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2014 NFL Mock Draft: Arizona Cardinals shore up pass rush, teams make run on QBs early

With the first wave of free agency now in our rear view mirrors, the second tier players are beginning to be plucked away to bargain deals. With the big name players taken, they would've had a major impact on how teams will approach the first round of the NFL Draft come May 8th. Here's my first round projections:

Auburn OLB Dee Ford brings the edge explosiveness the Cardinals need
Auburn OLB Dee Ford brings the edge explosiveness the Cardinals need
Kevin C. Cox

1: Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

With a number of holes to fill on the roster especially on defense, no hole is bigger than the one under center for the Texans. Despite Matt Schaub still being on the roster, it's understood that he'll play more of a backup role in 2014, paving the way for the Texans to draft their future signal caller, Blake Bortles. Definitely not the finished product right now, but with the right coaching and guidance, he could become a pretty special player.

2: St. Louis Rams: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

To the dismay of Falcons fans, the Rams get a once in a generation-type talent in Clowney. Yes, the Rams have needs along the offensive line and at wide receiver, but it's hard to pass up the chance to draft a transcendent talent like Clowney. The Rams already have a beastly defensive line, Clowney only makes that group stronger in the long run, besides, tackle and wide receiver are very deep this year, only one Clowney.

3: Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

You'd be a fool if you believed bringing back Chad Henne stopped the Jaguars from drafting a quarterback early come May. Also, to our surprise, they traded former first round pick Blaine Gabbert to the 49ers, so their QB depth is sketchy as it is. Teddy, seen as the most 'pro-ready' prospect in this class, will instantly make those around him better. He and the rest of the Jags' signings should make them a much tougher out in 2014.

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

Cutting both Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell suggests the Browns are all in for a first round quarterback in the draft. Seemingly infatuated with the playmaking ability of Johnny Football, he seems like a perfect fit in Cleveland. With the running game now a threat with Ben Tate in the backfield, Manziel should also be potent on the ground, as well as through the air with Josh Gordon & Jordan Cameron.

5: Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

After letting Jared Veldheer join the Cardinals, the Raiders thought they replaced him with Rams tackle Roger Saffold, only with him to fail a physical and re-sign with our NFL West foes. The Raiders now have a major need at left tackle and picking up Greg Robinson gives them a great player for the next ten or so years.

6: Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, Edge, Buffalo

The Falcons bulked up on their defensive line with the addition of Paul Soliai but they have admitted themselves that they need some more pressure off the edge. Khalil Mack, who some think might be the best prospect in this draft class, should bring that pressure. Well-rounded enough to even play in coverage, Mack is the all around playmaker on defense.

7: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

A case of best player available for the Buccaneers. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams (when healthy) are a great tandem, but Watkins adds another dimension to the passing attack which should certainly aid the development of second year passer Mike Glennon. The Buccs should snap him up should he slide this far.

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

Quarterback trumps all for the Vikings here. They cannot possibly have any aspirations that a combination of Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel will return them to the post season. Throw Carr in at the deep end and see if he can swim. With an NFL calibre arm, Carr has the physical tools to make it in the league, unlike his brother.

9: Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

The Bills have a host of receivers (Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, T.J Graham) who are all decent in their own right, but have no elite option at the position who can contest jump balls and snag the ball at its peak. That's Mike Evans' game. His size and deceptive speed will give corners across the league problems and be a great target for developing passer E.J Manuel.

10: Detroit Lions: HaHa Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

In a draft filled to the brim with great corners, the Lions opt to pass one one here to fill their other hole in the secondary with the drafts top safety, especially after releasing starting free safety Louis Delmas. HHCD is an atheltic safety who can make plays in the run game. Still developing as a coverage guy, but will provide help in a pass happy division.

11: Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

We are all familiar with how Ray Horton likes to play defense. Switching to a 3-4 front, the Titans needs to find some personnel that fit that scheme down to a T. Anthony Barr is not the finished product yet, but has the physical skill-set to become an elite edge rusher with an ability to transition seamlessly into coverage and be just as effective.

12: New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

The Giants have some serious offensive line problems. Signing Geoff Schwartz does a lot to help this, but they need a major re-jig of that unit. Slide a healthy Will Beatty over to right tackle, kick Justin Pugh inside to guard, and slot Matthews in at left tackle. That already looks a more steady unit with Matthews anchoring the left side.

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

The rather comical return of Roger Saffold to the team solves the tackle issue for the Rams for the time being, but his inability to stay healthy means they will need a player to come in when needed. Lewan is the best lineman available at this point, and can play either side, and may see time early should Jake Long not return in time from major knee reconstruction.

14: Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

It looks like Henry Melton, who remains unsigned, will not be returning to the Bears, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of their defensive line. They brought back Jay Ratliff to play a role at some point, but who knows when, so selecting Donald here makes a ton of sense. Despite being undersized at the position, his ability to pressure the passer is unique and unparalleled, with the prospect being likened to Bengals star Geno Atkins.

15: Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Slowly but surely, the ageing Steelers defense is being reshaped ahead of the 2014 season. Expect a heavy dosage of defensive picks in the draft for them. Dennard may not be the top corner in the draft, but he has perfected his skill-set which is becoming more and more used in the NFL. His brand of press-man coverage suits the Steelers physical defense well.

16: Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

A world without Demarcus Ware turning out for the Cowboys each week is a world many fans won't want to live in, but it's the hand we're dealt. That presence off the edge needs to replaced this offseason. Ealy is a top pass rusher and has the ability to become a truly dominant edge rusher.

17: Baltimore Ravens: Zach Martin, OL, Notre Dame

With it unlikely the Ravens would re-sign both their free agent tackles, they brought back the better player in Eugene Monroe, but right tackle remains a need on this team. Martin is a versatile lineman who can play both guard and tackle. Probably not capable of playing on the left side, give him a shot at right tackle and if he stinks up the joint, he should be a quality NFL guard.

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

It's a toss up between the best available receiver and the best available tight end for the Jets. Either way, they need help on offense. Geno Smith needs players to throw to. Signing Eric Decker will help, and that coupled with the depth at WR in the draft made my decision for me. Ebron is a unique blend of size and athleticism unmatched by any other tight end in the draft.

19: Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

After winning the Branden Albert sweepstakes, the Dolphins have locked up their left tackle spot, but that's only half the job, they still have to upgrade the opposite side after trading Jonathan Martin to the 49ers. Kouandjio had his health concerns surrounding his knee quashed this past week, and is the best natural right tackle available, with left tackle upside if he can put it together.

20: Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn

Having solidified the left tackle spot with the acquisition of Jared Veldheer through free agency, the Cards can look to rectify their inconsistent pass rush in the draft. Although they see Sam Acho, Lorenzo Alexander and Alex Okafor return from IR to play the position, Dee Ford adds some explosiveness to their OLB corps currently led by ageing vet John Abraham.

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

Re-signing Sam Shields goes a long way to improving the Packers' woeful secondary, but they still need a lot of help. Losing M.D Jennings to the Bears hurts their depth, but drafting Calvin Pryor should more than make up for it. Pryor's physical play and hard hits will bring an edge to the secondary.

22: Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

The Eagles, like many of the play-off teams, have a truly terribly pass-defense, and luckily for them, the draft is packed with star defensive backs. Gilbert, who many consider to be the top corner in this draft class, is an instant upgrade over Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher who aren't all that good.

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

Having thought they signed free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders, only to see him join division rivals the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs now must look to the draft for a complement to Dwayne Bowe, With Alex Smith under center, they like to play a passing attack in front of the defense, using crossing screens and ideal yard after catch plays, which plays right into the hands of Marqise Lee. Get him the ball, he'll make things happen.

24: Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

With some very capable corners already in place, this is more of a future investment for the Bengals. Leon Hall, coming off an achilles tear, Terrance Newman and Pacman Jones all have one thing in common, they're all over 30 years old. Fuller is the corner of the future for the Bengals, with Dre Kirkpatrick yet to make that step up.

25: San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

The Chargers surprised many this past season by squeezing their way into the play-offs, and they can take that next step by improving a lacklustre defense. Verrett is the best corner available at this point and upgrades a woeful pass defense. Despite his diminutive stature, Verrett rises well and knocks down passes with easy and is a very impressive tackler.

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

Releasing D'Quell Jackson and replacing him with our own Karlos Dansby on a $6 million-a-year deal was a D'Questionable move to make this offseason. Dansby's advancing years and the Browns' need for leadership makes Mosley a great fit at ILB. He is a top 15 talent but slides due to the diminishing value of his position. He and Dansby make a great duo in the heart of their defense.

27: New Orleans Saints: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU

The Saints need to go defense in the first round despite a few cracks emerging on the offensive side of the ball. Really, every position could do with improving, but at outside linebacker especially. Van Noy is an underrated prospect, who is a playmaking edge rusher who is valuable on an every down basis.

28: Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Having done their best to make their already laughable wide receiver depth chart worse by releasing Steve Smith and allowing Brandon La'Fell and Tedd Ginn Jr. leave in free agency, the Panthers absolutely must draft two receivers. Benjamin has your prototypical size of an elite WR option, but has problems with drops and concentration, but when he's on, he's on.

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

I think we can pencil in this pick now and watch it transpire this way on May 8th. Unless Amaro is snagged before the Patriots pick, he'll be playing in New England next season. The Pats love two tight end sets, and have yet to replace Aaron Hernandez effectively. In addition, Gronk is coming off knee surgery and his status is unknown, so Amaro fills an urgent need.

30: Sam Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU

Too good value to pass up at this stage for the Niners as the rich get richer. Bringing back Anquan Boldin will help Colin Kaepernick's development a lot, but they still need a complement to Michael Crabtree. ODB is an explosive receiver with the ball in his hands and has great yards after the catch ability and can take the top off a defense.

31: Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

Making the biggest splash in free agency by bringing in Demarcus Ware and T.J Ward off the street seriously improves the Denver defense, but they need some new corners. Letting DRC walk in favour of signing Aqib Talib was a questionable move, but when healthy Talib is a top tier starter in this league, and the Broncos get a steal at the bottom of the first in Roby to replace Champ Bailey.

32: Seattle Seahawks: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia

Russell Wilson received pretty poor protection this past season, which needs to be addressed. Breno Giacomini is an average starter at best, besides, he skipped town for the New York Jets in free agency, meaning the Seahawks need a new right tackle. Rising up draft boards in recent months is impressive athlete Morgan Moses who has Pro Bowl potential as a right tackle.