NFL mock drafts at this point in the year have all the accuracy of a six-month weather forecast. We have no idea what will happen next April, just as many had no idea what would happen even days before the 2013 draft.
But projecting picks for the 2014 draft isn’t a futile effort. In predicting the draft order and the selections we could see in Round 1 of next year’s selection process, we get a better understanding of what to watch for as the 2013 football season begins.
There are always players to watch throughout the college football season, but there are some especially worth keeping an eye on—a crop of players that could be garnering a lot of early-round attention next April. Those will be the prospects to have on your radar each and every Saturday.
Let’s take a look at some way-too-early projections and break down the players with the most to gain for a good 2013 campaign.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Unless Clowney encounters a major injury or has off-the-field concerns in 2013, there’s absolutely no reason to believe he won’t be one of the first two players drafted next April. He’s one of the best defensive players to come out of the draft in the last 10 years, and he’ll certainly be worth watching when South Carolina takes the field in the fall.
2. Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Raiders have been in search of a true franchise quarterback for a long time. If they end up picking in the top three selections, they will have no problem finding one. Bridgewater is an elite quarterback prospect with all the tools NFL teams look for in a future star at the position.
3. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Jets filled some defensive holes and added a potential franchise quarterback of their own in this year’s draft, but they didn’t focus enough on finding offensive playmakers for him. This season will tell us a lot about Santonio Holmes’ durability and the pro potential of Stephen Hill, though it’s fairly likely New York will still need to find another big-time playmaker in 2014.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews would have been one of the first tackles selected in this year’s draft had he not returned to Texas A&M, but it was probably the right decision. He’ll be sliding over to left side to fill Luke Joeckel’s shoes and will likely see a big spike in his draft stock as a result.
The Eagles drafted Lane Johnson at No. 4 this year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be in search of another franchise bookend next year. While teams rarely take right tackles at the top of the draft, we have seen an unusual run on guards and right tackles in the top 15 in recent years. Should Philadelphia select Matthews (and play him at right tackle), Chip Kelly’s new offense would have one of the strongest foundations in the league.
5. San Diego Chargers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
San Diego is in desperate need of offensive line help, and nothing it did this offseason will likely change the on-field result in 2013. If Philip Rivers is to remain under center for the Chargers going forward, Tom Telesco is going to have to keep adding quality offensive linemen in the coming years.
6. Kansas City Chiefs: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Time will tell how Alex Smith performs in Andy Reid’s offense, but there’s a pretty good chance Kansas City will search for a new franchise option in the 2014 draft. If Reid decides to go that route, there isn’t a better option for him at this point in the first round. Boyd has the makings of a tremendous NFL quarterback.
7. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Cleveland added Davone Bess in a trade with Miami on draft day, giving it the potential for an exceptional young receiving corps in 2013. That said, the Browns could still use one more big-play weapon to pair with Josh Gordon and Greg Little, especially with a big arm like Brandon Weeden under center.
8. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Bills lost a lot of depth at linebacker this offseason. They did well in free agency and the draft to replenish some of that talent, but Mosley would give them a true playmaker at the position.
9. Arizona Cardinals: David Fales, QB, San Jose State
Carson Palmer is likely a stop-gap option in Arizona. Bruce Arians has to find his own franchise quarterback going forward, and Fales could be that guy. Given his tremendous success in 2012 (4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns), there’s plenty of reason to keep an eye on his as a potential top 10 selection next April.
10. Detroit Lions: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
While Detroit addressed some of its biggest needs in this year’s draft, there’s still a glaring hole at the cornerback position. If Roby can continue playing like the best defensive back in the Big Ten in 2013, he’ll be in line to be the first cornerback selected in 2014.
11. Tennessee Titans: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Nix is a massive defensive tackle with surprising speed and quickness to match. Even at 330 pounds, the Notre Dame product is well-suited for a penetrating role in a one-gap scheme, and the Titans could certainly use another big body on the interior of their defensive line.
12. St. Louis Rams: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
The Rams fielded one of the best pass rushes in the league last season courtesy of a tremendous job by the defensive-minded Jeff Fisher. In order to sustain that success going forward, Fisher will have to continue adding pieces to that pass rush, and Jeffcoat would be an excellent fit at defensive end.
13. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Dolphins had a fantastic offseason filled with big-name acquisitions and an infusion of both young and veteran talent. What they failed to address, however, is their offensive line. If Miami hopes to keep its potentially explosive offense on par with the rest of the AFC’s powerhouses, it will have to focus on adding to its offensive line in 2014.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Josh Freeman will be on a short leash in 2013. If he can’t sway Greg Schiano’s opinion and play his way into a new contract, Tampa Bay will likely be looking for a replacement next April.
15. Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Despite switching to a 4-3 with the addition of Monte Kiffin and his Tampa 2 scheme this year, Dallas opted to not address the linebacker position until the seventh round of the draft. The Cowboys have a couple solid pieces in place to facilitate a smooth transition, but expect Kiffin to pound the table for a playmaking linebacker like Barr in next year’s draft.
16. Chicago Bears: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Seferian-Jenkins is a tremendous talent with huge NFL upside. At 6’6” and 266 pounds with the athleticism rarely seen in a player his size, the Washington product is an enthralling option for teams in need of a seam-stretcher at the tight end position.
17. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
It remains to be seen how much longer Steve Smith can be productive in Carolina. Even if he continues his impressive production in 2013, Cam Newton still needs another big-play weapon to stretch the field.
18. New Orleans Saints: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Sutton is the type of defensive tackle a lot of teams that employ three-man fronts would love to have the 5-technique defensive end position. He’s a little stout for a two-gap scheme (6’1”), but he has both the strength and explosiveness to be a versatile option for Rob Ryan’s aggressive 3-4 scheme.
19. Baltimore Ravens: Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
Joe Flacco’s monster contract means offensive linemen and wide receivers will have to be in play in next year’s draft. Baltimore’s protection unit should be pretty good in 2013, but it still needs to add another offensive weapon for the $120 million signal-caller.
20. Minnesota Vikings: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Minnesota had a tremendous first round this year, in which it added Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes. That was the extent of the additions to its secondary, though, and Minnesota has to continue building on a cornerback rotation that lost a lot of talent this offseason.
21. Houston Texans: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Matt Schaub isn’t all that old (31), but he’s taken a lot of abuse under center in Houston. The Texans may look for a contingency plan going forward, and if Manziel is still available, they’ll have the potential to add a high-upside backup with the potential to take the reins when Schaub’s time is up.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Silas Redd, RB, USC
Despite allowing Steve Jackson to walk in free agency, the Rams didn’t do much to shore up their backfield this offseason. If Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson don’t pan out in 2013, expect St. Louis to use an early-round selection on a new addition at running back.
23. Cincinnati Bengals: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Many expected the Bengals to use a first-round selection on a safety in this year’s draft. They waited until the third round, however, and what they do in the 2014 draft could be contingent on how Shawn Williams plays in 2013.
24. New York Giants: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Every NFL teams needs at least three starting-caliber cornerbacks. Given the high percentage of defensive plays in nickel and dime packages, New York has to continue replenishing both depth at talent at the position.
25. Indianapolis Colts: Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
The transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 front is typically a two- or three-year process. Part of that process is finding the right pieces to fit the system, and Hubbard would go a long way toward completing that transition. He plays in a 3-4 under Nick Saban, and has all the talent to be a solid first-round candidate in the 2014 draft.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
It’s hard to find a position at which Seattle isn’t absolutely loaded. Given the Seahawks’ lack of positional needs and the value of selecting potentially the best guard in the 2014 draft class, it’s not unreasonable to predict the Seahawks selecting Jackson at this point in the draft.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers: Sentreal Henderson, OT, Miami
How Mike Adams plays this season could be a determining factor in how the Steelers approach the first round in 2014. Should the Ohio State product fail to meet expectations again in 2013, Kevin Colbert could be in search of a replacement at the left tackle position.
28. Atlanta Falcons: Morgan Breslin, DE, USC
Thomas Dimitroff rarely uses early-round selections on defensive ends, but that doesn’t mean he won’t consider it if the right prospect is available. In this case, Breslin could be that prospect. Should the USC product repeat his 2012 success (13 sacks), he’ll likely be considered one of the top pass-rushers in the 2014 class.
29. New England Patriots: Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
Defensive tackles don’t often record 12 sacks in a season. Tuitt did just that in 2012, and he has shown the potential to be a premier interior pass-rusher going forward. Pairing him with Vince Wilfork would give New England a powerful one-two punch on its defensive line.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
The 49ers moved up for Eric Reid in the first round this year, but they still need another playmaker at the position. If Donte Whitner fails to impress in 2013, look for San Francisco to add another tremendous safety to compete for the starting job in 2014.
31. Denver Broncos: Chaz Green, OT, Florida
All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady has yet to get a new contract from the Broncos. Should he ride out his franchise tender and hit the open market next offseason, Denver may be in search of a new blindside protector for Peyton Manning.
32. Green Bay Packers: Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
Van Noy would be a tremendous complement to Clay Matthews. With the size, speed and ability to be a dangerous pass-rusher in Green Bay’s multiple-look 3-4 front, the BYU product could easily find a home with the Packers late in the 2014 draft.