Talking about the draft before the season even starts? That’s got to be a new record, even by Texans fans’ standards. I have decided that in honor of college football finally kicking off (and in honor of the NFL about to kick off) I am going to do a first round mock as a baseline before the start of the 2013 season. However, rather than act like some sort of fortune teller and predict what the real GM’s would pick, I’m going to take up the position as GM myself for all 32 teams and act as if I am the one making the decisions. All of these picks will be my own based on my understanding of every team’s strengths, weaknesses, and contract situations. I am also going to allow trades between teams so that I, as GM, can make moves against…well…myself.
The draft order was determined by my estimation of where every team will finish by the final whistle blow. Yes, the Texans are Super Bowl champs. Yes, it’s incredibly biased. Let’s get on with it.
1 - Raiders: 1-15
2 - Jets: 3-13
3 - Chargers: 4-12
4 - Jaguars: 4-12
5 - Panthers: 4-12
6 - Lions: 5-11
7 - Bills: 6-10
8 - Titans: 7-9
9 - Steelers: 7-9
10 - Saints: 7-9
11 - Cardinals: 7-9
12 - Rams: 7-9
13 - Vikings: 7-9
14 - Giants: 7-9
15 - Redskins: 7-9
16 - Eagles: 7-9
17 - Browns: 8-8
18 - Chiefs: 9-7
19 - Dolphins: 9-7
20 - Seahawks: 10-6
21 - Colts: 9-7
22 - Cowboys: 8-8
23 - Patriots: 10-6
24 - Ravens: 10-6
25 - Buccs: 11-5
26 - Bears: 12-4
27 - Niners: 11-5
28 - Packers: 11-5
29 - Broncos: 12-4
30 - Bengals: 12-4
31 - Falcons: 11-5
32 - Texans: 13-3
1 - Raiders – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
I will admit that this pick started out as Tajh Boyd out of Clemson, whom I absolutely love as a prospect. However, in the interest of trying to make the best decision possible for Oakland, I decided to rewatch Bridgewater’s bowl game against Florida just to get it fresh in my mind and see if it would change anything, and it did. Bridgewater’s accuracy on the move is fantastic, his pocket presence is impeccable, and he looks every bit the part of a franchise NFL quarterback. He might not have the size or mobility or Boyd, but he certainly has the ability to shred defenses from the pocket like nobody else in this class.
2 - [TRADE] Jaguars give up their 2014 1st, 2014 2nd, 2015 1st to Jets – Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
If the Jaguars are picking in the top 5 again, which I think they will, then that means Blaine Gabbert has officially complete busted, which I think he will. Gus Bradley did not draft Gabbert, nor do I think he wants to be chained to Gabbert for any amount of time as long as Tajh Boyd is on the board. Because of that, if I am Jacksonville’s GM, I am immediately giving whatever I need to give to the Jets to move up and grab Boyd, who I see as another great candidate for franchise quarterback. Boyd’s mobility, toughness, and big arm are all excellent, and I think he is the premier dual threat quarterback in this class. Bridgewater has the edge in pure passing mechanics and accuracy, but I’ve seen Boyd look off safeties and drop a dime into his receiver’s hands deep down field enough times to think he can replicate those results at the professional level. It also does not hurt that Boyd suddenly opens up an entirely new playbook with option looks and designed runs. To me, Boyd is a more mobile version of Ben Roethlisberger, and if he can live up to that comparison then I am sure Jacksonville would be more than happy with him at the helm.
3 - [TRADE] Titans give up their 2014 1st, 2014 2nd, 2015 1st, 2015 3rd to Chargers – Jadaveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Despite Bridgewater and Boyd going one and two respectively, neither one of them are the best players in this draft class. That distinction belongs (by a long shot) to South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney. Clowney, widely regarded as the best defensive prospect of the last decade, and possibly the best ever, falls down to the three hole in this draft. I am sure the Chargers would be heavily considering Clowney just on the principle of not passing up on such a great talent, but I am not so sure that they really have to pick him considering that defensive end and/or outside linebacker are not among their primary needs. Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes are both good, promising young ends, and missing this opportunity to cash in on Clowney’s greatness in exchange for enough picks to actually fix the team would be a major misstep for San Diego.
As a result, I’m putting on my Tennessee Titans GM hat and turning everyone else’s loss in to my own gain. If Clowney is available at three, I don’t see any reason why I should not immediately pay the necessary king’s ransom to move up and get him to be a cornerstone of this defense for the next decade. I think injuries have caused unfair criticism of Jake Locker at times, and now with an improved offensive line, more weapons at his disposal, and a possible return of Chris Johnson’s production, Locker might actually end up being an okay quarterback after all (Maybe…don’t quote me on that). The real problem with the Titans roster is a sickening lack of pass rush. Kamerion Wimbley will not be the franchise-defining 12-14 sack a year edge rusher, and neither will Derrick Morgan. What the Titans need now more than ever is someone they can stick on a left tackle for an entire game and know that at some point he will make something awesome happen. To get out of the eternal 8-8 mediocrity cycle that Tennessee currently is in they need game-breaking players, and Jadaveon Clowney is definitely one of them.
4 - Jets – Marquise Lee, WR, USC
Something, something, something, the Jets offense is bad because they have no weapons. We’ve heard it over and over again for a few years now, and still the Jets front office refuses to do anything about it. Perhaps the "right guy" has not come along in any of their pick slots in a while, but with a top 5 selection in such a loaded class there is absolutely no excuse why Marquise Lee is not a Jet next season. As dynamic a football player as you’ll ever see, Lee combines size, speed, and short area explosiveness with vision and instincts that make him a terrifyingly dangerous run after the catch threat. He still has some issues to work out with route running, but he is far more polished than similarly athletic prospects like Cordarelle Patterson and Demaryius Thomas were coming out of college. Stephen Hill can and still will be the big play vertical threat in the Jets offense, but for a team looking for a true number one receiver to work with between the 20’s, it is hard not to love Marquise Lee. Geno Smith will be thrilled.
5 - Panthers – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Panthers have two things – a great quarterback, and a great front seven on defense. What they do not have are a secondary to back up that front seven, a receiving corps for that quarter back to throw to, or a young left tackle that can protect that quarterback. Bradley Roby would be a good building block to work with as a franchise cornerback, and both Sammy Watkins and Donte Moncrief both would make excellent weapons for Cam Newton, but what the Panthers really need more than anything is someone to take over for Jordan Gross as tackle as his career winds down. Great pass catchers and great pass defenders can be had in the top of the second round, but it is extremely hard to find a franchise pass blocker outside of the first 32 picks. Miami tried it with Jonathan Martin and failed. Pittsburgh tried it with Mike Adams, and that will likely fail as well. If you want to keep your quarterback upright, you probably have to invest a high pick in the left tackle position. It’s the nature of the game these days. Jake Matthews arguably would have been the number one overall pick in last year’s class had he come out (and had the Chiefs liked him over Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, which some scouts and analysts did). With family members like Bruce Matthews, Clay the elder, and Clay the younger in his blood line, football is this guy’s way of life. He has phenomenal movement skills on the edge, great hand placement and technique, and enough power to be a good run blocker at the point of attack. His technical proficiency makes him practically a pass blocking robot, and it is almost impossible to find flaws in his game. Cam Newton will be more than happy to have Matthews protecting his blind side for the better part of his career.
6 - [TRADE] Dolphins give up their 2014 1st, 2014 2nd, and 2014 5th to Lions – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Yeah, that whole "Let Jake Long walk and try Jonathan Martin at left tackle" thing isn’t looking too hot right now. I could see Martin maybe, maybe being a decent at best left tackle in this league, but when Miami literally just invested a high pick in a promising quarterback prospect, spent tens of millions of dollars on receivers, and have a team with enough talent to actually make waves for once, why would I, as the Dolphins GM, ever risk that by having anything less than pro bowl caliber play from my blind side protector? I wouldn’t, and that’s why I’m moving up to the six hole and taking Taylor Lewan out of Michigan. Lewan was another possible consideration for the first overall pick in 2013 (there are a lot of those in this class), and had he come out it is quite possible that Miami’s trade up to third overall this past April would have been for his services anyway. With this pick Martin goes back to right tackle where his so-so kick set can be a bit more forgiving against the traditionally less speed-oriented defensive ends on that side of the line. For a team that has fewer and fewer holes every year, Lewan might be just what the Dolphins need to finally earn a playoff spot ahead of a Tom Brady and the Patriots.
7 - Bills – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Oh look, another player that had he come out in 2013 he probably would have been a top 5 pick. It’s like this whole friggin’ class came together and plotted to cram as much talent in to one year as humanly possible just to make every other draft class look bad by comparison. Anyway, Anthony Barr is an exceptionally talented, insanely athletic linebacker prospect out of UCLA that could probably play either Sam or Will in pretty much every defense out there. Want him to be a pure rush linebacker in a LeBeau 3-4? He can do that. Want him to play the pass rushing 4-3 Sam role that Von Miller plays in Denver? Yep, he can do that too. LEO in a hybrid front? Sure, why not. You name it, Barr can probably play it, and that is why he is so highly coveted. He looks like a wide receiver, runs like a running back, pass rushes like a defensive end, covers like a cornerback, and hits like a safety. If it weren’t for Jadaveon Clowney’s existence, Anthony Barr might be talked about as the most exciting defensive prospect to come out since Von Miller himself.
In Buffalo’s hybrid 3-4/4-3 scheme Barr would appropriately be used all over the field. If Mario Williams is playing the 5-technique with Marcell Dareus at nose tackle, line Barr up just outside of Williams and dare the offense to try and block that pass rush. If Williams is lined up at left end in a 4-3 look, put Barr over the tight end as a Sam linebacker and key off of him for either man coverage or pass rush duties. If there was ever a linebacker that could physically keep up with Gronkowski down field man to man, it is Anthony Barr. That alone makes him more valuable than practically any other player in this entire class to a Buffalo team that has to deal with Gronk twice a year. If he is sitting there at 7th overall, and I am the Buffalo GM, I could not run this pick in fast enough.
8 - Chargers – James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State
The Chargers, to put it kindly, are a complete mess. Philip Rivers, who not so long ago was considered a great quarterback, has absolutely nothing to work with. Everyone on the offense is either terrible (most of the line), getting old (Antonio Gates), or can’t stay on the field (literally everybody else). Left tackle is the "obvious" choice here in the first round, but in the back of my head I know that there are five, maybe even as many as six tackle prospects that are worthy of first round selections in this class. What there is only one of, however, is James Wilder Jr. The young running back out of Florida State might not be as big as Adrian Peterson, but his running style and physical freakiness is almost identical to All Day himself. Trent Richardson was considered by some to be the best running back to come out of college since Peterson broke on to the scene in 2007, and Wilder Jr. might be just as good as Richardson if he can put together the type of season I think he is capable of. The fact that this kind of talent can fall all the way down to eighth overall speaks to the unbelievable strength at the top of the 2014 class.
Chargers fans might be content to let Ryan Mathews, who is pretty talented in his own right, run their back field for now, but the fact that Mathews is both injury prone and would have only one year left on his rookie deal makes Wilder’s selection appealing to me. Hedging my bets against Mathews going down (again) while also having a cheap option to turn to if he commands a bunch of money in free agency makes slightly more sense at this juncture than grabbing the oft-predicted left tackle considering there are so many excellent tackles to choose from in this class. The Seahawks went with the same "best player available" strategy with their pick of Christine Michael in the second round of the 2013 draft to be their third running back, and watching him destroy the Packers defense on the ground last week probably makes John Schneider and company feel much, much better about life after Marshawn Lynch. As fake GM of the Chargers, I want to have that same sense of security about my running game, and if a talent like Wilder comes along for the low price of only eight overall I have to jump on that. If I really want to grab a tackle later on in this round, which I do, I can use some of the picks I acquired for Jadaveon Clowney to trade back up and grab my guy. Stud running back and stud blind side protector on the same day? I’ll take that.
Note: If I did not acquire the Titans’ future picks from the Clowney trade, I might think differently about grabbing Wilder instead of a tackle.
9 - [TRADE] Vikings give up their 2014 1st, 2014 3rd to Steelers – Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
If the Vikings do not make the playoffs despite all of the talent on their roster, then obviously Christian Ponder has not taken the steps necessary to become a viable starting quarterback in the NFL. Murray might not be as "high floor" as Bridgewater or as "high ceiling" as Boyd, but he is smart, accurate, and performs well week after week against the top defenses in the country. Murray’s outing against Alabama’s vaunted defensive unit was as head-turning as any you will see at the college level. I have yet to review the Clemson-Georgia game from this past weekend in detail, but I am sure that his performance in such a colossal matchup will end up shifting his draft position (for better or worse).
10 - Saints – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Patrick Robinson unfortunately never turned in to the shutdown corner that the Saints thought they were getting when they drafted him in the first round of the 2010 draft, and both Jabari Greer and Keenan Lewis do not exactly inspire fear in opposing offenses. Kenny Vaccaro was an excellent grab in the first round of the 2013 draft as a versatile strong safety who can double as both a deep defender and enforcer against slot receivers and split tight ends, and adding a big, quick footed corner prospect like Roby can help solidify a New Orleans secondary that has gotten absolutely throttled in recent years.
Roby’s best attribute, which I think works well in tandem with a player like Vaccaro, is his superb footwork and closing speed on underneath routes from off coverage. Ohio State, as with most non-SEC college defenses, had Roby play 7-10 yards off his receiver most of the time, and as a result offenses took their shots against the 10 yard cushions with all manner of short, quick-hitter routes. Roby then developed a fantastically fluid t-step and a keen ability to read breaks, which allowed him to combat the short passing game better than almost every other defensive back in this class. That is not all Roby can do however, as his superior footwork and swivel hips paid dividends when teams tested him deep as well. Roby’s ball skills and sense of timing, while not on the level of recent "top corner" Patrick Peterson, are still well above average for a college defensive back. As a left corner with Vaccaro right next to him as strong safety, Roby’s ability to lock down all comers from 10 yards off would give Rob Ryan the confidence to drop Vaccaro down in the box as an extra run defender, blitzer, or slot cover man against split tight ends all day long while cheating the free safety, whoever that may be, over to the right. In essence, Roby has the skill set that will allow Kenny Vaccaro to become the difference maker at the safety position that the Saints desperately need. I could not ask for a better gift with the tenth overall pick.
11 - Cardinals – Stephen Morris, QB, Miami
There are definitely some issues with the Arizona roster. Rob Housler has all the potential in the world at tight end but has yet to prove himself, Levi Brown so far has not lived up to his draft status, and if Carson Palmer gets injured this team is in serious trouble at quarterback. There are three tight ends that can be looked at here, a multitude of offensive linemen, and as many as six or seven signal callers. While it would be extremely fun to watch Larry Fitzgerald and Colt Lyerla in the same offense, or very reasonable to pair Jonathan Cooper with a young franchise tackle (who is not Levi Brown) on the left side of the line, the only way to really secure the Cardinals future is by drafting and developing a quarterback behind Carson Palmer. Enter Stephen Morris, the young QB out of Miami with a howitzer strapped to his arm.
Morris is on a sharp upward trajectory entering 2013, and if he builds on his successes from last season he may end up being one of most highly coveted players in this draft. Athletically Morris has everything you look for, but what really jumps off the tape is his sheer arm strength. It is almost reminiscent of Aaron Rodgers in the way he can just flick his wrist while rolling out of the pocket and deliver 40 yard ropes without even breaking a sweat. I mean seriously, just look at this.
Morris’ main flaws at this point in time are that he too often tries to force balls into tight coverage by throwing it as hard as possible into unnecessary windows, and his ball placement can be spotty at times. When Morris is on though, he is on. I think Morris can be a star in a vertical offense like the one Bruce Arians likes to employ. With an acclaimed quarterback guru that has developed both Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck as his head coach, the sky is the limit. Carson Palmer will not be there forever, and if I was running the Cardinals a long term back up plan would be priority number one.
12 - Giants – C.J. Mosley, LB, Bama
The Giants have had issues at linebacker for a long time, and it’s about time I did something about it. Jacquian Williams has all the athleticism you look for but cannot seem to lock down a starting spot, Mark Herzlich and Dan Conner could not tackle LeSean McCoy if he showed up with one foot, and Keith Rivers is…well…Keith Rivers. The Giants need a ringer on the second level, and they need one now. With so many good running backs and tight ends in the division, having anything less than stellar linebacker play is just dooming their defense to misery and anguish. C.J. Mosley, who I am quite positive would have been the first non-rush linebacker prospect taken had he come out in the 2013 draft, is capable of playing all three linebacker positions in the Giants 4-3 scheme. He is fast enough to play a blitzing/run and chase role as a Will, strong enough to plug up holes as a Mike, and fluid enough to handle either zone or man coverage duties as a Sam. The Giants run predominantly zone, which Mosley excels at, but should the Giants elect to stick him in the slot against a split tight end he would be more than capable.
Mosley’s current size at just over 230 lbs means he would likely get slotted as a Will linebacker, but even just ten pounds of weight gain would allow him to be a plug and play solution all over the field. He is a tough, versatile, technically proficient, and athletically gifted defender who is well worth a high first round pick. Stick him behind Jason Pierre-Paul and dare offenses to run in their direction.
13 - Rams – Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, FS, Bama
I’ll be honest, it is tough to find too many holes on the Rams roster. Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, and Stedman Bailey have given Sam Bradford a trio of new weapons to throw to while the addition of Jake Long might actually give him enough time to throw it in the first place. Defensively the front four is as scary as ever, and the linebacker corps anchored by James Laurinaitus is pretty darn solid as well. I was not a fan of the Alec Ogletree pick in the first round this past April, but as long as he is relegated to a strict run and chase role from the back side I do not think there will be too many problems. The Rams secondary is also in fairly good shape with Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins holding down the cornerback positions while T.J. McDonald comes in as a rookie strong safety. Craig Dahl is no longer on the team, but to be honest that might be a good thing. The only glaring hole I can see that really has to be addressed right now is free safety, which is a perfect excuse to draft "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix out of Alabama.
Clinton-Dix is a big, rangy safety prospect that also excels in run support. His versatility as a single high patroller or box enforcer is extremely valuable, especially to a team that faces the Seahawks and 49’ers’ run games four times a year. With Janoris Jenkins playing his riverboat gambler style at cornerback and the front four going balls out to the quarterback on every snap, the Rams need a free safety that can provide a security blanket on the back end of their risky, big play-oriented defense. Clinton-Dix fits that mold and then some.
14 - [TRADE] Ravens give up 2014 1st, 2014 2nd, and 2014 4th to Rams – Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt
You won’t see him high on many rankings (or even listed at all if you are one to check CBS), but I’m calling it now – Andre Hal will be a first round pick. It seems like every year there is one corner that comes out of nowhere about two months before the draft to challenge the preseason favorites as the top defensive back taken, and this year I am starting that conversation early. Hal had a great 2012 in his first year as a starter, notching 48 tackles, 14 passes defensed, and two interceptions, earning second team All-SEC honors. Going in to 2013 I wanted to see how well Hal faired right off the bat against stud Ole Miss receiver (and fellow first round prospect) Donte Moncrief. Moncrief ended up with 5 catches for 56 yards. The number of yards gained with Hal in coverage? Zero. Moncrief’s lone catch against Hal, a smoke route against off coverage, was snuffed out by Hal instantly and stopped for no gain. Talk about a dominant performance against one of the most talented, physically gifted specimens in all of college football.
What really jumps out to me about Hal is his technical proficiency. A lot of college corners are relegated to press coverage in man or press-bail when playing deep zones (especially in the SEC), and generally whenever aligned ten yards off they play a slide shuffle technique that helps them read run keys and defend against the deep ball at the cost of pretty much giving away the inside release. That is not the case with Andre Hal. As polished and pro-ready a corner you’ll ever see, Hal operates as well (or better) than most professional corners with an impeccable back pedal and superb footwork to t-step and close on anything thrown underneath. Hal’s speed is also fantastic, and I watched him close down on Moncrief (who has clocked in the low 4.4’s) to the tune of three passes defensed in just three quarters. One of those PD’s was incorrectly ruled as a pass interference, but it was very clearly a great play by Hal to knock the ball out of Moncrief’s hands deep down field. Size, speed, ball skills, and technique - Hal has them all, and he may end up being the most prized defensive back in this class by the end of the season. I have yet to see Bradley Roby play this year because of a one game suspension, but I would not be surprised if Hal is taken above him next April.
So why Baltimore? Jimmy Smith, that’s why. Lardarius Webb is still the best defensive back in Baltimore, but offenses that go three wide get the pleasure of facing Smith at right corner back when Corey Graham moves down to the slot (note, Webb has normally been the slot corner, but I observed this preseason that Graham was taking over slot duty instead of Webb). Smith, unlike Hal, is not very good at pedaling and flipping against the deep ball, and as a result he plays a lot of the aforementioned shuffle technique. Smith’s size and speed are useful when he plays press (which he excels in), but in Baltimore’s scheme that emphasizes single high looks with corners playing seven to ten yards off the line of scrimmage, Smith’s stiff hips and clumsy feet are more of a hindrance than anything else.
Not every offense is the same, but here are a few notable receivers who play on the offensive left and will get lots of face time with Jimmy Smith this season: Demaryius Thomas, Andre Johnson, Jordy Nelson, and Ryan Broyles. That doesn’t even count the snaps that A.J. Green will get against Smith twice a year. If he is allowed to stay at the line of scrimmage all game and press receivers at will like Seattle’s Brandon Browner, then he does just fine, but as soon as he is asked to back off the line he turns into a giant neon "THROW HERE" sign. Against offenses that force off coverage through stacks, bunches, and spread concepts like Denver, Houston, and Green Bay, Smith will get eaten alive. Baltimore needs a corner that is more than just a one trick pony, and Andre Hal is the man for the job.
15 - Steelers – Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
Tight end, corner, free safety, inside linebacker, defensive end, and nose tackle are all options here for a down-but-not-out Steelers team, but offensive tackle is easily the most worrisome position group on the club. Mike Adams is not a franchise left tackle in any way, and Marcus Gilbert is no stud either. I am willing to bet that by the end of the season Pittsburgh will realize that the Mike Adams experiment on the blind side was a failure and look for a replacement to protect Ben Roethlisberger for the rest of his career. If I am the pretend GM of the Steelers, I am rushing in the pick for Florida State left tackle Cameron Erving. Erving is a big, athletic, physical left tackle that has the movement skills to keep up with speed rushers on the edge and the size/power combination to blow defenders off the ball in the ground game. Just like the Dolphins and Panthers before, if you want a franchise pass blocker you have to be willing to pay for it.
16 - Eagles – Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Chip Kelly might transform the Eagles offense into something special, but the Eagles defense is still a disaster waiting to happen. No matter how good young pieces like Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks end up being, the Philly secondary will likely be so unbelievably porous that any pressure generated will be for naught. The first problem that needs addressing is cornerback, and it just so happens that Kelly’s former star corner at Oregon will be available at sixteenth overall. Ekpre-Olomu is fairly small compared to Bradley Roby and Andre Hal, but he has all the quickness, footwork, and vertical explosion you look for. I particularly like Ekpre’s ability to play the "catch" technique from two or three yards off the line of scrimmage, which allows him to excel in man coverage without getting beat up off the snap when trying to play press. Olomu’s quick feet really show up when he squeezes on short underneath routes like ins, slants, and hitches, and he has enough speed to effectively play trail technique deep down field. Height definitely could be an issue, but Olomu regularly displayed enough vertical leaping ability to still make plays on jump balls against larger receivers. At worst he can be a great slot corner, which in today’s pass happy NFL is as important as ever (especially on a team that faces Victor Cruz twice a year).
17 - Browns – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Browns are suddenly a team on the cusp (again). Brandon Weeden might not be the new regime’s first choice at quarterback, but I want to see how he does in the Norv Turner offense before I completely write him off. If the preseason is any indication, he might just work out after all. What Weeden really needs to be successful is weapons. Trent Richardson can carry the load on the ground, Jordan Cameron is flashing special ability at tight end, and Josh Gordon is one of the biggest breakout receiver candidates in the league, but the addition of a talent like Sammy Watkins all the way at seventeenth overall would put the Browns offense way over the top in terms of pure explosiveness. Can you imagine Sammy Watkins breaking games open from the slot with Gordon burning people deep, Cameron snagging first downs over the middle, Greg Little out-muscling receivers in the red zone, and Trent Richardson making people pay for not putting eight guys in the box? I can, and it’s freaking awesome. The Browns already have a young, talented defense full of play makers. It’s time to do the same for the other side of the ball. With the addition of Sammy Watkins, Cleveland goes from up and comer to legitimately scary.
18 - Chiefs – David Fales, QB, San Jose State
The Chiefs, just like the Browns, are in that almost there category of teams. Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Brandon Flowers, and Eric Berry anchor a young, supremely talented Chiefs roster, but 2012 showed that even the most talented teams can be terrible without a good quarterback. Alex Smith should help Kansas City unlock their potential for a few years, but the Chiefs need someone young to develop for the post-Alex Smith era. David Fales might not be from a big program, but he exhibits the arm strength and decision making that makes him a prime candidate to flourish in the Andy Reid west coast offense. Fales, like the new and improved Alex Smith, bases his game on not making mistakes, but he possesses the physical tools, unlike Alex Smith, to let loose deep down field if he needs to. The level of competition that Fales faces will be the biggest knock on him in the pre-draft process, but if given the opportunity to slowly grow under Reid’s tutelage for a few years I think he can develop into a good starting quarterback.
19 - Lions – Cyrus Kouandijo, OT, Bama
Wide receiver is tempting at this spot (insert joke about the Lions taking a first round wideout here), but both Ryan Broyles and Patrick Edwards have flashed pretty brightly since camp started. I want to see how they do in 2013 before I give up and put a pass catcher in here. Long term I do think Detroit will need another outside weapon besides Megatron, as Broyles strikes me more as a slot receiver than a big play boundary threat, but for now I’ll go with an offensive tackle to help protect Matt Stafford. Gosder Cherilus is no longer in town, and I am not so sure that Jason Fox, a depth pick from 2010, can really be counted on to hold down the fort on the right side.
Cyrus Kounadijo is a talented and polished tackle prospect out of the NFL factory that is Alabama, and he arguably was the best player on an offensive line that featured two players taken in the first eleven picks of the 2013 draft. Bama runs a pro style, west coast offense that bases its run game off of zone blocking concepts similar to those found in Houston, Seattle, and Washington. However, despite playing in a scheme that emphasizes footwork and quickness over power, Kouandijo has shown he can bring the beef on power runs when asked. Kouandijo’s light feet also pay dividends in pass protection, where he’s displayed great ability to mirror even the fastest edge rushers the SEC has to offer. Kouandijo does not have quite the size of Taylor Lewan, the technical perfection of Jake Matthews, or the length and athleticism of Cameron Erving, but he is a nice blend of everything in between.
20 - Seahawks – Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Another year, another defensive lineman for the Seahawks. This pick might not make sense on the surface, but then again neither do a lot of selections that emanate from the Hawks’ nest these days. To understand the selection of yet another defensive tackle, one must first understand how the Seahawks offensive line operates. Field Gulls wrote a phenomenal series of articles not too long ago detailing their schemes and alignments for their unique personnel groupings. The short version is that Pete Carroll runs neither a true 4-3 nor a true 3-4, but rather a sort of quasi-4-3 that happens to employ some 3-4 concepts within a few distinct alignments (the 4-3 Under, the 4-3 Over, and the "Bear" front).
For instance, the Seattle 4-3 Under aims to generate pass rush from the quarterback’s blind side similar to Monte Kiffin’s old Tampa Bay fronts by aligning the three technique on the left guard and the LEO (who in this front is essentially a six or seven technique defensive end) outside the left tackle. Both of these players will rush through the B and C gaps respectively and play the run on their way to the quarterback. The nose tackle, who in Carroll’s scheme is more of an undersized, quicker player (similar to Wade Phillips’ 5-2 front) is shaded and tilted on the center to give him a better angle of attack on both A gaps. His job is to either force a double team through his alignment alone and free up the linebackers to make plays or, if he is given single blocking, protect both A gaps on every snap by controlling the center. Next to the nose tackle is the five technique, currently occupied by Red Bryant, who aligns over the right tackle and acts as a run stuffer and pocket collapsing demon. Think of the five technique in Carroll’s scheme like Brooks Reed’s role at Sam linebacker in the Phillips scheme. Both of them have one job, and that is to two gap on the edge to allow everyone else (K.J. Wright/ Bobby Wagner for Seattle and J.J. Watt/Brian Cushing for Houston) to play as fast and loose as possible. They are a security blanket, and darn good ones at that. Bryant may not be as fast or flexible as a traditional left end, but if you need someone reliable who can make all of the splash plays from the LEO and Mike backers possible just by being on the field, then he is your man.
The down side in all this? Affording Bryant’s services in the first place. Russell Wilson, if he continues on his current career arc, will not come cheaply when his contract is up after the 2015 season, and neither will Richard Sherman after the 2014 season. Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, Russell Okung, Max Unger – this team is about to get really expensive, really fast. Bryant will be on the wrong side of 30 and making 6 million and 7 million dollars in the 2015 and 2016 seasons respectively. I cannot imagine that with so many star players needing their payout that Bryant is able to be kept, especially for a role that is not nearly as hard to fill as ball-hawking free safety, shut down corner, or franchise quarterback.
This brings us to Ra’Shede Hageman, the massive, physically gifted defensive tackle out of Minnesota that I think would be perfect as a left end in Carroll’s system (Note, I have heard the talk about Jesse Williams possibly getting time at five technique, and while I think it could work I believe Hageman has a much, much higher ceiling at the position). Hageman, to put it bluntly, has no idea what he’s doing yet in terms of rushing the pass rusher, but he is so exceptionally powerful off the snap that he never, ever gets blown off the ball against the run game. At 6’6" 315 pounds, Hageman was able to vertical jump a ridiculous 36 inches this past off season, bench press 465 pounds, and had a 1.57 10 yard split, which was faster than even Terron Armstead’s 1.64. Taking that kind of special athlete, with that kind of frame, and teaching him how to use his hands and become more than just a one dimensional player could have a massive payoff for the Seahawks in the long term. Hell, I could even see them dropping him down to 295, showing him ten hours of J.J. Watt game tape, and just say "go do that". Hageman is certainly just as great an athlete as Watt, if not more so, and once he learns more nuances of the game has an infinitely high ceiling.
Red Bryant does his job well. He stops the run, comes out on passing downs, and makes everyone else’s roles on the defense that much easier. He’s a great chess piece, but unfortunately for Pete Carroll he lacks the diversity to really be a star on every down and distance. If the Seahawks are facing a fast paced offense that does not give them time to sub out a pass rusher like Bruce Irvin or Michael Bennett on third and six, there could be problems. Ra’Shede Hageman can come in day one, relieve the Seattle salary cap, stuff the run, and possibly become just as big a pass rush threat as anyone else along the defensive front just on athletic ability alone. All Hageman needs is a coaching staff that can unlock his true potential. Sounds like a match made in Heaven to me.
21 - [TRADE] Buccs give up their 2014 1st and 2014 3rd to Colts - Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
If I am the Buccs GM, the lack of an elite tight end to go along with Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, and Doug Martin in my budding offensive powerhouse will be staring me in the face by the end of the 2013 season. Colt Lyerla, who might not be the smartest person in the world, is still a talented enough football player to warrant a first round pick. His insane combination of size, athleticism, and receiving ability is on par with last year’s Tyler Eifert, and Lyerla’s versatility as an in line blocker, part time running back, and split receiver is enticing. To land the dangerous weapon from Oregon, I will have to jump St. Louis, who have an extra pick to play with and could be looking to replace Lance Kendricks if he continues to not live up to his draft selection this season, and New England, who may or may not be looking for another tight end if undrafted free agent Zach Sudfeld cannot step up to the challenge (jury is still out, but he’s flashed some great things in the preseason).
At the same time, as the Colts GM I am eyeing several prospects to strengthen the defensive line including Louis Nix III, Stephon Tuitt, and Aaron Lynch, any of which would be a centerpiece in Chuck Pagano’s hybrid defense for years to come. Considering that there are only a handful of picks separating this spot from the Buccs original slot at 25th overall, I am willing to accept the risk and pick up an extra third rounder for my trouble.
22 - Cowboys – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
In a Cowboy fan’s perfect world, his team’s front four will be just as dominant as Monte Kiffin’s old wrecking crew down in Tampa Bay. For a scheme that emphasizes creating pressure with just four guys and forcing the quarterback to throw it into the waiting arms of Sean Lee or Bruce Carter, Dallas sure has problems doing so outside of DeMarcus Ware and (occasionally) Jason Hatcher. One of the biggest issues is not having someone in the middle to collapse the pocket and keep his three technique and weak side defensive end from getting double teamed, which is why Louis Nix III is a natural fit for me here. Jay Ratliff, while great for an up field, one gap scheme like Wade Phillips’, is not suited to play a true interior brawler role like the one required of Monte Kiffin’s nose shades. Kiffin likes his nose tackles to not only command double teams through alignment, but also through sheer power and brute strength.
I know this might cause a bit of confusion because Brandon Mebane plays a similar role for Seattle but is in the mold of a lighter, quicker defensive tackle, but that is primarily because he is not the only player on the defensive front that is two gapping. He can afford to tilt himself towards the center and fire off the ball to handle both A gaps (using his speed and quickness rather than size and strength) because he knows that the B gap behind him is being defended by Red Bryant. Jay Ratliff has no such luxury as his left defensive end is concerned only with the C gap and playing the run on the way to the quarterback. He has to account for both A gaps in front of him and fight to the B gap to his left if he has to simply because he is the only member of the defensive line that does not have sacks on his mind. In addition to that, Dallas plays with mostly seven guys in the box with a two deep safety shell whereas Mebane plays a lot with eight in the box (including Kam Chancellor) from a single high safety shell. In short, he’s got more help. The Monte Kiffin nose tackle is not undersized, nor is he a gap shooter. He needs to be a big, strong, hulk of a man that can force his way to multiple gaps and collapse the pocket on passing downs to make it easier on the weak side pass rush. It’s not an easy job, but Louis Nix III has been doing it for years up at Notre Dame. Snagging him this late in the draft is a steal.
23 - [TRADE] Chargers give up 2014 2nd, 2015 1st via TEN to Patriots – Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Just as I said I would before, I’m trading back up to grab my franchise left tackle, and what a tackle I’m getting in Antonio Richardson. If there is one word to describe Richardson on the field, it’s patient. You will rarely see him lunge at an edge rusher. You will never see him get over eager with his feet to engage. You will never see him get undisciplined with his hands. He is a very, very solid tackle prospect who has a decent chance of challenging every other first round pass blocker in this class for a top five or ten selection. He still plays a bit too high to maintain good leverage at times, but if he puts as much work in to his stance as he obviously did in to his hands, I think he will be just fine. Philip Rivers has been getting murdered the past few seasons by the likes of Von Miller, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston. It’s about time he gets someone who can make the nightmares stop.
24 - Rams – Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn – what could possibly make that better? Anthony Johnson, that’s what. As great as the Rams front four already is, I believe that you can never, ever have enough talent in the trenches, especially when that talent is Anthony Johnson and he’ sitting there twenty four picks in. Johnson has not gotten a lot of playing time so far in his LSU career as a rotational interior lineman, but with so many Tigers heading off to the pros he is expected to finally be front and center in this defensive unit.
What immediately jumps out about Johnson is his excellent hand usage. He is constantly fighting to disengage from blockers with clubs, swims, and rips, and he is very well developed for having such little play time. On top of his hands, Johnson also has a very quick get off from the snap and flashes elite quickness and closing speed. I personally think Johnson can be a special pass rusher if given the opportunity to be an aggressive, up field three technique. With Michael Brockers and his highly touted stack and shed run stopping ability already in the fold, the Rams have an opportunity to put together a pair of unstoppable LSU alums on their interior line. Over/under on the number sacks this front could get against Oakland – eleventy billion.
25 - Colts – Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
As the Colts fake GM, my patience has paid off in the form of Stephon Tuitt, an extremely talented 3-4 end prospect out of South Bend, which is conveniently close to his professional destination in Indianapolis. Tuitt has everything you could ever ask for in a five technique: 6’6" 300 pound frame, speed and quickness on the edge, and even some nifty pass rush moves with his hands. I love his ability to compete with power against big, bulldozing right tackles while also having surprising speed rush ability on the weak side for such a big body. Tuitt does not look the same weight as Geno Atkins, but he is. In the Chuck Pagano defense you can expect your outside linebackers to either be screaming off the edge as pass rushers or as forces players against the run that are lined up so far outside that nobody can reach block them, which means both running backs and quarterbacks will constantly be funneled back into the defensive line. If there are no play makers on the front three to take advantage of the havoc that Bjoern Werner is expected to create, then this defense will have a very tough time contending with an offense like Houston twice a year. It also does not hurt that Tuitt has the ability to kick inside on passing downs when the Colts want to sub in their nickel package. I could not be happier with this steal of a pick.
26 - [TRADE] Texans give up 2014 1st and 2014 3rd to Bears – Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida
The Texans GM in me was hoping and praying for Tuitt to keep falling, but after his selection I’ve got to make a move. There are only so many 3-4 ends that come out every year, and if you don’t get a good one early it’s tough to find them later on. I personally do not expect Antonio Smith to last much longer in Houston so long as J.J. Watt, Kareem Jackson, and Brian Cushing still need new contracts (Unless Smith takes an extremely cheap deal, which I cannot reasonably expect from someone of his pedigree). Jared Crick is still a question mark as Smith’s heir apparent, and to be honest unless he wows me this season as a rotational player I do not expect him to be the three technique of the future. The Texans need explosive, one gap agents of destruction along their defensive line, and Jared Crick so far has not shown himself to be one of those. Crick is very solid against the run as a stack and shed defender, and he can occasionally get some push in the pocket, but as far as quickness and pass rush ability go he relies entirely on motor and plays staying alive long enough for him to get there. If he shows improvement this season I might consider another position (cornerback, tight end, safety, etc), but for now I have defensive end penciled in as the greatest need in the wake of Smith’s (expected) departure.
Cue Aaron Lynch. The 2011 college freshman class was full of talent. Jadaveon Clowney was the consensus number one prospect, but just five spots below him at number six sat Aaron Lynch. Clowney went to South Carolina, Lynch to Notre Dame. Everyone knows of Clowney’s dominance, but Lynch had such an incredibly destructive season as a true freshman at Notre Dame that he was considered not only just as good, but possibly better than his USC contemporar. If you had to draw up a perfect defensive end on a white board with size, athletic ability, and technical skills, you would probably draw something close to Aaron Lynch. Unfortunately for Notre Dame however, Lynch felt home sick and transferred to South Florida, forgoing his sophomore year of football due to transfer regulations. 2013 is finally here, and Lynch is back and ready to prove he’s still as dominant as ever. The coaching staff at South Florida, who are credited recently with unleashing Jason Pierre-Paul on the world, have given such high praise as to say he is actually more of a threat to offenses than Pierre-Paul himself. When you put Lynch’s freshman year tape on, it’s hard to disagree with them. Seriously, I implore you to watch this and this. I did not think it was possible, but we might be looking at an honest to God clone of J.J. Watt. If Lynch has the kind of season he is capable of and proves he can hang with the likes of Clowney, Barr, and Tuitt, I do not expect him to get out of the top 10. He’s just that good. For now, however, I’ll submit this pick with a giant grin on my face.
27 - Niners – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Niners don’t have many holes, but that does not mean they have no room to improve. For all the talent San Francisco has gathered in the secondary they sure did give up a lot of big plays (cough cough Carlos Rogers cough cough), and my first objective as the fake Niners GM is to rectify that problem. Receiver is a consideration here, but I want to see how Quinton Patton works out before I make any rash decisions. For now I’ll upgrade the cornerback position to try to relieve the Niners indomitable front seven and create more opportunities for Aldon Smith to make people look bad.
Jason Verrett might look a lot like Troy Polamalu, but he plays more like Asante Samuel. He’s a gambler for sure, but with the fluid feet and quickness he brings with every snap it’s hard to blame him for being so aggressive. If I am San Francisco and I just drafted a potentially awesome free safety in Eric Reid that can help his corners play more aggressively, why would I not go after a corner that attacks the ball as much as Verrett? There are very few college corners that can identify a slant, squeeze it immediately, and come up with the ball, and even fewer who can do the same thing against a corner-post deep down field. Verrett is a big play waiting to happen and would be an immediate upgrade over Rogers (assuming he lasts past this season anyway).
You hear that? It’s the sound of offensive coordinators everywhere popping a blood vessel.
28 - Packers – Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
As if Aaron Rogers needs more weapons, right? Hear me out, for there is a method to my madness. Ask any Packer fan what they need most in the world, and they will probably say "offensive line". Now ask them how many guards are actually worth a first round pick every year. If you hear silence, it’s because the answer is "not a lot". Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper, David DeCastro, and Kevin Zeitler were talent anomalies in that all of them were among the very best players in their class. You might get one, maybe two guards a year that could be considered first round quality, but right now it is tough to put a guy like Cyril Richardson or David Yankey in the same class as DeCastro or Cooper. If they show me something special throughout the season, their statuses may change, but for now I will go with the player who has shown me something special – Donte Moncrief.
I know, I know – the Packers already have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, but just how long do people expect that to last? James Jones is about to be 30 and in the last year of his deal. Jordy Nelson is almost 30 and might get one more deal before his career starts to wind down, and behind them the only real reliable target is Randall Cobb. What happens in a doomsday scenario of Jones departing in free agency and Nelson getting hurt? Is anyone really content with an offense that prides itself on playing an entire game in three wide sets and daring people to stop it rolling with Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross on the outside? Is anyone even okay with Boykin or Ross playing the Z position even if Nelson is healthy? I’m not, or at least as the Packers GM I’m not. If I want the my franchise quarterback to be successful I need to keep him stocked up with weapons at all times and hope for Bryan Bulaga to return to health as soon as possible, so without hesitation I’m running in the pick for Donte Moncrief.
In any normal year, Moncrief would be considered for a very, very high pick. This, however, is not a normal year. I think that had he been eligible for the 2013 draft Moncrief probably would have even been the top receiver taken, and likely a top 5 pick. His combination of size (6’3" 230 lbs), speed (clocked in the low 4.4’s), and lower body explosiveness (39" vert, 11’1" broad) is almost identical to Julio Jones. Throw on top of that the fact that he’s a great route runner and ferocious blocker, and you have yourself a potentially game breaking receiver. I’ll be honest, when picking for the Jets at fourth overall I had a hard time deciding between Marquise Lee and Donte Moncrief. By the end of the season I would not be surprised if he, and not Lee, ends up being the top receiver on my board and a top 5 (mock) pick. He’s that special, folks.
29 - Broncos – Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
Joe Mays got released from the Broncos for a reason – he’s a one trick pony. Need a full back blown up in the hole? He’s your guy. Need a scat back covered over the middle? Eh, call someone else. The Broncos defense took a hit this off season with the debacle that fax machine debacle and Von Miller’s suspension, but the biggest problem is at Mike linebacker. Denver needs a true three down backer who can stack and shed a guard, track down a runner in the back field, or drop into coverage and make plays on the ball. Skov, who had a hard recovery last year from a torn ACL two seasons ago, finally looks like his old self and should return to prominence in 2013. I saw him a full contact spring game against his own offense and he just jumped off the screen. Nobody could block him whether it was when running the ball or in pass protection. His strength, range, and instincts are all back with a vengeance, and he fits perfectly with the Denver defense as a safety net over the middle while Von Miller does his thing in the back field. Skov and Miller should make a massively destructive tandem for a long, long time.
30 - Bengals – Aaron Colvin, CB/S, Oklahoma
Colvin is listed as a corner right now, but I liked his tape as a safety from a couple years ago a lot more. He is not the most quick-footed corner out there, nor is he the fastest, but he does have great tackling ability and instincts. If he was athletic enough to put his penchant for reading routes to good use he would be among the best corners in this class, but unfortunately he was not as blessed as some of his other class mates. If you compare his footwork and speed to that of most safeties however, he is well ahead of the game, which is why I think he could do wonders in Cincy as a long term replacement for Reggie Nelson. As a free safety, Colvin can use his plus intelligence to read plays from a better vantage point and convert them into the splash plays that the Bengals sorely need to compete at the top of the AFC arms race. Between Denver’s triplets at receiver, Houston’s new dynamic duo, and New England’s ever present offensive firepower, Cincy has to get someone on the back end who can turn complete disasters into turnovers. Colvin might just be what they need to get over the hump.
31 - Falcons – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Atlanta dodged a bullet with the return of Tony Gonzalez, but the problem is still there – they need a solution at tight end for the long term. Eric Ebron, who by the end of the year could be the top tight end selected, is a very athletic weapon who is already a better blocker than Oregon’s Colt Lyerla. What Lyerla has in speed and size (well…more speed and size), however, Ebron has in subtlety and route running. I credit a lot of it to North Carolina’s pro-style offense that uses a lot of the same zone blocking and bootleg concepts that the Houston Texans employ on a weekly basis. Ebron understands the footwork he needs to do for sealing an edge, how to use leverage to augment his already impressive athletic ability, and most of all how to get wide-ass open over the middle on a crossing route. Lyerla definitely has the higher ceiling, but Ebron has all the potential in the world to turn into a gigantic weapon for Matt Ryan for many years to come.
32 - Bears – Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Louchiez Purifoy might get a lot of the buzz based on his immense athletic ability, but there is no question that Marcus Roberson is far and away the best Gator corner. Roberson is much more polished as a pure cover man than Purifoy (then again, who isn’t) and has both quicker feet and smoother transitions. He gets a bit too clumsy with his jams and is beat badly at the line at times, but doesn’t quite have the speed like his partner in crime to make up for it down field. Roberson, like a lot of college corners, is also coached in the ways of the slide shuffle when playing 7-10 yards off and gives up a lot of throws he shouldn’t have as a result. When he plays closer to the line of scrimmage in a catch technique, however, he flashes enough fluidity and quickness in his feet to make me believe he can be coached out of it to become a great corner (similar to Kareem Jackson’s journey from horrible to awesome). As long as Roberson has the right teacher in the NFL, he should be just fine. That being said, considering that both Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings have expiring contracts after this season, the Bears might not have any choice except to play him early. I can only hope that Chris Conte and Major Wright are ready to cover for the multitude of mistakes that rookie corners usually make when thrown to the wolves immediately.
There you have it, BRB - the first mock draft of the 2013 season. All 10,591 words of it. If you need me, I’ll be back in my corner crying about the fact that every single one of these picks will be completely wrong.