The NFL offseason has several stages—the franchise tag deadline, free-agency opening, etc.—but no event is more built up or hyped as the NFL draft.
It's a day of hope for every team with a high pick and a chance to build on a good thing for the franchises that are sitting at the end of the first round. Fans have a reason for optimism as every team is fighting to make the moves that will get it to the playoffs.
While the big story coming into the draft is where each of the top-tier quarterbacks will fall, teams feeling comfortable behind center already will also have a plethora of talented college athletes to choose from on May 8.
With the draft approaching and several teams filling out their rosters through free agency, here's a look at the latest mock draft for every team in the first round.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
After an abysmal year at the quarterback position for the Houston Texans that took them from potential Super Bowl contender all the way to the No. 1 overall draft pick, the franchise will look for a new signal-caller to lead the way.
New head coach Bill O'Brien will select Blake Bortles to join him in Houston in rebuilding the team. He not only has the build and arm strength to get the job done in the NFL, but he's also proved it on the field and at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in front of scouts.
While he labeled the quarterback class "average," Greg Cosell of NFL Films provided his thoughts on why Bortles should be the clear-cut favorite to go first ahead of Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, per the Ross Tucker Football Podcast (via 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.
Thanks to a rise to fame during his final season with the UCF Knights, Bortles will go No. 1 overall if the Texans decide to keep the top pick.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
By far the most explosive playmaker in the draft, Watkins proved why he's considered the No. 1 wide receiver in the draft with his combine results.
With the St. Louis Rams still in need of a breakout star in the receiving corps like they had with Torry Holt years ago, Watkins will fill that role alongside Tavon Austin and Chris Givens. Thanks to breakaway speed and great hands, the Clemson wideout will be a difference-maker for the Rams.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
OK, the Jacksonville Jaguars re-signed Chad Henne to a multi-year contract and have someone behind center for 2014 if they need him. Henne is not the future for the Jaguars, but Johnny Manziel just might be.
The Texas A&M quarterback set the world on fire with his play in 2012, winning the Heisman Trophy. He then put on an equally impressive performance during the 2013 campaign before finishing once again in New York, but he wasn't able to repeat.
While some see him as a franchise quarterback, Warren Moon, who knows a little about how to play behind the line of scrimmage, compared Manziel to another Heisman winner who flopped in the NFL, according to Will Grubb of Sports Radio 610, per CBS Houston:
You’re talking about taking a guy number one overall in the draft and he’s 5’11. He didn’t really run that fast at the combine, only about a 4.6 which was closer to a 4.7, so you are talking about a small guy that’s not very fast in an NFL that’s big strong and fast.
He likes to run around and make plays and he was able to do that in college. I just don’t know how well that’s going to transition into the National Football League.
Regardless of what some might think of Manziel, he has still proved he's worthy of being one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. And with a need at the position, the Jaguars will scoop him up with hopes that he materializes for a team in need of a savior.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Figuring out where the Cleveland Browns will go with the No. 4 pick is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. But with recent reports about Bill Parcells helping the Browns this offseason, it appears Cleveland might have a good idea of who its franchise quarterback will be in 2014.
Gil Brandt and Marc Sessler of NFL.com shed some light on the reports of Parcells working with Cleveland and what it means for the NFL draft:
Talked to Bill Parcells today. Says he's met w/ #Browns owner Jimmy Haslem as courtesy consultant.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 6, 2014
Nugget from that Parcells/Browns post: He told @Gil_Brandt he met with Teddy Bridgewater for 4.5 hours. You do the math.— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) March 6, 2014
If Teddy Bridgewater is still on the board for the Browns with the fourth overall pick, he could be the franchise quarterback for Mike Pettine's new regime. And for a team that tried out nearly everything behind center in 2013, the Browns might finally have consistency with Bridgewater.
5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The moves in free agency by the Oakland Raiders in adding both Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley to the defensive line mean the team can address issues at other positions. After nearly overpaying for Rodger Saffold, the Raiders ultimately announced he failed a physical, and he returned to the St. Louis Rams.
Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune reported the news on Saffold and the Raiders:
Breaking: Rodger Saffold failed a physical and won't be joining the Raiders. Back to the drawing board .. .— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) March 13, 2014
Following that move, the Raiders will happily take Greg Robinson with the No. 5 pick and put those issues in the rearview mirror. He is not only immensely talented but has the athleticism to protect any quarterback behind center for Oakland.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Atlanta Falcons want Jadeveon Clowney. He wants to play in Atlanta. This is a match made in heaven that appears to be working out in both sides' favor.
While Clowney didn't want to see his draft stock fall to No. 6 in the selection process, he has said in the past that he wanted to don a Falcons jersey, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com: "I wish they could trade up for me. But I hope I don’t fall to No. 6. I like Atlanta – a lot. They’re pretty good. They’ve got some guys from South Carolina on the team, also. And it’s close to home."
OK, so maybe it wasn't exactly what he wants, but with the complete class of top-tier quarterbacks taking three of the top four slots, Clowney drops slightly out of the top five.
With a chip on his shoulder and potentially the most athleticism in the entire draft, he will look to prove that he's still the best player in the class. And in a division where both the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints have dominant defenses, the Falcons have a chance to keep up with Clowney.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
In one of the deepest divisions in the NFL—though it didn't look that way in 2013—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to upgrade defensively to stack up with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.
With the best outside linebacker in the class in Khalil Mack, new head coach Lovie Smith and the Bucs will be on their way. He offers both speed and size (6'3", 247 lbs) with the ability to cover the entire field—everything that Tampa Bay needs against three great offensive teams in the NFC South.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
With new head coach Mike Zimmer bringing in Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, the days of Christian Ponder starting behind center for the Minnesota Vikings might be over.
In Derek Carr, the Vikings could be adding the piece that brings together a potent offense that already includes Adrian Peterson and an emerging star in Cordarrelle Patterson. As for the next few picks, expect the Vikings to go defensive after a horrific season in 2013.
9. Buffalo Bills: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
With Anthony Barr still on the board and another hole to fill, the Bills will shore up the spot by grabbing one of the best young linebackers in the 2014 class. Still sitting on the board as a top-10 pick, he could wind up being one of the best players in the entire class.
And with a chip on his shoulder after being the second linebacker taken—not a huge one; he is going in the first round, after all—Barr will prove his worth for the Bills in his first season alongside Kiko Alonso and Mario Williams in the front seven.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
There's been much debate since the combine and even before it about who the best cornerback in the class is. With his shutdown abilities shining at Michigan State and his combine performance doing everything to confirm them, Darqueze Dennard is the best fit for the Detroit Lions with the No. 10 pick.
The Lions have already filled a hole on offense with the addition of Golden Tate at the wide receiver position and could address another need with Dennard lining up across from any team's No. 1 wideout in the future.
11. Tennessee Titans: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
With Greg Robinson taking over as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2014 class, Jake Matthews has slid back into the lap of the Tennessee Titans at the No. 11 pick.
He is seen as one of the safest picks in the first round with his measurables and consistency on the line for Texas A&M over his tenure. And after blocking for Manziel for the last two years, he could be doing the same for Jake Locker, a dual-threat quarterback in his own right.
12. New York Giants: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
After the loss of Tuck to the Raiders, the New York Giants have some huge shoes to fill with the No. 12 pick in the draft. With the addition of Kony Ealy from Missouri, the Giants might instantly have a threat at the position to be Tuck's successor.
In the NFC East where Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles all call the shots for their respective teams, the need to get in the backfield is huge for the Giants. Ealy has both the speed and brute force to do that for years to come in New York.
13. St. Louis Rams: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Rams got their receiver with the No. 2 overall pick and got Saffold back from the Raiders, but Taylor Lewan is still too enticing to pass up at No. 13 in the first round.
The 22-year-old went into the combine with questions about his past but came away as one of the top prospects in the class. His athleticism and burst off the line were on display, and he will be a huge part of the Rams' success on offense in the coming years.
It has yet to be seen whether or not his most recent brush-up with the law will affect his draft stock, but with the talent that he brings to the table, he is still worthy of a first-round selection.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
After an abysmal year defensively for the Chicago Bears, they will look to fill a need immediately with their first-round pick. And with the top overall defensive tackle still left on the board, going with Timmy Jernigan is as close to a lock as we'll get in the first round.
In order to contend with the explosive offenses of the NFC North and get back to the playoffs, the Bears need to get better defensively right away. With Jernigan, they get a start in the right direction.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Pittsburgh Steelers could go in multiple directions to fill needs at either wide receiver or defensive end, but improving on defense is still a top priority.
The losses of Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with the Denver Broncos, and Woodley leave holes at both wideout and on the line, but there is still youth at both of those positions.
Troy Polamalu re-signed, and Mike Mitchell has been brought in through free agency, so the Steelers will look into the cornerback market and grab Justin Gilbert, the best available defensive back on the board.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Coming off perhaps one of their worst defensive seasons in the history of the franchise, the Dallas Cowboys will try to get an immediate difference-maker with Aaron Donald.
After reworking the entire defensive coaching staff and suffering against running and passing offenses alike, the Cowboys will go with one of the most athletic tackles in the draft in Donald.
The Pittsburgh product has proved that he can hold his own against other great linemen even though he's undersized. He might not be the only defensive player the Cowboys take, but Donald is a great start for the deflated group.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Several moves this offseason have made the Baltimore Ravens a much more competitive team for the 2014 season, but one more addition could make this team a potential offensive power in a defensive division.
With his hands, size (6'5", 231 lbs) and physicality off the line, Evans fits the division perfectly. Joe Flacco will have some new toys for 2014 and could repeat the success of 2012 thanks to free agency and draft.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The addition of Eric Decker is a good start for the New York Jets, but that signing alone doesn't make them competitive with the New England Patriots in the AFC East.
That's where Eric Ebron comes in. After being an explosive playmaker for North Carolina for two different coaching staffs, he will come in and immediately be a huge asset for sophomore quarterback Geno Smith.
Here's a look at the tight end's talents in a highlight video:
With his ability to catch just about any ball thrown his way and get down the field with what he calls "illegal" speed, per Teddy Mitrosilis of Fox Sports, Ebron will be the perfect complement to Decker across the middle of the field.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The key to getting the Miami Dolphins offense going in 2014 will be keeping Ryan Tannehill upright throughout the season. They were not very good at that in 2013, but that was, in large part, thanks to a certain situation that lost them two offensive linemen.
If the Dolphins go with Notre Dame's Zack Martin, they'll not only have a viable player who can fill in right now but also a lineman who can hold his own for years to come.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
One of the nastiest players in the draft, Ra'Shede Hageman fits the Arizona Cardinals' new identity perfectly.
The Minnesota tackle would come into a defense that ranked at the top of the NFL in rushing defense and would have the chance to grow under Bruce Arians' style. Coming into the NFC West, where points are already hard to come by, Hageman would become yet another dominant force.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
With the Green Bay Packers locking up both several defensive players, they will go after yet another in free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He won't face such a tough gig after Julius Peppers was brought aboard via free agency to disrupt the quarterback.
And in an NFC North division where the Packers regularly have to face great receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, adding a player like Clinton-Dix who can cover the entire field only bolsters their chances of separating themselves from the pack.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The late-round addition of Earl Wolff will soon pay off for the Philadelphia Eagles at the strong safety position, but grabbing up one of the most explosive free safeties in Calvin Pryor could help build a strong secondary for the future.
Coming out of Louisville, he has skyrocketed up draft boards and earned his title as the No. 2 safety in the class. With the Eagles having a need to fill at the position, Pryor is a perfect fit and could help revive a porous secondary from last season.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner came into the season as one of the top wide receivers in college football. While injuries and reduced production dropped him behind the likes of Watkins and Evans, Marqise Lee still has the potential to flourish with the right system.
And in the combine, Lee did enough to earn a compliment from Brandt about his workouts:
Marqise Lee really helped himself today. But Sammy Watkins was head/shoulders above every other WR. #NFLCombine— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) February 23, 2014
With Dwayne Bowe on the other side, Lee could step in and immediately be the No. 2 target for Alex Smith in the Chiefs offense. Thanks to his explosive speed, he will make an impact right away for Kansas City.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Despite losing their defensive coordinator, the Cincinnati Bengals have a stout defense that helped get them to the playoffs in 2013.
With that said, the team still needs to fill the cornerback position. Terence Newman is in the twilight of his career, and Adam Jones is entering his ninth season in the league.
If Kyle Fuller is still on the board at the 24th pick, the Bengals would be better off adding him to the roster and letting him flourish in their system.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
With a great combine performance and plenty of tape from his years with TCU to back it up, Jason Verrett is slowly becoming a lock as a first-round pick.
He could continue to climb, but for now, he's an ideal fit for the San Diego Chargers. They need a defensive back, and Verrett is the best one available with the 25th overall selection.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Not only is Kelvin Benjamin one of the biggest wide receivers in the 2014 draft class, he's also a project that could pay off for Pettine and his offensive staff.
Sigmund Bloom of FootballGuys.com gives his thoughts on Benjamin following the combine:
Kelvin Benjamin created consistent deep separation on tape. I don't really care what he clocks in the 40. Speed = good enough to scare you— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) February 23, 2014
Aside from his measurables that pass the eye test for scouts, coaches and executives, he also fits perfectly for Bridgewater if the Browns pull the trigger on the Louisville quarterback. With a 6'5" wideout, the undersized signal-caller will have an easy target to find down the field or across the middle to go along with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.
27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The New Orleans Saints have made several huge moves to improve their team after winning the wild card in 2013, but one more defensive standout in the front seven could make Rob Ryan a very happy man.
Additions like Jairus Byrd improve the defense, but picking up C.J. Mosley from Alabama would add to the tough mentality that the Saints are trying to build under Ryan. With his ability to cover the entire field, he makes the Saints defense instantly better.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Steve Smith is now a Raven. Brandon LaFell is now a Patriot. Hakeem Nicks turned down the Carolina Panthers to play with the Indianapolis Colts. While there is still a huge need to fill with Jordan Gross retiring, finding a wide receiver is now the No. 1 need for the Panthers.
While fans of the Panthers will immediately see a player that has the build and speed of Steve Smith, Brandt once again provides his analysis of the Oregon State receiver:
That type of potential should give Carolina fans optimism after seeing their franchise receiver leave for Baltimore. Though he could experience a lot of pressure, Cooks will blossom with the Panthers under Cam Newton and help the team return to the playoffs in 2014.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots have made some big moves with the aforementioned signing of LaFell and re-signing of their leading receiver in 2013, Julian Edelman. But with the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski, New England still needs to get a tight end to continue its dominance in the AFC East.
With Jace Amaro still on the board, who has been compared to Aaron Hernandez without the baggage, the Pats will pull the trigger on a guy who opens up the middle of the field for Tom Brady.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The San Francisco 49ers have a need at cornerback after releasing Carlos Rogers and losing Tarell Brown to the Raiders. Bradley Roby is a standout defensive back who was a great corner for Ohio State. While he is considered a fringe first-rounder, the need at corner will force the 49ers to sign him.
The signing of Chris Cook means the Niners have options at the position, but Cook might not be a player for the future of the organization after signing just a one-year deal.
With Jim Harbaugh constantly looking to boost his defense, this seems like an ideal selection for the 49ers. In an NFC West where defenses clearly shine, Roby might be the guy that the 49ers need to continue their success.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA
Several needs have already been addressed for the Denver Broncos with the signings of both DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward, and the only remaining glaring needs for the team are inside linebacker and offensive guard to return to the Super Bowl in 2014.
After Mosley was taken earlier in the draft, Denver will lock up another player with the potential to help the team immediately in 2014.
While Xavier Su'a Filo is also a fringe first-rounder like Roby before him, the Broncos will complete their offseason needs list with his talent. Not only that, but Denver has several rounds remaining to continue the improvement and set the stage for Peyton Manning to win his second Super Bowl.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
The final pick of the first round goes to a player who has been climbing up draft boards all the way into the opening round.
Antonio Richardson of the Tennessee Volunteers is yet another offensive tackle in this ridiculously deep 2014 class. But with his size and ability off the line, he offers much more than just a run-of-the-mill late selection in the first round.
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