With three days of the NFL Scouting Combine in the books, the wheels are beginning to turn in a major way for draft prognosticators. Though many of the biggest names have yet to perform, there have still been a few pebbles of information coming out of Indianapolis to influence draft strategies.
This mock will focus on some of the more interesting and developing draft stories.
1. Houston Texans: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
So what he measured at just under six-feet tall. We should be beyond the whole height stereotype by now. How many sub-six-footers need to lead their teams to Super Bowl championships before we realize that isn't the end-all, be-all of evaluating quarterbacks?
No player better represents the playmaker and presence the Texans need under center than Manziel. Peyton's Head might have an accurate assessment of Manziel's ego in this tweet, but it takes some swagger to succeed and to prove your doubters wrong.
#NFLCombine Johnny Manziel: 5' 11 3/4". Johnny Manziel's Ego: 6' 6".— Peyton's Head (@PeytonsHead) February 21, 2014
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Greg Robinson looked beastly at the combine on Day 3, but the Rams need an unquestioned No. 1 receiver. With multiple first-round picks, they can grab an offensive tackle whose grade is much lower than Robinson's later in the first round.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
There are some who are down on Carr at the moment, but things have a way of changing with more than two months left until the draft. As of now, he's still the second-best quarterback in the draft in my book.
The Jags need a player they can trust to prepare and lead. Carr is that guy.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The gap between Carr and Bridgewater isn't a big one. For that reason, it's easy to see a scenario where Carr and Bridgewater's spots could be swapped. The Browns need to draft a quarterback who isn't already old enough to be in his prime.
Bridgewater has excellent intangibles and leadership skills like Carr, so they wouldn't be getting a bad consolation prize. The Louisville product could be exactly what the Browns need to help turn the franchise around.
5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Because of how good Robinson looked at the combine, there's a chance he won't make it past the Rams at No. 2. But if he does, he could help to secure the pass protection for whoever is saddled with the QB duties in Oakland.
Robinson is a rare athlete for the position. His 4.9 40-time shows just how limber the 300-pounder is.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney is serious about letting NFL executives know he is the premier athlete in the NFL draft. Officially, he stands 6'5" and weighs 266 pounds. He's cut weight in an effort to be lean and fast for the impending 40-yard-dash drill.
Per NFL on ESPN, Clowney has his sights set very high:
"I want to be No.1 in the draft. I want to be the best. I want to be 1 of the greatest of all time." Jadeveon Clowney at the Combine today— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 23, 2014
Bleacher Report's NFL Draft guru Matt Miller says Clowney was running a 4.46 40-yard dash in practices. If he can do that at the combine, he'll become the story of the event.
The Falcons have a major need for an elite pass-rusher. The team has just 59 sacks the last two years combined. To put that in perspective, the Carolina Panthers had 60 in 2013 alone.
If there is any team in the NFL that needs Clowney’s talents, it’s Atlanta
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Mike Glennon was good enough in 2013 to keep the Bucs from looking at a quarterback this early in the draft. Instead, Tampa Bay would be smart to look to solidify one side of its offensive line with Matthews.
He's not quite the athlete Robinson is, but he's more experienced and refined.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The Vikings are the fourth team in the top 10 that needs a fresh new look at quarterback. Bortles may rate higher on some draft boards than the three signal-callers I have ahead of him in this mock draft.
That's the reason he still represents an excellent selection for Minnesota at No. 8.
He has the size, arm strength and moxie to lead a team that has been in search for a presence under center.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
How good of a pass-rushing prospect is Mack? Take a look at what Mike Mayock of the NFL Network had to say about him:
"It would be hard for me to take Jadeveon Clowney over Khalil Mack." - Mike Mayock— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 22, 2014
That's high praise, but it wasn't the end of the compliments from Mayock. In an interview with Paul Allen and Paul Charchian of KFAN (h/t Vikings.com), he went on to say he'd take Mack with the first overall pick. Per Buffalo Bills writer John Murphy, Mack wants to live up to Mayock's standards for him:
The Bills could really establish themselves as a dominant defense with Mack on one side and Mario Williams on the other.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert has the ball skills and unflinching confidence that top-notch cover corners should possess. He had six interceptions in 2013, and his game-breaking speed could be an asset as a kick returner as well.
The Lions could improve two areas by selecting Gilbert.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
There's a lot of talk about with Clowney's potential 40-time, but Barr is another one to watch once the stopwatches are set for pass-rushers. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com talks about Barr's athleticism: "He has a rare blend of size and explosiveness. In the spring, NFL scouts timed him at 4.44 in the 40-yard dash, and he ran that time at 244 pounds."
The Titans need an explosive force on defense. If Barr's combine numbers are as good as many expect, he could be that force the Tennessee defense needs.
12. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
An injection of youth is needed for the Giants defense. Mosley is the rare rookie who will be able to play and produce at an extraordinarily high level from day one.
He has led one of the best defenses in college football for two straight years. The skill and experience he possesses have him set to be one of the early favorites for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
13. St. Louis Rams: Taylor Lewan, OL, Michigan
Because there are three really good offensive tackles in this draft, the Rams could afford to take Watkins with their second pick.
Lewan could have been a first-round pick in 2013 had he come out. He returned to Ann Arbor for more seasoning. If the Rams pick him here, he'll be part of one of the best young cores in the NFL.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Chicago needs a game-changer in the middle of the defensive line to help out its woeful run defense. Jernigan is the type of interior line presence who absorbs blocks and allows linebackers to penetrate the backfield and make plays.
The Bears are moving things around with their linebacking corps. The best thing the team can do to help develop the young second level of the defense is to put a stud run-stuffer in front of them.
Jernigan is the best run-stuffer in this draft. Per this tweet from Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times, I guess I'm now a "draft dork":
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Much like the Giants, the Steelers need to get younger on defense. The primary unit in need of a youth injection is the Pittsburgh secondary. With Gilbert off the board, the best cornerback from the nation's No. 1 defense will do just fine.
Dennard is physical, competitive and a steal for the Steelers at No. 15.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
It's like a reflex for everyone to blame Tony Romo for the Cowboys' struggles. In 2013, Romo was outstanding, but the defense was monumentally bad. Instead of focusing on an area of need on that side of the ball, the best thing the Cowboys can do is to grab the best defensive player available.
In this scenario, Ealy would be the pick. He's arguably the second- or third-best pass-rushing prospect in the draft.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Ravens missed Anquan Boldin terribly in 2013. Torrey Smith is a deep threat, but in order for him to be most effective, he needs a physical possession receiver on the other side of the field.
Evans is a huge 6'5" receiver who can high-point the ball, and he competes ferociously. He'd be a great addition to Baltimore's offense.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
If there's something Geno Smith and the Jets offense need, it's a playmaker. Lee's dynamic speed would give the second-year quarterback a home run threat.
An added bonus could be Lee's abilities as a kick and punt returner. He could help the Jets improve their field position in 2014.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times in 2013. If that doesn't say to the front office that improving the offensive line is important, I don't know what does.
Kouandjio is a bit raw, but he's only 20 years old. His upside is exciting. At best, he'll probably be a right tackle, but the Dolphins need help everywhere on the offensive line.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
If the Cardinals improve offensively, they would be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Believe it or not, the 41 sacks the team allowed in 2013 was an improvement over the 58 it allowed in 2012.
There is still a lot of room for improvement. With Michael Floyd to complement Larry Fitzgerald, and with Carson Palmer coming off a strong 2013 season, the Cards would be wise to improve the offensive line.
Martin isn't the top O-Line prospect, but at the very least, he'd add depth to a unit that is still a weakness.
21. Green Bay Packers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Giving Aaron Rodgers another weapon at the tight end position would be bad news for the league.
Jermichael Finley is a free agent, and his future is up in the air after a scary neck injury. Ebron is clearly the most dynamic athlete at the position in the draft. At 6'4" 250 pounds, he ran a 4.60 40-yard dash at the combine.
The performance made him one of the biggest stars of the third day at the combine. He'd be an excellent selection for the Packers here.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The top-rated safety prospect in the draft is Louisville's Pryor. He could help the Eagles' 32nd-ranked pass defense against the run and pass.
Pryor has the size at 6'1" and 210 pounds to play in the box against the run. He also had three interceptions in 2013 to show his worth against the pass.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Because the Chiefs offense is designed to hit on the short to intermediate passes, it needs athletes who can rack up the run-after-the-catch yards.
Beckham's speed and strength make him a handful in the open field. That's the type of player Alex Smith can look for to turn short completions into big gains.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State
Cincinnati doesn't have glaring weaknesses on its roster.
This could be a situation where the team takes the best available prospect. In this situation, it would be the feisty, competitive and athletic Joyner.
He has great intangibles and would be an asset to most any NFL franchise. He is smallish at 5'8", but he uses the height slights as motivation.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Nix is a big-time run stuffer. He's the only interior defensive lineman on Jernigan's level in that regard. The Chargers run defense allowed 4.6 yards per carry in 2013. That's a high number for any team hoping to advance deeper than the divisional playoff round in the postseason. Nix III could help to improve the team in this area.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Running the football has been a task for the Browns in recent years. After hopefully addressing their need at quarterback with their first pick in the round, the team can attempt to shore up the run game.
Cleveland hasn't ranked higher than 20th in the NFL in rushing yards since 2009. Adding a nasty, NFL-ready guard like Yankey would go a long way in paving holes for Cleveland's backs.
27. New Orleans Saints: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
One of the most underrated free-agent loses last season was left tackle Jermon Bushrod. Drew Brees was sacked 37 times, and even when he wasn't dropped, he didn't have the same level of comfort in the pocket.
NFL.com's scouting report is hit and miss on Moses, but here's what was written as the bottom line:
Big, long-armed leaner with sheer size and length and enough movement skill to function at an adequate level on the right side, though his high-maintenance conditioning, intermittent intensity and uneven performance turns off some teams.
With many of the top tackles already off the board, the Saints aren't likely getting a perennial Pro Bowler, but they could find depth at a position of need.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Benjamin is an interesting prospect because of his size and ability to high-point the ball. At 6'5" 232 pounds, he could become a very valuable red-zone threat for the Panthers.
Mix in Newton's running ability in these situations, and Carolina could become one of the most dangerous teams inside the 20-yard line.
Benjamin might not even be available for the Panthers if he runs a fast 40-yard dash, however. As Josh Norris of Rotoworld.com says, an impressive run will make him one of the hottest prospects in the draft:
If Kelvin Benjamin runs under a 4.5, every single fan base will go nuts.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) February 21, 2014
29. New England Patriots: Aaron Donald, DT, Florida State
With Vince Wilfork getting long in the tooth, New England should be concerned with adding depth at defensive tackle.
Donald is a bit undersized at 6'0", but his quickness off the ball and motor is reminiscent of the Cincinnati Bengals' Geno Atkins.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree are excellent possession receivers, but San Francisco could really use a burner in its receiving corps.
Cooks has big-time speed, and he's also a valuable commodity in the return game. The Niners are built around their defense, but Cooks' impact on special teams as well as in the passing game could push San Francisco over the hump.
31. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Though he's only 5'9", ESPN.com's Todd McShay (subscription required) calls Verrett the "quickest man-to-man cover guy in the draft."
Since Champ Bailey will be 36 in June and has clearly lost a step, the Broncos need to get younger at cornerback. Verrett is a competitor and a better option to check the speedy receivers in the NFL.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Perhaps the only position on the offense that the Seahawks don't have a dangerous weapon at is tight end.
That could change if the team drafts Amaro. He's not quite as fast as Ebron is, but he ran a 4.74 40-yard dash at the combine, which is much better than average for a 6'5" 265-pound tight end.
Giving Russell Wilson this type of safety blanket in the middle of the field is downright scary.
Follow me. Sports are what I do.