Friday, February 28, 2014

Mock Draft version 2.0, post-combine edition

By John McMullen

PHILADELPHIA - One of the best things about the annual NFL Scouting Combine is getting unfiltered access to the prospects themselves.

So much of NFL football is based on pure physical ability, but the things that
set the truly great ones apart tend to be the intangibles -- things like work
ethic, maturity and leadership skills.

For instance, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning just put together the
greatest statistical season in NFL history, but if he showed up in Indianapolis
as a 22-year-old kid with the same physical skills he possesses right now,
Manning likely wouldn't even be regarded as a draftable commodity.

But, a stopwatch can't measure ambition, desire or hunger. Pure brute strength
can't mask a low football IQ, and short-area quickness means little without an
instinct for the game.

And that's why, in the end, the NFL Draft is really just a crapshoot, a
snapshot in time of a glorified educated guess.

That said, the more you prepare, the better the chances are you make a prudent
decision and hordes of NFL personnel people departed Indianapolis this week
after doing their due diligence on the league's next generation of talent.

A total of 335 prospects were invited to the Hoosier State and 269 of them
were kind enough to speak with the media in some form, according to the Pro
Football Writers of America.

Here's our current snapshot as The Sports Network rolls out its latest mock
draft, the post-combine edition:


1. Houston Texans - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida - There are four
elite prospects in this draft and none of them plays the QB position (South
Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson, Buffalo OLB
Khalil Mack and Clemson WR Sammy Watkins). Bill O'Brien, however, was brought
to the Lone Star State to fix the quarterback problems and the Texans believe
they are a worst-to-first candidate if they can solve their woes at the
position.

The first option here is to trade down with someone who wants to go all-in on
Clowney or Robinson. Absent of that, though, O'Brien will choose the
prototypically sized Bortles over Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, the
most polished and NFL-ready signal caller in this draft, and popular but
undersized Texas A&M stalwart Johnny Manziel.

"I think it would be unbelievable," Bortles said when asked about playing in
Houston for O'Brien. "The track record that he has is awesome. So to have the
opportunity to play for a guy like that would be very special."

Previous Pick: Bridgewater


2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins) - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn -
Clowney remains the best pure prospect in this draft, but the Rams already
have what Clowney projects to be (Robert Quinn), along with another solid end
in Chris Long. St. Louis would certainly like to trade down and build on the
windfall they got in the Robert Griffin III trade, but if forced to stay put,
it would be a good idea to get the best tackle on the board because Jake Long
tore an ACL late last season and Rodger Saffold is headed for free
agency.

Texas A&M star Jake Matthews is the safer choice, but Robinson's ceiling is
much higher and he blew up at the combine, clocking 4.92 seconds in the 40-yard
dash at 332 pounds, putting up 32 reps on the bench press and excelling in both
the 3-cone drill and the short shuttle.

"I'm not at full potential right now. I still have a lot to go," Robinson
said. "I started last year (and that) was my first season starting. Like the
guys they have ahead of me like Jake Matthews, he started since he was a
freshman. That's just something I feel I need to prove."

Previous Pick: Matthews


3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina - If the NFL is
truly a copycat league, the Jags have a leg up when it comes to emulating
Seattle' terrific defense because Gus Bradley was one of its architects.
Clowney's production didn't match his talent in Columbia, but his upside as a
player is off the charts.

Clowney wowed everyone at the combine with his 4.53 40-yard dash at 266 pounds,
but he also played into some of the work ethic concerns when he declined to
participate in the on-field workouts.

"I believe I did work hard (at South Carolina)," Clowney said. "You pull out
any practice tape from last year, you'll see that. I'll tell everybody that. I
will always be working hard. No matter where I end, up I am going to work hard
and give a team everything I've got."

Previous Pick: Clowney


4. Cleveland Browns - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson - Reports say the old
Browns regime fell in love with Manziel and would have done everything it took
to get him. New GM Ray Farmer, though, isn't interested.

The scary part for Cleveland is that there is a lot of smoke indicating Farmer
is enamored with Fresno State signal caller Derek Carr, certainly a capable
prospect but a guy who belongs nowhere near the top 10. In the end, someone
will have to talk Farmer off the ledge and convince him to take a far safer
option like Watkins, who could form a nearly unstoppable duo on the outside
with Josh Gordon for whomever plays QB in Cleveland.

"I think I can do just about anything on the field from wide receiver to
running back to slot I can make plays all over the field," Watkins said. "What
I love doing is dominating defenses. I think that's what I bring to the game
and I think that's going to turn over to the NFL. When I come into the NFL, I
think I can be that dominant receiver."

Previous Pick: Manziel


5. Oakland Raiders - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville - Both general manager
Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen are on very short leashes in Oakland.
Neither man believes in Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin at quarterback, so they
will have their choice between Bridgewater and Manziel. The added incentive to
win right now will turn Oakland toward the safer prospect and Bridgewater, the
most pro-ready signal caller in this draft class.

"I feel that I'm the best quarterback in this draft," Bridgewater said.
"There's obviously actions that have to back up these words, and I'm just
confident in myself and my capability to be able to play this position. I'm
just going to go out there and prove that I'm the best guy."

Previous Pick: Watkins


6. Atlanta Falcons - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M  - The Falcons have plenty
of needs, but protecting Matt Ryan is first and foremost on their list. Ryan
was sacked 44 times last season after Atlanta released Tyson Clabo and saw Sam
Baker and Mike Johnson go down with injuries. It's about time a top-tier
tackle landed in Dixie and Matthews could step in at left tackle, enabling the
athletically limited Baker to move over to the right side.

"Being considered a polished player, someone who's done a lot and played well
in my life, I'll take that as a (compliment)," Matthews said. "At the same
time, I still feel like there's a lot I can get better at. Definitely wouldn't
say I'm at my peak -- a lot more I can learn, a lot more I can get better at."

Previous Pick: Robinson


7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo - Mack cemented his status
as a top-10 pick after finishing well in the 40 (4.65), vertical jump (40),
broad jump (10-8), and 20-yard shuttle (4.18) in Indy. Neither UCLA's Anthony
Barr nor Mack are really scheme fits for Lovie Smith's 4-3 cover-2, but Mack
has the chance to be the far more well-rounded 'backer.

"My versatility helps me in a lot of ways," Mack said. "If you have a guy who
can rush the passer, as well as drop in coverage -- that covers two of the big
issues on the defense."

Previous Pick: Mack


8. Minnesota Vikings - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State - Most believe the
Vikings will go QB here, but after swinging and missing badly by reaching for
Christian Ponder back in 2011, general manger Rick Spielman doesn't have the
political capital to roll the dice on a Manziel or Carr this early.

Add in the fact the aggressive Mike Zimmer is the new coach in Minny and the
corners under Leslie Frazier were abysmal (save for the promising Xavier
Rhodes) and the speedy Gilbert seems like a good fit. The former Oklahoma
State star cemented himself as the draft's top cornerback in Indy by running
a 4.37 in the 40, posting 20 reps on the bench press, and recording a 35 1/2-
inch vertical leap.

"I think I'm the best corner in the draft," Gilbert said. "(It's about)
dedication to the game and the work that I put in day in and day out off the
field, watching film, making guys around me better."

Previous Pick: Barr


9. Buffalo Bills - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan - The Bills probably wouldn't
mind adding either Mack or Barr at linebacker next to this year's rookie
standout Kiko Alonso, but it's also a good idea to build up around E.J. Manuel
to help him develop in his second season. Lewan proved to be nearly as
athletic as Robinson at the combine with a 4.87 40-yard dash and solid efforts
in the broad jump and 3-cone drill.

"I like to think I'm very consistent and I play through the whistle," Lewan
said. "That's one of my weaknesses, too, as everybody likes to comment on.
But no doubt about it, I like to play through the whistle and do whatever I
can to put people in the dirt as much as possible."

Previous Pick - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M


10. Detroit Lions - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State - The Lions and new
coach Jim Caldwell would probably love to add Mike Evans opposite Calvin
Johnson, but improving outside the numbers on defense is also a priority.
Dennard, who was just a tick behind Gilbert athletically while in
Indianapolis, is very physical and has a chance to be an elite press coverage
player who has the personality to be a lockdown corner.

Previous Pick - Gilbert


11. Tennessee Titans - C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama - Ken Whisenhunt was brought
in to help Jake Locker, not give up on him, so forget about a QB here and
focus on defense. Mosley turned a few people off at the combine by not running
the 40 and refusing to address the media, but he could be the kind of
difference maker inside who new defensive coordinator Ray Horton can build
around.

Previous Pick - Mosley


12. New York Giants - Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA - The Giants' linebacking corps
was a vast wasteland a year ago and Barr was once thought of as a top-five-
type selection. He's still raw after starting his career in UCLA at running
back and needs to add strength, but Barr would be a perfect fit in North
Jersey -- an explosive player who figures to eventually be an impact guy off
the edge.

"The transition (from offense to defense) was pretty smooth, honestly," Barr
said. "Difficult at first. I think moving backwards, going back in coverage,
was something that was new to me. But now I feel comfortable with that. Just
sort of getting used to the position. It's still sort of new to me in a sense.
It's exciting. If I continue to work, the sky's the limit."

Previous Pick - Dennard


13. St. Louis Rams - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M - Adding playmaking ability and
much-needed size opposite their top pick from a year ago, Tavon Austin, makes
a lot of sense especially if the Rams are really intent on moving forward with
Sam Bradford.

"There are a lot of great receivers in this draft, don't get me wrong. But I
feel I'm the best one," Evans said.

Previous Pick: Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal


14. Chicago Bears - Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State - The Bears, who were
dismal against the run last season after Henry Melton went down with an injury,
need help on the interior. Jernigan is the best three-technique tackle in the
draft and a better fit than Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix for what Chicago
is trying to accomplish.

"I feel like now in the NFL a lot of nose tackles have to come off the field
and I feel like that's where I can benefit a team at," Jernigan said. "I've
played in the shade, I've played over the center, I've played in the three-
technique. When it's a pass situation, when you want to go to a three-man
front, you can put me on the nose guard, right on the zero. I can get pressure
from the middle of the offense. I feel like that's where my game changes
from anyone else's."

Previous Pick - Nix


15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama - Second-year man
Shamarko Thomas is currently penciled in opposite Troy Polamalu on
Pittsburgh's back end and he has some potential, but that's not enough to pass
on the instinctive Clinton-Dix, who could be an elite player.

Previous Pick - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State


16. Dallas Cowboys - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh - Jerry Jones probably
doesn't even know what the Cowboys are going to run defensively this season,
but if they stick with a Kiffin-Marinelli Tampa-2 amalgamation, getting an
impact player at the three-technique is paramount, and Donald may be
undersized but he has the quickness and explosiveness to dominate.

"I would like to play for anyone, but it would be good to play for (the
Cowboys)," Donald said. "I love the way they play up front: 4-3. I like the
way they play their defense."

Previous Pick - Donald


17. Baltimore Ravens - Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California - Lee reminds you
a little of Keenan Allen, a great college receiver who is getting downgraded
because he didn't run all that well at the combine. Ozzie Newsome will
understand just how refined Lee is and take the leap here.

"The main thing you have to learn coming in as a college player coming into
the NFL is the playbook," Lee said. "Also, spending that time with the
quarterback so you're on the same page."

Previous Pick - Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame


18. New York Jets - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina - Getting playmakers will
be important for Geno Smith's development and Ebron is the best tight end in
this draft, an athletic marvel in the mold of a Vernon Davis.

"There's a lot of great tight ends (coming out in the draft)," Ebron said.
"What makes me different is who I am. I'm not going to sell myself, but I'm
very fast, I'm very different. I play the tight end role like no one else."

PREVIOUS PICK - Lewan


19. Miami Dolphins - Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame - Miami allowed a league-
high 58 sacks and couldn't protect Ryan Tannehill with Jonathan Martin and
Richie Incognito or without them. Zack Martin is one of the safest picks in
this draft with a lot of position flexibility.

PREVIOUS PICK - Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama


20. Arizona Cardinals - Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame - The Cards need to start
thinking about tomorrow on the defensive line. John Abraham will be entering
his 15th season in 2014 while Darnell Dockett's future is up in the air due to
a large contract. Tuitt is a bit of a mystery at this stage because he wasn't
cleared to participate at the combine because of a small fracture in his left
foot. That could send him tumbling, but the guess here is that his rare
physical gifts, along with impressive scheme-versatility, will have Arizona
biting.

PREVIOUS PICK - Bortles


21. Green Bay Packers - Ra'shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota - The Packers have
said they want to get more athletic up front and that means they will choose
the gifted Hageman over the more plodding Nix.

"I feel like a lot of people don't think I have the mechanics and just the
talent to play D-tackle," Hageman said. "But I feel like me being athletic
definitely helped me get to where I am. I feel like everyone in the NFL is
athletic. So, I definitely have to kind of stay to my fundamentals to get
better."

PREVIOUS PICK - Ebron


22. Philadelphia Eagles - Dee Ford, DE, Auburn - People are focused on safety
with the Eagles and while they certainly need help at that position, an impact
player off the edge is even more of a concern. Ford, an undersized defensive
end at Auburn, looks like a tailor-made fit as a 3-4 outside rush linebacker.

PREVIOUS PICK - Ford


23. Kansas City Chiefs -  Odell Beckham, WR, LSU - Alex Smith gets criticized
a lot for being a game manager and failing to push the ball down the field, but
one of the major reasons he didn't last season was the fact Kansas City had no
one outside the numbers to pop the top on opposing defenses. Beckham is the
kind of dynamic athlete who can stretch a defense.

PREVIOUS PICK - Tuitt


24. Cincinnati Bengals - Calvin Pryor, safety, Louisville - With Zimmer now in
Minnesota, the Bengals will have a tougher time masking deficiencies on their
defense, so upgrading the talent on the back end is necessary. Pryor is
an instinctive player with a nose for the football.

PREVIOUS PICK - Clinton-Dix


25. San Diego Chargers - Jason Verrett, CB, TCU - The Chargers ranked 29th
overall in pass defense and dead last in the AFC, so the talent level has to
improve on the back end. Verrett is undersized and considered a slot
cornerback by some, but he opened a lot of eyes in Indianapolis with his speed
and athleticism.

"I've been challenged with receivers that have been over 6-foot my whole
college career," Verrett said when asked about his size. "I played against a
lot of good receivers in college that were over 6-foot. I feel like I'm this
height for a reason, but I can compete with the best."

PREVIOUS PICK - Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford


26. Cleveland Browns - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State - The Browns stay patient
and get their man in Carr, a solid prospect who has been paying for some of
the sins of his older brother.

PREVIOUS PICK - Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State


27. New Orleans Saints - Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame - Rob Ryan worked some
serious magic in turning around the Saints' defense a year ago, and adding Nix,
a prototypical nose tackle, to the mix will only open things up further for
players like Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks.

"I think I can wiggle a little bit," the bulky Nix said while playing up his
athleticism. "I have dance moves. That should prove a lot."

PREVIOUS PICK - Jernigan


28. Carolina Panthers - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State - The Panthers need to
give Cam Newton help on the outside and Cooks has the speed to do some serious
damage with the football in his hands.

"I'm a playmaker," Cooks said. "I'm able to create plays from nothing. Be able
to catch a 3-yard ball, I'll take it the distance. Those YAC yards, yards
after the catch. Speed kills and I feel like that's what I'm going to bring to
the game."

PREVIOUS PICK - Beckham


29. New England Patriots - Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech - Whether Rob Gronkowski
can overcome his injury issues or not, the Pats need to add another tight end,
and Amaro is the slot type who would fill the void left from Aaron Hernandez's
meltdown.

"I think I'm a mixture of both (an in-line and slot tight end)," Amaro said.
"I think that's why I'm so unique. It's kind of a revolution to the game now
with what tight ends can bring across the board. I like to see myself as both
a tight end and as a receiver."

PREVIOUS PICK - Hageman


30. San Francisco 49ers, Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech - The 49ers are one of
the most talented teams in football with few glaring holes. They, however, lack
depth at cornerback and Fuller has the size, length and physicality that
is en vogue now.

"I moved around in our defensive backfield. I played field (corner), I played
boundary (corner). That just shows how versatile I am," Fuller said. "I
definitely consider myself a physical player."

PREVIOUS PICK - Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida


31. Denver Broncos - Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri - Von Miller and Derek Wolfe will
be back next year, but if this season proved anything in Denver, it's you can
never have enough live bodies on the edge, and Ealy, despite a less-than-
impressive 4.92 in the 40, is tremendous value here.

"I want to prove that I'm one of the best defensive linemen, if not the best
defensive lineman in this draft," Ealy said. "I don't want to be second-best,
I want to be first."

PREVIOUS PICK - Ealy


32. Seattle Seahawks - Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA - The one weakness in
Seattle is the offensive line and Su'a Filo, the most experienced and NFL-
ready member of UCLA's impressive O-line, could step right in as a starter.

"Nowadays in the NFL, from what I feel like, as an offensive lineman, if you
can be athletic, if you can move, or at the guard position if you can be more
flexible and you can play multiple positions, then you're more valuable to a
team," Su'a Filo said. "At UCLA, we ran spread zone, but we did have some gap
scheme and power in there. When I was at guard, I love pulling, getting out in
space."

PREVIOUS PICK - Su'a Filo


Dropping out:

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford

Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
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