The 2014 NFL draft might be the deepest in recent memory and the foreseeable future.
A total of 98 underclassmen declared, making this class better and deeper, but future classes weaker and more shallow.
The depth of this draft means teams likely will try to trade down, not out or up. Teams will try to acquire as many picks as they can, and there will be tons of action on rookie free agents when the draft concludes.
Find out which underclassman the Patriots could pick in NESN.com’s latest mock.
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Greg Robinson, offensive tackle, Auburn
Robinson, not Jadeveon Clowney, is the best player in the 2014 draft. The Texans will wait until the second round to take their quarterback. Houston could grab Eastern Illinois signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the team worked out Tuesday.
2. St. Louis Rams from Washington Redskins (3-13): Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end, South Carolina
If he’s still on the board, the Rams will gladly take Clowney, despite already having two top-tier defensive ends in Chris Long and Robert Quinn. All three players can rotate in the base defense, and Clowney or Long can move inside to defensive tackle on third down.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback, Louisville
NFL teams are concerned about Bridgewater’s lack of bulk, but he’s smart and ready to play. The Jaguars can’t afford to take another risky signal-caller like Blaine Gabbert.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Clemson
The Browns can take a quarterback later. Watkins and Josh Gordon can be one of the best wide receiver tandems in the NFL.
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Jake Mathews, offensive tackle, Texas A&M
If the Raiders want to ride another year with Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin, they’ll draft the best available player — Matthews. Oakland can sign a veteran free agent signal-caller like Michael Vick, Josh Freeman or Matt Cassell if Pryor or McGloin struggle.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Khalil Mack, outside linebacker, Buffalo
Mack can be the Falcons’ version of Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller. He can play strong-side linebacker in the base defense and defensive end in nickel.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Johnny Manziel, quarterback, Texas A&M
New Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith didn’t seem very convinced at the combine that Mike Glennon is the future of the franchise. Manziel can be exactly that for the new-look Bucs.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Blake Bortles, quarterback, Central Florida
If you don’t succeed, try, try again. The Vikings didn’t find their future starter in Christian Ponder in 2011. They might as well grab another quarterback three years later.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Mike Evans, wide receiver, Texas A&M
The Bills have done a good job finding No. 2 receivers. They need to give EJ Manuel a top-tier option. Evans can provide that.
10. Detroit Lions (7-9): C.J. Mosley, linebacker, Alabama
The Lions have the right pieces in place up front. Now they need to find some better talent at the second level at linebacker.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): Anthony Barr, edge defender, UCLA
Barr has all the promise in the world, but he’s still raw as a defender after starting his college career as a running back and receiver. The Titans were great at getting after the passer from the inside last year. Now they need a dominant edge defender like Barr.
12. New York Giants (7-9): Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Michigan
The Giants constantly need help protecting Eli Manning. Lewan’s temper is concerning on the field, but he has the potential to be a franchise left tackle.
13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Justin Gilbert, cornerback, Oklahoma State
The Rams released veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan on Wednesday. Gilbert has a ton of promise thanks to his size and speed.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Darqueze Dennard, cornerback, Michigan State
Charles Tillman is a free agent, and Tim Jennings is getting up there in years. The Bears could use a shot of youth at cornerback.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Ryan Clark is a free agent, and Clinton-Dix could step in right away as a starter for the Steelers.
16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Eric Ebron, tight end, UNC
Gavin Escobar can continue to sit behind Jason Witten as the heir apparent “inline” tight end. The Cowboys could use a top-tier “flex” tight end like Ebron, who can take some pressure off wide receiver Dez Bryant as a vertical threat.
17. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Aaron Donald, defensive lineman, Pittsburgh
Donald might look like an odd fit for the 3-4 Baltimore Ravens at first glance, but if he can cut some weight, he could be a versatile defender like Terrell Suggs. He already has the speed and agility to stand up and play on the edge. Donald worked out for teams at his pro day playing outside linebacker, according to former NFL scout Russ Lande.
18. New York Jets (8-8): Marqise Lee, wide receiver, USC
The New England Patriots met with Lee at the combine, but their division rivals get the former Trojan. The Jets are desperate for wide receiver help.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Zack Martin, offensive lineman, Notre Dame
Speaking of desperate, will the Dolphins have any offensive linemen left after the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito bullying scandal? Martin can play tackle or guard for the Dolphins.
20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Calvin Pryor, safety, Louisville
Pryor is the best player available, and safety is a position of need for the Cardinals. It’s a perfect fit.
21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): Louis Nix, defensive tackle, Notre Dame
Nix can slide right into the B.J. Raji role in Green Bay, and as long as the Notre Dame product’s knee is healed, he could be better than the free agent defensive tackle.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Ryan Shazier, linebacker, Ohio State
Shazier flew up draft boards after the combine despite choosing not to run the 40-yard dash. He’s an active, athletic linebacker who can cover and get after the passer.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Oregon State
The Chiefs could use a lot of pieces on offense. Most of all, however, they need to give Alex Smith another target at wide receiver. Cooks is a playmaker who matches up well across the field from wideout Dwayne Bowe.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Kony Ealy, defensive end, Missouri
The Bengals likely are losing defensive end Michael Johnson in free agency. Sending Ealy to Cincinnati makes too much sense.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Timmy Jernigan, defensive lineman, Florida State
Without an offensive lineman worth a top-25 pick still on the board, the Chargers can help fix their defense with Jernigan, who can play all along the defensive line.
26. Cleveland Browns from Indianapolis Colts (4-12): Derek Carr, quarterback, Fresno State
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network reports the Browns are high on Carr and that he’ll be their pick at No. 26. It’s still a little early in the process for that to be a given, but we’ll take Jeremiah’s word for it.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Odell Beckham, wide receiver, LSU
The Saints have never been able to find a good No. 2 receiver. Beckham doesn’t have prototypical first-round height, but he’s fast and agile, and he was productive with the Tigers.
28. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Jason Verrett, cornerback, TCU
The Panthers could reach for the best available tackle, but improving their pass defense with Verrett is less of a risk for a first-round pick.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Kelvin Benjamin, wide receiver, Florida State
In this scenario, the Patriots probably trade down. Defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Ra’Shede Hageman, tight ends Austin Seferan-Jenkins, Jace Amaro and Troy Niklas, and edge defenders Dee Ford and Scott Crichton are still available.
Even with all those players still around, the Patriots, as always, do the unexpected. The Patriots have shown interest in Evans and Lee this offseason. Benjamin, at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, is a matchup nightmare despite running a 4.60-second 40-yard dash.
It doesn’t really make sense to draft another wide receiver a year after picking Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce and signing Kenbrell Thompkins, but there’s a reason New England is looking at first-round wideouts.
Hageman and Amaro, the two most common Patriots mock picks, aren’t perfect fits, either. Hageman is too much of a risk for the Patriots to take in Round 1 (because of questions about his effort), and Bill Belichick is unlikely to take a tight end who can’t block like Amaro.
With all the talent in this class, it’s becoming increasingly likely the Patriots trade out of the first round for the second straight year.
30. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Ra’Shede Hageman, defensive lineman, Minnesota
The 49ers aren’t risk-averse in the first round. Hageman looks like a prototypical five-technique defensive end, and Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are getting up there in years.
31. Denver Broncos (13-3): Kyle Fuller, cornerback, Virginia Tech
The Broncos just released Champ Bailey, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent. Fuller has been moving up draft boards recently.
32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Dee Ford, defensive end, Auburn
If the Seahawks cut Chris Clemons, as they’re expected to, they’ll need another athletic defensive end. Ford impressed at his pro day with a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and 6.8-second three-cone drill.
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