2014 NFL Mock Draft: In-Depth Projections for First-Round Action

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistMay 3, 2014

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 17:  Eric Ebron #85 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Kenan Stadium on October 17, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The stream of NFL mock drafts will soon clear the way for the real thing. On May 8, all 32 teams will gather to host the country's most exciting and fruitful job fair.

Unfortunately, today is not May 8, unless you happen to be reading this on May 8. Then it is. Otherwise, football fans must get their fix while waiting for draft day to arrive.

This draft will prove worth the prolonged wait. There's no clear No. 1 choice, but don't mistake the lack of an Andrew Luck for a lack of talent. This year offers up a loaded class that bolsters in strength outside the studs.

Whether your favorite team is picking first or 32nd, they should snag a solid first-round choice. The Washington Redskins don't have a Round 1 selection, but they'll get a player typically worth of first-round consideration at pick No. 34. 

As for the Indianapolis Colts, you already have Luck, so no complaining allowed.


1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

After months of deliberating how the Houston Texans will spend their pick, they might avoid the grueling decision altogether and trade down. CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora named the Atlanta Falcons, who have made no secret about their admiration for Jadeveon Clowney, as the top candidate to make a deal.

The Falcons, who numerous league sources say remain very focused on South Carolina pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, hosted him for a visit this week and are scheduled to spend more time with him Friday.

The Falcons are seen by many execs as the team most likely to trade up to first overall with Houston, with Clowney their target. Pass rush remains a big void for the team, which hopes to bounce back to Super Bowl contention after a disastrous 2013. GM Thomas Dimitroff has pulled off big draft-day moves in the past and the Texans are very open to trading down, with at least three players under consideration for the top selection.

Since it's smart to let the fans make franchise-altering decisions, the NFL Network asked them if the Falcons should move up. Always clamoring for more than they have, the public said yes.

Either way, expect the frenetic defensive end to get selected with the No. 1 pick. Pairing him with J.J. Watt would give opposing offensive lines nightmares.


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

The Rams could very well trade down as well, but Sammy Watkins is their choice for now. Like Tavon Austin, last year's first-round choice, Watson can make plays after the catch with his elusive speed. Unlike Austin, the Clemson wideout can run precise runs and make tough catches in crowded spaces.


3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo

No quarterback available can change Jacksonville's fortunes, so the Jaguars might as well go best player available to instead help a dull defense. Khalil Mack was the king of sending the opposing offense backwards at Buffalo.


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

Linking Johnny Manziel to the Dallas Cowboys seemed like a cruel practical joke intended to break the Internet, but B/R's Mike Freeman did some digging to verify its credence.

Let's burn down that crazy notion before it has any chance to materialize. Johnny Football will be long gone at No. 16 after the Browns snatch him up with the fourth pick.


5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

Blake Bortles perfectly fits the NFL quarterback prototype. He's officially listed at 6'5" and 232 pounds and has a killer arm to boot. Oakland will find out if his physical prowess translated to tangible results, but they can at least ease him into the starting gig after acquiring Matt Schaub earlier in the offseason.


6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Greg Robinson could easily go there. In fact, the Auburn offensive tackle could easily go No. 2 to St. Louis. While he sports the higher ceiling, Jake Matthews gives Atlanta a better chance at reviving its once prolific offense in 2014


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

An unnamed scout told Fox Sports' Joel Klatt, "There is a reason that Johnny Manziel could throw seemingly with his eyes closed at times." That reason is Mike Evans, who exudes tremendous size and leaping ability to snag jump balls at their zenith. Whoever wins Tampa Bay's starting quarterback job will have fun throwing to Evans and Vincent Jackson.


8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Teddy Bridegwater ultimately falls as a result of his lackluster pro day, but not to the level some have anticipated. Three NFL.com experts have him going to Cleveland at No. 26, but the Vikings would be remiss if they don't use the anti-Bridgewater locomotive to steal him at No. 8.


9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

The Bills should need no more than five seconds to talk over this selection. Snagging Robinson at No. 9 is a tremendous coup for a team that ran the ball more than anybody else in 2013.


10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Detroit's choice is less of a no-brainer, but the Lions must resist the temptation to add more offense to instead replenish its leaky secondary. Justin Gilbert can run side by side against the league's fastest wideouts while also displaying physical coverage.


11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

With the three top quarterbacks off the board, there's no sneaking suspicion that Tennessee's new coaching staff will seek out a change under center. The Titans can, however, make a splash on the other side by grabbing scorching pass-rusher Anthony Barr to fly around the backfield.


12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

On one hand, playing tight end offers a major advantage for Eric Ebron. Teams are looking more than ever to land playmakers at that position, and no other tight end in the draft can touch his talent.

Then again, best-selling author and occasional B/R contributor Jeff Pearlman thinks the North Carolina star would warrant No. 1 consideration if teams were willing to spend a top pick on someone at his position.

It's not No. 1, but he'll land a new home fairly early at No. 12 with the New York Giants, who need another pass-catcher to complement Victor Cruz.


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

Already taking the podium for the second time, the Rams will now give their defense due diligence after taking Watkins at No. 2. The Rams need someone in their secondary to prevent big plays after ranking last with 8.1 yards allowed per pass attempt, and Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the best man for the job.


14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

The Bears can also use a safety after losing their starting safeties, but interior run-prevention should be their top priority after allowing the most rushing yards throughout the league last season. Timmy Jernigan adds a big brute up the middle that Chicago desperately needs.


15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

The Steelers ranked ninth against the pass, but Football Outsiders calculated their DVOA at No. 19. Besides, the secondary needs some youth anyway before they're forced to start from scratch in a few years. They might as well take a proactive approach and rebuild the unit now with Darqueze Dennard.


16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Quiet you, Manziel was already taken, and that's not going to..no, just no. The team with the league's worst defensive needs help, you guessed it, on defense. Aaron Donald is not a shiny quarterback, but he's a dynamic defensive tackle who will entertain Cowboys fans all the same with his explosiveness up the middle.


17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce take a bulk of the blame for Baltimore finishing with a league-low 3.1 yards per carry, but the offensive line deserves some criticism as well. Taylor Lewan should help the Ravens return to running the ball efficiently. 


18. New York Jets: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

He's not a wide receiver or cornerback, but Calvin Pryor is worth the investment here for Gang Green. Per the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell, expect ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. to rate the menacing safety higher than Clinton-Dix.


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

The Dolphins ranked last with 58 sacks surrendered. Their 90 rushing yards per game amounted to 26th in the NFL. Offensive line is a glaring need for Miami, and Zack Martin is a stable, low-risk player who at least solidifies one spot on the line.


20. Arizona Cardinals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Perhaps the biggest reach of this pretend first round goes to the cornerback who is downgraded for inability to reach as high as his peers. This pick wouldn't draw a peep if Jason Verrett wasn't 5'9", but he plays bigger than his size and displays everything else a team wants in a defensive back. 


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

Defensive leaders are hard to find, but C.J. Mosley is well equipped to become Green Bay's director on that side of the ball once he gains some seasoning at the professional level.  He'll give the Packers a steady tackler and an intelligent player in the middle of the defense.


22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

Brandin Cooks delivers DeSean Jackson's speedy explosiveness at a fraction of the cost. The Oregon State receiver will make Philadelphia's decision to part ways with the long-term wideout easier to shallow after locating someone to fill his shoes.


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

The casual fan who only watches postseason football thinks I'm crazy. Why would an offensive juggernaut like the Chiefs want more offense? Alex Smith is already the next Joe Montana. 

Maybe they could have scored 47 points against the Colts instead of 44 if Smith had another trustworthy target on the sidelines after Dwayne Bowe. Maybe Marqise Lee can dust off a shaky junior season to become that guy.


24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

After losing Michael Johnson in free agency, the Bengals take a chance on Missouri's Kony Ealy, a superbly talented pass-rusher. One could make the case for this being a reach, but Ealy would say he deserved to go 23 picks earlier.

As he told USA Today's Tom Pelissero:

"I feel like I'm the best guy in this draft, period," Ealy said. "And that's not a cocky thing — that's just a confidence thing. It's not just talk. It's been proven. My numbers show for it. My size and speed and agility show for it. What else can you want?"

With 12.5 sacks through three seasons, his numbers don't exactly make the case he thinks they're making. Nevertheless, he'll get selected toward the end of Round 1.


25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

Pass defense represents San Diego's largest flaw, making cornerback an easy target for its first-round choice. Drafting Bradley Roby will bolster a defense that ranked 31st in passing DVOA last season.


26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

Rounding out the draft's top five corners worthy of first-round consideration, Kyle Fuller is a stud in coverage and has perhaps the highest ceiling of all the cornerback prospects. He benefits by dropping a spot to Cleveland rather than San Diego, as he can now handle the opposition's No. 2 wideout with Joe Haden shadowing the top target.


27. New Orleans Saints: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

Going for the big strike, New Orleans swings big on Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman. If he pans out, the defensive tackle will turn an average run-prevention unit into the strength, making the Saints a defensive force. But to be safe, don't expect too much from the high-upside project in 2014.


28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

Hold on, are you saying Jason Avant and Jericho Cotchery aren't an ideal starting duo at wide receiver? The Panthers need a lethal dosage of youth at wideout, and LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. is well worth the investment at No. 28.


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

Jace Amaro couldn't ask for a better scenario than getting selected by New England in the first round. He'll immediately get reps in an offense orchestrated by future Hall of Famer Tom Brady with a legendary coach who loves to utilize big-bodied tight ends.


30. San Francisco 49ers: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

This is part worrying about Aldon Smith and part taking the guy with the highest remaining upside. Smith's option was picked up by the 49ers, but with legal concerns looming, taking out an insurance policy here at a position of such importance is necessary for the 49ers. With 11 draft picks to their credit, the 49ers can gamble on some, and taking speedy linebacker Ryan Shazier can pay huge dividends down the road.


31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA

The offensive line does not receive enough credit for Denver's record-shattering offensive season. No full-time starting quarterback was sacked less than Peyton Manning (18), and the Broncos will want to keep it that way despite losing Zane Beadles to the Jaguars.

Insert Xavier Su'a-Filo into the starting lineup, and Denver won't miss a beat in the trenches.


32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford

Thinking along the same lines as the team they stomped in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks grab offensive guard David Yankey to conclude the first round. Not exactly the unconventional gamble they're used to pulling off with aplomb, but Yankey fills an immediate need for the defending champions.


All height and weight information courtesy of NFL.com.


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