2014 NFL Draft: Identifying the Prototype Player Every Team Needs
Most of the NFL draft process is about finding prototypes. Take away the names and personalities and you have combine numbers and skills. Match those up with team needs and you have done most of the work those front-office types are wrapping up now.
Names, personalities and rap sheets are the final deciding factors. Let's leave those out of the discussion right here.
Instead, we focus this 32-team slideshow on the objective stuff, the skills of the players and the biggest need of the franchises, ignoring all of the noise, including the myriad mock drafts.
Everyone could use another pass-rusher, and a game-changer like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney could fit every single franchise. It might be only one team can pick him, and it is a team that has J.J. Watt, so they don't actually truly "need" him.
That might not matter, as ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper wrote Thursday in his latest Mock Draft 4.0 (subscription required):
I believe that while more than one "safe" pick exists in this draft, it's hard to play it safer in terms of upside than selecting a generational physical talent, a guy who has exceptional physical skills and the ability to bring immediate impact and create consistent matchup problems up front as teams deal with the reality of how to block both Clowney and J.J. Watt. The questions on Clowney still aren't enough to diminish the potential impact. He's the top prospect in a draft full of very good ones, and I think Houston will feel the same.
So, the projected No. 1 pick is a pass-rusher for a team that already has arguably the best one in football, despite arguably the biggest hole at franchise quarterback, a need they have had since their inception. The Houston Texans can still find and answer for that with the first pick in Round 2.
While this slideshow is laid out by the first-round draft order, do not look at this as a mock, matching names with teams. We are merely identifying each franchise's No. 1 hole and what prototype they are looking to fill it with, regardless of the round—again, focusing on the skills over the names. Enjoy this exercise.
1. Houston Texans: Franchise Quarterback
The Houston Texans' thought they had their franchise quarterback in Year 1 of the franchise in David Carr. Despite being the No. 1 overall pick in 2002, the Texans are still looking for a franchise quarterback.
They might not pick one at the top of this draft either. Heck, they might even consider David Carr's younger brother Derek Carr as the first pick...of Round 2.
The only certainty is the Texans are going to draft a quarterback somewhere next month. Their prototype is likely more of a smart, methodical game-manager than a big-armed game-changer.
Quarterback guru-turned Texans first-year head coach Bill O'Brien said on the NFL Network, according to the Orlando Sentinel's George Diaz:
I don't think there's any question that we'll draft a quarterback in the draft. Where we draft that quarterback, I don't think we know yet. We don't even know that yet. We're still in the process of studying all these prospects, in the process of putting a grade on them and place them where they would be in the draft. The big thing is it's such a long process. We're in the stage now where we go to the Pro Days and eventually we bring them into our facility for an interview, we call it an on-campus interview in Houston. As we get closer and closer, we'll obviously be able to make a decision.
When you have a quarterback guru like O'Brien at the helm, you have to figure there is any number of prototypical passers he could be happy working with. If they pass on Central Florida's Blake Bortles or Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel or in Round 1, they could hope Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater continues to slide to Round 2, go with Fresno State's Carr—a family Take II some 12 years later—or wait multiple rounds for a proven winner like Alabama's A.J. McCarron.
Here is the most telling statement on where O'Brien might be leaning toward Clowney at No. 1 overall, telling the Houston Chronicle's John McClain:
We're going to bring some of these guys to Houston to spend a day with them. There are other quarterbacks in the draft. Being a quarterback coach, it's important to note there are a lot of quarterbacks who are winners and have played well. My opinion is that I see strengths and weaknesses with every one of these guys. I don't see one, two or three guys who are light years ahead of the rest.
2. Washington Redskins: Shutdown Cornerback
The Washington Redskins don't have a first-round pick, having dealt it to the St. Louis Rams for Robert Griffin III years ago, but when they finally pick in Round 2, they are going to be looking to upgrade the secondary or the offensive line.
After adding DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts in free agency and still boasting one of the best running games in football, it is clear the Redskins' biggest need comes on the defensive side of the ball, specifically the backfield. With the elite safeties Alabama's Hasean Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor expected to be off the board when the Redskins pick, we say shutdown corner is what they are most looking for there.
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard figure to be long gone, but a guy like Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, TCU's Jason Verrett or Ohio State's Bradley Roby could tumble out of the first round.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Elite Pass-Rusher
There is no question the Jacksonville Jaguars have a lot of holes, especially on their weak offense and particularly at quarterback. The question is whether they can pass up on a Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack as a game-changer defensively.
Like the Texans, the Jags seem to be leaning toward going with the leftovers at quarterback with their early second-round pick. It would net them an elite pass-rusher they sorely need.
With physical freaks Clowney and Mack as options—and the Rams, who already have plenty of pass-rushers—let's say the Jags first priority on draft day winds up being the pass-rusher.
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley told The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran:
You can never have enough pass-rushers, and we'll continue with that approach. If there is somebody that can help us get to the quarterback, we have to take a strong look at them. You have to build the defensive line with that mindset.
4. Cleveland Browns: Franchise Quarterback
Just the fourth slot into this slideshow and we already have a third team in need of a franchise quarterback. If you are not sold on the St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford—we are not sure why you would be at this point—you can say the first four teams picking in the draft need a long-term answer at quarterback.
With the Cleveland Browns' roster right now, clearly their most-pressing need is the quarterback position. That does not mean the Browns will draft a quarterback at No. 4. Their new head coach, Mike Pettine, is a defensive guy, after all.
The NFL.com's Vic Carucci points to an NFL Network interview with Pettine, where he said:
I think football is the ultimate team game and too much is put on the quarterback. ... From the quarterback standpoint, if you don't feel you have the guy that you feel like is that guy, or one of the top two or three in the league, you have to model it differently. ... And that minimizes the impact of that position.
So, while the Browns' head coach is a polar opposite of the Houston Texans' Bill O'Brien, a defensive guy as opposed to a quarterback guy, the approach might be the same. Find a prototype game-managing young quarterback after Round 2.
When you have the roster makeup of the Texans and Browns—two franchise better equipped to win through defense right now—it makes sense.
5. Oakland Raiders: Offensive Playmaker
The Oakland Raiders, too, need a franchise quarterback. They need a face of a franchise. They also need someone that can add some lightning to their offense and electricity to their loyal but long-suffering fan base.
This might be a chicken versus the egg situation: What is needed first, a playmaking quarterback or a wide receiver playmaker? Clearly the Raiders need both. Unless the Raiders are playing everyone in the draft process right now, they are going to follow suit with the teams picking before them.
SI's Peter King noted the trend of the falling elite quarterbacks this week, writing Monday:
I've heard that at least four quarterback-needy teams—Houston (first pick), Jacksonville (third), Cleveland (fourth) and Oakland (fifth)—are strongly considering passing on quarterbacks with their first picks and waiting until their second or third selections. Simple reason: They're not in love with any of the quarterbacks, and there are too many other good players who are surer things than a quarterback you have sincere doubts about. For that reason, there could be more quarterbacks taken in round two than round one.
This would leave an offensive playmaker like Clemson's Sammy Watkins as the prototype. The egg clearly has to come first. A stud wide receiver might be the egg that makes their latter-round quarterback chicken hatch into a star.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Elite Pass-Rusher
Finally, we have come to a team atop Round 1 that has a franchise quarterback—ignoring the Washington Redskins, who don't pick until Round 2, of course. Matt Ryan is already a star.
Now, the Atlanta Falcons have to hate the fact so many of those early teams are sending out those signals—smokescreens?—they will wait on the quarterback position. That would suck up the type of players that most fill needs in Atlanta.
Whether it is an edge protector, an edge rusher—or a corner to play off the edge—the Falcons need anything but a quarterback. The pass rush needs to be bolstered in Atlanta, so the Falcons have to hope a game-changing defender like Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack slips out of the top five.
Failing that, which seems increasingly likely, the Falcons will either trade up or go to their second biggest need, an offensive tackle. One of Auburn's Greg Robinson or Texas A&M's Jake Matthews might be there to protect Ryan, the Falcons' No. 1 asset, for the next 10 years.
Still, pass-rusher has to be seen as the way they would like to go. Their offense can win. They need to bolster their bottom-five defense. Picking out of the top five, puts Atlanta in a holding pattern.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Road-Grading Offensive Lineman
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers trade of Mike Williams to the Bills might be seem to be a signal they are leaning toward picking an elite, young wide receiver. They will. Or, you can argue, the hiring of head coach Lovie Smith puts the Bucs in the basket of being all-in on defense. They are.
But, let's pick the Bucs' best player and build around him. That would be running back Doug Martin. Their focus should be to prop him up. They will do that by picking an offensive lineman, preferably a road-grader.
Most NFL draft gurus will tell you to look past the center or guard position with a premium, top-10 pick. That makes a tackle like Auburn's Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews a prototype pick for the Bucs in Round 1.
The Bucs are built to play tough defense and run the ball off tackle. You need a tackle, actually two, to do that. Free-agent signee Anthony Collins needs a bookend opposite him.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Franchise Quarterback
And, we are back to a team needing a franchise quarterback. The Minnesota Vikings are heading into the twilight of Adrian Peterson's dominance, so a downfield playmaking passer has to be at the top of the Vikings' list.
Consider them the first team jumping for joy with all the talk of the elite quarterbacks falling out of the top five.
Sure, the Vikings could follow suit and go linebacker with No. 8 overall, but quarterback is still a gaping hole. Buffalo's Khalil Mack is not going to make it here. UCLA's Anthony Barr just doesn't warrant going this high.
After all the draft-process hoopla, the Vikings might just be the first team to pick a quarterback this May.
9. Buffalo Bills: Offensive Tackle
Like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Buffalo Bills are a team that needs to prop up their best player, and that is running back C.J. Spiller. NFL analysts love Cordy Glenn, but running off tackle is a two-way proposition. The Bills need that second tackle.
After drafting their franchise quarterback, EJ Manuel, in the first round a year ago, a franchise tackle like Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or even Michigan's Taylor Lewan could be the prototype answer the Bills are looking for.
After the Bills traded for Mike Williams, and they still have Stevie Johnson on the outside, look for them to build their offense from the line out.
10. Detroit Lions: Shutdown Cornerback
A shutdown cornerback has to be the Lions' No. 1 need, particularly since the top free safeties are a bit lower in the pecking order in this draft pool. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert is the top defensive back on the board in CBS Sports' prospect rankings and myriad mock drafts have the Lions selecting that very player.
11. Tennessee Titans: Feature Running Back
The Tennessee Titans are yet another team uncertain about their quarterback, but their release of cap-casualty Chris Johnson left another big playmaking position open. The Titans might be the only team in the NFL that needs a feature running back right now.
No, they won't pick one in Round 1. Running back is a position you can find in the middle rounds nowadays. But the Titans might be the first team to pick a running back in the second round.
Every one of the top running backs might still be on the board when the Titans are on the clock in Round 2. A guy like West Virginia's Charles Sims will be available even later. That is the prototype Bleacher Report's Chris Simms says the Titans might be looking for in the video above.
12: New York Giants: Seam-Busting Tight End
The New York Giants are arguably the winners of free agency, if not in quality but quantity. They significantly improved their offensive line and defense with veteran signings.
One position they have ignored is tight end. It is also one position quarterback Eli Manning sorely needs.
The Giants are not going to go with unproven Adrien Robinson or has-been Kellen Davis atop their depth chart come training camp. North Carolina's Eric Ebron is the prototype tight end the Giants can go with at the 12th pick in the draft.
13. St. Louis Rams: Dynamic Safety
When you play in the NFC West against the running teams like the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and rugged San Francisco 49ers, you better be sure you can run and stop the run. The Rams steadily improved in both regards as the season wore on a year ago, but there is still work to do.
The good news is the Rams, thanks to the Washington Redskins, hold the No. 2 and No. 13 picks overall. They can fill those holes with an elite offensive tackle and an elite safety.
Since this slide is about the No. 13 slot, we are going to call safety the bigger of the two Rams needs. This is the slot they can choose between the likes of ball-hawking Hasean Clinton-Dix out of Alabama or the physical Calvin Pryor out of Louisville.
14. Chicago Bears: Dynamic Safety
The Chicago Bears have to fix their run defense. That is clear. They were dead last in that category a year ago, and it wasn't even close.
They can do that up front with a run-plugger, or with a safety with an ability to come up and tackle.
Since the Bears' chief competition in the NFC North division are the wide-open offenses of Aaron Rodgers' Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, let's call a dynamic Earl Thomas-like safety the Bears' bigger need over defensive tackle or linebacker. The right safety can stop those passing teams and support the run.
The Bears might choose between Alabama's Hasean Clinton-Dix or Louisville's Calvin Pryor—or merely take the one the St. Louis Rams don't select at No. 13.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Run-Stuffer
The Pittsburgh Steelers need a big wide receiver, they need a masher along their offensive line, but they are and always will be about defense. The Steelers have been subpar against the run in recent years.
That is not a good thing to say about a team in the grind-it-out AFC North. Let's call run-stuffer the prototype the Steelers most need then.
Notre Dames' hole-plugging nose tackle Louis Nix might be a reach at No. 15, but he is the biggest and best run-stuffer among the first-round graded defensive linemen. He might not be their guy, but he certainly is the type.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Playmaking Defensive Lineman
The Dallas Cowboys had the worst defense in the NFL last season, and then they lost DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and perhaps Anthony Spencer to free agency this offseason. Clearly, they need to replace those guys up front.
Henry Melton's signing from the Chicago Bears helps, but he is coming off reconstructive knee surgery and is only one potential answer for those three significant losses.
Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald or Florida State's Jimmy Jernigan are two athletic and quick defensive tackles who can help the Dallas Cowboys gain beef up front and contribute rushing the passer. Both might be on the board to pick from at No. 16 overall.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Interior Road-Grading Offensive Lineman
The Baltimore Ravens are a team that still wants to dominant on defense and run the football. The latter was far more of the problem a year ago. The Ravens were, embarrassingly, the third-worst rushing offense in football last season.
That sure won't fly in the bruising AFC North, particularly since the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns all figure to improve running the ball, not regress. The Ravens need a road-grading, interior offensive lineman to keep up.
The elite tackles are likely to be off the board by this point, but Notre Dame's Zack Martin is a tackle who projects to be pile-pushing guard in the NFL. He would be a perfect fit to help out Ray Rice and the Ravens' struggling running game.
18. New York Jets: Dynamic Offensive Weapon
The New York Jets added one offensive weapon in Chris Johnson this week, and they signed the biggest-ticket wide receiver in free agency, Eric Decker, but they still need a playmaker. That defense can win.
That 31st-ranked passing game still needs help.
A big-play, deep threat is the Jets' No. 1-needed prototype. Assuming Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans are long gone here in a deep draft for wide receivers, the Jets can pick their man among the speedster likes of Oregon State's Brandin Cooks or LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. here.
19. Miami Dolphins: Offensive Tackle
The Miami Dolphins' offensive line meltdown was disturbingly tragic a year ago. The rebuild started with the signing of left tackle Brandon Albert from the Kansas City Chiefs, but it will continue in the draft.
Even if sure-fire first-rounders Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Michigan's Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame's Zack Martin don't make it to the Dolphins at No. 19, Miami is going to be adding prototype offensive linemen in this draft. Bank on it.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Road-Grading Offensive Lineman
The Arizona Cardinals won 10 games in the stacked NFC West a year ago, but still missed the playoffs and had a bottom-10 rushing offense. They also lost their starting running back, Rashard Mendenhall, to retirement.
Regardless of whether you believe that is addition by subtraction, the Cardinals need more offensive line help than free-agent signee Jared Veldheer and 2013 first-rounder Johnathan Cooper, who missed all of last season to a broken leg, will provide.
They need help elsewhere on that line, particularly as it relates to the running game. Expect them to draft it, even if the right players don't fall to them in Round 1.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ball-Hawking Free Safety
A healthy Aaron Rodgers alone gives the Green Bay Packers plenty of offensive pluck. Improvement from second-year running back Eddie Lacy will help, too.
Clearly, the Packers' focus should be on the other side of the ball, particularly at the back end of their secondary. The problem is safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor might not make it to the No. 21 pick.
Regardless, the Packers will address the primary need of a prototypical free safety, even if they pick a front-eight, run-stuffer in the first round.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Defensive Playmaker
The Philadelphia Eagles' fast-paced offense makes for some wild shootouts. It also puts a premium on playmakers in their secondary, especially when you consider the Eagles were dead last against the pass a year ago.
Because we expect the elite safeties to be long gone, consider the Eagles in the market for an elite cover corner here. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert won't slip this far, but Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard might. If not, look for Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, TCU's Jason Verrett or Ohio State's Bradley Roby to be the next class of cover men to help the Eagles.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Interior Offensive Lineman
The Kansas City Chiefs outfitted three teams with starting offensive linemen in free agency, Brandon Albert to the Miami Dolphins, Jon Asamoah to the Atlanta Falcons and Geoff Schwartz to the New York Giants. They have to replace those guys all around, even if you might see a defensive center fielder as an equally big hole in K.C.
The Chiefs have arguably the most explosive running back in football in Jamaal Charles. Expect them to get him some interior linemen to help him out.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Elite Edge-Rusher
The Cincinnati Bengals had a curious offseason. Despite having loads of salary-cap space—over $23 million, according to OvertheCap.com—they allowed an edge protector in Anthony Collins and edge-rusher in Michael Johnson sign elsewhere.
They have to replace them via the draft over all else, with an elite pass-rusher being the biggest need if the Bengals want to compete on the level of the other AFC division winners, the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. Those teams have elite 4,000-plus yard quarterbacks.
The Bengals need a rusher to get after those guys. Auburn's Dee Ford or Auburn's Kony Ealy are the fallback pass-rush options behind Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack in this draft class.
25. San Diego Chargers: Shutdown Cornerback
Following the reasoning you have to compete with the leader(s) of your division, the San Diego Chargers have some big holes to fill in their secondary. They had the fourth-worst pass defense a year ago and sorely need some shutdown cornerbacks, if not three of them.
Such is life when you are chasing the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning, who are coming off the most prolific passing season in NFL history.
The Chargers have to hope one of Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, TCU's Jason Verrett or Ohio State's Bradley Roby are available to them. Otherwise, they will have to address their pressing needs with quantity over quality. That would be akin to holding hand shields during a full-on aerial assault.
26. Indianapolis Colts: Defensive Playmaker
You can side with the notion you continue to prop up your best player, soon to be regarded as the best player in the NFL, Andrew Luck, or you can take the side the Indianapolis Colts need defensive help to have a balanced Super Bowl-contender.
Owner Jim Irsay should be on the latter side of the ledger after adding Hakeem Nicks via free agency.
Be it a pass-rusher, run-stuffing linebacker or a defensive back, the Colts need more defensive playmakers. Expect them to add one with their first pick—which is a second-rounder after dealing for Trent Richardson last fall, if not trade up for one like Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard.
27. New Orleans Saints: Elite Edge-Rusher
The New Orleans Saints had to let go of some defensive veterans like Will Smith amid their salary-cap issues, so they should be expected to try to replace the pass-rush ability or bolster cover ability in their secondary.
Bleacher Report's Chris Simms says in the above video cornerback might be a better fit in Round 1 for the Saints, but a prototypical pass-rusher will have to be found at some point on draft day—which can be said for every team in the NFL.
28. Carolina Panthers: Go-to Wide Receiver
There might be no clearer prototype need in the NFL than the Carolina Panthers needing a go-to wide receiver. They lost four wideouts in free agency and currently have reserve-quality guys like Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery atop their depth chart, according to OurLads.com.
That has to be a joke. It is no way to treat franchise quarterback Cam Newton.
Expect the Panthers to draft one, two or even three potential impact wideouts this May. It doesn't matter whether they are big and physical or small and fast, like long-time Panther Steve Smith, who was released and signed with the Baltimore Ravens. The Panthers need them in all shapes and sizes.
29. New England Patriots: Run-Stuffer
The New England Patriots are looking at the end of the line of Tom Brady, so they need to finish up his Hall of Fame career they way they started it: By focusing on defense.
That starts with stopping the run, which means the Pats could be in line to give Vince Wilfork some help along the defensive line. A prototype run-stuffer like big Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix would be a perfect fit.
The Pats have to do something to help the third-worst run defense in football from a year ago.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Shutdown Cornerback
The San Francisco 49ers pride themselves on being a physical defense, but they are getting a little long in the tooth in that regard. Expect them to bolster their defense this draft, even if the passing game was the glaring weakness a year ago.
A full year of health from Michael Crabtree and strides by quarterback Colin Kaepernick can fix the passing woes. Picking a shutdown corner like Ohio State's Bradley Roby can help plug their biggest defensive hole.
31. Denver Broncos: Speedy Defensive Back
The Denver Broncos might have lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno from the most prolific offense in NFL history, but they still have Peyton Manning. They also expect second-year running back Montee Ball and free-agent No. 3 receiver Emmanuel Sanders to step forward as replacements.
The defense was given a cover corner in Aqib Talib, a pass-rusher in DeMarcus Ware and a run-stuffing safety in T.J. Ward via free agency, but they still need some pass-coverage speed in the secondary. There should be any number of nickel cornerbacks available to pick at the back end of the first round.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Physical Receiver
The Seattle Seahawks brought back Sidney Rice (knee) this week and can hope Percy Harvin finally stays healthy (good luck!), but they still need a physical receiver in their offense.
The Seahawks won the Super Bowl in a blowout, but they did it with just the 26th-ranked passing offense. A prototype, big-target receiver has been a need for years, and neither Harvin nor Rice figure to be complete answers to a long-standing question.
The Seahawks won't be fortunate enough to see Texas A&M's Mike Evans, 6'5", fall to them at No. 32 overall, but they could have their pick of Southern California's Marqise Lee, Penn State's Allen Robinson, Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief, Fresno State's Davante Adams, Clemson's Martavis Bryant or Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin in Round 1.
They could even wait for one that that big bunch to fall to them in Round 1. See, chalk the needs of the 31 other teams as just another variable to consider as an NFL decision-maker when you are slotting your draft board.
Regardless of your biggest hole, you can still find the prototype answer further down the list.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.