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NFL Mock Draft 2014: Excellent Landing Spots for Top College Stars

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NFL Mock Draft 2014: Excellent Landing Spots for Top College Stars
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A hundred different opinions on a hundred different prospects. Team needs to consider. The possibilities of trades shifting the entire board. The ever-present danger of a team falling in love with a prospect and drafting him way earlier than anyone expected. 

The reason the NFL draft has become as popular as any actual sporting event is because, with so many variables in play, the entire board becomes one giant, shifting puzzle that morphs and alters with each selection. 

It's brilliant stuff, really. If the NFL draft were a show, it would be Game of Thrones. Allegiances shift. Counter-intelligence rules the day. People unexpectedly die.

Okay, not that last part, but you get the drift. Now that I've gotten you all worked up, let's take a look at my updated mock draft.

 

1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina 

The one prevailing truth about holding the top overall pick is this: You absolutely, positively cannot blow the selection. And that means if you have any reservations about, say, any of the top quarterbacks on the board, but there is an elite talent available at defensive end, you ignore the overriding need and take the best possible player.

That's the philosophy I'm using here and the one I expect the Texans to adhere to. In a division with Andrew Luck, a defensive line consisting of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney would be devastating. And yes, Clowney is most certainly the top player in this draft.

There will be solid quarterback prospects in the second round. There won't be anyone close to the caliber of Clowney at that point. He's the smart pick. 

 

2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson 

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If, like me, you were trying to remember the last time Jeff Fisher selected an offensive lineman in the first round, well, it turns out he hasn't. So while Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews could certainly be the pick, history suggests they won't be. 

Instead, the Rams will fill another need with one of the most dynamic talents in this draft, Sammy Watkins (unless they trade the pick, of course, but I'm not projecting trades in this mock). With Watkins on the outside and Tavon Austin in the slot, the Rams would suddenly be brimming with playmakers, especially after they discovered a running game with Zac Stacy pounding the rock later in the year.

Sam Bradford was playing good football last year. It's time to finally give him a true No. 1 receiver.

 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida  

Jacksonville is in a tough position here if this is how the board falls. On one hand, the Jaguars will have their pick of the quarterback class. On the other hand, you could make a strong argument that there are far safer and more talented players who would make an instant impact for the team (cough, cough, Khalil Mack, cough).

I think if either Clowney or Watkins were to fall to No. 3, they would forgo a quarterback at this point. But with those players off the board, the chance to nab whichever of the quarterbacks they most highly value may be too hard to bypass. 

Obviously, I don't know what their board looks like. But the Jags don't seem to be in a rush to win—Gus Bradley had the team playing well by the end of last season, and you'd think the organization would be patient with him while he built a team—so I'd guess they'll go with upside here and begin grooming Blake Bortles to be the quarterback of the future.

 

4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M 

Not everyone thinks Johnny Football should fall to No. 4...

Johnny Manziel to Cleveland just makes so much sense to me. He'd have a field-stretching receiver in Josh Gordon even more talented than his favorite target at Texas A&M, Mike Evans. He'd have an offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan who just worked with Robert Griffin III, another player who makes as many plays with his legs as he does with his arm.

And Cleveland really needs a dynamic player to lead this team back to the playoffs. Manziel could even sit a year under Brian Hoyer if the team felt he needed to tweak his game a bit, but it's hard to see the Browns passing on Manziel if he's sitting there for the taking at No. 4.

 

5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn 

With the Raiders bringing in Matt Schaub to man the quarterback position and Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley to improve the rush, I'd guess the team would upgrade the offensive line at this spot, especially since Greg Robinson is arguably the top player on the board at this point.

I wouldn't blink an eye if the Raiders were to select Mack either, but Robinson would be my guess, given his immense upside at such a vital position.

 

6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo

This has become a pretty common pick for the Falcons—and for good reason. Mack is one of the three or four best players in this draft, and Atlanta really needs to add a dynamic edge-rusher to its ranks.

And if you want an insight into how Mack motivates himself—or how he looks on film, for that matter—Peter Schrager of ESPN breaks it down:

Mack in Atlanta is a match made in heaven and pretty good value for the No. 6 selection, as well. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Mack were long gone by now, but if this is how the board falls, you'd guess Atlanta would have this selection made in about 30 seconds.

 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

With the Bucs trading wide receiver Mike Williams, wide receiver has become a pretty obvious need. Josh McCown just flourished with two big receivers in Chicago in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, so you'd think he'd have to be giddy at the thought of Vincent Jackson pairing with Mike Evans.

Both are tall, can go up and get the ball, and are very dangerous down the field. Tampa Bay's vertical passing game would be something to see if it ended up landing Evans.

 

8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State 

Norv Turner's offense requires a player with a strong enough arm to stretch teams vertically, and Derek Carr fits the bill. Plus, he's as NFL-ready as any other quarterback in this draft and could potentially start from the get-go.

This pick might surprise some folks, but I think Carr has generally been a bit undervalued in the draft process. He seems like a nice fit in Minnesota, and I don't think this pick is really all that much of a reach. 

 

9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M  

You could make a very strong argument that Jake Matthews is one of the top five players in this draft, so landing him at No. 9 would be an absolute steal for Buffalo. The Bills will also take a long, hard look at Eric Ebron, but there's no way they'll pass on Matthews—who could initially plug a major need at right tackle—if he's available.

 

10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

I'm not buying the rumors that the Lions may trade up to draft Sammy Watkins. For one, they just paid Golden Tate pretty good money to be Calvin Johnson's wing man, meaning they aren't exactly hurting at the position. And with other, more pressing needs, why give up a small fortune for Watkins?

The Lions may be testing the waters, but they would be wise to stay put and address their biggest need: cornerback. And sitting on the board for them is a very talented player at the position, Justin Gilbert, who could also contribute as a return man.

Yes, the prospect of a wide receiver trio including Megatron, Tate and Watkins is appealing. So is the prospect of me owning a Lamborghini. It's the price of both, however, that makes them unrealistic.

 

11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA

I don't think I've done a mock draft in the past two months that hasn't ended with Anthony Barr being selected to the Titans. He's the perfect fit in the team's new hybrid 3-4 scheme, and his upside is so immense that you could easily see him sneaking into the top 10. 

 

12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina  

Tight end is a huge need specifically, but more generally, Eli Manning needs more weapons to utilize in the passing game now that Hakeem Nicks is gone. Eric Ebron is the top tight end on the board and has the athleticism to also split out wide and create mismatches, a la Jimmy Graham, so he would really improve this passing game.   

 

13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

The Rams need a rangy safety over the top to pair with T.J. McDonald, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the perfect fit. This is another pick I've projected for a while now, and I'm sticking by my guns here.

 

14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh 

The Bears desperately need to improve the run defense and solidify up the middle, and Aaron Donald has become the clear top defensive tackle in this draft. He was hugely impressive at Pittsburgh, he tested well at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he has the sort of mentality you love to see in prospects. 

Just listen to him talk about his decision to return to school last year, via Michael Rothstein of ESPN:

I thought I was a better player but making the choice, I felt I wasn’t 100 percent ready for the next level. I think I had not dominated enough on the college level. Even though I had success my sophomore year and my junior year I felt like I didn’t have that year where I felt comfortable that I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish in college, and now I’m ready to move on. 

My senior year I felt I put a lot more time into the offseason to make a lot more happen. Going out my senior year, I felt like I did everything I wanted to do and more. I felt like I dominated and I feel comfortable going to the next level and that I’m ready.

That's the type of guy you want on your football team.

 

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State  

The Steelers need to add some youth into the secondary, and Darqueze Dennard is the perfect fit. His physical, press-man style and ability to support in the running game seemingly make him a match made in heaven for Pittsburgh. I'd be surprised if the Steelers passed on him if he's on the board for them.

 

16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy JerniganDT, Florida State

The Cowboys could also go with a safety here, but football begins and ends in the trenches, and Timmy Jernigan would be a great player to pair with Henry Melton at defensive tackle. Jernigan is a scheme-versatile player, and he'd quickly become a key figure in Dallas' defensive line rotation.

 

17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan 

With Michael Oher no longer in town, upgrading at tackle should be a priority for the Ravens. They'll be quite pleased to see a talented option like Taylor Lewan sitting here. 

 

18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU   

Signing Eric Decker was a nice start, but the Jets are still devoid of playmakers on offense. Geno Smith or Michael Vick—who knows who will end up starting—needs weapons, and Odell Beckham Jr. would give either QB a very nice one to work with. I don't know which player the Jets will have atop their board here, but I'd bet pretty strongly it will be a receiver. 

 

19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame  

Zack Martin seems like such a logical pick for the Dolphins because he projects as either a tackle or guard at the next level. It's no secret that Miami needs to rebuild the offensive line, so a player like Martin who could fit into more than one position makes a lot of sense.

 

20. Arizona Cardinals: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville 

Teddy Bridgewater, what are we going to do with you? Are you really going to slide down the board, or is that just a media creation? Are you still a top-five talent, or were you never a top-five talent? When did you become one of the most divisive players on the board?

Here's what I think: All indications suggest Bridgewater will slide, but I don't think he'll slide too far. Carson Palmer is 34 years old and tends to be generous with the turnovers, meaning the Cardinals will need to draft his replacement at some point in this draft. Whatever tweaks to his game the Cardinals think he needs can be addressed while he spends a season as Palmer's backup. 

Arizona may have more pressing needs, but nabbing a player like Bridgewater at No. 20 could end up being the steal of the draft. I'm sticking with this unconventional selection for the moment.

 

21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

Calvin Pryor is the type of safety NFL teams are looking for these days. He's athletic enough to play over the top but can also creep toward the line of scrimmage. His physicality makes him a threatening player no matter where he lines up. This is a great get for the Packers.

 

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State  

A lot of people will see this as a like-for-like replacement after DeSean Jackson was cut—and make no mistake about it, the Eagles need to replace his game-breaking ability—but Cooks brings a different element to table, despite being a smaller, quicker receiver like D-Jax.

For one, he seems a better option in the slot. For another, he's more adapt at going up and getting the ball in the air, which makes him more of a Steve Smith-type than a Jackson clone. Yes, he'll still stretch the field for the Eagles, but you could make a very strong argument that he has the potential to be a more well-rounded receiver than Jackson ever was.

 

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC 

Marqise Lee feels like a strong fit for the West Coast offense Andy Reid employs. He runs solid routes, can take the top off a defense and is more talented than he's gotten credit for after a tough 2013 season marred by injury and USC's rocky year. He'll be a nice complement to Dwayne Bowe out wide.

 

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU 

The Bengals are so old at cornerback—how old are they?—the players they have at the position remember playing the game in leather helmets.

Okay, okay, so that's a gross overestimation of how old Cincy's corners are, but the team needs an injection of youth at the position. Jason Verrett has been underrated in draft circles and would contribute immediately for this team.

 

25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

Louis Nix III is the top nose tackle in this draft, so he would fit in quite nicely in San Diego's defense. Nix is a classic run-stuffer, though he's not going to add much to the pass rush. Still, locked in as the team's nose tackle, rushing the passer won't be his main priority.

 

26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA  

The Browns go from making one of the splashiest picks in the draft with Johnny Football to taking a guard. Still, revamping the offense means a bunch of different positions need an upgrade, and guard is a major area of need. 

 

27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn 

The Saints will be pretty thrilled if Dee Ford drops this far. I could see Ford going much higher—the Cardinals at No. 20 and the Eagles at No. 22 are major possibilities—but if Ford drops to the Saints, they'd be wise to snag him. He'll add some bite to the team's pass rush, even if he'll likely never be as good as Clowney.

 

28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State 

I've nicknamed the Panthers' receiving corps "The CIA," because their identities are unknown. Kelvin Benjamin is definitely a project, but he has major upside and, you know, you can't teach 6'5". Cam Newton needs a big target who can go up and get the rock, and in Benjamin, I think he'll have him.

 

29. New England Patriots: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

This is such a Bill Belichick pick. C.J. Mosley drops far on my board, but he would be a great fit in Belichick's defense and would take over for the departed Brandon Spikes. Of course, the Patriots could end up trading down about seven times and stockpiling 438 picks in the process, but if Mosley is somehow still on the board, he should be the pick.

 

30. San Francisco 49ers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State 

Robinson is a guy a lot of folks have dropped into the second round, but I think he's the perfect fit for the Niners here. His ability to make plays down the field would complement Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree nicely, and he would give Colin Kaepernick another much-needed weapon in the passing game.

 

31. Denver Broncos: Ryan ShazierOLB, Ohio State

The Broncos have upgraded a lot on defense in free agency, but linebacker is still a pretty big need. Luckily, the talented and versatile Ryan Shazier is available. The Ohio State product could fit nicely into either one of the team's outside linebacker positions, making him all the more valuable for the team. 

 

32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech  

If you were going to pick a weakness on Seattle, it would be tight end, and there's also an additional void in the passing game now that Golden Tate signed with Detroit. Jace Amaro was a receptions machine for Texas Tech and would quickly become a valuable safety valve for Russell Wilson.

 

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