Calvin Pryor isn't quite as skilled on the back end as Clinton-Dix, but he's still more than capable of covering in space. He'd be an instant starter for this safety-hungry team.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Darqueze Dennard is the top pure cover corner in this year's draft. He loves to take on top receivers one-on-one on the outside, where he bumps them and stays in their hip pocket all the way down the field. For a team like the Eagles, which gave up more passing yards than any other last year, he's a perfect fit.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Kansas City really missed having a capable tight end roaming the middle of the field on passing downs last year. Alex Smith was always looking for Vernon Davis when he was with the 49ers, and he'd quickly become enamored with Jace Amaro, should the Chiefs draft the talented pass-catching tight end.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
If Kony Ealy falls to this point in the draft, then the Bengals would be crazy to let him slide further—especially considering Michael Johnson will likely bolt via free agency. Ealy is a bit raw still as a pass-rusher, but his quick first step and long arms have teams drooling over his potential to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
Louis Nix would be a perfect fit in San Diego, which allowed 4.8 yards per rushing attempt last year without a top nose tackle anchoring the defensive line. The big man is a run-stuffing behemoth who would allow Manti Te'o to flow to the ball without being harassed—just like he did when they were teammates at Notre Dame.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Marqise Lee, WR, USC
After landing the quarterback of the future in Bortles, the Browns should look to upgrade their receiving corps. Josh Gordon is one of the league's bright superstars, but he needs help. Marqise Lee would be a nightmare to defend on the other side in one-on-one coverage as teams double Gordon.
27. New Orleans Saints: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
It's tough to know what direction New Orleans will take in the draft, in light of the team's active offseason. There are needs across the board on both sides of the ball. However, there's no doubt Stephon Tuitt out of Notre Dame would be a fantastic addition as a 3-4 defensive end playing opposite Cameron Jordan, who really took off last year under Rob Ryan.
28. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Cam Newton started showing improved decision-making and production as a pure passer last year, but he still needs help at the receiver position. Jordan Matthews brings a nice blend of size (6'3", 212 lbs), speed (4.46 40 time at the combine), quickness and sure hands to the NFL. He's not as highly touted as the top wideouts in the class, but nobody should be surprised if he ends up becoming the most productive of all the rookie receivers this year.
29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Adding depth and talent to the defensive line is a huge priority for the Patriots. After Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly went down with injuries last year, the team really struggled up front. Timmy Jernigan would be a tremendous addition, and he'd be a terror to defend playing alongside Wilfork in the middle of New England's defense.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The 49ers re-signed Anquan Boldin to a two-year deal, and he was the team's leading receiver last year. Along with Michael Crabtree, the team has two excellent possession receivers that Colin Kaepernick can depend on.
However, the 49ers still don't have a receiver who can stretch the field vertically, which is why Kelvin Benjamin makes so much sense. He'd be in a position to learn from Boldin and develop into a top receiver in the next couple of years.
31. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Even before the Broncos released Champ Bailey, the team was in the market for cornerback help. Jason Verrett is a feisty slot corner who would be a starter on three-wide sets from the first day of training camp.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Zach Miller is a fine run-blocking tight end, but he's not scaring anyone down the field running routes. The Seahawks would be smart to add a tight end who can stretch the field and make big plays on a regular basis. Local boy Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the perfect fit for the team that already has everything.
Note: All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
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