Post-Scouting Combine 2014 NFL Mock Draft
The NFL draft is two months away still, and the first round will change drastically because of free-agent signings that are set to commence March 11. The official period begins on March 11, and teams will have the opportunity to add much-needed talent to their rosters.
When draft day does roll around, much of the excitement will center on what the Houston Texans do at pick No. 1. Will new head coach Bill O'Brien add an elite pass-rusher like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney? Or will he select a franchise quarterback, whether it be Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles or the always-controversial Johnny Manziel?
It's said to be one of the deepest draft classes in quite some time, so O'Brien could always elect to trade out of the first overall selection.
It's way too early to get a read on it, but here's a glimpse of what may happen on that early weekend in May. As per the usual mock draft rules, there are no trades in this mock, although assuredly a handful of teams will move up or down in the first round.
All Scouting Combine numbers are per NFL.com.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney is that rare, once-in-a-generation talent who is simply too good to pass up. With that in mind, expect Bill O'Brien to jump at a player with Clowney's raw ability, athleticism and huge upside.
Clowney was too often a no-show in his final season at South Carolina, and he registered just three sacks. O'Brien has to be concerned that Clowney mailed in a full year of football, but the opportunity to put Clowney opposite J.J. Watt is enough to make a head coach salivate.
Clowney would likely play standing up as a 3-4 linebacker, seeing as he's a bit undersized to be a prototypical 5-technique end. But Clowney's outstanding ability to wreak havoc on the opposing quarterback will cause nightmares for offensive coordinators in the AFC South. Clowney's underwhelming 2013 numbers and subpar bench press totals at the combine definitely make him a gamble. But he posted elite speed (4.53) in the 40-yard dash, and he's incredibly explosive off the line.
Should O'Brien draft Clowney, he will still need to address the quarterback position, whether it be later in the draft or via free agency. Matt Schaub is likely to be a veteran release, and neither T.J. Yates nor Case Keenum is fit to be a starter. But the Texans really aren't that far away from being competitive.
After all, they did reach the postseason in both 2011 and 2012. Their defense is a strength, already led by Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing, and Johnathan Joseph. The Texans would be wise to take the best player available and worry about the quarterback position later on.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
There's been some speculation that the St. Louis Rams may trade out of the second overall pick, especially considering the strength of this year's draft class. But the best move would likely be to stay put and grab Auburn's Greg Robinson, a freak athlete who fills a position of need and qualifies as the best player available.
Robinson's raw athleticism translates to that of a perennial All-Pro—a guy like Philadelphia's Jason Peters comes to mind. Robinson posted a 4.92 time in the 40-yard dash, benched 225 pounds 32 times, and measured in with ridiculous 35-inch-long arms.
The Rams made a big splash in last year's free-agent market when they signed former No. 1 overall pick, Jake Long, to be their blindside protector. Long played well in year one before suffering a torn ACL in Week 15. Robinson would be able to fill in at left tackle if Long isn't ready to start the 2014 campaign.
St. Louis also has a decision to make with Rodger Saffold, a solid right tackle who could get overpaid in free agency due to the importance of the offensive tackle position. If the Rams let Saffold walk, they have his in-house replacement in Robinson.
If the organization is still committed to quarterback Sam Bradford—which is reportedly the case—Robinson will be crucial to shoring up the Rams protection.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley did a remarkably impressive job as a rookie head coach, coaxing a 4-4 record out of his young team in the second half of the season. That's using a roster that arguably the least talented in the league.
In this scenario, Bradley gets his pick of the franchise quarterbacks. Recent reports have indicated the Jaguars won’t pick a quarterback until the later rounds, but with all the top quarterbacks still on the board, Jacksonville has to make a move.
There's Teddy Bridgewater, the supposed safest quarterback. There's Blake Bortles, with the best size and highest upside. And there's Johnny Manziel, who could certainly electrify a fanbase that undoubtedly has grown weary of watching Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne take snaps under center.
Bortles gets the vote here. He has the best size (6’5”, 230 pounds) and projects to be a talented NFL quarterback. Bortles is mobile enough to get out of the pocket, and he compares well to a player like Ben Roethlisberger. Bortles gets a franchise receiver in Justin Blackmon and a solid No. 2 in Cecil Shorts.
He’s the signal-caller the Jaguars need to start competing in the AFC South.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Cleveland Browns have a tough decision to make with the No. 4 overall pick. They can go with one of the big-name quarterbacks or another player. In this mock draft, Blake Bortles is off the board, which means Cleveland’s new head coach, Mike Pettine, has to decide if he thinks either Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr is worth selecting with the fourth overall pick.
It may make sense for the Browns to upgrade another position and grab a quarterback later. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is talented enough to warrant this selection; he’s a playmaking receiver with elite speed and Pro Bowl-caliber skills. Cleveland enjoyed a breakout season from receiver Josh Gordon a year ago, and Watkins would be another weapon to pair with him on the outside.
Watkins is shifty, explosive and a threat to score the home run every time he has the ball in his hands. He will be a handful for opposing defensive backs to contain. Should the Browns go with Brian Hoyer at quarterback, they have a top-tier trio of weapons in Watkins, Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron.
5. Oakland Raiders: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
New head coach Dennis Allen is likely coaching for his job in 2014, and he needs a quarterback to keep him around. Neither Terrelle Pryor nor Matt McGloin is the answer; rumors of bringing Josh Freeman in won’t lead to a winning season for Oakland.
Johnny Manziel is a gamble, but he is the quarterback best suited to lead a depleted roster. Manziel has a tremendous ability to create plays out of thin air, and he would be a dynamic presence for a Raiders roster that hasn’t had a top quarterback since Rich Gannon a decade ago.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Turning down a superstar pass-rusher like Khalil Mack would be difficult for Atlanta to do, considering how much of a priority this is for the Falcons. But offensive line is a more pressing need, with franchise quarterback Matt Ryan still just 28 years old.
Left tackle Sam Baker epitomized the Falcons’ offensive line woes in 2013, as the former first-round pick struggled when he did play and eventually landed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), rookie third-rounder Lamar Holmes allowed 11 sacks and 53 hurries as Baker’s replacement at tackle, and those numbers showed just how inept Holmes' was at pass-protecting last season
In all, Atlanta allowed Ryan to be sacked 44 times in 2013, a 57 percent increase from the previous campaign. The team has to get better on the line, and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews would shore up the left tackle position. He’s a complete prospect who can block well in both phases. Before Auburn’s Greg Robinson started shooting up draft boards, Matthews was the unquestioned best overall tackle, so he’s no consolation prize for the Falcons.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, DE, Buffalo
Rushing the quarterback was far and above Tampa Bay’s biggest problem a year ago. Former first-round pick Adrian Clayborn has been largely mediocre, failing to become the explosive player the team thought he could be. Da’Quan Bowers has just 5.5 sacks in three seasons. Neither William Gholston nor Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is a valid starter.
The best defensive player left on the board is Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, a player who rivals Jadeveon Clowney in terms of pure explosiveness from the edge. Per NFL Network’s Gil Brandt, Mack is one of seven players who could be taken first overall.
Mack can play multiple positions in a 4-3 scheme, as he has the ability to line up at defensive end or 4-3 linebacker. He’s probably best suited as a 4-3 rush linebacker like Von Miller. Mack finished his collegiate career with 16 forced fumbles and 75 tackles for a loss, both NCAA records. He’s led the Mid-American Conference in forced fumbles and tackles for a loss each of the last three seasons. In 2013, he also led in sacks, interception return yards and interceptions returned for touchdowns.
A defense with Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson and Mack could make the Buccaneers a playoff team next season.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Minnesota Vikings did re-sign Matt Cassel, but they can’t expect to win football games with Cassel or Christian Ponder. The team brought in Norv Turner to be the offensive coordinator, and he’s one of the top football minds in the business, especially when it comes to tutoring quarterbacks.
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is the next-best available quarterback when the Vikings pick at eighth overall. He sees a slight drop in the draft, as he may have a lower ceiling than either Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel. Bridgewater is a solid prospect with the tools to be a good NFL quarterback. The Vikings would have to be thrilled if he's still there at pick eight.
Bridgewater would inherit an underrated weapon of receivers. Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson can make plays, and Kyle Rudolph is a solid tight end, and of course, there’s Adrian Peterson in the backfield. The Vikings really can’t compete in this NFC North without getting themselves a quarterback.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Buffalo Bills need to do everything possible to make sure EJ Manuel can develop into a franchise quarterback. Manuel was so-so as a rookie, finishing with 11 touchdown passes, nine interceptions, and a 4-6 record as a starter.
If the Bills can add a playmaking receiver like Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, the Buffalo offense gets a whole lot more talented. Evans is a 6’5” talent with the ability to go up and get any jump ball. He’s the next Vincent Jackson, but possibly with a higher ceiling. Evans timed a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash, which is scary fast for a man his size.
Last year, Buffalo drafted USC wide receiver Robert Woods in the second round to pair with veteran Stevie Johnson. Johnson’s numbers dropped off drastically in 2013, as he posted just 597 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Injuries played a big role in the drop-off: He dealt with a fractured vertebrae in the summer and then missed the final four games of the campaign.
If Buffalo is unable to count on Johnson, then that puts a lot of pressure on Woods. Adding Evans alleviates that burden and gives Manuel another option in the receiving game.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Detroit Lions have a great majority of their salary cap tied up in three players (quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh), which makes hitting on their 2014 first-round pick so crucial.
The Lions’ secondary definitely needs an upgrade. Free safety Louis Delmas was released for cap purposes. No. 1 cornerback Chris Houston surrendered the eighth-most passing yards in the league in 2013, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Darius Slay, a second-round pick from a year ago, projects to be a starter in ’14, but another corner could help.
Justin Gilbert distanced himself from the rest of the cornerbacks with his performance at the scouting combine. He posted a 4.37 40-yard dash, which is elite speed. Gilbert recorded seven interceptions in 2013 and was voted second-team All-American. He has the talent to step right in at the NFL level and make an impact.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
With the Tennessee Titans likely switching to a 3-4 defense under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, UCLA’s Anthony Barr would be a perfect fit.
Barr would be a pass-rushing outside linebacker opposite Derrick Morgan. Barr is an incredible athlete who played on the offensive side of the ball at UCLA as recently as 2011 (wide receiver and then running back). He was a sack machine in ’13, registering 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and six forced fumbles.
Barr is exactly what the Titans need to make life uncomfortable for Andrew Luck twice a season.
12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald’s ridiculous Scouting Combine numbers make him too good to fall out of the top half of the first round. The 285-pound Donald ran a 4.68 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds an unbelievable 35 times. That performance, along with his production at the University of Pittsburgh, warrants the 12thoverall selection.
Donald is best suited as a 4-3 defensive tackle where he can split the gap as a 3-technique player. He recorded ridiculous numbers as a senior in college: 11 sacks, 28 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles— and that’s from the interior line spot.
The New York Giants will have to see if they can retain defensive tackle Linval Joseph this offseason, but adding Aaron Donald would give them a strong core of players at the position. Cullen Jenkins was still productive and rookie second-round pick Johnathan Hankins played well in year one. But the Giants have never been shy about loading up on defensive linemen.
After all, the two Super Bowl champion teams were stockpiled with defensive ends who made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks. Donald is too good to pass up here, and he will make the defense much more formidable.
13. St. Louis Rams: C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama
With the St. Louis Rams taking offensive tackle Greg Robinson at pick No. 2, the ideal move here would be wide receiver Mike Evans. But he’s gone, so the organization gets to pick from the top defensive back, a pass-rushing end or Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Despite the struggles of recent Crimson Tide 'backers, Mosley offers enough upside and versatility for the Rams to take him. Mosley would play an outside LB role in the Rams 4-3; a corps of James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree and Mosley would rank among the game’s finest units.
Mosley was a two-time first-team All-American and finalist for both the Butkus and Bednarik Awards. He’s a three-down linebacker who can cover opposing tight ends and stop the run. With defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn pressuring the quarterback, Mosley would join an already-stacked defense.
14. Chicago Bears: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Chicago Bears desperately need the top defensive player available here.
The Bears defense was a disaster in 2013, finishing 30th in both points and total yards allowed. The run defense epitomized the team’s struggles, and Chicago ended up allowing 20 or more points in all 16 contests.
The ideal scenario is that the Bears re-sign defensive tackle Henry Melton. Middle linebacker Jon Bostic will need to play better than he did as a rookie, and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor could bring his physical, hard-hitting style to the safety position.
The success of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in Seattle will likely vault the safeties higher than usual in the upcoming draft; Pryor may go above Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, because he’s a more complete player and can set the tone for a defense.
Pryor is an upgrade over Major Wright or Chris Conte. He can stop the run, cover receivers and punish a player who goes across the middle.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Pittsburgh Steelers nearly made the playoffs after their slow start in 2013, and their best bet to qualify for January ball next year is to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Left tackle was a particularly problematic, as Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams struggled mightily, allowing a total of 10 sacks and 42 quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
It’s safe to consider Adams, after three unproductive seasons, a failed draft pick at this point in his career. Adding a player like Michigan’s Taylor Lewan is a necessity if he is still available at the 15th pick.
Lewan is the complete package at offensive tackle, with his upside just slightly less than that of Jake Matthews. Lewan ran well at the scouting combine, and he’s a four-year starter in college who earned first-team All-American honors in 2012. He projects to be a similar player to New England’s Nate Solder and a Pro Bowl-caliber offensive tackle who should start for the next decade.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Dallas Cowboys could see a complete overhaul on their defensive line this offseason.
DeMarcus Ware may end up being a casualty because of a ridiculous $16 million cap hit in 2014. Anthony Spencer is hitting free agency after microfracture knee surgery, and he won’t be getting a ton of offers. And interior lineman Jason Hatcher’s spectacular season in 2013 could land him a sizeable contract in free agency.
The best bet for Dallas is that they draft the best defensive line prospect available. Timmy Jernigan from Florida State is a 3-technique tackle who can create pressure on the quarterback.
Jernigan has the size (318 pounds) to be a nose tackle should the Cowboys want to play a 3-4. Regardless of where exactly Jernigan lines up, he would be an asset to a defense that rated dead last in yards allowed last year.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Several factors point to Baltimore drafting a wide receiver.
Joe Flacco struggled mightily in year one of his mammoth contract, throwing 22 interceptions to just 19 touchdowns, while the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time in his career.
The Ravens have just $3.5 million allocated to the receiver position in 2014, and they haven’t recovered from trading away Anquan Boldin last offseason. With Kelvin Benjamin still on the board, this makes two straight Florida State picks.
Benjamin is a 6’5” receiver who would more than make up for the loss of Boldin. Benjamin is 6’5” and 240 pounds; there aren’t too many receivers bigger than that. Benjamin’s 4.61 speed is pretty good for his size. He makes contested catches; he doesn’t drop many passes, and he ended his collegiate career with the game-winning touchdown grab in the BCS Championship Game.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Rex Ryan has picked a defensive player in the first round of the last four NFL drafts, including two players last year. That’s led to a pretty good defense in New York, as the Jets ranked 11th in total yards allowed and first overall in rushing yards allowed per carry.
For quarterback Geno Smith to survive in New York, he needs more talent than he currently has on the offensive side of the ball. To put it bluntly, no quarterback could play well when throwing to a washed-up Santonio Holmes, a struggling high draft pick in Stephen Hill or a blocking tight end like Jeff Cumberland. Jeremy Kerley is a solid slot receiver, but even the running game is just average with Chris Ivory.
Eric Ebron is a mismatch for opposing defenses. He’s the new breed of tight end—too fast for linebackers, too big for safeties. He'll be a young quarterback’s security blanket. Ebron racked up nearly 1,000 yards in his final year at college (his 973 yards was an ACC single-season record for tight ends).
He projects to be a fine receiving tight end in the NFL, and tight ends historically have a lower rate of being busts than other positions.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Miami Dolphins have no choice but to upgrade their offensive line. Miami conceivably could have five different starters on the offensive line in 2013; Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito are casualties of Bullygate; center Mike Pouncey may be suspended, and John Jerry and Tyson Clabo are free agents.
Per Adam Beasley and Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, the Dolphins are targeting Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl offensive tackle, Branden Albert. Even so, the Dolphins would be wise to spend their first-round selection on an offensive lineman.
Notre Dame’s Zack Martin fits well because he’s versatile enough to play both tackle and guard.
Ryan Tannehill took a league-high 58 sacks in 2013; he won’t last long if he can’t be protected. That’s where Martin comes in, and the Dolphins may want to spend their second-round pick on a lineman as well.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
The Arizona Cardinals desperately need to upgrade their offensive line, and they’ve been linked heavily to the top free agent tackles on the market.
Per Kent Somers of AZCentral.com, the Cardinals are expected to make a major push for Jared Veldheer, a player who would certainly solidify the left tackle position.
Should Arizona sign Veldheer, they can focus on the best player available in the draft, rather than reach for a tackle. Missouri’s Kony Ealy is a standout pass-rusher who could play a 3-4 outside linebacker position. The Cardinals got fine production out of end John Abraham in 2013, but he’s entering his 15thNFL season and can’t be counted on to play much longer.
Ealy has the size to even play 3-4 end if he bulks up a few more pounds. With Ealy playing opposite Calais Campbell, Arizona would have a pretty formidable duo on their front line.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Green Bay Packers haven’t recovered from losing former All-Pro Nick Collins to a career-ending neck injury in 2011. Morgan Burnett signed a five-year, $26 million contract extension before last season, but he certainly didn’t justify that with his play on the field.
Per Pro Football Focus, Burnett and Jennings rated 79thand 84th, respectively, out of 86 qualifiers in passer rating allowed. They combined to allow nine touchdowns in coverage without recording a single interception or forced fumble. Simply put, if the Packers wanted a big play in 2013, they weren’t going to get it from their safeties.
With Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix still on the board, Green Bay has no choice but to take him. Clinton-Dix is a classic, center field type of safety.
The Packers already have a talented group of cornerbacks in Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward. Their secondary would become one of the league’s best with the addition of Clinton-Dix.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Chip Kelly loves offense, but even he has to know the defense needs a first-round pick.
Coordinator Billy Davis coaxed top results out of an ordinary group of starters, as the Philadelphia Eagles finished 17th in scoring defense despite a unit that featured no Pro Bowlers.
Cornerback Cary Williams overachieved in his first season in Philadelphia. After allowing a 98.4 passer rating in 2012 as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, that number dropped to just 80.0 last year. Bradley Fletcher is an adequate starter, and nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin finished second in the NFL with six picks.
Still, the Eagles could use another cornerback in the mix. Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is a first-round talent. He was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2013, recording four interceptions and then running well at the combine.
Dennard would allow Philly to release either Williams or Fletcher in camp to save cap space; Williams is due to make $6.4 million, Fletcher $3.6 million. Even if the Eagles keep all the cornerbacks, that’s much better depth than the team had the previous season when Roc Carmichael had to fill in as the dime cornerback.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Andy Reid is very simple with his first-round selections. Other than quarterback Donovan McNabb, he’s only ever drafted a wide receiver, linemen or cornerback with his first-round pick.
The Kansas City front office gave Dwayne Bowe a five-year, $56 million contract before last season, but Bowe followed that up with just 57 receptions, 673 yards and five scores. Neither Donnie Avery nor A.J. Jenkins is a competent No. 2 receiver, and Dexter McCluster is a free agent.
That’s why USC’s Marqise Lee would be a fine addition with the 23rdoverall pick. Lee followed up an All-American season as a sophomore with a disappointing 2013; he missed three games due to a knee injury and saw his touchdowns drop from 14 to four.
But Lee has a high upside, given the success he’s had in college. He is a game-breaking talent who can return kicks as well.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
There are several ways the Cincinnati Bengals could go with their first-round pick. The offense appears to be largely intact, with playmakers in A.J. Green, Gio Bernard and Tyler Eifert. The line is solid as well, even if free-agent offensive tackle Anthony Collins walks.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals need a cornerback, but they’re also likely to lose pass-rushing end Michael Johnson in free agency. Auburn’s Dee Ford has the talent to fit well as a 4-3 pass-rushing linebacker. He came on strong at the end of the season, accumulating two sacks in the national championship and two more in the Senior Bowl.
Ford is undersized at just 240 pounds, but the production was there in 2013 as he racked up 14.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. The Bengals have a talented front seven with Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Vontaze Burfict. Ford is another talent to add to the mix.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The San Diego Chargers were burned badly by their secondary a year ago. Free-agent addition Derek Cox was a colossal bust, finishing 104thout of 110 players by Pro Football Focus’s cornerback ratings in 2013 (subscription required).
In fact, all four cornerbacks—Cox, Shareece Wright, Johnny Patrick and Richard Marshall—rated 94th or worse. The Chargers desperately need an upgrade or two. Even if they add a top talent in free agency, San Diego could still afford to spend its first-round pick on cornerback Jason Verrett.
Verrett has terrific speed and is likely best suited as a nickel cornerback, considering his size (5’10”, 189 pounds). Verrett posted a 4.38 40-yard dash and high jumped 39 inches. He was a 2013 second-team All-American selection and compares to a corner like Cortland Finnegan, who has recorded 18 interceptions in 113 games over eight NFL seasons.
San Diego finished with the fifth-worst defensive passer rating allowed (96.42) in the league. The Chargers’ 66.4 completion percentage allowed was by far the highest mark any team surrendered in 2013.
Whether it’s Verrett or someone else, the Chargers just have to take a defensive back with this pick.
26. Cleveland Browns: Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA
With Cleveland drafting Sammy Watkins fourth overall, there’s no first-round quarterback worth taking at No. 26 overall (with the pick the team got for Trent Richardson).
The ideal scenario for new head coach Mike Pettine may be to build up the rest of the roster while giving Brian Hoyer another shot to prove himself. Hoyer played remarkably well in his two starts in 2013, winning both and averaging nearly 300 passing yards in each game. He may or may not be the franchise quarterback, but cementing the rest of the roster will improve the Browns’ chances of contending.
That’s where UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo fits in. Su’a-Filo would be asked to start immediately at right guard, which was a dreadful position for Cleveland in 2013. Shawn Lauvao and Oniel Cousins rated in the bottom 12 among guards, respectively, per Pro Football Focus.
Su’a-Filo may be a bit of a stretch at pick 26, but he fills a vital position of need.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The New Orleans Saints saw a huge improvement on their defense in 2013, as defensive coordinator Rob Ryan improved his unit from the 32nd-rated defense in 2012 to fourth best last year in total defense. The unit also led the league in fewest points surrendered.
Still, another playmaker would certainly help the Saints. Cameron Jordan (12.5 sacks) and Junior Galette (12 sacks) are Pro Bowl talents, but the rest of the front seven is just mediocre. Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier is a borderline first-round pick who could succeed as either an inside or outside ‘backer in the Saints’ 3-4 scheme.
Shazier had ridiculous production in college—he led the Big Ten with 144 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles in 2013. He added seven sacks.
Ryan will love a player with Shazier’s versatility.
28. Carolina Panthers: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross’ surprise retirement late in February (per ESPN) makes the offensive line a first-round priority for the Carolina Panthers. Left guard Travelle Wharton has also hinted at retirement, and right guard was an epic disaster in 2013.
The Panthers need to take the best available offensive lineman in the draft. Antonio Richardson fits the mold of an NFL tackle. He’s 6’6”, 335 pounds, and led his position with 36 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.
29. New England Patriots: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
The New England Patriots will have a difficult decision to make this offseason with veteran defensive tackle, Vince Wilfork. Wilfork has been a rock since being drafted, earning five Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pro nominations. But he tore his Achilles tendon last year; he’s 32 years old, and he has an $11.6 million cap hit in 2014.
The Patriots could save $8 million by releasing Wilfork. Should they do so, they can draft his replacement, Louis Nix, in the first round. Nix is a similar player to Wilfork; he’s a 340-pound defensive tackle who is best suited as a 0-technique nose tackle.
New England does run a 4-3 defense, but even so, Nix could provide versatility to line up as either a 3-technique, 1-technique or 0-technique player. With defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, the line would remain one of the team’s strengths.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The San Francisco 49ers whiffed badly on wide receiver A.J. Jenkins two drafts ago, and they need to fix that problem this offseason.
Michael Crabtree has come on strong in the last couple of seasons, and Anquan Boldin was re-signed to a two-year deal. Still, the team could use another receiver to make plays, hence Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks.
Cooks had ridiculous numbers in 2013, finishing with 128 receptions, 1,730 yards, and 16 touchdowns. All three of those totals led the Pac-12, and the receiving yardage output was tops among all NCAA receivers. Cooks is undersized at 5’10” and 186 pounds, meaning he would be best suited in the slot.
Cooks timed at 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, which was first among all wide receivers declaring for the NFL draft. He is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and he could be what the Niners need to compete with the Seattle Seahawks’ legendary pass defense.
31. Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Despite qualifying for the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos have some pressing needs, namely on their defense.
The Broncos need to add the top available corner, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby. Roby is a former second-team All-American and first-team All-Big 12 selection who started three seasons in college.
The ideal scenario for Denver would be that they re-sign Rodgers-Cromartie to a short deal and work Roby in as the other starter while Harris rehabs from his offseason injury. Roby’s 4.39 40-yard dash makes him one of the faster corners in this year's draft, and he’s also a physical player with good ball skills.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, G, Stanford
The Seattle Seahawks managed to win the Super Bowl by running the football and playing outstanding defense. Lost in the mix was the fact that their offensive line was one of the league’s worst.
Outside of left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger, the Seahawks could use an upgrade at three of their five offensive line positions. Stanford’s David Yankey is a talented guard who deserves a first-round grade. Yankey was a two-time All-American in college, playing both left tackle and left guard.
He certainly didn’t help his case at the NFL Scouting Combine: Yankey ran a slow 5.48 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds just 22 times. The Seahawks generally get the best out of their offensive linemen, though, and Yankey would be an upgrade over left guard James Carpenter or right guard J.R. Sweezy.