My first 2014 NFL Mock Draft came out right after the 2013 NFL draft was complete. Now that we’re almost halfway done with the college football season, and starting to get a feel of NFL futures, here’s a look at how next May’s draft might look.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Right now, I give him the nod over Bridgewater. At 6-foot-4, 210, Mariota is the better athlete, and looks a bit like Colin Kaepernick at times. Very curious to see how Mariota does against Stanford (poor last year) and Alabama (assuming it happens).
2. Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Vikings are tough to peg, given the Josh Freeman experience only begins this week. Why not Clowney? Jared Allen turns 32 in April, but the Vikings already have two DEs (Brian Robison, who they just extended, and Eversen Griffin, who they will). You can never have enough DEs, but this team isn’t going anywhere without a QB.
3. Tampa Bay Bucs – Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU. Still no Clowney? And where are Manziel/Boyd/Hundley? It’s all about fitting systems, and if Greg Schiano is still around – at 0-5, with no end to the disaster in sight, that’s not a given – I think he picks the 6-foot-5 Mettenberger, who has made massive strides this season. He finally looks like the franchise QB everyone thought he’d be.
4. New York Giants – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. Bookends with Jason Pierre-Paul? RG3, Romo & Philly’s next QB can’t be thrilled with this. NYG’s other DE, Justin Tuck, is in the last year of his deal.
5. Atlanta Falcons – Anthony Barr, LB/DE, UCLA. Should be able to fit into a 4-3 or 3-4 (ATL runs the former), and should wreck havoc immediately, the way Von Miller has. Given the Clowney hype, Barr (6-foot-4, 250), a converted tight end, is actually underrated. Have you seen this hit? Barr ended Matt Barkley’s college career.
6. Oakland Raiders – Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA. A 4th QB this early? Terrelle Pryor has had a nice run, but the sense in Oakland is that he’s not the long-term guy. After a blistering freshman campaign, Hundley’s improved this year through the air and on the ground. Only a redshirt sophomore, and if he stays another yet, he could contend with FSU’s Jameis Winston for the No. 1 pick.
7. St. Louis Rams – Jake Matthews, OL, Texas A&M. Last year at this time, it looked like the Rams would have two Top 10 picks. But the Redskins turned it around. Will that happen again? If the Rams don’t want to re-sign Rodger Saffold, then Matthews could start from Day 1.
8. Buffalo Bills – Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame. There are a few teams that right now have glaring needs, and Buffalo’s desperate needs defense. The Bills are in dire need of a safety, but there isn’t one good enough to be drafted here. Tuitt, who lines up all over the defensive line for the Irish, should start immediately opposite Mario Williams.
9. Cleveland Browns – Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson. Five QBs in the top 10? The Browns need one – although Hoyer was playing well before the injury – and I think their first of seven picks (in the Top 120ish selections) will be a QB. At 6-foot-1, 225, he’s a bigger, stronger, Russell Wilson.
10. St. Louis Rams (via Washington) – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. Desperate need of a skill player. Tavon Austin, a first round pick last year, has been a disappointment through six games, and only played four snaps last Sunday. Watkins has top-end speed and would be a deep threat they currently lack. The Rams have big needs at running back and cornerback as well.
11. San Diego Chargers – Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon. Corners rise and fall rapidly, but right now, he looks like the best in the country. Despite a nice effort against Andrew Luck Monday, the Chargers have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, permitting 8.3 YPA and a 68.4 completion rate (the latter is ranks dead last).
12. Arizona Cardinals – Taylor Lewan, OL, Michigan. In need of a QB, preferably one that isn’t a turnover machine. Johnny Manziel here? You give him a nice young RB in Ellington, and pass catchers in Floyd and Fitzgerald, and Manziel would have immediate success. In a division with Kaepernick and Wilson, have the Cardinals seen the read option light? Think they’ll fortify the line, grab Alabama QB AJ McCarron in the 2nd round.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame. The offensive line has been a disaster, but the defense even worse, and old. Nix looks like the best DT in this draft who could fit into a 3-4.
14. Miami Dolphins – Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama. Ryan Tannehill is getting pounded this season (sacked a league-high 24 times, despite the Dolphins having a bye last week) and right now I can’t think of a bigger area of need than the porous OL.
15. Tennessee Titans – DeAnthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon. I want defense, but if the offense malaise keeps up, this pick is probably a WR, or a do-anything talent like Thomas. It’ll be an eventful offseason for the Titans, who need to pay CB Verner, will lose (or pay) WRs Britt and Williams, and also need to decide about keeping defense starters Pollard (safety) and Pitoitua (DE).
16. New York Jets – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. Jets have lacked toughness at WR for years, and they’re going to cut Santonio Holmes in the offseason. Might be tough to pass up Lewan/Matthews/Kouandjio if they fall this far. We should find out in the next 10 games what the Jets want to do with Geno Smith; getting a big, fast, studly receiver would be a massive help.
17. Houston Texans – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Looks better this year in every facet of his game, has been quiet off the field and there’s no way the Texans can go back to Matt Schaub next year. At this point, I can’t see the Texans going anywhere but QB in the first round, unless Case Keenum is somehow incredible this weekend and then over the next 10 games.
18. Carolina Panthers – Marqise Lee, WR, USC. Came into the season as one of college football’s best players, but as Troy crumbled, Lee got lost. He got hurt (expected back this week) but I’m sure he’ll run a 4.3 at the combine to start the Top 10 chatter all over again. The Panthers extended LT Jordan Gross in the offseason, so the biggest loss through free agency would be DE Greg Hardy (yes, the guy who thinks he can beat LeBron 1-on-1).
19. Chicago Bears - Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida. Maybe the best athlete in the draft, he should be able to start immediately. Do they keep Cutler? For now, I’ll say yes, though that could change later this season. (Most intriguing name I hear in this offense? Tajh Boyd.) More than half a dozen pivotal Bears could become free agents this summer: Cutler, Hayden, Hester, Wright, Wootton, Tillman and Jennings, which is why I lean defense here.
20. Dallas Cowboys – Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU. Right now, it feels like defensive front seven will be the focus for the Cowboys. Have loved Johnson since he did this as a true freshman.
21. Baltimore Ravens – CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama. Still in the process of re-making the great Ravens defense of the 00′s. Stick him in the middle of that 3-4 defense and enjoy.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida. Was a bigger deal at Notre Dame than he has been for the Bulls, but could be a steal here. Lynch, a redshirt sophomore, has been quiet due to double teams in 2013 (only 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack through six games) but the 6-foot-6, 250 pounder reminds me of a young Jared Allen.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. I have him marginally higher than Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Last offensive weapon the Chiefs needs to make a run at the Super Bowl – yup – in 2015. Can you imagine if Alex Smith wins a Super Bowl?
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. For now, I’ll hold off on replacing QB Andy Dalton. That could definitely change. The secondary has been suspect (partially due to injuries) but Dre Kirkpatrick doesn’t look like a #1 or #2 CB, and Terrence Newman is 35. Fuller has had a great season with the Hokies (he was dominant against Alabama) and, right now, I think he’s passed OSU’s Bradley Roby.
25. Detroit Lions – Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo. Blew up in the season opener with a strong game against Ohio State. He’ll probably get drafted higher than this – right now, I’m just having a hard time finding teams with glaring needs at linebacker. [Yes, strangely, I have the Detroit Lions in the playoffs.]
26. Green Bay Packers – Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee. Incredible athlete will probably wreck the combine and vault into the Top 15. At 6-foot-6, 330, here’s how scary it is for teams if he’s a franchise tackle: The improved run game this year gets better next year and helps Aaron Rodgers.
27. San Francisco 49ers - Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson. Rapidly-rising junior is only 6-3, 225-pounds, but his stock is soaring as he’d dominated the opposition so far in 2013: 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks, both of which top last year’s stats (8 TFL, 8 sacks in 13 games). If Aldon Smith never plays again for the 49ers …
28. New England Patriots – Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington. He’ll be thoroughly vetted due to a DUI. But remaking the Gronk-Hernandez pair with ASJ means tacking on a few more years to the Hall of Fame career of Tom Brady.
29. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis) – Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt. Too early? He’s a burner, and assuming they keep Josh Gordon, that’s two good weapons for Tajh Boyd.
30. New Orleans Saints – Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama. Big (6-foot-6, 250 pounds), fast linebacker could be the last piece Rob Ryan’s defense needs.
31. Seattle Seahawks – Ra’shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota. Underrated DT probably will generate some buzz at the combine because for 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, he’s a terrific athlete.
32. Denver Broncos – Ha Ha Clinton Dix, S, Alabama. Tough to have confidence about the end of the first round seven months before the draft, but it’s safe to say Denver will be bolstering its defense.