The NFL draft is three weeks away and pundits, experts, and fans alike are flooding the nation’s airwaves and fiber optic cables with their prognostications for the league’s biggest off season event. Reading and mocking mock drafts has been a lifelong hobby, and now, for the first time, I’ve undertaken the task of cobbling one together.
The home stretch period heading into the draft is always the most interesting and entertaining as team draft boards are finalized and teams will engage in misinformation campaigns in hope of dissuading others from taking their target player. In the past few days, we’ve heard about defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s poor work habits, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s defective release, and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan’s character concerns. One has to separate the truth from the noise in predicting where the players will ultimately land. This is why we are hearing that the quarterback needy teams might pass on signal callers early in the first round. If teams wanting the players that would slide down as a result of a quarterback heavy top 10 begin to panic, they might call and overpay in trades to ensure getting the man they want.
No trades are formally predicted below as they are too volatile, often depend on what players are on the board, and the rhythm of the draft. Multiple trade rumors have been swirling recently, including the Falcons moving up to draft Clowney and the Lions trading up for wide receiver Sammy Watkins. While these moves are possible, the cost in draft picks in this deep talent pool will ultimately result in both teams staying put. And so, without further ado, my inaugural mock draft:
Pick 1 – Texans: Clowney, Jadeveon, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Although the Texans need a quarterback after trading Matt Schaub to the Raiders, the South Carolina defensive end is just too talented to pass up. They will listen to trade offers, but no team has the ammunition to get this pick and keep Houston from pairing Clowney with JJ Watt. A QB will come in round 2.
Pick 2 – Rams: Robinson, Greg, OT, Auburn
A confluence of talent and need, the Rams will entertain offers to trade down, but ultimately stay put and draft Robinson, who will develop into a fixture at left tackle for the next decade.
Pick 3 – Jaguars: Bottles, Blake, QB, Central Florida
The Jaguars snag the top quarterback in the draft. Chad Henne can keep the seat warm if he’s not ready to go on opening day, but Bortles will be the starter by mid season.
Pick 4 – Browns: Watkins, Sammy, WR, Clemson
The Browns desperately need weapons, and select the top wide receiver in the draft. Adding him to an offense with Josh Gordon and tight end Jordon Cameron will give the Browns a potent trio that will keep defensive coordinators up at night. This team will score more than 17 points per game in 2014.
Pick 5 – Raiders: Manziel, Johnny, QB, Texas A&M
No one is neutral on Manziel, either loving or hating the former Aggie and the Raiders are very enamored with this boom or bust quarterback prospect. Despite trading for Matt Schaub, they will not pass up Manziel when he falls to them. Fans will be wondering if the ghost of Al Davis is running the draft for the silver and black.
Pick 6 – Falcons: Matthews, Jake, OT, Texas A&M
After failing to trade up for Clowney, the Falcons settle for rebuilding the offensive line by taking Matthews, the most complete and pro ready lineman in the draft. He will guard Matt Ryan’s behind for the rest of his career. The Falcons were dead last in the NFL in rushing in 2013, averaging only 78 yards per game. Much of struggle was attributed to their offensive line and Matthews will provide an immediate and much needed upgrade.
Pick 7 – Buccaneers: Mack, Khalil, OLB/DE/ILB, Buffalo
Lovey Smith is a defensive minded coach and the team takes the top outside linebacker in the draft to give him a new toy to play with. They also need a receiver, but there are plenty of those to go around in this draft. There are not as many impact linebackers available. The Buccaneers defense was average last season, finishing 17th in yards allowed. They will be much improved this season.
Pick 8 – Vikings: Bridgewater, Teddy, QB, Louisville
Was it the Vikings disinformation campaign that called Bridgewater’s release into question? He can learn from Matt Cassel and ease into starting lineup. But Mike Zimmer will hope that he wins the starting job in training camp so they can grow into their respective jobs together.
Pick 9 – Bills: Evans, Mike, WR, Texas A&M
The Bills also need weapons and will be tempted by tight end Eric Ebron, but will ultimately settle on Evans, a huge target with great hands. Some experts believe that Evans catching ability raised Manziel’s stock higher than was deserved. Can he do the same for EJ Manuel?
Pick 10 – Lions: Gilbert, Justin, CB, Oklahoma State
For the Lions to trade up for Sammy Watkins, they will have to give the Rams a king’s ransom similar to the three first round picks they got from the Redskins in the Robert Griffin III trade two years ago. The Lions won’t bite and instead plug one of the biggest holes on the team by drafting this year’s top cornerback. The Lions were 23rd in the NFL in passing yards allowed in 2013.
Pick 11 – Titans: Barr, Anthony, OLB/DE, UCLA
The Titans take this exceptional play maker for his speed and potential. They also need a running back, but none are worthy of being drafted this high. A quarterback is also a consideration, but the top 3 are gone and the others are late first/early second round talent. Will they try to trade back in at the end of the round for a QB? Barr will improve the Titans 21st ranked pass rush with his edge rushing abilities.
Pick 12 – Giants: Donald, Aaron, DT/DE, Pittsburgh
The Giants have made their bones with defensive line pressure in the Jerry Reese/Tom Coughlin era. Losing Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph depleted their talent pool and they start rebuilding it with the talented, flexible Donald who, like Tuck, plays both inside and outside. Fans would like to see Ebron in this slot, but there are tight ends available in the second and third rounds and Donald will provide the flexibility and depth needed on the defensive line. The Bears or the Cowboys may try to jump in front of the Giants and steal Donald out from under them.
Pick 13 – Rams: Clinton-Dix, Ha Ha, FS, Alabama
Picking for the second time in the top 13, the Rams add NFL ready Clinton-Dix to their secondary. He is expected to step right in and start from day one and provide both top run support and solid pass coverage ability. The Rams defense ranked 19th against the pass in 2013.
Pick 14 – Bears: Mosley, CJ, ILB, Alabama
Phil Emery must regret not bringing Brian Urlacher back last season as his leadership and solid tackling were missed in the middle of their suddenly soft run defense. Drafting his replacement one year too late, Bears start solidifying their defense with Mosley, the top middle linebacker in the draft. If he plays half as well as Urlacher, it will be an improvement over last season’s putrid run defense that gave up an eye popping 161 yards per game.
Pick 15 – Steelers: Dennard, Marquee, CB, Michigan Stat
The Steelers defense is aging and needs an infusion of young talent. Ike Taylor is 33 and doesn’t have a lot of gas left in his tank. Dennard is an intense player with the size to match up with big receivers.
Pick 16 – Cowboys: Jernigan, Timmy, DT, Florida State
The Cowboys defensive line was devastated by injury last season and needs an influx of new talent. He should help sure up their run defense that was the Achilles heel for most of 2013, surrendering 129 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry.
Pick 17 – Ravens: Lewan, Taylor, OT, Michigan
Michael Oher left for Tennessee, leaving a gaping hole on Tennessee’s offensive line. Lewan will step in and fill it immediately. There are character concerns, but Baltimore has always had a strong locker room. With Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh running the show, they have a strong support structure from top to bottom.
Pick 18 – Jets: Ebron, Eric, TE, North Carolina
No team had worse offensive weapons last season than the Jets. After signing Eric Decker and Chris Johnson, the top tight end in the draft slides down to them, giving Geno Smith a huge upgrade in talent going into his second season. If the additional talent surrounding him doesn’t improve his play and the Jets 31st ranked passing game, Michael Vick is waiting in the wings to take his job.
Pick 19 – Dolphins: Martin, Zack, OT/G/C, Notre Dame
The Dolphins are the best equipped to challenge the Patriots supremacy in the AFC east, save for their offensive line. Zack Martin will replace the traded Jonathan Martin. While not completely fixing of team’s biggest flaw, the versatile former Fighting Irish is a good start. Miami will add several offensive linemen in this draft.
Pick 20 – Cardinals: Pryor, Calvin, FS, Louisville
The Cardinals have a good defense and solid starting cornerbacks with Patrick Peterson among the league’s best. They can use some help in the middle of their defense and Pryor will provide it. He will pair with the Tyrann “Honey Badger” Matthieu and give the Cardinals as talented pair of safeties as any NFL team can offer. Their 15th ranked passing defense can easily become top 10 with Pryor in the fold.
Pick 21 – Packers: Shazier, Ryan, OLB, Ohio State
San Francisco has eliminated the Packers in the playoffs each of the last two seasons and Colin Kaepernick’s runs have been a big reason why. Speedy linebacker Shazier should be fast enough to track down the Forty-Niners elusive quarterback and give the Packers a fighting chance to beat them.
Pick 22 – Eagles: Beckham, Jr, Odell, WR, LSU
DeSean Jackson is a talented pain in the rump, and he left a huge void when the Eagles released him last month. Beckham is a play making receiver and punt returner who can step in immediately and make the team forget about Jackson in short order.
Pick 23 – Chiefs: Cooks, Branding, WR, Oregon State
Andy Reid never provided Donovan McNabb with top receiving talent during his time with Eagles. He doesn’t want to make the same mistake with Alex Smith in Kansas City and drafts Cooks to pair with Dwayne Bowe. Having a second receiver for defenses to worry about will also open things up more for Jamaal Charles, which is just as frightening as it sounds.
Pick 24 – Bengals: Ealy, Kony, DE/DT, Missouri
The Bengals need a CB, but this draft is much deeper at that position than at defensive end, and they grab Ealy here as a replacement for free agent departure Michael Johnson. The Bengals have become experts are turning over talent rather than paying more than their target value of a veteran player’s worth.
Pick 25 – Chargers: Nix III, Louis, DT, Notre Dame
The big bodied nose tackle will anchor the middle of the Chargers defense and help free up Manti Te’o and Donald Butler to flow to the ball. It should greatly improve their rushing defense that gave up 4.55 yards per carry last season, 27th in the NFL.
Pick 26 – Browns: Carr, Derek, QB, Fresno State
Passing up a quarterback with their first pick, the Browns still get their preferred QB with their second first round pick. Browns fans will have flashbacks to another time the Browns took a quarterback late in the first round, Brady Quinn, and will hope for a more positive result this time. Carr and Brian Hoyer will battle for the starting job in training camp.
Pick 27 – Saints: Ford, Dee, OLB/DE, Auburn
The 2012 Saints defense was historically and comically bad. Rob Ryan turned it around in 2013 and the team will continue to solidify their defense with the selection of Ford. The best way to beat the Saints, as shown by Seattle, is to pressure Drew Brees and run the ball to keep him off the field. The Saints will counter this strategy by beefing up their run defense and offensive line in the 2014 draft.
Pick 28 – Panthers: Benjamin, Kelvin, WR, Florida State
Steve Smith, Ted Ginn, Brandon LaFell, and Domenik Hixon were all let go as the Panthers are rebuilding their receiving corps. The roster is currently filled with a collection of Number 2 and 3 receivers on their roster and the team will draft several, starting with the tall, long-armed Benjamin.
Pick 29 – Patriots: Hageman, Ra’Shede, DT/DE, Minnesota
Things got testy with Vince Wilfork this offseason. The eleven year veteran will be 33 in November and once the contract squabbles start, the Patriot way is to immediately look for a replacement. Enter Hageman. In the interim, he can pair with Wilfork and improve the Patriots 30th ranked rush defense that gave up 134 yards per game and 4.46 yard per carry last season. Once he assimilates, kiss Wilfork goodbye.
Pick 30 – Forty-Niners: Verrett, Jason, CB, TCU
The strong Forty-Niner defense is suddenly looking vulnerable with the latest Aldon Smith meltdown. The secondary is the still weakest link and Verrett will fill it. Look for Trent Baalke to restock at several positions with team’s plethora of draft picks.
Pick 31 – Broncos: Su’a-Filo, Xavier, G, UCLA
Seattle exposed the Broncos offensive line in the Super Bowl and Peyton Manning looked, gasp, human when under the immense pressure that Seattle’s front four was able to bring down. With Manning’s career in its twilight years, the team is committed to winning and will take the former Bruin here to help protect their quarterback.
Pick 32 – Seahawks: Lee, Marqise, WR, USC
The Seahawks will close out round 1 with a replacement for Golden Tate. This selection is one ripe for trading as teams seeking to draft a quarterback will want to jump in front of Houston to take their preferred signal caller before Houston opens up the second day of drafting with their quarterback of choice. Arizona, Tennessee, and St. Louis are all candidates to jump back into round one and take Jimmy Garoppolo or Zack Mettenberger before we all go to bed.
And there you have it, if more than 24 of the players are drafted in the round (that’s 75%) and more than 10 are in the correct slots, we will consider this first mock draft a success. The fun of the NFL draft is the twists, turns and reaches that occur in the first round. If anyone sees a mock draft that has all players correctly predicted and more than half slotted properly, kindly post a link. That prognosticator deserves congratulations and recognition.
My selection for the Giants, Pitt’s Aaron Donald, is in keeping with Jerry Reese’s drafting history and assessment of current team needs. Free agents continue to visit, as their recent signing of Josh Freeman attests, and a signing at defensive tackle, such as former Viking Kevin Williams, who visited this week without signing, will affect who the team drafts. Offensive and defensive lines still remain the team’s biggest areas of need and both will be addressed early.
Next week, we will take a look at some prospects that should be available when the Giants turns comes up later in the draft. With more than 100 underclassmen declaring their eligibility for this class, the 2014 draft is one of the deepest in history and each round should bring value to the team.
Disagree with my pick? Comment below or on my twitter @hyprcaffeinated.