The 2014 NFL draft was pushed back on the calendar from previous years, which gives commentators everywhere a chance to nitpick these prospects to death. While it is easy to get lost in the flaws that some of these players do have, don’t forget that we are talking about the best that college football has to offer.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the impact players who may very well contend for playing time as rookies.
Here is a mock draft of the entire first round.
1. Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Bill O’Brien didn’t sound like a man jumping to draft a quarterback with the first pick in comments he made in an interview with NFL Network, via Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com:
I think the thing is, to me, there's not a lot of separation. And there are more quarterbacks than just three. Obviously the three guys that everybody talks about—Blake [Bortles], Teddy [Bridgewater] and Johnny [Manziel]—they're good players. They've had great college careers.
But there are other guys out there. You've got [AJ] McCarron. You've got [Zach] Mettenberger. You've got [Logan] Thomas. You've got [Tom] Savage. You've got [Jimmy] Garoppolo. I mean, I can go right down the list. To me, you've got 10 to 12 guys you've got to do a great job of evaluating and make the best pick possible wherever you pick these guys. So I just see a lot of good quarterbacks.
If the Houston Texans don’t take a quarterback, Jadeveon Clowney will be the pick. Best of luck to the rest of the AFC South trying to block him and J.J. Watt.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
The St. Louis Rams will look to the offensive line in front of quarterback Sam Bradford with this pick to get another body on a unit that has dealt with injuries in recent years.
Greg Robinson simply has a bit more upside than Jake Matthews, although you can’t go wrong with either one. The Rams will go for that future potential with the Auburn product, and Robinson will clear holes in the line for years to come.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
The Jacksonville Jaguars have made a handful of moves this offseason, but they are more than just one quarterback away from competing. Instead of going signal-caller, they will look to bolster their pass rush against a division that features Andrew Luck.
Khalil Mack from the University of Buffalo is the best pass-rusher in the draft, and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller thinks he is the entire package:
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
By taking a player with immediate difference-making ability like Mack, Jacksonville can target a quarterback in Round 2 or later.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Now we come to the team that has a litany of weapons on the offensive side of the ball but needs a quarterback to get it to them.
Blake Bortles will be the first signal-caller taken among the long list of candidates because of his strong arm, underrated athleticism and ability to simply get it into the hands of his playmakers as quickly as needed.
Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron will be pleased.
5. Oakland Raiders: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
The Oakland Raiders have committed a number of resources to offense since the season ended.
Maurice Jones-Drew and Matt Schaub joined the fold, and now they will have an elite wide receiver running alongside them. Sammy Watkins will stretch the field for Jones-Drew and open up Oakland's playbook because of his game-changing speed.
He has the chance to be the NFL's Rookie of the Year if he gets the opportunity.
6. Atlanta Falcons: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
With Mack off the board, the Atlanta Falcons will take arguably the safest and most pro-ready pick in the draft here with Jake Matthews of Texas A&M.
Matthews is a polished prospect who will help keep Matt Ryan on his feet for the foreseeable future. He has the bloodline, experience in the loaded SEC and the talent to be an impact player.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Don Banks of Sports Illustrated believes that Mike Evans will be the No. 7 pick here for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
With the Bucs giving up on Mike Williams thanks to his maturity issues, landing the ball-hawking Evans as a replacement playmaker in the passing game makes solid sense. If both Watkins and Mack are already gone -- and they will be -- Evans becomes a Day 1 starter and one of Josh McCown's new best friends.
Evans would be a terrific complement to wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Having those two playmakers on the outside would help start the Lovie Smith era in Tampa with a bang.
8. Minnesota Vikings: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The most famous prospect in the draft will fall to No. 8, and Minnesota Vikings fans will be thrilled.
We are talking about an NFC North division that features Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford, and in Johnny Manziel the Vikings will finally have an offensive cornerstone behind center to match.
Manziel’s talent has been well documented for years, but teams won’t be able to solely key on Minnesota’s powerful running game with this pick.
9. Buffalo Bills: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
The Buffalo Bills ran the ball as well as anyone in the NFL last season, and they will look to bolster the passing game with Eric Ebron.
Tight ends who combine speed, physicality and soft hands are unique weapons who create mismatches, and the Bills will get one of their own here. Ebron brings the physicality of a tight end and the athleticism of a wide receiver to the table and will make this offense much more dynamic.
This is the kind of move Buffalo needs to make to help EJ Manuel progress under center.
10. Detroit Lions: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The Detroit Lions won’t be able to take either Watkins or Evans in this hypothetical scenario, as both will be off the board.
So they will focus on stopping wide receivers instead.
Justin Gilbert led the Big 12 in interceptions last season and is an absolute ball hawk on the field. This division is loaded with elite wide receivers in Green Bay and Chicago (not to mention one Calvin Johnson whom Gilbert would have to face in practice), so it will be baptism by fire for the young prospect.
11. Tennessee Titans: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
The Tennessee Titans defense will look different next season, and they could use an edge-rusher to help complete the transformation.
Outside of Mack, it doesn’t get better than UCLA’s Anthony Barr in terms of pass-rushers in the 2014 draft. Barr can line up with his hand on the ground or as an outside linebacker, and he even has the athleticism to handle tight ends in the passing game.
12. New York Giants: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated believes that Taylor Lewan is the answer for the New York Giants at No. 12:
The Giants might have been tempted by Ebron or Donald, had either made it here. Heck, they might have one eye on Odell Beckham Jr. or Marqise Lee as they head to the podium with this pick. The fact of the matter remains that the Giants absolutely have to upgrade their O-line in front of an aging Eli Manning. Lewan is not far behind Matthews and Robinson — some might argue that he’s just as good.
Manning is currently healing an ankle injury and is coming off a season in which he threw a league-high 27 interceptions. Protecting him and giving him more time to throw is a logical move in Round 1.
13. St. Louis Rams: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
The St. Louis Rams bolstered their offense with the No. 2 pick in this draft, so they will turn to the defensive side with the No. 13 selection.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is an absolute playmaker at the back end of a defense, and Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson will have to deal with him at the safety spot for the foreseeable future. That could spell trouble for opposing offenses.
14. Chicago Bears: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Chicago Bears fans have become accustomed to hard-nosed and shutdown defenses in the hallowed halls of Soldier Field, but last year was a different story.
The Bears upgraded the defensive line in the offseason and will turn to safety in the draft. With Clinton-Dix already off the board, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor is the pick here.
He has elite speed, a nose for the football and solid coverage skills. He also lays the lumber down on ball-carriers or wide receivers who dare to cross the middle.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT/G Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Zack Martin’s versatility is what makes him so appealing as a first-round prospect, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will take him at No. 15.
He can fill in at guard or tackle, which is critical for a team that has a number of needs across the board.
16. Dallas Cowboys: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
The Dallas Cowboys need more defense, and Aaron Donald is as good as it gets from a defensive tackle perspective in this draft.
The Pittsburgh product will help stuff the middle alongside Henry Melton and get to the passer on occasion because of his underrated athleticism. After the team lost longtime star defensive end DeMarcus Ware in free agency, adding Donald will help fill his absence to some degree.
17. Baltimore Ravens: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
The Baltimore Ravens have taken a flyer on the best player remaining in the draft in the past, and that will be Timmy Jernigan in this situation.
Jernigan will bolster the run defense immediately and provide an infusion of youth to a somewhat older defensive line. He can also get to the quarterback occasionally, and he will at least get one of his formidable hands in the passing lanes on third downs.
18. New York Jets: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
The New York Jets have made some headline-grabbing moves on the offensive side this offseason, such as the additions of Eric Decker, Michael Vick and Chris Johnson. But Burke of Sports Illustrated believes they will look to Darqueze Dennard and defense with the No. 18 pick:
Rex Ryan’s defense thrives on aggressive, press coverage outside — precisely where Dennard excels. While passing on someone like Beckham would be tough here, the Jets boxed themselves into a corner (no pun intended) this offseason by taking a passive approach to their secondary. Dennard is a terrific fit, and he would be nice value at the No. 18 pick.
After the Jets missed out on landing a top free-agent corner, head coach Rex Ryan will get his man in the draft.
19. Miami Dolphins: G Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
The Miami Dolphins will not be pleased that many of the elite offensive linemen are already off the board in this hypothetical situation.
However, Xavier Su’a-Filo of UCLA can fill in at the guard position and create lanes for the playmakers right away. Yes, this is a bit early for a guard, but the Dolphins have such glaring needs across the line in terms of depth that they will take the chance.
20. Arizona Cardinals: DE Dee Ford, Auburn
Dealing with Kaepernick and Wilson four games a season is a lot to ask from a defense, but that is the reality the Arizona Cardinals face playing in the NFC West.
Dee Ford is an elite-level pass-rusher who uses his explosive first step to get to the quarterback regularly. He will knock the star signal-callers of the division down a few times this season and contain their scrambling abilities on the outside.
21. Green Bay Packers: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
The Green Bay Packers have big names on the defensive side, but they never seem to come up with consistent results, partly because they need a complementary edge-rusher to bookend Clay Matthews.
Ryan Shazier will find a way to break into the starting lineup as a rookie in Green Bay and make an impact right away.
He will use his speed to shoot through gaps on the offensive line and attack the quarterback or defend tight ends on passing routes. He also rarely misses tackles in the open field, and that will help against some of the game-changing running backs in the NFC North.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
It is very possible that the Philadelphia Eagles will look to a potential replacement for DeSean Jackson with their first pick, but there is so much talent at the wide receiver spot in this draft that they can afford to wait until later rounds.
Therefore, the Eagles will fill their need in the secondary and take Bradley Roby from Ohio State.
Roby is arguably the fastest cornerback in this entire draft, and his athleticism will prove critical in an NFC East division that features quarterbacks like Eli Manning and Tony Romo who are always trying to connect on deep balls.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star passes along Mel Kiper’s opinion on the Kansas City Chiefs’ first-round pick:
Mel Kiper says Odell Beckham remains a nice fit for the #Chiefs at No. 23. But he could also be a fit for the Jets at No. 18.— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) March 13, 2014
Fortunately for the Chiefs, the Jets passed on Odell Beckham Jr. in this mock. Beckham has game-changing speed and will open up the field for the tremendous rushing attack in Kansas City. Alex Smith will finally have another weapon to go to over the top and stretch defenses to open up routes underneath.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
The Cincinnati Bengals need help and youth at the cornerback position, and Burke of Sports Illustrated believes that Kyle Fuller will give it to them:
Even with Gilbert and Dennard off the board, there still are several potential Round 1 cornerbacks out there for the taking. Cincinnati starts a run on the remaining talent by landing Fuller, who, now that he’s healthy, has the appearance of a legitimate starter at the NFL level.
Adding Fuller would help Cincinnati continue to build a tough defense and stingy secondary.
25. San Diego Chargers: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
The cornerback barrage continues with Jason Verrett of TCU.
The San Diego Chargers secondary is loaded with question marks, so they will look to corner with their first pick. Verrett may not be the most physically imposing defender in the draft, but he is a ball hawk who uses his elite speed to make plays.
Look for him to slide in as a slot corner possibly in his first year.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
The Cleveland Browns got their quarterback with their first pick here, and now they will get yet another weapon for him to throw to.
Wide receiver certainly isn’t an area of glaring need for Cleveland, but Kelvin Benjamin’s talent will be too much to pass on. He brings impressive size to the table at 6'5" and 240 pounds, which helps when going across the middle or in the red zone, and he has underrated speed.
If nothing else, he will take some of the defensive attention away from Gordon on the other side.
27. New Orleans Saints: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
The New Orleans Saints love to rush the passer, and so does Kony Ealy.
This is a perfect match, and the Missouri product will excel in the 3-4 set that New Orleans runs. He is versatile enough to set up on the line or even as an outside linebacker, and he can stop the run when necessary as well.
28. Carolina Panthers: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
The Carolina Panthers lost plenty of talent this offseason, and Cam Newton will be relieved if they take a wide receiver with their first pick.
Brandin Cooks’ best trait is his speed, but his ability to catch the ball in the seams of a defense is underrated. He will start right away given the state of the depth chart, and the Panthers will look for offensive linemen in the later rounds.
29. New England Patriots: DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Banks of Sports Illustrated breaks down why the New England Patriots will look to Hageman with their first pick:
As it turns out, the reported demise of Vince Wilfork's tenure in New England was greatly exaggerated. But that doesn't change the fact the Patriots need to prepare a succession plan for the defensive front. Hageman might require some development, but he has a great blend of size, athleticism and playmaking skills. If Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix gets past No. 25 San Diego, he'd have to be on New England's radar screen as well.
The Pats are always savvy on draft day, and this selection would fit right in with that pattern.
30. San Francisco 49ers: WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
The San Francisco 49ers still need a reliable third wide receiver, even with the addition of veteran Brandon Lloyd, and Jordan Matthews was as productive as a pass-catcher could be at the college level.
The Vanderbilt-product broke SEC receiving records and can slide into the slot position or stretch the field on the outside. If the 49ers get a game-changing wide receiver at some point in the draft, they will be even more difficult to stop given their formidable rushing attack.
31. Denver Broncos: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
That’s right, Teddy Bridgewater is going to be this year’s Aaron Rodgers—an elite quarterback who gets picked apart in the long offseason leading up to the draft and ends up falling much further than he should have.
The Denver Broncos clearly don’t need a quarterback in the immediate future, but the ageless Peyton Manning isn’t going to be under center forever, and it's unclear if current backup Brock Osweiler has a future with the team.
With Bridgewater surprisingly still available at No. 31, the Broncos will gladly take a signal-caller of the future to train under Manning’s brilliance for the next couple of years.
32. Seattle Seahawks: TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
The Seattle Seahawks don’t really have a lot of needs, but they could use a tight end to open up the field for their strong rushing attack.
Jace Amaro is as close to a wide receiver as you can find from the tight end spot in this draft, and he will give Wilson yet another weapon to target in the passing game. Perhaps even better is the fact that Amaro will force opposing defenses to shift one extra body away from stopping Marshawn Lynch.
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