While a handful of teams are still vying for Super Bowl greatness most of the NFL is on the outside looking in and preparing for next season as they evaluate the next big thing in the 2014 draft.
Things Can Change
The brutal sting of winter is baring her claws with much of the country in a deep freeze as the calendar rolls into the New Year. And while the playoffs are in full swing and bettors carefully deicide on their NFL picks, GM's and coaches from the also-rans are sizing up the talent that will be paraded in a made for TV broadcast starting on May 8th.
And though we can speculate on which team needs which player, our crystal ball is a bit cloudy as we sit four months away where anything can happen and lots can change between the bitter chill of January and the advent of a spring afternoon in May. A poor performance in the NFL Combine or an injury can send a top ten candidate spiraling down the charts while a big trade could change the needs of one team which affects all the others below. So as of this writing, let's assume all the teams stay put in their draft positions (don't bet on that happening) and everything will stay frozen in this first week of January much like the entire Northeast corridor.
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As We See It
1. Houston Texans – The Texans tossed big money away when they signed Matt Schaub in 2012 but in the non-guaranteed world of NFL contracts he, like the bonus money Houston paid, will be a distant memory come September. Houston knows that no one can elevate a team faster than a franchise quarterback. But Texans owner Bob McNair has publically stated he is open to trading the coveted number one pick and still take a quarterback down the line. If they stay put, expect Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater to wear a Texans uniform next season.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington) – The pundits are all speculating that St. Louis will trade out of this position as they also hold the 13th pick and could still pick up the player they are targeting if they trade down a few spots. If the Rams stay put, expect them to protect Sam Bradford with a new and improved bodyguard named Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Another team that thought they had the franchise quarterback of their dreams only to find out a guy like Blaine Gabbert was more of a nightmare. Three years of hoping and praying is enough and the Jags will end the experiment with Gabbert at the helm. It looks like UCF's Blake Bortles gets his name called at number three.
4. Cleveland Browns - Could the Browns have swung and whiffed bigger than they did in 2012 when they anointed Brandon Weeden as their starting QB and Trent Richardson to commandeer the ground assault? Well Richardson has been dealt and the honeymoon is over with Weeden as the Brownies look toward head case extraordinaire Johnny Manziel to make football fun again at the Dawg Pound.
5. Oakland Raiders - If the unexpected happens and no team moves out of the top four then the Raiders will have Jadeveon Clowney landing in their laps. Clowney is perfectly suited to the bad boys of football as he drives too fast and doesn't mind breaking the rules.
6. Atlanta Falcons - The Dirty Birds need an edge rusher and the powers that be in Atlanta will make sure they get one when they draft Khalil Mack of Buffalo.
7. Tampa Bay Bucs - The Bucs have the opportunity to get a stud offensive tackle and Auburn's Greg Robinson fills the bill here.
8. Minnesota Vikings - I know there are many who have the Vikes taking a quarterback at this spot but the truth be told the consensus big three have been gobbled up by this time and I see Minnesota either trading up to nab either Bridgewater, Bortles or Manziel or tabbing edge rusher Anthony Barr of UCLA if they sit tight at this spot in the draft.
9. Buffalo Bills - The Bills liked what they saw in EJ Manuel at quarterback so they might as well protect their investment with offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama.
10. Detroit Lions - Sure the Lions could use some secondary help but if the draft goes this way then they would be ecstatic to select wideout Sammy Watkins of Clemson as a complement to the uber talented Calvin Johnson to rev up their already high octane offense.
11. Tennessee Titans - The Titans could go in a variety of directions but the surefire winner for this team is inside linebacker CJ Mosley of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
12. New York Giants - With the premier tackles gone by now the Giants may turn their attention to getting the best safety available. If that's the case they tap HaHa Clinton-Dix of Alabama.
13. St. Louis Rams - The second first-rounder for the Rams will again address QB Sam Bradford's needs only this time it won't be for protection, as it was when they drafted Jake Matthews second overall, it will be for a talented target named Mike Evans of, where else, Texas A&M.
14. Chicago Bears - The Bears need to shore up their defensive line so why not take the best nose tackle on the board? Louis Nix of Notre Dame goes to Chi-Town.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Pittsburgh has to get younger and tougher on the defensive side of the ball and how could they resist taking the top cornerback in the draft? Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard is now a Steeler.
16. Dallas Cowboys (tied with Baltimore, coin flip to decide 16 & 17) - DeMarcus Ware needs a buddy to terrorize quarterbacks. Kony Ealy of Missouri gets the job.
17. Baltimore Ravens (tied with Dallas, coin flip to decide 16 & 17) - The Ravens need someone like the Anquan Boldin that got away but instead of a slot receiver they will take the rangy Kelvin Benjamin of the National Champions FSU Seminoles catching long strikes along the sidelines.
18. New York Jets - How content are the Jets with Geno Smith? It's hard to tell as he had a Jekyll and Hyde season but I believe the Jets will keep him another year so they will give him a weapon and it will be tight end Eric Ebron of North Carolina.
19. Miami Dolphins - The Fins lost two of their starting offensive linemen due to Bullygate so they may decide FSU's offensive tackle Cameron Erving is the answer.
20. Arizona Cardinals - The Cardinals will also look to bring in an upgrade at offensive tackle and though Michigan's Taylor Lewan seemed to stumble against the best pass rushers in the nation he has a huge upside and plenty of natural ability.
21. Green Bay Packers - The Packers need a safety and Louisville's Calvin Pryor is the hard hitting ball hawk that Green Bay would love to have in their secondary.
22. Philadelphia Eagles - Philly needs to tighten up defensively and they could a lot worse than Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert at cornerback.
23. Kansas City Chiefs - Alex Smith is not a guy who throws deep but he is highly effective in hitting short and intermediate targets. How about a brand new tight end? Jace Amaro of Texas Tech, come on down!
24. Cincinnati Bengals - I am sure many Bengals fans will be praying that management drafts a quarterback and ships Andy Dalton out of town. But that ain't happenin' so they will look to bolster the defensive line with the addition of Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt.
25. San Diego Chargers - The Bolts could certainly go cornerback here but why not get the best offensive guard on the board at number 25? That distinction belongs to Notre Dame's Zack Martin.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis) - If the Brownies select Johnny Football with the fourth overall pick then they should do the decent thing and give him a receiver to complement Josh Gordon. USC's Marqise Lee should be here as his stock has dropped due to injuries in his junior year.
27. New Orleans Saints - The Saints need a big pass rusher and they don't have to wait until the sixth-round like they did last year when they tapped Rufus Johnson. This year they get to fill the void immediately with Stanford's Trent Murphy.
28. New England Patriots - Their offensive line has been banged up all year and protecting Tom Terrific is New England's chief priority but they also need a pass rusher to help Chandler Jones. What to do? Pick the best guy available and in this case that happens to be pass rusher Vic Beasley of Clemson.
29. San Francisco 49'ers - The Niners need to inject some youth in their secondary so why not welcome cornerback Jason Verret of TCU to the Bay Area?
30. Carolina Panthers - The Panthers will draft with Cam Newton in mind whether it be a stud offensive lineman to protect or a speedy receiver to catch. We will cast our lot with Cedric Ogbuehi who was Jake Matthews' bookend at A&M and whose stock is rising fast.
31. Denver Broncos - The Broncos have had difficulty defending the pass this season and lately they cannot stop the run. Defense will rule the day in the Mile High City and outside linebacker Ray Shazier of Ohio State would like mighty fine in a Denver uniform.
32. Seattle Seahawks - If the Seahawks got their hands on a big play receiver how scary would they be? None are scary enough at this point in the draft but at 6'3" Allen Robinson of Penn State could make a nice big target for Russell Wilson.