NFL executives are going to think themselves silly before the 2014 draft begins on May 8.
The process starts simply enough, as talent evaluators watch the college games and form reasonable conclusions. NCAA success hardly forebodes NFL stardom, but at least they're perusing actual game footage to gauge players' ability against actual opponents.
Once the season has concluded, however, we're reduced to rating prospects on glorified gym sessions and shifting thoughts without any changing circumstances. After all, something has to fill the football void, and locating the right job candidates becomes super important when an entry-level gig pays millions.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Blake Bortles has higher upside. Johnny Manziel will draw more ratings and fanfare. Jadeveon Clowney and Sammy Watkins could become bigger impact players than any available quarterback.
Houston has several choices in play with no clear favorite. While his stock appears to be heading south among people who place too much of an onus on pro day workouts, Teddy Bridgewater is still the safe bet. Grantland's Bill Barnwell mocked the pro day process, which has failed to properly forecast future success in past years.
Think about recently failed quarterback prospects and, chances are, you’ll come across a guy who had a good pro day and struggled to stay accurate under pressure. Russell is just one classic example. Blaine Gabbert had a wonderful pro day. Jake Locker was 40-for-42 versus air during his highly regarded performance. Samesies for Brandon Weeden and Mark Sanchez. Even Alex Smith wowed coaches with his transition from a spread offense during his pro day, a performance that very well might have pushed him ahead of Aaron Rodgers on the 49ers’ draft board. In each case, these quarterbacks struggled to handle professional pass rushes, leading to inaccuracy, higher sack rates, larger risks of injuries, and (considering Smith’s draft status) disappointing professional careers.
Bridgewater is an accurate passer most equipped to conquer an NFL defense in 2014, and that's what the Texans need right now.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Too high? This is a draft class with a handful of solid talent but no franchise-saver, so the Rams would be wise to consider once again trading down from the No. 2 spot. If not, Sammy Watkins presents the biggest improvement for the league's No. 27 passing offense that is poised to give Sam Bradford one more chance to cement himself as a franchise signal-caller.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Not high enough? Houston or St. Louis could throw the team-needs lists out the window and stockpile talent with Jadeveon Clowney. According to The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran, the Jaguars will worry about quarterbacks later if they can secure the explosive defensive end with the third pick.
"If Houston takes a quarterback and St. Louis an offensive tackle with the first two picks, the general feeling at the [NFL's annual meeting] was the Jaguars would draft Clowney at No. 3."
No quarterback in this draft pool can save the Jaguars, so they might as well grab the player with the highest ceiling and hope he reaches his peak.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
A real first-round wild card, Johnny Manziel could get snagged in the top three or last until Cleveland's No. 26 pick. Appraisers are all over the place on where to draft the polarizing quarterback, so it's hard to picture every team with a need under center passing him up in the top 10.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
At this point, this is probably personal preference more so than the probable result. Everyone is salivating over Blake Bortles, who has the size and overall "look" of a quarterback more than the other candidates.
But can he play football better than them? B/R's own Matt Miller said he wouldn't be surprised to see the highly touted prospect underwhelm in the NFL.
You've likely heard that Bortles has a big arm, but he doesn't with his poor technique. He could if a coach is able to align his mechanics, but game film shows a passer who likes to float balls into the hands of his receivers.
As Bortles stands now, he would be a low-level NFL starter without development. The scary proposition when drafting him early is that he may not develop, which will lead to a disappointing career and quick removal of a franchise-quarterback label.
He's a strong but dangerous option at No. 1, but he makes more sense here for Oakland at No. 5, who now has a short-term fallback option in Matt Schaub.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
The growing consensus is Khalil Mack will be an awesome NFL player. NFL Media's Mike Mayock believes the Buffalo standout should go No. 1 (via Vikings.com). B/R's Erik Frenz called him "the next Von Miller." On ESPN's NFL Live, Merril Hoge labeled the linebacker head and shoulders above the other draft hopefuls.
"Khalil Mack is the best football player in this draft, by a MILE!" - Merril Hoge on NFL LIVE— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 19, 2014
If the high demand for quarterbacks allows Mack to slip outside the top five, the Falcons should say "Thank you" and grab the well-rounded defender to remold a unit that tied for 27th in total yards allowed last year.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Tampa Bay has talent at the skill positions with two solid quarterbacks set to compete for the starting job. Rather than make a flashy move, the Buccaneers should bolster the offensive line by adding Auburn's Greg Robinson to the trenches.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The knock on Anthony Barr is that he's too one-dimensional as a pass-rusher, but that skill is off the charts. It's also an area Minnesota needs to address after losing Jared Allen, the defense's focal point since 2008. Barr is falling down some draft boards, but Miller has kept him steady in the top 10.
Couldn't tell ya. Top 10 player here still. RT @JSat5: why has everyone cooled on Anthony Barr all of the sudden?— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 25, 2014
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
No team ran more than the Buffalo Bills last season, whose 48 sacks surrendered was tied for the NFL's fourth-worst mark. Sounds like somebody needs some offensive line help. Luckily for them, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews is still available, giving them one less starting spot to worry about for the next decade.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The NFL's most baffling squad again finished well below its talent level. Untimely turnovers and missed offensive opportunities late in the fourth quarter always get the attention, but the secondary was Detroit's real weak link in 2013. Justin Gilbert could create turnovers on the other end for a change.
11. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald continues to move up the draft board, now falling just shy of the top 10 as Tennessee removes him from the available pool. Rotoworld's Greg Peshek measured pass-rush efficiency among all incoming defensive tackles, and Donald rated first by a wide margin.
We can see that Aaron Donald is nearly twice as efficient in pass rush as the next best DTs on the list. Coming in with a PRR of 6.42, his efficiency getting after the quarterback matches what you’d expect to see from the very best pass rushing linebackers and defensive ends in both college and the NFL. Frankly, this metric is exceptional for a defensive tackle.
After beefing up the offensive line last offseason, Tennessee could free up its linebackers by plugging Donald in up front.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
According to Kyle Feldscher of MLive.com, Taylor Lewan is facing assault charges from an incident in early December. If found guilty, he could face 93 days of jail time while sullying his name in the eyes of potential employers.
Should the hearing clear him of any wrongdoing, the Giants should look to give Eli Manning another layer of protection after a porous offensive line damaged their 2013 campaign.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Rams' secondary would greatly benefit from Ha Ha Clinton-Dix patrolling the field on Sundays. After playing under Nick Saban's pro-style defense, he should be ready to immediately help St. Louis as a balanced safety who can cover and tackle.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Signing Jared Allen will help the Bears forget Julius Peppers, but they still need a defensive tackle to halt a leaky rushing defense that couldn't stop a refrigerator from running on them. Plug Florida State's Timmy Jernigan in the hole, and they at least shouldn't rank last again in rushing yards relinquished.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Steelers could make a big splash by pairing Antonio Brown with Mike Evans, giving them a vicious one-two punch at wideout. Manziel's former teammate has drawn lavish praise leading up to the draft. NFL Media analyst Gil Brandt is one of his biggest fans.
Mike Evans has the best hands I've seen since Calvin Johnson.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 27, 2014
16. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
It's not good when the league's worst defense loses its star defensive player, right? In that case, the Cowboys find themselves in a tough predicament, as the top available defensive ends (Kony Ealy, Dee Ford) are reaches at this pick. Louis Nix III won't help replace DeMarcus Ware's explosiveness, but he can clog some running lanes for Dallas.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
The Ravens allowed 48 sacks last season, 10 more than during the 2012 campaign that later produced a championship. Some small fixes here and there can help them return to the postseason, so they'll make a subdued pick in Notre Dame's Zack Martin.
18. New York Jets: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
According to the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta, Rex Ryan does not appreciate the Jets' inability to secure a top cornerback through free agency.
Friend of Rex Ryan chimes in on news Jets couldn't land Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (or any legit CB in free agency): "Rex is pissed." #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) March 17, 2014
Let's calm him down by selecting Darqueze Dennard. His physical style will please Ryan, whose scheme is predicated on tough play from stout corners.
19. Miami Dolphins: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Morgan Moses is a reach here, but Miami badly needs offensive line help, and it lost out on Robinson, Matthews, Lewan and Martin in this mock. The Dolphins should gamble on the massive lineman playing up to his size and keeping his play consistent on the NFL level.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Other prognosticators are more aggressive with where they slot North Carolina's Eric Ebron. For example, Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke tabbed him at No. 7. At No. 20, the Cardinals would be happy to procure a tight end with major receiving skills, but their NFC West competitors won't like it as much.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Let's jump back to Burke's mock draft, which also placed linebacker C.J. Mosley with the Packers.
Mosley’s spending most of his public time these days trying to convince NFL minds that he is fully healthy. Green Bay would be fine if the perception that Mosley is fragile lasts right up until draft day. Capable of attacking the football or dropping in coverage, Mosley has the type of game the Packers are badly missing in their linebacking corps.
A tackling machine at Alabama, Mosley's strong play against both the pass and run will convince the Packers not to let him slide any further.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
After ranking last in passing defense, the Eagles will pounce on Calvin Pryor, a ball hawk whose presence will intimidate wideouts used to exploiting Philadelphia's porous secondary. Don't make the mistake of typecasting him as a heavy hitter who can't cover.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Chiefs will have to sweat out the previous pick, since the Eagles could now be in play on Brandin Cooks after releasing DeSean Jackson. The former Oregon State receiver fits the Jackson mold as an elusive playmaker who can burn defenses using his blinding speed. Since the Chiefs are no longer pursuing Jackson, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, look for them to obtain Cooks instead.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
If he were 6'2", Jason Verrett would get taken over Dennard while pushing Gilbert for the top cornerback spot. But officially listed at 5'9", he finds himself near the end of Round 1. Unfazed by his short stature, the Bengals snagged themselves a steal in this pretend draft.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Chargers placed 13th in total offense and 12th in rushing defense, so addressing the No. 29 passing defense seems like a safe call. Another small cornerback, Bradley Roby plays bigger than his size while also harnessing enough speed to shadow slot receivers.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Continuing the cornerback run, Cleveland complements Joe Haden with Kyle Fuller, one of the offseason's biggest draft climbers. At this rate, he might not last until the Browns' second first-round pick if he keeps attracting new fans.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Going for the high-risk, high-reward ploy, the Saints make a move for Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman. While he possesses the size, speed and burst to become a significant boom at No. 27, his inconsistent play also raises some red flags.
28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Panthers ranked 29th in passing yards last season, so naturally they let their No. 1 wide receiver walk without adding anyone new to the fold. Quite a few wideouts can make a case to crack the first round, so Carolina has plenty of choices, but none contain Marqise Lee's upside.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Let's hope nobody ruins this perfect fit by selecting Jace Amaro before New England gets the chance. Bill Belichick loves implementing big tight ends with great pass-catching skills and has flourished before with two of them sharing the load. Amaro can juxtapose a healthy Rob Gronkowski and take center stage should he get sidelined again.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
San Francisco can use some wide receiver depth after Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. Not the most pro-ready prospect, Odell Beckham Jr. can shadow them during his rookie season before eventually assuming Boldin's starting role.
31. Denver Broncos: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
The reigning AFC champions solidified their defense with gaudy free-agent signings, so they'll shift their focus to the less glamorous offensive line on draft day. Stanford's David Yankey can immediately replace the departed Zane Beadles.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
To conclude the first round, Seattle has enough depth to take a flyer on Missouri's Kony Ealy, an explosive pass-rusher with elite potential. The Twitter account Represent Mizzou provided an interesting graphic comparing him to a defensive end who will go much earlier.
Ealy is still rough around the edges, but he's the type of risk the Super Bowl champions can afford to take.