2014 NFL Mock Draft (April 13th Update): Clowney Goes First Overall
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 (at least) weekly updates to this mock and include additional rounds as we get closer. Ultimately, the goal will be to make this a full seven-round mock draft.
Follow me on Twitter (@EDSFootball) to keep track of my mock (and all other site) updates.
For a second opinion, check out our 2014 NFL Mock Draft Database for other mocks around the internet.
Without further ado, here is my updated 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) Super Bowl XLVIII. Instead, the Texans closed the season with a franchise-worst 14-game losing streak, fired their head coach and benched starting quarterback Matt Schaub, who was traded to the Raiders this offseason.
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."
Prior to this update, I've had the Texans selecting a signal-caller with the first overall pick. While quarterback clearly remains a position of need for the Texans, it's difficult to ignore the fact that Clowney, the top prospect on our consensus big board, is a much more talented prospect than any quarterback in this year's draft class as well.
So, would it make more sense to take someone like UCF's Blake Bortles at No. 1 and then the best available prospect at No. 33? Or would it make more sense to take the best player in the draft at No. 1 and then the best available quarterback at No. 33?
Viewed as a once-in-a-decade type of defensive line prospect, Clowney is a physical freak who ran an official 4.53 (unofficial 4.47) 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Clowney's motivation and effort was questioned by many last season and 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.
Paired with J.J. Watt, the Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, Clowney should help the Texans get to the quarterback more consistently this year. Only the Bears and Jags had fewer sacks than the Texans last season.
With the draft one month away, there is one thing that is certain: St. Louis will attempt to trade down from this slot to acquire additional picks.
If Clowney is off the board, as he is in this edition of my mock, the choice will likely come down to Clemson's Sammy Watkins, the top receiver in the draft, and Robinson, the top offensive tackle in the draft.
Not only is receiver extremely deep, the Rams have used numerous early picks on receivers over the past few seasons. In fact, they have five top-100 selections at the position in their past three drafts including Tavon Austin at No. 8 overall last season.
Meanwhile, Robinson has the upside to be a dominant left (or right) tackle for the next decade. While Jake Long is recovering from a torn ACL, the team re-signed Rodger Saffold only after he failed a physical with the Raiders. Either way, the Rams can move Saffold inside to guard.
Although the Tigers did not throw often, Robinson has all of the physical tools to develop as an elite pass blocker: great size (6-5, 332 pounds), arm length (35 inches) and athleticism (4.92 40-yard dash). And he's one of the biggest (literally) reasons that Auburn led the nation in rushing offense.
His college teammate Avery 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."
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While the new regime in Jacksonville has the franchise heading in the right direction, they still have a major need at the sport's most important position. With Clowney and Robinson going No. 1 and 2, however, the Jags have their choice of quarterbacks in this year's draft.
Bortles has the prototypical size (6-5, 235), arm strength and mobility that teams covet in a franchise quarterback. The American Athletic Conference's Offensive Player of the Year, Bortles threw for 3,581 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing for 272 yards and six touchdowns last year.
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.
Before an ACL injury sidelined him last season, Brian Hoyer played well 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 from the pocket 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.
Possessing numerous needs on their roster, the Raiders could go in a variety of directions including quarterback with this pick. In previous updates, I've had the Raiders selecting Buffalo's Khalil Mack or A&M's Jake Matthews and both of those picks would also make sense here.
With Watkins, however, the Raiders get the clear-cut top receiver prospect in this year's draft class. 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.
Perhaps the Falcons will be the team that moves 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 compared Mack to Green Bay's Clay Matthews.
Considering the Bucs have just traded away Mike Williams, Watkins would be a slam-dunk selection if he slips to the Bucs. Even if he doesn't, however, it wouldn't be too surprising to see the Bucs go with another receiver like Evans here.
Even though Vincent Jackson has been highly productive (2,608 yards in his two seasons), he turned 31 years old last month. Interestingly enough, the NFL comparison that Evans most often gets is Jackson.
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. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, Evans would give new quarterback Josh McCown another big target.
Despite drafting Christian Ponder in the first round a few years ago and re-signing Matt Cassel to a two-year contract, the Vikings long-term answer at quarterback is not yet on the roster.
Some may question his frame and/or his level of competition while his disappointing Pro Day performance did himself no favors. In addition, ESPN's Chris Mortensen has reported that his private workouts haven't gone so well either. I've seen Bridgewater slipping to the very end of the first round in some mock drafts, and even into the top of the second round. While anything can happen on draft day, it's hard for me seeing that happening.
Not only is Bridgewater a highly accurate passer with the ability to make all of the throws, but he possesses the intelligence, 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 in this mock.
A first team All-ACC selection, Ebron set the conference record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end this year. In fact, he has been compared to San Francisco's Vernon Davis, who previously held the record, due to his size and athleticism.
Even with two Day 2 picks at corner over the past couple of years, the Lions still ranked 23rd in the NFL in passing defense. Especially considering the Lions have to face the elite passing attacks of Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, etc.) and Chicago (Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, etc.) at least four times per year, you can never have too many cornerbacks.
With excellent size (6-0 1/8, 202 pounds) and speed (4.37 forty), Gilbert has the cover skills and ball skills to make big plays and he also had five kick returns for touchdowns in college as well.