The bad news is that the 2013 NFL season is over. The great news is that the 2014 draft season is officially underway. And with the NFL Combine just three weeks away, we can take our third crack at projecting the first round of next May's NFL Draft.
Before we begin the third go-around of my 2014 NFL Mock Draft, I want to outline a few changes in approach I've adopted since the release of Beebe 2014 NFL Mock Draft 2.0 last month:
1) The Rams' No. 2 overall pick no longer reflects the player they'll take at that spot, but rather whom they'll draft after completing a trade for the selection. I did this because there will be at least two big-name quarterbacks available at No. 2 overall, and the likelihood of a trade for that selection is outrageously high. Therefore, I am going to break the rules and figure that St. Louis will swap the pick with Cleveland. Atlanta and Minnesota will also be players for it (especially if Jadeveon Clowney is still available), but I believe Cleveland desperately wants the No. 2 selection.
2) Creating a mock draft means understanding that some picks will come down to need while others will simply come down the best player available at a given spot. It also includes a little bit of chaos theory. And so it was during the creation of my previous mock draft that I came up with the "WTF?" selection concept. It's simple: every year we witness at least two or three picks that illicit an immediate "Did that just happen?" reaction, and I believe this year will be no different. Also know that I am not making said selections purely to satisfy my theory. Rather, I am simply targeting the teams most capable of dropping a big stink bomb on the 2014 NFL Draft. That's also not to say that a "WTF?" selection is necessarily a bad one—we laughed when the Seahawks drafted Bruce Irvin No. 15 overall two years ago; pretty sure no one's laughing about that selection now.
3) As for the Dolphins, the addition of Dennis Hickey as general manager has rendered my previous two mocks obsolete (to say the least). I believe Jeff Ireland would've seriously considered drafting Antonio Richardson or Morgan Moses in the first round of this year's draft, but I don't think those two players will fit into Hickey's BPA approach (even with Moses' close ties to new Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor). If we're taking an offensive lineman in the first round, it's because he's a knockout.
All right, enough with the blabbing. As always, direct your complaints and grievances toward the comment section below.
Bortles has greatly increased his stock this offseason without so much as throwing a football, and I imagine he'll get an even bigger boost during pre-draft interviews. The comparison to Ben Roethlisberger is fair, but Bortles is still a bit raw in terms of footwork and vision, and the book on his accuracy and ability to dictate the game from the pocket has yet to be written. However, his ability to create outside of the pocket is well-documented, and he can do some damage as a ballcarrier. Best of all: new Texans head coach Bill O'Brien gets his man right off the bat.
Robinson's likely the top offensive tackle in an impressive positional class, and at this point he just needs to prove that his pass-pro chops are in line with the rest of his game. I suspect they are, and when you package that with very good mobility and an outrageously strong lower base, you have the making of a franchise-caliber left tackle. That means the Rams get the blindside lineman they've has so sorely lacked since the days of Orlando Pace.
Quite the dream scenario for the Jaguars, as they can move on the draft's most polished quarterback prospect. Height and weight concerns await Bridgewater during the pre-draft process, but it's difficult to deny his accuracy, arm strength and touch, as well as his ability to control the game without having to rely on his legs. And when Bridgewater does leave the pocket, he displays adequate wheels. Absolutely an ideal candidate for a team that needs to start over (and get it right) at the quarterback position.
Manziel's been locked in as the Browns' selection since December for good reason: he embodies everything Cleveland is looking for at the quarterback position. A gifted passer who is savvy, agile and able to consistently turn dead-end plays into big gains, Manziel could go as high as No. 1 overall to Houston or as low as No. 8 overall to Minnesota. Regardless of destination, he's an intriguing quarterback prospect with sky-high upside and unshakeable confidence.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen is essentially playing with house money right now, so the previous notion that Oakland would be in the mix for a quarterback may no longer apply. That means Jadeveon Clowney falls no further than this selection. And if it so happens that Clowney and one of the big three quarterbacks (Bortles, Bridgewater, Manziel) are available at this spot, Oakland should still take the South Carolina pass-rusher. Clowney is a once-in-a-decade talent who'd give the Raiders something they haven't had in ages: a cornerstone player in the front seven.
The Falcons should use this selection to upgrade the offensive line so that quarterback Matt Ryan doesn't again take the beating he received throughout last season. But it looks like Atlanta will roll with left tackle Sam Baker, so this pick essentially comes down to the best defender available. Right now, that's Anthony Barr; after the Combine, it'll be Khalil Mack. The Buffalo outside linebacker has speed to burn and was a tackle-for-loss king during his collegiate career. He's still developing as a pass-rusher, but there's nothing to suggest he won't soon dominate in that area, as well.
With a certified "quarterback whisper" on the staff in offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, the Buccaneers can seriously consider taking a signal-caller like Derek Carr at this spot. That isn't to say current quarterback Mike Glennon is a poor fit in Tampa; rather, this selection is about new general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith finding the Bucs' quarterback of the future. Carr excels at pushing the ball downfield, and would have little problem targeting Tampa Bay's massive wideouts. Questions about mental makeup still need to be answered, but Carr has the talent and leadership to pilot an NFL offense.
New Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer knows the value of a rock-solid 3-technique defensive tackle, and Jernigan is the prospect who best fits that description. Stout against the run and nearly unblockable in one-on-one situations, Jernigan's strength, explosive hands and quickness should help him overcome any questions about his conditioning. A proven disruptor for a defensive line in serious need of youth and versatility .
The Bills can't continue to allow quarterback E.J. Manuel to get body-slammed by defenses week in and week out, and that's where Matthews comes in. Already battle tested as a run blocker, he really came on in pass protection for the Aggies last season. Matthews plays light on his feet, boasts a nice initial punch and anchors well against power moves. Still developing as a pass-protector, but it's far from a weakness for him.
The Lions have made several attempts to find a quality complement for all-world wideout Calvin Johnson, and it's safe to say that search would end with Watkins--a big-bodied playmaker in his own right. If you need further evidence to justify Watkins in the top 10, cue up his performance in this year's Orange Bowl. He was a one-man wrecking crew through much of the contest, stretching the defense vertically, working the middle and even high-pointing the ball in the end zone for a score. A multi-faceted beast who can strike anytime the football's in his hands, and he's just going to get better.
Barr grades out high on most draft boards, so why is he sliding to Tennessee at No. 11? Simply put, it's because of questions regarding scheme diversity. It's difficult to imagine Barr working out of the 4-3, yet it's fairly easy to see him as a spark plug edge-rusher in Ray Horton's 3-4 scheme. Barr boasts outstanding length and closing speed, and he's ferocious against the run. Not the most natural defender in coverage, but he isn't a liability, either. Rare tools and upside for the position, and he's far from fully developed.
Dire need meets BPA here, as the Giants and their anemic linebacker group simply cannot afford to pass on a prospect of Mosley's caliber. Cerebral and disciplined, he's the kind of player who can come in and lead from day one onward. Mosley boasts good strength and agility, but like most outstanding linebackers, it's what upstairs that makes him such a special talent. Reads the offense like a book and takes very few steps in the process. To top it off, his coverage skills are impressive, as well. Not much of a hammer, though, and his size will raise the question of whether he can play inside at the NFL level. Even if he can't, he's a dynamite weak-side prospect.
The defense in St. Louis is no longer a concern, so the Rams can turn their focus to topping off the receiver corps. Evans' ability as a redzone threat is well documented, but he's surprisingly good at making things happen after the catch, and qualifies as a vertical threat, as well. Not a true burner, but when he reaches top gear, he can haul. Ultimately he's a proven mismatch receiver who can take a lot of focus off of St. Louis' smaller, more explosive wideouts.
The Bears' lack of youth and overall pop along the defensive line cannot be overstated, so this pick should come down to the best defensive tackle available. Nix is a proven clogger with a tremendously wide base, but he'll surprise you with his quickness and ability to get after the quarterback. Ideal as a 0- or 1-technique, and his presence would immediately improve Chicago's porous run defense.
Gilbert is an oversized corner who is fast enough to run with most receivers, but where he's most impressive is against the run—he will not shy away from taking on ballcarriers. That skill set alone should be enough to sway the Steelers, who desperately need to get younger on the perimeter. Gilbert on tape often sets the tone with his size and physicality, and that's a key trait for anyone who plays in Pittsburgh's secondary.
Lee is a top 10 talent who will likely fall a bit due to the quarterback and defensive line talent available this spring. That's not a problem for Baltimore, however, as the Ravens have made no secret of the fact that they need a knockout No. 2 receiver to pair with Torrey Smith. Lee excels at stretching the field with his speed, but he's also a polished route-runner who can expose defenses underneath. Lack of ideal size notwithstanding, Lee can do work over the middle of the field, and he's a certified assassin after the catch.
Like the Bears, this pick is all about the best defensive lineman available. And come draft day, that might be Donald—an undersized, explosive defensive tackle who makes his living in the backfield. Donald would be an ideal 3-technique in Rod Marinelli's Tampa 2 scheme, thanks to his balanced skill set and ability to find leverage against taller interior blockers. Underrated as a run defender, too, but that won't be the case for long.
This pick should serve one of two purposes for the Jets: 1) To find an edge-rusher who can complement the Jets' considerable interior defensive personnel, 2) To find a blue chip pass-catcher for quarterback Geno Smith. Stanford's Trent Murphy would fit the first bill, but it's difficult to say no to a prototypical tight end like Ebron. Big, fast, and still developing as an in-line player, Ebron is a certified mismatch both in the seam and the redzone. The Jets need help in both areas, making this pick a pretty simple one.
The questions that currently persist with Martin--can he play left tackle in the NFL? Are his arms too short?--also came up frequently with Duane Brown and Bryan Bulaga, so try not to get hung up on Martin's measurables (or lack thereof). He's a tough, quick-footed technician who is equally at home as a pass protector and run blocker. And he might be the most intelligent lineman available in this year's class, as you rarely see him get fooled or caught out of position on tape. Martin took care of business against larger, longer pass-rushers throughout the 2013 season and then at the Senior Bowl, so it's safe to say he won't be engulfed or overwhelmed by defensive ends and outside linebackers at the next level. If Miami really wants to get its zone-blocking scheme on track, Martin would be an ideal first step in doing so.
Like most Michigan tackles, Lewan is a huge-framed prospect with a nasty streak for days and advanced capability as a run blocker. Whether he can dominate in pass protection remains to be seen, but Lewan is at worst a rock-solid right tackle. At best, he's Arizona's blindside protector for the next decade or so. Not bad for the 20th overall pick.
Green Bay's patchwork front seven became a huge problem as the 2013 season progressed, and it likely won't improve until the team upgrades its defensive line. Tuitt, arguably the best 5-technique available in this draft, is at his best when setting the edge in a three-man front, and there's some pass-rush ability with him, as well.
Philadelphia's defensive perimeter is a horrific mess right now, and a physical corner like Dennard would help them out right away. He doesn't have outstanding speed for the position, but he's tenacious, instinctive and more than willing to mix it up in the running game. That kind of attitude can be contagious for a defense.
Considering how good the Chiefs' defense looked for much of last season, there sure are some issues up front--mainly at the 5-technique spot. Hageman has the base and bullish strength to absorb multiple blocks and down the run, and he flashes tons of upside as a pass-rusher. That's a rare skill for the 5-tech position.
Cincinnati's secondary noticeably lacked oomph last season, and the quickest way to shore that up is with a hammer safety of Pryor's caliber. A big-time hitter who doubles as an ultra-capable ball hawk, Pryor has the range and instincts to man either safety spot. If there's a hole in his game, it's his overall tackling technique (too often he looks for the knockout blow when a simple tackle will do). A proven turnover machine.
Two years, two Alabama offensive tackles for the Chargers in the first round. Kouandjio is one of the better run blockers in this year's tackle class, but it's difficult to get a handle on him in terms of pass pro. He has the quick feet to play on the left side, but he sometimes looks stiff when going into his stance, and his mobility is just adequate at this point. With the right coaching, though, he could become a star, and that's why he lands at this spot.
Cleveland's front seven looked surprisingly formidable at times last season, and with new head coach Mike Pettine at the helm, this pick could go toward the best pass-rusher available. Ealy is a balanced defensive end prospect, boasting impressive closing speed and a lightning-quick jump off the line of scrimmage. He's scheme diverse, too, but best projects with his hand in the ground.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro was a revelation for the Saints last season, so the focus now shifts to improving the defensive perimeter. Purifoy could come in and provide New Orleans with a speedy, instinctive presence, and he's more than adequate when it comes to taking out the run. Ball skills are the big question with Purifoy (he didn't have an interception until his final season at Florida), but that shouldn't take away from the fact that Purifoy has prototypical cornerback ability.
Adams is the big-bodied receiver absent from Carolina's current roster, but he'll have to run well this spring to ensure he gets first-round looks. The tape doesn't lie, though, and Adams was a flat-out playmaker for Fresno State and quarterback Derek Carr last season. In Carolina, he'd take plenty of heat off of Greg Olsen in the red zone.
The Patriots' tight end cupboard isn't what it was two seasons ago, and a prototypical talent like Amaro would provide a big boost both as a seam threat and red zone target. No one does more with less than Tom Brady, but Amaro would serve as an ideal security blanket in an offense that lacks considerable size and pop in the pass-catcher department.
As rock solid as the 49ers front seven is, the team could use depth at defensive end and especially edge-rusher, considering Aldon Smith's troubles last season. Murphy doesn't boast huge upside as an outside linebacker, but he's technically sound, difficult to block in phone booth situations and strong against the run.
Su'a-Filo can play nearly every position on the offensive line, but his best spot is at left guard, as he has the punch, frame and lower base to start from day one and contribute at a high level. And as we all saw during the Super Bowl, Denver's interior protection could use an upgrade or two.
The thought with Niklas is that he should've stayed a year in order to become a first-round pick in 2015, but he might get there this spring anyway thanks to his ridiculous frame and seek-and-destroy approach to the seam. He's even better as an in-line blocker, which could get him looks over some of the flex tight ends available in this class.
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