Holy crap, it’s finally draft day. I have not done a mock since all the way back on January 20th, so I figure I’m due for one. Keep in mind that every single pick in this mock is based on what I believe each of these teams will do – not necessarily what I would do myself. In cases where I don’t have any specific ideas of where a certain team is going with their pick, I’ll make the selection based on my own personal big board and schematic fit with the team in question. That being said, let’s get to the mock.
1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Battle Red Blog has covered this topic ad nauseam already. No matter how much I love Teddy Bridgewater, Clowney is the best player in the draft. He’s the pick. Let’s move on.
2. St. Louis Rams – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
A while back I probably would have slotted this pick as a trade for a quarterback, but I am not so sure that Teddy Bridgewater is a lock for a top three pick anymore (via trade, at least). While I personally would still not hesitate to trade up to this spot ahead of Jacksonville for the former Louisville Cardinal, real NFL teams might think otherwise. A lack of prime trade bait in the form of Jadeveon Clowney leaves the Rams all alone with the second overall pick, so they get a player who some consider to be the second best overall player in this draft.
Greg Williams uses both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts in his aggressive scheme, and a versatile defender like Khalil Mack would only increase the firepower in their ferocious front seven. Base 4-3 sets would see Mack at Sam, James Laurinaitus at Mike, and former first rounder Alec Ogletree at Will with Chris Long, Kendall Langford, Michael Brockers, and Robert Quinn as the front four. 3-4 sets, however, could be an entirely different animal. Chris Long becomes our Cam Jordan-ish five-technique defensive end while Brockers and Langford play the nose tackle and other five-technique spots, respectively. The highly athletic Robert Quinn and Khalil Mack play the outside linebacker spots while Laurinaitus and Ogletree man the inside backer spots. Nickel sets could be heavily interchangeable as well with Long kicking inside on four man front and Mack playing pseudo-defensive end, or even Long and Mack rushing side by side off the edge in three man fronts with Langford subbed out for a third cornerback. The possibilities are endless, and considering that Mack has met with the Rams five times during this pre-draft season, I think St. Louis realizes that potential as well.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Khalil Mack would probably be the pick here if he were still on the board, but since he is not I’ll go with Sammy Watkins. I’m a fan of Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders as number two and three receivers, but with Justin Blackmon possibly not returning anytime soon to be the number one receiver, something has to be done about this position. Watkins is more talented than Blackmon coming out of college, and some have said that he is the best receiver to enter the league since the duo of A.J. Green and Julio Jones three years ago. Whether working as a deep threat, chain mover, or yards-after-catch monster, Watkins will give the Jaguars the offensive threat that they sorely missed during Blackmon’s multiple suspensions. As far as the ever-present hole at quarterback goes, my money is on Derek Carr becoming a Jag in the very near future either through a trade into the first or a high second round pick.
4. Cleveland Browns – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
For the third selection in a row, my ideal target gets snaked from me with just one pick to go. For all the talk about Cleveland needing another weapon to replace Greg Little, they need a new right side of the offensive line even more. Mitchell Schwartz was downright awful at times in the last two years, and I think he would be better served moving to guard where his below average athleticism won’t be as big of a liability. Greg Robinson is possibly the most fearsome run blocker to come out of college in many years, and his freakish athleticism will serve him well in Kyle Shanahan’s run-heavy scheme. While still raw as a pass protector, if everything is going to plan a sizable chunk of his pass protection will be disguised in play action fakes anyway. If you want an edge not only sealed, but blown the hell up on a zone stretch run to the right, Greg Robinson is your guy.
5. Oakland Raiders – Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Raiders trading for Matt Schaub sends strong signals that they are not looking for their quarterback of the future at the top of the first round. Aaron Donald is arguably the best defensive player in this class next to Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, and he could be a transformative talent in Oakland’s 4-3 defense at the three-technique position for years to come. Between Sio Moore, Pat Sims, Tyvon Branch, and D.J. Hayden, the Black Hole already has some promising talent on every level. Aaron Donald might be the first step in turning the Raiders’ defense from "could be good" to "could be awesome".
6. Atlanta Falcons – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
He might not be strong enough or polished enough at the moment, but Anthony Barr has nearly unlimited potential in Mike Nolan’s 3-4. As a rush linebacker in a blitz-heavy defense, Barr will be allowed to simply let his athleticism take over both in coverage and as a QB hunter. Atlanta already has a franchise quarterback, improved offensive and defensive lines through free agency, and is primed to once again make a run at the NFC South crown. Right tackle and running back can be found after round one, but a stud pass rusher is hard to come by…especially when that stud pass rusher is Anthony Barr.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Tampa will likely try trade down if Greg Robinson does not make it to their pick, but for the life of me I just could not think of anyone who would have any motivation to move up outside of maybe Tennessee for Teddy Bridgewater. Ruston Webster is already down a third rounder from last year’s Justin Hunter trade, however, so I do not think he wants to part with any more of his picks. So with no Greg Robinson and no trade partner, what are the Bucs to do? How about take a clone of their number one receiver, Vincent Jackson, in Mike Evans. Whether the quarterback is Josh McCown or Mike Glennon, you cannot go wrong with a duo of gigantic humans defensive backs down field.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Okay, this needs to stop. I cannot in good conscience let Teddy Bridgewater fall past the Minnesota Vikings. For a team so loaded with young talent that just needs someone to guide the ship, how could I not give them the best ship captain in the entire draft? At the same time, the Vikings have not been shy about their desire to take a quarterback in this year’s draft and Bridgewater practically had himself a rookie orientation up in Minnesota a few weeks ago. The need fits, the talent fits, and the value fits. End of story.
9. Buffalo Bills – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Bills missed out Watkins, Robinson, Donald, and Evans in the lead up to the ninth overall pick, so I have them taking one of the best consolation prizes a team could ever ask for – Jake Matthews. Between Cordy Glenn and Matthews protecting him, Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods catching his passes, and C.J. Spiller threatening to break the game on the ground, E.J. Manuel should have a strong supporting cast to help him develop into a decent NFL quarterback.
10. Detroit Lions – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
For a top ten team, the Lions don’t have that many glaring needs on either side of the ball. Another wide receiver or two couldn’t hurt, but Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are a capable starting pair (and then some). Glover Quin is holding down the strong safety spot very well, but the team is lacking a true free safety to go along with him. With no Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins on the board, I’m inclined to give the Lions the best safety in this draft to help out their gaggle of young developmental cornerbacks. Perhaps Detroit will finally be able to stop Aaron Rodgers for once.
11. Tennessee Titans – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
I’ll admit I was a really big bind with this pick. Teddy Bridgewater is off the board, so I do not envision them taking a quarterback. Mike Evans is gone, so I do not see any wide receivers getting taken to replace Nate Washington as the third wideout. Barr and Mack are out, so there are no rush linebackers left that are worthy of the eleventh overall pick. Clinton-Dix, gone. Donald, way gone. Unfortunately for the Titans, there just flat out isn’t anyone left in positions of dire need. To top things off, I could not find any teams that have any sort of motivation to move up to this pick, so Tennessee (in this mock at least) is stuck in a high pick with no talent left on the board that they really need. In this situation, rather than reach, I’ll just go with the best player available and give them Eric Ebron. Delanie Walker is a really nice, versatile tight end, but Ebron can be an outrageously athletic seam threat for an offense that needs to give Jake Locker all the help he can get. This might be a rough spot for a perennially "meh" team, but they still come out with someone who can be a big impact on the game.
12. New York Giants – Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
In this scenario I’m projecting Martin as a guard for the Giants. Eli Manning was under siege all last season, and Martin’s presence on the interior alone could vastly improve Big Blue’s point per game. I’m willing to give Will Beatty one more chance next season at left tackle due to his performance in the past. If he struggles again, that position will likely be priority number one next off season.
13. St. Louis Rams – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
To make this perfectly clear, this is not what I would do with this pick. My mock draft is a combination of what I think teams might do and, in the cases where I can’t get a bead on a team’s intentions, what makes the most football sense to me based on my own grades. Despite that fact that I would not touch Manziel this high, I believe that Jeff Fisher would be content to add Johnny Football to his team as a contingency plan for Sam Bradford’s poor health if he fell to this pick. It doesn't make sense to me, but it makes sense to the Rams…which I suppose is all that matters in mock draft accuracy anyway.
14. Chicago Bears – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Bradley Roby started the season as the projected top cornerback in this class, and I see no reason to change that designation. Sure, he had a rough one against the Badgers, but who cares? None of the mistakes made in that game come anything close to "major", and if anything that is a game that can turn into a great learning experience for a young corner (namely to use your freakin’ eyes, kid). Roby still has the feet, hips, and speed to be a top tier cover corner in the NFL, and is not afraid to use his body as a battering ram against the run. Chicago uses off corners, has two starters on their last legs, and have an opportunity to take the best off corner in this class. There is not much to think about here.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ra’Shede Hageman, DE, Minnesota
With the best off corner in the draft off the board, this pick gets harder for the Steelers. Press corners like Dennard, Gilbert, and Fuller are not their style, so I’m looking to other needs first. Pittsburgh could really use another five-technique across from Cameron Heyward as well as another rush linebacker to eventually replace Jason Worlids when his one year contract expires. Free safety is also a need, as I see Shamarko Thomas as the heir apparent to Troy Polamalu rather than Ryan Clarke. All these things in mind, I’ll fill the only need in my notes that actually has a matching talent value left on the board and add Ra’Shede Hageman. The former Gopher is a big, long, athletic specimen who can instantly bolster the run defense while providing extremely high upside as a pass rusher. One of the best things that Pittsburgh can do to help Jarvis Jones become the monster they drafted him to be is to give him a defensive end who can keep everyone else clean. Hageman can do just that.
16. [TRADE w/ Dallas] San Francisco 49’ers – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The 49’ers need two things – pass catchers and pass defenders. With Chris Culliver proving once again that he’s an idiot this off season, pass defenders have jumped to the top of the needs column. Not only that, but now the 49’ers have two deadly slot receivers in their division in Percy Harvin and Tavon Austin and absolutely no way to stop them. San Francisco needs a quick-footed speed demon, and they need one now. Enter Jason Verrett, the second best off cover corner in this class. Though he is just 5’9", Verrett’s exceptional quickness and lower body explosion should lend itself very well to handling his division rivals in the slot, and I think he could probably hold his own against bigger receivers on the outside as well if he perfects raking a receiver’s arm from behind when they cross his face. If Tim Jennings and Lardarius Webb can do it, I think Verrett can do it.
At worst, San Francisco is getting a top tier slot corner that can act as a direct counter measure to their rivals’ best weapons. That’s well worth a trade up to me.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
While the Niners and Bears want off corners, Baltimore is better at making use of press corners. 6’2" starting right corner Jimmy Smith is still in town for at least two more seasons, as is starting left corner/slot corner Lardarius Webb, but everyone else on the depth chart is very average (if not below average). Justin Gilbert provides insurance against injury to Jimmy Smith (or Smith leaving in free agency in a couple years), and he can provide value as a nickel corner on the left side of the field while Webb slides down to the slot. I do not believe that Gilbert can survive playing seven yards off the line of scrimmage in the NFL with his sloppy feet and technique (for now), but I do think he can immediately contribute on teams that run press-man where he can use his length and athleticism to his advantage. Baltimore just so happens to be one of those teams.
As for other needs on this team, free safety went out the window as soon as Clinton-Dix was selected, and I think the signing of Steve Smith signals that the team is planning on getting their possession receiver of the future after the first round.
18. New York Jets – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
As tempting as it is to take Brandin Cooks or Odell Beckham here, Darqueze Dennard is way too perfect of a fit to pass up. Rex Ryan loves press/press-bail corners, and Dennard is the most polished press corner in this class by a long shot. Justin Gilbert went one pick ahead of Dennard simply because of his athletic upside and special teams boost, but there is a decent chance that Dennard is the one who ends up challenging for Rookie of the Year honors next season…if he’s in the right scheme that is. In terms of being able to disrupt receivers at the line, play a deep third zone, and make an impact against the run game, there is no better corner in this class than Darqueze Dennard.
19. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Miami’s linebacking corps was flat out awful in 2013, and that includes both free agent signings of Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. Wheeler was the most egregiously bad of the two, posting a disgustingly high missed tackle total of 18 on the season. As if being bad against the run was enough, Wheeler was also routinely picked apart in coverage and seemed to be virtually absent after receiving his pay day last off season.
Here comes Ryan Shazier to the rescue. As the new Will linebacker in Miami’s 4-3, Shazier would be a massive boost to the defense on all three downs. With a dangerous combination of speed, fluidity, and instincts that have made him arguably one of the ten best players in this entire draft, Shazier is one of the few players in this class that I almost expect to win a Defensive Player of the Year award someday. In fact, I might even use the word "transcendent" here. He’s just that damn good. Were it not for the linebacker position being somewhat marginalized in the modern NFL, Shazier would be going much, much higher.
20. [Trade w/ Arizona] Denver Broncos – C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Were it not for a bad medical evaluation at the combine, C.J. Mosley might be looking to get picked as high as eighth overall to the Minnesota Vikings. His knee is a very real concern to several teams around the league, and it doesn’t help that he has a history of bumps, bruises, and dislocations throughout his college career. His undeniable talent combines with the Broncos’ need at linebacker to earn him the 20th overall pick, but this selection comes with a great deal of apprehensiveness. If it works, this is one of the steals of the draft. If Mosley can’t stay healthy, however, then the Broncos will have to take another swing at this position in just a few years. I suppose if you are going to gamble, however, you might as well gamble from a position of strength with almost no holes on the roster and future Hall of Famer at quarterback.
21. Green Bay Packers – Calvin Pryor, SS, Louisville
I would have heavily considered Mosley for Green Bay if I didn’t just trade ahead of myself to put him in Denver. That being said, safety is still a massive need for the green and gold. Pryor is an enforcer against the run, and he has a keen sense of timing when annihilating receivers over the middle. While not rangy enough to be a center fielder like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, he has enough speed to be effective in the Packers’ two-deep scheme. This is just what the Packers need to finally bring a little stability to a defense that sorely needs it.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
I was extremely tempted to trade up for Cooks for the Eagles in the first place considering that the Jets are a huge threat to take him at 18. After standing pat, however, I am fortunate enough that he falls down to 22 anyway. Edge rusher and safety might be bigger needs at this point, but there are no outside linebackers or safeties left that I am comfortable taking this high. Wide receiver is likely to eventually become a giant need next off season if Jeremy Maclin leaves in free agency, and one could argue that the present depth on the roster is not very inspiring either. Because of all that, Cooks is the best combination of talent and need left on the board by a fair margin. Tough, fast, and elusive, Chip Kelly will absolutely love using this kid in a multitude of ways to move the ball down field.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
When in doubt, give Andy Reid a lineman. Injuries caused Tuitt to gain weight and lose explosiveness in his 2013 campaign, and an ill-timed foot fracture sidelined him during the combine where he looked to show off what he could do after finally getting back down to 300 pounds. I fully expect that fracture to heal without issue, and I very much love the fact that Tuitt was able to work his way down to his 2012 weight after finally recovering from his 2013 injuries this Spring. I know what I saw in Tuitt’s tape two seasons ago, and it was something monstrous. That kind of ability does not just "go away". If Tuitt had remained healthy and put up the same production at the same weight as he did in 2012, he would be a lock for the top ten. I consider this pick a terrific value, and I’ll be thrilled to watch Tuitt finally get to play again at full strength in 2014.
Note: I did consider Odell Beckham here, but I think that there is enough depth in this receiver class that Kansas City can come away with someone like Donte Moncrief, Martavis Bryant, Jarvis Landry, or Davante Adams slipping to their third round pick.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
For the record, I don’t think that Kyle Fuller is worth a first round pick unless he’s put on a team that lets him run a lot of press coverage. Even though he lined up several yards off the line of scrimmage at VT, he played like a press corner. Rather than a traditional pedal-flip technique used by most 7X1 corners (seven yards off, one yard inside), Fuller was generally cocked towards his receiver while aligned two yards inside and shuffled into the receiver’s route with his hips pointed at the sideline. Lining up that far inside naturally walled off in-breaking routes and gave him some room to recover and squeeze on slants and drags, but that great inside position came at the cost of poor eye discipline. Shuffling with his hips towards the sideline naturally turns his eyes away from the quarterback, which means that his vision was always on the receiver. Not being able to read drops meant that he was completely at the mercy of double moves, and I cannot help but imagine proficient route runners eating this kid alive at the next level if he is not adequately coached into better footwork.
All of that being said, the only reason that I am okay with slotting Fuller here is that he would be properly coached in Cincinnati by new secondary coach Vance Joseph. If Joseph can turn a former "shuffle" corner like Kareem Jackson into a capable pedal-flipper, then I believe he can do it with Kyle Fuller as well. Fuller will need at least a year of Joseph’s tutelage before I would even think of putting him in a live fire situation, and lucky for him that’s what he would get as a fourth or fifth stringer behind Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Terence Newman, and Leon Hall. This is one of the few instances where talent, need, and situation come together perfectly.
25. Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
The Chargers need corners, but they need to protect Philip Rivers even more. This team will go as its quarterback goes, and its quarterback can’t go anywhere without time to throw the football. Jeromey Clary should not be a starting guard in the NFL, so I’ll gladly run in this pick for Xavier Su’a-Filo. Not only can Su’a-Filo open holes on the ground for Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, but Phil Rivers might finally be able to throw more than ten yards down field without getting bludgeoned to death by Dontari Poe. That’s well worth the 25th overall pick to me.
26. Cleveland Browns [Via Indianapolis] – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Blake Bortles should not be a top ten pick, but I’m comfortable taking him in the late first round. As a high-upside developmental passer, I think Bortles should do well if he takes a year to sit on the bench and make his debut in 2015. He certainly has the physique and arm strength to survive the harsh winters of Cleveland, Ohio, but he will need at least a season of development in the film room before he can survive a game against Troy Polamalu, Lardarius Webb, and Vontaze Burfict.
27. New Orleans Saints – Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Drew Brees always manages to put up ridiculous numbers every single season despite having no real top tier weapons outside of Jimmy Graham. Marques Colston is just okay, Kenny Stills is likely going to do most of his work in the slot or on deep posts, and nobody else on the wide receiver depth chart really inspires fear in anyone. Odell Beckham can step in day one as someone who can threaten defenses deep, rack up yards after catch underneath, and impact special teams with gigantic returns. His route running still needs touching up, but there is enough raw talent and effortless catching ability here to walk this pick in with a smile. It doesn’t hurt that Beckham is already beloved in the state of Louisiana, either.
28. Carolina Panthers – Joel Bitonio, OT/OG, Nevada
I’m not quite sure if Bitonio will live as a guard or a tackle on the next level, but that isn’t a huge issue for me because the Panthers need both of them. I think Carolina tries him at tackle until he proves he can’t do it, and worst case scenario he becomes a pretty damn good guard inside. There’s still a litany of holes on the Panthers depth chart due to bad contracts given out by the previous regime, but Joel Bitonio would be the first step on the path to patching them.
29. [TRADE w/ New England] Jacksonville Jaguars – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
I wouldn’t pick Derek Carr in the first 40 picks, but Dave Caldwell probably would. Trading back into the first round is purely to get that incredibly valuable (especially for a quarterback) fifth year option on the contract. Carr is not ready to start immediately – not even close – but I think he has a decent shot at turning into a capable quarterback if he is allowed to develop for a year or two behind Chad Henne. Carr certainly has the physical tools and work ethic to succeed after some seasoning, and with a receiving corps of Sammy Watkins, Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders, and possibly Justin Blackmon, he’ll have a great stable of weapons as well.
30. Dallas Cowboys [Via San Francisco] – Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
Don’t look now, but Kareem Martin is a freak. At 6’6", 272 pounds with a whopping 35 inch arm length, Martin has some of the most impressive explosiveness in the entire draft. 4.72 in the forty yard dash, 35.5 inches on the vertical, and a ludicrous 10’9" broad jump at this size places the former Tarheel among the elite physical specimens in this entire draft class. Martin packages that athletic ability with great production in his breakout senior season (11.5 sacks), excellent durability, and good intangibles as a team captain. He’s not quite Jadeveon Clowney, but Martin’s length, strength, and supreme lower body explosiveness make him an exciting developmental left defensive end. If Martin can hone his physical tools under Rod Marinelli, who can coach the hell out of defensive linemen, then he could be something special.
31. Arizona Cardinals [Via Denver] – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
By all accounts, Taylor Lewan is a pretty terrible person. Despite the fact that I would avoid Lewan at all costs in the 2014 draft if I were a general manager, I cannot guarantee that all 32 teams feel the same way. Lewan is a top fifteen talent in terms of pure football ability, which might entice a tackle-needy team to ignore his character flaws and take him in the back of the first round. I can only hope that he straightens himself out before he turns into the second coming of Richie Incognito.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Earl Thomas just got paid, Richard Sherman is about to get top three cornerback money, and Russell Wilson might end up getting paid almost as much as both of them combined. Seattle needs some cap space, and they need it now. As good as Brandon Mebane has been for the Hawks, his 5.5 million dollar cap hit in 2014 and 2015 is going to be hard to swallow when it comes time to dish out big contracts to Sherman and Wilson. If Mebane gets cut, which is a big possibility, then Seattle will need a new "cocked nose" for their hybrid front. Timmy Jernigan possesses all of the traits that Pete Carroll is looking for in a 1-technique nose tackle. He’s very stout, has extremely powerful hands, and can stack and shed to make a tackle better than almost anyone else in this class. Ignore the physical dimensions – Timmy Jernigan was born to play in this defense.
Note: Jernigan reportedly failed his combine drug test due to a "diluted sample", which is agent attributed to over-hydration in preparation for his combine workout. He did not test positive for any banned substances, so it’s hard for me to drop him down the board when technically he didn’t do anything wrong. Some teams will care about this, and some won’t.