It’s really early for a 2014 NFL Mock Draft, but this is always a fun way to look at the draft. This mock draft features prospects I feel are in the early round mix and fit each specific team. I’m sure plenty will disagree with this mock so let’s hear the feedback!
1. Jacksonville Jaguars- Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback, Louisville
The Jacksonville Jaguars need desperately to move on from the Blaine Gabbert era. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater isn’t a slam-dunk prospect, but he offers plenty of upside. His poise in the pocket is the one thing that will completely separate him from Gabbert.Jacksonville has a nice young core in place on the offensive side of the ball. Bridgewater will have the ability to develop alongside talented wide receivers like Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. It also helps that Luke Joeckel will be in place protecting his blindside.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End, South Carolina
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense ranks in the bottom half of the league with only 14 sacks on the season. Adding a potentially dominant pass-rusher like South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney could help make this group one of the best defenses in the league.Tampa Bay still has question marks at the quarterback position, but Mike Glennon has shown some good things the past few weeks. It’s also a stretch to feel comfortable taking a quarterback other than Bridgewater this early.
3. Minnesota Vikings- Anthony Barr, Linebacker, UCLA
There are a handful of talented quarterback prospects in this draft, but not nearly enough to fill the open jobs across the NFL. The Minnesota Vikings likely won’t be willing to reach on another quarterback after the disappointing development of Christian Ponder.This is why someone like UCLA’s Anthony Barr could be a potential fit. Barr is a well-rounded defender who can rush the passer, stuff the run and hold up in coverage. He has the potential to make an immediate impact.
4. New York Giants- Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
The New York Giants’ roster has plenty of holes on both sides of the ball. One of the more glaring problems comes on the offensive line. The Giants could target an elite left tackle prospect like Michigan’s Taylor Lewan early in the first round.Adding Lewan would allow the Giants to shuffle the line and improve several spots. For example, Will Beatty could move over to right tackle which would kick Justin Pugh inside to guard. Eli Manning is to blame for a lot of his interceptions, but poor pass protection has also played a major role.
5. Houston Texans- CJ Mosley, Linebacker, Alabama
The ideal situation for the Houston Texans would be to find someone to replace Matt Schaub. This is easier said than done, as the 2014 draft has yet to produce more than one sure-fire first round quarterback prospect.Players like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Oregon’s Marcus Maroita both could work their way into the first round, but the Texans need to make sure they get proper value.
A linebacker like Alabama’s CJ Mosley would be a great addition to a defense that has had problems up the middle. Most of those issues are present because of the injury problems Brian Cushing continues to deal with. Mosley fits because he would be an excellent fill in for Cushing and also work well alongside him.
6. Atlanta Falcons- Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
The Atlanta Falcons’ season so far has been a complete disaster. They’ve dealt with injuries to Julio Jones, Steven Jackson, Roddy White and Sean Weatherspoon. Those injuries have combined with issues along the offensive line to produce an unexpected 2-4 record. Matt Ryan is the team’s most valuable asset and Atlanta needs to make sure he’s properly protected. Weapons like Jones and White are useless if the quarterback doesn’t have enough time in the pocket. Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews is just the guy to step in and immediately help improve the offensive line.
7. St. Louis Rams (via Wash)- Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Clemson
Even after using the ninth overall pick in last year’s draft to select Tavon Austin, the St. Louis Rams still need some more offensive weapons. A bigger wide receiver like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is exactly what this team needs to help open up the passing game.Because they have two first round picks this year, the Rams can afford to go with the best player available even if it means taking a wide receiver early in the draft two years in a row.
8. Oakland Raiders- Khalil Mack, Linebacker, Buffalo
There really isn’t much overall talent on the Oakland Raiders roster which means they should just target the best player available. Buffalo’s Khalil Mack is flying under the radar because his team doesn’t get much national attention.However, he’s an explosive athlete who consistently makes game changing plays. His best football is still ahead as he’ll greatly benefit from the improved coaching he’ll receive at the next level. While Mack is capable of contributing in all aspects of the game, I see a player with the potential to develop into an elite pass rusher.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers- Louis Nix III, Defensive Tackle, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III isn’t having his best season, but the fact remains that he’s a potential dominant presence along the defensive line. Nix uses a combination of quickness, raw power and strong motor to clog up the middle of the field.He’d be a great fit at the nose tackle spot for the Pittsburgh Steelers who have yet to find a long-term replacement for Casey Hampton. Nix isn’t the same type of player as Hampton because he brings the added element of being able to penetrate the pocket.
10. St. Louis Rams- Johnny Manziel, Quarterback, Texas A&M
Sam Bradford’s season ending injury and struggles this year will have many in St. Louis thinking about a quarterback change. As I mentioned earlier, the St. Louis Rams have two first round picks which gives them flexibility.Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel may come with some question marks, but there’s no doubting his playmaking ability. It’s important to note that Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher isn’t afraid to take a chance on a player with some character red flags—see Janoris Jenkins and Alec Ogletree.
11. Baltimore Ravens- Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver, USC
Torrey Smith has emerged as a more consistent player this yeah which has really helped the Baltimore Ravens’ offense. However, he’s still best at stretching the field and taking the top off a defense. Adding an over-the-middle threat like USC’s Marqise Lee could be the missing piece.Lee is still dealing with an injury, but when healthy he makes plays all over the field. Baltimore gave Joe Flacco a big contract and need to make sure he’s surrounded with the proper weapons.
12. Cleveland Browns- Marcus Maroita, Quarterback, Oregon
The knee injury to Brian Hoyer creates an interesting dilemma for the Cleveland Browns. It’s becoming more and more obvious that Brandon Weeden isn’t the answer, but Hoyer did some really good things when in the lineup.However, if the Browns are going off talent then they may decide to take someone like Oregon’s Marcus Maroita in the upcoming draft. Maroita is a poised and talented quarterback who continues to improve. His ability to manage the pace of a game is something a lot of NFL evaluators will love.
13. Philadelphia Eagles- Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M
Chip Kelly is finding out that it’s difficult to win in the NFL with inconsistent play from the quarterback position. Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Eagles’ upper management will need to be aggressive in order to land someone in the upcoming draft.If a quarterback is off the table the Eagles would be smart to find a wide receiver with size. Riley Cooper just hasn’t been able to take advantage of the extended playing time he has received this season. Texas A&M’s Mike Evans would represent a clear and immediate upgrade.
14. Buffalo Bills- Jason Verrett, Cornerback, TCU
Even with Aaron Williams beginning to play better football, the Buffalo Bills need to find a cornerback to complement Stephon Gilmore. TCU’s Jason Verrett would be a perfect fit because of his ability to read the quarterback.Buffalo could use Gilmore to matchup against the bigger wide receivers and allow Verrett to use his ball skills and quickness to cover other areas. In today’s NFL a team could never have enough talented defensive backs.
15. Arizona Cardinals- Vic Beasley, Defensive End/Linebacker, Clemson
The Arizona Cardinals’ defense is one pass rusher away from being a dominant group. Clemson’s Vic Beasley uses a combination of quickness and change of direction to generate pressure on the quarterback. He currently lines up mostly at defensive end, but lacks the bulk to play that spot at the next level.
16. Tennessee Titans- Aaron Lynch, Defensive End, South Florida
South Florida’s Aaron Lynch is still working off some rust from sitting out a year, but this is a player with tremendous upside. Lynch’s length and quickness off the ball help him work his way into the backfield. Opposing offensive linemen really struggle protecting the edge and getting hands on his frame. Lynch’s pass rush potential would go a long way in helping the Tennessee Titans’ overall defense—especially their shaky secondary.
17. Carolina Panthers- Ja’Wuan James, Offensive Tackle, Tennessee
I’m one of the few that see Tennessee’s Ja’Wuan James as a first round prospect. For me, he has a great combination of size and agility. James is an aggressive player who meets the defender at the point of attack and velcro through the play. He’ll likely need to spend the early part of his career at right tackle, but this is someone who absolutely has the ability to shift to the left side of the line. This is a perfect fit for the Carolina Panthers because James can serve as the long-term replacement for Jordan Gross.
18. Miami Dolphins- Antonio Richardson, Offensive Tackle, Tennessee
Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson is a fluid mover who excels at protecting the quarterback. He does a good job keeping his pads down, getting his hands out in front and shuffling his feet. The one area he needs to improve is his overall strength and the consistency of his anchor. However, Richardson would represent an immediate upgrade along the Miami Dolphins offensive line. This addition would allow the Dolphins to slide Jonathan Martin to right tackle where he showed some promise last year.
19. New York Jets- Jace Amaro, Tight End, Texas Tech
Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro is heavily considering returning to school, but until he’s officially out of the draft I’m going to keep him in the mix. Amaro is a tremendous athlete who features top-notch straight line speed, good size and the hands to pluck the ball away from his frame. The New York Jets need to find more/any weapons to help Geno Smith continue his development. Smith has found a way to make some plays despite playing with marginal talent. He has already made good use of Kellen Winslow who at this point is about two steps slower than Amaro.
20. Chicago Bears- Bradley Roby, Cornerback, Ohio State
With the injuries piling up, the Chicago Bears are falling out of the playoff race and into a better draft pick. This would be a disappointment but also might be exactly what this team needs. Chicago’s roster is filled with aging and underperforming vets like Julius Peppers. While the cornerback position has been a bright spot, Charles Tillman is rapidly aging and Tim Jennings is a pending free agent. Chicago would be smart to add someone like Ohio State’s Bradley Roby to infuse some youth to the group.
21. San Diego Chargers- David Yankey, Guard, Stanford
Adding DJ Fluker during the first round of last year’s draft was just the first step to rebuilding the San Diego Chargers’ offensive line. They still have needs at left tackle and both guard spots. Stanford’s David Yankey is a powerful and aggressive interior lineman. He does a great job exploding off the ball and generating a push of the line. His experience at left tackle has helped him become a top-notch pass protector from the guard spot. Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ ground attack would receive a significant boast from Yankey’s presence.
22. Detroit Lions- La’el Collins, Offensive Tackle, LSU
Riley Reiff has done a solid job at the left tackle spot, but the Detroit Lions still need help on the right side. LSU’s La’el Collins has the potential to be a dominant right tackle and possibly even a very good left tackle. Adding Collins would help solidify the offensive line and give the Lions flexibility in case of injury.
23. Dallas Cowboys- Calvin Barnett, Defensive Tackle, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State’s Calvin Barnett isn’t getting a ton of attention but this is a player who can really disrupt the timing of an offense. Barnett reminds me a lot of Nick Fairley in that he does a great job anticipating the snap and working his way into the backfield. He also has a nasty streak which helps him constantly play with an attacking style. The Dallas Cowboys need a disruptive defensive tackle to play the three-technique in Monte Kiffin’s Tampa-2 system.
24. Green Bay Packers- Eric Ebron, Tight End, North Carolina
It’s too early to tell, but the recent injury to Jermichael Finley has the chance to threaten his career. Even if Finley returns to the field the Green Bay Packers could add another tight end to the mix. North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is quickly becoming one of the more explosive offensive players in this draft. He’s a long and quick tight end who can stretch the field. Ebron does a great job attacking the ball at its highest point and using his body to box out defenders. While he’s not an elite blocker, he gives great effort. The one concern I have with Ebron is that he has a tendency to lose focus and drop passes.
25. New England Patriots- George Uko, Defensive Tackle, USC
The interior of the New England Patriots’ defense is a complete mess. Even with Vince Wilfork healthy they lack depth and young talent. USC’s George Uko will provide the Patriots with a potentially disruptive force. He also does a great job holding at the point and making plays away from his frame.
26. Cincinnati Bengals- Kyle Fuller, Cornerback, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller is one of my favorite prospects in this draft. He’s a physical cornerback who possesses excellent ball skills. Fuller has a knack for reading the quarterback, quickly closing on the ball and even pulling down interceptions. The Cincinnati Bengals have talent in the secondary, but most of that is aging vets like Adam Jones and Terrence Newman. Bringing Fuller into the mix will allow Cincinnati to start to filter out some of those aging vets.
27. San Francisco 49ers- Odell Beckham Jr., Wide Receiver, LSU
The San Francisco 49ers have talent and depth across the entire roster. This gives them the ability to go in many different directions. One of the biggest issues the 49ers have dealt with this year is a lack of a depth threat in the passing game. LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. would be a great addition to this offense. He’s an explosive athlete who runs clean routes, knows how to use his body and consistently plucks the ball away from his frame. Beckham is someone who would fit in perfectly with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.
28. Cleveland Browns (via Indy)- Gabe Jackson, Guard, Mississippi State
The Cleveland Browns traded Trent Richardson basically because they didn’t feel he had a long-term future with the team. However, they need to make sure they hit on this pick in order to avoid a lot of negative backlash from the media and fanbase. Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson won’t create headlines, but is a player who’ll help his team win. Jackson is a well-rounded guard who opens running lanes and holds up in protection. Adding Jackson to the mix will help the Browns develop a running game without Richardson.
29. New Orleans Saints- Adrian Hubbard, Outside Linebacker, Alabama
Rob Ryan has the New Orleans Saints’ defense playing at a very high level. However, this team still needs more pieces to complete the transition to Ryan’s 3-4 attack. The biggest need is for an outside edge rusher. Alabama’s Adrian Hubbard still struggles with bouts of inconsistency, but he has the skill set to developing into a top-notch pass rusher.
30. Denver Broncos- James Gayle, Defensive End, Virginia Tech
The Denver Broncos’ pass rush has really benefited from the addition of Shaun Phillips, but he’s 32-years old and on the backend of his career. This is why the Broncos should consider adding a defensive end in this upcoming draft. Virginia Tech’s James Gayle has a good first step, knows how to use his hands and plays with great balance. The talent has always been present, but Gayle is finally starting to play a more balanced game.
31. Seattle Seahawks- Cameron Fleming, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
The one thing that could keep the Seattle Seahawks from reaching their goal is the play of the offensive line. Russell Okung’s injury has been tough to overcome but Seattle could also upgrade the right tackle and both guard positions. Stanford’s Cameron Fleming isn’t getting a ton of attention right now, but he’s a massive offensive lineman with tons of potential. Fleming excels at anchoring after contact, shuffling his feet and generating a push off the line. This is someone who’d fit in nicely with Seattle’s physical style of play.
32. Kansas City Chiefs- Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, LSU
The Kansas City Chiefs are the last undefeated team despite lacking an explosive passing attack. They have solid receivers like Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster but nobody in this group strikes a ton of fear in a defense. LSU’s Jarvis Landry is a well-rounded receiver who can stretch the field and create in space. He has some of the best hands in all of college football which is something that really helps a quarterback.