Every NFL team has to prepare for the best-case and worst-case scenarios when it comes to their picks in the draft. We asked Bucky Brooks, one of our NFL Media resident scouts, to walk us through the first round of the 2014 draft, drawing up real scenarios each team could face on May 8, based on their needs and what the teams picking around them might be thinking.
1. Houston Texans
Top needs: QB, LB, OT
Worst-case scenario: The Texans need a quarterback, but bypassing a talent like Clowney could haunt the franchise if the signal-caller fails to play up to expectations.
Bucky's pick: Clowney. The questions concerning his work ethic could discourage the Texans from taking the freakishly talented defender with the top pick. However, if he plays up to his potential, he could be one of the most dominant defenders in the league early in his career.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Clowney), Charles Davis (Clowney)
2. St. Louis Rams
Top needs: OT, S, WR
Bucky's pick: Matthews. The Texas A&M standout is the most technically sound tackle in the draft. He isn't as athletic as Robinson, but he is pro-ready and is viewed as the safest pick at the position, perhaps of the entire draft.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Robinson), Charles Davis (Robinson)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Top needs: QB, RB, pass rusher
Best-case scenario: GM David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley inherited a roster devoid of talent in 2013. The Jaguars must add a blue-chip talent at any position at the top of the board. While many might suggest a quarterback should be the priority, the team can't go wrong selecting an elite talent on either side of the ball at this pick.
Worst-case scenario: The Jaguars overthink the situation and select a player who falls outside of the elite category. While it's unlikely the team can miss on taking a player who wouldn't upgrade the roster at this spot, a misevaluation on the prospects at the top of the board could stunt the growth of a franchise that's starting to show promise under Bradley.
Bucky's pick: Manziel. For a franchise that's been irrelevant for years, the selection of the Heisman Trophy winner would enhance the team's Q rating, while adding the energy and sizzle that Bradley desperately wants in Jacksonville. Manziel would also give the offense an improvisational playmaker with an ultra-competitive personality. While his game is unconventional by pro standards, the fact Manziel is comfortable putting an offense on his back could help the Jaguars take another step toward respectability in 2014.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Mack), Charles Davis (Watkins)
4. Cleveland Browns
Top needs: QB, CB, RB, WR
Best-case scenario: The Browns' top choice of the "Big Three" quarterbacks or Sammy Watkins are still around at this pick. This scenario would give GM Ray Farmer the opportunity to decide between adding the most explosive player in the draft (Watkins) or picking up the right quarterback to guide the franchise into the future.
Worst-case scenario: Trades at the top of the board render the Browns without their top choice of a quarterback or playmaker. Although the Browns would still have the opportunity to grab a blue-chip prospect, it's important for Farmer to walk away from Day 1 of the draft with a pair of difference-makers to close the gap on his AFC North rivals.
Bucky's pick: Watkins. Building a team doesn't always start with the quarterback. Farmer can set up the franchise for success by first building up the supporting cast around the eventual signal-caller, and then identifying the right fit at quarterback in the near future. This is the blueprint the Seattle Seahawks used to capture the championship a season ago. It's one Farmer could copy to reverse the Browns' fortunes.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Manziel), Charles Davis (Manziel)
5. Oakland Raiders
Top needs: QB, OLB, WR
Best-case scenario: General manager Reggie McKenzie would love to land an impact player at this pick. The team desperately needs a sparkplug on offense, so adding a dynamic playmaker like Watkins would energize a lineup that's been devoid of star power the last few years. If Watkins is off the board, Mack would give the defense a rugged defender to add into the mix. He would team with Sio Moore to give the Raiders a young, athletic 1-2 punch on the second level.
Worst-case scenario: McKenzie would hate to see the Raiders' top two choices off the board because it would force the team to take a long, hard look at one of the quarterbacks. Although Manziel and Bridgewater would energize the Black Hole, it's possible that the coaching staff views Bortles as a better long-term option. With the UCF standout being about a year away from playing, the team wouldn't receive an immediate return on their investment.
Bucky's pick: Mack. The Raiders would love to add an offensive weapon, but it's possible that Watkins is off the board at this point. Thus, McKenize would be left to pick up Mack to add a disruptive defender with a nasty disposition to the mix. With a cast of veterans in place to show Mack the ropes, the Buffalo standout could make a huge impact on the Raiders' defense as a rookie.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Watkins), Charles Davis (Mack)
6. Atlanta Falcons
Top needs: OT, TE, pass rusher
Best-case scenario: General manager Thomas Dimitroff is intent on upgrading his offensive and defensive lines after watching the Falcons get pushed around in 2013. The offensive line, in particular, needs an overhaul after surrendering 44 sacks last season. Thus, the idea of grabbing a franchise-caliber offensive tackle like Robinson or Matthews at this pick is ideal because it's easier to find situational pass rushers in later rounds. The gap between the top-tier offensive tackles and their counterparts is more significant than the talent differential between pass rushers.
Worst-case scenario: If Robinson, Matthews and Mack are off the board by this point, the Falcons would have to make a decision about reaching for an offensive tackle (Lewan) or trading out of the spot to pick up additional picks. Although Lewan is considered a borderline blue-chip talent by many, the thought of missing out on one of the elite prospects in the draft would certainly leave Dimitroff slightly disappointed by his draft-day haul.
Bucky's pick: Robinson would be the ideal pick for the Falcons because he would give them a big, athletic offensive tackle capable of dominating the edges in the run game. The Falcons could insert him into the lineup at right tackle for a season before replacing Sam Baker in Year 2. If Robinson isn't available, Matthews makes sense because he is technician with the potential to be a long-time Pro Bowler at the position.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Lewan), Charles Davis (Lewan)
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Top needs: Pass rusher, WR, OT, QB
Best-case scenario: General manager Jason Licht filled most of the Buccaneers' top needs during free agency. Thus, he has the luxury of selecting the best player available at pick No. 7. While most would expect Lovie Smith to push hard for a pass rusher like Mack or Barr to solidify the defense, the need to add an explosive weapon on the perimeter could entice the team to grab Evans as a perfect complement to Vincent Jackson on the outside. Don't rule out the Buccaneers taking a long look at one of the draft's top quarterbacks, especially Bridgewater, if one or more is available. Despite adding a veteran in the offseason (Josh McCown) and having a developmental prospect (Mike Glennon) already on the roster, the team could view the Louisville standout as a franchise quarterback worthy of consideration at that point.
Worst-case scenario: With so many blue-chip skill players available at the top of the board, the Buccaneers would likely walk away from the draft disappointed with the selection of an offensive tackle. Although Matthews would be considered a solid selection based on his pedigree, experience and technical skills, the addition of Lewan would rank as a disappointment based on his grade value compared to Mack, Barr or Evans.
Bucky's pick: Mike Evans is the logical choice for the Buccaneers as a big-bodied playmaker with speed and athleticism. He would pair with Jackson to give the Buccaneers a deadly 1-2 combination in the passing game, while biding his time to supplant Jackson as the No.1 option. It's even more important that Evans' addition would give the Buccaneers enough firepower to win shootouts with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Evans), Charles Davis (Evans)
8. Minnesota Vikings
Top needs: LB, QB, safety, DE
Best-case scenario:Mike Zimmer's defensive background could put the Vikings' focus on upgrading a defense that has slipped in recent years. Thus, the team could target a versatile linebacker like Mack to add a disruptive defender to the mix. The Buffalo standout is an ideal Sam linebacker in Zimmer's scheme, with the coverage ability and rush skills to make an impact as a three-down playmaker. If Mack is off the board, the opportunity to land a dynamic safety like Clinton-Dix wouldn't be a bad consolation prize. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound ball hawk is a rangy defender with instincts and awareness to shut down passing lanes between the hashes.
Worst-case scenario: The Vikings obviously need to address their quarterback situation, but there are enough options available in Round 2 to focus on grabbing a blue-chip position player at No. 8. If none of their desired targets are available, it would make sense to grab one of the quarterbacks (Bridgewater or Manziel), but the team would miss out on landing a marquee defensive player with the potential to make a bigger impact in Year 1.
Bucky's pick: If Khalil Mack is on the board, this should be a no-brainer for the Vikings. He fills their biggest defensive need, while also giving them another potential pass rusher to use on exotic blitzes in their base and nickel packages.