OK,kids! It is time for this year’s NFL Draft Preview. This is my third year I have done one of these and last year I maybe had two or three picks correct, proving that the draft is far from an exact science and more of a crapshoot than anyone truly realizes. If you’ve read this before I do a first round analysis of the draft, no potential trades only because it’s hard to predict that and you can’t bank on maybe. On to the preview…
As much as I haven’t wanted to place Clowney here at the top pick, mainly because Houston needs a quarterback very badly, Clowney is an incredibly talented player. He showed flashes of that in his time at South Carolina and provided us with a look a what he might look like in the NFL. What concerns me is his lack of hustle in his last season in college. He took plays off and wanted to sit out games to protect his draft stock. However, if you put him on the same defense as J.J. Watt and you play Andrew Luck twice a year, you might want to take a run at this guy. I think the Texans will.
The Rams are sitting in a good spot here, they can go for a linebacker or a receiver or even a quarterback. However, I think they will do what they need to do and draft Greg Robinson from Auburn. This team needs big time help at this position and Robinson is a terrific talent. At 6-5,332 lbs. Robinson has excellent skills with run blocking but needs to work on his pass protection. Overall, I think the Rams will love having this guy in their starting lineup and would be crazy not to take him here.
Let’s face it, one of the guys whose stock has risen in this year’s draft is Buffalo’s Khalil Mack. For the Jaguars, this is definitely a safe pick even though they probably could use a quarterback. Mack was a force at Buffalo and played four years there,setting school records for sacks,forced fumbles,and tackles for a loss. He has a motor that doesn’t stop and is a relentless player. This guy has some serious toughness that the Jaguars have been seriously lacking for years.
Since their return to the NFL in 1999, Cleveland has started over 20 different quarterbacks. Fans are wondering if that streak will stop for a while. Johnny Manziel just might be that guy for the Browns. Many have described the former Heisman Trophy winner as a Russell Wilson-type of quarterback and I think that’s quite accurate. He has the tools to be successful, but can he put some of his cockiness aside in order to help the Browns win? If he doesn’t, he is the next Ryan Leaf. The Browns may reach for Blake Bortles here or even a receiver, but Manziel is too good to pass up at the fourth pick.
If anyone qualifies as the best offensive weapon in this draft, Sammy Watkins certainly tops that list. I think he is the best receiver in this draft. He has great speed and has great ability to stretch the defense. He can even run the ball out of the backfield if you need him to. I think Watkins is the type of playmaker the Raiders need. It’s been 12 years since they have been in the postseason and if they want to break such a streak, I think they should draft this guy to help that out.
Since I have Greg Robinson off the board, I think Atlanta will go after Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews. The Falcons could use some help on their offensive line and who better than the son of a Hall of Fame offensive lineman (Bruce Matthews)? At 6’5″, 308 llbs, Matthews has excellent size and protects the pass very well, not to mention his ability to shut down elite pass rushers. If he was able to protect Johnny Manziel, you can imagine what he can do to protect Matt Ryan and open up holes for Steven Jackson. If the Falcons have not traded up to grab Robinson, they are more than able to stay put to grab Matthews.
Two back-to-back A&M players selected? Absolutely! Although the Buccaneers might grab a quarterback like Blake Bortles or Derek Carr here, I think they may go after a receiver to complement Vincent Jackson. Mike Evans is that guy. He has a lot of quickness and can score from anywhere on the field. My only concern is his hands. Will he be able to not drop some passes like he did in college? Despite that concern I think Tampa Bay would love to have a great offensive player like Evans.
Last year, the Vikings needed a quarterback and it showed. Big time. From what I hear,Blake Bortles has been the guy they have targeted and coveted this entire time and if a twist of fate goes their way, they’ll get him. They may even trade up to get him, but we write this preview as if everyone stays put. This guy has great size at 6-5,232 lbs and is tough to bring down by defenders. It’s not often you see a guy of this size so mobile, but he is. Though his passes may flutter at times and he played bad games against opponents he should have beat, I see no reason why that should sway Minnesota from taking him right where they’re at.
The Bills have many avenues they can travel with this pick, but overall I think they take the next best player available, that being Anthony Barr of UCLA. Barr is explosively fast and his pass rushing is superb. One thing I like about him is his size, at 6-5, 255 lbs. I think he’s NFL ready although he is a bit raw. With him playing alongside Brandon Spikes I think that Buffalo’s defense will be one to fear once the season starts. If the Bills don’t pick him, the Lions will and for their sake, they should probably take this guy with the pick that they have.
The Lions could use help on both sides of the ball,and although they have some great offensive weapons and could maybe use a receiver to play alongside Calvin Johnson, I think they should boost their secondary by selecting Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State. Gilbert has a lot of upside and plays with quite a bit of swagger. He also great ability to hang with a receiver and can cover them with great excellence. Although he may be inconsistent at times, I think he will be a nice addition to the Lions if Anthony Barr is not off the board by the time they pick at the 10th spot.
Since I have Justin Gilbert and Anthony Barr off the board by the time the Titans make their choice at number 11, I have a feeling they’ll make the leap to get Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State. Dennard is very capable with matching up with top receivers and has some awesome straight-line speed. He is a bit tight in the hips and could struggle to keep up with some speed receivers, but overall I think he is a great talent. The Titans could actually trade down the middle of the first round to get him,but for the sake of keeping the draft as it is, we have Dennard going here at #11.
The Giants need some help at offensive line and Taylor Lewan should be the guy that can help protect Eli Manning. First off, this man is tall. At 6-7,309, Lewan has the size. He also has the skills to be a physical blocker, can push holes open for the eight tailbacks the Giants have and has great pass protection. Though he has had legal issues off the field and can draw personal foul penalties, I doubt that those things sway the Giants from selecting him here. Unless of course they like Notre Dame’s Zack Martin more.
I originally had Clinton-Dix going to the Titans at the 11th spot, but they’re pretty set at safety, so he will fall to the Rams at the 13th overall selection. This is the Rams second first round pick and they could use some help in the middle of that secondary. I like this guy’s size at 6-1,208 lbs. He is very physical and great at catching deep receivers. He’s also been known to hit hard when it matters most,which in the NFC West is something you need to do with the receivers playing in that division. Make no mistake about it, Hasean Clinton-Dix will have an immediate impact in St. Louis should he be selected by them.
Although Chicago has bolstered their defensive line in free agency, why not add one more piece with a guy like Aaron Donald? Though he isn’t the tallest guy, he makes up for it with his strength and his awesome bull rush. He’s also very durable and his motor never stops. Though he is a bit undersized, I don’t think that will sway the Bears in taking him, unless they feel that the middle of their secondary is a bigger need.
The Steelers have a few needs in this draft and one of them is in the secondary. I think Kyle Fuller from Virginia Tech will address that need. Fuller is slated to go anywhere from the top 10 to the second round and in my mock draft, I think he slots perfectly in the 15th spot. Fuller is a very versatile defensive back who can play safety if you need him to. He also has excellent speed and is a very physical defender, not to mention he comes from a school that is a virtual defensive back factory. The Steelers could also go receiver with this pick, but I don’t see them doing so. Fuller should be the guy!
The Cowboys need a safety and the next best one available is Calvin Pryor from Louisville. Pryor has been said too have an intimidating presence and is a very hard hitter. He can be a little too physical at times, which can result in being penalized and being labeled a dirty player, but I think this guy is the right medicine for an ailing Cowboys defense.
The Ravens’ offensive line was not the greatest last season. Not only can Martin play guard,but also tackle and any offensive lineman who can transition like that is a plus in my book. Some out there say he is undersized,but I don’t know how that’s possible at 6-4, 304 lbs. With the loss of Michael Oher to the Titans, it makes complete sense that Baltimore would make a pick like this. In fact,they should.
Beckham’s stock has been rising in recent days. He is on many mock drafts going anywhere from 11th to 26th. Some teams may even trade up to get him, but for the sake of keeping the list as it is, let’s say the Jets take him. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. They do,after all, need some playmakers at that position. He is a very polished player who runs his routes well. He reminds me of a guy like Cecil Shorts III or a Tavon Austin to an extent. I think the Jets could use him in many ways much like Austin is used in St. Louis and would be an excellent player to have in their offensive scheme. That is,of course, if he isn’t gone by this pick. If so, they may bolster their defense with this pick.
While Miami does need offensive line help, they can trade down to get it. I think a playmaking tight end like Eric Ebron would make this offense even better. Sure the Dolphins have Charles Clay, but he doesn’t bring what Ebron does to the table. He brings great speed and athleticism to the position,which is quite rare. His run blocking could use some work,but overall he’s a great talent and a nice find for Miami at this spot in the draft.
The Cardinals could use a quarterback of the future once their time with Carson Palmer is over and I think Carr fits that bill nicely. The younger brother of David, Carr threw for over 5,000 yards in his last year at Fresno State. He has a strong arm and was very accurate in college, but his anxiety issues need to get under control (Easier said than done, says this anxiety-riddled writer). Overall, I think he would benefit from sitting and watching with a clipboard for a season or two and then when he is ready, the Cardinals will be ready.
The Packers could go one of three ways with this pick: Secondary, Linebacker,or Defensive End. I think they will select a linebacker here and C.J. Mosley is the best player available at this spot. Some say he slipped this far down to injury issues,but if you ask me, he falls perfectly to Green Bay. I like his ability to blitz and versatility in the 3-4 or the 4-3. I think he will fit in nicely with the Packers’ defensive scheme and could be the shot in the arm the team needs on defense.
The Eagles may want to get a receiver here, but I have them nabbing Bradley Roby at this spot. This guy has great talent at the position despite any off the field problems he has had. I like his agility and his speed. He also plays bigger than he is,which is something teams like in a player that’s not of ideal size. Roby has tremendous upside and I think Philadelphia will be happy with what they get with him should they take him.
I originally had Brandin Cooks in this slot for Kansas City,but he is slipping a bit on a lot of draft boards, but one guy who will be a great steal at this spot or any in the mid-to-late first round is USC’s Marqise Lee. The 5-11,192 lb. junior runs great after the catch and can be very explosive. I think in Andy Reid’s offense Lee will do very well,not to mention give Alex Smith another target to throw to. If Lee isn’t selected here,perhaps another one will be or an offensive lineman.
TCU’s Jason Verrett won’t be ready until training camp due to shoulder surgery, but when he is,he will be able to help the Bengals in their secondary immediately. What he lacks in height he makes up for in skill. He’s not afraid to come off his man to make a play. He can also play the nickel. He is a bit of a raw talent, but I don’t think that will scare the Bengals in selecting him. If the Bengals pass on him, I think the Saints will probably get him a few spots down.
Even I’m surprised that I have Timmy Jernigan falling down to the Chargers at the 25th pick. I had him originally in Dallas, but things change in the days leading up to press time. He is in many mock drafts going anywhere from 11th to 36th. Anyways, Jernigan was a solid run defender at Florida State and is very disruptive in the pocket, which is something you’ll need in a player who would be playing in the same division as Peyton Manning. Despite his size at 6-2,300 lbs., Jernigan can be a force for the Chargers. I think this is where he will fall. If he doesn’t go here,he might be headed to round two.
The Browns need some playmakers and a receiver to compliment Josh Gordon. Why not a guy like Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks? The 5-10,190 lb. junior has been compared to DeSean Jackson and if he plays like that, he is worth taking in this spot. A very explosive playmaker, Cooks can get separation and can play as a slot receiver even on third down. Though he is short,he is very strong. I can’t see the Browns not taking a guy like that. They need to make some splash picks this draft and Cooks certainly qualifies as that!
Many people have Auburn’s Dee Ford going to New Orleans, but if Kony Ealy is available, I think he gets picked here. I think this guy has great athleticism at 6-4,273 lbs and he’s very ideal for either a 4-3 or a 3-4 system. He’s also great as a pass rusher, which with Matt Ryan and Cam Newton in the division is something you’ll want in a guy like Ealy. He may not fall this far into the draft, a lot of mocks have him going in the early 20s, but in this draft I have him headed the Saints way.
Quick,name a receiver for the Carolina Panthers. Yeah, I can’t,either. That’s why they need to draft one and a guy that’s rising in mock drafts is Indiana’s Cody Latimer. He’s a very big and fast receiver who I am sure Ron Rivera would love to have and I am sure Cam Newton would love to throw to him,too. Latimer is the best wideout to select in the first round before having to reach deep in the second round,so I think the Panthers would benefit greatly by taking him.
The Patriots can do many things with this pick,but that defensive line needs some help and needs to stay healthy in order to compete for a Super Bowl. Minnesota’s RaShede Hageman would be a great fit for Belichick and company. I like this guy’s size at 6-6,318 lbs. He gets to the double teams very effectively and can stuff the run when it matters most. Some say he is inconsistent,but that’s nothing that Bill Belichick’s School of Hard Knocks can’t fix. The more I hear about and read about Hageman, the more I like the pick, and at the 29th spot he is a gift for New England.
The 49ers might be reaching a little for a receiver at this pick, many have Jordan Matthews going in the second round, but he could be a late first rounder if the team feels they need a wideout here. Matthews is a good run blocker and might be a good possession receiver for Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick, and if you ask me they haven’t had the best of times when looking for a possession receiver and Matthews could be that guy. If a cornerback who I have going earlier falls to them, expect the 49ers to take that player due to the fact that San Francisco didn’t pick up one in free agency.
The Broncos have some concerns with the offensive line and a guy as versatile as Joel Bitonio would certainly be the right medicine. He’s got great moblilty and agility even though some think he is undersized. If Denver doesn’t select Bitonio, I expect them to bolster their secondary or defensive line,even though it was done for the most part in free agency.
Our last pick in the first round is Morgan Moses of Virgnia. Seattle could use a tackle and Moses has excellent size and agility. What he lacks is adeqaute speed for a guy in his position,but come on, what offensivee lineman is that fast? Some mocks have Moses slipping to the second round,but I think Seattle will take enough of a chance and select him here to round out the first round, otherwise they may select a tight end with this pick.
But What About?
Teddy Bridgewater,QB Louisville: I have him heading to the Texans in the first pick of the second round. It’s a surprise that Bridgewater has fallen so far so fast,but a lot of folks out there think he is a bust, I think he’s a steal for anyone who wants to get him in the first round.