By: Travis Thayer
The Seattle “Super” Seahawks are your Super Bowl Champions, and it is now officially mock draft season. Now is the time for fans of all 32 teams to get excited about the future of their favorite franchise, and the possibility of landing the next NFL great. For some, they are looking for a franchise player who can get them out of the dumps, while others are searching for the missing piece to the championship puzzle. The draft comes a month later this year (May), and things will surely change between now and then – but here is a look at my first official pre-combine mock draft. Enjoy.
1. Houston Texans – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
How do you turn around a team that had Super Bowl aspirations, but managed to finish with the worst record in the NFL? You draft a franchise quarterback who in two years gained over 10,000 yards of total offense in the toughest conference in college football. Manziel may not have the greatest measurable’s or arm strength, but he is the best football player in this draft. Russell Wilson seemed to do alright without being the prototypical quarterback, which bodes well for a guy like Manziel who is one of the most talented athletes to play the position. Manziel makes Houston an immediate threat in the AFC.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington) – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Todd McShay recently said that Greg Robinson was the best tackle prospect he has ever scouted in his 13 year career. That is pretty high praise considering some of the tackles (Jake Long, Joe Thomas, Bryant McKinnie) that have come out in that span. The Rams desperately need a tackle to lineup across from the aforementioned Jake Long. Protecting the quarterback is the biggest key to winning games, and the Rams would be in pretty good shape with Robinson anchoring the right tackle spot.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Jaguars could go one of two ways here. They could draft a quarterback, which would be smart, or they could draft the best player available. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the best player available, and he would fill another huge need for the Jags. The Jaguars pass rush has been among the league’s worst for the past few seasons, and a player of Clowney’s caliber could be just what the doctor ordered. Clowney would be an instant starter, and the new face of the franchise.
4. Cleveland Browns – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Cleveland is loaded with draft picks, and they are definitely a candidate to jump up to the number one spot if they feel they can’t get their guy at number four. Johnny Manziel is on the Browns radar, and he would be the guy they move up for, but for now the Browns will stick with the second best option Blake Bortles. Bortles has great size and a big arm, and the Browns need to find a franchise quarterback. The Browns have had 19 different starting quarterbacks since 1999, and it’s no wonder they have only made the playoffs once in that span.
5. Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Raiders are yet another team with quarterback issues, but then again they have a lot of issues. Passing on a guy like Sammy Watkins would be a huge mistake though. Just watch the Orange Bowl from last month when Watkins torched the Ohio State Buckeyes with 16 receptions, 227 yards, and two touchdowns. Watkins is a home run pick for whoever is lucky enough to get him, and the Raiders certainly need a sure thing.
6. Atlanta Falcons – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews comes from a great lineage of NFL football players. He is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, and he is also the cousin of superstar linebacker Clay Matthews. It’s safe to safe football is in Matthews’ blood, and it’s also safe to say he would be a solid pick for a Falcons team that struggled to protect Matt Ryan.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack is one of the lesser known players who could potentially be a top ten pick. Mack is a freak athlete, and he displayed his talent on national television when his team opened the season against the Ohio State Buckeyes. In 2013, Mack had 100 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 19 tackles for a loss. The Buccaneers need an outside pass rusher, but with Clowney off the board and no other defensive end worth taking in the top ten – Mack is the pick and a potential impact player for years to come.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Some of you might be thinking why Teddy Bridgewater is the third quarterback taken in this draft, and to be honest I’m not really sure. Bridgewater could easily be the number one pick in the draft, but I have a feeling that first year head coach Mike Zimmer is going to luck into a franchise quarterback. Bridgewater has shown that he can make all the throws, and his toughness is unquestioned.
9. Buffalo Bills – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Bills drafted linebacker Kiko Alonso last year, and that worked out really well. The Bills might be hoping that lighting strikes in the same spot again this year. Barr is a former running back, receiver, and tight end, who moved to linebacker prior to his junior year – and all he did that year was lead the nation with 13.5 sacks. Barr is a great athlete, and he would fit in really well next to Kiko Alonso.
10. Detroit Lions – Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Even the mighty Calvin Johnson needs help sometimes. Reggie Bush was a great addition that took some pressure of Johnson, but the Lions really need another playmaking receiver to put it all together. Marqise Lee is arguably the best receiver in the 2014 draft, and his impact as a rookie could be exponential in Detroit.
11. Tennessee Titans – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Titans have a young athletic defense with a need for a ball-hawking safety. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the best safety prospect in this draft, and I expect him to be the only safety taken in the first round.
12. New York Giants – C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Clinton-Dix’s Alabama teammate goes next to a Giants team that desperately needs some defensive playmakers. The Giants landed linebacker Jon Beason in a trade with Carolina last year, and his play has been great. Adding someone to play next to Beason will be a top priority for the Giants. Mosley’s ability to stop the run, and his winning pedigree is something the Giants will covet.
13. St. Louis Rams – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Rams may be hoping that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix falls to them at number 13, but if he doesn’t they will take the next best thing. Mike Evans, a former basketball player, showed his ability to dominate games in the SEC. His big frame and basketball experience gives him a huge advantage on jump balls. Evans is exactly the type of receiver that can play on the outside and compliment the smaller and speedier Tavon Austin.
14. Chicago Bears – Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Bears have an aging defensive line that was ravaged by injury last year. Ra’Shede Hageman would bring much-needed youth and toughness to a defense that gave up the most rushing yards in the league last year.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Ike Taylor might not play in 2014, and the Steelers could really use a cornerback to replace him. They also need to improve their offensive line, and because this is a deep corner draft, I think they will address that need in the later rounds. Kouandjio is an outstanding tackle, and an athletic one at that who can play on either the left or right side. His versatility makes him a good fit in the “Steel City”.
16. Baltimore Ravens (pending coin toss) – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Ravens typically like to take the best player available, and Taylor Lewan fits that profile at 16, as well as being a need. The Ravens really struggled at times keeping quarterback Joe Flacco on his feet. Both Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher are free-agents, and I see one of those two being replaced in the draft.
17. Dallas Cowboys (pending coin toss) – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan St.
The Cowboys could really use a good safety. No disrespect to Barry Church and Jeff Heath, but the two just aren’t cutting it. As mentioned before, I only see one safety in the first round at this point, and the Cowboys also need a cornerback, so why not take the best one available in Dennard. Dennard is a physical, in your face corner who excels in press coverage. Dennard could end up being the best of a draft loaded with talented corners.
18. New York Jets – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Let’s face it, the Jets offense is awful. If any team is in need of an offensive playmaker, it’s the Jets. With the top receivers off the board, the Jets could make a play for the top tight end in the draft. Ebron isn’t a great run blocker, but his speed an athleticism allows him to play as an oversized receiver. He’s no Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham, but he could play a role similar to the two.
19. Miami Dolphins – Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times in 2013, so that means new blood on the offensive line. Zach Martin is an intriguing tackle prospect that could find himself going anywhere in the teens. Martin’s versatility could allow him to also play guard.
20. Arizona Cardinals – Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Cardinals are similar to a lot of other teams because of their need of an offensive tackle. Carson Palmer is a dangerous passer when he is protected, but the Cards also need a pass rushing compliment to Calais Campbell. Ealy is just starting to come into his own, and although he is still somewhat raw, he could be one of the best steals of the draft.
21. Green Bay Packers – Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Aaron Rodgers seems to have everything he needs on offense. He has great young receivers in Jordy Nelson and Randell Cobb, and he has a beast of a running back in Eddie Lacy. Tight end Jace Amaro could be the guy that brings it all together. We’ve seen what a good tight end has done for the likes of Drew Brees and Tom Brady, and the same fortune could be coming to Aaron Rodgers.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Eagles were last in passing defense last year, and that could be a testament to how much they were on the field. Regardless, the Eagles will want to sure up their defensive secondary. Verrett is a natural playmaker with great hands. His size and physicality may be in question, but his speed and athleticism allows him to stay with bigger receivers.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
In case anyone missed the Chiefs wild card game against the Indianapolis Colts, Dwayne Bowe can’t catch every ball thrown. At times it appeared he was the only receiver on the field, and the Chiefs will be hellbent on getting another playmaking receiver. Beckham can do it all, he catches the ball all over the field, and his route-running ability makes him one of the best receiving prospects in the draft.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma St.
Justin Gilbert has the ability to come in and play as a rookie. The Bengals were very good against the pass last year (5th in NFL), but Terrance Newman and Adam Jones aren’t getting any younger, and Leon Hall has torn both achilles tendons. Gilbert has good size (6′ ft, 200 lbs), with huge playmaking ability. As a senior he set a Big 12 record for kickoff returns with six. That playmaking ability makes him a threat to take it to the house if and when he gets his hands on the ball.
25. San Diego Chargers – Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
Attaochu started to get some recognition at this year’s Senior Bowl, and he could be an ideal fit for a Chargers team that needs an outside pass rusher. At Georgia Tech, Attaochu showed the ability to play linebacker and defensive end, and his versatility would be well suited for San Diego’s 3-4 defense.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis) – Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio St.
The Browns traded former first-round pick Trent Richardson to the Colts for this pick, and they could potentially replace him with Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde. Hyde could have finished his senior season with over 2,ooo rushing yards if it weren’t for a suspension that kept him out of the first four games. Hyde has the rare combination of size and speed that could make him the first running back taken in 2014.
27. New Orleans Saints – Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Antonio Richardson’s nickname is “Tiny”, and he’s anything but tiny at 6’6, 327 lbs. Richardson is the last of five first round offensive tackles, and he could potentially have the most upside. The Saints were left to play a rookie at left tackle last year, so why not take a chance on a guy who could become a future All-Pro.
28. Carolina Panthers – Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
When Cam Newton is your best player, you continue to build around him. Steve Smith is still an All-Pro type wide receiver, but he can’t play forever, and Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn are too inconsistent to carry the load when he’s gone. Jordan Matthews has the size and hands to be a really solid player in the NFL. His route-running ability is second-to-none, and he is one of the smoothest players in the draft. The team that gets Matthews, is the team that got a real professional for years to come.
29. New England Patriots – Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly both suffered season ending injuries last season, and neither player is getting any younger. Louis Nix has the size and ability to become a nose tackle in Bill Belichick’s defense. Nix would help a Patriots defense that wasn’t great against the run last year, and he could also play end in the Pats 3-4 defense.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt is yet another Notre Dame defensive lineman to go in the first-round. Tuitt is an ideal end for a 3-4 defense, and he would be a good long-term replacement for the aging Justin Smith.
31. Denver Broncos – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Denver’s cornerbacks looked old and slow in the Super Bowl. The team has talked about moving 15 year corner Champ Bailey to safety, and that move could extend his career much like Charles Woodson. Regardless, the Broncos need a youth movement at cornerback. Bradley Roby didn’t have a great junior season at Ohio State, but his speed should translate well to the NFL. I think a change of scenery and scheme will help Roby get back on track.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
And finally, the Super Bowl Champs are on the clock. The Seahawks looked absolutely unstoppable in the Super Bowl, and it doesn’t appear that the champs have a glaring need. With that being said, the Champs could opt for an all-around tight end from the team’s home-state. Seferian-Jenkins is a big physical, playmaking tight end, who is above-average in the run game. The Seahawks have drafted really well in recent memory, and it appears that the rich will get richer once again.