At long last, our five-month national wait is over—the day of the 2014 NFL draft has finally arrived. A scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall pushed the proceedings back two weeks from the typical April date, which has opened up just enough time for nearly every storyline to run off the rails.
The fall of Teddy Bridgewater, the home of Johnny Manziel and countless other storylines have been debated over, forgotten about and then reignited umpteen times over. It's time for Roger Goodell to get to the podium already.
Because it's not like the extra two weeks have given us any real indication of how this will play out. There hasn't been as much intense debate about the top of a draft class that I can remember. The Houston Texans will probably take Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick—on that most can agree. Beyond that, we're looking at a cabal of scenarios dependent on totally unpredictable dominos.
The collective punditry might set an all-time record for worst median mock draft average. Nonetheless, we're here now, so it's time to take one last crack at it before Thursday night's first round begins. Here is my final breakdown of how Round 1 will play out.
1. Houston Texans — Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Texans know who they're taking. For all of the intense speculation about the identity of that person—whether it be Clowney, Johnny Manziel or possibly even Khalil Mack—there is no disagreement in the Houston front office.
"I know the order of our board. If we select first, it's a unique opportunity to be the first pick," Texans general manager Rick Smith told reporters. "If we do select there, I know who we feel good about there. If we move, then obviously there are variables that come into play at that point."
Smith kept the trade winds open, and it's possible the Texans will move the pick if they're blown away by an offer. But history says they're staying put, and Clowney increasingly looks like he will be the pick. Owner Bob McNair essentially laid the team's draft board bare over the weekend, indicating that the South Carolina defensive end was the obvious choice.
Clowney would pair with defensive end J.J. Watt to create arguably the most fearsome pass-rushing duo in football. It will be interesting to see how Clowney adjusts to an outside linebacker role at the next level, which could answer whether his work-ethic concerns were valid. But I agree with McNair; you take someone like Clowney here.
2. St. Louis Rams — Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Rams need star-level talent, meaning they're unlikely to trade back unless Houston goes Manziel at No. 1. Clowney falling into their laps would present them the opportunity to ask for a ransom similar to the one they received from the Washington Redskins for Robert Griffin III.
Otherwise, it's a choice between Robinson and Watkins. For all the obvious reasons, Robinson is the more likely choice at this point. St. Louis moved up in the draft to take Tavon Austin at No. 8 last season, and while he did not perform the way anyone expected as a rookie, going top-10 receiver two years in a row would be Millen-esque.
Robinson also plays a need position (left tackle) and will allow the Rams to shift Jake Long over to the right side for the back half of his career. Plus, given their weird commitment to sticking with Sam Bradford, someone has to keep him upright.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars — Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Clowney falling here is a dream scenario, but Watkins isn't a bad second choice. Watkins is the best offensive skill-position player in the draft by a significant margin. A 6'1" receiver with 4.4-second speed and elite downfield playmaking ability, Watkins is the type of talent who could reignite a long-stagnant Jaguars offense.
He'll of course only be the initiation of a long rebuilding process. Teams that start Chad Henne at quarterback and Toby Gerhart at running back could have 2007 Randy Moss and 1995 Jerry Rice at wide receiver and still struggle to find replacement-level scoring.
While it's true the Jaguars made their big splash at receiver two years ago with Justin Blackmon, off-field issues have already placed his career in jeopardy. General manager David Caldwell said last week the team was not expecting Blackmon, suspended indefinitely by the NFL, to be available in 2014.
"It would be something that would be relatively surprising," Caldwell told reporters. "Haven't gotten a whole lot of updates from the league [of] where he's at or from Justin, to be honest with you."
If that's truly the way they're proceeding, Watkins is the obvious pick here. And if Blackmon is able to get his act together soon, all the better. The NFL's worst offensive team might end up with the league's best young receiving tandem.
4. Cleveland Browns — Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Manziel Mania isn't going to stop until September. He's either a media darling or the worst thing to ever step onto a football field depending on who is speaking, and his pro performance will render something of a weird verdict on non-traditional quarterbacks.
His gunslinging mentality, less-than-ideal height (6'0") and still-developing mechanics are legitimate concern. Ones far more serious than whether he parties a little too much or enjoys the "celebrity" lifestyle. (Whatever that means. Peyton Manning seems to do just dandy.)
A marriage between Manziel and the Browns seems almost too perfect for it not to happen. A franchise with easily the worst history of quarterback play over the last decade-and-a-half landing the most polarizing prospect since Timothy Richard Tebow? Manziel could either be a total disaster and another name to hide under the rug with Tim Couch, or be just the type of unique talent necessary to break the curse.
(Note: Per the Fox Sports Radio Twitter account, Jay Glazer said on "JT the Brick" this week the Browns were not planning on drafting Manziel. Glazer is right roughly 99.5 percent of the time he says something. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported, via Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk, the Browns would take Manziel if he's here. Mortensen is also typically correct. So, yay, smokescreen season hath arrived.)
5. Oakland Raiders — Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
I don't necessarily buy into the school of thought that says the Raiders 100 percent won't go offensive line with this pick. They signed Austin Howard and Donald Penn to man the two tackle spots this offseason, but Penn was roughly 33rd on their list of left-side options coming into the offseason. The team could also move Penn or Howard inside if it feels someone like Jake Matthews or Taylor Lewan is a better fit.
In this scenario, Mack is just too good to pass up. The Buffalo pass-rusher is one of the few seeming locks in this class that everyone can agree upon. He's a hard worker with an insatiable motor and more than enough physical tools to become an elite edge rusher as a lineman or outside linebacker.
The Raiders signed LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck this offseason, but Mack provides a long-term fit.
6. Atlanta Falcons — Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Falcons have major needs on the offensive and defensive line. Their pass rush was anemic last season, with only Osi Umenyiora providing anything resembling consistency. Clowney would be a home-run pick here—akin to their Julio Jones trade a few years back—and I suspect they'd even do a collective fist pump if Mack were available.
They're not here, which means the choice is between the two remaining big-named left tackles. Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan were both first-round locks last year and surprised many by coming back for their senior seasons. The book on both largely says the same thing.
Matthews is the safer pick. His return to College Station allowed him to prove that he can handle the rigors of the left side, and his NFL pedigree is impeccable (he is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and the cousin of Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews).
Lewan is more of a physical specimen and athlete, someone who produced at a high level in school but is equally tantalizing for his potential.
Given the Falcons' need to win now, I think Matthews is the more likely option.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Anyone who has even sketched an outline of this year's draft has made the Evans-Tampa Bay connection. The Bucs need a second receiver to pair with the quietly 31-year-old Vincent Jackson, and the thought of Evans being that guy is almost unfair. Evans and Jackson could arguably form the league's best downfield duo, which makes them a perfect fit for the rocket-armed Josh McCown and uber-aggressive coach Lovie Smith.
Oh. Right. My bad. Maybe that's not the best. Nonetheless, Evans should be too good a fit and value to pass up here.
8. Minnesota Vikings — Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Vikings are one of the biggest swing picks of Round 1. Projecting a quarterback here is the easiest solution given their current dumpster-fire depth chart at the position. Neither Matt Cassel nor Christian Ponder can quarterback a competent or consistent offense in 2014, so it would only make sense for Minnesota to start looking for a long-term answer.
Here's where it gets tricky. General manager Rick Spielman does not seem remotely sold on any of the quarterbacks at the top of the draft. In an interview with Sports Illustrated's Peter King, he called making a decision "torturous" and indicated the team might go in another direction:
That’s a big reason why we made it a high priority to sign Matt Cassel back. Every one of these quarterbacks...nothing is a sure thing. There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning. It is such a mixed bag with each player—every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feeling, why don’t you just wait ’til later in the draft, and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now?
If Spielman really isn't sold, he shouldn't take a quarterback in Round 1. That's exactly what happened when the team reached on Ponder and history may well repeat itself with someone like Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater.
Dennard sneaks in here simply because he fits a need and has far less obvious baggage. He's a potential lockdown, island of a corner who would fit well next to 2013 first-round pick Xavier Rhodes. Going cornerback at the top of two straight drafts is an interesting idea, but if the Seahawks' Super Bowl win proved anything, it's that there is no such thing as too many good defensive backs.
9. Buffalo Bills — Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Protect. The. Quarterback. The Bills have quietly amassed a solid roster filled with a mix of players young and old. Their roster holes are minimal, so much so that it wouldn't be a surprise to see Buffalo attempt to move up and select either Evans or Watkins as a top receiver.
Assuming they stay put, though, the next available tackle is an obvious pick. Cordy Glenn did a solid job at left tackle last season, so the Bills might prefer Matthews be here over Lewan. Matthews has plenty of experience playing the right side, while Lewan projects better on the left. But Glenn could easily make the switch over to the opposite side if forced by circumstance and may actually be better off there over the long term.
Getting EJ Manuel a star receiver is an admirable desire. Keeping him upright should be a priority.
10. Detroit Lions — Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Per usual, the Lions enter draft night with needs throughout their secondary. Detroit has finished 20th or worse in pass defense DVOA in seven of the last eight years, per Football Outsiders. While management has done a solid job of adding talent and creating a patchwork secondary, the Lions still need to build for the future.
Clinton-Dix would fill one of their biggest holes at safety. The Alabama product is one of the class' safest picks from a talent standpoint, and plays a position that's become an increasing premium over the last couple of years. Justin Gilbert and Dennard are other possibilities if they're available.
11. Tennessee Titans — Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Titans are another team that could make a splash at quarterback, but they face the same dilemma as Minnesota: Why take a guy you're not 100 percent sold on when a better player at a need position is available? Gilbert is skilled enough he should be able to plug into the lineup in the spot Alterraun Verner vacated this offseason.
Gilbert is an aggressive ball hawk who sometimes plays himself out position, though that aggression resulted in seven interceptions in 2013. The Titans had only 13 picks as a team last year.
12. New York Giants — Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald has rightfully been one of the fastest-rising prospects in this class. The only reason he's not mentioned in the same breath as Clowney is because he is not the same level of physical specimen. At 6'1" and 285 pounds, Donald is slight and short for an NFL defensive tackle. He'll need the right scheme fit and a coach willing to work with non-traditional talents.
But let's be clear: Donald does not play small. A Heisman contender for much of his senior year, Donald plays with a decided mean streak and explodes off the ball on every snap. He is also a physical specimen who ran a 4.68-second 40-yard dash and did 35 reps on the bench at the combine.
Given the Giants' need for replenishing their defensive line, this is a perfect fit for both sides.
13. St. Louis Rams — Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
This pick essentially came down to two players: Bortles and Odell Beckham Jr. The Rams have a need at cornerback they'd like to fill, but with Dennard and Gilbert gone here, they're left with the option to reach for Bradley Roby or go for the home run.
Beckham is the more conventional choice and would give St. Louis two real home-run threats at receiver. But receiver is also the deepest position in this class, equipped with no fewer than 10 players graded out as second-round selections or better. The Rams can afford to wait on an Allen Robinson type.
Bortles gives them a chance to take the franchise quarterback they decidedly do not have with Sam Bradford. The 2010 first-round pick was kept on the roster despite a massive cap hit for next season, and he will probably have the first crack at the starting job going into camp. That's just fine for Bortles, a more developmental talent who might benefit from a year or sitting and watching, regardless.
14. Chicago Bears — C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
This is something close to a worst-case scenario for the Bears. They'd love Donald to fall to them at No. 14, and would even settle for Gilbert or Dennard, both of whom would fill needs at cornerback. The way the board fell here presents Chicago with the choice of going with Roby, Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor or Mosley.
It's an untenable situation, as each player presents his own unique set of pitfalls. Mosley is the best player in my mind and a pretty significant upgrade to the hole left at inside linebacker since Brian Urlacher's retirement. He also plays a position that habitually produces good starters in the later rounds, though that's not as much the case this season.
Chicago may go Pryor here and target someone like Stanford's Shayne Skov on Day 2. Best-player-available rules here give a tiebreaker to Mosley, though.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers — Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Steelers take the risk here that other teams won't, simply because their need is more pressing. Pittsburgh's projected depth chart currently has William Gay and 34-year-old Ike Taylor manning the outside coverage. Mike Tomlin is a good developer of secondary talent, and there's a ton of depth on the roster, but none of it engenders much confidence going forward.
Fuller is more NFL-ready than his contemporaries on the second tier of this year's cornerback class, and he could step in on nickel situations as a rookie. The Steelers could also go receiver here after losing Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason, but the cornerback crop isn't nearly as deep as the wide receiver talent in this class. Plus, the Steelers have had a ton of success in recent years plucking guys out of the middle rounds.
16. Dallas Cowboys — Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Cowboys' stars-and-scrubs roster-building strategy leaves them with holes every draft season, and this year is no different. In this scenario, they could take Pryor, Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin or reach a bit for UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and hit a need spot right on the head. Their safety position has been a disaster area for years, offensive line remains an issue and DeMarcus Ware is currently a Bronco.
Beckham falling to No. 16 might just be too good to pass up. Terrance Williams emerged as a potential No. 2 receiver as a rookie last season, but Beckham is the type of downfield threat that would instantly give Tony Romo one of the league's better receiving corps. Miles Austin is gone, Jason Witten is one year older and teams are increasingly going to be able to key in on Dez Bryant if the Cowboys are not proactive.
The last time Jerry Jones eschewed need for a wide receiver, Dez Bryant turned out A-OK. Beckham could see the Cowboys take a similar chance.
17. Baltimore Ravens — Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Ravens will never replace Ed Reed, but his spirit lives on in Pryor. The Louisville product plays with an infectious nastiness and is among the hardest-hitting defenders in this class, regardless of position. Pyror isn't the same ball hawk Reed was coming out of college, but he's an aggressive athlete who'd be an instant upgrade in the Baltimore secondary.
18. New York Jets — Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Roughly 414 tight ends sit on the Jets' depth chart at the moment, but none remotely possess Ebron's potential. Listed at 6'4" and 250 pounds, Ebron makes up for in elite receiving capabilities what he lacks in bulk. He's something of a generational answer to Jimmy Graham, able to make plays in the passing game from the slot and out wide nearly as well as he can from the down stance.
The Jets are rebuilding their anemic offense on the fly. They added Eric Decker and Chris Johnson as starters in free agency, and while everyone seems to be playing cool about Michael Vick's status, I expect him to leap above Geno Smith by Week 1.
Ebron is another potential opening-week starter, though he will struggle to even reach average as a run-blocker. The Jets should nonetheless be thrilled if he's here at No. 18.
19. Miami Dolphins — Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Google "Dolphins offensive lineman" and see the suggested results. That should tell you all you need to know about the reasoning for this pick.
20. Arizona Cardinals — Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
I'm not sure I can remember opinion fracturing between experts and NFL executives more than Bridgwater. Almost everyone paid to do this from the outside has him as the best quarterback in the draft, bar none. Defending Bridgewater has become almost this strange cottage industry on its own, with every slightly negative opinion being lambasted as pure idiocy.
It's become mildly amusing, even as I find myself agreeing that Bridgewater is undervalued. He's not the boom-or-bust type like Manziel or the all-around prototype like Bortles, but he is merely a quarterback who is very, very good at playing the position. There is no quarterback in this class who showed more NFL-ready traits than Bridgwater.
And yet Arizona feels like the top of his draft mark. The Cardinals have been looking for a long-term solution at quarterback since Kurt Warner's retirement, and Carson Palmer probably isn't much longer for this NFL world. Bridgwater's NFL readiness might be counterintuitive to a situation where he'd sit at least a year. Arizona has the luxury, though, of not having many other glaring needs and could land the steal of the draft if the punditry comes out on top of this debate.
21. Green Bay Packers — Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Packers will hope Mosley drops to them, but in this scenario, he's long gone. Ohio State's Ryan Shazier is another option if Ted Thompson is married to the idea of a linebacker, as the Ohio State product would be a decent value at No. 21.
Having Lee land in their laps might just be too good to pass up. Aaron Rodgers can whip a Pro Bowl receiver out of a box of pudding mix, and the likes of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin make this less of a need than some other spots. Lee dropping to the No. 21 overall pick is a circumstance the team could not have foreseen a few months ago, though, and he represents the chance to get Rodgers a real top-level option.
The Packers could also just decide to trade out of this pick and grab Shazier later in the round.
22. Philadelphia Eagles — Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Chip Kelly adores huge athletes in his offense—especially at receiver. Cooks is decidedly not that. At 5'10 and 189 pounds, he's the smallest potential first-round pick on the board by a significant margin. He makes Johnny Manziel look like Blake Bortles.
That said, Cooks' unique skill set was created in a lab to plug into Kelly's offense. He can line up in the slot on passing downs, run or catch the ball out of the backfield and is a far better route-runner and receiver than anyone gives him credit for. With DeSean Jackson in the nation's capital and the Eagles lacking an obvious replacement, Cooks should fit right in.
(Sidenote: How much fun would it be to have Cooks and Darren Sproles in the same offense?)
Watching back-to-back receivers go off the board is a worst-case scenario for the Chiefs. The position is easily their biggest need, and stuck without a second-round pick due to the Alex Smith trade, No. 23 might be their only shot. Receiver is the deepest position in this class, but waiting until the 87th pick to take one is less than ideal.
Look for Kansas City to trade back if Beckham, Cooks and Lee are all gone. If Andy Reid decides to stay put, it will be to take an offensive lineman. Branden Albert left for Miami this offseason and will be replaced by 2013 No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher. Donald Stephenson then appears to be the likeliest option to start on the right side at this point, which could either be OK or a total disaster.
Taking a versatile lineman like Bitonio here protects against the latter. Bitonio can also slot in at guard over the long term if Stephenson does an admirable job of becoming a full-time starter.
24. Cincinnati Bengals — Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Arguably the only reason Roby is still sitting here at No. 24 is his history of off-field troubles. In April, Columbus police charged Roby with operating under the influence. The case is strange given that Roby blew only a 0.008 on the breathalyzer, 10 times below the legal limit, and he pleaded down to a lesser charge.
No matter, it will only continue to feed the reputation Roby is a bad egg. He was suspended one game last season for his involvement in an altercation at a Bloomington, Indiana, bar. These are relatively minor infractions, and Roby has pleaded to lesser charges in both cases. There will still be a few teams hesitant to take a "character risk" this high.
The Bengals are one of a few teams decidedly unafraid to do so. They've had numerous successes with reclamation projects in recent years, and Marvin Lewis seems to have a second sense about which guys are worth a shot. Roby is a big-time talent at a glaring position of need. If he's here, it's a solid fit both ways.
25. San Diego Chargers — Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
Simply put, the Chargers need any and all help they can get defensively. Barr has tantalized scouts for two years now with his physical tools. He looks the part of a Pro-Bowl-caliber player. Rarely has the tape consistently shown him actually performing at that level. Watching Barr, the first words out of anyone's mouth is typically how good and fluid he looks as an athlete, but those are followed by, "Why doesn't he..."
The Chargers just need to swallow hard and take a risk on his potential. There just isn't a better option.
26. Cleveland Browns — Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
The Browns' pick here 100 percent rests on what they do at No. 4. If it's a quarterback, they should look to find a receiver to pair with Josh Gordon. Latimer's rise up draft boards is a little funky when juxtaposed against the fall of someone like Penn State's Allen Robinson, but his stock is peaking at the right time.
All bets are off if Glazer's previous report is correct, though. The Browns could parlay their two picks into a Bridgwater move or test their luck with Derek Carr. As always, the Browns keep you guessing—and not always in the best ways.
27. New Orleans Saints — Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
I remain on an island with this pick. The Saints are going to have to make a decision about Jimmy Graham—and soon. Given their financial situation, they cannot walk into next offseason with Graham holding an eight-figure cap number. He's the best tight end in football, but if he's ruled as a wide receiver in arbitration, the price tag goes up as Graham's unique value around the league goes down.
Seferian-Jenkins is a Pro-Bowl-potential insurance option who would give Drew Brees a Patriots-esque duo at tight end. The Washington product is not without his own issues dating back to college and is coming off a foot injury that has limited his ability to showcase himself for teams. When fully healthy, Seferian-Jenkins challenges Ebron for the most physically gifted tight end in this class.
It's an unorthodox pick, but since when has New Orleans been an orthodox organization?
28. Carolina Panthers — Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Panthers desperately need to help out Cam Newton. Drafting any other position is an affront to human decency.
History indicates the Patriots have no intention of picking here. They've made a trade in Round 1 in every year since 2006. Bill Belichick cashed in early on the notion that early second-round picks have nearly as much value as late first-rounders—without as much of the risk or cost.
With Nix, Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan still on the board, this spells a classic Belichick trade back. The trio of defensive tackles all have relatively similar grades and fill the Patriots' biggest need. Nix is the most talented of the trio and can play either the 1-gap or 2-gap, depending on the situation.
New England won't pick here, but it'll be Nix on the off chance it does.
30. San Francisco 49ers — Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The 49ers don't have many immediate needs, so they will go with someone who could be a long-term fit. Justin Smith turns 35 in September and isn't going to be around forever. Even if he sticks around one or two more years after this one, Jim Harbaugh cannot plan his defense around Smith being an anchor. They say Father Time is undefeated for a reason.
Tuitt is a perfect insurance policy. He is versatile and talented enough to step in immediately and contribute as part of the line rotation, and learning from someone like Smith will only help him immensely. There were times at Notre Dame when Tuitt looked like a potential top-10 pick. If he lands in San Francisco, the Seahawks won't be the only NFC West team with a formidable defensive line.
The Broncos went all-in on 2014 this offseason. John Elway pushed the franchise into future cap hell with lavish deals for win-now veterans at need positions while adding solid talent to replace almost every player who left.
While one of those signings was cornerback Aqib Talib, Denver still has holes to fill in the secondary. Champ Bailey is a Saint and Chris Harris is still recovering from knee surgery. Verrett is undersized (5'9, 189 lbs) and might struggle to stay healthy at the next level, which puts him right on the borderline of first-round contention.
Denver's positional need and Verrett's very strong athletic splits make this a strong fit, nonetheless.
32. Seattle Seahawks — Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The defending champs have plenty of experience taking chances on undervalued defensive linemen. Jernigan is a versatile first-round talent who is athletic enough to fit right into the Seahawks' slightly dented rotation. He'd probably be drafted 10 or spots or so higher if it weren't for his diluted drug sample at the NFL combine, which was first reported by Glazer.
As it stands, the Seahawks get good value here on a player who can step in right away.
All height/weight measurements courtesy of NFL.com.
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