The 2014 NFL draft is still over a month away (May 8-10), but the excitement surrounding the scouting combine and pro days has fans focused on the latest notes and projections in mock drafts for the entire first round.
Here are the latest predictions for the first 32 selections of the draft.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Houston Texans already have one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL with J.J. Watt, but the addition of a pass-rushing compliment like South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney would make the team a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
While there is always a chance that the St. Louis Rams would trade out of the No. 2 spot (the franchise proved that in the deal that brought the team this pick), the need for a long-term answer at the tackle position will result in the selection of Texas A&M offense lineman Jake Matthews.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Taking Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel at No. 3 overall may not be the smartest move in terms of guaranteed success at the next level, but the Jacksonville Jaguars need a player who will enjoy the role of being the face of a franchise. Johnny Football is that player.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
After impressing in his pro day, Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles will be a serious option for the Texans and Jaguars, but the Cleveland Browns will end up taking him at No. 4 overall. Maybe this will finally be the player who leads the franchise out of obscurity.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Oakland Raiders have always been known for the team’s love of speed, but Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is so much more than that. With the size and pass-catching ability to be a No. 1 wide receiver, Oakland will have a legitimate playmaker.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Whether Clowney falls this far or not, the Atlanta Falcons should be looking for a pass-rush specialist at No. 6 overall. If Clowney is gone, Atlanta will settle for UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr. Not a bad consolation prize.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Now that Darrelle Revis is not patrolling the secondary, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be forced to improve the pass rush in order to alleviate pressure on the secondary. With Clowney and Barr likely gone, Tampa Bay will snag one of the best prospects in the entire draft, Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Despite re-signing Matt Cassel, it is clear that the Minnesota Vikings should still be looking to draft a quarterback in the first round to improve the long-term future of the franchise. While Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater has fallen on many draft boards, he will be the best option left at No. 8 overall.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
EJ Manuel will be heading into his second season as Buffalo Bills quarterback, and the franchise must give him weapons to utilize. The best red-zone threat in this year’s draft is Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans. This would be a smart selection for the future of Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
After the Detroit Lions overcome the sadness that the team missed out on Evans, the franchise will have the chance to draft a talented offensive lineman in Auburn tackle Greg Robinson. Robinson will not only make an immediate impact, but he is also the long-term answer as a franchise left tackle.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Tennessee Titans struggled with consistency on the defensive side of the ball all season, and there is no better fit than Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. The prospect is a natural leader that is able to stop the run effectively while still contributing on passing downs.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants, but he looked like a shell of that player last season without protection from his offensive line. Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan would be a fundamental addition to the team.
13. St. Louis Rams: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
After taking Matthews at No. 2 overall in this mock, the St. Louis Rams must address the defensive side of the ball. Head coach Jeff Fisher loves hard-nosed cornerbacks, and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert would fit the system.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
There are few teams that struggled as hard against the run as the Chicago Bears last season, and there is no better defensive tackle on the board after the scouting combine than Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald. The combine standout will be the first DT taken, but the rush will be on in the middle of the first round.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Pittsburgh Steelers will continue the rush on defensive tackles by filling one of the major voids on the team by selecting promising Notre Dame star Louis Nix at No. 15 overall.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Dallas Cowboys must fill needs at defensive tackle, end and safety. While Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is an option, the team needs an anchor in the center of the defensive line and there is no better left on the board than Minnesota tackle Ra'Shede Hageman.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
With Dallas passing on Clinton-Dix, the Baltimore Ravens will have the long-term answer at safety it has lacked since Ed Reed left the team.
18. New York Jets: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The New York Jets could look to the offensive side of the ball to bolster the weapons QB Geno Smith has to work with, but a talented defensive end that can stand up as a pass-rusher like Missouri’s Kony Ealy is exactly what the team is looking for.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
After a tumultuous season on the offensive line and throughout the franchise, everyone is looking to turn the page and begin anew in 2014. The team signed free agent Branden Albert and will add another long-term piece to the puzzle with Notre Dame’s Zack Martin.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Carson Palmer has brought a new spirit to the Arizona Cardinals offensive unit, but he needs better protection if he wants to stay healthy. While Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is raw, he is a risk worth taking for a team desperate for improved play along the line.
21. Green Bay Packers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Green Bay Packers understand the importance of Aaron Rodgers after the lack of success when he went down injured, and the franchise must give him a dump-off weapon at tight end to help him out of trouble. The best pass-catching tight end in the 2014 class is Eric Ebron of North Carolina.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
As well as the offensive unit has been for the Philadelphia Eagles, the defensive secondary was susceptible to the deep pass all season. The team will find its answer when hard-hitting Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard falls to them at No. 22 overall.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Head coach Andy Reid implements a West Coast offense built on short passes. Add in the lack of arm strength from Alex Smith, and a versatile wide receiver like Kelvin Benjamin that thrives in open space will be a smart long-term addition.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
There is no doubt that A.J. Green is one of the top wide receivers in the NFL, but the Cincinnati Bengals must add a complement to maximize his potential. LSU’s Odell Beckham would fill the need.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The San Diego Chargers were able to make the postseason in 2013, but without the addition of an elite cornerback like TCU’s Jason Verrett, the franchise will likely miss the playoffs this season.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The departure of veteran safety T.J. Ward has left a void in the back end of the secondary, and the Cleveland Browns would be wise to jump on a skilled prospect like Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
After the signing of safety Jairus Byrd, the New Orleans Saints must address its non-existent pass rush. If Ohio State outside linebacker Ryan Shazier is there at No. 27, Rob Ryan would have the edge pressure he so desperately needs.
28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The departure of Steve Smith has left a huge void at wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, and the team must add a prospect with major upside like USC’s Marqise Lee to add the depth and talent needed to start the season.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
There is no questioning just how great Rob Gronkowski has been, but his inability to stay healthy will force the New England Patriots to select a tight end like Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro as a long-term insurance plan.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
As well as wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin played together for the San Francisco 49ers, injuries wreaked havoc last season and proved the team’s lack of depth. With the team’s first-round pick, Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks would be an ideal fit.
31. Denver Broncos: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Denver Broncos were not satisfied bringing the same team back in 2014 and brought in free-agent defenders DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to secure the unit. There is still a need for another defensive tackle, and Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan would be a steal at No. 31 overall.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
After losing Chris Clemons and Red Bryant to the Jaguars via free agency, the Seattle Seahawks have to bolster the roster along the defensive line. Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt will be a reasonably priced answer.