With the NFL Draft being pushed back to May, fans will have to wait a little longer this year for one of the NFL’s most popular events. With many of the 2014 free agents finding new homes, this mock draft will be a little different than my first edition. Let’s dig in.
*Note: These are not my personal rankings but rather a scenario of how the board may fall and how teams see a player fitting their system. For my personal rankings, check out the big board. For originality and creativity purposes, I do not read other internet mock drafts a few weeks before creating my latest edition and finalizing the picks.
1) Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney is one of the better prospects of the past decade and undoubtedly the best player in this draft class. While his “attitude” has been questioned, his raw talent alone shines on tape.
He often draws double and triple team blocking assignments, opening up plenty of room for his teammates. When given a one on one match up, he has proven to be nearly unblock-able. Pairing him with JJ Watt in the Houston front seven makes pass and run protection an instant nightmare for anyone who faces them.
2) St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins) – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
While I believe Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews is a more NFL ready product, scouts have fallen in love with Robinson’s ceiling. He really came on for Auburn this season, looking like a brick wall at times. He has prototypical size (6’5, 320) and could start on the Rams offensive line from day one, instantly upgrading their run blocking while also protecting Sam Bradford.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Jaguars land the franchise quarterback they have coveted for quite some time. Bridgewater is the only quarterback in this class that should start from day one and Jacksonville is a perfect place for the Florida native to land. If they can find him a play maker or two later in the draft, he will instantly help the Jaguars compete.
4) Cleveland Browns – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Browns land the clear cut best wide out in the draft to pair with Josh Gordon, a top five wide receiver in the NFL. With Bridgewater off the board, the Browns switch their plans and look to add a quarterback later in the draft to compete with Brian Hoyer. With Watkins and Gordon out wide, whoever is quarterbacking is set up for success in the passing game.
5) Oakland Raiders – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
While the Raiders have been knocked for bringing in aging veterans this offseason, the contracts are not as bad as they appear at face value. Many of these players can be released after this year without serious cap penalties. The overall point is, general manager Reggie McKenzie is trying to bring the Raiders out of the abyss.
While McKenzie attempts to rebuild the Raiders image, this pick is a perfect place to start. Matthews is currently the best tackle in this draft class. Greg Robinson has caught a ton of hype (rightly so), but he is not a finished product. Matthews can step in on week 1 and give the Raiders serviceable pass protection and run blocking for Matt Schaub.
6) Atlanta Falcons – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Trading away tons of picks for Julio Jones years ago dismantled the Falcons long term sustainability. Back in the top ten, they need help all over and Khalil Mack is a phenomenal player to start the rebuild on defense. He can rush the passer, disrupt the run, and excel in coverage. He has the potential to single handedly change a defense.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
I originally had the Buccaneers taking Eric Ebron in this spot and Evans sliding to the Bills. After some thoughts, Evans and Vincent Jackson can cause quite a nightmare for opposing secondaries. Mike Glennon can let it fly, giving him two 6’5 wide receivers will accelerate his development right away.
8) Minnesota Vikings – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Manziel has been the talk of the 2014 draft class. Some love him, some feel he will not even make it in the NFL. Either way, Minnesota is a superb fit for him. He can rely on the run game with Adrian Peterson while tuning his weaknesses.
Defenses will stack the box against him and Adrian Peterson, opening up the passing game that the Vikings has sorely lacked the last couple of seasons. They can also find a capable wide out in round two to start across from last year’s first round pick Cordarrelle Patterson and the aging Greg Jennings.
9) Buffalo Bills – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Until the trade for Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams, I assumed Buffalo would take a wide out here. With Williams and Stevie Johnson locked in, along with last year’s rookies Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin the Bills need a tight end to complete the passing attack.
Ebron has the rare ability to take the top off a defense while playing in-line tight end and in the slot. If EJ Manuel can find a way to stay healthy, Buffalo’s passing attack will be extremely balanced and difficult to contain.
10) Detroit Lions – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Lions have needed a true CB1 for quite some time and Dennard fits the bill. He is physical against both the pass and run. He needs to work on using his hands less down the field, but his ceiling is as high as any corner that has come out in the past few year.
11) Tennessee Titans – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Losing Alterraun Verner has left quite the dent in the Titans’ secondary. While Justin Gilbert has been inconsistent in coverage, his size (6’0) and speed (under 4.3-4.4 forty range) are intriguing. His inconsistencies seem more of an effort and technique issue rather than a capability issue. If developed correctly, he has the intangibles of a future top ten corner.
12) New York Giants – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Barr is the defensive wild card in the first round. The former college running back is a demon off the edge for quarterbacks. His hits have taken players out of games and he is a constant threat on passing downs.
While he flashes as bright as any prospect in this class, his hand use while disengaging blocks is a vital concern. Either way, the Giants need a presence off the edge after seeing Jason Pierre-Paul’s play spiral due to injuries and Justin Tuck has left for Oakland. Barr would be a nice addition for Big Blue.
13) St. Louis Rams – Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Rams have built a sturdy front seven the past few seasons but definitely need to bulk up the interior line. The 6’6, 311 pound Hageman is one the most talented defensive tackles in the draft. His size and potential are intriguing as well. With Notre Dame’s Louis Nix coming off an underwhelming season plagued by injury, Hageman comes off the board before him.
14) Chicago Bears – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
I have not seen this even as a thought anywhere, but it would not shock me at all. With Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall on the outside (a lethal random), Cooks could run free from the slot position. Marc Trestman’s passing offense would be quite the headache to contain with that trio of wide receivers catching passes from Jay Cutler.
15) Pittsburgh Steelers – Louis Nix, NT/DT, Notre Dame
The Steelers have hit a stretch of mediocrity and need to rebuild what was once a dominant defense. The key pieces to their once excellent defense have either aged or been injured too often. Nix brings a presence to shore up the middle of the defensive line and contain the run single handedly at times.
16) Dallas Cowboys – Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
The Cowboys secondary was sliced and diced last year verse the pass, but their pass rush did not do them a ton of favors. The loss of Demarcus Ware is a black hole and the freakish Ealy could be a nice replacement. He the best first step off of the line of scrimmage I’ve seen since his former teammate Sheldon Richardson.
17) Baltimore Ravens – C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Mosley is a top ten talent in this draft playing an under-valued position. He was a machine at Alabama and possesses very good coverage skills for a linebacker. He can step in for a void that will not be easy to replace, left by Ray Lewis. If any linebacker in this draft is a guy you build a defense around, it is C.J. Mosley.
18) New York Jets – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
This one might shock Jets fans, but it solves a glaring need on the Jets defense. Many are claiming Verrett is a “slot corner” which is a lazy analysis. While he is a shade over 5’9, he plays as big as most corners in this draft and has displayed the best coverage skills of the crop.
For instance take Nebraska corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste. He is 6’3 but his vertical was only two inches higher than Verrett’s, their broad jumps were equal, and Verrett had better shuttle and 40 yard dash times.
On tape he reminds me of Brent Grimes, one of the better (but undersized) corner’s in the entire league. Rex Ryan loves to move his players around in his defense and Verrett could play from anywhere on the field. This would be an excellent addition for the Jets young secondary.
19) Miami Dolphins – Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Martin dominated throughout his career at Notre Dame playing tackle. His short arms have many projecting him as a guard in the NFL, but either way he is an extremely solid offensive line prospect. Martin would continue the improvements Miami had made on their offensive line all offseason.
20) Arizona Cardinals – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Bortles has been projected as high as first overall to Houston, but he has too many question marks at the moment. Ball security (fumbles) is a big issue in his game along with the level of competition he has dominated. He carries one of the highest ceilings in this draft class though and would be a perfect pick for a team that does not need him to start instantly.
If he can sit behind Carson Palmer for a year, he could be an extremely smart investment with the 20th overall pick.
21) Green Bay Packers – Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Aaron Rodgers is a top three quarterback in the league who has a solid supporting cast of wide outs around him. With the departure of Jermichael Finley, Green Bay needs to find a pass catching tight end. Amaro can line up all over the field and fits perfectly into Green Bay’s offense playing alongside Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.
22) Philadelphia Eagles – Marqise Lee, WR, University of Southern California
The Eagles cut ties with superstar wide out Desean Jackson and would be wise to find a youngster to replace the talent void he has left. Jeremy Maclin is coming off a lost season from a torn ACL and Riley Cooper is not a game changing target. Lee was stellar in 2012 but struggled in 2013.
23) Kansas City Chiefs – Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
While Alex Smith does not possess the strongest arm in the NFL, he is a smart game manager that finds his receivers on short routes. Beckham does a nice job of fighting for the ball in the air, often bailing out LSU quarterback Zack Mettenberger. He would fit nicely into the Chiefs offense that needs to add a playmaker across from Dwayne Bowe.
24) Cincinnati Bengals – Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
With the loss of defensive end Michael Johnson, the Bengals could use an edge rusher. While Ford needs some work against the run, he is disruptive when rushing the passer. Cincinnati is in a good spot with their current front seven to add a player with Ford’s skill set.
25) San Diego Chargers -Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
San Diego gave up 4.6 rushing yards per attempt last season. They need to plug up the hole in the middle of their defense and Jernigan is an absolute load. When watching his season for a dominate Florida State defense, he jumps out on film. He is extremely difficult to block and could help the Chargers immediately.
26) Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts) – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Browns would be ecstatic if this is how the first round plays out for them. They land a dynamic game changer at wide out in Sammy Watkins and a big armed quarterback in Carr later on.
While Carr is not a sure thing (and who is, really?), he dominated throughout his three year career as a starter at Fresno State. He threw for 113 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. Surrounding him with an offense that includes Josh Gordon, Sammy Watkins, and Jordan Cameron would give him one of the better supporting casts’ in the entire league.
27) New Orleans Saints – Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
A lot of people are claiming the days of taking a running back in the first round are over, but that is an extreme statement. The Saints need a 1A runner and Hyde fits the bill. He can carry the rock 25 times a game and is a very reliable receiving threat, a necessity for their pass heavy offense.
28) Carolina Panthers – Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Cam Newton has to be concerned as he has witnessed Steve Smith leave and the Panthers do very little in free agency. Adams is a big target that snatches the ball cleanly with his hands at its highest point. If he can learn to beat press coverage in the NFL, he will be a reliable red zone target that the Panthers desperately need.
29) New England Patriots – Jeremiah Attaochu, DE/OLB, Georgia Tech
This pick may come as a shock, but the Patriots are always unpredictable on draft day. Attaochu is an animal when rushing the passer and could be the final piece to a very scary New England defense.
With Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner locking up wide outs on the outside, the pass rush will be key. Last year’s second round pick Jamie Collins burst on the scene and Chandler Jones has been very productive along with Rob Ninkovich who was recently extended.
Attaochu could step into a defense where he would have one job, which would be to get after the quarterback on passing downs. He could excel in this role and make New England nearly impossible to throw against (good luck, Peyton Manning).
30) San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
31) Denver Broncos – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Although the Broncos signed Aqib Talib, they could still use another corner. Fuller was impressive last season at Virginia Tech and would be the best corner left on the board at this point. His physicality across from Talib would give opposing wide receivers a difficult time separating early off the line.
32) Seattle Seahawks – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan is a top 15 talent suffering from serious character concerns with his potential involvement in teammate’s rape case. The Seahawks lost Breno Giacomini to the Jets in free agency and Lewan would possibly be an upgrade at the right tackle spot for the Super Bowl champions.
Follow Connor Rogers on Twitter: @Real_CR3