With about a million 2014 NFL mock drafts circulating the airwaves, what’s one more going to do? By this point, you know how it works, so let’s get right into the action. There are, however, a few disclaimers for you to keep in mind as you read through this mock draft.
First, trades will not be projected. Second, these are the picks as I would make them in the role of an NFL general manager, not the picks that are rumored to be likely. No attention has been paid to all that “inside information” about which prospect a team likes, mostly because there is more misinformation out there on the topic than truths.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE/LB, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney has been atop my big board for the entire draft process in spite of all the nit-picking that has been done (or downright attention-seeking hatred like ESPN’s Merril Hoge calling him an “atrocious football player”).
Sure, maybe there are concerns about his work ethic. Maybe he doesn’t perfectly fit into Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. It doesn’t matter.
Clowney is a once-in-a-generation freak as an athlete and a pass-rusher. Crennel can certainly find a place for the Gamecock in his defense, and if he can’t, you fire the replaceable defensive coordinator instead of passing on the best defensive prospect we’ve seen in years.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Auburn tackle is definitely somewhat raw, but he is also a freakish athlete with the force to be a mauling run-blocker and the foot speed to eventually stonewall pass-rushers.
St. Louis is in the enviable position of already having Jake Long and recently re-signed Rodger Saffold, who can play left tackle in a pinch if need be. As a result, Robinson can take his time adjusting to the speed of the NFL without being thrown to the wolves on the blind side.
Protecting Sam Bradford is the biggest priority for GM Les Snead, and Robinson certainly helps in that regard while simultaneously giving the running game a huge boost.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
This spot used to be occupied by UCLA’s Anthony Barr, but Khalil Mack has stormed up draft boards and dethroned him as the best pass-rushing prospect outside of Clowney.
What’s more, he’s also a perfect fit for head coach Gus Bradley’s defense in Jacksonville, as Michael DiRocco of ESPN points out:
The 6’3”, 247-pound Mack fits right into coach Gus Bradley's defense as a ‘leo,’ a hybrid end/linebacker whose primary responsibility is to rush the passer. The Jaguars certainly need help there after finishing last in the league the past two seasons in sacks (20 in 2012 and 31 last season). Mack also makes big plays, and that's where he can really help.
The Jags are another team that desperately needs a quarterback, but Mack is going to be an instant force in that Leo role, and upgrading the pass rush is a gigantic need for a Jacksonville defense that was last in the league in sacks last year.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Based on what we’ve been hearing for a few months now, it seems unlikely that Teddy Bridgewater will be the first quarterback off the board on May 8. But I’m the GM for the Browns, and I have no hesitation saying that Bridgewater is unquestionably the best quarterback in this class.
He may not have the huge arm or big, tall frame that we normally covet for the position, but it’s the mental approach to the game that truly dictates whether or not you succeed in the pros.
And in that regard, nobody comes close to Bridgewater. He made checks and audibles at the line of scrimmage, showing much more leadership and control than any of his peers.
He understands how to make pre-snap reads and how to react to blitzes. He doesn’t see ghosts in the pocket and is adept at navigating the chaos and using his excellent feet to extend plays, create throwing lanes and climb the pocket.
Bridgewater will come in and be a true “franchise quarterback”—something Cleveland has lacked for far too long.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
With Matt Schaub on the roster, the Raiders are unlikely to start a rookie quarterback over the veteran. While that’s actually a more palatable option for a raw prospect like Blake Bortles, that’s not really the way it works nowadays. If you spend such a high pick on a signal-caller, there is too much pressure to play him right away, and for that reason, the Raiders pass on Bortles right here.
Instead, they give Schaub a go-to target and take the best player left on the board. Sammy Watkins is a truly impressive receiver, with the speed to take the top off a defense and the power to break tackles and fight for yards after the catch.
The Raiders have too many holes on the roster to reach for a quarterback with question marks, so taking the most talented player makes sense.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
There has been plenty of talk regarding the Falcons and their desire to trade up and draft Jadeveon Clowney. That certainly makes a lot of sense given their pathetic pass rush, but it’s not happening for a couple of reasons.
First, on a purely logistical level, this mock draft doesn’t project trades. Second, they would have to give up a lot to move for Clowney, and while he is certainly worth the asking price, the Falcons have a number of needs they need to address, so it wouldn’t be wise to commit future early-round picks in that endeavor.
As a result, they stay put and gleefully take Jake Matthews. Nabbing an elite pass-rusher would be the best-case scenario, but none of the remaining prospects is worth a top-10 pick, so the Falcons fill another need and protect Matt Ryan.
Matthews is technically sound and most importantly has experience playing on the right side, which is a better fit on the Falcons O-line opposite left tackle Sam Baker.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Mike Evans is a serious consideration here, but a couple of factors prompted me to go with Aaron Donald.
Evans is a tantalizing receiver prospect, but I’m betting on my ability to snag a quality receiver in the second round thanks to the insane depth of the wideout class in this draft.
Additionally, the defensive tackles are the foundation of Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2 defense, and Aaron Donald is a perfect fit for the scheme.
Smith is a defensive-minded head coach anyway, and the prospect of adding Donald—the most accomplished and proven interior defensive lineman in this class—is too alluring to pass up.
The Pitt Panther can contribute right away and would give the Bucs an intimidating pass rush comprised of Gerald McCoy, Michael Johnson and Donald.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
This is an excellent landing spot for Blake Bortles, and that’s why it’s worth the high pick on such an unfinished product. I don’t understand why Bortles is getting so much love in the buildup to this draft. He has the prototypical frame, but he doesn’t have a particularly strong arm and needs a lot of training with regard to his footwork and how he makes his reads.
That said, in Minnesota he would have the luxury of learning from two very valuable resources: offensive coordinator Norv Turner (a quarterback whisperer of sorts, whose West Coast offense plays to Bortles’ strengths) and Matt Cassel (a proven veteran who can show him the ropes).
In addition, the offense will revolve around Adrian Peterson, and Bortles will have proven receivers like Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson to throw to.
This is the type of situation that can help Bortles reach his full potential, and that’s why he’s worth the pick.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Bills need to base all of their personnel decisions on the goal of giving EJ Manuel as much help as he can get. On the surface, that seems like a call for a receiver here, but the O-line is a quarterback’s best friend—especially for a young quarterback.
Taylor Lewan has character concerns, but he is right up there with Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews in terms of technique, athleticism and size.
He would shore up the pass protection, give Manuel a cleaner pocket to throw from and contribute as an aggressive run-blocker with a mean streak.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
A lot of mock drafts have called for the Lions to draft a wide receiver like Mike Evans here. That is certainly an intriguing option, but Detroit’s problem for the last few years has been its porous secondary.
Getting a safety is a possibility here too, but Darqueze Dennard is the best cover corner in this draft, and the Lions already signed free-agent safeties James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin.
The Lions are going nowhere in the NFC North if they can’t cover the likes of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Dennard improves their ability to do that exponentially.
11. Tennessee Titans: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
After losing cornerback Alterraun Verner to free agency, the Titans are in dire need of a starting cornerback, and Justin Gilbert is the best option available with Dennard off the board.
Upgrading the linebacking corps and pass rush is another avenue to pursue, but Gilbert fills a glaring need and is ready to play right now (as opposed to a project like Anthony Barr).
12. New York Giants: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
After losing Hakeem Nicks to the Indianapolis Colts, wide receiver is a need, and Mike Evans is the best player regardless of position anyway.
The route running needs to be improved, but he boasts a deadly combination of size, leaping ability and natural hands that should make him a go-to target for Eli Manning.
Upgrading the pass rush, O-line or secondary is worth considering, but Evans has too much upside to pass up.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
After locking up a studly tackle, the biggest remaining needs for the Rams are at safety and wide receiver. If Mike Evans were still on the board, he’d be the pick here, but none of the other receivers really jumps out as that much better from the rest of the pack.
On the contrary, there are a small number of safeties who will be day-one starters, and Clinton-Dix is the best of them all.
He has size and versatility, but he’s a true center fielder who can play man coverage in the slot and be a single-high safety roaming the backfield and making plays.
Additionally, he has the range to come up and make sure tackles in the run game—a very important trait in the NFC West against the scrambling likes of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.
14. Chicago Bears: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Without Aaron Donald on the board, the Bears turn to this Louisville safety to regain some of the playmaking and hard hitting that the Chicago defense has lost in recent years.
Pryor has the versatility to play both safety positions, but he’s best suited to be a strong safety who plays near the line of scrimmage where he uses his explosiveness to burst into the backfield and blow up running plays.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Pittsburgh chose Ike Taylor over Keenan Lewis last offseason—a decision it must regret right now. Taylor is over the hill, and the Steelers need young talent in the secondary.
Kyle Fuller could easily be the best cornerback from this class in a few years, with the fluidity and ball skills to make excellent plays and create turnovers.
He’s a necessary addition to get the Steelers back to relying on their defense.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
The Cowboys made the smart-but-tough decision to part ways with DeMarcus Ware this offseason. While that frees up a ton of cap room, it also leaves a gigantic void in the Cowboys defense—specifically the pass rush.
Anthony Barr is raw, but there is too much talent and athleticism to pass up. He can contribute immediately on passing downs, and he has so much upside that he is a steal at this point.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
If you haven’t watched Jimmie Ward’s tape, this may seem like it’s too high. Fortunately, I have watched a lot of his tape, and the Ravens would be thrilled with this scenario.
Ward may have played in the underwhelming Mid-American Conference, but he has the athleticism, instincts and range to be a great free safety in the NFL.
The Northern Illinois product pairs perfectly with Matt Elam to give Baltimore a dynamic young safety tandem to shore up the defense and can contribute immediately.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Adding receivers is critical for the Jets, and they get to do so by adding a truly impressive physical specimen at the tight end position.
There are so many wide receivers in this draft that the Jets could still add to their receiving corps later in the draft, but Ebron is the consensus best TE in the draft and gives New York a unique pass-catching option that can really help out a young quarterback like Geno Smith.
This is great value for the Jets, as Ebron has the potential to develop into a special tight end who creates mismatches all over the field.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Zack Martin would be a breath of fresh air for Miami, since a reliable lineman with no character concerns is rare in the Dolphins locker room.
The O-line is the biggest need. Zack Martin is a guaranteed stud somewhere along the line. Even if he can’t cut it at tackle, he’s too technically sound to not thrive at guard. This is an absolute no-brainer for the Dolphins as a way to significantly upgrade the line and add versatility to the position.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Cardinals are a really good football team, rooted in a strong defense but with unheralded offensive playmakers like Michael Floyd and Andre Ellington. Is Carson Palmer really the man you want at the helm of the ship?
Don’t get me wrong: Palmer played very well and exceeded expectations last year. But this is a situation where you have to truly evaluate your goals. There are questions about Johnny Manziel, and this is a situation where he has time to develop if he’s not ready.
But if he is ready? The Cardinals are an instant contender in the rugged NFC North. Arizona is following the same model of its rivals: Seattle and San Francisco. The next step in that “Title Contention Manual” is to draft a playmaking quarterback who can wreck defensive game plans thanks to his improvisational abilities and tendency to make ridiculous plays with his feet.
Johnny Manziel, check.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
If we’re talking about pure talent (on a Madden 99-point scale) and pro-readiness, C.J. Mosley is one of the best players in this draft.
He’s strong against the run and excellent in coverage. Injury concerns are a worry, but he has tremendous instincts and terrific leadership abilities. He falls down the board because of the relative positional value of inside linebackers, but he’s a great value for the Packers here and would shore up that linebacking corps immediately.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Eagles need a receiver to replace DeSean Jackson, and Marqise Lee is still the third-best receiver in this class despite a disappointing 2013 season.
He is a very sound route-runner, has natural hands and is a blur in the open field. Concentration drops are a concern, but that is something that can be coached up.
Chip Kelly is familiar with the Trojan from his Pac-12 days, so he won’t pass up the impressive prospect who could end up being one of the biggest steals in this draft class.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
It’s almost a no-brainer that the Chiefs will draft a receiver here, and Cooks is the one they pick in this mock draft. Realistically, the next tier of receivers are so close that it’s just a case of picking your fancy.
Personally, I view Odell Beckham Jr. as a better prospect if we’re analyzing them in a vacuum, but Cooks is actually a better fit for Andy Reid’s West Coast offense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals boast a very solid roster, but cornerback is a position where an upgrade is necessary given the age of Adam “Pac-Man” Jones and Terrence Newman.
Jason Verrett is small, but he’s a very sound tackler and is a very versatile corner. He’s a tremendous pick for the Bengals this late in the first round.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
I have my doubts about Bradley Roby’s ceiling, but he has tremendous athleticism and can be a playmaker when he’s playing well.
That’s something the Chargers secondary desperately needs, hence the pick, which is sort of a reach.
26. Cleveland Browns: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Browns nailed their first pick by adding Teddy Bridgewater, and they nail their second pick in the draft by adding a tremendous receiver in Beckham Jr.
He possesses blazing speed but also has the leaping ability to thrive in jump-ball situations. The LSU product is also a devastating returner and big-play threat whenever he touches the ball.
This pick gives Bridgewater a trio of Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Beckham to throw to—something that any rookie quarterback would be envious of.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
The uncertain future of Jimmy Graham might make adding a receiver a juicy proposition here, but for now we’ll stick with the best player available. Dee Ford is one-dimensional, but he is excellent in that one role: getting to the quarterback.
Rob Ryan could definitely find a place for Ford in his defense, and the Tiger would be a very effective player on passing downs.
28. Carolina Panthers: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
The Panthers desperately need a receiver because the combination of Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood doesn’t quite make up for the loss of Steve Smith.
Cody Latimer is somewhat unknown as he has rapidly risen up draft boards. All you need to know is that he’s big (6’2”, 215 lbs) and has very good hands.
The former basketball player is a bit raw, but the upside pushes him ahead of the other receivers still on the board.
29. New England Patriots: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Pats need to upgrade the defensive line, and Ra’Shede Hageman and Stephon Tuitt are the best defensive ends left on the board.
Hageman has plenty of potential, but his motor leaves me unimpressed, so the Pats roll with Tuitt, who has looked much better at a lower playing weight in the pre-draft workouts.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Robinson isn’t the speed receiver the 49ers are looking for, but he’s big and strong and has excellent hands. In addition, he’s also one of the more polished receivers in this draft and is an advanced route-runner thanks to his experience in Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense.
This is a great bargain for the Niners, who get to upgrade their receiving corps significantly with the addition.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Ryan Shazier is a little light, but that’s not a huge problem for a Broncos defense that relies on speed more than power anyway. More importantly, he’s a versatile linebacker with the elite athleticism to play as an edge-rusher or as an inside linebacker with the range to flow to the football and make plays.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
The Seahawks could opt to go with Morgan Moses here, but ultimately Su’a-Filo is just the better player, and the O-line could use help anywhere. Su’a-Filo is physical and athletic, and he would really improve the Seahawks' run blocking, which was a weakness at various points during last season.