The perfect mock draft is my Moby Dick. With each attempt to get my mock just right, I find myself submerging into the unknown and discovering only madness, as though I am Charles Marlow floating down the Congo in the Heart of Darkness. The draft itself is often full of more chilling twists and turns than a shave from Babo.
OK, so it's a far less literary enterprise to compile a mock draft than that. Still, there are so many unknowns—so many variables to consider—that trying to unlock the puzzle brings on a certain type of frustration that feels like it should be described by Fyodor Dostoyevsky if, you know, he had cared about such trivial things.
You'll have to forgive me for this pretentious prattle. See, I was perfectly pleased with my mock draft, but then free agency mucked everything up. Below, you'll find my revised edition that takes into account the various moves in free agency—which caused me to yank out individual hairs as I sought the perfect mock.
The horror! The horror!
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
I'll admit it, folks—I have no idea what the Houston Texans are going to do with this pick. My guess is that they would prefer to draft a quarterback, but I'm not sure a passer in this class is worth the top overall pick.
So I bet the Texans will try like crazy to move this pick, but if they can't, they'll take the top player on the board in Jadeveon Clowney. The South Carolina superstar isn't a perfect fit in a 3-4 scheme, but with hybrid defenses in vogue around the NFL, I'm sure the Texans would find a way to utilize him.
With Andrew Luck looking to dominate for years to come, the perfect antidote is a defensive line featuring J.J. Watt and Clowney. The team can always sign a stopgap at quarterback for a season and look to add a player in the second round.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Yes, Rodger Saffold somehow ended up being retained by the team—only the Oakland Raiders could make a marquee signing and lose him just as quickly—but if the Rams like him more as a guard, adding the top tackle in this year's draft would make a lot of sense.
This is a tricky selection for the Rams, because Sammy Watkins would give the team a true No. 1 receiver. The problem I have with that pick is that many of the ways Watkins can be used at the next level—as an occasional ball-carrier or a player to run off quick screens and get into space—is also how Tavon Austin should have been used by the team last year.
The Rams could also look to move this pick, but it will be trickier to do so if teams below them know Clowney is off the board and a top quarterback prospect will likely fall to them.
St. Louis will go the less sexy route and upgrade the offensive tackle position. Robinson is one of the safest selections in this draft, and his selection would represent a major upgrade.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Gus Bradley and the Jaguars are slowly but steadily rebuilding this team, and the Jags probably overachieved in 2013, if you can believe that. Adding a franchise cornerstone at quarterback is the next step.
Ignore the pro day. Ignore the questions about his arm strength or size. Bridgewater is the smartest and most NFL-ready quarterback in this draft. He's a proven winner, he won't be outworked by anyone, and you don't have to build a unique offense to support his talents (unlike, say, Johnny Manziel).
It isn't the sexy pick, but it's the smart one for the Jags and fits the direction they are taking to rebuild the team.
4. Cleveland Browns (from St. Louis via Washington): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel might be the most exciting player in this draft. He's also the most divisive.
Merrill Hoge, for one, doesn't like him at the next level one bit, as James Walker of ESPN and Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports pass along:
So Merril Hoge is really not a Johnny Manziel fan: "I think he has a pop-gun arm.. He's clearly not a first-rounder."— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) March 19, 2014
But NFL great Fran Tarkenton paid Manziel the greatest compliment of all—he compared the Texas A&M product to himself, via Jim Corbett of USA Today: "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 Wilson has some of it. But Manziel has those similarities even more so than Russell. Manziel is a quarterback savant."
He added: "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."
That's high praise, folks.
Manziel makes sense for Cleveland. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan helped to build an offense around Robert Griffin III in Washington, and he could do the same for Manziel in Cleveland. With Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron already in town, the Browns could have one of the more exciting passing offenses to watch next year.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The aforementioned Saffold fiasco means that an offensive tackle remains far and away the biggest need. This year's draft has a solid collection of second-day options at quarterback—and who knows, maybe the Raiders will go out and sign Michael Vick—so look for them to snag Jake Matthews with this pick.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack is the perfect fit for Atlanta and remains a popular player to join the team in various mocks. He'll give this team some much-needed teeth in the pass rush.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Wide receiver isn't a huge need, but after the Bucs filled so many holes on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, would they really pass up the best player on the board?
I doubt it.
Plus, anybody with reservations about Josh McCown as the team's starter—personally, I think Tampa Bay is giving up too soon on Mike Glennon, but that's a topic for another article—would feel better with him having Vincent Jackson and Watkins as targets.
In my humble opinion, this selection would make Tampa a sleeper to reach the postseason next year. It's hard to see the Bucs passing up on Watkins if he's available.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The Vikings would be thrilled if Blake Bortles fell to them here, as they desperately need a quarterback. But even better, he has the skill set to match Norv Turner's vertical passing attack, making this an ideal match.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
EJ Manuel needs a big target in the passing game. He needs a guy who can stretch the field or beat defenders on jump balls in the red zone. In other words, he needs Mike Evans, a big, physical receiver who has Spider-Man hands. I love this fit for Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
With the signing of Golden Tate in free agency, cornerback became the undisputed top need for the Lions. Gilbert is the best player available at the position and a dangerous returner to boot, which makes him an obvious pick for Detroit at No. 10.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
This is a popular pick for the Titans, with the team moving to a 3-4 hybrid defense this season. Barr is rawer than Mack, which is why he'll drop out of the top 10. However, his upside is immense, and his athleticism off the edge is impressive.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Eric Ebron is a tight end with a wide receiver's skill set, and his addition would not only upgrade the position but offset the departure of Hakeem Nicks. Eli Manning would love this pick.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
With the top two wide receivers off the board, the Rams will turn to another big need: safety. Pairing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with T.J. McDonald at safety would seriously upgrade the team's secondary.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
With Henry Melton off to the Dallas Cowboys, the Bears need to shore up the interior of the defensive line. Heck, they would have needed to upgrade the position even if Melton stuck around. Aaron Donald has impressed both on film and at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he projects to be a beast at defensive tackle at the next level.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Darqueze Dennard is the type of physical, press-man corner who seems to fit Pittsburgh's brand of defense. This is an aging secondary, so adding Dennard would ensure at least one cornerback spot was locked down for years to come.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Cowboys would be wise to bolster the defensive line, and adding an interior force like Jernigan would improve this defense. On an offense with plenty of playmakers, the one thing keeping the Cowboys from playoff contention is a dreadful defense. Jernigan would be a nice step toward remedying that.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
With Steve Smith added via free agency, Dennis Pitta re-signed and Michael Oher departing, the Ravens should focus on protecting Joe Flacco. Taylor Lewan is a steal here.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Signing Eric Decker was a great move for the Jets, but this team is still devoid of offensive weapons. Odell Beckham Jr. would give Geno Smith—or whomever the Jets end up signing, if they go that route—another player to test opposing secondaries.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Adding Branden Albert was a good start, but this offensive line still needs to be overhauled. Zack Martin will be given a look at tackle, but if he isn't up to snuff there, he can always slide over to guard. As you might have guessed, that's a position the Dolphins need a lot of help at too.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
With the signing of Jared Veldheer, the team addressed its top need at offensive tackle. That makes finding an elite rusher off the edge a top priority. If you listen to Dee Ford, he's a better pass-rusher than Clowney, so there's that. While he might be overevaluating his talents, he's a force when it comes to pressuring the quarterback.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Need, meet value. The Packers need to upgrade at the strong safety position, and Calvin Pryor is arguably the best player on the board at this point. Pryor in the secondary is the equivalent to the online player in Halo who has mastered the art of the shotgun—he'll put a hurting on you before you even know what happened.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Eagles can't go wrong upgrading any defensive position in the draft, so they'll probably take the top player on their board on that side of the ball. Kony Ealy would be the ideal player to groom in Trent Cole's role and provide another rusher off the edge for a team that could use more options at the position.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
It's no secret that the Chiefs need to improve at wide receiver. Seeing as they went hard after Emmanuel Sanders, I think they would be quite pleased to see Marqise Lee fall to them in the draft. He is a shifty, downfield threat who will run crisp routes and pair nicely with Dwayne Bowe. Alex Smith needs another weapon in the passing game, and Lee is a great fit.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Cincinnati rarely does much in free agency, so any major needs that it has to fill come via the draft. The Bengals could also look to remedy the offensive or defensive line, but with an aging core at corner, I think they'll look to improve there. Jason Verrett is a bit of a drop-off from the top two options at the position, but he's still a solid first-round talent.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre
Probably not the sexiest pick, but the Chargers need to upgrade at nose tackle, and Louis Nix III is the best option at the position in this draft. He'd be a great value here.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA
What's the good in having Manziel or Ben Tate in the running game if you can't protect the former and open up running lanes for the latter? Browns fans might want another splash in the draft after bringing Johnny Football aboard, but solidifying in the trenches is how you win football games.
27. New Orleans Saints: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Saints had a very good pass defense last season and upgraded it by adding Jairus Byrd at safety. But you can never have enough good cornerbacks, and the team could use quality depth at the position by selecting Bradley Roby.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Carolina Panthers could use their first three picks on wide receivers, and nobody would blink an eye after a catastrophic opening to free agency for the team. Kelvin Benjamin remains a bit of a project, but he's a tall (6'5") playmaker who would give Cam Newton a much-needed weapon.
29. New England Patriots: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
I've mocked exactly one player to the Patriots thus far this offseason, and it was Jace Amaro.
With Brandon Spikes departing, C.J. Mosley makes perfect sense for the Patriots. He's easily the top interior linebacker in this draft and is a great value here. He'd make an instant impact on this defense.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Adding another wide receiver makes sense for the Niners. Allen Robinson would give the team a big (6'3", 210 lbs), fast target on the outside to stretch defenses deep but also one who could go up and get the ball near the goal line.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The Broncos already dramatically improved the defense this offseason, but with a stacked roster, they can afford to take the best player on the board and build some depth in the front seven.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
With Golden Tate departing and Percy Harvin as injury-prone as he is, adding another weapon in the passing game is key. Plus, the team could use an upgrade at tight end. Jace Amaro would add another dimension to this offense and give opposing teams one more aspect of Seattle's offense to worry about on a weekly basis.