It is never too early to start talking about the next year’s NFL Draft! A mere eleven months away from the big event, teams are already drooling over many prospects who are better than the entirety of last year’s class! My hiatus from writing is over (a wonderful class trip to Ireland served as buffer), and my nine hour flight home gave me time to write a mock draft and big board! So here is my first official mock draft for 2014!
*Picks were arranged based on my quick-fire decisions as to team records and standings for the upcoming year.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Jacksonville has to be setting itself up for failure intentionally. No GM in their right mind would skip over Geno Smith in round 2, Matt Barkley in round 3, and plan on succeeding with Blaine Gabbert under center. A year of misery leads to this choice though: a QB with more polish than any QB dreamed of having on draft day last year. My guess is that with Bridgewater, the Jags post their best record in three or four years his rookie season.
2. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The only teams who have any reason to pass on Clowney at number one overall are Jacksonville, Arizona, and Cleveland. Other than that, every team in the league should be mortgaging the majority of their draft picks this year in exchange for this young man’s rights; it is not often someone can be the consensus top player of his class from high school through to the NFL Draft, and Clowney has the best odds of winning Defensive Rookie of the Year that any defender has seen in almost a decade.
3. New York Jets: Marquise Lee, WR, USC
My oh my how the Jets would have benefitted from steering clear of Geno Smith. Already the media circus has tried (and partially succeeded) in eating the boy alive. Sad fate considering that they likely will do as poorly with him as without him, and if he were not on the roster, they could take a true franchise QB like Tajh Boyd or Johnny Manziel (though I am scared to death as to what will happen to Manziel in New York’s media). Lee is the best receiver prospect I can think of in the preseason since Calvin Johnson himself. He can not approach Megatron, but can make his own legacy.
4. Arizona Cardinals: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
If Arizona finishes in the bottom five in the league, it is safe to say Carson Palmer will be out the door or clinging to his clipboard for dear life as a new member of the team takes over. So why do I not have a QB here? This class is so deep at the position that the team can snag an elite player before they are gone (Barr would be a younger pass rush presence for an aging group), and still be in position for an AJ McCarron or David Fales late in round 1 or at their pick in round 2.
5. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews would have been a top 5 pick in this draft. Luckily for him, he stays that way a year later. Matthews is what teams want in an offensive lineman: strong, brutish, and always ready to plant someone. If the Bills do in fact believe so strongly in EJ Manuel, then they may as well give him the best shot he can get at success.
6. Carolina Panthers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Panthers were thought to be linked to Tavon Austin in the last draft. Of Austin-like prospects in this class, Watkins is the highest rated. Steve Smith is likely out either this year or next, and the Panthers are notorious for featuring but one talented receiver in their attack. Watkins fits, being of the mold the Panthers wanted in the 2013 draft, and available to them here.
7. Tennessee Titans: Stephen Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
While I think the Titans need corners, corners, and corners in the first rounds this draft, end is certainly also in need of a makeover. Tuitt helps lead an insanely talented defensive line at Notre Dame, and could provide instant leadership to a D-line in flux in Tennessee.
8. Philadelphia Eagles: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Gone are the days when Philly had the highest paid and most underperforming secondary in the league. Back are the days where they need to pick starters in the first round. Roby is the David Amerson of this class: highly rated (some drafts have him going, like Amerson, around third overall), but with the potential to plummet. I like his chances to stay the top corner of a very talented preseason class, and be here for Philly’s pick.
9. Cleveland Browns: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
While a slight, slight improvement upon a typical Cleveland finish, the team needs to learn that picking Brandon Weeden as a first rounder and 28 year old rookie franchise guy was the stupidest decision available to them at the time, especially with Colt McCoy playing well. This should be the year that they snap out of their hypnotic trance and draft a guy they can count on being around for a long, long time in Boyd.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Anyone remember the heavy investment the Bucs made in their defensive line? Gerald McCoy is finally arriving where he should’ve been a year or two earlier, but Adrian Clayborn and DaQuan Bowers are not. Given they only were drafted a couple years ago, I think the Bucs will bring in Nix to try and mesh well with McCoy, and give themselves the chance to have a D-line entirely filled with young stars.
11. San Diego Chargers: Austin Sefarin-Jenkins, TE, Washington
A pure guts pick here. The Chargers could go with another offensive lineman, but Antonio Gates is nearing retirement years and is not playing as well as he once did. Sefarin-Jenkins is a better preseason prospect than Tyler Eifert, and a really solid year could put him between Eifert’s draft slot and the slot of Vernon Davis, aka the last truly elite tight end prospect.
12. Kansas City Chiefs: Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida
I recently looked up movies with strong cult followings. I never thought the same could apply to draft prospects, but it seems Lynch has some serious supporters who say he can go Top 5. I do not believe in him that much without a year or two more college experience. But I do believe that Lynch will be good enough for a team to reach on his potential in this range.
13. Detroit Lions: Cyrus Kouandijo, OL, Alabama
The Lions picking another early-round offensive lineman? Impossible! Well, not really. Riley Reiff, supposedly the savior at tackle, bounces around positions week to week. Imagine having two great offensive linemen in Reiff and Kouandijo who can bounce around wherever injuries may strike. Pretty good picture for a team with the potential to be the best offense in the league.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
You’ll hear me say it with several teams every year, but if you insist on flushing away money on a failure of a quarterback, at least give him the best chance possible to succeed. Making the biggest first round reach of the draft in Travis Frederick is a start, and they do have a great receiving core. Now comes the marquee tackle to make an outstanding duo with Tyron Smith.
15. Minnesota Vikings: C.J. Mosely, ILB, Alabama
The once-great linebacking group in Minnesota is falling apart. The pieces are there to start the 2.0 version though, and a player with years of experience helping lead the best defense in college football would be a great tap to lead the Vikings’ young group. Even with another season in the top half of the draft, I still don’t see the Vikings completely abandoning Christian Ponder.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
This pick is tied to how well Jarvis Jones performs his rookie year Like Jones, Jeffcoat is a major injury risk with major potential. The Steelers are a smart team in knowing when to pull the trigger on risky picks. But if Jones is hurt most of the year, then the Steelers may be hesitant to pick another injury risk.
17. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
A player who no two experts agree on his value, Jernigan could entice a team with a solid season. The Rams did recently use a first round pick on Michael Brockers, but the thought of he and Jernigan attacking inside while a flurry of young linebackers attack the outside is too good to pass up with another pick remaining for them in the first round.
18. Miami Dolphins: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
The next offensive line stud out of Stanford, Yankey would make an excellent team with fellow Stanford alum Jonathan Martin. Yankey could fill the void of Jake Long, or team with Martin to dominate one side of the line in particular.
19. St. Louis Rams: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
TJ McDonald was an underrated pick in the draft last year. St. Louis is poised to have a Top-10 secondary for years to come, and Clinton-Dix would fill the only conceivable hole left in the starting four.
20. New Orleans Saints: Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
The Saints are finally moving away from the shadow of Bountygate. To complete the move, they need success, a completely different defense, and some new faces. Hubbard, another member of the first round juggernaut that is the Alabama defense, would be the prime pass rusher in the new regime.
21. Baltimore Ravens: Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Jimmy Smith is a sunk cost currently, and the Ravens lost Cary Williams this offseason. That leaves an oft-injured Ladarius Webb leading a secondary that also lost Ed Reed. Purifoy isn’t good enough to fit in either hole right away, but he has upside enough to be better than Webb.
22. Chicago Bears: Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
The Bears may have (finally) patched their offensive line enough to worry about somewhere else this offseason. That should be in their secondary, which, while one of the best in the league recently, is aging. Drafting a guy like Colvin now is the best course of action, where he can learn and find his niche before he hits his stride.
23. Indianapolis Colts: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Van Noy could go anywhere in this round, but he will go in this round. A fantastic talent, with some real leadership skills, Van Noy would be a good player to share leadership of a young defense with Bjorn Werner. There really is no team he can’t fit well on.
24. New York Giants: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
A team with few needs worthy of a first round pick, the Giants can bolster an area that is surprisingly lacking given that it is usually their hallmark: a rushing front seven. Outside linebacker is the weakest link in the chain, and should it suddenly strengthen, Shazier is talented enough to bounce inside or to defensive end.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Johnson, ILB, Tennessee
Rey Maualuga barely came back this offseason, and he is no stud inside. He does have great skill though when teamed with a linebacker of similar roles, and Johnson can team with and potentially supplant Maualuga someday.
26. New England Patriots: Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
The Patriots are actually in a position of jeopardy for the first time since Tom Brady went down for the year. Brady is leaving soon, and some other long-timers in New England are nearing their end. Vince Wilfork is one of them, and Johnson should learn from one of the best in the business while he has the chance.
27. Green Bay Packers: Ifo Ekpre-Olumu, CB, Oregon
The only time I have ever seen a hyphenated word I type in get entirely red-lined by a writing program, Ekpre-Olumu could move much higher or lower based on his performance and development. But a team with an iffy secondary could use another player who could step up in the case someone rapidly declines at corner.
28. Atlanta Falcons: Will Sutton, DE, Arizona State
Osi Umenyiora is a great signing, but it’s a stopgap only. The Falcons need a permanent end in the form of John Abraham. Sutton provides good value near the end of the first round.
29. Seattle Seahawks: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
The only pure guard slated this early to go in round one, Jackson would provide stability to an offensive line that is littered with sporadic draft reaches and bad signings. A team relying on a sleeper pick in Russell Wilson needs to keep him upright and perfectly healthy.
30. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Denver filled their biggest need with Sylvester Williams. But as everyone will harp over, and that iconic picture of the way the Broncos’ last season ended will remind us, the secondary is not perfect. Verrett could replace Champ Bailey when he eventually closes the book on his storied career.
31. Houston Texans: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Now that Houston has seen the half-decade old light and drafted a starting receiver in the first round, they need to protect what good years Matt Schaub has left to chase down a title. Richardson can provide depth as a luxury pick, and keep Schaub off the ground.
32. San Francisco 49ers: Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee
Two tackles from the same school and on different sides of the ball go in two straight picks. The 49ers have literally no needs before this season starts, and likely could trade their entire draft away this year to stockpile for a decade later when they finally need to reload their juggernaut of a team. But I see that as an unlikely end, so the position closest to needing replaced is defensive tackle.
I still to my knowledge have never correctly predicted an entire player-team-slot combination correctly in my preseason mocks, but there is indeed a first time for everything! Again, feel free to leave any questions, comments, hate mail, requests for funds for Nigerian princes, and anything else you might want to add on this post or my semi-functional NFL Draft Twitter handle, @tripleddraft!
And welcome back to the NFL season!
Have a wonderful summer and God Bless!