NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
Less than three weeks from the 2014 Draft and there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding who goes where. The first two rounds are expected to be more action-packed than ever. With supreme talent throughout the top 100, it will be interesting to see how teams position themselves to land the player they covet.
This year’s draft revolves around two players 1) Jadeveon Clowney and 2) Johnny Manziel, where they get selected will have an enormous trickle down effect on the rest of the first round and beyond. Here is my latest attempt to project how the 2014 NFL Draft will play out.
I’d appreciate it if everyone checked out my 2014 Draft Guide. I put a ton of work into it and if you are an NFL Draft fan I think you’ll really enjoy it. Check out the link for more information. “Mike Loyko’s 2014 NFL Draft Guide”
1) Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
It’s really the only choice. Even though Houston needs a Quarterback there is no way they can pass up a generational talent for the caliber of Quarterback found at the top of this draft. Clowney is simply too special to pass up and the Quarterbacks they can pick at #33 won’t be significantly different than the Quarterback they’d pick at #1. If Rick Smith and the Houston brass do pass on Clowney, mark my words it will cost people their jobs down the road.
2) St. Louis Rams - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Robinson’s ceiling as a Left Tackle prospect is significantly high. His combination of size, power, and athleticism is exceedingly rare for a man of his size. He is a much better prospect than either Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher from last year’s draft and he’s only a Redshirt Sophomore. If he went back to school for his Junior season, he would have created unrivaled hype for an Offensive Tackle prospect. The Rams Offensive Line has been a weakness for a long time and with Robinson in the fold they have the centerpiece to build around.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
I’ve stuck by my guns since last fall and I’m not backing down now. Manziel will be a top selection in this draft and I know for a fact that teams in the top 5 are highly interested in him. The fit between Manziel, Jacksonville, and Gus Bradley is perfect. He’s the type of face of the franchise player that city needs and Bradley is the type of coach that will get the most out of Manziel. Bradley saw first hand the impact that Russell Wilson had on Seattle as a rookie and while Manziel is a different type of Quarterback, the excitement he can bring to the field is unmatched. If Jacksonville doesn’t take Manziel, he won’t have to wait much longer.
4) Cleveland Browns - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
It once looked likely that the Browns would take a Quarterback at pick #4 and if Johnny Manziel falls to them, there is a chance they still could. But with another pick in the first round it makes more sense to take the elite talent, creating a dynamic receiving tandem, and then get their future Quarterback at #26. The Cleveland franchise can’t bear to miss on another top five selection, especially if it’s on a Quarterback. The best strategy is to take the safe, high upside player first and then take the QB in the late first round, where the risk is minimized if he busts.
5) Oakland Raiders - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
GM Reggie MacKenzie is in a similar position to the Browns, he can’t afford to miss on another top draft pick and certainly not a Quarterback. With Matt Schaub in the fold it takes some of the pressure off GM Reggie MacKenzie to take a Quarterback at #5. The good news is the Raiders have holes all over their roster and despite spending a ton of money in Free Agency, they still have little young talent. A marriage between Khalil Mack and the Raiders is a perfect fit in my opinion. Pass rush is still a major need in Oakland and Mack brings the qualities of a Raider to the field.
6) Atlanta Falcons - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The easiest pick in the entire draft to project. Atlanta is either taking a pass rusher or an Offensive Tackle. With the top two (and only two) pass rushers worthy of this pick off the board, the choice is really made for them. Matthews is a skilled, technically proficient Offensive Line prospect and can start from day one. The Falcons Offensive Line has been a weakness of the team for quite sometime now and they have never really had a Left Tackle the caliber of Jack Matthews play for them. This pick should take all of ten seconds to make once Atlanta is on the clock.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
I have been immensely impressed with new GM Jason Licht (former Patriots disciple). Not only did he lay out an well-thought-out plan, his execution of that plan has been flawless. He’s made tough decisions, but all of his moves have been decisive, swift, and purposeful. This is a franchise headed in the right direction, although it may take a year or two for them to get all the pieces in place. At pick #7, the Buccaneers could go in a few different directions, but it makes the most sense to take the best player available in Mike Evans, who also fills a big need. The WR Evans is compared to most is Vincent Jackson and the two big, physical receivers can be paired up to provide downfield threats for whoever is the QB.
8) Minnesota Vikings – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Minnesota is in a tough position. I truly believe, they’d prefer not to take a Quarterback at #8, especially given GM Rick Speilman’s colosial whiff on Christian Ponder. Speilman simply won’t survive if he misses on another Quarterback, but the Vikings might not have a choice. If the top seven players are off the board Speilman will find himself in a tough spot. He filled some holes on defense this off-season, but still have holes throughout the roster. The Vikings won’t take a Wide Receiver and probably won’t take an Offensive Tackle. That leaves them with Bortles or a trade down. Trading the pick, is probably the best option, but for the sake of this mock I’ll give them the Central Florida QB. Bortles is far far far from a sure thing and will take at least 1-2 years to develop NFL caliber mechanics.
9) Buffalo Bills – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Cordy Glenn is a very good Offensive Lineman who is playing arguably his worst position. For as good as he’s been on the left side, he could be even better on the Right Side where the Bills have a void. Drafting Lewan will solidify the bookend tackles for the future and will help keep EJ Manuel upright. If the Bills opt to go in another direction, Eric Ebron makes a lot of sense.
10) Detroit Lions – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Lions could use help all over their defense and in the secondary specifically. This might be a little high for a safety, but the only way the Lions will get Clinton-Dix is by picking him here. There are at least 3-4 teams picking from 14-20 that would jump all over Ha Ha if he fell to them. I see this in a similar light to Mark Barron two years ago. He’s by far the best player at a position that is lacking premium players and the team can live with reaching for him a little bit. He’s a plug and play, day one starter, that will provide stability on the backend of a Lions defense which faces high-powered passing attacks each week.
11) Tennessee Titans – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
I know there is a lot of talk about Barr dropping in the draft and while that could be true, the fit for Barr in Tennessee is perfect. This is a team constantly on the lookout for additional pass rushers, Kamerion Wimbley and Shaun Phillips aren’t the long term answer. Anthony Barr has flaws in his game and may take sometime, but no one has as much upside. He could provide great production from a sub-package pass rush role as a rookie.
12) New York Giants - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Giants have dramatically turned their roster over this off-season, but Tight End is still one position with a huge hole. Ebron is by far the best player at the position and will provide fading QB Eli Manning another target to throw incompletions to. The Giants have rotated Tight Ends through the roster on 1-year deals, but Ebron is a long term solution with All-Pro talent. He creates mismatches in the passing game and will take some of the over the top Safety coverage away from Victor Cruz.
13) St. Louis Rams – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Rams could go a number of ways with their second pick including Receiver, Defensive Tackle or defensive back. With the top ranked corner falling into their laps, the Rams could come away from the 1st Round with their Left Tackle of the future and their #1 CB or the future. Two premium positions that are incredibly tough to fill the further in the draft you go. This is a huge draft for the Rams and I’m not sure QB can be ruled out at this selection either. If Sam Bradford fails to progress in 2014, regardless of who the Rams pick with these two selections, they will be back at the top of the draft again next year.
14) Chicago Bears - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
A perfect fit between player and team. The Bears were active in free agency signing two talented defensive ends, but are as soft as “Charmin” up the middle after losing Henry Melton. The Bears get an immediate chance to fill the void left by Melton with a very similar player. Combining Donald to Lamaar Houston and Jared Allen, will create a defensive line that can change games with disruption.
15) Pittsburgh Steelers - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Steelers secondary is aging quickly and this is probably the last season they can get out of Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu. Both Safety and Cornerback are major needs, so if Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gets this far, I’d expect him to be the selection. With HCD off the board the Steelers turn to Darqueze Dennard, who immediately becomes the most talented cornerback on the Steelers roster. Dennard doesn’t have the greatest speed, but he makes up for his with natural coverage instincts and physicality.
16) Dallas Cowboys - Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Cowboys would love to get their hands on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Anthony Barr, but with both players off the board they opt to improve their terrible defensive line. Getting Henry Melton in the fold was big, but he’s coming off a torn ACL and can’t solve all the problems by himself. Jernigan is a disruptive interior presence that is just scratching the surface of his potential.
17) Baltimore Ravens – Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Re-signing Eugene Monroe to hold down the Left Tackle spot for the next few years was a major score for the Ravens, but they still need to upgrade the other side of the Offensive Line. If the season started today, the Right Tackle would likely be Jah Reid and that’s less than ideal. Zack Martin can play any position on the line and is one of the safest players in the entire draft.
18) New York Jets - Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU
It’s no secret that the Jets are targeting a Wide Receiver in round one. Their work out list is a whose who of top receiver prospects and it’s no smokescreen. Even though they added Eric Decker, they need another receiver who can produce when Decker is getting shut down by Darrelle Revis twice a year. Beckham is a dynamic playmaker that can impact the passing game at all levels, it won’t be long before he is the #1 WR in the Jets offense.
19) Miami Dolphins - Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Kounandjio took a beating at the combine for poor workout numbers and a potentially balky knee. His stock has corrected itself since then and with the top tier of Offensive Tackles off the board the Dolphins can either pick Kouandjio here or they risk missing out on the starting caliber OT entirely. Kouandjio could kick over to Right Tackle, where he’s probably best suited, and provide bookend protection for QB Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has run for his life the last two seasons and it’s affected his development, adding two legitimate Offensive Tackles will limit the available excuses for Tannehill and Head Coach Joe Philbin.
20) Arizona Cardinals – CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama
On the surface this isn’t a huge need as they have Kevin Minter, but the they just lost Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington has troubles off the field. Mosely can play any LB position and with defenses becoming more multiple, teams need more than just their starting 3-4 LB. Mosley is simply took good to pass up at this point.
21) Green Bay Packers – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Just when everyone thinks Ted Thompson will zig, he zags and pulls off a shocker. I didn’t plan on giving the Packers Cooks, but I am intrigued by the fit between player and team. Aaron Rodgers’ weapons have been pillaged over the last two off-seasons, but adding one dynamic playmaker like Brandin Cooks could change all that. A top three of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Brandin Cooks could make the Packers offense as dangerous as ever.
22) Philadelphia Eagles – Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee’s stock has fallen a little bit, but that doesn’t take away from the fact he’s going to be a very good NFL Receiver. Adding a big play threat like Marqise Lee to the existing pieces on the Eagles offense further elevates them above everyone else in the NFC East. An offense consisting of Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Marqise Lee, Riley Cooper, and Darren Sproles must be a scary thought for the rest of the NFC.
23) Kansas City Chiefs – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Everyone has the Chiefs pegged to pick a Wide Receiver, but with the top guys off the board, the Chiefs are better off waiting until the second or third round to get their receiver. Calvin Pryor can pair up with Eric Berry to create a dynamic, versatile Safety combination, providing some stability opposite the All-Pro. The Chiefs were hard hit along the offensive line in free agency, so a OG like Xavier Su’a-Filo wouldn’t surprise me either.
24) Cincinnati Bengals – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller is my top ranked Cornerback in the draft, as he possesses the most complete skillset. Cornerback is a major need area for the Bengals as they have an aging and declining group. Fuller has some injury questions, but he’s a potential lock down corner that with tremendous natural coverage skills. If Fuller is gone, Bradley Roby or a LB like Ryan Shazier makes sense.
25) San Diego Chargers – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Nose Tackles have a tendency to drop on draft day and even though Nix’s stock has fallen in recent weeks, I believe he is going to be an impact player in the NFL. The Chargers Nose Tackle position currently consists of Sean Lissemore and Kwame Geathers, which is not going to cut it. Nix is a great fit in the middle of that 3-4 Defense and an immediate upgrade at a key position.
26) Cleveland Browns – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Browns gamble of passing on a QB at #4 pays off and pays off big time. If the Browns pull off a 1st Round coup of Sammy Watkins and Teddy Bridgewater, consider it highway robbery. This tandem combined with Jordan Cameron, Ben Tate, and Josh Gordon would legitimize the Browns offense, making it one of the more dynamic attacks in the NFL.. until they leave in free agency.
27) New Orleans Saints – Demarcus Lawrence, OLB, Boise State
Rob Ryan rejuvenated the Saints defense in only one season, but he did a lot of it with smoke and mirrors. The Saints don’t have many pass rushing pieces for the long term and Lawrence is one of the drafts fastest risers. He’s a versatile pass rusher that can play anywhere in the front seven and create pressure. If he went back to school for one more year, we’d be talking about him in the top 10 mix for the 2015 Draft.
28) Carolina Panthers – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
I’m taking the easy way out by projecting a Wide Receiver for the Panthers. The Panthers took a step back this off-season and in my opinion are poised for a major fall back to earth in 2014, regardless of this pick. For Cam Newton’s sake (and his happiness) they need to get him a legitimate #1 Receiver. Jason Avant and Jericho Cotchery were #3 receivers in their primes. Neither is currently in their prime and neither is good enough to satisfy Cam Newton. Benjamin is a boom or bust prospect, but the thought of a 6’5″ 240 pound Wide Receiver catching passes from Cam Newton is a tantalizing thought.
29) New England Patriots - Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
I still believe (and know) the Patriots are targeting defensive line help early in the draft. There is always the distinct possibility they trade out of the first round and accumulate draft picks. However, if Ryan Shazier is sitting there at pick #29 the Patriots have to think long and hard about selecting him. Adding a 4.38 Linebacker to Jamie Collins will transform the Patriots Linebackers from one of the slowest groups in the NFL to one of the fastest. The Patriots clearly had an off-season plan of improving their pass defense and while the back-end is as good as ever, the LB position is still lacking. When breaking down the Patriots roster Linebacker is by far the thinnest position with only 3 players I consider worthy of the 53 man roster. Whether it’s in the first round or on day two, this is a position that will be addressed at some point in the draft. If Shazier is gone, I expect Dominique Easley or Louis Nix III to get legitimate looks.
30) San Francisco 49ers - Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The 49ers are blessed with a ton of picks and while they don’t have a lot of holes, this is an important draft for their franchise. The secondary has lost key pieces each of the last two seasons and this year lost both Donte Whitner and Tarrel Brown. Bradley Roby is a tremendous athlete that can be developed into a shut down cornerback. I love the way he plays the game and attacks the football in the air. He needs lots of technique work, but his pure talent is unmatched by any corner in the draft.
31) Denver Broncos – Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Su’a-Filo is the best Guard in this draft and a player I think will be an All-Pro player in short time. He’s the rare Offensive Guard that can combine athleticism with power to complete blocks. He can play Offensive Tackle if needed, but his long term future is at Guard. The Broncos have a large hole at Left Guard with the departure of Zane Beadles and for as good as Beadles was during his time in Denver, Su’a-Filo becomes an immediate upgrade in my opinion.
32) Seattle Seahawks - Joel Bitonio, OT, Nevada
Bitonio is one of my favorite players in the entire draft. He’s extremely smart and can play multiple positions along the offensive line. Whether it’s Right Tackle, Guard, or Center, he will make the Seahawks a better team. His upside is lower than other OL, but he’s extremely safe and projectable. If the Seahawks don’t go Offensive Line here, I expect them to target the Defensive Line with someone such as Stephon Tuitt.