The buildup to the 2014 NFL draft has been extraordinary. This modern age of social media prominence, intertwined with professional football's booming popularity, has compounded the hype leading up to May 8's first round at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
A deep pool of prospects, and some rare, talented players who figure to be selected near the top of the order, will make this among the most memorable drafts in league history. The Houston Texans hold the No. 1 overall pick and figure to go with either a potential franchise quarterback, or more likely, one of two defensive stars.
How the pieces of the complex draft-day puzzle fit after that is anyone's guess, including the front office executives eager to see who will be on the board when they make their monumental choices. It's hard to go too wrong given the caliber of studs available near the top, but some of them present risk that is at least some cause for hesitation.
Here is an updated mock of Round 1, along with more detailed analysis on the top picks:
|1||Houston Texans (2-14)||Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo|
|2||St. Louis Rams (via Washington)||Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn|
|3||Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)||Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina|
|4||Cleveland Browns (4-12)||Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M|
|5||Oakland Raiders (4-12)||Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson|
|6||Atlanta Falcons (4-12)||Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)||Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M|
|8||Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1)||Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA|
|9||Buffalo Bills (6-10)||Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina|
|10||Detroit Lions (7-9)||Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh|
|11||Tennessee Titans (7-9)||Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State|
|12||New York Giants (7-9)||Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan|
|13||St. Louis Rams (7-9)||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama|
|14||Chicago Bears (8-8)||C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama|
|15||Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)||Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU|
|16||Dallas Cowboys (8-8)||Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville|
|17||Baltimore Ravens (8-8)||Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame|
|18||New York Jets (8-8)||Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State|
|19||Miami Dolphins (8-8)||Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama|
|20||Arizona Cardinals (10-6)||Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State|
|21||Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)||Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois|
|22||Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)||Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State|
|23||Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)||Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State|
|24||Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)||Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville|
|25||San Diego Chargers (9-7)||Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech|
|26||Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis)||Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State|
|27||New Orleans Saints (11-5)||Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana|
|28||Carolina Panthers (12-4)||Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee|
|29||New England Patriots (12-4)||Dee Ford, DE, Auburn|
|30||San Francisco 49ers (12-4)||Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State|
|31||Denver Broncos (13-3)||Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA|
|32||Seattle Seahawks (13-3)||Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia|
Picks are personal opinion
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
For the second consecutive year in a row, a player from the MAC—named Mack—goes No. 1 overall in the draft.
New Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel can plug Mack in to fit his scheme better than he can with Jadeveon Clowney. The ex-South Carolina star is more of a natural defensive end and would likely struggle to stand up in the 3-4 alignment despite his athletic ability.
Mack is the safer pick, and there are no red flags about his work ethic. The same can't be said for Clowney. Based on this intel by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Texans are very concerned about that:
In talking to people who know #Texans GM Rick Smith well, I no longer believe it’s a certainty that Jadeveon Clowney would be their 1st pick— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 5, 2014
If general manager Rick Smith pulls the trigger instead of trading down, expect it to be for Mack, who is equally lethal defending the run as he is sacking the quarterback. Crennel can trust him to drop in coverage, and Mack also has a relentless motor, and Rapoport described how the linebacker would fit Houston's system:
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah feels that the Texans may regret passing on Clowney, since they'll have to play him twice a year in the AFC South in the event he goes No. 3 to Jacksonville:
I like Khalil Mack a ton but I can't see HOU passing on Clowney. What if he ends up in JAX? Playing him twice a yr for a decade..no thanks.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 5, 2014
While that's a pertinent point, it's unlikely Houston will be too disappointed in taking Mack. The Buffalo product has the ability to be a franchise-changing force, and the maximum effort he puts forth shouldn't drive Smith to eat crow if Clowney even comes close to living up to the hype.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The link between Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews makes sense, since Matthews' Hall of Famer father, Bruce, played for Fisher in Tennessee.
That is indeed a relevant observation by Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to be sure, but based on what St. Louis is trying to do offensively, Robinson seems like the better fit. Robinson was part of a run-heavy attack at Auburn and just destroys defenders, getting to the second level in a hurry.
Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller believes Robinson can play just about any position in the trenches, allowing St. Louis to be flexible with incumbent left tackle Jake Long coming off a torn ACL and MCL:
I love @GRob_92's potential, as most do. Think he could play LG, RG or RT in Year 1 if need be and do very well. Top 5 pick, easily.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) May 2, 2014
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer likes to pound it on the ground. Taking the air out of the ball for QB Sam Bradford may be best entering the 2014 campaign, especially in the NFC West division. Robinson has the physicality and tenacity to make a big impact from Week 1 in his rookie year.
Pass protection is still a bit of a concern, more because of Robinson's inexperience doing it than his technique, which isn't terrible. At 6'5" and 332 pounds, though, he ran a 4.92-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Someone with Robinson's combination of size and speed just doesn't come along too often. The Rams would be wise to take advantage of that, build the offense around running back Zac Stacy and grab a receiver to help Bradford with either the 13th overall pick or their second-round selection.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Coach Gus Bradley will be going cock-a-hoop, GM Dave Caldwell will be relieved to make such an easy choice and the Jags will be running to the podium to get one of the most gifted prospects ever.
Bradley is just the type of enthusiastic coach for Clowney, and it's something that Clowney himself has seemed to acknowledge, per the Jaguars' official Twitter account:
As the defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks before taking the head job in Jacksonville, Bradley has seen what it takes to be elite. Jacksonville could also use help in the pass rush, and at 6'6" and 266 pounds with 4.53-second speed in the 40, Clowney would command a double-team right away, making everyone around him better.
That is, as long as he puts forth the necessary work to capitalize on his upside. If a motivator like Bradley were given the opportunity to work with such a talent, he'd likely remind Clowney about all the doubters and everyone who questioned his love for the game.
Since the quarterback situation is less than ideal at the moment in Jacksonville, there will be even more incentive for Clowney to dominate and try to inspire his team to a better record than they'd have without him.
MMQB.com's Peter King reports that the Jags may be stuck between choosing Matthews or Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins at No. 3 overall. Watkins is an intriguing option as the top playmaker, and suspended Jags wideout Justin Blackmon makes that an even more tantalizing proposition.
Caldwell would be making a safe pick in that instance, but presuming Clowney is on the board, don't expect a Jags franchise in desperate need of some excitement to let him slide by. The draft is so deep at receiver, and Watkins wouldn't fit in all that well unless Jacksonville found a better signal-caller.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Who would make the biggest impact as a rookie on their mocked team?
Beyond that, Johnny Football is a great fit in coordinator Kyle Shanahan's versatile offense. Big hands and supreme arm talent allow Manziel to make all the NFL throws, and he'd have a supporting cast that includes last year's league-leading receiver in Josh Gordon, Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron, slot weapon Andrew Hawkins and newly-acquired running back Ben Tate.
Brent Sobleski of USA Today doesn't buy that Cleveland will take Manziel, but he couldn't deny the fit with Shanahan:
While Manziel to the Browns is the popular pick, I'm still not buying it. At least not yet. Although, great fit in Shanahan's system.— Brent Sobleski (@brentsobleski) May 5, 2014
GM Ray Farmer is new on the job and is at the helm of his first draft. It also happens to be the most important one the Browns have ever had. Manziel will be a popular pick amongst desperate fans, but he's also the right pick.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen suggested Monday that Cleveland would indeed snag Manziel if he were still on the board at No. 4, per network insider Adam Schefter:
And @mortreport reports he'd expect the Browns to snap up QB Johnny Manziel with the No. 4 pick if he's still there.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 5, 2014
Jeremiah also made a key distinction when referencing his mock drafts, and. in the latest one, he has Manziel going to the Browns:
Mock Draft = what I hear….Top 50 list = what I see— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 5, 2014
New mock draft will post soon…I have Manziel going to CLE at 4— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 5, 2014
All signs point to the Browns, and if they are going to take the ultimate gamble on a quarterback, now is the time to do it. Brian Hoyer could very well be a starting-caliber QB, so even if Manziel flames out, it wouldn't be as devastating as missing on a top player at the position normally would be.
Plus, Farmer has plenty of ammunition for the rest of the draft, including two third-round picks and another first-rounder at No. 26. So many needs can be filled. Cleveland will have the luxury of taking the plunge on Manziel that so many are hesitant to take—and the Browns should be rewarded for it in the end.
So much information is flying around, and until anything is decided in full on May 8, the best many fans, and even analysts, can do is speculate. And that singular concept is what has created such a modern frenzy around the NFL draft.
All four of the players previously analyzed have the skills and room for growth to become perennial All-Pros. Just as fans wish they could see who their team will pick earlier than they are able, those whose jobs are on the line in making these top draft picks wish they could know which premium prospects will pan out.
Even with some rather strong rumors to suggest all four of these picks could come to fruition, there are so many smokescreens being set leading up to the draft that all the current reports could be deceptive. They could even be accurate now and wrong in the end, because everything changes once the Texans are on the clock and make their choice at the top of the heap.