Nothing can change the long-term fortunes of an NFL franchise faster than a series of successful drafts.
The 2014 draft class is loaded with talent at a number of positions, including quarterback, cornerback and wide receiver. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a mock draft for the entire first round.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
If we are picking solely based upon need, the Houston Texans would take a quarterback with the first overall pick.
However, the temptation to pair a potentially once-in-a-lifetime talent like Clowney with an already solid defensive front that includes J.J. Watt will ultimately lead the Texans to select the South Carolina defensive end.
Good luck blocking that combination.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
St. Louis is one of the few teams near the top of the draft board that already has a franchise quarterback in place (at least in their minds), so they will pass on taking a signal-caller.
Instead, the Rams will take Robinson as an extra form of protection for Sam Bradford. Robinson is a tremendous athlete who can control the line on both passing and rushing plays, and he would give the team more depth along an offensive front that has injury concerns with Jake Long and Rodger Saffold.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
It’s time to believe the Khalil Mack hype—that is if you believe P. Schrager of Fox Sports:
Mack is athletic enough and strong enough to fill in as an outside linebacker in Jacksonville’s 4-3 scheme. He is also a pass-rushing extraordinaire who could even serve as a defensive end, and he would certainly boost the Jaguars’ sack totals in his rookie season.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Cleveland Browns could go in a number of directions with this pick, even if they limit their search to just the quarterback department. Rob Rang of CBS Sports believes that Manziel will ultimately be the pick here:
Veteran Brian Hoyer is a serviceable quarterback but he, like virtually every other quarterback the Browns have trotted out since Bernie Kosar, lacks the star power to turn around this rudderless franchise. Do I have questions about Manziel's ability to hold up in the ultra-physical AFC North, especially at gusty and grassy FirstEnergy Stadium? Sure, but waiting to see which quarterback may fall to No. 26 (or lower) could mean more of the same for a long-suffering fan base.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Matt Schaub is certainly a solid short-term addition, but there is no way that he is the franchise quarterback of the future in Oakland. With that in mind, the Raiders will select Blake Bortles with the No. 5 pick.
Bortles may not have the star power of Manziel, or even Teddy Bridgewater, but his strong pocket presence and underrated ability to get out of the pocket will allow him to thrive in Oakland for years to come.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
The Atlanta Falcons would love to get Mack with the No. 6 pick, but with the Buffalo star off the board, the next-best option in the pass-rushing department is Anthony Bar.
He is versatile enough to play on the defensive line or as an outside linebacker, and he is athletic enough to play all three downs and even guard tight ends on passing routes. Ultimately, though, Barr’s appeal comes in his ability to get to the quarterback, which is something Atlanta needs more of next year.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a number of moves this offseason and will look for the best player available with the No. 7 pick.
Jake Matthews has top-five talent and would fit in perfectly as a long-term blindside protector in Tampa Bay. Matthews is as safe of a pick as you will find in the 2014 draft, and he could very well end up starting right away along the Tampa Bay front.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Minnesota Vikings simply don’t have a long-term answer at quarterback, and the fact that Bridgewater is still on the board here will be met with joy amongst Vikings fans.
The Louisville product struggled during his pro day, but he still has elite talent. He made a number of plays with his feet and arm at Louisville, and he should be able to do the same at the next level. There is so much time before the NFL draft that players are often picked apart to the point that we forget about their actual ability to make plays on the field.
The Vikings will see through that and take Bridgewater.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Buffalo Bills need an athlete in the passing game to open up the field for their tremendous rushing attack.
Ebron is an imposing presence who will instantly give young quarterback EJ Manuel another weapon and prevent teams from stacking the box to stop the team's running backs. He is also fast enough to blow past linebackers and physical enough to out-muscle safeties, which will cause problems for the rest of the AFC East.
10. Detroit Lions: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Each year, there is a prospect that slips a bit further than he should on draft day, and electric wide receiver Sammy Watkins will be that player in 2014.
The Detroit Lions will get an absolute steal with the No. 10 pick, as he will be paired-up with Golden Tate and some guy named Calvin Johnson. Defenses would have serious trouble stopping that trio and running back Reggie Bush, and all Matt Stafford would have to do is make sure he doesn’t throw it to the wrong-colored jersey.
11. Tennessee Titans: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Tennessee Titans will be switching to a 3-4 defense this season, which ultimately means more blitzes. That also means the team's cornerbacks will be left on an island more frequently in man-coverage situations.
Gilbert is arguably the top corner in this draft, as he is a physical ball-hawk who can run with almost anyone in the league. He led the Big 12 in interceptions last season and is also an explosive kick returner.
12. New York Giants: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
The New York Giants need some help in the secondary, but if Mike Evans is still available at No. 12, they will pull the trigger.
The passing attack was incredibly disappointing last year, and giving Eli Manning a 6’5”, 231-pound athlete who can pinpoint the ball at its highest point in the red zone or stretch the middle of the field will help to resolve that issue.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The St. Louis Rams reside in the NFC West, which means Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson will appear on the schedule a combined four times per season (two times each) for the foreseeable future. It also means that the Rams need a solid presence at the back end of the defense.
Ha Ha Clinton Dix has championship experience at Alabama, can make plays against the run and is athletic enough to hang with tight ends in the passing game.
14. Chicago Bears: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Chicago Bears run defense was an affront to the storied history of the franchise last year, but they added Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston this offseason in order to help along the defensive line.
That means Chicago will look for an answer to the problem it has at safety via the draft. That problem’s name is Chris Conte, as he simply isn’t talented enough to start for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations.
Pryor is one of the most explosive athletes in the entire draft, and he can also make plays against the run if Adrian Peterson and the rest of the NFC North running backs break through the team's re-tooled line.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Pittsburgh’s defense was lacking last season, and Rang believes that Darqueze Dennard can help along that front next year: "The once-proud Pittsburgh defense has fallen off in recent years and reinforcements are needed at all three levels. Given his polish, aggression and schematic fit, Dennard would make a lot of sense."
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
With the draft's two elite safeties off the board already, the Dallas Cowboys will turn to Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh to help fix the team's porous run defense.
Dallas already added Henry Melton this offseason, but Donald would help form a combination that is capable of stuffing the middle against the talented running backs of the NFC East. Donald can also get after the quarterback, so he could certainly be on the field for all three downs.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Zack Martin is a versatile offensive player who can play either guard or tackle. Former scout and current NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks thinks Martin could be the answer for the Baltimore Ravens, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun:
Martin is very athletic, kind of a sticky blocker who showed very well in the Senior Bowl. He did well against the edge rushers. He surprised me with the way he played against some of the elite rushers. Everybody knows he's a really good tackle, but he could be a Pro Bowl guard.
There's a substantial drop-off at tackle by the second round, so I think the Ravens would be better off going offensive line early and then look for a wide receiver in the second round. There are more talented receivers in the second round and third round category than offensive linemen.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The New York Jets signed Eric Decker this offseason, but they still need some speed on the outside to stretch the field.
They don’t come much faster than Odell Beckham Jr., so look for the Jets to pick him with their top selection. He should open up the middle of the field for Decker as well.
19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The fallout from the Jonathan Martin situation means the Miami Dolphins still need some help along the offensive line.
Yes, they signed Branden Albert to play left tackle, but Taylor Lewan is a talented enough player to fill a number of spots across the offensive front. He is strong enough to create gaps in the running game and quick enough laterally to stay in front of pass-rushers on throwing downs.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Arizona Cardinals have to deal with Kaepernick and Wilson twice each per season, just like the Rams, and they will take a pass-rusher with that in mind at pick No. 20.
Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports believes that player will be Kony Ealy of Missouri: "Ealy has the talent to play on the edge and the size to move inside when the Cardinals want to slide the front around. For now he's in a rotation with Dockett and a year from now he's the man."
21. Green Bay Packers: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Seemingly every season, the Green Bay Packers are one of the best offensive teams in the league yet struggle on defense.
They will draft accordingly with the No. 21 selection.
Shazier is one of the fastest linebackers in the draft, rarely misses a tackle and can get to the passer if asked to blitz. He is also solid against the run and can defend tight ends in the passing game.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
A potential replacement for DeSean Jackson will be available in the latter rounds. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports believes that the Philadelphia Eagles will look to Bradley Roby of Ohio State with their first pick:
Chip Kelly, who watched Roby in person at Ohio State's pro day last week, wants to get faster and tougher on defense and the former Buckeyes' cornerback will help accomplish that with his natural speed and aggressive mentality.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Kansas City Chiefs were one of the best rushing teams in the entire NFL last year, but they could use another receiver who can stretch the field with speed. Brandin Cooks fits that bill perfectly.
Cooks is a sure-handed receiver who will blow past a number of cornerbacks right away at the next level. He will also open up more space for Jamaal Charles and Co. if safeties have to shift his way.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Cincinnati Bengals have age and injury issues at the cornerback position, so taking one in the first round makes some sense.
Fuller may not have the size (6'0", 190 lbs) and athleticism as some of the other corners in this class, but he is a ball-hawk who makes plays when challenged. That is all the Bengals can ask for.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Much like Fuller, Jason Verrett doesn’t necessarily have ideal size (5'9", 189 lbs) for a first-round cornerback, but he is a physical presence nonetheless and makes plays on the ball with regularity.
The Chargers need help and depth at the cornerback spot, and with Roby, Gilbert, Dennard and Fuller off the board, they will take a flyer on the TCU-product. They won’t be disappointed.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
You would be hard-pressed to find a safer defensive pick in this draft than C.J. Mosley from Alabama.
He is a solid open-field tackler and doesn’t have an issue keeping up with tight ends on passing routes. Throw in the fact that he can get after the quarterback if called upon, and it’s not difficult to envision Mosley contributing for the Browns defense right away.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
Few teams in the NFL like to blitz as much as the New Orleans Saints, and Dee Ford is nearly as good as it gets from a pass-rushing perspective in this class.
Ford is versatile and athletic enough to line up on the defensive line as a pass-rusher, or he can move outside as a hybrid outside linebacker. He would fit in perfectly with the 3-4 sets that the Saints prefer to run.
28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Carolina Panthers lost a ton of talent this offseason, especially at the wide receiver position.
They could go a number of directions with this pick, but Marqise Lee will be the team's selection. He will give Cam Newton a playmaker to throw the ball to across the middle or on the outside, and he could even start right away given the lack of depth at the position.
29. New England Patriots: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
The Patriots have become accustomed to Vince Wilfork stuffing the middle of the defensive line for years, but he won’t be playing forever. As a result, the team will look for his replacement with their first pick in the draft.
Nix is incredibly difficult to block without a double-team thanks to his size and athleticism, and he can even get to the quarterback on occasion.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The San Francisco 49ers recently signed Brandon Lloyd, but Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller cautions anyone who thinks that will change their draft plans:
Lloyd doesn’t bring game-changing speed to the table, and he didn’t even play last year. The 49ers will take Benjamin in hopes that he will become a pass-catching option who can stretch the field with his speed and out-muscle defenders for jump balls in the red zone.
31. Denver Broncos: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Denver Broncos don’t have a lot of needs, so they will take Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama as a player with a high ceiling.
Kouandjio projects as an offensive tackle at the next level thanks to his physicality and ability to burst off the line in short spurts. His power will open up lanes for the rushing attack, and his strength will help keep Peyton Manning upright next season.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Seattle Seahawks could use a tight end to stretch the middle of the field for Wilson, especially now that Golden Tate is no longer around at wide receiver.
Jace Amaro is a good enough athlete to split out as a receiver or go across the middle as a tight end. What’s more, it will be even harder for defenses to lock in on Marshawn Lynch if Wilson has Amaro splitting the middle on passing downs.
All height/weight information courtesy of NFL.com.
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