NFL Mock Draft 2014: Best Moves for First-Round Contenders

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NFL Mock Draft 2014: Best Moves for First-Round Contenders
Rick Scuteri

Just days remain until the 2014 NFL draft officially kicks off, and the draft boards still appear to be wide open.   

Questions about Jadeveon Clowney, Blake Bortles and other still persist. Some athletes like Khalil Mack and Eric Ebron continue to race up in several mock drafts. One thing about this year's draft that is guaranteed is that nothing is guaranteed.

As crazy as it sounds, there are still four to five players that could be taken No. 1 overall and even more possibilities for teams at the top of the draft trading down than ever before.

Before the draft gets underway, here's a look at the entire first round with a breakdown of each college star.

 

1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Oh, Clowney. After being hyped at the beginning of the season, the South Carolina star struggled early and had to answer questions about effort and stamina throughout the season.

All he did during the offseason workouts leading up to the draft was shine at both the combine and during his pro day. Apparently that wasn't enough for one scout that called him both spoiled and lazy, but his agent, James "Bus" Cook, quickly refuted the reports, per Jarrett Bell of USA Today:

We don't give any consideration to that. None of that has bothered us. It doesn't bother Jadeveon. That's not something that's been asked of me by any of the teams that I've talked to. Just go watch the tape.

... At the Senior Bowl, two NFL scouts who have been around for a long time came to me and said, 'Bus, this business about this kid not going all-out is not the case.' One of them said, 'Please, tell me what games are they referring to?'

Several players have dealt with questions about their play leading up to the draft, most notably Cam Newton before going No. 1 overall. But if the Houston Texans want to immediately improve from last season, they will go after the most athletic player in the draft to pair up with J.J. Watt.

 

2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Now seen as the No. 1 overall offensive lineman in the class, Greg Robinson is an athletic tackle with tremendous potential at the next level. If the St. Louis Rams keep their pick or can't find a trade partner to move down, Robinson should be the pick for a team in need of improving its offense.

 

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 BortlesI 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 Chad 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

Before the season started, Teddy Bridgewater was a lock as the top overall quarterback in the class and was head and shoulders above the rest. That has changed, but not dramatically.

With a plethora of young offensive weapons already set for the Cleveland Browns, first-year coach Mike Pettine will be tied in with the talented quarterback. No pressure, Pettine and Bridgewater. The Browns give plenty of room for error.

 

5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

 

While I have the Browns passing on Sammy Watkins in this mock after feeling pressure to snag a quarterback, the Oakland Raiders won't allow the best receiver in this year's class to slide outside of the first five picks.

Watkins has a combination of size, speed and elusiveness that can change a team's offense completely. If he doesn't get snatched by the Rams, Jags or Browns earlier, Watkins will be a franchise-changing pick for Oakland.

 

6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Immensely talented and having the pedigree to play at the NFL level during the first snap. If there was a definition of Jake Matthews, that would be No. 1 on the list.

Unfortunately, the flash of Robinson and the upside possibility is just too enticing for NFL scouts and coaches to miss out on. What that means for Matthews is that he'll have to settle for playing with the Atlanta Falcons, a playoff-level team that just experienced a down year.

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports that the two sides have already met:

After adding Matthews to the roster, a player who will immediately make an impact on the offensive line, the Falcons will once again be able to compete with the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints offensively.

 

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 and new head coach Lovie Smith, the Bucs will be on their way. He offers both speed and size (6'3", 251 lbs.) with the ability to cover the entire fieldeverything that Tampa Bay needs against three great offensive teams in the NFC South.

 

8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

The Minnesota Vikings already have an offense ready to contend in the NFC North, except for one crucial piece. Johnny Manziel, the most polarizing figure in the draft, fills a need and also just so happens to be one of the best players in the class.

Johnny Football might very well be taken earlier at the top of the draft, but the dual-threat signal-caller makes a perfect fit for the Vikings. He'll also make Adrian Peterson a very happy man if he can find some semblance of of a passing game.

 

9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina 

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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

As great as he was for Michigan State, Darqueze Dennard has been questioned throughout the entire offseason. What he brings to the NFL is an ability to be a lockdown cornerback midway through his first season and help the Detroit Lions right away.

There might be other needs for the Lions, but with the additions they made in free agency, Detroit needs to go after a player that can bolster its defensive roster.

 

11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

If Khalil Mack wasn't in the 2014 class, every scout and analyst would be raving about how explosive Anthony Barr is and why he's the best linebacker in the draft.

Barr will come into the league with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. That fits in perfectly with the Tennessee Titans, who have dealt with being overlooked for years now behind the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans.

 

12. New York Giants: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Watkins might bring the speed and explosiveness to break away from any secondary, Mike Evans has similar agility but the power to go through players. After letting Hakeem Nicks walk in the offseason, the New York Giants will look to help Eli Manning right away with a talented wideout like Evans.

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report puts Evans just behind Watkins in the class of receivers:

Though they lost size in Nicks, Evans brings that and more after being a star in the SEC. The Giants also get a player who might work out slightly better than Nicks has over the last few seasons before leaving for greener pastures.

 

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

Brett Deering/Getty Images

Controversy is common when it comes to talking about the top talent in the NFL. Even players not in the league are put up on a pedestal before taking their first snap.

One of the biggest topics in this year's draft is who the best cornerback is between Dennard and Justin Gilbert. While Dennard is the No. 1 defensive back for some analysts, others like NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah believe that title should go to Gilbert, according to Bryan Fischer of NFL.com (via NFL Network's Path to the Draft):

It's still Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State. This is a good group of corners, but to me, he's head and shoulders over everybody else. He has that prototypical size, length and ability to go up and play the football down the field. That's what he does better than anybody else in this draft class.

Thanks to his ability on the field and hard-nosed play, Gilbert will fit in perfectly with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the AFC North as a whole. And with receivers like Josh Gordon, A.J. Green and now Steve Smith in the division, the Steelers will need a great secondary to keep up.

 

16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy JerniganDT, 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

The New York Jets got off to a great start with the addition of Eric Decker. But after a horrid offensive season in which Geno Smith had nearly no help, the Jets will immediately look to help grow on that side of the ball.

Odell Beckham Jr. brings the maturity of playing at a high level in the SEC, but doesn't have the same wear and tear of coming out of the conference as a senior. Following a huge season where he went off for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns, Beckham will become Smith's favorite target in the coming seasons.

 

19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame

After coming up just short of making the playoffs, the Miami Dolphins need one simple fix to put them over the top. Many teams might need to add a playmaker or shutdown defensive player, but the Dolphins simply need an offensive lineman to help keep Ryan Tannehill upright.

Miami allowed a league-high 58 sacks—eight more than second-place Jacksonville—and couldn't stop the bleeding after the incident midway through the season. With Zack Martin serving as the stopgap, look for the Dolphins to once again make noise in the AFC East.

 

20. Arizona Cardinals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

The NFC West is a nasty, gritty and tough division. Kony Ealy will help bring that mentality to an already outstanding defense for the Arizona Cardinals and make a huge impact right away.

In a division where quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick reign supreme, bringing in a player like Ealy could be a terrifying addition for both young signal-callers.

 

21. Green Bay Packers: Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois

During this offseason, the Green Bay Packers have locked up players like Julius Peppers along with a plethora of mainstays from last season. But with a void still to fill at the safety position, adding an elite player on that side of the ball like Jimmie Ward will help keep the Packers at the top of the division.

After putting together a great career with Northern Illinois, Ward will join a franchise with history of being a great team. Thanks to his talent and physicality in the backfield, he can help keep the tradition going for Green Bay.

 

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

Much like the debate over the best corner in the 2014 class, the debate over the best free safety has come down to Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. What the selection at No. 22 means for the Philadelphia Eagles is they get a player right away that is looking to prove he's the best at his position.

Motivation can be a huge asset for a rookie, and Pryor will show why he shouldn't have dropped below the Alabama product in the draft. Bringing a hard-hitting style and speed to cover the entire field, watch for Pryor to make a huge impact next to emerging strong safety Earl Wolff.

 

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

At 5'10", 176 pounds, the TCU cornerback has both the speed and tackling ability to shine at the NFL level. But in a class where both Gilbert and Dennard have shined and Fuller has emerged as a top prospect, Jason Verrett will have to settle for playing with a playoff contender.

On a team where the offense is good enough to carry them through the playoffs, the San Diego Chargers need a player like Verrett to bolster the defense. Though he might not be able to come in right away and be a man corner against quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Alex Smith, Verrett will develop into a great player in San Diego's system.

 

26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

Oh hey, another cornerback coming off the board. If any position is as deep as the offensive line class this season, it's clearly the defensive backs.

The Cleveland Browns will take Bradley Roby after getting the quarterback of the future to continue a trend of great defense in the AFC North. Against receivers like Smith—Torrey or Steve, honestly—along with Green and Antonio Brown, Roby's services will be in high demand right away for the Browns.

 

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

There are a number of different directions the Carolina Panthers could go here, but replacing the cog on the offensive line appears to be the biggest need. After the loss of Jordan Gross, grabbing a player like Cyrus Kouandjio will fill a huge hole and help protect Cam Newton.

 

29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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.

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 loss of Golden Tate.

 

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