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 Anthony Barr or Jadeveon Clowney or an offensive lineman like Jake Matthews and the other side believes it’ll be a quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Derek Carr. 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 will have a new coaching staff in town next season 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 Matt Schaub and his large salary sound as good as gone at this point. I’ve had Teddy Bridgewater here in the past, but multiple reputable sources say that Blake Bortles is the favorites because new head coach Bill O’Brien loves that type of quarterback. A lot can change between now and May though.
2. St. Louis Rams- OT Jake Matthews (Texas A&M)
This seems like an obvious trade down spot with teams wanting to move up to secure their guy at quarterback or to take Jadeveon Clowney, but I’m not predicting trades yet. I doubt the Rams give up on Sam Bradford and take a quarterback here, but there’s time for that to change. Instead, they continue to build around Bradford. They desperately need offensive line help.
Of their starting 5 on the offensive line last year, two are free agents (Chris Williams, Rodger Saffold), two will likely be cap casualties (Harvey Dahl, Scott Wells), and the other (Jake Long) tore his ACL in December and his status will be in doubt for the start of next season. Best case scenario, Long comes back healthy week 1, they re-sign Rodger Saffold to play right guard, where he was excellent to end the season, and Jake Matthews slots in at right tackle. Drafting Matthews also gives them flexibility in case Long misses time because he can play the blindside too.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars- QB Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville)
The Jaguars have won 4 games, but I still think they’re the worst team in the NFL. All 4 of their wins came by a touchdown or less, while 10 of their 12 losses came by double digits, giving them the worst point differential in the NFL and putting them dead last in DVOA. Their 4-12 record was buoyed by a 4-2 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and their 4 wins came against teams that finished a combined 15-49. All those meaningless wins did was put them out of the running for the top pick. They can still get a quarterback though and adding a franchise quarterback is the quickest way to fix a bad team. The Jaguars have reportedly been scouting quarterbacks all season and that’s almost certainly where they’re going at the top of the draft. There might not be a team that needs one more.
4. Cleveland Browns- QB Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)
The Browns have had three different quarterbacks start games for them this 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 the regime that drafted Brandon Weeden is gone, so they could easily go with a quarterback early this year. Johnny Manziel is a controversial prospect, but he was given a 1st round grade by the NFL draft advisory board and has a very good chance to go in the top-10 as one of the top few quarterbacks off the board. Multiple sources report the Browns’ front office loves him. Obviously a lot can change. They still don’t even have a head coach yet. But Manziel seems like the odds on favorite to go 4th overall at the moment.
5. Oakland Raiders- DE Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina)
Lamarr Houston is a free agent this off-season. He’s one of the few good players the Raiders have and the Raiders have a ton of cap space so they better bring him back, but they still need help opposite him as Jason Hunter has been one of the worst starting defensive ends in the NFL this season. Clowney is too good to pass on at this point, even though the Raiders need quarterback help badly too. Clowney could be the best defensive prospect of the decade and only falls to 5 because the Rams at 2 didn’t need a defensive end, while the Jaguars, Browns, and Texans all needed quarterbacks badly.
6. Atlanta Falcons- OLB Anthony Barr (UCLA)
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 Barr 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 been benched and he’s unlikely to be brought back next season, owed 3.5 million dollars in his age 33 contract year.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- OLB Khalil Mack (Buffalo)
The Buccaneers really need to generate some pass rush outside of Gerald McCoy. They badly need defensive end help. They took defensive ends in the 1st and 2nd round in 2011, but Adrian Clayborn has struggled in his first year back from injury, while Da’Quan Bowers is coming off the bench behind Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who has been awful. Mack can play defensive end on pass downs and would also fill a need at outside linebacker in base packages, a la Von Miller.
8. Minnesota Vikings- QB Derek Carr (Fresno State)
Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, does it even matter at this point? The Vikings rotated their quarterbacks trying to find some semblance of competency to get through the season, but it’s becoming pretty clear that they’ll be looking for a quarterback early in 2014, especially with Leslie Frazier gone. The Vikings take David Carr here in an attempt to end their long pursuit of a franchise quarterback.
9. Buffalo Bills- OT Greg Robinson (Auburn)
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 Robinson could fill in at left guard for the time being. Left guard was a huge problem for the Bills this season.
10. Detroit Lions- WR Sammy Watkins (Clemson)
The Lions drafted Titus Young and Ryan Broyles in back-to-back 2nd rounds with the intention of having 3 talented receivers with them and Calvin Johnson. Titus Young is no longer in the league for off-the-field reasons (and that’s putting it lightly), while Ryan Broyles has unfortunately suffered a significant lower body injury in each of the last 3 seasons, dating back to his senior year at Oklahoma. It’s at the point where his career is in jeopardy. The Lions could focus on the wide receiver position early in the draft, especially since this is a strong wide receiver draft. The Lions really struggled offensively when Calvin Johnson was out of the lineup this year. Sammy Watkins is too good to pass on here. Can you imagine him and Calvin Johnson opposite each other?
11. Tennessee Titans- MLB CJ Mosley (Alabama)
The Titans have needed middle linebacker help for a while. Colin McCarthy was solid in a half season as a starter as a rookie in 2011, but he disappointed in 2012, as the former 4th round pick struggled through injuries and could barely get on the field. This year, he was benched for Moise Fokou, a veteran journeyman signed through free agency, who beat him out in the pre-season. Fokou was predictably terrible and one of the weak links on an otherwise solid defense, so they’ll probably try to replace him this off-season. CJ Mosley is a special linebacker talent. He’s a different player than Luke Kuechly, but he has a chance to go just as high.
12. New York Giants- CB Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State)
Three of the Giants’ top-4 cornerbacks, Terrell Thomas, Trumaine McBride, and Corey Webster will all be free agents this off-season. The Giants will need another cornerback to go with Prince Amukamara for the future. Jayron Hosley, a 2012 3rd round pick, seems to have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff after a horrific rookie season.
13. St. Louis Rams- S HaHa Clinton-Dix (Alabama)
The Rams lost both of their starting safeties from 2012 this off-season and didn’t really replace either, only reaching for TJ McDonald in the 3rd round. McDonald was hurt and the duo of Darian Stewart and Rodney McLeod was very underwhelming. They could use an early pick on a safety in 2014. I’m not sure if HaHa Clinton-Dix is a Key and Peele character or a reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but he’s the top safety in the 2014 class regardless.
14. Chicago Bears- DT Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh)
Henry Melton tore his ACL while playing out his franchise tag and is no guarantee to be back next season as a free agent. The position has been a disaster in his absence. Fellow starter Stephen Paea has been decent, but they’ve shown themselves to have no depth at the position. They should look to the draft to find another defensive tackle. Aaron Donald was the star of Senior Bowl practices and is probably a first round pick now. His measurables (6-1 288) will turn some teams off of him, but it only takes one team to take him in the first round. The Bears don’t mind undersized defensive tackles. In fact, Melton himself is just 6-3 290. Donald will be a great fit for the Bears’ defensive scheme.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers- WR Mike Evans (Texas A&M)
Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders are both free agents this off-season so that leaves the Steelers with 2013 3rd round pick Markus Wheaton after Antonio Brown on the depth chart with absolutely no depth. Wheaton still has promise, but he played just 161 snaps as a rookie, catching 6 passes. If they don’t re-sign one or both of Cotchery and Sanders, they’ll be looking at wide receivers early in the draft. Evans would complement the smaller Brown very well because of his 6-5 frame.
16. Dallas Cowboys- DT Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota)
The Cowboys desperately need defensive tackle help. Jay Ratliff never made it on the field this season for the Cowboys. Nick Hayden, his replacement, was horrible this season, showing why he played a total of 33 snaps from 2011-2012. Jason Hatcher was a stud, as usual, but he’s a free agent this off-season and the Cowboys are in a terrible cap situation and probably won’t be able to bring him back.
Go on to 17-32