OVERVIEW: OVERVIEW: With free agency underway, a lot of teams have addressed their most glaring needs and, in the process, have pushed them down on the draft plan. On the flip side, some needs have been created because of salary cap-related cuts or free agents teams hoped to sign but that went away and created new vacancies – see Dallas defensive line and Carolina wide receivers for a couple examples. With the new landscape in place, we have Johnny Manziel dropping to the Vikings as things currently stand. Somebody has to fall and, as of right now, it might be Johnny Football.
1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. There is something to be said about having an impact quarterback and there is no shortage of them at the top of the draft this year. But with J.J. Watt terrorizing quarterbacks from one side, the addition of Clowney would have a much bigger immediate impact on a Texans team that lost 14 straight games. It doesn't cure their QB problems – they would be giddy if Derek Carr makes it to the second round, but a sketchy history with the Carr family might scare them away. QB is still a definite possibility, but Clowney and Watt could make the Texans return to the top of the AFC South quicker than any of the young quarterbacks. Given that Houston has lost three defensive linemen, including starters Antonio Smith and Earl Mitchell, as much as Houston needs a young quarterback, Clowney is just too tempting to pass on.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington) – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. Miami let Jake Long go because they figured his best years were in the rearview mirror. Despite re-signing Rodger Saffold, he was dominant on the inside when moved to guard last year and is expected to return there. At a minimum, Robinson would play right tackle for one year. At the maximum, he replaces Long, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL late last year and his availability for the start of next season is in question. Robinson could be the reincarnation of Orlando Pace. Barring a team offering another embarrassment of draft riches, the Rams make the pick and take Robinson.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Bridgewater has all the characteristics of the new breed of NFL quarterbacks – a strong arm combined with quick feet and the ability to read defenses instantaneously. The Jaguars reached for Blaine "Sunshine" Gabbert and have suffered with that decision ever since. While the Jags have multiple needs, Bridgewater will come in with the chance to win the starting job immediately. The Jags swung and missed with Gabbert. They believe Bridgewater has too much upside to be a second consecutive mistake. If Clowney is still available, he will be very difficult to pass on and this pick will have a lot more trade value if he is.
4. Cleveland Browns – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. Johnny Manziel has been very closely linked to the Browns, but to play outdoors in Cleveland, where wind can be just as big a factor as temperature late in the season, they need a hard-nosed prototype old-school quarterback. If the Browns front office is looking to sell jerseys and trying to create excitement with the fan base, Johnny Football will sell more. But, seeing as they've cut Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, their desire for a quarterback is a poorly kept secret. Bortles has the better intangibles for the hard-nosed, bloody-you-up AFC North.
5. Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. This will be a tough decision that will have a domino effect throughout the rest of the next dozen or so picks. Given the difficulty the Raiders have had at quarterback, Johnny Manziel makes a lot of sense. He fits the bad boy image of the Raiders, but the Raiders still have the blister scars from Jamarcus Russell, an entitled SEC quarterback with an off-field history, that could throw up red flags. With the Raiders trying to swing a deal to give Matt Schaub a new lease on life like they expensively did with Carson Palmer, if the plan is to bring in a veteran, he's going to need weapons and nobody is better at that than Watkins in the Class of 2014.
6. Atlanta Falcons – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. Sam Baker hasn't lived up to his contract at left tackle, and while some scouts have Matthews rated as the top tackle on the board he is ideally a right tackle that, with more time, can become a solid left tackle. Seeing as the Falcons are only one year into the six-year deal, they aren't throwing in the towel on Baker just yet. If he pans out, they're set with bookend tackles for the next five years. If not, Matthews will get a year or two of catching up to speed and then make the move to left tackle.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo. The Bucs have one of the best outside linebackers in the business in Lavonte David, who went to the Pro Bowl last year. Adding the dynamic Mack on the other side of the linebacker corps could give new head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier another weapon. Given the investment the Bucs have made in their defense this offseason – adding CB Alterraun Verner and DE Michael Johnson, Tampa Bay may not be as far away from respectability as some might think.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Few players have as wide a draft-day disparity as Manziel. Some think he could be on the radar of the Texans with the No. 1 pick to keep him in his home state. Others think his scrambling style won't play in the current NFL. For a team whose franchise QB was another scrambler by the name of Tarkenton, if Manziel can make it through the mine field between the first and fifth picks, he could land to the Vikings. If nothing else, it would put a lot of eyes on training camp in Mankato as the NFL welcomes Johnny Football and the Vikings sell a lot of jerseys to fans ready to jump on the bandwagon.
9. Buffalo Bills – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. The Bills could go in a few different directions here, but the offense is being handed over to E.J. Manuel and he needs a big physical receiver to stretch the field. Stevie Johnson is more of a slot receiver than a bona fide No. 1 go-to type. Combining Evans, Johnson and Robert Woods would give the Bills a trio of top receivers that can help Manuel reach the next level because, for the time being anyway, Buffalo is committed to Manuel, and the athletic, physical Evans could immediately become a big-play downfield option.
10. Detroit Lions – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. Another seeming "hometown" pick, the primary reason the Lions missed the playoffs last season was that Rashean Mathis was the most consistent corner on the roster. At this point, the Lions would have their choice of the cornerback they think best fits their offense. It may not be Dennard, although he would seem to make sense. It could be one of a handful of CB prospects that make an indelible impression on the Lions scouts, but the position seems clear. Whether they value Dennard as highly as we do is another story. But he's the pick. Seeing as the Lions cornerbacks combined for just two interceptions last year, the need for young talent at this position is obvious.
11. Tennessee Titans – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. Michael Roos and David Stewart have been advised to rent, not own. That's never a good sign. If Jake Locker is ever going to live up to the promise the franchise put in him, he needs a pocket that will be cleaner than it has been of late. Lawson in necessary insurance moving forward for the Titans.
12. New York Giants – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. The Giants have shown the signs of age at cornerback over the last couple of years and, although offensive tackle may be a bigger need, there isn't a pick at this point that wouldn't be considered a reach with Robinson, Matthews and Lewan off the board. If Lewan is still on the board, he could be the selection here, but Gilbert is arguably the best cover corner in the draft and, in a division with improvisational QBs like Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III, having a cornerback that can maintain coverage longer than expected is a must and Gilbert provides that option.
13. St. Louis Rams – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. The Rams finished 7-9 last year and that was good enough to be the last place team in the NFC West by a large margin. In the league's toughest division, they can't let need positions remain needs. Heading into the offseason, their biggest question mark was at safety and to date they have done nothing to address that need. Clinton-Dix is a physical safety who is NFL-ready. Combined with in-state rival Greg Robinson from Auburn, the Rams will have done a nice job of rebuilding both sides of the ball in the first two hours of the draft.
14. Chicago Bears – Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. The Bears have made a lot of changes on the defensive line, adding DEs Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, but they've already lost Julius Peppers to division rival Green Bay and Henry Melton is making the free agent rounds. Donald is a glove fit in the kind of defense the Bears run and could be an immediate starter – more out of necessity than choice. If the Bears are going to avoid the late-season collapses that have broken them the last two years, getting stronger up front on the defensive side is a must, and Donald looks like a perfect player to plug into their defensive scheme.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame. This may be a VU defiant pick much in the same way we refused to pick Dontari Poe to the Chiefs in 2012. It's a pick that screams. Steelers fans got spoiled by the consistent play of Casey Hampton. Of all the players on the board at this point that "fit" with a long-term check mark on the roster, it's Nix to Pitt. In all the incarnations of the VU mock drafts this year, this pick may never change.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. The Cowboys were convinced they had a Super Bowl team and spent like it. When they once again missed the playoffs and found themselves millions over the 2014 salary cap, they had to release DE DeMarcus Ware and couldn't get in a bidding war for Jason Hatcher, who ended up with division rival Washington. The Cowboys have to build up front and, whether it's a tackle like Jernigan or a defensive end prospect they like, at this point it seems obvious that the defensive line will be the focus.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. One of the reasons the Ravens are so consistently successful is that they never turn their back on talent in the draft. Barr finds himself a victim of a circumstance just as Sharrif Floyd did last year. He's a top-10 talent, but, because of other more pressing needs for the teams in front of the Ravens, he falls into their laps. Given the losses the team has sustained at linebacker since they won the Super Bowl 14 months ago, Barr should be an excellent fit and Ozzie Newsome won't hesitate to make the call to draft him.
18. New York Jets – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. The Jets need a lot of help on offense and they may be the first of several teams to say they will wait until the second round to grab a wide receiver – a clear need for the Jets. But in a division where playmaking tight ends can alter the landscape, landing a Patriot clone would be an ideal spit in the eye from Rex Ryan.
19. Miami Dolphins – Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame. The Dolphins may not seem like a logical candidate here because they signed Branden Albert to a huge contract, but the Miami O-line was a mess last year even before the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying scandal blew up. Neither of them will be back, nor will Bryant McKinnie, so there is still a need for upgrades on the line. Martin can play right tackle and potentially could be dominant at guard. If Ryan Tannehill is going to succeed, he needs better protection and run blocking than he got from his rag-tag O-line last year and Martin could be a big piece of that puzzle.
20. Arizona Cardinals – C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama. The Cardinals no longer have inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley and have yet to replace either of them and the roles they played in the defense. If not for a laundry list of injuries, Mosley would be long gone by this pick, but he fills an immediate, pressing need that was created by free agency. The Cardinals quietly won 10 games last year and, if they want to keep pace with the last two NFC entrants in the Super Bowl (Seattle and San Francisco), they need upgrading at some key spots. When healthy, Mosley is dominant. He's a risk/reward pick who could pay big dividends if he can stay on the field and make a difference.
21. Green Bay Packers – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. Charles Woodson was sent packing last year and the results were obvious. The Packers safeties didn't cause a single turnover (interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery) last year and lost M.D. Jennings in free agency. Pryor is an athletic safety who can make plays, something the Packers desperately need right now. With the signing of Julius Peppers, they have taken care of one need at defensive end. Pryor can help them fix another problem area.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State. This is admittedly a bit of a reach for a player who ideally grades out as a second-round prospect, but the Eagles struggled with the switch to a 3-4 defense and neither Trent Cole nor Connor Barwin was overly effective in providing a consistent pass rush. Shazier isn't the most naturally gifted player, but he's a glass-eater who eats, sleeps and breathes football and will give maximum effort on every play – something the Eagles will need if they continue to play Chip Kelly's up-tempo, pinball-style offense that, whether it works or fails, puts the defense back on the field quickly. He may be a little bit a stretch here, but the Eagles will get a player the coaches, teammates and fans will love.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU. Few players made more money than Beckham at the Combine. Not only did he run a great 40 time (4.43 seconds), he also posted some of the strongest times in the 20-yard shuttle (3.94) and the 60-yard shuttle (10.93). The Chiefs have overpaid inconsistent Dwayne Bowe, but to make that investment pay off they need someone who can consistently blow the top off the back end of a defense. This is a deep WR class, but Beckham has risen up the ranks and Kansas City looks to be a good landing spot for him.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. Leon Hall turned 30 in December and has torn his Achilles twice in the last three year and is a free agent. Terence Newman and Pac Man Jones are both nearing the end of their NFL ride as well. Even if the Bengals keep the band together for another season, they need an infusion of youth in the secondary, especially in a division that already has strong-armed Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger in the mix and Cleveland likely to add another young gun to the division.
25. San Diego Chargers – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State. When inconsistent veteran Richard Marshall was your best corner, there is clearly a need to be addressed – perhaps both in free agency and the draft. If San Diego is going to build on its surprising late-season run to the playoffs (in which they still finished third in their four-team division), upgrading the secondary to compete with Peyton Manning and Denver will be a top priority.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis) – Marqise Lee, WR, USC. The Browns took a quarterback with their first pick of the round. Now they try to complete the offensive puzzle. They already have one of the game's top wide receivers in Josh Gordon and a playmaking tight end in Jordan Cameron. Lee is big receiver with good run-after –the-catch skills and, combined with Ben Tate in the running game to keep defenses honest, could find himself single-covered on every play with the chance to make an immediate impact on an improving Cleveland team.
27. New Orleans Saints – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. The Saints have a high-octane offense, but it was their defense that was their undoing much of the year and forced them to go on the road in the playoffs. The team cut Jabari Greer and Roman Harper at the end of the season, have CB Patrick Robinson coming off a significant knee injury, and lost Malcolm Jenkins to free agency. With the mega-signing of Jairus Byrd, they helped address a big need at safety. Now they need to turn their attention to cornerback. It doesn't matter how potent an offense is – if you can't stop the opposing offense and allow too many big plays over the top, you aren't going to win consistently.
28. Carolina Panthers – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. The Panthers have depended on Steve Smith and little else in the passing game for years. Smith was released for cap reasons and the Panthers lost their second- and third-most productive wide receivers – Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. – to free agency, creating a huge void that needs to be filled both by veteran free agents and the draft. In our first mock, we projected that Cooks could see his stock rise at the Combine. After posting the best times for WRs in the 40-yard dash (4.33 seconds), the 20-yard shuttle run (3.82) and the 60-yard shuttle (10.72), the only question remaining is whether he will still be on the board when the Panthers pick.
29. New England Patriots – Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. The Patriots had the best of all worlds when Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were running free through defensive secondaries. With Hernandez never coming back and Gronk a significant injury risk, the Patriots need to bring that dual-threat component back. They were a different team in the few weeks they had Gronk last season. If he's back, great. If he's not 100 percent, they need an insurance policy.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida. He isn't the hardest worker in the business, but he has natural talent that jumps out on tape and he seems like an ideal fit for the disciplined system in San Francisco. If the 49ers are to get back to the Super Bowl, they will need help at cornerback. Carlos Rogers was cut for salary cap reasons and Tarell Brown signed with Oakland in free agency. The Niners signed former Viking Chris Cook to a one-year deal, but, as Vikings fans have learned, he isn't a playmaker or a long-term solution to a problem. If harnessed by Jim Harbaugh and his staff, Roberson could become a star quickly and a value pick at this spot.
31. Denver Broncos – Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota. The Broncos made a lot of noise in free agency with the big-money signings of DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders, but they still have needs that require attention. They struggled up front late in the season and Hageman can be a key role player. He doesn't have any quality that jumps out at you on tape, but he does a lot of things efficiently and at a high level and, under the tutelage of John Fox, could become a critical part of the Broncos defense after Peyton Manning is gone and all the big-money signings have to be released for cap reasons.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. Percy Harvin is going to be the centerpiece of the passing attack, but slot receivers rarely are the dominant focus of a pass offense. At 6-5, Benjamin is a huge target who will go a long way to help Russell Wilson take the next step in his maturation. With Sidney Rice gone and Golden Tate an unrestricted free agent, a thin receiver corps could get even thinner. Benjamin will be an infusion of talent the champs need in hopes of defending their title in 2014.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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