Now that a large chunk of free agency is in the books, fans have a much better idea of what needs teams will attack in the early rounds of the 2014 NFL draft.
Of course, buyer beware—what NFL teams are selling is a very dangerous commodity. Known as the strong period of time for smokescreens, the remainder of the path to the draft will be marred with misdirections as teams look to put themselves in the best position possible to land that coveted prospect.
With that in mind, here is a look at how things will shape up when all is said and done.
Note: All free agency signing info courtesy of ESPN.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Everyone hates Teddy Bridgewater.
But seriously, Rotoworld's Patrick Daugherty put it best after what was apparently a not perfect pro day:
Much like the overreactions to the combine, Bridgewater's pro day means little, especially with so many teams potentially hoping to have him fall down the board rather than come off it first.
Of course, Houston is smarter than that. Despite the fluff, Bridgewater remains the best quarterback in the class.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Here's something nobody saw coming, via Tony Pauline of Draftinsider.net:
Say the Rams don't find a front office silly enough to break the bank and move up again. That leaves them with one option—grab an offensive tackle to better protect quarterback Sam Bradford, because the excuses are running out.
With another pick left in the round, St. Louis gets the best tackle available.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Quarterback is a need in Jacksonville, but the front office seems content on standing pat and building elsewhere for another year.
Jadeveon Clowney is one top prospect who has not seen his stock change much as of late, and he has the quarterback class to thank for that.
Clowney is a nice building block for the franchise on what quietly has the looks of a sound unit. A quarterback can be had in the later rounds if the franchise desires, but a rare prospect like Clowney hardly comes around and makes it to No. 3 overall.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Sammy Watkins is far and away the draft's top receiver, which is an interesting conundrum for a class that may be the deepest in recent memory.
Normally Watkins would fall a bit further thanks to that impressive depth, but Cleveland just so happens to have two first-round picks and will likely look to groom a rookie quarterback with Brandon Weeden on his way to Dallas after being cut.
In other words, now would be the time to grab another elite wideout to pair with Josh Gordon and the recently acquired Andrew Hawkins, making for a great set of weapons.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Blake Bortles has a wildly different stock depending on who is asked. Regardless, the UCF signal-caller has a high enough ceiling to warrant a top pick. As expected, the quarterback-needy teams have been sure to perform their due diligence:
Oakland has been strangely active in free agency by letting some top names go but bringing on bargains like Justin Tuck. One position that has remained unscathed? Quarterback. No, the trade for Matt Schaub does not prohibit the team from grabbing a talented rookie.
Bortles is a fit and it's a shame he'll likely get thrown to the wolves, but the investment at least makes sense for a franchise stuck in neutral without a franchise signal-caller.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Atlanta must do a better job of getting to quarterbacks.
That sounds simple, and it very well may be with the addition of Khalil Mack. The Falcons struggled without hybrid rusher Kroy Biermann last year, but won't have to worry anymore with Mack on board.
Atlanta has shown how serious it is about improving the unit by signing guys like Paul Soliai. Mack is the icing on the cake.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Alright, so it sounds like new coach Lovie Smith is content to roll with recently signed Josh McCown, per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times:
Verdict: Not a smokescreen. McCown was solid last year, and while he certainly won't be playing in a friendly Marc Trestman offense, he'll get the job done. Meanwhile Smith will start the building process off in the right manner with Jake Matthews.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel remain as the only starting options for Minnesota before the draft.
New coach Mike Zimmer will change that with a risky play on Johnny Manziel. The bet is more than worth it as Manziel will enter a rookie-friendly environment backed by a strong defense and an elite running back.
The Vikings need a starter right away, and Manziel is the last on the board who has the potential to deliver on Day 1.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It's great that the Buffalo Bills brought back Scott Chandler in free agency, but it does not entirely rule out the odds the front office grabs a top tight end in the first round.
After all, the team has to do whatever it takes to ensure EJ Manuel succeeds. To do so, Eric Ebron is a great option early thanks to his impressive combination of size and speed.
Ebron can take over right away, or the Bills can run a lot of two-tight end looks next season to keep Manuel on the field and developing.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
With the signing of receiver Golden Tate, the Detroit front office can now turn its attention to the woes in the secondary. The team recently paid a visit to see Darqueze Dennard work out:
Dennard remains the best corner in the class and represents the perfect marriage of need and value at the spot.
The best part? He won't have to start right away, but can instead battle other young prospects in the defensive backfield for playing time.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
As crazy as it sounds, the addition of Wesley Woodyard does not entirely rule out Tennessee in the linebacker sweepstakes. This is especially the case considering Colin McCarthy has been mediocre as of late.
To provide a jolt to the unit, Tennessee can grab the draft's top linebacker to build around.
C.J. Mosley has had a quiet path to the draft, but that can often times be a good thing—especially when the prospect is the top in class and arguably the best to enter the pros in recent memory.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
"Under the radar" is vastly overused en route to the draft, but it has never applied more aptly to a prospect. NFL.com's Gil Brandt is helping to put Taylor Lewan back on the map as a player worthy of the No. 1 overall pick:
Lewan has been a well-kept secret of late and has been a little overshadowed by Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews, but he was another of my standouts from the combine. He has a solid football background -- his dad, Dave, was an offensive lineman at the University of Minnesota -- and played four years at Michigan.
Not a bad deal for a team like the New York Giants, which has to do whatever it takes to make sure Eli Manning doesn't suffer from another case of self-combustion in 2014.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
It'd be great if Jeff Fisher could add more defense in the first round, but a prospect like Mike Evans is very hard to pass up for a team that touts little in the way of elite talent at wideout.
Evans is a bit rare in that he blurs the lines between tight end and receiver, which gives the Rams two massive threats considering their acquisition of Jared Cook last offseason.
As hinted before, the Rams have to keep Bradford upright and productive, because time may be running out for both he and the current regime if something doesn't happen in the NFL's most competitive division.
14. Chicago Bears: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Chicago lost Henry Melton, who leaves a rather large hole on the interior of the defense, but Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is tough to pass on with the current starters being Chris Conte and Anthony Walters.
Sorry, but the additions of Ryan Mundy and MD Jennings do not fix a whole lot.
With the way tackles are falling down the board, the Bears appear to be in a position to still land a quality prospect in the second round. In the meantime, they arguably add the draft's top safety and finally improve a major need.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Pittsburgh might have taken itself out of the running for a nose tackle in the first round with the addition of Cam Thomas, so the staff can look to upgrade elsewhere.
Considering Ike Taylor has fallen off a cliff—he ranked as the No. 97 overall corner in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—the Steelers need an immediate solution.
Justin Gilbert is certainly a solution thanks to his pro-ready game. Corners rarely have a smooth transition to the pros, but he's better than what the Steelers currently have on the roster.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Dallas Cowboys fans may want to look away.
After giving the boot to legend DeMarcus Ware, Jerry Jones and Co. went out and got an upgrade on the interior in the form of Melton.
Fine, but that doesn't change the fact George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey are currently penciled in as starters on the edges.
Kony Ealy is a very, very sound prospect who can start right away, but he has some huge boots to fill.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
It's great Baltimore brought on Steve Smith for the last legs of his prestigious career, as that gives Joe Flacco two weapons who can consistently make plays.
But it doesn't give the team a license to ignore the future.
There is still a need as Smith is sure to retire sooner rather than later, and, really, there is still a need for a possession receiver. Allen Robinson fills all of these holes in a big way and gives Flacco yet another reason to turn things around.
18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Corner is a very strong possibility here, but the staff in New York may feel confident in its ability to grab a quality prospect in the next round.
Another tight end like Jace Amaro won't make it.
Rex Ryan is on the cusp of being out of a job if Geno Smith doesn't pan out. An elite prospect who seemingly catches everything thrown his way is the best move.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Branden Albert is a good get, but the work is far from over for Miami.
Versatility is key for the Dolphins no matter who they choose, and it just so happens that the most versatile offensive lineman in the draft is still on the board. ESPN's Louis Riddick puts it best:
Martin can fill in at whatever spot the Dolphins don't upgrade this offseason. That sounds like a pretty good deal given the circumstances.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Much has been said about Cyrus Kouandjio's stock, but ESPN's Mel Kiper (subscription required) has a pretty good point about his pro prospects:
There were some concerns about his medicals at the combine, but Kouandjio is going to come in healthy and ready to contribute. And it's worth remembering that he won't turn 21 until after the draft. While Kouandjio has a high ceiling, he's not merely a physical talent who could develop -- this is a kid who was battering SEC defensive linemen at the age of 19. If the health is there, so is the ceiling. It's a good bet for the Panthers at this point.
Of course, Kiper has Kouandjio going eight picks later, but Arizona has flexibility with this pick, and tackle is the biggest need. In order for Carson Palmer to best execute the vertical-oriented offense in place, he must stay off his back.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
This has nothing to do with losing the aforementioned Jennings, that's for sure.
With Green Bay bringing B.J. Raji back into the fold, the Packers gave themselves some wiggle room to attack another need.
Safety just so happens to be first on the menu, and Calvin Pryor may just be the best the class has to offer. As a rangy prospect with a nose for the football, the back end of the Green Bay defense gets a major boost.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Words cannot adequately describe how upset the Philadelphia front office is about so narrowly missing out on Pryor.
That said, the team will have to make do with Earl Wolff next to new piece Malcolm Jenkins.
In the meantime, the Eagles can get a major upgrade in the trenches thanks to Ra'Shede Hageman, a scheme-friendly prospect who combines speed and strength into a combination that will assuredly find success at the pro level.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Kansas City needs some answers as far as pass-catchers go.
There was a point in time when Marqise Lee was considered on top, but a strange final collegiate season put an end to that noise.
Alas, he finds a great home here with Andy Reid's offense sorely in need of a sure-handed receiver who can keep the chains moving at a decent pace.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Don't recognize the name?
Kyle Fuller is the definition of a late riser, but now that analysts have had a chance to run a fine comb through his film and watch him in workouts, it's apparent he will be one of the first corners off the board.
As ESPN's Kevin Weidl points out, Fuller will make an instant impact:
Funnily enough, Cincinnati doesn't need him to start right away. Instead, he'll act as a long-term solution and insurance policy behind three starters—all over the age of 30 and an injury risk.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Look at San Diego luck out.
The top 3-4 nose tackle in the draft happens to fall down the board to San Diego, where Kwame Geathers is currently penciled into a starting gig.
That's no way to get back to the playoffs. Instead, Nix provides an immediate impact and eats up enough space that the linebackers behind him have plenty of room to operate.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Riddick is once again on point in his analysis of a prospect:
Derek Carr is unheralded as far as stock goes, but teams in need of a quarterback surely have an eye on him thanks to his impressive mobility and strong arm.
Cleveland has no qualms about throwing him to the wolves as a rookie, either, thanks to the impressive set of weapons around him.
27. New Orleans Saints: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Anthony Barr's stock dropped once scouts could dig into his film, but the former running back impressed in workouts.
Most mocks would have Barr going higher, but freakish athleticism is a very risky thing to rely on early in the draft.
For Rob Ryan and the New Orleans Saints, this is an amazing get. Fresh off landing Jairus Byrd, the Saints add an athletic pass-rusher Ryan will surely get the most out of right away.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
So, the Carolina Panthers cut Steve Smith...
Fans are still waiting for something to happen. Cam Newton has no viable weapons to work with, so it's pretty obvious the front office is planning a raid on the wideout position in this year's draft.
It's a great time to do so given the depth. Brandin Cooks is an obvious choice here thanks to his game, which is reminiscent of Smith's. He also has the talent to make a difference right away.
29. New England Patriots: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
Troy Niklas was a bit prophetic back in February, as captured by Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald:
Niklas is a prototypical tight end who reels in most everything thrown his way and would do much to contribute right away. He would also provide quality insurance should Rob Gronkowski go down again.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
The fact Anquan Boldin is back in the fold is great, but San Francisco can still take this opportunity to grab a top wideout to help mitigate future issues.
Corner is certainly a necessity as well, but the team can get by with the current group for another round. This is certainly a forward-looking selection, but one that may very well insulate the offense from future ineffectiveness if Boldin retires or Michael Crabtree suffers an injury.
31. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Yes, Denver added Aqib Talib to help themselves go all-in for the last of Peyton Manning's time in the pros, but there is no such thing as too much talent in a secondary.
Talib and Chris Harris are quite the combo, but the addition of Jason Verrett puts things over the top for Denver.
While also a slot corner, Verrett is stout against the rush. He is simply another quality talent to help counter the barrage of passing that opposing teams will surely do in an effort to keep up with Manning and the offense.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Talk about a steal—the champs get a player to end the first round who compares favorably to Cincinnati's Geno Atkins, as Bucky Brooks of NFL.com illustrates:
Looking at the comparable players suggested by NFL Insight, I'm not surprised Pro Bowl DT Geno Atkins makes the list. The undersized tackle has dominated the NFL with his athleticism and disruptive skills, tallying 29 sacks in four seasons -- remarkable production for an interior defender. Donald is a natural comparison based on his sub-standard physical dimensions, but extraordinary athleticism and quickness. Studying their respective numbers from the combine, I'm a bit surprised Donald surpasses the veteran in nearly every category, including the 40-yard dash. Atkins is regarded as the quickest and most explosive defender currently in the NFL, so the fact that Donald clocks a faster 10-yard split time suggests that he could be nightmare to block at the point of attack.
A bit lengthy, but it just goes to show that Aaron Donald is the real deal in the right scheme. It also shows just how deep the 2014 class is in that a player with such strong numbers and pro potential would fall so far.
As part of the rotation in Seattle, Donald will excel and also give the Seahawks a cap-friendly force for years to come.
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