2014 NFL Mock Draft: Rams and Browns key to first round
Aggressive trades from months ago could pay off handsomely for St. Louis and Cleveland in May.
The order of the final 12 picks won't be determined until the playoffs end and the Lombardi Trophy is awarded.
Another important date for the NFL draft exists before the Super Bowl kickoff February 2, however, with underclassmen facing a January 15 deadline to apply for early entry.
The first round of the 2014 NFL draft won't occur until May 8 but that hasn't stopped Dane Brugler and I from already projecting which of those underclassmen may come out and which NFL teams will select them with these updated mock drafts.
While new coaching staffs and free agency will obviously play key roles in determining what transpires in May, at this early point it is already clear that the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns - with two first round picks apiece - possess the ammunition to make big waves.
Ironically enough, by trading the No. 2 overall pick to Washington two years ago so that the Redskins could select quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Rams now own the second overall pick in 2014. They also possess their own first round pick, No. 13 overall.
The dual selections give general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher plenty of options for a club considering the presence of "franchise" quarterback Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010 and a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate in pass rusher Robert Quinn. Would the Rams consider adding another quarterback to push the oft-injured Bradford? If the old adage that one can never have enough pass rushers in the NFL is true, could the Rams select Jadeveon Clowney and worry about playing time later for Quinn, steady veteran Chris Long and 2012 first round defensive tackle Michael Brockers later?
The answer could lie with the Browns, owners of the No. 4 overall selection and the Indianapolis Colts' pick, as well due to the trade of running back Trent Richardson.
While head coach Rob Chudzinksi served as a convenient scapegoat, the blame for the Browns' horrific 1-10 slide to end the 2013 season can largely be placed on poor play by its quarterbacks - a trio of ineffectiveness and injury otherwise known as Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer.
With the Houston Texans likely to select Teddy Bridgewater with the first pick (assuming he leaves early, of course), the Browns may be forced to jump ahead of the equally QB-needy Jacksonville Jaguars to assure that one of the top passers of the 2014 class will next play in Cleveland.
Until we know for who will be coaching the Browns, handicapping the odds as to who general manager Michael Lombardi's top choice would be is premature as there is no consensus among scouts as to who lies next in the quarterback pecking order.
Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Fresno State's Derek Carr and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel could all be candidates, with the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Bortles perhaps making the most sense due to his NFL-ready frame and surprising effectiveness in the cold.
The Rams have clear needs along the offensive line and safety but it would be a surprise to see them go in that direction with their current picks. By trading down, however, they could fill key areas of concern at a more palatable price.
Along with quarterback and perhaps cornerback, the Browns also have some concerns along the offensive line and could use another receiver to complement or perhaps replace star Josh Gordon, who is just one failed drug test away from a year-long suspension.
Could the two power-players of the 2014 NFL draft work together to solve each of their needs? It is just one of the many hypotheticals to consider as we count down to May.
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