Many components of the NFL offseason have passed, but one of the most critical events is still ahead for coaches, scouts and fans alike.
The 2014 NFL draft is setting up to be a memorable one as speculation and rumors continue to fly about many of the top talents in the class. Players like Jadeveon Clowney and others have been moved around draft boards for months leading up to the draft.
Then there's the quarterback group, which has been widely criticized and shifted around more than any other in recent memory. Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater are all considered the top signal-callers in the class, but it's not always in that specific order.
Before the draft officially gets underway, here's a look at projections for the entire first round.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Regardless of what coaches and scouts around the league might think of Clowney, it takes just one to make him the first overall selection.
The Houston Texans are beginning a new era under Bill O'Brien and will do so with one of the best tandems in the NFL with both Clowney and J.J. Watt. That defensive line will be a disastrous one for quarterbacks in the AFC South like Andrew Luck and Jake Locker.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
As stout as this year's offensive line class is, Greg Robinson is deserving of being the top player at the position.
While Jake Matthews may be more polished and considered a safer pick, Robinson has the athleticism and upside NFL teams covet. The St. Louis Rams have a need at the position and might go with the lineman, but will likely look to trade back to maximize their picks in a deep draft.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The first quarterback to come off the board, for now, will be Blake Bortles. After putting together a great final season with UCF, the huge quarterback will be the one taking over for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
While he labeled the quarterback class "average," Greg Cosell of NFL Films provided his thoughts on why Bortles should be the clear-cut favorite to go first ahead of Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, per the Ross Tucker Football Podcast (via Dan Parr of NFL.com):
I would say he's more of finesse thrower than a true power thrower at this point, but I think there's a lot to work with, with Bortles. I think ultimately he's a pocket passer who can execute boot action. He can extend plays and he can run effectively if that's what you want to do. So, I think that he's someone I would look to as, given time, he could be a quality NFL starter.
Having a security blanket like Chade Henne also helps the development process for Bortles, but don't expect Henne to grab ahold of the reins early in his career.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The second member of the top tier in the 2014 quarterback class will join the others in the class as a top-four selection.
Though it certainly isn't where he wanted to land at the beginning of the college football season, winding up with the Cleveland Browns might be the perfect situation for Bridgewater. The Browns have a cast of receivers like Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron to go along with a great defense that can help a young quarterback.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Easily the most talented wide receiver in the 2014 class, Sammy Watkins won't fall past the top five picks with his elite speed and has a chance to be the No. 1 wideout for the Oakland Raiders for the next decade.
While the Raiders could certainly use some help in the quarterback department along with others, getting one of the best playmakers in the draft will go a long way toward returning to relevancy in the coming years.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
There's a reason why both Robinson and Jake Matthews are typically mentioned in the same breath. Both are outstanding linemen, but Matthews is commonly seen as just a step behind the Auburn tackle.
Perhaps one of the most polished players in the draft, Greg A. Bedard of Sports Illustrated explains why:
Matthews, who turned 22 in February, has been preparing for the NFL his entire life as the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Bruce Matthews and nephew of former Browns standout linebacker Clay Matthews Jr.; Jake’s brother, Kevin, is a center for the Titans. His younger brother, Mike, plays for the Aggies. Cousin Clay Matthews III is the star outside linebacker for the Packers. Matthews was a heralded prospect out of Elkins High School in Missouri City, Texas. He started the final seven games as a true freshman and never looked back.
His pedigree and consistency make him one of the best in the class. And with the Atlanta Falcons needing to supply more protection for Matt Ryan, expect them to pull the trigger on Matthews just outside of the top five.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
In one of the deepest divisions in the NFL—though it didn't look that way in 2013—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to upgrade defensively to stack up with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.
Having the best outside linebacker in the class in Khalil Mack, new head coach Lovie Smith and the Bucs will be on their way. He offers both speed and size (6'3", 247 lbs) with the ability to cover the entire field—everything that Tampa Bay needs against three great offensive teams in the NFC South.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
It may be a little later than he had hoped for, but Manziel will finally come off the board at No. 8 to the Minnesota Vikings.
One of the most polarizing figures in college football over the past two seasons, Manziel is also one of the most talented in the class. Thanks to his dual-threat ability and great play outside the pocket, expect Manziel to be the quarterback of the future for the Vikings.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Last season, the Buffalo Bills sent shock waves through the NFL community when they took E.J. Manuel in the first round. This year, the Bills will give him an offensive threat in Eric Ebron that can change any game from the tight end position.
And when looking for a safe bet, taking a tight end in the first round typically pans out for NFL teams, as Ty Schalter of Bleacher Report notes:
Just 14.8 percent of top-pick tight ends go three years without standing out. An incredible 81.4 percent of them make a big impact in either their first or second years. Just one tight end in this entire data set, Anthony Fasano, flopped in his first two seasons and blossomed in his third. Generally speaking, if a tight end hasn't become good after two years, he isn't going to.
Thanks to a plethora of talent on the defensive side of the ball, the Bills aren't far off from having a chance to contend in the AFC East division. And after taking a player like Ebron, the improvement will only continue on offense for Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
There's been much debate since the combine, and even before it, about who is the best cornerback in the class. With his shutdown abilities shining at Michigan State and his combine performance doing everything to confirm them, Darqueze Dennard is the best fit for the Detroit Lions with the No. 10 pick.
The Lions have already filled a hole on offense with the addition of Golden Tate at the wide receiver position and could address another need with Dennard lining up across from any team's No. 1 wideout in the future.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Considered one of the best linebackers in the class, Anthony Barr is just a step behind both Clowney and Mack as tops in the front seven department. The former Bruin will slot in perfectly with the Tennessee Titans and help improve a defense that already showed vast growth in 2013.
12. New York Giants: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Not only is Mike Evans one of the best wide receivers in the draft, he could prove to be one of the great steals if the New York Giants are able to snatch him up outside of the top 10.
Evans has been constantly compared to an elite receiver in the NFL, as Robert Mays of Grantland points out:
The first NFL comparison everyone makes for Evans is Vincent Jackson, which makes sense. Both are rangy, ball-snatching monsters. But when I saw Evans making long strides, tearing up grass on short screens and slants, I instantly thought of how the Bears used Alshon Jeffery last year. Jeffery came into the league with the same knocks. Even if the top-end speed was there, he wasn’t sudden enough to get separation from defenders. What Jeffery showed last season is that he didn’t really need it. Just throw it up. He’ll go get it.
That type of receiver is just what the Giants need after a horrid season by the team, especially at the quarterback position. Eli Manning, meet your new best friend.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Given the fact that they improved offensively with the first selection, the Rams will now target a player that can immediately make an impact on the defensive side of the ball.
With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix still on the board, going after the high-flying free safety would help close the gap for St. Louis in the NFC West. In a division where teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks reign supreme, Clinton-Dix will help St. Louis instantly.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
After an abysmal year defensively for the Chicago Bears, they will look to fill a need immediately with their first-round pick. And with the top overall defensive tackle still left on the board, going with Aaron Donald is as close to a lock as teams will get in the first round.
The Pittsburgh product has proved that he can hold his own against other great linemen even though he's undersized (6'1", 285 pounds). He might not be the only defensive player the Bears take, but Donald is a great start for the deflated group and would add plenty of excitement alongside newly signed Jared Allen.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Pittsburgh Steelers could go in multiple directions to fill needs at either wide receiver or defensive end, but improving on defense is still a top priority.
The losses of Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with the Denver Broncos, and LaMarr Woodley leave holes at both wideout and on the line, but there is still youth at both of those positions.
Troy Polamalu re-signed, and Mike Mitchell has been brought in through free agency, so the Steelers will look into the cornerback market and grab Justin Gilbert, the best available defensive back on the board.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Coming off perhaps one of their worst defensive seasons in the history of the franchise, the Dallas Cowboys will try to get an immediate difference-maker with Timmy Jernigan.
After reworking the entire defensive coaching staff and suffering against running and passing offenses alike, the Cowboys will go with one of the most athletic tackles in the draft in Jernigan. The team already added Henry Melton this offseason, so continuing to add talented depth is a logical move.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
And so the trend of great offensive tackles in this year's class continues.
Taylor Lewan, an outstanding offensive lineman from Michigan, is just a few paces behind the other two freak linemen in the class, but has the ability to shine for the Baltimore Ravens. And with a need to protect Joe Flacco to find his receivers like Torrey Smith or Steve Smith, Lewan would make a perfect fit for the Ravens.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Eric Decker was a good start, but the New York Jets offense still needs more pieces to compete in the AFC East.
With a wild card in Stephen Hill already, the Jets will go out and get Odell Beckham Jr. to continue the trend of improving offensively. Rex Ryan already has an elite defense, but helping Geno Smith should be the No. 1 priority for the coach.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The key to getting the Miami Dolphins offense going in 2014 will be keeping Ryan Tannehill upright throughout the season. They were not very good at that in 2013, but that was, in large part, thanks to a certain situation that lost them two offensive linemen.
If the Dolphins go with Notre Dame's Zack Martin, they'll not only have a viable player who can fill in right now but also a lineman who can hold his own for years to come.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
In the aforementioned NFC West division, improving defensively is always a top priority for any team.
After putting together an outstanding season and just narrowly missing out on the playoffs, adding a player like Kony Ealy is a great way for the Arizona Cardinals to both improve in an area of weakness now and for the future.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois
Several moves have already been made to shore up the Green Bay Packers defense, but one position remains a question mark as the draft approaches.
While Jimmie Ward is rising up draft boards and could be taken earlier, if the dynamic safety is still on the board at No. 21, the Packers will almost certainly go with him in the first round.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The late-round addition of Earl Wolff will soon pay off for the Philadelphia Eagles at the strong safety position, but grabbing up one of the most explosive free safeties in Calvin Pryor could help build a strong secondary for the future.
Coming out of Louisville, he has skyrocketed up draft boards and earned his title as the No. 2 safety in the class. With the Eagles having a need to fill at the position, Pryor is a perfect fit and could help revive a porous secondary from last season.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
One of the biggest areas where the Kansas City Chiefs need to improve to keep up with the Denver Broncos and others in the AFC is through the air. Adding a player like Brandin Cooks will see immediate returns for the breakout team from 2013.
As for the confidence Cooks has in his own ability, he didn't shy away from putting it all out there, per Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com:
I feel like I’m the best receiver in this class and I’m not just saying that to say it. I put up numbers that nobody else did this year. At the same time I was facing premier talent.
I have respect for the other guys and give credit where credit is due, but I’m able to blow the top off, I’m able to catch underneath routes and take them the distance, but I see myself right up there with those guys, and in that top 5 conversation, top 3.
That type of ability will translate well for the Chiefs, who already have a dynamic playmaker in Jamaal Charles. With Cooks lining up alongside Dwayne Bowe and Alex Smith behind center, the Chiefs will have a dangerous offense to match their outstanding defense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Despite losing their defensive coordinator, the Cincinnati Bengals have a stout defense that helped get them to the playoffs in 2013.
With that said, the team still needs to fill the cornerback position. Terence Newman is in the twilight of his career, and Adam Jones is entering his ninth season in the league.
If Kyle Fuller is still on the board at the 24th pick, the Bengals would be better off adding him to the roster and letting him flourish in their system.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
With a great combine performance and plenty of tape from his years with TCU to back it up, Jason Verrett is slowly becoming a lock as a first-round pick.
He could continue to climb, but for now, he's an ideal fit for the San Diego Chargers. They need a defensive back, and Verrett is the best one available with the 25th overall selection.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
After obtaining a huge need on the offensive side with Bridgewater, the Browns will add an impressive defensive player to help the secondary.
If Bradley Roby of Ohio State is still on the board for Cleveland with the No. 26 pick, expect the Browns to take the gritty corner, making him the third consecutive defensive back coming off the board. And with a slight chip on his shoulder, Roby just might be one of the best in the class during the 2014 season.
27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The New Orleans Saints have made several huge moves to improve their team after winning the Wild Card in 2013, but one more defensive standout in the front seven could make Rob Ryan a very happy man.
Additions like Jairus Byrd improve the defense, but picking up C.J. Mosley from Alabama would add to the tough mentality that the Saints are trying to build under Ryan. With his ability to cover the entire field, he makes the Saints defense instantly better.
28. Carolina Panthers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
After a lackluster combine performance and medical red flags, Cyrus Kouandjio could slide out of the first round altogether. But with the loss of Jordan Gross, the Carolina Panthers are in desperate need of a replacement at the position.
Kouandjio more than proved his talent on the college stage with Alabama, but the combine sent shock waves throughout the NFL. Despite the sudden doubts about his talent and long-term health, Kouandjio will still be a first-round selection and will work his way into the Panthers offense.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots have made some big moves with the signing of Brandon LaFell and re-signing of their leading receiver in 2013, Julian Edelman. But with the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski, who has struggled to remain healthy, New England still needs to land a proven tight end to continue its dominance in the AFC East.
With Jace Amaro still on the board, the Pats will pull the trigger on a guy who opens up the middle of the field for Tom Brady.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner came into the season as one of the top wide receivers in college football. While injuries and reduced production in 2013 dropped him behind the likes of Watkins and Evans, Marqise Lee still has the potential to flourish with the right system.
Tampa Bay's official Twitter account provides a look at Lee ahead of the draft:
With the Niners already possessing a receiving corps that includes Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, Lee would have the time necessary to learn under their tutelage. And if he can return to form for San Francisco, expect Lee to be a huge factor for years to come in the NFC West.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Several needs have already been addressed for the Denver Broncos with the signings of both DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward, and the only remaining glaring needs for the team to return to the Super Bowl in 2014 are inside linebacker and offensive guard.
After Mosley was taken earlier in the draft, Denver will lock up another player with the potential to help the team immediately in 2014.
While Xavier Su'a-Filo is also a fringe first-rounder like Roby before him, the Broncos will complete their offseason needs list with his talent. Not only that, but Denver has several rounds remaining to continue the improvement and set the stage for Peyton Manning to win his second Super Bowl.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
One of the biggest weaknesses for the Seahawks in 2014—there weren't many for the Super Bowl champions—was in the receiving corps. So with the final pick in the first round, Seattle will immediately look to bolster that position with a huge receiver in Kelvin Benjamin.
Aside from his measurables that pass the eye test for scouts, coaches and executives, he also fits perfectly for Russell Wilson. With a 6'5" wideout, the undersized signal-caller will have an easy target to find down the field or across the middle to make up for the losses of Golden Tate and Sidney Rice.
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