Jacksonville Jaguars — Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Jacksonville is perhaps the worst team in the NFL since the 2008 Lions finished the season 0-16. The Jaguars are finishing this season with two wins at most and should secure the first pick. While Jadeveon Clowney is the highest-rated player on most experts’ draft boards, the Jaguars need a franchise quarterback and cannot afford to pass up the opportunity. Blaine Gabbert simply isn’t getting the job done. Mariota is an interesting dual-threat quarterback with unlimited potential, as he is only a redshirt sophomore at Oregon. If he keeps improving as a passer this year and helps the Ducks to a BCS title, he could very well be the first pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Tampa Bay hasn’t been much better than Jacksonville this year and has yet to win a game. A new quarterback doesn’t seem to be an option here as the Buccaneers have faith in rookie Mike Glennon to develop into a formidable option. That’s when the Buccaneers go for the highest-rated player rather than the area of most need. Clowney is a once-in-a-decade-type athlete with the size and power of a defensive end and the speed of a safety. Tampa Bay would be foolish to pass up on Clowney and could pair him up on the defensive line with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. That would certainly improve the Buccaneers’ defense and give them a multitude of weapons similar to their glory days in the early 2000s.
Minnesota Vikings — Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Last season, Minnesota rode Adrian Peterson’s record season to the playoffs, but with A.P. slowed down this year, the Vikings are once again floundering The Vikings trio of quarterbacks in Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel don’t seem like likely long-term options in Minnesota, although Freeman certainly has an opportunity to change the front office’s mind once he returns from injury. Bridgewater entered this season as the top-rated quarterback, but Mariota simply has more upside and has performed better to date. The Louisville signal caller has the poise in the pocket to balance a Minnesota attack so heavily reliant on the run.
St. Louis Rams — Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Just when the Rams look like they’ve turned a corner, starting quarterback Sam Bradford tears his ACL in a season-ending injury. With Kellen Clemens as the current starter for St. Louis, there does not appear to be much hope in the Gateway City this season. Bradford will be back and fully healthy next season with a young array of offensive weapons. Defensively, St. Louis is set at the most important positions, so the Rams will look to upgrade their offensive line with Matthews replacing the oft-injured Rodger Saffold at right tackle. Matthews has done a superb job of protecting Johnny Football’s blind side the last two seasons at A&M and should have no trouble sliding over to the right side of the line and protecting Bradford this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers — Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Pittsburgh has been the biggest disappointment in the NFL this season. Defense has always been the key to success for the Steelers, and adding an elite pass rusher who can wreak havoc in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 system looks to be the smartest move. Add Barr to a core of linebackers including LaMarr Woodley, Jarvis Jones and Lawrence Timmons and Pittsburgh might feature the best and most athletic group of linebackers in the game. Barr has been a defensive revelation for UCLA after switching over from playing fullback during his first two seasons. He has the size and speed to slide over to defensive end if need be and does a solid job not only rushing the quarterback, but also roaming the field, racking up tackles and even dropping back into coverage. This guy is a freak of an athlete and the best defensive prospect other than Clowney.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of October 29th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Art by Vicky Kohatsu of the Daily Nexus.