1. Houston Texans- QB Blake Bortles (Central Florida)
There seems to be two sides to the debate about what the Texans will do with the #1 pick. One side says they’ll take a defensive player like Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack or an offensive lineman like Greg Robinson and the other side believes it’ll be a quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, or Johnny Manziel. I agree with the latter. This debate is nothing new. In 2007, it was JaMarcus Russell or Calvin Johnson. In 2009, it was Matt Stafford or Jason Smith/Aaron Curry. In 2010, it was Sam Bradford of Ndamukong Suh/Gerald McCoy. In 2011, it was Cam Newton or Von Miller/Marcell Dareus/AJ Green. For better or worse, the team with the top pick almost always talks themselves into a quarterback if they need one.
In the last 16 drafts, a quarterback has been the #1 pick 12 times. The 4 times it was not a quarterback: the Browns had drafted Tim Couch in the 1st round the year before, the Texans still believed in David Carr, who was drafted #1 four years prior, the Dolphins took Jake Long over Matt Ryan and went with Chad Henne in the 2nd round, and the Chiefs had already traded for Alex Smith. In only one of those instances did the team picking first feel they needed a quarterback. None of the other three spent a single draft pick on a quarterback in any round. If a team feels they need a quarterback and they have the #1 pick, they almost always talk themselves into a quarterback.
The Texans have a new coaching staff and new coaching staffs almost always want to bring in their own guy at quarterback, unless there’s an established quarterback in place. In Houston, there really isn’t one. Case Keenum did some nice things in his first few starts, but eventually proved why he went undrafted, while Ryan Fitzpatrick is a stopgap at best. It sounds like the quarterback they prefer is Blake Bortles, but a lot can change between now and May though.
2. St. Louis Rams- OT Greg Robinson (Auburn)
The Rams re-signed Rodger Saffold, but he’s expected to play right guard for them, which is probably his best position. They still need offensive line help, particularly at left guard and at right tackle. They might be able to kill two birds with one stone by drafting Greg Robinson here. He’d be an upgrade over Joseph Barksdale at right tackle and then Barksdale could, in turn, move to left guard. Robinson is the top offensive lineman in this draft class and one of the top prospects overall. Unless they trade down, they’ll probably take him here.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars- DE Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina)
The more I hear, the more it sounds like quarterbacks are going to slip a little bit in this draft. I still think we’ll see 3 go in the top-10 because of how many teams in the top-10 are in desperate need of quarterback help. One team I could definitely see passing on a quarterback in the top-10 is Jacksonville, especially if Jadeveon Clowney is available at 3. They’ve re-signed Chad Henne and they seem prepared to go into 2014 with him as their starting quarterback and a quarterback they draft on day 2, like Jimmy Garoppolo.
4. Cleveland Browns- QB Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)
The Browns had three different quarterbacks start games for them last season, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, and Jason Campbell, and only Hoyer has looked like someone who could be a long-term starter. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL before he could really establish himself. He’ll probably be back in 2014, but probably not as the only starting option. The Browns have 2 first round picks and Brandon Weeden and the regime that drafted him is gone, so they could easily go with a quarterback early this year. They are known to have interest in Johnny Manziel.
5. Oakland Raiders- WR Sammy Watkins (Clemson)
The Raiders were one of the leaders in the DeSean Jackson pursuit before he eventually decided to sign with the Redskins. They don’t have a huge need for a wide receiver, but that shows that they are definitely interested in adding to the position in the right situation. Sammy Watkins is a similar player to DeSean Jackson and he’s probably the best player available. It would make a lot of sense if they drafted him here in this situation.
6. Atlanta Falcons- OLB Khalil Mack (Buffalo)
The Falcons completely bottomed out this season, but the good news is they’ll get to pick very early and a chance to add another blue chip player to their team. That’s exactly what Mack can be and at a position of need. The Falcons had just 32 sacks this season, which ranked tied for 3rd worst in the NFL, and they are Pro Football Focus’ 32nd ranked team in terms of pass rush. Osi Umenyiora was their big free agent pass rusher signing, but he’s only an average starter at this point in his career and he’s going into his age 33 season. They need an edge rusher opposite him anyway. Mack is a perfect fit for them, especially since they seem to be transitioning to a 3-4 after the additions of Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai. I can’t imagine them letting him past them.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- TE Eric Ebron (North Carolina)
This might seem like a reach for Eric Ebron, but this is probably the perfect mix of need and value. They have nothing at the tight end position. Brandon Myers is a backup caliber tight end, while Tim Wright is an oversized slot receiver who can’t block inline. Ebron definitely has top-10 upside. He has rare athleticism for a big receiver and can provide a talented 3rd option after Vincent Jackson and a hopefully healthy Mike Williams.
8. Minnesota Vikings- QB Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville)
Neither Matt Cassel nor Christian Ponder is the long-term answer for the Vikings at quarterback. With a new coaching staff coming in, the Vikings will definitely take a quarterback at some point early in the draft. They won’t reach for a quarterback here, but if Teddy Bridgewater makes it to them at 8, I think they pull the trigger. Bridgewater’s stock is falling because of concerns about his size and a below average Pro Day, but the tape shows him to be incredibly accurate in the all-important intermediate 5-15 yard range. Vikings’ offensive coordinator Norv Turner said he actually came away impressed from Bridgewater’s Pro Day. I think they’ll happily take him here.
9. Buffalo Bills- OT Jake Matthews (Texas A&M)
The Bills need to improve their protection around EJ Manuel, in order to give him the best chance to succeed. Erik Pears is a marginal player at best at right tackle, so they could focus on finding a talented young bookend for the impressive Cordy Glenn early in the draft. Pears will be in a contract year in 2014 and either he or Matthews could fill in at left guard for the time being. Left guard was a huge problem for the Bills this season.
10. Detroit Lions- S HaHa Clinton-Dix (Alabama)
Wide receivers have commonly been mocked here as the Lions came into the off-season as a pass heavy team with just one competent receiver (albeit a very, very, very competent receiver in Calvin Johnson). However, they signed Golden Tate so they probably won’t be taking a wide receiver here. They still need help at the position because they run a lot of 3-wide receiver sets, but they can do that in a later round. They have the option to address other positions here, including safety which is a huge need after cutting Louis Delmas. They saved 6 million on the cap by doing that, which allowed them to sign Golden Tate, who will help this football team more than Delmas, so it was a good move, but they need to replace him. Clinton-Dix can be that replacement and it fits the range.
11. Tennessee Titans- CB Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State)
The Titans are in an interesting position where they actually don’t have very many pressing needs in the starting lineup (aside from running back once they inevitably let Chris Johnson go). That could all be derailed if they can’t find consistency at quarterback, but despite picking 11th, they’re in a position to take best available provided it’s someone they can get on the field quickly. I think that’s Justin Gilbert. Alterraun Verner is gone. The Titans still have Jason McCourty and depth, including 2013 3rd round pick Blidi Wreh-Wilson, and nickel back Coty Sensabaugh, but if the top cornerback in the draft class falls to them at 11, I think they pull the trigger.
12. New York Giants- OLB Anthony Barr (UCLA)
Anthony Barr is popularly mocked in the top-10 in mock drafts on the internet, but I think there’s a good chance that he falls out in a “draft day surprise.” Everything I’ve heard from scouts around the league and people in the know suggest that the NFL doesn’t view him the same way the NFL public does and that his game doesn’t match his measurables or his tape. This might even be a little early for him, but the Giants have a history of taking shots on incredibly athletic defensive lineman in the Jerry Reese era. It worked with Jason Pierre-Paul certainly. Justin Tuck is gone. Osi Umenyiora is long gone. All the Giants have at defensive end is Jason Pierre-Paul, a washed up Mathias Kiwanuka, and an unproven Damontre Moore, a 2013 3rd round pick who played 136 snaps as a rookie. Anthony Barr can play linebacker in base packages, also a need of the Giants’, and move to defensive end on passing downs, providing valuable depth. The Giants love rotation on the defensive line and Jason Pierre-Paul, with his bad back, probably isn’t capable of playing 900+ snaps in a season anyway.
13. St. Louis Rams- WR Mike Evans (Texas A&M)
Would the Rams take a wide receiver in the top-15 after taking one in the top-10 last year? Usually that kind of thing is unheard of, but the Rams could be the exception as they’ve had 5 first round picks in the last 3 years, plus an extra 2nd round pick, thanks to the Robert Griffin trade. They’re also still unsettled at wide receiver. Tavon Austin, the 8th overall pick last year, struggled as a rookie, though it’s way too early for the jury to be out on him. Chris Givens, a 2013 4th round pick, is a decent complementary player, but he can’t really be a game changer at receiver. Brian Quick, a 2013 2nd round pick, has yet to do much. The Rams are currently very interested in adding Kenny Britt through free agency. That would be a worthwhile flier, but using the 13th pick on Mike Evans, should he fall to them, would have a much higher chance of success.
14. Chicago Bears- DT Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh)
Henry Melton left as a free agent so the Bears are still left with the same defensive tackles they had last season after Melton got hurt when they were one of the worst run stopping defenses in the league. They added LaMarr Houston in free agency and he can play some defensive tackle, but he’ll play on the edge in sub packages. Aaron Donald is a rising player after the Senior Bowl and The Combine and could go as high as the top-10. This is probably his floor and the Bears would be absolutely thrilled if he fell to them. His measurables (6-1 288) will turn some teams off of him, but the Bears definitely don’t mind undersized defensive tackles. In fact, Melton himself is just 6-3 290. Donald plays bigger than his size and has great athleticism. He will be a great fit for the Bears’ defensive scheme.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers- WR Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State)
Mike Wallace is long gone. Now Emmanuel Sanders and Jericho Cotchery are gone this off-season. The Steelers signed Lance Moore from the Saints, but he’s just a short-term fix at the absolute best case scenario. The Steelers need to add a compliment to Antonio Brown on the outside and another receiver to go with Antonio Brown and unproven 2013 3rd round pick Markus Wheaton, who played 161 snaps and caught 6 passes as a rookie. Benjamin is the type of big bodied receiver that would complement Brown perfectly and there are rumored to be very interested in adding a big receiver for that reason.
16. Dallas Cowboys- DT Timmy Jernigan (Florida State)
The Cowboys need to add some sort of defensive lineman here. Even after signing Henry Melton, they still are incredibly thin on the defensive line, especially after losing DeMarcus Ware. They need at least one new starter at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Options here include Jernigan, Ra’Shede Hageman, Kony Ealy, and Dee Ford, but I think Jernigan is the best of the 4. He’s a perfect fit as an interior one gap penetrator in Rod Marinelli’s scheme. He and Melton will start at defensive tackle and make Nick Hayden, highly overmatched as the Cowboys’ leader in snaps played on the defensive line last season, into the 3rd defensive tackle, which is a much better role for him.
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