By Josh Norris
Please note, I do not claim to be an expert on every team’s schemes and needs, but I do ask questions. As I say every year, if the draft was predictable we would not tune into the event. You should be surprised by some of these selections. The point is to work through scenarios and present options, not accuracy.
1. Houston Texans - DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
If you do not have a quarterback, you have to go and get one. With that said, I think Texans' head coach Bill O’Brien waits until the second day, or trades back in to the first-round, to get his quarterback. That passer could be A.J. McCarron, but that is solely a guess.
Romeo Crennel’s odd front defense (I am attempting to stay away from 3-4/4-3) has been categorized as “traditional” in the past, but he told reporters he expects to be more versatile moving forward. Regardless, Clowney’s talent should not be limited to a specific scheme. He converts speed to power at a ridiculous level.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Redskins) - T Greg Robinson, Auburn
After hearing some of the buzz over the last two weeks, I would be surprised if Robinson is not the first offensive lineman selected in May. The NFL obsesses with upside, and even though I prefer Texas A&M's Matthews as a player right now, the draft is not focused on the following season’s success.
Robinson was asked to make a number of blocks when crashing down and getting to the second level, which he did at a high level. Robinson makes some blocks look absurdly easy, gaining leverage with strength that starts from the ground up. I wish there were more individual pass protection opportunities out in space, but Robinson is a great athlete for his size.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Run to the podium. I do not understand the questions surrounding Bridgewater. In fact, I believe we will laugh at the criticisms in a few years. His combination of pocket movement, eye level, timing and placement is top notch. Some will criticize his vertical route passing, but that is an overrated aspect to quarterback evaluations. Short to intermediate velocity and placement is far more important. In fact, I think Bridgewater was asked to throw with more touch on deeper balls, but that is solely a guess.
4. Cleveland Browns - QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
There has already been buzz linking Manziel to the Browns, and even more noting the Browns have thoroughly done their homework on this group of passers. Manziel is truly a unique evaluation. His pocket movement is his gift and his curse. The improvisational style Manziel displays is similar to Tony Romo’s, but Manziel takes it to another level. Manziel might frequently elongate plays, but he can be a very quick decision maker once buying himself time and space.
The Aggie improved as a passer this season, and this article, via Greg Peshek, charts every one of Manziel’s throws from this season. It helps illustrate the areas of the field where he succeeds.
5. Oakland Raiders - QB Blake Bortles, UCF
The Raiders have plenty of self-evaluating to do this offseason. Obviously they have plenty of needs, but the quickest way to turn around a team’s success is with a quarterback. Not that I consider them similar prospects, but Manziel might remind the Raider’s staff too much of Terrelle Pryor, in terms of improvisational style.
Bortles fits the NFL mold. Honestly, I do not care about this part of his evaluation, but teams absolutely will. I like Bortles, but do not love him. There are some poor man’s Andrew Luck nuances to his game, but there is a clear gap between Bortles and the Colts’ quarterback.
6. Atlanta Falcons - Edge player Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Let me start by saying I understand and recognize GM Thomas Dimitroff’s unwillingness to select prospects with blemishes on their off-field record. I also think he might loosen this stance a bit after the team’s 2013 season.
Mack was suspended for the opening game of the 2012 season, so that could impact his evaluation. Not for me. Mack is so versatile, since he wins in a variety of different ways and alignments. His leverage and power as a rusher to keep his opposition on skates is outstanding. The Falcons would only grow their multiple defensive front with the inclusion of Mack. He is a better prospect than Anthony Barr.
7. Tampa Bay Bucs - Edge player Anthony Barr, UCLA
I am critical of Barr, but despite saying he is not as good of a prospect as Mack he will still wind up near my top-10. We know where he wins: as an edge rusher with speed. He can dominate once generating an advantage in terms of angle and upfield quickness.
Things break down when Barr’s initial line and momentum is stopped. He lacks hand use and counter moves. We can mention he has only spent two seasons on the defensive side of the ball, but I am evaluating what I see. He can play an on-line of scrimmage linebacker/edge rushing role for the Bucs.
8. Minnesota Vikings - QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
Carr and Norv Turner would be fun to watch. The Fresno State product will frustrate and wow his fan base all in the same game. Carr does not throw from a balanced base on a consistent basis, but his arm hits throws at every level of the field with touch and velocity.
I also think it is lazy to not draft Carr because of his older brother, David. They are different prospects.
9. Buffalo Bills - WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
I know the Bills have selected multiple receivers in recent years, namely TJ Graham, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin. Watkins is on a different level. He is clearly the top receiver in the class due to his combination of explosion and ability to win at every level of the field. I would not worry that over 57 percent of his catches were recorded at the line of scrimmage.
10. Detroit Lions - CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Dennard will remain my top corner on the board, even if he runs a slower forty than other prospects at the position. Also, I do not understand questioning if Dennard can play off coverage. Why would you want to line a corner up, who thrives in press man, in off coverage more than 25 percent of the time? Know where prospects win and use them in that capacity.
11. Tennessee Titans - T Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Beat writer Jim Wyatt does not expect RT David Stewart back in 2014. Maybe that is one reason the Titans already invested so much into their offensive line, specifically on the interior. They could use defensive help, and who knows where they go at quarterback, but I think Matthews is the best tackle in this class.
Some have mentioned Matthews could make a move to center. It could be true, but I do not think a team will be in a position to take Matthews if they want to do so as a center.
12. New York Giants - OL Zack Martin, Notre Dame
This is all dependent on a team believing Martin can play tackle. I think he can be good on the edge, but an excellent interior lineman. Martin plays with a wide base but extremely powerful hands. He is a versatile type that can fit into the starting lineup, but shift to another spot if necessary.
13. St. Louis Rams - S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
The Rams have plenty of talent, and Clinton-Dix would add to the already young and rangy defense. Clinton-Dix could be used as a single high safety, with T.J. McDonald playing closer to the box. However HHCD has enough movement skill and aggression to be an interchangeable piece in the back half. This could move Rodney McLeod to slot duties.
14. Chicago Bears - S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Those with NFL connections have repeatedly brought attention to Pryor’s name, and thusly slotted him in the first-round. Pryor is a big hitter with aggression, but he could be athletic enough to fit multiple roles at safety. After Clinton-Dix and Pryor, the safety group might be fairly thin. Although I am a big fan of Jimmie Ward out of NIU.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Off LOS LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
The Steelers should be locked in on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive back can be upgraded, but I think adding Mosley next to Lawrence Timmons would allow Troy Polamalu to play in the deeper portions of the field and keep everything in front. Mosley has always had the range and awareness in coverage, but he attacks blockers better than given credit for. The Sean Lee comparisons are real.
16. Baltimore Ravens - WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
The Ravens have Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta, but Evans could really improve this offense. He is the best in the class at winning at the catch point and is very adept at working back towards his quarterback. His yards after the catch are also an under-discussed skill, since Evans takes many short screens for extended gains. Do not expect his short speed to be great in Baltimore, but you already knew that if you watched his tape. Don’t knock him twice for it.
17. Dallas Cowboys - DL Kony Ealy, Missouri
The Cowboys need to upgrade their defensive line, and I think the NFL likes Ealy more than where the consensus currently puts him. The Missouri defender can win with power and agility on the outside or move inside when necessary.
18. New York Jets - TE Eric Ebron, UNC
Jets fans will want a wide receiver, but hear me out with Ebron. First of all, he allows for personnel versatility, lining up inline or detached. Think of a Vernon Davis type athlete who has improved at the catch point. He is still growing his game, but Ebron can be a ridiculous prospect. He can take those Kellen Winslow or Jeff Cumberland targets and maximize them.
19. Miami Dolphins - T Taylor Lewan, Michigan
I am all about #TeamTannehill. However, even I can admit he has not made major strides in the past year. The Dolphins need offensive help, but unless Tannehill starts getting more time to stand and observe the coverage, the targets available do not matter.
20. Arizona Cardinals - T Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Kouandjio certainly had some issues this season. Namely, Cyrus lost off the snap due to late reactions, leading to waist bending and a swinging gate around the edge or upright posture to be driven back. I still believe in his talent, especially his strength once gaining a solid base and good posture. For such a big guy, Kouandjio does have quick feet if he does not get lazy off the snap.
21. Green Bay Packers - DL Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
With Hageman, I see a player that can line up at any one of the spots in an odd man front. He has played a lot of one technique this season, and has contributed at three and five technique as well. His athleticism will be on display at the Combine. That great workout could mean his future is projected as an end in a three man line, but I prefer him close to the center. Finding consistency is the key.
22. Philadelphia Eagles - CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Gilbert was not very good in 2012, but Oklahoma State’s more aggressive defense played into his hand in 2013. He still struggles to turn and run while mirroring receivers, but there has been plenty of buzz about Gilbert. He has great ball skills as well.
Brandon Boykin is locked into the slot. Bradley Fletcher has one year left on his deal, while Cary Williams has two. Dee Ford is also a possibility here.
23. Kansas City Chiefs - DL Louis Nix, Notre Dame
Many of you will question this pick because the Chiefs already have Dontari Poe, but hear me out. This would allow KC to utilize a large number of two man lines with stand up rushers on the edge, and Mike Devito is versatile enough to play along with the duo in odd front situations.
Nix III ended his season on the sideline after undergoing knee surgery. The injury impacted his season, but there were shades of Vince Wilfork back in 2012. Obviously he can stop the run, but Nix can also press the interior and reset the line of scrimmage. Disruption between the tackles is a difference maker.
24. Cincinnati Bengals - DB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
This is probably a bit of a stretch, but with Leon Hall suffering another major injury and Terence Newman aging, Joyner could offer versatility needed in the Bengals’ defensive backfield. He wins at safety, in the box, or lining up in the slot to counter mismatches on offense. Yes, Joyner lacks ideal size, but he can be physical.
25. San Diego Chargers - CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Roby still has plenty of talent, even if it was not on display at all times this season. He is very aware at knowing when to peel off his route and attack underneath patterns and is not afraid to lower his shoulder for a big hit. The closing speed is there as well. Roby does need to stick to his man tighter when mirroring routes in man coverage.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Colts) - WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
I doubt the Browns spend this first-round pick, the one they acquired for Trent Richardson, on another running back. Beckham Jr. can win in a variety of ways and at multiple levels of the field. Put him in the slot or out wide. Beckham Jr. can also win at the catch point in contested situations, something that is tough to find for someone of his size.
27. New Orleans Saints - Edge rusher Dee Ford, Auburn
Ford is not just a speed rusher. Turn on his game against Texas A&M and you will see burst, strong hands, and leverage to keep his opposition on skates. The argument between a 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB can be a bit of a waste of time now. Line Ford up wide and let him win. He could fill a sub-package pass rushing role early on in his career if necessary.
28. Carolina Panthers - OL Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
Receiver is commonly mocked to the Panthers, but tackle is their biggest need. Sure, this can be viewed as a need based selection, although one personnel executive mentioned Mewhort as a possible first-rounder. Mewhort is easy to like, especially when he wins, thanks to his tendency to extend his arms with a powerful latch to sustain and control his block.
29. New England Patriots - TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Amaro is a very fluid mover that can be a mismatch with safeties, corners or linebackers. He is a willing blocker, but I wish his hands were a bit stronger at the catch point. Amaro and Gronk can absolutely coexist.
30. San Francisco 49ers - WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
It might be time to find Anquan Boldin’s eventual replacement, since he will not play forever. Landry lined up inside and out for the Tigers and can dominate at the catch point despite measuring in around 6’0/200 pounds. Colin Kaepernick tends to rely on these types of receivers.
31. Denver Broncos - Edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
Do not knock Attaouchu too much for his Senior Bowl performance. At least I will not be doing so. Attaochu is a defensive end. He needs to have a minimum amount of responsibilities early in his career. This was apparent during his junior year, where Attaouchu seemed to be thinking more than reacting. Malik Jackson offers great interior pressure, and Attaochu can offer help on the edge, even in a sub-package role early on.
32. Seattle Seahawks - WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
I expect the Seahawks to cut Sidney Rice. Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Jermaine Kearse have all displayed the ability to win at the catch point downfield. This is an area where Benjamin can shine, since 75 percent of his catches were recorded 6+ yards downfield. He needs to be more consistent on the easier grabs, but Benjamin’s flashes are outstanding.