The 2014 NFL draft is a key offseason event for every team in the league, considering the future of each franchise hinges on making smart selections—especially in the early rounds.
No round is more important than the first, as talented players are readily available and just waiting to contribute at the next level. However, there are also a few duds lurking that will end up out of the league without making a significant impact.
Lets take a look at the latest mock draft to see how this all-important first round might shake out in a few weeks.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The Texans were a legit contender back in 2012, but the team collapsed in 2013 due to injury and poor play all over the field. The most glaring regression was at the quarterback position, an area that the team must address via the draft.
While there are no surefire locks in the vein of Andrew Luck available, there are a handful of top-tier prospects that could fill in under center for this club and potentially blossom into stars.
Bortles happens to have the highest upside of any signal-caller on the board and looks to be the pro-style thrower that new head coach Bill O’Brien covets.
At 6’5”, 232 pounds, Bortles just has the look of a franchise quarterback. Many think of a young Ben Roethlisberger when they look at the Knights product, so it is interesting to find out that the Pittsburgh Steelers star has recently been training with Bortles, as per Josh Norris of NBC Sports:
If this kid turns out to be anywhere near as effective as Roethlisberger has been during his tenure in the NFL, the Texans will be happy with their selection with the No. 1 pick.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Robinson has emerged as the clear-cut best offensive tackle in this draft. While there are a number of great players at this position on the board, the Rams could be set at the left tackle position for years to come if they select the Auburn product. He’s strong, agile, intelligent and does just about everything required to protect a quarterback’s blind side and clear running lanes for his backs.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney is a steal for the Jags at No. 3, considering he has arguably the highest ceiling and most potential of any player in the class. While Jacksonville has already addressed the defensive line this offseason, it would be foolish to let Clowney slip past here.
The South Carolina product talked to Tania Ganguli of ESPN about how much extra motivation he would have if two teams pass him up and he ends up with the Jags:
Considering some of the main knocks on Clowney’s game are his motor and work ethic, this is a win-win situation for Jacksonville.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Browns are on the cusp of competing for a playoff spot in a wide-open AFC North, but direly need to address the glaring hole they have at the quarterback spot.
Manziel is a bona fide star that may not have all the measurables, but roll the tape and check out the intangibles and you will see a superstar waiting to take the NFL by storm.
To sweeten the deal for Cleveland, Johnny Football has said he isn’t averse to playing in Cleveland, as per Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports:
If something happens, and it's the Cleveland Browns, I'm going to pour my heart out for the Dawg Pound and try to win a Super Bowl for Cleveland. I don't care if they've had 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999. I'm going to be the 21st and the guy that brought them the Super Bowl.
The Browns would be wise to listen to the young quarterback and bring him into the fold on May 8.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins is the premier receiver in this draft, evidenced by his elite production with the Tigers and his otherworldly athleticism. This young man is also motivated to succeed and is constantly looking to beat the man trying to guard him. That work ethic will make him a perfect pick for the rebuilding Oakland Raiders, who need more strong leaders in the locker room.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Mack is currently neck-and-neck with Clowney on most big boards and it is certainly possible that the Buffalo product ends up leapfrogging the South Carolina star on draft day. Atlanta is the ideal destination for Mack, as his versatility and ability to rush the passer, stuff the run and drop into coverage fits their overhauled defense perfectly.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Barr is one of the more intriguing talents, as there seems to be similar odds that he goes as high as this and as low as the early second round. Regardless of where he lands, the UCLA standout will find a way to make an impact on the game due to his elite pass-rushing skills. The Bucs must continue to improve in that area in order to become competent in the NFC South.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater may not be the ideal franchise quarterback, but he’s a clear upgrade over any signal-caller currently employed by the Vikings. While there are doubts about Bridgewater’s size and ability to take a pounding over the course of the NFL season, his skills throwing the ball are amongst the best in the class.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Evans is a massive wideout that can immediately bolster the development of second-year quarterback EJ Manuel. The Texas A&M product gives the young signal-caller a steady target that will help move the chains and create opportunities in the red zone that just weren’t there in 2013.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert is the top corner on the big board this year and the Pokes star will prove why as soon as he is on the field in the NFL. He’s an immense athlete with the athleticism to make up for any mistakes in coverage, but those are becoming exceedingly rare as he continues to improve in the mental aspect of the game.
11. Tennessee Titans: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews will help make the loss of Chris Johnson easier, as the big tackle will be able to clear lanes and jump-start the new-look running game in Tennessee. In addition, Matthews excels in pass protection and should keep quarterback Jake Locker off the turf and healthy in 2014.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan is a standout tackle that really shined at the combine. His athletic display should assuage any doubts that evaluators have about his ability to star at the next level, and some think he may wind up as one of the better tackles in this class.
NFL Media analyst Chris Casserly is one of those who is touting Lewan’s skill set, claiming he is even better than Matthews, who came off the board a pick earlier here, via Bryan Fischer of NFL.com:
This guy is a giant. You watch him play, he's consistent. Every single game he's physical. He's more physical than [Jake] Matthews and can knock you off the ball. When they worked out side-by-side in Indy, (Lewan) had the better workout than Matthews.
Don’t sleep on Lewan becoming a premier tackle for Big Blue, as they must continue rebuilding their O-line to make it an area of strength this coming campaign.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Clinton-Dix is a well-rounded safety that will instantly improve the Rams secondary. The Alabama star doesn’t give up the big play and is quick enough to keep everything in front of him. He’s also instinctive and unafraid to come up and support the run or make plays on the ball during passing downs.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald has been dominating opponents and wowing scouts around the country for some time now. He capped off an amazing senior outing with one of the best combine showings of any prospect.
Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network talked with Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune about how complete of a player Donald is:
I don’t think he really has anything to answer. The only concern you’d have is that he’s not a 315-pound guy. But we always talk in scouting that you want a guy that makes it through the whole process and checks every box. He was dominant on tape in the fall. I’d hate to play linebacker behind him because you don’t get a chance to make any tackles. He just lives in the backfield.
While his size leaves something to be desired, he’s a perfect fit for a Chicago team looking to rebuild one of the worst running defenses in the league.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Steelers have to inject some youth into a secondary that struggled to get the team off the field in 2013. Dennard is a man-to-man specialist who is capable of locking down the opponent’s top receiver and taking the offense out of rhythm.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Cowboys must rebuild their defense from the inside out after having one of the worst seasons ever on that side of the ball. This club could not stop anyone from running into the second level, nor get much pressure on the passer.
Jernigan will address both issues, as the elite athlete can clog up the lanes, demands a double-team and is easily able to knife into the backfield when the opportunity arises.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Pryor is a hard-hitting beast that will never shy away from contact. His grit fits with the Ravens perfectly, even though the team drafted a safety in Matt Elam last year. If Baltimore makes this pick, expect Pryor to play free safety while Elam slides over to strong.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Ebron is a talented tight end that would be yet another big addition for Gang Green this offseason. After signing Eric Decker and Chris Johnson, the team has a chance to add this playmaker into the mix to open things up in the red zone and in the middle of the field.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Dolphins are in the midst of rebuilding the offensive line after it was devastated during the 2013 campaign. Martin is the best prospect to fill this need left on the board, so it’s a no-brainer that the club goes in this direction.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman is an intriguing defensive tackle that the Cardinals would love to add into the mix. The team already boasts a strong defense, but it needs to get even better if they are going to break through and make the playoffs in the loaded NFC West.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Mosley makes perfect sense for the Packers, as the team is loaded with outside linebackers and defensive linemen that specialize in getting after the quarterback. This Crimson Tide product would shore up the team’s run defense, but he’s also surprisingly capable in coverage when the situation calls for it.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Beckham Jr. may not be a DeSean Jackson replica, but the speedy receiver will help minimize the sting of losing the superstar wide receiver this offseason. Nick Foles is going into his first full year as a starter and needs all the weapons he can get to guide his team back to the postseason.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Chiefs desperately have to turn their passing offense into something more than checkdowns to Jamaal Charles. Lee will open things up down the field and has a nose for the end zone once he receives the rock, making this a great pick for Kansas City at No. 23.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Bengals’ rapidly aging secondary could use some youthful prospects like Fuller. The V-Tech star would be an ideal replacement for veterans Terence Newman and Adam Jones, who are at the tail end of their respective careers.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Verrett isn’t the most polished prospect, but the Horned Frog has a lot of potential and looks like he could instantly improve the Bolts pass defense. Considering the team plays in a division with Peyton Manning and it was one of their weakest areas in 2013, this is a slam-dunk selection.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Benjamin is a massive wideout that would perfectly complement the young signal-caller the Browns are likely drafting with the No. 4 pick. This young man put his skills on display during the BCS Championship Game, rising up above defenders and using his gigantic hands to haul in the winning score.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Ealy is a great value pick for the Saints here and it is quite possible that the Tigers product comes off the board much earlier on draft day. However, New Orleans should not let him slide past due to his special ability to get into the backfield and disrupt the rhythm of the offense.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Panthers had a rough offseason, highlighted by the loss of longtime star Steve Smith. The team will need to replace him in this draft and it is fortunate that there are plenty of potential stars lurking at this position.
Cooks is one of the most surefire contributors, despite his diminutive stature. The Beavers product is great at creating separation and turning short catches into big gains, so look for the Panthers to bring him in at No. 28.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Pats went from having the most impressive, game-changing crop of tight ends in the NFL to having practically nothing of value at the position. While Rob Gronkowski can still play at a high level, he’s hardly ever healthy. Amaro is a versatile weapon that will give New England production at the position either next to the Gronk or as a replacement when he is injured.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Roby may not be ready to contribute from Day 1, but the Niners could coach him up and have him waiting in the wings to play a bigger role starting in 2015. The Ohio State product is an incredible value at No. 30 and may end up being remembered as one of the better corners in the draft.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Su’a-Filo is brimming with upside and athleticism, he just needs to continue working on his technique and fundamentals. The Broncos can afford to employ him as a long-term prospect and only have him see the field situationally.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Kouandjio has a lot of injury concerns, but is one of the more talented tackles when healthy. The Seahawks, coming off an impressive Super Bowl victory, can afford to roll the dice with the last pick in the first round.