The 2014 NFL Draft will have more interesting potential scenarios than any draft I can remember. There are so many factors involved right now -- cap space, teams with extra draft picks, veteran QBs that will be available, major underclassmen that have yet to declare -- that could affect which teams select where, which players go to which teams or how early or late certain prospects will be selected.
Cap space was a major factor last season, when Kansas City had the money to add veteran QB Alex Smith via trade and took OT Eric Fisher with the No. 1 overall pick. It's likely to be a big factor in the 2014 draft, too.
The Texans would have the No. 1 pick if the season ended today, and depending on various scenarios involving their quarterbacks, they could have $13.5 million or $19.5 million in cap space. The teams with the No. 3 and No. 4 picks, Oakland and Jacksonville, each have more than $50 million of cap space for next year.
Each of those teams needs a quarterback, and each has the money to go after a veteran like Jay Cutler, or maybe someone like Matt Moore, Michael Vick or Josh McCown. If I'm the Texans, Raiders or Jaguars, I'm looking to take a QB with my first pick, but I'm also looking to sign a veteran who could mentor the rookie.
Other intriguing factors for the draft include the Rams holding the No. 2 overall pick from the Robert Griffin III deal; upcoming decisions by star underclassmen such as Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel; the Cleveland Browns, with the extra picks they have acquired, being a prime candidate to trade up; the bowl-game and combine performances of prospects like Jadeveon Clowney and Derek Carr; and of course, how the remaining two weeks of the NFL season affect the draft order.
As we head into Week 16 in the NFL, and bowl season in college football, here is how I see the teams with the top six picks approaching the 2014 draft:
1. Houston Texans
The Texans won't have as much cap space as Kansas City last offseason when it had the top pick, but they've got enough to go out and sign a veteran QB in free agency and use their top pick to draft a young signal-caller to groom. The key is they wouldn't have to throw a rookie into the fire because they have the money to acquire a veteran who can be a bridge for one or two seasons.
If he enters the draft as expected, Louisville junior Teddy Bridgewater is an obvious possibility for the Texans. But they could also try to move down if there's a willing trade partner. Let's say it's Cleveland, which would probably like to take a quarterback and has two first-round picks (No. 6 and 24 if the season ended today), a second-rounder and two third-rounders in 2014. Houston might consider trading down with the Browns, sign a veteran QB and draft a quarterback like Fresno State's Derek Carr or maybe Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. Carr will be an interesting name in the draft, and a lot can change over the next few months, beginning with his performance in the Dec. 21 Las Vegas Bowl against USC and continuing into the combine.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington)
The Rams already have some pretty good players in place and a very good defensive line, led by Robert Quinn and Chris Long. I think they will be looking to trade down, and Cleveland has the ammunition and the need for a quarterback to come up and get the Rams' pick.
I'm a Sam Bradford fan, and I think the Rams are, too. But the Rams have to start thinking about acquiring a backup or a young QB to bring along. This draft will have a lot of good quarterbacks, so this is probably a need the Rams can address in the third or fourth round.
A few quarterbacks likely to be available for the Rams in Rounds 3-4 are Georgia's Aaron Murray, San Jose State's David Fales, Miami's Stephen Morris and -- here's a curveball -- Cornell's Jeffrey Matthews.
If the Rams do end up trading down and hold off on taking a QB early, they could go for a young cornerback like Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State or Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State.
3. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders' primary objective should be to get a quarterback, and like Houston, they have the cap space (about $63 million) to go out and get a veteran QB like Cutler.
But this is a team that needs help at almost every position and could use as many picks as it can get. They need defensive linemen and defensive backs, and they need to add an offensive lineman, although they have a couple of young guys who are solid in Stefen Wisniewski and Jared Veldheer. The Raiders have a lot of needs -- that's why they have so much cap space.
One possibility is to trade down to accumulate draft choices, possibly with Cleveland, which again, will probably be looking to take a quarterback and has two first-rounders, a second-rounder and a third-rounder in 2014.
Whoever ends up trading down, though, will probably have to face comparisons to what St. Louis received in the Robert Griffin III deal. If you give up the No. 3 overall pick and don't get enough in return, you can bet the local media and your fans will want to know why you didn't get as much as the Rams did when they traded down two years ago.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
If they end up moving down a few spots, this is another team -- knowing what a good defensive coach Gus Bradley is -- that would probably like to take a really good pass rusher. For the Jaguars, that could conceivably be Clowney or UCLA OLB Anthony Barr.
Again, who the Jaguars take and what position they target will hinge on a lot of factors -- who is available, how many of the top underclassmen will be coming out, whether they trade down, etc. There are a lot of unknowns right now, and a lot of things that could change.
Clowney will have a lot of eyes on him from now until draft day, especially from teams like the Jaguars. There will be more NFL scouts in attendance at the Capital One Bowl than any other this bowl season. They'll be watching how Clowney fares against a solid Wisconsin offensive line. It will be an opportunity to convince evaluators he's better than he showed in the first half of the season.
5. Atlanta Falcons
In Matt Ryan, the Falcons have their quarterback of the future. Atlanta's biggest need right now is probably a pass rusher, which has become a problem since the Falcons let go of John Abraham. With the No. 5 pick, they probably have a chance to get Clowney or Barr.
Clowney did not play well at the beginning of the year, but if you watched South Carolina's game against Missouri late in the season, he looked more like the guy we all expected him to be. In football, there's no greater lie detector than the game tape. A player can have all the press clippings in the world that say he's the No. 1 pick, but when you throw the game tape on, it tells teams exactly what they're getting. I think Clowney, as the season progressed, either improved his conditioning or started to realize it's not what people say about him, it's how well he performs.
Let's assume the Falcons shore up their defense and go with Clowney or Barr with this pick. They already have their QB, but still have a big need for a left tackle. There will be a lot of strong tackles in this draft, and the Falcons will probably be able to get one in the second round. It could be Auburn's Greg Robinson if he comes out, or possibly Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi.
6. Cleveland Browns
The Browns are already pretty good. They have just four wins this season but have an excellent coaching staff and a lot of talented players, like left tackle Joe Thomas, cornerback Joe Haden and defensive lineman Phil Taylor. With some QB help, they can be a factor next year.
This is a well-run organization that has the money ($40 million in cap space) and the ammunition with all of those draft picks. Who they end up taking with their first pick is difficult to project now because: 1) The Browns could trade up with a team like Houston or Oakland, and 2) we don't know yet which players will be there. Is it Bridgewater? It could very well be, but we don't know yet if he will declare for the draft.
Plan B for the Browns might be to trade back from this spot and take a quarterback like Fresno State's Derek Carr, like Buffalo did last season, when it traded back eight spots and took EJ Manuel and also received a second-round pick in the process.
Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.