With the initial rush of free agency firmly in the rearview mirror, NFL franchises have turned their attention firmly to the upcoming draft.
After all, with so many game-changing quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive players on the board, the fortunes of even the worst teams in the league are sure to change when May 8 rolls around. With that in mind, let’s dig into a mock draft consisting of every single pick in the first round.
Potential draft-day trades are not taken into account in this mock.
1. Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
There are a number of quarterbacks that the Houston Texans could pull the trigger on with the first pick in the draft, but the allure of pairing Jadeveon Clowney with J.J. Watt along the defensive line will be too much to pass on.
Clowney has all the physical tools to become a dominant pass-rusher for 10 years in the NFL, and he is ultimately the safer and more effective selection for the Texans.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
With Rodger Saffold and Jake Long on the roster, there are a number of health concerns across the offensive line for the St. Louis Rams.
Greg Robinson will not only give St. Louis more depth along the front, he will also serve as a dominant athletic force who can control the line on passing and rushing plays. Sam Bradford will appreciate this pick.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Ian Rapoport pointed out that the Jacksonville Jaguars are certainly keeping a number of options in mind as the draft approaches:
The Jaguars have a number of needs, but it is difficult to imagine building the franchise around the inconsistent Chad Henne. Johnny Manziel did nothing but produce at the college level, and he can create big plays with both his arm and legs.
Considering the lack of game-changing wide receivers on the roster, Manziel may be asked to pick up chunks of yards with his feet if nobody is open more often than he would prefer.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Teddy Bridgewater
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and Mike Freeman both think Teddy Bridgewater is talented enough to go as the No. 1 overall pick, so the Cleveland Browns would be getting a blue-chip type of prospect if he fell to No. 4.
With the recent signing of Nate Burleson and the presence of Josh Gordon, it is difficult to see Cleveland taking a wide receiver at No. 4. What the Browns need is a franchise quarterback to spread the ball around to all those playmakers.
The hope is that Bridgewater would be that signal-caller.
5. Oakland Raiders: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
With Manziel and Bridgewater off the board, the Oakland Raiders will look elsewhere with the No. 5 pick, especially since Matt Schaub is now in the fold.
Sammy Watkins gives the Raiders a new face at wide receiver who will help stretch the field for Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew faced so many loaded boxes in Jacksonville that it was difficult to break free, but Watkins’ speed and acceleration will make it difficult for opposing defenses to commit too many resources to stopping the run.
6. Atlanta Falcons: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
The Atlanta Falcons need help in the pass-rush department, and there is no better option in the draft than Khalil Mack out of Buffalo.
The versatile defender can play across the line with his hand on the ground or in the linebacker position, which means the Falcons defense could fit him in a number of holes. He is capable of playing all three downs and will be the impact player Atlanta needs on that side of the ball.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Lovie Smith made a name with strong defenses in Chicago, and he will use the No. 7 pick in the draft to strengthen that side of the ball for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The signing of Josh McCown and the presence of Mike Glennon means taking a quarterback with this pick doesn’t make as much sense as it would for other teams. Just like Mack, Anthony Barr gives whichever team selects him a versatile defender who can get to the quarterback on any down.
Tampa Bay will be the fortunate team that lands his services.
8. Minnesota Vikings: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley pointed out, via Derek Harper of CBS Sports, that we could see a quarterback or two fall in the draft:
You could have 4-5 (quarterbacks) going in the first round or it could be like last year when guys dropped. Teams are still trying to get a feel for how things will fall into place. But there is a lot of depth and there are a lot of guys who can play really good football for teams around the NFL.
One of those signal-callers who will fall is Blake Bortles of Central Florida, although it will only be to the No. 8 slot.
The Minnesota Vikings don’t have a long-term answer at the quarterback position now, and the strong-armed Bortles would provide just that. He may not draw as many headlines as Manziel, but his pocket presence and underrated athleticism will have Vikings fans thrilled come next year.
9. Buffalo Bills: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports breaks down just why Eric Ebron is the answer for the Buffalo Bills with the No. 9 pick:
The Bills need to add a big, physical presence in the receiving game, whether at wide receiver or tight end. Ebron is a freak athlete who will instantly help the Bills offense and second-year quarterback EJ Manuel.
The Bills were so strong in the run game last year that adding Ebron would force defenders to respect the passing attack a bit more.
10. Detroit Lions: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Yes, the Detroit Lions signed Golden Tate in the offseason, but the thought of pairing the physical Mike Evans with Calvin Johnson and Tate will be too much to pass up on draft day.
Matt Stafford will certainly be thrilled.
Good luck stopping that trio and Reggie Bush on Sundays. Evans is an imposing presence who can stretch the field with his speed or take a hit and come down with the ball on slant routes across the middle.
11. Tennessee Titans: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
The Tennessee Titans may have more pressing needs than an offensive tackle, but if Jake Matthews falls this far, they will jump at the chance to take him.
Matthews has top-five-pick talent, and it is a testament to the depth of this draft that he is still available at No. 11. He is so versatile that he can line up at virtually any position along the line, and he is both fundamentally sound and explosive as an athlete.
That means he will thrive in run-blocking and pass-blocking situations.
12. New York Giants: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The New York Giants need depth in the secondary, and Justin Gilbert is arguably the top player remaining in this draft.
It is a perfect fit at No. 12.
Gilbert led the Big 12 in interceptions and is also an explosive kick returner. He is the type of playmaker around the ball who can earn Rookie of the Year honors if put in the right situation. Hopefully for Giants fans, this would be the right situation.
13. St. Louis Rams: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will provide just that.
The safety has a championship pedigree from his time at Alabama, is solid against the run, can make tackles in the open field and can keep up with the athletic tight ends he will face at the next level.
14. Chicago Bears: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
The Chicago Bears have retooled the defensive line through free agency with the additions of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, so they will look to add a safety in the draft.
Chris Conte simply won’t cut it for a team that should have Super Bowl aspirations next season. Calvin Pryor is an explosive athlete who will help the porous run defense and the pass defense in Chicago.
Pryor will provide a physical presence at the back end of the Bears defense that has been missing in recent years.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Brugler of CBS Sports recognizes that the Pittsburgh Steelers need help on the defensive side, but if Taylor Lewan is still available, it would change the thought process:
I fully expect this pick to be a defensive player, either a nose tackle like Louis Nix or cornerback like Darqueze Dennard. But if a talented offensive tackle like Taylor Lewan is still available, it would be tough to pass him up, giving them a cornerstone on the line - the Steelers aren't one player away from the Super Bowl.
16. Dallas Cowboys: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
The Dallas Cowboys would love a safety with the No. 16 pick, but both Clinton-Dix and Pryor are off the board in this hypothetical.
Instead, the Cowboys will look to pair Aaron Donald with Henry Melton to create a run-stuffing presence on the interior of the line. What’s more, Donald can help get after the quarterback, which will immediately improve the leaky pass defense we saw a year ago.
17. Baltimore Ravens: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Ozzie Newsome has something of a reputation for taking the best player remaining in the draft, and that will be Timmy Jernigan by the No. 17 pick.
The Florida State product will immediately bolster the run defense in Baltimore, and he can also pressure the quarterback up the middle thanks to his size and explosive first step. The weather takes a turn for the worse in the AFC North, and Jernigan will help the Ravens in the trenches in those late-season games.
18. New York Jets: WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
The New York Jets signed Eric Decker and Michael Vick in the offseason to bolster their offense, but they could still use a speedy receiver to stretch the field.
Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the fastest players in the entire draft, and he will help create openings for Decker across the middle. That combination will allow either Vick or Geno Smith to improve the Jets passing attack in 2014.
19. Miami Dolphins: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Rob Rang of CBS Sports believes that Zack Martin of Notre Dame is just what the Miami Dolphins need to continue building their offensive line:
With Branden Albert signed to take over at left tackle, the Dolphins can instead shift their draft-day focus towards boosting the play inside at guard. Zack Martin, unrelated to Jonathan Martin by genetics or style of play, is a coach's dream. While perhaps lacking the body type scouts prefer at tackle (where he started 50 of his 52 career games for the Irish), Martin slides well laterally and controls opponents with fierce hand usage.
20. Arizona Cardinals: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
The Arizona Cardinals will take something of a best-player-available approach with the No. 20 pick if Darqueze Dennard is still left.
The Michigan State cornerback has top-10 talent, so he is a steal this late in the first round. He has big-game experience from a Big Ten championship run and Rose Bowl title and will help the Cardinals defense counter the attacks of Wilson and Kaepernick in the division.
21. Green Bay Packers: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
The Green Bay Packers will once again be loaded on offense, but they could use some help on the defensive side.
Enter Ryan Shazier of Ohio State.
The linebacker is as fast as they come when it comes to middle-of-the-field defenders, and he rarely misses a tackle when he has a ball-carrier in his sights. Throw in the fact that he can rush the quarterback, and Shazier would challenge for a starting role right away in Green Bay.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Yes, there is a temptation to find a replacement for DeSean Jackson, but there will be other receivers available in later rounds.
The Philadelphia Eagles ranked 30th in the league against the pass last season, and Ohio State's Bradley Roby would help bolster those numbers. They already signed Malcolm Jenkins in the offseason (another Buckeye), but they need help at the corner position.
Roby has game-changing speed and will be capable of keeping up with slot receivers from his first game in the league.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Marqise Lee, USC
Luke Easterling of The Draft Report believes the Kansas City Chiefs will take Marqise Lee with the No. 23 pick:
Considering the strong rushing attack the Chiefs bring to the table, it would make sense to add a receiver who can stretch the field. That is exactly what Lee can be, and his sure hands will also help in the red zone.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
The Cincinnati Bengals have injury and age concerns across the cornerback position, so taking one in the first round makes sense.
Jason Verrett isn’t the biggest prospect in the draft, but he has a nose for the football and the speed to defend the slot right away. Don’t be surprised if he is starting alongside Leon Hall in year one if this selection comes to fruition.
25. San Diego Chargers: CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Rang of CBS Sports believes that the San Diego Chargers will take Kyle Fuller with the No. 25 pick. Here’s his reasoning:
Even with the addition of former Cincinnati Bengal Brandon Ghee, the Chargers' secondary is littered with question marks, especially at cornerback. Fuller may lack the size and flashy athleticism of some of his peers but he's an instinctive, physical player who would fit in well in defensive coordinator John Pagano's scheme.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
There are few linebackers who are more suited to contribute in the NFL right away than Alabama’s C.J. Mosley.
He is an impressive open-field tackler, has a nose for the football and can keep up with most tight ends in the passing game. He also brings plenty of big-game experience to the table after a college career at Alabama, which is something that the Cleveland Browns could use if they plan on contending in the near future with a new quarterback.
27. New Orleans Saints: DE Dee Ford, Auburn
The New Orleans Saints love to blitz the quarterback, and Dee Ford is one of the best pass-rushers in the draft.
In fact, the Saints ranked in the top five in team sacks last year, so this would be a case of the rich getting richer in this department. Ford is versatile enough to line up along the line or as an outside linebacker, which is perfect in the 3-4 sets that New Orleans often runs.
28. Carolina Panthers: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
The Carolina Panthers sorely need a wide receiver, and Anwar Richardson of Yahoo! Sports points out that Brandin Cooks has already visited during the offseason:
Cam Newton needs playmakers to throw the ball to, and Cooks has the speed to stretch the field for the Panthers offense. Considering the lack of depth at the position, he could even start right away with a productive camp.
29. New England Patriots: DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
Vince Wilfork isn’t going to be in New England forever, and the Patriots will look to find a long-term replacement in the draft.
Louis Nix provides many of the same run-stuffing traits that Wilfork does.
The Notre Dame product is difficult to block without a double-team, can at least make the quarterback feel his presence up the middle on passing plays and will swallow up most running plays that come his direction.
30. San Francisco 49ers: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
If Kony Ealy is still around when the No. 30 pick is on the board, the San Francisco 49ers will be more than happy to take him.
Ealy was a pass-rushing superstar for Missouri from the defensive end spot, which is certainly something he can do at the next level. However, he also has the versatility, athleticism and speed to fill in as an outside linebacker, too, which will ultimately be what attracts San Francisco to his game.
31. Denver Broncos: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Offensive tackle may not be a crippling need for the Denver Broncos, but Cyrus Kouandjio is so talented and has such a high ceiling that he will be difficult to pass up.
He will serve as another body to help keep Peyton Manning upright next season, but the Broncos would like to see him play tackle for years to come if they use the No. 31 pick on him. He is a solid pass-blocker and explosive enough to create space for running backs as well.
32. Seattle Seahawks: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
The defending Super Bowl champs don’t have many pressing needs, but with the loss of Tate this offseason, they could use another wide receiver.
Kelvin Benjamin is a physical presence who will be difficult to guard in one-on-one situations near the goal line (see his game-winning touchdown catch in the national championship for Florida State).
Benjamin would give Wilson another talented target to throw to and help open up running lanes for Marshawn Lynch by stretching the field with his speed.
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