With the 2014 NFL Draft nearly upon us, it’s time to register some final guesses as to who will go where. Of course, these things are never too accurate because of draft day trades and curious thinking by personnel departments, but here’s an attempt at predicting what will happen in the first round come Thursday.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney’s been put down because of his character concerns and lack of effort this offseason, and he doesn’t really fit in the Texans’ defense, but when it comes down to it, his raw athletic skills make him the most desirable option in a draft class that is devoid of a hands-down franchise quarterback.
2. St. Louis Rams: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Rams could take an offensive tackle here, but they already have a pretty good pair for the next few years in Jake Long and Joe Barksdale. Watkins gives them the true number one receiver that they’ve been lacking since Torry Holt left.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Jacksonville could use a quarterback, but there’s no one here who is guaranteed to be a playoff-caliber signal-caller, while Mack is sitting there as the perfect candidate to star at the LEO position in Gus Bradley’s defense.
4. Cleveland Browns: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Cleveland goes against the rumors of them being interested in Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, instead opting to take Robinson, who can immediately fill a void at right tackle and eventually take over for 29-year-old Joe Thomas on the left side.
5. Oakland Raiders: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
After losing Lamarr Houston, Oakland badly needs a pass rusher on the interior, and Donald is the perfect man for the job. He would immediately become their best defensive tackle and give AFC West offensive lines fits on a weekly basis.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
There’s been discussion about Atlanta taking a tackle, but that’s unlikely since they’re not ready to give up on Sam Baker, who they gave a massive contract to prior to the 2013 season. Instead, they take Barr, who is raw but has a high ceiling and previously has garnered discussion as the top pass rusher in the draft.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Tampa gives some much-needed aid to their passing attack, adding a virtual clone of Vincent Jackson to the offense and giving Josh McCown a secondary weapon. Evans’ size and athleticism makes him a candidate to line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage, even at tight end.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Minnesota needs a quarterback, and Bortles fits the mold of the quarterbacks new offensive coordinator Norv Turner has used throughout his career. He’s in an ideal situation with the Vikings, as Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder are around to handle starting duty until the unpolished Bortles is fully ready to go.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Buffalo is in a strange position of not really having any pressing needs, and they make the move here to select Matthews. They could start him off at right tackle, where he has college experience, and eventually have him supplant Cordy Glenn on the left side if warranted. Either way, Glenn and Matthews would combine to be one of the best tackle tandems in the league.
10. Detroit Lions: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Detroit unexpectedly kept Brandon Pettigrew, but they can still take Ebron here as he more closely fits the mold of a slot receiver anyway. After a 2013 season which saw the Lions’ offense seriously struggle when they were without Calvin Johnson, the offseason additions of Golden Tate and Ebron would give the Lions one of the deeper receiving corps in the league.
11. Tennessee Titans: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
This admittedly is a bit of a reach for Ealy, but the Titans are virtually starting from scratch as they attempt to transition to a 3-4 defense, and Ealy would be a great building block. He has one of the highest ceilings of any player in this draft, and he has the build and athleticism to fit either a rush outside linebacker position or a five-technique defensive tackle.
12. New York Giants: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Giants need to replace free safety Will Hill, who is likely done with the team due to off-the-field issues, and Clinton-Dix is the most talented safety in the draft, possessing Ed Reed-like playmaking ability.
13. St. Louis Rams: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Rams may be a bit bummed that they lose out on Clinton-Dix here, but they can still upgrade their defensive backfield with the addition of Gilbert. With his size, athleticism, and ability to play out of the nickel, Gilbert would function much like a playmaking free safety anyway, and he would offset the void created by the failure and subsequent departure of Cortland Finnegan.
14. Chicago Bears: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Chicago has a lot of areas that they could upgrade here, especially on defense, but with no defensive players really making sense at this spot, Lewan is the best player on the board. He’d likely begin at right tackle but could replace Jermon Bushrod quickly on the left side.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
After losing Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh gets their hands on Beckham, who has been one of the biggest risers during the pre-draft process. He’d be a big addition to a receiving corps that doesn’t really have a reliable playmaker beyond Antonio Brown.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
This is probably a dream scenario for the Cowboys, who have a homegrown quarterback with a Texas-sized personality fall into their lap at pick 16. Dallas can’t count on Tony Romo for a whole lot longer, and Manziel can step in as his heir apparent and learn how to play like an NFL quarterback before replacing him in a few years.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Baltimore has rather pressing needs on their offensive line, and Martin can fill literally any of them. He could take over as the right tackle or shift inside and fill the unstable left guard position. It would take some teaching, but Martin certainly has the skills to play center as well if Jeremy Zuttah doesn’t work out.
18. New York Jets: CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Jets’ biggest needs here are probably either a pass rusher or wide receiver, but with no one from those groups really fitting here, Mosley is a great pick. He could improve a mediocre inside linebacker group and soon take over for the aging David Harris.
19. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Miami needs to restock their offensive line after it was ripped to shreds by a bullying scandal last year, and Su’a-Filo would be a logical fit. The UCLA guard is highly thought-of by many personnel folks despite some performance flaws in college, and his raw strength could enable him to be a superstar with good coaching. Though accused bully and open Aaron Hernandez apologist Mike Pouncey might not be too happy about it, Su’a-Filo would be a stabilizing locker room presence, as he is an Eagle Scout and a veteran of a Mormon mission.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Arizona likes big, physical cornerbacks, and Fuller fits the mold here. Though he doesn’t provide the playmaking value of Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, he’s very solid in coverage and would provide a reliable presence at the other outside position.
21. Green Bay Packers: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Seferian-Jenkins has erroneously been dropped on numerous draft boards because of questions about his character and his weight, but he’s still the most talented all-around tight end in this class. By selecting him at pick 21, Green Bay gets a fantastic long-term replacement for Jermichael Finley.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Philadelphia really doesn’t have many holes, so they upgrade at the 5-tech position by selecting Hageman. Though he is still raw, Hageman is very strong, has great pass rushing potential, and has the ideal built to play defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
Another 5-tech goes off the board as the Chiefs select Tuitt to replace the departed Tyson Jackson. Any team selecting Tuitt will be banking on him recovering his 2012 form, rather than repeating the mediocre performance he delivered in 2013 following hernia surgery. Tuitt is very athletic and has the perfect body to thrive in a 3-4 scheme, so he could be a steal if he’s on the right track medically.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals need to upgrade at corner, and Verrett is an ideal option as the best coverage cornerback in this draft class. He’s a bit undersized, but so are Terence Newman and Adam Jones, who have provided plenty of stability at the position over the past several years but are about ready to be phased out now that they are 30 and 35 years old, respectively.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Chargers lost nose tackle Cam Thomas in free agency, and they could stand to upgrade over their current options, Sean Lissemore and Kwame Geathers. Nix would provide stability up the gut and could end up being one of the most productive players at his position in the league.
26. Cleveland Browns: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Browns are just one receiver away from having a great group of wideouts, and Lee can be the guy to finish it off. He was expected to be one of the top picks in the draft, but saw his reputation plummet following a spotty 2013 season. If healthy, he still has loads of potential and could end being a huge value at pick 26.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, OLB/DE, Auburn
New Orleans badly needs pass rushing help, so badly that they’re willing to reach for Dee Ford, the self-proclaimed best pass rusher in the draft. Ford would provide a stabilizing presence at the rush linebacker position for a Saints defense that was surprisingly effective operating on spare parts in 2013.
28. Carolina Panthers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Kouandjio was an overall disappointment at Alabama and had a horrible pre-draft process, but Carolina badly needs an offensive tackle, and when it comes down to it Kouandjio is much more likely to grow into a franchise left tackle than the alternatives at this pick, Joel Bitonio or Morgan Moses. Due to Jordan Gross’s untimely retirement, Kouandjio would likely be pushed into the left tackle spot immediately.
29. New England Patriots: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
With no absolute needs and the top quarterback still on the board, the Patriots find Tom Brady’s eventual replacement and select Bridgewater, who they conducted a private workout with earlier this offseason. This would be a perfect scenario for the young, talented quarterback, who would have a few seasons to hone his game before making his debut as the number one guy.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
San Francisco could use an upgrade at the unstable cornerback position, and Dennard is the best one available at this spot. He might not start immediately, but would be thrust into action relatively soon in a group that doesn’t have a sure starter beyond Tramaine Brock.
31. Denver Broncos: Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State
Denver could really use a center, and Richburg has vaulted himself to the top of the class at that position with his raw strength and high football IQ. In addition, it would be a nice local connection for the Broncos to select the Colorado State product.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Seattle needs to replace Golden Tate, and Cooks is almost the exact same player except better, as a slightly undersized wideout that is capable of making big plays both on the outside and in the slot.