The NFL Scouting Combine is a major part of the NFL draft process.
In my first mock of the season, I discussed how mock drafts have a place in the process as well, as they visit scenarios that may happen rather than predict what will happen. While many fans and some in the media decry mock drafts as useless "click-bait," NFL teams do infinitely more mocks throughout the process than even ESPN's Mel Kiper could dream of.
The combine, in a similar way, seems to have a tougher time convincing fans and the media of its importance in the process. We all know that it doesn't supersede tape in the importance of dissecting a prospect. However, remember that projection to the NFL means more than just an evaluation of production in college. The NFL is made up of the biggest, fastest and strongest men on the planet, and the combine helps separate the men from the boys in many respects.
Somewhere, in the din of people shouting that the combine shouldn't matter as much as tape evaluation, the argument became that the event didn't matter at all or only mattered a tiny bit. Talking to team personnel, that couldn't be further from the truth for the many teams (not just Oakland) that base their pro day visits and continued tape evaluation largely off of what they see in positional drills and workouts at the combine.
In that spirit, we combine two of the draft season's biggest guilty pleasures—mock drafts and the combine—in another scenario of what the draft could look like come May.
Don't like my picks? Feel free to make yours in the comments below.
Since rumors started to trickle out that the Texans were enamored with either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles, many of us have gone back to tape on Bridgewater. Frankly, I can't see any reason why he's not the top quarterback in the draft, and I expect him to regain that position in the public eye before too long.
This is a solid class both in terms of overall talent and quarterbacks, but Bridgewater stands head and shoulders above the pack if a team is looking to build their franchise around someone.
The Rams honestly can't go wrong here.
If they decide to go for one of the top quarterbacks, the team's current signal-caller, Sam Bradford, has a contract that is very easy to shed after 2014. If it's a pass-rusher (say, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney), there's plenty of room on the roster for another elite defensive player—especially in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' scheme, which emphasizes getting to the passer.
But the Rams will go with a pass-protector to bracket left tackle Jake Long and eventually take over for him. The Rams still need to figure out who their playmakers on offense are, but they'll have the blocking to support whoever that ends up being.
Between his sometimes erratic decision-making and continuous link to the Jaguars, a lot of comparisons have been made between Bortles and the last Jaguars first-round quarterback selection, Blaine Gabbert, but those comparisons couldn't be further from the truth.
Bortles has a lot of work to do in order to become a franchise NFL passer, but the tools are all there. More importantly, he has more poise than Gabbert has ever shown (at any level).
If Bortles has a ways to go before he's a legitimate NFL passer, Manziel is another lap behind him. Yet many like Manziel's game far better than Bortles because of what Manziel can do when the play collapses around him. Manziel can beat defenses with his legs, but he also wins (at times) with what's above his shoulders and what's hanging off of them.
It is incorrect to say that it's Manziel's legs which set him apart; his X-factor ability goes far beyond that. When his passing tools fail him, Manziel has the ability to make plays, extend plays and work the ball down the field as well as anyone in this class.
The Raiders need a quarterback in the worst way, but it's difficult to reach for the fourth-best quarterback in the draft at No. 5 instead of taking the best player available.
Clowney fits my definition of franchise cornerstone—he single-handedly changes the way opponents view and game-plan for whatever team drafts him. He's the best pass-rusher to come out of college in quite a long time, and he could seriously help the Raiders against Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and San Diego Chargers signal-caller Phillip Rivers in the AFC West.
That said, this is just Step 1 in the rebuilding process, which cannot meaningfully move forward without a franchise passer.
The Falcons have more needs than just an elite pass-rusher, but they've missed on pass-rushers so many times that it's time to rectify that. Still, don't be surprised if this scenario were to happen and someone like Greg Robinson (OT, Auburn) or C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama) is higher on their board.
If Mack is the pick, though, he provides the Falcons with a polished pass-rusher with great linear and lateral athleticism who also has a ridiculously long-running motor. Those traits should allow him to become a building block for any defense.
The Buccaneers have receiving talent, but they have no one with the skill set of Mr. Watkins, who may be the most complete and impressive receiving prospect to enter the draft in some time. He has great ability throughout his routes to create separation and is just as adept after the catch.
Head coach Lovie Smith has his work cut out for him, but Watkins gives the Buccaneers offense a legitimate matchup winner against any team they'll face.
The Vikings are in a precarious position with a need at quarterback, but they don't want a situation similar to when they reached for Christian Ponder a few years back.
Carr is not the eighth-best player in the draft by any means, but he's got the tools to be a franchise passer. Of course, that's exactly what was said about Ponder, and we've seen how that turned out.
Give Carr a chance, though. Ponder is a known commodity, and his days in Minnesota should be numbered. Carr has a big arm and a bit of athleticism that people don't expect for his size.
Buffalo just added Kiko Alonso last year, so while another linebacker isn't an urgent need, its 28th-ranked rushing defense could still use a boost.
While Barr doesn't have all of the polish of a fantastic pass-rusher or coverage linebacker right now, he can pursue as well as anyone and is a fantastic athlete who can grow into a good all-around defensive star.
There will be a new coaching staff and new defensive priorities for the Lions this year. Though they have a capable middle linebacker already in Stephen Tulloch, Ashlee Palmer has been placed into the starting lineup far too often.
Mosley is a fantastic all-around defender and a great athlete. He and Tulloch will find it easy to play alongside one another—especially considering new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will be looking to add in some hybrid 3-4 looks into the mix.
Robinson got it done at Auburn as a nasty run-blocker who found polish in pass protection as the last year went along. Seriously, I'm not sure if I've ever seen a player improve in-season as much as Robinson did while the Tigers were headed toward the national title game.
Robinson's stock is starting to soar a little bit in the media, so expect him to climb even further up the board by my next mock—especially after what should be a fine combine performance.
The New York Giants brought in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, and that should hopefully mean a more wide-open passing offense. However, Hakeem Nicks probably shouldn't be back at anything other than a bargain-basement price, and a bigger receiver like Evans could step in right away and exceed Nicks' production anyway.
On my board, Evans is only a step below Sammy Watkins, as Watkins gains separation far better, but Evans is more than capable of making catches when a defender is draped all over him. He's a big-play threat on every snap.
The Rams have two first-round picks in their arsenal and already have Jake Matthews in this scenario.
Adding Benjamin might be a reach here, but he's the offensive player with the most upside left in this draft class. He would also give the Rams a potential No. 1 receiver to aid Sam Bradford and give Tavon Austin some more room to work underneath.
Benjamin is not a finished product, but the draft is about projection, and he has a chance to be one of the very best players in this class.
Bears fans want a safety.
That said, this is a deep safety class, and no player at the position in the class is legitimately worth a top-15 pick. There are, however, plenty of interior pass-rushers that are available, and the Bears have an even bigger (if not as visible) need there.
Donald is slightly undersized, but as a three-technique defensive tackle in the Bears defense, he could make life awfully difficult for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford and whoever the Minnesota Vikings have under center in the NFC North.
With that much more pressure up front, the safeties won't have such a rough time next season. Plus, there's a few more rounds to draft an impact defensive back.
When it comes to "weapons" in the draft, Ebron might be right up there with Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans in terms of matchup potential and ability to change the way an opposing team game-plans defensively.
No, Ebron would not replace tight end Heath Miller (though at 31, Miller is entering the final year of his contract). Instead, Ebron would complement Miller and give the Steelers a bit more punch in the red zone.
The immediate reaction after watching the Ravens' offensive ineptitude in 2013 was to blame Joe Flacco, the team's well-paid quarterback, or offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who is now the head coach in Detroit. Even the nicest critics pointed mostly to offensive injuries and the absence of receiver Anquan Boldin, who was such a big part of the offense in years past, as the main issues.
The reason the Ravens offense stunk up the joint in 2013 starts up front. The line play this past season was as bad as Baltimore has seen in some time. Kouandjio gives the Ravens a solid left tackle who can dominate by providing rushing lanes for Ray Rice, and he can also keep Flacco upright as well in the ever-physical AFC North.
The Cowboys are doubling down on the Tampa 2 this offseason, so pass-rushers (especially interior ones) are a possibility here.
Yet the Cowboys have lacked playmakers in the defensive backfield for so long that it's difficult not to see owner Jerry Jones falling in love with the athleticism and ball skills of the somewhat-local prospect in Gilbert.
This may seem like a wide-receiver-heavy first round, but this might be the best and deepest receiver class in a long time. Allen, like most of the other receivers off the board so far, is comfortable with the ball in the air and has good body control as he goes up to high-point passes.
The Jets need someone to factor into the passing game and give Geno Smith half a chance by putting a team around him.
*Looks at the Ted Wells report*
*Looks at Taylor Lewan*
Yeah, the Dolphins need some long-term help on their offensive line, and the Michigan product is not only the best offensive lineman left on the board, but he may be the one offensive line prospect (after Robinson) with the highest long-term upside.
Lewan has languished a bit at Michigan with quarterbacks who rarely stayed in the pocket. In the NFL, with a traditional offense around him, Lewan could make a lot of teams look awfully silly after they passed on him.
A lot of different voices in the media like Martin at either guard or tackle, and while I prefer him at guard, the Cardinals' need at tackle is enough for them to take a shot on Martin here.
Paired next to guard Jonathan Cooper, Martin would give the Cardinals just the young protection they need to keep Carson Palmer upright and firing down the field to receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Co.
Like Chicago Bears fans, Packers fans really want safety help this season, but don't be surprised if they look for another front-seven defender to help them play against the likes of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other mobile signal-callers who have given them fits in recent years.
Ealy has plenty of teams intrigued at a number of positions, from stand-up linebacker to 3-4 defensive end. And frankly, he could do it all for the Packers and provide them with a number of different looks as they look to continue to revamp their defense.
Dee Ford has been racing up boards all season and made a huge leap around the Senior Bowl. The combine should be a great time for him as well, as he should solidify himself as a fantastically athletic pass-rusher.
For the Eagles, the offense will largely take care of itself, but the defense needs to start keeping opponents' scores a little lower so the offense can truly demoralize them.
Last season, the Chiefs rode a great defense that (when healthy) could stop just about any passer in the league not named Peyton Manning.
Yet when it came time to score points, it was clear that running back Jamaal Charles and co. didn't have a whole lot of help down the field.
Beckham is great down the field and can open up some space that the Chiefs barely explored last season.
Pryor's on his way to overtaking Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix on most boards, because the Louisville safety is the bigger playmaker against the pass and has slightly more range than his Alabama counterpart.
Though both should be great safeties at the next level, Pryor could single-handedly shore up the Bengals defensive backfield in ways Clinton-Dix would not be able to right off the bat.
The Chargers were let down by their defense a couple of times last season, and while they could use some talent just about anywhere, it makes sense to grab a guy who is going to make life a lot easier for defensive end Corey Liuget.
Nix would step into the nose tackle position and provide a strong pivot-point around which the Chargers defense could take major steps forward.
Dennard and his ranking here have nothing to do with how good he was in college (very good) and everything to do with how NFL teams value elite athleticism as they project players to the next level. While he may be a perfectly fine corner in the pros, he'll need to run well before teams believe he can be the lockdown presence he was in college.
He will heads to the Browns with their second first-rounder and pair up with Joe Haden in the secondary, giving the team's front seven that much more time to get to the quarterback.
What defensive coordinator Rob Ryan did last season with a bunch of Saints defenders who weren't necessarily "his" guys was outstanding. The Saints took huge steps forward on both offense and defense last year and are primed to get even better with a big offseason.
Van Noy is a bit of a reach here, but he's a legit pass-rusher, and those guys get pushed up boards rather easily. Coming off the edge, he'll have plenty of opportunities to get to the quarterback in Ryan's scheme.
Another year, another plea from me for the Panthers to start thinking about life after Steve Smith.
Now, last offseason, new general manager Dave Gettleman answered my yearly plea to get some bulk in the middle of that defense by adding defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. So, he's going down my shopping list again, and hopefully he finds what he's looking for out on the offensive perimeter this year.
Lee has lost a lot of luster in the past year or so (mostly due to injuries), but teams will ignore the USC drama and his subsequent lack of production if he works out well for them at the combine as well as his pro day.
After last year's Rutgers player love-fest, Bill Belichick might be better served grabbing some legit SEC talent and helping his defense improve even more than it has in recent years.
While Dix doesn't have the elite range in pass coverage that Pryor has, it's close. He's also better in run support, which would fit nicely next to Devin McCourty.
With so many draft picks the past couple of seasons, the 49ers are at the point that even their first-rounder following a second straight NFC Championship berth can be considered a "luxury." They don't have a ton of needs, so they will grab a talented, albeit raw, pass-rusher who can play 3-4 end for them down the road.
Mostly, Jernigan gives them an even better rotation of front-seven defenders to keep up with the "Joneses" in an ever-competitive NFC West.
If he were an inch taller, Verrett (5'10", 176) would probably be a top-15 pick. He's got great lateral athleticism to play inside the slot, and he's physical enough to play on the perimeter.
Now, yes, I know big defensive backs are all the rage in today's NFL, but at this point, one has to ask themselves: Do I want a player who is big or a player who plays big?
The latter is Verrett.
Seahawks fans didn't love this pick last time around, but most of their quibbles were that they didn't need another tight end. There are two things wrong with that, however.
First, Amaro is infinitely more of a "big slot receiver" than a "receiving tight end," as the time he spent in Texas Tech's offense was rarely in line, or even on the line.
Moreover, the draft isn't always about need as much as it's about what can make a team better. Adding a big receiving threat will give the Seahawks a great complement to an offense that had trouble scoring points at times last season. He will also provide some consistency to take this championship team to even newer heights.
Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
|2.1||Houston Texans||Ryan Shazier (OLB, Ohio State)|
|2.2||Washington||David Yankey (OG, Stanford)|
|2.3||Cleveland Browns||Stephon Tuitt (DE Notre Dame)|
|2.4||Oakland Raiders||Jimmy Garoppolo (QB, E. Illinois)|
|2.5||Atlanta Falcons||Morgan Moses (OT, Virginia)|
|2.6||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Trent Murphy (LB, Stanford)|
|2.7||Jacksonville Jaguars||Pierre Desir (CB, Lindenwood)|
|2.8||Minnesota Vikings||Marcus Roberson (CB, Florida)|
|2.9||Buffalo Bills||Trevor Reilly (OLB, Utah)|
|2.10||Tennessee Titans||Zach Mettenberger (QB, LSU)|
|2.11||New York Giants||Jack Mewhort (OT, Ohio State)|
|2.12||St. Louis Rams||Xavier Su'a-Filo (OG, UCLA)|
|2.13||Detroit Lions||Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington)|
|2.14||Pittsburgh Steelers||Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)|
|2.15||Dallas Cowboys||Ra'Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)|
|2.16||Baltimore Ravens||Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt)|
|2.17||New York Jets||Chris Smith (DE, Arkansas)|
|2.18||Miami Dolphins||Ka'Deem Carey (RB, Arizona)|
|2.19||Chicago Bears||Ed Reynolds (S, Stanford)|
|2.20||Arizona Cardinals||Weston Richburg (OC, Colorado State)|
|2.21||Green Bay Packers||Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)|
|2.22||Philadelphia Eagles||Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)|
|2.23||Cincinnati Bengals||Jackson Jeffcoat (DE, Texas)|
|2.24||San Francisco (via Kansas City)||Jarvis Landry (WR, LSU)|
|2.25||San Diego Chargers||Cyril Richardson (OG, Baylor)|
|2.26||New Orleans Saints||Davante Adams (WR, Fresno State)|
|2.27||Indianapolis Colts||Chris Borland (LB, Wisconsin)|
|2.28||Carolina Panthers||Louchiez Purifoy (CB, Florida)|
|2.29||San Francisco 49ers||Josh Huff (WR, Oregon)|
|2.30||New England Patriots||Telvin Smith (OLB, Florida State)|
|2.31||Seattle Seahawks||Antonio "Tiny" Richardson (OT, Tennessee)|
|2.32||Denver Broncos||Shayne Skov (LB, Stanford)|