It may not seem like it considering how far the NFL pushed the 2014 draft back on its calendar this year, but college stars such as Johnny Manziel, Sammy Watkins and Jadeveon Clowney will eventually find professional homes.
The first round is sure to surprise this season, with a number of top-notch quarterbacks, cornerbacks and wide receivers jockeying for position.
With that in mind, let’s dig into a mock draft of the entire first round.
1. Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Quarterback is a bigger area of need for the Houston Texans, but it is also a bigger risk in this draft.
Jadeveon Clowney is simply too talented to pass up with the top pick, and the Texans will respond accordingly. He is a physical freak of an athlete and won’t have to worry about being double-teamed in the NFL like he was on almost every single play in college.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
This is an upside pick. Jake Matthews is the more polished offensive line prospect considering his NFL father and his overall fundamentals.
However, much like Clowney, the athleticism of Greg Robinson jumps off the page. He explodes off the snap and creates running lanes and throwing windows on almost every play. He can also fill in at tackle or guard and will give the St. Louis Rams some depth along their injury-riddled front.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
National college football columnist Bruce Feldman shared that there is plenty of intrigue surrounding Khalil Mack as a possible No. 1 pick, so the Jacksonville Jaguars would be thrilled to get him at No. 3:
Lots of buzz abt Khalil Mack going #1 overall. Crazy to think we'd have back-to-back yrs w a former "2-star" recruit going #1 (Eric Fisher)— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) April 24, 2014
Jacksonville is more than one player away from competing, so it will take the pass-rushing expert in an effort to shore up its defense. Between speed, power, the ability to rush off the edge and the capability to defend tight ends in the passing game, there is very little that Mack cannot do.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Cleveland needs a quarterback, plain and simple, and Blake Bortles is the most polished of the elite signal-callers in this draft.
Bortles has the arm strength necessary to fit any throw through tight windows and is more athletic than he gets credit for. He also has impressive size and could finally be the player to lock down the Browns’ quarterback position for more than a single season.
5. Oakland Raiders: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
A star, top-flight wide receiver has been missing in Oakland for years, and Sammy Watkins has a real chance to become just that.
He has the speed to get past defenders down the field or make people miss on short screen routes, and he has the hands to make plays in the red zone. The Raiders improved their running back and quarterback situations in the offseason with Matt Schaub and Maurice Jones-Drew, so they will shore up the pass-catchers here.
6. Atlanta Falcons: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Keeping Matt Ryan on his feet should be priority No. 1 for the Atlanta Falcons this season, and Matthews is just the man to make it happen.
The Texas A&M product is capable of sliding in right away as a starter for the Falcons, which makes him all the more appealing at No. 6. If Mack is still available, he might be the pick for a Falcons team that needs pass-rushers, but Matthews is the answer for now.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Mike Evans at No. 7 may seem like a bit of a stretch, but let Don Banks of Sports Illustrated explain why the Texas A&M receiver would be a good fit in Tampa Bay:
The vision of quarterback Josh McCown's success last season in Chicago throwing to the twin towers known as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery should be on Tampa Bay's mind in the first round. Evans knows how to make the contested catch, and paired with veteran receiver Vincent Jackson, he'd instantly upgrade the thinnest position on the Bucs' depth chart.
8. Minnesota Vikings: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Fear not, Johnny Manziel, you aren’t falling out of the top 10.
The Minnesota Vikings simply do not have their quarterback of the future in place right now, and Manziel will be welcomed with open arms. Manziel has well-known playmaking ability in the open field with his feet and in the pocket with his arm, and he will make teams that focus too much on Adrian Peterson pay dearly, even as a rookie.
9. Buffalo Bills: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell loves Eric Ebron as an NFL prospect, via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com:
That's what everybody wants in today's NFL. They want a tight end that's essentially a wide receiver in the way he can be deployed, because not only does it create matchups for him but it also dictates matchups for all your other receivers.
So he fits that profile and the added element is that he can score from pretty much anywhere on the field, which you can't really say about most tight ends with very few exceptions.
The Buffalo Bills need that type of playmaker in their passing attack, so they will take a chance on the tight end with their first pick.
10. Detroit Lions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Ever since the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl with two excellent safeties, the position has seen an increase in perceived value.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will benefit from that when the Detroit Lions take him with the No. 10 pick. Detroit’s secondary is a weakness right now, and considering the number of talented receivers in the NFC North, this is a critical pick.
Clinton-Dix has impressive speed, which helps him cover plenty of ground, and he is solid against the run as well.
11. Tennessee Titans: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
The Tennessee Titans need help along the defensive front, and Anthony Barr brings top-10 talent to the table.
Much like Mack, he is versatile and athletic enough to play as an outside linebacker or a pass-rushing defensive end, and he will get to the quarterback with regularity at the next level. He is also a solid run-stopper and can hang with most tight ends in the speed department.
12. New York Giants: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
The New York Giants need help on the offensive line, but the loss of Linval Joseph also opens up a need on the defensive front.
Aaron Donald can stuff the run and get to the quarterback thanks to his ability to dominate blockers in a one-on-one setting, and he will make life much easier for the team’s corners. The Dallas Cowboys, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins all have potent weapons in the passing game, so Donald’s penetration and ability to rush the quarterback will be critical.
13. St. Louis Rams:CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The St. Louis Rams already got a boost to their offensive line in this draft, and they get something of a break here with arguably the top cornerback available falling to No. 13.
Justin Gilbert is an absolute ball hawk who led the Big 12 in interceptions last season. He also has the speed and agility to help out in the return game if necessary, but his presence against the quarterbacks in this division is why the Rams will use a first-round pick on him.
14. Chicago Bears: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
With Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston on board, the Chicago Bears addressed some of their needs on the defensive line.
That means they will turn to the safety position with their top pick.
Clinton-Dix is already gone in this hypothetical, so the Bears will select Calvin Pryor. Pryor is a ball-seeking missile in the secondary who can stuff the run game or make receivers think twice about going over the middle. Look for him to start right away in place of the struggling Chris Conte, who was burned deep in the final minutes of Chicago’s last game, which cost the team a playoff spot.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
The Pittsburgh Steelers have more areas of need than they are accustomed to, but the lack of depth at cornerback last season paired with Ike Taylor’s age (33 years old) means cornerback is the pick.
With Gilbert off the board, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is the next selection.
He is physical in the open field and swats down almost everything thrown his way. His presence was the primary reason Michigan State’s secondary was seen as a “no-fly zone” last season, which is something the Steelers would love to say about their own defense again one day.
16. Dallas Cowboys: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Henry Melton was a nice addition for the Dallas Cowboys, but one defensive tackle coming off a season that was cut short by injury does not fix all the holes on the defensive front.
Timmy Jernigan brings run-stuffing abilities to the table with his size alone, but he is also capable of getting to the quarterback. He will help fill the void left by Jason Hatcher’s departure to division rival Washington.
17. Baltimore Ravens: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated believes that Taylor Lewan will help solve the Baltimore Ravens’ immediate problems and long-term concerns on the offensive line: "Consider the Ravens’ RT problem solved. And a few years down the road, when Eugene Monroe has outstayed his usefulness, there won’t be a need to rush out for a left tackle. Lewan will boost the Ravens’ run game and make Joe Flacco’s life a little easier."
18. New York Jets: WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
The New York Jets bolstered their offense with the additions of Michael Vick and Eric Decker in the offseason, but they still need a speedy receiver to stretch the field.
Odell Beckham Jr. brings incredible speed to the table, and his presence alone will open up the middle of the field for Decker. Beckham also has the hands necessary to make critical plays in the red zone.
19. Miami Dolphins: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
The Miami Dolphins need more depth along the offensive line, especially after the Jonathan Martin situation last season.
Zack Martin has the versatility necessary to fill in at either guard or tackle, and he was particularly durable at Notre Dame, starting all 52 games, including 50 at left tackle. Drafting someone who can play multiple positions and do so without much of an injury risk is the perfect combination for a team that needs serious help on the line.
20. Arizona Cardinals: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
The success of Marshall and Jeffery in Chicago will inspire the Arizona Cardinals to take a tall and athletic counterpart to Larry Fitzgerald.
Kelvin Benjamin is an absolute physical presence at the wide receiver position, and he will use that physicality to box out cornerbacks for jump balls in the end zone. He also has solid speed to get over the top in the passing game and isn’t afraid to go across the middle to pick up critical first downs.
21. Green Bay Packers: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
C.J. Mosley is a possibility for the Green Bay Packers, but his injury history is a concern that will scare them away on draft day.
Instead, they will look to Ryan Shazier of Ohio State.
Shazier brings game-changing speed to the table and rarely misses a tackle in the open field. He is also a formidable pass-rusher, which is critical in an NFC North that throws the ball all over the field to elite wide receivers.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Yes, DeSean Jackson is gone, but the Philadelphia Eagles were too susceptible against the pass last year to ignore that need in the first round of the draft.
Kyle Fuller has top-10 talent but was injured for much of the 2013 season for Virginia Tech. He is particularly athletic, which will help against the likes of Dez Bryant and Victor Cruz in the NFC East. He will compete for a starting spot right away in Philly.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
The Kansas City Chiefs had one of the best rushing attacks in all of football last year, but they could use a speedy wide receiver to stretch the field.
Burke believes that Brandin Cooks from Oregon State will be the pick: “Andy Reid likes to get the ball out of his quarterback’s hands and into those of the Chiefs’ playmakers. In Cooks, Kansas City adds one of the most lethal catch-and-run threats in this draft.”
24. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
The late picks in the first round will be something of a cornerback parade, and the Cincinnati Bengals will join the party with in-state product Bradley Roby.
The Bengals have injury and age concerns in the secondary, and Roby brings impressive speed and athleticism to the table. He was somewhat inconsistent in his final season at Ohio State, but his high ceiling is enough to land him in the first round.
25. San Diego Chargers: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
The cornerback parade continues with the No. 25 pick as the San Diego Chargers select Jason Verrett of TCU.
Verrett isn’t the biggest cornerback prospect, but his ball-hawking abilities and speed will serve him well when defending slot receivers. Look for him to compete for a starting job right away.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): WR Marqise Lee, USC
The Cleveland Browns got their quarterback in the early going of this mock, and now they will take a wide receiver for him to throw to. Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar believes Marqise Lee is the right pick for the Browns:
With Josh Gordon making chicken salad out of last year’s quarterback soup, and Johnny Football already mocked to Cleveland, Lee would help the Browns complete an excellent passing game. Like Reggie Wayne, Lee doesn’t blow you away with highlight moments on tape as much as he does everything right … over and over.
27. New Orleans Saints: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
The New Orleans Saints have a handful of needs outside of defensive end, but they will add another pass-rusher to bolster their 3-4 defensive scheme.
Kony Ealy is one of the more intriguing pass-rushers in the draft because he has the speed to get around the edge and the ability to stuff the run. Few teams love to blitz as much as New Orleans, and Ealy will fit right in as a Saint.
28. Carolina Panthers: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
The Carolina Panthers have lost plenty of talent this offseason, and drafting offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama will help fill one of the holes, per Farrar:
Jordan Gross’ retirement leaves a hole in Carolina’s offense that’s just as prominent as the one left by all those departing receivers, and Kouandjio perfectly fits Carolina’s longtime preference for a power front with pass-protection expertise. As long as his medicals check out, the mammoth Kouandjio isn’t a reach here.
29. New England Patriots: DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
Vince Wilfork isn’t going to be lacing it up for the New England Patriots forever, and Louis Nix is a perfect candidate to replace Wilfork in the middle for years to come.
He can stuff the run with his size and physicality and is very difficult to block without a double-team. If Nix can draw doubles in the middle, it will open up the linebackers and defensive ends enough to rush the passer and stop the rushing attack.
30. San Francisco 49ers: DE Dee Ford, Auburn
Aldon Smith’s future in San Francisco is anything but a sure thing, so the 49ers will take another pass-rushing defensive end with their first-round pick.
Dee Ford was a pass-rushing superstar for Auburn, and he has the versatility and athleticism necessary to fill in as an outside linebacker if needed.
31. Denver Broncos: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater will be this year’s version of Aaron Rodgers—a talented quarterback who slides further than he should in the draft and ends up at a Super Bowl-contending team with an aging veteran.
Peyton Manning is still one of the game’s best, but Denver will be thinking about five years down the road when it sees Bridgewater still available at No. 31. There are few throws he cannot make. He has poise in the pocket and is a tremendous runner when things break down.
And he will be even more prepared for the NFL after a couple of years under Manning.
32. Seattle Seahawks: TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
The defending Super Bowl champions run the ball and play defense at an elite level, but Seattle doesn’t have the field-stretching tight end that many teams do.
Enter Jace Amaro.
The Texas Tech product has the speed of a wide receiver and the physicality and size of a tight end. Russell Wilson will be even more effective with Amaro as a security blanket.
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