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2014 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Latest First-Round Projections

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2014 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Latest First-Round Projections
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The 2013 NFL regular season isn't over—we've still got three weeks of great professional football left—but fans of eliminated teams are already chomping at the bit for draft coverage. So much so on Twitter that a new mock draft was demanded Sunday night.

You asked, and I'm at your beck and call. 

With more information coming in daily about which underclassmen will enter the 2014 draft, which will return to school and how the draft order will look, a projection of the first round is much clearer than it was three months ago. Of course there is still plenty of time between now and the May draft, but this is a picture of how the 2014 draft would look as of today.

The draft order is up to date as of December 8 and courtesy of Draft Falcons. There are no projected trades (nor will there ever be in my mock drafts), and players are either seniors, already declared for the draft or expected to be by the January 15 deadline.

With the formalities out of the way, let's get to it.

 

1. Houston Texans—DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

The Houston Texans may be tempted to draft a quarterback here, but there's also strong reasons to not gamble on a quarterback if you aren't completely sold on him.

General manager Rick Smith and whomever his new head coach will be have a difficult decision to make. Draft a quarterback or pair Jadeveon Clowney with J.J. Watt? Better to build a dominant defense if there is any doubt about the top quarterbacks or if they think they can land Jay Cutler in free agency.

 

2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington)—OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

The St. Louis Rams have a financial commitment to Sam Bradford at quarterback. That's a commitment they should protect. The team did sign Jake Long at left tackle but will likely lose Rodger Saffold in free agency.

If the 2013 draft proved anything, it's that teams are willing to draft a young tackle and play him on the right side until he's needed at left tackle. That's what the Rams could do with blue-chip prospect Jake Matthews. A trade out would be very likely in this scenario.

 

3. Atlanta Falcons—OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA

The Atlanta Falcons have the big pieces to the puzzle in place, but now they need to fill out the areas of the roster that have been neglected. One major weakness is in the pass rush, where the team sorely missed John Abraham.

They can replace his production with a player very similar, UCLA's Anthony Barr. The former running back is a top-level athlete and edge-rusher. He would give the Falcons defense an instant upgrade.

 

4. Minnesota Vikings—QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

The first quarterback comes off the board, and the Minnesota Vikings couldn't be happier. Their attempts with Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman all failed, and it's time to start over at the position. Teddy Bridgewater is a safe pick at the spot given his accuracy, field vision and ball placement all over the field. Once he bulks up a little, he'll be ready to roll over NFL defenses.

 

5. Jacksonville Jaguars—QB Derek Carr, Fresno State

The Jacksonville Jaguars have played their way out of the No. 1 overall pick but get a nice consolation prize in Derek Carr. The big-armed Fresno State quarterback has the experience the young franchise needs, and no player in college football comes with a better mix of strength, velocity and all-field accuracy than Carr.

 

6. Cleveland Browns—QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida

The Browns are desperate for a franchise quarterback but don't rule out Brian Hoyer as the 2014 opening-day starter. That would allow the team to draft a player who needs a little time to develop—like Blake Bortles. The UCF quarterback is a dual-threat star and has a little Andrew Luck or Ben Roethsliberger in his game. He's the type of smart, savvy passer the Browns have needed.

 

7. Oakland Raiders—QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Johnny Manziel might seem like an odd choice for the Oakland Raiders, given general manager Reggie McKenzie's work with the Green Bay Packers. But in Green Bay, McKenzie had two quarterbacks who could move their feet and make plays (Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers). He would get that in Manziel, who is the type of spark plug that can ignite a stale offense and rejuvenate a fanbase.

 

8. Buffalo Bills—DE/LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo

The Buffalo Bills had an amazing 2013 draft, landing long-time starters EJ Manuel, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Kiko Alonso and Nickell Roby. Now they need a repeat performance. The coaching staff has found production from Jerry Hughes and others, but landing an elite prospect on the edge could change this defense. Khalil Mack is that type of player, and being a local prospect doesn't hurt either.

 

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

The Buccaneers have a starting quarterback now in Mike Glennon, but he needs a deep threat with some speed opposite the sure-handed Vincent Jackson. Sammy Watkins is a top-level prospect—on par with A.J. Green in fact—and could instantly open up the Tampa offense. With Glennon, Jackson and Watkins stretching the field, just imagine the holes for Doug Martin.

 

10. Pittsburgh Steelers—OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

It's time, again, to re-work the offensive line in Pittsburgh. The smart move for general manager Kevin Colbert would be to bite the bullet early in the 2014 draft and land a blue-chip left-tackle prospect.

Cyrus Kouandjio has had his rough spots this season, but he's a rare talent when it comes to strength, athleticism and even upside. He's better than D.J. Fluker was at Alabama, and he's dominating in San Diego.

 

11. Tennessee Titans—DE Kony Ealy, Missouri

The Tennessee Titans face an offseason that will define this franchise. We could see a coaching change, but for now, the focus is on the holes this roster faces.

They hoped Kamerion Wimbley would be a premier pass-rusher, but he's disappointed in that role. Adding Missouri's Kony Ealy—another long-limbed, strong pass-rusher—would give the defense the complement to Jurrell Casey it needs on the outside.

 

12. New York Giants—OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

The struggles Eli Manning has faced this season are well-documented but not entirely his fault. The Giants must address his blindside protection and admit that Will Beatty isn't suited for the job. Greg Robinson is just a redshirt sophomore at Auburn, but he's dominant at the point of attack and has the smooth slide to mirror and defend the edge as a pass-protector.

 

13. St. Louis Rams—WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

The St. Louis Rams have a ton of speed with Tavon Austin and Chris Givens, but they lack a big body that can post up in the red zone. Tight end Jared Cook was supposed to be that guy, but the Rams could still add a physical receiver with their second first-round pick.

Mike Evans has been Johnny Manziel's go-to guy in the end zone while proving he can't be outjumped or outmuscled for the football. He would instantly add credibility to the Rams offense inside the 20.

 

14. New York Jets—WR Marqise Lee, USC

The New York Jets lack a lot of things, but chief among them is a go-to wide receiver for Geno Smith to work with. Smith doesn't need a speedy deep threat but, instead, can wish for a smart route-runner who can get open in space.

That's Marqise Lee but with the added ability of making plays after the catch. The USC receiver has been banged up this year, but don't sleep on his ability and production. He's the real deal.

 

15. San Diego Chargers—CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

The Chargers are playing well despite holes on both sides of the ball. You might expect to see an offensive lineman here, but that's not how Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy work. The smart move would be landing a future No. 1 at cornerback, and that's where Justin Gilbert projects. A big cornerback with smooth feet, Gilbert can be a lockdown man-coverage cornerback and has the ball skills to create turnovers on an island.

 

16. Green Bay Packers—FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

The Green Bay defense needs so much help that Ted Thompson can sit in the war room and draft the best available player on that side of the ball. He could but shouldn't. The Packers need to home in on weaknesses and fill glaring holes first while still going for value.

That makes the pick of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix a no-brainer. The Alabama safety has range to attack the ball in the air, but he'll also step into the box and hit. He's not Earl Thomas, but he's close.

 

17. Detroit Lions—CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

It's time to fix the secondary in Detroit and not with second- and third round picks. The Lions need a player ready for the NFL, and they won't have to look far to find him.

Darqueze Dennard excels in the aggressive Michigan State defense, and he's proven that he brings the speed and technique to defend in man coverage against both speed and size at receiver. If he's on the board, the Lions would be fools to pass.

 

18. Chicago Bears—LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama

On draft night, C.J. Mosley shouldn't last this long, but without trades and before free agency, this is where he falls. The Chicago Bears would gladly end his wait. Mosley can play either inside or outside linebacker, excels against the run and has the hips to play in coverage.

Imagine Lavonte David with 10 more pounds on his frame and you have Mosley. The Bears would love building out a linebacker corps with Mosley, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene for the next decade.

 

19. Baltimore Ravens—TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

The Baltimore offense has looked very different this year when Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson aren't in the lineup. With both players set to hit free agency and the Ravens becoming more frugal, drafting a younger and more versatile player makes sense.

Jace Amaro fills the role of a flex tight end you can move around pre-snap, and he's fast enough to make the plays after the catch that the Ravens offense so badly needs from a tight end.

 

20. Dallas Cowboys—DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame

The Dallas defense handled the transition to a 4-3 set well early in the year, but as time has gone on, it's becoming clear they need help inside. Louis Nix should be all healed from meniscus surgery in time to wow Jerry Jones at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Nix, whose already drawn comparisons to Dontari Poe, is a mammoth man in the middle with solid quickness in traffic. He can be a three-down disruptor from the nose.

 

21. Miami Dolphins—OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa

The Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal brought national attention to the fact that the Miami offensive line simply isn't very good—and wasn't even with the two players in the lineup. General manager Jeff Ireland must invest in a true left tackle, and there are few places better to find one than the University of Iowa.

Brandon Scherff hasn't declared for the draft yet, but when he does, watch out. He's a quicker, meaner upgrade over Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff, and he's NFL-ready from a technique standpoint.

 

22. Philadelphia Eagles—CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

It will be easy to project Oregon players to Chip Kelly's Eagles, but in this case, it actually works well for all involved. The Eagles need help at cornerback, and Ekpre-Olomu has the athletic ability teams covet in the first round. It's an added bonus that he's familiar with Kelly's systems. Regardless of where Ekpre-Olomu played in college, he's a value pick at No. 22 overall.

 

23. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis)—WR Odell Beckham, LSU

The Browns grabbed their quarterback at the top of the round, but now they must finish filling out the offense by adding a threat at receiver. The team has a future star in Josh Gordon, but he's one slip-up away from a season-long suspension, and Greg Little continues to disappoint on the other side of the formation.

Odell Beckham isn't the biggest guy, but he plays tough over the middle and has a second gear to run away from defenders after the catch. He's an ideal complement for the bigger, stronger Gordon.

 

24. Arizona Cardinals—OT Cameron Erving, FSU

The Arizona offense is playing well without a great left tackle, but that won't last for long. To get over the Seahawks and 49ers in the division, the quarterback must be protected better.

Cameron Erving has been overshadowed by Jake Matthews and others, but he's a top-notch athlete at left tackle and excels in both pass protection and run blocking. He could stand to be a little meaner, but his footwork will blow teams away.

 

25. Cincinnati Bengals—CB E.J. Gaines, Missouri

Injuries to Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick's failure to develop have left the Cincinnati Bengals thin at cornerback this year. And with the aging Adam Jones and Terence Newman in starting roles, the need for a young starter is imminent.

E.J. Gaines locked down Mike Evans when Mizzou took down Texas A&M and put himself on the map. He has enough size combined with his technique to be a rookie starter on the outside.

 

26. San Francisco 49ers—WR Jarvis Landry, LSU

The 49ers have two big areas of need moving forward—wide receiver and cornerback. The need at cornerback isn't as great as it was thought to be, though, now that Trumaine Brock is signed long-term. At receiver, the team needs to get young in preparation for losing Anquan Boldin and as an upgrade over Mario Manningham.

Jarvis Landry isn't big, but he's super-quick and has the after-the-catch ability to kill defenses. In a scheme dominated by crossing routes, he'd be a perfect fit.

 

27. Carolina Panthers—CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State

The Panthers are on their way up, but to overtake Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, they need help at cornerback. Bradley Roby has struggled some in his final season—notably against Wisconsin and Michigan State—but his size, speed and ball skills are hard to find. If a team can coach out his nature to gamble in man coverage—and Ron Rivera's staff can—he'll be a steal at pick No. 27.

 

28. Kansas City Chiefs—WR Allen Robinson, Penn State

Wide receivers are needed en mass in Kansas City. With Dwayne Bowe the only threat at the position, the Chiefs can expect to spend draft picks here early and often. The key at the end of Round 1 is finding a player who can contribute. Allen Robinson of Penn State has the size to beat defenders for the ball but is quick enough to fit the Andy Reid wide-receiver profile.

 

29. New England Patriots—TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

Continued injuries to Rob Gronkowski may be flukes, but they also point to how little the Patriots can trust in him to be a factor week-after-week. The loss of Aaron Hernandez only serves to further highlight how badly Tom Brady misses his safety valves in the passing game. With Gronkowski injured and Hernandez incarcerated, the Patriots need an infusion of talent.

Eric Ebron isn't the best blocking tight end you'll ever see, but he's incredibly fast and smooth in the open field. That's exactly what Brady needs, especially in the red zone.

 

30. New Orleans Saints—OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

Rob Ryan has done an amazing job with the New Orleans defense when you consider the talent on the roster. The biggest area of need moving forward is for a pass-rusher, and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier has a first step that few can challenge.

He's not the biggest linebacker in the class, but with his quickness and tenacity, the Saints can find a way to use him as a three-down pass-rusher and all-around menace to the offense.

 

31. Seattle Seahawks—DE Vic Beasley, Clemson

The Seattle front office has shown over the past several drafts that they value pass-rushers over all others. And with that philosophy working so far, it's unlikely they'll go away from it.

The team could look at cornerback, offensive lineman or even a wide receiver, but the value of Vic Beasley is too tempting. And he's a need with Michael Bennett schedule to hit free agency. A cornerback would be a smart play here with Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond hitting the market, but the value simply isn't good.

 

32. Denver Broncos—DT Michael Bennett, Ohio State

The Denver Broncos have so many strengths, and even their weaknesses get covered up by Peyton Manning's offense. But as Manning ages, the Broncos must find a way to still be a dominant team, and their best chance of that is in the defensive front seven.

Adding a pass-rusher who can split blocks, chase down quarterbacks and frustrate linemen would help in that future. Ohio State's Michael Bennett has the quickness, strength and hand-use to become an impact defender in the AFC West as the Broncos look at the present and to the future.

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