A converted running back, UCLA's Anthony Barr is tied for 12th in the country with 10 sacks this year. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
College football has reached its championship weekend, meaning that several of the best teams in the country will be battling it out for trophies and BCS bids. And yet, despite seven of the top 10 teams in the country taking the field with plenty on the line, the number of projected 2014 first-round picks in action will be relatively limited.
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, long believed to be the frontrunner to go No. 1, will take on Cincinnati in his final regular-season game. But teams like Oregon, UCLA, Texas A&M, Clemson, South Carolina and Alabama all will sit out the festivities.
Either way, players headed to the NFL next season mostly have either one or two games left to open scouts' eyes before the pre-draft gauntlet of All-Star games, the combine and individual workouts. So, things obviously will change again between now -- our latest mock draft -- and the actual draft in early May.
But as December rolls in, here's a look at how Round 1 might shake out:
(Note: The draft order used here is based on the current standings with teams' projected final strengths of schedule as tiebreakers. The final 12 picks will be determined by playoff finish.)
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Expect the Texans to finish out their evaluation of Case Keenum in Weeks 14-17, but this franchise needs a new start under center. In Bridgewater, they would add the best quarterback in this year's class to a talented offense already stockpiled with players like Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Ben Tate.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Not a bad consolation prize if the Jaguars miss out on Bridgewater, and head coach Gus Bradley saw first-hand with Russell Wilson in Seattle what a mobile quarterback can bring to an offense. Mariota is further behind Bridgewater in terms of development. The upside might be higher. (Mariota has announced that he will return to Oregon for his senior season.)
3. St. Louis Rams -- via Washington: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Polled the Twitter masses on this one, with most folks arguing St. Louis should do one of two things: trade down, or draft Jadeveon Clowney. If St. Louis lands around this spot with Washington's pick, another RGIII-like move down the board would make sense. Working off the assumption they stay put, though, I'm dropping Barr in on that defense. He'd give the Rams more flexibility than Clowney, with the potential for just as much destruction.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Assuming Atlanta lands somewhere in the top five, this has to be the dream scenario. Clowney's exactly the type of player that the Falcons' underperforming defense needs, and adding him to the handful of young guys who saw extended time this year would be a start toward rebuilding.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Mike Glennon's emergence and the departures of Barr and Clowney off the board leave Tampa Bay in a little bit of a no man's land. This, too, could be a trade-down spot if any team wants to climb up the board for one of the remaining QBs. Picking Matthews would go against the grain for GM Mark Dominik, who's leaned heavily on the defensive side of things in the draft. But the O-line could use a boost, which would come from taking the best player available there.
6. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
What happens after Bridgewater at the QB spot depends so much on which players declare -- I'm assuming Mariota will, but it's not a certainty. Will Johnny Manziel? Blake Bortles? Brett Hundley? We know Carr, a senior, will be available. And if you think his prospects are gaining steam now, just wait until the Senior Bowl.
7. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Browns' vertical passing game can stretch the field with Josh Gordon and, to a lesser extent, TE Jordan Cameron. It needs another option. Enter Watkins, a home-run threat averaging 14.6 yards per catch this season.
8. Oakland Raiders: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
A few of you might love this. Most probably will hate it. Even in penciling it in here, I'm not sure on which side of the fence I fall. But Manziel is better than anything the Raiders have at QB right now, be it Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin (both of whom have played admirably at times). This could be a franchise-changing type of selection.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Count the Bills as a possible landing spot here for someone like, oh, TE Eric Ebron -- a matchup nightmare for defenses and a safety net for a young QB like EJ Manuel. But in Mack the Bills would add an athletic edge player to complement rising star Kiko Alonso inside. Mack's abilities would allow defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to be even more creative with his hybrid D.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
It's not too much of a stretch to see Pittsburgh addressing its aging defensive line or secondary early in the 2014 draft. This pairing, however, makes too much sense. If you watched Lewan against Ohio State, you saw a lineman who can win at the point of attack or get out into the open field. With what an OL-starved Pittsburgh team wants to do on offense, he's an ideal fit.
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11. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Blame Geno Smith all you want for the Jets' offensive woes (and he's certainly part of the problem), but who is this team's go-to guy right now? There really is not one. The 6-foot-5 Evans would slide right into that role and bail out Smith on some of those errant throws.
12. Tennessee Titans: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Jurrell Casey is enjoying a monster 2013 season. Drop Nix in next to him on the interior of the line, and the Titans would have a DT combo to rival those of the likes of Detroit and Cincinnati. Tennessee would be set at tackle for years to come.
13. San Diego Chargers: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The first corner off the board (though Tennessee, Pittsburgh and a couple teams above could be in the market there). The Chargers have to improve against the pass, and bringing in an aggressive corner of Ekpre-Olomu's ilk would set the table.
14. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
After I tabbed Mosley as a Giant in last week's mini-Mock, ESPN's Dan Graziano kindly reminded me that it had been three decades since the Giants took a linebacker in Round 1 -- Carl Banks, back in 1984. Well, that Banks pick worked out brilliantly, and the Giants find themselves with a clear need at the second level.
15. St. Louis Rams: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Thanks to Joe Barksdale's surprisingly competent play at right tackle this season, the Rams do not appear nearly as desperate for help there as they did a couple months ago. Kouandjio here, though, might be too juicy to pass up, especially with Rodger Saffold on the verge of free agency.
16. Green Bay Packers: HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
That's three straight Alabama picks, if you're keeping score at home. This match has felt like it has been in the cards for months ... so it probably won't happen, if history has taught us anything. Still, the Packers have a clear need for a safety to partner with Morgan Burnett. That tandem alone would not fix Green Bay's ills on D, but it would be a significant start.
17. Chicago Bears: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
We keep waiting and waiting for some sign that the Bears are ready to commit to Jay Cutler beyond 2013 and ... nothing. Here's Plan B: Marc Trestman hand-picks a talented, young quarterback with the arm and toughness to play in his scheme.
18. Baltimore Ravens: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Tuitt has taken heat for a somewhat disappointing 2013. His talent and ability to play in a number of different looks up front will win out in the end. Arthur Jones is headed toward a hefty free-agent contract while Chris Canty is due a roster bonus in March. Nabbing Tuitt would allow the Ravens to move on from one or the other without losing sleep.
19. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
My gut says that Ebron and possibly Jace Amaro are off the board by this point come May. In this Mock, the stars did not align until this pick. Arizona has to find an offensive tackle or two somewhere -- Antonio Richardson, James Hurst and Jack Mewhort are all still on the board, to name a few. Ebron's the best player available, and he would be a godsend for Carson Palmer or whoever is at QB next season.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The question for the Eagles will be: Do they hit their biggest areas of need or do they stockpile for Chip Kelly on offense? This pick, obviously, addresses a roster gap. Like Tuitt, Roby's play has not matched the hype in 2013. But he plays with the hard-nosed approach teams dig at the cornerback spot.
21. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Lions used a second-round pick in 2013 on Darius Slay, who finally showed some signs of life on Thanksgiving versus Green Bay. They still need more back there, and one of the best available options plays down the road in East Lansing. Detroit's stout D-line would allow a physical, press-cover corner like Dennard to shine.
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22. Miami Dolphins: Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
The Dolphins traded for Bryant McKinnie. That happened in real life. Miami has to find some answers at its tackle positions, even if the top few prospects there are off the board. Erving's a high-risk, high-reward pick here -- a player who could develop into a long-term starter on Ryan Tannehill's blindside.
23. Dallas Cowboys: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Buckeye run. And for the Cowboys, who have not gotten what they hoped they would from Bruce Carter this season, this pick might feel like a steal. Shazier is undersized compared to the prototypical 4-3 OLB, but he gets to the football over and over again.
24. Cleveland Browns -- via Indianapolis: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd is going to be a hotly-debated prospect from now until the draft. Everything from his height to the great help he received from WRs such as Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins will go under the microscope. For the Browns, this pick is two-fold: 1. They still have to roll the dice on a potential franchise QB, even more so after adding a second first-round pick in the Trent Richardson trade; and 2. Boyd can stretch the field, which jibes well with Rob Chudzinski's vertical-passing system.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
In paying Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, the Bengals all but assured that DE Michael Johnson would leave via free agency this summer. And in drafting Beasley, they would uncover a cheaper and possibly as-productive replacement.
26. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The 49ers have been searching for corner help since the offseason, which explains moves to add Nnamdi Asomugha (later waived) and Eric Wright. Verrett does not have top-end size at the position, but he's demonstrated shutdown abilities throughout his career.
27. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Chiefs ought to fly to the podium in the event that Lee falls into their laps. They remain shy of demonstrable talent at the receiver position, outside of Dwayne Bowe (and despite a solid season from Donnie Avery). Lee can get open and can make defenders look silly once he has the ball in his hands.
28. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman plays smaller than his 300-pound frame would indicate, but it's that size that would up his value for a New England team that lost Vince Wilfork and then traded for Isaac Sopoaga this season. The Patriots covet guys who can both anchor and press into the backfield from the DT spot, and Hageman has those traits.
29. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vandy
Not nearly enough attention has been paid yet to the second tier of receivers in this class -- guys like Matthews, Jared Abbrederis, Tevin Reese or Jeremy Gallon who are destined to be productive pros. Matthews may not burn a lot of defenses deep, but he's an ultra-reliable receiver at all areas of the field. He could complement Steve Smith now, then take over for him down the line.
30. New Orleans Saints: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Considered really going for broke with someone like Oregon RB DeAnthony Thomas here -- he'd be the eventual replacement for Darren Sproles, who has one year left on his contract and has battled injuries in 2013. But the line, particularly in relation to RT Zach Strief, needs a boost. Richardson, though a tad raw, does his best work as a pass-blocker -- no small note, given Drew Brees' presence in New Orleans.
31. Denver Broncos: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Champ Bailey and Quentin Jammer in the CB rotation, the Broncos could stand to get younger there. There is not much of a gap, if any, between the four CBs already taken and Gilbert. He's a well-built corner who does not hesitate to fly up in run support.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech