The speculation surrounding the first round of the 2014 NFL draft will end Thursday, but amid all the mocks that have occurred throughout the offseason, certain experts' opinions are worth paying attention to.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock just released his first mock only a day before the action at Radio City Music Hall in New York begins. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report hasn't left fans hanging at all throughout, continuing his relentless work in evaluating prospects. He's just released a final first-round mock of his own.
Rotoworld.com guru Evan Silva got a bit trade-crazy with his projections for Round 1 in a most interesting mock on Thursday, and ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest (subscription required) is as good of a read as there is.
Here is a complete look at some of the marquee experts' picks—along with those of yours truly—for how the first round will unfold.
|Pick||Team||Matt Miller (B/R)||Mike Mayock (NFL.com)||Mel Kiper Jr. (ESPN)||Evan Silva (Rotoworld)||Matt Fitzgerald (B/R)|
|1||Houston Texans||Jadeveon Clowney||Jadeveon Clowney||Jadeveon Clowney||Jadeveon Clowney (traded to Atlanta)||Jadeveon Clowney|
|2||St. Louis Rams (via WAS)||Greg Robinson (traded to Atlanta)||Greg Robinson||Greg Robinson||Greg Robinson||Greg Robinson|
|3||Jacksonville Jaguars||Sammy Watkins||Khalil Mack||Khalil Mack||Khalil Mack||Khalil Mack|
|4||Cleveland Browns||Mike Evans||Jake Matthews||Sammy Watkins||Mike Evans||Sammy Watkins (traded to Tampa Bay)|
|5||Oakland Raiders||Khalil Mack||Sammy Watkins||Mike Evans||Sammy Watkins (traded to Detroit)||Mike Evans|
|6||Atlanta Falcons||Aaron Donald (traded to St. Louis)||Taylor Lewan||Jake Matthews||Blake Bortles (traded to Houston)||Jake Matthews|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Johnny Manziel||Mike Evans||Johnny Manziel||Johnny Manziel||Johnny Manziel (traded to Cleveland)|
|8||Minnesota Vikings||Eric Ebron (traded to Giants)||Justin Gilbert||Aaron Donald||Aaron Donald||Anthony Barr|
|9||Buffalo Bills||Jake Matthews||Zack Martin||Taylor Lewan||Eric Ebron||Taylor Lewan|
|10||Detroit Lions||Justin Gilbert||Darqueze Dennard||Justin Gilbert||Jake Matthews (traded to Oakland)||Justin Gilbert|
|11||Tennessee Titans||Taylor Lewan||Blake Bortles||Anthony Barr||Justin Gilbert||Darqueze Dennard|
|12||New York Giants||C.J. Mosley (traded to Minnesota)||Eric Ebron||Zack Martin||Taylor Lewan||Eric Ebron|
|13||St. Louis Rams||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Odell Beckham Jr.||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Calvin Pryor|
|14||Chicago Bears||Odell Beckham Jr. (traded to Jets)||Calvin Pryor||Kyle Fuller||Calvin Pryor||Aaron Donald|
|15||Pittsburgh Steelers||Kyle Fuller||Kyle Fuller||Darqueze Dennard||Kyle Fuller||Odell Beckham Jr.|
|16||Dallas Cowboys||Zack Martin||Johnny Manziel||Ryan Shazier||Anthony Barr||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix|
|17||Baltimore Ravens||Morgan Moses||C.J. Mosley||Eric Ebron||Odell Beckham Jr. (traded to San Francisco)||Zack Martin|
|18||New York Jets||Kony Ealy (traded to Chicago)||Brandin Cooks||Odell Beckham Jr.||Darqueze Dennard||Brandin Cooks|
|19||Miami Dolphins||Cyrus Kouandjio||Cyrus Kouandjio||Ja'Wuan James||Zack Martin||Ryan Shazier (traded to Denver)|
|20||Arizona Cardinals||Blake Bortles||Anthony Barr||Blake Bortles||Dee Ford||Derek Carr|
|21||Green Bay Packers||Ra'Shede Hageman||Ryan Shazier||C.J. Mosley||Ryan Shazier||C.J. Mosley|
|22||Philadelphia Eagles||Anthony Barr||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Brandin Cooks||Brandin Cooks||Allen Robinson|
|23||Kansas City Chiefs||Teddy Bridgewater||Marqise Lee||Marqise Lee||Marqise Lee||Cody Latimer|
|24||Cincinnati Bengals||Brandin Cooks (traded to San Francisco)||Aaron Donald||Bradley Roby||Bradley Roby||Teddy Bridgewater|
|25||San Diego Chargers||Darqueze Dennard||Bradley Roby||Stanley Jean-Baptiste||Louis Nix||Bradley Roby|
|26||Cleveland Browns (via IND)||Derek Carr||Teddy Bridgewater||Teddy Bridgewater||Derek Carr||Kyle Fuller|
|27||New Orleans Saints||Marcus Martin||Kelvin Benjamin||Kyle Van Noy||Stanley Jean-Baptiste||Kelvin Benjamin|
|28||Carolina Panthers||Ja'Wuan James||Derek Carr (traded to Oakland)||Joel Bitonio||Joel Bitonio||Ja'Wuan James|
|29||New England Patriots||Dominique Easley||Jace Amaro||Calvin Pryor||Teddy Bridgewater||Dee Ford|
|30||San Francisco 49ers||Jason Verrett (traded to Cincinnati)||Stephon Tuitt||Cody Lattimer||Austin Seferian-Jenkins (traded to Baltimore)||Stanley Jean-Baptiste|
|31||Denver Broncos||Ryan Shazier||Jason Verrett||Jason Verrett||C.J. Mosley||Xavier Su'a-Filo (traded to Miami)|
|32||Seattle Seahawks||Bradley Roby||Stanley Jean-Baptise||Morgan Moses||Ra'Shede Hageman||Morgan Moses|
Notable Draft Buzz and 1st-Round Analysis
Veteran Houston Chronicle beat writer John McClain seems sold that the Houston Texans won't trade their No. 1 overall pick and will use it to select South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney:
McClain also outlined the price that teams will have to pay to move into the top spot in the order:
In a trade for top pick, Texans are hoping to get a 1st-round swap and picks in 2nd and 3rd rounds this year and a No. 1 in 2015..— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) May 8, 2014
Clowney is a freakish athlete at 6'6" and 266 pounds who ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Persistent questions about his work ethic and motor have plagued him in the pre-draft process, but it appears the Texans are set to take him.
Who should the Texans take No. 1 overall?
Maybe not. Check out the following inside information from Jason Butt of the National Football Post.
"According to a league source, Houston is thinking hard about, and perhaps leaning toward, taking Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack with the No. 1 overall pick," writes Butt on Thursday.
Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack is bound to be the next defender off the board, unless he goes ahead of Clowney somehow. Mack is an excellent player, but doesn't boast quite the upside Clowney does. That's nothing to be ashamed of, since no one has those types of physical gifts.
Mack and Clowney, in whatever order, should be followed by Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, whose physical skills suggest he has the most upside of anyone at his position. Mayock has Gilbert going eighth to Minnesota, which is a bit of a surprise considering the Vikings picked Xavier Rhodes in Round 1 last year, but ESPN's Adam Caplan sees the fit:
On #Vikings, Justin Gilbert makes a lot of sense for them at #8--fits prototype of a Zimmer CB-press-man DB and size.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) May 8, 2014
Generating the most buzz based on the position he plays is Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. The dual-threat signal-caller could very well be the first quarterback off the board.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports summed Manziel up best in what he's heard from other teams:
After months grinding, I can say Johnny Manziel is the most intriguing draft day question mark since Randy Moss. So many NFL teams engaged.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) May 8, 2014
The Cleveland Browns have been speculated as a destination for Manziel, but Fox Sports insider Jay Glazer extinguished that as a possibility before the draft based on what he knows:
Browns won't be drafting Manziel at #4. I know it's been out there a ton that they will but no that's not how they have it— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) May 6, 2014
Or did he? Glazer is among the most respected and accurate NFL reporters in the game today, so it's no surprise to see all the experts above pulling Manziel from Cleveland. Miller and Kiper (subscription required) both had Manziel to Cleveland at No. 4 in their previous mocks.
But what if the Browns trade back, allowing Tampa Bay to grab Sammy Watkins to pair opposite Vincent Jackson, and then the Oakland Raiders land receiving help of their own with Mike Evans? Cleveland general manager Ray Farmer would be heralded as a genius for getting an additional pick and still delivering Johnny Football to the impassioned fans.
Then again, Jacksonville could ruin all that if it selects Manziel at No. 3, which McClain says is a notion that's gaining traction:
Word's spreading among media here that Manziel is going to Jacksonville at 3.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) May 7, 2014
Manziel addressed the off-field concerns surrounding him and the life in the spotlight he's willingly embraced since bursting onto the scene in College Station, per Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post:
I think I've done a great job of alleviating concerns of these guys, them getting to know me on a more personal level. And I've answered every question, anything they wanted to hear from me. So there's nothing for me to hide. I don't think it's wrong of me to enjoy my life and have fun. Throughout this whole process I've continued to work hard and do the things I need to do to try and become a better football player. That's the main thing. I'm not getting to this level to be complacent.
The Jaguars could use some excitement and stability under center most of all, but Peter King of MMQB.com reported earlier in the week that Jacksonville was considering just Watkins and Manziel's former left tackle in Jake Matthews.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that the Detroit Lions have genuine interest in trading up for Watkins all the way from the 10th overall slot in the draft hierarchy:
Seven wide receivers were invited to attend the draft in New York City, so it goes to show the talent Watkins has to be considered by many as the best. Mike Evans is the consensus No. 2, and Miller posted on Twitter two days before his last mock was published that the Browns would take him:
Mike Evans to Cleveland at No. 4. That's my pick right now.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) May 7, 2014
Matthews and Auburn tackle Greg Robinson figure to go toward the top of the draft, but Notre Dame's Zack Martin and feisty Michigan lineman Taylor Lewan are projected to be chosen in the top half of the first by some experts.
All of them could go before Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater, whom the Browns have been rumored to be enamored with, prompting this intel from Rapoport:
Where will Teddy Bridgewater land? Sweet spot is picks 8 to 26. Teams in 2nd rd know of #Browns interest. 1 discussing trading up into 1st— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 8, 2014
There's buzz aplenty as the draft approaches, and unforeseeable trades and circumstances can ruin the picture even the most knowledgeable analysts have painted with their best inferences. The uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position is perhaps most fascinating, and Manziel is a microcosm of that. Johnny Football is perceived as a boom-or-bust proposition, yet any team who passes on him could dearly regret it if he does succeed.
Thanks to how deep this draft class is, the excitement surrounding the 2014 NFL draft won't diminish even during Day 3. Starters can be obtained at bargain rates, and fanbases should keep an eye out for how they're navigating those later rounds to add roster depth and even a surprise star or two. When looking back on this draft, it could be among the best across the board in NFL history.