The clock is ticking toward the 2014 NFL draft, with the top teams still in limbo as they decide which of the top coveted prospects is worth the risk.
Many intriguing college standouts like Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and more come out of this star-studded class, but many of these top candidates have faced their fair share of scrutiny. If any of these three named players succeeds, they will have proved thousands of people wrong.
With that said, an increased level of gambling on these prospects means that it's more important than ever for every first-round selection to be made sensibly, not only with the player's potential but with the needs of the team first and foremost.
Let's get into a new installment of the 2014 NFL mock draft.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
This draft class is chock-full of tantalizing quarterbacks, but none fit the mold better than UCF gunslinger Blake Bortles.
The 6'5", 230-pound drop-back assassin is the prototypical quarterback size—tall enough to see and deliver balls over the linemen's heads while heavy enough to stand tough through pressure and elongate plays. He's also great at creating plays out of nothing.
And it seems, per Houston Chronicle's Nick Mathews, that the Texans' general manager has been keeping a close eye on Bortles:
The Texans could be enticed by drafting Clowney or another daunting physical specimen, but there's no doubt that they need to find their franchise quarterback in this draft.
There's no better place to do that than at the top of the board, where they can hand-pick the quarterback with the greatest chance at success. That man is Bortles.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
It's safe to say that the Rams have needed this for quite some time. Adding Tavon Austin was a bold move that proved St. Louis is serious about bolstering its playmaking ability, but they need a somewhat bigger body that can still explode.
Sammy Watkins is just that. At 6'1", he can go up and get it over many of the NFL's cornerbacks, but that's not where he makes his biggest impact. In the open field, he's unstoppable, can cut on a dime and displays enough speed to have the potential to be the fastest man on the field.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
This is a dream scenario for Jacksonville. Needing an immense amount of marketing help in order to revive its franchise, the Jaguars could use a physical freak such as Clowney. Given his huge following, the Jaguars would immediately become more relevant, and if effort isn't a problem, then he'll emerge as one of the most feared pass-rushers in no time.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
This looked like a pick destined to go to Johnny Manziel for the longest time. That is, until the draft process really got going.
First, the Browns' new head coach Mike Pettine told the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot that they didn't conduct a formal interview with Manziel at the NFL Scouting Combine. They had 60 interviews to fill and chose not to talk to Manziel.
Next, it was reported by Cabot that the Browns GM wouldn't be going to Manziel's pro day.
All of this has Bridgewater falling into place with Cleveland. This is a franchise desperate for a quarterback, and with the high number of formidable players to choose from, the Browns will go with one of the hot names at the top of the list.
Bridgewater possesses the poise and leadership to be a franchise signal-caller, and if he can develop physically to handle the rigors of the league while the Browns build this new roster around him, he will be just fine in Cleveland.
5. Oakland Raiders: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Raiders have attempted to address their quarterback problem by acquiring a veteran or building up a mid-round pick, but at No. 5 in a class filled with top gunslingers, Oakland will nab the Heisman jewel of this draft class.
Manziel has been picked apart by a number of analysts lately and is falling down the board of quarterbacks, which is all the more reason for Oakland to jump on him when he threatens to fall out of the top five.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Defense is what Atlanta needs to address most heading into the draft. It's not looking likely Clowney will fall to them, but why not go for the second-best defensive player in the class in Khalil Mack? He's a menacing prospect at 6'3", 247 pounds with peak speed and will only get bigger after a couple of years in the NFL.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson could very well go higher, possibly even at No. 2 to St. Louis, but he won't fall past No. 7, and the Bucs will be fortunate to land him. Robinson is an incredibly big body at 6'5" and 332 pounds, but it's how quickly he's able to move at that size that impresses the most and will make him useful in Lovie Smith's first season at the helm.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Minnesota Vikings could use being a little bit higher in this draft given the amount of quality quarterbacks, but the depth of them will allow Mike Zimmer to grab a potential franchise QB anyway. Derek Carr lit it up at Fresno State and comes from an NFL breed, and at 6'2" and 214 pounds, he should translate well into the big league.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Bills are sorely in need of a franchise tackle to plug into their offensive line, and Jake Matthews is a safe bet. He probably would have been a top-10 pick if he had come out last year, and he now has an entire year under his belt after that. This sort of talent only comes out once every couple of years, and Buffalo will be happy to snag someone who comes from an illustrious family tree of NFL standouts.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Lions have multiple areas of concern heading into this draft, but none are more glaring than in the secondary, where Detroit ranked among the worst in the league last season. To remedy that, Justin Gilbert would be an incredible addition. Despite it coming awfully high in the draft, nabbing the best corner in the class will always have to come with an expensive price tag.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
With new Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt hiring Ray Horton as the defensive coordinator, it's apparent that they will need speedy rushers off the end to pressure the quarterback and some rushing lanes. There's no player better suited for that in this draft than Anthony Barr, who has great instincts and is only growing to fit the speed and strength of a pro prospect.
12. New York Giants: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Kony Ealy emerged as one of the hottest names to come out of the combine, and he's been shooting up draft boards ever since. The Giants could use a formidable pass-rusher to throw alongside Jason Pierre-Paul and help New York reemerge as a formidable pass-rushing team.
13. St. Louis Rams: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Having already addressed their most glaring need of a playmaker with the second overall pick, here, the Rams could potentially explore trading their pick but will end up settling with Taylor Lewan. The Michigan standout has long been looked upon as a top professional prospect, possessing the size and measurables to be a high-level starter for 10-plus years.
14. Chicago Bears: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Once feared as one of the most dangerous turnover machines in the NFL, the Bears defense now struggles to keep potent quarterbacks at bay and can't handle talented receivers. Chicago re-signed Charles Tillman, per ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson, but only for one year, which means Dennard could ease into some playing time in year one and develop into a starter in the future.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Pittsburgh has struggled to find potency at the wide receiver spot outside of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, the latter of whom is no longer on the team. If the Steelers want to contend in 2014, they will have to address that concern, and adding Benjamin—a 6'5", 240-pound monster who towers over any defender—would be an immediate help.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
In reality, there's a good chance Aaron Donald could be off the board by now. As arguably the top defensive lineman in this class, Dallas won't let him fall past its 16th pick and will plug up a huge hole in the interior that has allowed the Cowboys defense to become a laughingstock.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Baltimore joins Pittsburgh as teams needing help for their top wideouts. Other than Torrey Smith, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has nobody to throw to. But with Marqise Lee, the nation's best receiver in 2012 and arguably the most well-known college wideout over the last two seasons, in the fold, Flacco could make Baltimore's offense much more potent.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Adding Eric Decker didn't in any way fix the Jets' problems at the pass-catching spots. Other than him—a player who has seen most of his rise to fame as a No. 3 receiver—Geno Smith and Michael Vick have arguably no one to throw to.
Enter Eric Ebron. The North Carolina tight end has emerged as an incredibly attractive pro prospect at the tight end spot, fitting the athletic mold set out by players like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.
At 6'4" and 245 pounds, he can extend to make circus catches like a wide receiver while barreling over defenders like a fullback. Having him as a dynamic weapon in the middle, or even a security blanket, would work wonders for the Jets.
19. Miami Dolphins: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
There was no better offensive line from top to bottom in 2013 than Tennessee's, and Antonio "Tiny" Richardson was the star of the show. His massive frame and decent mobility will allow him to thrive on any offensive line in the NFL, which Miami will sorely need having to fill a couple of openings there.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Calvin Pryor, CB, Louisville
Calvin Pryor didn't have the best time at the combine, but his game film and highlight-reel plays speak for themselves. He'll land in the first round at a team that is trying to build the pieces for a playoff run, and the Cardinals will allow him to slowly get accustomed to the spot before throwing him into the fire completely.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Green Bay needs help all over its defense, but with playmakers at linebacker and a number of formidable cornerbacks, the biggest need is at the safety spot. Grabbing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama makes sense. His experience at the top level of the SEC means he's battle-tested and ready for the NFL, and his ball-hawking skills will make him an impact playmaker.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Corners are flying off the board, and that continues with Chip Kelly getting a valuable piece to help bolster his secondary. Bradley Roby has been shutting down the Big Ten's best receivers for all of his career and will help an Eagles defense that was lit up by practically all of the league's best quarterbacks last season.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Tight ends aren't typically a go-to pick in the first round, but two will come off the board here as Jace Amaro heads to Kansas City. Alex Smith didn't have many formidable options in the passing game, and Amaro would immediately serve as a big body and an easy target. When the ultra-conservative Smith looks for a third or fourth option, Amaro will be there.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Dee Ford has slowly but surely shown his true colors as one of the nation's best pass-rushers, and he takes that momentum into the NFL draft. Cincinnati, already having a strong defense but needing a few extra pieces, could throw Ford into the rotation immediately given his size and experience.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
San Diego got to the playoffs because Philip Rivers had a phenomenal season, not because of its defense. To help plug up a defensive line that sorely needs it, the Chargers will go with Louis Nix III from Notre Dame. Going up against that daunting Fighting Irish schedule, Nix has fought through the most dominant offensive lines in the country all by himself time after time.
At 342 pounds, it's not hard to see how that could translate into the NFL.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Very quietly, Jordan Matthews became one of the best receivers in the SEC, and in the entire nation, last season at Vanderbilt after emerging in 2012. His stock hasn't necessarily soared, but the chance for him to sneak into the first round is still there and the Browns could use another solid wideout next to Josh Gordon as he becomes one of the NFL's future stars.
27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Mosley might get drafted a lot higher than this, but the Saints will snatch him up quickly if he's available. New Orleans could use getting a playmaker with Darren Sproles leaving, but it will opt to address that later in the draft with the Saints getting a young defensive leader in Mosley.
28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Carolina has pretty much exhausted every effort to put themselves in a scenario where they have to build its wide receiving corps out of the draft. The Panthers will get started right away, grabbing Odell Beckham Jr., who has made big play after big play at LSU over some of the nation's best defensive backs.
29. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
With Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reporting Vince Wilfork is requesting to leave New England, the Patriots could be forced to fill the gaping hole in their line right away. Hageman would be a good start, with his big body proving to make the transition, and everything else, a work in progress.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Even though the 49ers re-signed Anquan Boldin, they will need some more help on the outside. Brandin Cooks would be a good complement for a player like Boldin because he's much smaller and quicker and could stretch the field for Boldin to attack deep.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Denver's 43-8 loss to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl was more telling of the Broncos' defensive ineptitude than anything else. While this move alone won't be the remedy, the Broncos have built themselves back up in free agency, and adding Shazier to develop over time will only make this Denver defense better if the Ohio State standout is able to reach the level of play he was at with the Buckeyes.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Seahawks obviously don't have many glaring needs, but they could use a rotational substitute on the offensive line and a potential starter. Cyrus Kouandjio from Alabama would be much more than that, serving to be a likely starter and possible Pro Bowler given his successes with the Crimson Tide.