As pro days and the last whimpers of free agency surge forward, the 2014 NFL draft couldn't be more of a mess.
Smokescreens have fans and media biting left and right, while free-agency acquisitions are guilty to some degree as the addition of a player on the market won't necessarily stop a team from grabbing a young talent.
General managers have all the fun during this period as the only minds who truly know what the team will do in the first round. Let's play general manager for this mock and make moves based on what they should do.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Does swapping Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles make that big of a difference?
Probably not, but the front office in Houston must be dead set on grabbing one of the two. Bridgewater gets the nod as he's more of a pro-ready option. His frame is a bit of a flag for health reasons, but build a strong offensive line and only freak accidents will be an issue.
The Texans win with Bridgewater right away, whereas a Jadeveon Clowney—who fits oddly in the scheme—is not as important.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
St. Louis clearly understands Sammy Watkins is a viable option at No. 2, as captured by ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins visiting Jaguars today; scheduled to visit Rams on Monday, then have private workout with Rams on Fri April 18th.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 9, 2014
While perhaps not the best player on the board, the front office has to think value and need. Watkins is a franchise-changing player who instantly upgrades the weapons around Sam Bradford.
If the Rams can't trade down, Watkins is an easy call.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
David Caldwell can't afford to reach on a quarterback so high, especially with Chad Henne still around and sound value to be had in later rounds.
Instead, Jacksonville gets a rare prospect in Clowney who perfectly fits the scheme and acts as a starter right away.
So early in the draft, teams need a franchise cornerstone. Clowney is just that.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
It's easy to think Cleveland will nab Watkins if he falls, but a sound consolation prize happens to be Johnny Manziel, one of the draft's most polarizing players.
Manziel is a risk given the way he extends plays with his feet and sometimes makes questionable decisions, but plugging him into the offense in Cleveland is too difficult to pass up.
Armed with weapons such as Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, Manziel enters a strong environment and may have what it takes to combat the Cleveland quarterback curse.
5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
There is quite the task in front of Reggie McKenzie in Oakland as he must find a way to turn around the league's worst roster at an efficient pace.
Any smart general manger knows to start in the trenches if a franchise quarterback is not available.
McKenzie does that here with Greg Robinson, a freak athlete who someday may turn out to be one of the best in the league. It's quite the way to start building around a quarterback to be named.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
There's no secret that the Atlanta Falcons are on the hunt for either a pass-rusher or an offensive tackle, with the former being of more importance.
The Falcons swipe Khalil Mack off the board here with the understanding that he is a scheme-versatile prospect who fits well and acts as an upgrade right away since he can play in any front the Falcons decide to bring on a given down.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Perhaps the most obvious team of all in the top 10, Tampa Bay is surely going to grab a top wideout if available.
The popular consensus is Mike Evans, as illustrated by CBS Sports' Dane Brugler:
WR Mike Evans to the Buccaneers at 7 just became much more likely— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) April 4, 2014
Evans is a natural fit in the offense across from Vincent Jackson, a player he can eventually replace thanks to his big-play ability at all points on the field.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
As much as it likely hurts Minnesota fans to hear, Rick Spielman should have no issues going with one of Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder next season.
That doesn't mean the team won't add a quarterback so high. It just means he'll be comfortable taking a forward-looking approach at the position.
Rather than throw Blake Bortles to the wolves as a rookie, he can sit and learn for a year and put his massive ceiling to good use.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It's pretty simple for Buffalo—do whatever necessary to help EJ Manuel take the proverbial next step.
Given the state of the board, Buffalo is actually in a pretty poor position sandwiched between good and bad value at wideout.
Instead, the front office can grab the draft's top tight end in Eric Ebron, who provides Manuel with a consistent target to move the chains and a deep threat to make big plays.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Same story for Detroit—No. 10 is simply a bad spot when one looks at both value and need.
The front office should still try to marry the two philosophies, which results in Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard.
Detroit needs more talent in the secondary and Dennard is as good as this year gets in terms of physical coverage and ability to play right away. He won't necessarily have to in Detroit, but he's an ideal pick.
11. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
No viable quarterback is on the board, so Tennessee should instead opt for the best player available to help ease the change to a 3-4 scheme.
That means Aaron Donald is the pick thanks to his ability to both stuff the run and apply adequate pressure from any spot on the defensive line.
Donald starts as a rookie and if he stays healthy could be in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
This is a bit low for Jake Matthews, but Jerry Reese surely won't complain.
In fact, he'll likely run to the podium himself.
There's a legit conversation to be had about Matthews being better than any tackle who entered the league last year, which speaks both to his talents and the depth of the class overall.
In New York, Matthews starts and helps to prevent silly Eli Manning mistakes that hurt the team last year.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
With the second of their selections in the first round, the Rams have to address the defensive side of the ball.
Given the depth at offensive tackle, more talent in that area can wait. The missing piece on an already-sound defense cannot. That would be Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, as NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah points out:
Several personnel guys have told me they'd be very surprised if the Rams passed on HaHa Clinton-Dix at 13.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 3, 2014
Safety is the only glaring need on the roster, so St. Louis cleans up and gets the draft's top prospect at that spot. That's an A+ draft for Les Snead.
14. Chicago Bears: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
He is, but the Bears still do well here with Ra'Shede Hageman, another freak athlete in the trenches who does a multitude of things well.
Hageman does much to step in and fill the void left by Henry Melton's departure, and he also does it at a much cheaper price tag. That's a win in the short and long term.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Cortez Allen is the only viable starter at corner on the roster in Pittsburgh, but Kevin Colbert can do much to fix that at No. 15 with arguably the top corner in the class.
Justin Gilbert won't win any awards as a rookie given the nature of his position and its difficulty in a transition to the pros, but he's already an upgrade over most of the depth chart.
In time, especially under the guidance of veterans like Ike Taylor, Gilbert can morph into a No. 1 corner.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Schematically, Dallas doesn't want to take a risk on an Anthony Barr here (more on him later).
Like Bennett, Ealy is a stout run defender, but can also pin his ears back and get to the quarterback with efficiency when asked.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Ozzie Newsome is one of the best the NFL has to offer, so he'll surely sit still at No. 17 and take the best player available.
Right now that's Taylor Lewan, who can come in and use his natural physicality to win battles in both the run and pass game consistently. In time, the staff can mold him into one of the NFL's better tackles on either side.
18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
John Idzik has to understand jobs are on the line in New York.
Rex Ryan failed with Mark Sanchez but has been given another shot. This time all bets are wedged on Geno Smith, and like Buffalo above it's up to the front office to ensure he succeeds so the team as a whole can progress.
As Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News illustrates, the team has a big interest in Jace Amaro:
The Jets are intrigued by Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro, according to a team source. The 6-5, 265-pound Amaro, who had 106 receptions for 1,352 yards as a junior last season, is scheduled to visit the Jets facility in the coming weeks in the run-up to the draft.
Amaro solves a lot of problems in New York because he can line up at any spot on the field. He's not the final answer, but darn close.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Dennis Hickey has a rather simple job in front of him in the first round—pick an offensive lineman.
As an added bonus, Hickey and the staff in Miami are fortunate enough to land Zack Martin, who is versatile enough to play any spot on the line.
Given the torrid situation of the entire unit—which is slowly improving—Martin's flexibility is a major plus both now and down the road.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
It's hilarious how the process tears down a prospect and then builds him back up. Cyrus Kouandjio is just fine and will come off the board in the first round, as an NFC scout, NFC scouting director and AFC executive illustrate, via Mark Eckel of The Times of Trenton:
“He had a bad combine, so that’s going to throw some people off him,” the personnel man said. “But he looked good on tape. He’s big, long, and he competes. I like that.”
“He’s a better pass blocker right now than he is a run blocker,” the executive said. “He’s still raw, but there’s a lot of upside.”
“We like him,” the scout said. “We have him rated pretty high.”
The front office in Arizona understands what is on the line in 2014. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are aging, while running back Andre Ellington appears on the cusp of something great.
With that in mind, the team gets a surefire starter at right tackle in Kouandjio to pair with Jared Veldheer and never looks back.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
With B.J. Raji back on board, Ted Thompson can go out and add yet another piece to a rapidly improving defense.
It's safety or linebacker here, with precedence on value. Taking that into account, C.J. Mosley is the best player on the board and an obvious every-down starter right away.
Mosley has the game, overall impact and eye-popping statistics to not only win Defensive Rookie of the Year, but to allow the Packers to sneak into the top 10 in overall defense.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
It's surely no fun in the Philadelphia war room waiting for Green Bay to make that selection, but bated breath can collectively be released when the folks in charge realize Calvin Pryor is still on the board.
Pryor has the range and bone-jarring hits to succeed in all facets of the game as a rookie. Next to recently acquired Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles continue to upgrade a unit that is still in the infancy of a rebuild thanks to a base schematic change.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The receiver class is so deep this year that it will be difficult for general managers to sort the good from the bad.
John Dorsey won't have that issue. He can round out his receiver corps with Marqise Lee, who NFL.com's Bucky Brooks says will be a great player at the pro level:
That's why I hold onto the notion that Lee will be a big-time playmaker at the next level. He was so impressive during his first two seasons that I'm willing to keep his dismal junior season in perspective. Lee struggled recovering from a knee injury; he never fully displayed the speed and burst that made him nearly impossible to defend on the perimeter. Additionally, Lee had a tough time getting the ball consistently due to questionable quarterback play.
It's hard to argue, and Brooks goes on to point out that Lee is very similar to Watkins—the guy who went No. 2 overall.
Lee will make big plays across from Dwayne Bowe, which is all Dorsey can ask at No. 23 overall.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Marvin Lewis and the front office in Cincinnati continue to have an eye toward the future as they continually adhere to the best-player-available approach.
Kyle Fuller is the best on the board at the moment, and happens to land in the perfect situation. He gets to learn from veterans like Leon Hall while seeing limited playing time.
In a few years Fuller will be an every-down starter well-versed against both the rush and pass.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Tom Telesco can't be happier.
At No. 25 overall, San Diego gets the best overall 3-4 nose tackle in the draft. That's a steal, and one the Chargers will be better for right away as Louis Nix's upgrade in all facets at the position creates a ripple effect on the rest of the unit.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Nobody puts it better than Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon in regards to Odell Beckham Jr.:
If Odell Beckham were 3 inches taller he'd be a top-10 lock. Which tells me he should probably be in that convo anyways.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) March 31, 2014
In other words, Cleveland gets a massive steal at No. 26 to go with a new franchise quarterback and Gordon.
If that doesn't make NFL defenses shudder at the thought both now and into the future, nothing will.
27. New Orleans Saints: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
There's no question Barr is one of the most polarizing prospects the 2014 class has to offer.
But if general managers around the league are smart, they won't take a risk on a one-dimensional, converted running back. ESPN's Mel Kiper had this to say on the aforementioned First Draft Podcast, via Rotoworld:
"He's got to get more instinctive, learn more about being a defensive football player; looks a little lost out there at times, doesn't play with a defensive mentality, plays like more of an offensive player, which he once was."
New Orleans is perfect. Barr gets the development he needs under Rob Ryan while the Saints get a quality situational rusher.
28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Dave Gettleman has to quit fooling around at the wideout position and get Can Newton some legitimate weapons.
Allen Robinson is a good start. He doesn't get a lot of praise in comparison to some of his peers, but he has sure hands, runs crisp routes and fights for every ball like it's the last reception of his career.
Newton needs a rock to rely on in the passing game. Robinson is that and could very well be the No. 1 wideout in Carolina next season.
29. New England Patriots: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
The powers in New England have to understand that a complement for Rob Gronkowski is necessary, especially after his recent string of injuries.
Troy Niklas is an ideal candidate. He can run the field with Gronk in two-tight end sets and act as the No. 1 should his running mate succumb to another injury. He's sure to produce with Tom Brady throwing the rock.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
With Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree on the outside, the San Francisco 49ers need to grab a speedy, reliable slot player to round out the bunch.
Brandin Cooks would go a lot higher in most classes, but he couldn't ask for a better situation. Sure, it's a run-first offense, but Cooks will make enough big plays to keep the 49ers in the hunt for a Super Bowl.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The front office in Denver understands that continued upgrades on the defensive side of things to match an explosive offense is necessary to get back to the title game.
Ryan Shazier is an ideal fit and value near the end of the first round. He can play an inside linebacker-esque role on the strong side and also act as one of the team's primary pass-rushers.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Best player available is the name of the game for John Schneider.
With that in mind, he'll look to Jason Verrett. The TCU product is a monster against the run despite a smaller stature and comes equipped with strong coverage skills to boot.
He fits right in with the Seahawks, as Schneider needed to add some quality depth in the defensive backfield.
Note: All free-agency signing info courtesy of ESPN.