If you are new to my draft coverage, I’d like to explain how I piece together my mock draft.
As right as I want to think that I am, I am not naïve to think that what I put out there is exactly how the 1st two rounds of the draft will play out. The draft is a puzzle with probably a million different ways it could unfold. Through my research of not just the players in the draft, but also of the team’s needs and their year-to-year approach to the draft, I try to construct just one way I believe the draft could unfold.
I do as much research on the players as I can with my limited resources. I analyze each team’s needs by breaking down each team’s roster myself. I also analyze the front office, head coach, and assistant coaches on each team to see if there might be a trend we can follow.
One thing I do not do is try to predict any trades. The trades we hear about with the NFL draft do not come true. The trades we don’t hear about are the ones that actually happen. It just doesn’t make sense to predict them at all.
Things are sure to change, but here’s how I see things before the combine:
1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney – DE – South Carolina
Commish’s Comments: While the Texans are in need of a quarterback, passing on Clowney might be too difficult to do. It is true that this draft does not possess an “Andrew Luck” type player, so the Texans and new coach Bill O’Brien might be better off taking the draft’s most talented player and targeting a quarterback at the top of round 2.
2. St. Louis Rams (via WAS) – Sammy Watkins – WR – Clemson
Commish’s Comments: Recent reports by Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports have shown that the Rams have “absolutely no intention” of signing Sam Bradford to a long-term contract. Bradford, with two years left on his hefty rookie contract, has a lot to prove both in health and wins to remain with the Rams for the foreseeable future. Some will start to predict a quarterback to the Rams with this pick, but if the Rams are still locked in with Bradford, why not give him more weapons. Offensive tackle is a distinct possibility, but a receiving corps of Sammy Watkins, this draft’s most explosive playmaker, and Tavon Austin would give Bradford the necessary tools to have a high-flying offense.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater – QB – Louisville
Commish’s Comments: While I believe Jaguars coach Gus Bradley would love to grab a pass rusher like Clowney or Khalil Mack, passing on a quarterback would send Jaguars fans into hysteria. Teddy Bridgewater had been the overwhelming top choice at quarterback for a majority of the 2013 season. Bridgewater’s accuracy, athleticism, and leadership will be a great addition to a Jaguars team that found ways to win a couple games with Chad Henne last year. I’m not convinced the Jaguars are equipped or want to deal with the potential distractions and coverage Johnny Manziel would bring.
4. Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel – QB – Texas A&M
Commish’s Comments: It has been a long time since the Browns have had a team that could truly compete for a playoff birth. The Browns have a lot of the pieces in place, but their quarterback play has been awful. Manziel has his limitations and concerns, but Manziel possesses that special attribute of always finding a way to make a special play when his team needs it most. Manziel’s play from the pocket is also very underrated. As for off-field distractions, the positive here is that Manziel comes from a wealthy family, so new money will not overwhelm him like it would other players.
5. Oakland Raiders – Khalil Mack – DE/OLB – Buffalo
Commish’s Comments: If I’m the Raiders, I’m looking at how the Seahawks defense handled Peyton Manning in the super bowl and try to mimic that on my team. The AFC West consists of two of the more stationary quarterbacks in the NFL in Manning and Phillip Rivers. Mack is a relentless pass rusher that can play linebacker or put his hand in the dirt. He plays with excellent leverage which allows him to power his way back to the quarterback. Raiders coach Dennis Allen could use Khalil Mack in a very similar way to how he used Von Miller while the Broncos defensive coordinator in 2011 when Miller made the Pro Bowl and was the AFC’s defensive player of the year.
6. Atlanta Falcons – Jake Matthews – OT – Texas A&M
Commish’s Comments: The Falcons are desperate to bolster both sides of their line of scrimmage. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff has a pattern of drafting proven players from bigger colleges in the 1st round of drafts since he took over the Falcons in 2008. While some may consider Auburn’s Greg Robinson the most physically gifted offensive tackle in this draft, it’s hard to argue against Matthews track record at Texas A&M and his bloodlines. Matthews is the safest and best pick the Falcons could have other than Clowney.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Greg Robinson – OT – Auburn
Commish’s Comments: Over the past five years, the Buccaneers invested just one 5th round selection in 2009 on an offensive lineman when they drafted Illinois OT Xavier Fulton. Last season, the Bucs offensive line was one of the bigger disappointments on a very disappointing team. Davin Joseph did not return from injury the way most wanted him to. Carl Nicks has had continued problems with his toe that has included MRSA. Donald Penn will be 31 years old with a contract that pays him at least $6.5m each of the next two years. Robinson would be a nice start to the Bucs revamping their offensive line. He is a dominating force up front that was leaned upon numerous times during the national title game against Florida State. Robinson can drive defensive lineman off the ball in the run game, has quick feet and is nimble in pass protection, and has the athleticism to get outside on screen passes to deliver the clutch block for a big play. I’m one of the people that feels the Bucs should try and upgrade at quarterback if the opportunity is there. If both Bridgewater and Manziel are off the board at this point, a selection of Robinson might not be the sexiest pick, but it would be the right pick.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Blake Bortles – QB – UCF
Commish’s Comments: It seems like every year we’re discussing if the Vikings are going to find their quarterback to complete their team. With new offensive coordinator Norv Turner taking over, I think Blake Bortles would be a great fit for that style of offense. Bortles has prototypical size, athleticism, and touch on his passes. The Vikings will continue to be a run-first offense with Adrian Peterson, but Bortles would give them a quarterback to lean on when the pressure mounts.
9. Buffalo Bills – Eric Ebron – TE – North Carolina
Commish’s Comments: I’m a big believer in young quarterbacks having a reliable tight end to take some of the added pressure off of them. The Bills invested a 1st round pick in EJ Manuel a year ago, and right or wrong, he will be their quarterback moving forward. The best thing the Bills can do for their young signal caller now is to surround him with as many weapons as possible. I think the Bills could go wide receiver or tight end here and neither would be wrong. Ebron is a pass receiving tight end who can stretch the middle of the field and become a mismatch for opposing defenses.
10. Detroit Lions – Mike Evans – WR – Texas A&M
Commish’s Comments: The Lions could go in a few different directions here, but they need to find a player that will finally get them over the hump and into the postseason. While they might need some more help in their secondary, adding a secondary big target like Mike Evans opposite of Calvin Johnson became very attractive to me. Evans was Johnny Manziel’s go-to receiver at Texas A&M and possesses a lot of the same characteristics as Bucs WR Vincent Jackson.
11. Tennessee Titans – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – S – Alabama
Commish’s Comments: Clinton-Dix reminds me a lot of Mark Barron from a couple years ago. Having a safety that can match up with physically and run with the tight ends in the NFL these days is extremely valuable. The Titans could look towards a defensive end like Anthony Barr or Kony Ealy here, but the top safety in the draft might be too attractive to pass on.
12. New York Giants – CJ Mosley – LB – Alabama
Commish’s Comments: The Giants finally addressed their linebacker corps last season when they traded for Jon Beason, but he is a free agent now. The Giants still need a leader at linebacker to bring their defense together. Mosley proved in 2013 that he could be a 3-down linebacker and he was also the undisputed leader of the Alabama defense. With Justin Tuck’s likely departure in free agency, a defensive end like Barr or Ealy could be in the discussion as well.
13. St. Louis Rams – Taylor Lewan – OT – Michigan
Commish’s Comments: After passing on an offensive tackle early to get Sammy Watkins, the Rams jump on Taylor Lewan with this pick. With Jake Long coming back from a torn ACL and MCL in week 16 of the 2013 season and Rodger Saffold a free agent, the Rams need to address their offensive line this off-season. While Lewan might not be an elite pass blocker, he is very talented and very physical. Lewan fits the mold of what Jeff Fisher has typically had at offensive tackle during his head coaching career.
14. Chicago Bears – Timmy Jernigan – DT – FSU
Commish’s Comments: The Bears need some help along their defensive line. With a possible release of Julius Peppers and Henry Melton heading to free agency, the Bears could be in position to take the best available defensive lineman. Jernigan has gotten some rave reviews early in this draft process and might be good fit for what the Bears are looking to do on defense under Mel Tucker. Jernigan is your classic under-tackle with a quick first step and getting penetration into opposing offensive backfields. Do not discount a cornerback here for the Bears either especially if Justin Gilbert and Darquese Dennard are both available.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Justin Gilbert – CB – Oklahoma St.
Commish’s Comments: The Steelers have invested a lot of high draft picks to their front 7 on defense or their offensive line the past 5 years. While the Steelers could use another offensive tackle, it might be time to address an aging secondary that could potentially consist of two cap casualties this off-season in Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor. Gilbert is a big corner with good speed and the ability to play the ball in the air.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Anthony Barr – DE/OLB – UCLA
Commish’s Comments: Barr has been a player who has been regularly placed in the top 10 of this draft, but his film from 2013 does not match that of a top 10 selection. I did not see an overly physical or strong player coming off the edge. Barr has a lot of natural talent and had much better film in 2012 than he did in 2013. If he does slip this far, it might only be to his benefit to play for Rod Marinelli. Marinelli will no doubt get the most out of Barr and turn that potential into a great player.
For updates on the NFL Draft and the Buccaneers off-season, follow Justin Pawlowski on twitter @Commishonline