NFL Draft

NFL Draft 2014: Mocking the first round

jjones@charlotteobserver.comApril 26, 2014 

The good news about going 12-4 is the Carolina Panthers made the playoffs. The bad news: The team has a late first-round pick.

Any team will gladly made that trade every year, but ...

Barring a trade, the Panthers pick 28th in the first round of the draft on May 8, the latest they will pick in the draft since 2009 when they didn’t have a first-round selection, and that means a draft full of variables will have more than the team has been used to.

With 27 selections in front of them, there are myriad options for what happens from No. 1 to No. 27. And with the 28th pick in the first round of the Observer’s first mock draft of the season, the Carolina Panthers select…

1. Houston

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: The Texans have the top pick and he’s the top player. Football doesn’t have to be hard sometimes.

2. St. Louis

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: His football background and familiarity with coach Jeff Fisher, his experience protecting a dynamic quarterback in college and his polished skill set make him the pick here.

3. Atlanta (mock trade with Jacksonville)

Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo: The Falcons need to protect Matt Ryan along the offensive line, but Mack is Atlanta’s guy, and the Falcons can’t take a chance that he lasts until No. 6. The Falcons trade the No. 6 pick (plus something) to the Jaguars to get Mack.

4. Cleveland

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: The Browns need a quarterback, but they can get one with an early second-round pick. They’re doing the smart thing by grabbing the best tackle in the class.

5. Oakland

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: A can’t-miss receiver for an organization that has missed on receivers in the past.

6. Jacksonville (mock trade with Atlanta)

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: The top quarterback in the draft, Manziel has had NFL locker rooms chatting about his play for the past two years. He could be the answer for the Jags.

7. Tampa Bay

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: Lovie Smith hinted he could go with a quarterback here, but the Bucs instead add the 6-foot-5 receiver.

8. Minnesota

Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida: The Vikings hope he’s a big improvement over Christian Ponder.

9. Buffalo

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama: With the departure of Jairus Byrd, the Bills take the top free safety in the draft.

10. Detroit

Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: Ebron’s size and speed make him a nightmare matchup. What can teams do if they have to account for him and Calvin Johnson?

11. Tennessee

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State: The Titans could use a cornerback, and Gilbert’s by far the best of this class.

12. New York Giants

Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: The Giants defense looked putrid last season before it got linebacking help with Jon Beason. Let’s see what defensive coordinator Perry Fewell does with Barr.

13. St. Louis

Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville: The Rams can always get receivers in later rounds. They’ll pick up help in the defensive backfield here.

14. Chicago

Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: The best interior defensive lineman in the draft, Donald will be a beast in a 4-3 defense despite his smaller size.

15. Pittsburgh

Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: The Steelers need a cornerback, a receiver and a tackle. Pittsburgh’s in a great spot to trade down if it wants.

16. Dallas

Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State: The Cowboys could use defensive line help.

17. Baltimore

Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: Lewan will begin his career at right tackle.

18. New York Jets

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: Rex Ryan gets the best available receiver gift wrapped at No. 18.

19. Miami

Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame: The Dolphins need some offensive line help after the bullying scandal, and they take the last of the top-tier tackles. Martin could play at guard to begin his pro career.

20. Arizona

Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State: Strong Cards defense gets stronger.

21. Green Bay

Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois: Packers address their top need with best available safety.

22. Philadelphia

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: The best remaining receiver with speed to burn, Cooks will do plenty in Chip Kelly’s offense.

23. Kansas City

Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal: Alex Smith needs more weapons on offense.

24. Cincinnati

Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State: The Bengals grab the best available corner while addressing their top need.

25. San Diego

Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame: Nix, also known as “Irish Chocolate,” will help a struggling Chargers defensive line.

26. Cleveland

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: The Browns took care of protecting the quarterback earlier in the draft, and now they pick up their quarterback.

27. New Orleans

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: The Saints will line up Ford opposite Cam Jordan and watch them work in the NFC South.

28. Carolina

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State: He’s raw, and the position is deep in this draft, but the Panthers have veteran receivers on the roster for a reason. Benjamin doesn’t have to be a hit immediately, but the 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver could be a monster in coming years. The Panthers could address other needs here, but the top-tier offensive tackles are gone and general manager Dave Gettleman seems content to piece the secondary together in other ways.

29. New England

Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA: The Patriots sense Seattle is eyeing the former Bruins guard and take him at No. 29 to satisfy their second-strongest need.

30. San Francisco

Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: Jim Harbaugh likes that Fuller comes from a strong football family.

31. Denver

C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama: The Broncos’ defense gets richer with a quality, winning linebacker.

32. Seattle

Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri: The defending Super Bowl champs will be ridiculously loaded along the defensive line.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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