All but two teams are set in the draft order, which means mock drafting can finally start taking place with a smidgeon of almost-kind of-sort of accuracy (ish). Rather than trying to predict what actual GM’s would do, however, I am basing this mock draft on what I would do if I were the GM of all 32 teams. A few trades are included for picks that I really did not want to get shoehorned into by the default draft order (and if we are being honest, having a mock with a handful of trades is more realistic than a mock with no trades at all), but other than that I was generally able to let the talent fall where they may. I suppose the insane wealth of talent in this draft class really becomes apparent when you see Anthony Barr fall to the twenties and names like Kony Ealy and Antonio Richardson not even in the first round. It’s a good year to be picking at the top of every round.
1 – Houston: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
I honestly think that Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien can’t lose with this pick, provided that the player they select is either Teddy Bridgewater or Jadeveon Clowney. Either the Texans nab a slam dunk quarterback who can go score for score with Andrew Luck for years to come, or they grab a slam dunk pass rusher and run defender who can make sure that Andrew Luck does not score in the first place. There really is no wrong answer. I am partial to selecting a good quarterback when he’s staring you in the face, but I can see the merits in both arguments.
2 – [TRADE] Tampa Bay gives 2014 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 2015 1st to St. Louis: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Before you go check the oft-cited trade value chart to see if the points work out, just know that GM’s rarely actually use these charts as a qualifier when discussing deals. They are used as starting points, sure, but every trade is always negotiated up or down based on the prospect in question and how "in demand" the pick is. I feel like giving up two first round picks and a couple mid round picks is fair to move five slots and grab one of the top flight talents in this class. Giving up three first rounders (and more!) like the Redskins did for Robert Griffin III would be absolutely insane for a defensive end, no matter how good that defensive end is.
3 – Jacksonville: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
I absolutely love Mack in the Gus Bradley defense. He can rush off the edge as a LEO, or play Sam and be a jack of all trades in run support and coverage. He can literally do everything on the football field, and I have no doubts that Bradley would put him in the best position possible to succeed in this unit. Quarterback is commonly mocked to J-Ville here at three, but there is no other signal caller in this class that I would touch this high. The Jags would be much better off grabbing a stud to anchor their defense and try to find someone to develop behind Chad Henne in round two or three (Murray, Boyd, or McCarron come to mind).
4 – Cleveland: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Sammy Watkins is no doubt a special talent, but Mike Evans is right there with him. What Watkins has in speed, elusiveness, and versatility, Evans has in size, hands, and physicality. You will not find many receivers that can block better than Evans, nor will you find many receivers that can go up and catch contested balls with such frequency. When you look at some of the top receivers in the league – Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Andre Johnson – all of them have the ability to "be open when they aren’t open", and Evans fits that profile nicely. Josh Gordon is an absolute freak of nature who can take the top off a defense or simply burn every single pursuing defender with yards after catch on drag routes, but when paired with Evans defenses would have an almost impossible choice. Do you leave opposing corners on Gordon with no safety help and risk a big play, or do you leave Evans alone on the other side and hope that he doesn’t beat you on fades all day long? If you double both of them, who is supposed to account for Jordan Cameron? No matter what, the defense loses. The next quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, whoever that may be, will have no shortage of options to throw to.
5 – Oakland: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Despite going behind Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, no defensive player was as disruptive this season as Aaron Donald. Unstoppable does not even begin to describe the first defensive tackle to sweep the Outland, Nagurski, Lombardi, and Bednarik awards since Ndamukong Suh. His four forced fumbles, 11 sacks, and a jaw dropping 28.5 tackles for loss came with near constant double, and sometimes triple teams. Whether lined up as the three technique defensive tackle or five technique defensive end, Donald’s supreme quickness, hand usage, and leverage helped him dominate nearly every offensive line he faced. While undersized, I think if he is used as a penetrating three technique defensive tackle in Oakland’s front four he can be special. When paired with Sio Moore and DJ Hayden, Donald would give the Raiders young talent to build around on every level of their defense.
6 – Atlanta: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Most of the Falcons’ offensive line woes this season can be attributed to injuries, but that does not mean that I am willing to pass up on arguably one of the three best players in this draft. Matthews and Sam Baker will finally give Matt Ryan a moment of respite from Cameron Jordan, Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, and (according to this mock) Jadeveon Clowney while Lamar Holmes becomes the all-important swing tackle. On a team that has based its success of late on how well the offense can score points, it would behoove them to give their very expensive franchise quarterback everything he needs to get the job done.
7 – St. Louis [From Tampa]: Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt
Who? Not many people have paid much attention to the criminally underrated corner from Vandy, but they will soon enough. I believe Andre Hal and Darqueze Dennard are 1A and 1B as far as cornerbacks go in this class, and both of them are easily worth a top 10 pick. I like Hal in St. Louis over Dennard mainly because the Rams defense has their corners playing 7-8 yards off their receivers in single high safety looks the majority of the time. Hal excels in off coverage whereas Dennard is more of a press and press-bail defender. His footwork is exceptional, and very rarely does anyone force him out of position. Performance in the Compass Bowl notwithstanding, Mike Evans is really the only receiver to have any sort of success against Hal in the six games that I have watched. Receivers from South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Ole Miss nabbed a grand total of four catches for 41 yards and no touchdowns combined in man coverage against Hal, while Texas A&M completed two passes for 54 yards, one touchdown, and one interception when throwing Hal’s way. Both of those passes were completed to Evans, and 43 of those yards came on a go route for a touchdown where Evans displayed his insane physical ability to beat even the most technically sound corners.
Hal’s main weakness is against the run, where he struggles to get off blocks and make tackles, but his pure coverage ability is amazing. When combined with the Rams loaded front seven and talented young number two corner Janoris Jenkins, Andre Hal might be just what the Rams need to turn their defense from very good into downright disgusting.
8 – Minnesota: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Dennard, the other blue chip cornerback in this class, fits perfectly in the Vikings defense. As a physical press corner who can also double as an enforcer against the run on the edges, Dennard excels at suffocating receivers into the sideline and giving them no comfort zone to get off on their release. I like pairing him with Xavier Rhodes, another physical press corner, and Harrison Smith to give them a secondary that can realistically match up with Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. As with other quarterback needy teams picking in the top 10, I really don’t like any other passers this high. The Vikings would be better off fixing their massive hole at corner and trying to find their guy in round two.
9 – Buffalo: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Bills grabbed their quarterback of the future last year in E.J. Manuel and paired him with a nice set of weapons in Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, C.J. Spiller, and Fred Jackson. What he (and his running backs) need to finally put some big point totals on the board is an improved offensive line. Robinson has made a name for himself at the collegiate level as a punishing run blocker who can dominate with both power and agility. I really like him as a right tackle opposite of Cordy Glenn, and he should immediately contribute to getting Spiller back on track as one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the NFL. The more yards that Doug Marrone’s run heavy attack can put up on the ground, the easier it will be for Manuel to progress as a starting quarterback.
10 – Detroit: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
For all of Matthew Stafford’s faults, I still think he is a good quarterback. Not great, but good. If he is going to be great, however, he will need to learn to throw to ball to someone not named Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. Nate Burleson is starting to get to "that age" and Kris Durham, while very big, lacks the kind of explosiveness that can turn a five yard slant into a fifty yard touchdown. Sammy Watkins would bring that kind of "big play every time he touches the ball" presence to a Lions offense that really needs a third threat for defenses to game plan against. Whether working out wide or in the slot, Watkins would do wonders if used the same way as the Vikings used Cordarelle Patterson in his rookie year. Find a way, any way at all, to give him the ball in space and watch what happens. Can you imagine an offense with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in the back field, Brandon Pettigrew working the middle of the field, and Calvin Johnson and Sammy Watkins threatening the edges? I can, and it’s glorious.
11 – [TRADE] Chicago gives 2014 1st, 4th to Tennessee: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Coming off a knee injury or not, Henry Melton is not going to be cheap. If I’m Chicago, who really struggled in the front seven this season, I’m more than comfortable with saving some cash by letting Melton go in free agency while bringing in Timmy Jernigan as a replacement. Considering how much money the Bears just spent on Jay Cutler and Tim Jennings (and how much they are probably going to have to spend on Alshon Jeffery), keeping payroll down in the rest of the roster is a must. Jernigan is a ferocious lineman in the trenches who excels at beating blockers to a pulp with his quick, powerful hands. Having a defender of his caliber on the interior of the front seven will work wonders in freeing up Jon Bostic and Lance Briggs to make plays. As for the reason for trading up, I wanted to jump the Giants, who I would have given Jernigan to had he not been taken right here.
12 – New York Giants: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Just like the Houston Texans, the Giants’ tenth rated pass defense is rather inflated by short fields from an endless stream of turnovers on offense. Jason Pierre-Paul’s absence due to injury was a killer for this unit, but I really like what I saw in Damontre Moore in his limited snaps. I think he can be the Giants’ left end of the future, and fellow rookie Jonathan Hankins could turn out to be a fine nose shade one day. Three technique is a major issue for me, as is Sam and Will linebacker, but above all else New York needs to get the cornerback position sorted out. Nobody on the roster is as bad as Chris Cook or Brice McCain, but I don’t trust a single corner on this defense to be able to handle number one receivers either. Marcus Roberson is not as athletic as fellow Gator Louchiez Purifoy, but his technical skills are much more refined. He’s comfortable in press or in the catch technique, and I think his feet are quick enough to play off if he needs to. Like Keenan Lewis in New Orleans or Sean Smith in Kansas City, Roberson is just a solid all-around defender who will help his defensive coordinator sleep better at night. I’ll take that any day of the week.
13 – St. Louis: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Can we just cut this whole Brian Quick thing short please? And while we’re at it can we stop pretending that Austin Pettis or Chris Givens can ever be a legitimate number one threat? They are role players, and though not bad by any means, they are not what the Rams offense needs right now. Trying to get by with missed second and third round picks is doing Sam Bradford a disservice, and I am going to rectify that. Kelvin Benjamin, like Mike Evans in Cleveland, will give St. Louis their own big, uncoverable target that can beat up corners at the line of scrimmage and make catches on contested balls. Benjamin has the measurables and skillset to be a true number one receiver for the Rams, which then frees up sophomores Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin to thrive in their roles as a possession receiver and slot receiver respectively. No more playing around. No more getting cute with mid round picks. This position gets solved, and it gets solved now. Free safety and offensive line can wait a round.
14 – Tennessee [From Chicago]: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
To be completely honest, I have no idea what to do with Tennessee. They just hired a new head coach, and nobody knows what is going to happen schematically on offense and defense yet (though I LOVE the Ray Horton hire). Will they look for a stud 5-tech in case they don’t like Derrick Morgan in that role? Does rush linebacker make sense? I also have yet to really dig into any Titans tape to see what went wrong this year. Why was Colin McCarthy benched? How did Jake Locker play before his injury? How did the defensive line look? I do not have any answers for those questions yet, but I do know that Chris Johnson had yet another pedestrian season with his indecisive running. The Titans have plenty of young receiving weapons between Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, and Delanie Walker, but if they cannot get the ground game working enough to help their quarterback feed those receiving weapons then what is the point? Does anyone really expect Jake Locker to succeed if he is constantly in third and seven? I personally do not, so upgrading the running back position should be high on the priority list.
Mason comes from a run heavy system at Auburn that gave their backs equal time reading blocking between the tackles and out in space. Having experience in runs designed for one cut as well as runs designed to open a single hole and let the back "figure it out" in traffic is very important. Not every running back can do both. Alabama backs come from a predominantly zone blocking scheme, and when put in similar zone based schemes in the pros (Eddie Lacy in Green Bay), they do well. If crammed into a power scheme just because "they’re big and strong", they tend to struggle (Trent Richardson in Cleveland/Indy).
A big part of what makes a running back succeed or fail is their system. If the back is more comfortable reading the slower developing, methodical blocks in a zone blocking system, then they will naturally have more success in a scheme that uses zone blocking. If the back is more comfortable relying on instinct to guide them through the chaos of gap blocking between the tackles, then they will usually have more success on a power run team. Running backs that are taken out of their comfort zone tend to struggle. Look no further than Ray Rice, who is a power running back through and through. When put into a zone run scheme this season he struggled mightily as he tried to adjust to the different style of read. His impatience showed over and over again as he repeatedly cut too early or too late, and he never really got the hang of setting up his blocks.
On the contrary, Trent Richardson is a pure zone runner, and he struggled when put into a downhill power run scheme. He is much more comfortable than Rice when waiting for his blocks to develop on a zone run play and making a single, decisive cut when he sees the lane open. Richardson is very patient and has great vision when allowed to see what is developing ahead of him, but when asked to charge headlong into a hole on a power run he has zero idea what he’s doing. When not given time to see the blocking develop, Richardson freezes, panics, and often gets less than two yards. He’s a square peg being smashed into a round hole, and it just won’t work. There are very few backs in today’s NFL that have success in both power and zone runs, and one of them might go down as the greatest runner of all time when his career is over.
So what does this have to do with Tre Mason? He is not limited by scheme. His ability to read and react in the trash on a power run and bounce it outside when necessary is awesome, but he also has a lot of success when reading slower developing blocks on the edge on tosses and pin/pull zone runs. His versatility is tantalizing, and the fact that he got stronger as the season progressed despite getting ridden so hard by his team is a great bullet point on the resume. Mason is not the biggest runner at 5’9" 205 lbs, but his compact build and lower center of gravity give him enough balance and power to hold up well at the NFL level. He also has a decent pair of hands, though the scheme he operated in limited his chances to make plays as a receiver. Many draft analysts are quick to leave running backs out of the first round citing "positional importance", but the difference between having a running back that can keep an offense on schedule in a variety of schemes and a running back that will restrict his young signal caller to long yardage situations is valuable enough to me to warrant a first round pick.
15 – Pittsburgh: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Steelers got their rush linebacker of the future last season in Jarvis Jones, but they have yet to replace Casey Hampton at the all-important nose tackle position. Dick LeBeau doesn’t need just any old big body in the middle, he needs a true stud zero technique. A LeBeau nose tackle needs to be a violent, immovable, and unnaturally quick specimen who can demand double teams against power up the gut and penetrate into the back field quickly against runs to the edge. Everything goes through the nose tackle in a LeBeau 3-4 because he is supposed to be the "great number equalizer", and not having someone who is too dangerous to leave with a single blocker considerably lowers the production ceiling of this unit. The only thing that I think could really negatively impact Nix’s stock in this pre-draft process is health, but I’ll wait until after the combine to do guess work on the status of his knees. Number one corner has also turned in a major need now that Keenan Lewis is balling out in New Orleans rather than waiting in the wings to replace Ike Taylor, but I feel like a nose tackle of Nix’s caliber is way too rare of a find at 15th overall to pass up.
16 – Baltimore: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
I was actually quite impressed with how well the Ravens managed to deal with their depleted receiving corps this season. The Baltimore passing game wasn’t good by any stretch, but it was not the unmitigated disaster that I expected. Marlon Brown stepped up and had himself a good year considering he was an undrafted rookie, and Dennis Pitta’s return from a preseason hip injury gave Joe Flacco a reliable target over the middle towards the end of the year. All that being said, adding another weapon that is athletic enough to stretch seams deep down field and big enough to be effective in the red zone would do wonders for the Ravens offense. Eric Ebron can step in day one and amplify Baltimore’s already deadly vertical punch alongside Torrey Smith. Considering the cannon that is strapped to the arm of Joe Flacco, adding a frighteningly athletic threat like Ebron to the fold could turn the Ravens into an offense that can do serious damage on offense.
17 – Dallas: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Cowboys were unwatchable on defense this season, and a big part of that was poor play at the safety position. Missed tackles, bad angles, blown assignments, poor coverage, and getting taken advantage of on play action were all regular occurrences. If the Cowboys want their expensive (in both money and draft picks) cornerback duo to be successful, then they must invest in the safety position behind him. In a base cover two there should be no excuses for getting beat deep constantly, and yet every single week it seems as though receivers are getting behind the Cowboys defense. This stops now.
18 – New York Jets: Marquise Lee, WR, USC
No team in the NFL needs a weapon on offense more than the Jets. Geno Smith was thrown to the wolves with nothing more than Jeremy Kerley to work with as a consistent target. Santonio Holmes is still disappointing, Stephen Hill’s value is limited to vertical routes, and Jeff Cumberland is more of a complementary target than someone who needs to be game planned against. Marquise Lee would give the Jets someone who can reliably move the ball between the 20’s while also providing big yard-after-catch potential. Rex Ryan and company will still have to add more pieces to help their young quarterback, but Lee is a great place to start.
19 – Miami: Cyrus Kouandijo, OT, Alabama
Though the Miami offensive line improved as the season went on, they are still in dire need of a franchise left tackle. With Chandler Jones, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Mario Williams all in the division, the Dolphins cannot afford to skimp on blindside protection. Cyrus Kouandijo certainly had his struggles against Oklahoma, but he was as solid a left tackle as Alabama could ever ask for during the rest of the season. I love his feet, particularly when run blocking, and with some improvements to his hands, knees, and waist in pass protection he could be something special. He already has the strength and athleticism to mirror and anchor against the best the SEC has to offer, and I think after some seasoning he can easily be a top flight tackle in the pros.
20 – Arizona: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
I really, really, really do not think that Blake Bortles is a top five pick. Yes, he has size. Yes, he has an arm. Yes, he is athletic. What Bortles does not have, however, is refinement. A top five pick at quarterback is expected to start immediately, and Bortles is nowhere near ready to handle that task. The UCF offense takes the majority of its snaps from shotgun, utilizes mostly half field reads, and relies a lot on short passes and screens. In fact, the average yards per catch of UCF receivers is six, while their average yards after catch is nearly eight. Bortles’ ball placement is spotty at best, and his mechanics have a tendency to go down the drain when facing interior pressure. I have him pegged as a late first to second round talent based on his potential, but that is only if he lands on a team that will let him develop for at least two seasons before taking the reins.
As the fake GM of the Cardinals, I am willing to reach a little bit for Bortles because I already have a very strong team that can afford to make a long term investment down at quarterback. On top of that, a first round selection under the new CBA will attach a fifth year option to Bortles’ contract that could save a lot of money down the road if he pans out as a franchise quarterback. Until then, Bortles can learn and develop under noted QB Guru Bruce Arians while Carson Palmer finishes out his career. This is one of the few picks that I think works out for everyone.
21 – [TRADE] San Diego gives up 2014 1st and 4th to Green Bay: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
I will readily admit that I still have a lot more work to do on this year’s corner class. I have only been able to extensively study a handful of prospects at this point, but I do like some of the things I’ve seen in limited viewing of Kyle Fuller. He’s a predominantly off corner who often lines up two whole yards inside of his receiver rather than head up like a lot of other corners. Fuller does this to give himself an easy jump on quick inside breaking routes and to try to force outside stems towards the sideline on deeper routes. He does a good job of squeezing said receivers to the boundary when he needs to, but I also love his hand placement on the back of his receivers to help him feel breaks back up field. Fuller’s stance is a bit too wide for my taste, and it often causes him to bend more at the waist than at the knees, but that should be coachable at the next level.
My biggest concerns about Fuller (so far) are deep speed and tackling, but he has shown enough potential to be worthy of a first round investment. San Diego’s cornerback depth chart is underwhelming to say the least, and Fuller would serve as an immediate upgrade at the position (again, based on what I have seen so far).
22 – Philadelphia: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
The Eagles might have some pressing needs in the secondary, but I believe in drafting talent before there’s a problem rather than after it’s already staring you in the face. Jordan Matthews is more valuable to the Eagles roster than every other corner left on the board, especially when you consider that both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper’s contracts are up. Even if only one of their free agent receivers is retained, I still do not like the overall depth at the position. At worst Matthews can be a great rookie contributor in three and four receiver sets, but if a starter goes down he can step in immediately and keep the Eagles offense afloat. With Nick Foles blossoming into a franchise quarterback before our eyes, keeping Philly well stocked with weapons should be a top priority to ensure his continued success.
23 – Kansas City: Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State
As popular as it is to mock a receiver or tight end to the Chiefs, their biggest problems are on defense. Despite starting out the year strong, KC started getting shelled on a weekly basis as soon as teams figured out that Marcus Cooper and Kendrick Lewis were the weak spots (and by weak, I mean "throw here" signs). Cooper showed some potential that I think warrants another shot to impress in 2014, but he was downright horrible against double releases this season. Deep speed was a concern, and man-breakers like drags and crossers tore him apart because of it. Cooper’s best snaps came when pressing and trailing vertical routes, but by the second half of the season offenses simply lined up their receivers on the right side of their formation (Cooper’s side in three wide sets) a yard or two off to help them get free of the jam and burn him down field. He will need serious work in the off season, but I think he has a decent shot at turning it around.
On the other side of the coin, Kendrick Lewis was mind numbingly bad at the most inconvenient moments. Whether getting dumped on by T.Y. Hilton (twice) or leaving his corners out to dry with his subpar range, Lewis turned into a major vulnerability to this Chiefs defense as the year went on. To compound the problem, Lewis and Berry are also tasked with handling slot duty in base sets whenever receivers or tight ends motion to their side (corners do not switch sides, and there is no real "strong" or "free" safety in KC’s base defense), so offenses simply motioned their Z receiver to the slot on Lewis’ side of the field to get an easy matchup. It is hard to fix two massive secondary holes in one first round pick, but I really think that Lamarcus Joyner can do just that.
Joyner has played both safety and corner in the Seminoles defense throughout his career, and that versatility could make him an extremely attractive option to Bob Sutton. By replacing Lewis as the starting safety next to Berry, Joyner would give the Chiefs a more reliable, rangier security blanket on the back end when in single high looks, while also being perfectly capable of handling receivers that motion into the slot on his side of the field. In addition, Joyner’s proficiency as a slot corner at Florida State makes him a good candidate to play the same role in the Chiefs defense against three wide sets. By having Joyner play the slot corner role instead of Brandon Flowers, Flowers can stay outside and keep Marcus Cooper off the field (if he does not progress this off season, that is). Joyner’s flexibility is just what a coordinator like Sutton, who loves using packages that feature swarms of defensive backs, needs to take this unit to the next level. The only other possibility for this pick that I have considered so far is Stephon Tuitt, who could take over Tyson Jackson’s 5-technique defensive end role after his contract expiration and upgrade the pass rush from that position, but ultimately I chose Joyner’s versatility instead. I will probably flip flop on this pick several times before draft day.
24 – Cincinnati: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
I am primarily basing this pick off of tape from the 2012 season, as I have yet to watch the 2013 iteration of Bradley Roby. It is quite possible that Roby’s grade will be one of the biggest changes in either direction by the time I am done going through this year’s defensive backs, but for now I still think he is worth late first round consideration. In 2012 I fell in love with Roby’s smooth pedal and lightning quick feet as a primarily off cover corner, but he also possessed the size and ball skills that put him on the radar as a top 10 pick going in to this year. His stock among many draft analysts has taken a tumble this year (and again, I have yet to see why for myself), but he showed so many promising tools last year that I really have a hard time bumping him out of the first day just yet.
Cincinnati is a team that is built to win now, but there are still some position groups that need strengthening. Leon Hall is coming off his second Achilles injury, Dre Kirkpatrick has been slow to develop, and both Pacman Jones are Terrance Newman are just kind of "there". Nobody outside of a healthy Hall could be considered a standout corner, and because of Hall’s aforementioned injury the Bengals could be in need of a new number one guy sooner rather than later. While Kirkpatrick has always struck me as more of a press corner, Roby is more comfortable off the line of scrimmage where he can plant and close on receivers rather than try to beat them up at the snap. I do not know if new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will make any major changes to a defense that already works very well, but I think Roby would fit in nicely and give the Bengals a young defensive back with loads of upside that can contend with Torrey Smith, Josh Gordon (or Mike Evans), and Antonio Brown twice a year.
25 – Green Bay [From San Diego]: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
A.J. Hawk has had an okay career up in the frozen tundra, but his rapid decline is going to be a huge problem soon (if it isn’t already). Brad Jones, who I like a lot, has done an admirable job covering for Hawk’s mistakes in the middle, but the Packers defense will not get any better as long as Hawk is a starter. His weekly over pursuits, blown run fits, and coverage deficiencies have cost the green and gold a startling amount of first down conversions. Mosley can immediately step in and provide a boost to both the run and pass defense to the Packers defense. I personally think he is the most talented linebacker to come out of college since Luke Kuechly, though his smaller size probably limits him to either a 4-3 Will or a 3-4 inside backer rather than the traditional hulked out 4-3 Mike role that Kuechly plays. Being a 3-4 themselves, Green Bay would naturally be overjoyed to grab a player like Mosley who can improve all aspects of their defense the moment he steps in the building.
26 – Cleveland [From Indianapolis]: De’Anthony Thomas, WR/RB/Oregon
Cleveland does not have coordinators, a head coach, or a direction right now, and consequently I have no idea what to do with this pick. I addressed the only need that has a top 5 talent available already, and I still do not think that there are any quarterbacks left on the board that are worthy of this pick. Johnny Manziel is a mechanical mess who plays in an offense that uses completely different concepts than almost every NFL team (but he’s good at scrambling around and chucking the deep ball rather than just throwing to his f---ing hot route and getting an easy conversion in the first place, so hey….there’s that), and both Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray are coming off ACL injuries. I still need to do more work on Tajh Boyd to see how well (or poor) he did this season, but if I like what I see he could slip into the back of the first round. Until all of that evaluation is done, however, I cannot in good conscience give Cleveland another over drafted quarterback. They do not deserve that fate.
De’Anthony Thomas might be the most dangerous human in this entire draft class. His value is all over the board depending on who you ask (and for good reason) between the first round and the sixth round, and a lot of that comes from nobody really knowing how he should be used. Is he a slot receiver? Should be lined up at flanker just to use his speed on vertical routes? Is he a change of pace back? My answer is yes, yes, and yes. Thomas is not just a receiver or a running back, he’s the "Oh shit" button. The Black Mamba, as they call him, is the kind of threat that defenses over compensate for, the kind of player that coaches spend hours in the meeting rooms talking about with their players, the kind of pure nightmare fuel that every team in the league wants to have.
Motion Thomas on a fly sweep from the slot and dare linebackers not to bite just enough to free up Jordan Cameron over the middle, fake a screen to him on the edge to get the safeties cheating up enough to let Josh Gordon or Mike Evans burn them deep, and when the defense finally starts playing against every other game breaking threat on this offense, that is when awesome things start happening. The 80 yard untouched run, the screen taken to the house, the spectacular return to give the Browns instant red zone opportunities; give this kid the ball ten times a game in any way you can think of and watch the magic happen. Somehow, some way, and when the opposing defense can least afford it, the Mamba will change the game. That is just what he does, and it is just what the Browns need. If I am Mike Lombardi, I am avoiding a catastrophic reach for a quarterback out of panic (cough cough Brandon Weeden), and I am loading up on as many weapons as I can while hoping to get my guy in round two. Josh Gordon, Mike Evans, Jordan Cameron, De’Anthony Thomas, Joe Thomas, and Aaron Murray/Tajh Boyd all in the same offense? Yes please.
27 – New Orleans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Junior Galette had a surprisingly good season rushing off the edge opposite Cameron Jordan, but the Saints defense still found ways to get carved up at inopportune times. I am really torn here between Shayne Skov to solidify the middle of the defense or Anthony Barr to add yet another deadly pass rusher next to Jordan, but I think the unbelievable ceiling of Barr is too great to pass up here. With Barr as a 7-technique stand up rusher and Jordan right inside of him at the 5-technique, offenses will have to commit nearly all of their resources to one side of the line just to have a prayer at a clean pocket, which of course gives Galette lots of one on one opportunities on the other side.
Barr’s combination of length and speed make him a terror to pass protect against on the edge, especially for all of the tight ends and running backs he would likely be matched up with, but he also has excellent coverage ability. As a Sam backer in the Rob Ryan defense, Barr could be called upon to man up against the biggest and fastest tight ends the NFC has to offer, or stay as a mismatch pass rusher while standout strong safety Kenny Vaccaro covers up tight ends on the backend. The potential for havoc here is salivating, to say the least. Paring standout corner Keenan Lewis with another quality DB is also a big consideration here, but there is no corner left on the board can even get close to matching the impact or potential of a Anthony Barr.
28 – Carolina: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
The Panthers are the lucky benefactors of a very, very deep class of wide receivers this year. Jarvis Landry is just what the new and improved Cam Newton needs – a quick, catch-everything, excellent route runner who can keep the chains moving. So many Panthers drives stalled out this year simply because nobody outside of Steve Smith could just get open, which is not something that Jarvis Landry has a problem doing. Despite his lack of size or blinding speed, Landry has a keen understanding for nuance that most college receivers do not. Whether he’s digging his shoulder into defensive backs to set them up for an inside cut, or sinking his hips as far as he possibly can when selling a double move, Landry makes up for his less impressive physical dimensions by simply knowing how to play the position like a professional. He reminds me, for lack of a better comparison, of a smaller DeAndre Hopkins. Timed speed and height be damned – this guy can play. Pairing him with a bigger bodied "red zone target" while Ted Ginn continues his role as a deep threat will give Carolina the kind of versatile receiving corps that Cam Newton needs to take the next step in his career.
29 – New England: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Patriots are a really tough evaluation because of just how many injuries they sustained this season. Their best corner was nicked up virtually all year, their two best linebackers went on IR, their 2012 first round draft pick was thrust into a role that he could not perform, their main scoring threat started the year late and ended early due to injury, their starting offensive tackle broke his leg, and the heart and soul of their defense tore his achilles. How can I really determine needs if nearly every all of the most important players are the roster got hurt? Hell, it’s a miracle in my eyes that the Pats even sniffed a chance at the Super Bowl considering how depleted this roster was. Tom Brady is just that damn good.
Taking in to account just how full the trainer’s table was in 2013, I think the 29th overall pick is a good spot to look at a replacement for the most devastating injury of the year – Vince Wilfork. After big Vince went down, the Patriots defense became a shell of itself. Runs started breaking off chunks of yards between the tackles, pockets no longer were being collapsed, and the "Vince Wilfork effect" no longer elevated the play of everyone around him. If there was one absence that really could have used insurance in 2013 it was number 75’s. Ra’Shede Hageman is one of the most physically impressive players in the entire country, and he possesses the width/strength/length combination to dominate at every position on the defensive line. Put him at nose shade and he can two-gap on a center, put him at 3-technique and he has the quickness to penetrate into the back field, or put him at 5-tech end and watch him win with pure explosiveness. Hagemen can not only do everything, he can do everything well.
If I had one criticism of Hageman it would be that he played far fewer snaps than your typical first round caliber defensive tackle. Whether this was due to a heavy rotation or some other underlying problem like a lack of stamina is unknown, but I definitely think it is worth checking in to. If there are no problems physically (or mentally) with Hageman, than he has the potential to be a one man wrecking crew in the middle of the Patriots defense. Together with Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, and Logan Ryan, Hageman could help form a young corps of play makers that can return New England to their defensive glory days.
30 – San Francisco: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
David Yankey might be one of the 15 best players in this entire class, so it is fortuitous for him to fall all the way to the Niners at 30th overall. He is every bit as good as the Warmack-Cooper duo last year and is a dream fit for Jim Harbaugh’s power run game. Mike Iupati had more struggles in pass protection than ever this season and has only one year left on his rookie deal. For a team that prides itself on pumping in high quality offensive linemen to keep the run game strong, Yankey would be able to slide in immediately in case of Iupati’s departure, or even possibly serve as an upgrade to the position if Iupati’s struggles continue into 2014.
Jason Verrett was a consideration here due to the Niners’ need for a good off corner, as was Allen Robinson to boost the receiving corps. However, David Yankey is easily the best player left on the board and just could not be passed up. San Francisco is about to pay Michael Crabtree, Colin Kaepernick, and possibly Aldon Smith (weapons chargers notwithstanding) a lot of money in the next few years. Do they really have any extra cash for a left guard who might demand a pretty hefty contract on the open market? Talent wise, scheme wise, and salary cap wise, this pick makes the most sense to me.
31 – Seattle: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Red Bryant’s contract might find itself on the chopping block with how many star players are due to be signed over the next few off seasons. Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and Russell Wilson will not come cheap, so cutting some costs in other areas of the team will be necessary. Bryant acts as the "run stopping" 5-tech on early downs who can two-gap on offensive tackles and let his linebackers flow to the ball, while Michael Bennett subs in as the "pass rushing" 5-tech on long yardage downs. Stephon Tuitt can bring the best of both worlds (for a lot less money) to the Seahawks defense as both a strong run stuffer and athletic pass rusher. No more trying to match subs for subs, and no more getting caught in packages with a disadvantage. Defensive ends of Tuitt’s caliber would not be available this late in the first round in a "normal" draft class, so I’m ecstatic to get this kind of every down stud at 31st overall. Receiver and guard would also make sense here, but the rarity of this opportunity compels me to take for former golden domer here. It’s a schematic and financial match made in heaven.
32 – Denver: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Champ Bailey is already on his last legs, Chris Harris is a restricted free agent coming off an ACL tear, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s contract only has one year left. The Broncos could use a young, quick footed cornerback with ball skills to develop behind Bailey and DRC for a year to (hopefully) take over as a full time starter in 2015. Verrett, who reminds me a lot of Tim Jennings, does not pack a whole lot of size, but he makes up for it with excellent leaping ability and a keen sense of timing of when to go after a ball at the high point. Though he will likely get boxed out by bigger receivers from time to time, his fluidity and quickness helps him stay on top of even the shiftiest pass catchers. If Harris is not retained or has issues with his recovery, Verrett would make an excellent replacement in the slot while also having potential to take over for Champ Bailey on the outside.