2014 NFL Mock Draft: Smart Moves for Every Franchise

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2014

Feb 23, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Sammy Watkins participates in a pass catching drill during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is now invested in trips to pro days, as colleges big and small welcome scouts and coaches to watch their top prospects perform one final time before the draft.

Expect major numbers to come out for most players who partake in these events, as they run drills such as the 40-yard dash on familiar, friendly tracks in comparison to those at the combine.

The proceedings throughout March will do much to change the look of the first round, but right now in the infancy of the process, fans already have a good idea of how things will shake out.

1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

When all is said and done, Teddy Bridgewater will remain the No. 1 pick as the new franchise quarterback for the Houston Texans.

Of course, what would the path to the draft be like without a little drama? According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans are still looking at three options:

It makes sense Houston will not show its hand and roll with a variety of choices until someone is sent to the podium to kick things off, but Bridgewater remains the most pro-ready quarterback who is the best overall player available.

2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Hal Yeager/Associated Press

St. Louis has plenty of options here and may have a hard time passing on Jadeveon Clowney with Robert Quinn in need of a new contract after the 2014 season, but Greg Robinson is the better choice.

Perhaps the most important factor for most teams rings true for the Rams—don't overthink it.

The Rams have two picks, but that does not throw need and value out the window in the hope that the board falls their way. St. Louis has an obvious need to protect Sam Bradford, and even NFL Network's Mike Mayock has said "it wouldn't surprise" him if Robinson went No. 2 overall.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

It has to be a horrible feeling for Jacksonville fans not to see a signal-caller come off the board here, but apparently the team is content to roll with Chad Henne next year, according to Vito Stellino of The Florida Times-Union:

Look, if this does not strike fans as a smokescreen, nothing will. At the same time, Jacksonville is likely thinking best player available in the hopes that a quarterback it likes falls to the second round.

With this strategy in mind, Jacksonville grabs arguably the draft's top player and a rare prospect in Clowney, who has the potential to quickly add to what was quietly a bit of a respectable unit in 2013.

4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

Something is off about Cleveland here.

Quarterback has been the sexy pick for a while, but the Browns have seemingly been in love with the idea of Derek Carr under center for some time (more on that later).

With Carr being a bad value at No. 4 overall, the Browns can grab Sammy Watkins to pair with Josh Gordon and immediately field one of the NFL's more formidable receiving corps. If the objective is to have a rookie quarterback or a question mark like Brian Hoyer succeed, Watkins helps the cause for years to come.

5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

Look at how Oakland lucks out here.

Blake Bortles is such a question mark that Lance Zierlein of Sports Talk 790 in Houston believes that he may take a draft-day tumble if he does not come off the board first:

Oakland will not let that happen. Bortles is a bit of a project in that he needs more time than Bridgewater to adapt to the NFL, and Houston will not be content to wait.

But the Raiders will wait things out on the hopes of finally solving the biggest riddle that has plagued them for years.

6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

This is pretty simple.

Atlanta failed to solve its lack of a pass rush last offseason through free agency, so another attempt would seem like the front office does not get it.

Instead, the powers in charge can look to the draft, where Buffalo's Khalil Mack should be available. He has the look of an instant contributor as a hybrid pass-rusher that the scheme in Atlanta demands.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

There was a point in time not too long ago when Jake Matthews was considered the No. 1 overall pick by many experts. 

While that time has passed, he is still a top prospect that projects as a franchise tackle who can start as a rookie.

Tampa Bay and new coach Lovie Smith would have loved for a top defender or Robinson to take a tumble, but Matthews is a great consolation prize as a solution for the pricey Donald Penn problem.

8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Questions abound about Johnny Manziel with the draft on the horizon, but his potential as a quarterback who can extend plays with his feet and make big plays at the next level should he develop properly remains an attractive trait for teams in need.

One such team is Minnesota, where a struggling franchise can do without defensive talent here thanks to the addition of new coach Mike Zimmer.

Instead, Zimmer and Co. take the gamble on Manziel. While a wild card, the Texas A&M product will be insulated from failure thanks to the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson and Adrian Peterson.

While strange at first glance, Minnesota may be the perfect place for Manziel to land.

9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina 

Buffalo quietly touts a roster that is more talented than most will give the front office credit for, but it goes out the window if the staff does not do everything it can to help EJ Manuel succeed as he heads into his sophomore year.

More quality options around him are key, and a tight end who can consistently move the chains and create big plays in the red zone and after the catch is a rare commodity for any young signal-caller.

Manuel gets all of the above here in North Carolina's Eric Ebron, who combines good size (6'4", 250 pounds) with eye-popping speed and sure hands.

10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

While the corner class is deep, it is hard to justify selecting one so high overall.

This is especially the case for Detroit, where a solution across from Calvin Johnson is arguably as big of a need.

Mike Evans is worthy of the slot and has the sure hands and massive frame (6'5") necessary to instantly upgrade the Lions offense. He blurs the lines between a tight end and wideout, can play multiple spots and has already heard that what he brings to the table is worthy of a top-10 selection, according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle:

11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Look for Tennessee to go with the best player available in the first round, which just so happens to be the team's biggest need.

The Titans accidentally showed their hand in the infancy of free agency by going after—and failing to obtain—former Browns inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.

While a thumping duo of Jackson and C.J. Mosley would have been nice, the Alabama product on his own is still one heck of a presence in the middle of the defense. He is quietly the best linebacker on the board and a surefire starter for the next decade.

12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

There is no way to sugarcoat the problem in New York: Eli Manning and his turnover-happy ways are an issue that can only be solved (potentially) through better protection.

Taylor Lewan is a bit of a risk as an athlete who primarily relied on his athleticism rather than strong fundamentals to dominate the competition in college.

With proper coaching, he will be a starter for quite some time in the pros, and his high ceiling makes him the ideal pick. He will start right away as the staff searches for answers to the Manning problem.

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

While some may want a flashier pick with the Rams' second selection of the round, they have to find an upgrade to replace Rodney McLeod next to T.J. McDonald.

If the Rams fail to hit this need with a guy like Donte Whitner in free agency, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the only option thanks to his credibility as a starter at Alabama and his overall game that projects well as a thumper against the run and a quality defender against the pass.

14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The Chicago Bears have an obvious need with defensive tackle Henry Melton heading to the open market after an ACL tear.

Rather than drop unnecessary cash on a risk like Melton, the Bears can grab one of the draft's better overall players with perhaps the biggest ceiling of all in Aaron Donald, who will remind most of Geno Atkins in Cincinnati.

Donald may not be an every-down player right away, but his ability to get to the passer will provide a boost to a line in desperate need of help.


15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

Louis Nix is the best pure 3-4 nose tackle in the draft, so it only makes sense that the Pittsburgh Steelers will aggressively attack their glaring need with their first pick of the 2014 draft.

He is an ideal fit in Pittsburgh, where his massive presence (6'2", 331 pounds) can help shift the battle in the trenches while also commanding enough attention against the pass that the linebackers can consistently apply pressure.

As far as immediate help for a unit in transition goes, it does not get much better for the Steelers.

16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

Dallas is another team that could use an infusion of youth and talent in the defensive trenches to help mask the deficiencies of the secondary behind it.

For the Cowboys, Kony Ealy makes sense as a rotational piece until he develops into an every-down player at the pro level.

Praise continues to come in for him, but Texas A&M's Matthews—one of the highest-regarded players in the draft—has arguably the most important praise of all, via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “I thought Kony Ealy was really good at Missouri. Real aggressive. Big and strong. Mixed up his pass-rush moves real well.”

Dallas gets a quality prospect in Ealy and does much to change the fortunes of a unit that has struggled for years.

17. Baltimore Ravens: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

For Baltimore, the struggle to get the most out of a quarterback who may end up making more than $100 million over the duration of his contract is real.

Joe Flacco had his struggles last year behind a putrid offensive line and an injured cast of weapons, so it only makes sense to improve things with a smart play in the first round.

Allen Robinson is the best player available at a position of need and immediately gives Flacco a reliable option across from Torrey Smith.


18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Much like Buffalo earlier in the round, the New York Jets have a serious task on their hands when it comes to ensuring the success of second-year quarterback Geno Smith. 

Jace Amaro would improve Smith's long-term prospects, and the fact the team recently brought back Jeff Cumberland in no way prevents his selection, as Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News illustrates:

The move doesn’t necessarily preclude the Jets from adding another tight end in free agency or the draft. Team decision makers are high on Zach Sudfield’s potential, but the Jets need as much as help as it can get for quarterback Geno Smith. Veteran TE John Carlson, who was on the Jets’ radar, signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals earlier Friday.

Multiple reliable targets for Smith is nothing but a good thing, and Amaro also provides flexibility as he can line up anywhere on the field.

19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame

Versatility is key for the Miami Dolphins.

Offensive line is the biggest need as the team enters the draft, with four out of the five spots on the roster in need of an upgrade.

What the Dolphins cannot address in free agency is hard to anticipate, so the addition of a guy like Zack Martin seems like the best move. He projects best as an interior lineman, but he has what it takes to play tackle if he lands on a team with that particular need.

Given Miami has so many needs, Martin's versatility is a big plus, as it gives the team plenty of options as to how it can tackle the league's worst unit.

20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Arizona has seemingly shown its hand in the first round thanks to the recent addition of tight end John Carlson, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport detailed:

Unlike the Jets, the addition of Carlson ensures the Cardinals will not grab a tight end in the first round, which had been a popular pick in the mock community. Bruce Arians' offense does not place a premium on the position, and the presence of Rob Housler rounds out the spot.

Instead, Arizona can add the top tackle on the board in an effort to better protect Carson Palmer. While Cyrus Kouandjio figures to play better in the run game, he still presents an upgrade as a pass protector thanks to his athleticism.

21. Green Bay Packers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

Despite the addition of a defensive lineman high in the 2013 draft, the Green Bay Packers have to dip back into the well early this year with B.J. Raji on his way to free agency.

Raji may come back if the market is unkind, but that should not stop the front office from proactively attempting to upgrade the spot with a top prospect like Ra'Shede Hageman.

He has the tools necessary to play any scheme well and is an interesting fit in Green Bay thanks to his blend of speed and strength. His potential ability to control the trenches will work wonders for the unit. 

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

Any secondary help is a good move for the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round, especially if they fail to fill a hole in free agency.

Rather than break the bank on a big-name safety like Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward, the Eagles can look toward the first round, where Calvin Pryor will be on the board at No. 22.

He is a rangy safety who projects as an instant starter in the pros. While he will not be without his struggles as he adapts, he is a far better option that what is currently on the roster in Philadelphia.

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

USC's Marqise Lee is Rob Rang of CBS Sports' No. 20 overall prospect on his big board for a reason:

A nagging left knee injury hampered Lee for much of the 2013 season, robbing the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner of his trademark elusiveness and acceleration. Finally healthy in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State, Lee showed off his playmaking ability, hauling in seven passes for 118 yards and two scores. Lee didn't look as dynamic during the combine, however, increasing concern about his long-term durability.

While durability is a red flag with Lee, his sure hands and crisp routes are something Andy Reid's offense needs in Kansas City across from Dwayne Bowe. Another consistent threat would make the unit much more formidable. 

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 25: Former Michigan State defensive back Darqueze Dennard runs a drill during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 25, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There is a logjam at corner in Cincinnati, but things are not what they seem.

Leon Hall is an injury wild card after a second torn Achilles, and veterans Terence Newman (35) and Adam Jones (30) are beginning to age in a bad way. Dre Kirkpatrick may see more playing time as a result, but he remains a question mark.

While a rookie corner will likely not see much playing time in 2014, the Bengals would be wise to scoop up another top talent for the future with no glaring needs otherwise.

This is especially the case if the top corner falls. Darqueze Dennard is a physical defensive back who fits well in the Bengals defense and will have ample opportunity to learn from a host of veterans before he inherits a starting gig.

25. San Diego Chargers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

The run on corners can begin.

San Diego is the next team in line with a major need at the spot, although the Chargers need a solution right away rather than a slow burn.

Justin Gilbert is the top option and figures to earn playing time right away. He is sound in most areas and will do much to upgrade the back end of a unit that failed to match its offensive counterpart last season.

26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Let the smokescreens continue, via NFL Network's Albert Breer:

But in all seriousness, Derek Carr is an intriguing prospect in the same vein as Manziel thanks to his athleticism. Better yet, he has been linked to Cleveland recently.

Like Manziel in Minnesota, Carr will have ample opportunity to adjust into a franchise quarterback thanks to weapons like Sammy Watkins and Josh Gordon, who can catch short passes and create after the catch.

27. New Orleans Saints: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA

Anthony Barr is a strong candidate to be overdrafted, but the fact remains his true value is somewhere near the bottom of the first as a one-dimensional player who arguably has high bust potential.

Fortunately for him, a massive dive down the board is a blessing in disguise if he lands with New Orleans.

With the Saints, he will have his best shot at success thanks to the presence of defensive guru Rob Ryan, who will get the most out of the UCLA product's skill set.

28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

After finally breaking through as one of the NFL's top teams thanks to an elite defense last season, Carolina can now focus on the offensive side of the ball in 2014.

First on the list of needs is another weapon for Cam Newton, which Brandin Cooks adequately fills.

He also provides insurance for whenever Steve Smith calls it quits, as he happens to have a similar skill set. Near the end of the first round, the Panthers have to be happy to land a talent like Cooks.


29. New England Patriots: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame

New England is typically a wild card no matter where it drafts, and 2014 is no different.

While he may be considered a reach by some, Troy Niklas continues to rise to prominence and seems to be a strong fit with the Patriots.

New England needs another tight end to count on in the passing game, especially with Rob Gronkowski unable to stay healthy. Niklas is a strong solution to the problem and can contribute right away.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

Even with Anquan Boldin back in the fold, the San Francisco 49ers would be wise to grab a talented prospect at wideout.

Jordan Matthews is the top receiver on the board late in the first. He can act as injury insurance and contribute on a situational basis while he learns from Boldin before taking over in a few years.

Plus, the addition of another sure-handed target for Colin Kaepernick is a good thing.

31. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Slot corners continue to rise in importance around the NFL, so Jason Verrett is worth a pick in the first despite him seemingly being restricted to that capacity at the next level.

The Denver secondary could use the help and may dip into the corner well more than once. Chris Harris is already a stellar player, but Verrett provides some much-needed depth and insurance.

32. Seattle Seahawks: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

The Seattle Seahawks could use some depth in the trenches with talent sure to leak into free agency.

The franchise lucks out at the end of the round thanks to Timmy Jernigan's tumble, as he can play more than one spot and contribute on a rotational basis before taking things over in due time.

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