Every mock draft is wrong. All of them, including this one, because you’re reading them wrong.
The goal here isn’t to nail all 32 first-round picks. That’s absurd, and surely when we look back on this first early mock there will be slam dunk picks, and other whiffs who become busts. Such is the nature of the draft creature.
Instead, the goal is to present a scenario. An elaborate, and very plausible scenario in which we evaluate players and team desires. In this experiment each team is balancing individual needs with the value forming at their draft position. In the end we get an approximation of what the first round could look like.
But like any good scientist, we’ll be conduct this experiment multiple times between now and May 8, and we’ll be doing it with several different mad hands over the beakers too. I’m kicking off the festivities today, and in the coming weeks around these parts you’ll also see mocks from our college football writer Scott Lewis, resident draftnik Justin Boone, and tape fiend Alen Dumonjic.
You’ll be given different viewpoints, perspectives, and possibilities to explore. And hey, maybe one of us will be right about something.
Let’s do this then. Below is my early-ish first-round mock here in late March with free agency fizzled and Pro Days moving along swiftly. Trades aren’t included, though the possibility of them is discussed.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles (QB, Central Florida) — For me and so very many others, Bortles is the most polished of the top three at his position. Although Johnny Manziel will be tempting as the local kid, there’s also a safer feeling with Bortles. Yes, that sounds risk averse, and maybe it is. But with little time left in Andre Johnson’s prime and a first-round pick invested in DeAndre Hopkins, dodging risk is wise for the Texans.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Greg Robinson (OT, Auburn) — Jeff Fisher has doubled down on Sam Bradford, and now it’s time to protect his quarterback who’s returning from an ACL tear. More importantly, the two tackles currently in place for the Rams are consistently crumbling. Rodger Saffold was brought back due to the Raiders’ incompetence, but he’s missed 15 games over the past three years, and Jake Long is recovering from an ACL tear of his own, in addition to an MCL rip.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney (DE/OLB, South Carolina) — If Clowney falls to the Jaguars, their No. 3 pick will quickly become a trade hotspot, with the Falcons looking to jump up. If that doesn’t happen, Clowney will bring his freak 4.43 40-yard dash speed to a Gus bradley defense that also just inserted Red Bryant up front.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M) — The Browns are drafting a quarterback, it’s just a matter of when. Their bridge if needed is already on the roster in the form of Brian Hoyer, and now doing the opposite of the Texans and embracing sexy over safe will be appealing for a franchise that just whiffed on the latter path with Brandon Weeden, and now six quarterbacks have made a start for Cleveland over the past three seasons. If you’d like to read too much into the Browns bypassing Manziel’s Pro Day, go nuts. I’m not.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson) — The Raiders seem to be acting as if 2013 just didn’t happen with Matt Schaub. That will end with many palms hitting foreheads, a common occurrence in the land that winning forgot. But for Schaub to have a chance, he needs more support. James Jones was a nice start during free agency, and now in Watkins the Raiders land the most explosive deep threat of the draft.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack (DE/OLB, University of Buffalo) — Unless he trades up for Clowney, Falcons general manger Thomas Dimitroff will be between Mack and Jake Matthews here. Mack and a greater outside pass rushing presence should be the priority as more pieces are collected to finally support defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s 3-4 leanings (see: Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson).
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M) — There are multiple directions the Bucs could go, including a long look at Mike Evans if Watkins is already off the board as he is here. But after Anthony Collins was signed to replace Donald Penn at left tackle, he’ll pair nicely with the 6’8″ Matthews.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville) — I feel like Bridgewater should fall further than this, as if one of the top three quarterbacks is set to take an Aaron Rodgers-like tumble in this draft, it’s him. But I also feel like the Christian Ponder era should be over, and Matt Cassel is little more than a band-aid.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan (OT, Michigan) — A swift upgrade at tight end will be mighty difficult to resist here with Eric Ebron. But upgrading an offensive line that allowed 48 sacks and 108 quarterback hits this past season is the greater need. At 6’7″ and with good hands and agility, Lewan is the guy to do that.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State) — The 23rd-ranked secondary in the league gets a cornerback who fits the profile of the new breed at the position: a 6’0″ hulking presence with quick hands and footwork.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr (DE/OLB, UCLA) — Cornerback is a need here too after Alterraun Verner was given all the dollars in Tampa. But with Ray Horton in town now and the Titans switching to a 3-4, pressure off the edge and support for Jurrell Casey (who logged 10.5 of the Titans’ 36 sacks) comes first, and Barr brings 4.4 speed along with 41.5 tackles for a loss over his last two collegiate seasons.
12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron (TE, UNC) — Reuben Randle can step up for the departed Hakeem Nicks, but if Eli Manning is to right his floundering career he needs another Martellus Bennett, and a replacement for Brandon Myers. Ebron can be both of those things and more after accumulating 973 receiving yards during his junior season.
13. St. Louis Rams: HaHa Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama) — After addressing their O-line need early, the attention now turns to (narrowly) the best safety in this class to line up alongside T.J. McDonald after a year when the Rams gave up a league worst 8.1 yards per pass attempt.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan (DT, Florida State) — The additions of Jared Allen and LaMarr Houston have re-introduced scary thoughts when one thinks about the Bears defensive line. But more help is needed on the interior after Henry Melton left for Dallas, and Jernigan provides a gap-filling presence with his 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss during Florida State’s championship season.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville) — I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but Troy Polamalu isn’t a young feller anymore. Yet somehow he’s still defying the laws of time and playing at a high level entering his age 33 season. Eventually he could smack into a wall, and getting a Bob Sanders sort who’s effective against both the run and pass while covering a lot of ground now is wise.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh) — Henry Melton was an affordable add, but more help is needed along the defensive line to fill the cavernous voids left by DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. Enter Donald, the Combine superstar who somehow made his 285-pound frame run 40 yards in 4.68 seconds.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M) — If Evans falls this far the Ravens will run with his name on a card to select the true support for Torrey Smith, and a large-Bodied (nearly 6’5″) wide receiver in the Vincent Jackson mold who can win contested balls with his physicality. Here’s an even better and much more important name drop: Evans can be Joe Flacco’s next Anquan Boldin.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee (WR, USC) — For some Odell Beckham Jr. has risen above Lee as the third receiver off the board, and fair enough. There’s no wrong decision between the two, but with his slighter build Beckham is better suited as a slot receiver, and with Stephen Hill busting a downfield outside presence is needed to both complement the newly signed Eric Decker, and give Michael Vick another deep target once he inevitably beats out Geno Smith.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin (OT, Notre Dame) — If the Dolphins could draft eight tackles in the first round, they would. Instead they’ll settle for the best available prospect still on the board as an offense that lost two starting linemen early last season attempts to keep Ryan Tannehill somewhat upright after he was sacked 58 times, which easily led the league.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford (DE/OLB, Auburn) — There’s plenty of pressure coming from the outside right now in Arizona between John Abraham and Darnell Dockett. The problem is they’ve played a combined 29 NFL seasons, and age is very much becoming their enemy. Ford comes at a much cheaper draft investment than Clowney, and a 4.53 40-yard dash time makes him Clowney-lite. Literally too, as Ford is 14 pounds lighter than Clowney and is therefore ideal is a 3-4 outside linebacker.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ryan Shazier (OLB, Ohio State) — Julius Peppers was brought in to beef up the pass rush with whatever he has left. But that tank will run dry soon, and Shazier comes with quality late-round value and great lateral speed that led to 144 tackles during his final year at Ohio State.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State) — An upgrade at cornerback has to happen, and right now after the Eagles gave up a league worst 289.8 passing yards per game. Dennard’s projections have ranked him anywhere between top 10 and much later in the opening round. The latter scenario falls into place here, with Philly warmly embracing the physical corner who had four interceptions in 2013.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr. (WR, LSU) — Fast and shifty in the open field, Beckham can be another target on short-to-intermediate routes who’s asked to churn up yardage after the catch. That’s pretty much what the Chiefs are now, and he’ll fit in just fine.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech) — Beyond Dre Kirkpatrick at corner the Bengals have Leon Hall, who’s returning from his second ACL tear in three years, a 35-year-old Terrance Newman, and the 30-year-old Pacman Jones at nickelback. There’s a dire need for youth at the position.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett (CB, TCU) — Bradley Roby could be selected here or higher, but his penchant for being burned deep during his final season at Ohio State (including a game against Iowa when he gave up 41- and 67-yard passes) is concerning. Verrett is undersized at 5’9″ for today’s corner, but his feisty factor compensates for that.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State) — After getting their quarterback early, the Browns now select both a large human who can win contested balls to put Manziel at ease (Benjamin is 6’5″), and a complement for uber field stretcher Josh Gordon.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy (DE/OLB, Missouri) — With his 273-pound bulk Ealy will be another body up front to use as a rotational pass rusher, and yet another weapon for Rob Ryan and his front seven that finished with 49 sacks.
28. Carolina Panthers: Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State) — The top five wide receivers are gone, with the expected first-round run at a deep position sucking them up. So with poor value at their greatest need, the Panthers turn to another position where they currently employ no one of note after Captain Munnerlyn left during free agency.
29. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III (DT, Notre Dame) — Vince Wilfork didn’t feel the harsh hand of the Patriot way, and he was re-signed to a new three-year deal. Terrific, but a meager $3 million of his $22.5 million in new money is guaranteed, making it essentially a one-year deal with an aging tackle who’s recovering from an Achilles tear. Depth and a successor is needed now.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota) — Glenn Dorsey excelled when Trent Baalke picked him up off the scrap heap, and he salvaged his career. But he’s still a little undersized at nose tackle, and he’s a free agent next spring. More broadly, with Justin Smith entering his 15th season the 49ers aren’t exactly youthful up front.
31. Denver Broncos: C.J. Mosley (ILB, Alabama) — Replacing the depth lost when Wesley Woodyard signed with the Titans, Mosley averaged 8.3 tackles per game throughout the 2013 season.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Brandin Cooks (WR, Oklahoma State) — With Golden Tate gone to Detroit and Percy Harvin seemingly at risk of breaking every week, the Seahawks continue the swift run on wide receivers early in the draft by selecting an undersized receiver who’s a burner downfield. Sound familiar? Cooks led the nation in receiving yards during his final season at Oklahoma State with 1,730.