(Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Ladies, gentlemen, and draftniks alike: The time has come for us to begin our journey to the promised land, New York city and the 2014 NFL Draft. It’s a long journey, no doubt, but every great pilgrimage has a starting point, and ours here at RTRC is Thanksgiving Day.
I want to first extend a Happy Thanksgiving to all who are reading as well as their families and friends. For the past three years, I’ve published my first mock on Thanksgiving Day. I know such a holiday isn’t too click-friendly in terms of views, but it’s a tradition and a timeframe in which I have the utmost comfort keeping. By late November, we have a much better feel for which prospects have separated themselves from preseason hype or overlook. Though there is much more to learn in the upcoming bowl season, this mock draft should give readers an idea of where their team will be drafting and the players that could be available according to prospects’ talents and the NFL team’s need.
The order is based off of strength of schedule for the full season, not just games played. Playoff teams will be ordered by when they are eliminated, so in this case the lower record gets the higher pick — credit for this model goes to the folks at SB Nation.
As always, criticism and debate are encouraged — that’s the beauty of being a draft analyst. There’s a comment box below, so voice your opinion to your heart’s content. I look forward to interacting with you all as the draft process moves forward. So, without further ado, welcome to the winding, challenging, battle-testing, paved and unpaved, well-structured or self-created paths for these young men on their Road To Radio City.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars | 2-9
Teddy Bridgewater | QB | Louisville
At this point in time, this one’s a no-brainer. The Jags are 5-22 with Blaine Gabbert as a starter with a 1-12 record over the past two years — in which he did not play more than 10 games either season. Chad Henne is certainly the more confident passer — despite a 3-11 record in Jacksonville — however there’s no franchise-changing ability yet to conjure out of him. Right now, there’s no QB in the class with the mechanics, ball placement and intelligence to rival Bridgewater. I believe Mariota could possess franchise QB traits, but I think he’s still a year or two from that (even if he chooses to declare).
2. Houston Texans | 2-9
Anthony Barr | OLB | UCLA
The Texans are on quite the head-scratching path this season. Last year, they posted a 12-4 record, hosted a successful Wild Card match against the Cincinnati Bengals and finally lost in the Divisional round to the New England Patriots. This season, Matt Schaub has been exposed and the Texans have a minus 90 point differential. In comes Case Keenum — and the reason why I don’t have the Texans taking a QB. Keenum started hot with 822 passing yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. I like Keenum’s potential, and for that reason, I have the Texans taking Barr as the first defensive player off the board — over Clowney!? Gasp! Barr is perfect for Wade Phillips’ 3-4 system. He can give the Texans’ defense another top pass rusher opposite J.J. Watt.
3. Atlanta Falcons | 2-9
Jadeveon Clowney | DE | South Carolina
The reason for the Falcons’ surprising struggles this season can be attributed to two factors: they can’t block anyone and they can’t get past anyone. The Falcons’ O-Line has been, well, awful. Despite giving up only 24 sacks, they’ve allowed 65 QB hits and have the second-fewest rushing yards in the league with 822. With all of that said, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews is tempting here, but when a prospect like Jadeveon Clowney is on the board, you can’t be “that GM” who passed him up — especially when his position is a need. The Falcons have been searching for a dominant pass rusher since John Abraham’s prime. The Ray Edwards sign was basically a bust, and the Osi Umenyiora sign was nothing but a stall. Cower in fear, NFC South.
4. Minnesota Vikings | 2-8-1
Marcus Mariota | QB | Oregon
I hear you; I want Adrian Peterson to be on a team with a successful offense too. Well, with Marcus Mariota, the Minnesota Vikings might have one. Ponder was a fun — though highly overdrafted — pick and he’s made games interesting for Minnesota, however I’m basically convinced Ponder will never become a QB who can lead a team with his arm. In a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler, that’s a problem. Adrian Peterson is 28 years old and is about to have his 6th 1,000-yard season. Though he’s coming off his best year yet — over 2,000 yards — he won’t be around forever, especially when opposing teams are stacking the box against him. The Josh Freeman experiment — fail — was silly. It’s time for Minnesota to look in the mirror, draft a top-tier QB and make use out of the offensive weapons they’ve assembled.
5. St. Louis Rams (Via Washington Redskins) | 3-8
Jake Matthews | OT | Texas A&M
Last chance, Bradford — for now. The RG3 trade is turning out quite nicely for the Greatest Show on Turf. The Rams have turned their one No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft into Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Alec Ogletree, Steadman Bailey and (partially) Zac Stacy. They win — so far. I get that the QB position is the most important position, and I’m not saying the Redskins shouldn’t have given everything but the kitchen sink for RG3, but what’s been done after the trade is what has made it so lopsided. The Redskins took the league by storm and made the playoffs last year, even with their prized QB on one leg. But what of the situation now? RG3 is still hurt, it’s becoming painstakingly obvious that Shanahan never wanted RG3′s style of QB, and the Redskins — at this point — have a top 5 pick in 2014. For the Rams, this pick shouldn’t be used on a quarterback — that should come later. However, it should be used to give Sam Bradford his last chance to prove he can succeed (18-30 as a starter over his first four years).
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers | 3-8
Khalil Mack | OLB | Buffalo
The 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are certainly an anomaly at this point in time. Entering the pre-season, the Bucs were possible Wild Card contenders. Then, after losing Week 1 on a strange turn of events, went on to lose their next seven games, infecting the locker room with MRSA in the process (I’m kidding…but that really did happen). Post-MRSA, the Bucs find themselves on a three-game winning streak thanks to a top NFL defense and rookie QB Mike Glennon, who won rookie of the month this past month. Because of recent events, I think Glennon and Head Coach Greg Schiano will keep their jobs come next season. The offense, while not flashy, is more than capable of staying in high-scoring games when healthy. The defense is also solid but does have three weak spots: CB, DE and LB. They could address one of those needs here or alternatively address two with Khalil Mack. Mack’s numbers are mind-numbing this season. So far, he’s recorded 82 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks to go along with five forced fumbles and three interceptions. We’re done here…. Fire the Cannons!
7. Cleveland Browns | 4-7
Derek Carr | QB | Fresno State
Quarterbacks and Cleveland don’t really mix well, but that could all change here! I don’t see the Browns winning enough games to keep themselves out of contention for both Carr and Mariota. Despite Brian Hoyer’s heroic efforts — 3-0 this season before suffering a torn ACL — I can’t see Cleveland passing on a guy who is not only impressing now in his senior year on the field, but one who will also impress at the Scouting Combine. There’s plenty of time for RBs and whatnot in the later rounds. Take ‘Lil Carr, give yourself a chance, and maybe if your football team shows enough promise, LeBron will come back to Cleveland in 2014…. (as a Wide Receiver for the Browns).
8. Buffalo Bills | 4-7
Eric Ebron | TE | North Carolina
BECAUSE WHY NOT. I’ve heard the phrase “his skills remind me of Jimmy Graham” far too often this college football season when analyzing Eric Ebron and fellow TE Jace Amaro. I don’t think that’s fair to how game-changing Graham has become, but those making the claims do have somewhat of a point. Ebron is a freak athlete who was recruited to play defensive end as well as tight end. Buffalo’s defense is coming along just fine this season — No. 1 in sacks — so I think a key offensive weapon is in order. If Ebron can be anything like Graham, Gronk or Vernon Davis, he will be a game-changer himself and worthy of a Top 10 selection.
9. Oakland Raiders | 4-7
Johnny Manziel | QB | Texas A&M
Al Davis’ last draft pick before he passed away was Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft; Pryor’s 2013 success and offensive play style would’ve put a smile on Davis’ face. However, Pryor was held on a short leash, and because of that, his eight turnovers in four games resulted in a spot on the bench. I don’t think Matt McGloin will finish out the season with his job security intact, and I think part of that reason is because the offense isn’t set up for his traditional style. In comes Johnny Football. Manziel can do everything Pryor can plus accurately throw the ball. The only problem with Manziel — here it comes — is his maturity. Not off the field — I don’t care what he does on his own time – I’m talking about on the field. We all remember his incredible, SportsCenter play against Alabama this year. Yeah… that would get picked off by three different defenders at the next level. Get the kid’s head on straight and things could get really fun in Oakland.
10. New York Giants | 4-7
C.J. Mosley | LB | Alabama
There’s only one team in the NFL that has fewer sacks than the New York Giants. Can you guess it? Go ahead, I’ll wait. *music* You’ve got it! The Jacksonville Jaguars! But back to business; isn’t that stat a bit staggering? It’s no secret the Giants’ key to defensive success is in their linebackers. As of November 27th, their starting LBs are: Keith Rivers (ehh), Jon Beason (better), Spencer Paysinger (okay) and Mark Herzlich (America). It’s tempting to put OSU’s Ryan Shazier here, but Mosley has the ability to play OLB and ILB, making him too much to pass up.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers | 5-6
Cyrus Kouandjio | OT | Alabama
There was a point this year when the Pittsburgh Steelers were 0-4, had the No. 3 overall draft pick and were questioning the job security of Ben Roethlisberger, Dick Lebeau and even Mike Tomlin; thank goodness their owner Dan Rooney doesn’t take advice from Twitter. The Steelers’ defense, though old, has shown it can survive on Day 2 picks and gained experience. The offensive line, however, needs help now. At 37 sacks given up already this season, the Steelers must find help at the OT position. Mike Adams isn’t the answer, and though Cyrus Koundjio has shown flaws this season, he might have the most upside of any OT in the class.
12. Baltimore Ravens | 5-6
Mike Evans | WR | Texas A&M
The Ravens just aren’t the same team they were last year — duh. Ray Rice is hardly even serviceable, the defense is still recovering from all of the turnover and Joe Flacco is proving this season that robbing is legal if you know what you’re doing. Torrey Smith is growing into his own, and that’s good to see, but no Aquan Boldin is hurting this offense’s production. Sammy Watkins is another popular pick here, however I think the Ravens need a different type of receiver. Watkins is Torrey Smith-like. Evans is Vincent Jackson-like. Evans is much closer to what the Ravens’ offense is missing from Anquan Boldin’s absence.
13. New York Jets | 5-6
Sammy Watkins | WR | Clemson
The Jets’ defense is fierce — 12th in sacks, 1st in run defense — but their offense leaves much to be desired. I like the way Chris Ivory runs the ball for this team, but what I don’t like is the production and potential I see from their receivers. Sammy Watkins will immediately become the team’s No. 1 wide out as long as he learns everything he needs to in camp. Watkins may be the most talented receiver in the class, but has also been the blame for some offensive turnovers at Clemson by running the wrong routes or leaving his QB (Tajh Boyd) out to dry. If he can get it all together, he can do big things early in his career.
14. Miami Dolphins | 5-6
Cameron Erving | OT | Florida State
At one point this season, the Dolphins were down three of their starting five offensive lineman (Martin, Incognito and Pouncey). Pouncey is back and I think Incognito could have a chance to come back as well, but that can’t forgive their league-high 44 sacks given up already (37 total sacks given up in 2012). The trade for Bryant McKinnie was cool and all, but he’s 34 years old. Erving is one of the more athletic OTs in the class and plugging him in could mean a quick turnaround for the Dolphins’ protection and overall success in 2014.
15. San Diego Chargers | 5-6
Jason Verrett | CB | TCU
Philip Rivers went through some dark days in 2012, but seems to have this Chargers team back on track in 2013. The only problem is the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos are also in San Diego’s division. The Chargers’ secondary shows promise – currently ranked 17th in the NFL in passing yards allowed with 14 interceptions — but they don’t have a lock down defender. Jason Verrett has risen to the top of the CB class and should be the first corner off the board here.
16. St. Louis Rams | 5-6
Bryce Petty | QB | Baylor
The Rams’ true pick takes them to the midway point in the first round. With it, I expect them to make another smart pick. As stated before, Sam Bradford will get his last chance next season. With all of the weapons the Rams have assembled, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t contend for a Wild Card spot, even in such a tough division. I don’t think the Rams will be tempted by Brett Hundley because he himself has a risk in early development. I think QBs like Petty and Zach Mettenberger could be enough for the Rams to say “why not?” with their second pick in round one.
17. Green Bay Packers | 5-5-1
HaSean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix | S | Alabama
In the days of Charles Woodson, the Packers’ defense became a turnover machine — this is what helped them capture a Super Bowl in 2011. Since then, and even in Woodson’s departure, the defense has lacked playmakers on the backend. Clinton-Dix has separated himself as the near-consensus No. 1 safety in the class. I think it’s either Clinton-Dix or possibly Texas Tech’s TE Jace Amaro here for Green Bay if they’re fine with the DBs they have now.
18. Chicago Bears | 6-5
Stephon Tuitt | DE | Notre Dame
Henry Melton, Jay Cutler and Charles Tillman could all possibly become free agents this offseason, and I think Melton has the best chance to be the odd man out. With Julius Peppers aging — he’s 33, how old do you feel now? — the Bears could use some D-Line help inside and out. Don’t you just wish you could pick two guys to fill both needs? Well you’re in luck! At No. 18, Mr. Two-for-One himself Stephon Tuitt can still be yours! Tuitt is such a unique combination of athleticism for his 6’6″, 310 lbs frame. The early parts of his career could be spent at almost any spot on the line.
19. Philadelphia Eagles | 6-5
Darqueze Dennard | CB | Michigan State
The Eagles are bad at pass defense — shocking. Philly currently ranks 32nd against the pass giving up just over 300 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks. This seems to be a yearly problem for the Eagles, but it’s not like the need has been completely neglected — they’ve signed the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Darqueze Dennard is having quite the year for Sparty’s Top 5 defense. He’s already accepted his invite to the Senior Bowl and should come out as one of the Top 3 CBs available.
20. Arizona Cardinals | 7-4
Taylor Lewan | OT | Michigan
It’s not that the Cardinals’ O-Line is old, they’re just… well, alright fine, they’re old — average age of 28.5. They’re also very thin on the line with top pick rookie OG Jonathan Cooper on IR. I think the Cardinals have found a RB in Andre Ellington and have the chance to improve their WRs and even QBs in later rounds. Taylor Lewan has put some less-than-pleasing tape on record in 2013, but still holds Day 1 strength and overall protection ability. With Lewan and Cooper on the line next year, Arizona could also make the NFC West very interesting.
21. Tennessee Titans | 5-6
Ra’Shede Hageman | DT | Minnesota
It’s a shame the Titans lost Jake Locker for the year because we were just starting to get an idea of how he could really perform. With WRs Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright developing alongside Locker, I don’t see a reason for a drastic offensive change in 2014. The Titans’ defense, however — despite leading the league in takeaways at one point — could use some depth and impact at the defensive tackle position. In my opinion, Hageman is the best DT in the class with the highest ceiling due to his strength, reach and athletic ability.
22. Detroit Lions | 6-5
Ryan Shazier | OLB | Ohio State
Lions OLB DeAndre Levy is having one helluva year, but that shouldn’t stop the Lions from addressing the other OLB position with one of the most athletic LB in the class. Shazier is currently living in the statistical shadows of Khalil Mack, but I’m not fooled; Shazier will still be a great pick. He leads the undefeated Buckeyes with 108 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks along with four forced fumbles. I see Detroit addressing DB later.
23. Dallas Cowboys | 6-5
Dominique Easley | DT | Florida
The Cowboys’ draft needs are always the same: offensive line, defensive back and defensive line. This year is no different. After making the switch to 4-3, Monte Kiffin was left without a true 4-3 DT. Jason Hatcher is nice, but the Cowboys need another reliable defensive lineman to let Demarcus Ware roam more freely. Dominique Easley was one of the top defensive tackles in the country before he tore his ACL back in September. In his absence, the once-feared Florida defense has now become a shell of itself — other injuries to key players haven’t helped that cause either. If Tank Carradine could go second round last year, I think it will be a battle between Easley and Tim Jernigan for the next 4-3 DT taken after Hageman.
24. Cincinnati Bengals | 7-4
Christian Jones | OLB | Florida State
The Bengals could use a quarterback, but if Andy Dalton gets them to another playoff appearance — and maybe even the NFC North title — I don’t see how the Bengals can use their first pick on his replacement. It might be the “smart” thing to do, but I don’t see it being a reality. This leaves Cincy with a late pick to try and improve an already solid roster across the board. There were talks of the Bengals taking Alec Ogletree last year, but they passed to take Tyler Eifert. This year, I think they do take that versatile LB in Christian Jones. With James Harrison at 35 years of age, Jones has the chance to see a lot of playing time early on and a possible smooth transition into a starting role.
25. Cleveland Browns (Via Indianapolis Colts) | 7-4
Justin Gilbert | CB | Oklahoma State
The Trent Richardson deal certainly looks good for the Colts right now, even if their end is a mid-20′s pick. With it, I suggest they use it on a CB to play alongside one of the top CBs in all of football, Joe Haden. Justin Gilbert showed a lot of inconsistency as a junior, but he has really stepped up and matured in his senior year. I like his potential as an all-around CB at the next level. Right now, I’m high on Gilbert and would recommend him to Cleveland, if available.
26. San Francisco 49ers | 7-4
Jordan Matthews | WR | Vanderbilt
This might be one of my favorite picks in the entire draft if it works out. There are no guarantees in football, and the 49ers have learned that the hard way after following their steam-rolling Super Bowl run with early struggles in 2013. With Michael Crabtree out, Colin Kaepernick has been limited in terms of receiving options. Though Anquan Boldin shows few signs of slowing down at age 33, Jordan Matthews could make San Fran’s receiving corps one of the best and most reliable, when healthy.
27. Carolina Panthers | 8-3
Jarvis Landry | WR | LSU
The Cam Newton bandwagon is filling up — with good reason. Newton’s skills are finally translating into wins as Carolina’s defense is finally holding the team to reasonable numbers, allowing Cam to win them some games. His weapons, though, haven’t changed much; I can almost guarantee that will change this offseason. Steve Smith can’t do this forever — can he? — and after him, the depth chart is: Brandon LaFell, Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn. Jarvis Landry is one of my favorite receivers so far this season. He doesn’t have stand-out size or speed, but he is one of the more reliable pass catchers with some of the strongest hands in the country. Adjust your fantasy football draft sheet accordingly because this kid might strike gold with Newton.
28. New England Patriots | 8-3
Will Sutton | DT | Arizona State
I was tempted here to say the Pats could go with Jace Amaro and bring back everyone’s favorite dual-TE offense, but I really think DT/NT is the bigger need. The DT position is thin past Vince Wilfork, who is currently on IR and Will Sutton gives the Pats depth and disruption which would open up the pass rush for Chandler Jones.
29. New Orleans Saints | 9-2
Bradley Roby | CB | Ohio State
The Saints break all of the rules. Their opponents look at their secondary and think, “we can score more points than these guys,” to which the Saints say, “OH YEAH?!” New Orleans isn’t nearly as bad as they were last year defending the pass, but they still have Corey White and Keenan Lewis as their starting CBs. Roby is a bit of a risk given his sub-par performances this year, but he’s also the kind of risk the Saints can afford to take. Going into the season, Roby was the No. 1 ranked CB in the class. However, he’s shown a lack of discipline in the little things — mechanics, press coverage, etc. – and is still one of the most athletic prospects in the draft. NOLA isn’t begging for a CB like it was last year, but I’d still approve the Roby pick here given the current board.
30. Kansas City Chiefs | 9-2
Jace Amaro | TE | Texas Tech
Let me be clear, I don’t think Jace Amaro will last ’til No. 30 in the draft — if he’s gone, I think Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the pick. The Chiefs, and more importantly Alex Smith, could use some sort of offensive consistency in the passing game. When they were down in their first divisional battle against the Broncos, Alex Smith showed he could deliver some nice 10-20 yard passes, but he didn’t have a consistent receiver. That’s what Jace Amaro is and can be. Plug him in, mix it up: touchdown, rise, repeat.
31. Denver Broncos | 9-2
Michael Sam | DE | Missouri
I’ve seen a few mock drafts giving Peyton Manning the top center in the draft at No. 31, which is plausible, but I think a pass rusher opposite Von Miller is more of a need. A lot of draftniks have Sam’s fellow Tiger Kony Ealy ahead of him and rated better as a pro prospect. I, however, respectfully disagree. It’s true, I don’t think Sam can bend his body in ways that would make him a pass rusher like Robert Mathis, but I still think Sam has more of a knack for being disruptive.
32. Seattle Seahawks | 10-1
Greg Robinson | OT | Auburn
SEAHAWKS, MORE LIKE… ME-HAWKS /puts self in time out.
The Seattle Seahawks really lucked into — and by lucked into I guess I mean they picked him… whatever — Russell Wilson as one of the NFL’s top signal callers at such a young age. It’s a scientific fact that if you give Russell Wilson adequate time to let plays develop, he can pick apart almost any defense on any play. Seattle’s “ideal” O-Line has been banged up this season and even for safety precautions, I see them taking Greg Robinson or Cyril Richardson depending on if they feel like they have a greater need at OT or OG. For now, I’ll give Robinson the nod because I think he’s the better prospect.
Coming To A Draft Pick Near You:
Tim Jernigan, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Antonio Richardson, Cyril Richardson, Zach Mettenberger, Brandon Cooks, Shawn Oakman, Telvin Smith, Melvin Gordon, David Yankey.