1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina*
Are the Texans finally closing in on their selection with the first overall pick? Well, it's possible at least. The Texans have seen all of the top prospects and have spoken highly about Blake Bortles, Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel. Bill O'Brien was complimentary of all them, and to this point, has still yet to reveal his hand.
The new Texans' head coach said he was going to draft a quarterback in this year's draft, he just didn't say when. Manziel and Bortles both had great pro days and impressed a lot of critics, but Clowney may have had the most impressive showing of all. However, the biggest hurdle for Clowney wasn't any physical object, he had to make NFL personnel believe that his desire to play football is as high as anybody out there... and from everything we've heard, he's been proving it.
As much as any of the top quarterbacks to Houston makes sense, none look like they'll have the ability to make an immediate positive impact on the field. There's still a long way to go until draft day in May, but it's fair to assume Clowney may be the top candidate to be taken by Texans at No. 1.
2. St. Louis Rams (f/ WSH): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson*
Since around late November, I've had the Rams pegged with an offensive lineman at the second spot. Convinced, prior to free agency, that they were going to need to revamp their offensive line. St. Louis retaining Rodger Saffold began to sway my opinion on the matter, and while I still believe another tackle is a need for the Rams, I don't know if it's big enough a need to warrant the second overall pick.
The real weakness for the Rams last season was their inability to connect on big plays. Only two players on the roster connected on more than five 20-plus yard receptions (Jared Cook, Chris Givens). That's a problem, especially when you're bringing back Sam Bradford, a young quartebrack who is on the hot seat. How can he show what he's worth if he doesn't have legitimate targets to throw to?
Enter Sammy Watkins.
Watkins is a freak of a receiver, he's fast, can leap for days and very strong. He's definitely the top skill position player available and should start very early in his NFL career. Solidifying his spot with an impressive showing at the combine, his Junior year at Clemson was also fantastic, tallying over 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns. Pairing Watkins with Tavon Austin should set up their offense for seasons to come, regardless of what Bradford may or may not be able to accomplish.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida*
It's a weird situation for Jacksonville. In a lot of scenarios I've drawn up, they end up taking whoever Houston doesn't. If the Texans pass up on Clowney, there's little likelihood he gets by the Jags... and on the other hand, if they pass up on Bortles, then he could just as well end up in Florida.
The Jaguars, as a franchise, have been searching for a franchise quarterback for over a decade, dating back to the days of Mark Brunell as their starter. Bortles is not the most exciting draft pick, but he is exactly what most franchises look for in a signal-caller. He's got great size, a big arm, and above all else, he works hard on and off the field. I have little doubt he'll be a successful NFL quarterback, it just depends on how long he'll get to be groomed before being thrown into the fire.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M**
Cleveland has two first-round picks in this year's draft. They will likely take a quarterback with one of them. Johnny Manziel's draft stock is the highest it's ever been. Many expected him to contend for one of the top picks in this year's draft, but there are others that believe he shouldn't be drafted until much later. All the critics were silenced after a calculated and precise performance during his pro day. He proved he could throw behind center, maintaining the movements that made him "Johnny Football" and still able to get the football into his receiver's hands.
The rumor out there is that the Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is a big Johnny Football fan. Does that mean he'd be willing to take him with the fourth overall pick? It's definitely become a possibility, and at this point, there's even a chance he could go even higher than this.
5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn*
An impressive junior season and monster showing at the combine have rocketed Greg Robinson to the top of the draft. He could go as high as the second pick, but there’s little chance he would fall past a team like Oakland. The Raiders made every attempt this offseason to acquire as much talent as they possibly could.
In free agency, they’ve signed former Texan Antonio Smith, Justin Tuck, Lamar Woodley and most recently, Charles Woodson. They’ve been stocking up on defense, but their big attempt at addressing their offensive line was squandered when Saffold failed his physical and went back to St. Louis.
Robinson, from Auburn, would give them a franchise left tackle, anchoring their line for the future, regardless of who they have at quarterback. Whether they go with Matt Schaub behind center, or draft a player like Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round, Robinson is the sort of player that the Raiders would look at as a franchise centerpiece, someone who can instantly upgrade an offense, and as close as a guaranteed success that you’ll find in any NFL draft.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
For a long time, I had Jake Matthews being taken second overall by the Rams. He's still good enough to be taken that high, but a lot of other prospects have jumped him on the charts. Robinson, specifically, showed some freak athletic abilities that have turned him into the top tackle in the draft. But that said, Matthews is still very, very good. By good, we're talking eventually Pro Bowler good.
It's been said that Matthews could be the safest pick in the draft, and that may still not be wrong. For the Falcons, they need help getting their offense back on track. With Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White, it shouldn't be too hard, they've just got to keep Ryan off his butt and they should find success again.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M**
The verdict is still out on whether Mike Glennon is the QB of the future for the Bucs but if they want to find out for sure, giving him weapons will be vital. Trading Mike Williams to Buffalo opens up the second receiver spot next to Vincent Jackson. Tampa Bay would also like to add a pass rusher, but Clowney's gone at this point. Evans wouldn't be a bad alternative route to go, he's big, physical, and deceivingly quick for his size. He could be a star as a possesssion receiver in the league.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
It's no secret that the Vikings defense has fallen off in recent seasons. They're in need more leadership at the linebacker spot. Khalil Mack might be the most complete defender in this draft. He can cover in space, tackle at the line, and possesses good athleticism. Minnesota will consider drafting a quarterback here, but given Mack's value, he'd be hard to pass up at with the eighth pick. It's unlikely, but Mack's even been projected as high as the first overall pick with the Texans. He's that good.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan*
A strong year for offensive tackles. Lewan would've been a stand-out last season, but his decision to stay another year at Michigan should net him a top-10 selection. Adding protection for E.J. Manuel moving forward will be important for his growth. The Bills have been making a lot of strides the past two seasons, and adding another anchor on their line could put them over the top.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Detroit's been looking to upgrade their secondary for a few seasons now, but it hasn't been a complete success. The addition of Glover Quin hasn't been as successful as they'd hoped, and they relied heavily on Rashean Mathis and Chris Houston, both of which underperformed this past season. Gilbert is considered to be the top corner in this class and has the ability to develop into a true shut-down corner.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
A busy offseason for the Titans: a coaching overhaul brought in a lot of new blood. Ken Whisenhunt took the head job, and just as notable, Ray Horton became their new defensive coordinator. With that move, the look of the Tennessee defense will become more of a hybrid 3-4, and as they build up their personnel, eventually just a 3-4.
Anthony Barr is the top pass-rushing linebacker in the draft, and would instantly give the Titans a presence off the edge. There’s still a lot more adjustments to be made, but adding an impact linebacker is going to be on the top of their to-do list in this draft. At one point, Barr was heralded as the top linebacker in this class, he still has that potential, but he’s not as versatile as some of the others. His role in the NFL will be to get after the quarterback, an area where he’s been very productive.
While Tennessee has multiple needs on both offense and defense, I think pick is one of the big “locks” when draft day comes in May.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina*
The Giants' offense has been in flux for a little over a season now. They relied heavily on Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in the past and with Nicks on the move, they're going to need a new target for Eli Manning. Ebron is a freak athlete and has been on the rise all offseason. His skill-set would create a lot more versatility in the Giants pass attack. He'd be the best tight end they've had since Jeremy Shockey was in his prime, and he could potentially be even better.
13. St. Louis Rams: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Rams added Jake Long last offseason, and he performed adequately, but that's not what you look for in a player getting paid as much as he is. The general thought is moving him to the right side should help him perform more to his abilities. Should the Rams do that, they'll need to look for someone to develop into the new left tackle.
Jeff Fisher had his team playing good football toward the end of the season. If they could add another top lineman and get Sam Bradford back, healthy with a final season to prove himself, the Rams could be in prime position to challenge for the postseason.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh*
What an eventful offseason it's been for Aaron Donald. At one point, he was a fringe first-rounder, and now he's considered the top defensive tackle in the draft. It's no wonder, considering he brought his best stuff every step of the way. From a fantastic showing at the Senior Bowl, to his impressive combine and pro day, Donald's emerged as a force. His motor, tenacity and technique will make him a starter very early in his pro career.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Gilbert and Dennard are the two top corners in this draft, and some teams reportedly even have Dennard as their top-rated defensive back. Expectations for Dennard will be for him to eventually become a lockdown corner. He’s got good size, is deceptively fast, and he may have the best one-on-one skills of any defensive player in this class.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama*
Honestly, I believe this is what Dallas is hoping happens. Sure, there's rumors from here 'til Sunday about the Cowboys drafting all sorts of different players. One report says Jerry Jones really likes Johnny Manziel, another says they want to address the defensive line. None of those would be bad ideas, and I wouldn't doubt they'd address the line at another point in the draft. But I have to believe that a high-caliber safety like Clinton-Dix is number one on their priority list.
It's not that J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church don't strike fear into the hearts of opposing offenses but they really don't. Add the Redskins just added DeSean Jackson from the Eagles, and you know the Eagles will look to replace him. The NFC East is going to get deadlier and deadlier with offensive deep threats. Clinton-Dix is a ballhawk, a leader amongst defensive backs, and the best safety in this draft.
17. Baltimore Ravens: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Rebuilding isn't something the Ravens have had to do in a long time, but they've lost a lot of the defense over the past few seasons. Thankfully, the addition of Dumervil has worked thus far for the unit, but if they hope to contend moving forward, bringing youth to the table will be key. Mosley was a leader for Alabama since his freshman season, he could help add some stability and a level of accountability to their group of linebackers.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC*
The New York Jets have been in transition for several seasons now. They've done well, adding several nice pieces on the defensive side, and taking Geno as their potential QB for the future. They've added Eric Decker, but they still need to add a few more weapons. Lee is one of the more well-rounded targets in this class. He possesses great hands, and adding a little more muscle could make him a potentially elite option.
19. Miami Dolphins: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville*
The Dolphins pick is pretty hard to project. After last season's confusing development with Dion Jordan, I'd like to think Miami would still try to address their pass rush. However, it might be too early to just throw in the towl on Jordan. Either way, they did lose Chris Clemons in free agency, and I'm not sure they're ready to push Jimmy Wilson or one of their other backup safeties into a starting role. After Clinton-Dix the safety pool runs pretty thin, but Pryor had a stellar season at Louisville and should find himself somewhere in the first round.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville*
Carson Palmer has been bouncing from team to team the past few seasons, but seems to have finally found a good spot in Arizona. Despite their success, they did miss the playoffs, and Palmer is already 34 years old. The Cardinals might not be able to pass up a chance to grab a signal-caller for the future if one falls to them in the 20s.
Bridgewater's stock has been taking some hits this offseason. While I've never thought of him as the top quarterback, his numbers are hard to ignore. Can poor showings at a combine and pro day can really tell you if a quarterback is going to succeed in the NFL? I don't know, but I probably wouldn't bet against Bridgewater. He excelled at Louisville, and while he didn't perform at his best when they played some of their tougher opponents, he has shown that he has a knack for winning. We'll see if it converts to the NFL.
21. Green Bay Packers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame*
A real impact player inside, Nix is a space-eater with top level quickness for a big guy. The Packers need help a lot of help on defense, they were ranked 24th against the pass, and 25th against the run this season. A new anchor up front would be a good first step toward revitalizing their front seven.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State*
Losing DeSean Jackson will be a tough pill for Philadelphia fans to swallow. The front office and coaching staff had their reasons, but it definitely changes their outlook when it comes to this year's draft. Suddenly, adding a linebacker or some safety help doesn't appear as prevalent when you consider they just lost a pro bowl receiver who had over 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns for them last season.
Cooks isn't as well known as some of the other receivers in this draft, but maybe he should be. He's about the same size as Jackson, albeit with a little more muscle, and believe it or not, he's just as fast. Speed isn't everything however, and I'm not saying Cooks can simply replace a pro bowler like DeSean Jackson... but he is the sort of player the Eagles now lack. His ability to stretch the field sets him apart from the other wideouts on their team.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU*
Alex Smith had a nice season in Kansas City, and head coach Andy Reid should be considered one of the greatest coaches ever because of it. When you look at what Smith had to work with, it's a wonder they were as successful as they were. Dwayne Bowe, who has been a standout during his time with the Chiefs, had one of his worst seasons to date, and the rest of the receivers didn't help matters much either.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State*
Terrence Newman and Adam Jones get to see a lot of playing time for the Bengals, and for them, it hasn't necessarily been a good thing. They need a long-term solution in the secondary, someone who can tandem with Dre Kirkpatrick moving forward. Roby is a physical, cover corner and reminds a lot of scouts of Cortland Finnegan. That sort of toughness might not be a bad thing for a Bengals secondary in need of a little spark.
25. San Diego Chargers: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
San Diego has lost a lot of playmakers in their defense the past few seasons. Dee Ford was a monster off the edge at Auburn, he could play a lot of different roles for a team like the Chargers. He'd likely start quickly at outside linebacker, and I think that's the best role for him in the pros. The Chargers will also look to address their secondary, but Ford might be too intriguing for them to pass up.
26. Cleveland Browns (f/ IND): Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Regardless of running back or quarterback, the Browns need to take a look at their offenisve line. They ranked 27th in the league at running the football last season, with a left tackle like Joe Thomas that shouldn't be the case. Moses had a good showing at the combine, and his stock has continued to rise. He's a big man that plays with a lot of aggression, what's not to like?
27. New Orleans Saints: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State*
The Saints will be looking to add help inside, it's been one of the weaker spots on the defense. On talent alone, Jernigan should be a top-10 pick. Unfortunately, defensive tackles have had a trend of falling later in drafts, as it's not the sexiest pick to make. Jernigan is a big guy that should plug up holes early in his career. New Orleans needs help getting at opposing quarterbacks and he could have an impact early in his rookie season.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State*
Poor Carolina. They seemed to lose out on every big name wide receiver out there this offseason. Letting Steve Smith go, leaves Cam Newton without any sort of go-to target... so why not take one of the bigger receivers in the draft? Benjamin is a huge target, he uses his size well, and brings some speed and leaping ability to along with it.
29. New England Patriots: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State**
Talk about doing a lot with a little. Tom Brady led his Patriots to another successful season, but if you would've said last year that it'd be possible without Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez, most would've called you crazy. The Pats will definitely look to give Brady some better and more consistent options in the offseason.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
San Francisco is rock solid all around the board. They have a great balance of veteran leadership and youth on their roster at a lot of positions. One of the few positions they don't have much depth at, is at cornerback. Verrett had a great 40-time at the combine, and while he's a bit on the smaller side, he makes it up with eye-popping speed, fluidity and explosiveness.
31. Denver Broncos: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
They looked good all season, but it took the Broncos all the way until the Super Bowl to find out their defense had a lot of holes in it. Sure, the turnovers didn't help matters, but the Broncos allowed over six yards per pass, and almost five yards per rushing attempt! I think their most glaring weakness was their interior defense. Hageman is a monster in the middle, and could plug whatever holes Denver had last year up front. Make sure that ship doesn't sink at the worst possible time again next season.
32. Seattle Seahawks select: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Seahawks don't have too many needs. On defense, they're loaded all around, and have a ton of versatility. On offense, one area that they could look to improve on is consistency, particularly from their receiving options. Seattle recently lost Golden Tate, one of their more effective wideouts. Add a guy like Jace Amaro, who has been drawing comparisons to Rob Gronkowski, definitely not a bad thing.
33. Houston Texans: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
So the Texans don't take a quarterback with the top pick, in that situation, is there really any doubt they're taking one at the top of the second? I think the general consensus is that Derek Carr is the next best QB available, but given Houston's past with Carrs, it might be best to stay off the road.
Jimmy Garoppolo is one heck of a prospect in his own right. He's got average size and speed, but man, has he been successful. He threw for over 5,000 yards and 53 touchdowns last season. You read that right, FIVE THOUSAND YARDS in a single season. Granted, Eastern Illinois plays mostly cupcake teams (when compared to say, the SEC)... but obviously, he was a head above the competition. He has one of the quickest releases you'll see, some scouts have compared it to Dan Marino. Let's not go too far with that comparison, but that's not a bad guy to remind people of, unless your name is Ray Finkle.
Another interesting tidbit to read way too much into, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien seemed at his most active during Garoppolo's pro day workout. And it was one of the most highly complimented and praised workouts from any quarterback this offseason.
34. Washington Redskins: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame*
Retaining a lot of their defense was a good first step, but the Redskins still have a long ways to go on that side of the football. Adding a player like Stephon Tuitt, who many scouts say reminds them of Richard Seymour, could go a long way towards revitalizing their defensive line.
35. Cleveland Browns: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Cleveland pulled off one of the more clever trades in recent memory by shipping off Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for a first round pick. While Richardson has been mostly a bust, his departure still leaves a hole for the Browns at running back. Carlos Hyde is one of the few workhorse backs in the draft, and it might be in the cards that he stays put in Ohio.
36. Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Derek, the younger brother of David, has been sky-rocketing up the charts with elite play in his senior season. He's versatile, works hard, possesses an accurate arm, and he can make all the throws.
37. Atlanta Falcons: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State*
Atlanta is in need of leadership at the linebacker spot. A tackling machine, Shazier would help stabilize a defense in desperate need of new blood.
38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri*
Lovie Smith will use one of his first two picks on improving the defense. The Bucs had one of the worst pass attacks in the NFL last season. Bringing in new blood at defensive end will be one of Tampa Bay's top priorities.
39. Jacksonville Jaguars: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State*
The Jaguars miss out on Clowney at the top of the draft, Bortles though, not a bad silver medal. Crichton is your prototypical defensive end, his combination of power and speed should get him drafted somewhere in the early second round.
40. Minnesota Vikings: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
I knew Mettenberger would prove himself worthy at his pro day. He has elite arm strength, depending on how his interviews with teams went. Despite his ACL injury, he could still find himself as one of the top QBs drafted. After everything we've seen from a lot of the college quarterbacks this season, I think Mettenbergers skill-set may end up translating best to the NFL.
*Non-Senior, **Redshirt Sophomore
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina*