Are you ready for some football? Well, you're going to have to wait. Another six months separate us from the 2014 season, but how about an NFL mock draft to pass a little time?
We have a while before each team's decision-makers gather at New York City's Radio City Music Hall to replenish their rosters with young talent. It's not May yet, but at least we won't get blindsided by the big day.
Opinions can change with research. Reports can provide better indications about what teams are thinking. Free agency can address needs that currently are problem areas.
A player could also grow a foot or develop superpowers, but those scenarios seem less likely. For now, let's just work with what's on the table in this latest NFL mock draft.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
A team's plans for the No. 1 pick are usually leaked before the team is officially placed on the clock, but Houston's choice remains a mystery at the moment.
With no consensus top quarterback between Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles, which QB does Houston prefer? Does it want any of them?
He's not the next Peyton Manning, but Bridgewater is a precise passer who completed 71 percent of his passes while surrendering just four interceptions for Louisville last season. NFLDraftScout.com's Dane Brugler thinks the Texans would regret passing him up:
In a draft with no sure-thing superstar, Bridgewater is the safest bet for a team that could return to playoff contention with sturdier quarterback play.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Sam Bradford's hefty contract makes any quarterback an unlikely choice for the Rams, and they're already stacked at defensive end.
That opens the door for a potential trade, but Sammy Watkins is the best choice if they stay put. Despite drafting Tavon Austin in last year's first round, the Rams ranked 27th in passing offense.
Based on Watkins' Instagram, St. Louis is not the wideout's preferable landing spot, though.
The Rams need a star receiver to spark their offense, and the Browns are likely to take a quarterback even if Watkins is on the board at pick No. 4. Sorry, Sammy.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
When a team needs help everywhere, it might as well grab the best player available. A quarterback would be lovely, but so would a fierce pass-rusher who could inject some life into the league's 27th-ranked defense. Jadeveon Clowney's ceiling is too high to ignore.
Per NFL.com's Bryan Fischer, NFL Media analyst Charley Casserly summed it up well:
What you want to do is when you wake up the next morning, feel good that you took the best player in the draft. The best talent in the draft is Jadeveon Clowney. Guy makes rare plays against the run, rare plays against the pass. Maybe the most talented defensive end I've ever scouted. There's a lot of questions to answer, but he's a rare talent at his position.
The Jaguars need a game-changer anywhere they can find one, so Clowney should be theirs if he's available.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel's draft stock is all over the place, but it shouldn't take long to find out where he winds up on draft day.
The most attention-grabbing quarterback on the market is also a gifted playmaker with a knack for turning a lost cause into a substantial gain. Although he's officially one-fourth of an inch under 6 feet tall, his height should not offset his athleticism and pocket presence.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Oakland is the type of team to be charmed by the kid with the cannon arm and untapped upside. The Raiders also need a quarterback desperately, so Blake Bortles looks like a match.
But the UCF standout is no sure thing. As Matt Richer of Prediction Machine noted, via The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre, Bortles "has only played against four ranked opponents these past two seasons" and "50 percent of his career interceptions (9) have come in these four games."
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, D/OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack keeps climbing up the food chain.
The Buffalo linebacker earned national spotlight after notching 10.5 sacks during his senior year. In his latest rankings, NFL's Mel Kiper Jr. vaulted Mack to the top of his leaderboard.
Atlanta recorded just 32 sacks last season while allowing a 66.1 opposing completion percentage, so the Falcons could use a bull-rusher such as Mack to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Buccaneers lost 361 yards in sacks last season, which ranked 30th in the NFL. Despite their yearning to run, they averaged a mediocre 3.8 yards per carry. Tampa Bay should pounce and snatch Greg Robinson off the board to shield whomever wins the starting quarterback job for Lovie Smith.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Responsible for 11.5 of Minnesota's 41 sacks, Jared Allen is looking for a new home. With Allen, the Vikings finished second-to-last with 397.6 total yards allowed per game. Without Allen, they're in bigger trouble.
Quarterback will have to wait. The Vikings will select Anthony Barr, whose rapid burst should help overcome his unpolished game. He's a gamble in the top 10, but he can become a Pro-Bowler who racks up the sacks.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Bills are great at pressuring the quarterback, but they don't fare as well at keeping their guy safe under center. After allowing 48 sacks in 2013, look for them to claim Jake Matthews to protect E.J. Manuel during his second season.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Detroit could go all-in on offense and select Mike Evans, but that's an imprudent choice, as they poached Golden Tate from the Seattle Seahawks.
The passing defense needs some reinforcements, and Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert distanced himself from competing defensive backs by clocking the fastest 40 time at the position. His coverage skills span far past his speed, justifying him as a top-10 selection.
11. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Titans already brought in Wesley Woodyard for their updated 3-4 scheme, but they could still use a young impact player up the middle. Enter Alabama's C.J. Mosley, who should immediately help improve a defense rated No. 22 by Football Outsiders' DVOA.
He has a fan in the Sun Sentinel's Omar Kelly:
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Replenishing their offensive line should remain the Giants' priority even after signing Geoff Schwartz. For those who think No. 12 is too high, NFL.com's Gil Brandt listed Taylor Lewan as one of nine players worthy of No. 1 pick consideration:
Lewan has been a well-kept secret of late and has been a little overshadowed by Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews, but he was another of my standouts from the combine. He has a solid football background -- his dad, Dave, was an offensive lineman at the University of Minnesota -- and played four years at Michigan. He might be best known as the lineman involved in Jadeveon Clowney's infamous hit from the Outback Bowl, but if you look at the tape closely, Clowney didn't dominate him; they were both really good on the play.
Don't expect Houston to give him much thought at No. 1, but New York should grab him with the 12th selection.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Operating under the notion that St. Louis selected Watkins with its first pick, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is now the way to go with the second choice. The top three offensive linemen are off the board, but Clinton-Dix gives the Rams a premier defensive back to patrol their defense.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
This one is simple. The Bears sported the league's worst defense last year, which knocked them out of playoff contention. Timmy Jernigan is a big defensive tackle who can stuff that massive hole up the middle. What's not to like?
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Pittsburgh's passing ranked ninth in yards allowed, but Football Outsiders measured it 19th against the pass. Considering Ike Taylor will turn 34 right before the draft, the Steelers could use Darqueze Dennard for some much-needed youth in the secondary.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
There are few certainties in the NFL draft, but the Cowboys absolutely need some form of defensive help. A year after ranking last in total yards allowed, they were forced to watch DeMarcus Ware bolt to Denver due to limited cap space.
Undersized tackle Aaron Donald (6'1", 285 pounds) vaulted his draft stock at the combine, showing superb athleticism for his position. Matt Miller, B/R's very own scouting guru, is on the Donald bandwagon:
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
While the Ravens struggled offensively last year, they'll be hesitant to invest heavily in a skill-position player, as Dennis Pitta is returning and Steve Smith is arriving.
But they can still help Joe Flacco by cementing the offensive line, which recently lost Michael Oher to the Tennessee Titans. Zack Martin can fill whatever hole exists in the line, and he's a dependable bet to suit up for 16 games a season.
18. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The New York Jets can thank Steve Smith for Mike Evans falling into their lap.
A few days ago, I would have tabbed Baltimore to secure Evans just before New York had the chance, but signing Smith lessens the probability of Baltimore grabbing a wideout during the first round. Geno Smith can finally test his arm by throwing deep jump balls to his new 6'5" target.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Miami's offensive line needs a fresh start, so look for the Dolphins to secure a new anchor in Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio. A year after allowing a league-high 58 sacks, they need all the help they can get in the trenches.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Arizona's defense challenged Seattle and San Francisco for best in the NFC West and the NFL to close out 2013, but the inconsistent offense blocked the team from elite consideration. Eric Ebron will fluster defenders as a receiver while forcing the opposition to pay attention to someone other than Larry Fitzgerald.
21. Green Bay Packers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Packers weren't quite as bad against the run as their division rivals in the Windy City, but they yielded 2,000 yards on the ground, which ranked 25th. A throwback defensive tackle who can overpower the opposition, Louis Nix III could help Green Bay lower its 4.6 yards per carry allowed last season.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
In serious need of secondary help, the Eagles should be delighted to find Calvin Pryor waiting for them at pick No. 22. He can dish out bone-crushing hits, but the Louisville safety also roams the field with precision. The league's worst passing defense needs Pryor's protection.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks' blazing speed would play wonderfully in Andy Reid's offensive passing schemes. The Oregon State wideout could make a killing in the middle of the field when Jamaal Charles needs a breather and Dwayne Bowe is MIA.
He might not last to Kansas City, though. According to ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, sources say the Jets were "all over" Cooks during his pro day:
If Evans gets picked ahead of Gang Green, which is a plausible scenario, it could start a domino effect that would unite Cooks with the Jets and leave the Chiefs searching elsewhere.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals rated among the league's best passing defenses, but the lion's share of the credit belongs to the front seven. With Terence Newman set to celebrate his 36th birthday when the season begins, a younger corner wouldn't hurt.
Jason Verrett has all the skills a team could want in a corner, but the 5'9" defensive back gets overlooked due to his height. According to FoxSports.com's Ross Jones, the size concerns are beginning to perturb Verrett:
At first I didn’t worry about it, I just wanted to show up at the Combine and pro day. Now they still have questions about my size, I’m like what else do you want me to prove? My size will not stop me from doing what I have to do. If I was 6-1 or 6-2, that doesn’t necessarily mean I can cover someone. I always say, don’t let the measurables take away from the game of football.
As long as he can make plays, his stature shouldn't knock him out of Round 1.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Chargers were lucky to pull off their miraculous playoff bid despite owning the league's fourth-worst passing defense. But if San Diego wants to become more than a nine-win team that's dangerous due to its explosive passing attack, it needs a corner such as Bradley Roby to silence the opposing aerial assaults.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The offensive linemen deserving a first-round selection are off the table, so Cleveland will divert its attention to the secondary. With Joe Haden shutting down one side, it's crucial to not have a liability dispatching the other end of the field.
Kyle Fuller may seem like a reach here, but he shows great instincts in coverage to match his lateral quickness. Miller expects him to ascent into the opening round:
27. New Orleans Saints: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
There's no need for New Orleans to replace Lance Moore or Darren Sproles this early in the game, and an already-strong secondary is now studly with the addition of Jairus Byrd. That just leaves the front seven.
Opponents exploited the ground game, attacking the Saints' Achilles' heel to success. Ra'Shede Hageman is a lofty wager, but the Saints are sitting this far in the first round because they're deep enough to support such a gamble.
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