We still have a long way to go before the 2014 NFL draft kicks off on May 8, but we are beginning to see both the draft order and rankings of the top prospects take shape.
With that in mind, we've put together our first mock draft for 2014.
Some interesting trends are already beginning to emerge, including the fact that many of the teams likely to hold down high picks are in need of an upgrade at the quarterback position. Demand for QBs always seems to outweigh the supply, but what makes this year's class of quarterbacks so interesting at this point is the wide-ranging opinions on the top talents -- and as of now, we're not even sure if the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel are leaving school early for the NFL.
Here is our projection for all 32 first-round picks for the 2014 NFL draft.
(Notes: Draft order listed below is based on team winning percentages through Week 15 of the NFL season, and draft-eligible underclassmen are noted with an asterisk.)
Houston Texans (2-12)
Analysis: This is a tough call right off the bat. I have Bridgewater ranked as the top quarterback prospect in this class, but just ninth overall. The question for the Texans is going to be this: Do you have a player at another position who grades out considerably higher? (Possibilities include Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews or South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney.) Because if not, given their need at QB and the importance of that position, my guess is that they'd talk themselves into taking Bridgewater -- or whichever QB ranks highest on their board in May.
Bridgewater has great football intelligence, is mentally and physically tough, and has proved he can beat opponents from inside the pocket; he can read defenses, has a quick release and is very accurate. If he isn't the top overall pick, it'll be because of questions about his durability. He'll also need to hold off UCF quarterback Blake Bortles during the draft process. Bortles isn't as polished as Bridgewater but does have a higher ceiling.
St. Louis Rams (6-8) (From WAS)
COLLEGE: Texas A&M
Analysis: St. Louis owns this pick as part of the trade that brought Robert Griffin III to Washington during the 2012 draft. If this year's QB draft class were on the same level as that one, which had two elite prospects in RG III and Andrew Luck, then perhaps the Rams would consider taking a quarterback here. But I think that Sam Bradford can be the guy for them at QB when he's healthy, which is why they have to place a huge priority on keeping Bradford upright.
Enter Matthews, who has the pedigree, work ethic, durability and skills as both a run- and pass-blocker to be a very good player for St. Louis. He has the versatility to be plugged in at right tackle on day one opposite Jake Long, and to eventually replace Long at left tackle. With a healthy Bradford and improved offensive line, the Rams could be really good next season.
Oakland Raiders (4-10)
Analysis: The Raiders need to upgrade at the QB position, and even though he isn't the most well-known prospect, Bortles has the potential to be a top-10 pick. In fact, it wouldn't shock me if he ends up going ahead of Bridgewater.
Bortles has good size, arm strength and accuracy, and has proved he can win from inside the pocket. He also possesses good character and a strong football IQ. A nice bonus is that he's built to last in the NFL because he's big and mobile enough to move around. He isn't Cam Newton, but more of a cross between Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger.