We’ve made our way around the final turn of NFL draft season, but instead of excitedly kicking it into fifth gear for the home stretch, it feels like many of us are sauntering toward the finish line at this point thanks to the pushed back date of this year’s draft.
I checked some mocks published the week of last year’s draft, and boy, nailing 15% of the picks was the best I saw. This truly is an exercise in futility.
But, let’s face it—we’re all addicted.
I’d much rather be spot on with my prospect evaluations than making the “correct” player-team connections, but for my final mock of the “season,” I’ll give predicting the first round my best shot.
I’m an enormous lying/smokescreen season believer, and after being reminded once again that a 15% “hit” rate means you have an Einsteinian IQ level when it comes to NFL draft prognostication, I’ve intentionally gone out on more than few limbs here while trying to maintain some semblance of sanity.
FINAL 2014 NFL MOCK DRAFT
1. Houston Texans – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
I think the Texans have been and will be “shopping” the No. 1 overall pick for as long as possible. In the end, though, they won’t be able to get even close the ransom the St. Louis Rams got for Robert Griffin III in 2012. From that, how bad would it look for GM Rick Smith and new HC Bill O’Brien if just about everyone knew they were trying to trade out of the first pick because they weren’t totally sold on Jadeveon Clowney…then they drafted Jadeveon Clowney?
Khalil Mack is the ideal edge-rushing complement to J.J. Watt and is perfect fit or DC Romeo Crennel’s exotic, multiple-front defense.
2. St. Louis Rams – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Yes, the Rams will field offers here for Clowney but ultimately won’t get the compensation they desire for him. And, sure, Jeff Fisher has some “connections” to Jake Matthews, but the St. Louis’ head coach is known for his love of the ground-and-pound offense, and Zac Stacy has a legitimate chance to emerge as a superstar. With Robinson at RT to begin his career, the Rams will control the clock in the ultra-physical NFC West in 2014. Also, Robinson can make a Tyron Smith-esque kick over to left tackle in the future, and adding him keeps Rodger Saffold inside at guard where he belongs.
Everyone’s penciled in Khalil Mack as the perfect “Leo” in Gus Bradley’s defense—a weakside defensive end whose primary responsibility is to explode into the opponent’s backfield and wreak significant havoc. How’s that role sound for Clowney? Pretty good, right? The Jaguars will get some trade offers here, but the South Carolina stud instantly becomes the team’s franchise cornerstone and defensive anchor. No team had fewer sacks than Jacksonville did in 2013, and Clowney’s presence helps young but inconsistent edge-rusher Andre Branch.
Fresh off Gordon’s tremendous All-Pro season in 2013, the Browns add another physical, speed specimen for Brian Hoyer, and, potentially the signal-caller they snag later in Round 1.
GM Reggie McKenzie’s phone could get a few rings at this juncture, but it’s time to grab elite talent while it’s still available. Yes, Hagemen runs pretty hot and cold, but his “hot” could launch the physically dominating defensive linemen into the All-Pro stratosphere a few years down the road. The Raiders added veterans Justin Tuck and Lamar Woodley during the free-agency period. However, those two need disruptive linemates on the interior to aid their chances to get one-on-ones on the outside.
He can pair with and learn from the elderly Antonio Smith to become a pass-rushing force from one of the defensive tackle spots in Oakland’s 4-3 alignment. Remember, McKenzie signed Austin Howard and Donald Penn in free agency and drafted Menelik Watson in the third round last year—another offensive tackle wouldn’t be very logical at No. 5 overall.
There’s always a stunner in the early stages of the first round, and this is it, especially with every drafniks’ favorite, Aaron Donald, available.
6. Buffalo Bills (from TRADE w/ Atlanta Falcons) – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Just last offseason, the only wideouts with NFL experience Buffalo had were Stevie Johnson and Brad Smith. A year later, it’s arguably the best and deepest position on the roster. Suddenly, the Bills offense has a scary combination of menacing size and blazing speed in a crowded receiving corps.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Josh McCown and OC Jeff Tedford are two ideal mentors for Manziel, and, heck, in today’s instant gratification society, don’t be surprised if Manziel beats out McCown in camp and starts Week 1. Oh, and he has his NFL version of Mike Evans in Vincent Jackson.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Carr operated out of a pro-style offense in 2011 but spent much of 2012 and 2013 in a wide-open spread, which may not have ideally suited his skill set. Then again, Cordarrelle Patterson is a masterful screen/YAC wideout who could flourish by getting a handful of quick targets. I’m enamored with this fit for Carr and the Vikings.
9. Atlanta Falcons (from TRADE w/ Buffalo Bills) – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Also, GM Thomas Dimitroff will love having two third-round picks only five selections apart in this incredibly deep class. Atlanta, without tons of depth, could use an influx of draft choices to round out the roster and push more handsomely paid veterans.
10. New York Jets (from TRADE w/ Detroit Lions) – Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Now, with Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, the typically reliable David Nelson, Jeff Cumberland and Odell Beckham Jr., Geno Smith has an admirable group of weapons at his disposal. The Jets give the Lions their No. 18 overall selection and their second-round pick (No. 49 overall).
11. Tennessee Titans – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
With Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Cecil Shorts and others at receiver in the division, Tennessee makes sure it gets Jason McCourty another running mate on the perimeter of Ray Horton’s defense.
12. New York Giants – Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
He’s an instant replacement for Justin Tuck and will significantly aid the talented but mind-bogglingly inconsistent Jason Pierre-Paul.
13. St. Louis Rams – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Rams get their Aldon Smith without the off-field issues.
14. Chicago Bears – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
While cornerback seems to be the most sensible choice here, I’m going astray. GM Phil Emery is a big analytics guy, and most of the advanced stats say Cooks, who’s only 20, has an extremely bright and productive future ahead of him in the NFL.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
He can instantly play one of the tackle positions and kick inside if need be. Playing against the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and a Cleveland Browns squad run by blitzing madman Mike Pettine, the Steelers need as much offensive line talent as they can get.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Sure, the defensive line needs an upgrade, but Dallas is giddy they can draft the most exciting tight end in this class to be groomed by veteran stud Jason Witten.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Everything about this pick works. The Ravens aren’t afraid to draft a player with some off-field concerns (see: Smith, Jimmy in 2012). Taylor Lewan is the best player available, and he fills an immediate need at right tackle to protect the extremely wealthy Joe Flacco.
18. Detroit Lions (from New York Jets) – Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Yes, it’s OK to be scared, defensive coordinators. Don’t forget Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.
19. Cleveland Browns – (from TRADE w/ Miami Dolphins) – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
While Johnny Manziel would have “fit” with OC Kyle Shanahan, Blake Bortles does too. He’s pretty athletic in his own right and has plenty of read-option experience.
20. Arizona Cardinals – Kony Ealy, DE/DT, Missouri
The Cardinals keep up with the influx of defensive talent in the NFC West with this selection.
21. Green Bay Packers – Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
On the inside of Green Bay’s 3-4, this Ohio State product can man the WILB position. He’ll make an abundance of plays at or behind the line of scrimmage right away.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
If the “right” wide receiver fell, Chip Kelly would have snatched him, but Kyle Fuller’s the best prospect on the board and adds some needed depth to the secondary. Brandon Boykin is a stud slot corner, but Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are average at best.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater’s embarrassing but not totally unexpected plummet ends here—he’s too good of a prospect for Andy Reid to ignore. He, probably, sits behind Alex Smith for a season then assumes the starting role in 2015.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Bengals have done a nice job dealing with prospects who entered the NFL with off-field issues, which is why Bradley Roby makes sense here. He’s the most athletically gifted cornerback in the class, but his “character” issues are now well-documented.
25. San Diego Chargers – Marcus Martin, C, USC
Nick Hardwick will be 33 before the start of the season and represents less than $2.0 million in dead money if he’s cut before the season. Marcus Martin is a wide-bodied center prospect with plenty of experience in USC’s pro-style offense. I’m not a huge fan, but I could understand the logic in San Diego taking him.
26. Miami Dolphins (from TRADE w/ Cleveland Browns via Indianapolis Colts) – Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
After their trade down, the Dolphins are still able to get their right tackle of the future in Morgan Moses. While he’s not fleet footed, everything checks out about him in regards to playing offensive tackle in the NFL. He’s tall, bulky and has powerful tentacles for arms.
27. New Orleans Saints – DeMarcus Lawrence, DE/OLB, Boise State
Dee Ford? No. DeMarcus Lawrence. The Boise State edge-rusher is flying under the pre-draft radar because his Broncos had a down year. Ford is a nice prospect himself, but Lawrence is bigger and comes with more versatility, especially as a run-stopper. DC Rob Ryan will really like that about him.
28. Carolina Panthers – Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Panthers wouldn’t be foolish to add up to three wide receivers in this draft, but finding a starting left tackle is an absolute must. No, Cyrus Kouandjio isn’t a perfectly refined prospect, but, with coaching, he has all the tools and size to become a stud blindside protector in the NFL.
29. New England Patriots – Louis Nix III, DT/NT, Notre Dame
Who am I kidding?—the Patriots will trade down from this pick. Anyway, Louis Nix III is logical as the heir apparent to Vince Wilfork. I like Justin Ellis of Louisiana Tech as well, but the Notre Dame prospect is probably the guy many see as the top nose tackle in this class.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Will the 49ers be “afraid” to grab a somewhat raw wideout late in Round 1 after the A.J. Jenkins disaster? Maybe. But they need receiver help and Bryant is a size/speed freak who had an incredible 2013 alongside Sammy Watkins. He can be the complementary deep threat to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis in San Francisco.
31. Denver Broncos – C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
There’s not a better replacement for Wesley Woodyard than C.J. Mosley at this juncture of Round 1. He and Danny Trevathan will formulate an underrated but athletic linebacker corps in Denver.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
Cheesy? Maybe. But really, does any team love large cornerbacks more than the Seahawks? I don’t think so. Walter Thurmond’s gone, so, at least initially, Jean-Baptiste could fill in as a sub-package guy before taking on more substantial responsibilities in 2015.