Free agency has changed the face of a few teams in the NFL so far this offseason. Grabbing the right proven veterans to have an impact in 2014 is essential if a team wants to have an opportunity to dethrone the Seattle Seahawks.
As important as free agency is, the right blend of experience and youth is required to improve any team; that's where the draft comes in.
While rookies sometimes take a few years to fully develop, some of them can make an instant impact. Prospects taken in the first round are expected to be good sooner rather than later.
This mock covers the first-round selections that make the most sense for each team in the 2014 NFL draft.
1. Houston Texans: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There's a lot of talk about other players the Texans could take with the first selection. And when NFL.com's Bryan Fischer spoke to NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell about Houston's need at quarterback, Cosell downplayed the likelihood than new head coach Bill O'Brien would endorse selecting Manziel.
Cosell doesn't think Manziel is the type of player who fits O'Brien's mold, saying:
I could be dead wrong, but I don't think (Bill O'Brien) would see Johnny Manziel as his kind of quarterback. That would be my sense. It doesn't make him right or wrong, it's just his worldview. Every offensive coach has a worldview of what he wants his quarterback to look like. I don't think Johnny Manziel would be his guy.
That's pure speculation, and even if it were the case, O'Brien isn't the only decision-maker involved with the process.
Taking Manziel with the top pick is about more than just football—though the young man is pretty good at that, too. It's also about business, and Manziel would ensure that the Texans are featured prominently in 2014 and beyond.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson could go here, or perhaps even Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, as the Rams have a need at the position. However, the team has an even bigger need at wide receiver.
Watkins is the most explosive offensive player in the draft, and the Rams can draft a tackle with the 13th pick.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney probably won't fall below this spot. There's a chance the Jags could trade down, but more than likely, their trade partner would be attempting to move up to get Clowney (Atlanta is one potential trade partner that comes to mind).
Clowney's upside as a pass-rusher is tremendous, and his skill set is at a premium in the NFL. The Jags still need a franchise quarterback, but the team's recent re-signing of Chad Henne suggests that the team might be willing to take a quarterback later in the draft as a developmental project.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Browns released Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, so its clear the team is in position to go out and obtain another quarterback.
The rookie the Browns' sights should be on is Bridgewater. He probably has the highest football IQ of any quarterback in the draft, and he would most likely be the quickest study.
5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Terrelle Pryor deserves to be the team's starting quarterback heading into training camp.
UCF quarterback Blake Bortles is still on the board here, but in this scenario, so is Robinson. Taking the big man to anchor the line would help the team more in establishing a power run game, but it would also help in pass protection.
Oakland would be wise to draft a developmental quarterback later on.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
Mack may be the hottest name in the draft right now. If the Falcons don't trade up to get Clowney, they may very well be able to fill their need for a pass-rusher with Mack.
At the combine, NFL.com's Mike Mayock spoke to Paul Allen and Paul Charchian of KFAN radio, discussing Mack in comparison to Clowney. Mayock said: "You talk about a kid like (Jadeveon) Clowney, who’s just got superhuman abilities, versus this kid [Mack], and if I had a choice between the two, I think I’m taking Mack."
That's pretty high praise from Mayock, and teams can only hope he lives up to the billing.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
With the signing of free-agent quarterback Josh McCown, the Bucs appear to be set at the game's most important position. Now, the Bucs need to add players to protect their newest investment.
Matthews isn't far below Robinson as far as offensive line prospects are concerned. Drafting him here would be the best way to solidify the team's pass protection on the edge.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The Vikings don't have to draft a quarterback here, but with Bortles available, it would be hard to resist taking him. The team has re-signed Matt Cassel, who played very well down the stretch in 2013, but Bortles obviously has more upside.
In the NFC North, the Vikes need to ensure they can compete through the air with the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, both now and in the future.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Bills need an unquestioned No. 1 receiver that quarterback EJ Manuel can trust.
Evans is huge (6'5", 231 lbs) and is great at high-pointing the ball. Players like him are great safety blankets for young quarterbacks.
Though Evans doesn't project as a prospect quite as good as Calvin Johnson, his worth to Manuel could compare to Megatron's importance to Matthew Stafford. That would especially be the case in the red zone, where Evans' size and leaping ability would be most effective.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Detroit has a few needs, but cornerback is the biggest. Gilbert is the best player at the position available in the draft.
His speed, strength, competitiveness and confidence are all invaluable assets. Per Kyle Meinke of MLive.com, Gilbert recently said: "I think I'm the best corner in the draft. I worked hard to be in the position I'm in, and I'm not going to let anyone take that from me."
There are some formidable arms in the NFC North, and the Lions need better than average coverage to compete.
11. Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Titans were once known as a physical, running team. But in recent years, Chris Johnson has found it difficult to find the same running lanes.
In an effort to improve their running game and physicality up front, the Titans should target Lewan. He's big, physical and possesses the type of nastiness that teams covet from offensive lineman.
12. New York Giants: Anthony Barr, OLB, Alabama
Getting younger on defense—especially in the front seven—is essential for the Giants.
Barr has great versatility and could make an impact immediately. He has the speed to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but he'd likely be a speed-rushing defensive end in New York.
With Justin Tuck gone, the Giants need a playmaker on the defensive line.
13. St. Louis Rams: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
The Rams would prefer Robinson or Matthews, but Martin is an excellent prospect in his own right.
At 6'4", 309 pounds, Martin is athletic and solid as both a run- and pass-blocker. Even if he's forced to move inside, Martin is the type of player who could become a mainstay on the Rams offensive line.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Chicago's run defense was the worst in the NFL in 2013. With Henry Melton likely heading elsewhere in free agency, the Bears have to draft a defensive tackle.
Jernigan isn't the pass-rusher Melton is, but he's a run-stuffing defensive tackle who could also convert to nose tackle if the Bears decide to switch to the 3-4 in the near future.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Steelers are another team in need of a youth injection. The secondary is a spot where the team especially needs to get younger.
Some prognosticators might have Dennard ahead of Gilbert in the cornerback rankings. Regardless, Dennard is a great fit for the Steelers because of his physicality and cover skills.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Dallas had so many holes on defense last season that it was hard to pinpoint which area was the weakest. When there are so many problems on a unit, it does give the team the liberty to draft the best player available on that side of the ball.
DeMarcus Ware was released, and he ultimately signed with the Denver Broncos, so the Cowboys must find a way to replace the potential Hall of Famer. Ealy is a big, athletic end who can become a force against the pass and run.
Taking a top-notch pass-rusher is a nice first step toward respectability on defense.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Baltimore simply isn't very deep at receiver. Even with the recent signing of Steve Smith, Joe Flacco still needs more weapons.
The team desperately missed Anquan Boldin in 2013. In order for Torrey Smith to get opportunities to beat corners on the outside again, he needs another receiver who is capable of garnering the defense's attention—like Boldin.
Also, due to Smith's advanced age, the Ravens would be wise not to put all their eggs in one basket. Lee has the type of game-breaking speed that forces teams to pay attention.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The best gift the Jets front office could give Geno Smith is a pass-catching tight end. In the 2014 NFL draft, Ebron is the best of the crop.
He has excellent speed for the position (4.60-second 40-yard dash time), good size (6'4", 250 lbs) and good hands. Having a weapon like Ebron at his disposal, Smith's second season in New York could show a lot of improvement.
After Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times in 2013, along with the fact that the team traded former first-round pick Jonathan Martin, the Dolphins clearly need to address the offensive line.
Kouandjio may be a raw talent, but at 20 years old, his upside is so impressive that the Fins have to take him here. Hopefully, the team will have better luck with this selection.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Arizona's defense was its biggest strength in 2013. However, the offense needs to step up in 2014 if the team is going to go to the next level. With weapons in the passing game in place for Carson Palmer, adding studs to the offensive line would be the best move.
Su'a-Filo is a physical presence on the interior line that can open up running lanes between the tackles and limit pressure up the middle against Palmer.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas A&M
Jermichael Finley's pass-catching prowess will be missed in the Packers' offense if he leaves via free agency, and that's why tabbing a replacement like Amaro makes sense.
Amaro is just a notch below Ebron on the tight end rankings list, but he will more than serve the purpose for the Packers passing game.
He has excellent intangibles and good hands. Aaron Rodgers would be happy to have another weapon off the line of scrimmage.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, S, Alabama
The Eagles are the opposite of the Cardinals, as Philly's defense was its weakest link last season. With the fast pace of the team's offense, it's essential for the defense to be capable and deep at all positions.
Clinton Dix would be an instant starter for just about any team in the NFL with a void at safety. His instincts, athleticism and football IQ make him a strong candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Chiefs have patterned their offense around Jamal Charles' legs and Alex Smith's arm-strength limitations. Because of this makeup, Kansas City needs quick receivers who are capable of turning short passes into bigger gains.
Beckham Jr. fits that description. He could also make an impact as a kick returner.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals roster doesn't have many holes. The young linebackers are solid, and the defensive line still has solid depth.
The secondary could stand to add some youth and energy, though. Verrett is a highly competitive cover corner who could push the Bengals' veterans for playing time from Day 1.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Chargers allowed 4.6 yards per carry in 2013. To try and improve in this area, the Bolts need a defensive tackle over the ball who can add some beef on the defensive line. At 6'2", 331 pounds, Nix has the bulk to clog running lanes.
This draft has some nice defensive tackle prospects, but Nix III is amongst the best.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Having already selected their quarterback of the present and future with their first pick, Cleveland should look to bolster the offensive line here. The Browns haven't ranked higher than 20th in rushing since 2009.
Center Alex Mack may not return to the team. If that happens, a versatile player like Yankey could step in at guard, or he could even start at center since the positions are so similar.
27. New Orleans Saints: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
As good as the Saints' offenses was in 2013, it still missed Jermon Bushrod last season, as Drew Brees was sacked 37 times and looked less confident in the pocket.
Moses is a bit of a project, but he has great size (6'6", 314 pounds) and upside. The Saints have had success developing offensive linemen, and their organization and coaching could get the most out of Moses.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
After releasing Steve Smith, the offense could use a speed threat to help stretch the field.
Cooks is physically similar to Smith at 5'10", 185 pounds, but he's just not as ferocious. There's good and bad to that dynamic.
Cooks possesses big-time speed, though, and he could help the Panthers out of the slot and on special teams.
29. New England Patriots: Aaron Donald, DT, Florida State
With Vince Wilfork asking to be released last week, the Pats might have to draft a defensive tackle.
Donald has an outstanding motor and strength. At 6'1", 285 pounds, he is short for some teams, but he has the heart and athleticism to overcome the stereotype.
Donald has a chance to be a steal this late in the first round.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
He may have Evans beat as the top red-zone threat in this draft. Colin Kaepernick hasn't ever had a big target like Benjamin to throw to. Perhaps if it were Benjamin in the end zone against Richard Sherman in the NFC Championship Game, things would have ended differently.
31. Denver Broncos: Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
Denver signed Ware, safety T.J. Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive back Marquice Cole.
With the linebacker corps and the secondary getting a nice boost, the Broncos can look to the draft to add depth to the defensive front.
Tuitt's versatility would allow him to be moved inside or out. Whether it's playing next to Terrance Knighton or spelling Shaun Phillips, Tuitt can make an impact.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Supplying Russell Wilson with a pass-catching tight end would make the Seahawks offense even more deadly.
The team could sign former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, but Finley's injury history means the team should still add depth.
Seferian-Jenkins would allow the Seahawks to run dual tight end sets because of his versatility as a blocker and receiver.
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