OVERVIEW: A funny thing is happening as we're nearing the draft. As hot as quarterback was being viewed, there is a growing sentiment that not just one, but perhaps two, quarterbacks will be available when the Vikings pick at No. 8. We're not buying into the two-QB-available theory, but we do have one there for the taking – and not the same guy we had them getting before. While we're convinced it will change as the days get close and the buzz starts flying, right now there is a trough in between the waves that has the quarterbacks once thought to be locks in the first four picks, getting a little more separation, which makes the value of the top picks even more pronounced.
1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. This will be the lynchpin pick of the draft and it appears to be down to two players – Clowney and QB Blake Bortles – we're not buying the Johnny Football buzz because he has a team doing this. In the end, when you draft No. 1, you should take the player you envision having the greatest NFL career. Clowney is a bigger risk and Houston desperately needs a franchise QB, but Clowney has the potential to be a defensive game-changer, which is gaining more value all the time as offenses continue to morph into what the college game has become.
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. If nothing else, as with RG3 that got them this pick, they could harvest picks to trade down and still get Robinson or Jake Matthews.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. There is something to be said for a pick that breathes life into a franchise – especially one that is atop the rumor list of relocating to Los Angeles, London or a yet-to-be named city. Blaine "Sunshine" Gabbert wasn't answer…from Day One. Chad Henne isn't either. He will likely sell tens of jerseys. It makes too much sense from the franchise perspective to take a player from Florida (who just so happens to be the top-rated quarterback in the draft class) and sell tens of thousands of jerseys. Scouts may scoff, but the luxurious moustache of Shahid Khan needs some villainous twirling. Drafting Bortles is a P.R. pot of gold, which the struggling Jags franchise desperately needs.
4. Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Of the three quarterbacks that were starters last year, the Browns got rid of two of them. It seems clear that they will take a QB, but this is part of the NFL chess game. If the Browns are convinced that the market on QBs will drop out, they could trade with someone enamored with one of the QBs, WRs, OT Jake Matthews or LB Khalil Mack, and this could be an ideal trading spot. If they love Derek Carr, they could fall back and wait for him to come to them or even trade back into the end of the first round and make a surprise QB pick. If they keep the pick, however, they have to take either Manziel or Teddy Bridgwater. Like Jacksonville, the Browns are a moribund franchise in need of QB. The last decent…just decent…quarterback they had was Bernie Kosar and it was clear he attended the Joe Kapp Passing Camp.
5. Oakland Raiders — Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. This is another tough decision that will have ramifications afterward, depending on who the Raiders take. In the Raiders' system, developing young quarterbacks has never been "their thing." Look at their history, which includes Todd Marinovich and JaMarcus Russell. It's where promising QBs go to die. They keep signing veterans who end up starting. They traded for Matt Schaub so, in this scenario, Teddy Bridgewater is available, and potentially so is Johnny Manziel. If they have concerns about swinging and missing again on an expensive young QB, Watkins makes too much sense. He gives Schaub a legitimate go-to threat and the Raiders offense some vertical explosion…in memory of Uncle Al.
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 – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. There is a provision in the CBA that allows teams and agents to agree on five-year contracts for a first-round quarterback. For the Vikings, Bridgewater and a five-year deal would be the ideal scenario. Keep in mind that if Khalil Mack is available here, this point may be moot. The Vikings are going to spend two years outside playing football, where, as a dome team, they have routinely struggled – even in playoff seasons. If the Vikings and Bridgewater can come to a five-year deal – a risk/reward scenario – the team could groom him into the NFL game until the point they felt he is ready to take over. If that happens to be immediately, so be it. If it happens to be when the teams moves back into the climate-controlled Artist Formerly Known As the Metrodome, where Bridgewater's athleticism would be on display on a dry track, the Vikings would still have three years to evaluate if he is worthy of a second contract, which, by then will be about $20 million a year for QBs with something still to prove and $30 mil for guys with track records. If Bridgewater makes it past here, he could slide a while, but the Vikings need a long-term answer for a new stadium and nothing does that like a QB with promise.
9. Buffalo Bills – Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA. The Bills have needs on both sides of the ball, but have their most pressing need at outside linebacker. Buffalo was ecstatic with how rookie Kiko Alonso performed at middle linebacker last year – he took every defensive snap – but outside linebacker remains a big problem. The team may have solved some of their short-term needs by signing veteran free agents Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers to short-term, team-friendly contracts, but neither is a long-term solution. With Barr and Alonso together, they have the makings of a linebacker crew that could eventually rival the group they had during their Super Bowl run.
10. Detroit Lions – Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama. Two years ago, the Lions made the playoffs. However, they got lit up by the Green Bay junior varsity and the Saints' varsity squads. Last year, they had enough Pro Bowl talent to make the playoffs. They didn't. The secondary was the slow, plodding elephant in the room. They could go cornerback or safety here, but safety is even more brutal than CB. Their best safety (Louis Delmas) limped off to Miami. It may be too early for a safety, but Nelson Muntz sound bytes will be ring tones in Motown.
11. Tennessee Titans – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. At the 11th pick of the draft, the Titans have their choice of cornerbacks in the draft. Considering that the team has lost former shutdown corners Cortland Finnegan and Alterraun Verner, the need is there. Whether the Titans see Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett or Bradley Roby as the player they covet, they have their pick and should use it here.
12. New York Giants – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. The Giants know the difference a playmaking tight end can have in their offense. When he was healthy, Jeremy Shockey was as explosive as any tight end in the league. The degeneration of the position as something other than a glorified blocker hit bottom when the G-Men released Brandon Myers. Ebron is like a wide receiver in the mold of recent Patriots vintage. He lines up in the slot. He lines up wide. Simply, he can create mismatches. With Hakeem Nicks and a slew of No. 3 or 4 receivers behind Victor Cruz, an impact tight end downfield could do the most benefit for a struggling offense.
13. St. Louis Rams – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. There may be a push for the Rams to go defense with this pick, especially given that the team used the second pick in the draft on an offensive tackle for the next decade and Jeff Fisher did a "low-risk solid" for troubled former player Kenny Britt on a one-year deal. But if Tavon Austin, who the Rams traded up to get last year, is going to explode, he needs a downfield playmaker to take the deep heat. Johnny Manziel would throw up wounded ducks in Evans' direction and, with defenders closing in, he pulled them down many more times than not. With questions being raised as to whether Sam Bradford deserves a second contract after stealing mid-eight figures to date, giving him two young legitimate weapons downfield could be the second coming of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
14. Chicago Bears—Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. The Bears spent a ton of cash on improving at defensive end – signing Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Yoing, but have done nothing to replace Henry Melton and Corey Wootton. Donald is a fast-rising prospect who, despite being a bit undersized for a prototype NFL defensive tackle, has the speed and burst to blow up plays. With offensive lines concerned with what Allen and Houston will be bringing from the edge, a burst player like Donald could be an ideal complement in the middle – forcing the quarterback into the path of the oncoming ends. He doesn't fit all defenses, but looks to be a decent fit with Chicago.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. The Steelers have a significant need at cornerback and the organization is extremely adept at drafting players who fit their time-honored system. In the Steelers' pressure defense, having a corner that can play man-to-man with the likes of Josh Gordon, A.J. Green and Torrey Smith twice a year each is tough duty. Dennard doesn't have the flat-line speed of some of the other elite corners in the 2014 draft class, but he is the best man-to-man mauler in the draft class and he fits the Steelers system like a glove. If he's here when they pick, he will be hard to pass up.
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 – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. The Ravens are all about value and making the most out of every draft. To most teams in the first round, Lewan would be viewed as a left tackle. If he's gone by this point, he will be a left tackle. After re-signing Eugene Monroe to a five-year deal, the two of them could compete as alternate bookends that could help make the Ravens dominant for years to come. On face value, he doesn't make sense. But the way the chips have fallen, he's still on the board and Ozzie Newsome never backs off from a bargain.
18. New York Jets – Odell Beckham, Jr., LSU. The Jets signed Eric Decker and overrated Jacoby Ford, but Decker is ideally a No. 2 receiver being paid No. 1 money and, while Ford has potential, he's never been a regular contributor to an offense. However, all that they are missing to being worth what they're being paid is to have a player who can stretch the field vertically. Stephen Hill has speed, but he's been a bust do date. Beckham ran a 4.43 40 at the Combine and set himself apart. It's a lot to ask a rookie to be a major contributor, but, his role would be similar to what Randy Moss had when he came to Minnesota – not comparing Beckham specifically to Moss' rare talent. His job is to take two players with him and catch passes when only one goes with him. He may only catch 30 or 40 passes, but he could be the offensive MVP.
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 didn't 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 – Marqise Lee, WR, USC. The Eagles have been in turmoil in their receiving corps this offseason. They cut loose DeSean Jackson. They re-signed Riley Cooper, who made more headlines for racist remarks than on-field accomplishments last year, and Jeremy Maclin, who is coming off ACL surgery. With third-down security blanket Jason Avant also gone, the Eagles have brought nobody in from the outside to help and have lost two key components that pre-dated Chip Kelly. They need a player who can blow the lid off the top of a defense and Lee comes with that pedigree. The pinball offense in Philly needs a deep threat and Lee fits.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. For reasons unknown to the rest of the civilized world, the Chiefs believe Dwayne Bowe can be a dominant player. He has been overpaid to be a No. 1 receiver, but he is only successful if he has someone clearing out the middle of the defense. Cooks can do that, likely more times clearing a path for Bowe to catch an intermediate pass. He is an ideal addition because he doesn't have to catch 60 passes to be successful. If he's a big-hitter and Bowe catches 90 passes, it's been a success.
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) – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. This is the pick the Browns got for Trent Richardson (a.k.a. Baby Herschel). By this mock, we have the Browns taking Johnny Manziel with their own pick. With the gift pick, they give Johnny Football a better version of what he had at Texas A&M. Benjamin and Josh Gordon line up on the outside. Jordan Cameron is a play-making tight end. Andrew Hawkins and Greg Little bring their games to the table. It would be a calculated risk, but with the Steelers and Ravens in transition from aging defenses, it may be time to try to play the New Orleans card and go for it in 2014. If nothing else, the Browns will be fun to watch. How long has it been since you could say that?
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 in 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 – Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia. Here is where the fall of the draft comes into play. The Panthers could use a playmaking wide receiver, but anyone we would associate with this pick is gone – unless Carolina is willing to reach. Carolina has a bigger problem than replacing Steve Smith. Offensive linemen retired in record numbers. From the end of last season, the Panthers haven't signed a name free agent offensive lineman. They have lost four, including left tackle Jordan Gross. We have Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama rated higher, but, given the depletion of depth on the O-line, Moses is a safer pick that can be counted on to fill a vital role.
29. New England Patriots – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame. The rich just get richer. When scouts look at Nix, they are asked to compare him to someone. Vince Wilfork is one who comparisons are made to at the same stage of their development. Wilfork, a stud in the Patriots defense, is coming off a torn Achilles and his future is far from certain. Nix is almost surely going to an AFC power. If he makes it past Pittsburgh and Baltimore, New England won't repeat that mistake. In the Belichick Manifesto, Nix could be a Pro Bowler for years because he fits the system.
30. San Francisco 49ers—Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida. He isn't the hardest worker in the business (I have seen more than a couple people whose views on drafts I've learned respect that don't respect this guy. I do). But that sentiment has some scouts dropping him deep into the draft. Still, 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 – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State. This may seem like a strange pick for a team coming off a record-setting season. Kind of like the Vikings drafting Daunte Culpepper in 1999 when they already had Randall Cunningham and Jeff George under contract. One of two things will not allow Carr to make it past this pick (if New England didn't beat them to the punch). On tape, Carr has been viewed as a second-round talent. As such, he won't make it out of the first round. If Denver is being forward-thinking about their franchise, allowing Carr to learn behind Peyton Manning for the year or two he would be his backup, it could be the quarterback post-graduate master class of a lifetime. Watching Brett Favre made Aaron Rodgers ready to take on the bullets. Carr could be that guy for the Broncos. Either that or they stock up on extra mid-round picks and trade out of the first round.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. The Seahawks have some challenges on both sides of the ball. They haven't signed an outside free agent of note and the champs have lost 11 players who earned rings and have moved on. This pick could go several directions. If Derek Carr is still on the board because Denver liked a player who they were "stunned" was still available, this pick will be sincerely subject to trade. The harvest will likely exceed draft-value-chart numbers. If they make the pick, the Seahawks need to add a missing element to give Russell Wilson more weapons. Tight end has been pedestrian for the history of the franchise. Amaro is a first-round talent and, considering most Super Bowl-caliber teams have a big-time tight end, it may be time to join the party.
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.
Mock draft: Round 1, Version 5
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