We’re only a few hours away from the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, a.k.a. my second Christmas. Therefore, here’s my mock first round for tonight. I’m not a fan of mocks, especially not when the NFL Network tasks their people to start doing them in February. But on draft day, I don’t mind taking a stab at it. You all should know I really let myself go with crazy scenarios. Oh, and yes, there are trades in this mock draft. So, let’s enjoy what remains of the wait with a bit more intense speculation.
1. *Atlanta Falcons (trade with Houston): Jadaveon Clowney, defensive end, South Carolina: Clowney will be the first pick. The question is to whom. I think that he goes to Houston if the Texans stay here, but the Texans badly need a quarterback and don’t want to take one here. Meanwhile, the Falcons, a team not nearly as bad as their 2013 record suggests, need an elite pass rusher such as Clowney in the worst possible way. Come on, Tom Dimitroff! Show us them cojones once again!
2. St.Louis Rams: Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M: I can’t accept that someone with Matthews’ ability and polish would go behind Auburn’s Greg Robinson. Every mock draft I’ve seen has Robinson going here, so there might be fire where there’s smoke. However, if the Rams go OT, Matthews would be a better pick here.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, Outside linebacker, Buffalo: It would be fairly hard for the Jags to go wrong in terms of positional needs, but Mack fits the bandit role in the Gus Bradley/Seattle/ under front defense to a T, and Chris Clemons is not a long-term answer. The Jags haven’t had a consistent pass rusher on the roster since the one year when Reggie Hayward managed to avoid injuries. Do the math.
4. Cleveland Browns: Greg Robinson, Offensive Tackle, Auburn: They may go quarterback here, but with the general value of getting one of the big three here dipping, the Browns make sure whoever plays QB for them next year has a shot at staying alive, and they’ll go from there. They can get a good quarterback at 26, or in the second round.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, Wide receiver, Clemson: The acquisition of Matt Schaub allows the Raiders to delay their taking of a quarterback. But Schaub needs weapons and Watkins would instantly improve Oakland’s passing game. Besides, he’s a pick Al Davis would approve of.
6. *Houston Texans (Trade with Atlanta): Blake Bortles, Quarterback, UCF: Johnny Manziel would undoubtedly be the popular choice here, given that he’s a local guy and an electrifying player. But Bill O’Brien is an old-school coach who will succomb for the prototypical size – arm strength – athleticism package that Bortles brings and dislike the fact that you can’t confine Manziel to any kind of a script.
7. *Detroit Lions (Trade with Tampa Bay): Justin Gilbert, Cornerback, Oklahoma State: The Lions need a corner, and they don’t want to risk passing the highest-rated one by giving the Vikings a shot at taking him.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, Linebacker, UCLA: Every year, someone falls unexpectedly in love with a player. Barr tested absolutely off the charts and looks like Adonis to begin with. The Vikes have let Jared Allen go and bet the house on former college start Everson Griffen. Barr offers a rare blend of athleticism and upside. He could develop into the rare linebacker who can rush the passer and drop into coverage effectively, and the Vikings could use him in a Von Miller-type role, as coach Mike Zimmer isn’t afraid to use his backers to rush the passer (the Bengals did sign James Harrison last season). He also gives them an insurance policy should the Griffen gamble fail. He could be another Dion Jordan, whom the Dolphins already regret having taken (and whom my Jags didn’t; take that, Todd McShay!), but he could also be an unstoppable force three years from now.
9. Buffalo: Mike Evans, Wide receiver, Texas A&M: Taylor Lewan is a possibility, but the Bills seem to like Cordy Glenn at left tackle. Meanwhile, EJ Manuel doesn’t exactly have tons of weapons, even with Mike Williams on board to help out the passing game.
10. Tampa Bay (trade with Detroit): Johnny Manziel, Quarterback, Texas A&M: Rumour has it Mike Evans is a lock to go to them if he’s there. I can’t imagine the Lovie Smith regime is sold on Mike Glennon at QB, and Manziel potentially provides Tampa with a unique spark, or gets Smith fired quickly.
11. Tennessee Titans: Louis Nix, Nose tackle, Notre Dame: They would like a pass rusher, because the best one they have on the roster, Jurell Casey, is a three-technique who is a bordeline misfit in the Titans’ new 3-4 defence. However, with Barr, Clowney and Mack gone, the Titans turn their attention to another position of need. Nix is athletic for a nose tackle and renders the Titans less vunerable than they would be with Sammie Hill starting at NT to athletic teams that run outside zone schemes. Moreover, while he doesn’t have an expansive pass rush repertoire, Nix is strong enough to push the pocket.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan: The Giants have an aging, unproductive, downright bad offensive line that can use some serious help. As little as he brings in the running game, Lewan is an athletic pass protector who can protect Eli Manning’s blind side better than anyone they have on the roster.
13. St. Louis Rams: Odell Beckham, Wide receiver, LSU: The Rams have signed Kenny Britt, but he’s so injury-prone that it’ll be an added bonus if he plays a big role. Brian Quick has been less than inspiring and Tavon Austin is strictly a slot receiver who can play a kind of Percy position. What they need is a dependable receiver who runs good routes to allow Sam Bradford one last attempt to salvage his Rams career. Beckham fits the bill.
14. Chicago Bears: Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Safety, Alabama: Dix is a versatile player who brings athleticism and physicality to the Bears secondary. They might go corner, but Dix is the better value at this spot.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback, Michigan State: The Steelers defence is becoming a geriatric ward. They must get younger and better. This is a perfect match. Dennard is a physical corner who played for a ruffneck school with a ruffneck scheme and who excels in press coverage. Just what the doctor ordered for the Steelers.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh: Another perfect fit. Cowboys’ D-Line coach Rod Marinelli is the league’s top gap charge specialist, and Donald, with his explosiveness off the snap, hand violence and varied pass rush repertoire, is a guy Marinelli can mould into an inside pass-rushing force à la Geno Atkins.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zach Martin, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame: The Ravens are the ultimate “best player available” team, so at this point it could be anyone, but Martin is up there and makes a lot of sense with the departures of Michael Oher and Bryant Mckinnie. He can either take Oher’s right tackle spot or play inside and allow another player to move out and fill the hole left by Oher’s departure.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver, USC: My, my, my, does this team need receivers. Eric Decker, recently signed for too much money, is a number 2 guy at best. As for the rest, well… yeah… Lee has just enough speed, along with rare change-of-direction skills and technical polish, to be a productive number 1 receiver in the NFL. The Jets will gladly take him.
19. Miami Dolphins: Eric Ebron, Tight End, North Carolina: At this point, Ebron is the best player on the board, gives a really promising player to the Phins at a position where they have next to no one right now, and would be another weapon for a staff trying to maximize the production of QB Ryan Tannehill.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Calvin Pryor, Safety, Louisville: They might be tempted to go quarterback here, but they stick to a best player policy and go with Pryor, who also plays a position where they need reinforcements.
21. Green Bay Packers: Kyle Fuller, Cornerback, Virginia Tech: Jason Verrett and Bradley Roby might be better pure talents, but Fuller’s ability to play physically and dependably will be a huge plus for the Packers, whose defence stinks and who have to play the tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as well as Megatron Johnson twice a year.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver, Oregon State: The Eagles lack star power at the receiver position following the departure of DeSean Jackson, and surely Chip Kelly will find creative ways to use Cooks’ speed, route running, and change-of-direction ability.
23. *Cleveland Browns (trade with Kansas City): Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback, Louisville: The Chiefs might think long and hard about taking Bridgewater themselves, but the Browns, insecure about KC dealing the pick to another team looking to leapfrog them for Bridgewater, pull the trigger themselves and come up to get him.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: CJ Mosley, Linebacker, Alabama: The Bengals need an athletic player to complement the thumping power of Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict. Ryan Shazier might fit that bill better physically, but Mosley is too good to pass up at this point, and while not quite the same athlete, is a better pure football player.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, Cornerback, Ohio State: The Chargers have nobody at cornerback. This is a no-brainer.
26. Kansas City Chiefs: Timmy Jernigan, Defensive tackle, Florida State: Jernigan offers a nice blend of explosiveness and power at defensive tackle, and he played in a hybrid 4-3/3-4 scheme at FSU. Moreover, he’s the best player on the board at this point, and he can help the Chiefs as a depth player during his first season and eventually dethrone one of their starters because of his ability to play the nose or the 5-technique spot.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, Outside Linebacker, Auburn: The Saints took care of the back end of their defence in free agency with the signing of Jairius Byrd, and now they add to their ability to rush the passer with Ford, a high-motor player who plays with ideal intensity and nastiness.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, Wide receiver, Florida State: The Panthers were already extremely thin at receiver before they lost Steve Smith. Now that Smith is a Raven, the Panthers desperately need to give Cam Newton some weapons. Benjamin is built like a power forward, has a massive catch radius, and is a great vertical threat despite not having awesome timed speed.
29. *Jacksonville Jaguars (trade with New England): Derek Carr, Quarterback, Fresno State: Wishful thinking? Nope. Let’s be honest: who would bet against New England dealing down? Meanwhile, the Jags don’t get Carr at 7 in the second round, and he’s a guy who would benefit massively from the redshirt year he’d get behind Chad Henne. This is an investment pick, and Gus Bradley can afford it; he’s not getting fired even if the Jags are terrible again this year. The Jags have 11 picks; so what if they give up two?
30. San Francisco 49ers: Rashede Hageman, Defensive tackle/5-technique, Minnesota: The Niners under Jim Harbaugh are not afraid to be unconventional, as they weren’t afraid to “reach” for a player with upside like Aldon Smith. Hageman is an immense talent whose physical skills suit the 5-technique position he’d be asked to play. And Justin Smith is 35.
31. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, Cornerback, TCU: They badly need athleticism and talent at cornerback and linebacker, but Verrett is a guy whose talent warranted a much higher pick. He instantly upgrades their pass defence with the kind of man-to-man skills coordinator Jack Del Rio especially covets.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Stephon Tuitt, Defensive end, Notre Dame: Having lost his weak-side two-gap defensive end Red Bryant to the Jags, Pete Carroll reinforces the position with a player whose size will allow him to withstand double teams and whose athleticism is far superior to that of Bryant.