Now that the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine is over and teams have seen many of the top stars at their respective pro days, the focus has shifted to the draft and where top prospects will land come May 8-10.
The following are the easy-money bets for every first-round selection.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
In the pass-happy NFL, the Houston Texans have a chance to take arguably the most naturally gifted athlete in the entire 2014 class with South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The team can’t miss this opportunity.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
After yet another year of struggles, the St. Louis Rams must get back to basics with the No. 2 overall pick. With franchise left tackle Jake Long suffering a season-ending knee injury last season, it’s time to add a prospect as gifted as Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Jacksonville Jaguars have lacked the type of player they can build their franchise around. While Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is a bit of a risk at No. 3 overall, he has the charisma and raw talent to be the face of the organization.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Former first-round pick Brandon Weeden and veteran Jason Campbell have been released, leaving a void at quarterback the Cleveland Browns must fill via the draft. Central Florida’s Blake Bortles would fill the team’s need with major upside.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Former owner Al Davis may be gone, but the Oakland Raiders still have love for elite, skilled players. At No. 5 overall, Oakland will select a legitimate playmaker in Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
As much as the Atlanta Falcons are hoping Clowney somehow falls all the way to No. 6, the next-best pass-rusher on the board is UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr. That’s not a bad consolation prize.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, DE, Buffalo
Without cornerback Darrelle Revis patrolling the secondary, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must improve their pass rush to alleviate the pressure from the secondary. If Atlanta takes Barr over Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, Tampa Bay will have the defensive end it needs.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Minnesota Vikings had a cadre of former starting quarterbacks on the roster last season, but none is worthy of leading the franchise into the future. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater met with mixed reactions in the predraft process, but Minnesota must take the educated risk.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
EJ Manuel needs all the help he can get as he heads into his second season as the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, and a red-zone threat and outside target such as Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans would be an ideal fit.
10. Detroit Lions: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Detroit Lions must do a better job protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford if the team wants to avoid another collapse in 2014. If Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson is available at No. 10 overall, Detroit will have its long-term anchor on the offensive line.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Tennessee Titans are looking to change the culture of their defense against the run and the pass. With leadership abilities on and off the field as well as enough raw talent to contribute on every down, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley is a perfect fit.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The New York Giants must do a better job protecting quarterback Eli Manning if the franchise wants to win another Super Bowl, and an offensive tackle such as Michigan’s Taylor Lewan is the ideal fit.
13. St. Louis Rams: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
After the St. Louis Rams take an offensive lineman to protect quarterback Sam Bradford at No. 2 overall, head coach Jeff Fisher will look to the defensive side of the ball for a tough cornerback such as Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
One of the biggest winners from the scouting combine was Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and the Chicago Bears' need for a reliable run-stopping inside lineman will help the franchise make this decision.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
The rush for defensive tackles will pick up as the Pittsburgh Steelers address a major need with Notre Dame’s Louis Nix at No. 15 overall.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Since the departure of Ed Reed, the Baltimore Ravens have lacked leadership on and off the field. Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would provide that leadership and would be a perfect fit for Baltimore.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
After losing DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer to free agency, the Dallas Cowboys must get back to basics and add bodies to the trenches. While Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman isn’t the flashiest pick, he fills a need and is a smart long-term addition.
18. New York Jets: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
While there is no doubt that Geno Smith and the entire New York Jets offense need a reboot, adding a talented defensive end such as Missouri’s Kony Ealy would be a smart addition for the franchise.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Miami Dolphins had well-documented issues on the offensive line last season, and the entire franchise is looking to begin anew. The moves started with free agent Branden Albert and should continue with Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
While many scouts are torn regarding Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, the Arizona Cardinals have a serious need for depth and talent on the offensive line. At No. 20 overall, the franchise will not find another prospect with as much upside.
21. Green Bay Packers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Aaron Rodgers is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL, but the Green Bay Packers would be a much better team if he had the proper weapons. North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron would fill a serious need at an affordable price.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Philadelphia Eagles have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL, but the defense struggled mightily last season. If Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard is there when the team picks at No. 22 overall, this pick should be no-brainer.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
With Dwayne Bowe’s future with the Kansas City Chiefs a question moving forward, the franchise must think long term in the first round and select Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin at No. 23 overall.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Wide receiver A.J Green is one of the best players in the NFL at his position, but the team must have other options for Andy Dalton. Drafting LSU’s Odell Beckham as the Bengals' secret weapon would be a smart move.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The San Diego Chargers made the postseason last year, but if the organization wants to achieve the same feat once again, it must add a cornerback such as TCU’s Jason Verrett to help minimize opponents' chances of making deep plays.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
After dealing Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for this pick, the Cleveland Browns will use their second selection of the first round to replace departed safety T.J. Ward with Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
It has become abundantly clear from several moves this offseason that the New Orleans Saints are retooling. That process will continue with an improved pass rush led by Ohio State outside linebacker Ryan Shazier.
28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Veteran Steve Smith signed with the Ravens after being released by the Carolina Panthers, so the franchise must find another viable weapon for Cam Newton. The best skill player available at No. 28 overall will be USC wide receiver Marqise Lee.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Rob Gronkowski is one of the best tight ends in the NFL today, but his frequent injuries should be a major concern for the New England Patriots. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro would fill the team’s biggest need.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The San Francisco 49ers should have better production in 2014 with the tandem of Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin healthy, but adding a wide receiver such as Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks is an ideal move in the latter stages of the first round.
31. Denver Broncos: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
After the addition of free-agent defenders DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, the need for a defensive tackle to step up against the run will lead the Denver Broncos to take an educated risk with Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Seattle Seahawks have lost several pieces along the defensive line—namely, free agents Red Bryant and Chris Clemons—and adding a talented prospect such as Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt would be an affordable alternative to replacing players via free agency.
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