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2014 NFL Mock Draft: Clowney 1st overall, Cards land OLB Ford in pre-free agency projections

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With free agency just around the corner, all 32 NFL teams will be looking to fill holes on their roster to prime themselves for a play-off push in 2014. Here's my latest look at how the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft will play out:

The draft's top prospect gets selected first overall
The draft's top prospect gets selected first overall
Kevin C. Cox

1: Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

According to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, the Houston Texans are heavily considering trading for Patriots backup Ryan Mallet to solve their quarterback problems, and then draft Clowney first overall. Whether bypassing one of the QB prospects in this years draft in favour of giving up draft picks for another unknown quantity in the NFL in Mallet is the right decision or not, selecting Clowney first overall does give the Texans two of the most dominant pass rushers the NFL has ever seen (in theory anyway).

2: St. Louis Rams: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

By all accounts, Watkins blew up at his pro day this past week, cementing his status as the top offensive prospect in the draft. The Rams have a need at tackle with Roger Saffold likely to leave through free agency, but they need to do all they can to help Sam Bradford and the malignant Rams offense. Tackle, like 2013, is deep in the draft class, they can find one later.

3: Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Despite resigning Chad Henne to a two-year, $8 million deal, with $4.5 million guaranteed in his first year, you would be foolish to bypass a potential franchise-saving quarterback in Bridgewater in favour of a below average starting quarterback in the NFL. Seen as the most 'pro-ready' QB in the class, Bridgewater should see some early success with a resurgent Jags team.

4: Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

A true boom or bust candidate in Johnny Football is a real unknown quality when it comes to his NFL progression. Teams will fall in love with his playmaking ability, and do all they can to make him a franchise signal caller. He enters a promising situation in Cleveland that lacks leadership and direction, but he won't be short of help this offseason.

5: Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

Bortles has the ideal size and stature that you want in a franchise quarterback, but there are some questions over his ability to read coverages and go through his progressions. The Raiders have the most cap room, approx. $61 million available, with wise spending, they can put pieces in place before selecting their QB of the future in May.

6: Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Despite having a gaping hole at defensive end, protecting your franchise quarterback takes priority in the modern NFL. The Falcons get a steal by seeing Robinson slip past the Rams at two into their grateful hands. Matt Ryan's protection last season was awful, he'll be relieved that the team have given him more help up front.

7: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, Edge, Buffalo

Giving Clowney a run for his money as the top defensive prospect in some scouting circles, Mack is one of the most refined players to enter the draft in recent memory; he has it all, he can cover well, he can rush the passer and he can play the run, all exceptionally well. A case of best player available for the Buccs.

8: Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Despite re-signing Matt Cassel to a two-year, $10 million deal after he voided his own contract prior to this, by-passing a potential franchise-calibre player like Carr could come back to haunt them. Cassel, unlike Henne in Jacksonville, has experience some NFL success, but his track record doesn't suggest he can lead this team to glory. Able to fill some areas of need in free agency, the Vikings are a quarterback away from competiting in a tough NFC North.

9: Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

In need of an upgrade over Erik Pears at right tackle, selecting Jake Matthews here makes a lot of sense. Pears is not a very good player, and is due approx. $3.45 million against the cap, so he could be a potential cap casualty along the road. Matthews is a top-10 lock in my books.

10: Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

The Lions need to sort out their secondary, but as previously said, helping your franchise quarterback comes first. With Nate Burleson cut, there is no one opposite Calvin Johnson on the Lions' offense. Mike Evans brings size, enough speed and the ability to snag the ball in traffic at its highest point, not to dissimilar to what Calvin does. Two big-bodied targets out wide for Stafford, who can cover that?

11: Tennessee Titans: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Losing Alterraun Verner to free agency will be a huge loss for the Titans, and it's likely that he will be playing his football elsewhere next season. You can't just lose that calibre of player without replacing him. Gilbert, the consensus top corner in this draft class, has elite athleticism and speed which works to his advantage in the cover game, and has value as a returner on special teams.

12: New York Giants: Anthony Barr, Edge, UCLA

In need of some help on the edge opposite Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants secure Barr who is considered a high-ceiling work in progress prospect. With 23.5 sacks in two years with the Bruins, he projects to be a terrific playmaker opposite JPP who has had his injury struggles in recent memory.

13: St. Louis Rams: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

As mentioned, the Rams are set to lose Roger Saffold through free agency (perhaps to the Cardinals?) and Jake Long is coming off major knee reconstruction surgery after blowing out his ACL and MCL late in the year. They have a desperate need at tackle to help protect the fragile Sam Bradford, and the Michigan product, who had an impressive combine, should be a solid right tackle in the NFL with left tackle potential.

14: Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Slotting in a defensive tackle to the Bears just makes too much sense for it not to happen in May. Henry Melton, went down with a torn ACL last season, is a free agent, he's likely to leave. Donald put his size questions to shame at the combine with a very impressive day out, staking his claim to be the top DT taken in the draft.

15: Pittsburgh Steelers: Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU

Losing Mike Wallace in the last offseason, and Emmanuel Sanders looks likely to follow this time around, the Steelers need to give Big Ben some serious playmakers if they look to be a contender in the NFC North in the future. They look to have replaced Wallace's deep threat with Markus Wheaton, and ODB is a near perfect replacement for Sanders and an ideal complement to Antonio Brown.

16: Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

The Cowboys have neglected their safety position for too long, their depth chart is down right awful. JJ Wilcox has some potential, but they need a Pro-Bowl calibre player back there. HHCD plays the run extremely well and is still developing as a cover player, but has the potential to be a leading safety in the NFL.

17: Baltimore Ravens: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia

Giving up those draft picks for Eugene Monroe looks to have backfired massively for the Ravens as both he and Michael Oher, their starting offensive tackles, look set to leave through free agency. If neither are re-signed, then that's a major problem. Moses has been rising up draft boards since the combine, and should be a solid starter at tackle.

18: New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

It's a steal for the Jets to land Ebron at this stage. Devoid of talent on offense, if the Jets have any hope of Geno Smith having some success, they need to give him some playmakers. Ebron, the top tight end available, would give Geno a safety blanket, the type they lost when Dustin Keller skipped town last year.

19: Miami Dolphins: Zach Martin, OL, Notre Dame

I don't think any team in the league has it as bad as the Dolphins do on the offensive line. An already terrible unit will lose two starters this offseason. With the Dolphins set to go head-to-head with the Cardinals for Branden Albert and Roger Saffold (if you believe what you read), they will hope to secure another top talent through the draft to help rebuild that line.

20: Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn

With the team likely to address their offensive line woes through free agency, they can turn their attention to strengthening elsewhere. Their injury-hit outside linebacker group needs an explosive player off the edge, they can't rely on a 35-year old John Abraham to pick up the slack.

21: Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

Re-signing Sam Shields will go a long way to improving the Packers' pass defense long-term, but they need to add some real talent at safety. Pryor, known for his big hits and physical play, is the 1B to Clinton-Dix's 1A and is an immediate upgrade. Still developing in coverage, Pryor can make plays in the run game and has great ball skills.

22: Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

One of the worst overall secondarys in all of football, the Eagles get the best defensive back available. Dennard is arguably the top cover corner in this years draft. You can put him on an island and he will win.

23: Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

The Chiefs fizzled out down the stretch but showed that they can become a contender in the AFC with the right upgrades. Right now, the Chiefs aren't doing enough on offense, despite having Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles. Adding Marqise Lee into the mix gives them a legit target opposite Bowe, and he should excel in their passing attack.

24: Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

All signs point to the Bengals losing Michael Johnson in free agency, leaving a big hole on one side of their defensive line. Ealy, who's value exceeds this draft position, is a near perfect fit in their 4-3 scheme at defensive end. His explosiveness off the edge will be like nothing's changed.

25: San Diego Chargers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

With help needed on the outside of their defense for the Chargers, picking up Fuller here is great value and a great move for their porous defense. His aggressive style of play helps him both in coverage and when playing the run, Fuller's athleticism and fluidity in coverage will make him a hot commodity.

26: Cleveland Browns: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

Mosley falls this far because his position is not valued as high as some of the other positions in the NFL, making him a bargain here for the Browns. Having cut a leader in D'Qwell Jackson, he needs to be replaced in the middle of that defense. Mosley will fill that hole and soon enough become a leader on that team, much like he was at Alabama.

27: New Orleans Saints: Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame

The Saints have an extraordinarily long list of team needs for the offseason, and very little cap room to address them in free agency. They are a true wildcard pick in the NFL draft, but they can do a lot worse than selecting Tuitt, which gives Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense a great tandem at defensive end with breakout star Cameron Jordan opposite him.

28: Carolina Panthers Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Cam Newton needs weapons. We saw Steve Smith hit the wall this past season, he looks past it from the outside looking in, and Brandon La'Fell is not a starting calibre WR in the NFL. Benjamin has elite physique and traits, but inconsistencies in terms of dropping the ball and running routes are a concern, but if he can put it together he can be a Top 5 NFL wide receiver.

29: New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

You don't need me to tell you how important the tight end is to how New England play on offense. Gronk's questionable injury status means they need to attack this position in the draft. Amaro is a great receiving tight end which is perfect in the modern day NFL, and great for Tom Brady.

30: San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

Although Anquan Boldin re-signed on a two-year deal in San Fran, the Niners still need a long-term partner to Michael Crabtree too help out their flagging passing game. Kaepernick has a cannon for an arm, it's silly not to utilise it. Matthews brings a great blend of size and long speed to the position, as well as reliable hands. A great replacement for the outgoing Mario Manningham.

31: Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Cutting Champ Bailey came as no real surprise to NFL media, with the veteran's play and health declining down the stretch, he wasn't worth the money. Their already depleted secondary could lose Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to free agency, so drafting Verrett at the bottom of the first round should help cushion the blow of potentially losing both starting corners.

32: Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

Zach Miller has a $7 million cap hit for 2014, and the Seahawks are expected to recoup $5 million of that should they cut him. He's a fine blocker, but isn't a serious receiving threat. ASJ would be a fan-favourite coming from Washington and has great playmaking ability down the field. The rich get richer.