It's a cliche to say, but there is no more critical day for the future success of an NFL franchise than draft day. You can't find talent with this kind of upside at bargain prices anywhere else, so all 32 general managers need to hit big on their selections.
Even if every pick isn't a winner, nailing the first round makes contending for a playoff spot and/or winning a Super Bowl a very real possibility. Depth can be found in later rounds, but stars are usually coming in the first 32 picks.
With just over two weeks before the 2014 NFL draft, here is our latest mock looking at all of the important moves that have to be made.
*Italicized names are the best of the first round's most important picks.
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
There might be a need to address the quarterback position, but the Houston Texans just need to focus on getting the best football player they can after a 2-14 season where nothing went right.
Jadeveon Clowney made headlines last week when he announced, via Peter King's MMQB on SI.com, that he was done with all private workouts for teams more than two weeks before the draft.
Make of that news what you will, but one could interpret it as the South Carolina standout having some information from Houston that he will be the No. 1 pick. At least that's what should be happening.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington, 3-13): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
With two first-round picks, St. Louis can play whatever game it wants in this year's draft. First order of business has to be protecting Sam Bradford's blind side with the best tackle on the board.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Even though there isn't a superstar quarterback in this class, Blake Bortles offers the best package of tools and upside. He doesn't have elite arm strength but makes up for it with touch and accuracy.
Jacksonville has to come out of this draft with a starting quarterback to boost a defense that could be one of the better units in football thanks to some shrewd free-agent additions.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
In order for Johnny Manziel to succeed in the NFL, he has to enter a situation with playmakers on the outside and a quality offensive line that can keep him upright to do his thing. Josh Gordon is the receiver, while Joe Thomas and Alex Mack form a nice nucleus up front.
There are other players who fit the Browns better, but it's time for the franchise to get their next starting quarterback.
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Raiders are in desperate need of a culture change to compete in a loaded AFC West or at least become respectable for the first time since 2002. They've taken small steps to get there with the additions of Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley.
But the first piece of the long-term puzzle will be the addition of stud outside linebacker Khalil Mack. All the Raiders' defensive moves this offseason suggest a bigger shift to the 3-4 defense, making outside linebacker/edge-rusher a high priority.
Back to things that matter: Khalil Mack is pretty fantastic. Not sure if there's any one pass rush trait he doesn't have.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 17, 2014
If that's not enough to convince you Mack is the man for the Raiders, I don't know what is.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Things line up perfectly for the Falcons, who will have their pick of two elite offensive line prospects with the No. 6 pick. Jake Matthews gets the edge over Michigan's Taylor Lewan because he's better in pass protection, a requirement for the offense Atlanta wants to run.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
If the Buccaneers are going to get anything out of Josh McCown this year, they need to take a page from the Chicago Bears' playbook: big, fast, physical wide receivers who can go up and get the ball.
Vincent Jackson is already the No. 1 wideout in Tampa Bay, but it won't be long before Sammy Watkins passes him on that particular depth chart and becomes one of the best in the NFL.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The bloom is off Teddy Bridgewater's rose following a poor pro day that left a lot more questions than answers about the young quarterback's future, though he should still be a first-round pick because of his track record in games.
We put way too much stock into what happens in shorts and a T-shirt instead of what a player does between the lines. Bridgewater completed over 70 percent of his passes for nearly 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns with all eyes on him last season at Louisville.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
In addition to providing extra protection for second-year quarterback EJ Manuel, Lewan gives the Buffalo Bills flexibility on the offensive line. They can plug him on the left side and put Cordy Glenn at right tackle, if they feel that's where he's best suited, or keep Glenn where he was last year and ask Lewan to handle an easier position as a rookie.
10. Detroit Lions (7-9): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
There's no doubt that Watkins is the best wide receiver in this year's draft long term, but putting Mike Evans on the same field as Calvin Johnson, who commands a lot of attention, is going to make him the best rookie receiver.
Matthew Stafford, for all his flaws, still throws for over 4,000 yards and 25-30 touchdowns every year. Giving him Evans, Johnson and Golden Tate could make the Lions play like a video game.
New Lions head coach Jim Caldwell was mum on the subject of Evans after watching the Texas A&M receiver's pro day last month, but anything at this stage of the process is just noise designed to keep expectations low.
If Detroit can get its hands on Evans with the 10th pick, it's a steal.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah had a great tweet on April 2 about the consensus on Anthony Barr leading into the draft.
Tough to find evaluators with middle of the road opinions on Anthony Barr. Love or hate.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 3, 2014
With such a deep divide, Barr could easily end up falling down the first round when it looked like he was a sure-fire top-15 pick two months ago.
However, given the need for impact edge-rushing and Barr's performance at UCLA while still learning to play on the defensive side of the ball, why wouldn't a team in need of help on the outside pop him?
The Titans need to give Barr development time in order to reap the rewards of his efforts, so don't expect big things right away.
12. New York Giants (7-9): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It's time for the New York Giants to address their gaping hole at tight end and give Eli Manning the safety net over the middle that you need in today's NFL. Eric Ebron is the only first-round tight end in this draft and is a nightmare in coverage because of strength and underrated speed.
13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Even though the NFC West isn't flush with pass-happy teams, the St. Louis Rams still need to find a shutdown cornerback who can keep opponents from exploiting their secondary over the top.
Justin Gilbert is the best defensive back in this year's class, showing a deep understanding of coverages and schemes, as well as tremendous instincts. He can make that stout Rams defensive line even better because quarterbacks can't get rid of the ball as quickly with him in coverage.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Bears have had a productive offseason by adding Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston to bolster one of the weakest defensive fronts in the NFL last year. The one big area left is the defensive tackle position.
Aaron Donald is a playmaking machine, despite lacking ideal height and size for the position, and will instantly improve the league's worst run defense in 2013.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Steelers used to intimidate teams by being fast and physical in the secondary. Troy Polamalu is still around but is a shell of his former self. The rest of the defensive backs are average, at best.
Darqueze Dennard fits Pittsburgh's scheme and attitude perfectly, with a physical, in-your-face style of play that will immediately endear him to his new teammates and city.
16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
A lot of changes on the defensive line this offseason leave the Dallas Cowboys with a clear direction in the draft's first round, though they could go after a pass-rushing end or tackle.
Given Timmy Jernigan's ability to step in right away, as well as play the run and pass, Jerry Jones shouldn't think twice about going after the Florida State star with the 16th overall pick.
17. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Even though inside linebackers aren't a high priority in the draft anymore, the Baltimore Ravens know the value of the position better than most teams. Ray Lewis has been gone, and there isn't a long-term solution in place right now.
Mosley is a great value pick, being able to defend the run and drop into coverage better than an average player at the position, and he fills a need the Ravens will have to address sooner or later.
18. New York Jets (8-8): Marqise Lee, WR, USC
If you believe the New York Jets are close to being a playoff team, wide receiver is the place for them to go in the first round. It's a close race between Marqise Lee and Odell Beckham Jr. at this spot, but the USC receiver gets the edge.
While Beckham has better speed off the line, Lee separates as well as any receiver in this class and can make plays in traffic. He's also an efficient route-runner who can step into the slot right away as the safety net for either Geno Smith or Michael Vick.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Ryan Tannehill still has to improve his decision-making skills, but he's shown enough in two years to make the Miami Dolphins believe that he can be a starting quarterback for the next decade.
Of course, that assumes the team gets a line around him that stops coming apart at the seams and provides him protection to stay healthy. Zack Martin is a run-blocking specialist with the technique and power to beat up defensive linemen.
20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
If you add the playmaking skills of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to a secondary that already includes Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, opposing teams are going to be lucky if they can complete a pass down the field.
21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
One thing the Green Bay Packers have lost in recent years is a toughness on the defensive line. Clay Matthews can still run around and make plays, but who else are opposing teams planning for?
Louis Nix can learn the ropes from B.J. Raji this season, getting integrated into certain packages that highlight his ability against the run, before taking over as the everyday nose tackle in 2015.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Chip Kelly's offense is going to be a nightmare for opposing defenses, but the Eagles aren't going to contend for a Super Bowl until their defense can get a crucial stop. It's going to take time to rebuild an aging unit, but the secondary will get help right away with Calvin Pryor added to the mix.
Pryor is best when he can create at the line but is more than capable of dropping back into deep coverage and reading the opposing quarterback to make plays in the passing game.
Whatever he's doing, Pryor makes the Eagles more formidable in the secondary and allows that offense to run over the rest of the NFL.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Andy Reid's offense relies on short, quick passes, which is the strength of quarterback Alex Smith, so it's important to have big targets on the outside who can make plays in traffic. Wide receivers don't come much bigger, or with better hands, than 6'5", 240-pound Kelvin Benjamin.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Even though the Bengals had the No. 5 pass defense and tied for fifth with 20 interceptions last season, the secondary is an area that Marvin Lewis has to address sooner than later. Terence Newman and Adam Jones are over 30. Leon Hall will be there in December.
Dre Kirkpatrick is an effective cornerback but hasn't developed into the lockdown defender most expected when he came out of Alabama.
Bradley Roby is a perfect fit for what the Bengals need and has great value at this spot, even in a draft loaded at cornerback.
I feel like Bradley Roby has somehow become one of the most underrated prospects in this class.— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) April 20, 2014
Lewis knows that the defense has to carry this team, because Andy Dalton is such a combustible element at quarterback, so keeping the secondary in order is a high priority.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Cyrus Kouandjio is a huge risk, especially as a first-round pick, after teams were failing him left and right during physicals at the combine. Yet it's hard to teach 6'6", 322 pounds, and he did play 27 games in his last two years at Alabama.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis, 11-5): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
It's becoming increasingly clear that Odell Beckham Jr. won't make it out of the first round, possibly not even the top 16, but the Browns would love to add him on the outside with Gordon and, based on our projection, new quarterback Manziel.
Beckham's ability to create big plays with elite speed plays right into the things that Manziel does best. Adding Manziel and Beckham at least makes the Browns infinitely more watchable on offense than they have been in years.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Rob Ryan's defense relies on heavy blitz packages and speed off the edges to be effective. The Saints were up against the cap this offseason and still have to deal with Jimmy Graham's long-term future, so it's imperative that they find new, young talent to bring in.
Dee Ford doesn't offer much in the way of support against the run, despite excellent burst off the end, but his speed and acceleration off the line are absolutely fantastic. His small stature and 4.5 40-yard dash remind me a lot of Dwight Freeney when he came out in 2002.
28. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Panthers will benefit from the depth at wide receiver because Brandin Cooks wouldn't last until the 28th pick in most drafts. They address their most pressing need, supplementing an area that was decimated in the offseason due to roster cuts, and add an explosive young talent who can help Cam Newton continue the strong development we saw in 2013.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
One thing Bill Belichick knows how to do is supplement his roster with young talent, while still maintaining a roster good enough to win a championship. With each passing year, the Patriots get older and are forced to dip in the free-agent pool.
Vince Wilfork has been a stalwart on the defensive line for years but missed 12 games last season due to injury and is 32 years old. How many more productive years are left in that big body?
Ra'Shede Hageman is still raw and needs coaching, which plays into Belichick's hands, but a 6'5", 310-pound behemoth who can clog the middle, stuff the run and get after the quarterback is a luxury item in today's NFL.
30. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Until the 49ers know what will happen with Chris Culliver following a March arrest on hit-and-run charges, cornerback seems like the best route for this team in the first round. Even if Culliver didn't have pending legal issues, this is still an area of need for Jim Harbaugh's roster.
Jason Verrett doesn't have ideal size (5'9", 189 lbs) but is the best pure cover corner and can read quarterbacks as well as anyone. He also has an attitude and aura of confidence on the field you need to play defensive back in the NFL.
31. Denver Broncos (13-3): Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
The Broncos lost their swagger on defense last year when Von Miller got hurt. Ryan Shazier isn't nearly as explosive off the edge as Miller but makes up for it with great instincts and sideline-to-sideline ability that no linebacker in this class can touch.
32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Golden Tate, who was Russell Wilson's favorite target, is in Detroit. Sidney Rice returned on a one-year contract, but good luck keeping him healthy long enough to make an impact. Doug Baldwin becomes the No. 1 guy, but Seattle needs a No. 2/slot player who can be Wilson's safety net.
Davante Adams doesn't have elite speed but makes up for it with the best hands in this class and underrated release skills off the line.
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