It's back ... and by popular demand! With just a month remaining in the 2013 NFL season, it's time to take a look at how next May's NFL Draft could shape up. Introducing the maiden voyage of my 2014 NFL Mock Draft.
December is unquestionably the most hectic of months as far as the NFL is concerned, with playoff bubble teams doing anything and everything possible to secure some playing time in January and beyond. Of course, the middle of December is also when draft analysts begin rolling out their draft projections. Todd McShay of ESPN and Scouts Inc. will debut Version 1.0 of his 2014 NFL Mock Draft on Wednesday, and because we're heartless cutthroats here on The Phinsider, I am debuting my introductory 2014 mock draft a day earlier than Todd's write-up. Hey, I am like CNN—I may not be right, but I am certainly first.
A couple quick things to note before we get started with the football chatter:
1) Contrary to what some of you might think, it isn't too early to begin discussing the 2014 NFL Draft. Therefore, any comments echoing the aforementioned sentiment will result in James being dispatched to your home in the same manner that Sosa dispatched a South American death squad to Tony Montana's mansion in Scarface.
2) Yes, I nailed Miami's selection with my first two mock drafts last year, but 2014 mock drafts are going to be a much different (and difficult) animal. Why? We don't yet know who will be the Dolphins' GM following this season (it could very well be Jeff Ireland, but no one's certain about that). We also don't know if any coaching staff changes will take place. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has been unimpressive much of this season, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins' offense is currently rolling through December with a new-found sense of purpose, so maybe old boy sticks around after all. Regardless of who's doing the coaching, the Dolphins No. 1 need right now is the offensive tackle position. If Paul Soliai and Randy Starks walk after this season, add defensive tackle to the Dolphins' "glaring need" list.
Now that we're clear on the above points, let's take a look at how the 2014 NFL Draft could shape up. As always, be gentle in the comment section.
How did it get this bad this quickly for the Texans? Given the fact that quarterback Matt Schaub is now public enemy No. 1 in Houston, it's probably time for Texans brass to draft a signal-caller and lay the foundation for the team's new-and-improved offense. That rebuild will start with Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, who will likely shine throughout pre-draft workouts and evaluations on his way to becoming the No. 1 overall selection on draft night. Bridgewater has the vision, touch, arm strength and confidence to step in and help a team right off the bat, and he'll probably have to do just that in Houston.
It appears the RG3 deal was indeed a home-run move ... for the Rams. Thanks to that trade, St. Louis can use this selection to bolster its already-formidable pass-rush with the addition South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney isn't just the best pass-rushing prospect in this draft-he's the best overall prospect, too--so imagine him coming in and spelling defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Yikes.
Quarterback is an area of immense need for the Raiders, but lack of pop on the defensive front is really what has killed the Silver and Black this season (Jamaal Charles fantasy owners can attest to that). Jernigan will get to showcase his talent on college football's biggest stage when Florida State takes on Auburn in the BCS Championship Game next month, and his stock should soar from that point on. A pure powerhouse at the 3-technique position, and he can erase the run and collapse the pocket with alarming ease. Get ready to hear theGerald McCoy comparisons. They're valid, too.
Bortles is a bit of a late-riser, but he's absolutely what Jacksonville needs at the quarterback position. Confident, accurate, and equipped with one of the best releases in college football, Bortles has been a revelation for Central Florida this season, and he'll have an opportunity to strut his stuff against Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl next month. A true franchise-caliber passer in the making, and that's a description Jacksonville's quarterback spot sorely lacks right now.
Consider Atlanta the Texans of the NFC. Last year's NFC title game runner-up has done very little right this season, as its pass-rush is non-existent, and its offensive line is even worse. But does that mean a pass-rusher or a tackle at this spot? Give the nod to Barr, who is, outside of Clowney, the most explosive and dominant pass-rusher in college football. Surprisingly, Barr is still learning the position—he arrived at UCLA as an H-back—but his burst off the line, strength and finishing ability are quite reminiscent of Terrell Suggs. This is a home-run for a 3-4 scheme that is currently unable to threaten off of the edge.
If anyone's going to roll the dice on Manziel and his high upside/higher risk standing, it's the Browns. Provided he's in the right environment, Manziel should thrive at the pro level, thanks to his accuracy, mobility and ultra-rare ability to create even when he appears to be cornered. Issues regarding arm strength, height and character will follow Manziel throughout the draft evaluation process, but if he keeps it together, he's a top 10 selection all the way. Manziel's a star in the making; it's up to his new employer to make sure he doesn't burn out too quickly.
It'll be interesting to see if other teams begin attempting to mimic Chicago's oversized receiver corps. Tampa, with Vincent Jackson already on the roster, can copy that blueprint by bringing in a lanky playmaker like Evans, who was Manziel's No. 1 gun at Texas A&M this season. A power forward who is surprisingly nimble after the catch, and he'll be a red zone threat the moment he puts on a uniform.
How do you rebuild a defense broken at practically all three levels? Start with a big-time pass-rusher. Tuitt is a defensive end in the Justin Tuck mold--he's possesses the length and athleticism to ease the eventual loss of defensive end Jared Allen, and he has the bulk and lower-base strength to kick inside and wreak havoc. Tuitt also makes plenty of sense as a 5-tech, so don't be surprised if he garners attention from nearly every team picking within the top 20. Tuitt's not as explosive as Clowney or Barr, but he's easily the most versatile prospect in this year's pass-rush class. That means something.
Jairus Byrd's stay in Buffalo is most likely over, so it's time for the Bills to get serious about its secondary and bring in a do-everything playmaker at safety. Clinton-Dix fits that description, as he's the latest Bama defensive back to warrant a high-first-round grade. Fast, instinctive and blessed with natural ballhawking ability, and he's unafraid to lay the wood if necessary.
It's hard to believe that a tackle of Jake Matthews' caliber could nearly slide out of the top 10, but there just isn't much of a need for offensive tackles at the top of this year's draft. That's great news for the Titans, though, as they can move on from Michael Roos and bring in a blindside protector who is game-ready right out of the box. Matthews is a clinic at the left tackle position, boasting impressive footwork, hand placement, strength and polish. And that's why he's a complete steal at this spot.
The Giants boast what is easily the worst linebacker corps in the league, so they'll be on the lookout for someone like Mosley, who is the total package at the inside linebacker position. Like most Alabama defensive players, Mosley is a plug-and-play prospect, and he's equipped with the speed, patience and first-rate instincts necessary to inject some much-needed life into the Giants' second level of defense.
This might be the most logical player/team fit of any selection in next May's draft. Pittsburgh has too often mortgaged quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's health by failing to address the left tackle position, so now is the time to do right and bring in the best blindside protector available. That'd be Lewan, who has anchored Michigan's offensive line much in the same manner that Jake Long did during his time as a Wolverine. Huge, nimble and unbelievably mean, Lewan would bring a much-needed attitude to the offensive trenches in Pittsburgh.
Let's be honest: the Jets' inability to throw the ball downfield this season is hardly an indictment of their receiver corps. Nevertheless, the team's brass needs to equip quarterback Geno Smith with better skill position talent in order to properly evaluate his development (or regression) as an NFL signal caller. Watkins is the guy who can bring instant electricity to Gang Green's offense, as he's a thickly-built receiver capable of swinging for the fences every time he touches the ball. His presence will also take some of the load off of Stephen Hill, who has served as the Jets' primary deep threat the past two seasons.
Kouandjio possesses outstanding height and bulk, and also boasts the bullish strength, natural footwork and range necessary to dominate on the left side of the line in today's NFL. Still a bit raw in terms of technique, but he has arguably the strongest lower base in this year's tackle class, and his mean streak is on par with Michigan's Taylor Lewan. A nice addition to a Rams offensive line that needs a long-term answer at tackle.
The Chargers last spring found a quick fix on their offensive line with the addition of D.J. Fluker. This time around, it's San Diego's cornerback position that needs to be addressed. Ekpre-Olomu is the best cover man in this year's class, and he'll bring a considerable amount of physicality and athleticism to the Chargers' secondary. He's also developing as a ballhawk and leader on the back end, so this could be a major get for the Bolts.
Dallas' defense has been beyond repulsive this season, so it's up to Jerry Jones to find players posthaste who can bring some explosiveness to Monte Kiffin's Cover 2 (Cover Few?) scheme. Easley has the look of a pure 4-3 defensive end, and is as good a pursuit defender as you'll find along the defensive line. Equally at home as a run defender and a pass-rusher, and he shouldn't have much of a problem transitioning to the pro game. Durability is the big question with Easley, but he's a whirling dirvish when healthy.
Nix was universally viewed as the best defensive tackle in this class prior to suffering an injury earlier this season, so he's a major steal at this spot in the draft. And the Packers could really use his exceptional size and strength up front. Regardless of whether he works the 0- or 1-technique spot next season, Nix is bound to make an immediate impact. Cat-like quickness at 340 pounds is an impressive sight to behold.
Mack was a flat-out monster for Buffalo this season, but he's more than just a pass-rusher. He flies to the ball with Derrick Brooks-like fluidity, and has the size and strength to qualify as a scheme-versatile piece. Scary to imagine him in Baltimore--a defense that excels at flexing out its front-seven personnel.
Detroit's lack of a true No. 2 receiver has been well-documented, and it's not like Megatron is getting any younger. Lee is a near-complete receiver who can stretch the field with ease, and he's really come on as a route-runner in 2013. Lee's height and vertical explosion might give scouts pause, but his ability to separate and then create after the catch should prove too good to pass up for a team like the Lions.
The Eagles can score points seemingly at will, but so can their opponents. Gilbert would be the first step toward ending the latter trend, as he's a big-bodied speedster with the instincts and natural cover skills necessary to become a shutdown corner. Effort and drive are the big questions with Gilbert, but the tools are all there.
No team needs help at defensive tackle more than the Bears. That's fact. Henry Melton's knee injury earlier this season robbed Chicago of an interior pass-rushing presence, and the team's lack of a run-stuffing 1-tech is largely the reason why they're helpless against the run. Hageman would put an end to those woes in a hurry, as he can collapse the pocket with the best of them, and is very much a run killer, as well. Plays bigger than his listed weight of 307, which says a lot. A defensive tackle in the Ndamukong Suh mold.
Miami finally has its quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, so it's now up to the Dolphins to find him a worthy blindside protector in this draft. They'll have plenty of options, too, including Richardson, Florida State's Cameron Erving and perhaps even Auburn's Greg Robinson (a redshirt sophomore who could declare following the Tigers' bowl game next month). Bet on Miami going the Richardson route, as he has the arm length, lower-base strength, fluid footwork and range necessary to dominate on either side of the line. A natural in pass protection, but he's really coming on as a run blocker, too. And his tape against Jadeveon Clowney this season was no fluke--he can hang with the best.
Cleveland's defense has been better than expected this season, but an upgrade is needed across from edge-rusher Jabaal Sheard. Beasley's stock has cooled off somewhat after he opened this season on a tear, but he's still a powerhouse outside linebacker who's comfortable in a coverage role, and also exceptional against the run.
Leon Hall can't stay healthy, and Dre Kirkpatrick is still developing as a complete perimeter defender, so the Bengals would be wise to bring in a potential cover corner like Dennard, who was an absolute nightmare for the Buckeyes during the Big 10 Championship Game. Maybe a top three corner in this draft, and he should test well during pre-draft workouts.
Bruce Arians has gotten plenty out of Carson Palmer this year, but he'll eventually want his own guy in there, and that's where Carr comes in. A big-armed passer who has put up countless points at Fresno State, Carr is an ideal candidate for Arizona's vertical passing game. Don't be surprised to see him race up draft boards next spring, either. He's the real deal.
Tom Brady is Tom Brady, but the Patriots' offense just hasn't been the same this year, thanks to the numerous issues surrounding their tight ends. Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Ebron and Texas Tech's Jace Amaro are the best tight end prospects in this year's draft, but Seferian-Jenkins gets the nod because of his insane upside, red zone presence and first-rate ability as a blocker.
Shazier was gold against Michigan State two weeks ago, and he has the potential to be an outstanding 4-3 outside linebacker at the next level. Genius-level instincts and considerable athleticism are what make Shazier such a promising prospect, but his relatively small frame will draw questions during evaluations.
San Francisco could use some depth across from Aldon Smith, and Murphy has blossomed into a powerful elephant-type player for the Cardinal this season. He also boasts heavy hands for the position, and knows how to diffuse the run. Way underrated at this point.
Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme has been a revelation in New Orleans this season, and now that the Saints have proven they can provide constant pressure off of the edge, it's time to reinforce the perimeter with a defensive back of Roberson's caliber. The best cornerback in the SEC this season, Roberson has the speed, instincts and ball skills to qualify as a potential No. 1 cover man at the next level. He'll face questions in terms of health, however.
With tackle Branden Albert looking for a high-end contract, the Chiefs would be wise to move on and get younger and more inexpensive at the position with a talent like Erving. Jameis Winston's blindside protector this season, Erving has proven that he possesses the athleticism, strength and awareness to make noise at the NFL level. He's also one of the rangier tackles in this class, which should help boost his stock.
Another big target to add to Peyton Manning's repertoire. Matthews fits best in a downfield role, but he's improved a lot as a route runner, and he's also more willing to work the middle of the field. Matthews represents excellent value at this spot.
What do you give the team that has just about everything? In Seattle's case, a big target in the receiving game could help. Benjamin has been Jameis Winston's No. 1 target at Florida State this season, and for good reason: he's a big-bodied playmaker who is a chore to bring down after the catch, and he's deceptively fast, too. Benjamin would bring an immediate red zone presence to Seattle, and let's face it: the bigger the target, the better for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
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