(RNN) – Thursday marks the start of the three-day breathless football analysis marathon known as the NFL Draft.
This year’s draft, like every year’s draft, will feature an interesting trade or two, a player taken much later than expected, a player taken much earlier than expected, ESPN anchor Chris Berman tipping off player selections before they’re announced, players crying when they get called by the teams about to draft them, awkward hugs with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair refusing to move.
But who will actually go to what team and when is something no one knows. This year, draft experts’ opinions are more convoluted than usual, with top pick favorites Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney being analyzed and criticized nine ways to Sunday by anyone remotely qualified to do so.
Things are further complicated by a bevy of teams that need a quarterback picking early, but no consensus has emerged on which QB – if any – is worth such a lofty choice.
Below is a look at the teams with the first 10 draft picks and what they might decide to do with them.
1. Houston Texans
Needs: QB, OG, DT, LB
Likely selection: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. He’s widely considered the best player in the draft, fills an immediate need for a pass rusher and similar quality at his position can’t be found in later rounds.
Options: Picking first overall is good because you’re in sole control of your destiny. But for the Texans, it could be a curse due to having two glaring needs and several options for how to fill them. Houston will undoubtedly take a QB at some point and could take one with the opening selection, but the amount of risk involved in that choice is staggering.
The favorite would be Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, though Central Florida’s Blake Bortles has been gaining some traction lately. Manziel comes with an inordinate amount of risk/reward because of off-field questions and concerns over his size, durability and style of play. But he also possesses unmatched athleticism and playmaking ability. Quarterback is one of the deeper positions in this year’s draft, and the Texans might be better served by waiting until the first pick of the second round to take their quarterback when there’s better value available.
Houston has 11 picks in this year’s draft, so they aren’t likely to trade down, even though Atlanta would love to swap places to take Clowney. However, that makes them a prime candidate to trade up into the middle or late first round, where taking a quarterback would mitigate some of the risk. That would likely leave them with either Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater or Fresno State’s Derek Carr (whose brother, David, was the Texans’ first-ever draft choice), and that isn’t as significant a drop in talent as it would be if they pass on Clowney and draft defense later.
2. St. Louis Rams
Needs: WR, OT, DT, CB, S
Likely selection: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. Robinson is a monster run blocker, having helped Auburn make the BCS national championship game behind the nation’s best rushing attack. St. Louis running back Zac Stacy rushed for 973 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, and having a stronger line can only help him.
Options: St. Louis is likely to have a few teams on the phone while Houston is on the clock, and if the Texans take anyone other than Clowney, the Rams are in excellent position to drop a few spots, pick up additional draft picks and still fill their biggest need – offensive tackle. Atlanta, Buffalo and the New York Giants appear to be likely trade partners.
If Clowney is taken first overall, it’s still a good possibility that St. Louis would trade down with either Cleveland, Oakland or Tampa Bay, all of which would likely be willing to bet their futures on Manziel’s improvisational skills. Dallas has been rumored to be interested as well, and Minnesota could be interested in moving up for Bortles.
The Rams already have the No. 13 pick, so they might be satisfied to stay put, get their favorite player and then entertain trades later.
The Rams have quietly been building a solid foundation with a couple of solid drafts in recent years, and look to be only a few pieces away from tying it all together. If Clowney is available, St. Louis might take him, but they are more than likely targeting the offensive line regardless. Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews is also a possibility. He’s not as dominant a run blocker as Robinson, but he’s more polished in the passing game and may be more NFL ready.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Needs: QB, WR, C, OG, LB
Likely selection: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Jacksonville has been in need of a quality quarterback for nearly all of its existence, and is the team in most need of help selling tickets, which the free-wheeling Manziel would likely help do.
Options: Being at the mercy of those ahead of you is never a good place to be. The Jaguars’ ideal choice would almost certainly Clowney, but it’s unlikely he would be available. A pass rusher is the biggest need for the Jaguars and it doesn’t matter if that player is a linebacker or a defensive lineman.
Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack would be a good fit for the Jaguars’ defense, but he would be a bit of a reach this early. Considering how long the Jaguars’ list of needs is, they could take whomever they think is the best available player and come out OK, regardless of position. Jacksonville also could go after a wide receiver or look to the offensive line. They’re going to target those positions at some point.
4. Cleveland Browns
Needs: QB, RB, WR, TE, LB, CB
Likely selection: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. Offense will be on the menu for the Browns, and they have two first round picks to get plenty of it. If they don’t trade up for a QB, or have their favorite one available here, they’ll wait.
Options: Cleveland has 10 picks in the draft, including two in rounds 1, 3 and 4. Their second first-round pick is No. 26, and if they don’t take a quarterback here, the Browns will either take one there or move up a few spots to guarantee they get the guy they want.
The Browns had this exact scenario two years ago and the players they took then – running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden – now play for Indianapolis and Dallas, respectively. For that reason, the Browns could be dead-set on a specific quarterback and be willing to trade up to get him, in an effort to avoid repeating those mistakes.
Cleveland is a hot mess entering this draft after going 4-12, dumping Weeden, trading Richardson and firing coach Rob Chudzinski after just one year on the job, and signing Vince Young a week ago did little to improve their QB situation. Expect the Browns could target a tight end or second receiver and running back – all of whom will be expected to start as rookies – before the draft is over.
5. Oakland Raiders
Needs: QB, WR, OT, DE, DT
Likely selection: Jake Mathews, OT, Texas A&M. Drafting for Oakland follows a similar pattern to Jacksonville – just take the best available player regardless of position.
Options: The Raiders have so many needs that they could do any number of things, including trading up for a splashy quarterback like Manziel. But doing that would leave him without much help offensively and put a guy with durability concerns behind an offensive line not equipped to protect him.
Oakland is nowhere near being ready to compete and needs at least four or five impact players to get headed in the right direction. They are best served by milking whatever is left out of Matt Schaub’s aging arm and establishing a core foundation before going after the skill positions.
Mack would be another player who fits that goal, but whoever said the Raiders would do the smart thing? Certainly not their history. Oakland has seven draft picks this year, but three of those are in the seventh round, so a trade down is a possibility as well. Minnesota might be willing to jump up a few spots to ensure it gets the right QB, and Buffalo could be a willing to swap places if Watkins is still available.
6. Atlanta Falcons
Needs: TE, OT, DE, LB, S
Likely selection: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo. The Falcons have to get either Clowney or Mack or this pick will be seen as a disappointment.
Options: It wouldn’t be a bad thing if Atlanta were forced to look elsewhere, but that’s not the goal. No one looks like a more likely candidate to trade up than the Falcons, especially if Clowney isn’t taken with the first pick.
Atlanta also needs an offensive tackle, so either Robinson or Matthews could be an option here, if they are available. The Falcons’ worst-case scenario is not being able to work a trade and seeing Clowney, Mack, Robinson and Matthews all go off the board. That would likely force their hand into taking Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, who is facing some legal issues, or UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, who is a good player but not on Clowney or Mack’s level. Both would be reaches.
Another possibility is the longshot selection of North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. After losing Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons will need to take a tight end at some point, and addressing that need could be a pretty solid Plan C. Ebron is worth this early of a selection, but only Atlanta and Buffalo need a tight end enough to consider him.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Needs: QB, WR, OG, DE, CB
Likely selection: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. Josh McCown is the Buccaneers’ starter and they’ll be happy taking a QB in a later round who can be groomed as his eventual replacement, but if the NFL prototype local boy is there, it could be a pick of opportunity too perfect to pass up.
Options: You know who Tampa Bay would love to have as McCown’s back-up? Johnny Manziel. That’s not likely to happen, unless Manziel takes an unexpected tumble. The Bucs could trade up to get him, but they have less incentive than other teams wanting to do the same thing. Tampa will most likely stay at No. 7 and take the best player available.
If the draft plays out the way it does here, Tampa Bay will mull over Bortles and Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans. Evans would be the more logical pick since he fills a bigger need and could have an immediate impact, but Bortles may be the better long-term option.
Trading up could still be Tampa’s plan, and it might be for Watkins if not Manziel.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Needs: QB, OG, LB, CB
Likely selection: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. This would have been a late pick for Bridgewater last year, and now it would be considered early.
Options: There are a few linebackers who would be solid choices with this pick, but this draft is all about getting a quarterback. The team declined its option on 2011 first-rounder Christian Ponder over the weekend, which looks like a flashing neon sign that says, “WE’RE TAKING A QUARTERBACK.”
If it doesn’t move up before this, Minnesota could come up with a deal with Tampa to go up one spot for Bortles, if it’s sold on him being the best quarterback. The Vikings don’t look to be interested in Manziel, so it’s either going to be Bortles, Bridgewater or Carr for them.
The irony of this pick could be that after trying to trade up for a QB, the Vikings may trade down because only one of the next 11 teams – Tennessee – is in need of a quarterback. Minnesota could also take a linebacker (Barr or Alabama’s C.J. Mosley) or cornerback (Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert) and sort out its QB issue by taking advantage of the deep talent pool at that position in the second round. According to some projections, Bridgewater will still be available then.
9. Buffalo Bills
Needs: WR, TE, OT, DE, S
Likely selection: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. There aren’t any positions that stand out as necessities, so expect Buffalo to take the best available player. In this iteration, that would be Evans, who is a 6-foot-5 game-changer.
Options: There is no more difficult pick to predict than this one. Buffalo is in kind of a butter zone for several players at different positions they could be interested in. The problem here is identifying what the Bills actually need.
In a situation like this, a trade up for a specific player or a trade down to let some of the options sort themselves out makes the most sense. Buffalo’s defense was No. 10 overall and second in sacks last season, but 28th against the run. Clowney or Mack could transform that unit into a juggernaut.
Some projections have Mack still available here, but that is unlikely. Other players the Bills will be eying include Ebron, Mosley, Lewan and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. At least one of those players would still be available five or six picks later, and the Bills are certain to at least entertain the idea of trading down.
10. Detroit Lions
Needs: WR, LB, CB, S
Likely selection: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. Free safeties, particularly those who can cover a receiver one-on-one, have been a hot commodity lately, and Clinton-Dix has elite ball skills.
Options: Detroit opened up the possibility of trading Ndamukong Suh, which could easily move them to a much higher position. That could put the Lions in position to add another receiver to an already high-octane offense or draft a replacement for Suh.
But the thing that makes sense is to target the secondary, which has been Detroit’s biggest weakness for several years. Detroit was sixth in the NFL against the run last season, but 23rd versus the pass. The most glaring need is at cornerback, so Gilbert or Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard would be potential options.
Clinton-Dix, however, has a skill set that could be especially useful in Detroit’s defensive scheme. In Alabama’s zone-heavy defense, he not only played a major role in pass coverage, but was called on to help in run support as well. There’s not as much secondary depth as there is at other positions. Detroit will most likely get first crack at the available DBs, so targeting them early should be the Lions’ priority.
Look for follow-up analysis of draft results Sunday. You can follow the author on Twitter at @BNT_RNN.
Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
(RNN) – Thursday marks the start of the three-day breathless football analysis marathon known as the NFL Draft.