The next time we see college football superstars like Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles playing an official game, it will be on an NFL field. The only question now is which teams will land Manziel and company.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a mock draft of the entire first round.
1. Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
As much as commentators and analysts believe that there is, there really is no such thing as a safe pick early in the NFL draft.
However, Jadeveon Clowney may be the safest prospect in the 2014 class thanks to his ridiculously high ceiling and ability to single-handedly change games from the defensive side of the ball. He and J.J. Watt together would be nearly unblockable for years to come.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
The St. Louis Rams need depth along the offensive front if Sam Bradford is ever going to turn into a franchise quarterback, and Greg Robinson gives them just that.
He is a dominant athlete who powers through defensive linemen to create gaps for the running backs and time for the signal-callers. He will also serve as a safety net in case injury concerns from Rodger Saffold or Jake Long rear their ugly head again.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Which quarterback would you rather have?
The Jacksonville Jaguars are more than one player away from contention, so they can go a number of different directions here, but they will finally find a quarterback of the future with the No. 3 pick.
Johnny Manziel is going to be a lightning rod wherever he ends up, but the Jaguars need a playmaker on offense, especially now that Maurice Jones-Drew is no longer on the roster. Manziel has proved throughout his college career that he can carry a team with his arm or legs, and he will get a chance to do just that in Jacksonville.
4. Cleveland Browns: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
The Cleveland Browns need a quarterback, but they will look for one later in the draft and take a chance on the most dynamic wide receiver in the draft.
Sammy Watkins can blow past almost any cornerback, even at the next level, and if paired up with Josh Gordon, he will be nearly impossible to stop. Throw in Jordan Cameron, and the Browns will score some points next year, regardless of which quarterback they settle on.
5. Oakland Raiders: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Matt Schaub may be the quarterback of the immediate future, but the Oakland Raiders aren’t going to build the franchise around his inconsistent right arm.
Blake Bortles has the strong arm and athleticism necessary to make plays in the NFL for years to come. Oakland may want Watkins, but he is no longer on the board. Instead, it will get one of the best signal-callers in the entire 2014 draft class.
6. Atlanta Falcons: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
The Atlanta Falcons need a pass-rusher, and versatile and athletic Khalil Mack is as good as that spot comes in the 2014 draft.
This pick is rather simple, assuming Mack is still on the board at No. 6.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will try to copy the Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery combination in Chicago and draft Mike Evans from Texas A&M as a complement to Vincent Jackson.
Both Evans and Jackson are tall and physical receivers who go up and get the ball at its highest point. New quarterback Josh McCown will feel like he never left the Windy City.
8. Minnesota Vikings: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
The Minnesota Vikings need a quarterback, but the three main attractions are off the board.
Instead, they will look for the best player available, and in their mind, that will be Jake Matthews of Texas A&M. He will protect the blindside of whoever lines up under center for the Vikings and may very well be the closest thing there is to a safe offensive pick in the draft.
9. Buffalo Bills: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
The Buffalo Bills beat teams on the ground last season, but they need an intimidating presence in the receiving game.
Eric Ebron is just that.
He can line up at tight end and blow past linebackers with his speed or line up wide or in the slot and overpower cornerbacks and safeties. What’s more, he will open up the field for the stable of running backs in Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The Detroit Lions could go wide receiver here (and absolutely will if Watkins is available), but the allure of the Big 12’s leading interceptor and impressive kick returner will be too much to pass up.
Justin Gilbert is an absolute ball hawk with speed and physicality to match. He is the best cornerback in a draft class that is loaded with corners.
11. Tennessee Titans: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Everything works out just perfectly for the Tennessee Titans here, as Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated points out:
"This all dropped into place rather well for the Titans, who are searching for an impact edge rusher for their new hybrid defense. They find one of the best available here in Barr, whose upside is far too high to justify any rumored stock drops that may be occurring in mid-April."
Barr has been overshadowed in this draft because of Mack and Clowney, but he is an elite defensive prospect who will challenge for a starting spot right away in Tennessee.
12. New York Giants: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
The New York Giants have a number of needs, but none are more pressing than building depth across the offensive line in front of an aging Eli Manning.
Manning threw so many interceptions last season partially because of the pressure he was under nearly every time he dropped back. Zack Martin is versatile enough to play either tackle or guard, which is critical for a team that has a number of openings along the two-deep up front.
13. St. Louis Rams: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
The St. Louis Rams already added to their offense earlier in this draft, and now they grab arguably the best safety in this class.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a versatile safety who can make plays against the run, lock down tight ends and zone in on quarterbacks at times. He will compete for a starting job in St. Louis right away.
14. Chicago Bears: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
The Chicago Bears needed better safeties and defensive linemen last year, and they took care of the defensive front through free agency.
That means they will gladly take Calvin Pryor with the No. 14 pick. He is an explosive athlete who will help both the pass and run defenses because of his ability to make plays all over the field.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
The Pittsburgh Steelers need help in a number of areas, including the secondary and offensive line.
Taylor Lewan won’t be able to defend any passes, but he will keep the offense humming by creating gaps for the running game with his upper-body strength and keeping the quarterback on his feet with his lateral agility.
16. Dallas Cowboys: DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
We have projected a safety to the Dallas Cowboys and their tissue-paper-thin secondary in past mocks, but both Clinton-Dix and Pryor are gone here.
That means the Cowboys will improve the front of the defensive line with Ra'Shede Hageman from Minnesota. He and Henry Melton will make life particularly difficult against opposing running backs, and they may just get to some quarterbacks as well.
Hageman is a physical beast who can swallow up multiple linemen and the rushing attack.
17. Baltimore Ravens: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
If the Cowboys take Jernigan, then the Baltimore Ravens will take the next defensive lineman on the big board, Aaron Donald.
The Pittsburgh product is more athletic than Jernigan and can stuff the rushing attack with ease. He is also versatile enough to play all three downs, which will be critical for a revamped Baltimore defense.
18. New York Jets: WR Marqise Lee, USC
The New York Jets need a vertical threat, and they will choose Marqise Lee out of a deep group of pass-catchers.
Lee has the hands and physicality to be a weapon across the middle of the field and in the red zone, but his underrated speed will open up the rest of the offense from the rushing attack and newly signed receiver Eric Decker.
19. Miami Dolphins: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
The Miami Dolphins lost 40 percent of their starting offensive line in a very public manner last season, so they need some depth in that department.
With Martin and Lewan both gone, they will look to Alabama and Cyrus Kouandjio. He is a physical beast who has the ability to fit in the middle or the outside as a tackle. That type of versatility will be critical in Miami, where there are a number of holes to fill.
20. Arizona Cardinals: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
There is only one thing holding Darqueze Dennard back from being an even earlier pick in the NFL draft, and Cris Collinsworth of NBC lets fans know what it is:
Darqueze Dennard lived in man coverage at Michigan St. Great player.. If he ran in the 4.3's he would be my first choice. 4.45 only issue.— Cris Collinsworth (@CollinsworthNBC) April 17, 2014
Regardless of a lack of elite speed, Dennard has proved himself during some of the biggest moments of the college football stage. He is not afraid to create some (legal) contact with receivers and is a ball hawk when quarterbacks look his way.
The Arizona Cardinals have to deal with multiple elite signal-callers in the NFC West, so they will grab him up at No. 20.
21. Green Bay Packers: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
There is very little that Ryan Shazier can’t do from the linebacker spot.
He has incredible speed, can make tackles in the open field and is capable of defending tight ends on passing routes. Throw in the fact that he can rush the passer off the edge or up the middle, and there is a lot to like from the Ohio State product for the Green Bay Packers.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Kyle Fuller may not have drawn as many headlines as Bradley Roby and Gilbert did during his college days, but he brings formidable athleticism and ball-hawking abilities to the table that will turn the heads of NFL teams.
He fits in nicely for a Philadelphia Eagles team that ranked 30th in the league against the pass last season. The addition of Malcolm Jenkins helps along those lines, but they could use a corner to pair with the new safety.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Few teams in the NFL were better at consistently running the ball than the Kansas City Chiefs, but they need a dynamic playmaker at wide receiver next season.
Odell Beckham Jr. is just that, thanks to his speed and tendency to make big plays when his team needs it the most. Alex Smith needs more weapons that can stretch the field, and Beckham’s presence will change the run-happy Chiefs offense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
The Cincinnati Bengals need more healthy cornerbacks, and they will turn within the Ohio borders with their first pick.
Roby brings game-changing speed to the table, which will be critical in an AFC North that includes the likes of Gordon in Cleveland among other receivers. Roby had an up-and-down year at Ohio State by his own high standards, but he has such a high ceiling that the Bengals will not pass him up.
25. San Diego Chargers: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
Burke of Sports Illustrated breaks down why Jason Verrett is the answer for the San Diego Chargers:
The Chargers were an utter mess at the cornerback spot for most of last season, leaving them little recourse but to search high and low in the draft for help. In Verrett, they would be taking a player who can line up outside and who might dominate in the slot. The TCU product projects to be available around here only because he stands 5-9. The skill level is borderline top-10.
Considering the fact that the Chargers have to face Peyton Manning and company twice a year, they need someone to shut down those third wide receivers in the slot. Verrett can be that guy.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
The Cleveland Browns already grabbed the best wide receiver in the draft in this hypothetical version, and now they will take arguably the biggest risk of the entire first round.
Derek Carr may not make the headlines that Manziel and Bridgewater have leading up to the draft, but Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman lets us know that many think the Browns will take Carr with the No. 26 pick:
They love him. They really love him. The feeling with many in football is that Cleveland will take Carr with its 26th pick. Other quarterbacks are rising quickly, but he might be rising the fastest. He has charmed almost every team he's met with and his arm and accuracy are underrated. And no one seems to be scared of the fact he's related to epic draft bust David Carr, a notion that was definitely in play just a few months ago.
Carr may be something of a long-term project for the Browns, but the reward will make this chance worth it.
27. New Orleans Saints: DE Dee Ford, Auburn
The New Orleans Saints love to blitz, and so does Dee Ford. This is a match made in draft-day heaven.
He is versatile and athletic enough to line up across the line or as an outside linebacker, which makes him the perfect fit for the 3-4 sets here. This one just makes too much sense.
28. Carolina Panthers: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
What is the deepest position in this draft?
Don’t believe Brandin Cooks can be an impact player at the next level?
Perhaps he can change your mind with comments that come via Burke of Sports Illustrated:
"For me, I’m a playmaker. I’m able to create plays from nothing. Be able to catch a three-yard ball, I’ll take it the distance. … Speed kills and I feel like that’s what I’m going to bring to the game.”
There are few players in the draft with the type of speed that Cooks possesses, and the Carolina Panthers need playmakers in spades after losing so much firepower this offseason.
29. New England Patriots: TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Tom Brady loves throwing to tight ends across the seam, and he will get another one to find next season in Jace Amaro from Texas Tech.
Amaro brings receiver-like speed to the table, but he will be nearly impossible for safeties to handle from a physical perspective. That combination will fit in perfectly next to Rob Gronkowski in New England.
30. San Francisco 49ers: WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Don’t let the San Francisco 49ers' move to bring in Brandon Lloyd fool you, as Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller points out:
#49ers signing Brandon Lloyd should change nothing about their draft plans. Speed WR3/4 still a need.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 15, 2014
Jordan Matthews is one of the most underrated players in this draft. He set all-time SEC receiving records at Vanderbilt, can go across the middle and catch it through traffic and even beat corners over the top with his speed. Sounds a lot like what Jim Harbaugh is looking for from another receiver.
31. Denver Broncos: G Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA
Burke of Sports Illustrated believes that Xavier Su’a-Filo is the answer for the Denver Broncos with the No. 31 pick:
Su’a-Filo has worked his way into the top-20 conversation, so it would be serendipitous for Denver to stand at 31 and still land him. That’s exactly what happens here, as the teams above all turn their attention to other areas of the field. Su’a-Filo would join Louis Vasquez as the starting guards on a clear Super Bowl favorite.
Keeping Manning healthy and upright should be a priority in Denver, and Su'a-Filo will help do just that.
32. Seattle Seahawks: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
There aren’t too many things the Seattle Seahawks need, but Russell Wilson could use another wide receiver to stretch the field.
Kelvin Benjamin brings many of the same tools that Lee does from USC. He can snag the ball at its highest point in the red zone on lobs, make plays through traffic and use his speed to beat one-on-one coverage.
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