The months leading up to the NFL Draft is always a fun exercise for fans of all 32 football teams to play fantasy GM and figure out who they would pluck from the college teams for their own team. Of course, the free agency period will be the first free for all for teams to plug needs during their college scouting process. Well, I can’t wait for the free agency period, so here’s my first mock draft of the off-season.
1. HOUSTON: Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina. He's the best player in the draft. Athletic, strong, quick, ferocious, etc. Say what you want about his junior year last season, he's a freakish talent that cannot be passed up. Houston needs a QB more than a defensive lineman, so maybe they trade down. Whether it's Houston or another team via a trade, Clowney will be the #1 pick.
2. ST.LOUIS (via Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR Clemson This is a tough one. The Rams have many holes to fill and offensive line currently might be the area of priority. Jake Long is coming off major knee surgery and Robert Scaffold is an unrestricted free agent. The line showed flashes last year after Long's injury opening up holes for Zac Stacey but someone will have to protect Sam Bradford. HOWEVER, Watkins size, speed, and explosiveness are too much to pass up especially with Pick 13 still in their back pocket. Watkins is the best offensive player in draft… so he's the pick.
3. Jacksonville: Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M The Jaguars are the worst team in football. They were 31st in Total Offense and 27th in total defense, so...they need help badly! The draft has never been their strong suit, but they made a nice pick last year with OT Luke Joeckel. He then, of course, had a season ending ankle injury. It was a killer for a team that needed some toughness on the O-line. With MJD heading towards free agency, the Jags need playmakers. Justin Blackmon has the tools without the maturity, but it’s all moot if they don't have a competent QB. Sorry Blaine Gabbert, you had your chance. Manziel is has the highest ceiling of any QB in the draft and could be special on the next level, not to mention putting butts in the seat for a franchise ready to jump ship to Los Angeles.
4. Cleveland: Khalil Mack, OLB Buffalo. It seems the Browns are just spinning their tires every year. They have some real talent sprinkled throughout roster, but do not resemble a team close to contending. Quarterback is a need, but there are no apparent sure things amongst the top QB prospects as in past years. Brian Hoyer showed promise before getting hurt last season, and it might serve first year coach Mike Pettine to pick a player he knows can come in and make an immediate impact. Mack is a tackling machine with great speed and power on the edge as well as in open space. I'm sure Pettine got a few looks at him on Saturdays in Buffalo where he coached last year as a defensive coordinator.
5. Oakland: Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville. You never know with the Raiders. Al Davis used to love the speed guys on both sides of the ball. I think they go with Bridgewater here. His stock has dropped since his last game with Louisville, but the attributes are there to be a good QB at the next level. Not great, good. He'll need to tack on some muscle, but he made good decisions in college while able to make all the throws pro scouts look for. They may look at Anthony Barr or Jake Matthews, but I think they'll see Bridgewater as a guy to build with. Like I said, you never know.
6. Atlanta: Greg Robinson, OT Auburn. Matt Ryan got pummeled last year. He was sacked 44 times which led to the Mojo being sucked out of a once elite team. Robinson was an animal last year at Auburn. His top notch talent and athleticism were on display in the National championship game. He's a nasty, strong and a sound blocker who would provide Ryan's blindside with security he needs to throw down the field. I could see them trying to trade up for Clowney too if Houston decides to trade out of the top.
7. Tampa Bay: Jake Matthews, OT Texas A&M. Bucs had a tough season to put it lightly. QB turmoil, Doug Martin going down with season ending injury, and a 0-8 start. The defense should be ok due to depth of talent, but the offense is going to need some rejuvenation. Matthews is a safe pick, not only because of his sturdy athleticism and technique, but his family has had its share of All-Pros, and Jake is indeed a chip of the old block.
8. Minnesota: Anthony Barr, OLB UCLA. Vikings cannot pass on an athlete like this. Barr a gifted athlete who should make for a good edge rusher in the NFL. He showed up in big game in college, particularly against rivals Stanford and Oregon. For the season, Barr recorded 65 tackles with 20 tackles going for a loss. He also had 10 sacks and five forced fumbles. He's the 2nd best defensive player behind Clowney and new head coach Mike Zimmer should be thrilled with him still on the board.
9. Buffalo: Mike Evans, WR Texas A&M. Well, that makes three Aggies in the top nine picks. A pretty impressive showing for the school. The 6'5", 225lb Evans should provide the big, consistent, downfield threat they've lacked since Eric Moulds donned the Bills colors. His combination of speed and size should eventually give corners fits especially in the red zone where he reeled in 12 TDs last year.
10. Detroit: Darqueze Dennard, CB Michigan State. Defense is top priority for the Lions this offseason. The defensive line is solid but they could use some help in the back seven. Dennard is a physical corner with heady coverage skills. At 5'11", 188lbs. he is a solid tackler and would inject some toughness into a secondary that was very inconsistent in 2013.
11. Tennessee: Taylor Lewan, OT Michigan. With the impending free agency of CB Alterraun Verner, a replacement might be a good pick, especially with players like Jason Verett and Justin Gilbert still on board. Lewan is the pick here however. The mammoth 6'8'', 300lb Tackle is a good pillar for an offense that is ready to make a move this season under new coach Ken Whisenhunt. Not as athletic as Matthews or Robinson, but still could be downright dominant as he was in the Big Ten throughout his career. Right tackle would probably be his starting point.
12. NY Giants: Timmy Jernigan, DT Florida State. Giants seem a long way from their title two years ago. Eli had an awful year and this team needs some serious infusion of talent. Jernigan would be a good start. He's 6'2", 290lbs, but is extremely quick in the trenches. He was terrific against Auburn in the championship game and will garner much attention in this draft. Giants would be wise to start their resurgence with this talented lineman.
13. St. Louis: Zack Martin, OT Notre Dame. Rams get the lineman they want here in the middle of the round. Martin's brute strength should be a draw for a team looking to be physical with division rivals Seattle and San Francisco, who may be the two toughest teams in the league. Martin showed excellent pass blocking this year with extended flashes of dominance. Can't miss prospect here.
14. Chicago: Stephon Tuitt, DT Notre Dame. With injuries taking its toll on the Bears' D-line last year, a guy like Tuitt would fit in nicely. Bears, unlike their past seasons, are an offensive team with many aging defensive players. Tuitt has been an anchor for the Irish during the past two seasons, and can be a force. The big lineman came up big against big opponents like USC and Michigan State. For the year, he totaled 49 tackles with nine tackles for a loss. He also made seven and a half sacks. Good value pick here for Trestman's squad.
15. Pittsburgh: Eric Ebron, TE North Carolina. Steelers need some playmakers on offense. Ebron is a tight end that could be a fun target for Big Ben. He tallied 62 receptions for 973 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. His knack for athletic, difficult catches made him a mainstay on highlight shows this year. His speed and athleticism will undoubtedly give teams matchup problems. He needs to improve his blocking and cut down his drops, but Ebron could develop into a terrific offensive weapon.
16. Dallas: C.J. Mosley, ILB Alabama. Dallas’ defense was awful last year, plain and simple. Jerry Jones needs to address the defensive side of the ball in the draft /free agency, and getting an instinctive player like Mosley to slot in the LB corps would be a good start. The 6'2", 232 lb. linebacker was the leader of Alabama's defense the past two seasons. His ability and intangibles make him an ideal fit.
17. Baltimore: Marquis Lee, WR USC. Ozzie Newsome is the best in the business on Draft Day. He's never been one to pick offensive skill players in the first round, but Lee would be a good choice here for the Ravens. The offense took a big step back this offseason, and while they have two tackles hitting the free agency market, the value here is for the savvy playmaker. Lee has had durability issues last season, but his speed and play-making ability make it hard to pass up.
18. N.Y. Jets: Calvin Pryor, S Louisville. Jets need playmakers on offense but the top three WRs and top TE are now off the board. If the Jets don't address there WR needs in Free Agency, the crop is deep in talent this year. Rex Ryan's defense does have a need for a safety too and Pryor's size, speed, and hard-hitting ability should be able to thrive in the aggressive scheme played in New York. Good value pick, but I'm sure the fans will boo per usual.
19. Miami Dolphins: RaShede Hageman, DT Minnesota. Despite Defensive Tackle being a strength for the Phins, Hageman's skill set seems too good to pass up. Either Paul Soliai or Randy Starks most likely will not be returning next year. The Dolphins could address their offensive line and receiver needs in later rounds, the mammoth Hageman at 6'6'', 318lbs with long wingspan is an athletic specimen who can slip in and be a disruption for an already solid defense.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Derek Carr, QB Fresno State. Carson Palmer can't play forever, and Bruce Arians gets his QB of the future here. Carr has good arm strength and accuracy and should be a solid passer in this league after some seasoning behind Palmer. Arians is good with quarterbacks, and Carr will be coached up well until his time. Carr passed for 5,083 yards and 50 touchdowns while completing 68.9 percent of his passes last season.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE Texas Tech. Aaron Rodgers gets some more ammo for his arsenal with this pick. Amaro last year broke the NCAA all-time record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end with 1,352. The 6-2, 260 pounder has good hands and speed while holding his own as a blocker. He has the ability to play in the slot and create mismatches in the secondary. He should make an impact from day one with his All-Pro quarterback.
22. Philadelphia: Jason Verrett, CB Texas Christian. Eagles need some help in the secondary, and Verrett will help in coverage immensely. He's not a big man at 5'10", 175lbs, but his speed and ball skills are impeccable. His stature in run support holds up and should provide a boost to an Eagles pass defense that struggled greatly last season.
23. Kansas City: Justin Gilbert, CB Oklahoma State. This is a value pick more than a dire need, but after seeing Luck slice the Chiefs secondary in the playoffs, they could use depth. Gilbert is a bigger corner and uses his size to his advantage in press coverage. The 6'0"corner is a big playmaker too, scoring six kickoff returns in college and led the Big 12 last year with seven interceptions.
24. Cincinnati: Dee Ford, OLB/DE Auburn. Ford opened up many eyes at the Senior Bowl. He was MVP, and became a target for teams looking for a pass rusher of the edge. He's undersized for a prototypical defensive end, but can find success early in his career as a situational rusher. Ford's burst off the ball and long arms make him a tough task for offensive tackles, He'll have to show he can sustain leverage against choice blockers to be an every down player; the talent is there to be a legit force and game wrecker.
25. San Diego: David Yankey, OG Stanford. Yankey is a beast. He's what NFL guards should be, large and in charge. The 6'5", 313lb road grater is quick when pulling around the end and powerful when bursting ahead. The Cardinal had one of the best offensive lines in the FCS and Yankey was the anchor. He could quickly become an All-Pro if he continues his progression at the next level.
26. Cleveland (via Indianapolis): Blake Bortles, QB Central Florida. If the draft shakes out like this, the Browns will have their first break of 2014. Chances are if they want Bortles bad enough, they will trade up to get him. The QB picture is still unclear in Cleveland, and the big, strong armed Bortles could turn out to be the real thing. The defense is sound enough for them to take a QB with promise who could team with dynamic WR Josh Gordon.
27. New Orleans: Kony Ealy, DE Missouri. Ealy along with Michael Sam teamed to lead Mizzou to SEC championship game with big play ability on the defensive side of the ball. He tallied 14 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He's not as strong as his ex-teammate Sheldon Richardson, but Ealy possesses athletic ability that could drive offensive lines crazy if his skill set translates. Rob Ryan will welcome Ealy with open arms.
28. Carolina: Odell Beckham Jr., WR LSU. Carolina gets a playmaker they desperately need. Beckham, Jr. amassed 2,222 all-purpose yards last season setting a school record. Speed, acceleration, and agility are all prominent in his game. He can also be a force in the return game if Ron Rivera sees it fit.
29. New England: Brandin Cooks, WR Oregon State. Patriots need to upgrade the O-Line, but with Julian Edelman hitting free agency, Cooks becomes a player who can come in and play right away. Although he's only 5'10", his athleticism in his route running is probably the most polished of any receiver in the draft. Last Year, he set school and Pac-12 records with 128 catches and 1,730 receiving yards. He also set a new school record for touchdown catches with 24.
30. San Francisco: Jarvis Landry, WR LSU. There's not much this team lacks, but with Boldin's free agency pending, grabbing a playmaker like Landry could prove wise. Last season, Landry took in 77 catches for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns. At 6'1", 195 lbs. Landry has good size, speed, and exceptional hands. He's not the big play threat like his teammate Beckham Jr., but he'll do just fine amongst the Niners' talented corps of playmakers.
31. Denver: Kyle Fuller, CB Virginia Tech. Fuller is slender at 189lbs, reportedly, but his length at 6'0" and mature instincts in both man and zone coverage put him into the first round. The Broncos' secondary faltered the second half of the regular season and the seasoned Fuller could make an impact immediately. Coach Beamer had the lean corner play safety, linebacker, and slot corner, as well as a primary blitzer in some packages.
32. Seattle: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE Washington. The champs take the local guy. The 6'7", 270 lb. athletic tight end could be a steal here. In three years at "UDub," he set a school career record for tight ends with 110 catches, 1,390 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. The big target has good hands and quickness off the line. He's showed good hands and the ability to catch balls in traffic.