The 2014 NFL draft is rapidly approaching, making this a perfect time to take a look at how the critical first round could shake out.
While teams will select players based on a wide variety of metrics and basic needs, ultimately, each general manager is hoping for the same thing—to land a bona fide star who can have a lasting impact on the franchise.
Let’s take a peek at what the first 32 picks may look like with that in mind.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Bortles may have a fair share of question marks surrounding him, but it is tough to deny that the 6’5”, 232-pound Knights product has the look of a franchise signal-caller.
With new head coach Bill O’Brien in town and calling the shots, Bortles fits the bill of the pro-style passer the team wants to install under center. The junior has a cannon for an arm, can make all the throws and should be able to absorb contact and keep plays alive with his underrated mobility.
Bortles reminds many scouts of a young Ben Roethlisberger, and the Pittsburgh Steelers star has been working out with the star prospect, as per Josh Norris of NBC Sports:
If Bortles develops into anything near the type of quarterback that Roethlisberger is, he will be well worth the first overall pick and should have the Texans returning to relevance sooner than later.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Robinson is an absolute beast who can immediately step into a starting role along the St. Louis line and not relinquish the job for at least a decade or more.
While he isn’t without his flaws, they are exceedingly minor. This is a slam-dunk pick that would net a team on the rise one of the best players in the class at a position of need.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney is arguably the surest thing in the 2014 NFL draft, as his raw physicality and arsenal of skills should allow him to develop into one of the premier pass-rushers in the league.
The Jags have plenty of needs to fill, but ultimately, they can overlook everything to nab the best player available in a rebuilding year. Jacksonville did improve its defensive line and pass rush immensely during the offseason, but it can certainly find snaps for a burgeoning star like Clowney.
Motivation and work ethic have been knocks on Clowney’s game, but the Gamecocks star spoke to Tania Ganguli of ESPN about how he would make the Texans and the rest of the league pay if he were to land in Jacksonville:
Don’t be surprised if the Jags look to fill the rest of their holes later in this draft and next year, knowing full well that they likely won’t be contending for the playoffs in 2014. The franchise still has lots of time to improve, and that will come much easier with a full-fledged star wreaking havoc on opposing signal-callers.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Browns are on the cusp of exiting a rebuilding phase and moving into a spot where they can contend for the playoffs in the AFC North, but they are still missing the franchise quarterback that can guide the team through that transition.
Manziel represents the type of potential star the team needs to take a chance on after cycling through so many incompetent players at the position over the years. Johnny Football also made it clear that he would want to play in Cleveland if he were to wind up there come draft day, as per Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports:
If something happens, and it's the Cleveland Browns, I'm going to pour my heart out for the Dawg Pound and try to win a Super Bowl for Cleveland. I don't care if they've had 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999. I'm going to be the 21st and the guy that brought them the Super Bowl.
It’s going to be tough for the Browns brass to ignore Manziel’s claims if he is still on the board when the team is picking at No. 4 this May.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins is a transcendent talent who possesses a burning desire to beat the man covering him. He also exudes tremendous amounts of confidence and the motor to not take any plays off.
Combine those intangibles with his elite athleticism, and you are looking at a player that Mel Kiper ranks as the top receiver in this draft class, as per NFL on ESPN:
That is exactly the type of impact rookie the Raiders need to help change the recent culture of ineptitude surrounding this club.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Mack is a game-changing defender in the same vein as Clowney, but instead of once-in-a-generation athleticism, this Buffalo product uses old-fashioned hustle to get the job done.
He is the sure thing that the Falcons need to improve their defense in a variety of ways. Mack can get after the passer, drop back into coverage and stuff the run with equal efficiency. He also has the ability to line up at a number of positions due to his surprising quickness and stout 6’3”, 247-pound frame.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Buccaneers should look to continue their offseason of adding quality players to the roster by selecting the top available talent at No. 7. That would be Barr in this mock draft, the UCLA star that is dripping with upside and potential.
While Barr may not be able to come in and contend for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award due to his raw talents, he should be a major contributor to Lovie Smith’s defense within the next season or so.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Vikings know that they will not be able to truly compete in the loaded NFC North without a franchise signal-caller, so this is their chance to go out and get one.
Bridgewater may not have the biggest frame and might struggle when taking hits from NFL defenders, but it will be difficult to skip over a signal-caller that could help this team win games as early as this coming season.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Bills need to get a massive receiver to foster EJ Manuel’s development and none in this class fit the bill better than Evans. The Aggies product stands a solid 6’5”, 231 pounds and uses that massive frame to box out opponents before he goes up and gets the ball at its highest point.
He will be a favorite target for Manuel down in the red zone and all over the field, allowing the Bills to score points and move the chains.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert would fill Detroit’s biggest need right now, as the franchise direly needs to add some youth to its secondary.
The Pokes product has the size and athleticism to get on the field immediately and make up for his lack of top-notch technical skills. Once he adds those, Gilbert may be one of the most feared corners in the NFL.
11. Tennessee Titans: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Titans parted ways with Chris Johnson this offseason, only adding to their need to improve the line. Not only will that make the transition to a new running back easier, but it will also take heat off the signal-caller.
Matthews is by far the best on the board and an absolute steal at No. 11. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt has quite a few directions he can go in with this selection, but there is no better value than the Aggies product at this juncture.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Giants added a good amount of talent to their offensive line this offseason, bringing in Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, John Jerry and Charles Brown, but they still have work left to do to make this a position of strength.
Lewan has the athleticism and toughness to plug a number of holes on the line and could take over for Pugh at the right tackle spot, allowing the second-year lineman to move to guard—a change that will be practically necessary if the oft-injured Chris Snee isn’t able to go or handle a full workload.
Big Blue will be getting immense value if they make this pick during the draft, as NFL Media analyst Chris Casserly believes he is a tougher competitor than Matthews, via Bryan Fischer of NFL.com:
This guy is a giant. You watch him play, he's consistent. Every single game he's physical. He's more physical than [Jake] Matthews and can knock you off the ball. When they worked out side-by-side in Indy, (Lewan) had the better workout than Matthews.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in May, but don’t be shocked if the G-Men lean in this direction.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Rams brought in a stalwart for their offensive line with the second pick and now need to add a game-changer on the other side of the football.
Clinton-Dix is a dynamic star who will prevent home runs, keep plays in front of him and even come up and support the run when necessary. He does just about everything at a high level and is the perfect all-around free safety who can immediately come in and take on a big role for St. Louis.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Chicago’s run defense was downright pitiful in 2013, allowing just about every opposing rusher to gash its front for massive gains. That has to change this offseason, and it should, as the Bears get to pick the first interior defensive lineman in this mock draft.
Donald rose up the big boards after an outstanding senior campaign and an equally impressive pre-draft process. He may not be a giant in the middle, but he is a dangerous weapon and makes for an excellent deterrent in the teeth of the Bears’ front seven.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Dennard is the youthful cornerback that the Steelers desperately need right now. The team has an old secondary that often struggles to help the team get off the field, especially on longer drives.
This Spartans product is arguably the top man-to-man corner in the class and prides himself on removing the opposition’s best receiver from the equation.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Dallas is coming off a historically bad season in terms of defense and has holes to fill at just about every position.
Jernigan has immense upside and allows the club to rebuild its defense from the inside out. He made big plays in the BCS National Championship Game and should continue to make them at the professional level.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Ravens drafted a first-round safety in Matt Elam last year, but they may need to acquire another after the departure of James Ihedigbo. Pryor could come in and play free safety, allowing Elam to move over to strong—effectively giving the club a youthful but talented last line of defense.
The Louisville product is a hard-hitting beast who also brings coverage skills to the table, which is exactly what Baltimore needs at this point in the draft.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Jets may have a bit of a quarterback controversy with Michael Vick on the roster and Geno Smith’s development going south during his rookie campaign in 2013.
Regardless of who is lining up under center this coming season, they will need a big, athletic target like Ebron in order to have a fighting chance of being a contender in the AFC East. This UNC star can make plays and should be a great complement to marquee free-agent acquisition Eric Decker.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Martin will be a key addition to an offensive line that was decimated during the 2013 campaign. He is ready to come in and play immediately, likely starting at tackle but perhaps sliding over to guard.
Ryan Tannehill needs to remain upright for the ‘Phins to have a shot at making the playoffs this coming season, and Martin will be crucial in keeping the young quarterback protected.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman is the type of hard-working defensive lineman that the Cardinals need if they are going to emerge in the competitive NFC West.
He can stop the run and also knife into the backfield to disrupt plays, which is critical with quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson in the division.
21. Green Bay Packers: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Ealy is a rising star in this draft and is arguably the best defender on the board by a head and shoulders at this point. The Packers may need improvements in their secondary, but it will be hard for them to pass up this Tigers standout at No. 21.
Ealy can get into the backfield quickly, using his blow-by speed and incredible strength to stop the run or bring down the signal-caller.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Beckham Jr. is a shifty playmaker who will help Eagles fans forget the DeSean Jackson saga.
The LSU star will be able to turn routine catches into home run plays and give developing quarterback Nick Foles a dangerous receiving weapon on the outside.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Chiefs are still in need of potential game-changers at the wideout position, especially after a full season of Alex Smith checkdowns to Jamaal Charles.
Lee is coming off a mediocre campaign with the Trojans, but his upside and nose for the end zone is undeniable. Kansas City could do much worse than adding a star with Lee’s potential at this late point in the first round.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Bengals must bring more youth into the fold at the corner position, especially with Adam Jones and Terence Newman at the tail ends of their respective careers.
Fuller is an instinctive talent with above-average athleticism that will allow him to get on the field from day one, giving the Bengals a solid option once their older defensive backs are out of the picture.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Verrett’s coverage ability and proven production in college should offset any concerns about the shoulder injury he is currently recovering from.
The Horned Frog will help the Bolts limit the amount of completed passes against them, which was a major issue for their defense in 2013.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Benjamin is the type of massive receiver the Browns will need to aid the development of their rookie quarterback, which is Manziel in this mock.
The FSU star has world-class height and leaping ability, allowing him to become a red-zone scoring machine and chain-moving beast across from Josh Gordon—who himself developed into one of the league’s premier receivers last season.
27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Mosley is an impact linebacker who will foster the Saints defense’s ascent from the league’s basement to top unit in just a few short years.
This Crimson Tide star will plug up the middle and can even get sideline to sideline in a hurry to contain anything on the outside.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Cooks may lack ideal height at the wide receiver spot, but there is no denying the raw talent of this young man.
He’ll be replacing a proven star in Steve Smith, now with the Baltimore Ravens, and could step up and play a big role for Carolina almost immediately.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Pats have likely had their eye on Amaro for quite some time, as the versatile Red Raider is the perfect fit for their system.
Tight end went from a position of strength and envy of the league to an area of desperation for New England in the past year, so the club must hit a home run with this selection in order to have a shot at making another run to the Super Bowl.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Roby can help ease the loss of Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, two corners that the Niners parted ways with this offseason.
The Buckeyes product may not be a serious contributor in his rookie year, but he could eventually take over Chris Cook’s spot after the veteran’s one-year deal expires in 2015.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA
The Broncos had a tremendous offseason and should be able to get back to the Super Bowl if they remain healthy, but adding an interior offensive lineman with Su’a Filo’s upside will help this team in the short and long term.
This organization has the good fortune to allow him to develop and possibly even get some snaps if he shows enough progress.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Kouandjio was expected to come off the board much earlier than this, but concerns about his durability and knee issues have sent him spiraling down.
Regardless, the Seahawks are loaded with depth at practically every position and can afford to take a chance on a potential star lurking in the latter portion of the first round. It’ll be interesting to see if the Crimson Tide product can develop and, more importantly, stay healthy.