25 March 2014

2014 NFL Mock Draft: 11th Edition

(Getty Images)
Does March Madness extend to the NFL Draft? Probably not, but I thought I might as well try with my lede to my latest mock draft. So on that note, here is my 11th mock draft for 2014.

1. Houston Texans - Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
I am starting to feel a little confident (only a little) that the Knights quarterback, and it appears that the word around the league is 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. And Bortles was the only top quarterback prospect to throw at the Combine and he looked very good.

2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington) - Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
Robinson has seen his stock sharply rise of late to where he looks like the best tackle of the bunch, no small feat considering this tackle class. His rise began with a brilliant National Championship performance, and it has continued thanks to an excellent Combine show with an excellent 40 time of 4.92 at 332 pounds as well as having the desired long arms with plenty of strength. There is no question the Rams, even after re-signing Rodger Safford after the fiasco with him in Oakland, could use more help at tackle, particularly with Jake Long's injury issues

3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Will the Jaguars pass on a quarterback to take Clowney? I think they would, even with their massive need at quarterback, and their re-signing of Chad Henne may indicate that they may not go QB early. I think that a talent like Clowney will be too much for a talent-starved Jacksonville team that could sorely use his prodigious pass rush talents, and thus go for a quarterback on Day 2. Sure, Clowney had an excellent 40-yard dash with impressive verticals and broad jump, but those questions about his effort, or lack thereof at times, persist after he bagged out of the drills with a supposed injury.

4. Cleveland Browns - Sammy WatkinsWRClemson
For quite a while, I have had the Browns going quarterback with their first selection. However, that changes, at least for this week as it appears from some whispers around the league that Cleveland may instead wait to take a quarterback. While quarterback is still their biggest need, another option opposite Josh Gordon is as well and who would not salivate about the pairing of Gordon with a talent like Watkins. Barring a truly pitiful Combine performance, Watkins was going to be a top pick but he tore it up in Indianapolis with just about everything he did. I think he is poised to step right in and be one of the elite wideouts in the NFL sooner rather than later.

5. Oakland Raiders - Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
After acquiring Matt Schaub from Houston, it looks like the Raiders are going in a different direction than drafting a quarterback with their first selection. And considering they have made a number of signings to fill various needs, mocking for Oakland just got a little more interesting. I do think they will go in the direction of taking the best player on the board, and at this point I think it would be Mack, even after the club has already signed Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and Lamarr Woodley considering the first two are on the south side of 30 and Woodley has injury issues. 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 and he is a great fit for a 3-4 defense like the one Atlanta appears to be moving toward.

6. Atlanta Falcons - Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
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 look for them to go with either Barr or (if available) Khalil Mack. 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. And with Atlanta moving towards a 3-4, this would be a great fit.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Lovie Smith did say that the recently-acquired Josh McCown will be the starter this upcoming season, but he will be 35 at the start of the season and is only on a two-year contract so it is obvious he is not a long-term answer. Smith has also said before he is willing to ponder taking a quarterback in the draft and I think they will should Bridgewater be there. I still think that Bridgewater is the most pro-ready quarterback in this draft and even his less than stellar pro day did not change that opinion.

8. Minnesota Vikings - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Everybody knows that the Vikings need a franchise quarterback. Christian Ponder showed he was not the answer. Josh Freeman's limited playing time was a mess, and while Matt Cassel is a decent stop-gap starter, he is not the answer to their questions, or much of any questions at that. I do not have much doubt that the Vikings would take one of the top three QB prospects and thus take Manziel in this scenario. 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 in my opinion.

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
Even after giving a lot of money, perhaps too much money, to Golden Tate to serve as a much-needed complement to Calvin Johnson, I do think that if given the chance to take Evans here, Detroit will take it to build an awesome receiver trio for Matthew Stafford to play with. Evans would pair with Johnson to form an imposing receiver tandem that would strike fear in every cornerback in the NFL, allowing Tate to operate over the middle. Evans is an athletic playmaker for somebody of his size that utilizes his frame to get open on any play.

11. Tennessee Titans - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State 
Gilbert's stock is soaring after he looked like the best defensive back at the Combine. 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. With Alterraun Verner signing with the Chiefs, the Titans have a need at the cornerback position so why not take the best prospect at said position with this selection?

12. New York Giants - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
It has been a few years since Eli Manning and the Giants have a legitimate weapon at the tight end position so why not take the possibly best guy on the board? Now while Ebron did not tear up Indianapolis as a number of folks thought he would, he has now solidified himself as the top tight end in a deep class and a guy whose stock could push him not just into the top half of the draft, but possibly into the top ten. 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.

13. St. Louis Rams - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Rams have a burgeoning defensive line with a pair of stars in Robert Quinn and Chris Long, but there is no question that for the defense to take it to another level, and for the team to make a real run at playoff contention, the secondary is going to have to improve their play. Cortland Finnegan was a huge disappointment and he's gone so they will replace him with this Sparty product. 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. However he showed at the Combine that he is not a good fit in zone coverage.

14. Chicago Bears - Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
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. 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.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Ra'Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota
Pittsburgh could go in a lot of directions with this pick, but for as long as I can remember off the top of my head I have had them going with a defensive lineman as that is where they need help, particularly at the five-technique defensive end position, which is a key position in Dick LeBeau's 3-4 defense. Hageman, who was excellent last year and in 2012 for the Golden Gophers, projects to be a strong 5-technique player in the 3-4. You like how it works out like that?

16. Dallas Cowboys - Aaron DonaldDTPittsburgh
You know who I think had the strongest Combine of anyone? I think it was the talented tackle from Pitt, who has seen his stock soar of late and thus all the way up to 14. Donald put together an awesome 40 time of a 4.68, had a similarly impressive 3-cone time of 7.11, and he was tremendous in the drills. He looks to be a solid bet to be a top-16 pick, and he was awesome in 2013. He will be a good fit for the Dallas defense, and will help to fill a big void at the defensive tackle position that was a complete mess in 2013.

17. Baltimore Ravens - Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
The Ravens made the wise move to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe and they also made the right move in letting the overrated right tackle Michael Oher sign elsewhere. However, that does leave a hole at the right tackle spot, and if Lewan were to somehow fall to this pick, I would expect Ozzie Newsome to hurriedly make the selection. 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.

18. New York Jets - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
New York desperately needing to find some weapons for whoever their quarterback will be, either the newly-signed Michael Vick, Geno Smith or even Richard Todd. They gave a nice chunk of money to Eric Decker, who is a solid receiver but is not a no. 1 and certainly not one without Peyton Manning, and they have been rumored to be in the mix for DeSean Jackson but even then why not add another weapon, including one as potentially electrifying at Cooks. Now Cooks' stock is on the rise after a strong Combine performance as he showed plenty of speed at a 4.33 40 as well as strong hands and quality route running ability.

19. Miami Dolphins - Zack Martin, T/G, 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 - Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
John Abraham was surprisingly good last year rushing the passer, but he cannot be relied on considering the fact that he will be 36 by the NFL Draft. Plus, opposite him, the Cardinals have little in terms of a guy that can consistently get to the pass rusher. It certainly is one of the top needs for Arizona in the draft and thus Ford would fit well, and he fits well into their defense. Now Ford made a lot of headlines by saying that he was better than Jadeveon Clowney, he is certainly a talented edge rusher in his own right even as he is undersized.

21. Green Bay Packers -  HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
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. 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.

22. Philadelphia Eagles - Calvin PryorSLouisville
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. The safety position specifically was a disaster so look for Philadelphia, even after signing Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos in free agency, to draft an upgrade. Pryor is a big safety that has a nose for the football and covers plenty of ground on the field.

23. Kansas City Chiefs - Marqise Lee, WR, USC
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. I fully expect the Chiefs to go after one of the top available wideouts in what is shaping up to be a deep class and a potential Lee slide would be warmly received in KC. Lee may not be as fast in shorts as some thought they would, but the kid is brilliant with the football.

24. Cincinnati Bengals - Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The defensive line in Cincinnati is the strength of the club, but there could be a potential hole to fill at end as there may not be enough money to throw around in order to re-sign Michael Johnson, so a cheaper replacement may be found. And the value of Ealy this late in the first round would be obvious and hard to pass up. Ealy has the skills to develop into a threat off the edge in the 4-3 and he was tremendous for the Tigers this past season.

25. San Diego Chargers - Kyle Van Noy, DE/OLB, BYU
The Chargers were never able to fill the hole that Shaun Philips left when he signed with the division rivals in Denver as Dwight Freeney was awful when he was on the field before he went on injured reserve. The lack of a pass rush hurt the team defensively as they were 29th against the pass and 23rd in sacks. Van Noy is small so for him, playing defensive end in a 4-3 is probably all but out of the question, although San Diego is an ideal fit considering their 3-4 scheme. What is not out of the question is how talented of a pass rusher he is off the edge and with his speed, he is a real weapon.

26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis) - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Just like Oakland, the Browns may think that Derek Carr is their answer for their quarterback issues and thus why they would pass on a quarterback with their first pick. There is no question that the Browns have to find themselves a franchise quarterback, the likes of which they have not had in their current incarnation, as Brandon Weeden was a mess and Brian Hoyer is not a long-term solution. Carr's stock fell with some inconsistent performance down the stretch and in Fresno's bowl game, but I do like him as a quarterback prospect. He has a strong arm that can make all the throws but the concern with him is that he can get flustered by a strong pass rush.

27. New Orleans Saints - C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Mosley would be a steal at 27 for the Saints in my opinion, as I thought he was when I had him going to Cleveland with the previous pick, 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. He is an excellent and ideal fit for the inside linebacker spot in a 3-4, like New Orleans runs. New Orleans also has issues at the inside linebacker spot. There you go.

28. Carolina Panthers - Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
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. Now with Smith being released and Lafell and Ted Ginn signing elsewhere, the Panthers are desperate for help at receiver. Beckham has seen his stock jump of late and thanks to a brilliant Combine performance, his rise may be one that only continues upward.

29. New England Patriots - Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame
The relations between the Pats and Vince Wilfork has really soured, with the latest news coming out just a few days ago that the big nose tackle has requested his release. Losing a guy like Wilfork would leave a sizable, no pun intended, hole in their defense considering how important the nose position plays in a 3-4. They will look for a potential replacement, and Nix is the best nose guy in this draft. Nix showed in Indianapolis very good agility and athleticism in the field, a big plus for any big tackle. He will not rack up sacks, but he can push the pocket along with plugging rushing lanes.

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 - Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
In a league that has become as passing-oriented as this one has, you can never have too many cornerbacks, especially for a team that lights up the scoreboard like Denver. And they have their issues at corner as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent and their is a vacancy on the other side. Fuller is not particularly fast but he is quick instead for a bigger cornerback. He also had to operate on an island with the Hokies, who always seem to pump out quality defensive backs, so he can be left out one-on-one in man coverage. Fuller also had himself a solid Combine that could put him into somewhat solidly into the first round.

32. Seattle Seahawks - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
It really was impressive that Russell Wilson was able to help lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl victory considering he never got much production from the receiver position. Now Percy Harvin never being healthy during the season hurt, but the fact is that the club does not have much in terms of dangerous weapons on the perimeter. 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. He and Harvin could make for one dangerous tandem in the deep passing game.

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

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