1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB University of Central Florida
How fitting was it that Houston Texans received a sixth round pick in this year’s NFL Draft for QB Matt Schaub after all the pick sixes he threw this past season. What the move does is clear the way for the Texans to select Bortles with the No.1 overall pick in May. Bortles, who was the only top QB prospect to throw at the Combine and looked good doing it, held his Pro-Day on the campus of UCF this past Wednesday. Bortles started by completing his first 10 passes. At 6’-5” and 232 pounds, Bortles has the size NFL team’s love in a QB and he can move in the pocket. He may not have elite arm strength but he can make all of the necessary throws. He showed improvement on the long ball at his Pro-Day and did so even when he missed the long tosses. At the Combine, Bortles was short on the deep ball on a few throws but at his Pro-Day missed them long, which if you have to miss that pass, you would rather over throw it then under throw. As a former OC in New England, Texans HC Bill O’Brien has to like what he sees in Bortles work ethic on and off the field. O’Brien spent five years working very closely with Tom Brady. Tommy Terrific is known for being as prepared as any QB in the history of the game. When asked about Bortles Pro-Day, Obrien said, “It was a good workout. He made all the throws. Shows good footwork. I was impressed.”
2. St. Louis Rams: Mock Trade to Cleveland Browns
2. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
They are a few similarities between the 2012 & 2014 drafts for the Browns. Just two years and amazingly, two administrations ago, Cleveland panicked and traded their fourth overall pick, as well as picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh round to the Minnesota Vikings for the right to draft RB Trent Richardson. Ironically, by trading Richardson in September to Indianapolis, the Browns are able to panic in this draft. Cleveland will likely hand both their fourth and 26th pick in this year’s first round, to the Rams, who would then have three first round picks, for the right to draft what they perceive as a franchise QB in Johnny Manziel. The Browns have one QB worthy of starting on the roster in Brian Hoyer, as Brandon Weeden (Dallas) and Jason Campbell are gone. It’s not a bad move when you consider the Browns have a solid foundation in place on both sides of the ball and own 10 picks heading into this draft. Cleveland must start winning. They have done well in free agency by adding to the LB corps with Karlos Dansby, the secondary with Donte Whitner and at RB by signing Ben Tate.
The Browns have been a mess as an organization both on and off the field. They have not won more than five games since 2007 and have not been to the playoffs in 14-years. New HC Mike Pettine is the eighth HC since the Browns rejoined the league in 1999. A big reason why the franchise has struggled is poor play at the QB position. Cleveland has had 11 signal callers under center since winning 10 games in 2007 and with the prospect of the Jaguars taking Manziel at three; the Browns cannot afford to lose Johnny Football. The Browns did not interview Manziel at the Combine and they did not attend (coaching staff or GM) his Pro-Day, which Bucky Brooks of NFL.com said was the best of the top rated quarterbacks. The fact that the Browns, which have the fourth overall selection, did not attend Manziel’s workout, means nothing. There are plenty of opportunities between now and May 8 for private workouts and interviews. The Browns need a QB and I cannot imagine they risk waiting to later in the first round to grab one—or believe they are willing to roll their franchises dice on Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo. While the new administration may not be as enamored with Johnny Football, they will take him and will do what they have to in order to get him.
No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars: Greg Robinson, OT Auburn
The Jags aren’t sweating the QB spot, despite owner Shad Khan, saying the Jags might draft two in May. There is a good chance they may have a chance at Brett Hundley or even Jameis Winston (should he declare) in next year’s draft. Re-signing Chad Henne will do for now or at least until the second round. If you have been paying attention in free agency then you would know that the Jags re-signed DE Jason Babin and then added Ziggy Hood and Chris Clemmons at the position as well. That may also bump Jadeveon Clowney down the board a slot or three. Jacksonville allowed 50 sacks last season, second most in the NFL. Robinson helps correct that number almost immediately. The former Auburn star is a freak in own right. He owns a prototypical frame for playing offensive line in the NFL, including broad shoulders, long arms, a relatively trim waist, thick bubble and tree trunks for legs—all of this and don’t forget he ran a sub five second 40-yard dash at the combine. Amazing for his size. The Jaguars cannot miss on this pick the way they could have with Manziel or Clowney. Even though Robinson won’t sell tickets like the other two could have, he will help put people in the seats eventually when the QB he’s protecting is allowed to make plays from the pocket and the Jaguars can run the ball as they used to in their glory days. They had those glory days because they drafted OT Tony Boselli instead of Steve McNair or Kerry Collins in 1995. It is no coincidence they get back there eventually by selecting another franchise tackle in Robinson.
*previous pick Johnny Manziel
4. St. Louis Rams: Jake Matthews, OT Texas A&M
According to my mock draft, the Rams move back and still get their man. In addition, they also own multiple first round picks for a second consecutive draft. They could select Sammy Watkins here but with three other picks in the first round, the Rams will get a WR that they will be able to count on a little later—what they won’t get is a player of Mathews caliber. Jeff Fisher has never selected an OT in the 17 drafts he has been associated with during the first round but Matthews is no ordinary OT. While most of the hubbub at the NFL combine was on Auburn’s Greg Robinson, I would like to point out that Matthews played in a much more complete offense meaning, Auburn’s reliance on the running game provided Robinson few opportunities in pass protection. Fisher knows all about Matthews—but I’m sure you already know that story. Jake is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, who finished his HOF career playing for Fisher in Houston and Tennessee. Mathews is good pass protector and possesses a nasty streak when run blocking. He has good balance, feet and hand use, and he plays prepared as an intense worker who carries great NFL bloodlines; aside form dad—his brother and two cousins have played in the league. The Rams have a unique opportunity to actually have a very viable O-line next season. Roger Saffold failed his physical in Oakland and has returned, re-signing with St. Louis. Even with Jake Long coming off a serious late season knee injury, Saffold gives Fisher flexibility along the line if he selects Matthews.
No.5 Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR Clemson
When you look at what the Raiders have done in free agency, they do not appear to be a team looking to the future. In fact, the Raiders appear to be building a team that wants to win this season. They need a young QB and can still get one later in the draft but they traded for Matt Schaub this week and now must surround him with some weapons. The Raiders addressed the mess at Tackle when they signed Donald Penn and will now pair him with former NY Jets, Austin Howard. The duo will protect the former Texans signal caller. The Raiders also signed former Packer wideout, James Jones. Watkins is great pick for Oakland. The Former Tiger hauled in 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 TD’s last season for Clemson. He’s a playmaker from the word go. He plays bigger than he measures, runs bigger than his listed size, and has always had explosive speed. He fights through contact to make plays for the ball, and once he has it, he’s devastating after the catch and is a player that when the Raiders actually decide to get younger, can rebuild around.
*previous selection Derek Carr
No. 6 Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney wants to be drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. Whether or not he actually lasts until this pick is the biggest question of the early part of the first round. I believe this is as early as Clowney deserves to go and in my opinion, this is too high given all the red flags. Draft history is littered with physical freaks that never panned out and Clowney could be another. The red flags he produced in his final year at South Caroline outweigh his performance. Clowney showed at the combine why he could be a top 5 pick when he posted a 40-time of 4.53 seconds. At 6’5” and 266 pounds, that feat is truly remarkable. He also posted a vertical jump of 37.5 inches and a broad jump of 10’4” (124 inches). However, questions were raised and excuses made when it came to the bench press as Clowney put up 21 reps of 225 pounds. Clowney’s reps on the bench press ranked him tied for 33rd among defensive linemen. Cody Latimer, a 215-pound wide receiver from Indiana, pushed the same weight up 23 times. Pat O’Donnell, a 220-pound punter from Miami, also did 23 reps. After setting South Carolina’s single-season record for sacks (13) and tackles for loss (23.5) during his sophomore season of 2012, Clowney finished sixth in the Heisman balloting. In 2013 he wasn’t in shape to start the season and failed to overcome double-teams and offenses that game-planned seemingly strictly for him, Clowney failed to live up to the hype as he posted only three sacks in 11 games and had 11.5 tackles for loss. The sack total drop off was almost a 76 percent decrease while he fell off just more than 50 percent in tackles for loss. His head coach Steve Spurrier, who knows a thing or two about getting to the NFL, questioned Clowney at every turn this season—including his work ethic. If 2013 was the exception rather than the rule with Clowney, than Atlanta has hit a home run. Speaking to ESPN, Clowney recently said, “I wish they (Falcons) could trade up for me but I hope I don’t fall to No. 6. I like Atlanta – a lot. They’re pretty good. They’ve got some guys from South Carolina on the team, also. And it’s close to home.” Doesn’t sound like Clowney has been eating much humble pie.
*previous pick Greg Robinson
No 7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, DE / OLB Buffalo
Lovie Smith, who began his NFL coaching career with Tony Dungy in Tampa helping to develop the “Tampa 2” will build this team with defense first. Mack is a great fit in Tampa. He’s fast and versatile and he loves to hit, all traits Smith loves in a LB. Mack was the all-time leader in FBS history with 16 forced fumbles and tied for the all-time lead with 75 career tackles for loss over his career. Mack is a dark horse candidate for No. 1 overall with the Texans and would be a steal here. The versatile skill-set Mack brings to the table and the numbers he produced in college should have him drafted ahead of Clowney—but it won’t happen. He has experience lining up all over the front seven, possesses a relentless motor, and feeds off the energy of the game. He was a four-year starter (48 career starts) and didn’t miss a game due to injury in college. Mack played his best against the better competition in college with big games vs. Ohio State and Baylor.
No.8 Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB Fresno State
The Vikings really need help on the defensive side of the football, especially when you consider that Jared Allen will be playing somewhere else next year. Their secondary was better than only the Dallas Cowboys, which means it stunk. New head coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive minded coach—-so this has to be a defensive selection—right!—well maybe not—They were just as bad at the QB position last season as well as Christian Ponder struggled eventually losing his job to Matt Cassell. The Vikings even signed Josh Freeman, who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of boat in his first start, thus ending that experiment. Minnesota signed Cassel to a new deal this offseason and it’s possible Christian Ponder could be dealt to the Cleveland Browns or Jacksonville Jaguars if the Vikes decide to draft a quarterback with this pick. Reports are starting to surface that GM Rick Spielman is looking at as many as 10 signal callers and may be willing to wait until the second round to get his QB. San Jose State’s David Fales, and Jimmy Garoppolo could be in the mix for Spielman. Knowing what we know about today’s pass happy NFL and with Minnesota moving into a new stadium in two years, that they wouldn’t to start grooming a franchise QB now. Carr could and should be that guy. Despite battling the flu, Carr had a solid Pro-Day last week. He hit on 56 of 63 passes and impressed Vikings new OC Norv Turner. “Obviously, he was very impressive today,” Turner said, via the AP. “He came out and showed he has a strong arm, very accurate, he made all the throws. He had a heck of a workout.”
*previous pick: Khalil Mack
No.9 Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT Michigan State
Despite the recent news that Lewan has been charged with two accounts of assault and battery and one count of aggravated battery stemming from an incident in December with two Ohio State fans, I don’t see his slide way down the board as many are projecting. The Bills allowed 48 sacks of their QB’s last season, including 28 of their rookie QB, EJ Manuel, in just 10 games. Cordy Glenn has become a stud at LT, earning high praise from Pro Football Focuses grading system—but they need help at right tackle, as The Bills could also look to trade back and replace safety Jairus Byrd, earning extra picks but Lewan and Gordy would give the Bills and Manuel piece of mind. What Manuel really needs, besides to be upright, are a few more weapons at his disposal but again, the Bills could address that later. They will not find a Taylor Lewan however, and will not pass him up. Rob Rang of CBS Sports points out that in head coach Doug Marrone’s first season at the helm, he showed off his preference for a ball-control attack, making controlling the line of scrimmage paramount to success. Few are better there than Lewan, who starred for four seasons at left tackle with the Wolverines but may be even better suited to the right side because of his length and aggression.
*previous pick: Sammy Watkins
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB Michigan State
I go back and forth between Dennard and Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State. Dennard seems to be the better fit in Detroit. A native of Dry Branch Georgia, Dennard played his college ball at Michigan State and won the Jim Thorpe award last season as the best DB in college football. As a the three-year starter, Dennard enjoyed his best season in 2013, allowing just three receptions (on 31 attempts) of 15 yards or more to be completed. He recorded 14 pass break ups, including four interceptions. These numbers are similar to the production he enjoyed in 2012 (10 PBUs, three interceptions), speaking to the consistency with which he’s become so highly regarded by NFL scouts. Dennard is a smart physical player, which makes up for his lack of straight-line speed. His competitiveness extends to the running game and in an era of cover corners, Dennard plays the run very well. He will be an immediate upgrade in a Lions defense that ranked 23rd vs. the pass and has blown numerous fourth quarter leads during the past two seasons.