NFL Mock Draft Version Three
Free agency has settled down and the draft is a little over two weeks away. The quarterback stock appears to have taken a hit with no consensus top prospect while the debate on Jadaveon Clowney continues to rage. Here's the third version of our mock draft:
1. Houston Texans: South Carolina DE Jadaveon Clowney
Clowney solidified his status as both the top pick and an athletic freak with his performance at the Combine and at his pro day. He's elected to stop doing personal workouts for teams, either an indication of attempting to avoid injury or that the Texans have settled on him as the first overall pick. I'm going with a combination of both factors and the Texans' defense would be dominant with him and JJ Watt wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
2. St. Louis Rams: Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
With Clowney off the board, the Rams will have a tough time dealing this pick like they did in the previous mock to the Falcons. After the bizarre failed physical saga with the Raiders, guard/tackle Rodger Saffold re-signed in St. Louis and took the pressure off the Rams to select a top tackle like Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews. Watkins is a special prospect, drawing comparisons to former top receiving picks like AJ Green and Calvin Johnson (albeit lacking similar size as those two), and would be a lethal weapon for Sam Bradford alongside Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Jared Cook.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack
The Jaguars could go a few directions with this pick, including quarterback, but Mack makes a lot of sense. Gus Bradley is a defensive minded coach and the cupboard is bare defensively in Jacksonville as the Jaguars finished 27th overall last season in total defense and tied for dead last in sacks. Enter Mack, who is being compared to Broncos star Von Miller for his potential impact off the edge. The Buffalo product had 10.5 sacks and three interceptions last season.
4. Cleveland Browns: Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
A holdover from the previous mock, Manziel makes too much sense at this spot to pass up. The Browns are starting over at quarterback again after drudging through 2013 with Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell and Manziel would be an immediate upgrade. After tossing 37 touchdowns and adding another eight in the run game, Manziel would electrify the despondent Browns and would pair well with receiving revelation Josh Gordon.
5. Oakland Raiders: Auburn OT Greg Robinson
The Raiders, the team on the other side of the bizarre Rodger Saffold free agent saga, signed a few offensive linemen during free agency, but could solidify their line with a mauler like Robinson. Donald Penn and Austin Howard were solid additions to a core that included Menelik Watson, but Robinson is on a different level. He's a dominant run blocker and if the Raiders move forward with Matt Schaub or draft a new QB later on in the draft, Oakland would have a great group of linemen to protect either one.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews
The Falcons front office would cringe missing out on improving their pass rush with either Mack or Clowney, but Matthews fills another need along the offensive line. Though not as strong as Robinson, Matthews is a natural pass protector and has the technical ability to step in on day one to protect Matt Ryan. After surrendering 44 sacks last season, Matthews would go a long way to getting the Falcons offense back on track.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
I've selected Mack to the Bucs in the last two mock drafts, but his stock is skyrocketing, making Evans a natural back up plan. Tampa Bay finally cut ties with troubled wide receiver Mike Williams and needs a new complement to Vincent Jackson offensively. Enter the 6-5, 225-pound Evans, who routinely abused SEC secondaries alongside Manziel and is an immediate physical jump ball threat. After signing Josh McCown, who had great success throwing to two larger receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall last season in Chicago, this pick makes even more sense.
8. Minnesota Vikings: UCF QB Blake Bortles
The Vikings reap the benefits of a slipping quarterback market, snapping up Bortles at the eighth spot. Bortles isn't the most polished of the passing prospects, but he brings size, physicality and a strong arm to Minnesota. He's more of a raw prospect, but when the alternative for the Vikings last season was a combo of Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman and Christian Ponder, Minnesota goes with the rookie.
9. Buffalo Bills: North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
The pick remains the same for the Bills as they select one of the most electrifying tight end prospects in recent drafts. Ebron ran a 4.6 40-yard dash, had a 120-inch broad jump and a 32-inch vertical jump, all at 6-4 and 250 pounds at the NFL Combine in February. With the success of players like Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski, the Bills add a tight end to help last year's first round pick EJ Manuel.
10. Detroit Lions: Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert
With the signing of Golden Tate away from Seattle, the Lions can afford to wait on a wide receiver and take the top corner in the draft at this spot. Gilbert ran a blistering 4.37 40-yard dash, had a 126-inch broad jump, and put up 20 reps on the bench at the combine, showing his well-rounded physical gifts. He was even better on the field for Oklahoma State last season, grabbing seven interceptions and generally shutting down his half of the field. The Lions can feel comfortable placing him across from division receivers like Jordy Nelson and Brandon Marshall by selecting him in this slot.
11. Tennessee Titans: Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard
After losing Alterraun Verner to the Buccaneers, the Titans need to secure a new starter on the back end of the team's defense. Although Gilbert is a better fit schematically, Dennard wouldn't be a bad consolation prize. An All-American last season, Dennard grabbed four interceptions and is a gritty cover man, giving the Titans an option to play man-to-man more frequently.
12. New York Giants: UCLA OLB Anthony Barr
The once storied Giants pass rush has slowly evaporated and is a shadow of its former self from the 2007 Super Bowl performance of harrassing Tom Brady. Michael Strahan is long since retired, Justin Tuck has flipped to the Raiders and Mathias Kiwanuka isn't as effective, leaving most of the pass rushing to Jason Pierre-Paul, who played in only 11 games last season and managed only two sacks. Barr could step in and provide an immediate boost after racking up 10 sacks at UCLA last season.
13. TRADE - Dallas Cowboys: Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald
The Cowboys move up with St. Louis to nab Donald ahead of the Bears, who are also in the market for a defensive tackle. Donald is a smaller defensive tackle, but he's a great interior pass rusher after racking up 11 sacks last season. The Cowboys are in a salary cap crunch and elected to let defensive stalwart Demarcus Ware go along with linemen Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer. Even after adding Henry Melton, someone needs to make up the difference in lost pass rush production and there's no one better than Donald at this point in the draft.
14. Chicago Bears: Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan
Another holdover from the previous mock, Jernigan still makes too much sense for the Bears to pass him up. The Bears struggled with containing opposing rushers all last season, giving up an astonishing 161 yards per game on the ground in 2013. After free agent Henry Melton signed with the Cowboys, Chicago needs a big bodied replacement like Jernigan. He'd be a great nose tackle and would provide an immediate boost to Chicago's defensive front.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Roby had a rough 2013 season after a sterling 2012 year for the Buckeyes, but the talent is there to make him one of the top cornerbacks in this draft. The foundation of the Steelers secondary is getting old between Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, allowing them some flexibility with this pick to improve either the corner or safety spot. He has ideal size and quickness for the position after posting a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine and would infuse some younger talent in Pittsburgh.
16. St. Louis Rams: TCU CB Jason Verrett
Verrett could be seen as a luxury pick in this spot, but he makes perfect sense for the Rams. Although he's a smaller corner at 5 feet 10 inches and 189 pounds, he'd fill out a Rams secondary in desperate need of a slot corner that can move outside occasionally to complement starters Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. Verrett is fluid, quick and aggressive in the mold of other smaller corners like Cortland Finnegan and Alterraun Verner, both of whom coach Jeff Fisher seemed to love having in his defensive lineup. If not for his size, Verrett would probably be considered the best corner in this class along with Gilbert and the Rams will snatch him up on draft day.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
The Ravens were smart to hang on to Eugene Monroe to continue playing left tackle, but grabbing Lewan would be a great move to solidify the void left by the departing Michael Oher. Oher was shaky at times last season and Lewan would be an instant upgrade to help protect Joe Flacco. Despite his off the field troubles, Lewan is a dominant tackle with a nasty streak and turned in a fantastic combine workout in February.
18. New York Jets: LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham Jr. would be in the discussion for the first receiver off the board if not for Watkins and Evans and would be a great pick in this spot. Although not as explosive as Watkins or as tall as Evans, Beckham Jr. is sure-handed, runs great routes and will be a "plug and play" guy from day one. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine and would be a perfect complement to newly signed Eric Decker to help Geno Smith or the Jets quarterback of the future.
19. Miami Dolphins: Notre Dame OT/G Zack Martin
The Dolphins may try to move up if Lewan lasts into the teens of the draft, but at this spot Martin is the pick. After a season of controversy and poor play along the offensive line with Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, Zack Martin would be a big upgrade. Signing Branden Albert will go a long way in improving a unit that saw Ryan Tannehill sacked 58 times, but Miami needs more than one guy and Martin's versatility would allow them to use him at guard or tackle.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Missouri DE Kony Ealy
The Cardinals were able to sign Jared Veldheer in free agency, taking the pressure off grabbing a tackle early on in the draft. The Cardinals next biggest need is finding a pass rusher to complement and eventually replace John Abraham, who racked up 11.5 sacks last season at 35-years-old. Ealy was a terror at Missouri last season with nine sacks and would fit at either outside linebacker or defensive end for the Cardinals.
21. Green Bay Packers: Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
The Packers retained B.J. Raji, alleviating their need at nose tackle. They could use an upgrade of athleticism in the defensive front seven with one of the team's glaring weaknesses being stopping mobile quarterbacks in the playoffs like Colin Kaepernick. Mosley is an intelligent and instinctive inside linebacker who basically played in an NFL defense at Alabama. He could step in alongside A.J. Hawk and make an immediate impact in Green Bay.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Louisville SS Calvin Pryor
Although the Eagles could look for a replacement for Desean Jackson, Pryor still makes the most sense at this spot. He'll be an enforcer for the Eagles in the mold of TJ Ward and Kam Chancellor, the strong safety yin to the yang of free safety Clinton-Dix in this draft. He can help in run support and act as a big hitter in the secondary of Philadelphia's defense.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: USC WR Marqise Lee
Lee has been consistently mocked to the Chiefs in this spot and the pick remains the same in this draft. Lee fell off last season due to injury and turmoil around the USC program, but the talent is there for him to make an immediate impact. Alex Smith could use another weapon, especially with Dwayne Bowe's inconsistencies, and Lee would also take some pressure off Jamaal Charles to add another dimension to Kansas City's offense.
24. Cincinatti Benglas: Ohio State OLB Ryan Shazier
The Bengals will look for more defensive front seven help to complement emerging star Vontaze Burfict. Shazier has the versatility and talent to both rush the passer and drop into coverage, making him an ideal pick for Cincinatti at this spot.
25. San Diego Chargers: Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller
Fuller rounds out the top five corners and goes 25th to San Diego, a team in need of secondary help. After giving up 259 yards passing per game, Fuller could step in and help limit opposing division passers like Peyton Manning and Alex Smith. Fuller isn't as fluid as the above drafted corners, but he has good size and had 10 pass break ups last season in college.
26. TRADE - San Francisco 49ers: Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks
The 49ers have plenty of picks to move around in this draft and with the receiver-starved Panthers and Patriots coming up, they make a move for the explosive receiver. Cooks ran a blistering 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine and could be a game breaker at the next level. AJ Jenkins was a total bust for San Francisco while Anquan Boldin isn't getting any younger. Cooks could provide an immediate boost in the return game and will add a blazing speed element to the 49ers offense.
27. New Orleans Saints: Auburn DE Dee Fordd
The pick remains the same for New Orleans as they find an heir to the jettisoned Will Smith. Ford could slot in as a younger and more versatile pass rusher in Rob Ryan's defense, complementing Junior Galette, and would bring some pressure on division quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Cam Newton after posting 10.5 sacks last season for Auburn.
28. Carolina Panthers: Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio
Reports of chronic knee problems for Kouandjio appear to have subsided and the hulking Alabama tackle would fill the massive void left by former Ute Jordan Gross' retirement. The Panthers could go in several directions with this pick, including receiver or corner, but Kouandjio makes the most sense to protect Cam Newton.
29. New England Patriots: Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
Tom Brady isn't getting any younger and the dearth at receiving talent for New England was apparent last season, limiting the offense to primarily going through Julian Edelman. Rob Gronkowski has chronic injury issues and with Aaron Hernandez long gone, the Patriots add Amaro to boost the talent around young receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Amaro isn't as talented as Ebron, but he's a mismatch nightmare at 6 feet 5 inches and 260 pounds.
30. Cleveland Browns: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
The Browns net an extra couple of mid-round picks from San Francisco and still add a talented receiver to help Manziel. Josh Gordon emerged as one of the top receiving threats in the NFL last season, but there's no one to really take pressure off him as he'll see increased double team coverages this season. Enter Benjamin, who's a huge red zone target at 6 feet 5 inches and would provide Manziel a target similar to Mike Evans.
31. Denver Broncos: UCLA OG Xavier Su'a-Filo
The rich got richer this offseason as the Broncos somehow landed Aqib Talib, Demarcus Ware and T.J. Ward. With that much capital invested in the defense, the Broncos go offensive line here to replace departing guard and former Ute Zane Beadles with a seasoned and athletic prospect in Su'a-Filo. He started 40 games at UCLA and would help to patch up a unit that was abused by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Nevada OG Joel Bitonio
Bitonio is a relative newcomer to mock drafts, but his versatility as a guard and tackle could push him into the lower first round. The Seahawks don't have many needs as defending Super Bowl champions, but one of the team's guard spots could use an upgrade. He played tackle at Nevada, but would be best served playing inside at the next level and would solidify interior protection for Russell Wilson while helping to pave the way for Marshawn Lynch.