2014 NFL Mock Draft: Projecting College Football's Next Class of Top Prospects
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Let's get a jump start on the 2014 NFL draft by featuring the next slate of college football's best talents.
If anything, use this early mock draft to get prepared for the 2013 season.
From an all-encompassed perspective, team needs will change, but don't be surprised when a similar position gets addressed. Next year's class is eerily similar regarding depth of talent along the offensive line, as well as the defensive front sevens.
Elsewhere, however, there is greater top-heavy talent at quarterback, running back and receiver. And this will only make watching the college games more exciting when the autumn wind kicks off.
As for the draft, here's a glimpse of what to anticipate when April rolls back around.
Note: Highlighted players in italics.
1. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE (South Carolina)
Oakland needs to rebuild the front seven. Jadeveon Clowney is a complete defender and helps the Raiders control the line of scrimmage more consistently.
2. New York Jets: Taylor Lewan, OT (Michigan)
With Geno Smith as the future, the Jets need to provide a long-term solution at tackle. Taylor Lewan's size and strength is a perfect answer, not to mention he run-blocks effectively.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB (Louisville)
Jacksonville is still looking for an answer under center. Well, Teddy Bridgewater brings the decision-making to impact immediately. Backed by a strong ground game, Bridgewater's ability to spread the field off play action develops as a competitive advantage.
4. Arizona Cardinals: Jake Matthews, OT (Texas A&M)
Offensive line must remain Arizona's priority. With Jonathan Cooper to dominate the interior, Jake Matthews comes aboard to seal the outside. In short, the Cardinals have more balance to move the rock with efficiency.
5. San Diego Chargers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT (Alabama)
Even though D.J. Fluker was selected in 2013, his forte resides as a run-blocker. Drafting Cyrus Kouandjio, though, walls off the pocket opposite Fluker. Now Philip Rivers has more time to survey, and San Diego's offense presents tougher balance.
6. Buffalo Bills: Marqise Lee, WR (USC)
Reaching for EJ Manuel was a surprise.
On the bright side, he provides Buffalo with a strong arm and mobility to make things happen out of the pocket. Taking advantage of that skill set by Manuel, the Bills get USC's Marqise Lee to split underneath zones and win against man coverage.
In just two seasons for the Trojans, he has amassed 2,864 receiving yards on 191 receptions including 25 touchdowns. This knack for accumulating yards after the catch and going deep will simply prevent a defense from stacking the box vs. C.J. Spiller.
Plus, Lee brings the dynamic as a return man. Thus far, he has collected 1,141 kickoff return yards, while averaging 28.5 per attempt (two touchdowns).
7. Dallas Cowboys: Lamarcus Joyner, S (Florida State)
Dallas must get a playmaking safety to benefit from the cornerback tandem of Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne. Lamarcus Joyner supplies reliable instincts, as well as the awareness to constantly locate the ball to create turnovers.
8. Detroit Lions: Kareem Martin, DE (North Carolina)
Getting Ziggy Ansah a complementary pass-rusher in Kareem Martin takes Detroit's front line to another level. Then the Lions have two edge defenders for rushing and squeezing lanes, which allows Ndamukong Suh to face more one-on-one situations.
9. Carolina Panthers: Darqueze Dennard, CB (Michigan State)
Darqueze Dennard knows how to find the ball and make plays on it. Carolina still lacks in coverage and won't contend for January without upgrading its secondary. Fortunately, Dennard will see additional opportunities courtesy of a stellar front seven controlling the line.
10. New Orleans Saints: Kyle Van Noy, LB (BYU)
Kyle Van Noy is a force on the edge. Possessing a great knack for creating turnovers, Van Noy suits the Saints to a T. And as one of pro football's worst defenses, continuing to address this side of the ball will get New Orleans back into the playoff mix.
11. Tennessee Titans: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE (Texas)
With a strong group of linebackers to fill gaps and get pressure, Tennessee has to enhance its front line. Jackson Jeffcoat is a technically sound defender, offering the size and lateral movement to constrict the edge and win vs. the one-on-one.
12. Cleveland Browns: Jason Verrett, CB (TCU)
Cleveland has the front seven to stuff the run and give nightmares to a quarterback. Sprucing up the coverage with Jason Verrett simply completes the secondary. As a corner with great field awareness, Verrett's talent emerges as a strong sidekick to Joe Haden.
13. Philadelphia Eagles: Johnny Manziel, QB (Texas A&M)
The offensive approach of Chip Kelly best fits a quarterback like Johnny Manziel. He has better marksmanship than at first glance, which helps keep a defense on its heels. Include Manziel's mobility, and the selection of Lane Johnson in 2013 pays even more dividends with his overall athleticism.
14. New York Giants: Louis Nix, DT (Notre Dame)
Last season, the Giants gave up an average of 4.6 yards per carry, ranked No. 25 in rushing defense and managed only 33 sacks.
Now the presence of Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul remains a threat to any blocking scheme.
But Big Blue needs a beast to eat blocks and capitalize whenever he is single-blocked. Enter Notre Dame's Louis Nix, a defensive tackle that recorded 50 tackles (7.5 for loss) and defended five passes in 2012.
Measuring at 6'3", 340 pounds, Nix's ability to wreck a backfield will keep offenses from isolating Tuck and Pierre-Paul. The resonating impact then assists those in coverage with more turnover opportunities.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Devin Street, WR (Pittsburgh)
Pittsburgh's offensive line will get better. Factor the addition of Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers have their offense back on track. Providing Ben Roethlisberger the hometown deep-threat receiver of Devin Street and, well, Pittsburgh features more balance.
16. Miami Dolphins: Gabe Jackson, G (Mississippi State)
Miami's forte must develop by punishing defenses in the trenches. Gabe Jackson allows for this to occur, because of a quick jump at the snap and having been battle-tested in the SEC.
As a result, opponents begin to stack the box and that's when Ryan Tannehill connects with Mike Wallace and Co. on play action.
17. Chicago Bears: Ryan Shazier, LB (Ohio State)
Chicago's long-term solution at linebacker cannot be D.J. Williams. He'll be 31 years old before this season and Jon Bostic is capable of patrolling the interior. Bringing Ryan Shazier into the mix, though, gives the Bears another all-around talent at the second level.
18. St. Louis Rams: Ed Reynolds, S (Stanford)
The Rams need a safety to help generate turnovers. Ed Reynolds is just the guy for the job, because he returned six picks for 301 yards in 2012, three of which went for touchdowns.
19. Kansas City Chiefs: James Hurst, OT (North Carolina)
Kansas City's best path to the postseason is with Jamaal Charles. And utilizing him requires the Chiefs to field a physically dominant offensive line. After Eric Fisher from this past April, pairing James Hurst opposite solidifies the outside and gives K.C. a more powerful attack.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ben Gardner, DE (Stanford)
Picturing Tampa Bay's secondary, the Buccaneers will improve against the pass in 2013. As for 2014, getting a more dependable pass rush with Ben Gardner completes the defense. Tampa then provides its offense with more possessions and the Bucs control the tempo en route to fighting for the playoffs.
21. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Ka’Deem Carey, RB (Arizona)
St. Louis' backfield is riding on the development of Zac Stacy and Daryl Richardson. Landing Ka'Deem Carey in 2014, however, hauls in a back that crushed the competition last season. As an explosive dual-threat, Carey has No. 1 ball-carrier potential from the get-go.
22. New England Patriots: Jordan Matthews, WR (Vanderbilt)
The past two seasons displayed one minute weakness in Tom Brady's offense: No explosive deep-threat receiver.
Along with needing to line up a No. 1 target, New England must get younger on the outside.
Here, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews comes in and has the size (6'3", 205 lbs) to take over immediately. After snagging 134 passes for 2,102 yards between 2011 and 2012, expect his 2013 campaign to be an encore performance.
Maintaining consistency then allows for a strong transition into pro football. Factor Matthews coming out of college football's best conference, and now catching for Brady, and the Patriots reestablish their high-powered attack.
23. Baltimore Ravens: Greg Blair, LB (Cincinnati)
Finishing the Ravens' front seven puzzle is Greg Blair. Along with Arthur Brown at linebacker, Blair's ability to seek out the rock and fill lanes is a competitive advantage. Ultimately, his impact allows Baltimore to get more aggressive regardless of the situation.
24. Green Bay Packers: Morgan Breslin, DE (USC)
Rick Pickett turns 34 years old this season. So, sticking to the defensive line with USC's Morgan Breslin replenished talent and youth in the trenches. Green Bay then clogs more gaps and receives additional quarterback pressure after Clay Matthews and Nick Perry.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Aaron Murray, QB (Georgia)
Presenting a true pocket passer at the helm takes Minnesota's offense to an unforeseen level. For one, Aaron Murray knows how to work consistently from under center. Second, he'll transition quickly because every defense will continue focusing on Adrian Peterson.
26. Cincinnati Bengals: Ty Zimmerman, S (Kansas State)
Cincinnati fields a much more explosive offense this season. With that, opposing teams will need to challenge the Bengals defense in order to match pace.
Troubles in coverage then occur, since the Bengals gave up a 61.8 completion percentage in 2012 and compiled only 14 interceptions. Despite racking up 51 sacks last year, the secondary did not take advantage.
So, the Bengals pick safety Ty Zimmerman from Kansas State in 2014.
He's one of the most instinctive defenders this draft, courtesy of 20 defended passes (10 picks) and 182 tackles in three seasons. The Wildcats can use him a variety of ways, which in turn, allows the cornerbacks to disguise between Cover 1 and 3.
Complemented by Cincinnati's pass rush, Zimmerman's eye for the rock just continues to generate turnovers.
27. Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Barr, LB (UCLA)
Although Indianapolis opted for Bjoern Werner in the 2013 draft, the Colts have to get another young pass-rusher. Well, Anthony Barr is the perfect candidate, as evidence of 21.5 tackles for loss a year ago shows
28. San Francisco 49ers: Daniel McCullers, DT (Tennessee)
In order to keep its pass rush relevant, San Francisco needs Daniel McCullers to clog multiple gaps up front. His size alone here helps (6'8", 360 lbs) and McCullers will draw extra blockers. The end results are more sacks for Aldon Smith and Co., as well as plugged running lanes.
29. Atlanta Falcons: Will Sutton, DE (Arizona State)
Atlanta's pass rush is not set for the long run. However, that gets fixed with Arizona State's Will Sutton. Coming off an exceptional 2012 campaign, Sutton's nose for the backfield will instantly produce for the Falcons.
30. Houston Texans: Brad Roby, CB (Ohio State)
Ed Reed's presence at safety will force more passes to the intermediate level. Houston electing to take Brad Roby just puts another coverage piece together. If anything, his ball skills and production see more opportunities courtesy of Reed and the Texans' suffocating pass rush.
31. Denver Broncos: Brian Blechen, S (Utah)
The Broncos' weakest aspect right now is safety. That said, selecting Utah's Brian Blechen fields a safety capable of significantly impacting in coverage. Denver has the pass rush to force ill-advised throws, not to mention the corners to lockdown one-on-one. Therefore, all Blechen needs to do is react accordingly and continue making plays.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Cody Hoffman, WR (BYU)
The slamming potential of Seattle's ground attack will constantly keep a defense occupied. Capitalizing even more off play action, though, happens with Cody Hoffman. The Seahawks now offer greater balance, but they can also suddenly go downfield in any situation.
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