NFL Mock Draft 2014: Ideal Homes for First-Round Studs

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NFL Mock Draft 2014: Ideal Homes for First-Round Studs
Nam Y. Huh

Exactly one month remains before the 2014 NFL draft officially begins, and every selection from the top to the bottom is still up for debate.

Players like Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater are already household names for fans of teams with quarterback needs, but have been lightning rods for controversy throughout the offseason.

The same goes for players like Jadeveon Clowney and even Darqueze Dennard, who some feel should be taken at the top of the board and others feel have too many questions to pull the trigger.

Here's a look at the entire first round and where every elite college football star will land in the NFL draft.

 

1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

After an abysmal year at the quarterback position for the Houston Texans that took them from potential Super Bowl contender all the way to the No. 1 overall draft pick, the franchise will look for a new signal-caller to lead the way.

New head coach Bill O'Brien will select Blake Bortles to join him in Houston in rebuilding the team. He not only has the build and arm strength to get the job done in the NFL, but he's also proved it on the field and at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in front of scouts.

Before choosing the future franchise quarterback, O'Brien reportedly met with both Bortles and Johnny Manziel, according to Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com. There's also the possibility of the Texans trading down on draft day, as Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report notes:

Word from the NFL meetings is the Texans are trying hard to deal the first pick in the draft. They want to move down and acquire extra selections. Sources say they might have a trade partner in the Bills, who appear interested in moving up.

It is unclear who the Bills would want in a trade-up scenario. Some believe they would move up for a quarterback. They also could make good use of an offensive tackle such as Greg Robinson. And it would be something to see them pair Mario Williams with either Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack.

While he labeled the quarterback class "average," Greg Cosell of NFL Films provided his thoughts on why Bortles should be the clear-cut favorite to go first ahead of Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, per the Ross Tucker Football Podcast (via Dan Parr of NFL.com):

I would say he's more of finesse thrower than a true power thrower at this point, but I think there's a lot to work with, with Bortles. I think ultimately he's a pocket passer who can execute boot action. He can extend plays and he can run effectively if that's what you want to do. So, I think that he's someone I would look to as, given time, he could be a quality NFL starter.

Thanks to a rise to fame during his final season with the UCF Knights, Bortles will go No. 1 overall if the Texans decide to keep the top pick.

 

2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

One of the most promising players in this year's draft will go No. 2 overall if the St. Louis Rams decide to keep their pick.

Sammy Watkins has not only been one of the most supremely talented players over the last few seasons with Clemson, but has also proven that throughout the offseason draft process. In fact, he's been so good that Mel Kiper of ESPN put him at the top of his wide receiver class:

With his blazing speed and ability to catch the home run ball with relative ease, Watkins would make a perfect complement to Tavon Austin and the running game that the Rams already feature.

 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

OK, the Jacksonville Jaguars re-signed Chad Henne to a multi-year contract and have someone behind center for 2014 if they need him. Henne is not the future for the Jaguars, but Johnny Manziel just might be.

The Texas A&M quarterback set the world on fire with his play in 2012, winning the Heisman Trophy. He then put on an equally impressive performance during the 2013 campaign before finishing once again in New York, but he wasn't able to repeat.

While some see him as a franchise quarterback, Warren Moon compared Manziel to another Heisman winner who flopped in the NFL, according to Will Grubb of Sports Radio 610, per CBS Houston:

You’re talking about taking a guy number one overall in the draft and he’s 5’11. He didn’t really run that fast at the combine, only about a 4.6 which was closer to a 4.7, so you are talking about a small guy that’s not very fast in an NFL that’s big strong and fast.

He likes to run around and make plays and he was able to do that in college. I just don’t know how well that’s going to transition into the National Football League.

Regardless of what some might think of Manziel, he has still proved he's worthy of being one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. And with a need at the position, the Jaguars will scoop him up with hopes that he materializes for a team in need of a savior. 

 

4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

The final member of the top tier in the 2014 quarterback class will join the others in the class as a top-four selection.

Though it certainly isn't where he wanted to land at the beginning of the college football season, winding up with the Cleveland Browns might be the perfect situation for Bridgewater. The Browns have a cast of receivers like Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron to go along with a great defense that can help a young quarterback.

 

5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

After all of the perceived best quarterbacks are taken off the board, the Oakland Raiders will look to lock up a position that they were unable to at the beginning of free agency.

If Greg Robinson is still on the board, the Raiders would be foolish to pass up on the top offensive linemen in the entire draft. Following the signings of players like Matt Schaub, Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, shoring up the offensive line might be the last move to get the Raiders back in the hunt.

 

6. Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina 

It's been a long season and offseason for the player believed to be the most talented in the entire NFL draft, but Clowney will finally hear his name called at No. 6 when the Atlanta Falcons submit their pick.

How interested are the Falcons in acquiring Clowney's talents for their defensive line? So interested that they set up a private workout with him following his pro day, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Several coaches were also in attendance to watch Clowney show off his athleticism during the pro day, as Ledbetter points out:

It would be a match made in heaven for both sides if Clowney does fall to the No. 6 spot. And with the talent in this year's class, anything is possible as franchises look to bolster their rosters in this deep draft.

 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

In one of the deepest divisions in the NFL—though it didn't look that way in 2013—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to upgrade defensively to stack up with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.

With the best outside linebacker in the class in Khalil Mack, new head coach Lovie Smith and the Bucs will be on their way. He offers both speed and size (6'3", 247 lbs) with the ability to cover the entire fieldeverything that Tampa Bay needs against three great offensive teams in the NFC South.

 

8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

He may not be considered one of the top three quarterbacks in the class, but that certainly doesn't mean Derek Carr doesn't have the potential for a bright future in the NFL ahead of him. The Minnesota Vikings are willing to take a gamble on that potential to contend in the NFC North.

As for the confidence that he has in himself, Carr spoke about where he believes he ranks in the 2014 quarterback class, per the Associated Press:

There's nothing that they can do that I can't do. Any throw that they can make, I assure you I can make it. From a knowledge and maturity and leadership standpoint, been successful for three years. I think I'm the No. 1 quarterback out there. That's how I feel.

Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner apparently agrees after seeing the quarterback during his pro day workouts, according to the Associated Press:

"Obviously, he was very impressive today," Turner said. "He came out and showed he has a strong arm, very accurate, he made all the throws. He had a heck of a workout."

With Adrian Peterson still in the prime of his career, Greg Jennings just needing a quarterback to explode and Cordarrelle Patterson emerging during the 2013 season, the Vikings have the pieces on offense for Carr to thrive.

 

9. Buffalo Bills: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

With Anthony Barr still on the board and another hole to fill, the Bills will shore up the spot by grabbing one of the best young linebackers in the 2014 class. Still sitting on the board as a top-10 pick, he could wind up being one of the best players in the entire class.

And with a chip on his shoulder after being the second linebacker taken—not a huge one; he is going in the first round, after all—Barr will prove his worth for the Bills in his first season alongside Kiko Alonso and Mario Williams in the front seven.

 

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

There's been much debate since the combine and even before it about who the best cornerback in the class is. With his shutdown abilities shining at Michigan State and his combine performance doing everything to confirm them, Darqueze Dennard is the best fit for the Detroit Lions with the No. 10 pick.

The Lions have already filled a hole on offense with the addition of Golden Tate at the wide receiver position and could address another need with Dennard lining up across from any team's No. 1 wideout in the future.

 

11. Tennessee Titans: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Once believed to be the best offensive lineman in the 2014 class, Jake Matthews took a slight tumble when Robinson exploded onto the scene to close out the season.

But despite the fact that he fell outside of the top 10 in the draft, Matthews will fall to a team with a similar situation that he had at Texas A&M. With a dual-threat quarterback behind center, Matthews athleticism and ability will help the Tennessee Titans begin a turnaround under Ken Whisenhunt.

 

12. New York Giants: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

After the loss of Tuck to the Raiders, the New York Giants have some huge shoes to fill with the No. 12 pick in the draft. With the addition of Kony Ealy from Missouri, the Giants might instantly have a threat at the position to be Tuck's successor.

In the NFC East where Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles all call the shots for their respective teams, the need to get in the backfield is huge for the Giants. Ealy has both the speed and brute force to do that for years to come in New York.

 

13. St. Louis Rams: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Needless to say, this year's offensive line class is stout.

Two offensive tackles taken in the top 11 of the draft, and Taylor Lewan will be the third in the top 15 after being picked up by the St. Louis Rams.

Lewan also makes the Rams a much more viable offensive team with the likes of Zac Stacy and Sam Bradford lining up behind him. And thanks to the addition of Watkins earlier in the draft, Lewan's services will be necessary to help the Rams offense thrive in 2014 and in the future.

 

14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

After an abysmal year defensively for the Chicago Bears, they will look to fill a need immediately with their first-round pick. And with the top overall defensive tackle still left on the board, going with Aaron Donald is as close to a lock as teams will get in the first round.

The Pittsburgh product has proven that he can hold his own against other great linemen even though he's undersized (6'1", 285 pounds). He might not be the only defensive player the Bears take, but Donald is a great start for the deflated group and would add plenty of excitement alongside newly signed Jared Allen.

 

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers could go in multiple directions to fill needs at either wide receiver or defensive end, but improving on defense is still a top priority.

The losses of Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with the Denver Broncos, and Woodley leave holes at both wideout and on the line, but there is still youth at both of those positions. 

Troy Polamalu re-signed, and Mike Mitchell has been brought in through free agency, so the Steelers will look into the cornerback market and grab Justin Gilbert, the best available defensive back on the board.

 

16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Coming off perhaps one of their worst defensive seasons in the history of the franchise, the Dallas Cowboys will try to get an immediate difference-maker with Timmy Jernigan.

After reworking the entire defensive coaching staff and suffering against running and passing offenses alike, the Cowboys will go with one of the most athletic tackles in the draft in Jernigan. The team already added Henry Melton this offseason, so continuing to add talented depth is a logical move.

 

17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Several moves this offseason have made the Baltimore Ravens a much more competitive team for the 2014 season, but one more addition could make this team a potential offensive power in a defensive division.

For a franchise with veteran wideouts like Steve Smith and Torrey Smith, pairing them with Mike Evans of Texas A&M would make for a deadly combination in the AFC North as well as build toward the future.

With his hands, size (6'5", 231 lbs) and physicality off the line, Evans fits the division perfectly. Joe Flacco will have some new toys for 2014 and could repeat the success of 2012 thanks to free agency and draft.

 

18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

Eric Decker was a good start, but the New York Jets offense still needs more pieces to compete in the AFC East division.

That's where Eric Ebron comes in. After being an explosive playmaker for North Carolina for two different coaching staffs, he will be an immediate asset for sophomore quarterback Geno Smith.

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com explains why Ebron would fit in with the Jets:

After fielding a punchless lineup in 2013, the Jets have worked diligently this offseason to upgrade the weapons in the passing game. The team added Eric Decker as a potential No. 1 receiver and signed Jacoby Ford to bring some speed to the group. With Jeremy Kerley showing signs of developing into an upper-echelon slot receiver, the Jets simply need a dynamic tight end to complete the offensive makeover.

Ebron averaged more than 16 yards per catch as a Tar Heel, while displaying a knack for running past defenders on vertical routes. His exceptional ball skills in the red zone could help Michael Vick and/or Geno Smith spark a vastly improved Jets offense this season.

What makes Ebron perfect for the Jets and Smith is his ability to catch nearly everything thrown in his direction. His ability to break tackles and open up the middle of the field will make him a valuable asset for years to come in New York's offense.

 

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

The key to getting the Miami Dolphins offense going in 2014 will be keeping Ryan Tannehill upright throughout the season. They were not very good at that in 2013, but that was, in large part, thanks to a certain situation that lost them two offensive linemen.

If the Dolphins go with Notre Dame's Zack Martin, they'll not only have a viable player who can fill in right now but also a lineman who can hold his own for years to come.

 

20. Arizona Cardinals: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

It's never going to be easy for the Arizona Cardinals to draw attention to themselves in the same division as the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, but continuing to build on the defensive side of the ball appears to be the way to go.

If Ra'Shede Hageman is still on the board when the Cardinals' selection rolls around, picking up the defensive tackle would fit the NFC West perfectly. His gritty style and ability off the line makes him a great player to help the Cardinals finally reach the playoffs again.

 

21. Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

Several moves have already been made to shore up the Green Bay Packers defense, but one position remains a question mark as the draft approaches.

While Ha Ha Clinton-Dix could easily be snatched up by the Rams or even Steelers with any of their picks, among others, if the dynamic safety is still on the board at No. 21 the Packers will almost certainly go with him in the first round.

 

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

The late-round addition of Earl Wolff will soon pay off for the Philadelphia Eagles at the strong safety position, but grabbing up one of the most explosive free safeties in Calvin Pryor could help build a strong secondary for the future.

Coming out of Louisville, he has skyrocketed up draft boards and earned his title as the No. 2 safety in the class. With the Eagles having a need to fill at the position, Pryor is a perfect fit and could help revive a porous secondary from last season.

 

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

The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner came into the season as one of the top wide receivers in college football. While injuries and reduced production in 2013 dropped him behind the likes of Watkins and Evans, Marqise Lee still has the potential to flourish with the right system.

Tampa Bay's official Twitter account provides a look at Lee ahead of the draft:

Already having Dwayne Bowe on the other side and a confident quarterback in Alex Smith, Lee could step in and immediately be the No. 2 receiver in the Chiefs offense. Thanks to his explosive speed, he will make an impact right away for Kansas City.

 

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

Despite losing their defensive coordinator, the Cincinnati Bengals have a stout defense that helped get them to the playoffs in 2013.

With that said, the team still needs to fill the cornerback position. Terence Newman is in the twilight of his career, and Adam Jones is entering his ninth season in the league.

If Kyle Fuller is still on the board at the 24th pick, the Bengals would be better off adding him to the roster and letting him flourish in their system.

 

25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

With a great combine performance and plenty of tape from his years with TCU to back it up, Jason Verrett is slowly becoming a lock as a first-round pick.

He could continue to climb, but for now, he's an ideal fit for the San Diego Chargers. They need a defensive back, and Verrett is the best one available with the 25th overall selection.

 

26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Not only is Kelvin Benjamin one of the biggest wide receivers in the 2014 draft class, but he's also a project that could pay off for Pettine and his offensive staff.

Aside from his measurables that pass the eye test for scouts, coaches and executives, he also fits perfectly for Bridgewater if the Browns pull the trigger on the Louisville quarterback. With a 6'5" wideout, the undersized signal-caller will have an easy target to find down the field or across the middle to go along with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.

 

27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama

The New Orleans Saints have made several huge moves to improve their team after winning the wild card in 2013, but one more defensive standout in the front seven could make Rob Ryan a very happy man.

Additions like Jairus Byrd improve the defense, but picking up C.J. Mosley from Alabama would add to the tough mentality that the Saints are trying to build under Ryan. With his ability to cover the entire field, he makes the Saints defense instantly better.

 

28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

It's never easy replacing a legend, but that's what the Carolina Panthers will now have to attempt to do after releasing Steve Smith this offseason.

One player in this year's draft that has both a similar build and skill set to Smith is Brandin Cooks. The Oregon State product might not be able to come in and immediately produce like Agent 89, but with time he could be the heir apparent in Carolina for years to come.

 

29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

The Patriots have made some big moves with the signing of Brandon LaFell and re-signing of their leading receiver in 2013, Julian Edelman. But with the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski, who has struggled to remain healthy, New England still needs to land a proven tight end to continue its dominance in the AFC East.

With Jace Amaro still on the board, the Pats will pull the trigger on a guy who opens up the middle of the field for Tom Brady.

 

30. San Francisco 49ers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

The San Francisco 49ers have a need at cornerback after releasing Carlos Rogers and losing Tarell Brown to the Raiders. Bradley Roby is a standout defensive back who was a great corner for Ohio State. While he is considered a fringe first-rounder, the need at corner will force the 49ers to sign him.

The signing of Chris Cook means the Niners have options at the position, but Cook might not be a player for the future of the organization after signing just a one-year deal.

With Jim Harbaugh constantly looking to boost his defense, this seems like an ideal selection for the 49ers. In an NFC West where defenses clearly shine, Roby might be the guy that the 49ers need to continue their success.

 

31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA

Several needs have already been addressed for the Denver Broncos with the signings of both DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward, and the only remaining glaring needs for the team are inside linebacker and offensive guard to return to the Super Bowl in 2014.

After Mosley was taken earlier in the draft, Denver will lock up another player with the potential to help the team immediately in 2014.

While Xavier Su'a Filo is also a fringe first-rounder like Roby before him, the Broncos will complete their offseason needs list with his talent. Not only that, but Denver has several rounds remaining to continue the improvement and set the stage for Peyton Manning to win his second Super Bowl.

 

32. Seattle Seahawks: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee

The final pick of the first round goes to a player who has been climbing up draft boards all the way into the opening round.

Antonio Richardson of the Tennessee Volunteers is yet another offensive tackle in this ridiculously deep 2014 class. But with his size and ability off the line, he offers much more than just a run-of-the-mill late selection in the first round.

He might have some time to develop with the Seattle Seahawks, but his addition will be necessary to protecting the most prized possessions of all in Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch.

 

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