Now that the 2014 NFL draft is upon us, we can look forward to all the surprises and shockers that teams will pull off in the first round.
Of course, calling any draft pick a surprise can be redundant because all 32 teams have their own draft board and way of evaluating talent. Just because Mel Kiper or Todd McShay has a player ranked 10th on their board doesn't mean, say, Cleveland has the same player at that spot.
Regardless, due to the mountains of information out there about players and team needs, there will always be selections that surprise.
Our final mock draft before the big event focuses on the biggest surprises that you can expect to see in the first round.
*Note: Surprises are in italics
1. Houston Texans: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The more you read, the less of a surprise Khalil Mack to the Texans becomes. They run a 3-4 defensive scheme, which requires an outside edge-rusher who can drop back into coverage and defend the run.
ESPN's Ed Werder noted a discussion he had with Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, who didn't sound like he had made up his mind about which direction the wind was blowing.
Talked to Texans HC Bill O'Brien, who says DE Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack would be OLB in base 3-4. But multiple D so play down 60 pct.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) May 7, 2014
The bigger upset would be if Mack or Jadeveon Clowney didn't go No. 1 overall, but Mack is the better scheme fit and has a world of upside to justify being this pick.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
I'm not buying reports that the Rams are going to take Sammy Watkins with the No. 2 pick. He would certainly fit, but the bigger issue in St. Louis is on the offensive line and trying to maximize Sam Bradford's potential.
Greg Robinson is a foundation piece to plug on the offensive line, which is something you need in a division playing against the ferocious defensive lines in Seattle and San Francisco.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
If Mack going No. 1 is a surprise, Clowney "falling" to No. 3 has to be called a huge surprise. Yet in that scenario, I would bet a lot of money on a team like Atlanta mortgaging its draft to get in the No. 2 spot to take the South Carolina star.
Since we aren't dealing with trades here, Clowney stays on the board to Jacksonville at No. 3. Even with the playmaking wide receiver still on the board, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley comes from a defensive background having led Seattle's defense from 2009-12.
The downside for Clowney, if he isn't able to reach his ceiling, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, is still incredibly high.
Asked an AFC exec what does Jadeveon Clowney look like if he’s not as good as advertised? Answer: Julius Peppers or Mario Williams.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 7, 2014
Those are All-Pro players, so the Jaguars should be licking their chops if Clowney gets to them. There's no need to wait 10 minutes to turn in the card to Roger Goodell, just run it up there as soon as Robinson's name is announced at No. 2.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The best route for the Browns to take in the draft is taking the best player available at No. 4, which in this case is Sammy Watkins, and try to find a quarterback later, whether it's No. 26 or in the second round.
With two first-round picks in a deep draft, Cleveland can't afford to screw this up. Reaching for one of the quarterbacks, whether it's Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles, would be punting this pick.
5. Oakland Raiders: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Raiders are putting their immediate future in Matt Schaub's hands. In order to maximize his value, they need to get a receiver who can make plays in traffic and snatch the ball away from defenders deep down the field. Basically, Mike Evans can become Oakland's version of Andre Johnson for Schaub.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Even though the pass-rusher Atlanta desperately needs isn't available here, Jake Matthews isn't a bad consolation prize, especially since Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times last year.
Matthews has smaller arms (33.375") than you want for a tackle, making it more difficult to take on attackers out front, but is as technically sound as any offensive lineman in this draft.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
This is Tampa Bay's worst nightmare because both elite wide receivers are off the board, though Taylor Lewan fills another huge need for the Buccaneers. He also isn't a reach at this spot, as a player like Odell Beckham Jr. would be.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
There seems to be momentum building for a quarterback to go in this spot because the Vikings obviously have a huge need at the position. ESPN's Bob Holtzman said on SportsCenter, via Rotoworld.com, that the team is "prepared to wait a round or two, if not longer" for a quarterback.
Instead, the Vikings can work on fixing the league's 31st-ranked pass defense last year by getting their enforcer. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a playmaker extraordinaire with great instincts and ball skills, as well as underrated tackling skills for a safety.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
With the two elite tackles off the board, Buffalo has a lot of room to play around. The Bills could look to trade down, hoping to add more picks and get one of the second-tier offensive linemen where the value is better.
Another scenario that works well for the Bills would be drafting Eric Ebron here to be EJ Manuel's safety net over the middle. The North Carolina tight end is a physical monster at 6'4", 250 pounds and can outmuscle linebackers or run past safeties.
Ebron's stock seems to be sliding thanks to a report from Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net that said the Giants, who have also been linked to the tight end, aren't sold on him due to "personality red flags."
It would be a mistake to overvalue some of his attitude issues, especially in today's NFL where the tight end is more valuable than ever.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The only question for the Lions is whether they take Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard. The latter is more physical at the line and a superior tackler, but the former has better pure coverage skills and has blazing speed (4.37 40-yard dash).
11. Tennessee Titans: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Titans will seriously consider a quarterback at this spot, but the best value and biggest need is cornerback. Assuming the Lions go with a cornerback, the Titans will take whichever player Detroit doesn't.
In this case, that means Dennard falls into Tennessee's lap. The Michigan State star gets dinged for having just average height and weight (5'10", 199 pounds), but no cornerback in this class plays man-to-man better and he's willing to get physical with bigger receivers.
12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald just feels like the kind of player Tom Coughlin loves. He's not the biggest defensive tackle (6'0", 285 pounds), but plays with as much energy and has elite strength to bull rush offensive linemen with more size.
The Giants need to get younger and physical on the defensive line again if they want to get back to the postseason.
13. St. Louis Rams: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
In keeping with the theme that St. Louis needs to get Bradford help, the Rams get the outside threat they need with Beckham. He's not at the level of Watkins or Evans, though that's hardly a knock on him.
Beckham serves two purposes for the Rams. He allows them to move Tavon Austin to his natural slot position, and gives Bradford a home run threat on the outside to really open up a stale offense.
14. Chicago Bears: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Bears have spent the offseason trying to rebuild a porous defensive line that gave up the most rushing yards in football last year. Now they need to fix a soft secondary to avoid giving up last-second touchdown passes over the top to Aaron Rodgers.
Calvin Pryor is the perfect fit for the Bears, who need a heavy-hitting safety who can make receivers look over their shoulder before the ball gets there and also adds value against the run.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The surprise here is not that the Steelers are drafting a wide receiver, because they desperately need one after losing Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders in the last two years.
Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted in February how dire Pittsburgh's receiving group would get once free agency hit.
In 2 weeks, Steelers wide receivers combined behind Antonio Brown will have 214 snaps, 8 catches, 64 yards, 1 TD.— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) February 24, 2014
What is surprising is they aren't taking a defensive player. The first thing you think of with the Steelers is strong defense, but times are changing and they have to take advantage of Ben Roethlisberger's prime as long as possible.
There will be value on defense later in the draft, but Cooks gives the Steelers a burner on the outside who can stretch the field and an underrated route runner.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The great hope is that Johnny Manziel falls here just to see if Jerry Jones can resist the temptation to draft him. Hopefully, at least for the other people in Dallas' war room, it doesn't happen because that ignores the gaping hole the Cowboys have on the defensive line.
Timmy Jernigan gives the Cowboys' defensive line the plug it needs in the middle and a solid pass-rusher with upside.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
There's no mystery what the Ravens need to do with this pick. Joe Flacco was knocked around last year to the tune of 48 sacks, while Ray Rice had the worst year of his career because there were no holes to hit. Morgan Moses is quick off the snap and light on his feet, able to move around in the running game and overpower defenders in the passing game.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Jets are another team where there's no mystery, just a question of which wide receiver they like best. Marqise Lee is the best pass-catcher on the board, showing excellent separation in his routes and turn up the field on a dime, giving whoever Rex Ryan's starting quarterback is an option to stretch the defense.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Dolphin have done a solid job adding players to an offensive line that had all sorts of problems last year. Branden Albert isn't a star but can play at a high level for the next two years. Zack Martin is versatile enough to play multiple spots on the line, showing the speed and technique to play tackle and power to play guard.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
You didn't think we'd get through the first round without the biggest lightning rod in the draft being taken, did you?
What would be the biggest surprise of the first round?
When looking at the teams where Manziel might go, and finding the right value for him, Arizona immediately jumped out. He shouldn't go in the top half of the first round in a draft this deep, though it wouldn't be a shock to see someone pop him based on the name recognition.
Bruce Arians has the kind of offense that takes advantage of Manziel's skills. The Cardinals head coach wants to spread the field and throw the ball deep. They have the big receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd) to get away with it.
Manziel doesn't have elite arm strength, but when he actually sets himself is capable of throwing the ball far enough for Fitzgerald and Floyd to get it. Carson Palmer is getting old (34) and still makes too many mistakes (22 interceptions last year), so the Cardinals need to think about the future soon.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
C.J. Mosley, based on raw talent, is a steal at this spot. He's got some injury concerns, missing games in 2011 and having shoulder surgery after the 2012 season, but started every game last year and was all over the place showing tremendous field vision and instincts.
The Packers need to get more versatile at the linebacker position, because we saw how fragile they are at the position when Clay Matthews is out.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
It seems odd to think the Eagles are lacking on offense with Chip Kelly as their head coach, but their receiving group is thin with DeSean Jackson in Washington. Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are solid players, not guys you want to build around.
Cody Latimer has helium leading into the draft as a bigger receiver (6'2", 215 pounds) who can outmuscle defensive backs and has the speed (4.4 40-yard dash) to stretch the field for Nick Foles.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The consensus seems to be that Kansas City needs a receiver in the first round. It's understandable considering the Chiefs had just 173 catches from wide receivers last year.
However, I would argue that the Chiefs' biggest concern right now is in the secondary. They got picked apart in the second half of the season, especially when Justin Houston and Tamba Hali were out with injuries.
Kyle Fuller has moved safely into the first-round mix thanks to his combination of size, instincts and recognition. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network raved about the Virginia Tech cornerback, via Troy Renck of the Denver Post.
NFL analyst Mike Mayock ranked Kyle Fuller as his top CB. Loves his upside. I love that physical, tackles well. #broncos— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) May 1, 2014
If the Chiefs want to avoid another late-season meltdown, they have to plug their holes in the secondary. Fuller would be an ideal selection for Andy Reid's team.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
The Bengals don't need a linebacker, per se, but with the loss of Michael Johnson could stand another player on the edge. Ryan Shazier doesn't grade out with any elite tool, but has excellent range on the field and will be a three-down player.
25. San Diego Chargers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
No first-round pick is as raw as Anthony Barr. He's only played defense for two years, so is still learning the fundamentals of playing outside linebacker/pass-rusher. But there's a lot to be said about a player with 41.5 tackles for loss and 23.5 sacks who hasn't come close to scratching the surface.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The surprise here is not that Cleveland takes a quarterback, but that Blake Bortles is still on the board when the Browns make their second selection. This is a dream scenario, though one that has a real chance to happen, with Watkins going No. 4 and a future quarterback here.
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Bortles met with Browns ownership not long before the draft.
Of the three potential first-round quarterbacks, Bridgewater's arm doesn't fit in the harsh Cleveland weather and Manziel is too volatile for a Browns franchise that has had its share of bad luck with quarterbacks.
Bortles is the safest quarterback in this class, with the size, arm strength and accuracy to be a star. Giving him Watkins and Josh Gordon to throw to only makes the Browns more dangerous.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Saints love to blitz opposing quarterbacks. Kony Ealy is an athletic defensive end with size and strength to be a quality pass-rusher, with the speed to handle himself in coverage if scheme requires it.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Cam Newton's evolution last year could be offset by losing every quality wide receiver he had (Steve Smith, Ted Ginn, Brandon LaFell). The Panthers have to find a receiver early. Kelvin Benjamin is a project with below-average routes and speed, but is a matchup nightmare at 6'5", 240 pounds.
29. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
It's time for the Patriots to start thinking about life after Vince Wilfork. Ra'Shede Hageman gives Bill Belichick's defensive line much-needed depth and an insurance policy if Wilfork gets hurt again.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Wide receiver seems like San Francisco's top priority, but with the value not there based on picks made, the 49ers can address their lack of depth at cornerback. Jason Verrett gets knocked for his size (5'9", 189 pounds), but plays bigger because he's so physical and ran a stellar 4.38 40-yard dash.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
The Broncos are all-in right now. They need to win while Peyton Manning is their quarterback, so they're only goal in the draft is to fill whatever immediate need they have. In this case, it's the interior offensive line where Xavier Su'a-Filo can step in right away and be a solid starter for a long time.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Even though the Seahawks need a wide receiver, Pete Carroll isn't going to pass up an opportunity to get a talented-but-underachieving defensive player who can rush the quarterback. Stephon Tuitt doesn't have the speed to get around the edge, but is so physical that he can just bull rush opponents.
Height, weight and speed information courtesy of NFL.com.
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