Don't look now, but the NFL draft is inching closer to show time. Maybe it's just football withdrawal talking, but it's time to sink our teeth into a mock draft.
Never one to let any other major sports soak in the spotlight, the NFL will continue to steal the media scrutiny once again when the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off this weekend.
While football isn't played in succinct sprints down a straight line, many draft lists fluctuate after the event. Draft prospects who successfully display their athleticism will often receive a boost in their stock.
For now, here's a look at how the opening round of May's draft would potentially play out today.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Nobody envies the tough decision Houston must make. Teddy Bridgewater? Johnny Manziel? Blake Bortles? Forget quarterback all together and grab Jadeveon Clowney?
Too many Texans fans wake up after nightmares of another pick-six to eschew the quarterbacks, but the matter of which one to take is still a riddle. The selection is probably too important to decide by picking out of a hat.
Teddy Bridgewater completed 71 percent of his passes while forfeiting just four interceptions during his final season in Louisville. The 6'3" is equipped to immediately take the reigns for a Houston team that is built well around him.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
With rumors of Sam Bradford not receiving an extension, will the Rams also target a quarterback with this pick?
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora originally reported that the Rams will not extend Bradford beyond his current contract, but he later changed his tune to one of less certainty.
A source says the Rams are open to an extension for QB Sam Bradford, who is due $27M over the next two years. A longer deal would still be a surprise to many, because adding guaranteed money beyond the current deal would make it cumbersome for the team to part with Bradford.
That at least sounds like a team still on the fence, so look for St. Louis to help its signal-caller out by drafting an incredibly gifted wideout in Clemson's Sammy Watkins.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Poor Manziel or Bortles would be set up for failure if the Jaguars take either quarterback here. They have so many holes that they might as well procure the biggest game-changing talent.
NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock said Clowney compares favorably to another stud defensive lineman who went No. 1 the last time Houston held the draft's first pick (h/t NFL.com's Chase Goodbread).
I know that he's got the physical makeup to be the best player the draft. If you want to compare him to Mario Williams, I think he's a better football player with more upside than when Mario came out of college. ... From a physical skill-set (standpoint), this kid is as freaky as they come. He plays a position of critical importance in today's NFL, which is an ability to get the quarterback, and he can play multiple places on the defense.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Some scouts are concerned by Manziel's size, but the captivating college star isn't worried after watching a shorter quarterback win the Super Bowl. He told the Houston Chronicle's John McClain (via Ultimate Texans blog) that Russell Wilson "kicked the door wide open" for quarterbacks lacking huge height.
“You’re seeing more guys being successful avoiding that first wave of pressure — get out and do things outside the pocket," Manziel said. 'Wilson does some things he’s not asked to do, when things don’t go exactly as scripted. He’s able to extend the play."
If he can still make the plays, does it matter if Manziel can't easily reach items stored on the top shelf?
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Looks like somebody is ready for the combine.
A strong showing should cement Bortles' spot in the top five after he averaged 9.4 yards per attempt during his junior year. His strong arm will command attention from the Raiders, who are enthralled by the deep ball.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
What do you know, Jake Matthews also went sixth in NFL.com Bucky Brooks' mock draft.
Then again, the fierce offensive tackle also goes second in many simulations, so it's possible he's long gone at this point. That'd be a shame for the Falcons, who allowed Matt Ryan to get sacked 44 times last season.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Matthews or Auburn's Greg Robinson will brew into a very intriguing debate until draft day arrives. While Brooks slotted Matthews at No. 6 overall, he was among three NFL.com experts to place Robinson at No. 2. Matthews is a tad more pro ready, but Robinson sports a higher ceiling.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
A defense that ranked 31st with 397.8 yards per game is every bit as concerning as Minnesota's uncertainty under center. Anthony Barr bursts off the edge with blazing speed, giving him the ability to swarm the quarterback and disrupt the passing game.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
It's takes a lot for a Mid-American Conference player to be taken seriously as a top-10 talent, but Khalil Mack won scouts over by collecting 100 tackles and 10.5 sacks during his senior year.
Mack will compete with Barr for the honor of first linebacker taken off the board. ESPN's Todd McShay gives Mack the upper hand as a more well-rounded package.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Sure, Detroit's 34 turnovers helped expedite its late-season collapse that saw the club squander a golden opportunity to seize the NFC North in Aaron Rodgers' absence. But at least the offense ranked sixth in total yards while the defense ranked 23rd with 246.9 passing yards allowed per contest. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert should help fortify the Lions' leaky secondary right away.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Described by ESPN.com's Dan Graziano as a "do-everything linebacker prospect," C.J. Mosley is ready to ignite an NFL offense after leading Alabama's ferocious defense for four years. The Titans ranked 20th against the run last year, so Mosley clogging lanes would be much welcomed in the Music City.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Maybe the Giants would have consider a linebacker if one of the top three remained available, but the choice is now easy to grab offensive lineman Taylor Lewan. Eli Manning shrinks under pressure, and the Giants' 83.3 rushing yards per game placed them 29th in the NFL. Lewan will join Justin Pugh in gradually rebuilding an aging line.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Derek Carr remains available, but the Rams are unlikely to invest a first-round pick on a quarterback with Bradford under contract. Instead, let's forget about their passing woes and lighten the mood with Ha Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a versatile safety whose pass-coverage skills will prevent opposing receivers from laughing at the Rams.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears allowed 2,583 rushing yards last season. That's 410 more than the Falcons, who ranked second-to-last. Let's go ahead ahead and give Chicago a big nose tackle to stuff up those spacious running holes.
Mayock agrees that Timmy Jernigan is a no-brainer here for the Bears.
“I think Jernigan is a guy that if he was sitting there when the Bears were on the board at 14, I think you’d sprint to the podium,” Mayock said during a teleconference (via the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell).
The 21-year-old, 298-pounder addresses a glaring need, so why not?
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense is old, dusty and in need of a wash. While the passing defense ranked in the top 10 last year, it's also an old unit that could erode in the next year or so if the Steelers don't add some fresh talent. Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard plays a physical style of coverage that Mike Tomlin will appreciate.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Isn't it like the Cowboys to go big or go home? Perhaps this class' greatest high-risk/high-reward option, Kony Ealy could become a DeMarcus Ware clone at best-case scenario.
A tremendous athlete who could benefit by bulking up some more, Ealy possesses terrific closing speed and is quick off the line of scrimmage. He has the arsenal to rack up the sacks, even if he needs some time to reach his peak.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Baltimore's passing offense should not be as abysmal this year if Dennis Pitta return strong, but Joe Flacco can still use another big-bodied wideout to fill the void Anquan Boldin left behind. Mike Evans would allow Flacco to further utilize his strong arm on deep jump balls.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California
Rather than throw in the towel on Geno Smith, the Jets should give him a wide receiver to help nourish his progression. Can you blame him for not turning Jeremy Kerley into Calvin Johnson?
That places a lot of pressure on Marqise Lee after he recorded 791 receiving yards and four touchdowns during a disappointing junior campaign, but some lagging injuries and constant coaching changes in USC give the dynamic playmaker a mulligan.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The turmoil around Miami's offensive line will compel the Dolphins to make some massive changes. Ryan Tannehill will enjoy Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio getting selected to help ensure that the team no longer leads the NFL in sacks surrendered.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Arizona is grinning at the sight of Eric Ebron, an explosive tight end that will excel in a lacking receiving game. At 6'4" and 245 pounds, Ebron boasts the size to handle himself in the trenches and the speed to fluster opposing defenders.
According to NFL's CollegeFootball 24/7, Mayock touts Ebron as a top-10 selection, meaning he has no business falling this far if his assessment holds credence.
21. Green Bay Packers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Packers will continue their commitment to stymieing the run by grabbing Louis Nix III before he falls any further.
Weighing in at 342 pounds, it will take a lot to coral Nix from stuffing inside running seams. Don't tell B/R draft expert Matt Miller than Jernigan is slotted higher than Nix. He endorsed Nix as the class' premier defensive tackle.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Eagles did a lot of things well to unexpectedly win the NFC East. Most of those things, however, came on the offensive side.
No team relinquished more passing yards than Philadelphia, who needs Calvin Pryor's covering skills from the safety slot to combat its fatal flaw. While he can deliver a strong blow, his ability to patrol the secondary makes him a major asset in a pass-happy league.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Anybody who only tuned into postseason play is wondering why the Chiefs aren't trying to improve a horrible defense that can make Alex Smith's greatness matter in the win column. Anyone else wouldn't mind if Kansas City brought in another wide receiver for an offense that will hurt Jamaal Charles' back if he needs to carry them more.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
The combine will go a long way in determining where linebacker Ryan Shazier gets drafted.
As a speedy athlete without the greatest size, he'll need to exude excellence during the scouting event to justify a first-round selection. NFL.com's Mike Huguenin explained what Shazier hopes to display at the combine.
Shazier's size (6-2, 230) is a big concern, but he runs extremely well and should put up a sub-4.5 time in the 40. He should excel in the other running events at the combine, as well. Barr gets high marks for his athleticism, but Shazier should be right there with him.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Philip Rivers had a resurgent season with breakout rookie Keenan Allen, but now the Chargers need to hit another home run on the other side. The defense forced Rivers and Co. to engage in some shootouts, so let's turn to Ohio State's Bradley Roby, whose athleticism and aggressiveness make up for his lack of size.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Get a quarterback with the first pick, lock down a lineman to protect him with the other one. For a four-win team, Cleveland's defense is not too bad, so it won't hurt to devote both selections to an offense in dire condition.
Zack Martin is a safe, durable pick who can play on the inside or outside based on Cleveland's needs. Safe and durable may bore some, but a sturdy starter is exciting enough.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Along with Ealy, Ra'Shede Hageman is another ultimate gamble with immense upside.
Jeff Phelps, Hageman's defensive line coach at Minnesota, tried to talk his player's stock upward by telling tales of his athleticism to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Tyler Dunne.
“He’s really a freak of nature," Phelps said. "He’s every bit 6-6, 300-plus pounds and really can run like a deer. He does some things that are unbelievable and I think he’ll really wow some people at the combine.”
Phelps added that the first-round hopeful can execute a 360-dunk on the basketball court, so New Orleans is gaining a superb physical specimen that will hopefully improve its sullen rushing defense.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Carolina's defense can hang with anyone, but hoping Cam Newton can ignite the offense in one fourth-quarter drive is a dangerous blueprint to victory. The Panthers need to keep up with the times and regain some semblance of a passing game.
While FootballGuys' Sigmund Bloom cited Kelvin Benjamin's hands as a concern, he boldly compared him to a superstar wideout.
If that's true, and if Benjamin can improve his pass-catching abilities, the Panthers might have uncovered the missing piece to a deeper playoff run.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Several experts have played match-maker with the Patriots and tight end Jace Amaro, so this pick probably won't happen.
If he's still on the board and nobody of great value dips too far down, it makes great sense for them to take a versatile tight end that will allow them to re-institute schemes that worked so well for them with two dominant tight ends. After catching 106 passes in his junior year, Amaro is perfect for New England.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The 49ers tend to build from the inside out, but now that the inside is constructed, let's turn to the secondary. Jason Verrett gives them some youth and depth behind veteran corners Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, and his size makes him a good fit to cover the slot.
31. Denver Broncos: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
After seeing the secondary struggle in the Super Bowl, Verrett would have been a good find for Denver at No. 31. With him off the table, the Broncos will instead turn to Kyle Van Noy, another player who could make or break his draft status at the combine. For now, he's capable of guarding the run and covering the pass after churning out several highlight plays for BYU.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Barring Ebron or Amaro falling, there's no need for the Super Bowl champions to chase an offensive skill player. That defense is already pretty darn good as it is, so why not add some depth to the offensive line?
Stanford All-American David Yankey can immediately start for Seattle at left guard, a rare trouble spot for the Seahawks during their championship campaign. But even if they don't nail their first pick, they've had considerable success in the later rounds.
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