Now that the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine has officially concluded and pro days are underway, we are beginning to get a better idea of the potential that each draft prospect has to offer at the NFL level.
During recent workouts, some prospects have seen their draft stock rise and others have plummeted in a big way. This process will continue as the 2014 NFL draft nears. Big boards of every franchise will continue to be reworked—and mock drafts as well—over the coming months.
That being said, let's take a look at how the first round of this year's draft could potentially shake out based on what we've seen so far out of this year's crop of NFL hopefuls.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
It's no secret that the Texans are in dire need of a franchise quarterback. After Matt Schaub and Case Keenum faltered in 2013, the position quickly became the greatest need for a franchise with a solid core of players.
Houston needs a signal-caller who can step in right away and produce. He would be surrounded by talent from the start on a playoff-caliber franchise. Bortles looks to be the best of this year's class in the eyes of NFL Films producer Greg Cosell. He explained on the Ross Tucker Football Podcast, according to Dan Parr of NFL.com:
I would say he's more of finesse thrower than a true power thrower at this point, but I think there's a lot to work with, with Bortles. I think ultimately he's a pocket passer who can execute boot action. He can extend plays and he can run effectively if that's what you want to do. So, I think that he's someone I would look to as, given time, he could be a quality NFL starter.
A quality NFL starter is exactly what Houston needs right now. Bortles' athletic ability and the Texans' depth will help him flourish immediately. Once he refines his fundamentals with position coaches, Houston will finally have its long-term answer at quarterback.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
What we already knew about Clowney was confirmed after his brilliant showing at the scouting combine—he is an absolute freak athlete. A defensive end standing at 6'5", and weighing 266 pounds, who's still able to run a blazing 4.53-second 40-yard dash is purely astounding.
The Rams already have two fantastic defensive ends in Robert Quinn and Chris Long. However, in today's pass-happy NFL, the need for a dominant pass rush is at a premium. With Quinn, Long and Clowney in the defensive line's rotation, the Rams will be able to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks from all angles.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Jaguars need a playmaker under center. Jacksonville's offense has sputtered over the past several seasons due to the lack of a competent quarterback. Bridgewater may be the draft's most intelligent signal-caller and adds to his luster by possessing the ability to make all the throws. With Bridgewater in the fold, the Jaguars will finally begin to see a productive offense.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Manziel certainly appears to have turned his image around. He has been mature and professional in each interview conducted during the combine. His on-field prowess is already well-documented, as we have seen his capability of making something out of nothing on numerous occasions. Now, it looks as though he is the complete package of an NFL-caliber franchise quarterback.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
One of the most impressive combine workouts this year belonged to Watkins. Projected as the best wide receiver in this year's draft, and a No. 1 option on the NFL level, Watkins would be a huge upgrade for any offense. The Raiders need offensive weapons in a big way, and they get the draft's best one here with the former Clemson standout.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Falcons offense fell apart in 2013. If injuries to wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones weren't enough, the collapse of the offensive line was the final nail in the coffin for quarterback Matt Ryan. Added protection is necessary if the Falcons are to regain their edge in the NFC South, and Robinson's stellar combine performance boosted him to the ranks of the draft's best prospect at the offensive tackle position.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Quarterback Mike Glennon began to show signs of improvement during 2013. Although, added protection along the offensive line is necessary if the young signal-caller is to take the next step. Matthews is a dominant offensive tackle and a mauler in the trenches. He'll keep Glennon clean and give an added boost to the running game.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
With Jared Allen departing to free agency, the Vikings and head coach Mike Zimmer will look to immediately revamp the pass rush. Mack is a speedy, athletic edge-rusher who has the versatility to stand up as an outside linebacker or put his hand on the ground as a defensive end. Zimmer will be able to utilize him in many different packages immediately.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Getting quarterback EJ Manuel up to speed should be the Bills' top priority in 2014. Adding a huge, quarterback-friendly target like Ebron would be a step in the right direction. After running a 4.60-second 40-yard dash during the combine, Ebron showed that he is not only a red-zone target, but has the ability to stretch the field up the seam as well.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Lions are in need of players who can disrupt opposing quarterbacks—both up front and in the secondary. Barr looks to be the best option for Detroit here, as his pure speed will apply enough pressure in the backfield to give the Lions' young, budding secondary a fair chance.
11. Tennessee Titans: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Titans have a young, athletic defensive front; however, they could use a couple more pieces on the back end to make a fully formidable unit. With the addition of Clinton-Dix, they will have a safety who can shadow receivers, play center field and pose a threat in run support along the line of scrimmage.
12. New York Giants: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Prince Amukamara has been fantastic in the Giants' defensive secondary. They do need a solid complement for him to lock down receivers in the pass-happy NFC East. Dennard's ability to play man coverage on an island will give the Giants plenty of versatility in the secondary immediately.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Tavon Austin had a phenomenal rookie season with the Rams last year. However, he is best suited for the slot, which leaves the Rams with a need of a true No. 1 outside target. Evans, at 6'5" and 231 pounds, would be a perfect addition as a chain-moving wide receiver who doubles as a quarterback-friendly red-zone target.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Bears need a starting-caliber defensive tackle who can seal up running lanes and double as a disruption in the backfield on passing downs. Donald fits the bill perfectly. He has the size, at 6'1", 285 pounds, to close gaps and has impressive athleticism to excel as an interior pass-rusher as well.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Steelers offense began to take shape late in the season in 2013. If they are to keep up that pace, a solid addition at offensive tackle is necessary. Ben Roethlisberger has been subjected to punishment in the past due to a lackluster line, and that needs to change immediately.
Lewan had one of the combine's best performances of any offensive tackle. At 6'7" and 309 pounds, he had the athletic ability to run a 4.87-second 40-yard dash. His power is already well-known, as Lewan is a mauler in the trenches, but his surprising athleticism makes him a very well-rounded prospect.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
In 2013, the Cowboys had one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Adding more pieces along the defensive line and secondary is necessary to right the ship. Pryor brings a physical presence to the back end of Dallas' defense. His coverage skills are impressive and his assertive attitude when in run support is an added bonus.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
As long as one of the draft's premier wide receivers is on the board here, it would be difficult for the Ravens to go another direction. The offense took a major step backward in 2013 when quarterback Joe Flacco did not have enough weapons on the field. Lee is a game-changing receiver who demands attention when on the field. He will open up the Ravens passing attack in a big way.
18. New York Jets: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Yes, the Jets could use this pick to get some much-needed firepower on the offensive side of the ball. However, the cornerback play last year in New York was lackluster at best. If this team is to compete with the likes of Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill, adding a corner with the speed and coverage skills of Gilbert is an absolute necessity.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Dolphins offense took huge strides in 2013, mainly due to the growth of Ryan Tannehill. However, the franchise must add an anchor to its offensive line and keep the quarterback upright if he is to continue to improve in 2014. Martin is an NFL-ready prospect who is technically sound and can bolster the unit from the start.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Last season, the Cardinals took the NFL by surprise and posted a 10-6 record thanks to a resurgent Carson Palmer. Although, Palmer doesn't have many quality years left, and it's time to groom his replacement. Carr has the strong arm to flourish in Arizona's vertical passing game and would benefit greatly by learning from a veteran like Palmer.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Surrounding Aaron Rodgers with weapons is never a bad idea. The need for a tight end is a big one in Green Bay, and Amaro fits the bill perfectly. The 6'5", 265-pound tight end ran an athletic 4.74-second 40-yard dash during the combine and showed that he can fit in a pass-happy spread offense by combining his massive size and deceptive speed.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Eagles need some help on the defensive side of the ball to make another run at the NFC East title. Adding an edge-rusher like Ealy will take a great amount of pressure off of Philadelphia's shaky secondary by allowing less time for opposing quarterbacks in the pocket.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
For the Chiefs to take the next step on offense, adding a wide receiver who flourishes in a West Coast scheme is necessary. Beckham excels in short, underneath routes and has the speed to add yards after the catch. He would become an immediate starter and great complement to Dwayne Bowe.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals cornerbacks are currently either aging, injury-prone or inexperienced. They have a deep enough unit to get them through 2014; however, the future is certainly up in the air. Verrett has great speed and can shadow faster wide receivers. He has the versatility to play outside or in the slot and will be a valuable chess piece on a very strong defense.
25. San Diego Chargers: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Under head coach Mike McCoy, the Chargers offense flourished in 2013. Philip Rivers found his groove once again but was hampered due to an immense amount of pressure in the backfield. Su'a-Filo is a starting-caliber guard who can come in and produce immediately. He will be instrumental in keeping Rivers clean and continuing the improvement of the offense.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Browns got their quarterback earlier in the draft, and now it's time to surround him with added weapons. Josh Gordon has been a revelation in Cleveland, but he severely needs a complementary receiver. Cooks has the speed to produce yards after the catch on short routes, enticing defenses to play closer to the line and allowing Gordon to continue to stretch the field.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The new 3-4 defense that Rob Ryan instilled in New Orleans took off in a big way in 2013. The defense is here to stay and adding pieces that fit the scheme is now a priority. Shazier is an intelligent player and sure tackler. His natural abilities will ensure that his defense remains one of the NFL's top units for years to come.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Carolina's offense began to take shape in 2013, as Cam Newton proved that he is the long-term answer at the quarterback position. Surrounding him with additional weapons should be a necessity for this franchise. Benjamin would come in as a chain-moving receiver who doubles as a big red-zone target.
29. New England Patriots: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
The Patriots have a need for a big body along the interior of the defensive line. Nix has the biggest body at the defensive tackle position of all first-round prospects, standing at 6'2" and weighing 331 pounds. His ability to plug up running lanes will bring an added dimension to the trenches that has been missing in New England.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The 49ers already have one of the best front sevens in the NFL. Adding versatility to that unit will only enhance the dominance of the defense. Hageman has a size and speed combination that will allow him to play at either defensive end or defensive tackle in the 49ers' scheme.
31. Denver Broncos: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Due to a rash of injuries in 2013, the depth of the Broncos pass-rushers was severely tested late in the season. Ford has a quick burst off the line and can be very disruptive off the edge. Adding him will bring a necessary injection of youth up front in Denver's defense.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Owning one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, the Seahawks don't have many glaring needs. However, the interior of the offensive line crumbled on occasion in 2013, and keeping Russell Wilson off the turf is a high priority. Yankey has the skill set and experience to come in and start immediately. His presence will provide an immediate improvement on Seattle's offense.
All prospect measurements and combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
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