All 32 NFL teams are entering the homestretch of their preparations for the 2014 draft, a three-day process that has been pushed back to May 8-10 this year as the league continues to make a spectacle out of every event on the calendar.
Following last week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the focus has been shifted to the upcoming pro days, which will take place at colleges around the country. Once teams host their favorite prospects—or in some cases, decoy prospects—the clubs generally have all the info they can get before the big night in New York.
With about two months left before the real deal, here's an updated mock draft for the entire first round.
1. Houston Texans: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
There isn't a home run pick at first overall for the Houston Texans, but it sounds like Blake Bortles' performance at the combine may have done enough to solidify his value at the next level.
NFL Network draft analyst Greg Cosell told the Ross Tucker Football Podcast recently that he thinks Bortles has established himself as the best signal-caller among this year's crop. Dan Parr of NFL.com shared Cosell's comments on the former UCF star:
I would say he's more of finesse thrower than a true power thrower at this point, but I think there's a lot to work with, with Bortles. I think ultimately he's a pocket passer who can execute boot action. He can extend plays and he can run effectively if that's what you want to do. So, I think that he's someone I would look to as, given time, he could be a quality NFL starter.
Parr also noted that Cosell said Bortles needs to improve his footwork, but the 6'5", 232-pound quarterback showed great arm strength in Indy.
The former Knights passer was accurate and displayed his arm strength on intermediate and deep routes. He especially impressed on the 10-yard out routes and post-corner throws. Bortles hit his wideouts in stride on each throw, even adjusting to a route that was cut short on the post-corner. His final throw of the workout may have been his best. Bortles dropped a perfect pass in on the sideline on the final post-corner route. Bortles missed just one deep route, overthrowing the receiver slightly on his third throw.
Following last year's poor display of quarterbacking between Matt Schaub and Case Keenum, the team needs to do something to address its huge need at the most important position on the field. While the team should certainly give a lot of thought to Jadeveon Clowney—pairing him with J.J. Watt would create an explosive combo—I think Bortles has shown he can grow into a legit NFL quarterback.
2. Atlanta Falcons (via STL trade): DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
This trade scenario has become popular among draft pundits, such as the ones over at CBSSports.com, and I think it makes sense for both sides.
After finishing 7-9 in the ultra-competitive NFC West, which featured three 10-win teams, the Rams are in better shape than most teams picking No. 2 overall. You have to love that Robert Griffin III trade if you're a Rams fan.
While a player such as Clowney would intrigue any team, St. Louis might be better served in trading down a few picks while perhaps adding a second-rounder or whatever hearty compensation they'll receive in a draft-day swap. St. Louis already has a couple of solid bookends in Robert Quinn and Chris Long, while William Hayes is also making considerable money the next couple of seasons.
The Falcons and Clowney have been linked ever since he told Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, via Dan Parr of NFL.com, that he hopes Atlanta drafts him.
"I wish they could trade up for me," Clowney said. "But I hope I don’t fall to No. 6. I like Atlanta -- a lot. They’re pretty good. They’ve got some guys from South Carolina on the team, also. And it’s close to home."
A couple of days later, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff addressed the situation, telling NFL Network's Kimberly Jones, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the following:
That’s great to hear that, but I’m sure he’s saying that to everyone as well. He’s making sure that he follows back around. Look, like I’ve said, I’ve been very clear about this, we will always be open for business. We will always be open to move up and back, depends on what’s right for us. Again, I feel really comfortable with where we are at six, but there are opportunities on both sides of six.
Still, it sounds like Dimitroff is open to the idea of a trade. Falcons defensive ends Osi Umenyiora (32) and Kroy Biermann (28) are each signed through the next two seasons, but Clowney could step right in and contribute.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Johnny Football figures to be a big attraction at the next level wherever he ends up, and the Jaguars need a new face of the franchise, as Maurice Jones-Drew is expected to draw a lot of interest as a free agent.
Now that Bortles is off the board, it is essentially viewed as a two-man race between Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater for the next quarterback taken off the board. Though he measured in a quarter-inch below 6 feet tall, Manziel showed off nice speed, and it sounds like he did well in interviews at the combine.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com gave his impressions of Manziel in Indianapolis:
Manziel didn't throw, but you have to give him credit for running -- and for running well. Manziel clocked a 4.68-second 40-yard dash and notched a position-best 4.03-second short shuttle. He also was not standoffish at all, showing that he has a good relationship with his peers; I think he's got good leadership qualities. Mark March 27 on your calendar, as that's when Manziel is set to show off his arm at an on-campus workout at Texas A&M.
While much has been made about Manziel's social life as a young Heisman winner, Jags GM David Caldwell told Peter King of MMQB that Johnny Football doesn't raise any major red flags:
That's not the greatest endorsement of Manziel, but he's clearly on the team's radar. There are a bunch of needs in Jacksonville, but none is bigger than quarterback.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Last year's trio of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer under center didn't amount to much for the Browns, and Bridgewater seems like the smart pick here by default.
Bridgewater didn't run or throw at the combine and will have his big audition on March 17 at Louisville's pro day. But his college tape suggests he has an accurate arm and smart decision-making skills, two factors that bode well for a rookie starting quarterback.
He also alleviated some concerns about his skinny frame at the combine by checking in at 6'2", 214 pounds, and he could vault back into the No. 1 discussion for the Texans with a nice show of arm strength at his pro day.
5. Oakland Raiders: QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times came away from Indianapolis with an interesting nugget of information about the Oakland Raiders. In his latest mock draft, Farmer pegged the Raiders to take Carr, writing, "The Raiders are known for their unconventional picks, so Manziel might seem like a natural fit for them. Word is, though, that they liked Carr more coming out of the combine."
That's an interesting take from Farmer on the Raiders, who need a quarterback.
While Carr might seem like a stretch, general manager Reggie McKenzie may have made one last year by selecting cornerback D.J. Hayden at No. 12 despite big health concerns. Hayden would go on to have a tough rookie year for a struggling Raiders secondary.
If the Raiders are leaning toward Carr and eventually take him, he better work out; otherwise, that could be it for McKenzie, coach Dennis Allen and this current regime.
6. St. Louis Rams (via ATL trade): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
Given the quarterback needs at the top of this year's draft board, the Rams could likely afford to slide back to No. 6 and still receive an instant impact contributor in Greg Robinson.
After his mauling performance in the BCS Championship Game against top-notch Florida State, Robinson (6'5, 332 pounds) helped solidify his stock as the draft's No. 1 tackle at the combine, per Bucky Brooks of NFL.com:
He complemented his impressive showing in speed and agility tests with a strong performance in positional drills. Robinson moved like a dancing bear on the turf, alleviating any concerns about his ability to take on elite pass rushers off the edge. Overall, the stellar workout in front of hundreds of scouts and coaches will not only send Robinson's draft stock soaring -- it could make him enter discussion as the draft's top overall prospect.
For an inside look at the hulking tackle's experience at Indianapolis, check out this cool story from Dan Pompei of Sports on Earth:
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
New head coach Lovie Smith has developed a defensive identity throughout his career, but it'd be tough to pass up Sammy Watkins.
The talented wide receiver measured in at 6'1", 211 pounds and ran a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash, showing he has the physical ability to succeed in the NFL. Pat McManamon of ESPN.com also came away impressed with Watkins' showing at the combine:
Watkins and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney are clearly the most talented players in this draft. The only reason they may not go one-two is they don't play quarterback. That doesn't mean Watkins can't have a huge impact on a game or a team. He has the quickness to turn a bubble screen into a big gain, and the arms and hands to make big catches downfield.
Coupling Watkins with Vincent Jackson should do wonders for quarterback Mike Glennon in 2014, when the Bucs will debut new uniforms and try to distance themselves from the Greg Schiano era.
8. Minnesota Vikings: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
After posting huge college totals at the University of Buffalo, Mack showed up big time at the combine.
He measured in at 6'3", 251 pounds and ran a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash. The Vikings could use some help to shore up a porous defense, and Brooks recently wrote that Mack may have the ability to make a big impact from Day 1:
9. Buffalo Bills: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Jockeying for position with Mack as the leading linebacker in this year's class is Anthony Barr, who starred for UCLA on defense after starting his career in the offensive backfield.
He's a load at 6'5", 255 pounds and turned in an impressive 4.66 in the 40. Adding him to a talented defense that already includes Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and others would bolster the strength of the team for 2014.
10. Detroit Lions: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
With his blazing time of 4.37 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, Justin Gilbert may have cemented his status over other top 2014 cornerback prospect Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State.
Gilbert (6'0", 202 pounds) is a bit bigger than the 5'11", 199-pound Dennard, who ran a 4.51 in the 40 at the combine. He also has the opportunity to contribute in the return game, like one of his mentors and idols, Deion Sanders.
11. Tennessee Titans: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews might not have as much raw talent as Robinson, but he's still viewed as a safe pick among this year's solid group of offensive tackles.
Listed at 6'5" and 308 pounds, Matthews answered a lot of questions about his athleticism, per Brooks:
Matthews has been cast as a mediocre athlete by the national media, but that perception needs to change after evaluating his performance on Saturday. The Texas A&M star impressed scouts with his balance, body control and burst in position drills. Matthews showed flawless technique executing various kick-slide drills and pull/trap maneuvers. These drills showcased Matthews' superb agility and quickness, while also providing evaluators with a sneak peek at his exceptional footwork and balance in action. With Matthews also displaying better-than-anticipated speed (5.07 in the 40-yard dash), the draft board is starting to get crowded at the top.
With Michael Roos and David Stewart, Tennessee has two high-priced tackles going into 2014, but Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reports that Stewart could be on his way out the door:
Thus, Matthews could step in as the starting right tackle in 2014.
12. New York Giants: LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
The 6'2", 234-pound Alabama product rounds out this year's trio of top linebackers behind Mack and Barr.
Nick Saban recently spoke to Jim Corbett of USA Today about Mosley's football instincts:
If people evaluate C.J. as a football player — how fast you play; how athletic you are; how instinctive you are and how many plays you make — I would challenge anybody to show me 10 better players. He silently works hard, doesn't look for a lot of self gratification from other people — really has fun doing what he does. He understands, though, to have fun and to be confident, you really have to invest time and earn it. He practices that way, plays that way. It is unusual today to find someone who is driven to do well in everything he aspires to.
That's a strong endorsement from Saban, and Mosley certainly has the body type to be a versatile linebacker at the next level. Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN pegged Mosley to go to Big Blue in each of his first two mock drafts, and it makes sense to add a solid all-around defender such as Mosley to a unit that struggled last year.
13. St. Louis Rams: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Mike Evans might not have the breakaway speed or raw playmaking ability Watkins has, but he looks like a big, sure-handed target who could contribute right away.
King recently shared his thoughts on Evans' value and how he fits into this year's draft class:
Listed at 6'5" and 231 pounds, Evans ran a respectable 4.53 40-yard dash and would be a nice weapon in the passing game for Sam Bradford.
14. Chicago Bears: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
The Chicago Bears had the league's worst run defense in 2013, and Jernigan is one of the top defensive linemen available. Brandon Mellor of Seminoles.com recently shared comments from Jernigan on where he perceives himself in this year's class:
Of course Jernigan thinks he the best, but I think the Bears will too. He was a monster as a second-team All-American in 2013, and his game looks like it should translate well to the league.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald stole the show at the combine with his 40-yard dash time of 4.68, which is remarkable for a man who measured in at 6'1" and 285 pounds. He also caught the eye of current Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote during his workout:
Donald posted an impressive 35 reps on the 225-pound bench press, and he has a size and speed combo that makes him worth a look at No. 15.
The Steelers haven't been the same without Casey Hampton at nose tackle, and while Donald might need to put on some more muscle, he should bring a nice presence against the run and the pass for whoever drafts him.
It would be a nice story if that team is Pittsburgh, as Donald and Foote both played at nearby Penn Hills High School. Donald racked up a nation-best 28.5 tackles for loss in 2013 for Pitt, and it will be interesting to see if he can stay in the Steel City to continue his football career.
16. Dallas Cowboys: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Jerry Jones sent shock waves through the football world recently when he made comments to reporters regarding the status of talented pass-rusher Demarcus Ware, who could be cut due to salary-cap reasons.
Jones said the following, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com:
We will address it. ... We made a change in what he's doing. We put his hand down [play defensive end], rather than stand him up [play outside linebacker]. That was a change, and at the same time, he's had a tough time getting on the practice field because of various injuries, all of that we have to weigh with how much of that has impacted ... where he is with his career and his age. Those are the ingredients in the stew and we have to stir it up and see where we're going. It will be a very difficult call for us because of how much salary cap he uses.
The Cowboys need to shave off roughly $16.4 million in cap space, and Ware is set to have a cap hit of $16 million, so it certainly makes sense from a business perspective. Ealy (6'4", 273 pounds) would be the most logical choice to fill this void via the draft, as the team can't find another option via free agency.
David Robinson of the Columbia Daily Tribune compared Ealy's combine performance to other top defensive linemen drafted recently. While his 4.92 time in the 40 was slow, his 6.83 time in the three-cone shuttle stacks up with the best of them.
17. Baltimore Ravens: WR Marqise Lee, USC
Quarterback Joe Flacco could use some more help on offense in 2014, and Marqise Lee seems like he has the ability to make plays at the next level.
Even though Lee's 4.52 time in the 40-yard dash left something to be desired, Brandt came away from the combine impressed with Lee:
That's because Lee showed some extra effort while catching passes, as noted by Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com:
Lee (6'0", 192 pounds) burst on to the scene as a freshman in 2011 and followed that up with a monstrous 2012 campaign, in which he caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. While he regressed mightily after being hampered by injuries this past season (57 reception, 791 yards, four TDs), Lee still has potential and would be a nice complement to Torrey Smith on the outside.
18. New York Jets: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
If you need a reminder about the special talents Eric Ebron possesses, he sent one via Twitter on Monday:
Ebron might not be Vernon Davis, but he's probably the closest thing the NFL has seen as a first-round draft prospect recently. The 6'4", 250-pound target ran a 4.60 in the 40, but he looks like he'll be a tough cover for NFL linebackers at the next level and should create some mismatches.
The Jets had an underwhelming duo of Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow in 2013, and Ebron could inject some life into this offense immediately.
19. Miami Dolphins: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Things went from bad to worse for the Miami Dolphins on the offensive line when the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga led to those players being absent from the team. By season's end, the Dolphins had given up a league-worst 58 sacks.
Taylor Lewan put together a decorated career at Michigan. He is a load at 6'7" and 309 pounds, and he helps lead this strong offensive line class. It sounds like Martin is on his way to a new team for a fresh start if he wants to return to football, and Lewan could be a nice replacement.
20. Arizona Cardinals: DL Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
The Arizona Cardinals certainly need some help on offense and could look at tight end Jace Amaro here, but Ra'Shede Hageman would be an intriguing addition to their already talented defense.
On Monday, Brandt reported that 20 of 32 NFL teams were on hand to see Hageman's pro day, when he stood on his numbers from the combine and only took part in positional drills.
Hageman is an imposing figure at 6'6" and 310 pounds and is viewed as an unpolished product who could use good coaching. Adding him to the rotation with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett at defensive end while grooming him for the future could be a smart play, as Hageman has immense potential.
21. Green Bay Packers: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
As Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette notes, the Packers need to be proactive about their safety position heading into 2014, and they could have their pick of a couple of solid rookie options in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Pryor.
Chase Goodbread of NFL.com offered his take on the differences between Clinton-Dix (6'1", 208 pounds) and Pryor (5'11", 207 pounds), who have been compared throughout this whole process and both recorded identical times of 4.58 in the 40 at the combine:
Clinton-Dix is regarded as the better prospect in coverage, while Pryor, according to NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock is more of an "inside the box" safety. Speed might, thus, figure to be a slightly more important attribute for Clinton-Dix, and he noted at the combine that his ability to handle slot receivers in man coverage and play a variety of roles in the secondary should propel him on draft boards.
Ultimately, I think Dix is the pick here with his bigger frame and better cover skills, as the Packers were far worse against the pass than they were against the run in 2013.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Philadelphia could be a player for premier free agent-to-be Jairus Byrd this offseason, as it has a roster full of underperforming safeties led by Patrick Chung.
After Pryor was listed at 6'2" for his college career, it was perhaps disappointing to see him measure in at less than 6 feet, but he still possesses nice athleticism and a physical style of play that can translate to the NFL.
Philadelphia finished dead last against the pass but 10th against the run last year, and Pryor would be able to help out in both areas.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
The Kansas City Chiefs boast one of the most well-rounded rosters in the league, but the second-half struggles on offense last year highlighted the team's need for more playmakers at receiver alongside Dwayne Bowe.
Odell Beckham Jr. (5'11", 198 pounds) opened some eyes with his nice footwork and 4.43 showing in the 40-yard dash. Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com also came away impressed with Beckham's personality:
Alex Smith could use some more downfield weapons, and Beckham looks like he should be able to deliver in 2014.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Looking at the opinions of draft experts, it seems like the industry has singled out cornerback as one of the team's biggest areas to address.
Evan Silva of Rotoworld gave his thoughts on why Dennard makes sense for the Bengals here at No. 24:
Cornerback is Cincinnati's biggest need on either side of the ball as Leon Hall rehabs his second Achilles' tear in three seasons, and Terence Newman and Pacman Jones creep further into their 30s. 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick has been a major disappointment. Dennard is a scheme fit for the Bengals as the premier press corner in this year's class. He would be a day-one starter.
If Gilbert is already off the board as predicted, Dennard would be a nice option for the Bengals in 2014.
25. San Diego Chargers: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
Just like Cincinnati, San Diego has been pegged by draft experts as a team that needs to shore up its secondary with its first-round pick.
Here's what Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScount.com, via CBSSports.com, had to say about the depth at corner for the Chargers heading into 2014: "Can non-Chargers fans name San Diego's two-deep at cornerback? Can Chargers fans? Regardless, upgrades are needed so if San Diego goes cornerback here, it shouldn't be a surprise. And it would be even less of a surprise if Verrett is still available."
For the record, the team's official website has the current quartet of Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall, Crezdon Butler and Derek Cox as the top four cornerbacks. If Gilbert and Dennard are taken as expected, the 5'9", 189-pound Verrett, who posted a 4.38 in the 40, would be the next best thing.
26. Cleveland Browns: OL Zack Martin, Notre Dame
If the Browns draft a quarterback as expected, they might as well put some quality guys on the O-line to protect him.
On Monday, Cleveland used the transition tag on center Alex Mack, essentially making him a restricted free agent who will cost $10 million if the team re-signs him for 2014, per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com.
Things are a mess in Cleveland's front office, but they would be wise to keep Mack and draft Martin, who can grow alongside perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas.
27. New Orleans Saints: Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Nix certainly fits the bill of a hulking nose tackle at 6'2" and 331 pounds. Judging from his Twitter account, which recently made headlines after he criticized scouts for judging Clowney, Nix has a big personality to match.
His ability to command double-teams and plug up the middle of the line of scrimmage should bode well for a unit that has only two defensive tackles currently under contract in Brodrick Bunkley and John Jenkins.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was masterful in his transformation of the unit last year and should be able to put Nix in a good position to succeed at the next level.
28. Carolina Panthers: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Jordan Gross announced his retirement recently, meaning the Carolina Panthers have a gaping hole at left tackle.
Most of this year's elite blindside protector talent will likely be gone by No. 28, but Kouandjio (6'7", 322 pounds) still has plenty of upside despite a disappointing showing at the combine, as detailed by Brooks:
Scouts weren't expecting Kouandjio to post jaw-dropping numbers at the combine due to his massive frame, but even his staunchest supporters will have some concerns about his overall athleticism after glancing at the numbers from his workout. Kouandjio ranked near the bottom of his position group in the 40, broad jump, short shuttle and three-cone drill. Additionally, he looked a little sluggish in the change-of-direction drills of the positional workout.
The combine doesn't make or break an NFL career, and Kouandjio should have time to grow during offseason team activities and training camp. As an expected starter from day one, though, Kouandjio would be under a microscope as he tries to keep Cam Newton upright.
29. New England Patriots: TE Jace Amaro, Texas A&M
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have able to work wonders with tight ends in recent years.
Rob Gronkowski is recovering from another serious injury, and Aaron Hernandez is long gone, but the 6'5", 265-pound Jace Amaro could step right in and contribute to the passing game.
He was prolific throughout his college career at Texas Tech. In his 2013 campaign, he hauled in 106 catches for an NCAA tight end record of 1,352 yards and seven scores. Even though he was used as a receiver in many formations, his accomplishments surely shouldn't go unnoticed, especially by the Patriots.
30. San Francisco 49ers: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks clocked a blistering 4.33 mark in the 40 and earned himself some money in the process, as he was the fastest athlete wearing Adidas at the combine. According to Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports, Cooks won an extra $100,000 from the company, which is a nice way of knowing you probably boosted your draft stock.
The 49ers could use some help in the passing game out of the slot from a player such as the shifty 5'10", 189-pound Cooks, who earned the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver after hauling in 128 catches for 1,730 yards in 2013.
Anquan Boldin and the team announced a two-year contract extension on Monday, and Cooks would provide a nice change of pace for the Niners from Boldin and Michael Crabtree.
31. Denver Broncos: DE Dee Ford, Auburn
Dee Ford has made headlines by talking a big game (calling out Clowney), but he's also become a fast riser on draft boards recently.
Brugler explained why he thinks Ford makes sense for the Denver Broncos near the end of the first round: "The Broncos have battled numerous injuries to their pass rushers this season and need to continue and develop depth to their front seven. Ford had a stand out week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl and has played himself into the first round discussion."
32. Seattle Seahawks: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
There aren't many holes on this Seattle Seahawks roster, but they could certainly use some help at receiver. Once Sidney Rice went down with an injury last season, the lack of depth at the position was exposed, but Russell Wilson did enough to win it all.
A big-bodied target such Kelvin Benjamin (6'5", 240) would provide a nice red-zone target for the offense, but his official 40 time of 4.61 doesn't paint him as a downfield threat in the NFL.
It would be cool to see Benjamin go from one championship team to another after Florida State won it all in college football in 2013.
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