After the dust settles from the first few days of free agency, the NFL draft picture starts getting clearer.
Whether a team wins the Super Bowl or just a few games, everyone has holes to fill going into the offseason. A number of squads used free agency to close the gaps with proven veterans, at the same time adjusting their needs heading into the draft.
On the other hand, there are still plenty of starting spots available that will not be filled until May. While a lot can change before that point, here is an updated 2014 NFL mock draft for each team in the first round following free agency.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
When you have the first pick of the draft, it is vital that you take the best player available. That leaves the Houston Texans with really only one choice: Jadeveon Clowney.
There are certainly questions about the defensive end's work ethic, but there is no denying his ability. He showcased his explosiveness at the NFL combine, when he ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash and ranked among the best in the class in both the broad jump and vertical jump.
With his combination of size and pure athleticism, offensive tackles are in for a rough day whenever they face him. Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph agrees that Clowney should be the first player taken, telling Drew Dougherty of HoustonTexans.com:
Obviously, I would like for him to go number one, just because he's a friend of mine. He's a great talent. But it's not my call. Not my decision to make. If we took a guy like him, he could make big dividends for this defense, with J.J. Watt. But at the same time, you have to prepare and look at your team overall and what helps your team best.
He obviously does not speak for the entire organization, but there will clearly be some excitement if Clowney is called first.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Roger Saffold signed with the Oakland Raiders but then returned to the Rams, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, after failing a physical. However, he showed last season that he profiles better as a guard over the long term.
As a result, offensive tackle remains a hole in this offense, and Greg Robinson is the best player on the board. The dominant run-blocker will need some time to improve his pass protection skills, but there is no reason to expect any struggles at the next level.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The race to be the first quarterback taken will be an interesting one, but it really depends on fit for each team. For the Jacksonville Jaguars, there is no better option than Johnny Manziel.
Without a strong running game or offensive line, any quarterback that comes to this team will need to be able to do a lot by himself. Manziel does that better than anyone due to his improvisation skills and his ability to make plays with either his arm or his legs.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The smartest pick in this situation would be a quarterback who can finally give Cleveland some wins. However, multiple sources, including Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, have reported that the Browns are not interested in any of the top quarterbacks, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
While some may doubt this strategy, the fact remains that a coaching staff and front office have to take the quarterback they feel is best, regardless of what others think. Regardless of who is under center for the team next season, adding Sammy Watkins to an offense with Josh Gordon could make any quarterback successful.
5. Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Raiders have a lot of holes, and any quarterback who is drafted could be exposed to damage behind a poor offensive line, but the team still needs a new face of the franchise to lead a rebuilding process.
Teddy Bridgewater might have seen his stock drop a little, but he still has excellent poise in the pocket and pairs that with solid accuracy and arm strength. He is the complete package at quarterback and is worthy of this early selection for Oakland.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Atlanta might want to grab an elite pass-rusher in this draft, but they need to add another offensive lineman. After signing Matt Ryan to a contract worth over $100 million, it is important for the team to protect its investment.
Jake Matthews can be a dominant tackle on either side of the line, and he will be able to contribute from Day 1 in the NFL.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
While Buccaneers fans might be disappointed in the loss of Darrelle Revis, the organization did a great job of improving the defense in free agency.
Tampa Bay added an elite pass-rusher in Michael Johnson, signed a solid run-stopper in Clint McDonald and replaced Revis with Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner.
Adding a versatile player like Khalil Mack could continue to solidify the unit and truly make it one of the best in the NFL. Scouts certainly have a lot of confidence in Mack's ability, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen:
A handful of evaluators have greater confidence re: Buffalo LB Khalil Mack than Jadeveon Clowney. Mack's skills, consistency & versatility— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) March 8, 2014
The linebacker has the potential to be one of the biggest impact players in the class, and the Buccaneers would be getting a steal at this point.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The Vikings do not want to make another mistake by overdrafting a quarterback. However, Blake Bortles will be a smart pick if he is still available.
With great size and mobility within the pocket, Bortles knows how to extend plays and find open receivers down the field. This will finally force teams to back off the line and give Adrian Peterson some room to run.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The loss of Jairus Byrd leaves a big hole in the defensive secondary, making Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor a potential target. However, the Bills allowed the fourth-most sacks in the league last season and should find a way to protect young quarterback EJ Manuel.
Taylor Lewan is the type of player you can plug in at tackle and have confidence in for the next decade if he wants to stick around.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The bandwagon for Justin Gilbert is getting bigger, but Darqueze Dennard remains the best cornerback in this class. While he does not have much speed or playmaking ability with the ball, the Michigan State defender is much better in coverage and can be left on an island if needed.
Dennard has shut-down ability and will be a huge addition to a Lions defense in need of help in the secondary. Gilbert simply cannot provide that at this point in his career.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Titans might want to find a replacement for Verner at cornerback, but they can make a bigger impact on defense by grabbing Anthony Barr. The athletic linebacker has the potential to be a dominant pass-rusher at the next level, which will make things easier on the rest of the defense.
12. New York Giants: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Will Beatty's contract likely ensures that the New York Giants will not replace him just yet. Instead, they will try to give him another chance to make his money after a terrible 2013 season.
However, the Giants do now have a gaping hole at defensive tackle with Linval Joseph leaving to sign with the Minnesota Vikings. They must replace him early in the draft, and Louis Nix III can do just that with his great size and run-stopping ability.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Adding a big-time receiver like Mike Evans would be more exciting, but the Rams need more help at safety. Behind a solid front seven, solidifying the secondary would be enough to help St. Louis compete with the other elite defenses in the NFC West.
Clinton-Dix could be a Week 1 starter thanks to his speed and instincts in coverage. This would be the best way for the team to spend its second pick in the first round, especially with so much depth at receiver expected to be available in later rounds.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
If the Bears do not re-sign Henry Melton, it will leave a hole in the middle of the defensive line. Based on what we saw in 2013, this means bad news for the Chicago defense.
After the defensive tackle went down with an ACL injury at the beginning of last season, the Bears run defense collapsed and could not stop anyone. As a result, the team may have to find a way to replace him in the draft.
Timmy Jernigan makes sense to fill in his position based on his ability to take on different roles along the line. He explained his versatility to Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
I feel like I can play in any scheme whether it’s a three-man front, which we did play at Florida State, [or] I can play in a four-man front as well. I can attack. I can two-gap. It really doesn’t matter. I feel like I can play anywhere I’m on the front. Just put me on the field.
Jernigan's size and strength will make him a great addition, as he will help the Bears rebuild the dominant defense the franchise is known for having.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Despite the earlier arguments against Gilbert not being the best cornerback in the class, that does not take away from his potential. The Oklahoma State star's speed and athleticism give him the potential to be an impact player on defense as well as on special teams.
Pittsburgh needs some youth and athleticism in the secondary, and Gilbert would be able to learn from some of the best veterans in the league.
Who is the best defensive tackle in the class?
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Cowboys switched to a 4-3 scheme last offseason but did not have the personnel to pull it off. Even if the squad re-signs Jason Hatcher, they need more help on the defensive line.
While Aaron Donald might be a bit undersized, he can consistently penetrate into the backfield and disrupt the opposing offense's plays. He will certainly help improve one of the worst defenses in football last year.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
After locking up Eugene Monroe, the Ravens should feel confident enough with the offensive line to at least wait until later rounds to add help. Here, they can add a receiver who can be another weapon for Joe Flacco in the passing game.
Mike Evans excels at making plays on the deep ball, a skill the Ravens missed when Anquan Boldin was traded before last season. The Texas A&M product will be able to make an impact right away to help Baltimore get back to the playoffs.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Jets needed to give Geno Smith some targets to work with, and they added Eric Decker this week.
The Jets have agreed to terms with WR Eric Decker.— Eric Allen (@eallenjets) March 13, 2014
Still, more help is needed, and that can come in the form of the explosive Eric Ebron. The tight end has rare athleticism that will make him a matchup nightmare at the next level, giving the Jets plenty of offensive talent to work with.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Miami needed to improve its offensive line this offseason, and it did that by signing tackle Brandon Albert. Unfortunately, this is still not enough to help a unit that allowed the most sacks in the NFL in 2013.
Zack Martin has the versatility to play almost any position on the offensive line and could be a dominant guard if used inside. Pairing him alongside Albert could lead to a significant upgrade for this squad.
20. Arizona Cardinals: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Cardinals filled their biggest hole in free agency with the addition of offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Putting him at left tackle alongside Jonathan Cooper will greatly improve a miserable offensive line.
However, free agency works both ways, and Arizona lost a key piece to the defense when Karlos Dansby signed with the Cleveland Browns. The squad now needs to find a way to replace his team-leading 122 tackles from last season.
C.J. Mosley might not be able to put up this total in his first year, but he certainly has the potential to top 100 tackles every year that he is in the NFL. He has great range to cover the entire field, which he showed throughout his career at Alabama.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller provided an impressive comparison for Mosley:
C.J. Mosley's range, speed to the flats is NaVorro Bowman-like.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 3, 2014
While many consider Mosley an inside linebacker, he played the Will position in college and can likely be used all over the field. This is perfect for a Cardinals squad that has some big shoes to fill.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
With M.D. Jennings gone, the Packers need to find a replacement at safety. This makes Calvin Pryor a must-add player, even if it requires a trade on draft day.
Pryor is a hard-hitter who can contribute against either the run or the pass. He also has plenty of speed to cover almost the entire field in the secondary. He would be an instant improvement over the departed Jennings.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The offense in Philadelphia appears set, but the squad still needs plenty of help in the defensive secondary if it wants to contend for a Super Bowl. They must draft the best cornerback available after watching an inconsistent unit struggle last season.
Jason Verrett has great quickness that allows him to stick with even the most agile receivers. Although he might settle as a slot cornerback, he still has plenty of value in the pass-heavy NFL.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee had a down year with USC, but there are few players who are better with the ball in their hands. He can take a short slant and turn it into a touchdown in the blink of an eye.
After watching Dwayne Bowe struggle to make an impact last season, it is clear the Chiefs need a receiver who can make plays after the catch. Lee would provide Alex Smith with a lot of help in the passing game.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
Cincinnati lost Michael Johnson to the Buccaneers, leaving a need for a pass-rusher on defense. Kony Ealy might project as either an outside linebacker or defensive end in the NFL, but there is no denying his ability to get to the quarterback.
The versatile player has solid quickness and advanced technique, which indicates that he will help out early on in his career.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
San Diego was able to mask its problems in the secondary last year by holding onto the ball as long as possible. While this strategy worked to an extent, the Chargers still need a dramatic upgrade at cornerback.
Bradley Roby was inconsistent last year at Ohio State, but he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the combine and has plenty of upside if he can keep focus on every play.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
After passing on a quarterback earlier in the first round, Cleveland will finally be able to get the player they wanted all along in Derek Carr. Additionally, the young quarterback will enter an even better offensive situation.
Carr did not face the best competition at Fresno State, but he showcased a strong arm and quick decision-making skills. These skills will help him transition to the NFL and become a star.
27. New Orleans Saints: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
All of a sudden, the Saints offense is the one that needs help while the defense looks set to enter the year as a dominant force. This did not seem possible just two years ago.
Still, the squad could use another receiving target to add to Sean Payton's high-paced offense, especially with the future of Jimmy Graham being uncertain. Brandin Cooks is one of the fastest players in the class and could be dangerous with Drew Brees throwing him the ball.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
With the Panthers parting ways with long-time receiver Steve Smith, there are officially no receivers remaining on the active roster with a single reception from this past season. Whether the team signs someone else in free agency or not, there is still a glaring need for help at the position.
If Kelvin Benjamin is still on the board by the time the Panthers are drafting, this would be a no-brainer selection. Matt Bowen of Bleacher Report provides his quick scouting report on the receiver:
Finishing up a post on FSU's Kelvin Benjamin. Legit size & talent. Matchup player. Must develop route running, consistency vs. NFL DBs.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 28, 2014
While he is obviously raw, Benjamin possesses immense upside with his incredible size (6'5", 240 lbs). He had 15 touchdowns for Florida State, including a game-winner in the national championship game. His ability to make plays on the ball will make him almost impossible to stop in the end zone.
Although Carolina needs people to contribute right away, the squad will not regret bringing Benjamin onto this young roster.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Tom Brady did not have his best year in 2013, and the reason for that was his lack of impact targets in the passing game. What he truly missed was someone with size who could make plays over the middle and in the end zone after Rob Gronkowski went down.
Jace Amaro can fill this role as well as play in two-tight end sets when Gronkowski is healthy. This addition could once again make the Patriots offense nearly impossible to stop.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Even with a need for a starting cornerback, the 49ers have to find a way to expand the offense. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are physical receivers on the outside, but the team lacks a speedster who can stretch the field.
Odell Beckham Jr. not only has the ability to catch the deep ball, but he can break short passes for long gains. The dynamic player could be what it takes to finally get San Francisco over the top.
31. Denver Broncos: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
It was obvious that the defense held the Broncos back last season, while the offense was scoring the most points in history. Denver addressed many of the problems by splurging for Aqib Talib, Demarcus Ware and T.J. Ward in free agency.
However, there is no reason to stop there. Adding Stephon Tuitt could continue this improvement due to his versatility to play any spot along the defensive line. This and a few more changes could turn a liability into a strength heading into next season.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Seattle has the depth to replace a number of departed free agents, but one area that desperately needs an upgrade is in the interior offensive line. The Seahawks allowed too many sacks last season, which is not good if they want to keep Russell Wilson healthy.
David Yankey is a better run-blocker than a pass-blocker, but he is the best overall guard available and should be able to contribute just as much in the passing game before long.
Note: Combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
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