With the Super Bowl set between the Broncos and the Seahawks and the season close to its end, what better time to enter into the draft discussion? With that This Given Sunday presents its first mock 2014 NFL draft of the offseason. Mind you this won't foresee the many possible trades. Also missing at this point is the combine, offseason misconduct, needs based on free agents lost/retained, and other tools to help evaluate all the talent that is out there. Obviously things will change drastically with time, and so will any final version of a mock draft we post. But this is the first stab at what talent could be available and who fits well where.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The three possibilities right now are Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and elite pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans have boatloads of talent and I believe they can compete right away if they make the right selection. It's clear the team has lost faith in Matt Schaub, as they should, and Case Keenum in a replacement role was a bit inconsistent. The Texans will want to draft their quarterback of the future and I believe it will be down to Bridgewater and Manziel. Right now Bridgewater is the favorite but lots can transpire between now and May.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Lots of mocks have the Rams taking Clowney here and while I think his value is absolutely at #1 or #2 the Rams just don't need a pass rusher. The Robert Quinn and Chris Long tandem is deadly, and both are long term commitments. This just doesn't fit a need for the Rams at all. For this reason I believe the Rams will trade down with a team desperate to land Clowney. Since I can't predict trades here, though, I am going with the obvious need here which is offensive line help. Sam Bradford is apparently still the guy in St. Louis but they need to keep him upright if they want a chance to succeed in the big bad NFC West. Don't completely rule out the possibility that the Rams replace Bradford with a new QB either, though.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Tied for 31st in sacks last year, the Jaguars need help everywhere. They need a franchise QB that will be the face of the organization, but Clowney is the pick here. If the Rams trade down and Clowney goes second, though, I believe they will select Manziel.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Where Manziel goes is all up to him. He has a shot at being the first selected if he handles interviews and scouts well and stays out of trouble. At the end of the day his collegiate success is just too glaring to ignore, though, and Cleveland is desperate for a quarterback.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
This class is strong with quarterbacks, and add Derek Carr to the mix and you likely have four guys that could go in the top 8. With two passers already off the board the Raiders will go with the next best available passer in Bortles. Terrelle Pryor and the Raiders have had some drama as of late and when he played it was clear he wasn't going to make the kind of impact that could turn around this franchise in utter disarray. Bortles brings the kind of potential that's too good to pass up, and he could easily end up being the best of this class (if he avoids Oakland as a destination!).
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, DE, UCLA
There is no question the Falcons are desperate for help on defense and they have to draft that here. Specifically, they need to get pressure on Drew Brees and Cam Newton if they want to get back in the discussion for the NFC South. Clowney is their pie in the sky and don't rule out a play for that Rams selection at #2. Here they select the best pass rusher available.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Don't rule out the aforementioned quarterbacks being in the mix here as well. Either way I can't imagine the Bucs are that comfortable with Mike Glennon as their guy in 2014, so expect a veteran presence to be added to compete at the very least. The Bucs need to score more points, that's the bottom line. The defense is good. Watkins appears to be the best playmaker in the draft.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Almost every mock draft at this point has the Vikings taking Carr. The consensus is they tried a vet QB (Ponder, Freeman, Cassel) and they are ready to groom the next guy they can count on for years to come. Bortles could be that guy if he falls, or even Manziel, but it's Carr here.
9. Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Lots of options here for the Bills. They could go with C. J. Mosley to place alongside Kiko Alonso, they could go with Greg Robinson as an immediate upgrade to their O-Line, they could pick Eric Ebron the best tight end playmaker in the draft, or they could draft Mike Evans at receiver. Ultimately you use a high draft pick to take an impact player at an impact position... and that's not tight end or linebacker. That's tackle.
10. Detroit Lions: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Lions can't help themselves but to draft receivers, and they want to make Megatron's life easier with a game breaker on the other side. This could be a slight reach but the bottom line is Lee, when healthy, will be a stud. Question marks with his health in the past could rear their ugly head at the combine. Mike Evans is another possibility but I think he is too similar in style to Megatron and they'd prefer a complimentary player with more speed.
11. Tennessee Titans: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Some believe he's the best player in the draft, while others more realistically argue he's as NFL ready as any defender not named Clowney. Tremendous value for the Titans at this point in the draft.
12. New York Giants: C. J. Mosley, MLB, Alabama
Tons of needs for the Giants, and offensive line help can't be ignored with the number of times Eli Manning was hit. But C. J. Mosley falling this far is a surprise and the Giants are thrilled to get a tackling machine.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Adding Tavon Austin was nice, but the Rams need a guy they can run the passing offense through. Evans has the size to be an impact player on every down. If the Rams are committed to Bradford than they need to help him and Evans absolutely does that.
14. Chicago Bears: Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Bears' once vaunted defense is now in shambles. They can't stop the run and pretty much any defender at this point in the draft will be a huge upgrade. The Bears are praying Mosley will drop this far, but he won't, so they go with his Alabama teammate.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan St.
Defensive end is a big need for the Steelers but I don't really see a guy at this point (yet) worthy of 15th overall value. Vic Beasley is a possibility at OLB, but drafting him would be admitting Jarvis Jones was a mistake. Pass rushing would be nice, but the Steelers settle on the best corner in the draft.
16. Baltimore Ravens (note: coin flip with Cowboys to change order of 16th and 17th pick): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are both free agents, and the Ravens' offense is desperate to give Flacco some weapons. Ebron will give them underneath help as well as some big play potential.
17. Dallas Cowboys (see above): Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
Did you watch the Cowboys play and attempt to stop the run, or play any kind of defense this year? If so, this pick needs no explanation. It all starts up front.
18. New York Jets: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida St.
I'm not sure Geno Smith can be saved even with play making help. But the Jets have to try, as we saw what he looked like without it. Watkins, Evans, Lee and Ebron are all on the wish list, but none are available in this mock. So they select the next best guy.
19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Remember that story on the news about Richie Incognito at all? Um, yeah, they need new tackles. There's a good chance Lewan will go earlier than this, though, so Cyrus Kouandjio and Zack Martin are also worth keeping an eye on with this pick.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Quarterback is a possibility here too if any of the guys above drop, but Carson Palmer probably has at least one more season left in him after leading them to double digit wins this past season. So Arizona will invest in protecting him, and whatever quarterback they groom in the future.
21. Green Bay Packers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma St.
The Packers were 24th in pass defense in 2013 and they're not getting any younger in the defensive backfield. Safety Calvin Pryor is another possibility here.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The Eagles were dead last in pass defense in 2013 and depending on who you ask, that's either the back end's fault or the lack of a pass rush. Beyond Trent Cole they have no one that can get to the quarterback consistently. This pick for me is between Kony Ealy, Calvin Pryor and Vic Beasley. Ultimately they decide on back end help.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
You know Andy Reid is dying to add another potent weapon for Alex Smith to have at his disposal. Dwayne Bowe is a great player but he's not getting any younger and the Chiefs can add a another superstar ceiling LSU receiver alongside him.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio St.
The Bengals desperately need youth and talent at corner and they get the best one left that just so happens to be a local guy fans will love.
25. San Diego Chargers: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
By far the best pass rushing talent out there at this point, a serious need.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Colts): Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
With a brand new quarterback in the mix, they need to surround him with explosive young talent. Richardson is in the mix but so are WRs Jarvis Landry of LSU, Allen Robinson of Penn State, Davante Adams of Fresno State and Brandin Cooks of Oregon State.
27. New Orleans Saints: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Lots of directions the Saints can go here, receiver, corner or offensive tackle. If they go corner, Jason Verrett of TCU is a nice possibility and T Antonio Richarson or Zack Martin of Notre Dame are the guys if they go o-line. A lot of this will depend on whether or not the Saints can re-sign right tackle Zach Strief. The wild card here is Vic Beasley.
28. Carolina Panthers: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Cam Newton doesn't have enough weapons in the passing game and Steve Smith isn't getting any younger.
29. New England Patriots: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
With the Aaron Hernandez saga and Gronk unable to stay healthy this is the only decision they can make. The other possibility is TE Jace Amaro of Texas Tech.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida
They could use interior help and he's by far the BPA.
31. Denver Broncos (note: 31st and 32nd pick determined by Super Bowl result): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
He is the heir to the Champ Bailey throne.
32. Seattle Seahawks (see above): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon St.
This class is loaded with talent at wide receiver. The order will be tough to know, but I believe the Seahawks pick one.