The 2014 NFL Draft is one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory, in fact it is so deep that rumors are already making the rounds that most teams would like to trade down, and acquire more picks in the middle rounds of the draft. The class already has a strong group of seniors available, but became even stronger when a record-breaking number of juniors declared for the draft, and players that will make an impact right away in the NFL will be found in the middle and event he later rounds of this class. We here at SportSmasher.com love the NFL Draft, all of the speculation, and all of the rumors. Let’s get into our first 2014 NFL Mock Draft:
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1 ) Houston Texans – Blake Bortles, QB (6’3 227lbs) Central Florida – This may come as a surprise, but I am not trying to be cute here, I think that Blake Bortles will be the number one pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. I think that, of the three top three quarterbacks in this draft class (along with Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel), Bortles has the best combination of size, arm strength and pocket awareness. Bortles reminds you of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at times, he extends plays and hangs in the pocket until the last second, stepping up and delivering the ball under pressure. Bortles needs to improve his accuracy, but a quarterback guru like new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien would be the perfect man to groom him into a star, and O’Brien prefers bigger more traditional quarterbacks like Bortles to the alternatives in this draft. The Texans have a talent rich roster, but poor play from the quarterback position in several close games have them drafting first overall, it could be a quick turnaround for the Texans if they add the right quarterback of the future.
NOTES: The Houston Texans recently said that they will listen to trade offers for this pick, and they should do so, that’s part of the business. The only team that I could see trading up a few spots to draft the quarterback that they desire at this point would be the Cleveland Browns, who are armed with assets (the #4 pick, the Colts first round pick), and desperately need a quarterback. The Rams could come into play as well, depending on if they decide to move on from Sam Bradford, who has struggled and is coming off a torn ACL. If the Texans pass on Bortles, he will not slide far, rumor is the Jaguars like the idea of keeping the UCF star local with the third pick overall. The Texans are also apparently enamored with South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, as is everyone in the draft I’m sure, he is the most flawless prospect in quite some time.
2 ) St. Louis Rams – Jake Matthews, OT (6’5 305lbs) Texas A&M – The St. Louis Rams have a lot of young talent on their roster from the draft picks that they acquired from the Washington Redskins in the Robert Griffin III draft day trade in 2012, but they definitely need some help along the offensive line, which they get here by selecting Jake Matthews. The Rams have Jake Long on the roster, and may attempt to re-sign Roger Saffold, but they need to draft a young left tackle that they can build their offensive line around for the future. Matthews is extremely well-rounded, he is an excellent run blocker, and although he does not have elite athleticism he can hold his own against speed rushers in the passing game, he is a talented pass blocker. Jake Matthews has experience at both tackle spots, NFL bloodlines, and all of the intangibles you look for in a professional athlete.
NOTES: This pick should belong to the Washington Redskins, but goes to the Rams from the Robert Griffin III trade during the 2012 NFL Draft, the Rams also own their own first round pick (#13). At this point, it seems that the Rams are committed to former first overall pick Sam Bradford as their quarterback of the future, but I would not be shocked if that changes as we approach draft time. Bradford has yet to reach his potential, has struggled in the NFL, and is coming off of a torn ACL. Maybe the Rams decided to go in a different direction if they fall in love with one of the top quarterback prospects in this draft, and either let Bradford sit out as he rehabs his knee, or release him to save cap space. I have not looked into this in-depth yet, but know that the ramifications of moving on from Bradford have been discussed at length on other blogs, but you rarely get the number two pick in a draft and have the opportunity to upgrade your quarterback. Do not be surprised if the Rams look to trade down if they stay committed to Bradford, both the Jaguars and the Browns could be interested in trading up to select the quarterback that they desire and the Falcons may be eying Jadeveon Clowney. Keep in mind the Rams could just grab the best player in the draft, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and figure out what to do with their surplus of defensive ends later.
3 ) Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater, QB (6’3 205lbs) Louisville – The Jaguars need to find a quarterback of the future, it is clear that former first round pick Blaine Gabbert is not that guy, and I doubt that the team elects to move forward with Chad Henne as the answer at quarterback. Most mock drafts currently project Teddy Bridgewater to be the first player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, and while I think he is very talented, he will be picked apart by scouts in the coming months. The first thing you love about Bridgewater is his accuracy, he has more precision on his passes than the other quarterbacks in this draft, and has important experience coming from Louisville’s Pro-Style offense. Bridgewater is a natural at going through his progressions, and does not force throws if nothing is there, very poised and does not panic under pressure. I think that Bridgewater’s arm strength is overrated, especially on deep balls, where his accuracy tends to slip. Bridgewater comes with some past durability issues, and I think NFL scouts would like to see him add some muscle leading up to the draft, he is rather lanky and could easily add bulk. Bridgewater is athletic, but he is not a runner, he is more pocket athletic than a scrambler who is going to break big runs. Not a dual threat.
NOTES: I would not be shocked if Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley elected to address a different position of need, and selects the best overall player in the draft, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Gus Bradley is a defensive coach and was the architect of the Seattle Seahawks excellent defense, he understands how important a pass rush is in today’s NFL, that to win in a passing league you need to be able to rush the opposing quarterback. The Jacksonville Jaguars had no pass rush last season, and adding Clowney would be an instant upgrade to their defense, but can Jacksonville find a quarterback later in the draft or through other means (trade, free agency) this offseason that would make picking Clowney justifiable? If the Jaguars think they can land a player like LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger or Clemson’s Tajh Boyd in the second round, and feel comfortable with them under center, Clowney might be the pick.
4 ) Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel, QB (6′ 210lbs) Texas A&M – I do not think that the Cleveland Browns will be picking fourth overall on draft day, they have two first round picks (their own and the Colts), and they desperately need to find their quarterback of the future. A swap with the St. Louis Rams for the second pick almost makes too much sense, I think the Browns will decide which of the top quarterback they like the most, and aggressively go get him. There are whispers that the Cleveland Browns are enamored with Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, and although he has some weaknesses there is a lot to like about Manziel’s game. Johnny Manziel is first and foremost a playmaker with an knack for making big plays out of seemingly nothing with his arm or his legs, he is a leader on the field, and he will command media coverage wherever he calls home in the NFL. The knocks on Manziel will be his height, he may be under six-feet tall, and his questionable accuracy on deep downfield passes. I think that Johnny Football will be a successful quarterback in the NFL, especially in an offense that is tailored to his strengths, the way that the Seattle Seahawks have been able to be successful with Russell Wilson.
NOTES: The Browns have a talent rich young roster, and I think that if they can get the quarterback position solidified this offseason, they contend for the division in 2014. The Browns are armed with tradable assets, and I think that they will be aggressive during the 2014 NFL Draft, to be sure that they select the quarterback that they covet. If the Browns add a quarterback on draft day, add another wide receiver opposite Josh Gordon, and a few tweaks to the secondary and offensive line, they have the chance to turn this franchise around quickly.
5 ) Oakland Raiders – Jadeveon Clowney, DE (6’5 268lbs) South Carolina – The Oakland Raiders need to figure out which direction they are going at quarterback, but in this scenario the top three signal callers are already off of the board, and reaching for a player like Fresno State’s Derrick Carr would be a huge mistake with the best player in the draft still on the board. Jadeveon Clowney’s draft stock took some hits this season, as he played through lingering injuries, and had his ability to give a consistent effort questioned. There are no questions about Jadeveon Clowney’s natural ability, he is ready to dominate NFL lines of scrimmage right now, and I think he will rack up double digit sacks as a rookie. Clowney has all of the tools, size, speed, length, explosiveness. He has excellent technique and has a great feel for the game. The only thing that you can question Clowney about is his conditioning and every-down motor, and I think that once he signs a guaranteed contract and no longer has to worry about a freak injury costing him millions of dollars, that will improve. The Oakland Raiders totally lack organizational talent, they have needs everywhere, they cannot afford to pass up the most talented player in the draft if he slides to fifth overall. This is the absolute floor for Clowney, but with three of the top four teams needing a quarterback, and the other with two All-Pro caliber defensive ends in place this is where he falls.
NOTES: The Raiders are a wildcard just due to their overall lack of talent, personally I think the team should stick with Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, who may not be the prototypical pocket passer the staff desires but at least has big play ability. The Raiders need weapons on offense, at running back and wide receiver, and they need help on every level of defense. If the team falls in love with a quarterback, they could be a candidate to trade up, but losing draft picks would be a mistake. Rumors persist that the Atlanta Falcons want Jadeveon Clowney, and that they would consider trading up to get him, if they offer the Raiders several draft picks to flip first rounders Oakland would have to consider it. There have also been rumors that the Raiders are open to trading down if it will land them additional picks in the middle rounds of this draft, since they need talent everywhere, and the talent pool is so deep.
6 ) Atlanta Falcons – Greg Robinson, OT (6’5 320lbs) Auburn – The Atlanta Falcons are a good football team, but they had an awful season, mostly due to injuries. The Falcons lost their second most important player (after quarterback Matt Ryan), wide receiver Julio Jones, to a foot injury which cost him most of the season. At the same time, their third most important offensive player, wide receiver Roddy White was in-and-out of the lineup with a high ankle sprain which slowed him down much of the year and starting running back Steven Jackson missed a lot of time due to injuries. The Falcons were also hit with major injuries along the offensive line, and all over the defensive side of the ball, including their most important defensive player Sean Weatherspoon. All of those injuries were simply too much for the Falcons to overcome, and with a few upgrades to the roster this offseason and better luck with injuries, the Falcons should be a good football team again in 2014. One big problem with the Falcons is their total lack of a pass rush, and they are known to love Jadeveon Clowney, and want to keep him in the South East. However, with Clowney off of the board in this scenario, the Falcons look to the other side of the football and grab massive Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. The Draft process just started, but Robinson is already one of the hottest names, he is huge and is a mauler in the running game while quick enough in the passing game. The Falcons need to protect their franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, and their offensive line was terrible last season, the addition of Robinson would be a huge upgrade.
NOTES: Rumors persist that the Falcons primary target is Jadeveon Clowney to upgrade their non-existent pass rush, so maybe they trade up to secure him, the Rams could be a target. If upgrading the pass rush is the primary objective, and Clowney is gone, the Falcons could reach for another pass rusher like LB/DE tweeners Anthony Barr or Khalil Mack. I think that both of these players fit better in a 3-4 defense than they do in a 4-3, which Atlanta currently runs, but if they think a pass rusher can fit their system they could pick one.
7 ) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sammy Watkins, WR (6’1 205lbs) Clemson – It will be interesting to see which direction the Tampa Bay Buccaneers go in with the seventh pick in the draft, new head coach Lovie Smith could want to improve the defensive side of the ball, and the Buccaneers desperately need no improve their pass rush. The Buccaneers have Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams as their starting wide receivers, with little else, as players like Tiquan Underwood and Kevin Ogletree were primary targets on meaningful downs for the team this season. Sammy Watkins proved what he can do during Clemson’s bowl game win, catching 15 passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns, he is the most dangerous playmaker in the draft and the Buccaneers need another target in the passing game. I wonder if Watkins will slide leading up to the draft because he has character concerns, and he is more quick than fast so his 40 time could be on the slower side. Make no mistake about it, Watkins is an incredible playmaker who will be a star in the NFL, he would be an excellent addition to Tampa Bay’s roster.
NOTES: The new coaching staff in Tampa Bay needs to decide if Mike Glennon will be their starting quarterback going forward, if not, a quarterback like Derek Carr becomes an option. The Buccaneers also cannot rush the passer, but tweeners like Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr do not really fit Lovie Smith’s system.
8 ) Minnesota Vikings – Derek Carr, QB (6’3 218lbs) Fresno State – The Minnesota Vikings have the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson, and have some targets in the passing game, who should be able to make plays while the defense is focused on stopping Peterson. The problem is they do not have a quarterback who is capable of airing the ball out accurately and making plays downfield, Christian Ponder totally lacks arm strength, and Josh Freeman has a big arm but is a zero in the accuracy department and is a free agent. Derek Carr has a live arm and can make every NFL throw, he was a hot prospect who was climbing the rankings all season long, until a poor performance in a blowout bowl loss to USC in their bowl game cooled him down. The Vikings have a decent offensive line in place to protect Carr, they will be able to run the ball with Peterson to set up the passing game, and players like Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson will be thrilled to have a quarterback who can air the ball out accurately downfield. The Vikings have some talent on offense, they just need to find a quarterback who is capable of utilizing that talent, and Carr could be that guy. Carr’s arm strength could be a good fit in the scheme of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
NOTES: The Vikings defense was also terrible this season, and they need cornerbacks and help along the defensive line, and another linebacker would not hurt. I have heard that ownership thinks that their quarterback play has been unacceptable and that the franchise realizes that it has already wasted much of Adrian Peterson’s prime, an all time great back. The Vikings are heavily scouting this quarterback class, and I would not rule them out as a candidate to trade up, they might fall in love with a top prospect. However, new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer likes to run a 3-4 defense, and the Vikings do not have the personnel for that scheme, so they may look to revamp the defense during this draft and find a quarterback elsewhere. A player like Anthony Barr, who could be a monster standing up on the outside of a Zimmer defense, could be an excellent fit.
9 ) Buffalo Bills – Eric Ebron, TE (6’4 245lbs) North Carolina – The Buffalo Bills seem to have found their quarterback of the future in rookie EJ Manuel, who showed promise when he was healthy in 2013, but missed significant time with a knee injury. While Manuel was healthy he did not have a lot of options in the passing game, and although wide receiver Stevie Johnson can still play and rookie Robert Woods showed promise, the Bills need more bodies to help Manuel. Enter Eric Ebron, a versatile tight end, who actually reminds me a lot of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (except for the whole involvement in multiple homicides issue), he is extremely athletic and can run like a wide receiver. I expect whoever drafts Ebron to line him up at tight end, in the slot, or even split him out wide where he will be a matchup nightmare. The Bills may lose tight end Scott Chandler this offseason, they will need someone to replace him, and even if they keep Chandler drafting Ebron is still a possibility due to his versatility.
NOTES: The Bills pass rush was the best in the NFL last season, but they could still use some help in the secondary and along the offensive line. I think that the primary objective of the Bills offseason will be to upgrade passing game targets for EJ Manuel, so wide receivers like Sammy Watkins (if he falls), Marqise Lee or Mike Evans could be options.
10 ) Detroit Lions – Marqise Lee, WR (6′ 195lbs) USC – The Detroit Lions hired Jim Caldwell as their next head coach to change Matthew Stafford from a guy that puts up impressive statistics to a superstar who wins, and although he has the best wide receiver in football Calvin Johnson as his primary target, he is not working with much else in the passing game. Calvin Johnson commands double teams and sometimes triple teams, the wide receiver opposite him should be single covered on every snap, but the Lions have used a group of players there that was highlighted by Nate Burleson when healthy. That is simply not good enough, that is why they need to draft a wide receiver, and Marqise Lee would be an excellent fit. Lee has speed to burn, he will be able to fly on Detroit’s turf, and would thrive off of the single coverage that he will see while the opposition doubles Johnson. Seeing Lee beat his defender, Stafford lob a long pass, and watching Lee run under it for a long touchdown would be a beautiful sight. Lee struggled with injuries as a junior this past season, but won the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in the country as a sophomore in 2012 when he had 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns, and as an added bonus he is also excellent as a return man.
NOTES: The Lions also need help along the offensive line, and could look a tackle here, to protect their investment in Matthew Stafford. They have an excellent defensive line, but could also use linebackers and multiple players in the secondary, the back seven on defense is weak and needs to be addressed. A cornerback like Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard would also be a very nice addition in Detroit.
11 ) Tennessee Titans – Anthony Barr, OLB (6’4 248lbs) UCLA – New Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt is an offensive coach, but he is rumored to be switching the Titans to a 3-4 defense, which was used in his last three stops (Arizona as head coach, San Diego and Pittsburgh as offensive coordinator). If the Titans are switching to the 3-4, and outside linebacker Anthony Barr is still on the board, the Titans should rush to the podium to select him with the eleventh pick in the draft. Barr is one of the five best players in this draft, but in this scenario he slid, due to scheme fit and other teams having needs elsewhere. Barr fits best as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but as a former running back he has elite athleticism, and he had 23.0 sacks in two seasons since switching to the defensive side of the ball. A terror off of the edge, Barr should make an instant impact in the NFL.
NOTES: Whisenhunt is an offensive mind, and he may look to rebuild the Titans offensive line, so a tackle like Michigan’s Taylor Lewan or Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio makes a lot of sense as well. The Titans have some decent wide receivers, but could use a big target, so a player like Mike Evans or versatile tight end Eric Ebron could be an option.
12 ) New York Giants – Taylor Lewan, OT (6’7 305lbs) Michigan – The biggest problem with the New York Giants during the 2013 season was a total inability to protect quarterback Eli Manning, which led to many turnovers, and cost the Giants several games. The Giants were also unable to run the football in 2013, another issue that comes back to one positional group, the offensive line. The Giants drafted tackle Justin Pugh during the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and while he showed a lot of promise at right tackle as a rookie, he is not quick enough to protect Eli Manning’s blind side. Starting left tackle William Beatty was terrible during the 2013 season, immediately following a large contract extension, and to make matters worse he broke his leg in the season finale. In this scenario the Giants select Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan, a very experienced offensive lineman, who is ready to contribute right away. Lewan has excellent size and is a leader, he is underrated as a run blocker, and just needs to work on keeping his technique consistent on each snap. Lewan becomes the left tackle of the future, Pugh offers some positional versatility, and can start at right tackle or even slide inside to guard.
NOTES: Most mock drafts have the Giants picking Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, but if you know anything about the Giants, you know that they do not draft linebackers in the first round and haven’t since the early 1984 (Carl Banks). The Giants defense actually played very well in the second half of the season, especially after they traded for middle linebacker Jon Beason from the Carolina Panthers, and while Beason is a free agent I hear the Giants are planning on keeping him after excellent play in 2013. If the Giants were to draft a linebacker, I think that they would be more intrigued by Buffalo’s Khalil Mack than C.J. Mosley, as he is extremely instinctive and versatile. The Giants also could use help at cornerback, so keep an eye on players like Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard.
13 ) St. Louis Rams – Haha Clinton-Dix, S (6’1 208lbs) Alabama – In this scenario, the Rams have already drafted a left tackle of the future with the second overall pick (acquired from Redskins), and now they get help in the defensive backfield. The Rams have some nice young cornerbacks, but safety was a major concern in 2013, and drafting a player with star potential like Alabama’s Haha Clinton-Dix could really improve this unit. Clinton-Dix is an excellent coverage safety who is very fluid, he has great hands and breaks on the ball well, and he is a good tackler. He does have some weaknesses, despite his size he is not a big hitter, and struggles to disengage from blocks. The Rams need a smart playmaking safety who can be a leader in their secondary going forward and Clinton-Dix fits the bill.
NOTES: The Rams could opt to take a big wide receiver, like Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, as they could really use a number one target in the passing game. If the Rams do select Jadeveon Clowney or a quarterback early in the draft, they could easily opt for an offensive tackle here, because they need to find a player to solidify the left tackle spot for the future.
14 ) Chicago Bears – Khalil Mack, LB (6’3 248lbs) Buffalo – The Chicago Bears missed the playoffs in 2013 because they were atrocious defensively, I personally think that they should spend the entire 2014 NFL Draft selecting defensive players, that’s how bad they were on that side of the ball in 2013. Khalil Mack is an extremely instinctive linebacker, who can line up in multiple positions, and can make plays against both the run and rushing the passer. Mack has a nose for the football, plays from sideline-to-sideline, and has an incredible motor. The Chicago Bears are a franchise that has a rich history of excellent linebackers, but they have lacked a star at the position since Brian Urlacher retired, if Mack is on the board he could be the next great Bears linebacker. I think Mack gets drafted before this, and could see his stock rising even higher as we get closer to the draft, and scouts study his tape more and more. He is that impressive of a player.
NOTES: The Bears need help on all levels of their defense, so a defensive tackle like Louis Nix III or Timmy Jernigan could be options here, as could a different linebacker like C.J. Mosley, or a cornerback like Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard. The Bears are not going to get better until they reload on the defensive side of the ball, so expect them to focus on improving their defense throughout this draft.
15 ) Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Evans, WR (6’5 225lbs) Texas A&M – The Steelers got off to an awful start in 2013, but improved as the season progressed, and ended up nearly making the playoffs. The Steelers have some good wide receivers like Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, however they are both short, and Ben Roethlisberger could really use a big target in the passing game. The Steelers are not going to find a better fit than Mike Evans, a former basketball player, who reminds me of a young Vincent Jackson. He was Johnny Manziel’s favorite target at Texas A&M, he has incredible hands, and his strength makes him tough to bring down after the catch. Evans is NFL ready, he will immediately become an excellent red zone target because of his size and skill at boxing out defenders, and his presence alone will help open up the Steelers offense.
NOTES: The Steelers are always looking for young players that can start immediately defensively, and drafting a huge nose tackle like Louis Nix III to control the line of scrimmage in the middle of their 3-4 defense may be too good to pass up. I think the Steelers will focus on weapons in the passing game for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and adding young talent to their defense, especially in the secondary during this draft, so corners like Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard or safeties like Haha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor could be options here as well.
16 ) Dallas Cowboys – Louis Nix III, DT (6’2 345lbs) Notre Dame – The Dallas Cowboys had a historically bad defense in 2013, Jerry Jones will not stand for an abomination like that on the defensive side of the ball in 2014, he will address the defensive side of the ball early and often in the 2014 NFL Draft. There have been rumors that the Cowboys will switch back to the 3-4 defense, and end their disastrous one year experiment with the 4-3, but either way defensive tackle is a huge hole. Starting Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is a good player, but he will also be a free agent, and could be very difficult for Dallas to retain given their challenging salary cap situation. Louis Nix III is a massive defensive tackle who fills a need in either defensive alignment, he has excellent strength and rare quickness for his size, he would make it very difficult to run the football on the Dallas Cowboys going forward. If you are going to rebuild the Dallas defense, it is best to start in the trenches, and Nix would be an excellent centerpiece to build a defense around.
NOTES: If I am Jerry Jones, I have plenty of flashy offensive playmakers at the skill positions (although you know he will draft some anyway), in the 2014 NFL Draft I focus on unglamorous positions that do the dirty work. Dallas needs guards on the offensive line, corners and safeties in the secondary, and defensive linemen. Of course, Jerry Jones will probably draft running backs and wide receivers with fast 40-yard-dash times, as he continues to turn into this millennium’s Al Davis.
17 ) Baltimore Ravens – Cyrus Kouandjio, OT (6’5 310lbs) Alabama – The Baltimore Ravens were unable to make the playoffs and give themselves a shot to defend their Super Bowl Championship, which was due to a combination of offseason defections and injuries, but also a stagnant offense. The Ravens offensive line play was terrible last season, they even made an in season trade to acquire left tackle Eugene Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars, a trade which did not work out. Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is an great prospect, and while he is not polished yet, he could be one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL with some NFL coaching and work in the strength and conditioning program. There is no denying Cyrus Kouandjio’s natural ability, and I had him ranked as the top offensive tackle prospect in the country entering the 2013 college football season, but some lackluster play has caused his stock to slide a bit. The talent is there, he is athletic and is a powerful run blocker, who should be an excellent player if given some time to develop.
NOTES: The Ravens should stick the offensive side of the ball during the 2014 NFL Draft, they need to give franchise quarterback Joe Flacco the tools to succeed, so they could use wide receivers and offensive line help. The inability to run the football really hurt the Ravens offense last season, so fixing the offensive line, and adding a young left tackle who can run block and protect Flacco’s blindside would be a great addition. If a big wide receiver, like Mike Evans is available, he could be an excellent fit in the Ravens offense. Keep an eye on another big wide receiver, Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, who is quickly rising up draft boards.
18 ) New York Jets – Kelvin Benjamin, WR (6’5 235lbs) Florida State – There is no doubt that the New York Jets biggest need is offensive playmakers, but in this scenario, the best four in the draft (Watkins, Ebron, Lee, Evans) have been selected already. The Jets reach a bit, and take a huge wide receiver in Benjamin, who burst onto the scene as one of the top targets for Heisman Winning quarterback Jameis Winston on the National Champion Florida State Seminoles. While ideally one of the top four would fall into the Jets laps here, Benjamin is an excellent player who has a ton of natural talent, he has the size and athleticism to excel at the next level. Benjamin needs to polish his game and work on route running, he is more of a receiver that “goes up and gets it” at this point, but he can become an immediate weapon in the red zone who could be a star once he develops.
NOTES: Benjamin seems like a reach right now, but you cannot teach size or athleticism, and he should rise as we approach the draft. If the Jets think they can wait for a wide receiver, they could opt for another position here, another defensive back, an offensive lineman or a rush linebacker could all be options.
19 ) Miami Dolphins – Zack Martin, OT/OG (6’5 305lbs) Notre Dame – The Miami Dolphins nearly made the playoffs in 2013, which is hard to believe, considering they allowed the most sacks in the NFL and were totally unable to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins offensive line was already bad, then they lost starting tackle Jonathan Martin and starting guard Richie Incongnito to a midseason bullying scandal, which turned the unit into a disaster. Reports state that it’s unlikely that Incognito or Martin will ever play for the Dolphins again, so the team has to totally rebuild the line, and I expect them to address their issues through both free agency and the draft. In this scenario, they draft Zack Martin, a tough and versatile lineman out of Notre Dame who is currently impressing scouts with this play at the Senior Bowl. Martin can play guard or tackle, he is an excellent run blocker who is quick enough in pass protection, and position versatility for the Dolphins may be a key as they rebuild this unit.
NOTES: fixing the offensive line and protecting their young quarterback Ryan Tannehill has to be a priority for the Miami Dolphins, this team has some pieces that could make them successful, however they will not take the next step until they fix the offensive line. The Dolphins could also use players in the secondary, and could use some youth on the defensive line, so those positions could also be options if they are not enamored with any of the players available in the offensive trenches here.
20 ) Arizona Cardinals – Ra’Shede Hageman, DT/DE (6’6 320lbs) Minnesota – In the majority of the 2014 Most Drafts that I have seen thus far, the Arizona Cardinals are projected to draft an offensive linemen, and while the offensive line is clearly an issue the Cardinals get the seventh overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft guard Jonathan Cooper back from a broken leg which cost him the entire 2013 NFL season. Right now the Cardinals only have four defensive linemen under contract as they head towards the 2014 NFL season, and while three of them are very good players (Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams) it is time for the Cardinals to add some youthful depth to the unit who can immediately play in a rotation and can take over as a starter down the road. RaShede Hageman was dominant as a senior at Minnesota, he fits the mold of what the Cardinals have been doing along the defensive line, as he is huge, versatile and plays with a nasty streak. Hageman could line up in multiple places on Arizona’s front, he would give them flexibility down the road, when they need to replace the high priced players along their defensive interior.
NOTES: The Cardinals could reach for an offensive linemen here, fixing the offensive line should be a priority, but again the return of Jonathan Cooper makes that less of an issue. The Cardinals are actually in a pretty good place right now, as long as they are comfortable with Carson Palmer under center, they can afford to take the best player available at a position of need and build for the future. They are a victim of playing in the toughest division in football, and I would not be surprised to see them select a quarterback of the future at some point during this draft, who Bruce Arians can groom behind Carson Palmer.
21 ) Green Bay Packers – C.J. Mosley, ILB (6’2 232lbs) Alabama – The Green Bay Packers have let it be known that their number one priority this offseason is improving defensively, and it seems that for years, the Packers have been lacking an athletic inside linebacker who can use his instincts to make plays from sideline to sideline. If Mosley is surprisingly still on the board, the Packers will waste absolutely no time making their selection, he is a very athletic linebacker who has a ton of experience as the leader on Alabama’s 3-4 defense which is what Green Bay runs as well. The Packers should get a healthy Clay Matthews back as one outside linebacker, and Nick Perry has shown some promise opposite him, while A.J. Hawk has always been a solid run stuffer inside. The odds are that Mosley will not be on the board, but if he is available, he would be an excellent addition as an athletic inside linebacker who can make plays all over the field for the Packers.
NOTES: The Packers could still add a player or two to solidify the offensive line, but the theme of this offseason will likely be attempting to fix a defense which struggled once it’s best player (Clay Matthews) was lost due to injuries. The Packers offense is so good as long as quarterback Aaron Rogers is healthy, that as long as their defense is halfway decent, they should have a shot to win the NFC North. If a player as good as C.J. Mosley is on the board, like he was in this scenario, he will be too good to pass up.
22 ) Philadelphia Eagles – Darqueze Dennard, CB (5’11 200lbs) Michigan State – If the draft shakes out like this, the Eagles would be extremely excited, as they would get the best cornerback available with the twenty-second overall pick. I doubt that Darqueze Dennard lasts this long on draft day, he is a tough cornerback with a nose for the football, he plays with an attitude and does not mind mixing it up which will quickly win him a lot of fans in the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles pass defense was terrible last season, and adding a player the caliber of Dennard would be an instant upgrade to a unit that needs a lot of help, expect the Eagles to draft several players who can play immediately in their secondary this offseason.
NOTES: The Eagles are another team that was incredible offensively last season, but really struggled defensively, and I expect them to focus on the defensive side of the ball in the draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if head coach Chip Kelly looked to add another wide receiver or offensive linemen, we know he will not totally ignore the offensive side of the ball, but I expect the focus to be defense.
23 ) Kansas City Chiefs – Jace Amaro, TE (6’5 260lbs) Texas Tech – In Andy Reid’s first season as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, their offense was one of the best in the NFL, despite the fact that the team got absolutely zero production from the tight end position. Reid used his tight ends a lot as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and quarterback Alex Smith knows how to get the ball to tight ends, as he showed getting the ball to Vernon Davis as quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. This tells me that the issue was not that the Chiefs neglected to use tight ends, but that the team had no talent at the position in 2013, so in this scenario they add athletic tight end Jace Amaro. At Texas Tech, Amaro mostly lined up as a slot receiver, he is a big target with soft hands that put up big numbers in the Red Raiders offense. Amaro is not much of a blocker, but his ability to play tight end, in the slot or even split out wide will bring a new dimension to the Kansas City offense.
NOTES: Expect the Chiefs to address a major need, and select a pass catching tight end in the early rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft, it would really open up the passing offense for Alex Smith in Kansas City. The Chiefs could also make additions defensively, their defensive line could stand to add some youth, and they could use players in the secondary.
24 ) Cincinnati Bengals – Justin Gilbert, CB (6′ 200lbs) Oklahoma State – The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the best rosters top-to-bottom in the NFL, they have talent and depth at most positions on both sides of the ball, however they need quarterback Andy Dalton to prove he can take this team to the second round of the playoffs. The Bengals need a cornerback who can step in and play right away, their best player at the position, Leon Hall is returning from a torn Achilles tendon. The team also has veterans “Pac-Man” Jones and Terrence Newman, both of whom are in their 30’s (Newman is 35), and played key roles on the defense last season. With an uncertain future at the position, the Bengals add Justin Gilbert in this scenario, who is coming off of an excellent senior season. As a bonus, Gilbert is also an excellent return man, who will make an immediate impact on special teams.
NOTES: I considered going in a number of ways with this pick, but the injury to Hall combined with the age of Jones and Newman pushed me in the direction of cornerback. The Bengals also have former first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback, but they use him as a corner/safety tweener, and he has not stood out so far during his career. The biggest loss for the Bengals could be defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, he has been one of the best in the league for some time, and left to become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
25 ) San Diego Chargers – Marcus Robertson, CB (6′ 195lbs) Florida – The San Diego Chargers only did one thing well last season, but they did it very well, and that was throw the football with quarterback Phillip Rivers. The Chargers need to improve as a pass defense, but at the end of the season when pass rusher Melvin Ingram returned from an injury, he made quite an impact. San Diego needs help in the secondary, especially at cornerback, where they need to find a player who is capable of shutting down an opponent’s top receiver. Robertson battled knee and ankle injuries in 2013, which caused him to miss five games, however I expect him to be one of the most impressive players at the 2014 NFL combine and see his stock rise. Robertson is a fluid athlete, he good size and long arms, which help him in coverage against bigger receivers. He would be an excellent fit in the San Diego secondary, which needs a few players if this team is going to overtake the Broncos in the AFC West.
NOTES: I still do not love the Chargers offensive line, 2013 first round pick D.J. Fluker could be a future star, but I would like to see the Chargers improve the unit. I gave the Chargers Marcus Robertson in this mock draft, but it will be very interesting to see which cornerbacks improve their draft stock in the coming months, there is a lot of talent in a group that includes Robertson, his Florida teammate Loucheiz Purifoy, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, TCU’s Jason Verrett and others and someone will separate themselves from the pack and get into the first round mix.
26 ) Cleveland Browns – Bradley Roby, CB (5’11 192lbs) Ohio State – In this scenario, the Cleveland Browns already drafted their quarterback of the future in Johnny Manziel, and now they address the defensive backfield and draft a local prospect in Bradley Roby out of Ohio State. The Browns have one of the best cornerbacks in the game in Joe Haden, however the corner on the opposite side of the field has been a concern. They draft Roby, a player that I had ranked as the top cornerback in the country entering the 2014 season, but who missed some time with both injury concerns and off-field questions in 2013 which has caused him to slide. Roby has an incredible competitive streak and world class speed, which he will display at the combine, and which will help his stock to rise as we head towards draft day.
NOTES: After no cornerbacks were selected for the first 21 picks of this mock draft, we have had corners get selected in four of the last five picks, which really shows the talent of this group. There is a lot of depth at the cornerback position in this draft, and it is going to be very interesting to see which players separate themselves, at a position that might be the most competitive in this draft class. The Browns could go in any number of ways with this pick, once they select their quarterback of the future, however they do need a second starting cornerback across with Hayden. The Browns also desperately need a running back, and I considered giving them one, but all I could hear in the back of my head was their General Manager Mike Lombardi saying that you do not need to draft a back in the first round and that you can find them later during his tenure as an analyst with the NFL Network.
27 ) New Orleans Saints – Stephon Tuitt, DE (6’6 310lbs) Notre Dame – The New Orleans Saints will likely select players on the defensive side of the ball that fit into defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme, and one of the best out there is Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt, who I feel is underrated at this point of the draft process. Tuitt was slowed early during the 2013 season by hernia surgery, and he failed to dominate as he did as a sophomore in 2012, however we know that he has that talent and ability. Tuitt is absolutely huge for a defensive end, but he also possesses surprising quickness for his size, and is an excellent athlete. The Saints get two outside linebackers who missed the entire 2013 NFL season back from injury, with Tuitt holding the edge, their pass rushers should have a lot of success at getting to the quarterback.
NOTES: The Saints could use some help at cornerback as well, and they need to find some young players on the offensive line, where they struggled to replace former left tackle Jermon Bushrod who left for the Chicago Bears last offseason. I think that if a player as talented as Tuitt is on the board, who is a perfect fit for their system and should be able to dominate right away, the Saints will not be able to pass up drafting him. He could make the entire defense even better.
28 ) Carolina Panthers – Allen Robinson, WR (6’3 210lbs) Penn State – The Carolina Panthers may have been the NFL’s most improved team in 2013, but there was one thing missing that was blatantly obvious to even casual observers, and that was a lack of weapons in the passing game for quarterback Cam Newton. Wide receiver Steve Smith was great as always, but he is 34 years old, and tight end Greg Olsen is solid. After those two, the Panthers to not have much else in the passing game offensively, it’s a group that includes Ted Ginn Jr, Domenik Hixon and Brandon LaFell. If the Panthers want to take the next step and become legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the NFC, getting more weapons in the passing game for Newton is a must, and I would like to see them add two or three players with potential this offseason. They start here by grabbing Allen Robinson, an underrated player out of Penn State, who is a smooth athlete and is a physical runner after the catch. Robinson may not be the most explosive vertical receiver in the league, but he has excellent quickness and is a tough competitor, he would be a great fit in Carolina.
NOTES: The Panthers could also use some more players in their secondary, but if I was running the show in Carolina, the focus of this offseason would be adding several players that could help my star quarterback succeed. Steve Smith is an icon with this organization, and a warrior, but he cannot be the only threat on an offense that is successful in the NFL. I would look to get Cam Newton at least another outside receiver, and a slot guy, who can make this offense more dynamic.
29 ) New England Patriots – Kony Ealy, DE/OLB (6’5 275lbs) Missouri – Nobody in the NFL had worse luck with injuries during the 2013 NFL season than the New England Patriots, who lost a laundry list of players for the season due to injuries, including nose tackle Vince Wilfork and tight end Rob Gronkowski. One of the reasons the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship game to the Denver Broncos was the fact that they were totally unable to rush Peyton Manning, who was able to sit back in the pocket and pick them apart, and the Patriots cannot let that happen again. In this scenario, the Patriots grab Kony Ealy, a big athletic defensive end from Missouri who I considered much higher up the board than this. In this scenario, Ealy fell due to lack of a fit and other needs, but after Jadeveon Clowney he is the best 4-3 defensive end available in the draft. Ealy is such a good athlete that I think he could play standing up, he reminds me of the Cincinnati Bengals Michael Johnson, who is one of the more underrated pass rushers in the game. Keep an eye on Kony Ealy during the draft process, he has excellent size and athleticism, and with imressive workouts his stock could really rise.
NOTES: I think that the Patriots were one of the better teams in football this past season, but they were decimated by injuries, and with a few roster tweaks and some better luck on the injury front they could be back contending again next season. I expect the Patriots to draft a tight end, one who could fill in for the injured Rob Gronkowski until he is healthy, and then complement him once he is back on the field. Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins would be an excellent fit on the Patriots, he will fall to the second round in this draft due to character concerns, but Bill Belichick will not be afraid to take a risk.
30 ) San Francisco 49ers – Trent Murphy, DE/OLB (6’5 255lbs) Stanford – I have been told that San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh absolutely loves Trent Murphy, who he recruited at Stanford, and wants to do what he can to add him to the 49ers. If Harbaugh is planning on drafting Murphy, he better do so with this pick, because Murphy will not be around much longer. Murphy is not an explosive athlete who rushes the passer with speed, he instead uses his strength and his violent hands to get to the quarterback, and to manhandle blockers. There has been some speculation that Murphy would be better off bulking up and playing defensive end in the pros, due to his size and lack of pure athleticism, however Jim Harbaugh knows Murphy and knows how to put him in position to succeed on the field.
NOTES: The 49ers have gotten so close to winning it all over the past few seasons, they just need a few more pieces and a little luck to get over the hump and win their first Super Bowl ring since 1994. If the 49ers think that they can pass on Murphy, they might grab another cornerback instead, as a few players in that unit are getting older such as Carols Rogers. I think that for the 49ers to win it all, what they really need to do is beat their division rival Seattle Seahawks, so drafting a player that will help them in that specific matchup would be smart.
31 ) Seattle Seahawks – Timmy Jernigan, DT (6’2 295lbs) Florida State – The Seattle Seahawks are known for having a defense that is totally loaded with big, athletic, physical defenders. In his scenario the Seahawks get extremely lucky, they land one of the best in the 2014 NFL Draft very late in the first round, due to the depth of this class and the scheme fit. Jernigan is an extremely quick and athletic defensive tackle, who is an excellent pass rusher along the interior, but is also a strong run defender. The only reason that Jernigan fell into the Seahawks laps this late in the first round is the fact that he only fits in a four man front, I think he would fit best next to a space eating nose tackle, who would anchor the line and allow Jernigan to use his quickness and athleticism to make plays. Jernigan’s technique needs some polish, and he needs to be quicker off the snap of the football, but if he slides this far down the draft board it would be a huge win for Seattle.
NOTES: Russell Wilson could use another wide receiver, especially one who can make plays on the outside, so a tall receiver who can go up and get the ball could be an option for the Seahawks (Kelvin Benjamin, Alvin Robinson). The Seahawks suffered several injuries along the offensive line this season, so a versatile lineman that could play several positions, like Stanford’s David Yankey could be an option.
32 ) Denver Broncos – Ryan Shazier, LB (6’2 230lbs) Ohio State – The Denver Broncos biggest weakness has been their run defense, especially their linebackers, who were bad before Von Miller suffered a season ending injury and have been worse since. They need a linebacker with speed, who can make plays from sideline to sideline, and consistently make plays in the run game. Ryan Shaizer finished the 2013 season as the sixth leading tackler in the country, making 143 stops, which included a 20 tackle game against Indiana. He is not a big linebacker, but he is extremely fast, and makes plays all over the field while also being excellent in coverage. If Shazier shows up at the combine with some added bulk, impresses on the bench press, and still runs an excellent 40-yard-dash he could be off the board far before the late first round.
NOTES: Denver could also use some players in the secondary, especially at cornerback, so players like Jason Verett or Bradley Roby could be options. They could also use a safety, and I would keep an eye on Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, who should hear his name called in the late-first or early-second round. If I am the Broncos, I focus on rebuilding the defense first, because if they win the Super Bowl several players could decide to retire and they will need to start rebuilding somewhere.
JUST MISSED THE CUT:
David Yankey – OT/OG (6’5 315lbs) Stanford – A versatile lineman that probably fits best at guard in the NFL, but would be capable of filling in wherever his team needs him, Yankey is the type of lineman that every team needs in case of an injury.
Scott Crichton – OLB/DE (6’3 265lbs) Oregon State – A relentless pass rusher off of the edge with an excellent motor, Crichton probably fits best as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense in the NFL, and I believe that his effort on and off the field will make him successful.
Calvin Pryor – S (6’2 210lbs) Louisville – A player that could easily sneak into the first round of the draft, Pryor is a big safety who can deliver highlight reel hits, but also has a nose for the football and the speed to be successful in coverage.
Jason Verrett – CB (5’10 175lbs) TCU – The only thing that is keeping Jason Verrett out of the first round is his size, he has been one of the best cornerbacks in college football over the past few years, big time playmaking ability. Ideal nickel corner.
Morgan Moses – OT (6’6 320) Virginia – An offensive tackle that could easily sneak his way into the first round, Moses is huge and has long arms, plus he may be athletic enough to stick on the left side. A good player at such an important position with all the physical tools always has a shot to improve his draft stock and become a first rounder.
Kyle Van Noy – OLB (6’3 244lbs) BYU – Was a more productive player at BYU than Ziggy Ansah, who was selected fifth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. Does not have Ansah’s physical gifts, but is an excellent rush linebacker, who fits best standing up in a 3-4 defense.
Cyril Richardson – OG/OT (6’5 345lbs) Baylor – A massive offensive guard prospect who can probably play either guard or right tackle in the NFL, Richardson is an excellent run blocker, who needs to show that he can stay in shape and is committed.
Aaron Donald – DT (6’1 285lbs) Pittsburgh – A quick and explosive defensive tackle who was very productive at Pitt, Donald should be an excellent interior pass rusher in the NFL, but his size and scheme fit (only fits in the 4-3) makes him a second rounder.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – TE (6’6 270) Washington – Entering the 2013 college football season, Seferian-Jenkins was the top tight end prospect without argument, but an offseason filled with red flags raised serious character concerns. There is no denying the talent, and if he can convince NFL teams that his legal issues are in the past, he could rise as a prospect.
Xavier Su’a-Filo – OG (6’3 305lbs) UCLA – An athletic offensive guard prospect, probably fits best in a zone blocking scheme, he is already 23-years-old due to spending two years on a Mormon mission. Ready to play now, but might not have as high of a ceiling as some of the other interior linemen in this class, due to his age.
Jordan Matthews – WR (6’3 208lbs) Vanderbilt – An extremely productive college player, the question on Jordan Matthews is his speed, and if he can ever be more than a possession receiver in the NFL. Has strong hands, runs precise routes, will catch a lot of balls in the NFL. If I need a wide receiver who might not ever catch double-digit touchdowns, but could catch 100 balls a season, in the late-first or early-second round Matthews is my target.
Antonio Richardson – OT (6’6 330) Tennessee – Surprisingly nimble on his feet for his size, “Tiny” Richardson’s a strange prospect, because while he is a good enough athlete to have success against speed rushers he actually struggles with the bull rush. Needs to prove that he can stay in shape and has to work on his technique but very talented.
Gabe Jackson – OG, (6’4 335lbs) Mississippi State – An All-SEC First team guard, Jackson has been one of the best run blockers in college football for several years now, and demonstrates a lot of raw power to open holes in the running game. Has long arms, strength and is also a solid pass blocker.
Travis Swanson – C (6’5 310) Arkansas – If you need a center in the 2014 Draft, Travis Swanson is the best of the bunch, he moves pretty well in the running game for a big man and is excellent in pass protection.
DeVante Adams – WR (6’2 215lbs) Fresno State – Derek Carr’s go to receiver is not the fastest or quickest in the draft, but he is a big bodied playmaker who possesses excellent leaping ability and hands, not afraid to go over the middle and make a catch in traffic.
Ka’Deem Carey – RB (5’10 205lbs) Arizona – The ultra-productive Carey has great vision and patients while setting up runs, then explodes through the hole, and is not afraid of contact. Has some red flags off the field and must prove his straight line speed at the combine.
Tre Mason – RB, (5’9 205lbs) Auburn – One of college football’s breakout stars in 2013, Mason is a tough inside runner who has quick feet, and has a build similar to many running backs that are currently successful in the NFL (Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice). Mason stays low and is tough to tackle, has excellent vision, has also proven he can be a successful return man.
Brandin Cooks – WR (5’10 185lbs) Oregon State – Explosive receiver with natural breakaway speed, can make highlight reel plays after the catch with his electric quickness, excellent at returning kickoffs and punts. Small for the position, but tough, prides himself that he has never missed a game at any level due to injury.
Louchiez Purifoy – CB (6′ 190lbs) Florida – Extremely athletic cornerback with long arms, has all of the athletic talent in the world, but prone to mental mistakes that get him beat. Has character concerns off of the field. Reminds me of Antonio Cromartie in both good ways and bad ways.
The Second Tier Of Quarterbacks: Tajh Boyd – QB (6’1 220lns) Clemson, Jimmy Garoppolo – QB (6’2 220lbs) Eastern Illinois, Zach Mettenberger – QB (6’5 235lbs) LSU, David Fales (6’2 220lbs) San Jose State, A.J. McCarron – QB, (6’3 215lbs) Alabama, Aaron Murray – QB (6’1 205lbs) Georgia, Logan Thomas – (6’6 245lbs) Virginia Tech – Some of these players will become the target of many teams that do not select a quarterback in the first round, but feel they need one, and could take one in the second round (or even trade back into the first round).
OTHER 2014 NFL MOCK DRAFT DATABASES: