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The NFL season is now well into its second half, and attention, particularly for those teams at the wrong end of the standings, is beginning to turn towards the 2014 NFL Draft. Based on current standings (pre-Week 12), here’s a look at the prospects potentially being eyed up by the teams slated to have the first 10 picks in the draft, and who they will be hoping can help turn around the fortunes in the 2014 season.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback, Louisville
The consistent theme amongst many of them teams at the bottom of the standings is that they lack a franchise quarterback. Bridgewater has been exceptional at Louisville, and apart from some competition from Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, is the standout quarterback currently playing in the College Football. Jacksonville seemingly have their long-term left tackle secured in Luke Joeckel, and there’s some talent in the receivers with Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon, meaning that finding their franchise quarterback is the next, and most crucial step in their rebuild.
2. Minnesota Vikings – Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Oregon
Mariota could yet challenge Bridgewater for the top spot in the draft, but it already has a feel of the Andrew Luck/Robert Griffin III situation a couple of years ago, with Bridgewater fairly cemented at the top spot, though similarly to RG3, no team will be disappointed with taking Mariota at number two. The Vikings have some exciting pieces on offense in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kyle Rudolph, and drafting Mariota would allow them to utilize these players, as well as taking heat off of superstar running back Adrian Peterson.
3. Atlanta Falcons – Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End, University of South Carolina
Improvements to the offensive line are needed in Atlanta, but the opportunity to take Clowney would be too hard to ignore. Inevitably, Clowney has failed to live up to the hype at times this season, but that doesn’t detract from the fact he is the most dominant pass rusher in College Football. Following John Abraham’s departure, Osi Umenyiora was brought in to bolster an ailing unit, but at the age of 32, he is certainly not the future at the position. There is very little doubt that Clowney can be that future, and he can also be a difference maker on the defense, something which Atlanta is in dire need of.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Brett Hundley, Quarterback, UCLA
Obviously this pick hinges upon Hundley declaring himself eligible this year, but with rumors circulating that he met with Jay-Z’s agency recently, the chances that he will seem to be increasing. Mike Glennon has shown flashes of his ability for Tampa Bay, but if a talent like Hundley is available, they would be foolish to ignore that. Finding defensive linemen who can help pressure the quarterback will be high on Tampa’s wish list if Hundley doesn’t declare, but if he does, it is a need they can address later in the draft.
5. Houston Texans – Anthony Barr, Linebacker, UCLA
Outside of J. J. Watt, the Texans have struggled to regularly pressure the quarterback this year, and Barr could be the perfect solution. The linebacker has tormented offensive lines at the college level, and could continue to do so at the NFL level, particularly if he is used in tandem with Watt. Houston also clearly needs a quarterback, but taking any of the remaining prospects with the fifth pick would arguably be a reach, and they could instead look at the likes of Zach Mettenberger (LSU), A. J. McCarron (Alabama), or Tajh Boyd (Clemson) if they are still available when they come to pick in the second round.
6. St Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins) – Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A & M
The Rams need help on the offensive line, and although they are arguably more in need of a guard, especially given Harvey Dahl’s advancing years, Matthews gives them a superb chance of locking down their franchise left tackle. Matthews would likely play right tackle in his rookie season, with Jake Long continuing to man the blindside, but with durability concerns surrounding Long, Matthews could be a very smart, if not popular, selection for St Louis.
7. Buffalo Bills – C. J. Mosley, Linebacker, Alabama
A lot of Buffalo’s fans may be calling for a different linebacker at this spot, championing the cause for the local Khalil Mack (Buffalo), but Mosley is that bit more mobile than Mack, and looks to be a more suitable fit in this improving Bills’ defense. Coupled with Kiko Alonso, Mosley could make Buffalo’s defense one to watch next season, particularly if they can convince Jairus Byrd to stay.
8. San Diego Chargers – Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Texas A & M
Phillip Rivers and the Chargers both like big bodied receivers who can go up and make the ball their own (Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Danario Alexander), and that describes Evans perfectly. If he declares this year, then he is the perfect choice for the Sand Diego offense, but if he doesn’t, Sammy Watkins (Clemson) is another option at receiver, or offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (Michigan), who could be the solution to the Charger’s problems on the blindside, are potential picks.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers – Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
Lewan is in a battle with Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) to be the second offensive lineman off the board, and concerns over Kouandjio’s ability to hold down the left tackle position at the NFL level, should see Lewan off the board first. The Steeler’s dire need to improve their offensive line is all that prevents them from taking Khalil Mack at this point, whose physicality is perfectly suited to the Steelers, and who would complete a powerful unit of LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, and Jarvis Jones.
10. Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Clemson
Terrelle Pryor has shown enough so far this season, with limited talent around him, to warrant at least another season to make the job his own. Watkins would give Pryor a big threat down the field in addition to Denarius Moore, and this year’s class of quarterbacks is deep enough that they can find a decent prospect in the second round, if they aren’t convinced that Pryor, or even Matt McGloin, are the long-term answers.
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