An NFL general manager's career is made or broken in the NFL draft.
The best unearth late-round gems and work the phones to cash in on one-sided trades. GMs who wash out quickly are victims of their own overreaching and failure to extract value from their draft selections.
Plenty of front-office members will be looking ahead to the 2014 draft to strengthen their job security and put a winner on the field.
Below is a brief mock for how the first round may unfold. The players considered the smartest picks are underlined.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Between all of the smokescreens and subterfuge, it's anybody's guess what the Houston Texans do here. New head coach Bill O'Brien loves his quarterbacks, so maybe it's Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel.
Perhaps Jadeveon Clowney is the guy. He's an athletic freak of nature, and the prospect of playing against Andrew Luck for the next decade makes shoring up the pass rush awfully enticing.
At the end of the day, Clowney makes the most sense. Neither Manziel nor Bortles is the kind of transcendent talent that the former South Carolina star is.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reported that the Texans already have their plan in mind, too:
People I've talked to around the league believe Clowney is not working out because he's been told he'll be the No. 1 pick.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 14, 2014
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The St. Louis Rams must be praying that Clowney falls to them at No. 2, if only to open up the multitude of trade possibilities.
With that door closed, addressing the leaky offensive line is the best plan of attack. Greg Robinson truly looks special. You don't often see his combination of speed and power in an offensive lineman. The only think with Robinson is that he might need a little time to adjust after working in Auburn's run-based offense last year.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Jacksonville Jaguars have no shortage of options here. Of their various targets, Khalil Mack looks to be the best. Not only is he one of the best pass-rushers available, but he's also skilled enough to be used in a variety of ways. He'd be a huge boost to what was a mediocre defense last year.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Imagine Sammy Watkins and Josh Gordon on the same team. The Cleveland Browns wouldn't even need a competent quarterback, and that offense would be lethal. Watkins is one of the most NFL-prepared players in the draft and would be an immediate asset to Cleveland.
5. Oakland Raiders: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
This is so appropriate, isn't it? One of the most polarizing players in the draft ends up with the Raiders. Manziel made a conscious decision to rely on his arm more in his final season at Texas A&M, a choice that has paid massive dividends. Johnny Football isn't the most polished passer in the draft, but by now he should've allayed any fears that he's going to flame out in the league.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Atlanta Falcons had a miserable 2013, but so much of that was down to bad luck and injuries—almost all the key players from the 2012 team who made it to the NFC Championship. The Falcons should be NFC South contenders once again in 2014.
With that in mind, Atlanta needs somebody who can contribute right away, and no player is more equipped to do that than Jake Matthews. While his ceiling isn't as high as Greg Robinson's, Matthews is the most talented offensive tackle in the draft right now. He can improve a leaky Falcons offensive line, in addition to giving Atlanta the most ready-made player in the draft.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
With Mike Williams' departure, there's a hole in the Buccaneers' receiving corps. Tampa Bay could fill that hole with Mike Evans. Between Evans' height and speed, an argument could be made that he's the best WR in this year's loaded crop of wideouts:
Sammy Watkins is great talent but Mike Evans might be best WR in this draft. #NFLDraft— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) April 8, 2014
Defensive backs will have fits dealing with him in the NFL.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
For whatever reason, the Minnesota Vikings seem infatuated with Blake Bortles:
Personally, I'm not sold on him at all. His throwing mechanics and footwork can be a little erratic, especially when he's under pressure. If the Vikings can be patient with Bortles, he could come along very well. But you could see Minnesota flinching at the first sign of trouble, much as the New York Jets have with Geno Smith.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, Buffalo Bills
With both top WRs off the board, the Buffalo Bills get somebody who is essentially a wide receiver. Eric Ebron is part of the new vanguard at tight end. EJ Manuel needs some more weapons in the passing attack, and Ebron would be a huge help.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Detroit Lions have a good group of cornerbacks, but what they lack is that one true lockdown corner who can line up against a team's best guy and take him out of the game completely. Justin Gilbert would help to eliminate that problem.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Anthony Barr can sometimes be a little too reliant on his physical skills. When he hits the NFL, that's gotta change. At No. 11, the Tennessee Titans would be offsetting some of the risk that comes with drafting a player like Barr. If he follows through on his potential, he'll be one of the league's premier pass-rushers.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The New York Giants' offensive line is too leaky to not be addressed this offseason. Taylor Lewan doesn't offer the ceiling that either Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson does, but he can still make a couple of Pro Bowls down the line.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has everything you look for in an NFL safety: range, speed, agility and ball skills. The Rams can't resist grabbing a safety this good. If they can get both Clinton-Dix and Robinson, it will be a great draft for St. Louis.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Few players have seen their stock surge as much ahead of the draft as Aaron Donald has. Once the season ended, it looked like he might be a late-first or early second-rounder at best. Now, some very smart people have him listed in the top 10:
For me, it's true. Aaron Donald is a top ten player in this class. Impact player. The interior havoc he wreaks allows you to rush just four.— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) April 10, 2014
For those doing mock drafts, don't be stunned if DT Aaron Donald goes within the top-10. Character, tape, Senior Bowl practices all great.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) April 7, 2014
The fact that Aaron Donald is my No. 10 overall player is a testament to how deep this draft is. Would be top 5 most years.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 11, 2014
Donald isn't your typical big fat guy to put on the interior of your line to stop the run. He excels in getting after the quarterback, which allows teams to avoid throwing extra linebackers or defensive backs into the pass rush.
The Chicago Bears' defense would get much better with his inclusion on the defensive line.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Steelers must get much younger defensively. Pittsburgh is about where the Baltimore Ravens were in Ed Reed's and Ray Lewis' last years with the team. Darqueze Dennard would help spur the youth movement. He's not a freak athlete, but his physicality and consistency will serve him well in the NFL.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Calvin Pryor is your prototypical big hitter at safety. Having that kind of presence over the middle of your defense can be intimidating, but problems can arise when the player gets a little overeager and draws unnecessary flags. Pryor can grow into one of the best safeties in the league over time.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Whether it's at offensive guard or offensive tackle, Zack Martin would help the Baltimore Ravens' offensive line. He's an agile offensive lineman with great instincts. Martin isn't the kind of player who blows you away on tape, but his steady presence can be invaluable to a team's offense.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Geno Smith didn't have a great debut season with the Jets, but even Peyton Manning could've struggled with the weapons at Smith's disposal. New York should surround him with some help this offseason to speed up his progression. Odell Beckham has some flaws, but they shouldn't preclude him from becoming a home run target and valued asset.
19. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
By losing both Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, the Miami Dolphins saw their offensive line gutted. With Branden Albert, they have the tackle they desperately needed. Now, they can move for the best guard in the draft, Xavier Su'a-Filo.
Guards are always undervalued in the NFL draft. While they aren't as important as tackles, they can still be cornerstones of an offensive line. There isn't a major hole in Su'a-Filo's game. He's a big, tough and strong bruiser who can punish opposing defenders.
Adding both he and Albert this offseason would transform the Dolphins' offensive line from a major weakness in 2013 to a major strength in 2014.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Arizona Cardinals already have Patrick Peterson. Throw in Kyle Fuller, and they would have one of the best cornerback duos in the league.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
C.J. Mosley's versatility would serve the Green Bay Packers well. Dom Capers could use him in any number of ways in 2014. Like Su'a-Filo, Mosley gets hurt simply because his position isn't as coveted in the NFL. Otherwise, there's nothing that leads you to believe he can't have a long, successful career.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Philadelphia Eagles' secondary wasn't quite as bad as some made it out to be. Football Outsiders ranked the team 25th in defensive DVOA against the pass.
That's not to say that Philly wouldn't be helped out by drafting Bradley Roby. Roby's a bit undersized, and you can't forget how badly he was burned by Jared Abbrederis in that game against Wisconsin last year. However, Roby has blinding speed and isn't afraid to get right up in opposing receivers' faces.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Everybody's pretty much under the belief that the Kansas City Chiefs will go with a receiver in the first round. Odell Beckham is the optimal choice this late into the round, but Brandin Cooks provides plenty of value as well. Whether it's in the passing or return games, he can find the end zone any time he touches the ball.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Cincinnati Bengals' depth chart makes for some depressing reading when looking at the cornerbacks. After Leon Hall, you get the likes of Terrence Newman, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Onterio McCalebb and Chris Lewis-Harris. In short, the Bengals can't go another year expecting Hall to remain healthy and not have a strong backup plan.
If Jason Verrett falls this far, Cincinnati would be getting great value. Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke thinks he's good enough to go in the top 20:
Jason Verrett should be a top-20 pick. He probably won't be ... but he should be.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) April 14, 2014
If the TCU star was an inch or two taller, he'd be a top-15 or even top-10 pick. He's an instinctual player who always seems to find the ball. Verrett's speed is also quick enough to atone for a mistake:
Jason Verrett plays MUCH bigger than his frame, and his recovery speed is pretty amazing.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 14, 2014
At worst, the Bengals would be getting a solid No. 2 or 3 cornerback. The potential is that Verrett transforms into a shutdown No. 1 CB.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Louis Nix is in the space-eater mold of defensive tackles. He is a bit more agile and quick than you'd expect, but his value derives primarily from his size and ability to close up gaps. The San Diego Chargers could use that for a defense that lacked much strength through the middle.
26. Cleveland Browns: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Browns get at least one of their guys with their second first-rounder. If they go with Watkins, Mack or Clowney at No. 4, they should look to QB here. Derek Carr has a great arm, but he may struggle initially moving more under center instead of playing out of the shotgun on every down. Give Carr Watkins and Gordon, though, and watch any learning curve evaporate quickly.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Dee Ford and Rob Ryan might be the perfect combination. Ford is somebody who can rush off the edge in a variety of ways, and Ryan would be just the guy to figure how to maximize Ford's potential.
28. Carolina Panthers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Following Jordan Gross' retirement, the Carolina Panthers have a massive hole in their offensive line. Grabbing a wide receiver would be great, considering they've lost all of their best wideouts, but Cyrus Kouandjio would at least help shore up their O-line.
29. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Does it really matter what I write here? The New England Patriots are going to draft somebody, and he's going to make the Pro Bowl. This is how it happens every year.
Ra'Shede Hageman could be a pass-rusher in the interior of the defensive line who can take some of the pressure off 32-year-old Vince Wilfork.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
With Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, the San Francisco 49ers have two wide receivers who are basically carbon copies of one another. Neither is what you'd consider a playmaker. That's where Marqise Lee comes in.
Don't let his poor 2013 fool you. Lee will blossom in the NFL with a consistent quarterback throwing to him.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The Denver Broncos were exposed in a big way in the Super Bowl. The defense needs to get much better, and that could start with Ryan Shazier. He's a rangy linebacker who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
If Kelvin Benjamin can put it all together, he'll be scary. The problem is, he's still way too raw at this stage. His route-running leaves a lot to be desired, and drops littered his 2013 season. Still, at the end of the first round, he's more than worth the gamble for the Seattle Seahawks.