2014 NFL Mock Draft: Where Each 1st-Round Team Can Get Better

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2014

Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack makes a catch as he runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy

The objective of the draft is simple: Get better.

Well, it sounds simple. For most teams in the top half of the first round, this means grabbing the top player available who marries need and value. The second half of the board primarily focuses on finding the proverbial missing piece that complements the rest of a sound roster.

Of course, the talent pool is a minefield riddled with busts nearly impossible to avoid. Pick and pray. Here is an updated look at how each team can get better—on paper—in the first round this year.


1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Perhaps the most controversial thing a mock can do at this stage of the game is have Teddy Bridgewater as the No.1 overall pick.

The collective power of smoke screens, media and meaningless pro days is strong. Bridgewater is still the top pro-ready quarterback in the draft, and he sums up his potential best:

The front office in Houston knows better than to pass on a signal-caller like Bridgewater. He's a complete package with negatives that come off as nitpicking at this point.


2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

St. Louis has two picks in the first round, so it is easy to see the Rams taking a risk here.

Instead, grounded Jeff Fisher will make the smartest play possible by taking the top offensive tackle in an effort to keep quarterback Sam Bradford healthy.

Given the woeful state of the line a year ago, Robinson will start right away at one position or another and provide an upgrade. His extreme athleticism suggests a smooth transition to the pros.


3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Jacksonville seems content to roll with Chad Henne in 2014, which is a smart play given the needs on the roster and the overall state of the quarterback position in the draft.

Instead, the Jaguars get a rare defensive end prospect who meshes well with Tyson Alualu and Jason Babin and gives the team a legit pass rush to help mask the deficiencies of the unit behind him.

With an underrated defense on the rise, the organization can go out and get a new quarterback next year—or in the second round this year.


4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

The Cleveland Browns need a big-play receiver across from Josh Gordon. With Andrew Hawkins in the slot, it would round out one of the league's better receiving corps.

That's where Sammy Watkins comes in. Browns coach Mike Pettine has already sung the electric receiver's praises, as captured by Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com: "To me what jumps off the tape is his passion. He loves football. We interviewed him in Indianapolis and you can tell he absolutely loves the game. He's a guy that I think you want to find a variety of ways to get the ball in his hands because he's special."

Cleveland can afford to wait on a quarterback until later in the round, and if the ideal prospect does not fall, the team can be content to roll with Brian Hoyer and his wealth of weapons. 


5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

Matt Schaub or not, the Oakland Raiders still have a problem under center.

That issue may be resolved with Blake Bortles, a quarterback prospect with an extremely high ceiling. It would be an unpopular move to make him sit for a year and learn while Schaub takes a beating, but in the long run, it might prove to be best for the franchise.


6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

Value and need are rather easy for Atlanta to hit early in the first round with obvious issues along the line and in the pass rush.

Khalil Mack is the deal-breaker. Plenty of quality linemen will fall into the second round, but a pass-rusher who is scheme-versatile may never present himself to the franchise again. 

It's a rather easy decision, all things considered. 


7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

With Anthony Collins on board via free agency, new head coach Lovie Smith has some flexibility in the first round.

That flexibility will result in more weapons for his offense, as the sure-handed Mike Evans is on the board. Per NFL.com's Gil Brandt, Evans has the best hands since Calvin Johnson:

Evans has comparable size too. If he's paired with Vincent Jackson, the Buccaneers can win with either Mike Glennon or Josh McCown under center.


8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Johnny Manziel is quite the polarizing prospect, but his upside is hard to dismiss.

Mike Zimmer understands the risks involved, but with his defense assuredly strong, he has to invest in the most important position of all in the hopes something sticks.

Luckily for Zimmer, Manziel enters a nurturing environment thanks to the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson and Adrian Peterson.


9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina 

It's seemingly a poorly kept secret that the Buffalo Bills are in the market for another big-play receiver, so a tight end who can change the complexion of an offense on his own makes sense.

Eric Ebron has rare speed for the position and would provide sophomore quarterback EJ Manuel with both a reliable chain-moving option and a deep threat in one fell swoop.

Tight ends are all the rage in the NFL at the moment, and Buffalo gets the next big thing with Ebron.


10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Michael Conroy

Now that Detroit has a viable threat across from Megatron with Golden Tate on board, an offensive piece is eliminated for the team so high in the draft.

Instead, the Lions can grab an elite secondary prospect to supplement what is already a developing group of players in the defensive backfield.

Darqueze Dennard has the talent to play right away, which is something he may not have to do with the Lions. It's a win-win situation for both parties.


11. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Aaron Donald will remind many people of Cincinnati's Geno Atkins thanks to his uncanny ability to generate interior pressure.

With the switch to a 3-4 scheme in full force for Tennessee, a scheme-friendly rusher such as Donald is a smart play for Tennessee. He can help bookend the line and generate enough pressure to keep a shaky secondary in coverage for smaller amounts of time.


12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Evans or Ebron would have been ideal for New York, but another way to pick up a slumping Eli Manning is to give him better protection up front.

Jake Matthews is quite the get here, as he was once considered the best candidate for the No. 1 overall pick. In fact, Matthews is very much a top-five value, so New York gets a steal and a franchise tackle without giving up any assets to move up.


13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

There has been a great deal of debate about who the top safety in the class is, but for Fisher and Co. in St. Louis, it is likely Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

ESPN's Kevin Weidl breaks down the debate:

Clinton-Dix does much to upgrade a woeful position in St. Louis, which makes the Rams 2-for-2 in the first round.


14. Chicago Bears: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

Now that Henry Melton is out of the picture, Chicago must find a replacement who can generate the same amount of pressure and also clog holes against the run.

Donald is gone, so Ra'Shede Hageman is the next name that comes to mind.

Hageman is quietly one of the more polarizing prospects around, but his speed-strength combo makes him difficult to ignore. Chicago will be willing to take the risk.


15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

A well-past-his-prime Ike Taylor, William Gay and Cortez Allen won't get it done in the Steel City, so a top rookie is the obvious choice for Pittsburgh.

Justin Gilbert has the ability to start right away. He'll struggle like any other defensive back, but he's a strong first step in the rebuilding process for a team that has had a bevy of draft issues the past few years.


16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

Kony Ealy is one of the better traditional 4-3 ends in the 2014 class, and it just so happens that Dallas has a clear need.

Ealy was dominant at Missouri, with great games against some of the best names entering the draft this year.

He'll have no issues earning playing time over the likes of George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey, so it's a major win for the Cowboys, who need as much help as they can get on that side of the football.


17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

As CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler explains, character concerns about Taylor Lewan are very much a thing entering the draft:

Baltimore has a strong veteran presence and a clear need, and it will be willing to take the risk. With Lewan and Eugene Monroe, the Ravens have a great pair of bookend tackles who will shrink the excuse list for quarterback Joe Flacco.


18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Michael Conroy

Like Buffalo, New York is clearly on the prowl for more offensive weapons. It did little in free agency outside of bringing in Michael Vick to compete with Geno Smith. 

Rex Ryan surely hates to pass on promising defensive players, but the thirst on offense is real. Jace Amaro helps in a big way as a hybrid player with sure hands who can produce and make the life of whichever quarterback takes the snaps much easier.


19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame

Miami has done well to attack its primary need this offseason, but the work is far from over in the offensive trenches. 

With a few starting gigs still up for grabs in front of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, versatility is the primary trait the front office should pursue.

The dart will land on Zack Martin, who is a monster on the interior and sound outside if need be. Martin starts right away, although at what spot remains unknown for the time being.


20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Bobbie Massie is not the answer at right tackle, and with a premium placed on Carson Palmer's health, Bruce Arians and the front office may not be willing to wait for him to suddenly mature into a quality player.

Instead, Arians and Co. will be content to add Cyrus Kouandjio, who mauled his way through the SEC and is an obvious fit in Arizona.


21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

What a get for the Green Bay Packers, a team with few major needs. Safety would have been a sound choice, but C.J. Mosley is hard to pass up.

Mosley is a flat-out stud who would go much, much higher if the NFL placed a higher premium on inside linebackers. The league-wide craze is pass-rushers, but the Packers are good in that department.

What Green Bay needs is one of the best sideline-to-sideline 'backers to enter the pros in recent memory. That would be Mosley.


22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

The Philadelphia front office had to sweat through that decision by Green Bay, but Chip Kelly and the Eagles get their guy with Calvin Pryor.

Philadelphia desperately needs a quality option next to Malcolm Jenkins, and Pryor has the range and run-stuffing ability to meet the requirement. Plus, the Eagles may turn out to be one of the teams ESPN's Mel Kiper recently described:

Regardless, Philadelphia finally fixes both safety spots after years of inadequate play.


23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

Marqise Lee is firmly under the radar after a horrific final collegiate season that was no fault of his own, and Andy Reid and Kansas City will benefit the most.

Lee is versatile in that he has elite speed and can double as a return man, so the Chiefs get plenty of value in the USC product. Best of all, Lee is a consistent producer who will make the life of quarterback Alex Smith much easier.


24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

The top three cornerbacks on the Cincinnati depth chart are over the age of 30 and injury risks. The fourth, Dre Kirkpatrick, is unproven in a starting role.

In other words, the Bengals need to add insurance and a future starter. They get just that in Kyle Fuller, who has the attention of experts, such as Brugler:

Fuller will get his shot on special teams and if a starter goes down.


25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

Michael Conroy

San Diego needs a warhorse up front to better clog the trenches and make the lives of Manti Te'o and Co. easier.

The perfect prospect for the job is Louis Nix, a massive, brutal nose tackle who bullied his way through the collegiate ranks and will have little trouble transitioning to the pros.

Nix instantly upgrades what is already a playoff roster, so that's a big win for the front office in San Diego.


26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Now is the time for Cleveland to strike.

It is much easier to nab a risky quarterback prospect with multiple picks in the opening round of a draft.

Derek Carr has been perhaps the biggest winner of all on the path to the draft after a strong combine and workouts, which highlighted his supreme athleticism. Flick on the tape, and one finds a quarterback oozing potential.


27. New Orleans Saints: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA

Anthony Barr certainly has his critics, including ESPN's Todd McShay, who would "have a hard time" selecting the UCLA pass-rusher in the top 25, as he said on ESPN's First Draft podcast, via Rotoworld.

Luckily for the Saints, they pick just outside of that range and have a need for an athletic pass-rusher.

Barr is a bit one-dimensional, but he'll have his uses in the amoeba defense in New Orleans. He is a strong value so late in the round.


28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State 

Carolina can finally get serious about receiver in what is one of the deeper classes in recent memory.

Allen Robinson is a great way to start. A big-bodied option such as Robinson will make the life of Cam Newton easier both in the red zone and out.

Robinson is far from the only player the Panthers need to add at the spot, but he's an obvious contributor as a rookie and will find it easy to work with Newton.


29. New England Patriots: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame

Known for making picks most didn't see coming, Bill Belichick loves his under-the-radar moves early in drafts.

Troy Niklas should be next on the list, as the massive tight end has the frame and skills necessary to contribute in the offense right away.

Given Rob Gronkowski's propensity for injury as of late, Niklas is a solid insurance policy who can see the field and still contribute in tandem with the No. 1 target.


30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

Now, the run on wideouts can truly begin.

With Anquan Boldin back in the fold, the San Francisco 49ers can opt for a speedier option in the draft to complement the current depth chart.

Brandin Cooks is the best player left who fits the bill, and he'll make an immediate impact, although his numbers may get hurt in the confines of a run-first offense.


31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

The defense in Denver needs another quality pass-rusher, and the impressive overall depth of the class delivers exactly what the franchise needs.

Ryan Shazier has elite speed that allows him to get around the edge in a way that pops on film. In Denver, he can be an every-down player, as his stunning athleticism allows him to excel in all facets of the game.


32. Seattle Seahawks: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

This is the definition of a luxury pick.

Seattle has arguably the best secondary in the league, but the addition of Verrett does nothing but further cement that status.

Verrett is an elite slot prospect who plays the run in a physical manner. He'll easily play his way into the rotation and stick.


Note: All free agency signing info courtesy of ESPN.


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