2014 NFL Mock Draft 4.0
17. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)*: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame.
With or without Monte Kiffin running the defense, the Cowboys would be wise to add someone like Nix. The massive 340-pound tackle simply plugs up the middle, be it from the 1-tech or directly over the center. Impending free agent Jason Hatcher may be on his way out, so finding Nix here could be even more of a boon.
18. New York Jets (8-8): Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech.
The Jets would love to nab one of the top three receivers in this draft — on paper, Watkins, Evans or Lee. Short of that, they could turn their focus to one of the two new-breed tight ends: Ebron or Amaro. With Ebron off the board, the Jets here nab Texas Tech’s standout. Amaro bamboozled defenses as a matchup problem all season, and Geno Smith would learn quickly to love him as a target.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan.
This is the lowest I’ve had Lewan in any of the mocks thus far, but all those QBs, WRs and TEs in the top 18 (plus Greg Robinson’s decision to turn pro) forced an adjustment. That’s probably just fine with the Dolphins, who are in dire need of reliable bodies up front along a disheveled line. Lewan is a strong pass blocker and a better run blocker than the rest of Michigan’s line allowed him to show in 2013.
20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson.
In Clemson’s recent bowl game, Beasley drew a matchup with Ohio State tackle and likely 2014 draft pick Jack Mewhort. He dominated. Whether teamed up with John Abraham on passing downs or groomed to replace the talented but aging veteran, Beasley would provide another piece to what’s a pretty impressive defensive puzzle in the desert.
21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville.
Clinton-Dix would be the ideal choice here. Since he’s headed elsewhere in the NFC North in this mock, the Packers turn to door No. 2. Or possibly door No. 3, depending on where you stand on Florida State’s 5-8 product, Lamarcus Joyner.
There’s no question that Green Bay has to improve at the safety position. Pryor, who recently announced he was entering the draft, will be a player you’ll hear more and more about as May approaches. He brings the hammer from the defensive backfield.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU.
The Eagles defense improved greatly as the year progressed, but it still finished dead last in the league against the pass. Dennard’s the only corner off the board so far, leaving Philadelphia its choice of impact players. Verrett is not far behind Dennard — and some might argue he’s actually the best CB in this class.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State.
A glance around the ol’ internet shows that I might be higher on Robinson than others — I’ve got him as my No. 4 WR for 2014, behind the three already taken above. He’s similar in size to Keenan Allen, the Chargers’ star rookie. He will arrive in the NFL having a well-progressed skillset, as Allen did. The Chiefs need another trustworthy weapon for Alex Smith, and Robinson has a knack for finding room off screens and short passes, which makes him a terrific candidate to fill that role.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): LaMarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State.
Joyner is on the smaller side at 5-8, 190, so he may wind up as a slot corner (and he’d do a great job there). But he has shown the ability to play — and play well — at safety. Cincinnati has a nice mix of youth and experience in its secondary, so bringing a player of Joyner’s ilk would provide valuable depth and cover the Bengals at multiple spots.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor.
Dabbled with the idea of doubling down on Alabama linemen with Cyrus Kouandjio here. Ultimately, opted against it because the Chargers have more of a need along the interior of their line. The 340-pound Richardson would help San Diego forget losing Louis Vasquez prior to this season. He’s an absolute load for defensive linemen to handle and plays with a nasty streak.
26. Cleveland Browns — via Indianapolis (11-5): Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt.
The Browns nabbed their QB earlier in this mock. Now, they add a terrific receiver for him. Cleveland already boasts one of the league’s budding offensive stars in Josh Gordon, and he’d welcome the arrival of Matthews, a polished prospect with a productive college career behind him. Matthews will be capable of starting from the get-go next season.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama.
Kouandjio has the potential and the pedigree — he was a multi-year starter at Alabama — to be a top-15 pick. This is just the way the board fell. (Arizona, at 20, was a rather clear possible landing spot for Kouandjio as well.)
The Saints benefit from the first 26 picks. Their 2013 third-round pick, Terron Armstead, still has some maturing to do at left tackle; Zach Strief’s set to become a free agent. Kouandjio may be a better fit, at first glance, for a team wanting to really grind the ball down the field. But New Orleans runs more than enough to take advantage of him there, while his strength as a pass-blocker would aid Drew Brees. The downside we’ve seen — Kouandjio slipping into unbalanced position to allow rushers to beat him — would be negated some by Brees’ ability to set and fire quickly.
28. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State.
NFL scouts will not love seeing the moments of inconsistency from Benjamin. What they will love is how he uses his 6-5 frame to box out defenders, as he did on the game-winning catch in the BCS title game. The 49ers obviously coveted that sort of ability in trading for Anquan Boldin, one of the best at winning contested balls. Benjamin would add another option.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota.
True to Patriots form, they’re actually getting a lot of miles this season out of players like Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, relative unknowns. Hageman has shown dominant effort up front at times for the Gophers, and he just needs an NFL coaching staff that can max out his abilities. Playing on the Patriots front would give him a wonderful shot to do just that, while providing New England with another talented body in the trenches.
30. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State.
The Panthers have to find a wide receiver at some point in this draft. With a number of talented WRs already gone, however, they’d be better served to wait on a deep group than reach for one here. Instead, they can continue to bulk up in the secondary, with their choice at this point between Gilbert and boom-or-bust prospect Bradley Roby.
31. Denver Broncos (13-3): Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State.
Shazier could be a very productive OLB in a 4-3. He also could really outproduce his expectations as an inside guy in a 3-4, with the occasional shot at rushing the passer. That second scenario should be music to the Broncos’ ears, as they prepare to possibly lose Wesley Woodyard to free agency. Shazier would be a more-than-capable replacement.
32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri.
The Seahawks proved last offseason that they never can have too many versatile pass-rushers. That’s exactly what they would get in Ealy, whose stock climbed throughout the season. There is a definite possibility Ealy — and his teammate Michael Sam — come off the board earlier (Dallas looks like a fit). Should he last, the Seahawks might not hesitate to snatch up another dangerous defender.