Please note that the order is completed by simulating the playoffs by the highest seed winning and then formatting for record and strength of schedule. I do not claim to be an expert on every team’s schemes and needs, but I do ask questions. As I say every year, if the draft was predictable we would not tune into the event. You should be surprised by some of these selections. The point is to work through scenarios and present options, not accuracy.
1. Houston Texans
QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
The obvious choice but the right one. The statement will pop up many times throughout the draft process (and this mock), but if a team does not have a quarterback, they are treading water. Find the guy, then go and get him.
Let me start by saying I am a big fan of Bridgewater’s. The recent criticism seems to focus on Teddy’s lean frame and size. I think that is a topic we will laugh at in a few years. Bridgewater does not take unnecessary hits or produce frenetic behavior in the pocket (see RGIII). His eye level, movement, anticipation and placement are all great. His vertical shots have been listed as a negative, and I have critiqued them, but maybe he is asked to put lost on these targets. I do not think there is a debate on the top passer in this draft. It is Bridgewater.
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2. St. Louis Rams (via Redskins)
T Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
This is a tough one, and I half expect the Rams to trade this pick. Jadeveon Clowney should be the first non-QB off the board, but I don’t see Chris Long shifting inside often enough for the three man rotation to be practical. Yes, The Rams signed Jake Long last summer. A late season injury along with Joseph Barksdale in a contract year, plus the assumption that Rodger Saffold is not resigned, makes Matthews the logical pick. He is a technician with a powerful punch and experience at both sides of the line.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Clowney is a rare talent, and I would not be surprised if a team moves up for him. The Jags lack consistent pressure from the edge. Windmill Andre Branch has improved, and the scheme does not ask Tyson Alualu to impact upfield, but Clowney would add an instant impact. His burst off the line is ridiculous, as is his arm over swim, but hand use is the most important skill in order to sustain success. Clowney’s blend of size, strength, and speed is unreal. And if you are worried about the drop in sack numbers, just keep in mind disruption is production.
4. Cleveland Browns
QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
Whether it is Josh McDaniels or Bill O’Brien, there will be plenty of buzz around Lombardi trading for Ryan Mallett or sticking with Brian Hoyer. Regarding Hoyer, keep in mind he was a free agent and the Patriots, with McDaniels on staff, chose to sign Tim Tebow.
No one has a better arm in this class than Carr. From short to vertical routes, he displays velocity or touch to hit windows many cannot. A potential problem is that Carr understands this, so he does not always play with a proper base or throw with balanced footwork. This has improved, but it can be a major issue. The comparison I keep going back to is Jay Cutler, and we have all watched the highs and lows of his career. Carr bugs me.
5. Oakland Raiders
QB Blake Bortles, UCF
Bortles has not officially declared, but signs seem to point that way. While Bridgewater is drawing so negative buzz for his frame, Bortles seems to be gaining steam because he has that look of an NFL QB. That might sound crazy, but these really are the types of comments made to justify selections. I do like Bortles, but I am not sold on him as a quality starter. His game could be classified as a poor man’s Andrew Luck, displaying strong pocket movement, an ability to lift the talent around him, and passes that appear to have more touch than velocity. The Raiders could do some serious self-evaluating at the QB position this offseason, and Bortles is different than any passer on their roster.
6. Atlanta Falcons
T Greg Robinson, Auburn
I still have plenty to watch on Robinson and would love it if someone put together a clip of Robinson’s individual pass protection opportunities on the outside. Many of Robinson’s blocks are double teams when crashing down or second level moves that allow him to get in space. He is so strong and a great athlete with a mean streak, but I want to see Robinson’s balance and recovery skills. I bet the NFL loves him, though.
7. Tampa Bay Bucs
SLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
The Bucs need pass rushing help, but there are no traditional defensive ends worth taking at this spot. Mack could replace Dekoda Watson on the strong side, and even though Watson is an adequate role player, Mack offers much more. He would then move into a pass rushing role in specific situations. I do not know if the NFL considers Mack a better prospect than Barr, but he is the better player right now.
8. Minnesota Vikings
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Again, I have no clue if the Vikings consider Manziel “the guy.” Maybe it is Brett Hundley instead. Either way, it is time to exit QB purgatory. Manziel’s pocket movement is his gift and his curse, but he has the improvisational skill of Tony Romo. I would love to see him be more patient and not back up 11 yards in his drop, but Manziel has displayed quick decision making and an ability to throw to contested receivers outside the numbers and downfield. He has absolutely improved as a passer this season.
9. Buffalo Bills
Pass rushing LB Anthony Barr
The Bills can go in a variety of directions, but I believe Barr fits the versatility up front. I know Jerry Hughes played well, but consider Barr a replacement for Manny Lawson. Barr is only in his second season on the defensive side of the ball. He added weight this season and kept the same ridiculous closing speed. When he keeps that space on the edge, watch out. When he loops inside, watch out. But I want to see more hand use and counter moves from Barr. The upside is absolutely there, however.
10. Detroit Lions
WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Calvin Johnson and Watkins on the field at the same time? Sure.
11. Tennessee Titans
T Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
Beat writer Jim Wyatt does not expect RT David Stewart back in 2014. Maybe that is one reason the Titans already invested so much into their offensive line, specifically on the interior. They could use defensive help, and who knows where the go at quarterback, but I think Ogbuehi is the second best tackle in this class. He reminds me of Tyron Smith and will test well in multiple phases. The junior could stay another season and move to left tackle, but I have seen enough.
12. NY Giants
CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Dennard is my top corner in the class. I would not be surprised if he runs a bit slower than other cornerbacks in Indianapolis, but do not let that fool you. He is extremely talented. In fact, I think he could move even higher on this list. Dennard forces his opposition to play at his speed, controlling their pace. He can press and play off coverage and displays valuable ball skills.
13. St. Louis Rams
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
There is a chance Clinton-Dix goes earlier than this, but the Rams would be a great landing spot. Cortland Finnegan will be out, so Rodney McLeod could be pushed to slot duties. Clinton-Dix is a rangy player with the versatility to play near the line of scrimmage or in the deeper portions of the field.
14. Chicago Bears
DT Louis Nix III
Nix III ended his season on the sideline after undergoing knee surgery. The injury impacted his season, but there were shades of Vince Wilfork back in 2012. Obviously he can stop the run, but Nix can also press the interior and reset the line of scrimmage. Disruption between the tackles is a difference maker.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
ILB C.J. Mosley
The Steelers should be locked in on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive back can be upgraded, but I think adding Mosley next to Timmons would allow Polamalu to play in the deeper portions of the field and keep everything in front. Mosley has always had the range and awareness in coverage, but he attacks blockers better than given credit for. The Sean lee comparisons are real.