With the NFL draft on the approach, smokescreens dilute what is for all intents and purposes a thrilling time of year—especially for those who love mock drafts.
Getting lost is easy. "Late risers" fly up boards in the national media, only to never come to fruition on draft day. It's May—teams aren't suddenly discovering that can't-miss prospect because he worked out in shorts at a pro day.
In all likelihood, teams aren't digging up some stunning new piece of info that makes a prospect undraftable, either.
Let's stay grounded in reality and illustrate what each team should do on draft day based on needs and value.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Remember when Teddy Bridgewater was the consensus No. 1 pick? Remember how he fulfilled the hype with an amazing year?
Now he's too skinny to succeed in the NFL. OK.
Anyway, even if some teams believe that hot sewage, they're looking at the wrong things. He is far and away the best passer in the class and the most pro-ready quarterback since Andrew Luck. Houston better not take a pass.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The St. Louis Rams are all over Sammy Watkins for good reason, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins visiting Jaguars today; scheduled to visit Rams on Monday, then have private workout with Rams on Fri April 18th.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 9, 2014
See, that's the type of thing that can't be manufactured. The Rams need a No. 1 receiver and have two picks in the round. They should pair Sammy Watkins with Tavon Austin and Jared Cook so that Sam Bradford can hopefully take that proverbial next step.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney embodies this time of year.
Think about it. He was a can't-miss prospect. Then he was considered lazy. He had a pro day. Back to being a can't-miss prospect. Now he's lazy again but maybe the No. 1 overall pick.
He remains the rarest prospect to enter the league in quite some time, and Jacksonville cannot afford to pass him up. It desperately needs a dominant pass-rusher and face of the franchise. Quarterback can wait until the second round or next year. Or both.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Like the Rams and Watkins, Cleveland is all over Johnny Manziel, per NFL Network's Gil Brandt:
For clarification, Johnny Manziel will work out for #Browns this weekend in College Station, then visit team's facilities next week.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) April 15, 2014
There's an inherent risk with Manziel thanks to his questionable decisions on the field, but the Browns can't allow his skill set to slip past, especially with two picks in the first round.
Better yet, Cleveland is the perfect place for a rookie signal-caller thanks to weapons like Josh Gordon.
5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Any pick is a good pick for Oakland at this point.
The Raiders tout the NFL's worst roster, but chief among the concerns has to be the situation in the trenches—where all great teams typically start the rebuild.
They have to grab Greg Robinson to better protect a future quarterback. He's raw but can be elite with proper coaching.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
There's a lot to like about Khalil Mack and his scheme versatility, which comes equipped with a strong set of pass-rushing skills.
Atlanta will fall in love rather easily. The team needs a hybrid rusher after not getting much out of the role last season. It was a miserable year any way you slice it, but the reward is an elite prospect who can change the effectiveness of each player on the defense thanks to his ability to get to the quarterback.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
For all the good the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did as the big spenders in free agency, they forget to properly address the No. 2 wideout spot.
That was likely by design, as Mike Evans will still be around when they waltz to the podium at No. 7. He is huge (6'5", 231 lbs) and makes the life of Josh McCown or Mike Glennon rather simpler as he beats coverages across from Vincent Jackson.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Blake Bortles seems to be the darling whom most expect to go No. 1 if the pick is a quarterback, and it's easy to see why with his immense ceiling. As Rotoworld's Josh Norris points out, he's also been working out with some strong company:
Not sure if this is out there, but Blake Bortles and Ben Roethlisberger have worked together some during the pre-draft process.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) April 7, 2014
The problem is teams like Houston want to win now and not wait on a quarterback to develop. Minnesota shouldn't have that issue, especially with names like Adrian Peterson on the roster and someone like Matt Cassel, who can take a beating while Bortles sits and learns for a year.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Buffalo is in a tough spot as need and value don't necessarily align, but the front office has to stick to its guns and ensure the future success of EJ Manuel.
To that end, Buffalo should reach a bit and grab Eric Ebron.
He has blinding speed for the position and can be both a deep threat and reliable target in short-yardage scenarios.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The need-value discrepancy fits Detroit as well.
The Lions should feel safe in grabbing the draft's top corner. Darqueze Dennard is instant-starter material, although Detroit has enough youth that he can be a rotational piece if necessary.
He in no way solves all of the defense's problems right away, but he's a major cornerstone to what can be a great unit sooner rather than later.
11. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
It's tough to get a read on how the NFL feels about Aaron Donald, but it's hard to ignore a player who touts a similar skill set to that of Geno Atkins.
As a force in the defensive trenches, Donald would make the transition to a new scheme that much easier for the Titans.
This is not necessarily a franchise-changing move, but it creates a ripple effect on the rest of the unit as it continues to be under construction.
12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
New York may have been aiming for Donald, but Jake Matthews is an incredible consolation prize.
He is a surefire starter anywhere on the line and perhaps the safest pick overall in the class thanks to his skill set and pedigree.
Objective No. 1 in New York has to be the health of Eli Manning, so even if Donald had fallen, Matthews has to be the guy.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is quite the popular name this offseason, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport notes:
That's for good reason, but one of the teams not listed should have the most interest.
St. Louis has one major need on what is already an elite defense. Clinton-Dix fills it in a big way and gives a great unit a boost. What's not to like?
14. Chicago Bears: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Henry Melton is gone, so Chicago seems to have one of the more predictable picks of the first round, unless the folks in charge elect to go with a corner.
They shouldn't. Generating interior pressure from the line will help the secondary no matter who is back there. The inverse isn't true.
Hageman is a bit of a risk, but his rare skill set is second only to perhaps Clowney in this class. Next to names like Jared Allen, he'll wreak havoc.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Receiver or corner?
It's the ultimate question in Pittsburgh at the moment, with both being obvious needs.
The verdict? Justin Gilbert, as he's arguably the top corner in the class, and a very deep wideout class will stick around until the time the Steelers come back to the podium in the second round.
He is a nice building block while he learns from veterans like Ike Taylor before taking over.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
This—via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram—is a thing for good reason:
Donald and Ealy among Cowboys' visitors today. Big emphasis on D-linemen for obvious reasons.— Charean Williams (@NFLCharean) April 14, 2014
Donald is out of the picture and doesn't make a whole lot of sense anyway, given the presence of Melton.
But Kony Ealy? Perfect. He can provide a rush. He's stout against the run, meaning he's an every-down player. He can kick inside on passing downs and rush. He's exactly what Dallas needs right away.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The time is ripe for Baltimore to grab a starter opposite Eugene Monroe to give Joe Flacco better protection and somehow get Ray Rice to turn things around.
Taylor Lewan is perhaps the most physically imposing tackle in the class. He's not amazing from a fundamental standpoint, but technique and the like can be taught in time. Until then, let him run wild in the run game.
18. New York Jets: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The New York Jets lost Darrelle Revis and Antonino Cromartie in recent years and more importantly have no quality play in the secondary at the moment.
That changes with the addition of Kyle Fuller, a defensive back who can line up anywhere on the field and is violent against the run to boot.
He has what it takes to stay on the field at all times as a rookie. That's hard to find, not to mention just what the Jets need to somewhat regain their old elite defensive form.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Boring, sure. But Miami has to continue to take the woes in the offensive trenches seriously so that Ryan Tannehill can stay upright and productive.
Zack Martin is one of the draft's more impressive players thanks to his ability to play at any spot on the line. This is especially important in Miami, where the needs are plentiful.
That said, there are those who believe Martin won't be available at No. 19 overall:
Hey, remember the smokescreen info from the intro? Check. Dolphins get their guy.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Quarterback is so tempting here for Arizona, but coach Bruce Arians is no fool.
He knows he has a good thing with Carson Palmer as long as the USC product remains upright. Quarterbacks are taking a nosedive, so he can grab an heir apparent in the second round.
Until then, the Cardinals must grab Cyrus Kouandjio, who starts right away on the right side and provides a massive upgrade. Pun intended.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Green Bay needs some attitude on defense, and not just from Clay Matthews. It needs an enforcer in the middle who is rangy enough to violently stop the momentum of any and all rushers.
That sounds like a job for C.J. Mosley, an elite prospect who falls because of the nature of his position. He's a force, just not in a pass-rushing sense that the league values so dearly.
He takes over right away and will have a noticeable impact as the heart and soul of the unit.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Instead, the head coach can continue the job he started last year on the defensive side of things with Calvin Pryor, who is known for big hits and a rangy game that sees him fit well at either safety slot.
Next to Malcolm Jenkins, that's a huge upgrade for the Eagles.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Andy Reid has to do more in the draft at wideout to ensure the Alex Smith-led offense continues to thrive.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
It's easy to knock Jason Verrett for his size (5'9" and 189 pounds), but as ESPN's Todd McShay points out, it means little in the grand scheme of things:
Two of the smallest corners in draft --TCU's Verrett and FSU's Joyner -- also happen to be two of the most physical CBs in class.— Todd McShay (@McShay13) March 21, 2014
That sounds like someone who fits well with the Cincinnati Bengals. Given the age and injury history of names like Leon Hall, Verrett is a forward-looking solution to a problem in the Queen City.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Nose tackles are very important in a 3-4, as their effectiveness has a ripple effect on the rest of the unit that can make or break a down, game or season.
It's why the front office in San Diego should have no issues grabbing Louis Nix to clog holes and apply pressure at times.
He's the best nose tackle in the draft and an instant starter. The linebackers behind him will rejoice, while a playoff team from a year ago only gets better.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
There's not much to speak of across from Gordon in Cleveland, although Jordan Cameron at tight end doesn't hurt.
That said, the Browns must look to pair a top quarterback with a top wideout. Odell Beckham Jr. has what it takes to possibly emerge as the best receiver in the class when all is said and done.
This is especially the case in Cleveland with defenses focused on so many other factors.
27. New Orleans Saints: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
Anthony Barr is on the short list of names who could take a huge nosedive on draft day and sit in the green room much longer than anyone could have imagined.
A former running back, he is a savvy pass-rusher who has few moves and doesn't necessarily pop on film consistently.
The good news? He simply needs great coaching. He'll get that in New Orleans with Rob Ryan, as the Saints should sprint to the podium to save Barr from his fall.
28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Allen Robinson is not the most popular name at wideout this year, but he has a great overall skill set. His sure hands make him hard to ignore in the first round.
Carolina should look to grab him off the board, as that void at wideout isn't closing anytime soon.
Cam Newton needs weapons as soon as possible, so Robinson is a nice start to what will be a new-look wideout corps next season.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller hits the nail on the head:
One pick I seem to always make: Jace Amaro to the #Patriots. Match made in football heaven.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 21, 2014
Jace Amaro is essentially a possession receiver. Think Wes Welker. He can line up at any spot on the field and trash defenses while moving the chains.
Suffice it to say, that goes pretty well with Tom Brady.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
San Francisco has more needs than meet the eye, but perhaps most important of all at this juncture is finding a wideout to complement Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree.
The only right answer given the board is Brandin Cooks.
He is a speedy slot receiver who is capable of a big play from anywhere on the field. He'll author plenty of highlights with defenses focused elsewhere.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Thanks to elite speed and a physical game, Ryan Shazier is an ideal fit with any team regardless of scheme.
In Denver, where the Broncos seriously need help on the interior of the linebacking corps, he fits right in as a run enforcer who can also drop into coverage when asked.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Seattle Seahawks are in a position of luxury to close out the first round, and the recent re-signing of Sidney Rice does little to change the fact that they can grab a top wideout in a deep class.
What's not to like? Kelvin Benjamin is stud who had drop issues in college. There's a high-risk element there but also an undeniable amount of reward that makes him worth the gamble for the defending champs.