NFL Mock Draft 2014: Projecting Most Important Moves of 1st Round

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NFL Mock Draft 2014: Projecting Most Important Moves of 1st Round
Jonathan Bachman

Thanks to a longer-than-normal wait for the NFL draft's arrival, all involved have had entirely too much time to pick apart the process and prospects before the big day.

Sometimes, simple is the best way to go.

The typical communication channels have been littered with white noise for weeks. He has small arms. He wears gloves. This guy hates practice. That guy gives lackluster effort. Only some of those are true. Or all. Or none.

Regardless, the draft will unfold in a similar manner May 8-10. The unpredictable fashion of the proceedings will be highlighted by a few important moves, so let's take a look at the entire first round based on need and value with an emphasis on the important moves.

Note: Italics denote the most important moves.

 

1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

It's easy to projected a guy like Jadeveon Clowney going to Houston.

This isn't a pick to simply be a different voice in the crowd, but one that simply hopes the powers in Houston have a smart process. While Clowney is rare, he's a bit of an odd fit schematically, and potential franchise quarterbacks don't come around often.

Bridgewater is just that and has a game that is pro ready, meaning the Texans could go from picking No. 1 overall to the postseason in a hurry. That potential impact justifies the selection.

 

2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

The St. Louis Rams have plenty of wiggle room with two selections in the first round, so it only makes sense that the front office grabs Sammy Watkins—the most prolific receiver in an extremely deep class.

While a tackle in front of Sam Bradford would make sense, more targets to increase productivity helps as well.

Here, value marries need as Bradford finally has a well-rounded supporting class.

 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

According to ESPN's Ed Werder, teams are hot for a trade up to No. 1 to grab Clowney:

It makes sense for a team like Atlanta, which may view itself as one piece away from title contention. But trades are a fickle thing in such a deep class, so Clowney makes it to No. 3.

Jacksonville is more than happy to stand pat and grab the South Carolina product, as he both fits a major need and acts as the new face of a rebuilding franchise.

 

4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

The quarterback class is shaky at best, so it's quite significant that Cleveland uses its first of two picks to grab Johnny Manziel.

Manziel's selection means just one more top quarterback remains on the board. It also means he has a ripple effect on the league in more ways than one.

Equipped with a strong supporting cast that includes the likes of Josh Gordon, Manziel can jump the Browns into playoff contention right away.

 

5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Oakland simply needs talent at critical spots.

To that end, Greg Robinson is the obvious choice with Jared Veldheer gone. The Raiders own the worst roster in the league, but a tackle prospect with an enormous ceiling like Robinson can grow with the franchise as talent acquisition continues over the years.

 

6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo

There's one word to describe Khalil Mack: dominant.

It's so easy to write him off with the small-school argument, until one flicks on his film against Ohio State, where he was by far the best player on the field.

He's the reason Atlanta should stand pat. Mack is scheme-friendly, which suits the Falcons well as they use multiple fronts and are in a need of an elite pass-rusher.

 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Tampa Bay needs a weapon across from Vincent Jackson. While Watkins would have been ideal, the Buccaneers certainly should not have an issue settling for Mike Evans.

ESPN's Todd McShay explains why (subscription required):

Evans takes awhile to build up speed, but he can separate from defensive backs by drawing on his basketball background and boxing out and outleaping defenders with his 6-foot-5, 231-pound frame. He brings down a high percentage of 50-50 balls. New Tampa Bay QB Josh McCown succeeded with two big targets in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago, and Jackson and Evans would provide similar weaponry for him.

Evans is a massive target who makes the life of quarterbacks easy. That's a must in Tampa Bay at the moment. 

 

8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

It's impossible to tell which prospect is the top quarterback in the class by NFL standards, but for those teams that value long-term potential above all else, Blake Bortles is their guy.

Bortles' ceiling is through the roof. This meshes well with the need in Minnesota, as Mike Zimmer won't have an issue getting by with Matt Cassel for another year if he chooses to sit Bortles as a rookie.

Regardless, Bortles make sense as the last viable first-round quarterback. The issue under center in Minnesota may finally get a resolution.

 

9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina 

The Buffalo Bills were wise to do their due diligence on Eric Ebron, per Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:

Buffalo is not in a great position, as need and value are a strange fit at the spot, but Ebron is a great option. He comes in as the No. 1 player on the depth chart right away and gives EJ Manuel another weapon and one less excuse should he not progress as a sophomore.

 

10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Detroit is also in a tough position, but it depends on just how much it values the defensive backs slated to come off the board in the first round.

An obvious solution is Darqueze Dennard, a player who has hints of a pro-ready game and played college ball locally.

He'll struggle like most rookie corners, but in the long term Dennard is the best value for the team and opens up the floodgates at the position.

 

11. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Dennard would have been a solid choice for Tennessee, but at the same time the best possible way to build the defensive unit is in the trenches.

With that in mind, Aaron Donald is a smart pick as one of the draft's more dominant interior players.

While a bit of a supposed strange fit, Donald is the type of player a team won't pass on because of that, instead opting to cater its game plan around his superb talents.

 

12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Jake Matthews is quietly the surest thing in this year's class.

He's by far the best lineman available and did nothing to change that this offseason. Meanwhile, New York has done little to improve the issues in front of Eli Manning, so this is the perfect match.

Matthews is a surefire starter for years to come, regardless of where the Giants ask him to line up.

 

13. St. Louis Rams: Ha'Sean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

Michael Conroy

St. Louis has bad luck with Matthews coming off the board the pick prior, but thus is the life of a team comfortable to gamble in the top five.

No matter, as sound tackle prospects will be around in the second round. Instead, the Rams can grab another player at the top of his position this year in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a rangy safety who immediately upgrades the unit next to T.J. McDonald.

 

14. Chicago Bears: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

The best—and perhaps most obvious—fit of all this year would have been Donald to Chicago.

With Henry Melton gone and additions like Jared Allen not fixing the woes in the middle of the defense, Ra'Shede Hageman isn't a bad consolation prize.

Hageman has one of the more rare skill sets thanks to his uncanny power-speed combo, which is exactly what Chicago needs to help collapse the pocket and stuff the run consistently.

 

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

With Ike Taylor aging and the rest of the cornerback corps looking rather shaky, it only makes sense the Pittsburgh Steelers will want to grab a top prospect in the first round.

A receiver would be nice, but one can be had later. Players like Justin Gilbert won't make it out of the round.

The best part about Gilbert for Pittsburgh is that it doesn't have to throw him to the wolves right away. Through a long-term lens, Gilbert is the obvious, correct choice.

 

16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

Dallas needs whatever it can get on the defensive side of the football.

Luckily for owner Jerry Jones and his cash-strapped 'Boys, Kony Ealy is a suitable all-around player. The links have been obvious all offseason, including this nugget from Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Ealy will be an every-down player right away. He can provide a pass rush, stand tall against the run and also kick inside to tackle in passing situations. The Cowboys hit the jackpot with this pick.

 

17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Taylor Lewan is by far one of the draft's best players, but like Bortles and some of the other prospects off the board before him, he's more of a potential pick than an immediate contributor.

Lewan got away with his superior athleticism at the collegiate level, but with proper coaching he has the ceiling to develop into one of the NFL's best.

Baltimore couldn't be happier, even if Lewan starts and struggles as a rookie. He's a long-term solution that helps to better protect the costly Joe Flacco. He also starts a mini run on the position.

 

18. New York Jets: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

Kyle Fuller is quite the busy man as he makes the rounds, which includes a date with the New York Jets, per NFL Network's Gil Brandt:

It's hard to pick between a corner and an offensive weapon to assist Geno Smith, but Fuller is a special player who can contribute right away.

Physical against the run and sound in coverage, Fuller is unlike others in his class in that he can play right away. He would already be one of the top options on New York's depth chart.

 

19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame

Zack Martin has quietly seen his stock remain steady just behind the likes of Lewan and Matthews, with the only true knock being the fact he may fit better as a guard than tackle.

That matters little to the Miami Dolphins, a team in need of talent across the board in the offensive trenches.

Martin starts right away. The exact position is still hard to discern, but that's the beauty of the pick for the front office in Miami.

 

20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Bulldozing right tackles aren't an easy thing to find in today's NFL, which is why Cyrus Kouandjio remains a top prospect and gets taken so highly, not to mention the recent run at the position.

Arizona has a fine left tackle in Veldheer, but it's time the staff quits fooling around on the right side.

Kouandjio starts right away and provides an upgrade on the ground. The scariest part is that he's not close to his ceiling.

 

21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

Green Bay needs an enforcer in the middle, especially if the front office is not sold on any of the safety prospects left on the board.

C.J. Mosley is far and away the best interior prospect in the class and one of the best in recent years. He changes the attitude of the unit rather quickly while acting as a sideline-to-sideline force who violently halts the forward progress of ball-carriers.

 

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

Timothy D. Easley

Chip Kelly and Co. had to sweat it out, but they get their guy with Calvin Pryor.

The spot next to Malcolm Jenkins needs a serious upgrade, and the quality at safety around the league is somewhat lacking. To that end, it makes sense the Eagles would want to go ahead and grab Pryor, a rangy safety who can hold his own in all facets as a rookie as he continues to develop.

 

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

The true run on receivers had to start at some point.

Marqise Lee has a similar game to that of Watkins, although a lackluster final collegiate year derailed by injury and slight drop issues make him fall down the board.

He fits right in with Kansas City and Andy Reid's offense. Lee can be a reliable target underneath or a deep threat, but either way he's a great option across from Dwayne Bowe.

 

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Cincinnati is in a position to draft for the future thanks to one of the NFL's brighter young rosters, and the obvious future issue is at corner.

With age and injury woes a concern at the first three spots on the depth chart, the Bengals grab Jason Verrett.

He provides insurance and can also contribute in certain packages as he adapts to the pro game before eventually assuming a starting role in a few years.

 

25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

Louis Nix's stock has taken a bit of a tumble, but he remains the best 3-4 nose tackle in the class. Plus, as ESPN's Kevin Weidl helps to point out, his down year last season was more the result of injury:

San Diego has quality pieces in place behind the defensive line but needs better parts in front to create a ripple effect of quality play.

Nix does just that as he starts as a rookie. He's got a nasty streak that collapses pockets and absorbs multiple blockers at a time in the run game.

 

26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

With Manziel on board in this scenario, the Browns will want to get him another weapon to round out the offense.

Odell Beckham Jr. is as underrated as it gets in the 2014 class and has the potential to come out as the best receiver, in hindsight. This is especially the case in Cleveland, where he'll see little attention as defenses focus on Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron.

 

27. New Orleans Saints: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA

Brandt helps to illustrate just how unpredictable the stock of Anthony Barr truly is:

Let's take it a step further, as Barr's upside is hurt by his lack of moves and overall pro-ready game in a deep class.

No matter. In New Orleans, Barr gets to learn from Rob Ryan while being put in favorable positions. A scary New Orleans defense only improves as a result.

 

28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State 

The Carolina Panthers have finally decided it's time to address the wideout spot, right?

With Steve Smith gone, Cam Newton has few reliable weapons. That changes in a hurry with Allen Robinson, who has reliable hands to help move the chains. He fights for every reception as one of the draft's more physical receivers and even has the breakaway speed to make plays.

 

29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Jace Amaro is a glorified possession receiver, and that's just fine.

Amaro fits perfectly in New England, where he can line up at any spot and provide the team with a reliable set of hands.

It's a scary proposition in tandem with Tom Brady, and a heck of an insurance policy with Rob Gronkowski's recent injury history.

 

30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

San Francisco can best knock out the draft with a slot receiver who has game-breaking ability to round out the receiving corps.

That would be Brandin Cooks, who falls only because of the depth of the class. In the same offense as Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, Cooks will have plenty of opportunities to post big plays as a rookie.

 

31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

Mike Munden

Count NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah as one who believes the Denver Broncos can land the Defensive Rookie of the Year at No. 31 overall, per NFL.com's Bryan Fischer:

'I'm going to say Ryan Shazier from Ohio State is a player that could have an immediate impact from this draft class,' Jeremiah said on NFL.com's "Mock Draft Weekly". 'If he were to land at a place like Denver, where he'll be playing against the pass, his ability to run, blitz, cover will have an immediate impact.'

Jeremiah hits the nail on the head, and fans better believe the front office in Denver concurs. The linebacker position was a mess last season, but Ryan Shazier touts a skill set that solves at least one of the issues in a hurry.

 

32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

While quite the risk after drop issues at Florida State, Kelvin Benjamin's ceiling is too high to pass on, especially for a team in a position of luxury.

Potential is the name of the game. Benjamin has the potential to be one of the NFL's best wideouts. Whether he realizes that in a run-first offense remains to be seen, but he certainly gives Russell Wilson an intriguing deep threat.

 

Note: All free-agency signing info courtesy of ESPN. All height/weight information courtesy of NFL.com. 

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