18 February 2014

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Pre-Combine Edition

(USA Today Sports)
The 2014 NFL Combine is kicking off tomorrow from Indianapolis. We all know the deal with the Combine by now, but this is a major step for these gentlemen that want to get drafted high in this year's draft. It can play a part in making one guy's grade, or breaking said grade. But beyond that, who's counting? Here's my pre-Combine for the folks to enjoy.

*pending coin flip

1. Houston Texans - Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
A changing of the guard with the top pick, I am leaning now towards the Knights quarterback being the first overall pick this May, and it appears that the word around the league is feeling the same. Bortles has gained some steam as perhaps the top quarterback in his class and he has an impressive skill set as he has prototypical size with a strong arm as well as some mobility to pick up yards with his feet. Plus, Bortles does have a connection to O'Brien as he played ball for one of O'Brien's mentors, George O'Leary, at UCF.

2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington) - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
I do ultimately expect the Rams, who scored with Washington's collapse to get this pick, to trade down to somebody either looking to move up for Clowney or for a quarterback. But if they hold at two, I think they'll make an excellent pass rush combo of Chris Long and Robert Quinn even more potent. Even with the effort questions (fair or unfair), Clowney is a special talent.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
So Blaine Gabbert ultimately did not work out after all, color me shocked. We knew the Jaguars were going to find an answer at quarterback at some point and while it may be intriguing for an excellent defensive coach like Gus Bradley to grab a versatile defensive talent, they would be making a mistake to pass up a quarterback. Sure, he may not be as "hot" as Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles, Bridgewater is in my opinion the top quarterback in the draft, and ready for the NFL right now. And it has been rumored that Jacksonville GM David Caldwell is a big fan of Bridgewater.

4. Cleveland Browns - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&Mf
I am not one of the skeptics of Manziel at the next level as I think he can be great in the pros. Sure, he may be a little small, his instincts are amazing, his playmaking ability is excellent and his passing skills are pretty good as well. The biggest questions with him are his maturity, but he is absolutely worth the shot for a team that has not had a franchise quarterback since Bernie Kosar. And we already know that Cleveland is smitten with Manziel.

5. Oakland Raiders - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Without the top quarterbacks on the board (unless they were to reach for Derek Carr), Oakland is in an interesting spot here and I would not be surprised if Reggie McKenzie would want to move down to stockpile picks. If they stay at five, don't be surprised if they add the number one wideout that they have lacked in the very explosive Watkins.

6. Atlanta Falcons - Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
One of the key reasons why the Falcons took multiple steps back in 2013 was due to a mediocre pass defense and particularly an awful pass rush that finished 29th in sacks with only 32, or an average of two a game. If they do not go with one of the talented offensive tackles, which I had them going before, look for them to go with either Mack or Anthony Barr. Mack had an excellent 2013 that has helped to propel his draft stock. He is fast and strong and finds himself living in opposing backfields.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
Lovie Smith is headed to Tampa and while he is a great defensive coach, he needs more playmakers on that side of the ball, particularly in the pass rush which has been a problem spot for the club for years. So I think this pick will come down to Mack and Anthony Barr, but with Mack off the board, that makes this selection easy. Barr is the kind of versatile pass rusher that teams love to employ these days but with his slight frame, he will have to bulk up to play defensive end so he appears to be best fitting in a 3-4 or a 4-3 outside linebacker.

8. Minnesota Vikings - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Would I take Carr with a top ten pick? Probably not, I think he's a talented quarterback with an excellent arm but a little too inconsistent for my taste. But for the Vikings, who are desperate for a franchise quarterback after getting little from the trio of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman in 2013, may just be willing to roll the dice.

9. Buffalo Bills - Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
Is tackle the biggest need for the Bills? No, but I think in a situation such as this where Matthews is available as this juncture, Buffalo will certainly be interested. The Bills do have a hole at right tackle and if they take a Matthews, or a Greg Robinson, they could put them at left tackle and slide over Cordy Glenn to the right side, or put them on the right side. After all, they do have a big investment at quarterback in E.J. Manuel, and they need to keep him healthy.

10. Detroit Lions - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Yes, the Lions have the best wide receiver on the planet in Mr. Calvin Johnson, but they have struggled for years to find a consistent weapon opposite him. Of course, the double teams have not been an issue for Johnson, but there have been problems when he is out of the lineup. Plus, think how more dangerous Johnson and quarterback Matt Stafford would be with another threat at wideout? Evans had a brilliant 2013 and would give Stafford another talented and big wideout to throw to.

11. Tennessee Titans - Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
Ken Whisenhunt is the new head guy in Nashville and he will be charged with upgrading the offense by getting the most out of Jake Locker as well as improving a running game that has sharply fallen of in the last couple of years. One way they could do both is to upgrade the tackle play. Michael Roos and David Stewart are both solid players, but both have seen their better days. Plus, one of them could be released sooner rather than later as they have contracts expiring down the road. Robinson has to develop as a pass blocker but he has all the tools, and his excellence in run blocking could help spark a garbage New York rushing game.

12. New York Giants - Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
There were many reasons why Eli Manning was a turnover machine in 2013, and thus why the Giants were a disappointing 7-9, but one of the chief ones had to be a mediocre offensive line that seldom gave Manning time to make a good decision. Therefore, it makes plenty of sense to take a guy like Lewan who is rock solid with both pass and run blocking, and is coming off a good 2013 campaign after passing up last year's draft to stay in Ann Arbor.

13. St. Louis Rams - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Dix is the kind of playmaker that teams love at free safety in that he is a good cover guy while also being able to attack in the running game as well. Sure he isn't a huge hitter, but he has the body to be one and is a good tackler. And boy could the Rams use a guy like him as they got atrocious play from both safety spots in 2013. Now the Rams had an underrated defense and continue to do so with an excellent pass rush and a talented line in general, but if you upgrade their safeties, look out.

14. Chicago Bears - Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears are going to need help defensively and a lot of it as their unit took several steps backward in 2013. It was a key reason why the club missed the playoffs when given a good opportunity to win the NFC North as several players declined at once across the board. The defensive line could use some work and specifically at defensive tackle as Henry Melton, who was not great this past season, is a free agent. Jernigan was excellent for the national champions in Tallahassee and was very strong in the national championship, even as he got winded late in the second half. He's a versatile and disruptive presence that applies good pressure from the interior of the defensive line.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
The Steelers enjoy many a season with the massive Casey Hampton plugging up holes and running lanes at nose tackle and after they released him after the 2012 season, they did not get consistent play from his replacement Steve McClendon. Plus, McClendon may be a better fit at end and taking an excellent run stuffer in Nix would allow them to shore up the nose and the five technique at the same time.

16. Baltimore Ravens* - Antonio Richardson, T, Tennessee
Both of Baltimore's tackles, Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher, are free agents this offseason and while they could theoretically bring back both tackles, I think at least Oher will not be brought back. Therefore, the Ravens could use a new right tackle and Richardson is one of the better tackle prospects remaining on the board. Richardson has the skill-set to play left tackle and he is a seasoned and talented tackle. He is big but also athletic and is good with the pass and the run.

17. Dallas Cowboys* - Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Cowboys struggled to rush the pass all season long, a key reason why they were so often gashed by opposing quarterbacks. Even with DeMarcus Ware on one side, the team failed to develop much of anything opposite him to take advantage of all the attention given to Ware. Ealy has the skills to develop into a threat off the edge either in a 4-3 or if the club moves back to a 3-4 and he was excellent for the Tigers in 2013.

18. New York Jets - Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Geno Smith was a mess in his rookie season and while it is too easy to ignore him and put the blame on his awful supporting cast, his supporting cast was awful and it is a necessity if the Jets think Smith could be the guy that they upgrade the talent around him. I had them going Eric Ebron before but I do think if one of the top wideouts is on the board, the Jetropolitans will look to snatch him up. Lee had an inconsistent season by his standards and expectations but he is a burner on the perimeter that routes very good routes and catches the ball well.

19. Miami Dolphins - Zack Martin, G/T, Notre Dame
The offensive line in Miami was truly awful and caused a lot of problems offensively for the club all season long. Plus, you factor in the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito situation and thus the Dolphins have to address the line right away. Therefore, Martin is a good fit. Martin had a fine season at left tackle for the Fighting Irish but he may project to be more of a guard in the NFL due to his inconsistency with dealing with speedy pass rushers as well as his excellent run blocking skills. Either way, Martin works in Miami Gardens.

20. Arizona Cardinals - Cyrus Kouandijo, T, Alabama
Yet another year, yet again the Cardinals still have needs at offensive tackle, at least opposite the talented Jonathan Cooper because the hole at left tackle was a major problem even as the team tried to scheme around it. The best tackle on the board is probably Kouandijo and he would be a good fit for the club here. He is an excellent athlete with ideal size for the position and is very talented with a high ceiling, but he is raw.

21. Green Bay Packers - Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
It was pretty wild that the Packers, with all the problems they had with injuries, on defense and with Aaron Rodgers being out for a month, were able in the end to win the NFC North. That said, there is some work that needs to be done for the Packers to stay on top, particularly on defense. One weak spot was at safety, which was a consistent and serious issue. Pryor is a big safety that has a nose for the football and covers plenty of ground on the field.

22. Philadelphia Eagles - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Eagles did the unusual strategy of having four new starters in their secondary at the start of 2013, and it failed spectacularly as they were awful against the pass all season long and it really hurt them. They do not have great players at the cornerback position and they will take a long and hard look in the draft, a good one for corners, to find some help. Dennard was awesome in 2013 and played a key role for an excellent Michigan State defense that led the Spartans to a Rose Bowl victory and he is a physical and fluid corner with the instincts to make plays on the ball even with decent speed.

23. Kansas City Chiefs - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Alex Smith is not a great quarterback but with a talented supporting cast, he can get the job done and then some and with his decent but not great arm, it is key for him to have good weapons. But beyond Dwayne Bowe, there is not a whole lot on the cupboard for Smith to work with. Benjamin was the big-play threat for the Seminoles this year and he has the size and speed to be a serious playmaker in the vertical passing game.

24. Cincinnati Bengals - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert is the kind of athlete you crave to have at cornerback and he has excellent ball skills to boot plus he is an above-average sized player for his position. He was a hell of a player in Stillwater, and can contribute big time in the return game. Cincinnati is stout defensively but they could use some more youth and depth at corner.

25. San Diego Chargers - Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Roberson may not be much of a player against the run, and he is on the skinnier side for a six-feet corner, but he showed some natural man coverage talent in Gainesville and has the size and speed to be a real weapon against the pass. The Chargers had a great season and got back to the playoffs for the first time in several seasons, but their secondary and particularly their cornerbacks were not why they had such a rebound. An upgrade should be in order.

26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis) - C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Mosley would be a steal at 26 for the Browns in my opinion as there are a number of teams that could take him in May. He is the kind of tackler and leader you love to have in the middle of your defense and he is very good at multiple aspects of the position while possessing few weakness. Cleveland had disappointing play from their inside linebackers in their 3-4 in 2013 and if a guy that fits the defense is available here in the draft like Mosley, I think they will pull the trigger.

27. New Orleans Saints - Scott Crichton, DE/OLB, Oregon State
In a passing league, versatile pass rushers are a valuable commodity, and the more you have, the better you are off. Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme was better than expected in 2013 thanks to, among other things, talented pass rushers in Cam Jordan and Junior Galette, who was a revelation. Crichton would be a good fit in Ryan's scheme as he is a disruptive presence off the edge and versatile enough to do so in different spots.

28. Carolina Panthers - Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Cam Newton took a big step forward in 2013 but to take another step forward, he will need improved play from his receiving corps as Steve Smith struggled to stay healthy late and Brandon Lafell was decent at best. Robinson may not wow you athletically but he is a natural wideout that can get separation and runs well after the catch. He has the experience of playing in a pro-style attack as he excelled under Bill O'Brien and he will help whatever quarterback the Browns take with their first selection. Benjamin was the big-play threat for the Seminoles this year and he has the size and speed to be a serious playmaker in the vertical passing game.

29. New England Patriots - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Remember when the Patriots had such a feared tight end duo, one that was the envy of the rest of the league? Well Rob Gronkowski continues to suffer injury issues season-in and season-out, and the Aaron Hernandez thing, well, did not work out. So if one of the top tight ends are available late in the first, New England will be on the prowl. Ebron is an incredible athlete for a tight end and was the best tight end in America in 2013. He's also not a bad blocker either, and he probably should go higher than this.

30. San Francisco 49ers - Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
San Francisco has a boatload of picks so they may move up if they are targeting a specific player, but if they do stay home at 30, they may find an apprentice for an aging Justin Smith with one of the better players on the board in this Notre Dame product. Tuitt is a veteran of the 3-4 and thus fits very well in Vic Fangio's defense. He is a big defensive end, although perhaps a little too big in 2013, and is a powerful player that is quicker than you think.

31. Denver Broncos - Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
Opposite Von Miller, Shaun Philips provided ten sacks but he is on the wrong side of 30 and not a long-term option for the team, plus Robert Ayers is a free agent. For a team that puts up a lot of points, having a strong pass rush is key and thus Denver would be wise to bring in a physical and long end like Murphy who can move around the defense and is versatile.

32. Seattle Seahawks - Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Russell Wilson has been tremendous during his young NFL career, and he just won the damn Super Bowl, but he has not had the big-time playmakers in the passing game that could take the Seattle offense to another level. Starting TE Zach Miller is not a dangerous threat down the seam and plus, teams love the multiple tight end sets. Therefore, Amaro is a logical pick as he is a dangerous weapon in the passing game down the seems.

For even more mocks, check out the mock draft database from Walter Football.

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