What seemed to be the longest pre-draft process in league history (oh wait, it was) will finally be ending this week.
The Houston Texans hold the much-anticipated first overall pick, and the whole NFL world eagerly waits to see what general manager Rick Smith will do. Smith claims he absolutely knows what he wants to do, and scouts and fans alike can only guess what that means.
Does Smith want Jadeveon Clowney, arguably the best pass-rushing prospect since Lawrence Taylor? Will he go with electrifying, playmaking quarterback Johnny Manziel? Does he go with Khalil Mack or Blake Bortles or even trade away the pick?
Thursday will tell us. For now, we can only predict.
What seemed to be the longest pre-draft process in league history (oh wait, it was) will finally be ending this week.
Who really knows what Houston will do? Last year, it was Luke Joeckel to the Kansas City Chiefs all the way, and then Eric Fisher swept in and went first overall.
The Texans are likely fielding plenty of phone calls, and anything really could happen. In this case, though, Rick Smith doesn't get an offer intriguing enough to make him be "that guy" who passed on a once-in-a-generation prospect like Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney may be slightly miscast in Houston's 3-4 scheme, but he has enough natural pass-rushing ability to still be a force. That pits Clowney opposite All-World end J.J. Watt, and that is enough to keep opposing offensive coordinators up at night. The Texans can wait to pick a quarterback.
The Cleveland Browns won’t want to wait until the fourth overall pick to get Johnny Manziel, and they won’t have to.
Thanks to the Trent Richardson trade that brought an extra first-round pick, general manager Ray Farmer can send his fourth overall pick to the St. Louis Rams and still have another first-rounder (in this case, he gives away this year and next year's second-round picks).
This will assure that Cleveland gets Manziel and thus potentially its first franchise signal-caller since Bernie Kosar.
Manziel is the ultimate boom-or-bust prospect, but he has too much potential to pass up. He’s head and shoulders above current quarterback Brian Hoyer, and he makes the Browns an immediate playoff contender in the AFC North.
The Atlanta Falcons will do everything they can to trade up and get pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, but Buffalo’s Khalil Mack is a fine alternative. The Jacksonville Jaguars will be more than happy to comply, especially since they will accumulate more draft picks in which to improve one of the NFL’s worst rosters.
Mack is a rush linebacker like Von Miller, and he has a chance to be as good. Mack went to small-school Buffalo, but he came up big against elite competition. Look no further than his performance against Ohio State (nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and a pick-six) in the opener.
It’s likely that the St. Louis Rams emerge as serious winners in the NFL draft. They already have two first-round picks (both in the top half), and in this scenario, they get a pair of second-rounders from the Cleveland Browns (one from next year).
General manager Les Snead would be overjoyed to move back two spots and still get athletic freak Greg Robinson. Robinson is an offensive lineman who dominated the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.92 40 and putting up 35 reps on the bench press.
The Rams are reshuffling their line for 2014, and they could seemingly use him anywhere. Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long is coming back from a torn ACL, which means he may not be ready for the start of the season. Right guard Harvey Dahl was a salary cap release, but there’s an even bigger hole at left guard. For now, Robinson would likely play left guard, but he’s athletic enough to really play any position.
The Oakland Raiders should be in a position to choose between a number of elite prospects, and there's pretty much a need at every single spot on their roster. Mike Evans is shooting up draft boards, and he will go higher than Sammy Watkins on draft day.
Evans will be a young quarterback’s best friend. While the Raiders are committed to Matt Schaub for now, he’s not the long-term answer and they’ll likely draft a future quarterback in one of the top two rounds.
Evans is 6’5”, 230 pounds, and he has an uncanny ability to come down with contested catches in traffic. A team could be enticed to trade up for him if it's interested.
Aaron Donald is the classic 3-technique defensive tackle, and Gus Bradley will be thrilled to take him after moving down. Donald projects to be a force as an interior pass-rusher, and he’s a similar player to Gerald McCoy or Geno Atkins.
This would be the ideal situation for Jacksonville, which has to be looking eagerly for trade partners. Manziel may be deemed as too big of a risk for Bradley, and Peter King of Sports Illustrated reports in his MMQB article that the Jaguars want to play it safe with their first pick.
Donald put up ridiculous numbers in his final season at Pittsburgh, registering 11 sacks, an NCAA-record 28.5 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles. He would team with Sen’Derrick Marks to give the Jaguars a top-five defensive tackle tandem in the National Football League.
If this draft played out this way, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would sprint to the podium to take arguably a top-three talent. Sammy Watkins doesn’t have Mike Evans’ size, but he’s an extremely polished, NFL-ready receiver who will make life much easier for whichever player is under center for the team in 2014.
Watkins put up 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns at Clemson a year ago, and he did that without DeAndre Hopkins, who graduated to the NFL the previous season.
He’s not the stereotypical big receiver, but he’s worth a high pick. Watkins would begin the season as the No. 2 behind Vincent Jackson, but he’s a future No. 1 and seems to be one of the safer picks in the draft.
The Minnesota Vikings are in a unique situation in this NFL draft. They don’t really need an offensive tackle considering they have Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt each signed through at least the 2015 season. Aaron Donald is off the board, and it’s a little too early to reach for a defensive player like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or a cornerback.
The team has a serious need in the secondary after allowing a league-worst 37 touchdown passes in 2013. Ideally, general manager Rick Spielman trades down (the Dallas Cowboys?). This way, he can pick a franchise quarterback but also pick up some extra draft picks.
That said, Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel aren’t the long-term solutions to the quarterback position, and Blake Bortles is a developmental player with a very high upside. If he can sit behind Cassel for a year, he could take over regularly in 2015. Bortles has impressive size (6’5”, 230 pounds), a strong arm and above-average mobility.
By virtue of being the best player available, Jake Matthews is an easy pick at No. 9. Buffalo has a franchise left tackle in Cordy Glenn, so Matthews would begin his career on the right side (with veteran Erik Pears a salary cap release).
He doesn’t have the flashiness of Auburn’s Greg Robinson, but he’s experienced in blocking at both left and right tackle. Football also runs in his bloodlines, as he’s the son of Hall of Fame center Bruce Matthews and is related to All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews.
Matthews is a standout pass-blocker who would help develop young quarterback EJ Manuel. He’s one of the safest selections in the draft and the kind of player that should still be thriving in a decade.
The Detroit Lions have expressed a lot of interest in North Carolina tight end, Eric Ebron, which is intriguing considering the Lions’ current depth chart at tight end.
Former first-round pick Brandon Pettigrew was re-signed to a four-year, $16 million deal this offseason, and undrafted rookie Joseph Fauria emerged as a serious red-zone threat last year (seven touchdown grabs on just 18 receptions). So where does that leave Ebron?
Well, it would give Detroit the best three-headed tight end set in the game and mismatch nightmares. Ebron is essentially a slot receiver (6’4”, 245 pounds) who doesn’t block in the sense that a traditional tight end should. There would still be opportunities for Ebron and Pettigrew and even Fauria to be on the field at the same time, and that would give Matthew Stafford a lot of weapons.
The Tennessee Titans would benefit from trading back. They’re switching to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ray Horton, which could lead them to select Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III or UCLA pass-rushing linebacker Anthony Barr.
There’s a need at the quarterback position, but reaching for Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater could lead to what Minnesota experienced by taking Christian Ponder at pick No. 12 in 2011. If the Titans can trade back, they’ll look to do it.
In this case, they go with TCU’s undersized cornerback Jason Verrett, a feisty player who is as tough as nails. Verrett would likely be a top-six or top-seven pick if he was a few inches taller. He’s just 5’9”, but his measurables are pretty impressive—4.38 40-yard dash, 39-inch vertical leap and top marks for cornerbacks in both the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuffle.
He will ease the loss of Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner and start opposite Jason McCourty as a rookie.
The New York Giants operate strictly under the philosophy of drafting the best player available. In this case, they’ll get LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., a dynamic playmaker who may sniff the top eight picks.
Beckham is a smaller receiver (5’11, 195 pounds) who was an explosive playmaker at LSU. He has a tremendous catch radius, seemingly hauling in any pass within five feet of his body. He is also a dangerous punt returner who set his school’s single-season record for all-purpose yards.
All of a sudden, Eli Manning would have one of the NFL’s better receiving trios with Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Beckham.
The Rams have to be pretty thrilled with how this draft has played out so far. They moved down from No. 2 to No. 4 and still got Robinson (plus a pair of second-rounders). At pick No. 13, they’re fortunate enough that Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is still available.
The Rams got fairly good play from rookie safety T.J. McDonald last year, and Clinton-Dix would be a tremendous complement. McDonald is a run-stopper who plays mainly in the box, whereas Clinton-Dix is a classic center field type who intercepts passes.
Clinton-Dix is a ball hawk who led the Crimson Tide in interceptions as a sophomore in 2012. He dropped off slightly in 2013, but he compares favorably to Seattle Seahawks All-Pro Earl Thomas, according to Rob Rang of CBS Sports.
The Chicago Bears ranked 30th in the NFL in points allowed and yards allowed a year ago, which is uncharacteristic of typical Chicago football.
Improving the defense should be the No. 1 priority heading into the draft. If Donald falls to No. 14, that’s a dream come true for Marc Trestman. The same is true of Alabama’s Clinton-Dix is there (and don’t rule out a trade up by Chicago).
In this situation, the team goes with Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, the best defensive player still on the board. Fuller is a versatile corner who has spent time as a safety and even a linebacker. He is just what the Bears need after their dismal 2013 performance as a team.
Every year, there are a handful of prospects that go substantially higher on draft day than expected. Last year, it was cornerback D.J. Hayden. This year, Cody Latimer may be the guy.
Latimer has a lot of traits to like for an NFL wide receiver. He’s 6’3", 215 pounds and ran a 4.39 at his Indiana pro day. He also bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times, which put him first among his positional group. He has sure hands and he’s an established blocker.
According to Gerry Dulac of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh Steelers promised Ben Roethlisberger that they would draft him a big receiver in the draft. Latimer may be that guy, especially since Kelvin Benjamin’s stock has dropped as of late.
The Johnny Manziel-to-Dallas Cowboys rumors are buzzing, as reported by the NFL Network on Twitter, but they're likely illogical because Tony Romo's contract all but guarantees three more years.
What the Cowboys need is as much help on the offensive line as possible given that their 34-year-old quarterback is coming off back surgery.
Left tackle Tyron Smith is a franchise player, and center Travis Frederick was an immediate success as a first-round rookie a year ago. Adding Michigan's Taylor Lewan would solidify what has long been an underachieving unit. Lewan is a borderline top-10 talent who may fall because of his recent issues with the law. If the Cowboys take him, he can play right tackle and Doug Free can move inside to guard.
With the glaring holes in their offensive line, the Miami Dolphins can't risk their top target being gone when they pick. Meanwhile, Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome will be thrilled to trade back and acquire more selections.
Miami did sign Branden Albert in free agency, but it still needs a tackle and a guard. Notre Dame's Zack Martin can play both positions. He should be an immediate starter on a line that could seemingly see five new starters in 2014.
Rex Ryan has selected a defensive player with his last five first-round picks, so why should that change now? Sure, there's been some speculation of a quarterback, but there would be too much of a logjam to add a signal-caller to a mix that already includes Michael Vick and Geno Smith.
Ryan made an attempt to upgrade the wide receiver position by overpaying for Eric Decker, and the loss of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie in successive years suggests cornerback is a need. This would give the Jets three first-round corners in five years, but that's what happens when Kyle Wilson doesn't develop as expected.
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert is a bargain pick at No. 18, and he's a Week 1 starter. Gilbert flashes NFL speed (4.38) and can cover as well as anyone declaring for the draft. He's a classic Ryan player, especially since Ryan believes in building his defense starting at the cornerback position.
There's a good chance the Ravens would take Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses with their original first-round pick, so they will have no qualms about trading back and acquiring a Week 1 starter.
Moses has ridiculously long arms, which may lead to comparisons to D.J. Fluker. He may be a bit of a project but he's substantially better than current right tackle Ricky Wagner.
Should Baltimore pass on Moses, look for general manager Ozzie Newsome to target a big receiver to help Joe Flacco.
If pass-rusher Anthony Barr falls to this point, a team may trade up for him. Barr is extremely raw, but he has the potential to be one of the most dynamic defensive players in the National Football League if he develops as expected.
The Arizona Cardinals will be looking to trade back from pick No. 20 so that they can draft a quarterback in the first round but still get some extra draft selections. Barr will help shore up a Chargers defense that needs a handful of upgrades.
Combining Barr with Melvin Ingram has the potential to make life difficult for Peyton Manning, and that’s how the Chargers can hope to contend in this division.
The Green Bay Packers don’t have any glaring needs on either side of the ball, and they can afford to draft more for need than the best player available.
Safety Calvin Pryor may be tempting, but his stock is dropping as of late. Alabama’s C.J. Mosley may see a drop as well, but he still warrants a first-round pick because of the high upside he possesses.
Mosley was the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and he was named the Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker. He has injury concerns, but he would join a Green Bay defense that has the potential to be one of the finest front sevens, with Datone Jones, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry all former first-round draft picks.
The San Francisco 49ers have plenty of draft picks, and general manager Trent Baalke won’t hesitate to trade up should a top player fall. With Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard dropping to No. 22, the Niners will pounce on him. Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman will be more than happy to comply, as the Eagles have just six picks.
Dennard could start at cornerback in Week 1 for the 49ers, and his job would be made easier by the ridiculous amount of talent on the front seven. Dennard is a playmaker himself, coming off a season in which he was a unanimous All-American and winner of the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.
Look up Andy Reid’s recent first-round picks: Eric Fisher. Fletcher Cox. Danny Watkins. Brandon Graham.
They’re all linemen, whether it be offensive or defense. Why should this year be any different? After all, the Chiefs lost Pro Bowl tackle Branden Albert via free agency, and former first-round defensive lineman Tyson Jackson left as well. Both guards, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, also left.
UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo is a first-round talent who is talented enough to start right away. He’s a nasty run-blocker who will open up holes for Jamaal Charles. Su’a-Filo has the ability to play tackle or guard, having played both in college, and that versatility could come in handy for the Chiefs if Fisher continues to struggle.
The Cincinnati Bengals need a cornerback desperately, but the upside of Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier is very high. Shazier checks in at just 235 pounds, which is small for a linebacker. His 4.36 speed, though, is out of this world, and he is almost an oversized safety.
Shazier’s 40-inch vertical leap and natural ball skills suggest he can stick with even the best tight ends. He would team with Vontaze Burfict to give the Bengals one of the better linebacker duos in the league.
Should Shazier be gone, any of the five best corners (Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett, Kyle Fuller or Bradley Roby) would suffice, as would defensive end Kony Ealy.
Bruce Arians has in an interesting dilemma here.
Quarterback Carson Palmer played fairly well a year ago, tossing for 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns while leading the Arizona Cardinals to a 10-6 record (in a tough division). But his contract suggests he’s gone after 2014, and that means Arizona will need a younger quarterback to step in and take over.
If Arians waits until the second round, he may not get a quarterback much better than AJ McCarron or Tom Savage. Neither projects to be a franchise player, and the Cardinals need that to compete with the Seahawks and 49ers.
Derek Carr has enough physical tools to justify this spot. He has a strong arm, he’s athletic, instinctive, tough and is a three-time team captain who put up impressive numbers while at Fresno State. Allow him a year to learn under Palmer, and then he should get his shot.
The Cleveland Browns picked Johnny Manziel with their first first-round pick, which means they should target either a wide receiver, a guard or a cornerback with their next selection. Since Ohio State’s Bradley Roby is still on the board, general manager Ray Farmer has to take him.
Roby was beat too many times in college, but he has elite speed and arguably the highest upside of any cornerback. A cornerback tandem of Joe Haden and Roby will make life difficult for Roethlisberger and Flacco.
Factor in other up-and-coming defensive players like Barkevious Mingo and Phil Taylor, and there’s a lot of talent on this side of the ball. The Browns could be ready for a playoff run as soon as 2014.
The New Orleans Saints are in a pretty good position heading into the NFL draft. Their quarterback and tight end positions are set, they have a good edge rush with Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette and the secondary got much better with the recent additions of Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd.
How about a big anchor in the middle of the 3-4 defense?
Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III is a 350-pound mammoth of a man who can line up directly over the center. He is athletic enough to play even on passing downs, and if the Saints get a player similar to Haloti Ngata or Vince Wilfork, they have a steal at the 27th pick.
General manager Dave Gettleman wasn’t shy about admitting the Carolina Panthers’ draft needs. Per Steve Reed of The Associated Press (h/t WSOCTV.com), the Panthers will be looking for either a franchise left tackle or playmaking wide receiver following the retirement and release of Jordan Gross and Steve Smith, respectively.
A handful of receivers could fill the void here, though it’s too much of a reach to go for a lineman like Joel Bitonio. USC’s Marqise Lee is a true first-round talent who probably would have gone in the top 10 picks had he declared for the NFL draft last year.
Lee isn’t a big receiver, but he has an excellent ability to gain yards after the catch and he’s a polished route-runner. He is also a punt returner with game-breaking return skills.
Look for Bill Belichick to trade his first-round pick, whether it be up for a player or down to a quarterback-needy team. It’s difficult to project a trade this late in the first round, though, and I kept the New England Patriots at this spot because a player at such a pivotal need falls to them.
The Patriots had a glaring hole at the 3-technique tackle spot last year. Once Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly went down with injuries, New England had to shuffle backups like Joe Vellano and Chris Jones as regulars. The result was a run defense that ranked 30th in the league.
With Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman on the board, Belichick gets a highly talented player capable of playing as a one-gap or two-gap defensive tackle. Should the Patriots ever employ a 3-4, Hageman has the skills to line up directly over the center, and he has a very high upside.
Howie Roseman is pretty good on draft day, and a trade down with the 49ers allows Philadelphia to draft a first-round wide receiver and acquire more draft picks.
Penn State’s Allen Robinson has gone largely under the radar among first-round talents, but he has some skills that would make any team love him. His ridiculous 42-inch vertical leap will make him a terrific red-zone threat, and he showed pretty good speed at his pro day.
The Denver Broncos need to win now, as Peyton Manning is entering his 17th NFL season. If they see a player they like earlier, they will assuredly trade up, especially after losing Decker and Zane Beadles via free agency.
The team did sign veteran pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, but Derek Wolfe opposite him is better as a run-stopper than a pass-rusher.
Missouri’s Kony Ealy was frequently double-teamed in 2013, but he still posted eight sacks, 14 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. He will begin as a rotational end in an underrated defensive line that also includes Sylvester Williams, Malik Jackson and Terrance Knighton.
The Seahawks could go a handful of different ways with their first-round pick. General manager John Schneider would likely have no problem trading down to a team in need of a quarterback.
If he does stay put, though, the Seahawks need a guard, a wide receiver to replace Golden Tate and a tight end.
Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews is a first-round talent who marks the seventh wide receiver selected in the first 32 picks.
Matthews is 6’3”, 210 pounds, runs a 4.46 40 and put up 21 reps on the bench press. He had ridiculous success at the collegiate level, finishing as the SEC’s all-time leader in career receptions and receiving yards. He will be another target for young quarterback Russell Wilson.
33. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
34. Washington Redskins: Joel Bitonio, OT/G, Nevada
35. St. Louis Rams (via trade): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
36. Oakland Raiders: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
37. Jacksonville Jaguars (via trade): Zack Mettenberger, QB, LSU
38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: David Yankey, G, Stanford
39. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
40. Minnesota Vikings: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
41. Buffalo Bills: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
42. Tennessee Titans: Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh
43. NY Giants: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
44. St. Louis Rams: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
45. Detroit Lions: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
46. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
47. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
48. Baltimore Ravens: Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
49. NY Jets: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
50. Miami Dolphins: LaMarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State
51. Chicago Bears: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
52. Arizona Cardinals: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
53. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
54. Philadelphia Eagles: Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
55. Cincinnati Bengals: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
56. Philadelphia Eagles (via trade): Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
57. Arizona Cardinals (via trade): Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
58. New Orleans Saints: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
59. Indianapolis Colts: DeMarcus Lawrence, DE/OLB, Boise State
60. Carolina Panthers: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
61. San Francisco 49ers: Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi
62. New England Patriots: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
63. Denver Broncos: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
64. Seattle Seahawks: Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford