We've made it to crunch time for NFL franchises.
The calendar has finally flipped to April. With that being the case, the 2014 NFL draft is just over a month away. Teams that are looking to finish up their free-agent spending need to do so quickly, as they'll need to allot enough time to scouting and predraft interviews.
Determining how to draft is one of the most difficult decisions a general manager must make. Drafting the best available player or reaching and drafting based on need can make or break the way a draft shapes up.
The following mock is a little of both. Teams with glaring holes will see them filled if they draft according to this mock, and teams in positions to select the best talent will do so.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The Houston Texans can do a lot of things with the No. 1 overall pick, but missing out on the chance to select a franchise-changing quarterback wouldn't be ideal. Blake Bortles has the frame, arm and composure to be a steady NFL passer.
The UCF star had a strong combine that set him apart from the other top quarterbacks in the class. Case Keenum might start the year under center for Houston, but Bortles will finish it.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Trading back is an option for the St. Louis Rams, as some teams (like the Atlanta Falcons) might want to move up a few places. Doing so would eliminate the Rams' chances of taking the best wideout in the class, however.
Sammy Watkins is an unbelievable talent. Here's what Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com heard from scouts at the combine about him:
He’s the real deal -- explosive, physical, strong, gets off the line of scrimmage, makes you miss. … He’s not a big 6-5 type of guy but he plays plenty big and he gets separation easily. … He should be a dominant player in the league and has the makeup to be a No. 1 guy. … The thing I love most about him is how competitive he is; he has a lot of dog in him and it shows up on almost every snap.
He and Tavon Austin will be a handful for opposing secondaries in the future.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Chad Henne isn't the answer for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and it's time that the team made a smart selection in the first round by taking Teddy Bridgewater.
Jacksonville tried to draft a franchise-altering passer just a few seasons ago, but Blaine Gabbert didn't pan out. Bridgewater has better fundamentals and a bigger arm. Though his 6'2" size has brought up concerns about his ability to see the field, he has impressed in workouts.
Drew Brees and Russell Wilson are two small signal-callers who come to mind when looking at size at the position. Bridgewater doesn't belong in the discussion with them yet, but he has the potential to find himself there in the future.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Cleveland Browns have very good young weapons in place on offense. Tight end Jordan Cameron, wide receiver Josh Gordon and running back Ben Tate all have big-play potential. The Browns just need someone to facilitate the offense.
That's where Johnny Manziel comes in.
Given this team's youth and potential to be explosive, Manziel is a great fit. He plays a fast-paced, leave-it-all-on-the-field kind of game. The young weapons will benefit from his skills as a passer and his ability to keep plays going with his legs.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney is as close to a can't-miss prospect as you'll see in this draft class. At the very least, he'll be the top overall defensive player.
The Oakland Raiders need to bring some youth to their defensive line. Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated tweeted about how the unit got older following the signing of Justin Tuck:
Clowney has taken plays off in the past, but his aggressiveness and ability to bring down quarterbacks and ball-carriers make him a player that the Raiders can't pass up.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OL, Auburn
Like I said earlier, the Falcons might want to trade up. If they do so, they would take Clowney. D. Orlando Ledbetter of AJC.com reports that is now unlikely, however: "Under this scenario, the Falcons must trade up to No. 2 to get Clowney. But the Falcons have too many holes to fill – tackle, center, pass rusher, tight end and free safety — and likely can’t afford to mortgage the future to get Clowney."
If a tackle is what the Falcons need, then they can grab the best one in the draft at No. 6. Greg Robinson of Auburn is a beast on the offensive line. He is big and fast and knows how to use his hands. He'll come in right out of training camp and make his presence felt on the offense.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The offensive juggernauts of the NFC South will continue to roll over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers unless more changes are made defensively. Khalil Mack is the next step in the right direction.
He offers a unique blend of size (6'3", 247 lbs) and speed. An outside linebacker with his speed will wreak havoc off the edge. Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan need to be prepared to suffer hard hits from Mack in the future.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
It still baffles me when analysts don't put Derek Carr in the discussion as one of the top quarterbacks in the class. He totaled 50 touchdowns this past season at Fresno State and has a big, accurate arm.
His footwork can be a concern at times, as quick pressure of the edge will change the way he goes about working. That's something that can be easily fixed, however.
The Minnesota Vikings need a quarterback. Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder aren't quality NFL starters. Carr might sit for a portion of the season to get the hang of things in the NFL, but he'll end the year under center if the Vikings make this pick.
9. Buffalo Bills: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Buffalo Bills need some offensive weapons for EJ Manuel, but selecting any at No. 9 would be a bit of a reach. This is a situation where they might just take the best talent available.
Anthony Barr would join a strong linebacking corps that already features Kiko Alonso and Mario Williams. The rest of the NFC East will fear going up against this defense, especially with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus on the defensive line.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Detroit Lions aren't many pieces away from contending in the NFC North. What they really need to do in the draft is upgrade the secondary. At No. 10, they'll have the opportunity to do so by selecting Darqueze Dennard.
He proved his worth at the combine after a stellar career as a lockdown corner at Michigan State. The NFC North features several very good wideouts, and Dennard will be asked to square off against them as early as his rookie year.
11. Tennessee Titans: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Jake Locker still doesn't have great weapons in Tennessee. Nate Washington and Kendall Wright are decent, but Mike Evans can step in immediately as Locker's primary third-down and red-zone target.
Evans has great hands and can make catches in traffic. His big frame makes him a huge target for Locker. He's the type of receiver that can continue Locker's growth as an NFL starter.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports tweeted that the New York Giants have agreed to a contract with defensive end Robert Ayers:
The team previously might have taken Kony Ealy with this pick, but the flurry of signings by Jerry Reese in this offseason puts it in a position to draft offense in the first round.
Eli Manning loves throwing to tight ends, and that dimension of his offense wasn't consistent last season. Eric Ebron is the best tight end in the draft—and by a pretty wide margin. Manning and Ebron will form a relationship quickly, and he'll help the Giants start to right the ship.
13. St. Louis Rams: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews' stock has fallen a bit in recent mocks, but that's not because of his own issues. Other guys have improved their stocks, and free-agent signings have shaken up the early selections.
He is the second-best offensive lineman in the draft behind Greg Robinson. He's a big body that can plug holes and get physical with oncoming defenders. The Rams will be happy to bolster their offense yet again at No. 13 with this pick.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Timmy Jernigan is a physical animal and will give the Chicago Bears a defensive centerpiece to build around in the future. The team also has needs at linebacker and in the secondary, but grabbing Jernigan here is the best move.
Chicago's defense was surprisingly ineffective last season. Causing pressure up front is where it all starts, and that's Jernigan's specialty.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Pittsburgh Steelers can go with a wideout here, but solid pass-catchers will be available in Rounds 2-4.
Justin Gilbert is a top corner in the draft and would be a great fit in Pittsburgh. Troy Polamalu loves rushing the quarterback, and the Steelers will need competent corners to cover the ground left open when he rushes in.
Gilbert is a great cover corner, thus making him a good fit.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Dallas Cowboys are facing a similar issue to the Bears. With a defense that let quarterbacks pass all over the field last season, the team needs to draft a player who can cause pressure up front.
That's where Aaron Donald comes in.
He is unbelievably athletic given his size, and he has a motor that will allow him to take down any quarterback if he's within arm's length. That's the type of talent Dallas needs right now.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Bolstering an already strong defensive front would help make the Baltimore Ravens as dominant as they have been in years past. Kony Ealy, an animal off the edge, would give the unit great speed and even more athleticism.
He can blow past offensive linemen with his speed and power through them with his rushing techniques. Ealy is a great fit here.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Taking Odell Beckham Jr. at No. 18 is a bit of a reach, but the New York Jets need another wide receiver to play alongside Eric Decker. Geno Smith needs weapons, and a duo of Decker and Beckham would be a vast improvement over last season's patchwork receiving corps.
He has great physical tools and is a strong pass-catcher, and the Jets probably won't mind reaching a bit for him here.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Zack Martin can step into a Miami Dolphins offensive line that seriously needs a facelift. It goes without saying that last season's events have left the Dolphins with holes that need to be filled. Martin can help make things a little better.
The beauty of this selection is that he wouldn't just act as a placeholder. He has the talent to become a staple on that line for the next several years.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Here is another example of a team making a selection based on talent. Defensive tackle isn't an area of need for the Arizona Cardinals, but Ra'Shede Hageman fits Bruce Arians' system very well.
Arizona had a strong run defense in 2013. Adding Hageman would only make it better. He wasn't particularly quick at the combine, but he recorded an unreal 32 reps on the 225-pound bench, per CBSSports.com. If the Cardinals want a freak athlete, they can get one here.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The NFC North features some of the best receivers in the NFL. The Green Bay Packers need someone who can cover the field and keep close watch on the likes of Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the best safety in the draft. He can cover the whole field, play strong in pass coverage and make hits on the ball-carrier when put into run-defense situations. He's a defender that Green Bay can build around.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Currently without a deep threat on offense thanks to the release of DeSean Jackson, the Philadelphia Eagles can grab someone at No. 22 to re-establish that aspect of the offense.
Marqise Lee from USC has similar tools to Jackson. He is fast, has great hands and will be an immediate threat over the top of defenses from the first time he steps on the field. Nick Foles will love having Lee as Foles blossoms into one of the NFC's best quarterbacks.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Kansas City Chiefs are in a position to upgrade in several different areas. After Marqise Lee, their likely target at No. 23, gets scooped up by the Eagles, they'll need to get crafty. Taking Calvin Pryor instead wouldn't be a bad idea.
He hits very hard and has skyrocketed up draft boards in recent weeks. The Chiefs are a fast defense that loves to play physically—exactly the type of game Pryor enjoys playing. He's an instant upgrade over Husain Abdullah.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Terence Newman and Adam Jones don't have many productive years left. That will lead the Cincinnati Bengals to take Kyle Fuller at No. 24.
He excels in coverage, and on a team with Super Bowl aspirations, he'll aid in the pursuit.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
San Diego needs another corner to line up alongside Richard Marshall. Shareece Wright will provide competition for Jason Verrett early on, but the rookie's upside as a strong cover corner will give him the advantage.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Even with Ben Tate in the fold, the Cleveland Browns would be smart to take Carlos Hyde. Tate is an injury risk, and Hyde is a three-down back who is perfectly capable of stepping up.
In a class that doesn't feature a ton of quality runners, Hyde stands out. The Browns would do well to add him to a young offense that has the potential to be explosive.
27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
C.J. Mosley claims he has "no red flags" in terms of injuries, via Andrew Gribble of AL.com, but that won't stop his stock from falling on draft day. He'll be the guy whom everyone talks about as other names continue to be called ahead of him.
He still has talent, though, and he'll aid an already strong defense in becoming one of the best units in the NFC.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Tiquan Underwood is really the only "OK" receiver the Carolina Panthers have at this point. The unit has gone from a strength to a glaring weakness over the course of a few months, and upgrading there will be the No. 1 priority for the team.
Brandin Cooks has a ton of potential, and NFL analyst Gil Brandt has compared him to Wes Welker:
Carolina cannot pass up Cooks here if he's available. If he's gone, then you can be sure the Panthers will look to another receiver. This will be a bit of a desperation selection if they have to get someone other than Cooks.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Tom Brady loves his tight ends, and Rob Gronkowski shouldn't be relied upon for 16 games in 2014. Jace Amaro is the perfect fit—and not just because he's a tight end.
He is a tight end who can play like a wideout. He is fast and athletic with great hands. This makes him a matchup nightmare. Linebackers can't run with him, and defensive backs can't outleap him.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Depth at cornerback isn't a strong point for the San Francisco 49ers at this point, so selecting someone who can be the future of the secondary would be a good idea. Bradley Roby has the speed and coverage skills to stick with opposing receivers.
He'll do his best to make sure the Niners are among the top cover teams in the league in the future.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA
Guard Zane Beadles is off to Jacksonville, so the Denver Broncos have a hole to fill on the offensive line. Xavier Su'a Filo can be that guy. He is physical and has the strength to slow the efforts of those trying to get into the backfield.
He's more of a run-blocker, but Peyton Manning's quick release will help to make him look better in passing situations.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Russell Wilson no longer has Golden Tate to throw to, but the Seattle Seahawks can add a receiver with the final pick of the first round.
Kelvin Benjamin would be a great complement to Percy Harvin. With Harvin's injury history being a major concern, the Seahawks will take Benjamin, knowing that he also has the ability to step in and play like a No. 1 receiver.
In my opinion, this is a no-brainer.
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