We’re in the home stretch now. In less than one month, the Houston Texans will officially be on the clock and the 2014 NFL Draft will be underway.
It’s also officially the beginning of “over-thinking” season, where NFL Draft analysts and media personalities will begin to fall victim to idle time. Players will gain and lose momentum simply because, well, what else is there to write or talk about?
But the fact remains that the players who were at or near the top of the 2014 NFL Draft class toward the end of last season are going to remain there, with a few surprise risers and fallers. The Scouting Combine and subsequent pro days certainly helped many players improve their ‘stock’, but don’t read too much into what will be written over the next 28 (or so) days.
So, what do I think the 1st Round will end up like on May 8th? FRG’s first two mock drafts (#1 & #2) were posted prior to the completion of the Draft Guide (which you can order here), and while I’ve been away from the ‘mock draft’ scene for a bit, it’s time to give Mock Draft Version 3.0 a whirl.
First, some housekeeping. This Mock Draft is a “prediction” draft; It’s what I think is going to happen (not necessarily what I would do.) In addition, don’t read too much into where I have a guy going. Just because I have a player in the top 10 doesn’t necessarily mean I think he is a top-10 guy.
Confusing? Good…that’s the point of Mock Drafting.
#1: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, S. Carolina
Clowney is the superior talent in the 2014 NFL Draft. And if you’re picking 1st overall, you simply have to take the best (arguably generational) player if given the opportunity to do so. Not only is Clowney better than every other player (by a wide margin) in this class, but the ability to pair him with J.J. Watt for the foreseeable future is, potentially, a rarer commodity than a good, competent starting quarterback.
#2: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Will the Rams really go to the wide receiver well two years in a row? Remember when Matt Millen got laughed out of Detroit for doing the very same thing (Mike Williams –> Charles Rogers)? Fortunately for the Rams, Sammy Watkins is a much better prospect than both Williams and Rogers were, and there’s enough of a difference between what he brings to an offense versus what Austin provides to make the pick logical and sensible. Add in the fact that the Rams can address a need at #13, and it makes this pick a real luxury to have. Sammy Watkins is an elite, dynamic talent playing wide receiver and as he and Tavon Austin grow into their roles in St. Louis, the “greatest show on turf, part 2″ might not be too far behind.
#3: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Forget the Blake Bortles talk. He’s a nice player, but he’s not a better quarterback prospect than Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel, and he’ll be waiting until later in round one to be picked. At this spot, the Jaguars need a player who has a low-bust factor with an exciting upside…that’s Teddy. The Louisville standout might not be rocked up with 235lbs of muscle, but who cares. If you watched his film at Louisville, you know he can take a hit and he has the frame (and toughness) to withstand the pounding that quarterbacks take in the NFL. More importantly, he has the arm needed to succeed as a long-term, productive starting quarterback…something the Jaguars have been missing since the days of Mark Brunell.
The Browns just matched the offer sheet on Alex Mack, giving them that veteran presence in the middle of their offensive line that will help the learning curve for the expected first-round rookie quarterback. And while the opinions on Manziel vary from analyst to analyst, I’m a firm believer in his ability to produce despite a style that, in many ways, goes against traditional thinking. Manziel has the arm talent to play in the NFL, and when you add his elite athletic ability to the mix, there’s no denying that he has the potential to be one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the NFL for a very long time.
The run on Aggies may just be starting, as Matthews goes off the board before Robinson because he is a safer pick for Reggie McKenzie and company in Oakland. McKenzie clearly wants to re-define what it means to be a Raider, and all indications are that Jake Matthews is of the highest-character and has the bloodlines to suggest quality production both on and off the field. And at the end of the day, he’s a very, very talented player who can protect the blindside for Matt Schaub in 2014 and his eventual successor for many years after that.
The Falcons will have a tough decision to make here, as Greg Robinson is sill on the board and their need at offensive tackle is a priority. But Mack has been mentioned in some circles as a potential No. 1 overall candidate. And while I am not in that camp, I do believe that Mack is a top-tier talent who is going to start, and produce, from week 1 of his rookie season. He’s going to bring an instant upgrade to the Falcons’ pass rush and presents with a much better all-around skill set than athletic prospects like Anthony Barr. Mack would become the face of the defense in Atlanta.
While the Buccaneers have made some moves in free agency to address the offensive line, the value that has fallen in their lap in this scenario is simply too high to pass on. Robinson has every trait you want from a potential franchise left tackle, and while he needs some seasoning in pass protection, the reality is that there aren’t many men on the planet with his size/strength/athleticism combination. He’s a mauler in the run game who will end up being a decade-long pro bowler and one of the best players at his position.
I’m not a big fan of Bortles going this high in the Draft, and never quite bought into the theory that he would go first overall. But the Vikings need a quarterback, as the Christian Ponder experiment hasn’t worked out as Minnesota had hoped, and while Matt Cassel has been re-signed, he’s nothing more than a capable backup at this stage of his career. Enter Blake Bortles, who if given a chance to sit behind Cassel for a season, could develop into the player that many are projecting at this point. Bortles needs to go somewhere that he can redshirt for a year, and the Vikings appear to be a destination that can provide that. Viking fans will keep their fingers crossed that this selection doesn’t end up as Ponder 2.0.
Taylor Lewan will end up a top-10 pick in this Draft, and there’s even a chance he goes higher than ninth overall. That said, of all the top-10 talents in this year’s class, Lewan has the chance to fall the most due to his off-field allegations. Assuming his background checks out to the satisfaction of the Bills’ brass, Lewan will enter the 2014 season as the best candidate to play the left tackle spot for Buffalo. Some will suggest that he’s better suited to play on the right side, but I’m not one of them. He’ll be a very good left tackle in the NFL and he’ll bring tenacity and physicality to the League.
With all the rumors and speculation that the Lions want to trade up for Sammy Watkins, the reality is that they’re more likely to stay put at No. 10 and select Mike Evans. Evans, paired with Calvin Johnson, will create one of the biggest size advantages/mismatches in recent memory. Personally, I don’t value Evans this highly, as I have concerns about his athleticism and overall flexibility. But as a No. 2 option playing alongside Calvin Johnson, Evans will have the benefit of never facing the opponent’s best corner. The red zone options in the Motor City will be scary, and Matt Stafford will have a chance to enter rarified air (statistically.)
There are a lot of analysts who are down on Barr right now, but his rare athletic ability and long-term upside is simply too enticing and exciting to pass on. Barr is still learning how to play defense, and while some will question his instincts, I’m of the belief that he’ll get better and better with reps and coaching. He’ll be a force when attacking the quarterback, and he’ll mature into an all-around defender versus the run and when dropping into coverage. Pin his ears back early in his career and coach him up in an effort to make him a multi-dimensional defender.
The Giants have been lacking a true pass catcher at the tight end position since…Mark Bavaro? The last time Eli had a competent player at the position was Kevin Boss, and even he was hardly average. The loss of Hakeem Nicks increases the urgency for this selection, as Eli is entering a phase of his career where he can’t afford to be without bona-fide targets. Ebron is a talent worthy of this draft slot, and, when combined with Victor Cruz, will give Eli two reliable security options in the passing game.
No player has suffered a bigger fall down draft boards during the pre-draft process than Kouandjio, and it hasn’t been without justifiable reasons. His potential knee issues, combined with his underwhelming performance as the Scouting Combine, have led some to project Kouandjio to slip into round two. And while I’m likely in the minority here, I still believe that Kouandjio’s tape suggests a talent that is on an upward trajectory and a guy that has the foundation needed to be a starting tackle in the NFL. He’s young, he’s strong, and he’s got great length. His tape suggests starter talent, and I just can’t imagine him falling out of the top 15. The Rams are still in need of talent upgrades along their offensive line, and Kouandjio presents as a ball of clay that the Rams can mold into what they want.
This might be wishful thinking for Bears fans (me included), but if Aaron Donald is still on the board (as this Mock suggests), Phil Emery will have to control his excitement when making this pick. The Bears have re-vamped their defensive line this off-season, with a special attention paid to the defensive ends. And while they have some guys that can play inside, Donald is too rare of an interior pass rusher to pass on. He’ll be the kind of penetrator that the Bears have only had in spurts dating back to the prime years of Tommie Harris and the pre-injury form of Henry Melton, and it’s no coincidence that those were some of the best years for the Bears defense. Donald is as close to a no-brainer pick as you can have at this spot.
The Steelers are in need of some youth and talent at the cornerback position, and Verrett (FRG’s top-rated corner) falling into their lap at the 15th overall pick is the perfect scenario of value meeting need. While Verrett doesn’t possess the physical, lock-down corner measureables (ht/wt), he is a phenomenal athlete who is mature beyond his years as a secondary player. He has great instincts and ball skills, and has the potential to become a perennial pro bowl player for the foreseeable future.
While this is likely a shocker to many, Martin is every bit a first-round talent and will likely surprise with how high he’s picked. His film from his senior season displayed the potential that UNC was waiting to pop, and his numbers at the Scouting Combine were among the best in this year’s class. Martin has the length, quickness and pass rush ability to be a double-digit sack artist in the NFL and with the Cowboys losing both Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer this offseason, special attention will be paid to the position during the Draft. The more popular name that will likely be plugged in here is Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri.) And while I think Ealy is a good prospect who will have a nice NFL career, Martin is the kind of player that (if his development continues) can become a dominant force.
The Ravens have no choice but to focus on adding youth and talent to their offensive line, and I have a hunch that they are hoping Cyrus Kouandjio is still on the board here. But in this mock, he’s not, so they’ll settle for the GOOD player from Notre Dame, Zack Martin. I’m not quite as high on Martin as some of the NFL Draft community’s members, but I do think he provides great value from the standpoint of his experience and versatility. While I think he’d be better suited to line up as a guard, he’ll be forced into a position in Baltimore where it’s tackle or bust (initially) in his rookie season. Martin is a gamer who will likely max out as a solid, reliable starter in the NFL.
The Jets are going to hit the offensive side of the ball hard and heavy in the 2014 NFL Draft, and while many might disagree with FRG’s take on Jordan Matthews, the reality is that Gang Green are going to snag a wide receiver with this pick. Whether you think it should be Marqise Lee, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks or Kelvin Benjamin, one of them should be calling New York home after the 18th pick is announced. Personally, I like Matthews the most as a guy with the lowest bust risk; He’s good at just about everything you need a wide receiver to do. He runs good routes, he’s big and physical enough to beat man coverage, he’s fast and quick enough to make a big plays, he has reliable hands and isn’t afraid of contact over the middle. He reminds me a lot of Keenan Allen, last year’s productive rookie with the San Diego Chargers.
Another potential shocker here, as many in the NFL Draft community have Xaiver Su’a Filo (OG, UCLA) rated as the top guard in the 2014 NFL Draft, but Gabe Jackson’s 50 starts in the SEC, combined with his bulldozing and powerful style of play, is exactly what the Dolphins need up front in an effort to develop a more balanced running attack. Jackson is one of those guys that could end up slipping (like Lions’ guard Larry Warford did last year), but he is a talent worthy of first-round consideration. Now, let’s not get carried away: Jackson is not the 19th best player in this class. But the Dolphins need to put finishing touches on their offensive line before they can take that next step as an offensive unit. Jackson, while not a popular pick, would be a plug and play starter for 10+ years.
The Arizona Cardinals have added some really nice pieces to their secondary over the last few years, but they’re missing a reliable safety who can make plays in the back-end of the defense. Clinton-Dix, while not the perfect prospect for the position, will provide Arizona with another good athlete who will benefit from the top-tier talent around him (Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie and Tyrann Mathieu); Clinton-Dix will be able to learn on the fly and make mistakes that won’t be as costly to the team because of the ability of his teammates in the secondary to recover. Clinton-Dix might not possesses the best feel for the position at this point in his development, but he has played at a high level in the SEC and projects as an upper-tier safety once he spends some time with NFL coaches. This would be the perfect landing spot for him because he’ll be able to be a true ball hawk and the icing on the cake for the Cardinals’ secondary.
#21: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Green Bay Packers are in the market for some thumpers in the middle of their defense, and with A.J. Hawk entering his 30′s and being a slightly better than marginal player (-12.8 grade by PFF in ’13), the Packers will gladly bring in the heart and soul of the Crimson Tide defense. Mosley might not be the quickest or flashiest inside linebacker, but he has very good instincts and makes up for his lacking speed with a correct first step. Mosley is the kind of tough, gritty player that Packers fans will be excited to cheer for, and he’ll immediately upgrade Green Bay’s run defense in 2014.
While Dennard appears to be slipping down the board in major media circles, he still presents as a young corner with a veteran’s approach on the field. Described by some as “grabby,” Dennard plays with an aggressive style and, much like the successful NFL veteran corners, does whatever he can (or, whatever he can get away with) to keep the receiver from making the catch. Dennard is a bigger, more physical corner than a guy like Jason Verrett, but he’s not quite as fluid or athletic. He’d be a good corner to line up against a a player like Dez Bryant, but might struggle versus guys like DeSean Jackson or Victor Cruz. The Eagles may opt for Justin Gilbert here (because of pure athletic ability), but if you’re looking for a corner who is ready to play at a reliable level early in his career, look no further than Dennard. Note: Wide receiver is very much in play here, too, but the Birds will likely wait until round 2 to replace D-Jax.
The Kansas City Chiefs need to add weapons on the outside of their offense in order for Jamal Charles to continue on his way to becoming one of the all-time great backs in the NFL. And while Dwayne Bowe is a respectable player, he’s more of a possession, No. 2 guy at this stage in his career. Marqise Lee doesn’t project with a skill set to be a go-to-guy necessarily, but he does bring a play-making style that the Chiefs are in desperate need of. He’d be a great complement to Bowe’s bigger-bodied game and, assuming Alex Smith tries to push the ball down field, is a good candidate to make a ton of impact plays in the AFC West.
The Bengals are getting a bit long in the tooth at corner, and I’d imagine there will be very little hesitation if Gilbert slides to this part of the first round. Some consider Gilbert to be the top corner in this year’s Draft, and while I’m a bit more tempered regarding Gilbert’s instincts and field-speed, there’s no denying his athleticism and overall appeal. Gilbert will have the benefit of learning his craft from some established veterans and won’t be rushed into a role that’s too big for him early in his career.
Kyle Fuller, the big and physical Hokie corner, has started to surge up the draft boards and might end up being long gone by this pick once the Draft rolls around. In fact, I really considered Fuller with the Eagles pick, but the Chargers will be happy to see him on the board here at 25. There’s no denying that San Diego is going to be targeting a cornerback, and they have to hope that one of the top four are still on the board when they pick. If a run on corners starts early, don’t be surprised if the Chargers try to move up to grab one. They can’t afford not to.
With Johnny Manziel already in town via the No. 4 pick, the Browns will look to add to their Aggie investment by adding the big, exciting weapon that is Kelvin Benjamin. Cleveland already has one of the League’s best young receivers in Josh Gordon, and adding Benjamin to the mix only rounds out what will become, seemingly overnight, one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL. Manziel under center with Ben Tate, Josh Gordon, Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Cameron (assuming they all play to maximum potential) is a very, very good skill unit. Add in veteran chain-mover Nate Burleson and you end up with an offense that can compete right away. Benjamin makes a lot of sense if the Browns end up with Manziel; He’ll closely resemble what Johnny Football had in Mike Evans while at TAMU.
#27: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
This pick simply makes too much sense, here. The saints did well with their selection of Kenny Stills last year and can continue to add youth and explosive talent to the wide receiver group by grabbing OBJ near the bottom of round one. The hometown fans will be thrilled to keep the LSU star in state, and he’ll benefit from reasonable expectations in his rookie season. With Colston and Stills likely cemented into starting roles, Beckham will be slowly worked into the offense with an expanding role as the season progresses.
The Panthers might have been hoping for a bigger-bodied target for Cam and company at this spot, but the run on receivers in the first round went as badly as Carolina could have possibly feared. That said, Brandin Cooks is still on the board, and is a player with a similar skill set to the guy that just left the Panthers, Steve Smith. Cooks isn’t a big guy, but he’s quick, shifty and an exciting open-field runner with the ball in his hands. He’ll be a nice slot target for Cam Newton and a good option to look toward when the play breaks down. The Panthers need to add play-makers to their receiver group, and Cooks fits the bill here.
Back-to-back Beavers in the first round, as the Patriots grab one of the most underrated defensive players in the 2014 NFL Draft in Scott Crichton. Crichton is a guy that can get to the quarterback when lined up both outside or inside, and has enough athleticism to intrigue Bill Belichick and company. The long-term pairing of Chrichton and Chandler Jones is an exciting possibility.
Roby and the 49ers seem to be a destined match on Draft day, as San Fran needs corners (badly) and Roby is that fringe-1st, high-2nd round prospect that should be the last remaining corner on the board when they pick. Roby is one of those guys who, much like David Amerson from last year’s draft, followed up a really good season with a less-than-ideal final campaign. And also like Amerson, Roby has seemingly gone from a sure-fire top-10 pick to a Day 2 guy. Amerson ended up going in round two, and I think Roby could potentially slip that far, too. That said, with San Fran needing a corner and Roby having flashed top-10 talent throughout his career, I think they call on the Buckeye both in the first round and as an opening day starter.
#31: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio St.
The Broncos have the offensive pieces in place, and addressed/remedied the loss of Eric Decker with the acquisition of Emmanuel Sanders. I think they will end up adding speed and athleticism to their defense with the selection of Shazier, who is one of the quickest linebackers in the Draft. While I’m concerned about his physicality and ability to hold up at the POA, you can’t deny his speed and ability to close gaps in a hurry.
Why not end the first round with a bit of a shocker? Well, it would be a shocker to some, but Ja’Wuan James is one of the most talented tackle prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft class. He has a ton of starting experience in the SEC and was the best lineman for the Volunteers over the last four seasons. He might not be talked about as much as his fellow line-mate, Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, but he’s far superior as a prospect. The Seahawks are in the market for a tackle, and with the board falling the way it has, James is the next best guy available.
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