Long time ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. posted his first mock draft of the year earlier today, projecting all 32 first round picks for the 2014 NFL Draft. Kiper listed three key parameters for his first set of predictions:
• I tied picks to need a little more than I would closer to the draft, because teams don't have a sense of who that "best player available" really is just yet.
• Heights, weights and current speed reports are what I have now -- and most I assume are pretty close -- but these won't become official until the combine. Inevitably, some shift.
• Remember: I can't reflect trades. What I will do is point out good spots for a move.
Kiper began his first mock with a surprise by having the Houston Texans select quarterback Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M with the first overall pick. Most projections at this point have Teddy Bridgewater in this slot, and definitely as the first quarterback off the board, but Kiper bucks that trend. Of the pick, Kiper wrote:
Analysis: I spoke to a number of high-ranking NFL evaluators this week, and this is the one QB anyone felt certain was a top-5 pick. So consider this an early bet, with one major caveat: Bill O'Brien just arrived, is still putting his staff together, knows a good QB when he sees one, and hasn't had enough time (if any) to study the draft class. But we know quarterback is a major need here. O'Brien likes a QB with presence, a leader and a guy who will out-prepare the competition. And while Manziel has gotten his share of bad press, he's a dynamic talent, and I feel he can lead at the next level; I'm not alone in that opinion. While Manziel is currently ranked No. 11 on my Big Board, this reflects the draft.
Manziel doesn't fit the old prototypes of a QB drafted No. 1, and I have concerns about how well he can protect himself given his smaller frame, but he is a magician on the field, and is made for the current NFL. This league protects and welcomes QBs who can improvise, run and make plays beyond the playbook. It's early, but Manziel is a special player and has the draft process to prove it further.
After the Texans, Kiper sees the St. Louis Rams making Texas A&M two-for-two on picks in the Draft, with tackle Jake Matthews completing the sweep of the first two overall selections. Kiper does point out that the Rams trading out of this position makes a lot of sense, but if they don't, finding a healthy replacement for Jake Long at the left tackle position could be a great move.
The Jacksonville Jaguars own the third overall selection, and most people seem to think they will look quarterback in this position, trying to move on from the Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert era. However, Kiper does not see the team as sure of the franchise caliber levels of any of the quarterbacks, and instead chooses to address another need for the Jaguars, the pass rush. Jacksonville could land defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, according to Kiper's mock, giving them a way to get after opposing quarterbacks, even if they are not sure about their own quarterback situation.
With his fourth pick, Kipers has the Cleveland Browns selecting the second quarterback to come off the board. However, it is still not Bridgewater. Instead, the Browns are targeting UCF's Blake Bortles, according to Kiper.
The first wide receiver comes off Kiper's board with the Oakland Raiders' sixth overall selection. Kiper sees the Raiders as needing to target players who will come in and immediately help the team, with Clemson wide out Sammy Watkings as his answer to that. Kiper seems to really like Watkins, using terms like "explosiveness," "dynamic runner," and "significant threat," in his explanation of the pick.
Bridgewater, meanwhile, sits in the green room in Radio City Music Hall in New York City until the Minnesota Vikings are on the clock with the eighth overall pick, if Kiper's projection is correct. Kiper starts his explaination of the choice admitting that Bridgewater could go higher, but questions whether he can command an NFL huddle and if he will be able to start immediately at the professional level.
Jumping down to the Miami Dolphins with the 19th pick, Kiper falls in line with most projections right now, seeing the Dolphins add Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandijo. Of the pick, Kiper writes:
Analysis: The offensive line was a source of chaos for Miami in 2013, for all kinds of reasons. Bryant McKinnie, whom the Dolphins acquired from Baltimore midseason and isn't signed into 2014, won't be the answer at left tackle. While Kouandjio had his inconsistencies at the position for Alabama in 2013, he also has the physical tools of a potentially dominant NFL starter at left tackle, which says plenty. He has length, a wide base, long arms and easy feet to absorb power and mirror quickness. Miami should come away from the draft with a potential starter and some depth on the O-line.
This is the second mock draft we have looked at here on the Phinsider today, with Mocking the Draft's updated projection on the site this morning, and both have Kouandjio as Miami's target. Are you ready for the Dolphins to aggressively target the offensive line this year? Do you think it's the right move for a team that gave up 58 sacks last year, or do they need to be looking somewhere else?