While newly drafted NFL rookies are getting acclimated to their new teams, another crop of prospects is getting prepared for its ultimate audition. The 2013 college football season will give these young men a chance to impress NFL scouts and hopefully earn a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft.
It's impossible to predict what will happen in the next NFL season. Every year, teams that made the playoffs the season before miss out, and teams that failed to reach the postseason the year before get in.
Because of this truth, this mock draft isn't meant to predict how NFL teams will fare in 2013. Instead, it is meant to preview the players who could be drafted in 2014.
While the new season is still months away, some players have already made a case as potential first-round picks. These young men appear ready to step into the NFL in 2014 and make an immediate impact.
Certain selections will be highlighted with italics for deeper analysis.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars—QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
The Jaguars don't have much of a chance of winning games in 2013 with the quarterbacks currently on the roster. Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne have both proved to be backup-caliber signal-callers—at best.
Bridgewater is currently the top-rated quarterback on my draft boards, and it's a no-brainer to mock him to Jacksonville at this point.
2. Oakland Raiders—DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Should the Jaguars pick first in the 2014 NFL draft and select Bridgewater, Reggie McKenzie and his scouts will be doing backflips. Clowney is by far the most impressive prospect of the 2014 NFL draft class at this point, and Oakland needs the help on defense.
Oakland ranked No. 31 in the NFL in 2012 with just 25 total sacks, and the defense struggled as a whole. Adding a pass-rusher of Clowney's caliber would improve the team's chances of getting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
What Oakland doesn't need right now, if you believe the latest rumors, is a quarterback. Tyler Wilson is reportedly looking better than Matt Flynn, according to Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group:
If Wilson ends up earning the starting quarterback spot, the Raiders will have landed one of the biggest steals of the 2013 NFL draft.
3. New York Jets—WR Marqise Lee, USC
Mark Sanchez may be losing his starting job to Geno Smith, judging by the latest rumors from CBS Sports' Mike Freeman regarding the Jets OTAs. No matter who is behind center in 2014, he'll be better off with Lee than without him. Adding a big-time playmaker to the starting lineup would boost New York's ability to score points on offense.
4. Tennessee Titans —OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Pretend for a moment that Jake Locker evolves into a competent—if not brilliant—quarterback in 2013. With his physical gifts, he has the potential to become an impact player in the mold of Colin Kaepernick.
The best way to protect such a player is by putting elite offensive linemen in front of him, which is why the Titans would be wise to add Lewan to their already impressive group of linemen in 2014.
5. Arizona Cardinals—OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Carson Palmer is 33, and the idea that Arizona could pick a quarterback early in 2014 makes sense. But the team would be better served building up its offensive line first.
The Cardinals didn't add an offensive tackle in the 2013 NFL draft and will likely regret that decision. Yes, Jonathan Cooper will be a boon inside, but elite tackles are needed in the NFC West to stop the relentless pass-rushers in the division.
It seems as if Arizona is content with Levi Brown and Bobby Massie, but my guess is that Bruce Arians and the team's brain trust will be singing a different tune after a dismal 2013 season on offense.
Adding Matthews to play next to Cooper would be a smart move to help Arizona on the offensive side of the ball for years to come.
6. San Diego Chargers—OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Philip Rivers was sacked 49 times in 2012, and if he continues to get hit as often as he has the past couple of years, his career will likely be cut short. D.J. Fluker is an excellent player, but the team still needs to bring in a franchise left tackle.
7. Buffalo Bills—DT Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
Tuitt is a unique player who can play anywhere on the line. He's powerful enough to dominate the trenches as a tackle but quick enough to play on the outside. Adding him to Buffalo's line to play with Mario Williams and company would give the Bills one of the best defensive lines.
8. Dallas Cowboys—DE Morgan Breslin, USC
DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are incredible pass-rushers, but both of them are nearing the end of their careers. In order for Dallas' defense to withstand the inevitable decline of these players, young talent is needed.
Breslin is a talented pass-rusher who can play in any scheme, and he would give Dallas a boost as a situational pass-rusher in 2014 while studying under the team's excellent veterans.
9. Philadelphia Eagles—OLB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Mosley is an excellent all-around linebacker who is incredibly smart and instinctual. He can play on the edge or in the middle, and his versatility would be a perfect fit in the Eagles' multiple schemes on defense.
10. Cleveland Browns—QB David Fales, San Jose State
For the purposes of this mock draft, let's assume that soon-to-be 30-year-old Brandon Weeden has another so-so season in 2013. Judging by what we've seen from him in college and in his rookie season, this isn't a huge stretch.
Norv Turner has reportedly been installing an offensive attack that relies heavily on deep throws down the field. This system would seem to be perfect for Weeden, who has a big arm, but in reality his accuracy isn't good enough to make it work consistently.
Fales, on the other hand, has a cannon for an arm and is an accurate passer. He would be the perfect trigger man for Turner's big-play-oriented passing attack, and he'll be 23 years old next year with plenty of upside.
11. Detroit Lions—CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Detroit has a talented roster but doesn't feature enough outstanding defensive backs to stop the aerial attacks of the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Adding a top cornerback like Roby would be a big step in the right direction.
12. Carolina Panthers—WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Steve Smith is in his mid-30s, and although he's still an explosive playmaker, he is in the twilight of his career. The Panthers would be smart to add a young receiver like Watkins to take over for Smith as Cam Newton's No. 1 receiver when Smith finally retires.
13. Miami Dolphins—OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
Adding skilled offensive linemen should be a priority for the Dolphins in 2014 as Jeff Ireland continues to build around quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Jackson is a certifiable road-grader in the running game and is a solid pass-blocker who will be an upgrade over Richie Incognito on the left side.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
The Buccaneers need pass-rushers, and although Sutton is a defensive tackle, he's also an impressive defender against the pass. Though he's a bit undersized at 6'1 and 288 pounds, Sutton racked up 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year. Plugging him into the starting lineup next to Gerald McCoy would give Tampa Bay a dynamic duo inside.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers—NT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Of all the teams that run a 3-4 scheme on defense, no team needs a new nose tackle as badly as the Steelers. Nix would be a perfect player to replace Casey Hampton, who is no longer a dominant force inside.
16. St. Louis Rams—CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
The Rams already feature a dynamic duo at the cornerback position with Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan, but it takes more than two cover corners to dominate on defense these days. Adding Colvin would give St. Louis three excellent cover men to defend against the dynamic offenses of the NFC West.
17. Kansas City Chiefs—QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Yes, Kansas City just paid a pretty penny (in draft picks, that is) to acquire Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers, but this pick makes more sense than it seems on the surface.
Boyd is a perfect candidate to run a variation of the pistol in the NFL. He has the speed, athleticism and awareness to make big plays with his legs, and he is also a talented passer who can beat defenses with his arm.
Even if he's not ready to step in right away, Smith will be more than capable of running the Chiefs offense until he is.
18. Minnesota Vikings—OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Jared Allen will be a free agent after the 2013 season if Minnesota doesn't give him an extension. It seems highly unlikely the team will make such a move, and general manager Rick Spielman will likely be looking for Allen's replacement in the draft.
Barr is a talented pass-rusher who could step in and learn on the go in 2014, and if his 2012 season was any indication, he's going to be one of the most coveted pass-rushers in next year's draft class.
19. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins)—TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Rams general manager Les Snead did a fantastic job of providing Sam Bradford offensive weapons this offseason. The project isn't finished just yet, however, and adding a talented tight end like Seferian-Jenkins would be another step in the right direction.
20. Chicago Bears—CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
The Bears feature two of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, but both are due for new contracts after the 2013 season. They're also both getting older, and adding young defensive backs will be critical for Phil Emery in the next couple of years.
21. Indianapolis Colts—OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
As Andrew Luck develops, the Colts offense will become a lethal weapon that will score a lot of points nearly every week. High-scoring offenses and pass-rushers go hand-in-hand in the NFL, as opposing teams will be attempting to keep up on the scoreboard.
Van Noy is a speedy, athletic pass-rusher who can attack opposing quarterbacks from all over the field, and he would be a nice addition to the team's corps of young defensive players.
22. New Orleans Saints—WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
The Saints are a dangerous team on offense when Drew Brees has multiple options in the passing game. Matthews is a highly productive receiver who would be able to step in right away and contribute as a rookie.
23. Baltimore Ravens—WR Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
Baltimore will miss Anquan Boldin in 2013. Torrey Smith was a huge beneficiary of Boldin's presence in the starting lineup, and now that he's gone, the Ravens will not be as explosive on offense. Coleman is a big target who is adept at catching balls at their highest point—two big pluses when paired with what Joe Flacco does best, which is make big plays downfield.
24. New York Giants—OT David Yankey, Stanford
Even if Justin Pugh turns out to be a stud tackle, the Giants will be looking for another one in 2014. Yankey is an excellent tackle, but he can also play all across the line. His versatility will make him a valuable player for New York in the years to come.
25. Green Bay Packers—S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
Green Bay's defense will be fun to watch in 2013—especially up front. That said, the team's secondary still needs a bit of work. Reynolds is a ball-hawking, playmaking safety on the back end, but he is also an effective tackler near the line of scrimmage.
26. Cincinnati Bengals—DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Michael Johnson will be expensive to keep in 2014. Given the Bengals' penchant for picking up young, cheap players rather than paying veterans massive contracts, it won't surprise anyone to see Johnson depart via free agency.
In his stead, Jeffcoat would be a serviceable—if not brilliant—replacement.
27. Atlanta Falcons—CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
Adding Desmond Trufant was a nice move by Thomas Dimitroff, but Atlanta will need to continue adding talented defensive backs in the years to come. Asante Samuel is 32 years old and will be in the final year of his contract in 2014, and adding a skilled cornerback like Purifoy would be a nice move to offset his eventual departure.
28. New England Patriots—WR DeVante Parker, Louisville
Perhaps 2014 will finally be the year Bill Belichick drafts a wide receiver in the first round. Should he do so, Parker would be an excellent choice. He's an excellent possession receiver who has the speed and agility to make big plays down the field, and he's also adept at catching touchdowns in the red zone.
29. Houston Texans—CB Jason Verrett, TCU
With the Indianapolis Colts breathing down Houston's neck, it's imperative that the Texans feature a solid group of defensive backs in the years to come. Verrett is an excellent cover corner who would likely step in as a nickelback in his rookie season.
30. Seattle Seahawks—DT Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
Seattle already features one of the best defenses in the NFL, but the Seahawks must continue to improve the interior of the defensive line. Adding a run-stuffing defensive tackle like McCullers would give Seattle an edge when facing the dominant offensive line of the San Francisco 49ers.
31. Denver Broncos—OLB/DE Adrian Hubbard, Alabama
It will be interesting to see how the Broncos make up for the loss of Elvis Dumervil this upcoming season. He was undervalued, and Denver will likely miss him attacking opposite Von Miller. Adding Hubbard would make up for it, however, and he could become an even more dangerous player in the NFL than Mosley when it's all said and done.
32. San Francisco 49ers—S Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Donte Whitner will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014, and the 49ers would be wise to continue the youth movement in their secondary. Adding Clinton-Dix to play opposite Eric Reid would give San Francisco a dynamic duo at the safety position for years to come.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78