1. Houston Texans: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Although many believe Jadeveon Clowney deserves to be the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Texans really don’t NEED a defensive end. Sure, a monstrous athlete like Clowney is always a good addition no matter where he fits within the Texans defense, but Houston struggled to find a playmaker at the linebacker position in their 3-4 defense last season, and Khalil Mack obtains all the qualities (explosiveness, athleticism, speed, instincts) to become a superstar on Bill O’ Brien’s squad.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Even with the return of Rodger Saffold and a contract with Jake Long, the Rams should be a bit skeptical, as both players have a history of injuries. Greg Robinson is arguably the best offensive tackle in the draft and should take Jake Long’s place at left tackle. Robinson provides great run-blocking and speed (4.92 in the 40-yard dash) that should allow Sam Bradford a better shot at leading his offense.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
I doubt that Clowney falls this far, but in the case that Houston takes Mack first overall, the Jaguars would be crazy not to select Clowney. Last season, Jacksonville was unable to really get anything going on both offense and defense. And although a quarterback would be a nice choice, perhaps Johnny Football, I’m going with overall talent here, and Clowney is definitely better than Manziel in that category.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Yes, the Browns like many other teams with early picks should be quarterback shopping. But unlike many other early-pick teams, Cleveland has another first-round pick. The Browns would be lucky to get Sammy Watkins, who is undoubtedly the best wide receiver prospect in this draft and has been compared to Julio Jones. Lining up across from Josh Gordon would give them two weapons at wide receiver, forcing teams to prepare for a pass-heavy team, a dimension Cleveland didn’t have last season. Watkins would also be another young talent for future quarterback Derek Carr, whom I believe the Browns will take with their second first-round selection.
5. Oakland Raiders: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
This pick just makes sense. Terrelle Pryor didn’t pan out like Raiders fans hoped, even with his record 93-yard touchdown run by a quarterback. Johnny Manziel would add buzz and skill to an offense which has sputtered in recent years, and don’t even mention JaMarcus Russell. Not much else to say about this choice, as Johnny Football should bring excitement back to Oakland, but this time for performance reasons.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
I would be surprised if the Falcons didn’t trade up, but since they have yet to make a move, I’m predicting Jake Matthews as their consolation prize. With versatility and a NFL-ready skill set, there’s no reason Matthew’s can’t thrive and protect Matt Ryan, especially if Sam Baker goes down with injuries like his past suggests.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
With comparisons to that of Vincent Jackson and Brandon Marshall, Mike Evans has already proven himself to NFL coaches. He has also caught the eye of Buccaneers’ head coach Lovie Smith, who aggressively took on free agency. Tampa Bay is also weak at the wide receiver position and should look to add weapons alongside of Vincent Jackson. Evans’ physicality and hands make him an ideal fit who should be a top target for quarterback Mike Glennon.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Neither Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel seem to be the answer for the Vikings at the quarterback position. And even though both re-signed with Minnesota, look for Rick Spielman to jump all over Blake Bortles at pick eight. Bortles, a 6’5” junior out of the Central Florida, the eventual Fiesta Bowl victors, lead his team with a strong arm and accuracy to improve his draft status last season. With great pocket awareness and favorable height, expect Bortles to make an impact right away in a competitive NFC North Division.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Bills finished last season with the 28th best passing offense. Much of the lack of production can be contributed to a rookie quarterback and the 22nd ranked offensive line according to Rotoworld.com. The addition of Taylor Lewan would bring stability within the O-line with his versatility, length, and athleticism. If Buffalo does decide on Lewan with their ninth overall pick, expect Cordy Glenn to move over to the right side, giving E.J. Manuel a better opportunity to become a pocket passer and develop his skills.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Barr doesn’t have the credentials of Mack when it comes down to instincts or consistency. However, he has probably the biggest upside of any linebacker when it comes to the future in the NFL. After playing only two years at the linebacker position, Barr has the potential to succeed with the Lions, mirroring the path Ziggy Ansah took last season. The UCLA standout explodes perhaps better than anyone else and makes tackling look easy. Taking the place of Ashley Palmer at weakside linebacker will automatically add depth and improve the 4-3 defense Teryl Austin is inheriting.
11. Tennessee Titans: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
In need of a replacement for Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, the Titans could really use Justin Gilbert. Gilbert, an Oklahoma State graduate, has impressive speed and size to transition and recover against the pass. He also possesses great closing speed and hand-eye coordination to disrupt even the best receivers. Although he does return kicks as well, expect Jeremy Ross to continue his role on special teams.
12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
After losing both Justin Tuck and Joseph Linval, look for the Giants to draft a defensive tackle to boost their defensive line. Aaron Donald, a possible top ten player, brings awareness, speed, and leverage against both the pass and rush. Even with a smaller frame than most players at his position, Donald’s upside is far greater than his disadvantage against the double-team.
13. St. Louis Rams: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
In a physical NFC West, the Rams will select Calvin Pryor to solve their problems in the secondary. Providing confidence that plays out through instinct, aggressiveness, and tempo, the Louisville safety plays with recognition and awareness. This is win-win situation for St. Louis, obtaining a league-high twelve picks (two of which come within the first 13) and plenty of opportunities to add depth to their offense later on.
14. Chicago Bears: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Bears have done a lot to help out their defense in free agency thus far. However, they still must improve their secondary as well as their linebacker position. And linebacker C.J. Mosley would match up nicely with the 4-3 base defense Chicago runs. Mosley has an exceptional ability to tackle downhill with balance, yet can also play zone coverage to help out the secondary. He is the ultimate package in terms of a linebacker with versatility to disrupt offenses.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Although the Steelers have been heavily invested in drafting a cornerback, they still must do something at the wide receiver position. Losing Mike Wallace to the Dolphins a year ago was a big hit to the wide receiver corps, which is now lead by Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery. Drafting Brandin Cooks would be a smooth compliment to the speed of Antonio Brown, similar to that of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, one that has a high upside. Cooks was also a team captain in high school, and should develop as a leader among the offense.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Dallas Cowboys are yet another team looking for a replacement lost in free agency. DeMarcus Ware left earlier this year and Ealy would be a solid replacement. He is another versatile defensive end who can play linebacker if needed and is a strong pass-rusher. With agility not often found at his position, the Missouri alum shouldn’t fall past the 16th pick.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
With Louisville’s Calvin Pryor already off the board, Baltimore’s next best option at safety would be Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. And after the departure of James Ihedigbo to the Detroit Lions, demand for another young safety paired with Matt Elam would be a nice situation for the Ravens. Without missing a beat, Clinton-Dix would provide the physicality and depth Ihedigbo did just a year ago. If the Baltimore Ravens can land the Alabama graduate, they will have transformed their secondary from veterans to young, up-and-rising stars in just two years after their Super Bowl run.
18. New York Jets: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Last year, the Jets took a cornerback in the first round in Dee Milliner. Like Milliner, Darqueze Dennard attains similar qualities, qualities that seemed to be successful enough for a starting job in New York’s pass-heavy defense. Dennard also has the size and strength to line up against the NFL-elite wideouts.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OG/OT, Notre Dame
Martin is a solid pick in the 2014 draft. He has experience starting for Notre Dame all four years he played there and will become a key piece in the Dolphins offense. The Irish alum has the ability to start at either tackle or guard, but should fit in due to the addition of Branden Albert and the plethora of transitions Miami has gone through recently concerning their offensive line. However, he does lack the body type many scouts prefer, but uses his hands well with force.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Although I originally thought of the Cardinals as a team in which would draft a quarterback to back up Carson Palmer in the second or third round, Bridgewater is just too valuable to let slip by at pick 20. Just one month ago, many NFL analysts, including myself, predicted the Louisville quarterback to be selected by the tenth pick, and now, he has fallen all the way to Arizona, a team that went 10-6 last season led by head coach Bruce Arians. The Cardinals would be happy to get Bridgewater, a signal-caller with sound mechanics, great footwork, good timing, and most importantly, a strong amount of confidence.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
An agile linebacker out of Ohio State, Ryan Shazier would immediately improve the Packers’ back-seven. Not to mention he would unite with another Ohio State alum in A.J. Hawk. The question that was faced against Green Bay after their loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs last season came with force. How were the Packers going to keep up with the rest of the league? Shazier, as good as he is shooting the gap and striking the tackler, should help answer that question.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
After coaching for Oregon, Chip Kelly blatantly introduced the NFL to an offense built around speed while head coaching the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly also lost his fastest offensive weapon in DeSean Jackson, hinting at character issues and the lack of complementation with the organization. Therefore, expect Kelly to replace Jackson with another speedster at the wide receiver position, very likely being LSU’s graduate Odell Beckham Jr., who creates nightmarishly large separation from defenders.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Kansas City lost three offensive lineman in free agency, including top tackle Branden Albert to the Miami Dolphins. It’s going to be important for Andy Reid to address this issue moving forward in the draft, especially with the amount of screens he runs. The addition of guard Xavier Su’a-Filo would provide an instant upgrade as well as reliable pass-protection, athleticism, and all-around solid blocking to keep quarterback Alex Smith and company on their feet.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The cornerback position is surprisingly deep and talented despite the notorious standouts in Dennard and Gilbert. If Kyle Fuller falls to the 24th pick, the Bengals should snatch him without any question. Fuller is a physical corner whose quickness would add wonders to the aging cornerbacks in Cincinnati right now. Nonetheless, still expect them to be aggressive if there are any offensive or defensive lineman they have their eye on come day one.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Chargers capped off the regular season with the 29th best defense against the pass, allowing over 258 passing yards per game. This was undoubtedly their biggest weakness, and as you will see, San Diego will join the influx of teams drafting a cornerback late in the first round. The decision to select Verrett is fitting to say the least, especially for the amount that the Chargers run the zone. With great instincts and tenacity, the TCU alum would give a boost to a struggling secondary, even if he is undersized.
26. Cleveland Browns: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
I hinted at this earlier, but the Browns have probably the most coveted first round in terms of not only number of picks, but also position of picks, St. Louis of course being the exception. This allows the Browns to take a blue-chip player, such as Sammy Watkins at pick four, and another solid pick, Derek Carr, at pick 26. Carr has probably the largest upside when it comes to NFL-readiness and potential, displaying a strong arm and stacked stats last season. With questions regarding the quarterback situation in Cleveland, Carr could be the guy to lead the Browns to the playoffs for the first time in forever.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, OLB/DE, Auburn
A versatile linebacker and defensive end, Dee Ford presents great acceleration to get past defenders and offers energy and work ethic needed to survive the NFL. However, he isn’t the full package as an all around defensive player, but provides solid pass-rushing, a quality the Saints have been looking for in terms of an edge rusher. New Orleans could also be searching for a cornerback, possibly Bradley Roby, with the talent of quarterbacks in the NFC.
28. Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
The departure of star tackle Jordan Gross leaves the Panthers with a void to fill at left tackle. And while the loss of Steve Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. won’t help Cam Newton’s development, the wide receiver rich draft will aid that cause. Therefore, the selection of Morgan Moses, an offensive tackle out of Virginia, who uses his hands and arm size more appropriately than any other draft prospect, should be a good investment come May 8.
29. New England Patriots: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Although the Patriots showed youth at the wide receiver position last season, neither Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, or Josh Boyce showed that they could take over and become a primary receiver for Tom Brady. Instead, it was Julian Edelman who was heavily targeted and managed to carry the bulk of the workload throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. This season, however, look for Bill Belichick to find a playmaker for Brady, most likely in the draft. With Marqise Lee steadily falling down draft boards, New England might just be lucky enough to snatch him at pick 29.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Timmy Jernigan concerned me during the BCS National Championship earlier this year. His lack of sufficient stamina seemed to put pressure on the rest of the Florida State defensive line, an attribute many teams will try to steer clear from in the first round. However, the skill set and size Jernigan presents make him a solid choice. He clogs up the middle of the defense and plays with leverage, disrupting quarterbacks and running backs the same.
31. Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Though the Broncos did sign the heavily talented Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to bolster their secondary, Ohio State graduate Bradley Roby is just too good to pass up. Roby would also present a nice complement to Talib at the cornerback position. His terrific size, great hands, and agility allow him to shadow wide receivers as well as effectively blitz off the corners.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
With press strength and the ability to play the 4-3 defense Seattle prefers, Louis Nix could be a decent replacement for Red Bryant. The 6’2”, 331-pounder, also thrives in wrap tackling and is extremely versatile in defensive schemes. Knowing Pete Carroll, I wouldn’t put it past him to stock up the Seahawks defensive line, similar to the method he used that shut Peyton Manning down in the Super Bowl.