In the wake of the Scouting Combine and in anticipation of Free Agency, here is my 2014 NFL Mock Draft 1.0. These first-round projections are based on team needs as of March 1 and do not reflect any potential trade scenarios.
1) Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
With the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Texans and new coach Bill O’Brien choose the most athletically-gifted player available in Jadeveon Clowney. With his size, skill and virtually limitless upside offset by questions about his motor, attitude and maturity, the Texans are counting on Clowney to realize his potential by sharing the locker room and the field with team leader and Defensive Player of the Year, JJ Watt. While not a perfect scheme fit for Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense, Clowney has the kind of talent that you find a place for on your team, and the makings of a once-in-a-generation player.
2) St. Louis Rams: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Rams need a playmaker on the outside to compete with the stout defenses of the NFC West, and with the second overall pick, they take the most NFL-ready receiver available in Sammy Watkins. Teaming the dynamic Watkins up with last year’s first-round pick Tavon Austin, St. Louis equips quarterback Sam Bradford with a pair of explosive offensive weapons.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
A team desperate for a franchise quarterback, Jacksonville has their choice of signal callers with the third overall pick and go with the prototypical passer from Central Florida, Blake Bortles. Big and athletic with an impressive showing at the Scouting Combine, Bortles instantly upgrades the Jaguars quarterback position and takes over a team that looked to be turning the corner at the end of the 2013 season under coach Gus Bradley.
4) Cleveland Browns: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Under a new regime, the Browns choose to rebuild their offense from the outside in, taking the big-bodied Mike Evans from Texas A&M. Tall, fast and possessing strong hands, Evans joins breakout superstar Josh Gordon to give new coach Mike Pettine and new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan the kind of receiver tandem that can help any quarterback succeed.
5) Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Unsteady at quarterback for several years now, the Raiders select Teddy Bridgewater, widely considered the most NFL-ready quarterback prospect available in the draft, with the fifth overall pick in an effort to solidfy the position.
6) Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
The Falcons have needs on both sides of the football, but with the attacking defenses of the NFC South, they use the sixth overall pick to select Jake Matthews from Texas A&M. The most polished tackle prospect available, Matthews is an instant upgrade at left tackle, shoring up the offensive line and protecting quarterback Matt Ryan’s blindside.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The new-look Buccaneers look to add offensive firepower with the seventh overall pick, taking tight end Eric Ebron from North Carolina. A big, athletic target, Ebron will create favorable matchups against opposing defenses for new head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford.
8) Minnesota Vikings: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
New Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive guru, and with the eight overall pick, he takes the highest-rated defender on the board, linebacker Khalil Mack from Buffalo. The small-school standout is a dangerous edge rusher with playmaker potential for a Minnesota defense that lines up against some of the biggest arms in the NFL in the NFC North.
9) Buffalo Bills: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Bills have an up-and-coming defense with a void at safety that they fill with the ninth overall pick, selecting Louisville free safety Calvin Pryor. With the range to cover the back end and the tackling prowess to step up into the box, Pryor is the impact player Buffalo needs in the secondary.
10) Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
As much of a strength the Lions passing attack is, their pass defense is equally a liability. New coach Jim Caldwell takes the first step towards rebuilding the secondary by selecting the top-rated corner, Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State.
11) Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
New coach Ken Whisenhunt reunites with defensive coordinator Ray Horton in Tennessee, and the Titans use the eleventh overall pick to select athletic outside linebacker Anthony Barr of UCLA. A talented edge rusher with the ability to play in space, Barr becomes a day one starter with the team likely transitioning to a 3-4 base defense.
12) New York Giants: Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
In dire need of offensive line help, the Giants select the big, athletic tackle prospect from Auburn, Greg Robinson, with the twelfth overall pick. Robinson is a talented mountain of a man who can step right in a left tackle, powering the Giants rushing attack and helping keep Eli Manning upright.
13) St. Louis Rams: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
Sam Bradford needs a wall to protect him and give him time to get the ball to his weapons on the outside, so the Rams land a building block at tackle with their second first-round selection, Taylor Lewan of Michigan. A big, gifted athlete with a nasty disposition, Lewan gives coach Jeff Fisher an imposing enforcer on the offensive line to stand up to the tough Seattle and San Francisco defenses.
14) Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Just as the Bears begin to develop a potent offense under coach Marc Trestman, the team finds itself in need of the next generation of the Monsters of the Midway. Enter defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan from Florida State, a powerful force on the inside that Chicago can rebuild its front-seven around.
15) Pittsburgh Steelers: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Steelers bring new blood into an aging secondary, selecting Alabama safety Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix with the fifteenth overall pick. “Ha Ha” is a big hitter with range and playmaking ability not unlike the veteran safety he will have the opportunity to learn from, Troy Polamalu.
16) Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Dallas defense was as far removed from “Doomsday” as it could possibly be last season. With a gaping hole in the middle of their defensive line, the Cowboys use the sixteenth overall pick to take defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Undersized, but exceptionally quick and powerful, Donald can play the run on the way to the quarterback as the three-technique in Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme.
17) Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, T, Notre Dame
Even during their epic postseason run to finish the 2012 season, the Ravens offensive line was a mix of moving parts. Retirements, departures and inconsistent play up front in 2013 didn’t help matters, as the defending Super Bowl champions failed to make the playoffs. Selecting tough, versatile tackle Zack Martin with the seventeenth overall pick should help Baltimore bring stability to their line and help coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco lead the team back to prominence.
18) New York Jets: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
The Jets desperately need to add weapons on offense if second-year signal caller Geno Smith has any chance of being a successful NFL quarterback. The Jets get him one at eighteenth overall, in explosive playmaker Odell Beckham.
19) Miami Dolphins: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Dolphins need help on the offensive line, but taking a guard or second-tier tackle here would be a reach. Instead Miami addresses a need on defense, selecting linebacker C.J. Mosley from Alabama.
20) Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Arizona could also use more help on the offensive line, but coach Bruce Arians goes defense with his first round pick, taking undersized defensive end Dee Ford of Auburn. Ford should be able to slide out to the edge in the Cardinals’ 3-4 base defense to play rush linebacker, using his speed and quickness to turn the corner.
21) Green Bay Packers: Ra’Shede Hageman, DE, Minnesota
The Packers could afford to upgrade several areas of their defense, but they address the defensive line first, selecting the big, athletic Golden Gopher, Ra’Shede Hageman with the twenty-first overall pick. If he’s motivated, Hageman has the imposing presence, power and raw talent to be a difference-maker for Green Bay.
22) Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Eagles look to strengthen their secondary, choosing cornerback Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State. A starting-caliber press corner with decent size and strong coverage skills, Dennard can come in and play right away for Chip Kelly’s defense.
23) Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Coach Andy Reid could use a playmaker on the outside to complement Dwayne Bowe and he gets one in Brandin Cooks. The wide receiver from Oregon State isn’t very big, but he is lightning-fast with great hands and dangerous after the catch.
24) Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Cincinnati uses their first-round selection to bolster their secondary with the addition of Kyle Fuller, the cornerback from Virginia Tech. Fuller has good size and ball skills, moves well and is a solid tackler on the outside.
25) San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
San Diego can use as much help as they can get covering the explosive offenses of Denver and Kansas City, so they turn to the small, but solidly built corner from TCU, Jason Verrett. Verrett makes up for his size with elite speed and coverage skills that allow him to be effective in the slot or on the outside.
26) Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Browns need a quarterback and a face of the franchise, and they get both in the dynamic dual threat from Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel. The exciting prospect doesn’t have ideal size, but can make plays with his arm and his legs, and has instincts and improvisational skills that you just can’t teach. Pairing Manziel with his Texas A&M teammate Mike Evans and Pro Bowler Josh Gordon, the Browns have three young, budding superstars that should help lead their turnaround.
27) New Orleans Saints: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Rob Ryan worked wonders turning around the Saints defense, and coach Sean Payton gives him another chess piece to work with in the big defensive lineman from Notre Dame, Stephon Tuitt. Quick, powerful and athletic, with the versatility to play every position along the defensive line, Tuitt gives the Saints a talented interior pass rusher with an intriguing upside.
28) Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Panthers get quarterback Cam Newton a big, athletic target on the outside, selecting Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with the twenty-eighth overall pick. Benjamin has raw talent and will need time to develop, but he has the size and jump-ball skills to be a match-up nightmare from day one.
29) New England Patriots: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
As long as the Patriots have Tom Brady, their offense will find a way to be competitive. So the Patriots go defense in round one, selecting linebacker Ryan Shazier from Ohio State. Fast and athletic, Shazier can tackle, rush the passer and cover, and has the versatility to move around in Bill Belichick’s defense.
30) San Francisco 49ers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The 49ers use the thirtieth overall pick to fortify one of the elite defenses in the NFL with the big nose tackle from Notre Dame, Louis Nix III. Nix is a space-eater in the interior line and should help absorb blocks, freeing up the other San Francisco defenders to fly to the ball.
31) Denver Broncos: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Denver could use a playmaker in the back end of their defense and Northern Illinois ball-hawk Jimmie Ward fits the bill. Undersized, but athletic and versatile, Ward’s college productivity and strong showing during Senior Bowl week have rocketed him up draft boards making him a nice pickup for the Broncos at the end of the first round.
32) Seattle Seahawks: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Seattle reloads along the defensive line, selecting Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy with the thirty-second pick. With ideal size, length and athleticism for an edge-rusher, Ealy gives the Seahawks exceptional value to close out the first round and another fierce defender to chase down opposing quarterbacks.