It's pretty simple why the NFL draft has become such a cultural landmark. Every team has the same chance to improve its roster.
It represents hope. One pick can change a franchise.
On the flip side, one pick can ruin a franchise. It's high-risk and high-reward, and every moment counts.
That's why it makes sense to look at some first-round moves each team can make that will make the most difference. Which player will make an immediate impact with his team?
We'll predict every first-round pick in this 2014 NFL mock draft. Read on to find out which player your team should select.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
As is so often the case in the NFL, new coaching staffs mean new quarterbacks. Bill O'Brien, after jettisoning Matt Schaub to the Oakland Raiders, will almost certainly draft a quarterback with the first overall selection.
The big question is: Which quarterback will he take? While Johnny Manziel would be an instant fan favorite, and Teddy Bridgewater is probably the most NFL-ready, the pick here will be Blake Bortles.
Why? It's simple. Bortles has, by far, the most potential of any quarterback in this draft. He is also the rawest, meaning O'Brien, who is noted for his work with quarterbacks, will have the chance to build Bortles in his mold.
And it's already clear that O'Brien is smitten. In an interview with John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, O'Brien was effusive in his praise of the signal-caller: "Blake is a good-sized guy. He's an athletic guy for his size. He's an accurate passer. The guys who coached him at Central Florida think highly of him as a young man who really studies the game. He works hard at the game."
The Texans have Ryan Fitzpatrick on the roster, so they don't need to start Bortles right away. In fact, it would be better if they didn't. Letting him watch for six or seven games will help him and his development.
When he does start, though, it will become clear that he was the right pick.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Rams could very well trade this pick, but assuming they keep it, they will have to select Watkins.
He's a game-breaking receiver, and when pairing him with speedster Tavon Austin, the Rams will suddenly boast one of the best receiving corps in the league.
It's time to find out if Sam Bradford is the right quarterback for this team. The best way to discover that is to give him plenty of weapons to play with.
Watkins could be the best overall player in this draft, and he will make an immediate impact. Besides, the Rams aren't too far off from contention. They have a solid defense, led by one of the better defensive lines in the league.
Their pass offense, which finished 27th in the league last year, needs a boost. Watkins will provide that instantly.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Jaguars need a quarterback and need to win back the fanbase.
Manziel should do both. While he is a risk, there is also no doubt that he is the best playmaker in this draft. His legs should compensate for an average offensive line, and he will be able to win games with his moxie and skill set.
Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley seemed impressed with his pro day, telling Rainer Sabin of The Dallas Morning News, “I think he’s the ultimate competitor. He took advantage of this situation, came out and showcased his abilities and had a great setup.”
And as Matt Miller of Bleacher Report notes, Manziel is the best fit for the Jags:
He will bring excitement and intrigue to Jacksonville. That, more than anything, is what the Jags need the most.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
In my opinion, the Browns get lucky here.
You could argue that all they really need is a solid quarterback. They have a fine defense and offensive weapons such as Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. All they need is a conductor.
That's what Bridgewater does best. While not as flashy as Manziel or as strong as Bortles, Bridgewater is the only quarterback in this class who can step in from Day 1 and lead an NFL offense in its entirety.
Jon Gruden of ESPN told Mike Huguenin of NFL.com: "Based on the offense that he ran at Louisville, he ranks very high. He'd be in the top three or four. He can recognize and communicate a lot of different styles of offense."
Bridgewater and Gordon will form a dynamic duo right away. I think this could be the pick that will catapult the Browns into contention.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Raiders won't be happy that they missed out on the top quarterbacks, but getting Clowney is a nice consolation prize.
And for all the hubbub about his work ethic—or lack thereof—he is still the same guy who did this:
That play shows what Clowney can do. His burst, acceleration and explosion are all on display. He is simply too fast for linemen and has an uncanny ability to read the play.
With veterans like Justin Tuck in the locker room, Clowney will find himself in the right environment to reach his true potential. For the Raiders, that's a very good thing.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Falcons need to keep Matt Ryan upright. They gave up 44 sacks on the season, which was 22nd in the league.
Greg Robinson is incredibly athletic and will start right away at left tackle. He is equally adept at run blocking and pass blocking and is remarkably strong.
He will upgrade the porous offensive line, giving Ryan more time to find his talented receivers.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack may have played against lower competition, but there is no doubting his skill set.
Dynamic against the pass, he has the look of the next big pass-rusher off the edge. The Bucs will love having his versatility, as he is also quite good at dropping back in coverage.
With Lavonte David and Mack, the Bucs will have two of the best young linebackers in the game on their roster.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Vikings would probably like to take a quarterback, but selecting Derek Carr here is too much of a reach.
Instead, they'll settle for Eric Ebron, the most dynamic tight end in this class. Imagine an offense with Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Ebron. The tight end will dramatically help Christian Ponder.
Ebron is similar to Jimmy Graham and will make an instant impact in the Twin Cities.
9. Buffalo Bills: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Bills need a safety after losing Jairus Byrd. The best safety in this draft is Calvin Pryor. It's a no-brainer.
The Bills already have a great pass rush, and their pass defense was ranked fourth in the league last year, giving up just 204 yards per game.
But they need to replace Byrd if they want to keep up those numbers. Pryor has the best chance of replacing Byrd's productivity and impact.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
While it's tempting to give the Lions a receiver alongside Calvin Johnson, the reality is that they need a corner. They had the 23rd-ranked pass defense, giving up 246.9 yards per game through the air.
Gilbert is fast and physical. He's a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands and will be a huge upgrade over Rashean Mathis.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
With Ray Horton in as the new defensive coordinator, you can bet the Titans will run a number of hybrid fronts. That means switching between 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.
Anthony Barr is perfect for that type of defense. He is equally adept in coverage as he is with his hand in the dirt. He is still raw, but his pass-rushing skills will make a big impact in Nashville.
12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Giants offensive line was awful last year, and Will Beatty broke his leg. Between last year's first-round pick Justin Pugh and new signing Geoff Schwartz, the line should be better.
But they need more, and Matthews could start at either tackle position. Between him and Pugh, the Giants should have the bookends they need for the next 10 years.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Rams gave up 242 yards per game in the air last year, so getting a safety to help improve that is paramount.
Clinton-Dix is well-trained after being coached by Nick Saban, and he plays the type of rangy game that will allow the rest of the defense to be aggressive. He'll clean up a lot of mistakes that are made by the cornerbacks.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald is the ultimate 3-technique defensive tackle, and after losing Henry Melton to the Dallas Cowboys, the Bears will love having Donald as his replacement.
At 6'1", 285 pounds, he's undersized, but you cannot teach his quickness or understanding of leverage. Lined up next to Jared Allen, Donald could easily have 10 sacks.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Dennard is the best player available and is a much better player than either Ike Taylor or William Gay.
He's physical, aggressive and a solid tackler. He fits the Steelers' mentality perfectly.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Cowboys need to replace DeMarcus Ware. Kony Ealy can do that.
Lengthy and athletic, Ealy has the ability to rush standing up or with his hand in the dirt. He won't be as outstanding as Ware was, but he'll be a good start in trying to replace him.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Taylor Lewan could be better than Eugene Monroe. He's definitely better than Ricky Wagner.
Lewan, if he wasn't bothered by off-the-field concerns, could probably go higher than this. He's big, athletic, incredibly strong and equally adept as a run-blocker or pass-blocker. He will be better than Michael Oher and help open up the run game for Ray Rice.
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Jets are in desperate need of a receiver. Mike Evans has the profile of a star.
Whether it's Geno Smith or Michael Vick, the Jets quarterback will love having Evans run down the field and use his big frame to box out cornerbacks. He'll be especially impactful in the red zone.
Evans was a dominant college receiver. He's not the fastest, but he's a legitimate No. 1 receiver—something the Jets haven't had in a long time.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
The Dolphins have offensive line issues. That much is known. Zack Martin is the best offensive linemen available.
It's a match made in heaven.
Whether it's at tackle or guard, he'' bring stability and versatility to an offensive line that needs both.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
John Abraham is getting up there in age, so the Cards need someone to groom as a pass-rusher.
Dee Ford is a dynamic rusher, and while on the smaller size at 6'2", 252 pounds, he showed the ability in college to be disruptive.
As a situational rusher, he will help the Cards greatly. With him, Abraham and Calais Campbell, the Cardinals could have one of the best lines in football.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Packers defense was pretty bad last year—they ranked 24th in pass defense and 25th in run defense.
Mosley should be able to shore that up. He's one of the best all-around inside linebackers to come out in years. He should stabilize the defense, as he's equally adept against the run and pass.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports that the Eagles will release DeSean Jackson:
Lee is a similar player—small at 6'0" but incredibly fast. He's a game-breaker who will be able to replace Jackson's production.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Chiefs need more weapons for Alex Smith.
Odell Beckham Jr. could end up being the best receiver in this class. He's dynamic and quite fast and will stretch the field.
As Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com notes:
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Now that Anthony Collins has left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bengals need an offensive tackle.
Enter Morgan Moses. He isn't as good as Taylor Lewan, but he's a versatile and experienced player who could also line up at guard. He's not a sexy pick, but he fills a big need.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bolts gave up an average of 258.7 yards per game in the air, which was 29th in the league. They are in desperate need of an upgrade at cornerback.
Enter Jason Verrett. Although he is only 5'9", he plays bigger than his size and is quite aggressive. B/R's Matt Miller was impressed with his physicality:
Verrett should start right away and improve a secondary that needs a boost.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Believe it or not, the Browns defense is one of the best in the league. They finished eighth in run defense and 18th in pass defense.
Hageman will only add to that. At 6'6", he has the potential to play all over the line, whether as a run-stuffing defensive end or a penetrating defensive tackle.
Mike Pettine will have a field day with Hageman, and the big defensive tackle should quickly turn into a three-down player.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Saints pass defense was surprisingly good last year, finishing second in the league. The addition of star safety Jairus Byrd will only make it better.
But the Saints did release Jabari Greer, so they need to add depth. Fuller, who at 6'0" fits the mold of the new NFL cornerback, is physical and has the versatility to play in the slot or on the outside. He could conceivably go higher than this, so getting him at No. 27 represents good value.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Panthers have to come out of the first round with a receiver. They don't really have a choice.
Cooks is a good option. While on the smaller side at only 5'10", he has plenty of speed to stretch the field and put stress on the top of the secondary.
He is, in some ways, similar to Steve Smith and will quickly become a favorite of Cam Newton. The more that Cooks can stretch the field, the more running lanes will open up for Newton and DeAngelo Williams.
The Panthers could decide to trade up to select one of the higher-ranked receivers, but if they stay put, Cooks is a good choice.
29. New England Patriots: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Shazier is an athletic prospect who could probably also play defensive end.
He would add depth to a defense that finished fifth in the league in sacks and has the versatility that Bill Belichick craves.
And if the Pats want to get past Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, they will need all the pass rush they can get. With Shazier, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, the Pats should be in good shape.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Niners don't have many holes, so they can afford to take the best player available. That would be Louis Nix.
He can play all across the line, whether as a 3-4 nose tackle or a 4-3 3-technique. And with Justin Smith getting up there in age, adding someone of Nix's talent will only bolster a talented defensive line.
31. Denver Broncos: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
While watching Jernigan gasping for air in the final moments of the BCS Championship Game was unsettling, the reality is that, for most of the game, he was a dominant force.
Assuming he improves his conditioning, he would team up with Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton to form a formidable interior of the defensive line. Jernigan has a knack for getting into the backfield and complements Knighton's skills nicely.
With Knighton occupying blockers, Jernigan should have room to knife up the field and get to the quarterback. The Broncos defense—with the additions of Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware—should be fantastic. Jernigan will only make it better.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Xavier S'ua-Filo, G, UCLA
What to get the team that has it all? How about a nasty, physical guard to open up even more holes for Marshawn Lynch?
It seems almost unfair. But S'ua-Filo is the best guard prospect in this draft and presents a significant upgrade over J.R. Sweezy.
S'ua-Filo will make Lynch's life easier while helping to keep Russell Wilson upright. It's a no-brainer.
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