It's so close you can almost taste it.
The 2014 NFL draft is a time of hope for every team with a high pick—and a chance to build on a good thing for those franchises sitting at the end of the first round. Fans have a reason for optimism as every team is fighting to make the moves that will get it to the playoffs.
While the big story coming into the draft is where each of the top-tier quarterbacks will fall, teams feeling comfortable behind center have a plethora of talented college athletes to choose from on May 8.
With the draft approaching and several teams filling out their rosters through free agency, here's a look at the latest mock draft for every team in the first round.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
There are conversations taking place about whether or not Jadeveon Clowney will be a bust. As ridiculous as that sounds, there are actually people saying he won't succeed at the next level.
As for Adam Schein of NFL.com, he provides his thoughts on the top prospect:
I live for a great sports debate. I love sports drama. I yearn for intelligent sports discussion. But when it comes to what the Houston Texans should do with the No. 1 overall pick, there's no discussion.
Jadeveon Clowney is the best player in the 2014 NFL Draft. That's it. Story over.
With widely differing views of the talented defensive end, only the Houston Texans can decide whether or not they pull the trigger on the South Carolina product. And if they do, the tandem of J.J. Watt and Clowney could send a few quarterbacks running and hiding.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Throughout the entire college season, Greg Robinson appeared to be just behind Jake Matthews at the top of the impressive 2014 offensive lineman class. But over the course of the BCS National Championship Game and offseason workouts, he has proved his athleticism and strength that puts him above the rest of the prospects.
St. Louis has a need to keep Sam Bradford upright and protect other assets like Zac Stacy, so the team will put stock in taking a great lineman over any playmaker behind him. That is, if they decide to keep the pick and not trade down, which seems just as likely.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
There are holes all over the field for the Jacksonville Jaguars but adding a surefire star like Khalil Mack to the front seven alongside Paul Posluszny makes the defense exponentially better.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network shares his thoughts on the tremendous talent, per Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram:
He runs like a safety. He explodes off the edge. From my perspective, in today’s NFL, guys that have natural edge rush ability are like gold. You’ve got to get them when they are available.
I think he’s one of the elite edge guys in the draft, but he hustles. He’s tough. He can play the run game, and unlike a lot of these guys, he can also drop in coverage. So I have yet to find a hole in his game.
Much like Clowney, Mack has a chance to be a game-changer on every snap and close games out for the Jaguars with a huge stop. With a great run-stopper like Posluszny and a player who wreaks havoc on quarterbacks like Mack, all hell might break loose in the AFC South.
If Clowney and Mack end up in the same division, my prayers go out to Andrew Luck and every other opposing quarterback in the division.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
At the beginning of the college football season, Teddy Bridgewater could do no wrong. He was projected as the top overall pick by some and a Heisman hopeful.
Now, Bridgewater is being shoved down draft boards outside of the top 10 and into the second round by a few analysts. But he's still the best quarterback on the board and an intriguing selection for a struggling Cleveland Browns team in need of a leader on offense.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Easily the most talented wide receiver in the 2014 class, Sammy Watkins won't fall past the top five picks with his elite speed. He has a chance to be the No. 1 wideout for the Oakland Raiders for the next decade.
While the Raiders could use some help in the quarterback department along with other positions, getting one of the best playmakers in the draft will go a long way toward the Silver and Black returning to relevancy in the coming years.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Clearly one of the best offensive linemen in a stacked class, Jake Matthews will come into the NFL with a pedigree and the raw strength to get the job done. Thanks to the fact the Atlanta Falcons have a need at the position, Matthews will narrowly fall outside of the top five and join a team that can compete right away.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
In a class where Sammy Watkins is the clear No. 1 receiver, Evans is the obvious No. 2 wideout, and most would argue he's not too far behind.
Texas A&M wide receivers coach David Beaty spoke about the improvements his former star receiver made after his breakout freshman campaign and the type of person he is, per Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports:
He could've just elected to say, "Hey man, I'm fine. I'm just going to continue to do what I do, go through the motions and I'll become better just because I'm doing it more." But he didn't do that. He listened, he applied, and it made an unbelievable difference for him in his ability to become a better route runner and receiver.
I just love the kid. ... You ask what the NFL team that takes him is getting? The one thing they're not getting is an issue. They're getting a professional.
An elite prospect with the work ethic to continue to reach his ceiling at the next level? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be foolish to pass him up.
Joining up with a receiver like Vincent Jackson—to whom Evans has been compared—could be just what Evans needs to see vast improvements in the NFL.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Just imagine this for a second: Johnny Manziel drops back, fakes the handoff to Adrian Peterson and rolls out to his left for a huge gain. Or maybe you want to see him snap off a short pass to Greg Jennings or Cordarrelle Patterson for chunk yardage.
Either way, putting Johnny Football in a Minnesota Vikings uniform just makes sense for both sides. Manziel would benefit from the threat of Peterson, and Minnesota will finally get a spark behind center. With the window closing on Peterson's productiveness, it's time to get a quarterback who can flourish with an experienced running back by his side.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
This is just another move that makes sense for everyone. Eric Ebron is one of the most athletic tight ends to enter the draft in several years, and the Buffalo Bills need another home-run threat for EJ Manuel to gel with over the next decade.
Both former ACC players will now lock up in what could be an explosive duo for the Bills. A return to the top of the AFC East might still be a few years off, but growing the offense with an already great defense should be the first priority for Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Every time it comes to this choice, it just makes too much sense to slot Darqueze Dennard to the Detroit Lions. Dennard already has experience playing in Michigan and makes a perfect fit for the Lions' hard-nosed defense.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
While others have dropped off on Anthony Barr's stock, he's still one of the best defensive players in the class in my book. After slowly building up the defensive side of the ball over the last few years, the Tennessee Titans will add yet another immensely talented player who can immediately help the team.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Maybe Eli Manning really was the problem last season for the New York Giants with a career-high 27 interceptions. But his line certainly didn't do anything to help him.
While Taylor Lewan comes in with a few question marks, he is a player who can shut down any defensive lineman and help the Giants right away.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
This one is simple. After picking up a position of need at No. 2 in the draft with Robinson, the Rams will then take the best safety in the class with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. By filling two positions of need early, St. Louis can start looking at skill positions in the later rounds.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
After a tough year for the Chicago Bears where they missed out on the postseason, there are a few holes the team needs to plug. With one of the biggest needs on the defensive line, Aaron Donald is a perfect fit.
Simply put, the Bears need a player who can stop the run and impact the passing game. Donald can do both and do it immediately.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
As stout as the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been for the better part of the last decade, it's time to start looking at reinforcements for those getting a bit long in the tooth. Luckily, Justin Gilbert is still on the board and fits the mold of the AFC North.
Gilbert spoke about his belief in his ability along with the player he models his game after, per Jim Corbett of USA Today:
I believe I'm the best cornerback in this draft. I model my style of play after Patrick Peterson. If Deion Sanders was still playing, I'd compare myself to him. Not a lot of corners have my return ability. When I catch an interception, I'm not just looking to go down. I'm looking to do something after the catch.
I'm a very positive person that knows how to handle his business on and off the field—no bad records, no crime, no failed drug tests. I understand if you don't handle your business your days will be short.
Not only are the Steelers getting a great player, but they're also bringing in an athlete who represents himself well. And isn't that what Pittsburgh is all about?
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
As atrocious as last season was for the Dallas Cowboys defense, there is no immediate fix for the team. But grabbing Timmy Jernigan, an athletic defensive tackle who can be a stopgap in the running game and help rush the passer, will help the team right away.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois
Coming into the draft as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the class, Jimmie Ward is a 5'11" dynamo who is a sure tackler and is outstanding in pass coverage. His seven interceptions, 10 passes defended and 95 tackles put him at the top of the first-round safety class, making him a great pickup for the Baltimore Ravens.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
He's not the first wide receiver taken in the opening round, and he certainly won't be the last. But with his flashy style of play and breakaway speed, Odell Beckham Jr. is a perfect addition for the New York Jets, a team in need of more playmakers after the additions of Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford in free agency.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
After coming up just short of making the playoffs, the Miami Dolphins need one simple fix to put them over the top. Many teams might need to add a playmaker or shutdown defensive player, but the Dolphins simply need an offensive lineman to help keep Ryan Tannehill upright.
Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald reports the team is extremely high on Zack Martin of Notre Dame:
Sometimes, the pundits are right.
The Dolphins’ interest in Zack Martin is one of those cases.
A slew of mock drafts have the Dolphins taking Martin, a versatile offensive lineman from Notre Dame, with the 19th overall pick. [...]
Although the Dolphins, as one scout put it, would “fall all over themselves” if Michigan’s Taylor Lewan somehow slipped to them, multiple sources in the know firmly believe Martin is the team’s first-round target on May 8.
Miami allowed a league-high 58 sacks—eight more than second-place Jacksonville—in 2013 and couldn't stop the bleeding. With Zack Martin serving as the stopgap, look for the Dolphins to once again make noise in the AFC East.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
This makes perfect sense for both Blake Bortles and the Arizona Cardinals. The UCF quarterback likely needs more time to grow before taking the reins, which he can do behind Carson Palmer, and the Cardinals need a signal-caller of the future.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com hypothesized a similar scenario in an earlier mock draft:
It would likely take a wild scenario for Bortles to be available at this stage of the draft, but the Cardinals need a young quarterback in place to succeed Carson Palmer in a year or so. Bortles is not only the right fit for Bruce Arians' system, but he undoubtedly would benefit from a year on the sidelines before being thrust into action.
Palmer knows exactly how the process works, having sat on the bench for a season with the Cincinnati Bengals after he was drafted No. 1 overall, and can help Bortles grow into a franchise quarterback. Oh, then there's the fact that Bortles has been training with Jordan Palmer, Carson's brother, throughout the draft process.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Much like the debate over the best corner in the 2014 class, the debate over the best free safety has come down to Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. What this selection at No. 21 means for the Green Bay Packers is they get a player right away who is looking to prove he's the best at his position.
Motivation can be a huge asset for a rookie, and Pryor will show why he shouldn't have dropped below the Alabama product in the draft. Bringing a hard-hitting style and speed to cover the entire field, watch for Pryor to make a huge impact next season.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
All Brandin Cooks did during the 2013 season with Oregon State was shatter his career high with 128 receptions, 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. Despite his size—he's only 5'10", but undersized receivers are so in right now—Cooks can do it all on the football field.
Lining him up at the same position that DeSean Jackson manned for multiple seasons would fill that hole immediately.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner came into the season as one of the top wide receivers in college football. While injuries and reduced production dropped him behind the likes of Watkins and Evans in the pre-draft process, Marqise Lee still has the potential to flourish with the right system as a pro.
And in the combine, Lee did enough to earn a compliment from Gil Brandt of NFL.com about his workouts:
Marqise Lee really helped himself today. But Sammy Watkins was head/shoulders above every other WR. #NFLCombine— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) February 23, 2014
With Dwayne Bowe on the other side, Lee could step in and immediately be the No. 2 target for Alex Smith in the Chiefs offense. He will make an impact right away for Kansas City, a team in need of more weapons.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Let's be honest, before the draft process got started, not many people outside of ACC circles had ever heard of Kyle Fuller. But with a 6'0", 190-pound build, Fuller is both an outstanding cover corner and has the toughness to make a difference on the gridiron.
Fuller is a sure tackler and would have time to learn under the tutelage of Terence Newman and Adam Jones before taking the reins in the Cincinnati Bengals secondary.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Physical tools, athleticism and speed to keep up with elite receivers—these are all traits that Jason Verrett possesses and the San Diego Chargers need. In a division where Peyton Manning and Alex Smith dominate, Verrett can help the Chargers return to the playoffs.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Much like Dennard, Bradley Roby will pack his bags and take a short ride from Columbus to join the Cleveland Browns. With his potential to lock down receivers off the line, Roby might be a later selection than other corners, but he possesses the same athletic ability to help Cleveland right away.
27. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
In a division where the Carolina Panthers are clearly the front-runners defensively, the New Orleans Saints have a chance to draft an inside linebacker that can rival Luke Kuechly. While C.J. Mosley might not slide down to this point in the first round, Rob Ryan would fall all over himself to pick him up.
28. Carolina Panthers: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
It's been a rough offseason for the Panthers. With the release of Steve Smith, losses of Brandon LaFell to the New England Patriots, Ted Ginn to the Arizona Cardinals and Jordan Gross to retirement, there are some crucial holes to fill.
Draft analyst Mel Kiper of ESPN believes the needs at wide receiver outweigh the spot on the offensive line, per Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer:
Carolina can’t get just one. They probably have to get two receivers.
They haven’t had great wide receiver play, even with Steve Smith. Steve Smith was a heck of a player. Who was the other guy? Brandon LaFell dropped a lot of balls. So it’s not like this team had a great receiving corps, or a good receiving corps, anyway. Now they need multiple receivers.
With Cody Latimer still on the board and a desperate need at the position, look for the Panthers to pull the trigger on him. Latimer has quickly climbed up draft lists and has the physicality to begin to make a difference offensively and help Cam Newton dry some of his tears from this offseason.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots have made some big moves with the aforementioned signing of LaFell and re-signing of their leading receiver in 2013, Julian Edelman. But with the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski, New England still needs to get a tight end to continue its dominance in the AFC East.
With Jace Amaro still on the board, the Pats will pull the trigger on a guy who opens up the middle of the field for Tom Brady.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
In the department of "things that make sense," this move should be first on the list. Kony Ealy is an explosive defensive end who might just project better as an outside linebacker.
Charles Davis of NFL.com wrote about Ealy's potential early in the process:
Ealy has been consistent all the way through. Ealy finished the season a lot stronger than Sam and, at this point, it looks like he has better potential at the next level, potentially as a 3-4 outside 'backer.
Given the San Francisco 49ers' needs at both positions—especially if Aldon Smith doesn't return in 2014—Ealy can make an immediate difference for the Niners.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
After a huge year where they came up just short of a championship, the Denver Broncos have just a few holes to fill to get back to the Super Bowl and complete the journey for Peyton Manning. Having a late Round 1 selection in hand, they'll look to help protect their biggest asset by plugging Xavier Su'a-Filo into the offensive line.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Bringing back Sidney Rice was a good start for the Seattle Seahawks but improving in the passing game is still a necessity for the team to repeat as Super Bowl champions after Golden Tate departed in free agency. Signing Kelvin Benjamin gives the Seahawks a huge receiver and an intriguing target for one Russell Wilson.
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