NFL teams were given an extra few weeks to prepare for the 2014 draft, which should lead toward some better decision-making when it comes to each pick.
Obviously, not every scout or team personnel member will agree on the potential of each player. However, the extra evaluation time will help organizations better fill their biggest needs heading into next season.
There will still be a few mistakes with prospects that turn into busts, but there is an obvious move available for each team in the first round. Here is a look at the smartest possible picks for every franchise in Round 1 of the 2014 NFL draft.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney is the most talented player in the draft, which makes for a great reason to select him with the first overall pick. The defensive end's combination of size (6'6", 266 lbs) and athleticism should make him an instant star in the NFL.
While the Texans need a quarterback for the future, the addition of Clowney will help give the squad one of the best defenses in the NFL.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
With Rodger Saffold moving to guard, the Rams have a big hole at tackle that needs to be filled in this draft. Luckily, they will be able to grab the best lineman available in Greg Robinson.
The big man helped lead the No. 1 rushing attack in college football last season, and he should remain a mauling blocker in the NFL. Once he improves his technique in the passing game, he could become a Pro Bowler.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There is much debate as to who the best quarterback in this class is, and that argument will likely continue for a few years. No matter what you believe, though, the Jaguars should take the best available signal-caller as someone who can be a new face of the franchise.
Despite his faults, Johnny Manziel would fill this slot well as an elite playmaker who can contribute offensively with both his arm and his legs. Mike Mayock of NFL Network is the latest to come around on the young player's ability, via Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel:
Mike Mayock is apparently moving Johnny Manziel to his No. 1 QB spot. "He's got the IT factor. Trust your gut."— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) March 31, 2014
Manziel has also impressed teams with his intelligence this offseason, according to Peter Schrager of Fox Sports:
From another exec...Manziel was tremendous on the white board w/ an AFC team at the Combine. Knew all the team's X's/O's/terminology.— P. Schrager (@PSchrags) April 6, 2014
Although this would be a risky selection, that could be said about virtually any first-round quarterback in the past decade. Manziel would be a great fit for Jacksonville, and he would help the team earn plenty of wins in his first few seasons.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Browns need a quarterback at some point in this draft, but with the option of taking one later in the first round, they can instead use this spot to take the best player available.
This makes Sammy Watkins a smart pick as a great complement to Josh Gordon. The Clemson product has the size (6'1", 211 lbs) and speed to make him a true No. 1 target in the NFL, and he will get open often in this offense.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Oakland has a lot of needs on both sides of the field, but the organization needs a quarterback that it can build around. Blake Bortles has the upside to be a franchise-type player who can be a star for the Raiders for years to come.
The team needs to secure the quarterback position before it can think about posting a winning season.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Although the Falcons dealt with injuries last season, the major reason for the team's struggles was the poor performance of the offensive line. The unit could not clear space for running backs, and Matt Ryan finished in a third-place tie for most sacks taken (44) in 2013 along with Russell Wilson.
Jake Matthews will help in both the running and passing game, with the versatility to play on both sides of the line.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack might be the most versatile defender in the draft. He can be an elite pass-rusher while also showcasing the ability to make plays against the run or dropping back in coverage.
Tampa Bay had an improved defense last season, but the addition of Mack could help the unit make a step toward becoming one of the best in the league.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Minnesota does not want to make a mistake by reaching for a quarterback in the first round. However, grabbing Teddy Bridgewater would not qualify as a reach due to his loaded potential.
The Louisville quarterback has all the tools you look for in an NFL quarterback, but most importantly he has great composure in the pocket. This will help him succeed when going up against quick, aggressive rushers at the next level.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
While the Bills have a few pressing needs on defense, the team's first priority needs to be to protect last year's first-round pick EJ Manuel. The young quarterback showcased plenty of skill in his first season, but he will not improve without time to throw the ball.
Taylor Lewan has great size at 6'7" as well as the kind of explosiveness that could make him a dominant force on either side of the offensive line.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
After acquiring Golden Tate in free agency, the Lions no longer have a pressing need at wide receiver. Instead, it is important for them to make an upgrade in the defensive secondary.
Darqueze Dennard is the best cornerback in the class thanks to his pure coverage skills. Even without great speed, he should be able to stick with the best receivers in the league due to his physical presence, and he has a chance to become a star in the league.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
The Titans continue to build a young defense full of talented players across the board. Anthony Barr would help keep this trend going as a big-time pass-rusher who has the potential to be one of the best in the league in a few years.
Barr is only a few years removed from playing running back, but his athleticism could make him a star once he improves his technique.
12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Standing at only 6'1" and 285 pounds, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned with Aaron Donald's ability to play in the trenches.
However, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com points out that the defensive tackle proved himself at the combine:
Donald might lack the ideal height and bulk for the position, but he makes up for it with outstanding strength and quickness. He notched 35 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press test, and he ran a ridiculous 4.68-second 40-yard dash. Donald dominated during the regular season, and he was also the most impressive player in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl. He is a perfect fit for a team in need of an interior pass rusher.
Jeremiah recently continued with his high praise for the former Pittsburgh star:
Aaron Donald by a good margin RT @ScoutHawk12: who is the best interior pass rusher in the draft?— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 27, 2014
The New York Giants need to rebuild their defensive line after losing Linval Joseph in free agency, and Donald would be a great place to start.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
After adding Robinson with their first pick, the Rams need to fill the next biggest hole on the roster at safety. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is excellent against the pass with the speed to cover a lot of ground in the secondary.
This could help the Rams solidify the defense to help compete with the tough teams in the NFC West.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears had the worst run defense in the NFL last season due to their inability to cover the middle of the field. Timmy Jernigan would instantly solve that problem as a big body who can clog the interior and prevent the opposing team from having any space to run.
Additionally, he does a good job of penetrating into the backfield, which will help out against the pass as well.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Pittsburgh has seen its once-dominant defense get older and older. It needs to add some youth and athleticism, especially in the secondary.
Justin Gilbert would be the perfect fit as a highly athletic cornerback who is extremely dangerous when he gets near the ball. He is someone who will make game-changing plays, both on defense and in the return game, early on in his career, and he should help the Steelers right away.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Even after adding Henry Melton in free agency, the Cowboys still need a lot of help on the defensive side of the ball. They finished last in the league in yards allowed in 2013, and opponents had plenty of running room all over the field.
Nix could help everyone else on the defense thanks to his ability to take on blockers, freeing up his teammates to make plays.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Ravens added a few receiving targets this offseason, but none of them have the upside of Mike Evans. The 6'5" receiver has a wide catching range and knows how to go up and get the ball at its highest point.
With the way Joe Flacco throws the deep ball, this could end up being a match made in heaven.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The New York Jets upgraded offensively by adding Eric Decker in free agency, but they still need more help on that side of the ball. Whether Geno Smith or Michael Vick ends up starting, the quarterback must have someone else trustworthy to throw to.
Eric Ebron would certainly help out thanks to his unique combination of size (6'4", 250 lbs) and athleticism. One scout even thinks he could be among the best in football at his position, according to NFL.com's college football account:
Besides the ability to make plays in the passing game, Ebron also believes he can contribute in other ways:
Eric Ebron on PTD... "I'm a GREAT blocker, but can work on some small things to become and excellent blocker"— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) March 15, 2014
Although the tight end is a bit raw, his upside makes him an excellent selection for a young, improving team.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Zack Martin has the ability to be a true left tackle in the NFL after manning the position for the past few years at Notre Dame. However, he could be even better at guard thanks to his ability to move a pile inside.
His versatility makes him a perfect fit for a Miami team that is desperately trying to upgrade the offensive line along with newly signed Branden Albert.
20. Arizona Cardinals: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
After losing Karlos Dansby to free agency, the Cardinals have a lot of tackles to replace next season. C.J. Mosley will not instantly step in and be a star, but he has all the tools necessary to succeed in the NFL.
Besides his speed, lateral quickness and tackling ability, Mosley has also shown great leadership with one of the best defenses in the nation at Alabama. This should help the Cardinals move on without missing a beat.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Packers have a major hole at safety heading into next season, which is something that could be dangerous against pass-happy teams like the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.
Calvin Pryor should be able to step in immediately and contribute with his ability to defend both the pass and the run. He is a physical player who will easily be able to handle the rigors of NFL life.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
With the release of DeSean Jackson, the Eagles are missing a big-time playmaker on offense. Although LeSean McCoy has plenty of game-changing ability, the squad still needs another receiver to complete the fast-paced Chip Kelly offense.
Odell Beckham will quickly help Philadelphia fans forget about Jackson thanks to his speed and agility, with and without the ball. He will get open often and turn in some long touchdowns throughout his professional career.
Which receiver will have a better NFL career?
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
A down season that featured some drops and nagging injuries hurt Marqise Lee's stock. However, there is no denying that he has a unique ability to make things happen when he gets the ball.
The Chiefs need someone else on offense besides Jamaal Charles who is capable of breaking tackles. Lee would give the squad a legitimate weapon to help the team repeat its 2013 success.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
The Bengals have plenty of talent throughout the defense, but an extra pass-rusher could make the unit extremely tough to score against.
Kony Ealy is versatile enough to play either defense end or linebacker, as he simply excels at getting to the quarterback. In the right system, he has the potential to be a star.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
San Diego found a way to get into the playoffs last season despite having a pass defense that ranked among the worst in the league. The main problem was the secondary that struggled to stick with receivers for more than a few seconds.
Jason Verrett could help solve this problem with his great speed and quickness. Whether he is used as a nickel cornerback or on the outside, he will find be able to stick with whichever receiver is lined up against him.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Derek Carr might take a little longer to transition to the NFL after facing inferior competition at Fresno State in a spread offense. However, he has a strong arm and knows how to make quick decisions with the football.
He has also already showcased his willingness to play for the Browns, telling Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Cleveland is a great city. It would be amazing to come there and help them win a championship. That's all I care about. Hopefully I can help. If it does work out, what a great city to come and win a championship, because they definitely have some diehard fans.
If Cleveland does add Sammy Watkins with its first pick, any quarterback should love to join this roster. Watkins could combine with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron to form one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.
As long as Carr can live up to his potential, he could have a lot of success early in his career.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
Dee Ford proved throughout Auburn's surprising season that he can be a force when attacking the quarterback. Although he is not the biggest player at the position (6'2", 252 lbs), he knows what it takes to get beyond blockers and blow up a play.
With the Saints, he can be used primarily in passing situations to help round out the team's much-improved defense going into next season.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Although Kelvin Benjamin is relatively raw for his position, he has all the tools you need to be successful. At 6'5", he can be a mismatch for most cornerbacks with the ability grab balls in the air. He also has good speed that shows up in games when he has to separate from his opponent.
Carolina needs to add multiple players who are capable of catching the ball, and Benjamin could grow along with Cam Newton on a young roster.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Jace Amaro was one of the most productive receiving targets in the nation in 2013, finishing seventh in FBS with 106 catches and 11th with 1,352 receiving yards. Those would be impressive numbers for anyone, but they are simply outstanding for a tight end.
With the Patriots, he would be able to continue this type of production due to his natural pass-catching ability and size (6'5", 265 lbs), which make him extremely difficult to defend.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The 49ers have been one of the top teams in the NFL over the past three years, but the offense has become stagnant. Not only is it run-heavy, but there are few players who capable of stretching the defense.
Brandin Cooks could change that with elite speed to score from anywhere on the field. He could also clear up space underneath to have more success overall.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
While Denver made plenty of big-name additions to the defense this offseason, the squad still needs another person who is capable of manning the middle of the field besides Danny Trevathan.
Ryan Shazier has great athleticism and the versatility to play on all three downs when he matures into a complete player.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
The Seahawks clearly want Russell Wilson to be under center for a long time; unfortunately, this will be harder to do if they cannot protect him.
Wilson was sacked 44 times last season, which, as previously mentioned, was tied for the third-highest mark in the NFL along with Matt Ryan. Adding Xavier Su'a-Filo to the lineup will help protect the quarterback and keep him around for longer.
All height/weight information courtesy of NFL.com/draft/2014.
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