With the 2014 NFL Draft set to kick off in just over a month, we thought we'd run through the 32 players who we believe will hear their names called Thursday, May 8th. This year's class is stacked with talent, including four quarterbacks who could be chosen in the first round.
But will the Houston Texans, who have the No. 1 overall pick, focus on defense and select South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, or offense and pick Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel? We answer that question, along with 31 others, in our first mock draft below.
1. Houston Texans - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Yes, Houston needs a quarterback more than it needs a defensive end. But Clowney is just too much of a can't-miss prospect to pass on. Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Blake Bortles are all potential solid NFL starters--and Manziel could be great--but there's just too much risk with each of them. You need a quarterback to win in the NFL, but you don't need to get that quarterback in the first round. Pair Clowney with All-Pro J.J. Watt and wreak havoc on the rest of the AFC South.
2. St. Louis Rams - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
There's a decent chance St. Louis would like to trade out of this spot, but that will probably only happen if someone falls in love with a quarterback--that's not likely. So Jeff Fisher and the Rams will take the best player available, and that's Robinson. St. Louis has invested a lot of money in quarterback Sam Bradford and Robinson will help protect that investment. Fisher has never taken an offensive lineman in the first round, but that changes here.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Like Houston, Jacksonville needs a quarterback, and like Houston, we think they go defense with their first pick. Gus Bradley is a defensive-minded coach, and Mack is likely the most elite defensive talent available. His best game of 2013 came against the top talent he faced--Ohio State--and Mack would significantly improve a defense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most categories.
4. Cleveland Browns - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The most exciting player in the class doesn't get by Cleveland. The Browns were the only NFL team to not attend Manziel's pro day in College Station, but that likely doesn't mean anything. Manziel is reportedly set to meet with Cleveland in the coming week, and the Browns need a quarterback. Cleveland possesses a strong defense and playmakers on offense. With a quarterback like Manziel, eight-plus wins are possible in 2014. Cleveland's night life just got more enticing, too.
5. Oakland Raiders - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The top five will feature two Aggies picked back-to-back. Much of Manziel's success during his two years at Texas A&M can be attributed to the protection he got from his offensive line, and no one is more responsible for that protection than Matthews. The second-best offensive tackle in the draft, Matthews will help protect recently acquired quarterback Matt Schaub.
6. Atlanta Falcons - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Atlanta would likely prefer to get an offensive tackle here, but with Robinson and Matthews off the board, we think they'll go defense. No college football player had a more successful 2013 than Donald, the Pittsburgh defensive tackle that won nearly every national award he was nominated for.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Tampa Bay recently released receiver Mike Williams, so they're in need of a playmaker on the outside. Watkins is as good as it gets in that department. The former Clemson Tiger owns nearly every school record and had an outstanding performance in the Orange Bowl. Josh McCown is the likely starter at QB for Tampa Bay, and with Watkins and Vincent Jackson to throw to, he could replicate the performance he had playing for injured Jay Cutler in Chicago.
8. Minnesota Vikings - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Minnesota reached on a quarterback in the first round a few seasons ago with its selection of Christian Ponder. That didn't work out too well. But Bridgewater is more of a prototypical quarterback, and his ceiling is much higher than Ponder's was. Bridgewater's stock has reportedly been dropping since his so-so pro day, but there's value in getting him at No. 8. Matt Cassel is going to be the starter in Minnesota, so Bridgewater could take a few seasons to develop, which are needed.
9. Buffalo Bills - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
There are some sexier selections that could be made here, and it might be tempting for Buffalo to go with a playmaker--Mike Evans, perhaps--to pair with young quarterback E.J. Manuel. But Manuel is injury prone and in need of protection. Lewan fills that void for the Bills. Some have questioned his character after a run-in with the law, but the physical talent is there, and he could start from day one.
10. Detroit Lions - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Newly hired coach Jim Caldwell is an offensive guy, but Detroit's pretty sured up on that side of the ball. The Lions need defense, and while local cornerback Darqueze Dennard is an option, we think Gilbert is the one to be taken here. Detroit needs a No. 1 cornerback, and Gilbert possesses nearly every trait one could want in that position. In a division that features Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, pass defense is needed.
11. Tennessee Titans - Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Outside of the quarterback position, pass rushers are the most important players on the field. Tennessee could stand to solidify its secondary, but the Titans are in need of people that can get to the quarterback, too. Barr, a former running back, is as athletic as they come. Tennessee employs a 3-4 scheme, and Barr should be a great fit. He's raw and undeveloped, but the potential is there.
12. New York Giants - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Ebron is a top-10 talent, but no team drafting in that slot is in serious need of a tight end. The Giants, with Eli Manning and a tight-end centric offense, are a seemingly perfect fit for Ebron. New York has needs on the defensive side of the ball, but its offense was lethargic in 2013 and is in need of a jolt. Ebron gives the Giants' offense something it needs--an athletic, versatile pass catcher who is also apt in run blocking.
13. St. Louis Rams - C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Bradford would likely prefer the Rams take a wide receiver here, but with Watkins already off the board, it's not worth it with the No. 13 pick. There will be talented wide receivers available in the second round. Mosley won't be available then, though, and the former Crimson Tide linebacker is as safe a pick as there is outside of Clowney and a few offensive lineman.
14. Chicago Bears - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Like Texas A&M had in the top five with Manziel and Matthews, Alabama gets two players selected back-to-back with Mosley and Clinton-Dix. Chicago was last in the NFL in yards allowed per play in 2013, and the pass defense needs to be solidified. The Bears could use a pass rusher with Julius Peppers gone, but they somewhat made up for that loss with a couple free-agent signings. Clinton-Dix at No. 14 is great value.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Pittsburgh sured up some of its secondary by signing safety Mike Mitchell, but much of that unit is getting old. The Steelers are still in need of some youth in the pass defense department, and Dennard's physical, aggressive play style would be a solid fit in Pittsburgh. The AFC North features a bevy of talented wide receivers, and Dennard proved in his career in East Lansing he's more than capable of limiting a team's pass potential.
16. Dallas Cowboys - Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Cowboys decided to part ways with Demarcus Ware this offseason, and Rod Marinelli's defense is in need of help on the line. Jason Hatcher is gone, too, and Anthony Spencer is yet to be signed. Aaron Donald is the best defensive tackle in this class, but with him gone, Jernigan is the next best option. Jerry Jones' team has made some surprising picks in recent years, but it would be shocking if they didn't go with a defensive lineman in this slot.
17. Baltimore Ravens - Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Baltimore has invested a lot of money in its franchise quarterback, Joe Flacco, and he needs to be protected. He has weapons in Torrey Smith and Steve Smith, and if he gets time, maybe he'll return to 2012 form. Martin is the solid choice here. He's as consistent and reliable as they come. Martin started every game of his career at Notre Dame.
18. New York Jets - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Jets need more playmakers on offense, and Evans, who we have dropping a bit, is a perfect fit. No-brainer of a selection. The bigger question is who the Jets are going to have throwing him the ball...