After a flurry of offseason activity, the biggest potential needs for each NFL franchise are coming to light. With the 2014 NFL draft just one month away, teams are hard at work evaluating prospects and finalizing big boards.
Sure, there is still plenty that could change before draft day—as we know, this is a very fluid process. There are still more pro days that have yet to take place, and individual prospect interviews at team facilities will be ongoing.
Based on what we know right now, let's take a look at how the 2014 NFL draft's first round could potentially shake out.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
After a statement released by Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, via the Texans' official Twitter account, the team is absolutely in the market for a quarterback—maybe even two:
O'Brien says he brought Fitzpatrick in to compete with Keenum and Yates, and will "draft a QB, maybe two." #Texans— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) March 31, 2014
Bortles shined at his pro day. His fundamentals and technique are improving, and he looks every bit the part of an NFL franchise quarterback. It wouldn't be a surprise if Houston nabbed him with the No. 1 overall selection.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Rams desperately need another receiver to pair with Tavon Austin. Yes, the grabbed Kenny Britt in free agency; however, that move was a bit of a gamble. Watkins is by far the draft's top receiver prospect and will provide the playmaking ability on the outside that the Rams have been lacking.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
This is a bit of a curveball. The Jaguars are in need of a signal-caller, but with Clowney falling to the third spot, his freakish athleticism will be too good to pass up. He'd bolster a young defense and make an immediate impact. The Jaguars could easily grab their future quarterback in Round 2.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Cleveland has been rebuilding in a big way this offseason. Now, the biggest priority for this team is to collect a long-term answer at quarterback. Bridgewater looks to be the most NFL-ready prospect at his position this year. He'll finally put an end to a long-running carousel at the position.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The departure of defensive lineman Lamarr Houston was a big loss for the Raiders defense. They signed some stopgap solutions in free agency, but need a long-term answer for their front seven. Though not a tackle or an end like Houston, Mack nonetheless is one of the elite edge-rushers in this year's draft and will make an immediate impact in Oakland.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Matt Ryan needs some help from his offensive line. The veteran QB was under duress for a big part of the 2013 season, and keeping him upright should be priority No. 1 for the Falcons. Robinson is the top prospect at the offensive tackle position this year and figures to be a 12-year starter in the NFL.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Should have posted this hours ago, but my top-ranked Aggie is Jake Matthews, followed by Mike Evans and then Manziel.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 27, 2014
The Buccaneers brought in offensive tackle Anthony Collins via free agency. However, they still need another anchor to complement him. If Mike Glennon is to continue to develop, he needs all the protection he can get. Matthews is another long-term answer for Tampa Bay and will immediately improve a budding offense.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is still undecided about Manziel. During an interview with 104.9 The Horn, via ESPN.com, the coach spoke of his concerns:
I guess the thing you have to figure out is, is this just another part of the things that happened a couple of years ago after he won the Heisman Trophy or is he just a different person as far as wanting the limelight or just wanting to prove that he can do things the right way. I guess it maybe brings a few question marks in. Is he going to conform to typically what the NFL is or what everyone else has done before him including what the great players in the game have done before him, or is he going to try to be the celebrity man guy that he was maybe a year-and-a-half ago?
As of now, Manziel has been doing and saying all the right things. Having an impeccable pro day certainly didn't hurt either. By the time the draft rolls around, Zimmer could have a different opinion of the polarizing quarterback.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Would Ebron fit well in Buffalo?
Buffalo re-signed tight end Scott Chandler in free agency; however, it needs a bigger playmaker at the position. Ebron is by far this year's top tight end prospect. He has the size and speed to be dominant in the NFL, and he will play a major role in the development of quarterback EJ Manuel.
10. Detroit Lions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The 40-time is impressive for HaHa Clinton-Dix, but how smooth he moves in space is what excites you as a player.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 25, 2014
When you play in a division with the likes of quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, having an elite secondary is a necessity. Detroit struggled last year due to lackluster safety play. Clinton-Dix has a nose for the ball and is extremely athletic. This is a major upgrade for the Lions.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Titans defense took leaps and bounds last season. They are a young, up-and-coming group; however, a few more pieces are needed before they can be considered elite. Barr has pure speed and a knack for finding the quarterback. He's the kind of threat that the Titans need on the outside.
12. New York Giants: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Eli Manning and the Giants offense would love to forget the 2013 season—not much went right. If they are to right the ship, it will start with adding another playmaker on offense. Evans is a huge target who can move the chains and stretch the field. Pairing him with Victor Cruz would make a devastating duo.
13. St. Louis Rams: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Should drafting a QB be a priority for Rams?
The Rams' quarterback situation is murky at best. Sam Bradford looked decent last year, but still hasn't lived up to his first-round billing. He'll give it another go in 2014, but bringing in some insurance is a great idea. Carr has the intangibles of an NFL quarterback, but could use time to develop. Allowing him to learn from Bradford for a year before taking the reins is a great idea for this franchise.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Bears made some great improvements on the defensive line over the offseason, and rightfully so, after the team's struggles in 2013. Another athletic defensive tackle would make this line truly elite. Donald fits the bill. He is a run-stuffing tackle with a great mix of finesse and strength that allows him to be a disruptive force in opponents' backfields.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Pittsburgh lost plenty of offensive weapons during free agency. This isn't a good sign for the scrambling Ben Roethlisberger.
So, how can the team keep its quarterback healthy? By bringing in the most athletic offensive tackle in the draft. Lewan is a mauler in the trenches and quick enough to protect Roethlisberger as he slides around in the pocket.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The back end of the Cowboys defense was dismal last season—and that's putting it nicely. Time for a major upgrade. Pryor is a fast, athletic, hard-hitting safety who can play center field, cover the slot and be a force in run support.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Better choice for Ravens at No. 17?
Baltimore revamped its aerial attack by acquiring Steve Smith in free agency. Now it's time to give Joe Flacco a better opportunity to get him the ball. Martin is an NFL-ready prospect who is versatile enough to play multiple positions along the offensive line.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Watkins, Lee top the WR class. RT @nfldraftscout Marqise Lee (WR, USC) and Scott Crichton (DE, Oregon State) declared for the draft tonight.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 4, 2014
The Jets made a solid move acquiring wide receiver Eric Decker. However, he won't be enough to get New York's passing game off the ground. Bringing Lee into the mix will create a fantastic duo that will allow whoever winds up under center to flourish.
19. Miami Dolphins: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Miami has two solid cornerbacks in Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan. But Finnegan signed just a two-year deal, so Miami could benefit from grooming a young replacement early. Dennard's ability to play stout man coverage on an island gives the Dolphins a great deal of versatility on the back end of their defense.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert's speed and ball skills make him a highly coveted prospect at cornerback. Arizona already has Patrick Peterson in the fold and pairing him with Gilbert would make a great one-two punch in a division with a couple up-and-coming quarterbacks.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Jace Amaro showing off his athleticism. Ran a 4.66 at 265 lbs. Great flex tight end prospect.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 22, 2014
The absence of Jermichael Finley from Green Bay's offense was very apparent last season. Aaron Rodgers need another big target in the seam. Amaro has great size and deceptive athleticism. He'll fit in nicely due to his experience in a pass-happy system at Texas Tech.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
After releasing DeSean Jackson, the Eagles were left with a void at the receiver position. Riley Cooper is good, but not a No. 1 option. Jeremy Maclin has ongoing injury concerns. Chip Kelly will not be able to pass up the speedy Beckham here.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith make a formidable duo for the Chiefs. However, to keep up with the likes of Peyton Manning, additional help is needed. Verrett has the shiftiness and speed to play either outside or in the slot. Kansas City's secondary will benefit from his presence in a big way.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Bengals love pass-rushers. They lost Michael Johnson in free agency and need a long-term answer opposite Carlos Dunlap. Margus Hunt is still tying to figure out how to play at the NFL level and may not be a factor in the near future. Ealy is ready for action and can fit nicely as a rotational piece immediately.
25. San Diego Chargers: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
The addition of Mike McCoy as head coach was a revelation for the Chargers. The team's offense got back on track and made a nice postseason run. The Chargers can still use help up front to keep Philip Rivers clean, and selecting the draft's best guard prospect in Su'a-Filo will help the team continue to grow.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Cleveland missed out on the DeSean Jackson sweepstakes, so they'll go ahead and grab his rookie clone late in the first round. Cooks is a dynamic receiver whose speed is unmatched. He can stretch the field and create yards after the catch. Pairing him with Josh Gordon will go a long way for the Browns.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
What more can be said about Rob Ryan's presence in New Orleans? After a dramatic turnaround on the defensive side of the ball in 2013, he'll continue to look for perfect fits for his 3-4 scheme. Shazier is one of those fits. A natural leader and sure tackler, he will be a force on the outside in the Saints front seven.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
That's the ceiling you draft with Kelvin Benjamin. Big redzone target you can throw it up too. Box-out artist.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 7, 2014
After losing both Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell in free agency, the Panthers have lots of work to do in terms of restocking their receiver corps. Adding Benjamin would be a great start. He's a big target and a chain-moving receiver that Cam Newton would welcome with open arms.
29. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman is one of the most versatile defensive tackles in this year's draft. He has the size to play on the interior of the defensive line and athleticism to play defensive end. Bill Belichick loves using versatile players as chess pieces, and he'll have plenty of fun utilizing Hageman.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Ian Williams is sticking around as San Francisco's nose tackle for a few years; however, Nix would be a big long-term upgrade here. He is the truest nose tackle in this year's draft and could be groomed as a rookie before finally replacing Williams on the interior of a very good defensive front.
31. Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State) is a freaking stud. Love him. RT @andrewijones: Best DB's going into 2014?— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) June 3, 2013
Denver made some nice free-agency signings to bolster its secondary. Aqib Talib was a major addition; although, the team could still use a complement to him on the other side. Roby is a fast, athletic cover corner who has a very high ceiling and could blossom into one of the league's best.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
The Seahawks don't have many glaring needs—they're one of the league's deepest teams. If any immediate upgrade is needed, it's on the interior of the offensive line. Quarterback Russell Wilson needs to be kept upright for this team to succeed. Yankey is an NFL-ready guard who will start immediately and make a big impact.