2014 NFL Mock Draft: Previewing College Football's Top Prospects for Next April
USA TODAY Sports
The 2014 NFL draft remains months away, but the 2013 football season will be kicked off before we know it.
And as a result, college football's best talents will be extensively broken down with pro football on the horizon. By the same token, NFL teams will exploit one another and areas of need then ultimately change.
Obviously the process simply starts all over again, but the excitement is maintained through new prospects eyeing football's top level. So, let's check out another early glimpse of next April.
Note: Highlighted players in italics.
1. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE (South Carolina)
Oakland's quickest route to rebuilding is by controlling the line of scrimmage. The Raiders get exactly that from Jadeveon Clowney, courtesy of his reactionary skills and nose for the ball.
2. New York Jets: Taylor Lewan, OT (Michigan)
Geno Smith is Gang Green's long-term answer. Providing long-term pocket protection comes in the form of Taylor Lewan. As an athletic tackle, he'll seal the edge for the pass and also get upfield to extend running lanes.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB (Louisville)
Teddy Bridgewater is this draft's best quarterback and he instantly solves Jacksonville's passing game woes.
For one, he's a great decision-maker. In 2011, he sported a 64.5 completion percentage and boosted that to 68.5 in 2012. Last season Bridgewater also tossed 27 touchdowns to just eight picks and led Louisville to a key victory over the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl.
The Jaguars on the other hand, remain in dire straits. Fortunately, Maurice Jones-Drew is there to establish a physically dynamic running game. Not only does that help set up play action, but Bridgewater is provided with an array of explosive receivers.
Mesh that with his ability to spread the field and Jacksonville finds balance to score more consistently.
4. Arizona Cardinals: Jake Matthews, OT (Texas A&M)
Arizona's did itself a favor by selecting Jonathan Cooper in 2013. Remaining along the offensive line for 2014, Jake Matthews comes aboard to help emphasize balance. He's a sound pass-blocker, but also brings the dependable run-blocking to win the battle up front.
5. San Diego Chargers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT (Alabama)
Philip Rivers still needs better pass protection. Therefore, picking up D.J. Fluker's former college teammate Cyrus Kouandijo solidifies the blindside. Now the Chargers get more efficient through the air, which in turn, helps set up the running game.
6. Buffalo Bills: Anthony Barr, LB (UCLA)
Buffalo's defense is nearly complete. Putting linebacker Anthony Barr into the mix simply enhances the pass rush and run defense. After collecting 13.5 sacks and forcing four fumbles in 2012, Barr's potential continues to increase.
7. Dallas Cowboys: Lamarcus Joyner, S (Florida State)
The Cowboys have to field a safety that will take advantage of playmaking opportunities. Lamarcus Joyner offers this, not to mention the talent to fill running lanes and shell at the intermediate level when needed.
8. Detroit Lions: Kareem Martin, DE (North Carolina)
Getting Ziggy Ansah a complementary edge-rusher finishes Detroit's front wall. Kareem Martin knows how to disrupt behind the line, and his impact helps keep Ansah and Ndamukong Suh facing single block situations.
9. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR (USC)
Veteran receiver Steve Smith is 34 years old. So, Carolina needs Marqise Lee to take over the No. 1 receiver spot for the long-term future. Possessing the acceleration to make plays downfield, Lee also has the quickness to accumulate yards after the catch.
10. New Orleans Saints: Will Sutton, DE/DT (Arizona State)
The Saints just have to continue addressing its defense.
After ranking No. 31 against the pass, No. 32 against the run, allowing 5.2 yards per rush and giving up 31 passing scores, New Orleans won't fix all that in one season. Therefore, taking Arizona State's Will Sutton presents a versatile force to help win immediately from the snap.
Last season Sutton accounted for 23.5 tackles for loss (13 sacks), five defended passes and three forced fumbles. Measured at 6'1" and 288 pounds, Sutton's size bodes nicely for defensive tackle or end.
Regardless of his pre-snap technique, the guy offers a sensible knack for constantly crashing the backfield.
11. Tennessee Titans: Darqueze Dennard, CB (Michigan State)
Although Tennessee drafted two corners in 2013, a top-tier prospect is required for a faster improvement in coverage. Darqueze Dennard has a nose for the rock, as well as the ability to help with perimeter run support.
12. Cleveland Browns: Brad Roby, CB (Ohio State)
Cleveland has the front seven to dominate the immediate point of attack. Adding elite talent to the secondary with Brad Roby just improves the coverage. Supplying reliable awareness to locate the ball, Roby's potential takes flight as the Browns field a complete defense.
13. Philadelphia Eagles: Tajh Boyd, QB (Clemson)
The Eagles still have to get an answer at quarterback for Chip Kelly's philosophy. Tajh Boyd not only brings the arm strength and experience from shotgun, but he's more mobile than at first glance: He collected 514 rushing yards and scored 10 rushing touchdowns in 2012.
14. New York Giants: Louis Nix, DT (Notre Dame)
New York needs to keep addressing the defensive line. Cullen Jenkins is 32 years old, Shaun Rogers is 34 and Justin Tuck is 30. Drafting Louis Nix also presents a force within the trenches and his instincts to wreck the backfield immediately emerge as a competitive advantage.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Devin Street, WR (Pittsburgh)
A deep threat receiver will complete Pittsburgh's offense. Hometown prospect Devin Street offers this exact need, not to mention he'll stretch the field to complement the ground game. As a result, the Steelers find balance and control the tempo at a solid rate.
16. Miami Dolphins: Gabe Jackson, G (Mississippi State)
Miami's offensive tackles are set. Tyson Clabo came on board from the market (via Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports) and Jonathan Martin has strong talent as well. Putting Gabe Jackson on the interior easily bolsters the rushing attack to then set up play action. Ultimately, the Dolphins' balance makes them postseason contenders.
17. Chicago Bears: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE (Texas)
The Bears need a true pass-rusher to eventually take over for Julius Peppers. Well, Jackson Jeffcoat has recorded 27.5 tackles for loss between 2011 and 2012. Set him along the edge and Chicago's ability to suffocate up front significantly increases.
18. St. Louis Rams: James Hurst, OT (North Carolina)
North Carolina's James Hurst is a complete player. He has the skill set to run block effectively and wall the outside against quick pass-rushers. Not only will he help the Rams in the NFC West, but Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that tackle Rodger Saffold had mentioned a trade:
That 100 percent included offensive tackle Rodger Saffold, who has informed the club he wouldn’t mind being traded now that Jake Long has been signed to play left tackle. The Long pickup has moved Saffold to right tackle; he’d rather play left.
In short, St. Louis can part ways with Saffold in some manner and then get an instant replacement with Hurst.
19. Kansas City Chiefs: C.J. Mosley, LB (Alabama)
C.J. Mosley has the instincts to contribute at inside or outside linebacker. Kansas City must get better against the run, not to mention feature a stronger inside pass rush from the second level. Mosley offers each, as well as future answer at 'backer since Derrick Johnson turns 31 years old this season.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ben Gardner, DE (Stanford)
In a pass-happy division Tampa Bay managed a dismal 27 sacks. Fortunately, the coverage will be better in 2013 to give the rush more time to apply pressure. Landing Ben Gardner this draft, though, quickly lines up a playmaker on the edge to capitalize from the upgraded pass defense.
21. St. Louis Rams (via WAS): Ed Reynolds, S (Stanford)
St. Louis possesses one of pro football's top cornerback tandems in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins.
And with those two able to blanket one-on-one, that allows more playmaking opportunities for the safeties. Unfortunately, the Rams only snagged 17 picks in 2012 and gave up a 66.2 completion percentage.
Complementing Finnegan and Jenkins is Ed Reynolds. A season ago he accumulated 301 return yards on six interceptions and took three back for touchdowns. His incredible talent for locating the rock and changing the field position emphatically capitalizes in Cover 1 and 3.
Include St. Louis' tough front seven and consistent quarterback pressure adds more turnover chances.
22. New England Patriots: Jordan Matthews, WR (Vanderbilt)
Jordan Matthews averaged 19.5 yards per catch in 2011, and then caught 94 passes in 2012. Tom Brady still knows how to spread the field, but Matthews is the big playmaker for New England to maintain explosiveness.
23. Baltimore Ravens: Ryan Shazier, LB (Ohio State)
Much like Mosley, Ryan Shazier is an all-around playmaker capable of suiting up at inside or outside linebacker. A sidekick is needed for Arthur Brown in Baltimore and Shazier's talent to instantly dissect plays keeps the Ravens' front seven stellar.
24. Green Bay Packers: Morgan Breslin, DE (USC)
The last area for Green Bay to address defensively is asphyxiating the trenches. Allowing 4.5 yards per carry in 2012 won't get solved through one draft. That said, going with USC's Morgan Breslin in 2014 completes the defense, as Breslin will constrict lanes and apply quarterback pressure when needed.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Aaron Murray, QB (Georgia)
Aaron Murray brings the experience to transition quickly as he works nicely from under center. Also, his mechanics will help Minnesota attack defenses vertically. A by-product of that just forces a secondary back, as it will keep opponents from completely stacking the box versus Adrian Peterson.
26. Cincinnati Bengals: Ty Zimmerman, S (Kansas State)
Cincinnati is on the brink of becoming true AFC title contenders. But an instinctive safety must get picked to benefit from the incredible front seven. Ty Zimmerman's assignment discipline in Cover 1 and 3 just helps generate more turnovers to give the Bengals' high-powered offense additional possessions.
27. Indianapolis Colts: Kyle Van Noy, LB (BYU)
A continually improved pass rush will propel Indianapolis into the Super Bowl discussion.
Fielding an offensive to push the tempo, the Colts have also enhanced their coverage to shutdown in Cover 1. Additionally, Indy brought in Bjoern Werner from the 2013 draft to spruce up the front seven.
Sticking with the line of scrimmage, the Colts land another rusher in Kyle Van Noy to suppress developing plays. Even better, Van Noy has proved reliable consistency for BYU during his tenure thus far.
In three campaigns he has forced 11 fumbles, defended 14 passes and has 44.5 tackles for loss. Put him opposite of Werner and the Colts will constantly collapse the backfield.
28. San Francisco 49ers: Daniel McCullers, DT (Tennessee)
To sustain as an NFC powerhouse the 49ers must keep crushing teams at the line. Daniel McCullers is the perfect prospect here, because of his impressive size (6'8", 360 lbs) to eat blocks and clog lanes. Factor San Francisco's set of reliable linebackers and Jim Harbaugh's defense continues to dominate up front.
29. Atlanta Falcons: Ka’Deem Carey, RB (Arizona)
Ka'Deem Carey is a dual-threat back that totaled 2,232 yards last year. Atlanta's best back is Steven Jackson; however, he's also turning 30 years old before this season. Carey is the future for the Falcons, and he'll quickly develop as part of Matt Ryan's high-powered attack.
30. Houston Texans: Jason Verrett, CB (TCU)
Safeties Ed Reed and D.J. Swearinger will keep passing attempts at the intermediate level. Drafting a playmaking corner in Jason Verrett simply takes advantage of more turnover opportunities. Along with defending 22 passes in 2012, six of those were picks and he collected 63 tackles.
Who wins Super Bowl XLVIII?
31. Denver Broncos: Brian Blechen, S (Utah)
The Broncos have to upgrade at safety and according to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Charles Woodson is a current option. Regardless of how that situation unfolds, though, Woodson will be 37 years old this season. In short, opting for Brian Blechen next draft season solidifies the future to field a playmaker behind the front seven.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Cody Hoffman, WR (BYU)
Another big time receiver will put Seattle over the edge as a Super Bowl contender. With the ground game in place, having Cody Hoffman line up out wide for Russell Wilson presents stronger balance. The Seahawks can still slam defenses between the tackles, but the play-action pass becomes an extended threat.
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