2014 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Final Round 1 Picks
The 2014 NFL draft is here. We know where the teams are picking, but what remains to be seen is which players will fill those spots.
Mock drafting is an inexact science, yet months of research and evaluating go into applying each team's needs and values into one 32-pick puzzle of players, schemes and more.
An earlier seven-round mock draft was posted, looking at what I would do with each pick. This mock draft is different. This look at the first round is what I'm hearing will happen.
So these picks won't follow my final big board's order and may not always make a ton of sense to each reader, but this is my prediction of what will happen (with trades) when the first round kicks off.
1. Houston Texans
The Pick: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
There is little comfort in predicting Jadeveon Clowney as the first overall pick.
The Houston Texans have done a wonderful job of shielding their intentions—likely to keep trade talks open—and head into the final hours with no clear pick for this spot.
Clowney is the safe choice to go No. 1 overall. He's a once-in-a-decade athlete and has the most upside of any player in the entire draft. If the Texans are looking for an impact player with the first pick, he certainly brings the best potential for that.
2. Atlanta Falcons (from St. Louis, via Washington)
The Pick: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn (Trade with St. Louis)
The Atlanta Falcons have been linked as a possible trade-up team for some time now. Here they make a move, packaging their 2015 first-rounder in order to come up four spots and grab the most athletic tackle prospect many evaluators have ever seen.
Greg Robinson has the tools to be elite. He may need a year to become more seasoned as a pass-protector, but he can do that while still dominating in the run game and using his rare athletic tools to survive on the edge.
With Robinson, it is not a matter of what he can't do, but what he hasn't been asked to do. In Atlanta, he'll excel as a mover and as Matt Ryan's protector.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Many national voices have put a quarterback here—or even an offensive tackle if that makes any sense at all—but all signs point to the Jacksonville Jaguars being much safer with the No. 3 overall pick.
It doesn't get safer than Sammy Watkins. He's a speed demon at wide receiver and the rare skill player who looks for contact and then runs folks over. And with Justin Blackmon not expected to play in 2014, per Mark Long off The Associated Press, this pick becomes about need and value.
A quarterback can be found later in the draft worth developing behind Chad Henne, but the team isn't willing to be risky here after the Blaine Gabbert fiasco.
4. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
With Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reporting that Johnny Manziel won't be the pick here, look for the Cleveland Browns to take another player from Texas A&M instead: wide receiver Mike Evans.
With Josh Gordon showing his incredible talent, but also one suspension away from a season away from the NFL, the Browns must focus on building up the depth chart opposite Gordon while also insuring themselves against any future trouble he might run into.
Evans does that, while giving them a big, strong target in the red zone to keep defenses from ganging up on Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron.
5. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Don't be surprised if the Oakland Raiders aren't called a lot about trading out of this spot. Khalil Mack is a heavily valued player and could be the pick at even No. 1. He's good enough for the Raiders to build their defense around.
Mack's ability to impact the game as a pass-rusher is well-known, but what he does against the run and in coverage is just as impressive. He'll give the Raiders something they truly don't have on defense: a wild card the offense must account for.
Having to play Von Miller twice each season, everyone in Oakland knows how good he is. Now they get his clone in Mack.
6. St. Louis Rams (from Atlanta)
The Pick: DT Aaron Donald, Pitt (Trade with Atlanta)
The Atlanta Falcons moved up to the No. 2 spot to get Greg Robinson. The St. Louis Rams benefit by adding more draft picks in future classes and still landing an impact player in Aaron Donald.
You might think that Jake Matthews or Taylor Lewan would be the pick here, but the Rams' situation at tackle isn't as bad as it's made out to be. Jake Long and Joe Barksdale are more than capable of holding down the fort. Where they need help is at defensive tackle next to Michael Brockers.
Jeff Fisher's defense needs an interior pass-rusher, and Donald was college football's best in that role. He doesn't have elite size (6'1", 285 lbs) but is a terror for blockers thanks to his speed, burst and instincts. Put that next to Robert Quinn, and you have a defensive line that can't be double-teamed.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel's draft-day wait doesn't take long.
Many expected him to be off the board inside the first five picks, but barring a trade up, that seems unlikely considering what I'm hearing. Instead, look for Jason Licht and Lovie Smith to make him the future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at pick No. 7.
Manziel can bring something the Buccaneers don't have currently: an offensive player the defense must account for at all times. Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson are nice options, but with Manziel running the show, the offense can truly take off.
8. New York Giants (from Minnesota)
The Pick: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina (Trade with Minnesota)
In the 2013 NFL draft, we saw the San Francisco 49ers move from pick No. 31 all the way to No. 18 in exchange for a third-round pick. That's what the New York Giants give up in order to secure tight end Eric Ebron at No. 8.
To land Ebron, the Giants must get in front of the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions—which they do. This gives Eli Manning the big, athletic, Jimmy Graham-style tight end needed to really open up the Giants offense.
And with the aggressive moves made in free agency this year, the Giants can afford to ship an extra draft pick to Minnesota to make sure they get their guy.
9. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
The Buffalo Bills would really like to see Mike Evans or Eric Ebron here, but Jake Matthews can solve many of their problems up front for a long time.
Matthews is a clean, blue-chip prospect with the skills to be an All-Pro-type performer at any of the five starting spots along the offensive line.
He's that finished as a product and could instantly upgrade the Bills' offensive line situation. This allows them flexibility with Cordy Glenn and gives EJ Manuel a true top-tier duo at tackle.
10. Detroit Lions
The Pick: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The Detroit Lions have been connected to Sammy Watkins and Eric Ebron, but with both off the board, they will likely look at the secondary.
Justin Gilbert is another player they've been linked to in my talks with league scouts, and he would give them a major boost at cornerback. Chris Houston, Rashean Mathis, Darius Slay and Bill Bentley are all nice players, but none of them have the athleticism, ball skills and upside that Gilbert instantly brings to the table.
11. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
The Tennessee Titans have been linked to quarterbacks, pass-rushers, cornerbacks and offensive linemen. If the board falls this way, Taylor Lewan would be their pick.
Jake Locker is under contract for one more season, but his replacement is unlikely to be drafted here. A pass-rusher would be good, but the team insured against that need by signing Shaun Phillips. That leaves cornerback—where there isn't a great value on the board—and offensive tackle.
Left tackle Michael Roos is under contract for just one more season, and according to league sources, it's very unlikely that he's back with the Titans in 2015. That opens the door for Lewan, who has the athleticism to play guard for one season while waiting to start at left tackle.
12. Minnesota Vikings (from Giants)
The Pick: ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama (Trade with Giants)
This just feels like a Mike Zimmer pick, doesn't it?
It also helps that the Minnesota Vikings have a big need at inside linebacker, with Michael Mauti currently holding down the starting job. If Zimmer liked Vontaze Burfict—the rangy, aggressive, do-it-all linebacker—he's going to love C.J. Mosley.
The Alabama stud has NaVorro Bowman-like potential. And as long as speculation about a shoulder injury doesn't cause him to fall, I'm hearing the Vikings would love to have him.
13. St. Louis Rams
The Pick: FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
At pick No. 6, the Rams, via trade, added defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Now they can get the center fielder needed for Gregg Williams' defense.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the rangy, three-down safety star the Rams need to anchor the defensive backfield. He's instinctive, smart in coverage, quick against the run and has the long-armed athletic profile of today's bigger, stronger, faster defensive back.
And with a front four featuring Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Donald and Robert Quinn, the Rams will be able to force quarterbacks into mistakes that Clinton-Dix can turn into interceptions.
14. New York Jets (from Chicago)
The Pick: WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (Trade with Chicago)
Swapping first-round picks with the Chicago Bears costs the New York Jets their third-rounder, but it gives them the chance to get a stud wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr.
A DeSean Jackson clone, Beckham has the gitty-up-and-go speed to be a weapon all over the field. He can excel on short, quick hits that give him room to run in space, but he also has the deep speed to take the top off a defense. He's also one heck of a return man and brings instant-impact ability there.
The Jets have built a decent offense around Geno Smith, but they didn't have the home run hitter. Now they do.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Ike Taylor, William Gay and Cortez Allen. Those are the starting three cornerbacks on the Steelers' cornerback depth chart right now. To say the position is a massive need would be a bit of an understatement.
Kyle Fuller has true skills as a man-coverage cornerback. He can be physical at the line of scrimmage and has the ball skills to make plays on the pass and create turnovers. He's also tough and will stick his head in against the run and make plays on the ball there.
Fuller is exactly what the Steelers need to get back to the days of tough, hard-nosed Pittsburgh defense.
16. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: OT/OG Zack Martin, Notre Dame
If Zack Martin falls this far in Round 1, someone is getting a steal. With the way my board works out here, he'll be happily received in Dallas.
The Cowboys could use Martin at guard—where I believe he has the talent to be an All-Pro—or they could move him into Doug Free's spot at right tackle. Either way, the brilliance behind Martin is that he gives you versatility while bringing top-tier talent to the offensive line.
Protecting Tony Romo is a huge need, especially on the interior, and Martin can do so from Day 1. Needs at wide receiver and defensive line can wait until Rounds 2 and 3.
17. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: OT Morgan Moses, Virginia
The need at right tackle in Baltimore is big. Ricky Wagner is a nice player but not a long-term fixture-type of building block. Morgan Moses can be.
The big man from Virginia is a mauler with the athletic potential to anchor the offensive line and could be a hot commodity once the top four tackles are off the board. Moses has the talent to step in today and be the solid pass-blocker and punishing run-blocker they need in Baltimore.
Moses may seem like a reach here, but with the run on tackles and the importance of the position, don't be surprised to see his name called this early.
18. Chicago Bears (from Jets)
The Pick: DE/DT Kony Ealy, Missouri (Trade with Jets)
Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy is exactly what the Chicago Bears need along the defensive line. At 275 pounds, his quickness and agility are incredible, and he brings value as both an edge-rusher and an inside penetrator.
Ask Ealy to gain 10 pounds, and he's your 3-technique—and a dang good athlete for the position. But he's talented enough to slide around on the line and give you versatility at end or tackle without seeing a drop-off in talent.
He's a bit raw, but he has all the tools to become a dynamite pass-rusher.
19. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
The need at offensive tackle—especially on the right side—forces the Miami Dolphins' hand with pick No. 19.
The team would love to see Morgan Moses here and would probably consider C.J. Mosley if he were to fall, but it must protect Ryan Tannehill and add a gap-opening run-blocker at the same time. Cyrus Kouandjio can do that.
There were whispers of a knee injury with him, but he's incredibly talented and has the ideal profile to play right tackle. And remember, the media didn't like D.J. Fluker last year, and he was the 2013 draft's best offensive tackle.
20. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: QB Blake Bortles, UCF
A player thought to be a top-10 pick falls on draft day, but he finds the perfect fit for his game and his career.
The Arizona Cardinals have the time to develop Blake Bortles behind Carson Palmer, and in head coach Bruce Arians they have the right man to spend the time fine-tuning his mechanics and traits. Bortles has impressive potential, but he needs seasoning and coaching before he can be turned loose. He'll get that in Arizona.
Bortles isn't the team's biggest need—right tackle, cornerback or outside linebacker would be—but he gives it a long-term plan and a (hopefully) seamless transition at the game's most important position.
21. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: DE Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
The Green Bay Packers have choices here, but let's look at all of their options that affect this pick.
In Round 1, they can add a defensive lineman, a safety or even a tight end. All three spots are a need, but the depth at tight end and safety are just as good in Round 2 as they are in the first. If the Packers can choose between a three-down defensive end here, a safety in Round 2 and a tight end in Round 3, they're much better off over the long haul.
Ra'Shede Hageman needs someone to light a fire under his butt, but they'll do that in Green Bay. When he's on his game, few defensive linemen can compete with this speed, strength and length combination. That's exactly what the Packers need if they're truly going to invest in a more hybrid, attacking defense in 2014.
22. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
The Philadelphia Eagles desperately need a big, long, athletic edge-rusher. Like Anthony Barr.
Chip Kelly doesn't seem to love Brandon Graham and Trent Cole on the outside—as neither guy has the length or raw power the team covets at the position. Barr definitely fits the mold, and if he's on the board, it's an easy pick for Howie Roseman and Co. with pick No. 22.
Barr may not be here on draft day, but all signs point to at least a slight fall down the board for the raw outside linebacker. He's just two years into his role as a defensive player—after moving over from running back—and teams are unsold on his instant ability. His upside, though, is tremendous.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
My No. 1 overall player sees his draft-day fall end. Teddy Bridgewater to the Kansas City Chiefs? It makes more sense than you might initially think.
Alex Smith, acquired last year for a second-round draft pick, has his contract expire after the 2014 season. He'll be 31 years old at that time. Smith is who he is—a good quarterback in limiting risk, but not a big-play passer. Bridgewater has the potential to be a big upgrade.
With Smith's future in question, now is the time for the Chiefs to pull the trigger (finally) on a first-round quarterback. No more trades for backups and retreads. Go get your guy, Andy Reid.
24. San Francisco 49ers (from Cincinnati)
The Pick: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (Trade with Cincinnati)
With six picks in the top 100, the San Francisco 49ers can afford to send a third-round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals to move up from pick No. 30 to No. 24. Here they can get the speed receiver they desperately need.
The current wide receiver corps was built for Alex Smith's arm, but now the team has Colin Kaepernick's cannon and no downfield wide receiver. Brandin Cooks has the blazing 4.33 speed to stretch the field, take the top off the defense and provide big-play ability after the catch and in the return game.
And with a roster so heavily loaded with veterans and young players waiting for spots, the 49ers are wise to move up in the draft to secure a big-play wideout.
25. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
With Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright currently holding down the two starting cornerback spots in San Diego, an upgrade is a considerable need early in the 2014 draft. Thankfully, Darqueze Dennard is still on the board.
Dennard may not have great long speed, but his physical style of play is exactly what teams want in a press-coverage cornerback. He's active and aggressive against the run and throughout a route tree, but even if he needs to learn to cover without using his hands as much, he has outside starting potential.
The Chargers need that. Even with offensive line and wide receiver a need, no one position could use an upgrade like cornerback.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis)
The Pick: QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
The Cleveland Browns are not drafting Johnny Manziel, but they are taking Derek Carr.
Carr has all the tools—on and off the field—that teams want in a franchise quarterback. If his last name didn't automatically remind teams of his brother David's struggles with an expansion team in Houston, he might just go higher overall.
But Cleveland is a good fit for Carr, where offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan can groom him to compete with Brian Hoyer. An offensive line featuring Joe Thomas and Alex Mack will protect him in ways his older brother never was with the Texans.
27. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: OC Marcus Martin, USC
The gaping hole at center has to be the first thing on Drew Brees' mind every morning when he wakes up.
The outside protection is there with Terron Armstead and Zach Strief. The interior—where the 6'0" Brees lives by stepping up in the pocket to find passing windows—is missing its captain between Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans.
Marcus Martin can fill that void. He's athletic, strong and smart—three key factors in New Orleans' scheme that asks for a moving pocket and an aware blocker. He has the upside to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber interior offensive lineman.
28. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: OT Ja'Wuan James, Tennessee
The Carolina Panthers have to walk away from this draft with at least one offensive tackle and one wide receiver capable of playing early on. With pick No. 28, they accomplish one of those needs.
Ja'Wuan James played right tackle at Tennessee, but the Volunteer has the feet, flexibility and reach to play on either the left or right side in the pros. And with Jordan Gross retiring, that's a big need in Carolina. Protecting Cam Newton—who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2016—is huge for the Panthers as they look to make it back to the playoffs in 2014.
This may seem like a slight reach, but with five offensive tackles already off the board, the Panthers are wise to stretch a bit to get their guy instead of waiting until the late second round for a tackle.
29. New England Patriots
The Pick: DE Dominique Easley, Florida
The New England Patriots remain one of the most unpredictable teams in the NFL when it comes to the draft. But with pick No. 29, it's easy to start narrowing down the team's needs and the type of player Bill Belichick will look at.
Dominique Easley is coming off two season-ending ACL injuries—one to each knee—but he has the type of burst, athleticism and impact to have been a top-15 pick if healthy. He's well on his way from rehabbing the late September injury. With his 2014 availability looking very good, teams will be willing to bet on Easley becoming a top-tier player again.
When he's on, he's the type of versatile defender Belichick and the Patriots can anchor their line around.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (from San Francisco)
The Pick: CB Jason Verrett, TCU (Trade with San Francisco)
The Cincinnati Bengals move down six spots with the San Francisco 49ers and pick up an extra third-round pick. Now, at pick No. 30, they can look to bolster a secondary in need of youth and productivity at cornerback.
Jason Verrett isn't big—just over 5'9" and 189 pounds—but he plays like a monster. He's physical, aggressive, smart and instinctive. Verrett routinely tore up Big 12 offenses and has the hands to convert a quarterback's mistakes into turnovers.
He's an all-around tough football player and brings the type of intensity the Bengals need in the secondary while offering inside-out coverage skills against the loaded AFC North wide receivers.
31. Denver Broncos
The Pick: ILB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
An outside linebacker at Ohio State, Ryan Shazier brings his first-step quickness to the inside with the Denver Broncos' 4-3 scheme. This is a great fit for both player and team, as the Broncos need speed and youth at linebacker.
Shazier is a three-down impact given his ability to rush the passer, play on the edge, drop into coverage and make plays in space against the run. He was a wrecking ball against Big Ten defenses and has the tools to be very good playing inside the defense flanked by Danny Trevathan and Von Miller.
He might not be a plug-and-play Pro Bowler, but his speed and range give the Broncos a threat at every linebacker position. And when Miller drops down with his hand in the dirt on third down, Shazier can play in coverage or still attack as a blitzer. That versatility is very exciting for NFL coaches.
32. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
The Seattle Seahawks just paid Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. Will they really look at adding another secondary player in the first round? Yes, definitely.
With Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond leaving town via free agency, the Seahawks are looking at Sherman and up-and-comer Byron Maxwell at starting cornerback. That's a good duo, but who plays the third cornerback spot vacated by Thurmond? That's where Bradley Roby comes in.
He has the tools to play in the Seahawks' zone coverage and is the right type of long, big athlete the team likes in its cornerbacks. He's also good enough against the run and with the ball in the air to be a factor for the team against three- and four-wide sets.