As a football fan, it would be wonderful to be honing in exclusively on the playoffs right now. However, I'm an Oakland Raiders fan, and I've forgotten what that is like.
Instead, this is my time of year to start honing in on the draft, as it also is for fans of 19 other NFL teams that performed too poorly to qualify for the postseason.
There is a lot that can change between now and May's draft. Teams will have made decisions on free agents, and college players will have the combine to improve or hurt their draft stock. Still, there is more than enough information to map out a solid first-round mock, and I've got one that presents a solid scenario for each pick in the premier round.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Jadeveon Clowney is the most physically dominant prospect in this class, but the Houston Texans are not going to pass on a quarterback with as many tools as Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater is an upgrade over everything the Texans currently have under center, and his arm talent will make him an instant upgrade over what they received at the position this past season.
2. St. Louis Rams (From Washington Redskins): Jadeveon Clowney, DL, South Carolina
The St. Louis Rams will undoubtedly do their homework on quarterbacks in this draft. It may be too early to give up on Sam Bradford, but the opportunity to grab a quarterback at No. 2 will be enticing.
Still, I see them going with Jadeveon Clowney. Although they already have talented defensive ends in Robert Quinn and Chris Long, Clowney has the athleticism to dominate in any role the Rams put him in.
Despite the question marks at quarterback, the Rams will grab the elite talent of Clowney.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The Jacksonville Jaguars need better quarterback play and a long-term answer at the position. Still, them taking a quarterback here is not a slam dunk. Head coach Gus Bradley is a defensive guy, and he will also look at the available defensive talent.
In the end, I'm siding with Bortles.
Although his uneven performance in UCF's BCS bowl game did not help his stock, I expect the 6'4", 230-pound quarterback to impress at the combine.
4. Cleveland Browns: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Cleveland Browns have two picks in this first round, and they could explore moving up to land their quarterback of the future.
I see them staying where they are, though, and going with a safer path.
Matthews is as safe a prospect as there is in this class. The Browns could use him at left tackle and move Mitchell Schwartz to guard, which would be an instant big improvement to their offensive trenches.
5. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Like so many other teams in this draft, the Oakland Raiders will take a long look at quarterbacks. With head coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie entering their third year on the job and in need of some results, however, I see the Raiders going for someone who will help them more for next season.
Barr can definitely do that. His explosiveness is undeniable:
Barr will give the Raiders the pass-rusher they desperately need, and he will allow Oakland more flexibility to flash multiple looks on defense.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
After a nightmare season, the Atlanta Falcons must look to get tougher in the offensive and defensive trenches.
Robinson's physical traits are off the chart,s and he is a beast in the run game. The redshirt sophomore is still raw in pass protection, which is understandable since Auburn barley threw the ball this season, but he has all the tools to excel.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use some added explosion the passing game. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Timothy Wright give the Bucs a solid foundation in the passing game, but Sammy Watkins would complete it with his ability to stretch the field.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
I'm sure whoever the Minnesota Vikings land to be their new head coach will want to identify the Vikings' quarterback of the future, because that guy is not currently on the roster.
There are questions about Johnny Manziel's mechanics and size, but he has the arm talent, and his mobility would help take some of the defense's attention off of Adrian Peterson.
9. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
C.J. Mosley has the skill set to play any linebacker position, and his ability to excel in pass defense would combine great with emerging middle linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Mosley is excellent in zone coverage, can run with tight ends in man coverage and he is skilled at blitzing the passer.
10. Detroit Lions: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
With a fierce defensive line, the Detroit Lions have the perfect setting for an athletic linebacker to wreak havoc while meeting little resistance from offensive linemen.
Khalil Mack is that type of player. He has the athleticism and strength to blow up plays in the backfield.
11. Tennessee Titans: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
This is an interesting pick for the Tennessee Titans. On the one hand, Jake Locker made excellent strides last season and showed legitimate potential to be a franchise quarterback. On the other hand, he can't stay healthy.
This led NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, back in Nov., to speculate about the team's QB situation:
If the Titans pick up Locker's fifth-year option, it will run them in the neighborhood of $15 million for 2015. It's quite the conundrum: Locker has a checkered injury history, and there will be an abundance of premium quarterback prospects available at Tennessee's draft slot.
Drafting 11th, that abundance of premium quarterbacks is not likely to materialize. In fact, there is a chance that four quarterbacks will already be off the board by the time the Titans select.
The way I see it playing out, Tennessee will have a chance to draft Derek Carr.
Although Carr struggled in the Las Vegas Bowl in a loss to USC, he has tremendous arm talent and potential. The Titans could draft Carr to give them flexibility with the upcoming decision on Locker. Then, even if they decide to keep Locker, they can showcase Carr when they have the opportunity and build up his trade value.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The New York Giants could go in a lot of directions with this pick. I'm sure they will be taking long looks at linebackers, corners and offensive lineman.
A playmaking tight end should also be on the list. Brandon Myers is a solid at the position, but the Giants could use someone to command double coverage going down the seam to open up things on the outside.
Eric Ebron has this skill set, and he has been grabbing the attention of scouts.
Ebron is an explosive player and will instantly be a threat in the passing game.
13. St. Louis Rams: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Rams will enter this draft with an already exciting group of young talent on defense. They will be loaded with that after this draft.
Darqueze Dennard is the best corner in this class and he, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, will give the Rams an excellent young set of corners.
14. Chicago Bears: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt finished off a strong season with four tackles and 1.5 sacks in Notre Dame's 29-16 over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. That performance helped solidify his draft status in the first half of the first round should the junior decide to come out.
As for his fit on the Bears, Chicago needs all the help on defense it can get, and adding some explosiveness in the trenches is a good place to start.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
At some point, the Pittsburgh Steelers have to fix their offensive line, right? I mean, they know it's OK to have a competent group of five in the offensive trenches, don't they?
Taylor Lewan has the size and feet to handle left tackle in the NFL and become a cornerstone for a better-blocking future in Pittsburgh.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
Starting tackles Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher are unrestricted free agents this offseason, and the offensive line play was horrendous this past season in Baltimore anyway.
Joe Flacco was under pressure all season, and only once did a Ravens rusher go over the 100-yard mark. Cameron Erving is a good building block for an offensive line that needs one.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Defense did not go well for the Cowboys this past season. The passing defense was the biggest culprit.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will give this team the athletic free safety it has needed for years. He has good athleticism and the kind of astute instincts the Cowboys need.
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The New York Jets need offensive weapons, and this physical wide receiver is a great fit for this physical team.
Mike Evans checks in at 6'5", 220 pounds. He is not going to torch defensive players with his speed, but his size, hands and ball skills will make him a threat all over the field.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Cyrus Kouandjo did not do his draft stock any favors in the Sugar Bowl, Still, should the junior come out, there is no way he'd slip past the first round. His physical skills are too impressive.
He is a good fit in Miami because, for many reasons, the Dolphins need to retool their offensive line.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame
Carson Palmer is not the kind of quarterback you want to stick behind a bad offensive line. It remains to be seen if he is the kind of quarterback you want to stick behind any offensive line, but certainly not a bad one.
The Arizona Cardinals must solidify their offensive front five and Pinstripe Bowl MVP Zack Martin is a great start.
Here, via Lamond Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times, is Martin on his bowl-game honor that typically does not fall in the hands of an offensive lineman: "They had to choose someone, so they chose me I guess."
That sounds like the ideal offensive lineman to me.
21. Green Bay Packers: RaShede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Under general manager Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers have been through endless combinations of defensive linemen. I see them adding a new one to the mix with RaShede Hageman.
Although Hageman did not produce the kind of results his talent would suggest he would, there is no denying that his size, quickness and explosiveness make him worth a gamble.
22. San Diego Chargers: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The San Diego Chargers must identify the best player available that will help them stop other teams from passing and then draft him. They finished this past season ranked 29th in passing.
In this instance, it is the athletic and physical Ifo Ekpre-Olomu who is the best pass defender on the board.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
The Chargers' pass defense had a better season than the Philadelphia Eagles'. The Eagles finished 32nd in passing defense.
The Eagles will look to address that need by adding the pass-rushing skills of Vic Beasley. Beasley excels off the edge and will be able to make an instant impact by getting to the passer.
24. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The offense of the Kansas City Chiefs essentially boils down to Jamaal Charles running the ball and Dwayne Bowe and Charles catching the ball. Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster were the only other players to break the 500-yard mark for the season in receiving yards.
Marqise Lee is a playmaking receiver who would help the Chiefs open up the offense.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Cincinnati Bengals have a capable corp of cornerbacks, but a talent like Justin Gilbert would be a big boost to this inconsistent defense.
Gilbert has all the tools to be a shutdown corner in the NFL.
26. Cleveland Browns (From Indianapolis Colts): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Josh Gordon has emerged as one of the NFL's most dangerous receivers, and he teams with tight end Jordan Cameron to give the Cleveland Browns a solid one-two punch in the passing game.
Outside of Gordon, however, Cleveland doesn't have a receiver with the consistency to be trusted, and with him just one failed drug test away from a year-long suspension, that's a problem.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The New Orleans Saints made big strides on defense from the 2012 season to this past season, but this team is still vulnerable defensively—especially so on the ground.
Ryan Shazier would help shore up the run defense. He has a nose for the ball, and he is a reliable tackler.
28. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Louis Nix III is coming off of December knee surgery, so there is no guarantee he will go in the first round. If he can prove healthy, however, he has the size and strength to go in the first round, or at least the early part of the second.
The New England Patriots were atrocious against the run this past season, as they proved far too reliant on Vince Wilfork. Nix would help them hold their own in the trenches.
29. San Francisco 49ers: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
If a team can manage to give its quarterback time while playing against the San Francisco 49ers, the passing game can have success against an otherwise stingy defense.
E.J. Gaines is coming off of a stellar season, and he is good enough to battle for a starting spot right off the bat.
30. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
With Steve Smith entering the final stages of a great career, it makes too much sense for the Carolina Panthers to draft Brandin Cooks.
Cooks stands just 5'10", but he is lethally explosive coming in and out of his breaks. He looks a lot like Smith on the field.
He can also handle a big workload. The junior finished this past season with 128 receptions for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns.
31. Denver Broncos: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Denver Broncos pass rush disappeared from the 2012 season to this past season. I believe that it will ultimately keep them from winning the Super Bowl this season.
I am even more confident that Denver will do what it can to fix this weakness.
Kony Ealy is a well-rounded defensive lineman with the size to play end and even slide inside on passing downs.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Percy Harvin has appeared in just one game for the Seattle Seahawks after the team acquired him this past offseason. There is no doubt the passing offense will look different with him in the fold, but as it is, the Seahawks can struggle to get wide receivers open.
Robinson has the size and explosiveness to leave defenders struggling to contend with him coming out of cuts, and he would work well on the outside with Harvin in the slot.
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