Wednesday, April 23, 2014

NFL Mock Draft version 4.0

By John McMullen

PHILADELHIA - If this were a typical NFL calendar year, the draft would be kicking off later this week.

Instead a scheduling conflict with the event's long-time home, New York's
famed Radio City Music Hall, pushed the draft back a couple weeks to May 8-10.

The absence of the traditional late April time frame has resulted in a bit of
draft overkill, giving the second-guessers -- be they actual NFL personnel
people or the thousands of self-titled scouts now polluting the Internet --
more time to second-guess their original second-guesses.

Just ask former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, once the No. 1-rated
prospect on many boards and a player who may now want to consider adopting Tom
Petty's "Free Fallin'" as his new theme music.

Bridgewater is among a record 30 top prospects confirmed to attend the 2014
draft in Midtown Manhattan, but it's now a legitimate question to ask
whether he will be greeting Roger Goodell on Thursday night or spending an
extra day milling around Times Square.

Here's The Sports Network's latest stab at predicting where Bridgewater and
everyone else lands on May 8:

1. Atlanta Falcons (trade with Houston Texans) - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South
Carolina - The majority of the 10,726 searchable mock drafts on Google now
have the Houston Texans coming to their senses and selecting the most gifted
prospect in this draft, Clowney.

Understand, however, that Bill O'Brien was brought to south Texas to fix the
quarterback position. It's conceivable the Texans could go chalk and take
Clowney to team with J.J. Watt, while looking for the answer at the game's
most important position at No. 33 overall (Bridgewater, Zach Mettenberger, Tom
Savage?). That said, Atlanta desperately needs and wants a difference maker
off the edge so it makes more sense for both sides to work out a deal.

PREVIOUS PICK - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida to Houston

2. St. Louis Rams - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn - St. Louis also wants to move
down, but the Falcons' jump to the top will hurt those chances, meaning the
Rams are likely to play it safe with one of the top left tackles in the draft,
either Robinson or Jake Matthews. The Auburn star has the bigger ceiling, so
you have to believe he will be the choice.

PREVIOUS PICK - Clowney to Atlanta

3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo - Obviously, Chad Henne is
just a bridge, but Mack is one of the four legitimate blue-chip prospects in
this draft and Gus Bradley obviously is going to default to defense.

PREVIOUS PICK - Bridgewater

4. Cleveland Browns - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M - A quick look at the
Browns' current depth chart revels one gaping hole: the quarterback position.
Journeyman Brian Hoyer and the nondescript Alex Tanney are the only players
under contract right now.

Manziel is the most polarizing figure in this draft with some scouts believing
he will turn into a superstar and others thinking he belongs nowhere near the
first round. He flashed a better arm than advertised at his pro day, embraced
the big stage and has already improved on what were some shoddy mechanics at
times. That should be enough for Ray Farmer and Cleveland to pull the trigger.


5. Oakland Raiders - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson - The Raiders are always a
wild card, but you can tell the pressure is building on both general manager
Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen in Oakland. And that means the Raiders
will take the more conventional approach by snaring Watkins to help bolster
the receiving corps for veteran QB Matt Schaub.


6. Houston Texans (trade with Atlanta) - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida -
The trade down will enable the Texans and O'Brien to take the prototypically
sized Bortles without the pressure of passing on the real top prospects in
this draft.

PREVIOUS PICK - Robinson to St. Louis

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M - Keep an eye on Bortles
if he's still on the board because it's clear the new regime in Tampa does not
believe in Mike Glennon and veteran Josh McCown is just a stop-gap. That said,
with Bortles in Houston, the Bucs will shift to receiver after moving on from
the troubled Mike Williams. The lengthy Evans would team with Vincent Jackson
to give McCown a similar set-up to what he had in Chicago last season (Brandon
Marshall and Alshon Jeffery).


8. Minnesota Vikings - C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama - Minnesota clearly needs a
franchise quarterback, but after swinging and missing badly on A.J. Feeley
while in Miami and reaching for Christian Ponder back in 2011, general manager
Rick Spielman simply doesn't have the political capital to roll the dice on
any signal caller this early. Add in the fact the aggressive Mike Zimmer is
the new coach in Minneapolis and defense is the obvious direction here.

Minnesota has already addressed the front four and cornerback in free agency,
but the Vikings have been quiet on the linebacker front, save for bringing back
the limited Jasper Brinkley on a make-good deal. Mosley turned a few people off
at the NFL Combine by not running the 40-yard dash and refusing to address the
media, but if he checks out medically, he could be the type of seek-and-destroy
player who could be a terror in a Zimmer scheme and the first real surprise in
the top 10.


9. Buffalo Bills - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M - It's all about building up
around E.J. Manuel in Buffalo, so securing a franchise tackle who was once
regarded as a potential No. 1 overall selection is tremendous value here.


10. Detroit Lions - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh - The secondary is the most
obvious need in the Motor City, but something is going on in general manager
Martin Mayhew's mind when it comes to the interior of the defensive line.

The Lions won't be picking up the fifth-year option on Nick Fairley while
Ndamukong Suh had been a no-show at "voluntary" offseason workouts. Donald,
although undersized, is the best and most athletically gifted three-technique
tackle in the draft.

PREVIOUS PICK - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

11. Tennessee Titans - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State - A lot of people
have Tennessee looking at UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr because new defensive
coordinator Ray Horton will be shifting to a 3-4 attacking defense. Physical
corners, though, also are needed to pull off what Horton wants and that
position is a need in Nashville after the Titans lost cornerback Alterraun
Verner in free agency. Meanwhile, the Titans picked up veteran Shaun Phillips
to help on the edge. That makes Dennard a better fit here than Barr.


12. New York Giants - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan - The signing of Josh Freeman
has many speculating the Giants believe Eli Manning is on the descent as a
player. Whether that's true is up for debate, but what isn't is the fact that
Manning performed awfully in 2013, and if "Big Blue" wants that to change
quickly, it needs to protect Peyton's baby brother a whole lot better. Lewan
proved to be nearly as athletic as Robinson at the combine and could be a
long-term answer in north Jersey.


13. St. Louis Rams - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State - The Rams need plenty
of help in the secondary and could look to add a safety like Alabama's Ha Ha
Clinton-Dix or a corner like Gilbert, who some believe is a top-10 talent.
Gilbert's size-speed ratio is the prototype of what NFL teams want on the
outside these days and if he proves to be tough enough in run support the
Oklahoma State product would give St. Louis the type of presence they were
once expecting from Cortland Finnegan once upon a time.


14. Chicago Bears - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama - Rebuilding the defense is
paramount in the Windy City and additions at all three levels make sense. With
Mosley and Donald out of the conversation, however, safety is the most logical
direction and Clinton-Dix has the range and ball skills to be a playmaker
early in his career.


15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame - Many have penciled
in Martin as a Pro Bowl-level guard at the next level, but he was a darn good
left tackle at the college level. With former seventh-round pick Kelvin
Beachum currently penciled in at the starter at LT in Pittsburgh, it makes
sense to bring in a safe pick with a ton of position flexibility like Martin.


16. Dallas Cowboys - Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame - 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 a
potential impact player at the three-technique and a solid run-suffer at the
zero-spot is important. The 'Boys think they filled the hole at under tackle
by signing former Chicago star Henry Melton, who is coming off a serious
injury. Nix would be the load in the middle they need and a prototypical nose


17. Baltimore Ravens - Calvin Pryor, safety, Louisville - The Ravens wanted to
upgrade the safety position opposite Matt Elam anyway, but James Ihedigbo's
exit to Detroit will only expedite things. Clinton-Dix is the better fit but
Pryor is a nice consolation prize, an instinctive player with solid range and
a nose for the football.


18. New York Jets - Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State - Michael Vick and or Geno
Smith will want a playmaker, but it's hard to imagine Rex Ryan going into a
season with Dimitri Patterson as a possible starter on the outside, Roby is
the kind of big, press corner who could excel in a Ryan defense.

PREVIOUS PICK - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

19. Miami Dolphins - Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama - The Dolphins could be
bluffing but seem to love Kouandjio and his aggressive nature. Plenty of
organizations have red-flagged Kouandjio (at least in the first round) for
potential knee problems, but others have compared his skill set favorably to
his former linemate with the Crimson Tide, D.J. Fluker, who the Chargers
eventually took 11th overall in 2013.

One thing that is certain is the Fish need help on the O-line. Miami allowed a
league-high 58 sacks and couldn't protect Ryan Tannehill with Jonathan Martin
and Richie Incognito or without them. The Fish started the rebuild up front by
giving left tackle Branden Albert a monster deal, but more needs to be done.


20. Arizona Cardinals - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State - The Cardinals have
quickly morphed into one of the more talented teams in football. Their biggest
weakness -- the offensive line -- was addressed in free agency when the team
brought former Raider Jared Veldheer in to play left tackle. That move along
with the return of the immensely talented Jonathan Cooper from injury should
solidify things in front of Carson Palmer.

Arizona should be able to sit back here and think about the future. Snaring
Carr as the heir apparent to the 34-year-old Palmer is a luxury the Cardinals
can afford.


21. Green Bay Packers - Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA - Yeah, the Packers brought in
Julius Peppers to play opposite Clay Matthews, but that is the definition of
pounding the square peg in the round hole. Barr is a much better fit as an
edge defender in the 3-4, and although the former running back is raw, Barr has
the ceiling of a top-five prospect. That's something Ted Thompson will not
be able to pass on.

PREVIOUS PICK - Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois

22. Philadelphia Eagles - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State - Chip Kelly is
fond of saying big people beat up little people and this will be his answer
for DeSean Jackson. Benjamin is a 6-foot-5 monster who commands a double-team
in the middle of the field instead of the one Jackson created over the top.

PREVIOUS PICK - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

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 was the fact Kansas City had no threat
outside the numbers to pop the top on opposing defenses. Beckham is the type
of dynamic athlete who can stretch a defense and offers a little more size
than a Brandin Cooks.


24. Cincinnati Bengals - Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech - Leon Hall is coming
off an Achilles injury and Terence Newman will be 36 in September. That means
it's time to upgrade outside the numbers on defense in Cincy and Fuller is a
physical, instinctive corner who should push for a starting job early in his


25. San Diego Chargers - Jason Verrett, CB, TCU - The Chargers ranked
29th overall in pass defense in 2013 and dead last in the AFC, so the talent
level has to improve on the back end. Verrett is undersized at 5-9 but shapes
up as a Captain Munnerlyn-type, a player who battles enough to compete on the
outside during early downs before moving into the slot and becoming a
difference maker on obvious passing downs.


26. Cleveland Browns - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State - The Browns already
have a true No. 1 at wide receiver in Josh Gordon and a very good receiving
tight end in Jordan Cameron. The team also signed a solid slot option in free
agency (Andrew Hawkins) and finally addressed the running back position with
Ben Tate. Drafting a true burner like Cooks would give Manziel everything he
needed to be successful.


27. New Orleans Saints - Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal - The Saints could use
a corner but most worthy of this pick figure to be off the board, so why not
take a look at perhaps the draft's deepest position and replace Lance Moore?
Lee projects as the best route runner in this year's draft and should give
Drew Brees yet another solid option rather quickly.

PREVIOUS PICK - Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

28. Carolina Panthers - Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia - The Panthers also are in
the market for corners and receivers as well as a tackle to replace the retired
Jordan Gross. The corner market will be picked clean by this point and the
receiver options are so deep Carolina can wait until the second round to
address that. Moses kicked off his offseason with a great Senior Bowl week
and has been rising ever since.

PREVIOUS PICK - Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal

29. New England Patriots - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina - Rob Gronkowski's
health has to be a concern moving forward, and even if Gronk can stay on the
field, New England would like to replicate the two-tight end offense it had
when both Gronkowski and the now-jailed Aaron Hernandez were at their peaks.
Ebron is the best TE in this draft, an athletic marvel in the mold of a Vernon
Davis. Some question his physicality and strength, however, so don't be
surprised if he falls a bit on draft day.

PREVIOUS PICK - Ra'shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

30. San Francisco 49ers, Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri - Count me among those
who believe Aldon Smith may not be long for San Francisco. So why not replace
the troubled pass-rushing star with another Mizzou product who is a top-tier
athlete capable of playing with his hand down in the 4-3 or transitioning to a
3-4 edge rusher.


31. Denver Broncos - Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA - The loss of Zane Beadles in
free agency means the Broncos are thin at guard opposite Louis Vasquez. Su'a
Filo, the most experienced and NFL-ready member of UCLA's impressive O-line,
could step right in as a starter.


32. Seattle Seahawks - Dee Ford, DE, Auburn - The one real weakness in
Seattle is the offensive line, and the team lost Breno Giacomini and Paul
McQuistan in free agency. All of the big uglies worthy of a first-round grade,
however, should be gone by this point, so adding another pass rusher to replace
the departed Chris Clemons might be the better way to go.


Dropping out:

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois

Ra'shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
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