NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
It’s been a full week since the football season ended and the focus of the football universe is entirely on the NFL Draft. Even though it’s early, there is nothing fans love more than a mock draft. Fans love to dream of possibilities and envision which player their favorite team could end up with or find out where their favorite player might end up.
Free Agency hasn’t started yet and the combine is just over a week away, which means this mock will be irrelevant in a matter of weeks. But, without further ado, here is my pre-combine mock draft.
1. Houston Texans – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Momentum continues to build for Johnny Football and I believe this really is the most logical scenario come draft day. The most exciting player in the draft and a Texas boy is too much to pass up for Bob McNair and Bill O’Brien. After the success of Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Cam Newton, teams are determined to find the “next big thing” and Johnny Manziel is that thing.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Wash) – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Defensive End isn’t their biggest need, but when your picking this high and you already have your franchise QB*, you take the best player available. Adding Clowney to Robert Quinn, and Chris Long, is a downright scary thought. Remember the Rams play in the increasingly tough NFC West, building a strong pass rush to counter some of the offenses they will face makes a lot of sense. With another pick in the middle of the round, the Rams can get the best player in the draft and still get the Offensive Tackle they need.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Jaguars are in a position where they can sit back and take the last of the top three players available. For them, getting Bridgewater at #3, has to be considered a best case scenario. Bridgewater gives them a legitimate QB of the future and a face of the franchise player to go with a young up and coming coach. Things could change quickly in Jacksonville if they are able to pull this pick off in May.
4. Cleveland Browns – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
This has to be the worst case scenario for the Browns, who are dying to land Manziel and if he’s not there one of Bridgewater or Clowney. With all three off the board the Browns can’t reach for a QB here. It makes sense to take the best player on the board, who is Sammy Watkins and try to get their QB at the end of the first round. Pairing Watkins with Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron should be an exciting thought for Browns fans. However, I fully believe when the actually draft rolls around the Browns will do whatever it takes to get the QB they desire at the top of the draft.
5. Oakland Raiders – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Raiders are in a position where they have to take the best player available and get some immediate returns on the pick. GM Reggie McKenzie is about to be on the hot-seat and after making some curious selections at the top of the draft last year, they can’t afford to miss. Robinson’s upside is ridiculously high. They can kick Jared Veldheer inside or to Right Tackle and strengthen two positions at once.
6. Atlanta Falcons – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Thomas Dimitroff has really failed to upgrade the offensive line during his tenure as GM. His recent draft’s have not been strong along the OL and DL especially. Picking in the top 10 they will get a shot at a very good player and Matthews can play right protecting Matt Ryan’s blind side. This pick would be tough to screw up.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Buccaneers are always in need of more pass rushers. Barr is raw, but his natural athleticism and ceiling as a pass rusher is unmatched. His explosion and acceleration off the ball is awesome, as his sudden change of direction and closing speed. Barr may take time to reach his ceiling, but he can be successful rushing the passer as a rookie and do so at a high level.
8. Minnesota Vikings – CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Vikings have a big need at linebacker and could use some leadership on the defensive side of the ball. Mosley is a plug and play starter that can have a big impact as a rookie. Mosley is a high-character, team leader, and a play making machine. This is the rare pick where BPA meets team need perfectly. Mike Zimmer gets a defensive centerpiece to build his defense around.
9. Buffalo Bills – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Ebron is an athletic freak and a mismatch for defenses. He is essentially a big, agile, Wide Receiver playing the Tight End position. Scott Chandler is a free agent and even with him on the roster, the Bills tight end position is pretty bleak. Surrounding EJ Manuel with more weapons is a logical idea and Ebron has more value than a WR here, because of the steep drop off in TE talent in the 2nd round.
10. Detroit Lions – Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Calvin Johnson can’t keep doing it on his own (okay maybe he can), but the Lions at least need to get Matthew Stafford another target to throw to. Adding a dynamic route runner like Lee should take some of the coverage away from Johnson and make the Lions tougher to defend. It’s possible the Lions could opt to add a pass rusher in this spot to fill the void left by Cliff Avril.
11. Tennessee Titans – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Titans are another team that’s always in search of pass rush help and Mack will do that immediately. A violent, physical, and aggressive player that can play as a 4-3 End or 3-4 OLB. While Mack played at a lower level of competition, he consistently dominated the game, even when he did get to play against BCS level opponents. If Mack is available at #11 for the Titans they better sprint to the podium and turn in the card.
12. New York Giants – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Hakeem Nicks is likely gone and even if the Giants do decide to sign him, he’s been a train-wreck the last two seasons. We all know how much Eli Manning loves throwing to coverage receivers, just throwing it up and pray it gets caught. That’s where Mike Evans wins. He’s physically dominant at the catch point, winning contested ball after contested ball. The Giants have other needs, but Mike Evans would be a huge upgrade and nice compliment to Victor Cruz.
13. St Louis Rams – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
This is the reason the Rams should take Clowney with pick #2 if he’s there. In all likelihood the Rams will be able to get one of the top five Offensive Tackles with the 13th pick after taking potential All-Pro player at #2. If the Rams come out of the draft with Clowney and Lewan, Kouandjio, etc. It should be considered a huge success. Jake Long is recovering from ACL surgery and Lewan can fill in there until he’s healthy, at which point he flips to the right side creating University of Michigan bookend tackles.
14. Chicago Bears – Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Bears defensive line is a mess, especially on the interior. Besides Henry Melton, there isn’t a player on the roster, that I’d consider a starting caliber talent. On top of that Melton is a free agent and coming off an ACL tear. Jernigan is the best DT in the draft, playing a disruptive brand of football. This is a position that must be addressed early in the draft and they get the best one in this scenario.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Ike Taylor is just about finished and allowing Keenan Lewis to walk in free agency last year, doesn’t look very smart right about now. The Steelers secondary is about to be rebuilt from top to bottom. Right now the position is old, slow, and undisciplined. Dennard is the best cover corner in college football and gives the Steelers a dependable player to rebuild their secondary around.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Ravens offensive line really let them down this year. Both of their starting tackles, Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher are free agents. Monroe could be back, but Oher is likely gone. Kouandjio is a Maryland native and with Ozzie Newsome’s ties to Alabama the pick makes sense. Kouandjio has as high an upside as any tackle in the draft.
17. Dallas Cowboys – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Not even Jerry Jones could screw this up. The Cowboys safety position is the worst positional grouping in the NFL. Clinton-Dix is the best safety in the draft. The extreme need fits with the best player available, it can’t get any easier.
18. New York Jets – Kony Ealy, OLB, Mizzou
The Jets would love to get one of the top three receivers, but with them long gone, they opt to upgrade their OLB position. Calvin Pace is on his last legs and Coples is a square peg in a round hole. Ealy is a bit raw and could take a year or two, but has the all the tools to be a quality NFL edge rusher.
19. Miami Dolphins – Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Jeff Ireland is gone which means the offensive tackle position is now allowed to be upgraded. Martin is rising quickly after his awesome Senior Bowl performance. Martin has four years of experience at LT, but can kick inside and play OG if necessary. On top of that he’s a high character player.
20. Arizona Cardinals – Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
The Cardinals barely miss out on one of the top Offensive Tackles, but get one of the best natural pass rushers instead. Ford might not fit their 3-4 OLB perfectly, but he can rush the passer and as long as he’s allowed to do that, he’ll be successful. Regardless of where the team that drafts him decides to play him.
21. Green Bay Packers – Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Packers have needs all over their defense, but let’s not forget about the holes they are about to have on offense. James Jones is a free agent and word from high ranking Packer sources says that Jermichael Finley is finished, not just in Green Bay, but his career is over due to cervical vertebrae injury. Amaro is a great receiving tight end and offers a team’s offense a ton of matchup versatility. The Packers have to replace a lot of weapons on offense and getting a dynamic TE like Amaro early makes sense.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The worst kept secret at the Senior Bowl was the Eagles are aggressively trying to find big, physical safeties in the draft. Pryor is the best of the bunch, showing the ability to line up anywhere in the formation and bringing a violent mentality to the backend. He’s probably the best all-around safety prospect in the entire class, something the Eagles badly need.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Chiefs need to add more speed and receiving weapons to the perimeter of their offense. Dwayne Bowe is the only consistent (alright he’s really not consistent) receiver they have on the roster. Odell Beckham can change that. His ball-skills, playmaking ability, and speed are all things lacking in Kansas City.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt
Defensive tackle isn’t a huge need, but it’s a tantalizing idea to envision Aaron Donald playing with Geno Atkins. Both players are extremely explosive and quick off the ball. The combination would be incredibly distruptive and tough for opposing teams to match up with. While this pick might not happen in the actual draft, if Donald is available it’s something the Benglas have to think about at least.
25. San Diego Chargers – Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
The Chargers filled one gapping hole last year by drafting DJ Fluker, as he looks like the long term solution to their Left Tackle problems. It’s time for the Chargers to start rebuilding their interior offensive line which is aging, and underperforming. Su’a-Filo is an athletic and explosive OG that can dominate with his strength. He’s the best OG in the draft in my eyes, and fills a big need for the Chargers.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Colts) – Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Bortles could very well end up going much higher, but I feel like this is a better representation of his talent level. It’s not worth it for the Browns to reach for him at pick #4 when they can get one of the elite players in the draft. Bortles is a bit of a project and even though I am not sold on him, others around the NFL are.
27. New Orleans Saints – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Rob Ryan really turned the Saints defense around in a short period of time last year, especially in the front seven. There secondary is still a mess and on top of that Malcolm Jenkins is a free agent. The Saints need to add more talent at cornerback. They are in a division and conference where they will face top tier passing offenses each week. They need to have better corners to match up with the talented receivers they face down the field.
28. Carolina Panthers – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, FSU
It’s about time the Panthers get Cam Newton some help on the outside. Steve Smith can’t continue to be the only viable weapon, as he is going to breakdown any day now. They really lack a physical presence at receiver and Kelvin Benjamin can change that instantly. He’s built like a TE and runs like a receiver. He’s simply too big for most DBs to match up with down the field.
29. New England Patriots – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The vast majority of mock drafts have the Patriots taking Jace Amaro or another TE with this pick, and I don’t disagree. If they are going to get a tight end in the draft it better be early, because I believe there is a tremendous drop off in talent after the second round or so. I believe the defensive line is the biggest need on the team, whether it’s the tackle or end position, I think it’s an area that will be addressed early.
Louis Nix is exactly the type of player the Patriots need with this pick. A big, athletic, mobile run stuffer, that can plug into the middle of their defensive line. Even if Vince Wilfork does come back, it’s time for the team to start playing for life without him, by grooming a replacement. The Patriots were gashed up the middle way too often throughout the season and really turned out to be a fatal flaw. T
he Patriots need to improve their pass rush from the edge as well. I feel like it’s an area that let them down in the biggest games, struggling to generate pressure from players besides Jones and Ninkovich. A third pass rusher would allow a more consistent and evenly distributed rotation up front. Nix is a player that can take on blocker to let LB run free, but he’s also athletic and explosive enough that he draws the attention of blockers.
This will free up others to rush the passer. I have no problem with a Tight End going here with the pick, I just think the best bet is to pick Nix here and trade up into the middle of round two for Austin Seferian-Jenkins, filling both needs early in the draft.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The 49ers could really use some speed and big play ability from their receivers. Cooks is one of the most dynamic players in all the draft possesses great speed, acceleration, and change of direction ability. He can compliment the 49ers bigger receivers and give Colin Kaepernick another downfield target to spread the offense.
31. Denver Broncos – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Champ Bailey is just about finished, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent, and Chris Harris is coming off a torn ACL. The Broncos secondary has a ton of questions marks entering the off-season. Gilbert is one of the top corners in the draft and the Broncos would be lucky to have a shot at such a quality corner at pick #31.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Seahawks are going to have some very tough cap decisions and DE Red Bryant could be one of them. Tuitt is a massive Defensive End that could fill a similar type of role as Bryant. The Seahawks don’t have many holes on their team, so they could go in any direction, including trading down.