The first round of the 2014 NFL draft is so close to actually materializing on May 8 at Radio City Music Hall, and as unpredictable as this sporting spectacle always is, this year figures to be particularly hard to gauge.
A record 98 underclassmen have declared themselves eligible, creating an influx of talent and depth rarely seen in draft history. Most positions are filled with pro-ready prospects except for the most important one. There are no surefire franchise quarterbacks to be had, making it difficult for those in need near the top of the order to invest such a significant pick in one of them.
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman made note of this in his latest report about the buzz he's hearing:
Here is an updated mock of the entire first round, with the more extended analysis focusing on the moves that teams must make based on a player's talent level and the spark he'd bring to the organization.
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Everyone appears to be doubting Clowney because he took some plays off as a junior, and his passion for the game has been questioned time and again. Even if he is the No. 1 overall pick after the pre-draft grilling he's taken, shouldn't he have a chip on his shoulder to prove himself?
A hard-nosed head coach like Bill O'Brien and a superstar at his own position in J.J. Watt should allow Clowney to flourish in Houston if general manager Rick Smith pulls the trigger on this choice. Frankly, it's hard not to take a flier on Clowney simply due to his physical gifts and talent.
If O'Brien truly is a quarterback guru as he's reputed to be, Smith should feel comfortable enough to wait until the early second round to find an answer under center. None of the top-tier QB prospects have the promise Clowney has shown.
Clowney is 6'6" and 266 pounds with 4.53-second speed in the 40 yard dash, and Houston would likely regret passing on him, since its organization is an ideal fit to address any red flags he has.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Against the relentless defenses of the NFC West division, St. Louis sure could use some attitude in the trenches. Robinson is a great run-blocker and has unbelievable athleticism, allowing him to fill in just about anywhere in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's run-heavy offense.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Jaguars fans may be pining for a quarterback, but Mack is too strong of an all-around prospect for coach Gus Bradley to let slide by. GM David Caldwell can trade back into the first round if he needs to, allowing Jacksonville to get a game-changing defensive dynamo in the process.
This came recently from SI.com's Peter King: "Jacksonville is the most logical spot for the loser of the No. 1 pick derby between Clowney and Mack. GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley want a pass-rusher, badly."
Look for the Jags to address receiver in the second or third round, since the pool of talent is so deep at that position, along with quarterback on Day 2.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
It's true—no one needs the growing legend that is Johnny Football more than the Cleveland Browns. Manziel can make all the throws and has big enough hands to extinguish concerns about playing in the elements brought on by Lake Erie late in the season.
Play-caller Kyle Shanahan worked with Robert Griffin III in Washington and had plenty of instant success, galvanizing that franchise and carrying it to a division title in their first year together. With how wide open the AFC North is, something similar could be on tap for Cleveland.
Armed with 10 draft picks and two other picks in the top 35, new GM Ray Farmer shouldn't fear making a splash. The Browns have seen quality QBs fall past them time and again since returning to the league in 1999. This is as good of a time as any to roll the proverbial dice.
CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler cited Cleveland and Jacksonville as the likeliest landing spots for Manziel:
As of right now, I still believe QB Johnny Manziel will be drafted top-4 on May 8th...No. 3 (JAX) or No. 4 (CLE) most likely landing spots— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) April 15, 2014
Using the intel gathered from King's SI.com article, this creates a situation in which Manziel lands in Cleveland, where he already has Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, along with Ben Tate in the backfield. With a plethora of picks, including two third-rounders, Farmer can snag even more help for Manziel later on.
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Quarterback Matt Schaub will be doing cartwheels if Watkins falls to the Silver and Black at No. 5. Watkins is the best wideout on the board and should have no trouble making an instant impact in the pros, despite the underrated nuances that come with the position.
With Watkins in the fold, suddenly the receiving corps of Rod Streater, Denarius Moore and James Jones is a lot more formidable.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Since the top two defensive players are off the board—and don't rule out GM Thomas Dimitroff trading up for one of them—Matthews is a safe choice here. Star signal-caller Matt Ryan could use some enhanced protection, and Matthews is versatile enough to play really any position on the offensive line.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Pairing Evans with Vincent Jackson is something the Bucs have to consider, especially now that Mike Williams is no longer with the team. At 6'5" and 231 pounds with a 4.53-second 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine, Evans is the most explosive and physical offensive weapon in this draft.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Apparently tanking or torpedoing for Teddy no longer became a thing, even though Bridgewater was viewed at the end of his 2012 campaign as the consensus No. 1 QB prospect.
Bridgewater does have some shortcomings in terms of stature and arm talent, yet no one is as ready to take on an NFL playbook. Although he's a quiet leader who seems to lead by example more than anything, Bridgewater has to be absolutely furious at the ridicule he has faced leading up to the draft.
ESPN draft expert Todd McShay stated recently that Bridgewater could fall as far as the second round, per the NFL on ESPN's official Twitter account:
"I think he could fall all the way to the 2nd round." - Todd McShay on QB Teddy Bridgewater pic.twitter.com/oIGjdk5dAZ— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 21, 2014
Given that the Vikings whiffed by reaching for Christian Ponder just a few short years ago, they might be hesitant to invest another top pick in a signal-caller. With someone as cerebral and smart as Bridgewater, though, it would be something Minnesota wouldn't regret.
Adrian Peterson would provide Bridgewater with a solid running game, and plenty of weapons already exist on the outside in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerome Simpson, along with tight end Kyle Rudolph. With offensive coordinator Norv Turner now in Minnesota, it's hard to imagine a better situation for Bridgewater to land in.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Throw Lewan over at right tackle, and see what happens. The Bills have C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in the backfield, and they have supported E.J. Manuel with a slew of targets to throw to. With plenty of talent on the defensive side, Lewan makes a lot of sense to bring in for his tenacity and the quickness he'd bring to Buffalo's uptempo offense.
10. Detroit Lions (7-9): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
It would be a bit of a shock to see Detroit ignore the secondary with its top pick with a specimen like Gilbert available. In addition to having great ball skills, Gilbert is fast and physical. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton likes big guys who can run and "little" guys who can hit hard. That makes Gilbert a win-win acquisition for the Lions, because he's a little of both.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Ranking in the bottom third in the league in sacks in 2013 is not a good look for Tennessee entering this year.
Adding aging linebacker Shaun Phillips should only help a moderate amount, but investing in the present and future by bringing Donald in to either line up over the center or at defensive end and collapse the pocket is a sage decision.
12. New York Giants (7-9): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Adrien Robinson has managed to play in just three games in two seasons, leading the Giants to upgrade QB Eli Manning's supporting cast by bringing Ebron in.
Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle should divert attention away from Ebron, who can fill in as a Week 1 starter and be a dangerous red-zone option. New York needs that. Per TeamRankings.com, it ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season.
13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The first safety off the board fits right into the division's physical mentality. Pryor is able to flock to the football in coverage and versus the run in particular. Coordinator Gregg Williams will love having someone with Pryor's violent style of play serving as his last line of defense.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
As reported by ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson, Chicago brought Barr in for a private workout in late March.
Based on Barr's pure physical skills alone, it stands to reason the Bears came away impressed. Adding Barr to the equation would give Chicago a dynamic blitzer off the edge and a potential dark-horse candidate for the league's top defensive rookie.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Antonio Brown is a strong all-around wideout, and Lance Moore brings experience and savvy instincts as a slot receiver.
Beckham would be a strong addition on the outside opposite Brown, with his speed giving big-armed QB Ben Roethlisberger a pure deep threat who can blow the top off defenses. That combination could be lethal off of play action in a reputedly physical AFC North.
16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Needing a spark in the secondary—and on defense in general—America's Team enlists the help of a polished safety prospect in Clinton-Dix who can provide instant stability.
Pro-style, complex concepts are something Clinton-Dix is used to from his time in Tuscaloosa, and he'll also have some talented corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to help him out.
17. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Since Martin projects well as either a tackle or guard at the NFL level, Baltimore could use him at either spot. Should he slide to right tackle, Martin is an upgrade there, and if he's deployed at guard, he should help the Ravens' struggling rushing attack progress after a down year in 2013.
18. New York Jets (8-8): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The importance of cornerbacks in coach Rex Ryan's defense puts the need for a playmaker on the back burner and leads to GM John Idzik taking a shot with Dennard at No. 18 overall. Dennard's man-to-man coverage ability rivals that of anyone else in this class, which is vital for the Jets to blitz as often as Ryan likes to.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA
A ton of talented offensive tackles have already gone, so the Dolphins reach a bit with the 19th pick to ensure that they upgrade their biggest need.
Su'a-Filo is not a glamorous choice so high in the draft, yet he is just what Miami needs to fortify its blocking up front and put third-year QB Ryan Tannehill in the best position to succeed. Per UCLABruins.com, he started seven games at left guard and six at left tackle, proving his versatility and technical prowess.
20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Coach Bruce Arians has mentored the likes of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck at the start of their careers. Bortles can sit and learn behind Carson Palmer before taking the reins a year or two from now. The UCF product is not ready to lead an NFL team right now, so this is a perfect spot for him to fall.
21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois
The good thing about choosing Ward here is that he can play coverage in the slot and pitch in on nickel and dime packages, with the upside to start at safety as well. Morgan Burnett has proved capable of starting at both safety positions, giving Green Bay flexibility on the back end to add Ward.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Now that DeSean Jackson is no longer around, his replacement could be Cooks, who has the capability to get behind any defense and can devastate opponents after the catch. Philadelphia could elect to go for defensive help or add a bigger-bodied target here, but Cooks is simply too quick-twitch to avoid at this slot.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Before a lackluster 2013 campaign, it's worth remembering that Lee played in a pro-style offense at USC and caught 118 passes and had 14 touchdown catches the previous year. Lee shouldn't fall out of the first round if he's still around when the Chiefs are picking.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Although Verrett isn't the biggest corner, he still has the natural instincts and vicious attitude to play on the outside. Since he's suited to play in the slot, too, Cincinnati should strongly consider adding him to a veteran defensive backfield.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Shoring up the run defense and freeing up pass-rushers are things Nix can do even as a rookie, and it should help the Chargers climb further up in the AFC West. If that doesn't materialize, San Diego should look to a cornerback, but Nix helps out too much all around to ignore.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
I think many evaluators are underrating Shazier's ability to play on the inside. Head coach Mike Pettine will assemble a hybrid front defense, and Shazier lining up with Karlos Dansby—with a rotation of Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo on the outside—would give the Browns' linebacker corps serious teeth.
A deep defensive line will also benefit Pettine in the beginning of his tenure in Cleveland, and the Browns can address cornerback early in Round 2.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Rob Ryan's aggressive style has proved to be just the swagger the Saints need, as they ranked in the top five in sacks a season ago. Adding Ford is a bit of a luxury pick, but with this crop of prospects so loaded at skill positions, acquiring a weapon for prolific QB Drew Brees can wait until the second day of the draft.
28. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Cam Newton has yet to have a legitimate, massive target to throw to. Benjamin changes that with his incredible 6'5", 240-pound size that allowed him to nab 15 touchdowns on just 54 receptions as a sophomore in Tallahassee. The upside is too great for the Panthers to resist taking a moderate risk late in Round 1.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
His measurements at the combine were 6'4" and 273 pounds. Capable of filling in as a stout defensive end to provide depth behind Rob Ninkovich or Chandler Jones on the edge, Ealy's size and football savvy hailing from the SEC will have the Patriots intrigued enough to take him.
30. San Francisco 49ers (13-3): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
This is the third consecutive time yours truly has mocked Roby to the Niners. Even amid a turbulent offseason, this is one of the winningest franchises in the NFL that has produced nothing but elite results on the gridiron in recent years. San Francisco badly needs a corner, and no one is more talented than Roby.
31. Denver Broncos (13-3): C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The front office focused on defense after getting pummeled in Super Bowl XLVIII, adding DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. Mosley is a logical pickup who can play right away in the heart of the defense at middle linebacker.
32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Previous right tackle Breno Giacomini is now with the Jets, creating a need at that spot for the Seahawks. Thankfully for them, Kouandjio falls to No. 32 and has the size to make the move from left tackle. In the event that Russell Okung continues to struggle with injuries, this pick essentially kills two birds with one stone.
Quarterback is the most important position, and Seattle's Russell Wilson proved in being drafted in Round 3 in 2012 that value can be had at later junctures. Wilson also proved that diminutive QBs can thrive in the modern NFL, a label that has beset both Bridgewater and Manziel leading up to the 2014 draft.
But if Manziel lands in Cleveland and Bridgewater goes to Minnesota, don't be shocked if they take their teams to the playoffs as rookies. They should both thrive as long-term starters, but the Texans won't rue the day they passed either of them, because Clowney will prove to be one of the best pass-rushers and all-around defensive ends in recent memory, serving as a perfect complement to Watt in Houston.
All combine results via NFL.com.