NFL Mock Draft 2014: Smart Strategies for Every NFL Team

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2014

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Blake Bortles #5 of the UCF Knights throws a pass during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against the Baylor Bears at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NFL has tortured fans with a longer wait to this year's NFL draft. Instead of rewarding college football stars cushy new jobs in April, the speculation period drags on until May.

A longer lull until draft day means one thing for football fanatics twiddling their thumbs until May 8: more mock drafts.

For the scouting junkies out there, that just gives them more time to party. For those worn out by pre-draft coverage (you've sought out a mock draft, so that must not be you), it's time to start the show.

This draft should prove well worth the wait. Several prospects are making a case for No. 1 selection, and several teams picking early are threatening to eschew the quarterback slot until after Round 1. One of 2014's top signal-callers could be sitting around for a while.

But don't go overboard anticipating one of the premier passers slipping past the first round altogether. In this latest mock draft, the top three remain top-10 picks, although one falls further than he deserves. 


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

Is talent more important than need? The Texans have a hole at quarterback, but they won't be able to resist Jadeveon Clowney's game-changing talent on the defensive line. Is defensive end a huge need for Houston? Not really. Is Clowney the best fit in its 3-4 scheme? Probably not. 

Yet he's a freakish specimen who will cause the Texans to take him anyway.


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

Sammy Watkins is one of the hardest premier players to peg a landing spot for, as he could go to any team picking from Nos. 2-5. If he somehow falls past those four squads, which is unlikely, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will certainly stop the bleeding at No. 7.

The Rams could also take an offensive lineman or trade down from the No. 2 slot, but their uninspiring offense can use Watkins' jolt of speed to wake them up.


3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo

Months ago, Khalil Mack was vying for top-10 consideration. Now he's a top-five probable with a good chance of going No. 3, perhaps even No. 1. Monday Morning Quarterback's Peter King heard through the grapevine that Texans general manager Rick Smith prefers the Buffalo linebacker to Clowney.

"Houston, at No. 1, isn’t set on Jadeveon Clowney," King wrote on Tuesday. "In fact, one FORS (Friend of Rick Smith) told me the Texans general manager likes Khalil Mack over Clowney."

First of all, why did King bother writing "FORS" when he'd of course have to elaborate that acronym's meaning? More on topic, this could be a bit of misdirection, and there's no guarantee everyone else in Houston's front office shares that opinion, which is why Clowney remains my No. 1.

But don't feel sorry for Mack, as Jacksonville is in prime position to grab whichever one falls to No. 3.


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

Cleveland could continue to give quarterbacks the cold shoulder and instead hire protection for whomever they eventually secure to take snaps under center. But the Browns haven't had much luck at quarterback since Bernie Kosar, so they'll solicit a remedy in the ever-polarizing playmaker, Johnny Manziel.


5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

While the Raiders could hold down the fort with Matt Schaub, they'll roll the dice on Blake Bortles living up to his powerful arm and athleticism after a strong junior season at UCF. He's certainly not the safest option around, but since when do the Raiders ever play it safe?


6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

The Falcons have their choice of Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson to protect Matt Ryan for the next decade. While many teams would turn to Robinson's untapped potential, Matthews offers a more stable product for a squad that came a few plays away from making the Super Bowl two seasons ago.


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

Vincent Jackson's name gets thrown around a lot, often as an Evans comparison (including the video above), but the wideout has his sights set even higher. According to Times Online's Ron Musselman (subscription required), via Sports Illustrated's Josh Sanchez, he models himself after one of the game's fiercest pass-catchers.

“I get a lot of Vincent Jackson comparisons, and that’s a great comparison,” Evans said. “But I think Brandon Marshall. He’s vicious after the catch. A big, physical guy, can go up and get it, blocks real well. So I’ve modeled my game after him since high school.”

Well this is awkward. Evans is going to line up alongside Jackson in Tampa Bay to give the Buccaneers two immense receivers.


8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

The big loser of the prolonged draft period, bashing Teddy Bridgewater became the fun thing to do to fill the news cycle for a day of two. He, undeservingly, falls outside the top five, but his loss is Minnesota's gain.

The Vikings should have learned from Christian Ponder not to reach for any quarterback, but Bridgewater is the real deal and someone who can immediately improve their organization.


9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Buffalo has built its backbone on running the ball, so taking Robinson here is a no-brainer. Not only is the powerful tackle the best player on the board, he also addresses a critical area of need for the Bills.


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

One of the most popular thoughts of the draft has been "Wouldn't it be so much fun if Detroit traded up to draft Watkins or Evans?" Sure, that would look great on paper, but the Lions should be much more concerned about stopping opposing teams' wideouts.

Already the No. 3 passing offense without a legitimate No. 2 receiver, the Lions can bolster their No. 23 passing defense with Justin Gilbert.


11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

The Vikings were a possible landing spot for Anthony Barr until Bridgewater fell in their laps. Now the Titans can enjoy the runaway pass-rushing freight train outside the top 10, giving their defense a vicious attacker off the edge.


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

Quite a few teams would relish the chance to utilize Eric Ebron's unique skills at tight end.

He might not make it to the Giants, but he does here, giving Eli Manning a big-bodied receiver to complement the elusive Victor Cruz. Since Ebron cannot follow in Tony Gonzalez's and Jimmy Graham's footsteps and dunk through the goal post, perhaps the big man can salsa dance instead.


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

St. Louis will again shift the passing game in its favor by selecting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to roam its secondary. Securing Watkins and Clinton-Dix secures two of its biggest needs as the Rams attempt to gain ground on their NFC West cohorts.


14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Hey, remember that time the Bears yielded 289 rushing yards to the Philadelphia Eagles with a playoff berth on the line? Those frightening memories will sway them toward a no-nonsense nose tackle in Florida State's Timmy Jernigan.


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

If the Steelers are smart, they'll add some youth to their secondary before the veteran-laden unit bottoms out. Darqueze Dennard, who excels in press coverage, is the perfect cornerback to usher Pittsburgh's defense into a new era.


16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Much quicker on his feet than the standard tackle, Aaron Donald is an intriguing prospect who has endeared himself to many scouts during the pre-draft stage. Owning the league's worst defense that just lost DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys will gamble on the Pittsburgh product in hopes of scoring a steal.


17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Last year, Joe Flacco was not afforded the same protection he received during his Super Bowl season. Although Michael Oher receives more credit than he deserves due to The Blind Side, the Ravens still need to replace him in the trenches.  


18. New York Jets: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

Darqueze Dennard would fit perfectly with Gang Green, but he unfortunately caught Pittsburgh's eye as well three picks earlier. Although the Jets won't locate the bruising cornerback Rex Ryan adores so much, they'll get the next best thing in Calvin Pryor, a vicious safety who will force all ball-carriers to sleep with one eye open.


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

Why would the Dolphins not pick a sturdy, reliable and versatile offensive lineman after leading the league in sacks surrendered and becoming the brunt of a bullying scandal? Zack Martin started every game in each of his four years at Notre Dame, which gives Miami a guy to slot anywhere across the line without any worries.


20. Arizona Cardinals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

He can play physically and employ great closing speed to keep up with wideouts, but Jason Verrett can't magically raise his height by five inches. The Cardinals look past his size and see him for the stout corner he is.

If smaller, stud slot receivers can receive proper recognition, why can't a defensive back, who at the very least can shut those guys down?


21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

Safety is Green Bay's real area of need, but the Packers missed out on both Clinton-Dix and Pryor, forcing them to instead identify a value in Alabama's C.J. Mosley. After allowing 4.6 yards per carry last year, fans should welcome Mosley's stout tackling ability across the field.


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

Philadelphia's brief search for a DeSean Jackson replacement ends with Brandin Cooks, who can fill Jackson's role in Chip Kelly's uptempo offense. With LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin all warranting attention, Cooks will churn out plenty of huge plays for the Eagles.


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

If Marqise Lee switched his 2012 and 2013 performances, he'd instead be tabbed the class' third-best receiver and a top-15 pick candidate. But teams care more about recent play than the full picture, so his 118 catches from 2012 will take a back seat to his 57-reception letdown to conclude his USC tenure.

In need of another playmaker for Alex Smith, the Chiefs take the plunge on Lee solidifying last season as the fluke and becoming a regular in Kansas City.


24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

Cincinnati slides all its chips to the center with Kony Ealy, an explosive rusher who could become a 15-sack monster or a cautionary tale. Opinions are split bout the Missouri youngster, but don't expect him to slip past Round 1.


25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

CBS Sports' Pete Prisco doesn't think anyone should sleep on Bradley Roby, who has gotten lost in the overflowing sea of talent jousting for first-round consideration.

Roby to the Chargers at No. 25 isn't the lofty pick Prisco predicted, but San Diego will love to see him there to bolster a deflated secondary that often spurred shootouts in 2013.


26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

Keeping the cornerback run going, the Browns grab Kyle Fuller at No. 26. Already a top-10 passing defense, the Browns develop a scary secondary by pairing the Virginia Tech standout with Joe Haden.


27. New Orleans Saints: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

The Saints are frequently linked to pass-rushing defensive ends or linebackers such as Ealy, Dee Ford and Ryan Shazier, but a run-stopper could help Rob Ryan's unit vault into elite territory. Ra'Shede Hageman is far from a polished prospect, but his ceiling justifies the gamble at No. 27.


28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

B/R's Matt Miller would not approve of Odell Beckham Jr. falling behind Lee in these proceedings.

Carolina needs someone to catch the ball and maybe even gain some yards with said football if the team is feeling really greedy. Beckham has enough speed, strength and verticality to become a top target for Cam Newton.


29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

A perfect blend of team and player personnel, the Patriots would make a monster tight end out of Jace Amaro regardless of whether Rob Gronkowski also graces them with his presence throughout the 2014 season. Amaro is strong and speedy enough to become a matchup nightmare 


30. San Francisco 49ers: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

Recent developments around Aldon Smith cause San Francisco to go off script and obtain a Plan B in Ryan Shazier, another dangerous pass-rusher with blazing speed off the edge. This late in the first round, the 49ers can take a risk even if they don't need him to immediately deliver.


31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA

Needing a guard to replace the departed Zane Beadles, Denver claims Xavier Su’a-Filo with the penultimate first-round pick. Not the headline-grabbing choice to match their mega free-agency splurge, but shielding their 38-year-old quarterback should be the Broncos' top concern.


32. Seattle Seahawks: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn

There's no clear choice here for Seattle, who could have used Su'a-Filo or taken a chance on Hageman to conclude Round 1. They'll turn to Dee Ford, who can rush the quarterback but doesn't offer much in between. Considering his promise to wreak havoc on the line, the Super Bowl champs give him a shot.