CLEVELAND, Ohio - It's almost here. After months of conversation, rumors and tearing down prospects, the NFL Draft is only two weeks away. The final private workouts are taking place and executives are putting the final touches on draft boards.
The top of the draft still remains difficult to predict with the Houston Texans holding the top spot, and the ability to shake things up drastically depending on what they decide to do. Given some conversations recently, there could also be movement inside the Top 10 as teams look for the proper fit.
This is Mock Draft 5.0, but the first where I predict a trade.
1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End, South Carolina
The one time I mentioned someone other than Clowney in this spot, I immediately regretted it. He's the best player in this year's draft, a rare pass rusher that has been destined for the top selection since he walked onto campus at South Carolina. A difference-maker on defense, Clowney would immediately provide a pass-rushing boost to a team that finished with the second fewest sacks (32) in the NFL in 2013. Sharing the field with J.J. Watt would cause nightmares for the opponent.
2. Atlanta Falcons (From St. Louis/Washington) – Khalil Mack, Outside Linebacker, Buffalo
If there is one thing we know about Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, it's that he's aggressive. We also know St. Louis doesn't mind moving in the draft – they've done it the last two years. Don't forget, Dimitroff worked with Rams GM Les Snead in Atlanta and their relationship could help them strike a deal. With Clowney off the board, the Falcons can't gamble that the next best defensive player, Mack, will be available when they pick. Needing to improve their pass rush, which was tied for second worst in the league, the Falcons will get aggressive and grab a defensive cornerstone who got better every year he was in college.View full sizeWill Teddy Bridgewater be a Top 10 pick?AP
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback, Louisville
The Jaguars have finished the last two seasons with the fewest sacks in the NFL, so the desire to get Clowney or Mack is probably pretty strong in Jacksonville. There's only one problem: Neither is available in this scenario. The Jags also need to improve their quarterback play as Henne is not the long-term answer, and having him start would do nothing but solidify a last-place finish in the division. Bridgewater is the best quarterback in the class. He's tough, having played through numerous injuries and never missed a game. He's smart, coming from a pro-style offense where he was asked to make decisions at the line of scrimmage as well as go through progressions. He shows good accuracy, with an ability to toss with zip or lessen the power behind his throws. Never rattled, he's also poised in the pocket while others in the class are frenetic. Bridgewater checks all the boxes. A few years from now we will look back at the criticisms about wearing two gloves, missing some deep throws and having a skinny build, and we will laugh at them.
4. Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel, Quarterback, Texas A&M
The old Browns' regime of Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi didn't do many things right, but they did leave Ray Farmer with two gifts – first round picks. This is Farmer's opportunity to put his imprint on a franchise that has served as a punchline for the better part of the last decade. He knows the only way to do that is by addressing the team's most glaring weakness: the quarterback. Manziel may not be for everyone, and there are questions about whether he can play in a structured NFL offense over the course of a season. But his competitiveness, infectious attitude and natural playmaking ability would electrify the fan base and the Browns dormant offense dotted with quality playmakers would finally erupt.
5. Oakland Raiders - Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Clemson
All of the moves the Raiders have made this off-season point to them wanting to win now. Justin Tuck, James Jones, Matt Schaub, Maurice Jones-Drew and LaMarr Woodley aren't in Oakland to go through a rebuild. Watkins, though just 20 years old, is fast, powerful and ready to make an impact from day one, just like he did when he arrived on campus at Clemson.
6. St. Louis Rams (from Atlanta Falcons) – Greg Robinson, Offensive Tackle, Auburn
After a shrewd trade, the Rams once again drop back and still get a player they could've nabbed with the second pick. With the emergence of running back Zac Stacey last year, the questions about quarterback Sam Bradford and the tough defense in St. Louis, it would be best for the Rams to center their offense around a powerful running game, limiting Bradford's throwing attempts. Robinson is a mauling run blocker with the athleticism and feet to become one of the best all-around offensive linemen in the league after a few years.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
The Buccaneers started an overhaul on their offensive line, saying goodbye to guard Davin Joseph, center Jeremy Zuttah and offensive tackle Donald Penn. While they added Anthony Collins and Gabe Carimi in free agency, another tackle to protect Josh McCown or young quarterback Mike Glennon would be a wise move. Plus, the value of Matthews – an experienced technician – would be too tough to pass up at this spot.View full sizeBlake Bortles will need time to develop but has an intriguing set of skills. AP Photo/John Raoux
8. Minnesota Vikings – Blake Bortles, Quarterback, UCF
The Minnesota Vikings brought Matt Cassel back this off-season, and he can battle with Christian Ponder for the starting job in 2014. That gives the Vikings a season to groom Bortles, who needs at least a year to develop before taking a meaningful snap in the NFL. Bortles is big, strong and athletic. He seems to have the tools, but he's inconsistent and his footwork needs to be polished. Getting coaching from offensive coordinator/QB guru Norv Turner would be ideal for his future.
9. Buffalo Bills – Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M
The Bills shocked many when they used their first-round pick on quarterback E.J. Manuel last year. Now, they must focus on surrounding him with a strong supporting cast. Yes, the Bills have Stevie Johnson, but he has battled injuries and drops recently. Evans, Manziel's go-to target this past season, has the tools to be a dominant receiver in the NFL. With his size, leaping ability, separation skills and sticky hands, the former basketball player could quickly become the best receiver in the division.
10. Detroit Lions – Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh
While this may seem like a silly selection given the depth chart showing Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, Fairley has not lived up to his first-round draft status and will hit free agency next off-season. Donald has had a terrific showing in the last year. It started with his final season at Pitt where he recorded 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles-for-loss, earning him the Outland Trophy. Then he dominated at the Senior Bowl and put on a show at the Scouting Combine. He struggles disengaging with blockers because of his length, but he is too quick for interior lineman.
11. Tennessee Titans – Anthony Barr, Outside Linebacker, UCLA
Not only were the Titans 21st in the NFL with 36 sacks in 2013, but they are switching to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, making it imperative to find someone to fly off the edge. Barr, the former running back, is still new to the position and struggles when engaged with offensive linemen, but his combination of size (6-5, 225 pounds) and speed could make him an intriguing target for Horton, who worked with Browns' Barkevious Mingo in 2013.
12. New York Giants – Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
There are some off-the-field concerns with Lewan as he faces assault charges stemming from a December fight. But there is also a lot of talent. A starter since he stepped on campus in Ann Arbor, Lewan is big, athletic and nasty. Quarterback Eli Manning threw a whopping 27 interceptions last year and part of that was due to a lack of protection up front. The G-Men added a handful of offensive linemen in free agency, including guard Geoff Schwartz, but it's still not a strength.
13. St. Louis Rams – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Safety, Alabama
The Rams have invested plenty of resources getting their defense up to standards in the tough NFC West. The front seven is as good as it gets. But the secondary still needs a player with speed and athleticism to patrol the middle. That's Clinton-Dix. With good range, ball-skills and instincts, the former Alabama star usually finds himself right in the middle of the action.
14. Chicago Bears – Justin Gilbert, Cornerback, Oklahoma State
The Bears have already spent a good chunk of money trying to improve the defensive line this off-season. With Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, Chicago can now turn its attention to the old and putrid secondary with Tim Jennings, the best corner on the roster, already having turned 30. Gilbert had a tough 2012, but bounced back this past season. If his technique improves, he could be exactly what the Bears need to match up with the quality receivers the NFC North offers.View full sizeVirginia Tech's Kyle Fuller is a polished cornerback with man-to-man coverage skills.Associated Press
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Kyle Fuller, Cornerback, Virginia Tech
In a division with Josh Gordon, Torrey Smith and A.J. Green, the Steelers need help in the secondary. Fuller's instincts, athleticism and man-to-man skills make him a perfect fit for Pittsburgh's defense, which needs an injection of attitude and youth.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Timmy Jernigan, Defensive Tackle, Florida State
An immensely talented player, Jernigan is also incredibly frustrating. He takes plays off and his conditioning will need to be monitored. The Cowboys added Henry Melton in free agency, but the Dallas defense needs a lot of work and Melton is coming off a torn ACL, making an insurance policy very important.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Calvin Pryor, Safety, Louisville
The Ravens used a first rounder on the position last year, but Matt Elam's physical style makes him better suited as a strong safety. Pryor, a hard hitter with a nose for the football, would help form one of the best young safety tandems in the league.
18. New York Jets – Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback, Michigan State
I've listed a receiver here for the duration of the off-season, and there's no question that's an area in which the Jets need the most improvement. However, they are likely to be a ground-and-pound offense again this year with the combination of Chris Ivory and newly-acquired Chris Johnson in the backfield. It means, if nothing else, the Jets can take advantage of the depth at receiver in the second round and turn their attention to the cornerback spot, which is now missing Antonio Cromartie, who joined the Cardinals this off-season.
19. Miami Dolphins – Zack Martin, Offensive Lineman, Notre Dame
Do the Dolphins want Ryan Tannehill to succeed this season? If the answer is yes, then they will take Martin to protect the youngster who was sacked more than any other QB in 2013. Martin is versatile, showing ability to play guard and tackle. A very seasoned and smart prospect, Tannehill would send the GM a basket of muffins for bringing Martin to Miami.View full sizeOhio State linebacker Ryan Shazier was one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten the last few seasons.Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer
20. Arizona Cardinals – Ryan Shazier, Outside Linebacker, Ohio State
Is he an inside linebacker or an outside linebacker? I don't know. I also don't care. Shazier is a playmaker – a guy who became one of the best defenders in the country last year. With rare size, speed and athleticism, Shazier can run with backs out of the backfield and make tackles in space, drop into coverage as well as make plays in the backfield. He would only boost a defense which turned into one of the best in the league a season ago.
21. Green Bay Packers – Eric Ebron, Tight End, North Carolina
Ebron, one of the most talented players in the draft at any position, should go higher. I even considered him being drafted by the Bills as high as No. 9, but I just couldn't do it. The Packers would love to have an athletic, big-bodied target to make their offense even more dangerous.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Jimmie Ward, Safety, Northern Illinois
With the Eagles offense set to fly high again in 2014, Chip Kelly will need to focus on improving that defense. Ranked dead last against the pass in 2013 the Eagles need someone to patrol the last line. Ward - who played cornerback, nickelback, safety and special teams for the Huskies - would bring coverage ability, ball-skills, range and toughness to the secondary.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Odell Beckham Jr., Wide Receiver, LSU
The only impact receiver the Chiefs have is Dwayne Bowe, who is tough and physical. In order to spread out the defense and threaten it downfield, Kansas City needs to find someone to complement him. OBJ has speed, elusiveness and run-after-catch ability, which is perfect for Andy Reid's offense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – C.J. Mosley, Linebacker, Alabama
At some point, talent is too much to pass up. Mosley comes to the NFL a little dinged up – like most Alabama players. But he also is the rare three-down linebacker. He can run, cover, rush the passer and help when it comes to stopping the run. Polished and instinctive, he is ready to play immediately, and would fit well in the AFC North.
25. San Diego Chargers – Bradley Roby, Cornerback, Ohio State
The Chargers were ranked 29th in the NFL and still made it to the playoffs somehow. Inconsistent and burnt too much in 2013, Roby didn't live up to expectations for the Buckeyes. His athleticism, speed and quickness will thrust him into the first round.View full sizeTCU cornerback Jason Verrett would be a good fit for the Cleveland Browns.Associated Press
26. Cleveland Browns – Jason Verrett, Cornerback, TCU
The question will come down to cornerback or wide receiver, and a temptation will be there to take Oregon State's Brandin Cooks or the dangerous Marqise Lee from USC. But the run on cornerbacks makes this pick Verrett, whose attitude, toughness and physical style fit perfectly with new head coach Mike Pettine. He's the last player from the Tier One CBs and the Browns can't afford to wait until pick No. 35 to address this position. But the position of receiver is another story because it's one of the deepest groups in the draft, and there are at least 10 receivers who could make an impact in their first year. Their high second rounder allows them to wait and still can get a wideout who can serve as Flash's sidekick.
27. New Orleans Saints – Dee Ford, Outside Linebacker, Auburn
New Orleans' defense made good strides in 2013, but it needs to continue to add more talent, especially since it has to slow down Cam Newton and Matt Ryan twice a year for the foreseeable future. Ford is certainly not the best pass rusher in the class that he claims to be, but he is coming off a tremendous year at Auburn and his speed and explosiveness from the edge is currently missing from Rob Ryan's defense.
28. Carolina Panthers – Cyrus Kouandjio, Offenisve Tackle, Alabama
Jordan Gross, the Panthers starting left tackle, retired this off-season. But there were plenty of other losses felt along the line in Carolina. The knee issues with Kouandjio will likely turn some teams off and while he doesn't have great feet, he's still new to the game and is a big body that can keep defenders out of the backfield while still improving his craft.
29. New England Patriots – Kony Ealy, Defensive End, Missouri
With Vince Wilfork staying in New England, thanks to his new contract extension, the Pats can hold off on a defensive tackle and nab the versatile Ealy to improve another position on defense. He was overshadowed by teammate Michael Sam, but Ealy has the tools to be a more productive pro.View full sizeDid wide receiver Brandin Cooks solidify himself as a first-round pick with a great showing at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine?Associated Press
30. San Francisco 49ers – Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver, Oregon State
Cooks lit up the combine showing speed, power and reliable hands that made him a dynamic pass-catcher for Oregon State. His skills complement reliable possession receivers Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree very well, giving quarterback Colin Kaepernick another target.
31. Denver Broncos – Xavier Su'a-Filo, Offensive Guard, UCLA
After an extremely busy off-season, the Broncos don't have many needs left to fill. But one that's remaining is on the offensive line, especially with Zane Beadles heading to Jacksonville. Su'a-Filo, with experience at guard and tackle, is ready to play now. His power and athleticism should help with issues that showed up against the Seattle Seahawks during the Super Bowl.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Dominique Easley, Defensive Tackle, Florida
If there's a team that can take a player like Easley and essentially redshirt him for a year coming off a torn ACL, it's Seattle. Loaded on offense and defense, Easley would give them one of the most talented defenders in the draft when he recovers. Had he not gotten injured, Easley would be earmarked for the Top 20 thanks to his quickness, power and punch off the snap.
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