While NFL free agency has changed the face of the NFL draft, there are still plenty of teams with glaring needs and plenty of talented players who could slide in and fill those needs from day one. In fact, this draft class looks like one of the deepest in years.
Of course, some teams might take the "draft the best player available" route, so trying to read the tea leaves and project what these teams might do is always a bit tricky. But hey, that's what mock drafts are for, and here I've tried to identify the most likely picks for every NFL team.
Sure, some picks remain a mystery. Heck, who knows what the Houston Texans will do with the first overall selection? Seriously, though, I'm asking if you know someone who might know, because it continues to confound me.
In general, I've narrowed down each team's major needs and identified the players who would make the most sense. To the mock!
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Look, everyone knows the Texans will take a quarterback at some point in this draft. In fact, new head coach Bill O'Brien said as much in an NFL Network interview, via Shawn Ramsey of FoxSports.com:
I don't think there is any question that we'll draft a quarterback in the draft. Where we draft that quarterback? I don't think we know that yet. We're still in the process of studying all of these prospects, in the process of putting a grade on them, and trying to place to them where they would be in the draft... The big thing is, that it is such a long process and we're in the stage now where we are going to pro days and then we'll eventually bring them into to our facilities for an interview. As we get closer and closer we'll obviously be ready to make a decision on where we're heading with all the picks.
But as O'Brien noted, the Texans don't necessarily need to use the first overall pick to select a quarterback, especially when there isn't a consensus top option at the position. There are, however, pretty good talents who could drop into the second round, such as AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Jimmy Garoppolo and perhaps even Derek Carr, though that seems like a long shot.
Keeping that in mind, I continue to think the Texans will take the top talent available, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The pairing of Clowney and J.J. Watt on the defensive line has to be pretty darn appealing for the Texans.
Clowney isn't a natural fit in the 3-4 scheme, but schemes can be tweaked. Most teams in the NFL are turning to hybrid defenses anyway. This pick remains a mystery, but Clowney seems like the logical choice.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Texans and Rams will likely be very interested in moving out of the top two spots, but in such a deep draft, I doubt teams will pay the steep price to move up to these slots.
So if the Rams stay at No. 2, what are the most likely options?
For starters, they could bolster the tackle position. Yes, Rodger Saffold is still in town, but he would benefit from playing the guard position. And Greg Robinson is an extremely gifted tackle who would also represent great value here.
The argument will be that with Sammy Watkins still sitting on the board, the Rams should nab another playmaker for Sam Bradford. But football is won in the trenches, and I believe you'll see Tavon Austin have a bigger impact for St. Louis this year.
So Robinson is the pick, but I'd hardly be shocked if it ended up being Watkins.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
With Clowney off the board, Jacksonville will likely go quarterback here. The Jaguars could also end up swapping picks with the Browns, as I think the Browns will really want Johnny Manziel, but if the Jags stay put, I think they'll take Teddy Bridgewater anyway.
Bridgewater is a smart, composed, NFL-ready prospect who will bring consistency to this Jacksonville offense. He may not have the measurable of Blake Bortles or the "wow" factor of Johnny Football, but I think he'll be a reliable starter from day one.
That should be comforting to Gus Bradley and Co. Ignore the pro day performance—Bridgewater will be a solid starter in the NFL.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Browns will be thrilled if the draft plays out this way. Manziel would be a great fit for the team, as new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan just spent two years working with another exciting, mobile quarterback in Robert Griffin III.
But if the Browns are interested in Manziel, they certainly aren't hinting at that interest in any way. Consider the following from Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Cleveland Browns Ray Farmer reveals he'll skip Johnny Manziel's Pro Day Thursday http://t.co/SQRWO68d5O— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) March 24, 2014
#browns coach mike Pettine said he won't attend Johnny manziel's pro day Thursday either.— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) March 25, 2014
Still, it is fun to imagine Manziel in an offense with new running back Ben Tate, breakout star Josh Gordon and solid tight end Jordan Cameron. Suddenly, the inept Cleveland offense would be fun to watch.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
After the Saffold fiasco and the trade for Matt Schaub, offensive tackle should absolutely be the top priority for the Raiders. Luckily for them, this draft class has two elite tackles, and Jake Matthews makes perfect sense for the Raiders here. Fans of the team will probably want Watkins, but Matthews fills a bigger need.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
The Falcons will be quite pleased with this perfect marriage of need and value. Mack's job out of the gate will be to get pressure on the quarterback, a job he should excel at almost immediately. For a team with a pretty toothless defense in 2013, Mack will be a breath of fresh air.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
If Sammy Watkins were to drop to the Bucs, you'd have to think the team would jump at the chance to pair him with Vincent Jackson. Of course, I may be in the minority in thinking he could drop this far.
From Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:
Mike Williams' problems in Tampa make Sammy Watkins all the more attractive there, but team would need to move up to get him.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 24, 2014
If Watkins does drop, however, he's far too talented for the Bucs to pass up. He's the type of player who can make an instant impact, which makes him attractive to a team that probably isn't as far away from a playoff berth as its 2013 season might imply.
Plus, Josh McCown is coming from a team on which he had Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. His transition would certainly be easier if he had Jackson and Watkins. This is a dream scenario for the Bucs.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
If Blake Bortles falls this far, the Vikings will jump at the chance to draft him. Heck, their need to upgrade at the quarterback position is so great that I've had them reaching for Derek Carr in past drafts. Bortles could also be the first player off the board, of course, but given how my mock has played out thus far, I could easily see him sliding to No. 8.
He's a bit of a project, but he'll have a chance to develop something special with young receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Besides, how hard is it to hand off to Adrian Peterson?
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Mike Evans is exactly what the Bills need—a big, physical receiver who can beat teams down the field or go up and get the ball over defenders. He'd give them both a deep threat and a dangerous red-zone option, and it's always a plus when one player can help you in both areas. This fit is too good for the Bills to pass on.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
With Golden Tate now in town, the Lions can turn their attention to addressing the secondary—namely, the cornerback position. Gilbert's athleticism, versatility—he thrives in both press-man coverage and zone coverage—and ability to change a game as a returner make him the ideal pick for the Lions.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Anthony Barr is still a jewel in need of some polishing, but the ability is there. His athleticism is top-notch, and he'll fit nicely at outside linebacker as the Titans make the switch to a hybrid 3-4 defense. But he's still a bit of a project—remember, he spent his first two years at UCLA on the offensive side of the ball—which is why Mack goes higher. Still, this is a great value pick for the Titans.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Giants need an upgrade at tight end. They also need an upgrade in the passing game now that Hakeem Nicks has moved on. Ebron fits both needs.
Ebron is a tight end more in the mold of a Jimmy Graham or a Vernon Davis, as he can be lined up in the slot and create mismatches for opposing defenses. He should very quickly became a popular target for Eli Manning, and he should complement Victor Cruz quite nicely.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Free safety is a big need, and a rangy, athletic player such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be the perfect partner for strong safety T.J. McDonald. For Rams fans wanting to see the team address the wide receiver position, this draft is rife with playmakers at the position, and the Rams should be able to get a talented player there in the second day.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Bears not only gave up 161.4 rushing yards per game last year (worst in the NFL), but they also lost Henry Melton in free agency. Aaron Donald would be a huge addition for the Bears. At every stage in the draft process, he has impressed. He led the nation with 28.5 tackles for loss last year. He tested well at the NFL Scouting Combine. He's raised no red flags off the field.
Don't be shocked if he sneaks into the top 10 of this draft. But if he falls to No. 14, the Bears would be wise to snatch him up.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Darqueze Dennard is the ideal option for the Steelers here, as he's a strong, physical corner who excels in the sort of press-man coverage that suits a defense built on pressuring the quarterback. The 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner would make an instant impact for Pittsburgh.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Don't be surprised if the Cowboys continue to bolster the defensive line. Timmy Jernigan is a talented defensive end, yes, but he's also a scheme-versatile player who will fit where the Cowboys need him. Paired with Melton, he should really improve the interior of the Dallas line next year.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Yes, Taylor Lewan could see his draft stock plummet (and potentially face jail time) if he is found guilty on assault charges. But until that situation is settled, we have to evaluate Lewan on an innocent-until-proven-guilty basis. And without a doubt, Lewan is a first-round talent who would upgrade the Ravens, especially after the team parted ways with Michael Oher this offseason.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
While it remains to be seen whether Michael Vick or Geno Smith will win the starting gig in New York, it's no secret that the Jets need more offensive weapons. Yes, Eric Decker will help, but unless the Jets add another playmaker at wide receiver, Decker's going to get smothered by coverage focused on shutting him down. Odell Beckham Jr. has been climbing up draft boards and would offer the Jets a great one-two punch for whomever is playing quarterback.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Even after signing Branden Albert, the Dolphins shouldn't be done upgrading the offensive line. Zack Martin could certainly step in and play right tackle, but he also projects nicely as a guard, so he seems like a safe pick to help the Dolphins in some regard next season. This is a very logical pick for Miami.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
The Cardinals will be looking to improve their rush off the edge in this draft, and Dee Ford is the best available. No, he isn't better than Jadeveon Clowney, but he'll certainly go after the quarterback. I think Ford has the athleticism to fit into any scheme, so don't be surprised if he's off the board even earlier in this draft.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Just what the doctor ordered for Green Bay. Calvin Pryor is a physical, athletic safety who blows people up. If he were a mutant, he'd be Juggernaut. Packers fans are going to enjoy watching this kid hunt.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Eagles would likely love to upgrade the secondary here, but upgrading the pass rush is also a big need, and Kony Ealy is a better value than any of the remaining options in the secondary. He'd likely end up in a rotation with Trent Cole, allowing the veteran edge-rusher to stay fresh.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Alex Smith had a strong season last year, but his wide receivers certainly didn't do him any favors. While the screen game to Jamaal Charles was effective, Smith needs a player who can beat teams down the field and complement Dwayne Bowe. Lee has dropped down boards a bit, but I think he's the perfect fit for this Kansas City offense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals are probably going to select the best player on the board here. Luckily for them, that player will also fill a big need, as cornerback depth should be a priority in this draft. I may actually have Jason Verrett underrated here, so the Bengals could be getting a real steal if he drops to them.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre
Louis Nix III is the best pure nose tackle in this draft, and nose tackle just happens to be a pretty huge need for this Chargers team. It isn't always terribly hard to connect the dots, folks.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA
With a new quarterback and running back in town, the Browns will look to further solidify the offensive line by adding the top guard in this draft class, Xavier Su'a-Filo. They could also fill some defensive needs here or add another wide receiver, but improving the guard position should be a big priority.
27. New Orleans Saints: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Saints improved the pass defense by adding safety Jairus Byrd, but cornerback depth is still a big need for this team. Roby really helped his draft stock by running a 4.37 40-yard dash at his pro day, so don't be surprised when he sneaks into the first round.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Name one wide receiver on the Carolina Panthers. Go ahead. I'll wait. And don't cheat by Googling it. Anything? I can't do it either. I don't know who the top receiver on the Panthers board will be when they draft, but I do know that's exactly who they should select. I love Kelvin Benjamin's upside, so I'll select him for Carolina.
29. New England Patriots: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
With Brandon Spikes out of town, C.J. Mosley is an obvious fit and an absolute steal at this point in the draft. It's possible I have him dramatically undervalued, but interior linebackers generally aren't top-15 picks. Mosley would be a starter from day one and would become a tackling machine under Bill Belichick.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree are nice weapons in the passing game, but this offense really needs someone who can stretch the field. Allen Robinson is a big play waiting to happen and would fit nicely with the Niners.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Do I have Ryan Shazier too low? He unofficially ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at his pro day, which is absurd for a 6'1", 237-pound linebacker. While that time might be a bit off, Shazier is a gamer and would look very nice sliding into an outside linebacker position in Denver. The Broncos have gone all out to improve the defense in free agency, but adding more playmakers on that side of the ball through the draft makes sense as well.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
If the Seahawks don't end up signing Jermichael Finley—he reportedly failed a physical with the team—tight end will remain a major need. Jace Amaro is a first-round talent who would give Russell Wilson another weapon to work with. That's a scary proposition for the rest of the NFC.