2014 NFL Mock Draft: (March 3rd update)
Based (at least in part) on the (un)availability of Radio City Music Hall in New York City in April, the 2014 NFL Draft will be held a few weeks later than usual (May 8-10) this year.
From now until May 8th, I will make weekly updates to this mock and include additional rounds as we get closer. Ultimately, the goal will be a full seven-round mock draft.
With the start of the NFL free-agency roughly one week away (March 11th), however, team needs for many franchises could change significantly over the next couple of weeks. That said, this mock draft is based on what we know up to this point.
Follow me on Twitter (@EDSFootball) to keep track of my mock (and all other site) updates.
For a second opinion (sort of), check out a collaboration mock I did in early February with Sean Beazley, who picked for AFC teams, while I picked for NFC teams. For even more mocks, check out our 2014 NFL Mock Draft Database.
Without further ado, here is my 2014 NFL Mock Draft:
Possessing much more talent than last year's record suggests, the Texans were a popular pick to win the division and possibly get to (or even win) the Super Bowl. Instead, the Texans closed the season with a franchise-record 14-game losing streak, fired their head coach and benched starting quarterback Matt Schaub.
While neither Schaub nor Case Keenum is the long-term answer at quarterback, the good news is head coach Bill O'Brien and the new Texans coaching staff own the top pick, which would allow them to potentially start the next era of the franchise's history with their own guy.
When asked who the Texans will select with the first overall pick, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle previously tweeted: "Each day I get asked multiple times: Who are Texans drafting? I tell them 1 of the 3 top QBs. Forget about any other position."
As tempting as it may be to pair one physical freak, J.J. Watt, with another, Jadeveon Clowney, I agree with McClain that quarterback is going to be the pick. The question remains, however: Which one of the three?
While Teddy Bridgewater is the most polished quarterback in this class and Johnny Manziel may be the most exciting (and polarizing), neither has the upside of Bortles, who possesses the prototypical measurements of the position.
There is one thing that seems certain despite the draft being more than two months away: St. Louis will attempt to trade down from this slot to acquire additional picks. In an ideal world, the Rams, who own two top-13 picks, would like to move down a few spots and still get one of the top two offensive tackles while acquiring additional draft picks in the process.
If they are unable to move down, it would still be hard to pass up on Clowney even if he doesn't fill a position of need. In fact, the Rams ranked third in the NFL with 53 sacks last year. By adding Clowney to the talented defensive end tandem of Robert Quinn and Chris Long, the team's pass rush under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams would be relentless as he rotates them in and out.
Not only was Clowney's motivation and effort questioned last season, but his on-field production dropped significantly — 23.5 tackles for loss and 13.0 sacks in 2012; only 10.5 TFL and 3.0 sacks in 2013. That said, opposing defenses schemed to slow down Clowney, the top prospect on our consensus big board, with double and triple teams.
Viewed as a once-in-a-decade type of defensive line prospect, Clowney is a physical freak that ran an official 4.53 (unofficial 4.47) 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine last month.
As freakish as his on-field performance was, that wasn't a surprise and what happens behind closed doors during the interviews (and medical checks) is always the most important element(s) of the combine and especially so in Clowney's case.
After an 0-8 start before the bye, the Jaguars went .500 in their final eight games and have a few reasons to be optimistic about the direction of the team. One of the reasons for optimism, however, is not their quarterback play. Whether or not Blaine Gabbert is back in 2014, he is not the long-term answer and he is scheduled to become a free agent in 2015.
[On a semi-related note, remember this song? Horrible but funny.]
While some may question his frame and/or his level of competition, Bridgewater is a highly accurate passer with the ability to make all of the throws and possesses all of the intangibles and leadership you'd want in a franchise quarterback. The most polished quarterback in this year's draft class, Bridgewater remains my top-ranked quarterback prospect even if he isn't the first one off the board.
The Browns have several young talented players, but it's been a long time since they've had a franchise quarterback. Since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999, the Browns have had a league-leading (or really a league-worst) 20 starting quarterbacks.
Even though they (a previous regime -- technically, multiple regimes ago) selected Brandon Weeden in the first round in 2012, he is not in the team's long-term plans. On the other hand, Brian Hoyer played well before an ACL injury sidelined him for the rest of the season and he has a shot to be the team's starter in Week 1 even if they draft a quarterback like I'm projecting here.
One of the most exciting, improvisational and polarizing players in college football, Manziel, the first-ever freshman Heisman Trophy winner (in 2012), threw for 3,732 yards, 33 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and ran for another 686 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013.
With the ability to avoid pressure and make plays on the run, Manziel also improved quite a bit as a passer in 2013. In addition, Alabama coach Nick Saban called him one of the most competitive players he has ever faced. That said, Manziel will need to learn (a la Russell Wilson) to better avoid hits instead of seeking that extra yard or two.
In a best-case scenario for the Raiders, they likely hope that one of the top-three quarterbacks or Clowney falls to them at No. 5. With many holes and areas of need, it's possible that the Raiders go with Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins or Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack here.
That said, left tackle Jared Veldheer is currently set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Although the Raiders drafted Menelik Watson in the second round last year, Robinson could be the pick especially if the team doesn't re-sign Veldheer.
Although the Tigers did not throw often, Robinson has all of the physical tools to develop as a pass blocker: elite size (6-5, 332 pounds), arm length (35 inches) and athleticism (4.92 40-yard dash). And one of the biggest (literally) reasons that Auburn led the nation in rushing offense was Robinson.
His college teammate Avery Young, brother of Lions DL Willie Young, said (via al.com): "Greg's a beast. He's so strong. At the same time, he's so athletic. The only person I know who can do backflips at his size."
Perhaps the Falcons will be the team to move up in a trade with the Rams in order to secure a prospect like Clowney. In fact, Clowney is hoping for it.
Whether they do or don't trade up for Clowney, it's clear they need to improve their pass rush. Only two teams — the Bears and Jaguars (31 each) — had fewer sacks last season than the Falcons (32), who were tied with the Texans. The only player on the roster with more than five sacks in 2013 was Osi Umenyiora (7.5 sacks), who will be a free agent after the upcoming season.
One of college football's most productive players ever, Mack is the all-time leader in forced fumbles (16) and is tied for the most tackles for loss (75) in NCAA history. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah recently compared Mack to Green Bay's Clay Matthews.
While character concerns dropped Mike Williams in the draft three years ago, there was a report that Williams racked up more than $200,000 in fines for being late to meetings or missing rehab days. Even though Vincent Jackson has been highly productive (2,608 yards in his two seasons), he turned 31 years old last month.
With Watkins, the Bucs get the clear-cut top receiver prospect in this year's draft. Bouncing back from a disappointing sophomore campaign, Watkins had 101 catches for 1,464 and 12 touchdowns and closed out his collegiate career with a record-setting performance (16-227-2) in the Orange Bowl.
Alternating between Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel last season, the Vikings clearly remain unsettled at the position heading into 2014 although they will almost certainly draft a quarterback early in the 2014 draft. In fact, Freeman is a soon-to-be free agent and Cassel has voided his contract to become a free agent.
It's been a phenomenal season for Carr, the brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr, as he led the nation in both passing yards (5,082) and passing touchdowns (50) with only eight interceptions. Helped by the style of his offense, Carr threw for 400-plus yards eight times and 500-plus yards twice this season.
Despite the gaudy stats, Carr has the physical tools to potentially be the top quarterback in this year's draft class, but there are also concerns about the level of competition he has faced as well. Against the toughest competition he faced, however, Carr had his worst performance of the season in his last collegiate game: 53.7 completion percentage, 216 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
At the Senior Bowl, however, Carr had an excellent week. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah wrote, "Carr was clearly the top signal-caller during the week of practices and he played at a high level during the game on Saturday afternoon. He had plenty of arm strength to cut through a heavy wind early in the week and he threw the ball accurately both from the pocket and on the move. I talked to a few teams that interviewed him and they came away very impressed with his maturity and football intelligence."
Matthews, the son of Hall-of-Famer Bruce, was a first-team AP All-American in 2013 one year after sliding over from right tackle to protect Johnny Football.
With Cordy Glenn having an excellent season in 2013, the Bills are set on the left side unless they move Glenn over for Matthews. That said, (current) starting right tackle Erik Pears is set to become a free agent after the 2014 season and Matthews has the versatility to play either spot.
Even with two Day 2 picks at corner over the past couple of years, you can never have enough talented cornerbacks and the Lions ranked 23rd in the NFL in passing defense.
The first cornerback off the board in my mock, Dennard, the recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation's best defensive back, and he was a consensus first-team All-American.
While there was some concern about his long speed, Dennard ran a respectable 4.51 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine to help alleviate some of those concerns.