2014 NFL Mock Draft: Smartest Selections for 1st-Round Teams

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2014 NFL Mock Draft: Smartest Selections for 1st-Round Teams
Patric Schneider

With teams preparing to fill key needs in the NFL draft, each franchise with a first-round pick could make some smart selections.

The first round of the draft is a great place to find starting-caliber talent. But while some players go on to earn multiple Pro Bowl selections and become valuable pieces to their teams, others end up struggling and never reach their full potential.

It's difficult to predict which players will succeed and which won't, but let's take a look at the smartest pick each team can make in the first round.

 

Who should the Texans select with the No. 1 pick?

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1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

It will be very tempting for the Houston Texans to take a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick. However, given what we've seen from Jadeveon Clowney over the past year, it will be really hard for the Texans to pass on him.

Clowney is a freak athlete who could give the Texans another dominant presence on the line alongside J.J. Watt. Along with his ability to rush the passer, Clowney can also make a big impact in the run game, plugging up holes and wrapping up ball-carriers in the backfield.

 

2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

With Clowney gone, the St. Louis Rams have a tough choice to make with the No. 2 overall pick. They could trade down, or they could try to find another offensive tackle.

There are a few really impressive offensive tackles in this class, but Greg Robinson stands out from them all. He's a huge player at 6'5'' and 332 pounds, and he's also the best run-blocker in this class. He'll be able to play on either side of the line in the NFL, and that could help the Rams out a lot if Jake Long can't come back for Week 1.

 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

The Jacksonville Jaguars need to find a long-term option at quarterback, because Chad Henne isn't the answer. They'll have their choice of any of the "Big Three" quarterbacks with the No. 3 pick in this mock draft, and they should take Teddy Bridgewater.

While Bridgewater didn't have the best pro day, what he did on the field should make up for that. Along with some terrific accuracy, he is also a great quarterback while on the move, making big plays when rolling out of the pocket. 

 

4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M

After bringing in a new head coach and releasing both Josh Campbell and Brandon Weeden, it seems pretty clear that the Cleveland Browns are now looking for a new starting quarterback. While he may be a polarizing figure, the Browns would be smart to bring in Johnny Manziel.

Manziel's skills go beyond just being a great player on the run. Over the past year, he's shown significant improvement as a passer, doing a better job of going through his progressions before taking off. Manziel's arm strength shouldn't be a question, but his size may still make teams hesitant to draft him. Still, with weapons like Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon, Manziel could do a lot in Cleveland's offense.

 

5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

I doubt that the Oakland Raiders will be looking for a quarterback in the first round after bringing in Matt Schaub, although I do think they will look for one later. Instead, the Raiders should go for this year's top receiver in Sammy Watkins to give whoever plays under center another weapon.

At 6'1'' and 211 pounds, Watkins looks physically ready to be a starting receiver. His acceleration and ability to make plays in the open field are what make him the best receiver in this class. With two new receivers in Watkins and James Jones, the Raiders might look a lot better offensively in 2014.

 

6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

It wasn't a pretty season defensively for the Atlanta Falcons. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Falcons were graded as the seventh-worst defense in the league. Fortunately for them, they have a chance to add the perfect piece in Khalil Mack.

As the team plans to move to more of a 3-4 defense, Mack is the perfect option as an edge-rusher. There are few players in the league right now with his set of skills, as he can rush the passer, stop the run or drop back into pass coverage. If the Falcons are able to grab Mack in May, fans are going to be very happy.

 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Now that Mike Williams has been traded to the Buffalo Bills, as James Walker of ESPN reports, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an even more obvious need at wide receiver. Vincent Jackson is good, but they're going to need another option.

Drafting Mike Evans to go along with Jackson could make for a very intimidating receiver duo in Tampa Bay. Evans is a big threat at 6'5'' and 231 pounds, but he's also surprisingly fast. He could start out as a red-zone threat, but he could quickly turn into a No. 1 receiver over the next couple of years.

 

8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

Neither Christian Ponder nor Matt Cassel should be the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings next season. While their defense has a lot of holes, there's a ton of talent on offense that's not reaching its full potential without a playmaker under center.

Blake Bortles has the ideal size for a quarterback at 6'5", along with the pocket awareness and football IQ to succeed. He's not the complete package yet, but Bortles is developing quite nicely as a passer. He should do a nice job in the NFL if he can find the right fit, and Minnesota might be just that.

 

9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Michael Conroy

Cordy Glenn did a nice job at left tackle for the Bills last season, but they could still use help on the other side of the offensive line. Erik Spears wasn't terrible, but the team could do better at right tackle to help the run game while also keeping EJ Manuel upright.

Jake Matthews has spent time as both right and left tackle during his time at Texas A&M, doing a very nice job at both positions. He's an aggressive run-blocker who's quick off the snap and should have no problem at right tackle if he goes to Buffalo.

 

10. Detroit Lions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

The Detroit Lions have a lot of needs in the secondary, but with Louis Delmas gone, they're going to need to find a starting safety considering both Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler play in their division.

This year's top safety is Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He has terrific range and the reaction time to break up deep passes, reading the opposing quarterback's eyes. Clinton-Dix also isn't afraid to come up and help in run defense, making him a great potential pick for the Lions.

 

11. Tennessee Titans: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Now that Alterraun Verner is gone, the Tennessee Titans need to find another cornerback with the ability to create turnovers to play opposite of Jason McCourty. 

Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State would be the ideal replacement out of this draft class. He racked up seven interceptions last season, showing off his ability to get his hands on the ball frequently. Given his frame and speed, Gilbert could excel in press or man coverage.

 

12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

The New York Giants brought in a number of new faces so far this offseason, but they need to find a way to add some more depth on the defensive line.

While he's not the biggest prospect in the middle of the defensive line, Aaron Donald might be one of the best at rushing the passer. He's incredibly fast coming off of the snap, getting into the backfield before offensive linemen can do anything about it. Short arms may limit his effectiveness in the running game, but he would fit well as a 3-technique pass-rusher for the Giants.

 

13. St. Louis Rams: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

After adding another offensive tackle with their first pick, the Rams can focus on adding help to their secondary with their second. With Clinton-Dix off the board and Cortland Finnegan gone, the Rams should try to add some help at cornerback.

Darqueze Dennard is a great fit for the team's scheme. He excels in man coverage with his aggressive style of play and should be able to frequently frustrate opposing receivers.

 

14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Like the Giants, the Chicago Bears could use a 3-technique defensive tackle, especially now that Henry Melton is gone. The Bears won't be able to take Donald in this mock draft, but they can take Florida State's Timmy Jernigan.

Jernigan dominated at times last season for the Seminoles, using good footwork and active hands to create separation and plug up running lanes. The Bears had the worst run defense in the league last year, and adding Jernigan would be a good start to fixing that.

 

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

There are a number of ways the Pittsburgh Steelers could go with this pick, but considering Ben Roethlisberger's career is winding down, it might be best to make sure he can finish it without getting hit too often.

Of the remaining offensive tackles, Michigan's Taylor Lewan probably has the most upside. He has great size at 6'7" and 309 pounds to go along with quick feet to keep him in front of athletic pass-rushers. He'll need to focus on technique, but the upside for Lewan is huge.

 

16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

Without DeMarcus Ware, the Dallas Cowboys will need to find a new pass-rushing presence on the defensive line. Kony Ealy can play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, so he could be a nice fit as a defensive end for Dallas.

In terms of athleticism, Ealy might be one of the most athletic pass-rushers in this class. He's quick off of the snap and has the flexibility to get low while still blowing past offensive linemen.

 

17. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

Michael Conroy

Despite so many personnel changes before the 2013 season, the Baltimore Ravens are still in pretty good shape defensively. Still, they could add some more youth in the secondary.

One of the heaviest hitters in this draft has to be Calvin Pryor out of Louisville. He's not afraid to lay players out, though he does draw penalties from time to time. Along with big hits, Pryor is also a very rangy safety who would pair nicely with Matt Elam, giving the Ravens a lot of versatility in the defensive backfield.

 

18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

Geno Smith had a rough rookie season for the New York Jets, but it's hard to be an effective quarterback without any reliable weapons to throw to. Adding Eric Decker will help, but the Jets would be smart to add another target.

One guy who could make plenty of plays at the next level is Odell Beckham Jr. He's not a tall player at 5'11", but he's definitely fast. Beckham's shiftiness and burst can create tons of separation, allowing him to pick up plenty of yards after the catch.

 

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

No one should be surprised with the Miami Dolphins taking an offensive tackle after everything that happened with the offensive line last season. Without Jonathan Martin, the team needs to find someone that can protect Ryan Tannehill.

Zack Martin could play either offensive tackle or guard at the next level, giving the Dolphins a versatile piece that they so desperately need. He doesn't have the longest arms, but nice balance and quickness will help Martin thrive wherever he plays.

 

20. Arizona Cardinals: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Although the Arizona Cardinals have a few other needs, they would be smart to think about taking a quarterback in the first round if one like Derek Carr drops this far. The Cardinals could then have him develop behind Carson Palmer until Palmer's gone or can no longer produce.

In terms of arm talent, Carr might have the strongest arm in this class, as he can make pretty much any throw needed. He doesn't have the best intangible skills, but he should get more comfortable and improve after spending a year or two behind Palmer.

 

21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama

Losing Aaron Rodgers for a large portion of last season helped highlight just how poorly the Green Bay Packers were playing defensively. They have a few needs on that side of the ball, and based off of how the first 20 picks go, they could choose a number of different players.

Taking a player like C.J. Mosley could be a pretty smart move by Ted Thompson here. A.J. Hawk seriously struggled last year, and it might be time to make a change. With Mosley and Brad Jones in the middle of the defense, things could start to turn around in 2014.

 

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Jimmie Ward, FS, Northern Illinois

The Philadelphia Eagles quietly made some nice moves this offseason to help out their defense, but they're still missing another impact safety, even with Malcolm Jenkins on the roster.

Jimmie Ward is a great safety in pass coverage, showing some nice acceleration and quick feet to keep up with receivers. He can also play against the run, despite coming in at under 200 pounds, getting past blockers and bringing ball-carriers down.

 

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

Alex Smith needs another legitimate weapon that isn't coming out of the backfield. Dwayne Bowe hasn't looked like the dominant receiver we've seen in previous seasons, and even if he did, the Kansas City Chiefs still lack a true No. 2 option.

Bringing in a matchup nightmare like Brandin Cooks would be a great move for Kansas City. He's an explosive player who is usually the fastest player on the field. While he's a small receiver, Cooks has the skills to play on the outside as well, giving the Chiefs some much-needed versatility at the position.

 

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

In the short term, the Cincinnati Bengals don't have a huge need at cornerback with Leon Hall, Terrence Newman and Adam Jones on the roster. However, they will need some help at the position down the road, and adding another corner to play in nickel and dime packages could help quite a bit.

Kyle Fuller would be a great fit for Cincinnati as he develops into a starting-caliber receiver. He has the instincts and awareness to get in front of passes while also showing off some fluid hips to keep up with receivers.

 

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

Jim Cowsert

Unlike the Bengals, the San Diego Chargers have a pressing need for a cornerback. This past season, the Chargers allowed 258.7 passing yards per game, ranking 29th in the league.

Despite a small 5'9" frame, Jason Verrett might be one of the best players in coverage in this draft class. He can quickly react and read offenses and has terrific ball skills to force turnovers, giving the Chargers a potential No. 1 corner down the road.

 

26. Cleveland Browns: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

After taking Manziel with their first pick, the Browns might consider adding yet another weapon to their offense to ensure that their rookie quarterback is as comfortable as possible. 

Former USC receiver Marqise Lee has the tools to be a dangerous weapon on the outside. His straight-line speed when healthy can help him burn defensive backs, but he's also shifty enough to create separation on most routes.

 

27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn

Rob Ryan did a great job as the defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints last year, completely turning the defense around. Still, this team needs someone who can be a reliable pass-rusher before it can take the next step.

A great potential fit for the Saints would be Dee Ford. His burst off of the edge helps him get past defenders, but he also has long arms and a strong base to set the edge and stop the run when needed. With a strong supporting cast around him, Ford will be able to rack up his fair share of sacks if he goes to New Orleans.

 

28. Carolina Panthers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

This has been a rough offseason for the Carolina Panthers. In addition to a depleted group of receivers, the team also lost Jordan Gross, who retired at 33 years old. Now, perhaps more importantly, the Panthers will need to find a replacement offensive tackle before they can address the receiver situation.

Physically, Cyrus Kouandjio is ready to play. He's 6'7" and 322 pounds with a very muscular frame and long arms, giving him ideal traits for a starting left tackle. Along with those physical traits, Kouandjio is light on his feet and athletic enough to keep in front of defenders.

 

29. New England Patriots: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

Figuring out what the New England Patriots will do on draft day is one of the hardest things to predict in football, though you can probably expect them to take at least one player from Rutgers. With their first-round pick, the Pats might consider adding another tight end to give them a solid duo at the position once again.

A terrific athlete at tight end, Eric Ebron presents a huge mismatch where he lines up at. He's a fluid route-runner who can make catches from a variety of tough angles. While Rob Gronkowski gets healthy, Ebron could be a nice weapon for Brady and probably still would be once Gronk returned.

 

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

Now that Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are gone, the No. 1 need for the San Francisco 49ers is at cornerback. They could still use another wide receiver, but they have the chance to get a nice replacement in the secondary with this pick.

Despite a rough final year at Ohio State, Bradley Roby has the tools to be a first-round pick. He's probably one of the fastest corners in this draft, running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL combine. His versatility to cover both slot and outside receivers will help Roby find the field early in his career, regardless of where he goes.

 

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

The Denver Broncos are going all-in for another Super Bowl run as Peyton Manning's career winds down. They don't have a ton of needs, but adding another offensive guard after the departure of Zane Beadles would be a good move.

One of the more exciting offensive guard prospects is Xavier Su'a-Filo out of UCLA. He's a thick player at 6'4" and 307 pounds, using his size and upper body strength to push defenders back at the line of scrimmage. Given his strength and quickness, Su'a-Filo could be a valuable player in the running and passing game.

 

32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Considering just how dominant they were last season, it's hard to find too many holes on the Seattle Seahawks roster. Still, with Sidney Rice and Golden Tate gone, the Seahawks should seriously consider adding another wide receiver.

Kelvin Benjamin isn't a receiver that the Seahawks would be used to having on offense. At 6'5" and 240 pounds, he is an intimidating mismatch who could be a dominant threat in the red zone. Russell Wilson hasn't had a threat like Benjamin before with this team, and it could make this offense even more versatile.

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