01 April 2014

2014 NFL Mock Draft: 12th Edition

Free agency has all but died down, meaning the focus is full steam ahead towards May 8th and the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. So without further ado, here are my latest mock draft for this year's draft cycle.

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 - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Yes, the Raiders just acquired Matt Schaub from Houston, but Schaub is certainly not a long term option for this franchise and he is on the wrong side of 30. Now while you may be surprised to see Carr be mocked so high but it appears that his stock has been on the rise as a number of clubs have begun to prefer him to Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel, and it has appeared that one of those teams is the Raiders. Sure Carr was a mess in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl and he struggles when faced with pressure, but he has a strong arm, plus mechanics and was awesome during his years in Fresno.

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 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 and he is a great fit for a 3-4 defense like the one Atlanta appears to be moving toward.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
With the bizarre Mike Williams situation, it looks like the Buccaneers are going to need to add another weapon for Josh McCown alongside Vincent Jackson. Yes, they already have signed a tight end in Brandon Myers, but Myers is far from a player that opposing defenses have to gameplan for. But I think they will draft a playmaker here and the best one in the draft at tight end in Ebron. Ebron is an incredible athlete for a tight end and was the best tight end in college football in 2013. He is a future star in the passing game and he's also not a bad blocker either.

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 - Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
Tennessee would be ecstatic if a talent like Barr were to fall to 11 as I project here because they could use some added juice to their disappointing pass rush. 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. But with new defensive coordinator Ray Horton coming to Nashville to run a hybrid scheme, Barr fits.

12. New York Giants - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
With Linval Joseph leaving the Meadowlands for a nice contract from the Vikings, there is now a clear hole at defensive tackle and thus it will be hard to replace a player the caliber of Joseph, especially as the rest of the tackle crops is less than stellar. 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.

13. St. Louis Rams - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma 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 the top corner in this class. 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.

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 - Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
There is no question that the supposed America's Team needs reinforcements at defensive end, even after signing Jeremy Mincey, who is nothing spectacular anyways. They decided to part ways with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer remains a free agent after undergoing microfracture surgery in his knee. George Selvie remains on the roster but more help is needed at the position. 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. He is also an ideal fit for the Dallas scheme.

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 - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Cincinnati's defense has been very good for several years and have been a key reason why they have been a playoff team in recent years. However, the team needs reinforcements at corner as Leon Hall has torn his Achilles now twice in the last few years and while Terrence Newman and Adam Jones have held up relatively well, that is not sustainable long-term. 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.

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) - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Now with the rise of Derek Carr, one of the quarterback prospects is going to go for a bit of a slide in my opinion and in this scenario, the falling prospect would be Bridgewater. I think teams could be drawn away from Bridgewater thanks to his less than stellar pro day performance, which seems ridiculous to me considering Bridgewater's excellent tape from his days at Louisville. I think he is the most pro-ready quarterback in this draft and he will immediately step in and start for the Browns.

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
Even as it appeared that the relations between the Patriots and Vince Wilfork had soured, the big guy will be returning to Foxborough this fall. However, New England should look for a potential replacement considering Wilfork's age, 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 - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The 49ers have themselves a decent receiving corps with Michael Crabtree and the recently re-signed Anquan Boldin, but they also could use a wideout that is more of a vertical threat in order to take advantage of the strong arm of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. And in drafting this Florida State product, Benjamin would complement Crabtree and Boldin by opening up room underneath by working the deep passing game. 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.

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 - Stephon Tuitt, DT/DE, Notre Dame
You could never have too much depth on the defensive line and that is especially true for the Super Bowl champs who could use greater depth at tackle after Red Bryant was cut as well as some more options at defensive end. A versatile player like Tuitt would help fill both holes and in the versatile Seattle defensive scheme, he would be quite a valuable player for them. He is a big defensive end that can also play some tackle after playing in the 3-4 in South Bend, and is a powerful player that is quicker than you think.

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

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