2014 NFL Mock Draft 5.0
This will not be a draft where the talent suddenly plummets after Round 2, or even after Day 2. There are definite starters to be had in the mid-rounds — players like Keith McGill, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ja’Wuan James, Donte Moncrief and A.J. McCarron did not make the cut here, in Audibles’ first two-round mock of the season. All could climb into the top two rounds eventually, and they plus dozens of others ought to be able to compete for jobs in camp.
The usual reminder before we dive in: The mocks are separate from the Big Board (version 4.0 of that will be rolling out Friday), in that this is an attempt to assess team needs and player draft slotting; the Big Boards rank the players in specific, talent-based order. One of the main goals here is to provide a little better idea of what each team has and does not have on its depth chart, an important study as free agency approaches.
That’s enough blabbering. On with the picks …
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville.
You’ll see Blake Bortles in this No. 1 spot across plenty of post-combine mocks. A lot of the signs right now, in late February, point toward new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien nabbing the tall Central Florida QB as his franchise guy. And that may end up being the pick in the long run.
Bridgewater is still here because he’s the best quarterback in this draft and the one most ready to step into an NFL lineup. The Texans have the pieces in place to embark on a Chiefs-like bounceback next season — remember, this was a playoff team in both 2011 and ’12. Bortles may be very good in the long run; same with Johnny Manziel. Bridgewater has a shot to be terrific out of the gate.
2. St. Louis — via Washington (3-13): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn.
This is the reverse of the Bridgewater argument. In terms of being better developed for the 2014 season, Jake Matthews has the edge on Robinson. Robinson showed at the combine, though, why scouts are drooling over his upside. His minimal work as a pass-blocker at Auburn remains a concern, but the Rams have the stable of young backs in place to make the run game the focus here.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina.
Here’s what Gus Bradley had to say at the combine in regard to his QB spot: “Everybody is tagged with, ‘Is he a franchise quarterback?’ That’s really difficult. I guess Chad Henne is ours and he’s our starter … if we get him re-signed.”
Hardly reassuring words for Jaguars fans. A QB would be easy to justify and to understand here. That said, Bradley is a defensive-minded coach who is badly in need of someone to pressure opposing quarterbacks off the edge. He may never get another chance to land someone like Clowney to fill that role.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M.
There might be a temptation to draft Sammy Watkins or even Mike Evans in this spot to pair with rising superstar Josh Gordon. But who’s going to throw them the ball? Brian Hoyer might be OK in spurts, maybe even for the entire 2014 season. Eventually, the Browns need to find a long-term answer at QB, and the electrifying Manziel would work.
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson.
Similar problem here as with the previous pick: Who is the quarterback? Oakland, however, does not have the benefit of a Josh Gordon in its back pocket. Watkins would add instant credibility to a rebuilding Raiders offense, thus making the job of whoever is at quarterback much easier.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M.
Clowney may be the best fit for the pass rush-deficient Falcons, so much so that they might give one of the top three teams a buzz to gauge trade wishes. Sitting at No. 6 and having the choice between Matthews and Khalil Mack would not be too disappointing as a backup plan. The choice here is Matthews because of how porous the Falcons are on the edges offensively. With how much they throw the football, adding a tackle comfortable dropping into protection would be a huge boost.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo.
With Lovie Smith in town, the Buccaneers are a good bet to bulk up on defense should the opportunities present themselves. Here, one does. The Tampa Two preferred by Smith needs speedy linebackers to work. With Mack on the strongside and Lavonte David on the weakside, few teams would have a better combination at the position.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF.
Minnesota may not be able to sit here and wait, especially if two quarterbacks come off the board in the top three or four picks. This mock fell perfectly for them, with Bortles available for the taking at No. 8. With Bortles, Cordarrelle Patterson and Adrian Peterson in place, the Vikings would have the makings of an intimidating, balanced offense.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina.
What seems to be the likely loss of Jairus Byrd could force the Bills to hunt for a Round 1 safety, either here or after a trade down. Yet, sooner or later, this team needs to find more oomph on offense — EJ Manuel’s future depends on it. Ebron would offer a dynamic option in the passing game.
10. Detroit Lions (7-9): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M.
Lions GM Martin Mayhew said during his combine presser that the franchise is confident in Chris Houston, expecting great things from Darius Slay and believes it has talent in Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. In other words, they don’t appear to view cornerback as the pressing need others see it as.
Wide receiver, on the other hand, is a must. Mayhew and new coach Jim Caldwell both have spoken about the importance of finding someone to help Calvin Johnson. Bringing in Evans would create another NFC North WR duo similar to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Plus, Evans’ high-point catch ability would play well with Matthew Stafford’s gambler mentality.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama.
Either Clinton-Dix or Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley would drop right into the starting lineup … and Anthony Barr’s still on the board as well. The Crimson Tide safety would provide Tennessee with necessary help over the top, something that was lacking in 2013.
12. New York Giants (7-9): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State.
In case you did not already have a sense for why this draft class is so exciting, this pick ought to provide an idea. A cornerback has yet to come off the board here, despite at least two (Dennard and Justin Gilbert) being top-10 quality. There is just so much talent that some players — and some positions — have to slide.
The Giants happily would take this scenario. Put Dennard with Prince Amukamara at corner and their secondary would be set to contend with just about any passing attack it comes across.
13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA.
I’ve long believed (and still do) that Clowney should be an option for the Rams at No. 2, with the argument being that his skillset is special enough for the Rams to tweak their defense to accommodate it. Dropping the athletic but raw Barr in as a rush linebacker would offer many of the same benefits of having Clowney, while forcing less readjusting of the scheme.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame.
When the Bears held the 14th pick in the 2004 draft, they used it on 300-pounder Tommie Harris, who then went on to become an anchor up front on Chicago’s NFC championship team. This team needs that space-eater who can push the pocket inside again. Nix proclaimed himself 23 pounds lighter at the combine than his college playing weight: “Yeah man, my stomach doesn’t stick out as much. That’s kind of nice. I like that part. My thighs got a little smaller. I just feel sexier, man.”
He’s still a healthy 330 pounds — just the type of guy Chicago needs up front.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State.
Gilbert’s combine showing — a sub-4.4 40, among other things — could force some team’s hand in the top 10 (Detroit?) Or it could force Pittsburgh, Dallas or others to consider trading up for him. Pittsburgh has to get better at the CB spot given Ike Taylor’s descent into mediocrity. Gilbert could be a shutdown guy at the next level.
16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt.
Sure, Clowney’s 4.53 40 time was incredible. But Donald’s 4.65, at 280-plus pounds, might have been even better. The Cowboys do not have any cash lying around with which to re-sign Jason Hatcher. Nabbing Donald would make Hatcher’s impending departure sting a lot less. The Pitt product is capable of disrupting offenses on a consistent basis.