2014 NFL Mock Draft 4.0
The main goal of mock drafts several months in advance of the real deal is to get a strong sense for what each team may look for when it is on the clock. In turn, that helps paint a picture for which prospects may land where, and which positions will be in demand early.
The landscape for this latest mock, 4.0 on Audibles, hints that there are going to be a few swing players in Round 1 — guys who could land with a wide-ranging number of teams, with their fates really dictating how the first day plays out.
Johnny Manziel is one such player. So are his quarterback counterparts, UCF’s Blake Bortles and Fresno State’s Derek Carr. Of those three, Carr may be in the most precarious spot. Of the teams in the top 10 (for now, pending any trades), seven could justify drafting a quarterback.
Of course, not all seven will do so in Round 1. With players like Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews, Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr and a boatload of wide receivers available, the urge may be to pass in favor of Day 2/3 QB prospects such as Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray or A.J. McCarron.
Manziel’s knack for making plays (not to mention his overall abilities) could lock him in as a top-10 spot. Bortles, whose outlook is soaring in NFL circles, may be up there on potential alone.
Carr appears to have the most questions: about his throwing motion, the type of offense he played in, his shaky bowl-game showing. Once we get to about the No. 12 pick, there just are not a ton of teams — barring a surprise pick or trade up — that look like they’ll need a quarterback.
There may not be enough room for all these quarterbacks early, even if the need is there league-wide.
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville.
The pre-draft process can feel rather interminable, so most prominent prospects trek through ebbs and flows in their hype. Right now, Bridgewater’s in a bit of a lull. Blame it on Louisville playing an early bowl game or focus falling on Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel. Whatever the reason, Bridgewater has slipped out of the spotlight a bit.
So, here’s your reminder: This is the best quarterback in the 2014 class. Bridgewater has shown time and again what he is capable of on the field, and The MMQB’s Greg Bedard recently highlighted what a sharp football mind he has: “You’d be hard-pressed to find many, if any, college quarterbacks that are asked to do [as much as Bridgewater is],” Bedard wrote, “especially at 21 years old and in a completely full-field read progression system.”
There’s no use picking through the remaining prospects to figure out who should go No. 1 when the answer is staring us in the face.
2. St. Louis — via Washington (3-13): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina.
It is a very rare occurrence that a pretty good team — the Rams were 7-9 this season — gets a chance to draft up here. And in my view, there are three ways to take advantage: 1. Take a quarterback, signaling a virtual end to Sam Bradford’s days as the No. 1 guy; 2. Trade down again, a scenario that may be likely should another team fall in love with a player; or 3. Draft Clowney.
All season long, skeptics have looked at Clowney’s stats and his occasional choice to sit out a play or game and tabbed him a future bust. Look deeper, at his impact on how the opposition schemed. He’s special … and only going to get better. St. Louis will find a way to use him, even with Robert Quinn and Chris Long on the field. Oh, and Jeff Fisher loves having a stockpile of pass-rushers.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M.
An admission: I was all over the place with Manziel before settling on him here, bumping out Khalil Mack. I do not think it’s out of the question that the Jaguars aim for someone like Mack or Anthony Barr to give Gus Bradley a dynamic defender. But doing so would likely force them to settle on a second-tier QB later, dragging out the rebuilding project.
Manziel will make mistakes (possibly off the field as well as on). He’ll also make the Jaguars a far more dangerous team from Day 1.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF.
Bortles is the man of the hour in draft circles, with his Fiesta Bowl win putting the capper on a brilliant season. He has a chance to be great at the next level. Right now? I’d say he could be pretty good as a rookie as he undergoes some growing pains. For the Browns, the notion of finally nabbing a franchise quarterback will outweigh any concerns.
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M.
Is this another spot for a quarterback? How about a wide receiver? Should their choice truly boil down to QB or WR at No. 5, the guess here is that they’d lean receiver — partially because any quarterback will struggle in Oakland until the rest of the depth chart improves. The line, in particular, must be strong for the offense to have a chance. Oakland needs to get Jared Veldheer re-signed this offseason. Pairing him with Matthews, who has extensive experience at right tackle, would set the Raiders on the right path.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo.
The Falcons’ pass rush (like its offensive line) was a complete mess in 2013 — it generated just 32 sacks all season, third-worst in the league. Atlanta needs to adjust, both in scheme and in personnel. Mack would upgrade the latter while driving changes to the former. The Seahawks have popularized the “Leo” linebacker position, which combines elements of the DE and OLB positions. Mack could play that role for the Falcons.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA.
Expect there to be a lot of Mack versus Barr discussion in the four months between now and the draft. Mack is further developed as a pro-ready prospect; Barr may have the higher upside. A lot of the comments for Atlanta’s pick hold true here, too: Barr would provide a jolt to an undermanned pass rush, even if the Buccaneers had to be a little creative in utilizing him.
Lovie Smith will want defensive playmakers — and not only Tampa-2 guys. Barr would be a welcome addition.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State.
That Vikings fans would be skittish over this pick is understandable. The last time they attempted to draft a franchise QB, with Christian Ponder in 2011, they flopped miserably. Carr has issues with his mechanics to work out and played in a very QB-friendly offense. This is not a slam dunk.
But the Vikings need a quarterback, and Carr’s skill level makes him worth the risk. Minnesota has the O-line Carr needs in front of him, plus catch-and-go weapons like Cordarrelle Patterson. Carr could erase the Ponder mistake.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina.
I’ll throw out two names here: Ebron and Mike Evans. The biggest variable they have in common? Size. Ebron runs 6-foot-4, 245 pounds; Evans 6-5, 225. If the Bills look to bolster their offense here, they will want to find a tall, red-zone target to complement a relatively average-sized group.
After seeing potential in both Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, a second- and third-round pick, respectively, in 2013, rounding out the offense with the dangerous Ebron fits.
10. Detroit Lions (7-9): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson.
Watkins could climb higher than this (especially after that dominant bowl-game showing). He most likely will not fall much lower. Outside of Houston and Atlanta, pretty much any team above Detroit could justify nabbing the explosive Clemson wide receiver — and the Lions might be sick for years if Minnesota rolls the dice by pairing Watkins with Patterson.
If the Lions get their choice between Watkins, Evans and Marqise Lee, they’d be ecstatic. Watkins fits every need Detroit has across from Megatron.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama.
There is a prevailing belief out there — with some evidence to back it up — that Alabama players hit their ceilings before arriving in the NFL. Here’s the thing with Mosley, however: If he’s already at his ceiling, he still can slot in and be an impact defender.
Offensive tackle is another option here. The Titans also have two huge wild cards in safety Bernard Pollard and CB Alterraun Verner, both pending free agents. Losing either could bump that vacated position to the top of their draft board.
12. New York Giants (7-9): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn.
Would the Giants be tempted here by Darqueze Dennard? He’s the top CB in this class, could be a steal at No. 12 and would give New York a duo of Dennard and Prince Amukamara for the foreseeable future.
They might be. Robinson (or Taylor Lewan) is the safer pick. Eli Manning was sacked 39 times last season and starting LT Will Beatty is coming off a broken leg. With Robinson and 2013 first-rounder Justin Pugh on the edges, New York could get back to scoring points in bunches.
13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M.
As mentioned during the Rams’ first pick, we’re working off the assumption here that Sam Bradford will get at least one more season at the helm. Under that scenario, the Rams could nab a QB on Day 2 or 3 to develop … while looking for another weapon early.
St. Louis finally figured out how to use Tavon Austin in its offense during the second half, but he is not a true No. 1-type. Evans could be, and at the very least would bulk up the Rams’ red-zone offense.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama.
The Bears have some work to do in their secondary. At cornerback, Charles Tillman’s headed to free agency and, at some point in the next draft or two, they’ll need a fallback plan for Tim Jennings (currently 30 years old, with a new contract that allows Chicago to boot him easily after 2015.)
Safety’s a mess, too. Major Wright’s a pending free agent and Chris Conte is … well, not very good. Clinton-Dix is the top player at his position and fits a need.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State.
Imagine Troy Polamalu as a cornerback. That’s not an across-the-board comparison, but Dennard brings a lot of those Polamalu traits to the field. Namely, he plays with an edge, a trait highlighted in how aggressively he dives down to pitch in against the run. Pittsburgh’s corners were putrid at times in 2013, so the value of finding Dennard all the way down at 15 would be a godsend.
16. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)*: Marqise Lee, WR, USC.
The Ravens cannot go through another season with their receiving corps in the shape it was in for 2013. Nabbing a potential game-breaker in the middle of Round 1 would do wonders for Joe Flacco, the run game and the offense as a whole. Lee bounced back from an injury-plagued season to star in USC’s bowl win. He has home-run potential whenever he catches the football, plus advanced capabilities as a route-runner.