We're in the heart of draft season now, where junior declarations are wrapping up, boards are being constantly reworked and rumors are abound about who's going where.
In an effort to mix both my perspective on these players and how I feel teams will valuable the prospects available, here's my first Bleacher Report mock draft of the year, featuring four first-round quarterbacks and a few names to get to know before draft day.
With Bill O'Brien now in charge in Houston, many are wondering who his franchise quarterback will be. But for a guy who coached one of the greatest quarterbacks ever (Tom Brady) and one of the top QB recruits out of high school at Penn State (Christian Hackenberg), there's no reason for O'Brien to "rush" finding the quarterback his name will be tied to for the future
The only quarterback who fits O'Brien's model of a quarterback is UCF's Blake Bortles, but I'm not sure he's worth the first overall pick. If the Texans stay at No. 1 and pass on a quarterback, I can't imagine they don't leave with Jadeveon Clowney.
The St. Louis Rams will look to trade down from this pick, as general manager Les Snead is always looking to build value throughout the draft. But they need offensive line talent, and they have the chance to get one of the more talented linemen in recent years in Greg Robinson.
Robinson is still a work in progress, but he has more upside and super impressive natural strength as opposed to Jake Matthews of Texas A&M that is worthy of a top-five pick.
The top quarterback prospect in the class in my opinion, this would be the dream scenario for the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team expected to covet Teddy Bridgewater. While the team may need to trade up to the Rams' spot at No. 2 overall to secure him, it’s worth it for a team in desperate need of a feature quarterback.
Regardless of what type of “hit” Bridgewater’s draft “stock” takes the next few months, he’s the most instinctual and composed quarterback in this class and merits a first-round, top-10 grade.
While it may be a “reach” value-wise with all the tremendous talents atop this class, the Cleveland Browns are in a unique spot in that, unless they are targeting a quarterback, they don’t have many glaring needs that can be filled at the fourth overall pick.
Assuming they pass on a quarterback (not buying Johnny Manziel hype, yet), pairing Joe Haden with another talented, physical cornerback in Darqueze Dennard can help make this already very talented unit one of the best in the NFL.
There are plenty of receivers to choose from in this draft class, but Sammy Watkins is the clear-cut best in this class based on film, and he appears destined for a career of big plays and high-level production. He could go as high as second overall, so for the Oakland Raiders—a team in need of an immediate playmaker—it’s a great scenario assuming they’re passing on a quarterback in year one.
Ideally, the Atlanta Falcons would like to see Clowney slip a bit in the draft so they can select him at No. 6 or move up a few spots to get the best defensive prospect in the past 10 years. However, if they can’t secure him, I think they look to improve their offensive line.
Jake Matthews is battling for the top tackle prospect in this class and actually was graded as our 2013 highest tackle had he declared for the draft. He’s a longtime NFL starter at left or right tackle with Pro Bowls in his future.
New head coach Lovie Smith wants to focus on the defense for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they seem fairly set across that side of the ball. Eric Ebron gives this team another big weapon to utilize, giving Mike Glennon a trio of big weapons, similar to the Chicago offense this year.
Now that he has officially declared, it seems apparent that Manziel will land somewhere in the first round, and likely in the top 10. It’s a matter of which team wants to take the leap into a Manziel-lead offense for the next eight to 10 years.
The Minnesota Vikings have playmakers at running back (Adrian Peterson) and receiver (Cordarrelle Patterson), and adding Manziel will give defenses even more headaches.
Khalil Mack has long been pigeon-holed for this pick. Mack stays in the same city as he did in college. Mack fits a need for the Buffalo Bills as a dynamic pass-rusher. And Mack fits the versatile desire for a pass-rusher that the Bills defense desires.
Look for this pick to be frequently mocked now until the draft.
The Detroit Lions taking a receiver was historically a laughing point in the draft process, but after a season that saw Calvin Johnson as the only starter-worthy receiver on the offense and no developmental wideout in sight, addressing the position is a must for the Lions early in this draft.
Marqise Lee had a bit of a down season this year at USC, but he’s remarkably talented and can step in day one and take the heat off Johnson in this passing offense.
The Tennessee Titans have always looked to high-upside picks with their early-rounders, and Kony Ealy fits that mold. Still a developing talent, Ealy has the versatility to play inside and outside as a pass-rusher early on until the team can find a long-term role for him.
With a solid defensive line now, adding Ealy could give this team one of the more impressive units in the AFC.
Anthony Barr still could go as high as a top-five pick, but finding a team that may be willing to wait a few years before it can trust him as a starter isn’t easy in the top few picks. The New York Giants can ease Barr into this unit, eventually finding a spot for him as a strong-side linebacker and situational pass-rusher on this defense that has been known for developing pass-rushers.
The Rams have done a fantastic job of building their defense through the draft in recent years, adding elite talents on the defensive line, linebacking corps and at cornerback. But safety is still a glaring weakness for the Rams, and they have a chance to get the top player at the position in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The Chicago Bears lost Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs this past year, and it took a major hit on the defense. While C.J. Mosley may be a better fit for a 3-4 defense, the Bears would be wise to put him at either inside or strong side of this defense and build their front seven early and often on the defense.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in desperate need of offensive line help, especially after banking and whiffing on Mike Adams two years ago. Luckily, they should have a chance at Taylor Lewan to fall here, and his nasty attitude and power-blocking success fit what the Steelers want to become.
Finding a replacement as a first down-getting target for Joe Flacco should be at the top of GM Ozzie Newsome’s to-do list this offseason. If they can’t do it in free agency (unlikely), they will look to the first round to find that target.
While they could wait until the second round, getting Allen Robinson—who reminds me of talented rookie Keenan Allen—would be the best possible move to get this offense back on track.
Ideally, the Dallas Cowboys would target help in the secondary to fix one of the worst pass defenses in recent NFL memory despite their cornerback talent. However, without great value on the board at that spot, adding more defensive tackle talent would be the best way to “hide” the safety inefficiencies.
Anthony Johnson is a powerful, active interior rusher who can disrupt defenses by himself, a must-do for the 4-3, Cover 2 base defense.
Geno Smith’s issues this year rooted deeper than just not having ideal talent around him, and I do expect him to improve regardless of who they add next year. However, adding another talented receiver to emerge as Smith’s feature target would be a wise move.
Odell Beckham Jr. can develop into a No. 1 weapon in an offense, and he can take the reins away from Santonio Holmes as an offensive leader in this offense.
While I’m not in love with Cyrus Kouandjio as a prospect, he’s a mauling, dominant power blocker who can win with physicality as a run- and pass-blocker. The Miami Dolphins can’t afford to be too picky when it comes to drafting offensive linemen, as they’re in desperate need to upgrade at the position.
The Arizona Cardinals passed on quarterbacks in last year’s draft, and they may do the same if they can’t find “their guy” early in this draft. Derek Carr could go top 10, but if he begins to slip, the strong-armed passer looks like a great fit for Bruce Arians’ offense.
He can sit behind Carson Palmer for a year, take over in 2015.
With Jermichael Finley’s future with the Green Bay Packers in doubt a bit, adding a tight end has ended up being one of the key needs for the team to address. Luckily, it’s a strong tight end class, and the opportunity to get Jace Amaro, who could quickly become one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets, is one that the Packers should strongly consider.
The Philadelphia Eagles still need help in their front seven, especially in adding run-stopping guys on the front seven. Ra’Shede Hagemen fits the 3-4 defense the Eagles utilize, and his size, length and vision as a disruptive rusher would complement Fletcher Cox well opposite him.
The Kansas City Chiefs are looking for more offensive talent moving forward, and they are looking to receivers and tight ends as the best way to do that in this offense.
Despite having Travis Kelce in their back pocket, Andy Reid loves having depth at tight end, and having a jump-ball stud in Troy Niklas would help Alex Smith as they hope to return to the playoffs next year.
Cincinnati has done a great job in building its defense through the draft as of late, so it’s tough to find a glaring need for this unit. Adding an outside linebacker to give Vontaze Burfict more help in the unit is the most clear of the options, and staying in state for Ryan Shazier will be a pick many will have pegged up to and through the draft.
One of the my favorite prospects in this class, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy was kind of lost in the shuffle this year from a national perspective. However, his talent as a versatile pass-rusher and long, fluid athlete makes him a fit for a variety of defenses.
He can step in as a 3-4 outside rusher along with a versatile inside linebacker for this still-developing San Diego Chargers defense.
Bortles likely goes somewhere higher than this due to quarterback need, but I’m not quite in the train of thought that he’s a top-five pick. The Browns may want Bortles to fit the talent in the offense, and trading back from No. 4 or up from this spot would make the most sense, value-wise, at this point in the process.
Rob Ryan did a great job this year in terms of making the most of the defense he inherited. However, he needs more talent at the pass-rushing spots, and looking at that direction early in this draft seems likely.
Jeremiah Attaochu has impressed me since his sophomore year in college, but defensive changes limited his development. He’s a fantastic talent who likely ends up being a better pro than college player.
If Aaron Donald was just a few inches taller, he’d be considered more strongly in the top-10 picks. However, his limitations likely push him down a bit on most boards and could make him a great value in the late first round.
Donald can step in as an interior disruption for the Denver Broncos, who still need ample work to help their defense.
The Seattle Seahawks need to improve their offensive line through free agency and the draft this year, and they’ll likely have many great options in the late first round to fill those interior needs. Cyril Richardson is our current top-rated guard, and he, Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson or Notre Dame’s Zack Martin all are good fits for the Seahawks.
With Vince Wilfork coming off injury for next year, the New England Patriots can’t rely on him long term to be the high-impact nose tackle they’ve come to need. Add in Louis Nix—a potential top-10 value who may fall here—to develop behind Wilfork, play situationally early and then fill Wilfork’s void when the time comes.
Similar to Nix just before him, Bradley Roby has near top-20 talent and could end up closer to that spot if he tests well at the combine, as expected. If he’s here, the San Francisco 49ers will look to make him a day-one starter.
If the talented, yet inconsistent, Roby is gone already, look for them to target Justin Gilbert at Oklahoma State.