2014 NFL Mock Draft: Pre-Free Agency 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.
With the draft two months away, there is one thing that is certain: 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 be hard to pass up on Jadeveon Clowney, the top prospect on our consensus big board, but the Rams had 53 sacks (third in NFL) last year and already have a dynamic duo of Robert Quinn and Chris Long at defensive end.
Meanwhile, Robinson has the upside to be a dominant left tackle for the next decade and it's a position of need for the Rams. Not only is left tackle Jake Long recovering from a torn ACL, but right tackle Rodger Saffold will be an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday.
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."
There would be some debate here for the Jaguars as they really need a franchise quarterback, but I can't see them passing up a talent like Clowney. If so, they could look for someone like Jimmy Garropolo with their early second-round pick.
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 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.
The Jags were tied with the Bears for last in the league in sacks (31), but Clowney is a major step towards significantly upgrading Gus Bradley's pass rush.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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 last year. 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.
Despite drafting Christian Ponder in the first round a few years ago and re-signing Matt Cassell on Saturday to a two-year contract, the Vikings long-term answer at quarterback is most likely not yet on the roster.
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 his sophomore campaign, Evans had 1,322 yards and 12 touchdowns with a ton of production against Alabama and Auburn. In those two games combined, Evans had 18 catches for 566 yards and five touchdowns. A big target (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), Evans has been compared to Vincent Jackson and would give the Bills a big red-zone target.
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.