The 2014 NFL draft is going to get off to an entertaining start on Thursday with a talent-laden first round.
There will be exciting prospects available all through Thursday's action, as general managers line up to make the selections that will go a long way toward defining the success of their entire draft class.
With the draft being pushed back to May, Thursday has been a long time coming. Here is my final attempt at predicting how it will play out.
1. Houston Texans: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
For the life of me, I can't figure out why so many have turned to projecting South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to the Texans at No. 1.
There is a chance the Texans get enough value to trade down and another team will select him No. 1, but I don't think they will get enough value to make it worth it.
Now, Clowney has the talent to warrant the selection. He just doesn't fit with Houston.
Houston runs a 3-4, and with J.J. Watt lining up perfectly at end in a 3-4, there is no reason for Houston to change that scheme for the foreseeable future.
The 3-4 is not the best system for Clowney. Sure, Clowney could still make an impact in a 3-4, but he is best suited to put his hand in the dirt as an end in a 4-3 on every down.
It would be foolish for the Texans to spend the No. 1 pick on someone who they can't put in the best position to succeed.
Khalil Mack would fit perfectly, and his physical tools make him a solid No. 1 pick.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Rams could use the exciting services of Sammy Watkins at wide receiver, but with Clowney's freakish athleticism on the board, they will not pass on him.
Clowney will fit right in with the Rams' defensive line, and although end is a strength for St. Louis, the Rams would be able to look to trade veteran defensive end Chris Long for additional picks.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Forget all of the Jaguars' needs, and identifying their quarterback of the future is a huge one, Greg Robinson is far too talented not to be the pick here.
Robinson has the potential to be dominant in both the run and pass game and be a franchise left tackle for the next 15 years or so.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel's draft stock is the draft's big story. This polarizing quarterback with huge talent and question marks won't be on the board for long.
When it is all said and done, I don't see any way his arm talent allows him to stay on the board past the top five. In this scenario, he won't last past the quarterback-needy Browns and the fourth pick.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
If Khalil Mack somehow slips, I expect him to be the selection here. As it is, Sammy Watkins is an easy and strong selection for the Raiders.
Watkins stands out as the clear best receiver in this class. He would give the Raiders' solid, young receiving corps the No. 1 it needs.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews has been overshadowed a bit by Robinson, but there's no denying Matthews is a great prospect.
Matthews will be dominant in pass protection the moment he steps onto the field. His addition will be an instant boost to the Falcons.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Blake Bortles has the all the tools to be a starting quarterback in the NFL for a long time. The Buccaneers don't have a glaring need at the position, but new coach Lovie Smith also has no reason to believe his quarterback of the future is currently on the roster.
Smith will find that answer with the first pick in this draft.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
For all the talk of Teddy Bridgewater possibly falling to Round 2, he won't make it past the Vikings at No. 8.
Minnesota must find a quarterback to build around. It would be foolish of them to pass on a college quarterback as productive as Bridgewater.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
In need of a standout at tackle, the Bills will grab the athletic Taylor Lewan.
Lewan's ability to pass-block and get to the second level will be a strong fit for the Bills. Lewan is a good value and a wise pick.
10. Detroit Lions: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
For the past few seasons, the Lions have shown flashes of dominance that have been undone by inconsistency.
On defense, it starts with poor tackling and undisciplined play. C.J. Mosley would help eliminate that problem.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Anthony Barr is raw. This will keep him on the board longer than his scintillating athleticism would otherwise dictate.
That will work out well for the Titans, who could use his speed and athleticism on the edge of their defense.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Eric Ebron is the kind of athlete at tight end who can change a game with one big play. Ebron has to improve his pass catching, but he can get open anywhere on the field.
His big-play ability will fit nicely into the Giants' vertical offense.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Even if Clowney is off the board when the Rams make the No. 2 selection, I doubt they go for Watkins. The reason for that is there is a deep crop of talent at the position. The Rams will have a chance to snag an excellent prospect at the position at No. 13.
In this scenario, Mike Evans is the perfect selection. He has great hands and size at 6'5". He will pair perfectly with last year's first-round selection, Tavon Austin.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Timmy Jernigan can occasionally put pressure on the quarterback, but that is not his strength. Jernigan's real value comes with his strength on the interior of a defensive line and his ability to clog up running lanes.
The Bears, who came in last in the league in rush defense last season, badly need someone like Jernigan to help anchor the defensive line.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Cornerback Ike Taylor is a shell of his former self. That's understandable. He just turned 34. This is a great spot for the Steelers to find his heir apparent.
Take a look at the following quote from Darqueze Dennard, passed along by 95.7 The Game, and tell me this doesn't sound like a Steelers' corner:
Top CB prospect Darqueze Dennard says he prides himself on beating up WRs at the line of scrimmage— 95.7 The GAME (@957thegame) April 30, 2014
There are a lot of talented corners in this class, but none of them fit the Steelers better than Dennard.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Barring Johnny Manziel falling all the way to Dallas, the Cowboys have to go defense here.
Calvin Pryor would be a great choice. He would give them an all-around safety with the athleticism to limit big plays from the opposition. Also, there are few safeties in this class who will be able to come in right away and contribute. The Cowboys will be able to address other positions later in the draft.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
The Ravens' offensive line was awful last year. It derailed everything Baltimore tried to do on offense.
There are plenty of players available here who will be an instant upgrade.
Zack Martin is iffy at tackle in the NFL, but not at guard. He has the strength and determination to be a force.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Jets' offense needs someone to create fear in the opposition. Odell Beckham Jr. has the kind of speed and explosiveness to be that kind of threat.
Beckham's explosiveness would pair well with recently signed Eric Decker.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Cyrus Kouandjio's future in the NFL may not be at left tackle, as he lacks a little foot speed. Still, he is a powerful lineman who will add physicality to an NFL line as a right tackle or guard.
Looking to reshape their offensive trenches, Kouandjio is a great fit for the Dolphins.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald's explosiveness makes him a candidate to go higher than No. 20 in this draft. At 6'1" and 285 pounds, however, his lack of size will limit his draft stock.
That will be just fine for the Cardinals, who need another body along their defensive line. Donald will be a great fit for end in the Cardinals' 3-4 defense.
21. Green Bay Packers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Louis Nix III is the best nose tackle in this class. The Packers signed current nose tackle B.J. Raji to a one-year deal, but Green Bay must look for ways to get more physical at the point of attack.
Nix would provide another strong run-stuffer for Green Bay, while also giving it freedom while dealing with Raji going forward.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
After finishing last in the NFL in pass defense this past season, the Eagles need to find capable cover men.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has the athleticism and range to limit the opposition's deep plays and be an instant upgrade for Philadelphia.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee doesn't have the sprinter's speed that would suggest he can be a deep threat. He does, however, have the leaping ability and ball skills to make him a threat down the field.
The Chiefs have to find someone who can stretch the field and take some of the secondary's attention off of Dwayne Bowe.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Bengals are in a similar position at corner as the Steelers. It is not their biggest need, but with Terence Newman being 35, some additional depth is needed.
Gilbert is a phenomenal athlete with the ability to be a shutdown corner in the NFL.
25. San Diego Chargers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Kyle Fuller is not getting as much hype as Dennard or Gilbert, but he might be just as talented. Check out what NFL.com passed along from draft guru Mike Mayock on Fuller:
San Diego's pass defense was atrocious last season, and Fuller would be an instant upgrade.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
As you probably noticed, I have the Browns taking Manziel at No. 4. While at Texas A&M, Manziel benefited from throwing to 6'5" wide receiver Mike Evans.
With Evans long gone at this point in the draft, the Browns will find Manziel another 6'5" option with Kelvin Benjamin.
Benjamin is not a great athlete, and this could prevent him from ever being a No. 1 option. With Josh Gordon already in place in Cleveland, however, the Browns don't need a No. 1. They need someone to complement him.
Benjamin will be an excellent weapon on third downs and in the red zone, and he would pair with tight end Jordan Cameron to give the Browns the kind of weapons needed to successfully aid a young quarterback's development.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The Saints made great strides on defense last season. They furthered that process by signing the likes of Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey.
What they still need is someone for the front seven to help the defense offer more resistance against the run.
Ryan Shazier's solid strength and athleticism will allow him to help the Saints in that effort.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Panthers have lots of work to do in this draft. Finding a left tackle should be priority No. 1, but that doesn't mean the Panthers have to reach for one in the first round.
In this scenario, there isn't a worthy option at left tackle, so the Panthers will look to fill another need by adding wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
Cooks is small, but his explosiveness allows him to get separation.
29. New England Patriots: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Jason Verrett is a natural cover man, and if he stood several inches taller than 5'9", he would likely be the first corner taken in this draft. As it is, he is still a likely first-round prospect, and he is a great fit for New England.
The Patriots need more depth at corner, and Verrett's ability to cover the slot would be a strong boost.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
San Francisco's offense was inconsistent last season. Although the 49ers have a strong run game, too often quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a difficult time finding open wide receivers.
Using this pick on a receiver would help end that problem.
Although Robinson is getting next to no hype for the draft, he is still a wonderful prospect. Just ask former NFL player and B/R's own Ryan Riddle:
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Broncos must find players ready to make an instant impact, as the franchise remains firmly in win-now mode.
Kony Ealy's length and athleticism will make him an instant threat in the pass rush and a great fit for Denver.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota
The Seahawks have done a good job of keeping the team together following the Super Bowl, but they do need more reinforcements along the defensive line.
Ra'Shede Hageman has all the tools and size to be an excellent defensive lineman with versatility.
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