2014 NFL Mock Draft: Latest Projections for Every 1st-Round Pick
This year’s NFL draft is looking as unpredictable as ever. It all starts with the No. 1 overall pick, where there is uncertainty in not only which player will be chosen but also which team will ultimately make that selection.
The Houston Texans, a quarterback-needy team with no clear-cut top choice, are reportedly “trying hard to deal the first pick in the draft,” according to Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei. A trade at the beginning of the draft—perhaps in a move to acquire South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney—could shake up the rest of the first round to come.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, there are likely to be more teams looking to move down than up in this year’s draft. While a number of elite talents are at the top of this year’s board, stockpiling picks might be more valuable in a draft class that Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert considers to be "as deep across the board as any draft (he’s) seen in 30 years," according to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com.
Nonetheless, there should be plenty of movement in Round 1 and throughout this year’s draft, so let’s take a look at how the projections could fall with a couple of trades, including one at the top.
1. Atlanta Falcons (from Houston Texans): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Projected Trade: The Atlanta Falcons trade the No. 6 overall pick, No. 37 overall pick and their 2015 first-round selection to the Houston Texans in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick.
No potential trade has been speculated to happen more than the Atlanta Falcons moving up to the No. 2 overall pick to select Jadeveon Clowney, who told ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure in February that he hoped the Falcons would trade up for him. Ultimately, however, the Falcons might have to make the leap to No. 1 in order to land the South Carolina superstar.
With the Texans looking to trade out of the top spot, the Falcons—or any other team—can only ensure themselves of landing Clowney, at least before the Texans have made a pick, by trading with Houston. If the Texans can net a couple of high-value selections in return for moving down, they’ll likely jump at the opportunity.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff showed his willingness to trade up for a top talent when the Atlanta traded five picks to move up 21 spots to No. 6 overall to select Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones in the 2011 NFL draft. While that trade has led to mixed results, Clowney’s immense potential could be enough to intrigue Dimitroff to go all-in again.
While some have speculated that the Falcons are switching to a 3-4 defense, it’s likely that Atlanta will continue to run a multi-front, hybrid scheme where Clowney’s versatility could be a great asset. With his remarkable set of physical tools, he could project to playing anywhere but nose tackle on a defensive line and even drop back to outside linebacker in 3-4 sets.
No player in this year’s draft has more potential than Clowney. For a team in need of a pass-rushing upgrade, he can generate consistent pressure and draw double-teams with his explosiveness, size (6’5”, 266 lbs) and power.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The St. Louis Rams received a second-round pick and three first-round picks, including this year’s No. 2 overall pick, when they traded down from the second selection in the 2012 draft. It stands to reason that they will look to do so again in this year’s draft, but it also seems they might not have any suitors if the Texans trade down and Jadeveon Clowney goes No. 1.
Should the Rams be unable to orchestrate a move down, their best move with the second pick would to be select Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews.
An exceptional technician with impressive physical attributes and four years of starting experience, he is arguably the most complete prospect in the draft this year.
The Rams could make multiple positions on their offensive line better with this selection. Matthews would be an immediate upgrade at right tackle, which would enable St. Louis to slide Joe Barksdale inside to right guard and Rodger Saffold over to left guard, which would leave the Rams with a solid offensive line across the board.
Picking Matthews would also give the Rams insurance at left tackle, where Jake Long’s status for the start of the 2014 season looms uncertain after suffering a torn ACL and MCL late this past season.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t going to emerge from the NFL basement until they upgrade over Chad Henne at quarterback. They shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to draft Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater if they get it.
Though his press has been seemingly nothing but negative since the end of his collegiate career, he’s still the most polished and skilled quarterback in this year’s draft class.
His consistent mechanics, clean footwork and ability to read defenses, all of which continue to be strengths when he is under pressure and on the run, stand out in comparison to the other top quarterback prospects.
He doesn’t have the most outstanding physical tools, but that shouldn’t preclude the Jaguars from making him the first quarterback off the board.
Jacksonville needs a signal-caller who can step in immediately and start on an NFL offense. No quarterback in this year’s draft is more qualified for that task than Bridgewater.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
If you’ve been paying attention to recent draft buzz, you probably heard that the Cleveland Browns opted not to attend Johnny Manziel’s pro day. They didn’t attend any of the other top quarterbacks’ pro days either, but while much has been made of that decision, all it truly means is that the Browns aren’t going to make their draft decision based upon how well a quarterback throws in a scripted, on-campus workout.
They are still doing their homework on the quarterback class. At the NFL Annual Meeting last week, Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam said the Browns have a “big list” of private quarterback workouts, according to The Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot.
Considering that Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney are the only quarterbacks on the roster, a QB still seems like the most logical selection at the No. 4 overall pick. The best fit among those signal-callers might be Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
While his development as a pocket passer still has a long way to go, he is a dynamic athlete with special playmaking ability. He has a strong arm, has shown improvement in his downfield accuracy and has an uncanny ability to extend plays under pressure.
A dual-threat QB who will make opposing NFL defenses immediately account for his big-play ability, “Johnny Football” could be the playmaker Cleveland needs to finally end its long string of disappointments at the quarterback position.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
The Oakland Raiders should have plenty of valid options with their No. 5 overall pick, including drafting a quarterback such as Fresno State’s Derek Carr, but the player that they should target is Buffalo edge defender Khalil Mack.
With free-agent additions Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith, the Raiders have made some significant improvements to their defensive front in free agency. That said, all of those players are aging veterans on two-year deals.
Oakland needs a young star for its defense, and that’s what it could get in Mack.
An explosive athlete who is both a skilled edge-rusher and a strong run defender, he could project to playing either defensive end or outside linebacker in Oakland’s 4-3 scheme.
As Bleacher Report’s Erik Frenz recently wrote, Mack could have a similar role and impact at the next level to another AFC West defensive star: Von Miller of the Denver Broncos.
6. Houston Texans (from Atlanta Falcons): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Even with a trade down, the Houston Texans could still end up in position to draft Blake Bortles, who is being projected as the No. 1 overall pick by many draft prognosticators, including CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler and ESPN’s Todd McShay.
While Bortles is far from a finished product, especially in terms of his footwork and downfield accuracy, he has the best set of physical tools among the top quarterback prospects. He has ideal size for the position (6’5”, 232 lbs) and a strong arm and moves well to make plays on the run.
He doesn’t have the polish of Bridgewater or the playmaking ability of Manziel, but as Brugler explained in January, Bortles “fits the mold for what NFL scouts and coaches, and specifically (Texans coach Bill) O'Brien, covet at the position.”
If the Texans trade down from the top spot, it’s an indicator that they don’t view any of this year’s prospects as a surefire franchise quarterback.
That said, the Texans have indicated they’ll select a quarterback in this year’s draft, and they’ll likely do that sooner than later. Houston owner Bob McNair even said at a January press conference, according to ESPN.com’s Tania Ganguli, that the Texans might “trade down and still get a quarterback that can do the job.”
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
With a wide receiver corps that consists of Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and not much else, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be looking to upgrade at the position early in this year’s draft. If Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is available at the No. 7 overall pick, selecting him would be a slam dunk.
The most dynamic offensive playmaker in the draft, he would give the Buccaneers a degree of speed and open-field playmaking ability that they lack on the offense.
As a receiver, he also has the size and strength to win jump balls and hold up through contact, and he is a skilled route-runner. He adds value as a triple threat who can also be a return specialist and utilized creatively as a gadget-play runner.
The Clemson product can line up both outside and in the slot and make an impact wherever he is on the field.
Regardless of whether Josh McCown or Mike Glennon ends up as Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback, the Buccaneers should be looking to surround the QB with as much talent as possible. Drafting Watkins would be a big step in that process.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Minnesota Vikings have a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, whose system emphasizes pocket-passing ability. The problem for Minnesota, however, is that it doesn’t have a starting-caliber quarterback to run that offense long term.
Despite being the last of the top four quarterbacks available, Fresno State’s Derek Carr might be the best fit for what the Vikings need.
A 5,083-yard, 50-touchdown passer in his senior season for the Bulldogs, he is a skilled thrower from the pocket with a strong arm, accuracy to all levels of the field and good athleticism.
His biggest issue—and one that could lead to problems early in his NFL career—is that he struggles with his accuracy, mechanics and decision-making when he's under pressure. If he can overcome that hurdle, however, he has the potential to be the best quarterback in this year’s rookie class.
If the Vikings are going to re-emerge as contenders in the NFC North, they aren’t likely to do it with Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder under center. Minnesota needs to take a shot at improving at quarterback, and Carr is worth taking a first-round chance on.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Buffalo Bills are still in the market for talent at wide receiver. The team recently hosted Kenny Britt for a visit prior to his signing with the St. Louis Rams and has also reportedly been interested in recently released wideout DeSean Jackson, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
The wide receiver in the draft who would be the best fit for what Buffalo needs, however, is Texas A&M’s Mike Evans. With an outstanding combination of size (6’5”, 231 lbs), body control and athleticism, he would give the Bills the vertical threat they lack in their passing offense.
They should be looking to help out second-year quarterback EJ Manuel by adding as much talent around him as possible. No other player in the draft could help Manuel more than Evans, who routinely wins jump balls and has a wide catch radius that would make up for some of Manuel’s inconsistencies with accuracy.
Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson could be tough for the Bills to pass up at this selection, but Evans is an ideal fit whom Buffalo should not hesitate to select with the No. 9 overall pick.
10. Detroit Lions: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has a reputation for drafting the “best player available,” even if it’s not at a position of need. If he sticks to that philosophy in this year’s NFL draft, he won't pass up Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson at the No. 10 overall pick.
A behemoth with a rare combination of size (6’5”, 322 lbs), athleticism and power, he is arguably the most impressive physical specimen in the draft. While he still has to come along technically as a pass-blocker, he is an overpowering run-blocker with the potential to develop into an elite NFL offensive tackle.
While the Lions have a solid offensive line already, at least for the 2014-15 season, Robinson could potentially be an immediate upgrade at either offensive tackle spot over Riley Reiff or LaAdrian Waddle, or he could move inside at left guard over Rob Sims.
While Robinson and Jake Matthews might have been the top two overall picks in last year’s draft, there are less teams with obvious offensive tackle needs in this year’s draft, which could cause either one of them to slide down the board.
At the end of the top 10, the chance to draft an elite offensive prospect just might be too good for the Lions to pass up. Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be the best pick in terms of need and immediate impact, but Robinson has better value and higher upside.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
As the Tennessee Titans shift to a hybrid, pressure-heavy defensive scheme under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton, they should be looking for another playmaker who can provide a pass-rushing spark off the edge.
Though UCLA’s Anthony Barr is a raw talent who needs to improve as a run defender and in coverage, he is a natural fit as a pass-rushing outside linebacker for 3-4 defensive fronts, which will likely provide the base for the Titans’ new defensive scheme.
Barr might have to make his start as a situational pass-rusher while his game develops, but he is an explosive athlete with the size (6’5”, 255 lbs) and versatility to play multiple positions between multiple fronts. Having played just two years on defense at UCLA after starting his Bruins career on offense, he might only be scratching the surface of his potential.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The New York Giants have a need for pass-catchers after losing wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and tight end Brandon Myers in free agency. They could simultaneously replace Nicks’ size and playmaking ability and fill the void at tight end by drafting North Carolina’s Eric Ebron with their first-round pick.
While he would line up at tight end for the Giants, he is essentially a big wide receiver. He has great size at 6’4” and 250 pounds and combines it with tremendous athleticism.
He can stretch the field with his speed, leap to high-point jump balls, make defenders miss and run through contact. While he is not much of a blocker, he could be a tremendous receiving asset who can make plays both over the middle and outside.
With a tight end depth chart that consists of Adrien Robinson, Daniel Fells and Larry Donnell, the Giants have a major need to upgrade the position. Ebron could give New York a much-needed dynamic playmaker for its offense and would be one of the best players available at No. 12 overall.
13. St. Louis Rams: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The St. Louis Rams could look to trade down from the No. 13 overall pick if they are unable to do so from the No. 2 slot, but they shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to select Justin Gilbert with their second first-round pick if he is available.
St. Louis has a serious need for talent in its secondary, especially at cornerback after its release of Cortland Finnegan. In Gilbert, the Rams could add a player with all the tools to be an NFL star cornerback and an immediate starter opposite Janoris Jenkins on the outside.
Gilbert is a tremendous athlete with plenty of size (6’0”, 202 lbs) for a cornerback. He has terrific ball skills, is a strong tackler and combines great instincts with the quickness to react on his reads.
Also an explosive kickoff returner, he would add a playmaker to a secondary that needs one and would be great value as the draft’s 13th choice.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Chicago Bears have made an impressive effort to improve their defensive line in free agency by signing three starting-caliber defensive ends in Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Jared Allen. The interior defensive line, however, still needs to be rebuilt.
Chicago could add an immediate impact player at the defensive tackle position by selecting Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald.
He might get knocked for his lack of size at 6’1” and 285 pounds, but he’s proved his worth every step of the way since the start of the 2013 college football season. He had 28.5 tackles for loss in his senior year at Pittsburgh and then followed that up with a dominant week at the Senior Bowl and a gold-medal performance at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.
As a 3-technique interior penetrator, he could make an immediate impact for Chicago. He has tremendous athleticism and quickness, uses his hands well to fight through blockers and has very good strength and power.
The Bears could also address a major need at safety with Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but Donald makes a great deal of sense for fit, value and need at the No. 14 overall pick.
15. San Francisco 49ers (from Pittsburgh Steelers): Darqueze Dennard, CB, MSU
Projected Trade: The San Francisco 49ers trade the No. 30 and No. 61 overall selections to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for the No. 15 overall pick.
Having previously lauded the draft’s depth, as mentioned in the title slide, it came as no surprise that Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters at the NFL Annual Meeting, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that “it makes more sense” to trade down than up in this year’s draft.
With a number of need areas but no obvious draft choice at No. 15 overall, the Steelers could look to move down in Round 1, and they just might get that chance thanks to the San Francisco 49ers.
While the 49ers have stockpiled picks—including six in the draft’s first three rounds—they don’t have a great deal of needs. Their biggest need, however, is at cornerback, so it would come as no surprise if they package some picks to make a move up and get the cornerback they want in Round 1.
There might not be a better fit in this draft for what San Francisco needs in its secondary than Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. A physical cover corner with experience in both man and zone coverage, he makes up for limited physical tools with his instincts, footwork and ball skills.
He has the potential to be the No. 1 cornerback that San Francisco does not currently have and could be an immediate starter opposite Tramaine Brock. That could entice the 49ers to make a big move up to select him, just as they did in trading up for safety Eric Reid in last year’s draft.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Even with the free-agent addition of defensive tackle Henry Melton, the Dallas Cowboys have a serious need for defensive line talent after losing Demarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and potentially Anthony Spencer. The Cowboys would be smart to draft the best defensive lineman available at the No. 16 overall pick, and that could lead them to Missouri’s Kony Ealy.
He remains very much a developmental player at this point, but he is a 6’4”, 273-pound athletic and disruptive player with the potential to play both outside and inside. He could make an immediate impact as a pass-rusher and give the Cowboys defensive line a versatile, young building block.
If they would prefer to look for a true defensive tackle with this selection, Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman and Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III could also be possibilities. That said, there would be no defensive lineman on the board in this scenario with more playmaking potential than Ealy.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Baltimore Ravens added one promising young safety in last year’s draft with first-round pick Matt Elam, but they need to add another playmaker alongside him after losing James Ihedigbo to free agency. Should Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix be available at the No. 17 overall pick, the Ravens shouldn’t pass him up.
The best all-around safety prospect in this year’s class, Clinton-Dix would be an immediate upgrade at free safety. A rangy athlete who can handle center-field responsibilities in coverage, he would enable Elam to move to his natural role as a strong safety who specializes in making plays in the box.
That’s not to say Clinton-Dix isn’t also a big hitter. A versatile playmaker and strong tackler, he would give the Ravens a strong pair of young, somewhat interchangeable safeties who can make both plays on the ball when given opportunities.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is known to emphasize value over need as a drafter, and landing Clinton-Dix in the second half of the first round would satisfy both of those criteria.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The New York Jets made a big upgrade at wide receiver with the free-agent signing of Eric Decker, but they still need to add more playmakers to their passing offense. Specifically, they should be looking to add more speed and open-field playmaking ability.
That’s what they could get from LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He is a dynamic, skilled wideout who can outrun defenders with his speed and make them miss with his agility. He also has terrific hands and runs crisp routes.
He is effective from both outside and the slot and could be an impact player both on offense and as a kickoff returner.
The Jets need to surround second-year quarterback Geno Smith with as much talent as possible. USC’s Marqise Lee would also be a strong option at the No. 18 overall pick, but he is similar to Decker, while Beckham would add a dimension at wide receiver the Jets do not have on their roster.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Based on talent alone, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan would seem like an obvious selection for the Miami Dolphins if available at the No. 19 overall pick. His behavior both on and off the field, however, might make drafting him a mistake for a team that is looking to move past a scandal-ridden 2013 season.
It’s not hard to draw comparisons between Lewan and Richie Incognito, the centerpiece of Miami’s well-publicized bullying situation this past fall. It doesn’t hurt Lewan that he is an athletic, powerful offensive lineman who grew up in Arizona like Incognito, but his reputation for dirty play on the field and questionable behavior off the field, including a pending arraignment on three assault charges, might make him the wrong fit for the Dolphins.
An offensive lineman who fits what the Dolphins need and would be fine value at the No. 19 overall pick—and who should check out more favorably in terms of character—is Notre Dame’s Zack Martin.
An experienced offensive lineman who plays with tremendous hand placement and footwork, he has the polish to step into an immediate starting role, either at right tackle or inside at guard, on Miami’s rebuilding offensive line.
Even after the signings of left tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith earlier this offseason, Miami still needs to address its offensive line early in this year’s draft. Adding a versatile, well-rounded player like Martin could be exactly what the Dolphins need.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Though Taylor Lewan could be primed for a draft fall due to his character concerns, his talent could make him worthy of a top-10 pick. If he falls to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 20 overall, his potential might stand out as too good to pass up.
The Cardinals finally fixed their revolving door at left tackle by signing free agent Jared Veldheer earlier this offseason, but they could still be in the market for an upgrade over Bobby Massie at right tackle.
A tremendous athlete who plays with power and has a great frame for the position at 6’7” and 309 pounds, Lewan could give the Cardinals a bookend for years to come on their offensive line. His all-around prowess as a run-blocker could make him an ideal fit to play right tackle, though his pass-blocking technique could still stand to improve.
By adding him to an offensive line that will also newly feature Veldheer and Jonathan Cooper, who was the team’s 2013 first-round pick but missed all of last season with a broken leg, the Cardinals’ blocking unit could quickly evolve from a weakness to a strength.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Green Bay Packers have a need for talent and depth at the inside linebacker position, and Alabama’s C.J. Mosley could fill that need while representing terrific value outside the top 20 draft selections.
A rangy athlete who is a strong tackler, very fluid in coverage and an effective blitzer, he could be an immediate three-down playmaker as an inside linebacker in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense.
While the position was a bit of a weakness this past season with Brad Jones alongside A.J. Hawk, Mosley could provide immediate reliability as well as playmaking ability.
Though the Packers have invested a good few early-round draft picks in their defensive front seven in recent years, they shouldn’t hesitate to do so again if Mosley falls into their laps at the 21st overall pick.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Philadelphia Eagles have a need at wide receiver after releasing DeSean Jackson last week. At the No. 22 overall pick, USC’s Marqise Lee would be great value and a great fit.
A terrific route-runner who glides in the open field and has great hands, he is arguably the most well-rounded wide receiver in this year’s draft class.
The Eagles should be well-aware of Lee’s ability. In two collegiate games against Oregon when they were still led by current Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, Lee caught 20 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. His collegiate quarterback for his first two seasons, Matt Barkley, was a fourth-round pick by Philadelphia in last year’s draft.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the NFL’s most talented safeties in Eric Berry but a major void alongside of him. They could fill that need by selecting Louisville’s Calvin Pryor if he is still available at No. 23.
He would give the Chiefs another ball hawk at the safety position and offers the athleticism, physicality and tackling ability to be an interchangeable part in the middle of the secondary with Berry.
Pryor was somewhat inconsistent in coverage at Louisville, but he has very good playmaking range. Thrusting him into an immediate center-field coverage role might result in some speed bumps, but he should gradually develop into that responsibility as he gains experience.
With a demand for safeties in the NFL that seems to outweigh the supply, the Chiefs shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to take one of the draft’s top safety prospects—especially since they hold no second-round pick.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
The Cincinnati Bengals should be in the market for a strong-side linebacker after releasing James Harrison, and BYU’s Kyle Van Noy could be exactly what they need.
He is one of the draft’s most versatile and well-rounded defenders. He is a great athlete who can be a three-down playmaker with his abilities to make tackles all over the field and to drop back into coverage.
He has the versatility to play any linebacker spot but could be an immediate replacement for Harrison as both a strong-side linebacker and as a situational edge-rusher. While he might not have the strength and hand skills to be an every-down defensive end, he can kick down to the line situationally to utilize his speed and burst as a pass-rusher.
The Bengals could use another defensive playmaker after also losing Michael Johnson to free agency, and Van Noy would be among the best value picks available at No. 24 overall in this scenario.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
After Derek Cox lasted just one year in San Diego following a horrendous 2013 season, the Chargers have a massive need for talent at the cornerback position. They could start that rebuilding process by selecting Ohio State’s Bradley Roby with the No. 25 overall selection.
He had a roller-coaster redshirt junior season but is arguably the most talented cornerback prospect in this year’s draft.
An exceptional athlete who has great ball skills and plays with physicality, he must learn how to play with more discipline. While he has no shortage of big-play ability, his penchant for making such plays leads him to both blown coverages and missed tackles.
The OSU product needs some coaching but has demonstrated the skill set to develop into a No. 1 shutdown cornerback at the next level. The Chargers desperately need to add playmakers to their secondary, and there may not be a better one in this year’s draft than Roby.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA
If the Cleveland Browns decide to build their offense around Manziel, it becomes imperative to have an athletic offensive line that can provide significant pass protection for the constantly-moving, play-extending quarterback.
The Browns specifically have a need at right guard and could fill it with great value by landing UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo at the No. 26 overall selection.
An agile, fundamentally sound inside blocker with great power, he is the best guard in this year’s class and exactly what the Browns need at the position.
Cleveland could also look for an offensive skill-position player or defensive back with this selection, but as it also holds three picks on Day 2, its best bet would be to solidify its offensive line at guard by drafting the class’ top talent at that position.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, OLB/DE, Auburn
If the New Orleans Saints are going to utilize 3-4 defensive fronts with more consistency and success in Rob Ryan’s second season as defensive coordinator, they need another hybrid edge defender who can play both outside linebacker and defensive end opposite Junior Galette.
Auburn’s Dee Ford would be a great choice to fill that role if he is still available at the No. 27 overall pick. Though undersized at 6'2", 252 pounds for a traditional defensive end, he is a great fit for a hybrid scheme like the Saints’, where his outstanding athleticism can be utilized in pass-rushing situations and in pursuit off the edge.
With an explosive burst and good hand skills, he is a tough player to block off the edge. While he is likely to only play situationally in four-man fronts where Cameron Jordan typically lines up at defensive end opposite Galette, his all-around athleticism should enable him to make a smooth transition to outside linebacker in 3-4 looks.
The Saints have a strong young core of defensive talent but need to continue building it up early in this year’s draft. As a late first-round pick, Ford would bring great value to the table and another dynamic athlete off the edge.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Signing free agents Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood isn’t nearly enough for the Carolina Panthers to fix their need at the wide receiver position, where they have lost all four of their receivers who caught passes last season.
Fortunately for the Panthers, this year’s draft features no shortage of receiving talent. The team needs an explosive playmaker at the position, which it could get with Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks.
An exceptional athlete who had the fastest 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle times among wide receivers at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, according to NFL.com, he has as much big-play ability as any offensive skill-position player in this year’s draft.
While he is undersized for an outside receiver at just 5’10” and 189 pounds, his speed and quickness make him dangerous any time the ball is in his hands. He is a skilled route-runner who catches the ball cleanly and can take on contact despite his lack of size.
For a team essentially starting over at wide receiver, adding an athlete of Cooks’ caliber would be a good place to begin.
29. New England Patriots: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
While the New England Patriots kept veterans Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly in the fold on restructured contracts, they still have a major need for young talent at the defensive tackle position. Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman is a great fit who would be worth taking a chance on with the No. 29 overall selection.
An explosive athlete who also has great size (6’6”, 310 lbs) and strength, Hageman brings intriguing versatility to the table. For a defense that constantly changes its looks, he could play either defensive tackle spot and also kick out to defensive end in three-man fronts and even situationally in four-man fronts.
While his game is still a work in progress, he is a disruptive penetrator who also holds his ground well against blocks at the line of scrimmage. He could immediately become the Patriots’ top young interior defensive lineman and a key member of a defensive tackle rotation with Wilfork and Kelly.
Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III would also make sense here as a nose tackle successor to Wilfork, but Hageman’s versatility and ability to bring interior pressure offer more value to the Patriots.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers (from San Fran. 49ers): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Regardless of whether the Pittsburgh Steelers stay put or trade down, it’s likely they will target a cornerback with their first-round pick. Thirty-three-year-old Ike Taylor’s game has fallen off considerably, which leaves the Steelers in need of a new potential No. 1 player at the position.
Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller has been one of the fastest risers on draft projections since he put together a strong showing at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. A physical, instinctive, 6’0”, 190-pound cornerback with ball skills, he has even been projected by some, including CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco, as Pittsburgh’s pick should they draft from the No. 15 slot.
He would be a good fit for the Steelers defense, offer solid value after a trade down and fill one of the team’s greatest needs.
31. Denver Broncos: Brandon Thomas, G/OT, Clemson
It is imperative for the Denver Broncos to keep a strong offensive line intact in front of 38-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning, and they have a need to fill at left guard after losing Zane Beadles via free agency.
Another prospect who is quickly rising up draft projections, Clemson’s Brandon Thomas becomes a valid option for Denver as a late first-round pick. A collegiate left tackle, he is a powerful offensive lineman whose length and foot skills make him a great fit to kick inside and be a replacement and upgrade for the Broncos at guard.
The premium on offensive-line talent pushed a number of projected mid-round picks into the first round last year, and that could be Thomas this year. The Sideline View’s Lance Zierlein views Thomas as a late first- to mid second-round pick, while Tony Pauline of WalterFootball.com believes Thomas has “moved into the draft's initial 45 picks and could end up landing in the late part of round one depending how early Zach Martin comes off the board.”
32. Seattle Seahawks: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
After their free-agent pursuit of Jared Allen came up empty, the Seattle Seahawks are likely to add to their defensive end rotation early in this year’s draft.
Oregon State’s Scott Crichton would be good value at the end of the first round and could be exactly what the Seahawks need at the position.
A well-rounded defensive end who can win with athleticism, strength and hand skills, he is a high-motor player who can make plays in all situations. He is a good pass-rusher off the edge but is also strong at the line of scrimmage and in pursuit as a run defender.
Though he doesn’t have as much physical upside as some of the draft’s other top defensive line prospects, he’s as polished as any of them. On a defensive line where Cliff Avril is a liability against the run and Michael Bennett often kicks inside in pass-rushing situations, Crichton could immediately contend for considerable playing time in a rotational role.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!