There promises to be a number of splashy free-agent signings in the 2014 NFL offseason, but the best way to build a consistent winner over the long haul is to dominate draft day.
There is talent across the positional board in the 2014 class, and the fortunes of some of the league’s most downtrodden franchises are sure to change with the right picks.
With that in mind, here is a look at an updated mock draft for the entire first round.
1. Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
We have projected the Houston Texans taking a quarterback with the No. 1 pick throughout the offseason, but the thinking now is that they will pair Jadeveon Clowney with J.J. Watt and look for a signal-caller either in free agency or later in the draft.
However, picking Clowney does not come risk-free, as Doug Farrar of SI.com points out:
As far as I’m concerned, Clowney’s alleged effort issues aren’t the key to his reduced sack rate in 2013. He uses his ridiculous speed to penetrate through gaps to the backfield far more than he’s given credit for, and it’s his relatively rudimentary technique that gets in the way. Often, Clowney will look to shoot gaps like a running back would, he doesn’t use hand moves at an NFL level, and he gets negated from the side when he’s going after the quarterback.
Yes, there are some concerns with Clowney, but he is a game-changing talent and will be even more explosive playing with Watt in his rookie year. That tandem will be too much to pass up for the Texans.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
The early picks in the NFL draft will be dominated by quarterbacks, but the St. Louis Rams feel they already have that position taken care of with Sam Bradford.
Therefore, they will look to add some protection with the uber-athletic and dominant force that is Greg Robinson of Auburn. Robinson’s impressive 4.92 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine suggests that he can get to the second level on running plays.
He also has the strength to keep his man away from the quarterback on passing downs, meaning Robinson is the total package for a tackle prospect.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the midst of a rebuilding process, and an elite quarterback prospect may be the move to elevate them from mediocrity for the first time in years.
Johnny Manziel will be that quarterback.
The electrifying former Heisman Trophy winner can make plays with his arms and legs, which will be necessary in a Jacksonville offense that struggled to move the ball at times last year. The receiving corps isn’t exactly elite, so if nobody is open, Manziel can advance the ball in a variety of ways.
Chad Henne may be a stopgap for the time being, but Jacksonville can’t honestly expect to compete for the playoffs for years to come with him behind center.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
There is certainly a chance that Blake Bortles becomes the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. ESPN’s Todd McShay recently thought so, via NFL on ESPN:
However, the thought process here is that he falls to No. 4, where the Cleveland Browns will look to make him the quarterback of the future.
Bortles has a strong arm and underrated running ability, and will be blessed with an offense that already features Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. As long as Bortles can put the ball within the vicinity of those impressive options, the Browns offense will move the ball.
5. Oakland Raiders: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
The Oakland Raiders aren’t going to win many games in the competitive AFC West with Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin manning the helm at quarterback.
With that in mind, Oakland will look to a quarterback in the first round and take Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville.
Bridgewater can make plays with his feet, which may be necessary when things break down in Oakland’s offense, and has impressive accuracy throwing the ball down the field. He also had a knack for making the smart throw and not forcing things in college, which will be imperative if the Raiders receivers fail to get open downfield.
6. Atlanta Falcons: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
There aren’t many teams in the NFL that can claim they have a legitimate franchise quarterback, but the Atlanta Falcons feel they do in Matt Ryan.
They will look to add more protection in the 2014 draft in the form of Jake Matthews from Texas A&M.
Robinson from Auburn may have more athleticism and upside, but Matthews is the option that is more suited to play from day one. He may just do that for the Falcons.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have other needs besides wide receiver, but if Sammy Watkins falls this far, they will be happy to scoop him up.
Watkins is arguably the most explosive player in this draft and can beat defenders deep or in the short screen game. Mike Glennon will certainly be pleased if this is the pick, as it would immediately open up Tampa Bay’s offense and prevent opponents from committing too many resources to stopping the run.
Look for the Clemson product to compete for Rookie of the Year next season.
8. Minnesota Vikings: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
There is very little that Khalil Mack can’t do from the linebacking spot.
He is an excellent pass-rusher, as was evidenced by his 10.5 sacks last season for Buffalo, and can defend tight ends in space when asked to drop back. Mack also makes plenty of plays when the opponent looks to run and will explode through any holes created by double-teams on a defensive lineman.
The Minnesota Vikings will look to build their defense around that versatile talent for years to come.
9. Buffalo Bills: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Calvin Pryor is the highly coveted safety who brings impressive speed, ball-hawking abilities and formidable tackling power to the table.
He would be an ideal fit in a number of systems, and Farrar of SI.com believes picking Pryor will shore up the depth at safety for years to come in Buffalo:
Let’s assume that the Bills will not be able to re-sign safety Jairus Byrd, one of the best and most underrated players in the league. If that’s the case, new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will have a serious problem on his hands, as Byrd’s ability in deep coverage allowed his predecessors to throw certain schemes at opposing offenses with impunity. Pryor is the quickest and flashiest safety in this class, and he’d be a great replacement for Byrd over time.
10. Detroit Lions: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The Detroit Lions will be tempted to take a wide receiver with the No. 10 pick, especially if Mike Evans is still available.
Pairing him with Calvin Johnson would make the offense very difficult to stop, but Detroit will look to the defensive side of the ball in the first round.
Enter Justin Gilbert, who is the best cornerback in a loaded draft at that position. He led the Big 12 in interceptions with seven last year, which is a testament to his skills when the ball is in the air, and he has game-changing speed.
11. Tennessee Titans: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Everything that was written about Mack applies to Anthony Barr of UCLA.
He is a dominant pass-rusher, tallying 23.5 sacks the past two years for the Bruins in a Pac-12 that was loaded with elite quarterbacks, and can cover tight ends in the flat.
Barr’s athleticism and overall speed allow him to explode off the edge and disrupt the opposing offense, which will be too much for the Tennessee Titans to pass up at No. 11, even if a defensive tackle may be a bigger area of need.
Barr’s talent will simply be too enticing here.
12. New York Giants: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Much of the discussion about the New York Giants and their struggles in 2013 revolved around Eli Manning’s tendency to throw crippling interceptions.
However, he was pressured and sacked far too often, which led to many of those poor throws and decisions. The Giants need help and depth along the offensive line, which is why they will select Taylor Lewan of Michigan.
Lewan is the mix of athleticism and power that teams covet from linemen if they are to select one in the first round. If Manning has more time behind Lewan and the rest of a presumably rebuilt offensive line, there may not be as many turnovers next year.
13. St. Louis Rams: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
The St. Louis Rams need more weapons for Bradford to find next year, and Mike Evans is a good place to start.
In this scenario, the Rams already addressed their need for help along the line with the No. 2 pick, so they will take the sure-handed Evans from Texas A&M. He has better-than-advertised speed and can beat defenders deep, but his real value is his ability to make the difficult catch in traffic.
Look for the Rams to find him on third downs throughout the season if they land him at No. 13.
14. Chicago Bears: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
No team was better at letting the opposing running back burst through holes that a subway train could fit through than the Chicago Bears last season.
The defensive line, partially due to injury, was a disaster, and opponents exploited the run defense all year. It was ultimately what prevented the team that features explosive options at wide receiver and running back from making the playoffs.
Will Brinson of CBS Sports believes Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh will be a potential answer to some of the Bears’ defensive line issues: “Sticking with this one from the first time around. Donald is uber-productive and measures up on everything except for size.”
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Ike Taylor is coming back to anchor the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary, as he let the world know via Twitter:
However, Taylor was far from elite last season, and the Steelers still need depth at the cornerback position. That is where Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State will come in.
Dennard is athletic enough to stay with speedy receivers and physical enough to challenge for the ball against taller ones. He will represent an improvement in the secondary from day one and isn’t afraid of the big moment, as was evidenced by his solid performances down the stretch for the Big Ten champion Spartans.
16. Dallas Cowboys: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
The Dallas Cowboys need help in their secondary arguably more than any other team in the league, and they will respond accordingly in the first round.
Farrar believes this is the right pick, even though there are some concerns with Clinton-Dix’s coverage abilities:
And speaking of coverage disasters … the Cowboys have tried and failed to address the gaping holes in their pass defense left by their safeties. Like most Nick Saban-trained defenders, Clinton-Dix will get too aggressive at times and bite on play fakes, and his backpedal is nothing to write home about. But those issues can be cleared up in time, and the Cowboys desperately need an enforcer in their secondary who can contend with an NFC East that has become more and more about the aerial game in recent years.
17. Baltimore Ravens: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
The Baltimore Ravens took a nosedive from the Super Bowl pedestal they were on during the 2013 season.
A major reason why was the 48 sacks the offensive line allowed. Joe Flacco was never given much of a chance to prove he was worthy of his big contract because he was too busy being pressured all season.
Baltimore also has multiple free agents along the line, exacerbating the need to provide some depth in this spot via the draft.
Zack Martin, who is versatile enough to play tackle or guard, will be the direction Baltimore turns to with its first pick as it begins to rebuild the line.
18. New York Jets: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Geno Smith needs targets, especially now that Santonio Holmes is officially on the open market.
Be it a wide receiver or a tight end, New York will oblige their young quarterback with its first pick in the draft. The thought here is that Eric Ebron from North Carolina will be too enticing to pass up, given his ability to stretch the field down the seam and assist in the run-blocking department.
Ebron is the most complete tight end in the draft because of his versatile skill set and could very well start from the opening game for the Jets.
19. Miami Dolphins: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Lost in the shuffle of the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin aftermath was the fact that the Miami Dolphins saw their offensive line decimated, hence the need to pick a tackle or guard in the first round.
The pick will be Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama.
Kouandjio is a massive presence who stuffs opposing pass-rushers on a regular basis. He also has impressive agility considering his size, which will help him reach the second level on running plays.
20. Arizona Cardinals: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Kony Ealy is somewhat of a long-term project, but his overall talent and ceiling will lead the Arizona Cardinals to select him with the No. 20 pick in the draft.
He is athletic and quick enough to get around the edge and disrupt the passing game, but he also can contribute in the run-stopping department.
21. Green Bay Packers: LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
The Green Bay Packers need help on the defensive side of the ball, and with both safeties taken earlier in this mock, they will look to C.J. Mosley of Alabama.
Dick Butkus thinks that whichever team drafts Mosley will certainly be making a smart call, via College Football 24/7, which provides updates from NFL.com:
Mosley will have a chance to play right away and help shore up the Green Bay run defense. He is something of a natural leader and will be a steal later in the first round.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
The Philadelphia Eagles had solid pass-rushers in the form of Trent Cole and Connor Barwin last year, but they could use some more depth along the defensive line.
Enter Timmy Jernigan.
The Florida State product can stuff the middle on running plays and is athletic enough to force his way to the passer. Assuming he improves his conditioning from what we saw in the national championship game, he will be an impact player in his first season.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
The Kansas City Chiefs reached the playoffs last year, largely on the back of their impressive defense (that just so happened to disappear in the loss to the Indianapolis Colts) and Jamaal Charles.
They will look to improve the passing game in the draft with the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU.
Beckham Jr. may be the fastest wide receiver in this class, which will help the Chiefs exploit defenses that cheat up to stop Charles on the ground. Beckham Jr. is also willing to go across the middle on third downs and has the hands and strength necessary to move the chains.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
The Cincinnati Bengals have concerns at the cornerback spot thanks to the injury history of Leon Hall and the advancing age of the other options.
Look for them to address this need in the first round. Farrar points out that Jason Verrett is the answer:
The Bengals could still get a valuable pass-rusher in this draft later on, but if you want a high-quality corner (and Marvin Lewis should), the first round is where to get that guy. And when you’re dealing late in the first round, it’s time to look at value picks. Verrett will probably be underrated by some teams because his 5-9 frame doesn’t fit the way things are trending, but he’s proven that he plays bigger than he is. Verrett is an aggressive defender who can jump routes with consistency and has a knack for making plays even when the ball goes away from the man he’s covering.
25. San Diego Chargers: DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
The San Diego Chargers need to address the defensive tackle position, and Louis Nix III will be their attempt to do just that.
Nix plugs the middle against the run better than almost anyone in this draft class, and he also has the athleticism to attack the passer up the middle. With elite offensive players like Peyton Manning and Charles in the AFC West, drafting a versatile stopper like Nix will help the Chargers compete on the defensive side.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): OL Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA
The guard position was something of a disaster for the Cleveland Browns, as John Greco and Shawn Lauvao served as conveyor belts to the quarterback for talented defensive linemen.
Xavier Su’a-Filo is a physical presence who is versatile enough to play either tackle or guard right away in the NFL. He will help alleviate some of Cleveland’s issues up front and allow the ball to get to Gordon or Cameron with more regularity.
Su’a-Filo will also create plenty of holes for the running game with his noteworthy power.
27. New Orleans Saints: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Speed has become the name of the game in the NFL, even on the defensive side of the ball.
Ryan Shazier from Ohio State provides that in spades, as Jerry Emig of OhioStateBuckeyes.com pointed out at the Buckeyes’ pro day:
The New Orleans Saints value game-changing speed and versatility from outside linebackers in their 3-4 sets, which makes Shazier the perfect fit.
28. Carolina Panthers: G David Yankey, Stanford
Jordan Gross will be an impactful loss to the Carolina Panthers offense, and they will look to add more depth on the offensive line because of it, even if that depth comes in the form of a guard.
David Yankey from Stanford is just the type of physical and athletic presence that will help protect franchise quarterback Cam Newton for years to come.
Yankey would be something of a surprise pick in the first round, but with many of the elite tackles off the board by pick No. 28, the Panthers will take a chance with him.
29. New England Patriots: WR Brandin Cooks Oregon State
Tom Brady seemingly wins with anyone at wide receiver, but the New England Patriots will jump at the chance to pair up their quarterback with Brandin Cooks of Oregon State.
Cooks is one of the fastest receivers in this draft, which will prevent defenses from clogging the middle against Rob Gronkowski. If opponents do so, Cooks will beat the single coverage on the outside and allow Brady to hit him in stride for big gains.
30. San Francisco 49ers: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
The San Francisco 49ers released Carlos Rogers, which helped create cap space but also created a vacancy at the cornerback spot, as Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee pointed out:
The 49ers will surely look for a corner at some point in the draft, and the thought here is that they will take Bradley Roby from Ohio State in the first round.
He had an up-and-down season production-wise for the Buckeyes, but Roby is incredibly athletic and fast enough to keep up with almost any receiver. San Francisco will hope he is the long-term answer at corner.
31. Denver Broncos: DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
The Denver Broncos suffered a number of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, so adding more depth along the front line will be ideal in this draft.
Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota can serve as both a run-stuffer up the middle and a pass-rusher on third downs. He may not get to the quarterback, but he certainly puts enough pressure up the middle to disrupt the timing of routes.
32. Seattle Seahawks: TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
The Seattle Seahawks don’t have a lot of needs, but finding a reliable option at the tight end spot may just be one of them.
Brinson of CBS Sports believes they will select Jace Amaro of Texas Tech with the last pick in the first round: “Still think the Seahawks want to figure out how to open up the offense and stretch the field. Adding a pass-catching target (who can improve as a blocker) in Amaro does that.”
Considering how often opponents stack the box to stop the Seattle running game, a pass-catching tight end like Amaro would add yet another wrinkle to the Super Bowl champion’s attack.
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