2014 NFL Mock Draft 1.0
17. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)*: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama.
Because this is a mock draft, we can make a sensible pick in the Cowboys’ war room. Dallas’ safety play has been a problem for years, and if Jerry Jones ever wants to get back to the postseason, he either has to wait for Roger Goodell to increase the number of postseason teams, or take a hammer and nails to his deep secondary. Clinton-Dix is less a pure tackler and more a coverage specialist, but coverage is what this team needs. He reads quarterbacks very well, breaks on the ball with speed and fluidity and can take care of center field.
18. New York Jets (8-8): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina.
The Jets could go a few different ways on offense here, and there are some who wouldn’t be surprised if they dipped back into the quarterback pool. But giving Geno Smith some reliable targets before moving on would seem to make sense.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama.
The future of the Dolphins’ offensive line is uncertain in the wake of whatever actually happened between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. The addition of Kouandjio would give the Dolphins a versatile, technique-sound left tackle able to man a position that was iffy even when the inconsistent Martin was in there.
20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame.
Like the Rams, the Cardinals are trying to put the finishing touches on an excellent team that will have to become even better to challenge San Francisco and Seattle in the NFC West in future years. If the Cards took Martin or someone of his caliber in this draft, and got Jonathan Cooper back from the broken left fibula that cost him the 2013 season, they’d add two first-rounders to a front five that has been under construction for eons.
21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State.
Ted Thompson and his staff have an innate understanding of the value of versatile cornerbacks — the kinds who can play nickel and outside with equal skill, and even slip out to safety depth at times. Green Bay could go in other directions here, but a team facing opponents looking to play catch-up with Aaron Rodgers’ passing game can always use another high-quality defensive back. Gilbert led the Big 12 in picks with six in 2013, and he’s also an amazing return man.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU.
Similarly, as Chip Kelly’s offense comes together in its second NFL season, pass coverage will be at a premium. Verrett would be a great addition to Billy Davis’ aggressive defense. He can trail receivers, will undercut routes with aplomb and is tough enough to provide run support.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State.
The Chiefs would be wise to go with defensive reinforcements as their defense collapsed down the stretch as injuries took their toll, but there’s also the need for more targets for Alex Smith in the short term — and the quarterback of the future in Andy Reid’s offense in the long term. Benjamin is a big receiver who uses his impressive wingspan to win battles on fades and other red-zone routes.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State.
The Bengals have an elite penetrating defensive tackle in the great Geno Atkins, but when Atkins was hurt last season, there weren’t any real complementary answers. Besides, rotational stability is the key to great defensive fronts these days. Jernigan is an attack tackle who needs to improve his speed and timing off the snap, but has all the elements to be a fine presence in any defensive line.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri.
Year 2 of the Chargers’ recovery from five years of A.J. Smith sees them in need of reinforcements along the defensive line. Corey Liuget has shown improved potential, but it’s been hit-and-miss otherwise. Ealy shoots off the snap, and though he needs to lower his pad level consistently, he can play well in hybrid lines at multiple positions.
26. Cleveland Browns — via Indianapolis (11-5): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU.
Josh Gordon somehow had an amazing season with Cleveland’s Quarterbackapalooza, but with Davone Bess’ predilection for dropping everything thrown in his direction, whoever’s throwing the ball for the Browns in 2014 would appreciate another consistent receiver. Beckham is a smaller, fluid receiver who would be a great complement on crosses, slants and other slot routes.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Dee Ford, DE, Auburn.
Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan knows how to bring the best out of pass rushers with all different dimensions, and in Ford he could have a new pass-rush presence to add to a defense that already brings pressure from several angles. Ford could play a Von Miller or Bruce Irvin role, excelling in various Sam linebacker concepts.
28. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville.
The Panthers may very well have the NFL’s most dangerous front seven, and though their secondary improved as the 2013 season went on, a little star power wouldn’t hurt. Pryor is a big hitter in the front half of the defense, but he also can cover slots and seams.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech.
Clearly, Tom Brady needs more targets. And clearly, with Aaron Hernandez out of the picture and Rob Gronkowski bringing new definitions to the term “injury-prone,” the Pats could use a productive and consistent presence at tight end. That’s how Bill Belichick has designed New England’s current offense. Amaro was a yards-after-catch monster in college, lining up in the slot most of the time and creating nightmares for linebackers and safeties. He’d be a perfect plug-in for Hernandez’s old role, and could take some of the heat off of Brady should Gronk continue his recent injury trend.
30. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota.
At some point in the draft, head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke will look hard at receivers, knowing that if Michael Crabtree had been healthy all season, the NFC might have gone a different way. But there’s also the matter of the defensive line over the long term — and that’s the cornerstone of Vic Fangio’s defense. Hageman, with his knack for blasting opposing linemen from the nose-shade and three-technique spots, would be an exceptional complement to Justin Smith in the short term — and Smith’s ultimate replacement over time.
31. Denver Broncos (13-3): Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU.
The Broncos got to the Super Bowl despite losing their entire projected front four, which is a tribute to defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. But without Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, Denver’s defense failed to bring heat at a consistent level. Van Noy has been a standout for a long time not because of his speed, but because of his sound technique and understanding of the requirements of his position.
32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): David Yankey, OG, Stanford.
Seattle’s guards have been average at best since Steve Hutchinson poison-pilled his way out of the Emerald City after the Seahawks’ Super Bowl appearance in February 2006, and the fact that the franchise nabbed its first Lombardi Trophy last Sunday doesn’t erase that issue. Pete Carroll and John Schneider have had great success with low-drafted (Richard Sherman) and undrafted (Doug Baldwin) players from Stanford, and Yankey could fill a major hole at a patchwork position. He’s a tremendously strong blocker with impressive athleticism, and an implicit understanding of NFL-level concepts.