First things first, I’m really excited for that Draft Day movie. I will probably drag my girlfriend to it and make her sit through the whole thing even though I know she feels like I did during Labor Day (I mean it, don’t get dragged to that movie…). But, I digress. Welcome to my Version 4.0 2014 NFL Mock Draft. We have another new 1st overall pick(!), in addition to changes across the board. What do you think about your favorite team’s draft choice?
1. Houston Texans
Quarterback, Central Florida
Blake Bortles appears to be the front runner for Bill O’Brien and the Texans. Bortles has a strong arm and the ability to scramble (a la Aaron Rodgers) and makes a good fit for the current NFL. Blake Bortles played for George O’Leary, Bill O’Brien’s mentor, at UCF. Bortles has the physical tools to push himself ahead of Manziel on the Texans’ big board. He is a couple inches and 20+ pounds bigger than Manziel, and the initial reaction is to assume that would help him better avoid injury in the NFL. That may or may not be the case, but when you are splitting hairs sitting at #1 as the Texans are, size is a big factor. Manziel is still the sexy pick.
Previous Pick: QB Johnny Manziel
2. TRADE: Atlanta Falcons (via Rams and Redskins)
Defensive End, South Carolina
St. Louis will not be picking at #2. Many teams will be scrambling to select a QB and may be willing to offer more than Atlanta, but the Falcons have not been shy about moving up to select the player they want. The Atlanta Falcons were terrible this season after Super Bowl aspirations in the pre-season. The two biggest reasons for their poor season were the rushing attack and the lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Falcons will look to land the best player in the draft and their biggest need, pass-rusher Jadaveon Clowney. Like Manziel, Clowney is a very skilled and talented player, but will likely need a good situation to succeed in the NFL. Luckily for him, the Falcons still have a lot of pieces in place to make a run next year.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags are nowhere near ready to draft another QB and they have plenty of holes to fill. The Jags GM even said they would build around Blaine Gabbert. I don’t understand it either, but I doubt he sticks with that plan if Bridgewater is available at #3. Jacksonville could also look to trade down to collect more picks to fill one of their many holes, but I doubt they leave Bridgewater on the table or their fan base will go absolutely nuts. He is quick enough to be mobile in and out of the pocket, but isn’t a dual threat quarterback in the true sense. Bridgewater will be the best thing to happen to Justin Blackmon and may resurrect his career with his attitude and skill.
4. Cleveland Browns
Quarterback, Texas A&M
The Browns will have to pull the trigger on Manziel because their QB play was horrible and Josh Gordon is just waiting to break out, (even more than he did this year with the musical quarterbacks.) Johnny Manziel is a pretty good option when you ignore the character issues. The guy can flat out fly and his passing has improved significantly over his Heisman year. Manziel is anything but a game manager, but his decision making has been under the microscope of the top teams in the draft, and more than a few scouts don’t like what they see. Manziel needs a situation where he can come into an established team with strong veteran leadership in order to keep the pressure low and keep him in line, and we all know that the Browns don’t exactly fit the bill. The Browns can still target a receiver later in the draft to pair with Josh Gordon or another offensive lineman. Manziel would still raise the ceiling of this offense by a mile.
Previous Pick: QB Blake Bortles
5. Oakland Raiders
Wide Receiver, Clemson
If the Raiders are sticking with Terrelle Pryor at QB, or any QB for that matter, they need to give him more firepower to succeed. Sammy Watkins has home run potential on every play and will cause a lot of problems for defenses. The Raiders also apparently like Tajh Boyd who will likely be available on day 2 of the draft, and may look to pair Watkins with his college quarterback. The Raiders constantly struggle with continuity of their coaches and roster, so their players never quite have a chance to develop together. The Raiders could skip this step and it would do wonders for their offensive rapport.
6. TRADE: Buffalo Bills (Via St. Louis Rams and Atlanta Falcons)
Outside Linebacker, Buffalo
The Bills make a move to snatch up the rapidly rising Mack before the Bucs take him off the board. They have a rare opportunity to build a 49ers-esque linebacking core by lining up Mack next to DROY Kiko Alonso. Mack is a physical freak and never stops working to get to the quarterback. Mack would instantly improve the Bills defense with his skill, but more importantly, his attitude. Mack is also the best defensive player available at this point, plus he already lives in Buffalo and would likely fit right in with the Bills. The Bills also need some weapons on offense. There is a small chance Sammy Watkins could fall to #6, but TE Eric Ebron is another option if the Bills don’t feel like giving anything up in order to trade up.
Previous Pick: OT Jake Mathews
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
The Buccaneers were 26th in the NFL in sacks allowed with a whopping 47 on the season. The rise of Greg Robinson and the abundance of skilled players that fit with team needs in the top-10 will force Mathews out of the top-5. Regardless of draft position, Mathews still may be the most reliable prospect in the draft. The Bucs could come away with their left tackle of the future if no one else realizes how important of a player he could be for years to come. He will instantly make the job easier for Mike Glennon under center long enough to establish himself as the Bucs QB.
Previous Pick: OLB Anthony Barr
8. Minnesota Vikings
Quarterback, Fresno State
Once again, I just can’t shake the sense that the Vikings will make the reach for Derek Carr. He played well in the Senior Bowl and Christian Ponder obviously is not the future at QB for the Vikings. There are some good QB prospects that will be available on day two, such as Tajh Boyd, Zach Mettenberger, or possibly even Carr. Once two of the NFL’s best pass rushers, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams will both likely leave in free agency, so the Vikings will need some help rushing the passer. But, with their investment in Norv Turner, I find it hard to believe the Vikings will pass on Carr and take a chance on a 2nd rounder.
Previous Pick: OLB Khalil mack
9. TRADE: St. Louis Rams (via Buffalo Bills)
Offensive Tackle, Auburn
The Rams can trade down again and continue collecting 2nd and 3rd rounders, while still taking the best tackle in the draft. Sam Bradford just cannot stay healthy in part due to the lackluster play on the offensive line. The tackles improved this season, but the Rams have a shot to take the top tackle on the board even after they traded down. Robinson is a prototypical left tackle in terms of height, weight, arm length, and athleticism. He is quick and agile on the line, and shows a powerful burst in the running game. He is, however, only a redshirt sophomore and has little experience at the left tackle position. This shows in his lack of technique when he drops into pass protection. Technique, unlike size and natural ability, can be learned, and I would expect the Rams to invest a great deal of energy into Robinson, who could be the best tackle in the NFL in just a few years.
10. Detroit Lions
Outside Linebacker, UCLA
The Lions were 28th in the NFL this season in sacks and 23rd in the NFL in passing yardage defense. The Lions have a horrible secondary, but there aren’t any corners entirely worthy of a top-10 pick. They will benefit by adding another pass rusher after losing Cliff Avril to free agency last year. They will go with pass-rusher Anthony Barr, who happens to also be the most talented guy left on the board. Barr is an ex-FB with a lot of knowledge about offense, and it has translated into very good instincts on defense. He knows how to force turnovers and get the defense off the field. The Lions will get good value at #10. Even if Barr isn’t the most polished pass rusher at this point, he has the physical tools and instincts to become one. They may also elect to go with Marqise Lee.
Previous Pick: CB Darqeuze Dennard
11. Tennessee Titans
Defensize End, Missouri
The Titans were 20th in the NFL this season in sacks, and gave up 30+ points 5 times. The Titans will benefit by adding another pass rusher. Kony Ealy is a good prospect for the 4-3 DE because he is very athletic and can play the run and rush the passer. He has a very quick burst off the line and has the potential to disrupt pockets very quickly. He has been steadily moving up the the overall rankings, but will likely be available to the Titans at #11 if they want him. Without any of the “top-4″ quarterbacks available, Ealy is their best option.
12. New York Giants
Cornerback, Michigan St.
If the Giants want one of the top two tackles in the draft, the Rams will probably be willing partners at #6. The Giants did not have a horrible defense this year, but need some athleticism in the secondary badly. Prince Amukamara is finally playing better, but the Giants need to shore up that 10th ranked pass defense. Dennard is the top ranked corner in the draft. Dennard won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back, and had a great game against Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Dennard should be the first corner off the board, but he is losing ground to Justin Gilbert as teams have time to pick at his film. The Giants could also make a pick along the offensive line, because Eli Manning was sacked 40 times this season. The Giants could also look to trade down here if Dennard is off the board and they don’t feel comfortable picking Verrett or Gilbert this early.
Previous Pick: MLB CJ Mosely
13. St. Louis Rams
Free Safety, Alabama
The Rams will be getting the top safety in the draft in Clinton-Dix and the top tackle in the draft (in addition to either a high 2nd rounder in 2014 or a 2015 first rounder from the Falcons.) The safety play of the Rams was terrible this season. They will look for an upgrade to play with TJ McDonald. Clinton-Dix is probably the best defensive player available at this point, although the Rams could also go with a corner here, since Cortland Finnegan has been horrible this season.
14. Chicago Bears
Defensive Tackle, Minnesota
If the Rams take HaHa with the 13th pick, the Bears may need to reach to find a player at a position of need worth a #14 overall pick. The Bears need help on the defensive line, offensive line, and at safety. Their defensive line has been plagued with injuries all year, so they must get younger there. Ra’shede Hageman has elite size (6’6″, 311 lbs.) for a 4-3 DT and shows good ability as a pass-rusher. He consistently gets penetration in the middle and disrupts the pocket for opposing QBs with 11 tackles for loss, but must improve his stamina to succeed in the NFL.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Wide Receiver, USC
The Steelers’ window with Ben Roethlisberger is closing quickly, if it hasn’t closed already. The Steeler offense was abysmal this season, with absolutely no running game and an offensive line that gave up 43 sacks. Emmanuel Sanders was a disappointment again, and he will likely walk in free agency. Marqise Lee was the best receiver in the draft heading into the season, so the Steeelers should be happy that he will probably fall to them at #15. Lee is getting no love after having an average season with an average quarterback, multiple play callers, and a whole bunch of drama at USC. He is still a great route-runner and receiver, as seen in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Previous Pick: NT Louis Nix
16. Baltimore Ravens
Wide Receiver, Texas A&M
There is still a chance that the Rams will look to pick up Evans with one of their two picks. If not, the Ravens will be chimping at the bit to scoop him up. The Ravens offense struggled this season without Anquan Boldin. Wide receiver Mike Evans happens to be one of the top players available. At 6’5″, Evans led the SEC in receiving touchdowns, would add another legit red zone threat, and would be a much needed weapon for Joe Flacco as a possession receiver and in the red zone. Evans would pair nicely with the speedy Torrey Smith that serves as a good deep ball receiver.