First Round Mock Draft: Will NFL Teams Address Their Most Pressing Needs or Take Best Player Available?

NCAA Football: Russell Athletic Bowl-Miami vs Louisville

With the 2014 NFL Draft set to kick off in just one month’s time, here is an updated mock draft—projecting what each team will do in the first round.

[Team] [Player name] [Scouting report: strengths,
weaknesses, team fit, analysis]
1) Houston Texans QB Johnny Manziel Manziel is polarizing, but he can certainly make an impact right away at the pro level. His improvisational style and confident demeanor make him the type of quarterback a team could build around. Don’t be afraid of Manziel’s inability to ‘dial it down’; he’s proven that he can handle the hype of being a star and he always shows up to win on gameday. Bill O’Brien knows the value of having a franchise quarterback and will take a calculated risk with this Texas star at No. 1.
2) St. Louis Rams DE/OLB Jadeveon
Whether it’s the Rams or some other team, Clowney has to go in the No.
2 slot. While I hesitate to call the defender a ‘once-in-a-generation’ talent, he’s certainly an above-average defensive end. Clowney is versatile enough to succeed in any scheme and should do well at the next level based on his athletic gifts alone. Immediately, Clowney legitimizes the front seven wherever he ends up—it’s just a matter of how much effort he’s willing to put in.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars QB Teddy Bridgewater Many forget that Bridgewater is actually from Florida. The Jaguars are lucky to have the draft’s best player (and a hometown kid) fall to them here. While he won’t inherit the most talented offense in the league, Bridgewater has the skill set to make his teammates look a lot better than they actually are. With this young signal caller leading the way, the Jaguars could be a playoff team.
Cleveland Browns
WR Sammy
With quarterbacks 1A and 1B off the board, there’s no reason for the
Browns to overdraft a signal caller here. Instead, they bolster what would
be, arguably, the league’s best receiving corps and can still look to nab a
quarterback later on. Planning for a team that has Watkins, Josh Gordon,
Andrew Hawkins and Jordan Cameron will cause nightmares for defensive coordinators.
5) Oakland Raiders DE/OLB Khalil Mack The Raiders get one of the most athletic, instinctive defenders available. Reggie McKenzie is doing his best to rebuild the team and drafting Mack with this pick is a big step in the right direction. One of the only defensive players available that is capable of singlehandedly dictating a game’s outcome, Mack will be a 10-year starter wherever he goes.
6) Atlanta Falcons OL Greg
If Atlanta is going to return to the playoffs, the team will need to find a way to protect Matt Ryan. Robinson is the best offensive lineman available in the 2014 draft, bar none. Robinson’s combination of elite physical tools and a constant mean streak make him a prospect that most teams will covet. The Auburn tackle may have only just recently come onto the scene, but it appears that he’s here to stay.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans After trading Mike Williams to the Bills, the Buccaneers need to draft a playmaking wide receiver with this pick. Evans is just that—he’s got the length, hands and route running ability to destroy cornerbacks at the next level. Pairing him with Mike Glennon will make for one of the NFL’s next best quarterback-receiver tandems. Another benefit of this pick is that Evans can learn from Buccaneers wideout Vincent Jackson, who the former very much resembles.
8) Minnesota Vikings QB Blake
Bortles’ fall ends here—as the Vikings recognize just how much they can
polish this raw signal caller. The former UCF standout has the body, arm and moxie to be a franchise quarterback, he just needs refinement. With a number of veteran field generals already on the roster, Minnesota can afford to let Bortles sit back and learn the position for a year.
9) Buffalo Bills TE Eric Ebron With E.J. Manuel firmly entrenched as the team’s starting quarterback, the Bills need to go about adding as many weapons as possible. The wide receiving corps, with Mike Williams, Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods (among others) is set. If the team can get an athletic, pass catching tight end like Ebron, the team could challenge for the Wild Card spot as soon as 2014.
10) Detroit Lions DL Aaron
I don’t love Donald as much as others. He’s not a Top 10 talent. That said, he’s a lethal pass rusher and he’d succeed alongside Ndamukong Suh. Detroit seems to always have a strong defensive line and adding Donald would only bolster such a unit. It’s tough to see the team looking for a cornerback at this point after investing so many picks into the position over the last few drafts.
11) Tennessee Titans CB Justin Gilbert Gilbert is one of the most complete players in the 2014 NFL draft class. He excels in off-man coverage and while he’s not as physical as one would like, the defensive back rarely gets beat. He has the speed to both recover quickly and run with any NFL receiver, but also has fluid enough hips to mirror routes better than any other cornerback available. The Titans need to replace Alterraun Verner—Gilbert is their guy.
12) New York Giants OL Jake
It seems as though the Giants struggle with pass protection every year. Two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning had such a poor 2013 because he got no help from his offensive line. Finally, with this pick, New York addresses the need for a pass protecting tackle and selects Matthews, who is more athletic than the average tackle and is also a solid blocker in space.
13) St. Louis Rams S Calvin Pryor The Rams continue to bolster their defense with this pick, adding the best safety in the class. Pryor is an enigma—he hits hard and he covers well. He’ll fit right in with Jeff Fisher’s defensive philosophy. There were multiple instances in 2013, especially UCF’s legendary final drive against Louisville, where offensive coordinators specifically stayed away from this defensive back with their route combinations. With Pryor in the fold, St. Louis would boast one of the league’s best young defensive units.
14) Chicago Bears CB Darqueze
It’d surprise many at this point if the Bears don’t address their aging, struggling secondary with this selection. While Dennard isn’t the best player available at this point, he fills a need well. Dennard is physical at the point of attack with receivers, which will allow him to win battles with some of the more physical receivers in the NFC North. He’ll make the Bears better immediately.
15) Pittsburgh Steelers DL Louis Nix III Another pick that fills a need, the Louis Nix III selection allows Pittsburgh to finally replace Casey Hampton. In terms of getting the best player on the board, the Steelers could do a lot better, but it’s tough to argue against picking a two-gap zero technique that figures to dominate interior linemen at the next level. Pittsburgh is rebuilding its defense and Nix III is just another step in that rebuilding process.
16) Dallas Cowboys DE/OLB Anthony
DeMarcus Ware is gone, which means the Cowboys will be looking for a
pass rusher at some point in this draft. Barr is the type of flashy athlete that Dallas would covet. While he’s still learning the position and isn’t nearly as polished as he should be, Barr can make an impact down the road with the right amount of coaching. The fit here is hard to ignore and the need for a pass rusher in Dallas has been, to date, understated.
17) Baltimore Ravens WR Allen Robinson After watching Joe Flacco struggle last year with a dearth of weapons, general manager Ozzie Newsome has placed a premium on offensive playmakers this offseason. After signing Dennis Pitta to a big contract and also bringing in Steve Smith, adding Robinson here would instantly transform the Ravens into one of the league’s best offenses. Robinson would succeed with a big-armed signal caller like Flacco—Baltimore just need to hope this pass catcher is available.
18) New York Jets TE Jace
The Jets, like the Ravens, need to surround their quarterback with as many weapons as possible if they’re to have a shot at the 2014 playoffs. With Eric Decker in tow, New York is putting the pieces in place for quarterback Geno Smith to succeed as a sophomore. Amaro gives the Jets a big target capable of controlling the middle of the field while Smith develops into a solid young signal caller.
19) Miami Dolphins OL Taylor Lewan Lewan is unfortunately overshadowed by both Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews. But he’s a very good offensive tackle. The Dolphins need to rebuild their offensive line after the Richie Incognito bullying fiasco and betting on a young, athletic left tackle is a good idea. Lewan has the perfect frame for a player of his position and figures to develop into a cornerstone offensive lineman wherever he ends up.
20) Arizona Cardinals DE/OLB  Kony
Quietly, the Cardinals are building one of the league’s best defenses. While Kony Ealy has a good amount of developing left to do, he’s a good bet to win battles on the edge. If it’s not a quarterback with this pick, which is more of a possibility than some are willing to believe, look for Arizona to continue to add young stars to its front seven. With a well-built secondary behind him, Ealy will have plenty of opportunities to get sacks.
21) Green Bay Packers DL Timmy Jernigan Jernigan is a better fit in a 4-3, but the Packers would be happy to add a player of his caliber here. Jernigan is able to penetrate gaps well and has built a reputation as one of the more disruptive defensive linemen available in the class. Green Bay needs to win more battles in the trenches if they’re to return among the league’s elite team and picking up Jernigan is a good start.
22) Philadelphia Eagles WR Marqise
Head coach Chip Kelly has shown an early affinity for Pac-12 players, with former Arizona quarterback Nick Foles running the show in Philadelphia and multiple other players from the conference on the offensive side of the ball. Lee is a dynamic offensive threat who gets in and out of his cuts with ease. He’ll be a gamechanger in Kelly’s offense as he replaces the production of DeSean Jackson.
23) Kansas City Chiefs LB C.J. Mosley Mosley’s issues in pass coverage coupled with his injury history will precipitate his fall in the draft, but Chiefs head coach Andy Reid won’t pass up a player of the former Alabama linebacker’s talent this late in the first round. Mosley would be a welcomed addition to an already strong linebacking corps—the Chiefs can build a stout LB corps with this pick instead of addressing a need.
24) Cincinnati Bengals DL RaShede
As the Bengals get older up front, the team has to find young defensive
linemen in the draft. Hageman is slightly overrated, but by virtue of his frame and strength alone, he’ll be an impactful player wherever he ends up. Pairing Hageman with Geno Atkins on the defensive interior will help the Bengals offset the loss of Michael Johnson. Cincinnati will need to polish this gem, but could be looking at a superstar in the making here.
25) San Diego Chargers DE/OLB Dee Ford One of the best pass rushers in this draft class, Ford slides down the board because he’s so one-dimensional. That said, he’s a Top 10 talent and has the best first step of any front seven defensive player. Ford is so unbelievably explosive off of the snap of the ball that he can beat most NFL offensive tackles with his speed as soon as his rookie season. That said, Ford uses his hands well and is creative enough to become a solid pass rusher at the next level.
26) Cleveland Browns QB Derek
The Browns’ patience pays off here, as they’re able to get Carr late in the first round. With the 26th pick, Cleveland lands a strong armed quarterback who can work the ball deep to the team’s now-stacked receiving corps. It’s tough to see the Browns not bringing in a rookie signal caller to challenge Brian Hoyer, especially with a new head coach in town. Carr has a rare arm and can be a franchise quarterback if he refines his mechanics.
27) New Orleans Saints LB Ryan Shazier Shazier is an interesting fit with this pick, as the Saints seem committed to overhauling their defense over the next few offseasons. One of the most athletic players in the class, this linebacker has a well-rounded set of skills that will allow him to help New Orleans in 2014. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan values versatility and will be able to transform this former Buckeye into a valuable chess piece on the field. Shazier has the speed to run with any tight end, which will endear him to Ryan early on.
28) Carolina Panthers WR Odell
Beckham, Jr.
There’s an obvious need at wide receiver in Carolina and it’d be surprising to see the Panthers let a pass catcher of Beckham’s talent level fall past this pick. Beckham wasn’t a world-beater at LSU, but he’s a solid, if undersized, receiver. The former Tiger has elite lateral quickness and great hands—he’ll immediately establish himself as one of quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite targets.
29) New England Patriots OL Zack Martin With needs at wide receiver, tight end and defensive line, Bill Belichick decides to nab Martin, an offensive lineman with a multitude of skills. Martin can play tackle in a pinch, but he’d be a great fit at guard for New England. Belichick is going to strengthen the offensive line before anything else, so this pick makes perfect sense for a team that is usually hesitant to directly address needs. Look for New England to surprise people on draft day.
30) San Francisco 49ers CB Jason
I was torn between Jimmie Ward and Jason Verrett with this pick, but Verrett’s abilities match up more favorably with defensive coordinator Vic
Fangio’s scheme. The former Horned Frog is technically sound, but his
straight line speed is elite. He’s the right size for a cornerback and is more physical than some of the other cornerbacks in this year’s class. The 49ers get a solid defensive back here.
31) Denver Broncos LB Kyle Van Noy The Broncos don’t have many needs to address, and while I was tempted to give them A.J. McCarron (don’t be surprised if that comes to pass, by the way), I decided to give the team another pass rusher. At this point, Denver can afford to swing and miss with this pick. Van Noy, while instinctive, doesn’t make great post-snap reads and will need a lot of coaching in the NFL. Fortunately, the BYU linebacker can learn from one of the best in DeMarcus Ware as he waits for his turn.
32) Seattle Seahawks OL Xavier
If Seattle needs anything, it’s an interior offensive lineman. Wide receiver was a consideration with this selection, but the Seahawks are going to play to their strengths. The team is at its best when Marshawn Lynch is dominating on inside runs, as such gains set up play-action passes and toss sweep plays. Should the Seahawks aim to perpetuate such success, they’ll need a guard of Su’a-Filo’s caliber as soon as this season.