With the NFL Combine in our rearview mirror, it’s time to look at where the mock draft stands with just a few months to go until draft day.
1. Houston Texans - QB Blake Bortles, UCF
Blake Bortles continues to impress and has become the #1 quarterback in the eyes of most. The UCF star is certainly a raw talent who has major boom or bust potential. But, he doesn’t carry the durability risk of Teddy Bridgewater or the character concerns of Johnny Manziel. Bill O’Brien is a quarterback guru, and something tells me that he believes that he can turn Bortles into Houston’s next franchise signal-caller.
2. St. Louis Rams (From Washington) – DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
This pick was originally Jake Matthews, the offensive tackle from Texas A&M. However, Jeff Fisher has never been keen on selecting offensive linemen early. Instead, he’s always focused on improving the defense early in the draft. Clowney would have been the #1 overall draft choice a year ago. He still could be in 2014. Yes, St. Louis has Robert Quinn and Chris Long. But, the latter’s contract is going to be in excess of $15 million in 2015. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for St. Louis to grab Clowney, a generational pass rusher, and rotate him in during his rookie campaign before taking over for Long the following year. After all, the Seahawks proved in 2013 that you can never have too many pass rushers. A trade of this pick is also likely.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (Stock up)
Jacksonville desperately needs a quarterback, and their spot at #3 in the draft will easily allow Gus Bradley to grab his franchise signal-caller. There’s a chance that they will have a pick of any of the available targets. But, Manziel may be the perfect man for the job. Jacksonville needs playmakers in an offense devoid of them. They also need big ticket players in a market desperate for attention.
4. Cleveland Browns – QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (Stock down)
I’d really be shocked if Cleveland didn’t select one of Bortles, Bridgewater, or Manziel at #4. With two picks in the first round, Cleveland can afford to take their franchise QB early considering it’s been over two decades since they’ve had one (was Bernie Kosar a franchise quarterback?). With both Bortles and Manziel gone, the Browns settle for Bridgewater, who may be the best bet for a franchise downtrodden for so long. Yes, Bridgewater carries with him injury concerns. But, his leadership, poise, and experience are exactly what the doctor ordered for the Browns.
5. Oakland Raiders – WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (Stock up)
For weeks, I had Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews at this pick. For weeks, I tried to convince myself that the Raiders would make the smart pick and build their offensive line. For weeks, I was kidding myself. Oakland has a history of grabbing combine darlings and speed freaks early and often despite more critical needs at other positions. The Raiders certainly have a need at WR and Sammy Watkins is a decent value pick in the top-10. But, Jake Matthews projects as the most sure thing in this draft. After a decade of failure, Oakland could use a sure thing. I just don’t think they’ll do the right thing.
6. Atlanta Falcons – OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Atlanta saw all too well what not protecting Matt Ryan could do to their once prolific postseason hopes. The Falcons find the best tackle in the draft fall right into their laps, and they couldn’t be happier. Matthews, the son of Hall-of-Fame lineman Bruce Matthews, projects as a bookend tackle for a decade to come. The Falcons could use the remainder of their picks to boost their depth on defense and to find a replacement for Tony Gonzalez.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo (Stock up)
In this scenario, Watkins is gone. So, the player I had previously mocked to Tampa Bay is off the board. That leaves the Buccaneers either looking at a reach with Mike Evans, or focusing on another need. Pass rusher is certainly a hole in the Buccaneers’ defense, and new coach Lovie Smith sure could use some help. After all, his Cover-2 defense relies heavily on a strong pass rush from the front-four. Mack, the second best pass rusher in the draft, would be a risk because the Bucs would be drafting him to play 4-3 end. But, he might just be a risk worth taking.
8. Minnesota Vikings – DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
I haven’t felt comfortable with Derek Carr here the last few mocks. A few years ago, Minnesota made the mistake of reaching for Christian Ponder merely because they needed a QB. Carr has talent. But, he’s far from a sure thing and at #8, the Vikings have plenty of needs to fill. There’s a good chance that Minnesota cuts bait on Jared Allen this summer, as his high salary doesn’t fit with a rebuilding defense. Mike Zimmer would love to plug an electric pass rusher like Ealy into his spot. Even if Allen stays, having both Ealy and Allen rushing the passer this winter could make Minnesota’s defense a top-10 unit again.
9. Buffalo Bills – OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
The Bills have a massive chasm on the right side of their line. Their dependence on the run will only be possible if EJ Manuel can stay healthy and command the offense for 16 games next year after missing time during his rookie season. Robinson was an anchor for Auburn’s run to the National Championship Game and would be solid for a decade to come on the Buffalo line.
10. Detroit Lions – CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (Stock up)
Detroit should look to improve their defense in the first round. With a solid front four, the Lions can hone their sights in on improving their woeful secondary. Dennard is the consensus best cornerback on the market, and his ability to line up against a team’s best receiver would greatly improve Jim Caldwell’s unit.
11. Tennessee Titans – OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan (Stock up)
The Titans have needs at pass rusher, receiver, and on the offensive line. They could opt to reach for a rusher like Dee Ford or a reciever in Marqise Lee. Or, they could opt to take a tackle like Lewan, who spent four years on a solid program like Michigan. Lewan’s ability to excel both as a pass blocker and a run enforcer is critical to Ken Whisenhunt’s balanced offensive scheme.
12. New York Giants – OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA (Stock up)
The Giants will likely opt to improve their eroding defense in the first round. Barr is the best 4-3 OLB in the draft, a welcome addition to a New York defense that has gotten very old, very fast. Jon Beason is a nice interior threat at linebacker. But, New York needs to improve their depth around him if they’re going to get their defensive unit back to the level that they were on when they were winning Super Bowls.
13. St. Louis Rams – CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (Stock up)
The Rams are likely going to release CB Cortland Finnegan this offseason to avoid paying the veteran his massive 2014 cap hit. A replacement for the former Pro Bowler is necessary. Gilbert isn’t as NFL ready as Dennard. But, his upside rivals the Michigan State star’s. Jeff Fisher is a defensive guru at heart, and odds are that he’ll add at least one defensive player in the first round.
14. Chicago Bears – DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida St.
I’m not so sure that Chicago can rely on Jeremiah Ratliff to stay on the football field for 16 games next season. Even if they can, their defensive front-seven was among the worst in football and couldn’t stop the run when their playoff lives depended on it. Jernigan is soaring up the boards after helping the Seminoles win the BCS championship and would be a brilliant fit on Chicago’s line.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M (Stock down)
Antonio Brown emerged in 2013 as a valuable deep threat for Pittsburgh. But, after Brown, there’s not a whole lot on the depth chart. Emmanuel Sanders, the team’s second best option, is an unrestricted free agent. If he departs, the Steelers will desperately need to add to their WR corps. Evans is a mountain of a man, standing 6’5 and providing a red zone threat for his quarterback. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a player of Evans’ caliber since Plaxico Burress.
16. Dallas Cowboys – S HaSean Clinton-Dix, Alabama (Stock down)
“HaHa” Clinton-Dix is easily one of the top-five secondary players in the draft. The Cowboys, meanwhile, had one of the worst defenses in football a year ago. Clinton-Dix’s ability to play centerfield like Lenny Dykstra should entire Jerry Jones, who hasn’t spent a first round pick on a safety since Roy Williams. The Alabama safety isn’t the hitter that Williams was. But, his coverage skills rival a talented cornerback, something the Cowboys could utilize against talented passing attacks like Philadelphia.
17. Baltimore Ravens – ILB CJ Mosley, Alabama (Stock down)
Baltimore’s defense has taken quite a few hits in recent years. Gone are the days when Ray Lewis and Ed Reed struck fear into the hearts of opposing offensive coordinators. Now, Baltimore has a younger, less aggressive defensive unit. But, they could still use some reinforcements to replace those that have moved on in recent years. Mosley is the best inside linebacker prospect in the draft. His combination of speed, size, and aggressiveness would be a valuable fit in Baltimore’s attacking 3-4 scheme.
18. New York Jets – WR Marqise Lee, USC
The Jets can’t go into 2014 with the same putrid set of weapons for Geno Smith as they did in 2013. Marqise Lee may spell his first name uniquely. But, he’s the best playmaker still on the board and would immediately be one of the best on the Jets’ entire roster.
19. Miami Dolphins – OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Miami desperately needs to reinvigorate their line after the Incognito-Martin scandal. Kouandjio was a versatile weapon on the line for Alabama, protecting AJ McCarron’s blindside for two championships in Tuscaloosa. The Dolphins could also look at Stanford G David Yankey.
20. Arizona Cardinals – TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Arizona could use an upgrade on their offensive line and at quarterback. But, the value just isn’t here for that kind of pick. The Cardinals haven’t had a solid tight end in years. Ebron is the best overall player at that position, and he doesn’t bring with him the potential baggage that Jace Amaro does.
21. Green Bay Packers – DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Green Bay is going to lose BJ Raji to free agency and it’s not as though their depth in the front seven was outstanding to begin with. Nix is your classic nose tackle, coming in at 6-2, 345 pounds. Just what the doctor ordered for a Green Bay team that struggled against the run at times in 2013.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville (Stock up)
With Clinton-Dix gone, the Eagles settle for Pryor. That may be just what the doctor ordered for Philadelphia 30th ranked pass defense. The former Louisville Cardinal has a rare combination of size, explosiveness, and ball skills to swiftly become one of the best defenders on Philadelphia’s unit. Pryor has great vision and is more of a well rounded safety than Clinton-Dix. If he has one great weakness, it’s that Pryor may actually be too physical in an era where hard hits are flagged rather liberally. Still, the Eagles will gladly grab a player who brings an edge to their defense and gives them a fighting chance against prolific passing teams.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Offensively, the Chiefs most pressing need is a deep threat for Alex Smith to take the pressure off of Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles. Beckham may not be a better overall prospect than Kelvin Benjamin. But, his 4.45 speed combined with top of the line elusiveness makes him the perfect match for Andy Reid’s offense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
There was a time when cornerback was a strength of the Bengals’ defense. That’s not the case anymore. Cincinnati could look to find a replacement for free agent DE Michael Johnson. But, the value pick here is Gilbert. The Oklahoma State product has solid size and speed and would immediately be a dramatic upgrade in the secondary.
25. San Diego Chargers – OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
San Diego’s secondary could use work. But, the offensive line relied far too much on King Dunlap last year to be considered even remotely a strength. Martin played in big games with the Irish, has tremendous versatility (played both guard and tackle at times), and dominated the Senior Bowl last month.
26. Cleveland Browns (From Indianapolis) – WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State (Stock down)
I’m a little bit uncomfortable putting this many wide receivers in the first round. That position has seen a sharp drop in instances where they’re drafted early in recent years. But, the Browns definitely have depth issues at the position (and a lot of others as well). After Cleveland grabs Teddy Bridgewater earlier in the round, they find their young gunslinger a big target in Benjamin. At 6’5, the former Florida State star is a solid compliment to the speedy Josh Gordon (assuming Cleveland doesn’t trade him). The Browns need all the help they can get on both sides of the ball.
27. New Orleans Saints – DE Dee Ford, Auburn (Stock down)
A fluid athlete with impressive burst, Ford emerged from the Senior Bowl as one of the most coveted pass rushers in this draft. Saints’ Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan knows the importance of a good pass rush (and a good breakfast). With the loss of Will Smith, New Orleans could use a boost of youth at defensive end.
28. Carolina Panthers – CB Jason Verrett, Texas Christian
The one weakness on Carolina’s defense is in the secondary. Verrett may not have the size that NFL teams covet nowadays (5-10, 175). But, his speed (4.49) could be enough to boost him into round one.
29. New England Patriots – OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (Stock up)
I get that New England has Jamie Collins, a second year pro that they’re very confident in. But, the Patriots had serious issues with regards to depth at linebacker a year ago. Brandon Spikes missed most of the season and is expected to depart via free agency. Meanwhile, injuries to Jerod Mayo forced Donte Hightower to play a larger role in the offense than intended. Shazier can fit either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme and has impressive burst when stopping the run and blitzing off the edge. A team leader as a Buckeye, Shazier led the Big Ten in tackles with 143 in 2013.
30. San Francisco 49ers – DT/DE RaShede Hageman, Minnesota
Justin Smith is aging and the Pro Bowl DE won’t be around for too much longer. Hageman is the type of hybrid lineman that can either play 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end. In San Francisco’s case, grooming him to supplant Smith as 3-4 end would give them a big piece to keep the pressure off their superstar duo at LB, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.
31. Denver Broncos – DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh (Stock down)
A pass rusher by trade, Donald is undersized, which prevents him from finding homes with teams looking for more girth out of their defensive front. For Denver, size is not an issue. The Broncos have big Terrance Knighton manning the middle of their defense, allowing them to focus on finding a pass rusher to line up next to him. When Von Miller went down late in the season, Denver had serious trouble replacing his ability to hurry the opposing quarterback. I think Donald would be an intriguing prospect due to his ability to do just that.
32. Seattle Seahawks – TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
The 6-5 tight end may have had the best numbers of anyone in the country, catching 98 passes for 1240 yards and 7 TD. If there was one weakness on the Seahawks this year, it was at tight end. Adding Amaro to an already talented offense might set the Seahawks up for another title in 2014.
33. Houston Texans – OG David Yankey, Stanford (Stock down)
Houston’s focus will probably be on a tackle here. But, Yankey a value pick by a team that could really use some help throughout their offensive front. Yankey comes from a pro style offense that has developed plenty of stars on the offensive line in recent years.
34. Washington Redskins – S Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
The National Champion Florida State Seminoles should be churning out the draft picks over the next few years. Joyner is a versatile weapon who can play both cornerback and safety, though he may be best suited for the latter at the next level. Washington’s secondary play was atrocious in 2013 and there’s really nowhere to go but up.
35. Cleveland Browns – SS Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
The NFL is a passing league. With that comes the necessary ability to stop the pass. Cleveland has one of the better strong safeties in the NFL in TJ Ward. The problem, though, is that Ward is a free agent, and Cleveland may not be able to keep him. Why not replace one Ward with another in Jimmie?
36. Oakland Raiders - OT Morgan Moses, Virginia
Oakland could look to take Derek Carr here. But, I think that the Raiders will fill their open QB spot with a free agent. After grabbing Watkins in round one, the Raiders need to give their hypothetical QB some time to find their young, new target. Moses is the best tackle on the board at 36.
37. Atlanta Falcons – DE Trent Murphy, Stanford
Atlanta’s defense has aged considerable in recent years. They would love to grab Jadeveon Clowney in round one. But, that is probably out of the question barring a trade. A classic tweener, Murphy may not have the size that NFL teams covet. But, his explosive first step and toughness make him a valuable prospect in a pass happy league.
38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
The Buccaneers boosted their defense earlier. They’ll now look to aid Mike Glennon in grabbing holds of the offensive reigns. Richardson (6-6, 336) is the biggest tackle prospect in the entire draft. Good luck moving this mountain of a man off the LOS.
39. Jacksonville Jaguars – OLB Kyle Van Noy, Brigham Young
Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley would love to add Van Noy, whose impressive size (6-3, 243) reminds many of the versatile linebackers he utilized during his Seattle days.
40. Minnesota Vikings - QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
A lot of analysts have Minnesota going QB in round one. While that remains a possibility, I just don’t think a defensive minded coach like Mike Zimmer is going to reach on a guy like Carr. Getting the brother of Houston’s former #1 pick in round two, however, would be a steal.
41. Buffalo Bills – WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
The Bills could use a few more weapons for EJ Manuel. Robinson has size, something Buffalo has lacked at the receiver position.
42. Tennessee Titans – DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State
I had Dee Ford going to Tennessee in round one with my last mock. But, the Titans looked to boost their offensive line in round one in this scenario. Crichton is the best available pass rusher, something Tennessee desperately needs to improve.
43. New York Giants - RB Andre Williams, Boston College
This may be a little early for Williams, who rushed for over 2000 yards in 2013. But, Giants coach Tom Coughlin used to coach the Eagles of BC, and he has selected numerous Boston College standouts in the past (Blackmon, Kiwanuka, Snee, Herzlich, etc.). The Giants went with a revolving door of Andre Brown, Brandon Jacobs, and Peyton Hillis in 2013. They’ll need to do better than that this year.
44. St. Louis Rams - OT Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
The Rams passed on a tackle in round one to improve their defense. Now, St. Louis needs to turn its attention to the other side of the ball.
45. Detroit Lions - WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Cooks’ solid speed is a good counterpart to Calvin Johnson’s tremendous size. Detroit needs to find a compliment to their superstar receiver before triple teams become a trend.
46. Pittsburgh Steelers - CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Another Buckeye goes in the second round as Pittsburgh, who took a WR in the first round, looks to rebuild their aging defense. It’s been awhile since the Steelers took a corner early in the draft, and it showed by the way their secondary performed in 2013.
47. Dallas Cowboys – QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Ilinois
Who knows what the deal is with Tony Romo’s back. But, Dallas could certainly try to find their heir apparent at some point in this draft. Drafting Garappolo this early might be both a reach and not necessarily a need for Dallas. But, I couldn’t resist getting the Cowboys another Eastern Illinois QB to be tutored by the school’s former star, Romo.
48. Baltimore Ravens – C Travis Swanson, Arkansas
When Matt Birk retired last year, it last a gaping chasm in the middle of Baltimore’s line. Replacing him this season should be a high priority.
49. New York Jets – OG Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA
A good value pick, Su’a-Filo could go in the early second round as a fierce, mobile guard. Don’t expect any butt fumbles from this guy.
50. Miami Dolphins – OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
The Martin-Incognito scandal tore the Dolphins’ line apart. They’ll use their first two picks in this draft trying to piece it back together.
51. Chicago Bears – FS Ed Reynolds, Stanford
The Bears’ defense was just brutal last year. Especially the play of Chris Conte at safety. They’ll find a replacement for him early in the draft.
52. Arizona Cardinals – OLB Trevor Reilly, Utah
The Cardinals’ already have a solid linebacker corps. But, addin Reilly’s size would boost the team’s run defense in a division with three very talented running teams.
53. Green Bay Packers – TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Green Bay will say goodbye to JaMichael Finley this offseason after the former Pro Bowl TE suffered a critical injury last year. Seferian-Jenkins is the best tight end on the board at this point.
54. Philadelphia Eagles – DT/DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
A very intriguing prospect with high upside, Tuitt fits into both the 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, as his versatility allows him to move over to 3-4 DE. He has the size of an interior lineman and the quickness of an edge rusher. Philadelphia could slot him opposite Fletcher Cox on their defensive line for years to come.
55. Cincinnati Bengals – OLB Telvin Smith, Florida State
A 4-3 linebacker by trade, Smith was a very valuable defensive cog for FSU last year. He’ll need time to learn the NFL game. But, the upside is there.
56. San Francisco 49ers – WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
A tall, talented receiver is just what the doctor ordered for San Francisco, who struggled to go downfield against Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.
57. San Diego Chargers – CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
The Chargers’ secondary is not the worst in the league. But, they still had serious trouble with the pass for much of the season. Fuller has decent size (6’0) for an NFL corner and would immediately provide a boost to their depth.
58. New Orleans Saints – FS Dion Bailey, USC
The Saints continue to build their defense by selecting Bailey, who will replace free agent Malcolm Jenkins on the back end.
59. Indianapolis Colts – WR Paul Richardson, Colorado
Indianapolis needs help all over their defense. But, we saw how much losing Reggie Wayne affected Andrew Luck last season. The Colts need to find some help for TY Hilton and Richardson is the best available target.
60. Carolina Panthers – OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor
A player with tremendous upside, Richardson would be a huge get late in the second for Carolina.
61. San Francisco 49ers – RB Tre Mason, Auburn
Frank Gore isn’t getting any younger, and the 49ers could use a workhorse for when his days in San Francisco finally come to an end.
62. New England Patriots – CB Louchiez Purifoy, Florida
A versatile athlete with tremendous quickness, Purifoy could play multiple roles early in his career with the Patriots before hopefully emerging as a top cornerback once he gains experience.
63. Denver Broncos – CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
Champ Bailey and Quintin Jammer are fossils at this point. Meanwhile, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent. In other words, the Broncos need a cornerback. Jean-Baptiste is 6’3, which would immediately make him one of the tallest corners in the game.
64. Seattle Seahawks – DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
I get that Seattle doesn’t really NEED another defensive end. But, the likelihood of Michael Bennett departing via free agency gets higher by the day. Jeffcoat is your classic speed rusher, a fine fit on a line that loves to rotate rushers by down.