First, I’d like to thank the NFL for dragging out this draft process. These extra two weeks have been absolutely magical…
Here’s the thing about mock drafts: they’re all wrong. Every single one of them is wrong. No one knows how draft day will play out, not even the teams. There will be trade offers brought about and there will be plenty of surprises. That’s one of the reasons the draft has become such a giant spectacle: it’s exciting to see the unknown play out.
A lot of guys are up in the double digits in versions of their mock drafts. Those are the guys who say "yeah, but I had him going to Baltimore in my sixth mock draft" or "but in the third mock draft, back in April, I had that one right." Spare me. I used to call my mock draft the “Mock Draft of Integrity” because I only do one. But inherently, mock drafts lack integrity.
But I’m a hypocrite, so here it is:
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Personally, I’m still of the belief that the Texans should use this pick to take a quarterback, I just don’t think they’re going to. And … it is hard to argue against Clowney. He’s the best player in this draft. Sure, the character concerns have come up but all that stuff has been overblown; it’s looking for a flaw in a dynamic player.
And as far as those character concerns go, the Texans are running a pretty no-nonsense ship these days with Bill O’Brien at the captain’s chair. And the role strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald will play if Clowney comes to Houston has been understated. Texans safety D.J. Swearinger said this offseason that Fitzgerald was one of the people who kept Clowney in line during his early time at South Carolina.
Clowney has the potential to come into the league and be an impact player immediately. He would obviously form an impressive duo with J.J. Watt and Romeo Crennel would need to tailor the defense to fit their strengths. After watching Clowney at his pro day, many are convinced he can play linebacker. I’m not so sure just yet. Backpedaling in shorts on an empty field is a lot different than covering a speedy running back out of the backfield but Clowney will get a chance to show he can play standing up.
2. St. Louis Rams: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Rams will be tempted by Greg Robinson; he’s simply a better athlete than Matthews. But I think Matthews will be hard to pass up. He’s a much more proven player and his versatility should be very appealing to the Rams. The Rams brought back Roger Saffold so some think they won’t go tackle with the second pick but Matthews’ versatility can let him play tackle or guard (or center) if they need him to.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Football is going to the bright lights of … Jacksonville. The Jaguars get the most exciting player in the draft with the third pick and the Texans will have to face him twice per year for the foreseeable future.
Manziel is truly dynamic but there are major concerns. He wants to shed his Johnny Football image but it looks like he’s stuck with it and the stigma around it. Reminder: there’s nothing wrong with a famous football player in his early 20s enjoying life a little. But some teams are understandably concerned. His sub-6-foot stature is also a concern. He did get dinged in college but proved to be pretty durable; the Jaguars hope that’ll continue.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins is perhaps the second-most talented player in this draft after Clowney. The Browns will like him so much, they’ll overlook a potential need at quarterback to take him. Browns GM Ray Farmer gushed about Watkins recently. This is a deep wide receiver class and Watkins is considered the best and he hasn’t done anything to hurt that standing.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
This is not like the picks the late Al Davis made. Mack isn’t close to being the flashiest player in this draft but he’s the best on the board at No. 5. Mack would be an interesting fit in the Raiders’ defense because he’s versatile enough to stand or put a hand in the dirt. He might be from a smaller D-1 school but that doesn’t mean Mack won’t be a good pro.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Falcons have been holding their breath all day. Maybe they try to make a move to get to the top of the draft and take Clowney but if they don’t, they’d probably be really happy about Robinson landing in their laps. He’s certainly more athletic than Matthews but he’s also more unproven. He’s been an absolute beast in the run game but has plenty of work to do in pass protection. He has the potential to be the best tackle of this draft when we look back in five, 10 years.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
It’s hard to not like Evans. He and Manziel have sparked the classic “Chicken or the Egg debate” but it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. I think they were just two very good players working together at a high level. It’s very possible some teams prefer Evans to Watkins, which would make sense. Evans is 6-5 and still ran a 4.53. He’s also a prototypical leaper who can be a force in the red zone.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The Vikings would be OK with this. Bortles is one of the favorites to go first-overall but could fall as far as eighth. And the Vikings desperately need a quarterback. Bortles is 6-5 and is a pocket passer but he’s far from a statue. He’s actually deceivingly fast for his speed and can do enough to slip away from pressure in the pocket. The Vikings have Matt Cassel to act as a stop gap, so Bortles (who is unpolished) will have some time to learn.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
As the NFL has evolved into a pass-first league, the quarterback position has become more and more important. And with it, the importance of offensive tackles has become more important too. That’s why it’s no surprise to see another run of tackles in the top 10 of this year’s draft. If the Bills want to give E.J. Manuel a chance to succeed, they need to protect him.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Lions need a corner and Gilbert is the best one coming out this year. He blew away the competition at the Combine. He’s 6-foot and ran a 4.37 40 time with a 35.5 vertical jump. He was also incredibly smooth and fluid during field drills. Chris Houston struggled for the Lions last year and Gilbert is the type of big, fast corner the league is trending toward.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
The Titans need a playmaker on defense and Barr might be it. He’s a very good athlete, with a quick first step, but has only played linebacker for a couple of years so he still has plenty to learn. He might not be ready to step in and make an impact in Year 1 but his long-term potential is there.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Giants would probably love to take Evans with this pick but if he isn’t there, they’ll settle for a playmaker at a different position. Ebron is a freak athlete. At 6-4, 250 pounds, Ebron has incredible 4.60 40 speed and will be a terror in the passing game. His blocking leaves plenty to be desired but he’s dynamic enough to overlook it.
13. St. Louis Rams: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Pryor is the safety I prefer in this draft. Pryor might be the less accomplished of the top two safeties but he proved how athletic he is at the combine. He ran a 4.58 40 to go with 18 reps on the bench press, a 34.5-inch vertical and a 116-inch broad jump. The Rams need a safety to pair with T.J. McDonald.
14. Chicago Bears: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Clinton-Dix might not be considered the top safety in the class but he only goes one spot after Pryor. Passing over Aaron Donald will be tough but Clinton-Dix is the type of center field safety the Bears really need. The Bears gave up too many long passes last season and Clinton-Dix is a ballhawk back there.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Nix is just a big ol’ nose tackle: 6-2, 330 pounds. There are a few different ways the Steelers could go with this pick but their run defense struggled last season; they were in the lower half of the league. He has the potential to lock down the nose tackle spot for a long time in Pittsburgh.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald has had some really nice things said about him recently and it appears some teams might be very interested in him. And Donald is very talented. What lets him slide to the Cowboys in the second half of the draft is his size: Donald stands at 6-foot-1. Sure, the Cowboys signed Henry Melton this offseason but adding Donald would give them some much-needed depth.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Martin has plenty of experience from Notre Dame and is plenty versatile too. He has played tackle but has the ability to play guard if the Ravens want to put him there. The Ravens have Eugene Monroe but could plug in Martin at right tackle to start the season and solidify the offensive line.
18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
For some reason, Amaro just hasn’t been talked about that much. The Jets need a guy to catch passes but that doesn’t mean it has to be a wideout. They had Amaro in for a visit and are reportedly intrigued by Amaro. Of course they are. He’s 6-5 and has the ability to get out and move. He doesn’t have incredible speed but is a good route runner.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Kouandjio has fallen out of the first round in many mock drafts but the Dolphins need a left tackle. They could take either Kouandjio or Morgan Moses here to come in and start at right tackle opposite Branden Albert. There are medical concerns surrounding Kouandjio that might take him out of the first round but Dr. James Andrews said the tackle is healthy.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Ford is the player who made the “blind dog in a meat market” comment about Clowney. Ford thinks he’s the best pass rusher in this draft and, while that might not be true, he’s up there. And he’s certainly the best pass rusher on the board when the Cardinals go at No. 20. At 6-2, 252, Ford might be a little undersized to play end in the NFL but he could probably play outside linebacker in the Cardinals’ 3-4.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Packers need some help on defense and plugging Mosley in next to A.J. Hawk in the middle of their defense would be a really good start. The Packers could also use a safety but with Pryor and Clinton-Dix off the board, they shouldn’t reach for another. Mosley was the leader of the Alabama defense and was named the SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
After cutting DeSean Jackson this offseason, the Eagles bring back Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. But they also released Jason Avant, so they’ll need more help. The great thing for them this season is that it’s a deep draft class and they have a few receivers to choose from. But Beckham might be the best. He’s not a huge guy (5-11) but he’s fast, can leap, and create after the catch.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Taken 23rd in this draft is pretty low considering where some thought Lee would be before the 2013 season started. He didn’t have the junior season many thought he would have because of injury but he’s still a very explosive player. And the Chiefs need some help at wide receiver. Running back Jamaal Charles led the team in receptions and receiving yards last season.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Dennard is the first or second best corner in this draft, along with Gilbert. But in this mock draft, he goes considerably longer without being drafted than Gilbert. The Bengals’ corners are getting older and Dre Kirkpatrick hasn’t established himself as a starter-caliber player yet. Bringing in Dennard should provide plenty of competition and help the Bengals in an area they need to improve.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Roby is an interesting prospect. Sometimes he looked like a really dynamic player in college and at other times, he looked lost. But the potential is there for Roby to be the best corner in this class. He had a small run-in with the law recently but it shouldn’t hurt his draft status.
26. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Many have Bridgewater falling out of the first round but I just don’t see it. Sure, his pro day wasn’t good but he falls all the way out of the first round for that? The kid had a really good college career. He got better every single season. And I might be crazy (OK, fine, I’m crazy), but I don’t think the Browns are as bad as everybody thinks they are. Bridgewater is the most NFL-ready QB in the draft and he could help turn around their franchise.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Michael Sam took a lot of the headlines this offseason but Ealy is the best pro prospect coming out of Missouri. The Saints have other needs but Ealy is a really good pass rusher and is probably the best player on their board when they pick.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Steve Smith is gone. The Panthers need help. So they’ll take a guy that’s like double Smith’s size. Benjamin is 6-5. He doesn’t have elite speed but you can’t teach 6-5 either. He’s the kind of guy a quarterback can toss it up to and know he’ll come down with it. Cam Newton will love him.
29. New England Patriots: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Rob Gronkowski can’t stay healthy and Aaron Hernandez is in jail. The Patriots need tight ends to do the types of things they want to do on offense. Seferian-Jenkins is arguably the second-best tight end in this draft after Ebron.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
It’s a deep draft early for cornerbacks so another one goes to the 49ers not just because they have a hole to fill at the position. Sure, Verrett is small, standing at just 5-9 but he’s super fast. He ran a 4.38 at the combine and showed he can play at TCU.
31. Denver Broncos: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Yup, another cornerback. The Broncos already picked up Aqib Talib but they cut Champ Bailey and let Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie walk. Fuller is a complete player and could come in right away and start opposite Talib. And even if Chris Harris is healthy, Fuller will still get a chance to be on the field plenty in the pass-happy NFL.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Su’a-Filo is one of the two best interior offensive linemen in this draft; the other is Stanford’s David Sankey. Either would be a good fit for the Seahawks with the final pick in the first round. Su’a-Filo could play tackle in the NFL but it seems he’s a better fit inside. Protecting Russell Wilson and blocking for Marshawn Lynch are obvious priorities.
2-1, 33. Houston Texans: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
I don’t think Garoppolo is the best quarterback on the board at this point (that belongs to Zach Mettenberger or Derek Carr) but he might be the guy O’Brien wants at No. 1. Since his season ended at Eastern Illinois, Garoppolo has soared on draft boards thanks to a strong Senior Bowl performance and a good pro day. He has decent size – 6-2, 226 pounds – and is a pretty good athlete and has a good release. O’Brien is considered to be a quarterback guru and Garoppolo would be a project. If the Texans draft Garoppolo, get ready to see a lot of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
First, I’d like to thank the NFL for dragging out this draft process. These extra two weeks have been absolutely magical…