Jadeveon Clowney has 21 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in two seasons at South Carolina. (Jim Dedmon/Icon SMI)
A few notes before we dive headfirst into this 2014 mock draft (despite being just days removed from the actual 2013 draft):
First off, the goal here is more to provide some idea for the top prospects heading into next year, rather than to nail down exact draft scenarios. Teams are placed roughly where I'd project them to land in the coming season's standings, but the draft order is far from an exact science or a full-blown prediction.
You also might notice that, again, there is no running back in Round 1. That's not a mistake. The 2014 RB class resembles this year's -- there is depth, with players like Lache Seastrunk, Damien Williams, Ka'Deem Carey and others capable of dominating at the collegiate level this year; but there does not appear to be a Trent Richardson or Adrian Peterson that teams will be desperate to take early.
The QB spot, as much as any, should be fluid in the coming months, too. That will be especially true if, say, Johnny Manziel flops or decides to head back to school for the 2014 season. Plus, a few quarterbackw should emerge, as they always do.
In other words, take everything below with a grain (or spoonful) of salt. Plenty will stay up in the air for the next 360 or so days. But let's take a glance anyway at which players might crack Round 1 come the 2014 draft:
1. Oakland Raiders -- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Whichever team winds up picking No. 1 overall will be faced with quite the dilemma. Does that team nab a potential franchise quarterback or Clowney, the country's best defender and a player that may have been taken first in the 2013 draft had he been eligible? I'll stick with Clowney here, for now, because he's the best 2014 prospect. Also, it's a deep QB draft, so the Raiders (hypothetically) could land Clowney early, then possibly turn around with a QB like A.J. McCarron, Braxton Miller, Derek Carr or David Fales atop Round 2.
2. Arizona Cardinals -- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: We're still four months from the college football season, but Bridgewater is the clear top QB prospect for 2014. That's not to say that the QB crop is weak -- several could justify first-round picks (assuming they don't flop in 2013) and the class could have several players off the board on Day 1 or 2. But there is very little not to like about Bridgewater's game, and the Cardinals would love to have him.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: As a guest analyst on the NFL Network's draft coverage, LSU head coach absolutely raved about Boyd. Miles' Tigers fell to Boyd's ... well, Tigers in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl last year, and Boyd threw for 346 yards and accounted for three touchdowns. Miles said his team tried everything and just couldn't stop the assault. Boyd has now had back-to-back sensational years, and he is the type of dual-threat QB teams are clamoring for right now.
4. Cleveland Browns -- Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Lee is just 6-feet tall, so we're not talking about a Calvin Johnson-type that's going to win jump balls consistently. What Lee will do, though, is get open and make plays. He caught a whopping 118 passes last season for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. You're looking at a Heisman frontrunner for 2013 and a player that could dramatically improve an NFL offense.
5. New York Jets -- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: The Jets again miss out on the top receiver, this imaginary draft matching 2013 reality. Watkins would be a terrific consolation prize. He split top duties with DeAndre Hopkins as a sophomore and still put up 57 catches for 708 yards. Given a full year to shine as the No. 1 target for Boyd, Watkins should soar.
6. San Diego Chargers -- Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: Because the talent elsewhere will be better at the 2014 draft, offensive tackles will not dominate as they did this year. It's still a loaded position, and expect Matthews to be right at the top. He might be even better than 2013 No. 2 pick Luke Joeckel.
7. Buffalo Bills -- C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Oh, look, an elite player from Alabama. Mosley can do it all -- he had 107 tackles and a pair of interceptions last season -- and would give Buffalo another dynamite young player to pair with 2013 second-rounder Kiko Alonso.
8. Kansas City Chiefs -- Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame: Nix is a bit like Star Lotulelei, in that he's massive (6-foot-3, 330) and yet still nimble enough to beat blockers at the line. Kansas City could drop him right in at nose tackle, but he could play DT in a 4-3 or slide out to DE in a 3-4 if needed.
9. Philadelphia Eagles -- Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: Renowned QB guru Steve Clarkson said that Hundley would have been the top pick in the 2013 draft, had he been eligible. It's hard to argue, given the skills on this 6-3 QB. Another year like his freshman campaign (3,745 yards passing, 38 total touchdowns) should push Hundley to the draft.
10. Tennessee Titans -- Morgan Breslin, DE, USC: Breslin racked up 13.0 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in his first season following a transfer from junior college. He could be the premier pass rusher in the 2014 class.
11. Detroit Lions -- Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State: Maybe another year of getting torched by Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and others will convince Detroit to draft a CB in Round 1. And Roby looks like the best of the bunch. Like Dee Milliner (6-0), Roby is a bit small (5-11); also like Milliner, he has speed and just loves attacking the football.
12. St. Louis Rams -- Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: Lewan might have leapfrogged Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel to be the No. 1 pick in 2013, if he had entered his name in the draft rather than returned to Michigan. He's a clear high first-round prospect and, with Devin Gardner under center rather than Denard Robinson, will get a full year in a pro-style system.
13. Miami Dolphins -- Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame: The yin to Nix's yang, Tuitt dominated at DE in the Irish's 3-4, chalking up 12.0 sacks and making life miserable for offensive linemen.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: Sutton's cut from the mold of Sharrif Floyd (a 2013 first-rounder for Minnesota) -- undersized for DT (listed at 6-1, 288 and smaller than that), but a guy who continually makes plays.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington: Seferian-Jenkins' situation bears monitoring -- he's currently suspended from Washington for an offseason DUI arrest. If he gets things in order, the rising junior is a definite Round 1 pick. Think Tyler Eifert with even more athleticism.
16. Carolina Panthers -- Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: Taking a stab at the WR spot here. Matthews, 6-3 and 205 pounds, flirted with the 2013 draft following a 94-catch year. He opted to return to Vandy for his senior year, which should help him polish up his game. He's not a burner but, like a Keenan Allen, exploits weaknesses in defenses.
17. Dallas Cowboys -- Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama: Kouandjio could climb much higher than this. He was the starting left tackle last season for Alabama's dominant line, and he could climb into the top five with another standout season.
18. Minnesota Vikings -- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Manziel's a tough one to peg. He doesn't have great size or an elite arm, and his live-it-up lifestyle might scare some teams away. And yet, if he dominates the SEC for a second straight year, it would be tough to drop him very far. And Minnesota, barring a Christian Ponder breakthrough, could be ready for another change at QB.
19. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins) -- Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon: The Oregon defense is easy to overlook because of the dominance of its offense. Should you do so, however, you risk missing Ekpre-Olomu, who picked off four passes and batted down 20 more last season. Even at 5-10, he has lock-down corner potential.
20. Chicago Bears -- Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: Barr, with 13.0 sacks off the edge last season, might be more suited for a 3-4 than Chicago's 4-3. Or he'd be a Von Miller-type for the Bears here. Odds are, in the long run, that Barr might be off the board well before this next April. Also in consideration here: McCarron or Aaron Murray.
21. Indianapolis Colts -- Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida: Roberson will have to work to stand out in Florida's talented secondary. The soon-to-be junior has all the tools to emerge from the shadows, though, and set himself up for a long NFL career.
22. New Orleans Saints -- Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU: The nation was introduced to Van Noy when he recorded 3.5 sacks in BYU's bowl win over San Diego State -- part of 9.5 sacks he had in the Cougars' final three games. The Ziggy Ansah comparisons are inevitable, but Van Noy is more of a linebacker than his former teammate -- and he's also probably more NFL-ready.
23. Baltimore Ravens -- Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers: Coleman emerged in 2012 with 43 catches and 10 touchdowns. A strong follow-up season for the developing 6-6 receiver would put Coleman on a lot of radars.
24. New York Giants -- Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: Thanks to a 2011 redshirt, Evans, like Manziel, could enter next year's draft after playing just two college seasons. He should go, too, if he can improve on an 82-catch, 1,105-yard debut. At 6-5, 225, Evans would intrigue any team looking at Coleman.
25. Green Bay Packers -- Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford: The Packers finally land their safety in the ball-hawking and intelligent Reynolds, who led the FBS with 301 interception-return yards and three scores last season.
26. Cincinnati Bengals -- DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville: Another potential underclassman, I'm guessing Parker would declare for the draft if he and Bridgewater dominated again. Parker stepped up as Louisville's top option in 2012 (40 catches, 10 TDs) and brings a tantalizing mix of speed and size to the table.
27. Seattle Seahawks -- Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon: Lyeria made headlines this offseason by suggesting on Twitter that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a government conspiracy. So, maturity could be an issue. His numbers won't leap off the page -- 25 catches for 392 yards and six scores last season -- but Lyeria (6-5, 240) is perfectly built to be an option in a creative offense.
28. New England Patriots -- Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida: I wanted to find somewhere to drop Purifoy in this mock, and the Patriots seemed a natural fit. Why? Well, the 6-0 Purifoy has shown the ability to stuff receivers one-on-one ... and he's practicing at wide receiver this offseason, so he can play both ways. A high-end Julian Edelman.
29. Houston Texans -- Christian Jones, LB, Florida State: Something tells me Jones, who had 95 tackles last season, will ultimately be picked higher than this. He can get into the backfield, diagnose plays and track down running backs. Jones could develop into the total package.
30. Atlanta Falcons -- David Yankey, OT, Stanford: Yankey slid out to tackle from guard for 2012. His NFL future might be back on the interior of the line. Either way, that versatility will only serve to drive up his draft stock. Tennessee's Antonio Richardson is another tackle to watch.
31. Denver Broncos -- Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: Alabama's track record of producing defensive backs won't hurt "Ha Ha" next year. He stepped into a starting role in 2012 and picked off five passes, while showing the ability to play center field or shift down into the box or over slot receivers.
32. San Francisco 49ers -- Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State:
With Bjoern Werner
and Tank Carradine
gone, Jernigan should be the star of Florida State's D-line in 2013. He's a monster up front and could project to fit multiple defensive schemes.