I'm going against my instincts a bit in this mock draft, and it has me nervous. Let me explain.
Every year, we see NFL teams reach for quarterback prospects well before we expect those QBs to be selected. But there is enough uncertainty at the position this year—and enough strength at other positions—that teams might be more cautious with quarterbacks, willing to wait to see which prospects fall into the second round.
So, for the first time this offseason, I have just two quarterbacks in my top 10. Now, it bears mentioning that I think we'll see several teams trade back into the first round to select a quarterback who drops—cough, cough, Teddy Bridgewater, cough—but I'm not projecting trades here.
So that's your primer for this mock. Let's get to it.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
I've had Jadeveon Clowney atop my mock for a while, and there are three main reasons:
- He's the best player in this draft and a far safer option than any of the available quarterbacks.
- Speaking of quarterbacks, the Texans can probably get a pretty good one in the second round.
- Andrew Luck is going to be the next great quarterback in this league. Having J.J. Watt and Clowney to get after him will give Houston a huge advantage.
Do I question Clowney's motor or desire to play the game? No, I don't. College teams game-planned for him, a luxury they won't have in the NFL with Watt on the other side of the line. This is the pick for Houston.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Trivia question: When did Jeff Fisher last draft an offensive lineman in the first round?
Answer: He hasn't.
But past history isn't the only reason the Rams would do well to take Sammy Watkins here. For starters, there will probably be another option for the offensive line at No. 13 if they want to go that route. And though this is a deep year at wide receiver, Watkins might be the only player who looks capable of making a huge impact in his first year.
St. Louis needs a true No. 1 receiver. Can you imagine trying to draw up a defense to counter Watkins, Tavon Austin and a strong running game behind Zac Stacy? Scary stuff.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
I've generally had this pick as a quarterback, but the Jags made the mistake of drafting a quarterback for the sake of drafting a quarterback with Blaine Gabbert, and I'm not sure they'll go down that road again, especially when good quarterbacks might be around in the second round.
Now, here's the rub: Is Khalil Mack a great fit for Gus Bradley's defense? The Jags run a 4-3, but Mack seems like a better fit as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 because he can both drop back in coverage and rush the quarterback.
Of course, hybrid defenses are all the rage in the NFL, and if Bradley and the Jags fall in love with Mack, they'd find a way to utilize him. Bradley basically said as much—well, if you read between the lines, that is—to Adam Schein on SiriusXM's Mad Dog Sports Radio, via Mike Huguenin of NFL.com:
He's one of those guys you feel like that's going to play for a long time; just extremely talented. And I think if you're a 3-4 team, you look at him and you say, "God, the guy can rush. He can drop." There's so many different positions that you can put him in. ... I know that each team probably looks and says, "We have a place for him, and he would fit in very nicely."
Expect the Jags to find a place for him.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
So, the Browns stay put and get their pick of quarterbacks? Not too shabby. I think Johnny Manziel will be the guy, mostly because I sometimes daydream about Johnny Football and Josh Gordon terrorizing opposing defenses. This could just as easily be Blake Bortles, but Kyle Shanahan's experience coaching another scrambler, Robert Griffin III, makes Manziel feel like the logical pick.
5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Raiders have a choice: Do they draft a quarterback here or the best player on their board? I think they'll end up going with the latter and selecting a prospect with unbelievable upside who still has to add some polish to his game.
Because that's the Raider way.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Falcons will be crushed if Mack goes at No. 3, and they may yet try to move up to that selection. It's no secret that they could use an upgrade on the edge. Or they could reach a bit and take a player with a lot of upside but a definite learning curve in Anthony Barr.
But staying put and drafting a polished, NFL-ready tackle such as Jake Matthews seems smarter than sacrificing a bunch of picks to move up in the draft or drafting a riskier prospect. In other words, Matthews is about as good a backup plan as you're going to get.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Once the Bucs traded Mike Williams, it became pretty obvious that this pick was going to be a wide receiver, and it seems pretty obvious that Mike Evans will be that wide receiver. His upside might be even greater than that of Watkins given his big frame and ability to stretch defenses down the field. Trying to defend a duo of Evans and Vincent Jackson—along with Doug Martin returning from injury in the backfield—will make the Bucs scary in 2014.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Look who fell into Minny's lap. I'm going against my instinct this year by dropping quarterbacks down the board, but there's no way Blake Bortles will get by the Vikings, the one team that will be willing to reach on a quarterback this year. (I had them taking Derek Carr in previous mocks.) This is a best-case scenario for Minny.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Some fans might view this as a bit of a reach for Buffalo, but Ebron's combination of size and speed at the tight end position makes him incredibly valuable. Like the more dynamic players at the position in the NFL, he'll be able to split out wide and create matchup nightmares for defensive coordinators. I could also see the Bills going with Taylor Lewan here, but the opportunity to add another playmaker in the passing game will be too tempting to pass up.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
This could just as easily be Darqueze Dennard, but I think Justin Gilbert has more upside and is a bit more scheme-versatile. It also helps that he is an excellent return man, and that overall package will be enough to woo the Lions.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
It's possible that Barr will go as high as No. 6 to Atlanta, but I think it's more likely he'll drop just outside the top 10 and end up in Tennessee. He'll be the perfect fit in the team's new hybrid 3-4 scheme and could very well end up being as good as or better than Mack coming off the edge.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Giants would love it if Ebron was available here, but Buffalo spoiled those plans. Still, upgrading at tackle is also a big need, and Taylor Lewan would address those needs quite nicely. Eli Manning might want another weapon in the passing game, but what good would that be if he didn't have anyone to throw to?
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
This has become a pretty popular selection, and it's one I've mocked for quite a while now. The Rams really need to add a rangy free safety, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be the perfect pairing with T.J. McDonald. It isn't too hard to read the tea leaves here.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald is pretty much all you can ask for in a prospect. He looks great on tape. He looks great on paper. He has the ability to change a game at his position and really disrupt an opposing team by penetrating into the backfield. He's a logical selection for the Bears, and it would really hurt my brain if they didn't take him if he was still on the board.
Please don't hurt my brain, Chicago.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Such a great fit. Dennard's physical play and ability to make an opposing wide receiver disappear by locking him down in press-man coverage makes him the ideal Steeler. He seems destined to play in Pittsburgh.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
What Jerry Jones will end up doing is anyone's guess, but if he continued to improve in the trenches by selecting Timmy Jernigan, it would be hard to criticize the decision. Jernigan can fit into a number of roles and would be a nice complement to Henry Melton. This, of course, makes me feel rather confident that Jones will do something entirely different—and entirely questionable—but Jernigan would be my recommendation.
17. Baltimore Ravens: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Right tackle might be the bigger need, but I'm not sure there is a more talented player on the board at this point than C.J. Mosley, and the fact that he fills a need certainly helps. I could just as easily see this pick being tackle Zack Martin, though I think Mosley is the more talented player.
18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Weapons, weapons, weapons. There's no doubt the Jets need more weapons. Odell Beckham Jr. is a player who has climbed up some boards, and I think he would be a nice man to slot in opposite Eric Decker.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
It's no secret that Miami needs help all along the offensive line, and the nice thing about Martin is that he projects as a guard as well as a right tackle. The Dolphins can address other needs here if they feel confident in the depth of offensive linemen in this draft, but I think they'd be wise to snag a top talent at tackle when they have the opportunity to do so.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
This could also be a player such as Dee Ford, but I think the Cardinals will be very tempted to draft their quarterback of the future here with Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater on the board. Carr's big arm would fit well in Bruce Arians' vertical passing attack, and he could sit a year behind Carson Palmer to learn the system and adjust to the intricacies of the NFL game. I'd love to see the Cardinals go quarterback here.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Safety is a big need, and Calvin Pryor combines the range of a free safety with the physicality and ability to play in the box of a strong safety. His versatility makes him valuable, especially for a team that needs help at the position.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
With DeSean Jackson gone to Washington, wide receiver is a logical need. Like Jackson, Brandin Cooks isn't a big guy and has blazing speed. But he projects to be better after the catch than Jackson, seems more willing to go over the middle—making him an interesting option in the slot—and can go up and get the ball in the mold of a Steve Smith. The Eagles also desperately need to upgrade several areas on defense, but Chip Kelly may not be able to pass up drafting a new toy for his explosive offense.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee feels like a great fit for Andy Reid's version of the West Coast offense, and Alex Smith could use more weapons in the passing game. Lee has dropped down some boards a bit, but I expect he'll make an instant impact in Kansas City.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
If Jason Verrett were two inches taller, he'd be a top-15 pick. As it is, he'll be a top-25 pick and a great value for a Bengals defense that is older than dirt at the cornerback position.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
I could see the Chargers going in one of three directions with this pick: defensive tackle (their biggest need, in my opinion), cornerback or offensive line. I think there will still be quality corners in Round 2, and it's always easier to find quality offensive linemen later in the draft than other positions, but the best nose tackle in this draft won't be available to the Chargers if they don't select him here. Louis Nix III is just what the doctor ordered for San Diego.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA
Cleveland goes from arguably the sexiest pick in the draft in Johnny Football to taking a guard? Really?
It sure does. After all, protecting the quarterback and opening running lanes for the new running back, Ben Tate, has to be a priority. Xavier Su'a-Filo is the top guard in this draft and a smart addition for the Browns.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
Dee Ford drops due teams having other needs—not because he isn't talented enough to be a top-20 pick. New Orleans will gladly end his slight slide and upgrade the pass rush in the process.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
If you look up the word "anonymous" in the dictionary, you will find a picture of the current Panthers receivers. Yes, Cam Newton really needs some weapons out wide. Kelvin Benjamin's size and ability to go up and get the ball will make him valuable from the outset.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
I think he's a perfect fit for New England's offense. I could easily see the Patriots moving him around the field to create mismatches, somewhat duplicating the old Aaron Hernandez role in the offense (though I don't think Jace Amaro will line up in the backfield very often). Amaro is a pass-catching machine, and I think he could quickly become a reliable target for Tom Brady.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
I don't understand why Allen Robinson so consistently falls into the second round in other mocks. No, he doesn't have top-line speed, but his consistency in college, his size and his leaping ability make him a dangerous weapon over the top. In San Francisco, he could take time to develop as Colin Kaepernick's third option in the passing game behind Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. He's more versatile than he's given credit for, and he feels like a nice fit for the Niners.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Ryan Shazier would be a nice fit opposite Von Miller, and he would give Denver a strong trio of linebackers. The rebuild of the defense continues.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
I expect the Seahawks to upgrade the passing attack with this pick. Davante Adams is a different player than Golden Tate, but you'd expect Percy Harvin to absorb Tate's role and improve upon it anyway. The Seahawks, of course, have the luxury of simply picking the top player on their board here rather than worrying about pressing needs.