2014 NFL Mock Draft: Best-Case Scenarios for First Round's Brightest Stars

R. Cory Smith@@RCorySmithSenior Writer IApril 18, 2014

Nov 30, 2013; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) celebrates a tackle for loss against the Clemson Tigers in the second quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Less than a month stands between the biggest night in every top college prospects' lives. And it doesn't hurt every NFL team, either.

Decisions are coming down to the wire and teams are meeting with an overabundance of elite athletes to break down everything from workouts to interviews.

Whether a team was a playoff contender or had their hopes crushed midway through the season, the NFL draft is a time of optimism for coaches, scouts and the college athletes looking to make their mark at the next level.

Before the draft officially starts on May 8, here's a look at how the entire draft will play out.


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

Just imagine a scenario where Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt are both coming off the edge and bearing down on the quarterback. If that image seems frightening as a fan, just picture being behind center.

As for Adam Schein of NFL.com, he provides his thought's on the top prospect:

I live for a great sports debate. I love sports drama. I yearn for intelligent sports discussion. But when it comes to what the Houston Texans should do with the No. 1 overall pick, there's no discussion.

Jadeveon Clowney is the best player in the 2014 NFL Draft. That's it. Story over.

With a chance to improve a roster that is already a potential playoff contender, the Houston Texans would be wise to take Clowney No. 1 overall and look to build on offense in later rounds. Getting a chance to take a player like Clowney isn't one the Texans want to regret in a few years.


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

Throughout the entire college season, Greg Robinson appeared to be just behind Jake Matthews at the top of the impressive 2014 offensive lineman class. But over the course of the BCS National Championship Game and offseason workouts, he has proved his athleticism and strength that put him above the rest of the prospects.

With a need to keep Sam Bradford upright and protect other assets like Zac Stacy, the St. Louis Rams will put stock in taking a great lineman over any playmaker behind him. That is if they decide to keep the pick and not trade down, which seems much more likely.


3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

This year's quarterback class is anything but predictable. And with Blake Bortles, there are a number of questions about his potential at the next level.

Earning comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger along with having familiarity with the state of Florida will help Bortles as he gets selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars. What he does when he gets handed the reins will be another story entirely for the 6'4" quarterback.


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

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

Immensely talented and has 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

Maybe this is too far back for Khalil Mack at this point with all the hype around him, but being selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is certainly the best-case scenario for the young linebacker. Mack has all the potential in the world, but after being at a small college for the last several years he will need to be on an experienced team to grow.

Having security blankets like Alterraun Verner, Michael Johnson and Gerald McCoy will help, but being paired up with a young linebacker like Lavonte David should make for a dangerous combination in the NFC South.


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

Just imagine this for a second: Johnny Manziel drops back, fakes the handoff to Adrian Peterson and rolls out to his left for a huge gain. Or maybe you want to see him snap off a short pass to Greg Jennings or Cordarrelle Patterson for chunk yardage.

Either way, putting Johnny Football in a Minnesota Vikings uniform just makes sense for both sides. With the window closing on Peterson's productiveness, it's time to get a quarterback who can flourish with an experienced running back by his side.


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

The Buffalo Bills certainly haven't given up on the thought of Steve Johnson continuing to be a productive wide receiver or the chance of Mike Williams or T.J. Graham breaking out this season. But adding another huge asset in the receiving corps would make life much easier for E.J. Manuel.

Adding another athletic receiver coming off the line, Manuel will be able to flourish and potentially make the Bills a contender in the AFC East. Though that might take a few more moves, drafting Ebron would put the team on the right path.


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 the 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

Though he might not still be available at the No. 12 pick if one of the top teams decides to draft for talent rather than need, if Mike Evans falls into the lap of the New York Giants, he would fit perfectly into their system.

After the loss of Hakeem Nicks during the offseason, Evans would make a great second target for Eli Manning. His physical play and great speed for his size makes him a home run threat every time he touches the ball.


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

An aging Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu along with the signing of Mike Mitchell means the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be set for at least a few more seasons in the secondary. But with a talented player like Justin Gilbert still sitting on the board, the logical decision is to draft for the future.

Cris Collinsworth of NBC's Sunday Night Football shares his thoughts on the cornerback:

Dennard might be considered ahead of Gilbert in this draft, but his size and speed makes him a perfect fit for the AFC North and the Steelers organization as a whole.


16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

In a class where defensive tackles are plentiful, Timmy Jernigan is just a notch below Aaron Donald as the best in the draft.

Thanks to his athleticism and explosiveness off the line, the Dallas Cowboys will have a player that can help in both the run and pass defense. And on a defense that was porous on both fronts last season, Jernigan would make the best fit if Donald doesn't slide down the board.


17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

There are plenty of question marks about Taylor Lewan coming into the draft, but his ability alone makes him a potential top-10 pick. Unfortunately, red flags usually mean a drop in stock, which works out well for the Baltimore Ravens at the No. 17 spot in the first round.


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

As impressive as the Arizona Cardinals defense was during the 2013 season, they still need to make improvements to keep up with the beasts in the division. With a player like Kony Ealy still on the board, his athleticism and power is a match made in heaven for Bruce Arians' defensive line.


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

Over the last few years, the Cincinnati Bengals have emerged as a great defense. Even with the loss of Mike Zimmer to the Minnesota Vikings, the defense corps remains impressive for the Bengals.

But with an aging Terence Newman and Adam Jones, the time is now to start looking at replenishing the secondary. Teams at the end of the draft also have the same need, so snatching up Kyle Fuller before he falls to another team would be the best decision for Cincinnati.


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

Another pick, 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 A.J. 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

Rob Ryan loves fast linebackers. C.J. Mosley ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and proved his sideline-to-sideline speed at Alabama.

To say this is a perfect fit is somewhat of an understatement. The New Orleans Saints had one of the best defenses in the NFC last year and will go with the most talented player left on the board to keep up with the Carolina Panthers and the offseason moves of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


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

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.

If Jace Amaro is 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

It's been a rough offseason for the San Francisco 49ers, but with a team still intact at the moment and a need at wide receiver, the Niners will select Marqise Lee.

The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner will make an immediate impact for San Francisco and have at least a full season to learn under Anquan Boldin. With Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis lining up across from him, Lee will be able to learn from three of the best in the game.


31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA

After a huge year where they came up just short, the Denver Broncos have just a few holes to fill to get back to the Super Bowl and complete the journey for Peyton Manning. Having a late-round selection in hand, they'll look to help protect their biggest asset by plugging Xavier Su'a-Filo into the offensive line.


32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Bringing back Sidney Rice was a good start for the Seattle Seahawks, but improving in the passing game is still a necessity for the team to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

While Kelvin Benjamin may be seen as a project with upside, that's exactly the type of player that Pete Carroll flourishes with in his system. Inserting Benjamin into the lineup would not only improve the team offensively, but also gives Russell Wilson a huge target to look for across the middle or down the field.


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