Twenty-nine days, 20 hours, 35 minutes and 35 seconds (from when I am currently typing). Once that short period of time has elapsed, ladies and gentleman, we will be at the main event, the feature entertainment, the pinnacle of the year: the 2014 NFL Draft.
A sacred event in which professional franchises spend months of time and millions of dollars in scouting in order to rebuild their teams or find a few missing pieces. The examples of Tom Brady (sixth round) and Shannon Sharpe (seventh round) come to mind when we think of players that were drafted late but helped define a team for years to come. Conversely, guys like Ryan Leaf (second pick) and JaMarcus Russell (first pick) have crippled franchises, and impeded years of development. So where does that make us stand today? The 2014 NFL Draft is incredibly similar to the 2013 NBA Draft in the sense that there is incredible uncertainty at the top. However, there is much talent to be had at many key positions, so teams who have stockpiled draft picks are in prime position to make a leap in the 2014 season.
Below is a mock draft, with explanations for the top five teams. This is not necessarily what I think a team should do, but what I think they will do. No projected trades have been factored in.
1) HOUSTON TEXANS: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, University of South Carolina
I have two main reasons why I believe the Texans will draft Clowney over Blake Bortles. First, Bill O’Brien probably believes that he can grab a second round quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo, Teddy Bridgewater if he falls, etc.) that he can mold into a star, and doesn’t believe that they are too far off of what Blake Bortles brings to the table. Secondly, O’Brien is an offensive guy, so having the opportunity to solidify his defense so he can focus on rebuilding the offense is too tantalizing to pass up. Clowney and J.J. Watt would be an unstoppable force, and the potential for this dynamic duo will solidify Clowney at this position.
2) ST. LOUIS RAMS: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
I believe that the Rams will allow themselves to pick at two for luxury, and at 13 for need. The Rams need to do something for Sam Bradford to help him out. Drafting Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey was a start. Adding in Sammy Watkins to the mix creates a juggernaut at the wide receiver position. The added benefit is that if Bradford cannot succeed given his tools, it becomes apparent that the Rams need to move on. Realistically, I believe that Rams move this pick to someone in the 6-10 range, draft an OL first and a wide receiver at 12.
3) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Blake Bortles, QB, University of Central Florida
Jags fans have been clamoring ownership to sign a certain Floridian who experienced massive success at the collegiate level and has a cult following throughout America (Tim Tebow). After this pick, those fans will have their wildest dreams realized. Bortles oozes potential, and the Jaguars are in a rebuilding situation. He immediately becomes the quarterback of the future and shores up a glaring position of need for the next decade and change.
4) CLEVELAND BROWNS: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State University
If I were running the Browns, I would absolutely take Johnny Football in this slot, then hope to draft Kelvin Benjamin/Marqise Lee/Odell Beckham Jr. with the 26th pick. Some pundits believe a guy like Manziel could drop to 26, so the Browns should look elsewhere here. I believe that because they got burned once (Brandon Weeden) with a late-first round quarterback selection, the Browns will be adamant about getting their guy. Several reports have shown that the Browns think very highly of Carr, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him as the pick.
5) OAKLAND RAIDERS: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn University
There has been a buzz that the Raiders could go QB with Manziel here, or look to solidify their front seven by taking Khalil Mack. Neither scenerio will occur. The Raiders got burned by letting Jared Veldheer leave via free agency, and by voiding Rodger Saffold’s contract. Although Austin Howard is a capable right tackle, they still need a mauler and protector on the left side. Robinson has great tape and even better workouts, and will become an anchor for the Raiders for years to come.
6) ATLANTA FALCONS: Khalil Mack, OLB, University at Buffalo
7) TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M University
8) MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, University of Louisville
9) BUFFALO BILLS: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M University
10) DETROIT LIONS: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State University
11) TENNESSEE TITANS: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State University
12) NEW YORK GIANTS: Eric Ebron, TE, University of North Carolina
13) ST. LOUIS RAMS: Taylor Lewan, OT, University of Michigan
14) CHICAGO BEARS: Aaron Donald, DT, University of Pittsburgh
15) PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
16) DALLAS COWBOYS: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, University of Alabama
17) BALTIMORE RAVENS: Zack Martin, OT, University of Notre Dame
18) NEW YORK JETS: Marqise Lee, WR, University of Southern California
19) MIAMI DOLPHINS: Brandon Thomas, OG, Clemson University
20) ARIZONA CARDINALS: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State University
21) GREEN BAY PACKERS: Calvin Pryor, S, University of Louisville
22) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Louisiana State University
23) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State University
24) CINCINNATI BENGALS: Bradley Roby, CB, The Ohio State University
25) SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State University
26) CLEVELAND BROWNS: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State University
27) NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn University
28) CAROLINA PANTHERS: Allen Robinson, WR, Pennsylvania State University
29) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: C.J. Mosley, MLB, University of Alabama
30) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt University
31) DENVER BRONCOS: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, University of Minnesota
32) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Morgan Moses, OT, University of Virginia
– By Jayson Patel