By Alex Kozora
This will be my final article before the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. It’s a first round mock based on what I believe will happen as opposed to what should happen and no trades are predicted. Keep that in mind when reading it. Also, keep in mind this is all going to be incorrect in less than 24 hours.
1. Houston Texans: Khalil Mack/OLB Buffalo – Conventional wisdom has stated for almost the entirety of the draft Jadeveon Clowney would go here. But recent reports have surfaced the team favors Mack. I’m not in that camp when somebody like Gil Brandt mentions it, it’s worth listening to. Mack could be the next Von Miller and would line up across from Whitney Mercilius. Brooks Reed is in the final year of his rookie deal and has just 5.5 sacks across the last two seasons.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson/OT Auburn – If you’ve seen my scouting report of Robinson, you know I’m not his biggest fan. Feel he’s a mid-first rounder than a top five pick but alas, that’s where he will go. This pick comes down to which of the “big three” at tackle the team likes, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, or Robinson, but there’s little question Robinson has the higher ceiling. A player that has Larry Allen type strength, and I certainly don’t use that term lightly, who moves extremely well for his size. Problem is he is raw and a poor technician and asking him to play tackle when he rarely had to kickslide is a dubious task. Perhaps he can start at guard and then move to tackle. Jake Long carries a big cap number and is coming off a torn ACL. Maybe in a year or two, he gets released and Robinson slides over.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney/DE South Carolina – Still the most talented player in the draft. Jacksonville gets a premier pass rusher for a defense that tied dead last in sacks last season. Clowney is a freak athlete with supreme length, first step, and a nasty swim move. He will have to learn to play lower in his 6’6 frame. But he’s as special of an athlete as they come. Jacksonville knows in a quarterback heavy draft, they can get one in round two.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins/WR Clemson – Fairly vanilla pick but that’s the only vanilla part of Watkins. A playmaker, he racked up 101 catches for over 1400 yards and 12 scores in 2013 despite less than ideal quarterback play. He can play opposite of Josh Gordon and give the Browns one of the most explosive one-two punches at wide receiver. Throw in Jordan Cameron and another first round pick and the Browns may finally be able to put all the pieces together on offense.
5. Oakland Raiders: Mike Evans/WR Texas A&M – Oakland was a tough one to mock. With Mack and Watkins off the board, there isn’t an obvious direction to go. They aren’t likely to take a quarterback this high. Offensive tackle offers good value but after signing Donald Penn and Austin Howard, that seems unlikely. Instead, they go with the tall Evans to give them a playmaker at wide receiver. With Rod Streater, Denarius Moore, and Andre Holmes, Oakland suddenly has a talented group of young receivers.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews/OT Texas A&M – Aggies get selected back-to-back. There’s a good chance Thomas Dimitroff trades this pick, he’s one of the most aggressive GMs in the league, but if he stays, Matthews is their guy. The Falcons’ offensive line was a mess and allowed Matt Ryan to be sacked 44 times in 2013. Matthews will replace the dreadful Sam Baker at left tackle and can start right away.
7. TampaBay Buccaneers: Blake Bortles/QB Central Florida – First QB off the board. Maybe a little high but it’s no secret Lovie Smith isn’t a fan of Mike Glennon and is open to dealing him. New regimes always want “their” guy. Bortles is a little Glennon-esque in terms of size and arm strength and can sit behind Josh McCown for a year. Bortles is less as a developmental prospect than some make him out to be. He stands tall in the pocket and feels the rush well.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Hasean Clinton-Dix/S Alabama – Eight is higher than where I’d be comfortable to take Clinton-Dix but this he gets mocked in the 10-15 range so eight isn’t much of a stretch. Jamarca Sanford isn’t inspiring at strong safety, and his contract expires after this season. Clinton-Dix might best fit at free but has the size and physicality to play in the box. Could start from Day One and like him more than Calvin Pryor.
9. Buffalo Bills: Justin Gilbert/CB Oklahoma St – Originally mocked Mike Evans here but bumped him up to #5 and replaced him with Gilbert. Big fan of Gilbert and he’s my #1 cornerback. Great size with ideal bulk and a ton of lower body strength, he’ll give the team three cornerbacks. He offers a ton of return value, too, and could compete with Marquise Goodwin to be the starting kick returner. Goodwin averaged less than 22 yards per return in 2013.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard/CB Michigan St – Run on cornerback begins. Reports show Dennard’s stock falling so perhaps this is too early but he’s a great man corner who shut down his side of the field in college. Don’t think he’s a good fit for the Steelers but he’ll thrive in a man scheme. Physicality has to be toned down a little bit, he is too grabby, but plays the pocket of the receiver and is faster on tape than what he is timed. Lions’ secondary is a mess and Dennard is the first step in fixing that.
11. Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan/OT Michigan – Last of the top three tackles goes. Tennessee did ink Michael Oher to $20 million deal but he struggled mightily in 2013. Michael Roos has been a rock at left tackle but is 31 and entering the final year of his contract. Lewan started 48 games at The Big House.
12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald/DT Pittsburgh – Giants get really good value here. Donald is an ideal one tech even if he’s undersized. He shows a fantastic first step and a constant disruption in the backfield. Over half of his career tackles were for a loss or a sack. Throw in his starting experience and clean medical and character, and he’s one of the “safest” prospects in the draft, if there is such a thing. Donald will help replace Linval Joseph who jumped ship for Minnesota.
13. St. Louis Rams: Johnny Manziel/QB Texas A&M – Johnny Football falls out of the top ten but finds a good home in St. Louis. Move makes a lot of sense. Sam Bradford has been unlucky due to health issues but regardless, his play has been a far cry for what the team expected when they took him #1 overall. Jeff Fisher worked with a similar QB in Steve McNair in Tennessee and likely has the patience and creativity to work with Manziel.
14. Chicago Bears: Calvin Pryor/S Louisville – Not the biggest fan of Pryor and have him ranked behind Clinton-Dix. But safety is a glaring need for the Bears, especially after Chris Conte’s injury. As Steelers’ fans can attest, Ryan Mundy should not be a starter. Pryor is speed deficient and much smaller than what Louisville listed him but a big hitter who will do well in the box.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Odell Beckham Jr/WR LSU – Pick doesn’t change here and I won’t add much more to it. Explosive after the catch, I see a lot of Antonio Brown in him. Very versatile and an elite return man. Strong chance he becomes the team’s starting kick returner Week One.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Marquise Lee/WR USC – Jerry Jones is always in “win” mode even if the results don’t show it. With the coaching staff on the hot seat too, they add at the skill positions. Lee didn’t time well but shows soft hands and is a good route runner. Poor quarterback play led to a down senior season. He’ll be added to the Cowboys’ current group of Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Fuller/CB Virginia Tech – Not my favorite pick here for the Ravens seeing how they already have LaDarius Webb and Jimmy Graham. But again, teams have to be nickel and dime deep in today’s NFL. The former Hokie picked off two passes in 2013 and was a three year starter.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron/TE North Carolina – Falls a little bit because his talent should have him going higher, especially in a weak tight end class. Jets have been linked to Ebron throughout the draft process and get a “move” tight end that will be their offense lots of versatility. Pairs well with the run blocking Jeff Cumberland. After adding Eric Decker in the offseason, the team finally has some weapons.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zach Martin/OT Notre Dame – Popular pick. Martin isn’t an elite tackle in my eyes but solid and offers a ton of position flexibility. The Dolphins’ offensive line is an improvement over the mess that existed last year and Martin will only bolster that. Wide receiver is also a possibility here.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Anthony Barr/OLB UCLA – Cardinals get good value as Barr is one of the players to fall in my mock. He’s a raw pass rusher but is still practicing his craft (only played two years defensively after switching from H-Back) and shows enough glimpses of his ceiling to make you want to roll the dice on him. John Abarham is still going strong at 36 with 11.5 sacks in 2013 but in the final year of his deal. Barr is an ideal replacement.
21. Green Bay Packers: Bradley Roby/CB Ohio St – Roby’s stock took a slight hit with his run in with the law but it shouldn’t hurt him too much. Roby carries risk and was inconsistent at Ohio St, Jared Abbrederis had his number in school, but is one of the best athletes at the position. He adds depth behind Tramon Williams and Sam Shields.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Ryan Shazier/OLB Ohio St – Back-to-back Buckeyes. Not my favorite pick but wasn’t sure where else to go with this one. Shazier is similar to Mychal Kendricks and would give the Eagles a lot of speed in subpackage football. He could play inside or out and was a playmaker in college. Speed kills and Chip Kelly knows all about that.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks/WR Oregon St – Perhaps a bit of a stretch and changed this pick a few times. Cooks seems to fit as an Andy Reid type player. Small yet speedy and dangerous in the open field. Great fit in the West Coast. Cooks found the end zone 18 times in 2013.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Carr/QB Fresno St – Andy Dalton is not a franchise QB. By now, the team has to recognize that and with Dalton being a free agent after this year, now is the time to find his replacement. Carr threw 50 touchdowns to just eight picks in his senior year.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett/CB TCU – One of my favorite players, the only knocks against Verrett are his size (5’9/4 178) and medical issues. Other than that, he’s a top corner and #2 on my list. Quick-twitch athlete with a great close and aggressive in coverage. Willing tackler in the open field, too. Chargers allowed eight yards per attempt in 2013, tied for 29th in the NFL. If he’s recovered from his torn labrum, he could start early into his rookie season.
26. Cleveland Browns: Joel Bitonio/OT Nevada – An offensive lineman that isn’t getting much love in media circles, buried underneath the talent that exists at the top. He turned heads with his huge workout at the Combine (4.97 40, 32 inch vertical). The Browns set on the left side with Joe Thomas but are looking to upgrade at right tackle over Mitchell Schwartz. It may come as a surprise to pass on a quarterback but with a slew of QBs left and the team picking at #35, they choose to wait. Plus, that’s totally a Cleveland thing to do.
27. New Orleans Saints: Demarcus Lawrence/OLB Boise St – The Saints are getting Victor Butler back from a torn ACL to boost their pass rush that generated just 37 sacks in 2013. Lawrence looks the part at 6’3 251 with over 33 inch arms. He racked up 20 sacks in the last two seasons.
28. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews/WR Vanderbilt – The Panthers are desperate for a wide receiver and at left tackle. They roll the dice the run on wide receiver happens before the offensive line. Although I’d imagine players like Cyrus Kouandjio and Ja’waun James will be in the mix. Matthews is NFL-ready with a ton of starting experience. He’s tough and is quicker than most bill him as. Ideally, he wins a starting job opposite Jerricho Cotchery and moves Jason Avant to the slot where he’s best suited.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro/TE Texas Tech – A very Patriots thing to do. Rob Gronkowski’s injuries are mounting and the receiving group disappointed. Amaro is not an in-line blocker but a big-bodies receiver that is difficult to bring down in the open field. Versatile weapon Bill Belichick will find countless ways to use.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Scott Crichton/DE Oregon St – Crichton is an interesting prospect at 6’3 273. Possibly a tweener but with the 49ers running a bit of a hybrid defense, has versatility. The team is standing by Aldon Smith but his legal and mental issues are mounting. He has ten career forced fumbles. Add him with Ahmad Brooks and you have a potent pass rush and bolstering an already great linebacker core.
31. Denver Broncos: Stanley Jean-Baptise/CB Nebraska – Although it’s become a bit of a crutch at this point, having tall cornerbacks has become the trend. Jean-Baptise is one of the tallest cornerbacks at 6’3 and draft experts like Mike Mayock have predicted SJB to slip into the first round. He’ll help replace Champ Bailey.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Ja’waun James/OT Tennessee – James has been overshadowed by the media by teammate Tiny Richardson but James may be the superior player. With just Michael Bowie at right tackle, James could start right away. The team hopes to hit on James after missing on guard James Carpenter a few years ago.