04 March 2014

2014 NFL Mock Draft: 8th Edition

March may be the month for hoops, but that does not mean we still won't be looking towards the NFL Draft. Here is my eighth NFL mock draft for 2014.

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. 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
I'm changing up the Rams at two from going with Clowney to going with Robinson, which is far from a bad pick as Robinson's stock has been soaring to where he now appears to be the top tackle on the board. 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, with Rodger Safford a free agent and Jake Long with injury issues, could use some help at tackle.

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. 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 - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
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. Manziel did not throw at the Combine, but he reportedly interviewed very well for a number of clubs.

5. Oakland Raiders - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Terrelle Pryor showed some flashes, but all in all he was too inconsistent and did not show enough to earn the starting job. Matt McGloin looked better than expected, but he also certainly was not the answer either. The Raiders have lacked a franchise quarterback since Rich Gannon retired a decade ago, and Bridgewater will be the guy if he is there at five. Now, I do not like that Bridgewater did not do anything at the Combine, especially when he said that he was a "competitor," but he is the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft.

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 - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Do the Buccaneers have a need for a wide receiver? No, but for a huge talent like Watkins, and how desirable it would be for the team to pair him with Vincent Jackson, that will be quite tempting. 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.

8. Minnesota Vikings - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Yes, I am switching up the Vikings from going quarterback, which is still a huge need for them of course, to another big need at cornerback, even as Xavier Rhodes looked pretty good for a rookie, but with Chris Cook being a free agent and being expendable anyways, taking a big riser like Gilbert is a legitimate option. And yes, 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.

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. And Evans had a strong Combine himself that should solidify his draft stock.

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 - 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 - 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. They could go corner or safety here and after a few mocks of them going safety, I think they will instead go with Dennard and work the corner spot. 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 - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
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. 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 - 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. Nix showed in Indianapolis very good agility and athleticism in the field, a big plus for any big tackle.

16. Dallas Cowboys - 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. 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 - Marqise Lee, WR, USC
You think Joe Flacco missed Anquan Boldin? I certainly did as he never found a reliable option at receiver than Torrey Smith, and his play suffered as a result. Now while taking the electric Lee would give Baltimore two deep threats when one may think they would be better off with more of a possession type, I think Ozzie Newsome will be tantalized by a Lee-Smith tandem with Flacco's big arm.

18. New York Jets - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina 
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. 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.

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 - Ra'Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota
Should Arizona start looking for a replacement on their defensive line for Darnell Dockett, who is still a solid, albeit expensive, player but has lost some of his fastball in terms of applying a pass rush on the quarterback? It may not be such a bad idea to tab a protege if you will in a talented and versatile lineman such as this Minnesota product. 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.

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 Pryor, S, Louisville
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 to bring in a pair of safeties in order for an upgrade. Look for them to use this pick if one of the top safeties is on the board at 22. Pryor is a big safety that has a nose for the football and covers plenty of ground on the field.

23. Kansas City Chiefs - Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
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. Beckham has seen his stock jump of late and thanks to a brilliant Combine performance, his rise may be one that only continues upward.

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 Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
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. 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.

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 Mosley is an ideal fit for that scheme.

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 - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida 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. 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 Newton could make for one dangerous tandem in the deep passing game.

29. New England Patriots - Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
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. Therefore, Amaro is a logical pick as he is a dangerous weapon in the passing game down the seems.

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 - Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
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, especially in today's passing league. 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.

32. Seattle Seahawks - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon 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. 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.

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

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