Despite all the hoopla, rumors and the like, the 2014 NFL draft will come down to two rather simple things—need and value.
In a perfect world, the two are married as a team walks to the podium and either grabs that critical piece of the rebuild or missing piece that can put the roster over the top.
The biggest need on each roster is certainly up for debate, and the difference between public opinion and the front office itself can be wildly different at times. Let's take a moment to properly hit each team's biggest need before the big day.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
It seems to be a consensus that Teddy Bridgewater will tumble down draft boards. Just look at this, via ESPN's Chris Mortensen:
Another "surprise" QB team to watch: Bengals, even though there are needs at CB & DL. Teddy Bridgewater is in discussion as fallback option— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) May 3, 2014
Cincinnati doesn't pick until No. 24.
But the assault on Bridgewater's stock may be a smoke screen, and his ability to come in and make an impact while flashing such traits like moving defenders with his eyes is the best way to hit on Houston's biggest need as the Bill O'Brien era begins.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Simply put, the St. Louis Rams need another wideout to complement Sam Bradford.
By definition, safety next to T.J. McDonald is the biggest need, but the Rams have two selections in the first round. Instead they must grab Sammy Watkins to pair with Tavon Austin. It's tough to grab a top receiver in back-to-back years, but the Rams and Bradford will be better for it in the long haul.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Fans can officially put to bed the notion that Jadeveon Clowney will be the first player off the board, as noted by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
In talking to people who know #Texans GM Rick Smith well, I no longer believe it’s a certainty that Jadeveon Clowney would be their 1st pick— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 5, 2014
Jacksonville has no issue with that, and while it's hard to quantify which need is biggest, Clowney fills two major gaps. For one, he'll act as the face of the franchise right away. Two, he'll have a positive impact on the rest of the roster as he stands tall in all facets.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
It's fun to think a wideout or elite defender could come off the board to Cleveland at No. 4, but in reality the Browns are not a franchise that can afford a luxury pick.
Johnny Manziel is the smart play. He has a big arm and can freestyle plays on the run after a normal quarterback would have hit the turf. It's a risky proposition, but one the quarterback-friendly staff in Cleveland should help mold properly.
Besides, with the biggest need out of the way, Cleveland can have a bit of fun later in the first round.
5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Good luck discerning which need is most integral in Oakland.
The Raiders simply need building blocks at this point, something Greg Robinson can provide on the left or right side.
Robinson is a bit raw in pass protection, but his overall game hints at a supreme ceiling that could allow him to morph into the best tackle the league has to offer a few years down the line.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
NFL Network's Gil Brandt, among other things, suggested to MMQB's Peter King that Khalil Mack may be the first player to have his name called:
"I don’t think Teddy Bridgewater falls to the second round. I think Johnny Manziel will go in the top five, but not number one. And I think Khalil Mack gets picked ahead of Jadeveon Clowney."
Mack has been a steady riser throughout the process and an ideal selection for Atlanta, a team in need of a versatile pass-rusher to fit its ever-changing unit. Once in place, Mack has the ability to upgrade the entire unit, as the time his teammates have to spend in coverage will be noticeably reduced.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Tampa Bay needs to add more talent on the offensive side of the ball to better help one of Mike Glennon or Josh McCown, and no that does not mean they should invest in another quarterback.
Instead, the front office can grab Mike Evans and rest easy knowing that means, in tandem with Vincent Jackson, that both quarterbacks will have massive targets on either side of the field to hit.
Lovie Smith can go get a quarterback of his own later in the proceedings if he so desires.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
There was a time when Blake Bortles was the consensus No. 1 overall pick.
Thanks, extended draft process.
As Bleacher Report's Ty Schalter notes, the trends say enough about Bortles upon examination:
...no one would have guessed Blake Bortles is the best quarterback in the class a few months ago because he wasn't. Should tell ya something— Ty Schalter (@tyschalter) May 5, 2014
This process will end up with Bortles in Minnesota, a team that can rest easy with Matt Cassel for one more year while they groom the UCF product into their starter of tomorrow.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
EJ Manuel's future success has to be the focal point for the Buffalo Bills on Thursday.
To that end, it only makes sense that the front office goes out and grabs a big tight end with elite speed to both bail Manuel out and stuff his stat sheet as short passes turn into big plays.
Eric Ebron is the guy. A top wideout would have been nice, but far and away the best tight end in the class works, too.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Detroit is in a strange spot when it comes to value, although there are a few needs that can be hit at No. 10.
Wideout is one, but with two of the top names already off the board, the Lions must look to grab the draft's top defensive back to better what has consistently been a weak point.
Darqueze Dennard is the best in some circles, and it's hard to argue as his physical game and skill in coverage equates to instant contributions and productivity down the line once he adapts.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
The transition to a new defense is never easy, but Tennessee benefits in the first round thanks to the wild stock of UCLA's Anthony Barr.
As Brandt notes, he's the "wild card" of the class:
That sounds negative, and part of it is. Barr is a converted running back with limited moves as a pass-rusher, but he's skilled nonetheless and a valuable piece for a new unit in Tennessee.
12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
One name encompasses what must be the majority focus of the 2014 class for the New York Giants, and it starts in Round 1.
Jake Matthews isn't discussed a lot because frankly, he's rather boring. The NFL is in his blood, and his technique and overall skill set ensure he will be a strong contributor for a very long time. New York needs that sort of piece in front of an aging Manning.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha'Sean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Remember the Rams?
No. 13 is where the safety next to McDonald comes into play. Ha'Sean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix has distanced himself as the top player in the class at the spot, which makes the Rams two for two when it comes to nabbing the top player at a given position.
Better yet, an overall stout defense gets a major boost as its remaining weakness gets engulfed by a promising prospect.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Chicago's primary need has been readily apparent since the departure of interior disruptor Henry Melton via free agency.
While a corner to build for the future would be a treat, a prospect like Aaron Donald doesn't come around often, nor does he perfectly fit a need.
Donald is a Geno Atkins-esque player who will slide right into the starting lineup and make an impact next to edge-rushers such as Jared Allen. That's how a team properly rebuilds the defensive trenches in one offseason.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Pittsburgh needs to get younger in the secondary in a hurry.
Justin Gilbert is an ideal fit and value if the front office elects to follow that line of thinking, although CBS Sports' Dane Brugler helps to explain why Gilbert is quietly one of the more polarizing players in the first round:
CB Justin Gilbert might be that prospect this year that some would draft top-10, but I wouldn't even consider him in the 1st round— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) May 6, 2014
Regardless, Gilbert has the talent to contribute every now and then while learning from the likes of Ike Taylor. It's the type of forward-looking move the Steelers have not hit on very well the past few years.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The addition of Melton is great, but unlike Chicago, Dallas did little else to improve what was a miserable defensive line last season.
Kony Ealy is the solution as an all-around sound prospect who can play on the edge or kick inside given the situation. Versatility will go a long way for the Cowboys, a team that needs as much help as it can get on defense.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Baltimore's biggest need is tough to figure out, but adding a tackle to complement Eugene Monroe and better protect Joe Flacco sure isn't a bad route to take.
Especially with Taylor Lewan on the board. There are red flags, but Wolverines coach Brady Hoke says they are overblown, per ESPN's Vaughn McClure:
'The only thing I know off the field is the incident where he allegedly punched a guy after the Ohio State game, and it hasn't been proven that he's done that,' Hoke told ESPN.com. 'For me, he's never had an issue. Until the truth comes out, I think people are always going to assume.'
That's ultimately for Baltimore to decide, but in the mean time it gets a player who can start right away and needs a few years of development before becoming an elite player.
18. New York Jets: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Rex Ryan's New York Jets are a bit similar to Buffalo in that they have to protect a quarterback, but corner is arguably the biggest need for the team.
It's hard to ignore Kyle Fuller. He can line up at any spot, play sound in coverage and violently attack the run.
That's a centerpiece for Ryan's defense, which needs surefire contributors behind a strong front seven.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
The name can change but the position won't—the Miami Dolphins have to take an offensive lineman in the first round as they continue to rebuild the NFL's worst unit.
Some, such as NFL Network's Mike Mayock, via Brugler—who agrees—don't see Zack Martin on the board at No. 19:
Mayock on OL Zack Martin to Miami: "No way in my mind he gets close to No. 19." >>> I agree— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) May 1, 2014
It's certainly debatable, but if he is, Miami will surely sprint to the podium. Martin's ability to play any spot on the line at a high level makes him a gem for a team with so many needs in that regard.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
There are other needs in the desert, but Bruce Arians may have an eye toward the future in that regard on draft day.
This is especially the case if he gets a strong-armed quarterback who can sit and learn behind Carson Palmer for a year or more.
Derek Carr is the obvious answer. Great arm, smart reads and high football I.Q. all go along with the Fresno State product, and he doesn't have to get thrown to the wolves. Easy call.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Secondary and linebacker come to mind as immediate needs for Green Bay, which makes it so tantalizing when one realizes C.J. Mosley is still on the board.
Mosley is a sideline-to-sideline enforcer who is far and away the best in class and one of the best to come out in recent years.
That speed, violence and overall attitude will provide a massive boost to the defense in Green Bay. It also gives those around him more room to work.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Chip Kelly did a bang-up job in his first year and quietly even produced a nice foundation for a 3-4 defense.
That has to continue in the first round this year. Kelly has to look no further than Calvin Pryor, a prospect who has fallen a bit behind at his position but remains a first-round talent thanks to rangy play and instincts.
Philadelphia gets a sound piece next to Malcolm Jenkins, which shores up a tough spot to be successful at for years to come.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Kansas City does not have a wealth of needs to hit at No. 23, but if the front office elects to wait on offensive line help, a wideout makes sense.
A consensus pick seems to be Marqise Lee, which Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star helps to elaborate on:
I also like Marqise Lee at WR. #Chiefs have access to info I don’t on him, though. I wouldn’t take him if long-term durability is a concern— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) May 2, 2014
Injuries were a concern for Lee at USC, but his overall skill set similar to Watkins' makes for quite the value for the Chiefs.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Cincinnati is one of those teams that has little in the way of immediate needs, so Marvin Lewis and Co. will have no issues looking to the future.
The biggest need there? Corner considering the first three players on the depth chart are over the age of 30 and injury risks.
Jason Verrett is a slot corner at heart, but his violence again the run and overall skill set suggest he can play anywhere on the field in an effective manner. He'll make quite the No. 2 corner in a few years.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
San Diego must find a game-changing force in the trenches to help improve what was quietly a sound unit last season.
Louis Nix would be the guy. He's far and away the best 3-4 nose tackle in the draft, a notion Bleacher Report's Matt Miller concurs with:
Louis Nix, Rd1 RT @SwaggedUpSpence: who is your top rated NT in the draft, and what round do you expect him to go?— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 24, 2014
Nix gives the linebackers more room to operate and keeps his secondary mates in coverage for lesser amounts of time.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Now Cleveland can have some fun and grab another offensive weapon to pair with Josh Gordon, which will give the Browns one of the scariest wideout combos in the NFL if done properly.
It doesn't get any better than Odell Beckham Jr., a wideout who is elite on returns and at breaking a routine play open thanks to speed and shiftiness.
Beckham Jr. will thrive from Week 1 with Gordon soaking up much of the attention.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Rob Ryan's defense in New Orleans needs more talent. It's rather simple and also strange considering how well the unit played a year ago.
The solution is Ryan Shazier. He's not much of a pass-rusher, but elite speed allows him to be an enforcer and hold up well in coverage. Rapoport puts it best:
At 1 point, I wondered if #OSU OLB Ryan Shazier would be a 1st rounder. Heard so much love for him this week. Think it’s a lock. He can fly— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 5, 2014
Shazier is a steal, especially once Ryan puts him in the best situations to best maximize his talents.
28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Cam Newton knows best, but everybody knows the only need in Carolina is more talent around the franchise quarterback.
Tackle can wait, especially with Allen Robinson on the board. He plays a large game and fights for every ball, meaning he's what Newton needs as a reliable target.
It's far from the last time Carolina will address the offense, but it's a heck of a way to get things started.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Jace Amaro was made for New England.
A glorified receiver who doesn't have a true position, Amaro could be what Aaron Hernandez was for the Patriots in the confines of the offense.
Amaro gives Tom Brady another reliable target. What else could the front office ask for in a strange draft?
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
If San Francisco fails to move up, wideout is one of the needs the front office may look to hit, with no need necessarily sticking out more than the others.
It's a great time to do so, too. Brandin Cooks is still on the board and is an ideal fit in the slot on an offense that already has Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Cooks stretches the field with ease and gives the unit another wrinkle.
31. Denver Broncos: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Kyle Van Noy has fallen a bit off the map in recent months behind names like Mack and Clowney, but he remains one of the better pass-rushers the class has to offer.
He just so happens to also tout a game the Denver Broncos need in a hurry.
Linebacker was a mess last season, but Van Noy presents them with a versatile solution. He can do a bevy of things from different spots, making him one of the better overall picks of the first round.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
With Golden Tate gone, Seattle's luxurious position can be used to grab a top wideout despite a run-first offense.
Kelvin Benjamin is certainly an intriguing option. He's a wild blend of size, speed and overall ability, but drop issues in college have hurt him over the course of the draft process.
In Seattle, Benjamin gives Russell Wilson a large target to both move the chains and make major plays down the field. High risk, high reward is worth the bet at the end of the first round.