Here it is, folks—my first NFL mock draft of the year. I know you've waited with bated breath.
While so much will change in the next few months, we have an idea of how players will be valued and which teams should be targeting certain positions. Thus, I've centered my first mock around exploring each team's needs and plan of attack heading into the draft.
Of course, if the value doesn't match the need, I've explored other options. And yes, I even included a trade. Your long nightmare is over—my first mock is finally here.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Many people think Blake Bortles will be the pick here. Others think the team will bypass a quarterback and go with the dynamic Jadeveon Clowney. But I think the Texans will ultimately go the smart but boring route and draft Teddy Bridgewater.
It's Bridgewater's mind that will convince the Texans he's worth the pick. He had the responsibilities of a pro quarterback at Louisville and is a fierce competitor. His mind and his will to win aren't in question, and those are the two most important traits in any quarterback.
Bridgewater is a great fit for Bill O'Brien's offense, and he is the type of player who can make an instant impact and get the Texans right back into the playoff race next year.
2. Cleveland Browns (from St. Louis via Washington): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Let's be honest—the Browns need to make a splash in this draft, and nothing would make a bigger splash than trading their two first-round picks to move up in this draft and select Johnny Football. And I believe that if they want Manziel, they'll need to trade ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars to get him.
Peter King of The MMQB breaks down the current landscape of the Browns offense and notes that the team loves Manziel:
But the Browns have the same old problem they’ve had since the weekend that the late owner of the team, Al Lerner, put his stamp of approval on Tim Couch as the first pick of the expansion Browns in 1999: They don’t have a long-term quarterback of the future (unless Brian Hoyer, 28, is far better than he’s shown in his four-team, four-start NFL career), and they don’t have anyone to coach one.
That’s the biggest problem with the Browns now. There’s no consensus as to who will be the offensive coordinator, and certainly no consensus as to whom the team will draft in May for the new coordinator to coach. And what if the Browns, who love Johnny Manziel, are trumped in their effort to draft Manziel by another team—assuming Johnny Football is the top quarterback on the board, which is too early to say now. The Browns have gone six straight seasons with at least 11 losses, and they are far from out of the woods.
How fun would it be to watch Manziel and Josh Gordon terrorizing opposing secondaries together? That's a pair I think we would all like to see.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
While the Jaguars desperately need a quarterback, will defensive guru Gus Bradley be able to pass up the draft's most dynamic defensive player, Jadeveon Clowney? Especially when adding an elite pass rusher is such a huge need?
Plus, the Jags could wait until the second or third round to add a quarterback and perhaps go out and get a player like Michael Vick to man the position next season. The Jags have plenty of options, but I have a very hard time seeing them pass on Clowney if he's available.
4. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
So, the Rams move down the board, add another first-round pick and get the guy they were probably targeting in the first place?
Not too shabby.
This pick could just as easily be Greg Robinson, the offensive tackle from Auburn—or a playmaker at the wide receiver position such as Sammy Watkins—but keeping Sam Bradford upright at the quarterback position should be the goal, and Jake Matthews would certainly upgrade this offensive line.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Likely to the chagrin of Oakland Raiders fans everywhere, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has said that the Raiders have shown interest in him. Boyd told Charlie Campbell of Walter Football, "I think the Raiders have been showing the most [interest] so far."
Boyd looks like a third-round talent at best at this point, meaning the Raiders could be going the "draft the best player available" route and waiting to snag Boyd later.
But if Bortles falls to them at No. 5, would they really pass on him? It seems doubtful. The Raiders desperately need to upgrade at quarterback, and Bortles has a very enticing skill set. If he's available at No. 5, they'd be crazy to wait around and hope to snag Boyd.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
Atlanta's defense was pretty dreadful in 2013, due in no small part to a timid pass rush that managed just 32 sacks, tied for 29th in the NFL. Khalil Mack is absolutely the top edge-rusher available at this slot, and he's the sort of athletic player on the outside who can play a hybrid pass-rushing role for Atlanta.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Few picks were harder to forecast than this selection for Tampa Bay. Anthony Barr doesn't seem like a great fit at defensive end despite the team's need for a pass-rusher. Robinson is a fit at tackle, but the Bucs have bigger needs than the position. And selecting a tight end or middle linebacker here seems like a reach.
But it's hard to argue with selecting dynamic playmaker Sammy Watkins. Yes, the team has a deep threat in Vincent Jackson and the solid if unspectacular Mike Williams. But in Watkins, they would have a dangerous player to move around the offense and get involved in a number of ways. Plus, defenses couldn't simply key on Jackson.
It's definitely a talent-over-need pick, but Watkins would instantly make Tampa Bay's offense better. When need doesn't mean value, you go after playmakers, which is what the Bucs would be doing here.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Carr likely will be the last quarterback selected in the first round, and it seems highly unlikely he'll get past the Vikings, a team that went from the playoffs to the NFC North cellar. The Vikings have plenty of holes, but none is bigger than quarterback. Carr might be considered a slight reach here for some, but the kid can play.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Like the Bucs, the Bills are a team with needs that don't quite meet up with value. They could go with a player such as Mike Evans here, though in a deep wide receiver draft, they could choose to add a player at that position later in the draft.
Robinson is the top player on the board at this point and would be a nice upgrade at right tackle for the team, so it wouldn't be a shock to see them go after Robinson.
10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Cornerback is the bigger need, but adding a complementary wide receiver for Calvin Johnson isn't far down the list. And Mike Evans is such a compelling prospect that it's hard to see the Lions passing on him.
How would defenses handle two big, physical wide receivers who stretch the field? About as well as NFL teams handled the duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery for the Chicago Bears, more than likely. This selection would make the Lions a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, that much is certain.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
This is the perfect fit for a team transitioning into the in-vogue hybrid scheme (which will often look more like a 3-4 than the 4-3 they ran this season). New defensive coordinator Ray Horton talked about the scheme, via John Glennon of The Tennessean:
A hybrid defense is probably something that changes depending on the team you’re playing offensively. And with everyone being in multiple wide-receiver (sets) throughout the game, you’re always in a different personnel package anyway whether it’s a 3-4, a 4-3, sometimes a 2-5.
You have to have good athletes that can play multiple positions. I don’t think anyone gets pigeonholed into a type of defense anymore. I think it’s less important the configuration and more important the personnel you have on the field.
That description bodes well for Barr's chances to land with the Titans, as UCLA utilized him in different roles. He is a bit raw, having moved to defense halfway through his UCLA career, but his upside is huge, and he could end up being one of the steals of this draft. A no-brainer for Tennessee.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
This one is pretty simple—the Giants need to protect Eli Manning. They could go the wide receiver route here, but who Manning is throwing to doesn't really matter if he doesn't have enough time to get off a pass in the first place.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Rams filled one need on the offensive line with the top player available. So why not fill another huge need—safety—with another top player at the position? Folks, the Rams are winning this draft so far.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears were absolutely atrocious against the run, and the defensive tackle position was the main reason for those struggles. Even if Henry Melton returns to the team, the Bears need some young blood at defensive tackle. Enter Timmy Jernigan, the top talent at the position in this draft.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Pittsburgh secondary is so old—how old is it?—that it remembers fondly the days when the forward pass wasn't even a part of the NFL game. (Let's all pretend that was a funny burn). OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but the truth is that they need to upgrade against the pass.
Justin Gilbert is arguably the top corner available—Darqueze Dennard can make a strong argument for that distinction as well—and is a great value at this slot.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Torrey Smith has developed into a nice No. 1 option and is excellent at stretching a defense—and Marlon Brown was a solid red-zone threat as a rookie—but this team needs a true No. 2 option in the passing game. Marqise Lee is a polished receiver who will run crisp routes and can also beat a defense over the top. If he slides to No. 16, the Ravens should be thrilled.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Cowboys were so dreadful on defense that they can basically draft the top player on that side of the ball and be satisfied with the pick. Hageman would be a nice addition for a team that needs to upgrade in the interior of the defensive line, though the Cowboys could also go after a safety or edge-rusher here.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Geno Smith had a hot-and-cold rookie season, but he had absolutely no weapons to work with for much of it. It's pretty amazing that the Jets managed to finish 8-8 despite having no playmakers on offense. Ebron is an excellent tight end prospect and would instantly give Smith a go-to option in the passing game.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Given the uncertainty on the offensive line, the Dolphins should target the top lineman available here. Cyrus Kouandjio would be a day-one starter.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Tackle is undoubtedly this team's top need, and while Martin might be a slight reach here, he's certainly a first-round talent. Eventually, this team is going to have to replace the turnover-happy Carson Palmer, but while he's still around, protecting him has to be this team's top priority.
21. Green Bay Packers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Packers need to beef up in the trenches, so they might as well add the best nose tackle in this draft.
From Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:
Notre Dame's Louis Nix RT @crmetz23: Who is the best 3-4 nose tackle in the draft— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 6, 2014
Not the sexiest pick for the Packers, but upgrading this defense should be the top priority.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Eagles desperately need to upgrade the secondary. Thus, I really, really debated mocking Dennard to them. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if the Eagles went corner here, depending on their draft grades. But for now, safety is the bigger need, and Pryor is a nice value at this spot.
The Eagles have been searching for a dynamic player at safety since Brian Dawkins left town—they'll hope Pryor can at least come closer than the series of disappointments the team has had in recent years.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Chiefs have a solid defense and an excellent running game, but Alex Smith has very few weapons on the outside. The Chiefs will have several options to rectify that issue in this draft, but Benjamin's size and playmaking ability will be tough to pass up.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Bengals will be thrilled if Dennard falls to them. Leon Hall has had trouble staying on the field, while Terence Newman and Pacman Jones were decent enough but only have so much left in the tank. In a division with receivers such as Josh Gordon, Torrey Smith and Antonio Brown, having solid corners is a must.
25. San Diego Chargers: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
The Chargers were 29th in passing yards allowed this season. So yes, upgrading in the secondary is a must.
26. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland via Indianapolis): C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
What a draft for the Rams. Sure, the team could go with a wide receiver here, but upgrading at strong-side linebacker with a player such as Mosley would be tough to pass up. Mosley drops a bit down the board in my mock, making him an excellent value here.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Ealy is another player who dropped down my board, and he very well could go much, much higher than this come draft day. But if he drops to the Saints, they won't hesitate to add him, as adding an edge-rusher should be a priority.
28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Cam Newton needs more weapons at wide receiver, plain and simple. This pick could also be Allen Robinson of Penn State, depending on how the Panthers grade out each player. This is a great example of need meeting value.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Another no-brainer. Amaro is an excellent tight end option and could fill the role in the offense vacated by Aaron Hernandez. Plus, he would provide insurance for the suddenly injury-prone Rob Gronkowski. It would be pretty shocking if the Pats didn't go with a tight end here.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
The Niners need to add some young blood to the wide receiving corps, and Robinson will bring size, speed and playmaking ability to the outside. He would be a nice complement to Michael Crabtree, especially if Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham depart in free agency.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
This pick makes so much sense that it practically slaps you in the face. The Seahawks have very few holes on the roster, but tight end is clearly one of them. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a first-round talent who won't have to travel far to join the Seahawks. A solid pick for Seattle.
32. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The Broncos need to add depth to the edge-rushing position. Von Miller's shaky season off the field and his injury make him a bit hard to trust. Shaun Phillips was excellent this year, but he's no spring chicken. Adding Ryan Shazier to get after the quarterback makes a lot of sense for this Broncos team.