Whenever writing up a mock draft, I feel like it’s important to construct each pick based on how you would want each team to pick per their individual situation, rather than who you think each team will pick. Otherwise, it’s a total guessing game that takes out the useful opinion of analyzing prospects and team needs, and instead replaces it with trying to read through the rumor mill. I’d rather not make trades in mock drafts for the sake of simplicity, but there are a few instances in which I feel a trade is absolutely necessary. For instance, the St. Louis Rams will trade down in this mock, because I have a hard time believing they are going to stay put at pick number two. It just makes no sense for them to do that, and that’s why it makes no sense for me to have them sticking around there.
1. Houston Texans
There are plenty of reports out there that state the Texans will pick either Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, and I’m sure you’ve read all of them- especially if you are a Texans fans. Again, I don’t create my mock drafts based on what reports say, because there’s always a chance that things change or that the reports are just smokescreens. I also don’t buy into the whole “Bridgewater isn’t a Bill O’Brien quarterback”, because that’s essentially saying O’Brien wouldn’t want to draft the most accurate, polished, and smart pocket passer in the draft. Bridgewater does a much better job of reading through his progressions than Manziel and Bortles, his accuracy is the best in the class, he’s mobile but is a pocket passer at his core, and he could help lead a more efficient Texans offense with Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins helping him out at receiver. Bridgewater doesn’t make many mistakes out there, and his college tape is a wonder to behold. Just watch how he manipulated Hurricanes defenders with his eyes against Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl to see his ability to beat both man and zone coverages.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington) trade their pick to the Arizona Cardinals
It’s time to be different and get messy, even if it means making a crazy intra-division trade between the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. The Cards obviously have an uphill battle when it comes to making the playoffs in the NFC West, but no NFL franchise is going to give up on another darkhorse run that could finally yield this team a playoff spot. Why would the Cardinals make this bold of a move to trade up for quarterback who isn’t ready? Well, Carson Palmer is locked in as the starter next season, but I can’t see how they would pay him $10 million to stick around for the 2015 season after paying him $8 million in 2014. Palmer’s a nice stopgap, but that’s all the 34-year-old is at this point- a stopgap whose lack of arm strength doesn’t accentuate the talent of the receivers around him and definitely doesn’t help Bruce Arians achieve what he wants to do. More importantly, that expensive 2015 season is voidable, and I’m sure the Cards would like to be in a position to “void” that year.
But Bortles could be exactly the guy Arians wants, especially since his size, mobility, pocket presence, physical tools, and upside might remind the Cardinals head coach of quarterbacks he’s successfully coached in the past. Bortles has a buyer-beware tag due to his inability to read through progressions, the relatively easy throws he attempted in college, his technique issues, his somewhat spotty accuracy, and his needs-improvement decision-making. However, he has as much upside as anyone in this class with his arm strength, incredible pocket poise, crazy mental toughness and clutchness, mobility, and the potential that he has if he improves on his accuracy, decision-making, and form. Bortles is somebody who could struggle as a rookie due to turnovers and the adjustment between the AAC and NFL, but he would have a great coach in Arizona and a friendly scheme with playmakers (Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and Andre Ellington). He would also get chance to learn on the bench for a year. Why is that important? Take it from here, Tommy B.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
DE, South Carolina
I really want the Jacksonville Jaguars to take a quarterback in the first round, but there’s no point in taking a QB and setting your franchise back a few years if you don’t think there’s someone who stands out and is worth the third overall pick. It all may be a smokescreen, but I’m also wondering if the Jaguars are sold on Johnny Manziel or Derek Carr. I know it sounds like I’m bucking my own logic here, but the Jaguars have so many needs that their prudent GM David Caldwell knows it’s best to build a strong roster. I agree with that, and I think the Jaguars are going to go best-available here. Despite his lack of pass rush moves, rawness, and background concerns, Clowney is the best prospect in this draft class. The Jaguars desperately need a top pass rusher, and that’s what Clowney would provide for this team. Not only does he have elite physical tools, but he’s also a willing and able run defender, which should further help this team. I could see the Jags taking Clowney and then picking up a second-tier QB like David Fales, Aaron Murray, or Jimmy Garoppolo in the second- or third- round of the draft.
4. Cleveland Browns
QB, Texas A&M
Since the Cleveland Browns have one of the stronger offensive lines in this league with an elite LT (Manziel has always had top tackles around him), they’ll have plenty of talent protecting the Texas A&M product. I hate how Manziel never makes the easy read, and I think his reliance on improv skill is going to cause him issues in his first year. But like the Cardinals, the Browns are also in a prime position to afford their raw signal-caller and hopeful franchise QB a chance to learn on the bench, as Brian Hoyer is a nice stop-gap option (2014 is the final year of his deal). I’m not the biggest Manziel fan, but even I recognize his upside, physical tools, and willingness to improve. Kyle Shanahan and Dowell Loggains form an excellent coaching tandem on the offensive side of the ball, so the support system should be there. It’s a risky pick for the Browns, but it’s not like Derek Carr would be without risk either.
5. Oakland Raiders
A lot of people have the Oakland Raiders selecting Sammy Watkins here, but I think the Raiders have a much bigger need for a playmaker on defense as opposed to a wide receiver. Watkins is a potential game-changer and the Raiders could use a guy like him on offense, but I think Mack is too good of a prospect to turn down. Plus, it’s not like Denarius Moore and Rod Streater are bums either, so this is also a case of going with need. Sio Moore looks solid and Kevin Burnett can ball, but the Raiders could also kick Burnett inside and play Mack as a 4-3 OLB. Moreover, Mack can also be a 4-3 DE, which is a need for the Raiders with Lamarr Houston likely departing in free agency. Like Houston, Mack has the ability to succeed as a pass rusher and run defender, and his versatility alone makes him a playmaker. When Clowney’s on the board, he’s usually the pick for the Raiders, Mack makes sense here.
6. Atlanta Falcons
OT, Texas A&M
Both Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews are so good that you could legitimately make the case for either, but I can’t put Robinson ahead of Matthews due to the A&M product’s incredible technique. Give me technique over athleticism at the tackle position any day, because it’s usually the raw prospects who bust. Robinson, of course, is more than some “raw” prospect, but Matthews’s technique puts him over the edge. I know the Falcons like Lamar Holmes‘s upside, but can you really bank on that? With Mack and Clowney off the board and Anthony Barr an overrated prospect much better off in the 3-4, I don’t see how the Falcons pass up on the third-best overall prospect in the draft.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers pretty much got shafted in this mock draft with Khalil Mack already off the board, and that makes it difficult to project their pick. I think it would be a reach for the Bucs to take Sammy Watkins, unless if the Mike Williams situation somehow deteriorates and leads to him getting released. Since I don’t anticipate that happening, I don’t anticipate WR being a need for the Bucs. Even if they do end up cutting ties with Vincent Jackson‘s WR partner, it would still be unwise for the Bucs to spend the seventh pick in the draft on a wide receiver with all the depth at the position in this draft. Seriously, they could find a great WR like Brandin Cooks in round two; this class is loaded at wideout.
So the seventh pick effectively becomes a need vs. value pick, with need being DE and value being C.J. Mosley. Neither Mosley nor Ealy are the best player available, and both actually fill needs for the Buccaneers. However, Ealy fills a desperate need, whereas Mosley fills a more “minor” need at MLB. Ealy looks like a solid 4-3 DE at the next level with his pass rushing skills and decent enough run defending, but Mosley looks like a future All-Pro and has all the physical and mental tools to be a great player at the next level. Give me the better player.
8. Minnesota Vikings
QB, Fresno State
The Minnesota Vikings are left with the last of the “big four” quarterbacks, but Derek Carr is just about as good as Manziel and isn’t far off from Blake Bortles either. I kind of hate how Carr gets lumped into the back of the bus, as if it’s a bad thing that he’s picked behind those guys. Carr has a cannon of an arm, and he reminds me of a cross between Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. He has all the tools to be a franchise quarterback, and I actually think he’s better than Manziel. This guy is also more polished than Manziel, and he makes perfect sense for the Vikings here. They desperately need a quarterback, and hopefully Norv Turner can help mold Carr into a franchise passer.