Will the 2014 NFL draft will be worth the wait?
Officially known as the "Annual National Football League Player Selection Meeting," the 79th draft will be the first held in May due to a scheduling conflict at New York's Radio City Music Hall. But the Houston Texans, owners of the No. 1 pick, will finally go on the clock at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday night.
All signs point to Houston — or possibly a trade partner — selecting South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who headlines arguably the deepest draft in decades, thanks in part to the 102 underclassmen who declared for it.
"There's some premier guys at the very top, but I think on down through the whole draft, you've got quality players and not just at one specific position," says Washington Redskins director of player personnel Scott Campbell. "You certainly will feel good about the players you're taking and the prospects there that will be there in the middle rounds."
Clowney's talent is not in doubt, though his subpar performance during his 2013 junior season raised questions. Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson, Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack are also regarded as elite prospects.
And enigmatic Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will command the spotlight regardless of when his name is called.
"Exciting, electric. He's dynamic," Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer, who holds two first-round choices (including No. 4 overall), said of Manziel. "You look at what he is as a football player, the guy turned a lot of heads."
Whichever team picks Manziel on Thursday will surely do the same.
Without further ado, USA TODAY Sports' final 2014 first-round mock draft:
MORE MOCK: Teddy Bridgewater atop Round 2 forecast
1. Houston Texans
Projection: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina — No need to overthink it. He's the best player in what many NFL executives say is the best draft they've ever seen. And if Clowney's motor lags, expect Texans DE J.J. Watt to tinker with it.
Possibility: If Houston can trade down, it can focus on targeting the young quarterback new coach Bill O'Brien needs while using extra picks to address both sides of the line of scrimmage.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins)
Projection: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn — NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes, an offensive lineman for 10 years in the league, says Robinson could be "the next Walter Jones." Enough said for a team that must better safeguard QB Sam Bradford.
Possibility: This choice is the final piece of the Rams' 2012 haul for surrendering the Robert Griffin III pick. But it would make sense to parlay it into a few more future selections, especially if GM Les Snead can entice his buddy, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, to move up for Robinson or LB Khalil Mack.
MOCK DRAFT 3.0: Mike Evans in top five?
MOCK DRAFT 2.0: Clowney back on top
MOCK DRAFT 1.0: Should Manziel be No. 1?
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Projection: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson — Yes, head coach Gus Bradley is a defensive guy. But what good is a defense when the offense scores the fewest points in the league and will probably continue to be without suspended 2012 first-round WR Justin Blackmon? An explosive player like Watkins is imperative.
Possibility: If they go defense, Mack makes sense. But so would OT Jake Matthews, the former Texas A&M teammate of last year's No. 2 selection (Luke Joeckel) and a man who could solidify a line that still has huge holes. The Jags' quarterback quandary can be answered Friday.
4. Cleveland Browns
Projection: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M — He'd be a shot in the arm for a frustrated fan base. He'd theoretically work well in coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense, which turned fellow Heisman Trophy winner and uber-athletic passer RG3 into a rookie of the year in 2012. And Manziel might just solve the Browns' 15-year quarterback dilemma.
Possibility: If Watkins is there, he could form a scary tandem with 2013 breakout star Josh Gordon. Regardless, if Cleveland passes on Manziel and waits to get its quarterback at pick No. 26 or 35, it will get an elite player here.
WATCH: MANZIEL ON POSSIBILITY OF GETTING DRAFTED BY BROWNS
Johnny Manziel met the media at a Play60 event and talked about some of the possibilities at the NFL draft.
5. Oakland Raiders
Projection: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo — The Raiders have been collecting older players experienced in a variety of defensive schemes. Mack seems capable of playing at a high level in any set-up and could assume a role similar to Von Miller's in Denver if Oakland goes with a 4-3-heavy look in 2014.
Possibility: GM Reggie McKenzie traded down last year. If he does so again, he might still be able to pluck a big-time, big-framed receiving target — WR Mike Evans? TE Eric Ebron? — for an offense that badly needs one.
6. Atlanta Falcons
Projection: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M — Last season showed that $104 million QB Matt Ryan isn't worth nearly that much money when he's on the ground 44 times. Matthews, son of Hall-of-Fame OL Bruce Matthews, can play on the left or right side and should lock down a spot for a decade.
Possibility: The pass rush also badly needs juice, so don't rule out the possibility Dimitroff strikes a deal to nab Clowney or Mack.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Projection: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M — Aside from Vincent Jackson, 31, there isn't a starting-caliber wideout on the roster. New QB Josh McCown was fantastic last year in Chicago throwing to super-sized targets Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The formula could work again, especially in a division devoid of elite cornerback talent.
Possibility: Pairing DT Aaron Donald, whose skill set is ideal for the Tampa 2 D, must be quite tempting to new coach Lovie Smith.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Projection: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida — The miss on QB Christian Ponder in 2011 still stings, but incumbent Matt Cassel seems better suited to hold down the fort for now than Donovan McNabb was then. Bortles' size and accuracy (66% completion rate in college) seem to make him a comfortable fit for offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme and attacking philosophy.
Possibility: If Minnesota waits at QB, LB C.J. Mosley sure would look good in the middle of new coach Mike Zimmer's defense.
9. Buffalo Bills
Projection: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan — Clearly the best player on the board in this scenario, and he'd bookend nicely with 2012 second-round T Cordy Glenn. Sophomore QB EJ Manuel could definitely use the protection.
Possibility: Manuel could also use a seam-scorching, red-zone target to spark the passing game. Translation — Ebron.
10. Detroit Lions
Projection: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State — Receiver rumors aside, logic dictates a defensive back. There are several varieties of corner in this draft, but Gilbert brings size, good ball skills and return ability to the table.
Possibility: GM Martin Mayhew can get equally good DB help even if he trades down a dozen spots, a move that would help him address other holes on the roster.
11. Tennessee Titans
Projection: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State — He's not the athlete Gilbert is, but Dennard's physicality and cover skills are made to order in new coordinator Ray Horton's defense. Think Steelers CB Ike Taylor.
Possibility: With Jake Locker unsigned beyond this season, quarterback should be a strong consideration, perhaps highly accurate Teddy Bridgewater. Mosley would also be a nice asset for Horton.
12. New York Giants
Projection: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina — QB Eli Manning hasn't had a game-breaker at the position since Jeremy Shockey left the fold in 2008. A reliable hot read target might also keep Manning and his ankle upright more often in 2014.
Possibility: Donald could also be quite intriguing for GM Jerry Reese, who loves to collect pass-rushing linemen.
Projection: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama — Few teams know better than St. Louis what a rangy safety like Seattle's Earl Thomas can do to wreck a gameplan. Clinton-Dix isn't Thomas, but he's the closest thing in this draft.
Possibility: Despite their investment in Tavon Austin last year, the Rams still haven't found a reliable No. 1 receiver for beleaguered QB Sam Bradford. Odell Beckham could be a solution.
14. Chicago Bears
Projection: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh — Gap-shooting wrecking ball is hand-in-glove fit for a defense that was shredded last year and still has major void up the gut.
Possibility: CB Charles Tillman, 33, is back on a one-year deal, but GM Phil Emery must find a successor.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Projection: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU — Antonio Brown needs a wingman who can make this offense more dangerous. Beckham, also a good return man, would be up to the challenge.
Possibility: Aging defense needs youth at every level, especially on the line.
PHOTOS: NFL draft player comparisons
16. Dallas Cowboys
Projection: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA — He'd move to defensive end in Dallas' 4-3 defense, but that shouldn't be a problem. Generating a pass rush without DeMarcus Ware will be an issue without a replacement of Barr's caliber.
Possibility: This is another team likely to target Donald. Despite rumors linking Manziel to Dallas, QB Tony Romo's contract suggests it won't happen, and the porous defense would inhibit Manziel's development anyway.
17. Baltimore Ravens
Projection: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame — Whether he's a tackle or guard, Martin would solidify a line that left QB Joe Flacco (48 sacks) on his back far too often in 2013.
Possibility: S Calvin Pryor would make perfect sense, too, even if Martin is available.
18. New York Jets
Projection: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State — Lightning-quick Biletnikoff Award winner as nation's top receiver can line up anywhere and would beautifully complement big-bodied free agent signee Eric Decker.
Possibility: If Ebron is still on the board, he might be an even better security blanket for QB Geno Smith (or Michael Vick). And you know coach Rex Ryan will be lobbying for his defense.
19. Miami Dolphins
Projection: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia — The O-line embarrassed the Dolphins not only off the field in 2013 but on it as QB Ryan Tannehill was sacked a league-worst 58 times while the run game was nearly non-existent. Moses might seem like a reach, but he is a good run blocker who could develop into a replacement for newly signed LT Branden Albert down the road.
Possibility: Miami's in a bad spot and could very well trade up to get Martin or an even better option. Passing on Lane Johnson last year was a big mistake.
20. Arizona Cardinals
Projection: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State — The Cards are obviously trending up, but does QB Carson Palmer, 34, have enough to vault them past the Seahawks and 49ers? Head coach Bruce Arians doesn't believe in mid-round developmental projects and needs someone with a big arm like Carr's to attack downfield and secure the position for the long haul.
Possibility: If Arians and GM Steve Keim decide they can deal (or wait until pick 52 for a QB), a right tackle or pass rusher could get the call in Round 1.
21. Green Bay Packers
Projection: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama —It'd be a gift if he falls here but not necessarily a surprise since inside linebackers have seen their market plummet along with running backs. Still, Mosley would bring a jolt of leadership and playmaking ability to a defense that needs both.
Possibility: GM Ted Thompson will also have to look hard at a safety like Pryor and needs a tight end with unsigned Jermichael Finley's future still in doubt.
22. Philadelphia Eagles
Projection: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana — Fast-rising prospect combines size of Riley Cooper with the explosiveness of Jeremy Maclin.
Possibility: The defense could use help up the middle at nose tackle, linebacker and safety.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
Projection: Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California — WR Dwayne Bowe can disappear when there's no one else to draw a secondary's attention. The quicker Lee would balance out an attack that can't rely so much on Bowe and will really miss Dexter McCluster.
Possibility: Both lines need attention, but a skill player seems imperative here given the trade for QB Alex Smith cost Kansas City its second rounder.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
Projection: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville —Best player on board and a talent who could be a difference maker in a division flush with big-time tight ends.
Possibility: DE Michael Johnson's free agent defection and CB Leon Hall's latest Achilles tear could cause Cincinnati to target replacements instead.
25. San Diego Chargers
Projection: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech — Does any team need a corner more than the Bolts, especially if they expect to challenge Peyton Manning's Broncos in the AFC West?
Possibility: Better to get a three-down player than one who typically plays two downs, but Notre Dame NT Louis Nix could offset the loss of Cam Thomas.
26. Browns (from Indianapolis Colts)
Projection: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State — CB Joe Haden can hold down one side of the field, but he needs help in a division now better known for its quarterbacks than running backs.
Possibility: The Browns have 10 selections, so no need to reach here for anything other than the top player. Reinforcements at guard, inside linebacker and running back can come in Days 2 and 3.
27. New Orleans Saints
Projection: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State — Like Marques Colston, Robinson is big (6-2, 220), but his excellent leaping ability brings an added dimension for a unit that lost WR Lance Moore.
Possibility: The Saints will likely be on the lookout for an edge rusher and center who can step in right away, but probably not at this spot.
28. Carolina Panthers
Projection: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama — Their top priority is taking care of oft-battered QB Cam Newton now that LT Jordan Gross has retired. Kouandjio's knee is a red flag, but his ability at the bottom of Round 1 makes him worth a roll of the dice.
Possibility: Carolina was also decimated at wideout and corner this offseason, but the options are better at those positions in the second round than they are tackle.
29. New England Patriots
Projection: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech — His unique talents have drawn comparisons to both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Given the Pats are often without the former and divorced themselves from the latter, Amaro (whose 1,352 receiving yards in 2013 were a Football Bowl Subdivision record for tight ends) could be just the guy to replenish the offensive arsenal.
Possibility: Bill Belichick will be working the phones and could do anything. Both his lines need depth, and he always seems to target a defensive back early.
30. San Francisco 49ers
Projection: Ra'Shede Hageman, DL, Minnesota — What a piece of clay for D-line coach Jim Tomsula to mold. Hageman has the skills to be dominant and might best harness his ability while apprenticing under aging stud Justin Smith.
Possibility: The 49ers have 11 picks but not 11 roster spots to accommodate them. May as well package some to upgrade at wideout or corner rather than stay put.
31. Denver Broncos
Projection: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State — An exceptional athlete, Shazier may be the increasingly rare 4-3 linebacker too good to come off the field regardless of what defense the Broncos are in.
Possibility: The O-line looks set for now, but it's time to start grooming replacements for 2015 and beyond.
32. Seattle Seahawks
Projection: Xavier Su'a-Filo, G/T, UCLA — Starting OL Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan signed elsewhere, and G James Carpenter is likely on his way out next year. Su'a-Filo brings the blend of fire and versatility the organization values.
Possibility: With only six selections in the quiver and several teams likely mulling trades back into the first round to target quarterbacks, GM John Schneider is likely to have options. He does his best work (QB Russell Wilson, SS Kam Chancellor, CB Richard Sherman) after Round 2 anyway.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis