2014 NFL Mock Draft: Predicting the Ideal First-Round Pick for Every Team
As the countdown to the 2014 NFL draft approaches the two-week mark, all 32 teams are in the midst of their final preparations to decide which prospects they will target as potential selections this year.
For the 30 NFL teams who hold first-round picks this year, the most prominent step of the preparation process is not only determining who would be an ideal Round 1 selection, but it is also about projecting which players could still be on the board at each pick.
Not every team will be able to land one of the players it covets. Some teams might move up or down the board in order to select a player they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise or to get better value on a player they could be able to select at a later slot in Round 1, or even in Round 2.
Nonetheless, in a draft class that seems as full of uncertain scenarios as ever, it’s possible that just about every team can end up with a draft pick that combines value, potential impact and addressing a need.
All height/weight measurements and combine information courtesy of NFL.com.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Whether it be a quarterback, defensive playmaker or even a top offensive tackle, the Houston Texans have many valid options for the No. 1 pick. The odds-on favorite to be the top choice, however, is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney might not be the draft’s safest or most polished player, but he has the most playmaking potential of any prospect in this year’s class. A 6’6”, 266-pound defensive end with remarkable athleticism for his size, Clowney has the potential to wreak havoc on opponents with his explosiveness and power.
It could be said that Clowney’s not the best fit for the Texans, as Buffalo’s Khalil Mack might transition more naturally into Houston’s 3-4 defensive scheme. In his most recent "Monday Morning Quarterback" column, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King reported that Texans general manager Rick Smith, according to one of Smith’s friends, prefers Mack over Clowney.
Clowney also wouldn’t fill the Texans’ biggest need—they’d need to select a quarterback to do that with the first pick.
Despite those reasons for the Texans to potentially look in another direction, it would still be a bit surprising if Clowney isn’t the top choice when the dust settles. He has rare potential and would likely be considered the ideal selection for many teams in this year’s draft.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Trading down would seemingly be the ideal scenario for the St. Louis Rams, who acquired this year’s No. 2 overall pick along with two other first-round picks and a second-round pick when they traded the second selection in the 2012 draft to the Washington Redskins.
There might not be a suitor to trade up to the second slot this year, however, especially if Jadeveon Clowney is off the board. Should the Rams be forced to stay put, the best pick for them would be Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews.
In drafting Matthews, the Rams would add arguably the draft’s most complete prospect while solidifying their offensive line for years to come.
Matthews would be an immediate upgrade at right tackle, and his presence would allow Rodger Saffold and Joe Barksdale to work as St. Louis’ starting guards. Matthews could also provide insurance at left tackle, where Jake Long is recovering from torn knee ligaments that he suffered in December.
There is no safer first-round selection in this year’s draft than Matthews, who excelled with nearly flawless fundamentals during his four years as a starter at Texas A&M. He is ready to start immediately and could be a staple on either side of the Rams offensive line for years to come.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
Like the Houston Texans, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ greatest need is for a quarterback. But if they aren’t completely sold on the quarterbacks available in this class, the best defensive player available might be deemed too good to pass up.
Buffalo’s Khalil Mack might have the hottest stock of any prospect in this year’s draft, and it’s seeming increasingly less likely that he will make it out of the top three.
In the Jaguars defense, Mack’s explosiveness off the edge makes him an ideal fit for the “Leo” hybrid pass-rusher position. He has the size (6'3", 251 lbs) and strength to hold up on the edge along with the burst to quickly bring pressure off of it.
A versatile talent, Mack can also be utilized at outside linebacker. He is a very good tackler in space who covers ground quickly and is adept in coverage.
The other smart selection for the Jaguars at No. 3 overall would be Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, who is the draft’s most polished quarterback. He will also have had two pre-draft visits with the Jaguars by the time the draft rolls around, according to ESPN’s Tania Ganguli.
But while Bridgewater’s stock has seemingly dropped in recent months, Mack is a prospect on the rise who few doubt can be an instant-impact NFL defender.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
With no quarterbacks off the board within the top three picks, the Cleveland Browns could opt to go in another direction with the fourth pick given that they could trade up from or hope a top quarterback falls to the No. 26 overall selection, which the team also holds. That said, if Johnny Manziel is their top draft target, they shouldn’t wait and risk missing out on him.
According to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and coach Mike Pettine favor Manziel in this year’s draft. Considering Haslam’s hands-on approach and lack of patience in his first 18 months in control, he could make a strong push for the team to draft the Texas A&M quarterback, especially if Pettine is on board.
The most dynamic playmaker in this year’s quarterback class, Manziel fits what the Browns need. While he has flaws as a pocket passer, he has an uncanny ability to create plays and make things happen on the football field.
As the team’s current quarterback roster consists only of Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney, adding at least one more signal-caller into the fold is a must. It’s a move the Browns will likely make with one of their two first-round picks, and they’d likely at least have to trade up from their second spot to have any chance to land Manziel.
If Cleveland isn’t sold on Manziel—or even with drafting a quarterback with their first pick—it’s likely they’ll target a wide receiver at No. 4. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is reportedly a favorite of Browns position coaches and scouts, according to Miller. Mike Evans, Manziel’s go-to target at Texas A&M, also shouldn’t be ruled out, especially if the Browns think they could trade up later to land Manziel in order to keep that combination together.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Oakland Raiders’ pursuit of DeSean Jackson before his signing with the Washington Redskins, as reported by NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, suggests the team is looking to add a playmaker at the wide receiver position. They could land that playmaker with the No. 5 overall pick by drafting Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.
Oakland’s current stable of receivers is better than it’s made out to be, but the unit lacks a star or anyone who should truly be considered a No. 1 wideout. In general, the Raiders offense is low on speed and playmaking ability.
That’s what the Raiders could get from Watkins, who combines impressive downfield running ability with open-field agility and excellent route-running skills. He is a triple-threat playmaker who shows the ability to turn any play into a big play, regardless of whether he is a pass-catcher, returner or gadget-play runner.
One of the top talents available in this scenario, Watkins would be tough for the Raiders to pass up.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Given their need to add an explosive edge defender, the Atlanta Falcons are considered prime candidates to trade up for either Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack, either of whom would be an ideal selection for the Falcons. The potential to land a top-tier offensive tackle at the No. 6 overall pick, however, could be enough to dissuade them from dealing.
Auburn’s Greg Robinson would be an exceptional fit for the Falcons, and he would represent good value outside the top five. Robinson, a behemoth offensive tackle (6'5", 332 lbs) with a rare combination of athleticism and power, could be an immediate upgrade at right tackle while potentially being groomed to play left tackle.
Robinson would seemingly be exactly what Mike Tice, the Falcons’ new offensive line coach, covets in a lineman. His remarkable physical traits should be enough to intrigue any NFL team, but his ability to overpower defenders at the line of scrimmage could be particularly intriguing to Tice.
According to B/R’s Matt Miller, the Falcons would “love” to get Robinson and coaches are “encouraging general manager Thomas Dimitroff to not trade up in the first round.” It’s unlikely they’d pass up the chance to pick him.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Outside of Vincent Jackson, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a stark lack of talent at the wide receiver position. If they have the chance to draft Texas A&M’s Mike Evans with the No. 7 overall pick, they shouldn’t pass it up.
Evans might not be viewed as the ideal complement for Jackson; Sammy Watkins probably would be. Rather, Evans has actually been compared to Jackson by CBS Sports’ Rob Rang and others, but there’s nothing wrong with having two big, physical vertical threats starting opposite one another at wide receiver.
Tampa Bay’s new head coach Lovie Smith and starting quarterback Josh McCown each have experience working with a similar receiving duo during their respective time with the Chicago Bears; Jackson and Evans could quickly become Tampa Bay’s own version of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, one of the league’s best wideout tandems.
At 6’5” and 231 pounds with 35.125” arms and great leaping ability, Evans is known best for his catch radius and ability to make plays over defensive backs. That said, he is an impressive all-around athlete for his size.
Recent reports from WalterFootball.com’s Charlie Campbell and NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport have linked the Buccaneers to targeting a quarterback with their first-round pick. But with McCown and Mike Glennon already in the fold, Tampa Bay shouldn’t pass up Evans, one of the draft’s top playmakers.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
If Teddy Bridgewater falls to the No. 8 overall pick, that truly should be considered an ideal scenario for the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings have a talented-enough team to be playoff contenders, but they need an immediate quarterback upgrade over Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. That’s what they could get from Bridgewater, the most NFL-ready signal-caller in this year’s draft class.
While the pre-draft buzz has suggested that Bridgewater could be in for a significant wait in this year’s draft, the Vikings shouldn’t pass up the chance to select him.
Bridgewater’s physical tools aren’t outstanding, but they’re good enough for him to be an excellent NFL passer. He is a mechanically sound quarterback who throws with accuracy, makes smart decisions, has veteran-level footwork and can play with composure, both under pressure and on the run.
There’s no player in this year’s draft, including the seven already selected, who could help the Vikings more and be a better fit for what they need than Bridgewater.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Any of the non-quarterback players already selected could be considered an ideal selection for the Buffalo Bills with the No. 9 overall pick, but with all of them off the board, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron would be a solid consolation prize.
The Bills should be in the market for a big receiving target who can use his size and athleticism to create mismatches as a vertical threat. They should also be looking for a second tight end to pair with Scott Chandler, making their offense more dynamic in two-tight end passing sets.
Ebron could fit both of those bills for Buffalo. A 6’4”, 250-pound playmaker who can be moved all over the field, is a leaping vertical threat and has the athleticism to extend plays in the open field, Ebron is essentially a very big wide receiver.
He’s not much of a blocker, but Ebron is an exceptional mismatch creator who can line up both inside and outside. He could be a major asset to the Bills offense and add another go-to target to catch passes from developing young quarterback EJ Manuel.
10. Detroit Lions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix isn’t an ideal top-10 pick in regards to value, but there might not be another player in this year’s draft who could make a more immediate difference for the Detroit Lions than the Alabama safety.
The Lions have a need for talent in their secondary, especially at safety, where they should be looking for a rangy playmaker to start alongside Glover Quin. In Clinton-Dix, Detroit would land a player with the versatility to play any role at the position and line up at both free and strong safety.
Clinton-Dix is a skilled cover safety who can handle deep and single-high coverage responsibilities, and he's also a strong in-the-box tackler.
The demand for safeties is higher than the amount of early-round talent available at the position, which could elevate Clinton-Dix’s stock into the top 10. The Lions could uphold their best player available strategy by selecting another defensive back—Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert comes to mind—but Clinton-Dix might be able to help them more at a greater position of need.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
Anthony Barr might not be among the 11-best prospects in this year’s draft, but he’s an excellent fit for what the Tennessee Titans need as they switch to a hybrid, 3-4 based defensive front.
An explosive athlete with great size (6’5”, 255 lbs) for an edge defender, Barr has huge upside. He can make an immediate impact as a pass-rusher with his burst, quickness and strong hands.
Barr is a raw talent who must improve as a run defender and in coverage to be an every-down player, but he can provide as a spark right away as a situational rusher.
Having played just two years on defense at UCLA after starting his Bruins career on offense, he might just be scratching the surface of how good he can truly be.
12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Strong defensive line play was principal to the success of the two New York Giants teams that won Super Bowl within the last decade, but the talent and depth of those previous units is not nearly as strong on the current iteration of the Giants’ roster.
The Giants would be smart to add another impact player along the defensive line, and that’s exactly what they could get from Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald.
Coming off a 28.5-tackle-for-loss senior season, dominant Senior Bowl performance and exceptional NFL Scouting Combine showing, Donald has emerged as one of the top prospects in this year’s draft class. He’d be one of the best players available in this scenario and a great fit for the New York defensive front as a 3-technique penetrator.
An explosive athlete with great power and terrific use of hands, Donald is a disruptive force on the interior. His versatility is somewhat limited by his lack of size (6’1”, 285 lbs), but he should be able to flourish if used in a proper role with talent around him.
Eric Ebron might be the ideal selection for the Giants, but Donald should be near the top of New York’s board.
13. St. Louis Rams: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The St. Louis Rams have a major need for talent in their secondary. They should have an easy decision if the draft’s most talented defensive back, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, is still available at the No. 13 overall selection.
Gilbert has all the tools to be a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. He has great size (6’0", 202 lbs) and athleticism—including a 4.37-second 40-yard dash time—and supplements his great measurables with physical play, great instincts and tremendous ball skills.
Arguably the best player available in this scenario, Gilbert could be an immediate upgrade as a starting cornerback opposite Janoris Jenkins. He would give the Rams a much-needed playmaker in their secondary while also giving the team another explosive option for kickoff returns.
14. Chicago Bears: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota
A scenario in which Aaron Donald, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Justin Gilbert are all off the board would be far from ideal for the Chicago Bears, who would have no obvious first-round selection in this situation. Well worth taking a chance on, nonetheless, would be Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman.
Hageman might be seen as a slight reach as a top-15 pick, but he has the talent to emerge as one of the biggest stars from this year’s draft class. Combining tremendous size (6'6", 310 lbs) and length (34.25-inch arms) with an explosive burst and impressive all-around athleticism, Hageman has outstanding potential and versatility as an interior defensive lineman.
The Bears have a massive need at defensive tackle, where Hageman could contribute at both spots. He is at his best as an interior gap-shooting penetrator, but he is also as strong as an ox and holds his ground well at the line of scrimmage.
Hageman had some issues with consistency and technique at Minnesota, but he is far from a finished product. As the Bears continue to revamp their defensive line, selecting Hageman could result in a high long-term payoff.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a need for young playmakers at every level of their defense, so they would do well to simply draft the best defensive player available with their first-round pick. That would be Alabama’s C.J. Mosley in this scenario.
A well-rounded playmaker with the athletic range to be a difference-maker all over the field, Mosley could fit in immediately alongside Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker and make an impact. Mosley excels in coverage and can make tackles in space from sideline to sideline, and he is also an impactful blitzer.
Pittsburgh would be smart to add another linebacker into the mix early in this year’s draft, and there’s arguably not a better one in the class than Mosley. On a defense that has slowly whittled its stars of yesterday off the roster, Mosley could emerge as a new face and leader of the unit.
Should the Steelers look to the offensive side of the ball, two players who could also be considered ideal values at No. 15 overall are Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The most natural fit and best value for Pittsburgh, nonetheless, would be Mosley.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
With a defensive line that lacks talent and depth across the board, the Dallas Cowboys could benefit greatly from drafting a versatile playmaker like Missouri’s Kony Ealy with their first-round draft selection.
Ealy is an incomplete player who needs to continue developing his technique, but his raw potential is as high as any player still on the board in this scenario. As a pass-rusher, he has immediate-impact potential, both as a defensive end on the edge and as a penetrating defensive tackle inside.
An impressive set of physical attributes gives Ealy the potential to play multiple positions on an NFL defensive line, while his combination of athleticism, power and hand moves gives him the upside to wreak havoc as a disruptor.
For a unit that lost DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher this offseason after already being one of the NFL’s worst defensive lines last season, Ealy could be exactly what the doctor ordered.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
There’s some reason for concern with Taylor Lewan’s technique on the field and behavior off of it, but the Michigan offensive tackle’s ability might simply be too good to pass up for the Baltimore Ravens if he is still available at the No. 17.
A remarkable athlete and powerful blocker at 6’7” and 309 pounds, Lewan has physical traits that are hard to find. He can generate movement with his strength and match up against anyone with his quickness and length.
Lewan needs to become more technically sound as a pass-blocker. He also requires extra emphasis from teams on the interview and background check process due to off-field concerns that include a pending arraignment for three assault charges. Players with measurables like him, however, aren’t always found in every draft class.
The Ravens need to upgrade at right tackle, and Lewan’s skill set should enable him to move to the right side and thrive. In terms of talent alone, Lewan seems like an obvious choice for the Ravens in the second half of Round 1.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The New York Jets have made a number of moves this offseason to add playmakers to their offense, but they are still in the market for another starting-caliber wide receiver. They shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to draft LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. if he is still on the board here.
New York should be looking to add speed, quickness and open-field playmaking ability in its potential complement to veteran free-agent addition Eric Decker. Beckham’s big-play potential, route-running prowess and terrific hands could make him an ideal fit.
Beckham isn’t as big (5'11", 198 lbs) as the other top receivers in this year’s draft, but he has the acceleration to burn defensive backs deep. He can line up both outside and in the slot, and he can also make an impact in kickoff-return situations.
The Jets should be looking to surround second-year quarterback Geno Smith with as much talent as possible. That’s exactly what they would be doing by drafting Beckham, arguably be the best player available in this scenario.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
One of the most consistent projections in mock drafts across the web, Notre Dame’s Zack Martin projects as an ideal fit for the Miami Dolphins.
As the Dolphins continue revamping their offensive line that was tarnished by scandal last season, they should be looking for blockers with versatility, experience and, perhaps most importantly, sound character. Miami could get all of those traits from Martin, a fundamentally exceptional lineman who could project as a starter at either right tackle or guard.
A four-year starter at Notre Dame, Martin plays with tremendous hand placement and footwork. He doesn’t have the ideal physical measurables of an offensive tackle, but his technical prowess should enable him to succeed wherever he lines up.
The Dolphins might be targeting a right tackle specifically with the No. 19 overall pick, and that could lead them to Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, according to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post. But while Martin might not be an ideal fit at right tackle, his value and strengths still make him the best choice for the Dolphins in this scenario.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Drafting a quarterback might not necessarily be the best move if the Arizona Cardinals expect to be serious playoff contenders with Carson Palmer under center in 2014, but the potential of Central Florida’s Blake Bortles would probably be too good to pass up with the No. 20 overall pick.
Having been compared to former Bruce Arians disciple Ben Roethlisberger by Bleacher Report’s Ty Schalter and others, Bortles could be Arizona’s ideal developmental quarterback of the future. A 6’5”, 232-pound quarterback with a big arm, impressive athleticism and playmaking moxie, Bortles fits the mold for what Arians, Arizona’s head coach, covets at quarterback.
Falling to Arizona’s draft slot wouldn’t be ideal for Bortles financially, but it would put him in perhaps the best possible position to succeed. While throwing Bortles into the fire could lead to disastrous results, he would have the chance to learn behind Palmer in 2014 before likely being called upon to replace Palmer, who is 34 years old and playing on a contract that expires in 2015.
The Cardinals could have a tough decision to make in regards to whether they should make a first-round investment in a franchise quarterback, but a drop down the board by Bortles might make that decision easier.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or C.J. Mosley would be the ideal pick for the Green Bay Packers at No. 21 overall, but if both of those Alabama defenders are off the board, the Packers could turn to "Plan B" at either safety or linebacker.
Green Bay’s biggest need is at free safety, a position where the talent could be washed up by the time the Packers are back on the board in Round 2, so it would be smart not to pass upon Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward here. Another rising prospect from the Mid-American Conference, Ward has the skill set to be the center-field playmaker Green Bay needs in its secondary.
Ward is a very good all-around athlete with the range, hip fluidity and ball skills to excel in deep coverage while also being effective at coming up closer to the line of scrimmage and tackling soundly. He might be considered undersized at 5’11” and 193 pounds, but he doesn’t play like he’s small.
Louisville’s Calvin Pryor is another safety option the Packers could consider at this slot, but he isn’t as well-suited to take on the center-field coverage responsibilities that he would be expected to in Green Bay. Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier could also be a tempting option here, but the value of safeties in this year’s draft could propel Ward ahead of him.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
After their much-publicized release of DeSean Jackson this offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles are in need of another playmaker at receiver. They could get that with good value by selecting USC’s Marqise Lee with the No. 22 overall pick.
As well-rounded as any wide receiver prospect in this year’s draft class, Lee is a crisp route-runner who has soft hands and glides in the open field.
Lee doesn’t wow with size (6'0", 192 lbs) or speed, and he also had some issues with consistency and injuries at USC, but he has exhibited the playmaking ability to be a star. He accelerates naturally and can make an impact from both the outside and in the slot.
Drafting Lee could pay immediate dividends for the Eagles, who should be well aware of his skill set. He was dominant in two collegiate games against Oregon, when they were still led by current Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, as Lee caught a combined 20 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Furthermore, his former quarterback at USC, Matt Barkley, is one of Philadelphia’s backup signal-callers.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
The top guard prospect in this year’s draft class, UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo should be considered a terrific value if he makes it past the top-20 selections in this year’s draft. The Kansas City Chiefs should be hard-pressed to pass upon him if he is still on the board with the 23rd pick.
The Chiefs’ current offensive line would be passable as a starting unit for the 2014 season, but Kansas City should be in the market for a guard after losing three-starting caliber linemen this offseason. An agile interior offensive lineman with impressive power and strong technique, Su’a-Filo could be an upgrade for the Chiefs at either starting guard spot.
Many have projected Su’a-Filo as one of the last picks of Round 1, but he really shouldn’t be on the board that long. Arguably the best player available on the board in this scenario, he’d be a tough choice for the Chiefs to pass up, even though Louisville safety Calvin Pryor would address a position of greater need.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
With outstanding versatility and all-around playmaking ability, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy could prove to be one of the best value selections of the 2014 NFL draft. He’d be a terrific fit for the Cincinnati Bengals at the No. 24 overall pick.
Van Noy could immediately fill the void left at strong-side linebacker by James Harrison’s release. A rangy tackler in space who can be a difference-maker in both coverage and as a rusher on passing downs, there’s nothing that should stop Van Noy from quickly emerging as a three-down player on an NFL defense.
The Bengals defense has often been a home for moving parts and unorthodox players, and it could be one of the most well-equipped units to utilize the diverse skill set of Van Noy, who could potentially play every linebacker spot and even defensive end in a situational pass-rushing role.
Cincinnati is in a position to draft the best player available with its first-round pick, but it is likely to be looking for another playmaker for its defensive front in the early rounds. The Bengals would get both the top talent and a potential defensive star by drafting Van Noy.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The San Diego Chargers are in desperate need of an upgrade at the cornerback position. Fortunately for them, there are still four first-round caliber cornerbacks on the board in this scenario, and they should absolutely draft one of them with the No. 25 overall pick.
Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard would all be strong choices, but the best pick among them might be TCU’s Jason Verrett.
Verrett, at just 5’9” and 189 pounds, lacks the size of the other top cornerbacks in this year’s draft, but he makes up for it with just about everything else. He is a tremendous athlete who is not just fast but fluid and quick in short areas. Despite his small stature, he shows no hesitance in playing with physicality and making strong tackles.
Some might project Verrett as a slot cornerback due to his size limitations, but his technical skills should allow him to succeed wherever he lines up. A playmaker with great ball skills, Verrett could be immediately better than any cornerback San Diego currently has on its roster, and he would be a strong choice at the end of the top 25.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The ideal No. 26 overall selection for the Cleveland Browns would be Xavier Su’a-Filo, but with the top guard prospect off the board, the Browns could turn to upgrading their secondary. Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, one of the hottest names leading up to the draft, would be a good fit and value selection outside the top 25.
As skilled as any defensive back in this year’s draft, Fuller is a technically proficient cover cornerback who has fluid hips and footwork, uses his hands well and tracks the ball effectively. He also has the size (6'0", 190 lbs) and athleticism to match up with outside receivers and shut them down.
The Browns should be in the market for a potential No. 2 cornerback to start opposite Joe Haden, and that’s exactly what they could get from Fuller. He is experienced, intelligent, from a family full of football talent and provides the versatility to also moonlight at free safety, another spot where Cleveland could be looking at talent early in the draft.
As they also possess the draft’s 35th choice, the Browns should be looking for a player at No. 26 that they might not be able to get in Round 2. Fuller fits that criteria and could immediately improve the back end of the Cleveland defense.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
If the New Orleans Saints plan to utilize more 3-4 looks in their hybrid defense in 2014, they should be looking to add another prime talent to their pass rush. Auburn’s Dee Ford, an explosive edge defender with great athleticism and pass-rushing skills, should be tough for the New Orleans Saints to pass up with the No. 27 overall pick.
Ford combines a rapid first step with strong hand skills, great speed around the edge and natural flexion around the corner. He’s undersized for a defensive end (6’2” and 252 pounds), but he would be a great fit for a hybrid scheme in which he would be able to transition effectively to outside linebacker, at least situationally.
Adding Ford to a rotation that already includes Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette on the edge would provide a spark. While he’d come off the bench behind those two as a defensive end in four-man fronts, he could be an upgrade as a 3-4 outside linebacker over Victor Butler and Parys Haralson.
The Saints have a strong core of young defensive talent that they should look to continue building up through this year’s draft. In this scenario, there might not be one player with more potential to help them do that than Ford.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Carolina Panthers should have their sights set on drafting at least one wide receiver early in this year’s draft. Despite signing Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood this offseason, the Panthers still have a severe lack of playmaking ability at the position after losing their only four wideouts to actually catch a pass last season.
It’s unlikely the Panthers would pass upon a chance to draft Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks. An exceptional athlete who ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.33 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (3.81 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (10.72 seconds) times among wide receivers at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, Cooks could be the big-play threat the Carolina offense is missing.
Defenses must account for Cooks any time he is on the field. He can take off with his speed to get open downfield, but he can also create yardage with his agility in the open field. He is a skilled route-runner who displays good physicality and toughness despite limited size (5’10”, 189 lbs).
Whether he lines up outside or in the slot, Cooks can turn any play into a big play. As the Panthers continue rebuilding their receiving corps, they need to become more dynamic, and that’s what they would get from Cooks with the No. 28 overall selection.
29. Oakland Raiders (from New England): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Projected Trade: The Oakland Raiders trade the Nos. 36 and 67 overall picks to the New England Patriots for the Nos. 29 and 93 overall selections.
Ever the candidates to trade down and out of the first round of the NFL draft, the New England Patriots are likely to solicit offers for the No. 29 overall pick. If one of the draft’s top-four quarterbacks is still on the board here, it’s likely they’ll be able to entice a team to bite on a deal.
That quarterback could be Derek Carr, and that team could be the Oakland Raiders, who reportedly have a “massive crush” on the Fresno State signal-caller, according to David White of the Fresno Bee. Knowing that the Houston Texans sit at the top of Round 2, where they are likely to draft a quarterback, Oakland would have to move up to secure a chance at selecting Carr.
Carr would seemingly be well worth dealing up for. Demonstrated issues with accuracy and decision-making against pressure could cause his stock to fall, but Carr still has as much potential to be a franchise quarterback as anyone in this year’s draft. A skilled passer when he has a clean pocket, the strong-armed Carr is coming off a senior season in which he threw for 5,083 yards and 50 touchdowns.
After getting a No. 1 wide receiver with their top-five selection, pairing him with Carr late in the first round would be an ideal result for the Raiders, whose acquisition of Matt Schaub should be considered nothing more than a short-term stopgap. Trading down for better value could also be considered ideal for the Patriots, who have swung at least one first-round deal in every draft since 2007.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Considering that the San Francisco 49ers have previously been projected to trade up in Round 1 to land Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, it should be considered an ideal scenario if Dennard falls into their laps as the No. 30 overall pick.
NFL teams are “absolutely not” as high on Dennard’s talent as many in the draft media are, according to The Sideline View’s Lance Zierlein, but there might not be a more perfect match for Dennard than San Francisco.
Dennard’s ability to switch effectively between man and zone coverages—although he is better suited for press coverage due to his physicality—makes him an excellent fit for the 49ers defense. His physical tools aren’t as impressive as the other top cornerback prospects in this year’s draft, but he makes up for that with his footwork, instincts and ball skills.
San Francisco is in great need of another starting cornerback after losing Tarell Brown to free agency this offseason. Dennard, perhaps the most polished defensive back prospect in this year’s draft class, could quickly emerge as a legitimate No. 1 stopper in the secondary.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
After proving with an aggressive start to free agency that they are all-in for a short-term championship run, expect the Denver Broncos to continue searching for instant-impact talents in this year’s NFL draft. One player with game-changing ability who could be on the board with the No. 31 overall choice is Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Shazier might not be an ideal fit for the Broncos defense—he and Danny Trevathan are both best suited to play weakside linebacker, while Denver has a need at middle linebacker—but he’d be the most valuable selection in this scenario.
Positional specifics aside, Shazier is an exceptionally athletic playmaker with the range to make plays all over the field. He isn’t the biggest or strongest linebacker, but he covers ground quickly, tackles with authority and excels at dropping back into coverage.
The Broncos have very few needs and should be looking to find hidden gems throughout the draft. Yet in selecting Shazier, talent would meet need nicely.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
The need for the Seahawks to add another defensive end to the rotation emerged this offseason, as the team released both Red Bryant and Chris Clemons and then fell short in their free-agent pursuit of Jared Allen. The ideal fit to fill that role would come if Oregon State’s Scott Crichton is available at the end of Round 1.
Crichton isn’t as flashy or explosive as some of the draft’s other top edge defenders, but he might be the class’ most well-rounded defensive end. Demonstrating the ability to win with athleticism, strength and hand skills, Crichton is a multi-faceted pass-rusher who is also effective as an edge-setting run defender.
With a skill set that would allow him to play on every down, Crichton could form a strong rotation with Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril at defensive end. He’s good enough to make an immediate push for significant playing time, even on the defending Super Bowl champions, and he will be productive as a rookie.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.