When it comes to forecasting the 2014 NFL draft, nobody holds all the answers.
The odds of perfectly predicting the NFL draft fall right in line with winning Warren Buffett's billion-dollar challenge to assemble the perfect March Madness bracket. In other words, it's not going to happen.
Just like Dayton spoiling thousands of pipe dreams during the NCAA tournament's opening second-round match, the Houston Texans could go way off script and end the streak before it begins. That would then potentially create a ripple effect among the other squads with premium picks.
But we'd like to prepared for the most probable scenarios while scoring a few more correct guesses than everyone else. Even if some NFL executives ruin these selections with their darn original thinking, wouldn't it be fun to gloat after calling Justin Gilbert to the Detroit Lions at pick No. 10? (Spoiler alert.)
Let's handicap this draft as closely as possible with a pick-by-pick breakdown of the first round.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Wait, where did everybody go? Teddy Bridgewater has lost most of his steam as a potential top pick, because apparently throwing to empty air in shorts is super important for NFL quarterbacks. I join B/R's Adam Kramer in the anti anti-Bridgewater group:
One of the most consistent, accurate and downright productive quarterbacks to leave the college ranks in quite some time is quickly becoming one of the most polarizing players in the draft. There's no reason this should be the case, of course, but the scouting process often targets a select few like an overzealous bacteria with no antidote to speak of.
In the case of Bridgewater, the contrarian opinion has gone mainstream. It's no longer different enough to be different—it's how different are you. And taking the stance that one of the best college quarterbacks in recent years is actually pretty good is slowly—and shockingly—becoming the minority.
That, of course, doesn't mean Houston agrees, but the Texans need a pro-ready quarterback. They don't come much more pro-ready than Bridgewater. Here's to common sense prevailing and not overreacting to a storyline created to fill air time.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Another bold pick, considering Sammy Watkins could just as easily fall to No. 5 or lower, but the Rams should have a hankering for a game-changing offensive talent with their first of two Round 1 selections. With size, blazing speed and great hands, Watkins should become a top wideout at the next level.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
At pick No. 3, Jadeveon Clowney is simply too good to pass up. With no quarterback close to being a sure thing, it behooves the Jaguars to snag a defensive stalwart who could bring some legitimacy to a listless group.
According to ESPN's Tania Ganguli, Clowney will make it his mission to ensure Houston regrets passing him up for an AFC South rival to grab:
Asked how miserable he'd make #Texans if they passed on him & the Jags drafted him, Clowney says, smiling, "I have to make them miserable."— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) April 2, 2014
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Should Johnny Manziel go with the first pick? First round? First day? Opinions on the former Heisman Trophy winner are all over the place, but he'll find a home early with the Cleveland Browns, who need to make a splash after yet another lackluster season.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
While Bridgewater and Manziel have been dissected to a fault, Blake Bortles has become this year's trendy pick, which places him in grave danger of receiving too much hype. He's athletically gifted enough to shine during pro-day workouts, which vaults him into the top five. The Oakland Raiders, however, must beware a volatile downside to the UCF standout.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
I'm going along with the group on this one and ascending Buffalo's Khalil Mack up to No. 6. While Mike Mayock's No. 1 label is overzealous, Mack is certainly a dangerous rusher off the edge. The Atlanta Falcons will think long and hard about grabbing an offensive lineman here, but they need just as much help rushing the opposing quarterback as they do protecting theirs.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Considering Watkins, Clowney and Mack are gone, the choice is easy for Tampa Bay to snag an offensive lineman. The Buccaneers have their choice of Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews, but Robinson's superior physicality separates him as a potential perennial Pro Bowler.
But as B/R's Michael Schottey warns, Robinson is not the safest selection despite his high ceiling:
A draft pet peeve of mine: Greg Robinson has all the tools to be special, but too many people talk about him as a sure thing.— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) April 8, 2014
Matthews is more NFL ready, but the Auburn left tackle is the better long-term investment.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Some scouts think he'll slip outside the top 10, but Anthony Barr is too explosive off the edge for Minnesota to pass up. The dynamic UCLA linebacker will help fill the void left behind by Jared Allen, the Vikings' biggest pass-rushing threat for the past six years.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
In Matthews, the Bills get a sturdy member of their offensive line to help EJ Manuel and C.J. Spiller bounce back after a forgettable, injury-plagued 2013. Buffalo can feel comfortable knowing the Texas A&M tackle will pan out as an immediate contributor.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Lions need secondary help, and Justin Gilbert is this year's top cornerback recruit. The 22-year-old from Oklahoma State has the size (6'0", 202 lbs) and speed (4.37 40 time) to match up with the NFL's premier wideouts while offering some added value in the return game.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
I had recently dropped Alabama's C.J. Mosley in accordance with other mock drafts selling on his stock, but I'm stepping away from that dangerous group-think mentality to slot him at No. 11. It appears the Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly is not among those who believe the linebacker should fall to the latter half of the opening round:
CJ Mosley is sideline-to-sideline. He reads his keys and has good instincts. Can defend the pass. Is a 3 down ILBer. SOLD!— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) March 14, 2014
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
According to MLive.com's Kyle Feldscher, Taylor Lewan's arraignment hearing on assault charges will be delayed until May 19, which falls after the draft. This creates a precarious position for any team interested in the offensive lineman's services, as he would bolster the New York Giants offensive line if cleared of any wrongdoing during an incident in which he was charged with assaulting two Ohio State fans.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Don't be fooled by the silly name; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a serious talent at safety and should give St. Louis a major difference-maker on both sides (under the mock's assumption it took Watkins No. 2) while helping a secondary that ranked No. 15 in Football Outsiders' efficiency ratings compared to its No. 3 rushing defense.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Chicago Bears allowed 5.3 yards per carry last season. No other team allowed more than 4.8. They should race to the podium to file Florida State's Timmy Jernigan as their first-round selection. He'll make life a little tougher on Adrian Peterson and Eddie Lacy.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Steelers could use another receiver with Emmanuel Sanders gone to Denver, and Mike Evans just happens to be sitting there at pick No. 15. NFL.com's Gil Brandt, who recently compared the Texas A&M wideout's hands to Calvin Johnson's, made another bold statement supporting Evans:
Sammy Watkins is great talent but Mike Evans might be best WR in this draft. #NFLDraft— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) April 8, 2014
If Brandt is right about Evans, the Steelers just created a deadly duo in Evans and Antonio Brown that defenses won't stop.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Dallas isn't one to play it safe and take the steady starter, so the Cowboys will gamble on Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald, an unconventional tackle who raised some eyebrows with a sensational combine. He's not big like Jernigan, but Donald is highly athletic for his position and could compile sacks in bunches.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Signing Steve Smith shouldn't take the Ravens entirely out of play for a wide receiver, but anybody after Evans is a reach at this slot anyway. Instead, Baltimore will make a boring pick in Notre Dame's Zack Martin to address an area of need and attain a dependable starter.
18. New York Jets: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
After losing Antonio Cromartie and failing to replace him with a premier corner, Rex Ryan will push the front office to select a physical cornerback who fits his scheme built around strong press coverage. Darqueze Dennard isn't a headline-grabbing pick, but he can play Ryan's smashmouth defense.
19. Miami Dolphins: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Having nowhere obvious to turn to improve their dreadful offensive line, the Dolphins instead go all in on Eric Ebron, a guy whom fantasy football owners must learn about in a hurry. Ebron could become one of the league's most dangerous pass-catching tight ends. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks touted him as a highly desirable commodity who warrants top-10 consideration:
Measuring 6-foot-4, 250 pounds with 4.60-second speed, Ebron is a wide receiver trapped in a tight end's body. He is quick enough to blow past linebackers and safeties on vertical routes, yet possesses the size and strength to overpower nickel corners in space. Additionally, he is a terrific open-field runner who has the speed and agility to turn short routes and bubble screens into big gains.
Not the most sensible pick from Miami, and not one it should make if Martin is available, but it's worth a shot under these circumstances.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Jason Verrett, CB, VCU
Darn, Ebron would have been a coup for Arizona at No. 20. The Cardinals found success last year in an undersized defensive back, and Tyrann Mathieu is a question mark after tearing his ACL. Jason Verrett is another ruthless ball hawk who will punish teams that think he is too short to succeed in the NFL.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Packers did not collect a single interception from a safety last season, but Louisville's Calvin Pryor could certainly amend that deficiency. Grantland's Robert Mays doesn't think teams should shy away from the heavy hitter in fear of his style not meshing with the league's stricter rules:
The goal for a lot of teams is going to be finding the next Earl Thomas, but when I watch Pryor, I can't help but think about the hit Kam Chancellor put on Demaryius Thomas in the Super Bowl. As the league has rightly cracked down on helmet-to-helmet hits, finding a tone-setting enforcer for the middle of the field who can dole out his punishment while playing by the rules has become a major factor.
Pryor gives Green Bay an enforcer downfield who is a hard, but not dirty, hitter.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
At this point, Louis Nix III is more of a value pick for a defense that ranked 29th in total defense last season. After focusing on their secondary throughout the offseason, the Eagles can now fortify their line by adding the hulking Nix at nose tackle.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks certainly doesn't lack confidence.
"Maybe Chip Kelly is looking to take another speedy receiver in that first round, and that could be me." Cooks said, "Who knows? And if that's the case, a lot of people will wonder 'Can he do it like DeSean Jackson?' In my opinion, I can do it like him and do it better."
Jackson's old coach, Andy Reid, can use a similar skill set to complement Dwayne Bowe and make Kansas City's offense more than The Jamaal Charles Show. Cooks possesses the speed to make that comparison apt.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
When we look back at this draft in five years, Kony Ealy at No. 24 could be considered the first round's biggest steal—or the biggest reach. He's a boom-or-bust prospect with raw technique but a major burst. But according to Brandt, he might go even higher than here:
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Chargers rode a strong offense to the postseason, but they must improve the defense to maintain their hot finish. According to College Football 24/7, Bradley Roby is well aware of their need at cornerback, and he's hoping he's the guy who fills it:
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Playing on the other side of Joe Haden is a tough assignment for a cornerback who is all but guaranteed to get tested all day. That's why Cleveland needs a good one to be the weak link, so it'll take Kyle Fuller, which will make throwing on the Browns awfully difficult in 2014.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The New Orleans defense enjoyed a complete turnaround last season, so the Saints are no longer in dire condition. They also haven't needed to exert first-round picks to find top-notch skill players, so they'll swing for the fences with defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, the type of prospect who will make the Pro Bowl or will be fighting for a roster spot in five years.
28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee is another dicey first-round selection. B/R's Matt Miller expressed concerns over his unreliable hands on Twitter:
Marqise Lee drop rate, courtesy of @NU_Gap: 12.31%. Sammy Watkins: 4.49%. That's where my major concern comes from.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 2, 2014
Lee too often catches with his body rather than hands, and his third and final season at Notre Dame was by far his worst. But the Panthers need a No. 1 receiver in the worst way, and Lee stands the best chance of becoming a major playmaker in the pros.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots could instead chase a typical wide receiver, but their past success employing two tight ends may sway them into grabbing Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, who caught 106 passes for the Red Raiders last season. Besides, do you really trust Rob Gronkowski to stay healthy?
30. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Last season, nobody on the 49ers outside of Anquan Boldin or Vernon Davis caught more than 25 passes. Assuming a healthy Michael Crabtree sticks around, they can still use a productive No. 3 receiver who will work an apprenticeship under Boldin before the 33-year-old moves on.
31. Denver Broncos: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
The Broncos may be tempted to procure another explosive, high-upside defender in the mold of Ryan Shazier, Kyle Van Noy or Dee Ford. Instead, they'll remember all of their offseason signings and take David Yankey, who adds a younger body to an aging offensive line.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Let's end Round 1 with a pronunciation challenge for Roger Goodell. Xavier Su'a-Filo is a hard-nosed offensive guard who will pound out running lanes for Seattle's run-heavy attack.
All height, weight and combine information courtesy of NFL.com.