2014 NFL Draft: Rounding Up Experts' Latest Mock Draft Predictions
The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine is in the rearview mirror, and most colleges have held their pro days, so there's really only one thing left to do between now and the first night of this year's NFL draft on May 8.
Over the next month and a half or so, mock drafters and draftniks from around the globe will publish thousands of mock drafts, looking at the first round from just about every conceivable angle.
Then the draft itself will start, and we'll all be wrong.
However, that doesn't take away from the fun of looking at what might come to pass when things get started at Radio City Music Hall, and with that in mind, here's look at some recent mock drafts from some of the biggest names in the business.
Before commissioner Roger Goodell steps up to the imaginary podium, let's introduce the panel.
ESPN: It wouldn't be a party without the coiffed one, so Mel Kiper's mock draft from March 13 (subscription required) has to be in the mix.
Bleacher Report: I'd be remiss not to include the fine folks right here at Bleacher Report, so we'll turn to NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller and his post-combine mock draft from February 26.
Sports Illustrated: The illustrious Don Banks represents SI in this little endeavor, with his latest mock draft being published March 18.
CBS Sports: CBS Sports NFL writer Will Brinson offered up his most recent mock draft March 20.
USA Today: Nate Davis of USA Today rounds out our panel, with his latest mock draft from February 27.
1.01: Houston Texans
Mel Kiper: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Matt Miller: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Will Brinson: Bortles
Don Banks: Bortles
Nate Davis: Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina
After losing 14 games in a row to close out 2013, the Houston Texans have a ton of work to do to get back into contention in the AFC South.
That includes at quarterback, and while Miller admits that "This is not the pick I would make as general manager of the Houston Texans," he concedes that the Texans' hole under center is just too big not to address:
The decision will be a long and difficult one for Houston. There are four quarterbacks to consider—Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr and Bortles—as well as freaks like Jadeveon Clowney and Greg Robinson. But until you have a quarterback you believe in, you have to keep trying to get one.
Davis and Kiper were dissenting voices, with both experts predicting a defensive pick. For Kiper, that's Mack, whom Kiper says would "excel in this system as a pass-rusher and a player who can back up and make plays in space and to the edges."
1.02: St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins)
Kiper: Greg Robinson, OT Auburn
Miller: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
For the entirety of Sam Bradford's career in St. Louis, the Rams have seemingly been building around him. First it was the line. Then it was the receivers. Now it's a mixture of the two.
At least that's the way things split for our mock drafters. Three experts, including Banks, believe the Rams will look to anchor their offensive front with Robinson, who tore the roof off the building at the NFL Scouting Combine:
If St. Louis sticks, it's likely a choice between Robinson or Texas A&M's Jake Matthews at offensive tackle, or Clemson's big-play receiver Sammy Watkins. The Rams did get right tackle Rodger Saffold back in free agency in a bizarre display of classic Raiders dysfunction, but they still see him as better suited to guard, clearing the way for the supremely gifted Robinson, one of the draft's elite prospects.
A pair of drafters, however, believe the Rams will look to better the options available to Bradford in the passing game by adding the speedy wide receiver from Clemson.
Miller calls it an "easy" decision, writing that "[Watkins'] ability to dominate on the edge would make him an incredible threat in the Rams offense."
1.03: Jacksonville Jaguars
Kiper: Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Miller: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Much like with the first pick, it's defense versus a quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3 in the eyes of our panel.
This time, however, defense wins the day.
Three of the five experts included in this mock draft think Gus Bradley will find the idea of putting the uber-athletic Clowney at his "Leo" pass-rushing spot too hard to pass up.
They include Brinson, who wrote that Clowney is "someone who the Jaguars can't pass on despite the need at quarterback."
As always, there are those who disagree. Both Miller and Davis see Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as the pick, with Davis saying, "Entering Year 2 of the Jags' extensive rebuild, Bridgewater seems to be the guy best suited to stabilize the position for the short and long term."
1:04: Cleveland Browns
Kiper: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Miller: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Brinson: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
OK, it's safe to assume, given our panel's choice of picks, that the vast majority of pundits believe the Cleveland Browns will take a quarterback with the fourth overall pick.
Brinson believes the pick will be Bridgewater, calling him "the most pro-ready quarterback for a team that needs to win some games out of the gate."
Davis and Kiper slotted Bortles to the Browns, with Kiper writing, "I can see either Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel here, but this is a bet on where the Browns end up after evaluating all of them closely."
Two more draftniks predicted Manziel to the Browns, with Banks and Miller forecasting the former Texas A&M star will wind up on Lake Erie.
Manziel may be a divisive prospect, but you can't deny his talent and electric ability. He's fast, instinctive, smart and poised under pressure. His style of play may be unique, but that's part of the beauty of it. Manziel is the type of talent who can put an offense on his back and win games—and that's what the Browns need.
1.05: Oakland Raiders
Kiper: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Miller: Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Brinson: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Banks: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Davis: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
It was bound to happen eventually. In fact, on some level it's a surprise it took this long.
All five panelists selected a different player for the Raiders at No. 5. For Bleacher Report's Miller, it was Clowney. "Clowney would be a cornerstone player for a defense in need of help," Miller wrote.
Meanwhile, SI's Banks threw his support behind Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, stating, "Matthews isn't as sexy a pick as Clemson receiver Watkins, but after Oakland let Jared Veldheer walk in free agency, and then endured the Rodger Saffold blunder, an instant starter at left tackle will do just fine."
However, at the end of the day, it's hard see the Raiders passing on a quarterback, and ESPN's Kiper believes Bridgewater will be that signal-caller:
The Raiders are actively trying to improve the offensive line in free agency, the Rodger Saffold soap opera not withstanding. Austin Howard is the one name in the fold so far. This is a possible trade-down slot given the many personnel needs this team still has, but it'd be hard to pass on the most NFL-ready QB in the draft, and a player who could help turn the franchise around. The current QB depth chart in Oakland simply doesn't promise much, so Bridgewater has the potential to play early and not just survive, but change the fortunes and direction of the franchise.
1.06: Atlanta Falcons
Kiper: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Miller: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Banks: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
After winning 13 games in 2012, the Atlanta Falcons were expected to be a Super Bowl contender last year. Instead, they were an injury-ravaged four-win train wreck.
That was due to many reasons, but two of the biggest were an inability to protect their own quarterback and an inability to consistently pressure their opponents'.
The panel agrees that those needs are pressing, even if it's unsure exactly which direction the Falcons will go to address them.
For two writers, including Don Banks, Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack is the pick:
If the Falcons don't make a bid to move up to No. 2 in pursuit of Clowney, a very satisfying consolation prize would be Mack at No. 6, a player who could provide a jolt of electricity to the pass rush and three-down skills at outside linebacker.
1.07: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kiper: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Miller: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Brinson: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Davis: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
There's quite a bit of variance with this pick, due mainly to how each mocker's draft has played out to this point, but the number of options that could be available to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 7 only serves to highlight the depth at the top of the 2014 class.
With that said, it's Clemson speedster Sammy Watkins who garnered the most "votes," with Banks writing that "the Bucs would be thrilled with this scenario, in having the draft's best receiver fall into their laps at No. 7. Watkins is an elite talent with home-run ability, and he'd do a world of good for Tampa Bay's No. 1 receiver, Vincent Jackson, not to mention Josh McCown at quarterback."
For Kiper, upgrading the offense in Tampa Bay is a draft-day priority this year:
The Bucs are going to be good on the defensive side of the ball. They've added a good defensive end in Michael Johnson and a good cornerback in Alterraun Verner, and they may not be done. But they also have uncertainty at QB even with the addition of Josh McCown. And whether it's McCown or second-year option Mike Glennon, another weapon in the passing game will help, and Watkins becomes a pretty good value at this point. His experience implies a player ready to succeed early; the offense will get a bump from his presence.
1.08: Minnesota Vikings
Kiper: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Miller: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Banks: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Brinson: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (hypothetical trade with St. Louis Rams)
Only one of this year's panel included draft-day trades in his mock. That was Will Brinson of CBS Sports, who thinks the Rams would be well-served to trade up here if Jake Matthews is on the board.
"Running back this trade scenario with Matthews falling to eight and none of the top three best quarterbacks left on the board," Brinson wrote. "Minnesota can move down and Jeff Fisher can jump up and nab the piece he needs, plus bring his friend's kid into the fold."
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, however, doesn't think the Vikings will pass on a quarterback, even if it means "reaching" in the eyes of many for Carr:
Carr may not receive the attention of the other big quarterbacks, but his play on the field was top-notch. He's the lone senior of the top four quarterbacks and has played in a pro-style system at Fresno State. And if you're the Vikings, you want a pro-ready passer to step right in and help turn this team around.
Perhaps most surprising, two of the five experts on this panel feel Johnny Manziel will make it all the way to eighth overall, including Nate Davis of USA Today:
He's obviously not the prototypical pocket passer that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner is accustomed to working with. But consider how effective RBs Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore and Alfred Morris have been after being paired with multi-dimensional quarterbacks, then imagine what Adrian Peterson might do if teamed with Manziel. WRs Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings and TE Kyle Rudolph are a solid group of receivers in need of more effective quarterback play.
1.09: Buffalo Bills
Kiper: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Miller: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Davis: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Recent developments may have shaken this pick up a bit.
As Kyle Feldscher of MLive.com reports, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, who was the pick of three of the panel's experts at ninth overall, was recently charged with assault stemming from a December fight on campus.
However, it's not like the fight was a state secret, and Brinson believes that the Bills "need another tackle to protect EJ Manuel. Lewan's one of the three top tackles in this draft and might be pushed higher were it not for Robinson and Matthews on the board."
Matt Miller thinks the Bills will look to the defensive side of the ball with Mack, who could make for a fearsome trio when combined with Kiko Alonso and Brandon Spikes:
The story sounds too good to be true: local college player stays in town to be the outside force the Buffalo Bills need. But if Khalil Mack is available at pick No. 9, he should be the man for the Bills as they look to catch the New England Patriots in the AFC East.
1.10: Detroit Lions
Kiper: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Banks: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
It looks like it's one of two directions for the Detroit Lions at No. 10 in the opinion of this panel.
ESPN's Mel Kiper joins Miller in predicting the Lions will choose lanky wide receiver Mike Evans of Texas A&M:
After the Lions signed Golden Tate, the obvious reaction is to think they go another direction here. I'll counter and say that the Lions didn't just need one wide receiver, they needed two, and I'd also say that while Tate is a nice addition, he doesn't do much to ease the worry of what this offense looks like when Calvin Johnson isn't healthy. The Lions shouldn't be done at this position, and I think Evans is too good to pass up here. Tate's presence doesn't mean this is no longer a need.
However, three of the experts, including Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, think the Lions will address their leaky secondary with the addition of this year's top cornerback prospect:
The addition of receiver Golden Tate in free agency should take Detroit out of the first-round receiver market, and keep talented Texas A&M Mike Evans from cracking the top 10. But the Lions seem well-positioned to address their need for a true No. 1 cornerback, especially in a division that features Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler as opposing quarterbacks. Gilbert has the speed, size and coverage skills the NFL looks for, and he's a dangerous kickoff return threat as well.
1.11: Tennessee Titans
Kiper: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Davis: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
This is the closest we've come to a unanimous vote so far, and it's probably as close as we're going to get.
With the Tennessee Titans making the switch to a 3-4 defensive front in 2014, four of the five mock drafts included in this article have the Titans choosing UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks Barr is a perfect fit:
This is exactly the type of athlete the Titans need. Barr is long, athletic, dynamic and able to create pressure consistently off the edge. The former running back has also shown the agility to be dangerous in space, and he can be a contributor in coverage early on.
The lone dissenting voice came from Nate Davis, who wrote of Alabama's C.J. Mosley: "A fast-flowing linebacker with a team-first attitude and winning DNA infused from the Crimson Tide should fit seamlessly into a defense expected to convert to a 3-4 front."
1.12: New York Giants
Kiper: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Miller: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Brinson: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
There. That's better. All that agreement was...unsettling.
The New York Giants have more than one hole to fill, so given the options available to Big Blue here, it's not hard to see why there's a difference of opinion among the panel.
For Miller (and Davis), the team needs to address the defensive front via Missouri's Kony Ealy:
Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy is exactly the type of long, athletic, powerful defender the Giants need opposite—or next to—Jason Pierre-Paul. The days of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are over, but adding a similarly talented athlete makes sense for the Giants in this scenario. They could pull the trigger on a left tackle, but William Beatty carries a big cap number and does have some upside. Fixing the pass rush would provide better value, and it would also be a better move financially.
However, Kiper is one of a pair of experts who sees Ebron as a great replacement for the departed Brandon Myers:
The Giants are essentially without a decent tight end with Brandon Myers now in Tampa Bay. Ebron fixes that situation pretty quickly, and gives Eli Manning the kind of target I'm not sure he's really ever had when you consider the size, speed and pass-catching combination Ebron offers. The Giants also need a linebacker here, but I don't see the value lining up with the pick slot anymore -- and they haven't traditionally hit that spot in Round 1, anyway. Ebron is a player I can see landing in the top 10, so the value is pretty good here.
Brinson, on the other hand, sees Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald as a similar sort of replacement for Linval Joseph.
"After losing Linval Joseph to free agency," Brinson wrote. "the Giants are pretty thin at defensive tackle on the depth chart. Pairing the underrated Donald with Cullen Jenkins in the middle of the line would be a nice start to fixing that problem."
1.13: St. Louis Rams
Kiper: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Miller: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Banks: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Brinson: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama (hypothetical trade with Minnesota Vikings)
This pick completes the trade Will Brinson proposed earlier in the draft, with the Vikings drifting back to select Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. Brinson writes, "The secondary could use work but so could the linebacking corps and Mosley's going to be good out of the gates."
Matt Miller, on the other hand, thinks the Rams can stay put and still acquire the offensive tackle they seek:
Lewan has the ability to start immediately at left tackle, which becomes especially important if Jake Long isn't ready to start the season. Lewan is also strong enough to handle right tackle duty if/when Long is ready to go.
The only player to land on more than one mock draft was Mosley's teammate, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who Kiper believes would fill a major need for the Rams at safety:
The Rams need another wide receiver, but if (Mike) Evans isn't on the board here, they could also address another big need and grab Clinton-Dix to come in and start at free safety. Clinton-Dix has great range after playing center field in Nick Saban's Cover 1, and will come in ready to make an impact in coverage.
1.14: Chicago Bears
Kiper: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Miller: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Brinson: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Were it not for the fact that Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald is already off Will Brinson's board at CBS Sports, we'd have another 4-for-5 with pick No. 14.
Even with Donald gone, Brinson still has the Bears going the tackle route with Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, stating, "With Donald off the board and defensive tackle looking like an issue while the Bears try and re-tool their defensive line, snagging a big, athletic body like Jernigan to sit in the middle of the defensive line."
Still, for three other drafters, including Kiper, it's all about the big man from Pitt:
The Bears have already added Lamarr Houston in free agency, but that's just a starting point on this defensive line, which is still thin and was absolutely gutted by injury last season. Donald equals disruption, and no player was more of a force against opposing offenses in college football last season. He's had a good combine and a good Senior Bowl and is now worthy of this draft slot.
Don Banks echoed those sentiments over at SI:
The Bears said goodbye to Julius Peppers and acquired Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, but the interior of their defensive line still needs a hammer who can make the ballcarrier pay for toting the rock. Donald has been one of this year's risers, and his stellar work at the Senior Bowl and the combine have buttressed what the tape shows. If the Bears don't take him at No. 14, the Cowboys and ex-Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will at No. 16.
1.15 Pittsburgh Steelers
Kiper: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Miller: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Banks: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Pittsburgh Steelers may have bought themselves another year with Ike Taylor after restructuring the veteran's contract, but the overwhelming majority of this panel of draft experts expect the Steelers to look to the future in the secondary with their first pick this season.
For three draftniks, including Banks, that means Michigan's State's Darqueze Dennard, who won the Thorpe Award as college football's top defensive back in 2013:
The Mike Mitchell signing in free agency seems to eliminate safety as a first-round option, but the Steelers would still be wise to get younger in the secondary, where there's a little too much experience on hand. Dennard is a pro-ready prospect and Pittsburgh could use more defensive backs who give Dick LeBeau's defense a fighting chance against the likes of AFC North receivers A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Torrey Smith, Steve Smith and Josh Gordon.
1.16: Dallas Cowboys
Kiper: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Miller: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Brinson: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
After losing both DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher to free agency, the Dallas Cowboys are hurting up front.
The team was able to stem the bleeding a bit by signing Henry Melton, but every draft expert included here suspects the Cowboys will continue their overhaul up front in the first round of May's NFL draft.
For three of the five, including Banks, that leaves the pick as Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, who had 63 tackles and 4.5 sacks for the Seminoles in 2013:
Though the Cowboys always seem to work in mysterious ways, there's little intrigue remaining when it comes to Dallas' first-round pick. With DeMarcus Ware gone to Denver, Jason Hatcher now in Washington and Anthony Spencer still making visits in free agency, Dallas is about 99.6 percent certain to select the best available defensive lineman on its board.
1.17: Baltimore Ravens
Kiper: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Miller: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Banks: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Davis: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Baltimore Ravens were a cautionary tale of how fickle fortune can be in the NFL last year, from Super Bowl champions in 2012 to out of the playoffs altogether a year ago.
Much of their struggles last year were the result of an inconsistent passing game. Although the Ravens have already added veteran wideout Steve Smith, both Matt Miller and Will Brinson expect the team to continue adding weapons in the passing game by drafting speedy North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron.
"Ebron can play in-line (next to the offensive tackle on the line of scrimmage) or in a flex position (in motion, in the slot, etc.)," Miller said. "That versatility is what the Ravens need, as Ebron would give Flacco a legit yards-after-catch threat in the middle of the field."
Mel Kiper also went the receiver route, only with Brandin Cooks of Oregon State.
Granted, Kiper's mock was published prior to Smith's signing, but Kiper's hair was on the job in that regard.
"I think Baltimore could still make an addition in the passing game before the end of free agency," Kiper (and his hair) wrote, "but this [wide receiver] will remain a need."
1.18: New York Jets
Kiper: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Brinson: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Davis: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
This should come as a surprise to no one, but the New York Jets need wide receivers, even after adding Eric Decker in free agency.
The hole at wideout in New York didn't escape the attention of the panel, as all five draftniks forecast general manager John Idzik and the Jets going the wideout route in the first round this year.
For Will Brinson of CBS Sports, Mike Evans of Texas A&M is the pick, although Brinson allows this may be wishful thing for fans of Gang Green:
Dream scenario for the Jets? Maybe an impossible scenario too — I had to double check I didn't already have Evans off the board. But think about if their offense was suddenly Geno Smith/Michael Vick throwing to Eric Decker and Evans. They need a corner too but that seems kind of acceptable in terms of potential production in the pass game.
Nate Davis of USA Today, however, went with USC's Marqise Lee, who struggled through a disappointing 2013 season:
They haven't spent a first-round pick on offense since 2009 (QB Mark Sanchez), but even defensive-minded head coach Rex Ryan would probably admit it's time to put more weapons around second-year QB Geno Smith.
With that said, though, three drafters, including ESPN's Mel Kiper, look for the Jets to add Odell Beckham, who topped 1,100 receiving yards at LSU last year.
Free agency factors here, but the addition of Eric Decker is only helpful, not a solution at the wide receiver position on this roster. And again, you can't overthink free agency as it relates to the draft, because the question of ceiling isn't the same. Beckham has a higher ceiling than anybody in the free-agent market, and has the kind of experience that could make him a quicker conversion than many. A great physical talent, Beckham has improved as a pass-catcher and pushed himself into this range in the draft.
1.19: Miami Dolphins
Kiper: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Miller: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Brinson: Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, S, Alabama
As the Miami Dolphins entered the 2014 season, there was one need that stuck out like a sore thumb.
The Dolphins need offensive linemen in a huge way, even after the addition of free-agent tackle Branden Albert.
As Don Banks of Sports Illustrated points out, a large number of mocks (including his and two others here) have had Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin locked in for the Dolphins for weeks now:
About nine out of every 10 mocks have locked in on Martin to the Dolphins at No. 19 for months now, and there's little reason to not go along with the crowd in this case. After targeting ex-Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert as its top priority in free agency, Miami still needs pieces for its rebuilt offensive line. Martin is versatile enough to play both right tackle or guard in the NFL, and that makes him an especially good fit for what the Dolphins face this season. Besides, this pick saves Miami a little money, with it already having offensive linemen-sized jerseys with the name Martin on the back of them.
Two pundits, however, look for the Dolphins to instead fill defensive losses, with Matt Miller of Bleacher Report looking for the Fins to replace Paul Soliai with Notre Dame behemoth Louis Nix:
Louis Nix didn't have the best combine you'll ever see for a defensive tackle, but this is a man who shows up on film. Nix is an anchor against the run and has shown the quickness to split blockers and pressure the quarterback. That's exactly what Miami needs as it rebuilds its defensive line.
1.20: Arizona Cardinals
Kiper: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Miller: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
Brinson: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Davis: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
It's interesting that even though the Arizona Cardinals fielded a top-10 defense last year, every draft expert on this panel expects the team to address the defensive side of the ball in the first round of May's draft.
For Kiper, it's the back end of the defense and cornerback Darqueze Dennard. However, Kiper admits that "free agency certainly plays a role here," and the addition of Antonio Cromartie could signal a change in plans.
The rest of the panel believes the Redbirds will look to bolster the pass rush, with Auburn defensive end Dee Ford getting the nod from Miller and Banks.
Of the 252-pound Ford, who had 10.5 sacks in 2013, Banks wrote, "I see them in the market for more pass rush -- the ancient John Abraham can't play forever, can he? -- and choosing between Ford and Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy."
Ealy, who tallied eight sacks for the Tigers in 2014, just so happens to be the pick by Brinson:
Signing Antonio Cromartie beefs up their cornerback position in a big way and makes that secondary seriously scary. Adding a piece to the front seven like Ealy, who's crazy athletic, only makes this top-10 defense more versatile.
1:21: Green Bay Packers
Kiper: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Miller: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Brinson: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Davis: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Green Bay Packers made the playoffs last year despite a litany of injuries, but that doesn't mean there aren't holes to fill in Titletown.
Most of the panel expects the Packers to address a defense that has struggled in recent years, although Davis predicts a draft-day slide will drop Ebron into Green Bay's laps.
For Kiper, Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who had 108 tackles in 2013, gets the nod for the Packers:
While I know depth on the defensive line is a concern, Mosley is a great value at this point and is a player who can step in right away at inside linebacker and improve the unit. His ability in coverage from the linebacker position surpasses that of anybody in this draft, and if he can stay healthy he's going to be an impact player early on.
Three draftniks look for the Packers to address the safety spot. Miller and Banks slotted Mosley's teammate, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, to Green Bay, while Brinson thinks it will be Louisville's Calvin Pryor.
"Ted Thompson prefers going best player available," he wrote, "but there's a nice convergence of need and value here in the hard-hitting Pryor, who will improve the back end of the Packers defense."
1.22: Philadelphia Eagles
Kiper: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Banks: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Brinson: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Davis: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
The Philadelphia Eagles were a surprise playoff team last year, rising from worst in the NFC East in 2012 to division champs in 2013. It was no thanks to Philly's pass defense. At all. Even a tiny bit. No team in the NFL allowed more yards per game through the air last year.
It's that pass defense the draftniks are focused on this year. Kiper and Miller both project Calvin Pryor falling far enough for the Eagles to snatch up.
Banks, on the other hand, believes Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby will get the call at No. 22:
The Eagles have a bunch of good choices at No. 22, but they're all geared toward upgrading the product on defense. Roby or Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller would add a quality cornerback prospect, and that's where I'm leaning after Philly stocked up at safety in free agency, adding Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos and re-signing Nate Allen.
Brinson agrees on the position but differs on the player. "Philly keeps building a sneaky-good defense," he wrote, "and adding a cover corner like Verrett, even if he lacks a little in size, will only serve them better for the future."
Davis, however, mocked the last player you want to see in coverage to the Eagles: 340-pound Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix.
According to Davis, "Philly was treading water at the nose in 2013 as it converted to a 3-4 defense. Nix would solve that issue swimmingly."
1.23: Kansas City Chiefs
Kiper: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Miller: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota
Brinson: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Davis: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Another of 2013's surprise playoff teams, the Kansas City Chiefs have some work to do in the 2014 NFL draft. In addition to the holes opened along the offensive front by free agent defections, the defensive end and wide receiver spots are also areas of need.
It's those two positions that got the attention of the experts. Will Brinson of CBS Sports forecasts LSU wideout Odell Beckham will land in Kansas City, while both Don Banks of Sports Illustrated and ESPN's Mel Kiper believe USC's Marqise Lee will be the Chiefs' choice:
The Chiefs are going to be a good defense again in 2014 if they stay healthy, but there's still uncertainty on the offensive side of the ball, and while you can question the ceiling of Alex Smith at this point in his career, the Chiefs feel they can win with him and also won't be finding a better solution at this stage in the draft. But they can find Smith some help, and that's Lee, who brings a lot of refinement as a route runner and the ability to turn a short catch into a big play. And if he goes this low, the chip on his shoulder could also help.
Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller, however, went the defensive route, predicting the Chiefs will look to the Big Ten and Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman. "Ra'Shede Hageman is a freak athlete," Miller said, "but his film at Minnesota was too often inconsistent. That's why he's available at No. 23 when he has legit top-15 talent."
Nate Davis of USA Today concurs that defensive line is the way to go, but he went in another direction with Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt:
Finding players who can play the five-technique in three-man fronts isn't easy, which is why the Chiefs took soon-to-be free agent Tyson Jackson third overall five years ago. Wideout is also a consideration, but Kansas City should be able to find a quality one down the board.
1.24: Cincinnati Bengals
Kiper: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Miller: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Banks: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Brinson: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Davis: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
In each of the last three years, the Cincinnati Bengals have advanced to the playoffs. In each of those seasons, however, the team has also been one-and-done.
The defense in Cincinnati is the strength of the team, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. So much so, in fact, that all five drafters hit the defensive side of the ball at No. 24.
Banks sees Kony Ealy as a more than adequate replacement for the departed Michael Johnson up front:
Another potential no-brainer. The Bengals lost perhaps their best pure pass rusher in free agency when defensive end Michael Johnson jumped to Tampa Bay's ship, but Ealy is a versatile talent who has the size and instincts to consistently get to the quarterback.
For Miller, Brinson and Davis, the secondary is the target, with Miller tabbing Michigan's State's Darqueze Dennard as the Bengals' first draft pick of 2014:
Dennard is a grabby, physical cornerback with the toughness to play in press coverage early in his career. You'd like to see better long speed and hip flexibility, but he ran much better than expected at the combine and answered many questions critics had about his burst and sprint speed.
Dennard would step right into a starting job in Cincinnati as the team looks to replace aging veterans Terence Newman and Adam Jones.
1.25: San Diego Chargers
Kiper: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Miller: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Banks: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Davis: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
The San Diego Chargers rode a second-half surge all the way to the playoffs in 2013, but with the NFL's 29th-ranked pass defense a year ago, upgrading the secondary has to be at the top of the Chargers' offseason wish list.
The Bolts didn't make much noise in that regard in free agency, so it's not exactly a surprise that four of our five draftniks predict the Chargers will take a cornerback at No. 25.
For Kiper, it's Ohio State's Roby, while Miller predicts San Diego will turn to Jason Verrett of TCU:
Verrett has the toughness and ball skills to be a very good outside cornerback in the NFL. He's quick and rangy and shows the instincts to get in place to make big plays. He finds the ball well and has the tools to excel in man or zone coverage.
However, two mock drafters, including Banks, believe the pick will be Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller:
The Chargers' pass defense has to contend with Denver's Peyton Manning twice a year and has to do better than last season's No. 29 ranking. Fuller and TCU's Jason Verrett are seen as consensus late first-round cornerbacks in this draft, and either one would give San Diego more to work with in the coverage department. Fuller has more prototypical NFL size, but Verrett plays larger than his 5-foot-9, 185-pound measurables.
1.26: Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts)
Kiper: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Miller: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Banks: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Davis: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
The last time the Cleveland Browns had two first-round picks (in 2012), things went so well that neither player the Browns selected (Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden) is even on the team any more.
It's the trade of Richardson last year that produced this second bite at the apple in the first round for the Browns in 2014, and the majority of these pundits believe that pick will be spent on a wide receiver to pair with Josh Gordon and the quarterback the Browns drafted at No. 4.
Two pundits, including Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, believe that player will be Marqise Lee of USC:
The team has a nice set of talent with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, but they need at least one more receiver. Marqise Lee is a nice fit, as he has the speed to pick up yards after the catch and is a top-tier route-runner, having shown the consistent ability to run himself open in coverage.
However, Don Banks of Sports Illustrated likes the idea of adding fuel to the fire by supplementing Gordon with the 4.33 speed of Brandin Cooks of Oregon State:
Alas, we've got the Brownies taking Manziel, so they'll get him another receiving option to go along with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron at No. 26. Cooks made himself a viable first-round option with that mind-boggling 4.33 in the 40 at the combine.
1.27: New Orleans Saints
Kiper: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
Miller: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Davis: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The New Orleans Saints got back in the postseason in 2013, winning a playoff game largely because of a defense that improved from historically awful to fourth in the NFL under new coordinator Rob Ryan.
This panel is of the mind that the Saints will continue to add pieces to that defense in the first round of May's draft. For Nate Davis of USA Today, it's Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, while ESPN's Mel Kiper is one of two drafters who selected Auburn pass-rusher Dee Ford:
The Saints have made a big bet at safety with the addition of Jairus Byrd, but while the back end of the defense is locked down, and the front is in decent shape with the growth of Cameron Jordan, John Jenkins and Akiem Hicks, the Saints could really use an edge rusher. Ford isn't a three-down player, but he can be a constant problem for offenses when he's on the field as a speed rusher. Given the QBs the Saints have to deal with, speed off the edge will be useful.
Miller, on the other hand, is one of two experts who think the Saints will look to solidify the middle of the defense with Alabama's C.J. Mosley, although the pick brings with it a significant caveat:
C.J. Mosley's draft stock remains all over the place at this point in time. He's clearly the top inside linebacker in the class, but I've been told that teams are afraid of his knees and may not clear him medically. Mosley has produced on the field, though, and that's tough to overlook.
The New Orleans Saints may be in a position at pick No. 27 where they feel the value is worth the risk. Mosley, if cleared, has NaVorro Bowman-like athleticism at the middle linebacker position. His range allows him to be a threat on outside runs and in pursuit against the pass, but he's also strong enough to make plays against the run on inside plays.
1.28: Carolina Panthers
Kiper: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Miller: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Davis: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
It sounds strange to say this about the No. 2 seed from the NFC a year ago, but the Carolina Panthers are in trouble.
Left tackle Jordan Gross retired. The wide receiver position was so nuked by free agency that recent signee Jerricho Cotchery is now Carolina's top wideout.
It's the wide receiver position Davis sees getting some love with the addition of LSU's Odell Beckham, but the rest of the panel is split amongst a pair of offensive tackles.
Two experts, including Miller, feel the Panthers will add Notre Dame's Zack Martin:
The best move, and most likely one, would be to draft a left tackle. Zack Martin may project at guard for some, but his game film and performance during Senior Bowl week proved to me that he can handle the job of protecting Cam Newton's blind side. Martin understands angles and space and is agile enough to keep himself in front of edge rushers.
Two others, including Banks, went with Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, despite the 322-pounder's disastrous showing at February's NFL Scouting Combine:
The Panthers depth charts at receiver and offensive line have gotten wiped out this offseason, but there's more receiving talent to be had than offensive tackle talent in rounds 2-7. Unless Carolina decides it has to have Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin, Kouandjio is the pick as a replacement option for retired left tackle Jordan Gross. Kouandjio's stock took a hit at the combine with health issues regarding a knee injury, but if it checks out OK, his value is too high to pass on this late in the round.
1.29: New England Patriots
Kiper: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Miller: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The fact that we have a consensus among four of five mock drafters with the 29th pick is pretty remarkable.
Sort of like New England's run to another AFC East title in 2013.
Sure, the Patriots are expected to win the division annually, but it's the way they did it. The passing game was a shadow of its usual high-octane self last year. The middle of the defense was torn to pieces, first by injuries, and then by the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game.
It's that defense, and the effect of Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman on that defense, that caught the eye of four experts, including Davis:
His 6-6, 310-pound frame and 34-inch arms would theoretically fit nicely on a D-line that plays multiple schemes but needs to get younger after struggling badly in 2013 while veterans DTs Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly spent most of the year in street clothes.
There was a lone dissenting voice, however, with Miller writing that Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro's steady hands and 106 grabs last year would look pretty good in Beantown:
Jace Amaro can be the weapon the team lost when Aaron Hernandez was arrested. While not as fast in space, Amaro can be a flex tight end and a matchup nightmare with his size (6'5", 265 lbs), reach and speed. Match him up in the slot with Rob Gronkowski in-line, and you have the personnel to be dynamic, versatile and very frustrating for the opposition.
1.30: San Francisco 49ers
Kiper: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Miller: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Banks: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Brinson: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
So close and yet so far away.
That's been the story of the San Francisco 49ers the past three years. Three trips to the NFC title game. One trip to the Super Bowl. Zero championships.
As the 49ers try yet again to make that final (and most difficult) step, this panel has a variety of names in mind for the 30th pick, but those names focus on two positions.
Will Brinson of CBS Sports, Nate Davis of USA Today and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller predict the 49ers will look to get faster and younger at wide receiver, with Davis and Miller going with Oregon State's Brandin Cooks. Miller writes:
His 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine proves that his speed is legit, and his production at Oregon State led to him winning the Biletnikoff Award in 2013. Cooks has the speed, hands, body control and range to be excellent when working down the field in a loaded San Francisco offense.
Don Banks of Sports Illustrated and Mel Kiper of ESPN, however, focused San Francisco's first-round pick on the secondary. For Banks, it was TCU's Jason Verrett, who picked off two passes and broke up 14 others for the Horned Frogs in 2013:
With Carlos Rogers cut and Tarell Brown signing across the bay in Oakland, cornerback should rank highest on San Francisco's need list (Vikings free-agent cornerback Chris Cook was added). Verrett is viewed as a likely slot corner in the NFL. He's undersized at 5-9, 185, but he's extremely competitive and athletic, and provides tight coverage.
1.31: Denver Broncos
Kiper: Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
Miller: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Banks: Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA
Brinson: Su'a Filo
Davis: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Denver Broncos had a fantastic season in 2013. Right up until the last game, that is.
After getting pasted by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, this panel has the Broncos going in any number of directions with their first pick on May 8.
Davis went the wideout route, replacing the departed Eric Decker with Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin.
"Denver can add defensive parts later," he wrote, "but Benjamin's too intriguing to bypass."
Kiper and Miller chose to add those defensive pieces early on, with Kiper addressing Denver's hole at middle linebacker with the addition of Chris Borland of Wisconsin:
Free agency rears its head. I actually had the Broncos taking a pass-rusher here initially, but the addition of DeMarcus Ware -- and I hope he stays healthy -- makes change an option. If you look at only the physical profile, you wouldn't consider Borland a first-round pick, but the tape tells another story. Borland isn't just a clean-up tackler, he's an instinctive attacker of the backfield, and a relentlessly instinctive player who can get on the field right away and make plays. I know for a fact there are teams that have him with a Round 1 grade. We'll see.
Banks and Brinson, however, looked to fill another hole created by free agency, swapping out Zane Beadles for Xavier Su'a-Filo of UCLA.
"Stanford's David Yankey and UCLA's Su'a-Filo are the top-rated guards in the draft," Banks said, "but based on upside and athleticism, we're going with the fast-rising former Bruin."
1.32: Seattle Seahawks
Kiper: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Miller: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Brinson: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Davis: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
What do you get for the team that has everything, including a shiny new Lombardi trophy? Well, our mock draft panel closes things out with a handy-dandy foursome of suggestions for your first-round gift-giving needs in the Pacific Northwest.
Kiper and Banks suggest Stephon Tuitt, because in Seattle you can never go wrong with another pass-rusher.
"I think the Seahawks could develop him (Tuitt) into something special," Kiper writes. "You see the physical profile, the versatility and the flash plays and you think he could be the next Richard Seymour."
Brinson proposes speedy wideout Brandin Cooks of Oregon State, who would likely make Seahawks fans forget Golden Tate pretty quickly. And Miller projects Cyrus Kouandjio as a potential upgrade at right tackle:
Right tackle Breno Giacomini has a Super Bowl ring, but his spot could still be upgraded in 2014. With a chronic knee injury keeping Cyrus Kouandjio off some teams' boards, as reported Chase Goodbread of NFL Network, he could slip way down the board. Of course, it only takes one team to love him, and the play he showed on the field for Alabama merits a first-round pick, but that knee injury definitely raises red flags.
The final suggestion of the first round, from Davis, predicts quarterback Russell Wilson getting another reliable target in the passing attack with the addition of Amaro, who topped 100 catches for the Red Raiders a year ago.
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