The NFL Combine is in the rearview mirror and free agency, only a day away, will have major implications on where this year’s NFL Draft prospects end up . Now, before the free agency frenzy begins, let’s take another attempt at predicting how this year’s Draft will turn out. This mock draft only covers the first round and does include trades, because we all know there will be a few going down on draft day. So without further ado, here’s my second edition NFL mock draft for 2014.
1) Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
This year’s draft has a few quarterbacks that have potential to do big things, but let’s face it, none of them are the complete package just yet like Andrew Luck was in 2012. Being 6’6″ and 274 pounds, Jadeveon Clowney is a freak of nature that has remarkable speed and athleticism, which became evident when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds and totaled 24 sacks in his three years with the Gamecocks. Now, there are questions about his work ethic, particularly after only putting up a feeble 21 reps bench-pressing 225 pounds at the Combine.
Still, can you imagine how menacing a defensive line would be with Clowney on one side and J.J. Watt on the other? I know Texans head coach Bill O’Brien can. O’Brien also knows that, even though Case Keenum went 0-8 in the games he played last year, his stats were not horrible; he totaled nine touchdowns compared to six interceptions. Even though the Matt Cassel rumors were false, the new Ryan Mallett rumors might become reality, so don’t be shocked if the Texans grab a quarterback that is already in the league to compete with Keenum. No matter what happens, Clowney will be too hard to pass up on and the Texans can draft a quarterback in a later round to compete with Keenum, if they miss a quarterback via free agency or trade.
*Trade 2) Minnesota Vikings from St. Louis Rams– Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
With the Texans passing on a quarterback and the Rams not in the market for one they find the best deal with Minnesota G.M. Rick Spielman, who likes to wheel and deal, which was apparent last year where he pulled off two trades and ended up with three first-round draft picks. I see the Vikings giving up a little more than the Dolphins had to last season for the second pick, but not quite the king’s ransom the Redskins gave up to secure Robert Griffin III in 2012.
The main reason why the Vikings make this trade is that Spielman needs to fix his failed decisions drafting Christian Ponder and signing Josh Freeman, or he soon will be on the hot seat for sure. The Vikings did re-sign Matt Cassel; even so, he is not the long-term answer at quarterback. So don’t let that signing fool you and think that the Vikings are out of the quarterback roulette in this year’s Draft. Drafting Bridgewater would give Adrian Peterson what he really wants, which is a Michael Vick-type player that has a better arm and medical history while being only 21 years of age instead of 33.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars – Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
After his performance at the Combine, Blake Bortles is soaring up draft boards and even being considered by some to be the number-one pick. Standing 6’5″ and weighing in at 232 pounds, Bortles has prototypical size for a quarterback. He showed excellent passing skills at the Combine, and might just be the saving grace for the downtrodden Jaguars. Jacksonville needs help all over their roster, but most importantly they need a leader at quarterback to guide them; the Blaine Gabbert experiment has already worn out its welcome in the “River City” . Last year Jacksonville drafted left tackle Luke Joeckel. Joeckel struggled but could improve after a year under his belt, and so the protection has been put in place for their franchise quarterback. They just need to find the quarterback, which is why they should go for Bortles — who could be the player to start bringing success back to Jacksonville.
4) Cleveland Browns – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Things have been crazy in Cleveland as owner Jimmy Haslam dismissed the trio of CEO Joe Banner, general manager Michael Lombardi, and head coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season. What’s even crazier is that the new regime in Cleveland, general manager Ray Framer and head coach Mike Pettine, didn’t interview a single quarterback at the Combine. Who knows why they didn’t conduct a single interview, we still all know finding a quarterback is major need. With Bortles and Bridgewater off the board and the Browns having no need for an offensive tackle with Joe Thomas already on the roster, the best fit for Cleveland would be Sammy Watkins. Watkins showed blazing speed at the Combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, and just Thursday he wowed scouts with his route running at his pro day. This would give the Browns a nice set of offensive weapons if Watkins joins wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron, but Cleveland still needs the right man to throw them the ball. They do have one more first-round pick and could potentially use that selection to find their man.
5) Oakland Raiders – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Raiders aren’t giving the impression that they are sold on the idea of Terrelle Pryor being the man at quarterback, and with Oakland always picking crazy they are the team most likely to take a gamble on Johnny Manziel. Manziel is a wild card, as he has proven that he can handle pressure and win big games. Nonetheless, he needs to develop his skills and slow down his party lifestyle if he wants to succeed at the pro level. If general manager Reggie McKenzie is willing to gamble and draft a player that had an almost fatal heart injury (as he did last season drafting cornerback D.J. Hayden), what’s stopping him from drafting the biggest celebrity of the draft who has the potential to do great things, if he keeps his head above water and learns to enrich his skills.
6) Atlanta Falcons – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Matt Ryan needs protection after taking a beating last season, when he endured 16 more sacks than the previous year and watched his quarterback rating drop from 99.1 to 89.6. Ryan also had to deal with playing without his best offensive weapon Julio Jones, while dealing with his second wide receiver Roddy White playing hurt all season. Even so, the pass protection was horrendous, ranked 31st by Profootballfocus.com.
Tackle Greg Robinson is now considered the top tackle after his monster Combine where he showed great speed running the 40-yard dash in 4.93 seconds, which is astonishing considering that he is 332 pounds. And let’s not forget about his strength that helped him accomplish 33 reps while bench-pressing 225 pounds. With Juilo Jones coming back from injury, maybe giving Matt Ryan some protection will put his team back on top in the NFC South after failing to 4-12 one season after reaching the NFC Championship game.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Tampa Bay has a lot of talent on defense, yet their pass rush is lacking after they ranked 23rd in sacks with 35 total last year. The Buccaneers could use a serious upgrade at outside linebacker. Khalil Mack would fit in perfectly on the Bucs defense, as he is 6’3″ 251 pounds and possesses blazing speed with his 40-time being clocked at 4.54 seconds at his pro day, while also showing impressive strength with his 23 reps in the bench press at the Combine. These results now have Mack ranked as the top outside linebacker prospect on most draft boards. Mack might come from a small school but he has proven he can excel against top talent — for instance when he posted 9.5 tackles and 2.5 sacks against Ohio State last September — and he could be that missing piece that turns the Buccaneers defense into an elite one.
*Trade 8) St Louis Rams from Vikings – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
St. Louis trades their pick and still finds their man to protect Sam Bradford’s blindside. The connection between Jeff Fisher and Jake Matthews father Bruce, whom Fisher coached for almost ten years makes this the perfect fit. Jake Matthews has a great chance to turnout and be a stud like his father, as he has abundant strength and uncanny awareness.
Also, having to protect Johnny Manziel’s blind side was a task in itself for Matthews, as you never knew which way “Johnny U” was going to go. Now St. Louis does have Jake Long, however he is coming off another knee injury and Matthews can play the right side for now, because you never can have enough protection playing in a division with two of top five defenses in the league.
9) Buffalo Bills – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Bills need help at right tackle, where Erik Pears has underperformed specifically during running plays. Now the Bills do have Cody Glenn at left tackle, but if they slide him over Taylor Lewan would be a perfect fit in Buffalo. Lewan might not be receiving the hype of Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews, but he still looked impressive at the Combine. Lewan had the fastest 40 time out of all the offensive linemen and put up 29 reps in the bench press.
10) Detroit Lions – Eric Ebron, TE, UNC
The Lions just hired offensive-minded head coach Jim Caldwell, who wants to help Matt Stafford take that next step at quarterback. A big problem for Stafford has been having only Calvin Johnson as a consistent offensive weapon, and it’s been like that most of his career. Eric Ebron could fit with the Lions, as Brandon Pettigrew has been a disappointment (with only two touchdowns last season) and is seemly on his way out via free agency. Ebron would give the Lions another big offensive weapon at 6’4″ and 244 pounds. Ebron has the size and speed — as shown in his 40-yard time of 4.6 seconds — to be a young Antonio Gates-type player. If Ebron becomes the player most expect him to be, this would give Stafford essentially three weapons on offensive with Ebron joining “Megatron” and (when healthy) Reggie Bush.
*TRADE 11) Dallas Cowboys from Titans– Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
After a woeful year in Big D where they allowed 33 passing touchdowns Jerry trades up to get hopefully the savior for Dallas’s secondary in safety Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix has potential to be a taller version of Seahawks safety Earl Thomas with his speed and awareness. The Cowboys got burned by the deep ball way too much last season, ranking 30th in the league, and inserting a player like Clinton-Dix into their secondary could go a good way toward improving on this.
12) New York Giants – Zach Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Eli Manning was taken down a career-high 39 times last season and the Giants offensive line needs help everywhere. That is the reason why Zach Martin fits so well, as he can play any position in the trenches. Martin has been a stud playing for Notre Dame, starting at left tackle since 2010, and has shown great smarts and competitiveness. Some critics think his short 32-inch arms might set him back, but New York could still place him at center or guard if necessary.
13) St. Louis Rams – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
St. Louis gave up passing plays over 20 yards 51 times last season — to go along with the 11 plays they allowed over 40 yards — so they have an ominous need to improve their deep-threat protection. Calvin Pryor is a big hitter who plays well in coverage and against the run which makes him a good fit for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’s aggressive defense. The only real knock on Pryor is that, in this day and age, his style of play will surely lead to fines unless he tones it down a notch. No matter what Pryor would be an instant upgrade to St. Louis’s secondary.
*TRADE 14) New York Jets from the Bears – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
No matter whether the Jets stick with Geno Smith or go after Michael Vick, they need offensive weapons. Not one pass catcher had over 50 receptions or even five touchdowns in 2013. Mike Evans is a receiver that gives the Jets the perfect size at 6’5″ and 231 pounds, and he proved his speed is just fine after running the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds. Evans comes from Texas A&M, where Johnny Manziel was known to scramble everywhere and usually relied on Evans to get open.
15) Pittsburgh Steelers – C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Steelers allowed a horrible 4.3 yards a carry and gave up 18 touchdowns to opponents on the ground last year. They also just cut veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote, so they could use some inside help at linebacker. C.J. Mosley has been the rock inside for Alabama the past two seasons, showing great instincts while excelling against both the pass and rush.
This would give Pittsburgh a formidable unit, as they would have Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones on the outside and Mosley paired with Lawrence Timmons on the inside. That combination could potentially fix their problems against the run.