With the 2014 NFL Combine’s events slated to kick off on Saturday, the first round of the NFL Draft is beginning to take shape.
Because of an abnormal amount of junior declarations, this draft may be the deepest draft ever, which only give teams more flexibility in the first round. If they fail to address a need early on, they have a good chance of landing a serviceable player later on.
Most of the talk will surround the quarterbacks, as usual, but this year’s wide receiver crop will be the defining position of this year’s class. Beyond Sammy Watkins, they truly can be drafted in just about any order, depending of the “flavor” of player a team has in mind.
Here are pre-combine projections for the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
1 – HOU: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Despite the rise of players like Blake Bortles, Bridgewater stands alone as the top quarterback prospect in the draft by a significant margin. With a glaring need for a new franchise player, the hardest task for the Texans is to not overthink this pick.
2 – STL: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Rams have invested a lot of high draft picks in the offensive tackle position and Roger Saffold turned in one of his better seasons at right tackle, but Robinson has a chance to be truly special. A dominant run-blocker, Robinson can be a true weapon at the tackle position.
3 – JAX: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney has had his named dragged through the mud this year, but it is easy to lose sight of what he brings as an NFL prospect. A ridiculous combination of power, speed, length and explosion, Clowney has a chance to be a special player at the next level.
4 – CLE: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Browns have been a dormant franchise for far too long. Manziel has his share of personality risks and he certainly needs to learn how to stay in the pocket, but his talent as a passer and a runner cannot be ignored.
5 – OAK: Khalil Mack, LB , Buffalo
With the top quarterbacks off the board, Oakland can look to add the foundation of their defense. Mack is a versatile, disruptive player at a key position that the Raiders can build around.
6 – ATL: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
There is no doubt that the Falcons need help in the trenches at both sides of the ball. With the Lamar Holmes experiment failing, adding Matthews is a no-brainer outside of the top five picks.
7 – TB: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Buccaneers have a good amount of talent on both sides of the ball, but they could use one more explosive piece on the offensive side. Next to Vincent Jackson, Watkins could give the Buccaneers one of the top receiving units in football.
8 – MIN: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The Vikings cannot wait any longer to move on from Christian Ponder. Bortles is a bit rough around the edges, but he has the tools to eventually develop into a long-term franchise quarterback.
9 – BUF: C.J. Mosley, LB , Alabama
Adding a strong piece to one of the weakest units on the roster, C.J. Mosley brings a lot of versatility to a unit that could go in a lot of different directions with a new defensive coordinator next season.
10 – DET: Darqueze Dennard, CB , Michigan State
It’s long overdue for the Lions to draft a top-tier cornerback. Dennard would be able to start immediately and help ease the eventual loss of Louis Delmas.
11 – TEN: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
The Titans have a lot of underrated pieces on their defensive line, but they could use one more pass-rusher to take the load off Kamerion Wimbley.
12 – NYG: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Giants have been juggling tight ends on a year-to-year basis for too long. Adding Ebron gives them a long-term answer at the position with star potential.
13 – STL: Kony Ealy, DL , Missouri
The Rams already have a pair of quality pass-rushers, but as we have seen so many times, having a surplus of edge players is never a problem. Ealy provides great value at this stage of the draft.
14 – CHI: Tim Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears were uncharacteristically bad at defending the run last year, finishing dead last in the category. Jernigan is a load in the middle of a 4-3 front who will help solve their biggest issue immediately.
15 – PIT: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
With Emmanuel Sanders likely on his way out, the Steelers need to find some new blood for the position after losing Wallace a year ago. Evans is a huge target that will come in handy for when Big Ben finds himself scrambling, looking for a target.
16 – BAL: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Ravens have forgotten how to pass-protect since their Super Bowl run. Lewan has some character concerns, but he is a tremendous athlete who can protect as well as anyone in the draft.
17 – DAL: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Cowboys have been getting by with average safety play for far too long. Clinton-Dix had a bit of a down year in 2013, but he has the skills to both cover and play up in the box against the run.
18 – NYJ: Marqise Lee, WR , USC
With Santonio Holmes on his way out and Stephen Hill failing to live up to expectations, the Jets are in need of receiving weapons more than anyone in the league. Lee is coming off a down year thanks in large part to a lingering knee injury, but he has the ability to turn short completions into explosive plays.
19 – MIA: Cyrus Kouandjio, OL , Alabama
The Dolphins need to rebuild their offensive line in every sense of the word, starting with the tackles. Kouandjio was a bit disappointing this year at tackle for the Tide, but he is a strong, athletic player with a lot of upside.
20 – ARI: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Cardinals are finally starting to turn the corner with their offensive line, which should only improve once Jonathan Cooper returns from injury next season. With the declining Eric Winston set to hit the open market, adding a young talent at the tackle position is a necessity.
21 – GB: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Packers are set on making substantial changes to their defense, starting with the secondary. Kyle Fuller is a physical, smart player with ball skills that is at least as good against the run as he is against the pass.
22 – PHI: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Eagles need to bring in new blood to the interior of their defensive line. Louis Nix III had a bit of a down season after a dominant 2012, but much of that can be attributed to injury. If he can get back to his 2012 form, the Eagles will have landed a top-10 player in the second half of the first round.
23 – KC: Odell Beckham, WR , LSU
The Chiefs are one of the more complete teams in the NFL, but they could use another offensive weapon with Dexter McCluster set to hit free agency. Beckham is a bit undersized (5’11”) but his body control and ability after that catch is off the charts.
24 – CIN: Stephon Tuitt, DL , Notre Dame
The Bengals elected to extend Carlos Dunlap last year, but at the expense of Michael Johnson. Tuitt is an explosive edge player that is a perfect fit for the Bengals’ 4-3 defense.
25 – SD: Jason Verrett, CB , Texas Christian
Verrett has everything scouts look for in a cornerback—fluidity, physicality and ball skills. However, his short stature may limit him to the slot position, which is an increasingly-important position in today’s pass-happy NFL.
26 – CLE: Jarvis Landry, WR , LSU
Outside of quarterback, the Browns have a lot of pieces in place. However, with Greg Little not developing as nicely as they had hoped, adding a pass-catcher opposite Josh Gordon is a key need.
27 – NO: Dee Ford, DE , Auburn
The Saints made some strides on defense last year, but they could still use an upgrade to their defensive line after releasing Will Smith. Ford had an impressive Senior Bowl (named the game’s MVP), putting him in the first-round conversation.
28 – CAR: Brandin Cooks, WR , Oregon State
Steve Smith is fun to watch, but he is not getting any younger. With Ted Ginn set to hit the open market, the Panthers suddenly have an opening for a young rookie receiver to contribute right off the bat.
29 – NE: Aaron Donald, DL , Pittsburgh
The Patriots’ defense took a big hit against the run when Vince Wilfork with down last year. Aaron Donald would immediately be an upgrade over the low-level backups that are currently in place.
And he’s a disruptive player, just ask the offensive linemen in attendance at the Combine, like SI’s Doug Farrar did.
Asked 10 different offensive linemen the names of the guys who gave them the most fits. Aaron Donald was the only duplicate answer.
— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) February 20, 2014
30 – SF: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
With A.J. Jenkins neverdeveloping into the player that they had hoped to become, adding a young pass-catcher to help Colin Kaepernick be less reliant on Michael Crabtree makes a lot of sense. Abbrederis is a bit undersized, but he is a savvy route-runner and an underrated athlete with great hands.
31 – DEN: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
With Champ Bailey starting to show signs of slowing down last season and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie set to hit free agency, the Broncos must continue to find ways to upgrade their secondary.
32 – SEA: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE , Washington
The Seahawks have a chance to take their offense to the next level by adding one of the most talented players in the draft. Seferian-Jenkins looked a bit heavy-footed last year, but his combination of size and athleticism is tough to ignore.