Thursday, May 8, 2014

Building The 53 - 2014 First Round NFL Mock Draft

Welcome to my 5th annual NFL Mock Draft.  I tried to do the traditional "guess what other reams will do" in my first NFL Mock Draft in 2010 but that is futile since I have no real inside information besides ESPN Insider so for the fourth year in a row (2011, 2012, & 2013) I decided to serve as every team's general manager for their pick (or picks) in the first round.

This year, there are wildly different thoughts on whether any of the quarterbacks should go in the Top 10.  Given that most teams picking in the Top 10 have some quarterback need, I actually think it is worth taking a quarterback early because the new rookie salary cap allows you to get cheap assets even in the Top 5.

I am sure there will be a number of trades in the first round, especially towards the end if all the quarterbacks are still available, but I am not going to make any trades because those are too hard to predict too.  Without further ado, here is what I would do if I was in charge of each team when they pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft along with some Twitter length thoughts about each pick:

#1) Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina) - There is outside chance that Clowney will be the defensive version of JaMarcus Russell but there is an even better chance of him being the next coming of Reggie White so the upside is worth the minimal downside risk.

#2) St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson (OT, Auburn) - Even as a rookie Robinson projects to be one of the most athletic tackles in the NFL so he could somehow be a steal with the second pick.

#3) Jacksonville Jaguars
: Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M) -
The Jaguars have a ton of needs on both sides of the ball but their unending pursuit of a franchise quarterback could finally come to rest with Manziel.  Worst case, at least Manziel will bring interest to a fan base for a few years.  Remember this is the same franchise that is the same fan base that wanted Tebow, they are clearly yearning for a real NFL quarterback.

#4) Cleveland Browns
: Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville) -
Despite having quarterback Brian Hoyer in the fold, let's not forget he is  but coming off a serious kneed injury.  The Browns recently signed quarterbacks Tyler Thigpen and Vince Young too but neither is at long-term answer at quarterback.  Although Hoyer (when healthy) is a serviceable option, much like the Jaguars taking Manziel, the Browns taking Bridgewater will excite the fan base.

#5) Oakland Raiders
: Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M) -
Former Packers front office member Reggie McKenzie was quoted as saying "You draft for the future, not today".  I couldn't agree more with McKenzie.  Although their are some sexier players still available, taking Matthews will allow the Raiders to have their left tackle position settled for the next decade, which is something they desperately need.

#6) Atlanta Falcons
: Kahlil Mack (OLB, Buffalo) -
There were rumors that the Falcons wanted to trade up to get a pass rusher so staying put and still getting the best pass rusher not named Clowney looks like a steal.

#7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson) -
Thanks to Matt Millen, teams are scared to draft wide receivers too high but I am actually fine with Watkins going as high as third.  If the Bucs can somehow sit at seven and still get Watkins, it will go a long way towards making quarterback Josh McCown or Mike Glennon successful next season.

#8) Minnesota Vikings: C.J. Mosley (MLB, Alabama) -
I see Mosley going at least 10 picks later because middle linebacker has such low positional value but let's not forget that some thought the Carolina Panthers taking Luke Kuechly 9th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft was a reach for the same reason...look how well that turned out.  I get that Kuehley is more of a sure thing than Mosley given Mosely's injury history but that doesn't scare me enough to pass on Mosley.

#9) Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan (OT, Michigan) -
Following the 2013 NFL Draft it looked like Matthews and Lewan were going to be the top two tackles in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Lewan had some off-the-field incidents that hurt his draft stock but there is no denying his talent.

#10) Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State) -
NFL teams can never have too many cornerbacks given how slanted the rules are in favor of the offense, especially teams playing in the NFC North so Dennard makes a ton of sense for a team with secondary issues.

#11) Tennessee Titans: Blake Bortles (QB, UCF) -
Although quarterback Jake Locker has shown flashes, he is clearly not a long-term solution.  Although I am not a huge Bortles fan, I still think it is worth rolling the dice given that they could have him on the cheap for five seasons that to the new rookie contracts.

#12) New York Giants: Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh) - The NFL Draft being a few weeks later hurt some players like the quarterbacks already discuss since it gave scouts a few more weeks to pull apart their game tape or grill them during one of their many private workouts while it helped others like Donald since it gave those same scouts a chance to watch more tape on some lesser known commodities. The Giants could replace the loss of Linval Joseph to the Vikings with a very similar player in Donald.

#13) St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M) - The chances of Evans getting out of the Top 10 are low but the Rams would be absolutely ecstatic to land him without having to trade up to give quarterback Sam Bradford a huge target to compliment slot receiver Tavon Austin.

#14) Chicago Bears: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama) -
Much like Mosley, I secretly hope that Clinton-Dix is available when the Packers are on the board but think chances are slim.  If the Bears have any reservations about drafting Clinton-Dix, all they need to do is think back to how 2013 finished.

#15) Pittsburgh Steelers: Zack Martin (OT, Notre Dame) -
At some point the Steelers have to get a legitimate left tackle to protect quarterback Ben Rothlisberger's blind side.  The upside on Martin is lower than the other tackles taken so far in this mock draft but the floor on Martin is fairly high too, which makes this a nice pick for the Steelers.

#16) Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville) -
The Cowboys have a ton of needs to fill so although safety might not be at the top of the list, getting a thumper like Pryor is too enticing to pass on at this point.

#17) Baltimore Ravens: Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State) -
The most versatile of the high-end linebackers in the entire draft makes Shazier a perfect fit for the Racens since they like to move linebackers to different spots in their 3-4 defense.

#18) New York Jets: Eric Ebron (TE, UNC) -
There is no way Ebron should last this long, especially given the significant drop-off at tight end after him so the Jets should hand in their card the minute the Ravens pick if Ebron is still available.

#19) Miami Dolphins: Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State) -
Shocking that it took 19 picks to have the second cornerback drafted.  Part of that is due to depth at the position but there is still no way that the Dolphins can pass on Gilbert.

#20) Arizona Cardinals: Morgan Moses (OT, Virginia) -
There is very mixed opinion on Moses, obviously I am higher on the guy than others.

#21) Green Bay Packers: Oddell Beckham Jr. (WR, LSU)
- The Packers clearly need a safety but with Clinton-Dix and Pryor off the board, taking Deone Bucannon (S, Washington), Jimmie Ward (S, Northern Illinois), Terrence Brooks (S, FSU), or Lamarcus Joyner (S, FSU) feels like a reach this early in the draft despite the fact that the Packers desperately need a safety opposite Morgan Burnett.  I guess I favor Bucannon's larger frame but still am leery to pull the trigger on him, which is why I took the best player available even thought wide receiver is not really a need for the Packers.  My guess is that Beckham goes much earlier but at 21, I couldn't pass up such a dynamic pass catcher.  Plus, this feels a little Jordy Nelson-esque, which obviously turned out great for the Packers.

#22) Philadelphia Eagles: Marquis Lee (WR, USC)
- Another year in college sure hurt Lee's draft stock given that he looked like a lock for the Top 10 following the 2013 NFL Draft.  Hopefully 2013 was an aberration not the start of a trend line.

#23) Kansas City Chiefs: Cody Latimer (WR, Indiana)
- Really hard to tell whether Latimer will create enough separation in the NFL to be effective but his big frame makes him awful enticing.

#24) Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech) -
As I've said many times in this space, I have a soft spot in my heart for Virgina Tech since that is where Sister-in-Law Cheese is going to get her Ph.D in less than a week.  Father-in-Law Cheese is a Bengal fan by birth but Packer fan by marriage so this pick is a match made in heaven.

#25) San Diego Chargers: Ra'Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota) -
I got to see Hageman play against the Cornhuskers last season and came away impressed by how much of an impact he had on the game.  Unfortunately it is hard to tell whether Hageman has the motor to play every down that way in the NFL though, which make him a somewhat risky pick in the first round.

#26) Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Jason Verrett (CB, VCU) -
There is a chance that Bridgewater is still on the board here but I reached for him with the 4th pick so I decided to get a quality cornerback to play opposite Joe Hayden with the pick the Browns got from the Colts for Trent Richardson, the underwhelming 3rd pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

#27) New Orleans Saints: Timmy Jernigan (DT, FSU) -
Following the national championship game it looked like Jernigan was a sure fire Top 10 pick but some off the field stuff hurt his cause.  If the Saints can get Jernigan to focus, they might get the steal of the first round.

#28) Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State) -
Given their lack of talent at wide receiver, I might be able to some playing time at wide receiver for the Panthers.  Despite Cooks being diminutive like myself, he automatically becomes the best wide receiver on their roster.

#29) New England Patriots: Stephon Tuitt (DT, Notre Dame) -
The Patriots love to plug versatile defensive lineman into their scheme, which makes a guy like Tuitt a perfect fit.

#30) San Francisco 49ers:
Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA) - Some scouts think Barr is too soft to contribute at the next level.  If there is any team that will get the best out of Barr, it is the 49ers.

#31) Denver Broncos
: Louis Nix III (DT, Notre Dame) -
I love Irish Chocolate's (food) space eating ability.  I know that seems like a cheap shot but I actually think true nose tackles in 3-4 defenses are becoming devalued too much since they setup highlight reel plays instead of making highlight reel plays.  If the Broncos take Nix, I see outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware having huge seasons next year.

#32) Seattle Seahawks: Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri) -
There are very few weaknesses on the Super Bowl Champ's roster.  The key to them winning the Super Bowl last season was their ability to consistently getting after the quarterback so the rich get richer by adding another versatile pass rusher.

I was going to write a three-part preview (offense, defense, and special teams) of the 2014 NFL Draft for Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson but work intervened so my half-written preview died on the cutting room floor.  Absent a trade, Thompson is on the clock with the 21st pick in the 2014 NFL Draft this evening.  Make sure to check for my thoughts on Twitter tonight and my in-depth thoughts in this space tomorrow morning, assuming work comports.

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