The 2014 NFL Draft is now just hours away, and make no mistake about it, today is a great day to be a football fan. However, it's even a greater day to be a draftnik!
A new element has been added into this year's draft with the NFL pushing back the annual event a full two weeks into May. While that may seem like no big deal on the surface, it has actually created a record amount of misinformation around the media.
With two extra weeks before the draft, we've been hearing more leaks, opinions and rumors than ever before. It may sound confusing, but it feels like we've had more access to information than we've ever had, yet we know as little as we've ever known.
With that being said, I'm here to offer some insights and hopefully shed some light on this year's first round with the release of my 2014 final mock draft, which has become a staple of the TIMES NEWS for the past 14 years.
Finalizing this mock draft has been incredibly agonizing and frustrating (especially over the past 24 hours). As I always say, it's like you're playing a game of chess with your draft board, in that when you move one or two pieces around, it directly affects three or four others.
Unlike last year, which I deemed a "big boy" draft with the top players consisting of mainly offensive and defensive linemen, I think this year's draft is the complete opposite.
Aside from the top five or six players overall, this year's draft is very deep with perimeter-oriented players such as wide receivers and cornerbacks. When all is said and done, I think you're going to see 6-7 wide receivers drafted in the first round and 5-6 cornerbacks, which is a little over a third of the players in the first round.
However, the big drama in this year's draft lies solely with the quarterbacks. Where does Johnny Manziel go? Does Teddy Bridgewater slip to day two? How many quarterbacks will go in the first round?
Trying to answer these questions is the key to constructing an accurate mock draft this year. Tell me where the quarterbacks go and I can pretty much figure out the rest. Screw up your quarterback placement and your mock draft will likely implode before your very own eyes. I cannot emphasize enough how much of the first round will depend on where (and to which teams) the quarterbacks go.
Then, as if trying to map out an accurate mock draft isn't hard enough, you have to factor in potential trades, which can completely change the entire landscape of the draft. I try not to predict trades in my mock draft, but you know they're bound to happen. I even included a few in this year's edition to add to the drama, but that will probably turn out to be a losing strategy by the time all is said and done. There are two teams currently sitting with two first round selections (St. Louis and Cleveland) and then you have a team like San Francisco that has 11 overall draft picks, including six picks in the top 100. So what does this all mean? Expect the unexpected!
As in previous years, I will once again be represented in The Huddle Report's esteemed annual mock draft contest (www.thehuddlereport.com). The contest scores the mock drafts of the most reputable and widely-published draft resources in the world.
Last year, my mock draft finished tied for 1st out of 115 scored publications, and over the last five years, my mock drafts rank first in the industry for overall accuracy averaging 46.2 points per mock draft. For those scoring at home, mock drafts are scored under the following criteria: 1 point for each player correctly placed in the first round and 2 points for players matched to the correct team that picks them.
So, without further adieu, here's how I see things shaking out (before the first trade and/or Johnny Manziel blows it all up):
1. HOUSTON TEXANS - Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
I think the Texans would love to get a Robert Griffin-type package for the top overall pick, but I just don't see a trade happening. For as much as Houston needs a quarterback, Clowney is a generational prospect and a freak athlete. Putting him on the field opposite JJ Watt would add a very scary element to the Texans' defense.
2. ST. LOUIS RAMS (FROM WASHINGTON) - Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M)
St. Louis general manager Les Snead loves to wheel and deal in the draft, so don't rule out a trade with this pick. There's been a lot of scuttlebutt recently about Johnny Manziel here, but I'm not buying it. If the Rams don't dump the pick, it will ultimately come down to offensive tackles Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson. Robinson will be the popular pick here, but I'm throwing out my first curveball. You can't argue with Matthews' bloodlines and I feel he's the safest pick in this draft.
3. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS - Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
Jacksonville will have a very tough choice to make between Sammy Watkins and outside linebacker Khalil Mack. I think Mack would be an ideal fit to play the LEO role in Gus Bradley's defensive scheme; however, with Justin Blackmon not playing this season, adding a playmaking wide receiver definitely needs to be considered, especially if the Jaguars plan to draft a franchise quarterback with their next pick.
4. CLEVELAND BROWNS - Greg Robinson (OT, Auburn)
There is a lot of talk about Johnny Manziel going to the Browns with this pick, but with another first round selection and an early second round pick, I think the Browns will wait on a quarterback. If Greg Robinson gets by St. Louis, Cleveland could put the finishing touches on a huge bruising offensive line by adding the massive road grader to booked Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. Mike Evans will also be in consideration.
5. OAKLAND RAIDERS - Khalil Mack (OLB, Buffalo)
Oakland is always a bit of a wildcard to predict because they're an organization that seems to march to the beat of its own drum. I think the Raiders can go in a number of different directions with this pick (including trading down), but if Khalil Mack is still on the board, Oakland needs to take him. A wide receiver like Watkins or Evans, or one of the three top offensive tackles would also be in play here.
6. ATLANTA FALCONS - Taylor Lewan (OT, Michigan)
This pick boils down to either a pass rusher (if Atlanta can trade up a few picks) or an offensive tackle. With Clowney and Mack off the board, as well as Matthews and Robinson, the only logical pick left is Michigan's Taylor Lewan. The Falcons have been considered as a team that may be willing to move up to get their guy, but if they stay here, I think their selection will be whoever is left from the above-mentioned names.
7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS - Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
Disclaimer: I have no clue where Johnny Manziel is going to go tonight. However, I do think Tampa Bay wants to address its quarterback position and Manziel is their quarterback of choice. It's clear that the new regime in Tampa doesn't value Mike Glennon, and Josh McCown isn't the long-term answer. Manziel is the most polarizing prospect in this year's draft class, and the Buccaneers will send shockwaves through Radio City Music Hall by making Johnny Football the new face of the franchise.
8. MINNESOTA VIKINGS - Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
Without a doubt, quarterback should be Minnesota's first priority, but I just don't know if it's going to be the Vikings' first pick. Mike Zimmer is a defensive-minded coach and Minnesota has holes in all three levels of its defense. Zimmer had so much success generating interior pressure with Geno Atkins in Cincinnati that he may just elect to draft his clone in Aaron Donald to anchor the Vikings defense. Given Zimmer's coaching background, I wouldn't be surprised with a cornerback here either.
9. BUFFALO BILLS - Zack Martin (OT, Notre Dame)
There's been a lot of rumbling about Buffalo wanting to move up into the top five and I think the top three positions on their wish list are wide receiver, tight end and right tackle. I would assume most mock drafts will have either Mike Evans or Eric Ebron here, but the Bills have invested a lot at the receiver position over the past year (draft and free agency), so I'm putting my money on the versatile Martin.
10. DETROIT LIONS - Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
As much as the Lions need help in their defensive secondary, they really seem hell bent on wanting to get more weapons for their passing attack. Even though they just added Golden Tate, there have been plenty of rumors about Detroit wanting to trade up for Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans. However, with Evans still on the board (which might be a stretch), they shouldn't need too much time turning their card in to Commissioner Goodell.
11. TENNESSEE TITANS - Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA)
Tennessee could have the pick of the litter at cornerback if it chooses to go in that direction, but I just feel that all the stars are aligning for Anthony Barr to be the Titans selection. First off, Barr's defensive coordinator last year at UCLA is now on the Tennessee staff. You also have to consider that Barr is exactly the type of pass rusher that fits into new Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton's 3-4 scheme.
12. NEW YORK GIANTS - Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Even though the Giants selected Justin Pugh in last year's first round, I think they would absolutely love it if Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin fell to them. However, tight end (and a receiver in general) is a huge need for New York. Ebron grew up in Newark and was a Giants fan growing up. It might be a little early for a tight end, but if he's still on the board, I think he would be a tremendous upgrade for the Giants.
13. ST. LOUIS RAMS - Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
I think a majority of mock drafts will have the Rams targeting Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with this pick (or even Manziel), but if history is any indication, St. Louis just doesn't seem to prioritize the safety position early on in drafts. I think a cornerback to replace Cortland Finnegan would be equally as important and Dennard fits the physical, press style of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
14. CHICAGO BEARS - Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
I think the Bears are hoping that Aaron Donald falls to them, but since he's already off the board, I think Chicago really needs to address its safety position, which was historically bad last year. The two top safeties are still available at this point, and while I think Clinton-Dix might be ranked a little higher, I think Pryor (despite being a somewhat of a reach) fits more of what Chicago is looking for in the position.
15. PITTSBURGH STEELERS - Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
I don't think it's any secret that the Steelers want to address the cornerback position early in this draft, and they should have a few top corners to choose from when it's time to make their pick. I think this pick ultimately comes down to Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert or Kyle Fuller. I think Dennard might be their preferred option, but since he's already off the board, Gilbert would be a welcomed addition.
16. ***TRADE *** SAN FRANCISCO 49'ERS (FROM DALLAS) - Odell Beckham (WR, LSU)
Dallas needs to upgrade the defensive line in the worst way, but this is really no-man's land for what they're looking for, so I think they shop the pick. I never like projecting trades in my mock draft, but I just don't like the options available to Dallas at this point. San Francisco has 11 picks in this year's draft so they certainly have the ammunition to move up for a cornerback or wide receiver. They reportedly love Odell Beckham and if they want him, they need to get ahead of Baltimore and the Jets. If Manziel is still on the board, I agree with Mike Mayock that Jerry Jones might just pull the trigger.
17. BALTIMORE RAVENS - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
For all intents and purposes, Clinton-Dix should be off the board by this point in the draft, but if he falls into Ozzie Newsome's lap, I think the Ravens have to take him. Sure, Baltimore drafted safety Matt Elam last year in the first round, but they want to move Elam back to his more natural strong safety position. Clinton-Dix is the best free safety in this draft class, so they could essentially upgrade two positions for the price of one. Wide receiver and a linebacker like C.J. Mosley will also be strongly considered.
18. NEW YORK JETS - Brandin Cooks, (WR, Oregon State)
The Jets' two biggest needs are wide receiver and cornerback. If one of the top three cornerbacks (Gilbert, Dennard, Fuller) falls to them, I think there's a very good possibility they could take one as their first round pick for the second straight year. However, let's not forget that New York really coveted Tavon Austin last year and Brandin Cooks is the closest thing to him in this year's draft.
19. *** TRADE *** DENVER BRONCOS (FROM MIAMI) - Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
Denver did a good job filling most of its defensive holes in free agency, but one area of concern that still needs to be addressed is its linebacker corps. The two best linebackers still on the board are Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley, but neither should be on the board when the Broncos pick at #31. Denver is in "win now" mode so giving away a pick or two to move up for a player they want makes perfect sense.
20. ARIZONA CARDINALS - Blake Bortles (QB, Central Florida)
Carson Palmer (35 years old) has already told the media that he expects his team to draft a signal-caller early in the draft. However, I'm not sure many people thought that Blake Bortles would still be on the board at this point in the first round. Bortles and Derek Carr have all the measurable that Bruce Arians looks for in a quarterback, so I certainly wouldn't be surprised if the Cardinals forgo defense in lieu of their next franchise quarterback.
21. GREEN BAY PACKERS - C.J. Mosley (ILB, Alabama)
The Packers are always very unpredictable on draft day, but I think their two biggest needs are safety and inside linebacker. If C.J. Mosley were to fall to Green Bay, I think he'd be an ideal fit to provide more speed in the middle of its 3-4 defense. Another named being linked to the Packers is Ohio State outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, but I think Shazier fits better in a 4-3 scheme.
22. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES - Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
A lot of people are pegging the Eagles with a wide receiver with this pick, and while it is a possibility, I feel that there is so much depth at receiver in this draft that Philadelphia can wait a round or two to address that need. The Eagles also can use help in the secondary, and if one of the three top cornerbacks falls to them, I think from a value and need stand-point, it's a no-brainer. Fuller is versatile and can play both cornerback and safety.
23. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS - Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
The current Kansas City wide receiver corps doesn't really scare anybody, and the Chiefs should definitely be in the market for a speedy receiver early in the draft. However, drafting such players in the first round really hasn't been Andy Reid's M.O. It might be a tad early to draft a guard like UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo or Nevada's Joel Bitonio, so locking up Lee makes sense.
24. CINCINNATI BENGALS - Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
When you look at the Bengals roster, cornerback stands out as the team's biggest need. Terence Newman and Adam Jones are both in their 30's and Leon Hall is coming back from his second Achilles tendon injury in the past three years. At this point in the draft, the value on the board matches up with what the Bengals need most, so staying in-state and scooping up the former Buckeye would be a logical decision.
25. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS - Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
The Chargers are desperate for help in the secondary and getting a cornerback needs to be a priority for San Diego early in this draft. Luckily, there is still one first round-caliber corner still on the board in TCU's Jason Verrett. If the Chargers aren't in love with the talented, yet undersized, Verrett, I think they would be another team in this area of the draft that could consider casting their line into the deep wide receiver pool.
26. CLEVELAND BROWNS (FROM INDIANAPOLIS) - Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
If Cleveland doesn't take a quarterback with the #4 pick, you would have to assume that the Browns would be targeting a signal caller with one of their next two selections, and Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater seem to be the most likely candidates. I originally had Carr in this spot, but with all the recent scuttlebutt of Cleveland being enamored with Bridgewater, I had a last second change-of-heart.
27. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS - Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB, Nebraska)
I think the Saints would love to grab a wide receiver here, but the one that they supposedly covet (Marqise Lee) may not be on the board when it's their turn to pick. New Orleans did sign 36-year old Champ Bailey this offseason, but they still need more help at the position. Jean-Baptiste may be considered a bit of a reach in the first round, but he's a long corner that fits today's game with an exciting skill set.
28. CAROLINA PANTHERS - Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
I think Carolina will be very tempted to take an offensive tackle here as a replacement for Jordan Gross, but it all depends on who is still on the board at this point. On the other hand, the wide receiver position is an absolute wasteland right now in Carolina, so the Panthers need to spend a few early picks upgrading the position. Kelvin Benjamin has a few red flags associated with him, but he'd be an immediate starter in Carolina.
29. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS - Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)
Given Bill Belicheck's penchant for executing trades on draft day, I wouldn't be surprised one bit if he tried to deal this pick to a quarterback-needy team looking to trade back up into round one. If New England stands pat, it probably comes down to the best available defensive lineman (Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt or Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman) or a wildcard in Jace Amaro, who can step right into the Aaron Hernandez role in the Patriots offense.
30. *** TRADE *** OAKLAND RAIDERS (FROM DALLAS/FROM SAN FRANCISCO) - Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
Let me make one thing perfectly clear here - I'm taking advantage of a mock draft loophole. Do I see Dallas making two trades in the first round? No! Do I see them trading out of the first round all together? Absolutely not! However, the Cowboys are always a hard team to figure out (i.e. - Travis Frederick last year?). For the record, I originally had Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy going to them with this pick, but I figured my chances of accurately projecting the Cowboys selection this far down in round one is slim to none. With that being said, I really needed to find a place to stick Derek Carr in the first round, and Oakland is said to really like the Fresno State signal caller.
31. *** TRADE *** MIAMI DOLPHINS (FROM DENVER) - Cyrus Kouandjio (OT, Alabama)
Picking at #19 might have been a difficult spot for Miami, because they are so desperate for a first-round offensive lineman, yet the top four offensive tackles will be long gone. Rumor has it that the Dolphins have a first round grade on Tennessee's Ja'Wuan James, but in my opinion, that would be a mistake. Morgan Moses or Cyrus Kouandjio would be far better options if they moved down a few picks (even though there are conflicting reports about Miami's level of interest in Kouandjio).
32. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS - Joel Bitonio (OT, Nevada)
Seattle has to be sitting here licking its chops, as there could be plenty of activity for this pick from teams hoping to jump back into the first round (and perhaps move ahead of Houston for a quarterback). The other thing to consider here is that players drafted in the first round can be signed to an extra year in their rookie contacts, making this pick even more valuable. I don't really know if Seattle will keep the pick, but if they do, I think a versatile offensive lineman makes perfect sense, as the Seahawks lost two of its top six offensive linemen from last year.