I hope everyone enjoyed the scouting combine. I was glued there all weekend after I finished my house of Cards binge. Welcome to my 2014 NFL Mock Draft Version 4.1. This version features changes to the selections and almost every player report to reflect their performance at the combine. Enjoy.
1. Houston Texans
Quarterback, Central Florida
Blake Bortles appears to be the front runner for Bill O’Brien and the Texans. He did himself a huge favor as the only quarterback worthy of a top-5 pick to throw at the combine. He also performed very well in the athletic events and looks to be much more athletic than previously anticipated. Bortles has a strong arm and the ability to scramble and makes a good fit for the current NFL landscape. 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 or Clowney on the Texans’ draft board. He is a whole five inches and 25+ 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 in Texas, but the stock for Bortles continues to rise even after he reached the top spot on a few draft boards.
2. TRADE: Atlanta Falcons (via Rams and Redskins)
Defensive End, South Carolina
Clowney also may have cemented his spot in the top-5 with his performance at the combine. He absolutely crushed the 40-yard dash posting an official 4.53. However, character and motivation concerns are still major red flags for the most talented player in the draft. If the Falcons opt to select Khalil Mack, his rise may make this trade even more probable for Atlanta because Mack will surely not last until the #7 pick. 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 but faltered because they could not get pressure on the quarterback. 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
Quarterback, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel will benefit from Bridgewater’s absence from most of the events at the combine. He posted a great time in the 40-yard dash at 4.68 seconds and performed in the top 5 among quarterbacks in the vertical jump, broad jump, 3 cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle. The Jags are nowhere near ready to draft another QB and they have plenty of holes to fill. The Jags will have a huge choice to make if both Manziel and Bridgewater are on the table at #3. Jacksonville could look to trade down to collect more picks to fill one of their many holes, but I doubt they leave one on the table or their fan base will go absolutely nuts. 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’s 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 the Jags may be trouble in that aspect. Manziel will still be the best thing to happen to Justin Blackmon and may save his career.
Previous Pick: QB Teddy Bridgewater
4. Cleveland Browns
The Browns will have to pull the trigger on Bridgewater 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.) Bridgewater falls the #4 due to his lack of participation in many of the combine events in which Manziel and Bortles flourished. He is quick enough to be mobile in and out of the pocket, but isn’t a dual threat quarterback in the true sense. I look forward to seeing how Bridgewater performs at his pro day, but as of right now, he is still a very good option at quarterback for the Browns at #4. The Browns can still target a receiver later in the draft to pair with Josh Gordon or an offensive lineman. Bridgewater would still be a huge upgrade at quarterback for the Browns.
Previous Pick: QB Johnny Manziel
5. Oakland Raiders
Outside Linebacker, Buffalo
The Raiders were 25th in the NFL in passing yardage last season and would certainly benefit from adding Sammy Watkins to their offense. But, they were even worse defending the pass, allowing the 28th worst passing yards per game in the NFL. Khalil Mack absolutely crushed the combine this weekend, landing in the top-5 among linebackers in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, and 20-yard shuttle. He also showed great skill dropping into coverage in the linebacker drills. Khalil Mack is a bull and would be a force on the outside as the Raiders’ premier pass rusher of the future. Mack is a physical freak and never stops working to get to the quarterback. Mack would instantly improve the Raiders’ defense with his skill, but more importantly, his attitude. Mack is also the best defensive player available at this point. The Raiders could also go for the offensive stud, but it is hard to overlook the effect that Mack would have on the culture of the Raiders.
Previous Pick: WR Sammy Watkins
6. TRADE: Buffalo Bills (Via St. Louis Rams and Atlanta Falcons)
Wide Receiver, Clemson
I had the Bills making a move to snatch up Khalil Mack before the Bucs, but the Raiders ruined that plan. There is still a prospect well worth trading up for in the Bills’ eyes. Sammy Watkins posted a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine and came in prepared and ready to show off his skill. He did not disappoint and looked like a very polished receiver. His performance led the Bills GM Doug Whaley to say “he’s the cream of the crop” of the receiving prospects. The Bills need some weapons on offense to help EJ Manuel’s progression and jump start that 28th ranked passing offense.
Previous Pick: OLB Khalil Mack
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
Mathews is still a great pick for the Bucs if he makes it to #7. 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.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Quarterback, Fresno State
It’s hard to put too much stock into the combine for a quarterback because the position is so much more than athleticism, but Carr performed very well. He posted a 4.69 40-yard dash and was top-3 among quarterbacks in the broad jump and 20-yard shuttle. 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, but I doubt Carr will fall that far after his showing at the combine. 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.
9. TRADE: St. Louis Rams (via Buffalo Bills)
Offensive Tackle, Auburn
Robinson performed well in the dash and other drills, but what was most impressive was how quick Robinson is on his feet. Anyone who wasn’t sold on Robinson before the draft should be convinced now. I am not convinced he will drop to #9. 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
Barr performed well at the combine, but we already knew he was very quick and athletic. I have yet to see how his pass rush moves have progressed since the end of the season, but 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.
11. Tennessee Titans
Defensize End, Missouri
Ealy didn’t stand out at the combine, but showed his quick burst by finishing 1st among defensive lineman in the 3-cone drill. 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, Oklahoma St.
Justin Gilbert showed off his freakish athleticism very well at the combine. He finished 4th overall in the 40-yard dash with a 4.37. He also finished 3rd among corners in the bench press with 20 reps of 225 pounds. 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. Justin Gilbert made huge moves to push himself into the conversation as the best CB prospect in the draft. He is a physical ballhawk on the outside and would add plenty of athleticism to improve the Chiefs’ secondary. Gilbert has great size, unlike current starter Brandon Flowers, at 6’0″ 200 lbs. and has the speed to bring it to the house every time he touches the ball. He has returned 5 kickoffs for touchdowns in his career at Oregon State and led the Big 12 with 6 interceptions in 2013. He must work on his technique to avoid getting burned by NFL receivers.
Previous Pick: CB Darqueeze Dennard
13. St. Louis Rams
Wide Receiver, Texas A&M
This is the last chance for Sam Bradford to prove he deserves to be the Rams’ starter. Since the Rams have poured so much money into him, they should give him the best chance to succeed this year. Mike Evans isn’t the fastest receiver in the draft, posting a 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine. But, he showed excellent route running ability and explosion in and out of cuts. At 6’5″, Evans led the SEC in receiving touchdowns. He would add a legit possession receiver and red zone threat for Sam Bradford, and be a nice compliment to the speedy Tavon Austin. Evans certainly has the tools to be a #1 receiver in the NFL.
Previous Pick: FS HaHa Clinton-Dix
14. Chicago Bears
Defensive Tackle, Minnesota
Ra-Shede Hageman tied for 3rd amongst defensive lineman in the bench press with 32 reps. We already knew Hageman was strong and insanely athletic, but his production doesn’t match. If he can figure it out, Hageman will be a superstar with his athletic ability. They 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 work on his conditioning to succeed in the NFL.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Free Safety, Alabama
Ryan Clark will likely retire. The Steelers have looked at ex-Lions safety, Louis Delmas, as a potential replacement. But, assuming the Steelers don’t want to spend a bunch of money on a veteran, there are a couple safety options to look at in the draft. Clinton-Dix didn’t stand out at the combine, but the tape already showed that he wasn’t an elite athlete in comparison to other defensive back prospects. Clinton-Dix’s advantage comes with his quick decisions and positioning. Who else would be better to teach him the nuances of the safety position than Troy Polamalu?
Previous Pick: WR Marqise Lee
16. Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Tackle, Florida St.
Jernigan didn’t stand out in the combine, but he is a better fit for the Cowboys than Aaron Donald. This was Jernigan’s first year as a starter for Florida State. He played extremely well for the Seminoles and showed that he is a natural force in the middle of the defense. He has quick hands and never stops moving his feet. He is extremely versatile and would be an excellent fit as a run-stuffing anchor in the middle of the Cowboys’ new 4-3 defense. He isn’t great at rushing the passer, but he will be lining up next to DeMarcus Ware. All Ware needs is someone to take up double and triple teams, and Jernigan can do better than almost anyone else in the draft.
Previous Pick: DT Aaron Donald