Is it May 8 yet?
Ever since the Seattle Seahawks trounced the Denver Broncos in one of the NFL's most anti-climatic Super Bowls, fans have been itching for more football to consume their time. The NFL Scouting Combine provided a quick fix, and the rapid onslaught of free-agent signings creates constant news nuggets every second.
But little compares to the excitement of draft weekend, when all 32 teams will collect a fresh batch of neophytes to spray their fans with a dose of optimism. This deep class features several prospects who are being touted as potential game-changers, and even the elite squads can use more of these contributors.
In addition to overworking Adam Schefter's phone, the early free-agent signings this week are sure to have altered the draft strategy of many teams throughout the league. Will the New York Jets still invest a first-round pick on a wideout after signing Eric Decker to a five-year deal? Are the Broncos still searching for help on defense even after their spending spree?
Let's jump into another mock draft to find out.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
There are clearly more talented players outside of the quarterback position; just look at Mel Kiper Jr.'s top 10, courtesy of NFL on ESPN's Twitter page, which features Teddy Bridgewater as the highest-rated signal-caller at No. 10 overall:
Mel Kiper Jr's updated Big Board for the 2014 NFL Draft. Clowney at No. 1. Teddy Bridgewater only QB in Top-10. pic.twitter.com/6TeGhgWjup— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 27, 2014
The Texans could snag the best available talent here and address their quarterback dilemma elsewhere—whether that entails signing a short-term solution or opening the second round with a passer—but since this is the NFL, they're likely to go for the glorified position.
That creates another debate: which quarterback should they take?
Despite their massive struggles last year, which gave them the dubious honor of picking first in the draft, the Texans have enough talent to return to the playoffs as soon as this season if they get the right guy under center. Bridgewater is the most polished option available in the draft who is capable of leading the offense from Week 1.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Don't be surprised if the Rams trade down with a team desperate for a quarterback or one that is eager to snag Jadeveon Clowney. The cream of the crop is close enough that one team's No. 2 option could still be available at pick No. 7.
Since other mocks frequently slot him around the No. 5-7 range, Sammy Watkins at No. 2 feels like a reach. But according to B/R's Matt Miller, teams are looking to trade up to as high as the second spot to grab the dynamic wideout.
The team currently holding the selection ranked 27th in passing offense last year, so Watkins can still go this high even if the Rams stand pat.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
If Jaguars fans would be kind enough to pause their celebration of landing a sixth-round pick for Blaine Gabbert, their team is now on the clock with a compelling choice on its hands: should the team attempt to find its quarterback of the future or grab Clowney in order to ignite the stumbling defense?
The Jaguars amassed 31 sacks last season, which tied them with the Chicago Bears for last in the league. They need a prolific pass-rusher every bit as much as a quarterback, and they possess too many holes to not lock down the best player available.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
One day he's an enigmatic passer capable of lifting a franchise's spirits; the next day he's a mid-round talent because the media needed a talking point during a slow news day. Johnny Manziel is the gift that keeps on giving.
The early stages of free agency have shown that the Cleveland Browns are hungry to make flashy moves. While Manziel doesn't have a fan in Ron Jaworski, Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton sung his praises to USA Today's Jim Corbett:
Nobody really played like I played. This kid plays like I did more than anybody else. He's the closest thing I've seen to myself. Russell Wilsonhas some of it. But Manziel has those similarities even more so than Russell. Manziel is a quarterback savant. People are going to say, "Well, he's only 5-11¾ tall." I wasn't as big, strong and fast as all these other players. But I knew how to play. What Manziel has is an instinctive vision. He did it against the toughest level of college football, twice the last two years against Nick Saban's Alabama defense.
So he's either a savant, or he's unworthy of getting drafted during the first day. OK then. The Browns need a quarterback, so expect them to take Johnny Football with their first of two picks during the opening round.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
At least the Raiders don't have to choose between the top trio of quarterbacks if they're inclined to go in that direction.
After watching left tackle Jared Veldheer jump to the Arizona Cardinals, only to lose replacement Rodger Saffold due to a failed physical, Oakland could grab Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson here. But it's hard to envision Oakland passing up on a potential star quarterback in Blake Bortles, especially considering their glaring hole at the position of ample importance.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, D/OLB, Buffalo
After snatching guard Jon Asamoah from the Kansas City Chiefs, the Falcons will now look to the defensive side of the ball rather than choosing a top-notch offensive lineman.
Scroll up to the top snippet of Kiper's big board, and you will see that Khalil Mack occupies the top spot of those remaining. The big-play linebacker from the small school is winning over more scouts by the day, and the Falcons' soft defense could use his services.
Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke believes the Falcons need Mack's pass-rushing skills to complement Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai, two new members of Atlanta's revamped defensive line.
Falcons need Khalil Mack more than ever after the Jackson-Soliai signings.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) March 11, 2014
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Somebody has to take an offensive lineman at some point.
Tampa Bay allowed 47 sacks last season, and as a result, they ranked last in the league with 2,820 net passing yards. Unless Watkins slips to them, they should solidify the trenches with Auburn's Greg Robinson rather than scouring for a skill player to improve its lackluster offense.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Vikings were abysmal on defense last season, and they're in danger of losing star Jared Allen from their front seven. Replacing Allen with an explosive pass-rusher like Anthony Barr trumps any urge to pick Derek Carr here.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Buffalo has young talent at the skill positions. Now it needs a sturdier offensive line to hold the unit together.
After shielding Manziel from danger at Texas A&M, Jake Matthews will become a dependable asset for the Bills, as he is capable of handling any position on the line.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Trading up for Watkins, as Miller speculated about in the earlier video, makes much less sense after Detroit finally found a complement for Calvin Johnson by signing Golden Tate.
With that out of the way, the Lions must address their No. 23-rated passing defense, which held back an offense that moved the ball with aplomb last season when avoiding turnovers. Justin Gilbert is their man to round out the top 10.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Titans can use a sure-armed tackler in their below-average defense, and C.J. Mosley's four years of SEC training makes him an NFL-ready talent. According to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, legendary linebacker Dick Butkus said whoever takes Mosley "is going to be pretty damn lucky."
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Giants have already addressed their fleeting offensive line in free agency, but the aging unit needs all the help it can get. Taylor Lewan showed off his strength and speed at the combine, which would make him a welcomed sight to Eli Manning.
Since this is the Giants, however, don't be shocked if they chase an enticing defensive lineman instead.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Rams's first selection will obviously sway their thought process at No. 13, as the earlier selection of Watkins will push them in the defensive direction with this pick.
While the defensive unit as a whole produced solid results last season, the secondary functioned as the weak link. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will cover enough ground to make him more than just a player known for his funny name.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
This may be one of the easiest selections to mock, as the Bears desperately need help up the middle after surrendering a league-worst 161.4 rushing yards per game last season.
Florida State's Timmy Jernigan will clog those once spacious running lanes with his massive frame (6'2", 299 lbs) and strength. This would be a perfect fit for both sides.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
While he can't match Gilbert's athleticism, Darqueze Dennard is a physical corner whose smash-mouth style will play perfectly in Pittsburgh.
Although cornerback is not a major need at the moment, snatching up Dennard is a forward-thinking move for a team with an aging secondary.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Losing DeMarcus Ware is a major blow for the league's worst defense, so they need to succeed with this pick. Aaron Donald won't cure all their troubles, but it's a start.
In NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah's eyes, Donald was one of the combine's big winners:
Finishing my Top 50 list…big jump up for Aaron Donald, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 3, 2014
17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
One of the other three players Jeremiah mentioned, Evans has solidified his status as the draft's second-best wide receiver behind Watkins. Jeremiah continued to commend the 6'5" wideout, who would become an immense asset while snagging jump balls from Joe Flacco:
Mike Evans consistently attack the football at the highest point…you could make a fantastic teaching tape from his play.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 7, 2014
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Before the team signed Decker this week, a wide receiver would have been the smart play here. Now, the Jets should revert their stare to a tight end who can wreak just as much havoc in the passing attack.
Truthfully, someone tempted by Eric Ebron's blend of size and speed might take him off the board even earlier than this, as tight ends have morphed into big enough factors in league offenses to warrant such eagerness. But if he's still around, the Jets should secure another target for Geno Smith to be sure defenses can't focus exclusively on Decker.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
By now, everyone knows about Miami's problems within the offensive line. The bullying scandal became a national storyline off the field, and they also led the league with 58 sacks allowed.
Choosing someone to help amend the mess is a no-brainer, and Zack Martin is a safe choice who should protect Ryan Tannehill for years.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Ebron would have been perfect for the Cardinals, but the Jets had to ruin it by stealing him two picks earlier. OK fine, I technically ruined it since this is my mock draft, but you get the point.
The Cardinals bolstered their offensive line this week with the signing of Veldheer, so there's no need to panic and settle for a consolation tight end who is not worthy of such a high selection. As ESPN.com's Matt Williamson noted, they can go with the best available considering their well-balanced roster:
Love Veldheer to #Cardinals...Zona now has minimal Draft Day needs...best player available in draft— Matt Williamson (@WilliamsonNFL) March 11, 2014
What the heck, another offensive lineman never hurts. Some of the luster is fading off Cyrus Kouandjio, but he's still agile and massive enough to warrant the high selection.
21. Green Bay Packers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Louis Nix III is a value pick for a Green Bay squad that is in no hurry to blow anyone away with a glossy personnel move. Don't worry Packers fans, broad-jumping is not an essential job requirement for run-stopping defensive tackles:
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
After missing out on Jairus Byrd and other big-name safties—forcing the team to settle for Malcolm Jenkins—the Eagles should still grab safety Calvin Pryor if he's waiting for them at pick No. 22. The Louisville product can pack a heavy punch, but he'll also provide secondary help for a defense that was decimated in the passing game last year.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Limited cap room has forced the Chiefs to watch some of their key contributors leave town during free agency. They might feel they no longer have the luxury of taking a wideout to juxtapose against Dwayne Bowe, but I'm feeling bold, so they're taking Brandin Cooks anyway.
Cooks' 4.33-second 40-yard dash time breaks the tie between him and Odell Beckham Jr. That speed is actually part of what has Mike Mayock so excited:
Mike Mayock: "If there is a buzz at the wide receiver position it’s all about Brandin Cooks."— NFL Media PR (@InsideNFLMedia) March 7, 2014
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Breathing some young blood into the secondary would behoove the Bengals, and they have plenty of options to choose from in Jason Verrett, Bradley Roby and Kyle Fuller. It's a matter of personal preference among the trio, who won't be separated by much during the draft, and it seems as though Verrett would be the best choice.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Chargers need more secondary help, too, after stumbling to defend the pass, and Roby is probably the highest upside pick of the aforementioned bunch. He's not the tallest corner, but his footwork and speed will enable him to break up passes for the Chargers.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Let's keep the cornerback run rolling with Fuller, who has soared up the draft boards as the big day approaches.
Safety Donte Whitner, whom the team signed this week, can deliver a fierce blow, but he was San Francisco's weak link in terms of yielding big passing plays last year. Fuller can boost Cleveland's pass-prevention unit as opposing quarterbacks target the guy not being covered by Joe Haden.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
This week, the Saints added Byrd to a secondary that ranked second against the pass in 2013, so it makes sense to match that stout unit with a vicious front seven.
Ra'Shede Hageman is a high-risk/high-reward gamble that the Saints can afford to make this late in the first round.
28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Even before parting ways with Steve Smith, the Panthers needed another wideout to aid Cam Newton. The Panthers can't count on consistently edging out 13-10 victories, so Beckham provides some pizzazz to a lifeless passing offense which hasn't given Newton many opportunities to showcase his arm.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Getting 12 games out of Rob Gronkowski would be considered a victory at this point. Even if he stays on the field, however, the Patriots have thrived before with two prolific tight ends creating mismatches for Tom Brady to exploit.
Texas Tech's Jace Amaro would give Brady that dynamic duo again, or he would at least provide a safety net if Gronkowski stays sidelined.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
An extra corner would be nice if someone worthy falls to this spot, but that wasn't the case during this practice run.
Rather than overextending for the next man up, they'll take Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin. Anquan Boldin won't hang around forever, and featuring three skilled wideouts has become increasingly important in today's game.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
The Broncos grabbed several high-impact veterans to fix their ailing defense, so they're well off enough to gamble on a high-upside talent like Ryan Shazier. Although he's undersized for a linebacker, he'd give Denver yet another hybrid pass-rusher with more speed than a man of his size (6'1", 237 lbs) should possess.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
If Ebron or Amaro is still on the board, Seattle should look toward acquiring a new starting tight end. Otherwise, they should play it safe with a useful piece on the offensive line.
The reigning champions don't possess many flaws, but they can use an upgrade at left guard in order to make life easier for Russell Wilson. David Yankey won't draw any "oohs" or "ahhs," but he can help Seattle chase the rare NFL championship repeat.
All combine statistics and height/weight information courtesy of NFL.com.