As the third week of free agency is underway, NFL draft boards are rapidly changing. College Pro-Days are also having an effect on those same boards. NFL hopefuls are also participating in their universities Pro Day’s.
If your new to the process, Pro Days occur after the NFL combine and are hosted by the colleges the prospect played at. NFL scouts are allowed to come to the school and watch players participate in the events that take place at the Combine. This is done under the belief that players feel more comfortable at their own campus than they do at the Combine, which in turn leads to better performances. College teams that produce a large quantity of NFL prospects generally generate huge interest from scouts and coaches at their Pro Days.
Over the past 10 days, most of the top QB prospects held their Pro-Days and not all of them did as well as expected. Former Louisville signal caller Teddy Bridgewater, whom many draft experts have as the No.1 QB prospect, may have hurt his draft stock with a Pro-Day that was average at best. Within days of Bridgewater’s workout, UCF’s Blake Bortles and Fresno States Derek Carr had workouts that were considered to be better than that of Bridgewater.
2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel threw for scouts today (March 27) and in Johnny Football like fashion impressed the scouts, coaches, as well as a former President. Every team’s coaching staff was on hand except the Bears and Browns. More on the Browns skipping the Pro-Day in a few minutes. However, the hype surrounding the 2014 QB class seems to be calming a bit and there are indications that NFL teams in need of a signal caller may not necessarily be ready to overdraft one early and instead may wait and roll the dice with a few of the names that are up coming.
The Texans traded Matt Schaub to Oakland, which on the surface would appear to clear the way for them to take one of the signal callers in May but they signed Ryan Fitzpatrick and while Fitzpatrick is not the answer, he could be a stopgap. Jacksonville, which picks third, re-signed Chad Henne. Oakland, which picks fifth, will have Schaub. Tampa Bay, which picks seventh, signed Josh McCown. In addition, Minnesota, which picks eighth, re-signed Matt Cassel. This simply adds to the drama of the draft and is a big reason why we love the NFL so much—-you simply cannot predict what happens next.
What we know for sure is that the NFL Draft will take place on May 8-10 at Radio City Music Hall in NY City. With Pro-Days nearing an end and free agency in full swing, here is my latest mock draft. Side note: With only six weeks until the draft, I will include mock trades going forward.
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.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB UCLA
The Titans need a safety and were not a threat on the first day of free agency when four of them signed elsewhere. They also need a hybrid edge player to shine in new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 4-3 / 3-4 scheme. Barr only produced 15 reps of 225 pounds at the combine and while his strength may be in question, what you simply cannot overlook is the ceiling Barr possesses, as well as his versatility. It is well documented he began his career as a running back and then exploded in 2012 in his first season on the defensive side of the ball. He backed it up with another great year in 2013, including 65 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and five forced fumbles, earning him the Lott IMPACT Trophy. According to Rob Rang of CBS Sports, Barr’s burst and bend around the corner, make him an immediate threat as 3-4 rush linebacker or potential conversion to defensive end in the 4-3. In other words, perfect for Horton and the Titans. Besides, Tennessee is going to need someone chasing down Andrew Luck, and Johnny Manziel. Johnny football you say—It is likely that either the Texans or Jaguars land the duel threat QB with two of the top three picks in the draft.
12. NY Giants: Eric Ebron, TE North Carolina
The NY Giants need help in the secondary and addressed the need by signing Dominique Rodgers Cromartie and adding backups Walter Thurmond and safety Quentin Demps. After losing Joseph Linval and Justin Tuck, they could use some help on the d-line and rushing the passer. With only 34 sacks in 2013, the G-Men were a mere flash of what they were when sacking the QB on their way to winning two of the last six Super Bowls. They also addressed their linebacking corps when they re-signed Jon Beason and plucked Jameel McClain away from the Ravens. They also signed G Geoff Schwartz from Kansas City, which will help a running game that finished 29th in the NFL. They could still use a tackle for the future but with Taylor Lewan off the board, the Giants won’t reach to grab the second tier of tackles such as Cyrus Kouandjio. They can add a playmaker for Eli Manning and TE Eric Ebron could be just what the Giants offense needs. With Brandon Myers now in Tampa Bay, the Giants have only Larry Donnell to play the position and he has just three career receptions. The former Tar Heel makes perfect sense. Ebron caught 40 passes for 625 yards and four touchdowns in a breakout 2012 season, setting school records for a tight end in both categories. He earned second-team All-ACC honors and caught at least two passes in all 11 games. This past season he raised the bar establishing school records for single-season receptions (62), single-season receiving yards (973), career receptions (112) and career receiving yards (1,805) at the position. Ebron has the ability to create big yardage after the catch, which would fit in nicely with new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s plans. Ebron compares to the 49ers Vernon Davis—bot are freaky athletic specimens that play move like wide receivers, but have the size and length of tight ends to create mismatches in coverage.
*previous pick Taylor Lewan
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans WR Texas A&M
With 12 plus million dollars of cap space entering free agency, the Rams did not seem overly concerned with trying to get safety help, which many experts say they must have. I have them addressing the OL with their first pick. They still may be able to grab a safety at No.26 but this pick will be about getting the offense. Enter the big-bodied Mike Evans, who will be quite the compliment to the Rams speedy receiving corps. Evans is deceptively fast himself (just ask Alabama) and with 147 receptions, 2,427 yards and 17 TD’s in two seasons, dominated SEC defenses during his brief stay at Texas A&M. At 6-5 and 231 pounds, Evans possesses great size and after watching his workouts at the combine, a great deal of surprising athleticism to match. I would not be surprised if the Rams traded back again. There are a few teams that may want to ensure they fulfill dire needs.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald: DT Pittsburgh
The Bears were horrific at stopping the run last season. Ranked dead last in the NFL, Chicago allowed 400 more yards on the ground than did the second worst rushing defense, the Atlanta Falcons. No player has improved his stock more since the end of the season through the scouting process than Aaron Donald. He was a standout all week at the Senior Bowl and he absolutely killed at the combine. He ran an amazing 4.66- 40 yard dash and was a top performer in a lot of tasks. He’s shorter than prototype size, but he has long arms, a powerful upper body and creates a lot of big plays with his anticipation and quickness. Both he and FSU’s Timmy Jernigan dominated the ACC this past season and both are good fits as a 3-technique player but Donald is a much better finisher as a pass-rusher, according to NFL talent evaluators such as Todd McShay of ESPN and Rob Rang of CBS Sports.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB Oklahoma State
As the revolving door that is NFL free agency continues to spin, so does the needs of the Pittsburgh Steelers. As usual, the list of players leaving is far longer than the arrivals. The Steelers did address one need when they signed safety Mike Mitchell from the Carolina Panthers. No need to worry, they are still plenty of needs in the Steele City. After a few less than stellar overall drafts and the usual holes free agency leaves in Pittsburgh, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has a ton of positional holes to fill. A primary issue is at cornerback, where William Gay was the only pass defender to log an opponent passer rating under 88.1 — Ike Taylor, who had the most passing snaps of any Steelers’ cornerback, allowed a 110.6 passer rating and six touchdowns with no picks. Gilbert was a 2013 Second Team All-American, First Team All-Big 12 and a Jim Thorpe Finalist while finishing the year tied for third in the FBS with seven interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns. Gilbert is the top rated Cornerback on many draft boards. At 6 feet, 202 pounds, Gilbert has good size and plenty of speed. He was clocked in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.38 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
*previous pick: Eric Ebron
16. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT Florida State
The Cowboys defense was ranked last in the NFL last in 2013 and from the defensive front seven to the deepest part of the secondary, massive upgrades are needed. Not being able to convince DeMarcus Ware to restructure his contract leading to his release certainly does not help. It is safe to say, or maybe not, knowing Jerry and his boys, the Cowboys should almost certainly be using most of their eight picks in this draft on defensive players. The smart play is to trade back and accumulate more picks. Dallas could also use a little help on the O-line but have hit on their past two first-round picks on the offensive line in Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, this after not previously drafting one in the first round in the Jones era. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli hopes Dallas adds pieces to its front seven this offseason and the departure of Ware will force the Cowboys to grant him his wish instead of hard-hitting safety. FSU’s Timmy Jernigan would be a nice start. Jernigan has a powerful frame that makes him well suited to handling interior duties in the 4-3 or 3-4 alignment and has a huge ceiling. He is a good value as 3-technique DT for Dallas and after last year, the “Boys” need all of the help and value they can get.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, RT Notre Dame
The Ravens are quietly filling holes in free agency and doing so by continuing to get good value. Just in the past few days, Baltimore signed safety Darian Stewart from the Rams and on Sunday, signed center Jermey Zuttah from Tampa Bay. Zuttah lacks consistency but he’s an upgrade over Geno Gradkowski. That leaves right tackle as the big hole on the line and Notre Dame’s Zack Martin fills it quite nicely. With the exception of WR Steve Smith, the irony in this offseason for the Ravens is that after going 8-8 and missing the playoffs one year after winning the Super Bowl, Ozzie Newsome and company seem content on re-signing their own players, after watching last offseason, as no less than nine starting contributors form the champion team signed elsewhere. The Ravens feel former Panther Steve Smith is a piece not an answer and have to know that they need the big bodied WR Newsome promised Ravens fans this offseason. What they need more is help on the O-line. Center and right tackle being the biggest areas of concern. Usually at this point of the draft it would be best player available for Baltimore but help that is not a luxury this year. According to Pro Football focus, the Ravens finished 2013 with the fourth worst O-Line in the NFL. Re-signing Eugene Monroe at the price they got him for was a real value and the duo should help drastically cut down on the 48 sacks QB Joe Flacco suffered last season, which was the second most of any starting signal caller in the league. Many feel Martin’s squareish frame and 32 1/4-inch arms will earn him a projection inside to guard but his versatility gives the Ravens more options than does a Cyrus Kouandjio, who may be another Michael Oher. Regardless of where he lines up, Martin plays with the controlled aggression—-controlling opponents with excellent strength. Martin was the best player on the field in Mobile according to many NFL scouts and is the type of player in terms of versatility the Ravens love to have on their roster.
18. NY Jets: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The addition of Eric Decker does not mean the Jets are done at the WR position. In fact, signing Michael Vick to battle Geno Smith tells me the Jets will be looking to add playmakers. The Jets were one of only three teams not pass for 3,000 yards last season and not all of the blame for that horrendous stat in today’s NFL belongs to QB Geno Smith. To say his options were limited during his rookie season would be understating the issue by more than a little. What the addition of Decker does do is remove the need for the big-bodied WR such as a Marquis Lee. Although having two big wideouts with the way defensive backs are getting bigger and faster isn’t a bad idea, the Jets should look for a playmaker with speed. Luckily for them, this draft has a few at the position and with a 4.33 40-yard dash time, no WR was faster at the combine than Brandin Cooks at the NFL Combine. In fact, Cooks won 100k from Adidas for being the fastest player wearing a pair of the company’s shoes. The former Beaver and 2013 Biletnikoff winner, as the nation’s top receiver, also showed surprising strength with 17 reps on the weight bench. With Decker and Cooks plus Stephen Hill & Jeremy Kerley, the Jets could be well on their way to being a playoff team—that is if Vick has one more magical year in him or Smith can take a step forward. Finishing 8-8 with the offense the Jets put on the field last season has to be one of the most underrated accomplishments of the 2013 season.
19. Miami Dolphins: CJ Mosley, LB Alabama
Despite signing Branden Albert, the Dolphins still need an offensive tackle and could trade back to get a good one but the ones left aren’t worth taking here. They also signed guard Shelly Smith, which will help the Dolphins poor rushing attack. The Dolphins have taken a few hits in free agency on defense and could use some help stopping the run. Mosley was a three-year starter at Alabama and virtually be a coach on the field. His athleticism, range and quickness makes him a three-down linebacker, and his size (6-foot-2, 234 pounds) hints he’s a good fit for any scheme. Mosley is constantly around the ball, which explains the back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons he produced at Alabama. He’d immediate push for a starting spot, allowing the Dolphins to move Dannell Ellerbe to weakside linebacker. Mosley lacks the bulk scouts want in a pass rusher, but his awareness in coverage is special. Mosley has undergone multiple surgeries (knee, shoulder) over his career and could be the latest Alabama player to receive medical red flags from some evaluators. Look for the Dolphins to address their anemic offense in rounds two and three.
*previous pick: Cyrus Kouandjio
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ha Ha Clinton Dix, S Alabama
The Cardinals have filled some draft needs in free agency. They signed OT Jared Veldheeer and CB Antonio Cromartie. Safety is also a need and getting Clinton-Dix at No.20 could be value of the first round. Clinton-Dix possesses the fluidity, instincts and ball-skills (seven interceptions in 19 career starts) to be the draft’s best coverage safety. However, he is not without red-flags. He tends to shine in spurts and lacks some consistency rather than take over certain passing situations, as he could be capable of. He did not have a great combine and it is also worth noting that since Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 207, seven DB’s have been selected, four in the first two rounds. Only Dre Kirkpatrick has experienced much success. With that said, the Cardinals have Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie at the corners, and eventually, a healthy Tyrann Matthieu to pair with Clinton Dix. It may not be what division rival Seattle is putting on the field at the moment but it’s a hell of a start.
*Previous pick: Darqueze Dennard
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S Louisville
The Packers were equally inept stopping the run (25) and defending the pass in 2013 (24). So far, this offseason, GM Ted Thompson signed an aging Julius Peppers away from division rival Chicago and re-signed CB Sam Shields, as well as DT BJ Raji. They drafted DE Datone Jones with their first round pick last year and I would not be surprised if GB chose to select another D-lineman with this pick. With that said the Packers need help at safety and having their pick of the safety litter will be too good to pass up. Alabama’s Ha-Ha Clinton Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are the top two safety prospects in the draft class. Pryor is more physical than Clinton Dix and that could be the deciding factor for his pick over the Tide safety in the very physical NFC North. Both posted identical 4.58 40-yard dash times at the combine while Pryor had a better vertical and put up 7 more reps on the weight bench than did Clinton Dix. The Packers did not record an INT from the safety position for the first time in more than 50 years in 2013. After passing on the safeties in the 2013 draft class, which produced nine safeties that started at least eight games during their rookie season and 10 of the 23 selected snagged at least one interception—- GB won’t make the same mistake twice. Pryor had 69 tackles (5½ for a loss) during his junior year with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Mock Trade With San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have 11 picks in the 2013 draft and need to draft a top tier WR. This deal to move up eight spots would include the first rounder (30), one of their third round picks, most likely their second one (94) and their fifth rounder (170). The deal is nearly identical to the one that was made between the Falcons and Rams last season for the same two spots. The Eagles will still be able to get a guy that can help their NFL worst pass defense in 2013 at No.30 in a player like Northern Illinois Jimmie Ward plus pick up two extra picks in this year’s draft.
22. San Francisco 49ers: Marquis Lee, WR USC
With the Jets taking Brandin Cooks, the Niners know they must pounce to grab a talent like Marquis Lee. San Francisco was one of only two teams to run the ball more than they passed it last season and while that was good enough for nearly another trip to the Super Bowl, getting Collin Kaepernick more weapons to throw to must be a priority. A nagging left knee injury slowed Lee for much of the 2013 season. The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner was also hurt by the poor QB play at USC. When finally healthy in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State, Lee showed off his playmaking ability, catching seven passes for 118 yards and two scores. He wasn’t great at the combine, which is why I have Cooks over him. At his Pro-Day, Lee did not try to improve on a rather slow 4.52 40-yard dash time from the combine. Nevertheless, Harbaugh knows what kind of talent Lee is and the Niners cannot hold onto these picks forever. If they do not draft Lee, the Chiefs or Panthers will before them.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., WR LSU
The Chiefs lost two good guards in free agency (Jon Asamoah & Geoff Schwartz) and have yet to land an impact wide receiver; Beckham fills the need at Wide out and will be a good compliment to the bigger Dwayne Bowe. Andy Reid has always preferred West Coast concepts as the driving force behind his offenses but he also wants a deep vertical threat to take the top off the coverage. And from start to finish, there is no better and more versatile speed receiver in this class than Beckham. He tore it up at the scouting combine, running a 4.43 40 and nailing it in all the drills. Add in his value as a return man, and Beckham could redefine Reid’s offense sooner than later. He’s considered a poor man’s Sammy Watkins in a very respectable sense and should find success almost immediately in KC with teams looking to stop RB Jamal Charles and Bowe first.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Dee Ford, DE. Auburn
The Bengals have been draft darlings the past two years and would be well on their way to having another solid draft if Dee Ford ended up in the Queen City. Cincy must replace Michael Collins and Ford could be that guy. As his undersized frame and 40 time (4.67) suggest, Ford relies on his burst off the snap to gain the corner against offensive tackles. He accelerates smoothly and is flexible enough to bend around the corner as a pure speed rusher. He is a perfect fit in N.O as he his respected by coaches and teammates, Ford finally became an obvious force to the rest of football in 2013 as an undersized edge rusher, finishing the regular season with 12.5 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks. He earned first-team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches and the Associated Press and had an outstanding week at the Senior Bowl. Speaking of the Senior Bowl, Ford impressed during the weigh-in and was virtually unstoppable off the edge during the practices, showing burst, bend and closing speed. He was the most dynamic player on the field during the game, recording two sacks and timing a leap to knock down a pass to earn MVP honors.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB TCU
Ranked 29th in the NFL last season, San Diego’s pass defense was one of the worst in the league in 2013.This forced the Chargers to get rid of free-agent bust Derek Cox and Johnny Patrick after just one season with the team. Of the four corners remaining on the active roster, Shareece Wright is the only one with starting experience. In free agency, the Chargers added former Cincinnati Bengal Brandon Ghee on a two-year deal. While Ghee has spent four years in the NFL, he lacks starting experience and is injury prone. Verrett isn’t very big at just 5-9 and 190 pounds but he’s physical for his size and tied for the third best vertical at the NFL combine amongst cornerbacks. Scouts label him as scrappy and tenacious, making him an ideal nickel corner with the tackling ability to threaten on an occasional blitz. He also impressed with his speed in Indy, running a 4.38 40-yard dash. But he also scared a few teams announcing that he will undergo surgery after his pro day to repair a torn labrum. It won’t be enough to scare the Chargers who desperately need help in the defensive backfield and when you consider that Peyton Manning and the Broncos are reloading for another run, Verrett may not be the only DB the Chargers select in May.
26. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland from Indy) Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville
The Rams have made it clear that Sam Bradford is their guy—–but they haven’t ponied up an extension for him as of yet either. Back in February, CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora reported that the Rams “have no intention of extending” Bradford’s current contract, the $76 million deal he signed as the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. A source form the Rams would later say they are open to an extension for Bradford, who is due $27M over the next two years. A longer deal would still be a surprise to many, because adding guaranteed money beyond the current deal would make it very difficult for the team to part with Bradford. Enter Bridgewater, who for much of the 2013 season was the No.1 consensus to be the first QB selected. His impressive production, passing accuracy and leadership seemed to standout despite weaker competition and even over the playmaking skills of Johnny Football in the SEC. Weaker competition or not Bridgewater’s QB skills cannot be denied but there are a few concerns. His frame seems slight and even if he bulks up, durability might be an issue as he lacks that innate feel and smooth athleticism to move in and out of pocket. Although he’s quick, Bridgewater has a lower than ideal release point with the ball shooting passed his ear. Some durability concerns after all the hits he has taken over his career, specifically to his wrist and ankle. He’s mobile enough to extend plays, but isn’t a true dual-threat quarterback.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE Missouri
The Saints significantly improved their defense with new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan at the helm. In fact, no team in the history of the league had a better turnaround in terms of yards allowed and not allowed from one season to the next. The addition of players like Jairus Byrd means the defense stands to get even better next year. The Saints still need an outside edge rusher, who can wreak havoc in the backfield and create turnovers. Ealy is a perfect fit for a DC like Ryan, who loves versatility. He led all defensive linemen at the combine with a 6.83-second time in the 3-cone drill, a test designed to show change-of-direction ability, and shaved over a fifth of a second off of his combine 40-yard dash time (4.92) at his pro day (4.70). He is a bit raw but has drawn comparisons to Robert Quinn of the Rams. All Quinn did was finish second in the NFL with 19 sacks in 2013. According to Rob Rong of CBS Sports, “there is no denying Ealy’s upside. He boasts the length, burst and developing technique that every scout is looking for off the edge. If he continues to develop his game, Pro Bowls are in his future.” Ealy is a highly versatile defender who projects well to the 4-3 and 3-4 alike.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR Florida State
This is perhaps the biggest layup of the first round when you consider the following. The Panthers have watched their top four receivers from a year ago walk away this offseason. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon all have new teams. That’s a combined 156 receptions, 1,983 yards and 15 touchdowns. That represents 53.4 percent (receptions), 58.7 percent (receiving yards) and 62.5 percent (TD passes) of Cam Newton’s 2013 production. Those receivers also combined for all but 55 yards and four catches of the receiving production in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Benjamin is the best of the remaining first rounder’s and he isn’t a bad option here at 28. I’m not as sold on him as most but he is a big target for Cam Newton. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, Benjamin has rare size and is a physical mismatch vs. defensive backs and linebackers. He will not easily be knocked off course and will enter the middle on crossers and coupled with his outstanding jump ball catching abilities, could give the bigger NFC corners fits. He isn’t as strong as I’d like for his size, but he still has a lot of maturing to do and he isn’t what you would call fast– but speed when it comes to the WR position is overrated when you possess the size of Benjamin.
29. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, DT Notre Dame
The play of DT’s Aaron Donald and Timmy Jernigan coupled with Nix’s knee injury drops him into the lap of Bill Belichick, who just so happens to have DT, as one his team’s biggest needs. Knee surgery cut short his 2013 season and he prepared for the combine at EXOS (formerly Athletes’ Performance Institute) in Phoenix. Despite less than average times, his conditioning and confirmed recovery made him one of the combine’s “big” winners. When healthy, he has proven to be the best run-stoppers in the draft. At 6-2 and 331 pounds, he is bigger than both Jernigan and Donald and when healthy has as much if not more athleticism. He is a steal for the Patriots at 29.
30: Philadelphia Eagles: Ryan Shazier, OLB Ohio State
The story here is to wait and see what the Eagles do with DeSean Jackson. The Eagles bold and outspoken WR has told anyone that will listen he is not going anywhere but do the Eagles feel the same way. Head coach Chip Kelly acknowledged Wednesday that he spoke with wide receiver DeSean Jackson “a couple days ago” regarding swirling reports that Jackson could be traded or released, but when he was peppered with questions by the media at the NFL owners meetings, Kelly did not quash those reports by ensuring Jackson would be with the club in 2014. “We’ve had a good conversation, and we’re always going to do what’s best for the football team,” Kelly said. “But I think he knows where we are, and I know where he is”. If Jackson is traded, the Eagles will look to replace him but if he’s there, then Shazier could be the pick. At 6-1 and 237 pounds, Shazier does not have ideal size but his instincts, speed and hard hits make him a fearful defender that offenses must account for on every snap. Shazier, whose 143 tackles, including 22.5 tackles for loss, not only led the Big Ten last season, they combine to rank among the best seasons from any Buckeye defender over the past 25 years.
Previous pick: Ha-Ha Clinton Dix
31. Denver Broncos: Bradley Robey, CB Ohio State
The Broncos have made quite a splash in free agency signing players such as DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and Emanuel Sanders. All address major needs for Denver. With that said, it’s safe to say Denver learned something from their loss to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl; you can never have too many good players in your secondary. The Broncos paid top dollar for Talib but with the talented cornerback having never played a full season in his seven-year NFL career, Denver would be wise to add to the position in the draft. Roby was not as consistent in 2013 as scouts would like but he is a terrific athlete whose best football may still lie ahead of him. Some team is going to gamble on his upside in the first round and none better to roll the dice than Denver. With a 4.39 40-yard time at the combine, Roby has world-class speed with the click-and-close ability to play tight coverage and mirror receivers all over the field. He possesses a good fighting attitude to battle for the ball but he lacks consistency and seemed to disappear from big moments in some games but he wasn’t alone on the Buckeyes defense in 2013.
*previous pick: Ryan Shazier
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE Texas Tech
Amaro has the potential to be a very special player in the NFL. You know he can catch, as his 106 receptions for 1,356 receiving yards and seven touchdowns will attest to but he can also block. At 6-5, 257 pounds, Amaro has the frame to block and did so more than adequate in his second year in 2012 in the offense of Tommy Tuberville. He was the fourth fastest TE at the combine and showed good strength in finishing second with 28 reps on the weight bench amongst the players at his position. Seattle needs another WR with the loss of Golden Tate but Amaro will do just nicely as the Seahawks look to ramp up their passing attack a tad in 2014.