The NFL scouting combine is now over, so we have a better idea of rising and falling prospects, although the combine really shouldn’t mean much. I know that there will be many more trades than I have in this mock, but I only included trades where I thought necessary, just so that the mock draft isn’t confusing.
Without further ado…
1. Houston Texans
Most new mock drafts have the Texans taking Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, or Jadeveon Clowney. I think the Texans have to take the best overall quarterback prospect in the draft, and that is Teddy Bridgewater. All of the “red flags” on Bridgewater because he didn’t throw at the combine are meaningless to me because he’s the most accurate, polished, and NFL-ready quarterback of the 2013 class. Size was also pegged as an “issue”, but 6’3” and 196 pounds while throwing for 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions last year doesn’t seem like an issue to me.
The reason why I have a problem with taking Clowney here is that the Texans were 2-14 because of horrible quarterback play and not bad run defense or pass rush. I think drafting a guy who’s probably going to end up being the franchise quarterback is a better decision than drafting a pass rusher when the team already has the best pass rusher in the league. I just don’t have enough confidence in Case Keenum or a reeling Matt Schaub to pass up the most pro-ready, and best, quarterback in the draft.
2. Atlanta Falcons (trade with Rams)
DE, South Carolina
The Falcons aren’t afraid to trade up in the draft (see: Julio Jones trade) and I believe they’ll do it again, as they desperately need a stud pass rusher. Clowney is the best player in the draft by far and I don’t anticipate him slipping past this pick. I also don’t think the Rams have any business in the top 5 in the draft; they can trade down and get more picks.
As for the Falcons, one of the worst-ranked pass rushing teams in the league could certainly use some speed and freakish ability on the line. The Falcons don’t have many areas of need on the offensive side of the ball outside of the offensive line, so I’d like to see them snag a pass rusher to fill the most pressing and glaring need by taking a possible once-in-a-generation player.
3. Minnesota Vikings (trade with Jaguars)
QB, Texas A&M
The Jaguars will trade back in the draft – Manziel or Bortles would be the “flashy” pick, but there’s no point in taking a quarterback this early in the draft if he’s going to turn out to be a complete bust (see: Blaine Gabbert). Jacksonville needs depth, something it will get in the draft by trading down and acquiring more picks. Minnesota’s struggles in 2013, like Houston’s, were largely due to inconsistent quarterback play by Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, and Matt Cassel.
Manziel isn’t the best quarterback in the draft, but I believe he has the most potential out of any player in the draft. He’s pretty much a make-or-break pick – either he’s a bust or he’s the real deal. That all depends on his health, and he did stay healthy at College Station. The thought of Manziel and Adrian Peterson on the same team makes me shudder – Minnesota could have the best running game in the league with Manziel. They might need another receiver, but this is a very deep receiver class. Minnesota finally gets a franchise quarterback here.
4. Cleveland Browns
QB, Central Florida
Cleveland already has a star left tackle along with one of the best offensive lines in football, a stud receiver in Josh Gordon, and a top-ranked defense with Pro Bowl defensive backs T.J. Ward and Joe Haden. I believe that the Browns are a solid quarterback away from being legitimate contenders. Bortles could be that guy.
The Browns have enough depth at quarterback to even sit Bortles for his first year and start Brian Hoyer until 2015 rolls around. Cleveland could really go any way with this pick, but, as was the case with Houston and Minnesota, bad quarterback play has been the cause of the team’s poor play. It’s not 2000 anymore (sorry Trent Dilfer) but teams need franchise quarterbacks to succeed.
5. Oakland Raiders
I would definitely want Oakland to consider taking a quarterback early, but the “Big 3” of quarterbacks (Bridgewater, Manziel, and Bortles) is gone already by the time Oakland’s pick rolls around. Derek Carr would be available, but like Jacksonville, Oakland can’t afford a quarterback who isn’t a lock to be a star right away (like Andrew Luck was).
Oakland needs help on both sides of the ball, and although I really want them to take a quarterback, it’s just not worth a top five pick. The best player available is Mack. The Raiders’ front seven needs some help both in pass rush and run defense. Mack is definitely the best outside linebacker and perhaps the second-best pass rusher behind Clowney. Oakland can’t go wrong with this pick. Mack would be a flexible player who could play outside linebacker or defensive end in the Raiders’ 4-3 scheme.
6. St. Louis Rams (trade with Falcons)
The Rams are in need of a tackle for depth on the offensive line and to possibly take over if Jake Long doesn’t come back from his knee injury, but Watkins is just too good to pass up. The team picks again seven picks from this spot. St. Louis already has a top ten defense with a menacing front four, so I think taking a defensive player here would be a mistake. The offense has been the reason for the team’s sub .500 seasons for the last few years, not the defense.
The Rams need some firepower on offense to score against the stingy defenses of its division rivals. I’m not sold on Tavon Austin as a true number one receiver, but Watkins could be a Julio Jones in his rookie year. Austin, Jared Cook, and Stedman Bailey can get it done over the middle. Watkins’s presence would help the Rams’ offense to put up big numbers for the first time in the Sam Bradford era.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Defensive end is the Bucs’ biggest need, but Mosley is a better overall player than Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy. Mike Glennon played better than most people think, so Tampa is probably not taking Derek Carr here. Inside linebacker isn’t as big of a need as defensive end, but Mosley is the best player out of anyone available with the seventh overall pick. Mosley would join an already talented Buccaneers defense consisting of Darrelle Revis, Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, and Adrian Clayborn.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars (trade with Vikings)
OT, Texas A&M
The Jaguars are among the worst teams in the league when it comes to depth. The team needs a quarterback, running back (if/when Maurice Jones-Drew leaves), a number one receiver, a few solid starters on the offensive line, solid defensive line players… you get the point. Pass protection issues are a reason for terrible offense (and, of course, Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert). This team can use a lot of help in a lot of places, but it starts with the offensive line. Put Henne behind the Patriots’ offensive line and I guarantee you he fares much better.
Matthews is my highest-rated offensive linemen – his athleticism and production in college were much better than Greg Robinson of Auburn, so I’d want the Jags to favor Matthews over Robinson (kind of how the Redskins took Trent Williams over Russell Okung in the 2010 draft). Since the team traded down five spots, it’ll have multiple second round picks where it can select a quarterback.