The changing landscape of the NFL draft makes it hard to predict things with certainty, but some decisions just seem to be set in stone for any mock draft.
While draft observers and scouts are still bickering over which quarterback prospects will be stars and which will be busts, there is some consensus developing throughout the first round.
The draft is still a long ways off, but even now, it’s easy to see which way some teams are leaning.
Read on for a full mock of the first round, with a spotlight on some picks that seem particularly likely to happen.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
There’s been a lot of speculation around what the Houston Texans will do with the top pick in this year’s draft, but new head coach Bill O’Brien seems to be holding his cards very close to the vest.
Ultimately, that’s prompted rampant speculation about what Houston will do with the top selection.
ESPN’s Todd McShay (subscription required) says it’ll be fast-rising quarterback Blake Bortles, while Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) says that linebacker Khalil Mack will be the surprising option at the top.
However, it just seems as though the best answer is indeed the simplest one. Jadeveon Clowney is the best player in this draft, if not in a generation, and that’s who the Texans will take.
There’s no doubt the Texans need a quarterback. After all, they just ditched Matt Schaub to the Oakland Raiders. But O’Brien doesn’t seem dead set on taking one with his first pick, as Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks writes:
O'Brien made it clear Houston is still very much in the decision-making process on the quarterback front. But he certainly talks as if he has studied the so-called second tier of quarterbacks intently, and it's easy to read Houston's recent trade of Matt Schaub to Oakland and signing of ex-Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as moves that portend a veteran "bridge'' starter at QB this season for the Texans. Playing Fitzpatrick, who has starting experience with the Rams, Bengals, Bills and Titans, while developing a younger quarterback (be it a first-rounder like Bortles or someone taken lower in the draft), could wind up being the route Houston takes in 2014.
Clowney doesn’t exactly fill a huge need for the Texans given that J.J. Watt already makes their defensive line dominant, but sometimes it’s best just to go the simple route and take the best player available.
If O’Brien is set on finding value at QB later in the draft, it would certainly be quite the move to grab the consensus best player when he can.
2. St. Louis Rams (From Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
This move surely seems like a lock for the Rams.
With the jury still out on Sam Bradford, Jeff Fisher will almost certainly want to upgrade an offensive line that’s still struggling. The Rams invested a ton in the position already with the Jake Long signing, but if St. Louis really wants to give Bradford a chance to utilize his talent, it needs to beef up a line that allowed 36 sacks last year.
Robinson was a road grader in Auburn’s offense, and the consensus among scouts seems to be that he could play and excel right away.
It wouldn’t be the flashiest move, but it would solidify the line and seems like a no-brainer decision.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Unless the Jaguars like Chad Henne as their long-term starter, it’s no secret that they need a quarterback. The real question is where they’ll find one. The Texans could easily end up taking one of the trio of top QBs at the top of draft boards—Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel—but should they all remain on the board, it seems like the Jags will go for Bortles.
They’re in no hurry to contend, as the roster still needs help in a lot of places, which gives them time to work with Bortles to refine his skills.
By re-signing Henne, the team showed that it's confident in him in the short term, allowing Bortles some time to get his bearings.
Bridgewater might be more ready from day one, but the Jaguars have time here and Bortles’ physical tools might be too much for them to resist.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Here’s another pick that seems like an awful good bet.
The Browns are in the midst of a full on culture cleanse. They’ve got some good pieces, but they’re a long way from being where they need to to contend.
With GM Ray Farmer playing coy about which quarterbacks’ pro days he’s attended and flat-out saying that he wouldn’t attend Manziel’s workout, it seems as if Cleveland isn’t particularly interested in a signal-caller at this point.
Farmer may want to give Brian Hoyer another shot or may just want to grab a quarterback later on, but one thing that is for certain is the team’s need for a playmaker on offense. Watkins would make for an electric pairing with Josh Gordon, and whoever does end up under center for the Browns wouldn't have to worry about his receivers being subpar.
5. Oakland Raiders: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Raiders are desperate to make a splash and reinvigorate the fanbase, and few moves would accomplish those goals quicker than this one.
Oakland might’ve traded for Matt Schaub, but if anything, that move gives it cover to bring in an unproven prospect like Manziel.
There are plenty of doubts about Manziel’s maturity, but for a team like Oakland, who is willing to do things like pursue Desean Jackson, as reported by Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, before it's even sure who will start at QB, it doesn’t seem like his demeanor will be an issue.
Manziel’s stock is way up after a big pro day, and learning from a veteran like Schaub might be a pretty decent scenario for the former Aggie to step into.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Much like Robinson, Jake Matthews is the type of player that could step on the field and play right away.
There’s no guarantee that famously daring GM Thomas Dimitroff won’t trade up in this draft, but either way, Matthews is a reliable option who could play at either tackle spot.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
Mack has shot up draft boards recently, so it’s entirely possible that he’s not available for Tampa Bay at this spot. But if he is here when Lovie Smith is on the clock, he seems like a nice fit for Bucs.
Mike Glennon might not be the long-term answer at quarterback, but by giving Josh McCown a two-year deal it seems like Smith wants to see what he has with this pair instead of taking a shot on an early QB prospect.
Mack could immediately help improve Tampa’s 23rd-ranked pass rush, and he’d be a good value here.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Vikings would be thrilled to find Bridgewater this late in the first round and would certainly snap him up if he fell here. The team’s Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman experiments were huge busts, so there’s no doubt it's looking for a signal caller.
Minnesota also likes Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, McShay has heard, but they have Bridgewater "a little higher in their pecking order." Once thought to have zero chance of selecting Bridgewater, Manziel or UFC's Blake Bortles barring an expensive trade up, experts now think the Norseman might have an elite QB prospect fall into their laps as other teams pop surer things at other positions above them. "I absolutely think that any one of [Bridgewater, Manziel or Bortles] could be there at No. 8, I legitimately do," McShay said. "I would lean more towards only one going off the board in the top-7 picks than I would towards two or more coming off the board by the time Minnesota comes up at No. 8."
Bridgewater could help the Vikings immediately here and should be considered a lock here if he’s still available.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Bills desperately need to protect quarterback E.J. Manuel, particularly given the beating he suffered last year. Lewan might not be the team's first choice of the marquee tackles available, but he’s still a solid one.
Cordy Glenn isn’t the best answer on the left side, and even if Lewan doesn’t start right away, he could provide depth to a unit that desperately needs some.
10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Calvin Johnson must be sick and tired of seeing double-teams at this point in his career.
Nate Burleson never turned out to be the complement to him that the Lions envisioned when they signed him, but Mike Evans could certainly fix all that. He’s got the size to be an instant possession threat in the league and would immediately draw attention from Johnson.
Consider this one a lock if he falls this far.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Titans are still tinkering with their defense after adding new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and Barr could be a very good fit in the new system. Tennessee has plenty of needs to address, and this might not be the most pressing one, but he could pair well with pass-rusher Derrick Morgan.
Barr is the type of player that could switch between the 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 OLB position given Horton’s need, which would make him quite valuable. His combine performance dropped him in the minds of many scouts, but he insists that type of thing isn’t important.
"It's funny that people get caught up in all of that, but how often are you running 40 yards in a football game? It's something you have to do so you have to train for it, but it's something that I am happy to put behind me,” Barr told Fox Sports’ Ross Jones.
His stock could easily recover between now and the draft, but for now, he seems like a good fit here.
12. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Everyone says that the New York Giants don’t draft linebackers, but it just makes too much sense to take Mosley here.
The Giants tried to shore up the secondary by adding Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but they’re still depending on the health of a guy like Jon Beason at middle linebacker.
Mosley is polished and could play for them right away, drafting tradition or no.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Rams would probably like to help out Bradford by taking another good receiver here, but Fisher has never been one to pass up value on defense.
Clinton-Dix got the type of pro-style experience he needed at Alabama to start right away, and T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod don’t inspire a ton of confidence in the secondary.
The former member of the Crimson Tide would shore up that unit immediately.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Few players would be better fits with their respective teams than Donald would be with the Bears. Chicago is thin on the defensive line, and Donald’s incredible combine performance pushed his stock high enough that he’s a good pick here.
Scouts love him as a 3-technique DT, and the Bears would certainly welcome his presence on the line.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Without Clinton-Dix on the board, Pittsburgh will turn to the Cardinals’ Calvin Pryor, a strong player in run support who could help shore up the defense.
Mike Tomlin loves drafting defenders early, so this move would be perfectly natural for him.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Cowboys have moved on from the DeMarcus Ware days, so they’ll be looking for impact players on defense. Jernigan could certainly be one. Kiper has long projected him to go to the Cowboys, and he seems like he’d be a good fit for Dallas’ 4-3 scheme.
Donald might’ve passed him by with his electric workouts, but Jernigan is still a force at DT who could make a difference for Dallas early on.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Ravens were able to shore up their offensive line by retaining Eugene Monroe, but now they need to turn to weapons for QB Joe Flacco.
Brandin Cooks lit up the combine, running a position-best 4.33 40-yard dash, and he would make a nice fit opposite Torrey Smith. At just 5’10”, he would purely be a speed threat, but players like Tavon Austin have proved that size isn’t everything at receiver.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Jets are desperately trying to give Geno Smith some options downfield, and Ebron would be a good step in that direction. He is athletic enough to be used like Jimmy Graham as both a tight end and a receiver, and with just journeyman Jeff Cumberland on the depth chart, the Jets need help at the position.
Signing Eric Decker is a step in the right direction, but adding Ebron would give Smith a nice target to throw to.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
No quarterback was sacked more last year than Ryan Tannehill, so the Dolphins have to be thinking about their offensive line. The Branden Albert signing is a step in the right direction, but the team needs to build depth and Martin could help with that.
He’s not a perfect prospect, but he wouldn’t have a huge burden on him right away, and his flexibility of playing both guard and tackle could help.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
It’s easy to think that Arizona has solved its cornerback problems with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, but Dennard would nonetheless be a big help.
Mathieu is still rehabbing his knee injury, and reports say that’s going very well, but the Cardinals would surely love to have some insurance here.
Besides, letting Mathieu play more at safety and slot cornerback—where he can be more of a ball hawk than cover corner—plays to his strengths, and Dennard would make a nice fit.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman is a physical specimen at 6’6” and 311 pounds, and Green Bay could use some help on the defensive line.
B.J. Raji certainly attracts plenty of attention, but the Packers need someone at the point of attack who can occupy blockers at NT. Ryan Pickett has never been particularly effective at that, and Hageman could come in and provide help there, as well as rotate in at DE as needed.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Eagles' secondary was a bit rough at times last year, so depth has to be a primary concern for Chip Kelly.
Fuller suffered some injuries toward the end of his career at VT, but he’s been rocketing up draft boards after a big combine performance. He’d add some good depth behind Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, and Chip Kelly seems high on him.
Kelly made a personal visit to Fuller’s pro day, per Tech assistant Bryan Stinespring, so it seems like there’s plenty of interest there.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California
The Chiefs are still trying to find help for QB Alex Smith, and Lee would be a good value here to do so. He would bring some nice route-running skills to help complement Dwayne Bowe.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Cincinnati is awfully old at cornerback, so getting younger definitely seems like a priority for Marvin Lewis. Adam Jones and Terrence Newman have both seen better days.
Roby could add some youth and depth here early. And, of course, it never hurts to have an Ohio product stay in his home.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Chargers have good safety depth, but cornerback is a problem. Verrett may be a bit small at 5’9", but he has the quickness to make up for it.
San Diego still needs help at linebacker, but the TCU product seems like a smart pick here.
26. Cleveland Browns (From Indianapolis Colts): Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
The Browns have a solid offensive line, but they need some help at guard. Su’a-Filo could quickly turn into a dependable starter and help protect whoever ends up playing QB for Cleveland.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
New Orleans tried to shore up the secondary with Jairus Byrd, but it could still use some help with the pass rush.
Ealy has the flexibility to play DE or OLB given the need, and Rob Ryan could make good use of him all over the field.
28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
It depends on Carolina’s assessment of Beckham Jr. versus FSU’s Kelvin Benjamin, but Beckham’s speed could give him the edge over the bigger Benjamin.
29. New England Patriots: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Patriots like versatility in their players, and Tuitt certainly offers plenty in that department.
Now that it seems like Vince Wilfork is back in the fold, the Pats can turn their attention to others positions on defense instead of focusing on NT.
Tuitt could provide some depth and play in a situational role right away.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
With Beckham Jr. off the board and the 49ers’ receiver situation still a little rocky, Benjamin looks like a good pick here. He’s got mammoth size and should give an injection of youth to a position largely dominated by veterans.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Now that Denver has Ware to fill a need at pass-rusher, it can focus on finding a sure tackler in the middle. Shazier would provide that immediately, and his 4.36 40 time sure looks good as well.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
The defending champs don’t have a whole lot of holes, but a value pick of Moses here would suit the Seahawks nicely. They could use a little help at right tackle right away, and Moses would be good depth this late in the draft.
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