Evan Silva

NFL Draft Preview

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Pre-Free Agency Mock Draft

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The 2014 Scouting Combine ended last Tuesday. Free agency is the next major event on the NFL's offseason schedule. It’ll whittle down team needs considerably, so doing a mock draft before signings, re-signings, and franchise tags is an exercise in futility. With that said, mock drafts are fun. I just don't expect this to be the least bit accurate.

This is my initial mock draft of the 2014 offseason. I'll probably end up doing three. If you're an intense follower of NFL draft prospects and information, be sure you're tracking @JoshNorris and @Rotoworld_Draft on Twitter, as well as keeping up with Rotoworld's continuously updated NFL Draft Player News page.

1. Houston Texans -- Central Florida QB Blake Bortles

I think this pick will come down to Bortles versus Jadeveon Clowney, and Bill O'Brien will push owner Bob McNair and GM Rick Smith to let the rookie coach put his stamp on the franchise with a quarterback who possesses many prototypical traits. At 6-foot-5, 232, Bortles lands somewhere between Andrew Luck and Jake Locker with plus athleticism and above-average arm strength, but suspect accuracy. Like Locker, Bortles' mechanics are a work in progress. Like Luck, Bortles is a physical, efficient pocket manager who isn't easy to sack. In an ideal world, O'Brien would sign a veteran "bridge" quarterback to open the season as Houston's starter, easing Bortles into the job.

2. St. Louis Rams -- Auburn OT Greg Robinson

Robinson is this year's highest-ceiling lineman at 6-foot-5, 332 with 35-inch arms and a freakish 4.92 forty time. Drawing Larry Allen comparisons inside the NFL, Robinson is ready to clear alleys in a pro run game. He's the most consistently dominant prospect in this class, regardless of position. As LT Jake Long is recovering from ACL and MCL tears, RT Rodger Saffold is a free agent, RG Harvey Dahl and C Scott Wells are cap-casualty candidates, and left guard remains a revolving door in St. Louis, the Rams don't have a single offensive line position settled for 2014.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater

Second-year Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell will have a regime-defining decision to make should Clowney and Bridgewater both "fall" to No. 3. Like division-rival Houston, I think Jacksonville would lean quarterback in that scenario, with hopes of landing an edge rusher at a later selection. Although Bridgewater is generally considered a somewhat low-ceiling passer, his pocket instincts, accuracy, touch, and leadership skills remind of Russell Wilson. As Jags coach and ex-Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley can attest, Wilson's had a sea-changing impact on his team.

4. Cleveland Browns -- Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel

As Jimmy Haslam has displayed an itchy trigger finger with hirings and firings in under two years as Browns owner, rookie GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine should feel overwhelming urgency to produce immediate wins. I think they're all but locked into quarterback at No. 4. Cleveland is also set up to hone an unconventional style of signal caller with Kyle Shanahan in place as offensive coordinator. During stints with Houston and Washington, Kyle showed an impressive knack for designing offense around his quarterback's strengths, rather than forcing square pegs into round holes. It can't hurt that Manziel would instantly energize an antsy fan base.

5. Oakland Raiders -- South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney

Hotseat GM Reggie McKenzie's fingers are crossed that one of the draft's top quarterbacks will last to No. 5. Clowney and Clemson's Sammy Watkins figure to be McKenzie's primary "fallback" options, as both are instant-impact prospects, albeit at positions of lesser importance. Clowney would fill a gaping need. Oakland's full starting defensive line is entering free agency: RE Lamarr Houston, LE Jason Hunter, NT Pat Sims, and DT Vance Walker. This position was arguably the Raiders' biggest 2013 team strength, creating a colossal cavity in coach Dennis Allen's defense.

6. Atlanta Falcons -- Buffalo LB/DE Khalil Mack

The Falcons are popularly viewed as a potential trade-up team based on GM Thomas Dimitroff's past draft-day aggressiveness, but this is a club coming off a 4-12 season that received bottom-five line play on both sides of the ball. Atlanta is not one player away. Dimitroff needs to stand pat and take best player available, and Mack is it at No. 6. Coordinator Mike Nolan's defense requires a front-seven makeover highlighted by a game-changing pass rusher. Mack could fill a Von Miller-like strong-side role, or play 3-4 rush 'backer. Nolan has history working with both alignments.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Clemson WR Sammy Watkins

The Bucs' biggest need lies at defensive end, but I expect rookie GM Jason Licht to attack that position in free agency, allowing Tampa to select its highest-rated player at No. 7. Watkins would be just that, giving sophomore quarterback Mike Glennon an embarrassment of supporting-cast riches as Vincent Jackson's bookend. Making the Watkins pick in this hypothetical scenario even more of a no-brainer is incumbent No. 2 wide receiver Mike Williams' offseason misdeeds. New coach Lovie Smith has deemed Williams' behavior "disturbing," and likely wants no part of him.

8. Minnesota Vikings -- Texas A&M WR Mike Evans

The Vikings have bigger “needs” than wideout, but Evans would be difficult for GM Rick Spielman to overlook in the eight hole as a player physically gifted enough to make quarterbacks better. Evans is an NFL-ready high-pointer of jump balls, and possesses an otherworldly catch radius at 6-foot-5, 231 with 35 1/8-inch arms and a 37-inch vertical. Minnesota selects again at No. 40, where Spielman could target Fresno State's Derek Carr or Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. Barring a trade up, the Vikings simply are not in position to select a first-round signal caller.

9. Buffalo Bills -- Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews

The Bills are set at three positions on the offensive line, but lack stability at right tackle and left guard. Projected to various spots by various evaluators, Matthews would upgrade either. More consistent in pass protection than Auburn's Greg Robinson, Matthews is regarded as one of the surest bets in this year's draft class. Adding him would improve E.J. Manuel's odds of success.

10. Detroit Lions -- North Carolina TE Eric Ebron

The Lions won't stop slinging it around under rookie OC Joe Lombardi, a Sean Payton disciple who promises to bring a Saints-style offense to Detroit. Lombardi had a front-row seat to the benefits of a mismatch-creating tight end in New Orleans. Ebron is already a better run blocker than Jimmy Graham, and he will stretch the seam vertically with 4.60 speed at over 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. Ebron offers a significant playmaking upgrade on free agent Brandon Pettigrew.

11. Tennessee Titans -- Notre Dame NT Louis Nix

The Titans will switch from a base 4-3 defense to a 3-4 under new coordinator Ray Horton, whose teams have never lacked space-eating nose guards throughout his coaching tenure. In Pittsburgh, then-secondary coach Horton had Casey Hampton (6'1/325) up front. In Arizona, Dan Williams (6'2/327). In Cleveland, Phil Taylor (6'3/334). Nix goes 6-foot-2, 331 with Wilforkian movement skills for his size.

12. New York Giants -- Notre Dame G/T Zack Martin

Aside from 2013 first-rounder Justin Pugh, Giants GM Jerry Reese's recent drafts have yielded sub-par results from offensive linemen. Teams don't often use back-to-back first-rounders on the same position, but New York's current situation requires it. Reese's front five fell directly off a cliff in 2013, regularly torpedoing the Giants' run and passing games. Martin played tackle for the Fighting Irish, but will be a guard in the pros. He stands in at 6-foot-4, 308 with 32 7/8-inch arms.

13. St. Louis Rams -- Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

The Rams are so needy up front that drafting two first-round offensive linemen is conceivable, but in all likelihood that won't happen. St. Louis is similarly needy on the back end, where SS T.J. McDonald struggled mightily when he wasn't injured as a rookie, and FS Rodney McLeod is stretched as a starter. Safety has been a Rams weakness for years. "HHCD" would shore it up.

14. Chicago Bears -- Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald

I believe GM Phil Emery's preference would be to re-sign free agent DT Henry Melton and use the 14th pick on a run stuffer. Donald should be in serious conversation if Melton gets away. Although undersized at 6-foot-1, 288, Donald is an ideal scheme fit at three-technique tackle in DC Mel Tucker's defense. Highly disruptive, he's generated Geno Atkins and La'Roi Glover comparisons.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stated in February that Steelers management has promised Ben Roethlisberger it will select a "tall wide receiver early in the draft." Mike Evans won't make it to No. 15, but 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin will. A touchdown magnet for the BCS champion Seminoles, Benjamin has mammoth 10 1/4-inch hands and 34 7/8-inch arms, and scored 15 times as a redshirt sophomore in 2013. An "X" receiver, he'd be an ideal complement to natural "Z" Antonio Brown (5'10/186), with Markus Wheaton occupying a No. 3/deep threat role.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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