OVERVIEW: Perhaps the bad-mouthing of the top quarterbacks is starting to work. At one point or another in our previous mock drafts, we have had Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles all gone by the fifth pick. In our latest (and probably not last) mock draft, we have two of the top three quarterbacks still available when the Vikings pick, which could tempt them to drop a few spots confident that one of them will still be on the board if they drop a half-dozen picks or so. Get out the Kool Aid, kids. It's time to start drinking.
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 – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo. This may be a spot where somebody wants to make a big move – whether to get Mack or WR Sammy Watkins. The Jaguars have a ton of needs and, when you consider Chad Henne is No. 1 on your depth chart, having their choice of quarterbacks may be too tempting to pass up. But, as we wrote back in February, Mack's stock will be on the rise. Despite playing less-than-stellar competition that he dominated, he showed at the Combine that he can be a special player with a freakishly unique skill set. The Jags may not necessarily take Mack, but he will be the No. 3 pick – whether Jacksonville or someone else makes it.
4. Cleveland Browns – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. We've had the Browns locked into Johnny Manziel for more than a month because of the obvious P.R. boom it would create among the fan base, but, depending on whether the Browns are willing to roll the dice that they can get a potential starting QB with the 26th pick or the third pick of the second round that would fit their system, they go for the best athlete. Whoever is the starting QB in Cleveland next year, he'll have weapons at his disposal, with Watkins being added to the dynamic duo of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. The Browns may be taking a chance by passing on a QB here, but it may pay off in a big way in the end.
5. Oakland Raiders – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. The last time the Raiders took the plunge at QB, it was Jamarcus Russell and the results were that the entire franchise got set back several years in the process. Manziel has the most upside of any QB in the draft and, for a franchise in need of a player to serve as its face, Johnny Football is as good a choice as any. If Watkins makes it to this spot, I don't think the Raiders will hesitate to pull the trigger on him and go with Matt Schaub as the clear-cut starter, but Manziel can push to start immediately and, if Schaub struggles like he did last year, it won't take long for the Manziel Era to begin.
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 – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. The third straight A&M player to come off the board, the Bucs have suddenly found this to be an area of immediate need. Vincent Jackson is an elite receiver, but he is 31 years old and the trade of Mike Williams in the offseason created a void. There may be no other receiver in this year's draft that can do as much damage deep down the field as Evans. Manziel often threw up jump ball-type passes that his receiver had to fight for to bring down. Evans won almost every one of those battles over the last couple of years and his stock just keeps on rising … as it should. He fits a need and, with his talent, this isn't a reach at all.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. There are some scouts who still list Bortles as the first overall pick in the draft. If he is still on the board, it will be difficult for the Vikings to pass on him. The Vikings clearly are in need of a long-term answer at quarterback, but, at the same time, seem committed to letting Matt Cassel be the man this year. The only way Bortles sees the field in his rookie season either will be due to injury, ineffectiveness or he just makes it too impossible for the team to keep the leash on him. He has the talent to be a long-term answer at quarterback and it would seem the QB Circle of Life is now complete – we've had Manziel and Bridgewater both going in this spot in previous incarnations of the mock draft. It's simply been a combination of talent at the position and the available QBs when the eighth pick comes around. We've never had Bortles before and there's no reason to think that the Vikings would pass on him here.
9. Buffalo Bills – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. The Bills have several needs, including wide receiver, safety and linebacker, but landing a bookend offensive tackle that can be counted on for the next decade has to be viewed as a priority. Cordy Glenn has been playing left tackle, but ideally is suited to play on the right side. With Lewan plugged in at left tackle and Glenn moved to the right side, the Bills could have a dominant tackle tandem that could be together for the rest of the decade and give the Buffalo offense a foundation from which to build.
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 – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. The Rams safety play last year was as pathetic as it gets. If T.J. McDonald comes back healthy, it should help, but with the other teams in the division looking to load up on receiver talent in the draft, the Rams can't compete unless they upgrade. Pryor is a big hitter who lays the lumber on a consistent basis and is an intimidator over the middle who is a playmaker and can make the difference in games, something currently lacking in St. Louis. With LT Greg Robinson already in the fold, giving Gregg Williams a defensive weapon is critical and Pryor fits the style of defense and what the Rams need like a glove.
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 – C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama. If not for an extensive injury history, Mosley would have been off the board in the top 10. The Ravens have always had a defense predicated on athletic, game-changing linebackers to make their 3-4 defense work. When healthy, it's hard to deny that Mosley is a dominant player – which is saying something considering he played in the SEC. G.M. Ozzie Newsome rarely takes a misstep on draft weekend and, if Mosley checks out medically, he has the ability to be a Pro Bowl regular and another draft-day gift for the Ravens and their fans.
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 – Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA. There is a growing sentiment that the Cardinals may look at a QB here because Carson Palmer will be 35 this year, but the depth of the QB position could allow the Cards to wait until the second or third round to grab a quarterback of the future. The Cardinals need to keep pace with the Seahawks and 49ers and can't use a first-round pick on a player who likely won't see the field as a rookie. The Cardinals have needs at both OLB and a pass rusher and Barr can do both. An effective blitzer and with the agility, quick-twitch movement skills and body control to take backs and tight ends in coverage, he could fill a big void and be a Day 1 starter. The fans may want someone like Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr, but the war room generals are likely going to be interested in getting someone on the field who can make an immediate splash.
21. Green Bay Packers – Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State. The type of player who looks like a glove fit for the Packers defense, he can line up next to A.J. Hawk in the second level of the Green Bay defense and make an immediate impact. The Packers have needs at receiver with the losses they've had over the last couple seasons (Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jermichael Finley), but the receiver class is deep this year and the linebacker corps has far less depth. Shazier has the classic sideline-to-sideline pursuit ability and eats, sleeps and breathes football 24/7. He's just the type of player that has historically thrived in Green Bay.
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) – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. This would be a dream scenario for the Browns to be able to land one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in the draft while grabbing a dynamic wide receiver with their own pick in the first round. Trent Richardson keeps on giving. The only question here is whether the Browns like Bridgewater better than Derek Carr, who has been linked to having an interest from Cleveland in recent weeks. If the Browns took a QB with their first pick – by our estimation, they would have had their choice – they would obviously go in a different direction (most likely cornerback or wide receiver), but this would be a perfect storm for the Browns if this happens.
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 – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. A very solid value pick at this spot, Benjamin is a top 20 prospect who slips down the board because of the depth at the position. The 49ers re-signed Anquan Boldin, but he isn't a long-term answer. The injury history of Michael Crabtree is also a concern, so, if the Niners are to get back to the Super Bowl, they need more outside weapons to make an impact in the offense. The Niners have the luxury of not having many screaming needs (cornerback might be an option here), but Benjamin could be a nice addition to an offense that is getting ready to sign Colin Kaepernick long-term, and having a long-term weapon to lean on will be critical to sustain success in San Francisco.
31. Denver Broncos – Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota. The Broncos don't have a ton of immediate needs, so there are options – including guard or cornerback. But, at this point, teams are looking for players with a solid résumé to back up their play. Hageman doesn't jump out in any single aspect of his game, but he does so many things well that a defensive-minded coach (like John Fox) can do a lot of things with him. Hageman is a very sound player and will give Denver a player to plug in immediately into the DT rotation and, as time goes by, his playing time will increase incrementally to the point that he can be a primary starter by the end of his rookie season or in his second year.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Xavier Su'a Filo, G, UCLA. The Seahawks lost a lot of players during free agency and didn't do much in the way of replacing them. For one of the few teams that still relies heavily on the run game – winning a Super Bowl may get others to consider it – you need to have a dominant up-front presence. Su'a Filo is a big mauler who can fit immediately into the type of scheme the Seahawks run and, while not a sexy pick, would provide great value for a team with the bull's eye on its back this season.
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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