After a short time away, I'll be starting what will (hopefully) be a bi-weekly, or weekly series of Mock Drafts leading up to the 2014 Draft. I'll be including team needs with each team, but for this draft I'll only include descriptions for the top 16 picks, and as we get closer to the draft I'll add descriptions for the back half of the draft.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Team Needs: QB, OT, OLB
Conventional wisdom says that new regimes mean new quarterbacks, and Bill O'Brien will surely want to bring in his own franchise quarterback. Now, many are quick to point to the 2006 draft when the Texans took Mario Williams instead of Reggie Bush, but, this is a completely different situation. The Texans' defense already has many quality pieces in place with super-star defensive end JJ Watt, linebacker Brian Cushing, and cornerback Jonathan Joseph.
It's apparent that Matt Schaub is not a franchise quarterback given his struggles this season and in the postseason when playing any team that isn't the Cincinnati Bengals. Teddy Bridgewater has the makings of a franchise quarterback with a good accuracy and velocity. He needs to put some weight on his 6-3, 200 lb frame but that shouldn't be an issue in an NFL strength program.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Team Needs: OT, WR, S
Given Les Snead's desire to build around Sam Bradford, it only makes sense that he get a top-tier left tackle to protect Bradford's blindside. This pick makes sense given Jake Long's injury history and the fact that right tackle Roger Saffold is an impending free agent.
Matthews has experience playing both tackle positions and will transition easily to the pros. He has the agility to mirror speed rushers, and the power to anchor against the bull rush and in the run game.
This pick may be up for grabs to whoever the highest bidder is given the presence of Jadeveon Clowney, but to keep things simple I'll leave out trades from this mock.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Team Needs: QB, OT, WR
Surprise! Not many people are mocking Bortles, or any quarterback for that matter, to the Jaguars and I think its crazy. General Manager David Caldwell has said he wants to build around Blaine Gabbert, but, the issue is that Gabbert is scared in the pocket and is a serious project. Without a competent quarterback, it won't matter how good the Jaguars' defense is. The truth is, quarterbacks are the most important players on the field, and no franchise will get better without a solid signal-caller under center.
Bortles looks the part at 6-4 230 lbs, and was very impressive in the Knights' shootout victory over the Baylor Bears in the Fiesta Bowl. He will need to continue to impress scouts at his pro day and at the Combine, but I think the Jaguars get their franchise QB in Bortles.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Team Needs: QB, WR, RB
Like the Jaguars, the Browns are sorely lacking in the quarterback department. After starter Brian Hoyer went down with a torn MCL against the Detroit Lions, the wheels fell off the wagon for the Browns as they skidded to a 1-10 finish after a promising 3-2 start.
There have been several reports that General Manager Mike Lombardi, and President Joe Banner really like Manziel. And it's easy to see why; the former Heisman Trophy winner threw for over 4,000 yards and ran for another 760 this season. Manziel is knocked for his size, but as Russell Wilson and Drew Brees have shown, size isn't as important as it used to be. Manziel is a special talent and may be the catalyst for a turnaround in Cleveland.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Team Needs: DE, QB, OL
The Raiders will waste no time getting this pick in if Clowney is available at this point in the draft. At No. 5 he is an absolute steal, and will help a very porous defense in Oakland. The Raiders were led by Lamarr Houston with 6 sacks, Clowney could come in and easily produce double that number. While there are definite needs on offense it would be hard to pass up a talent like Clowney.
He had 3 sacks this past season, but, he is still a top tier talent that would add a whole new dimension to the Raiders' pass rush, and run defense.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Team Needs: OLB, OG, DE
The Atlanta Falcons were preseason favorites to make a deep postseason run, but after a lack of pass rush, and pass protection, the Falcons limped to a 4-12 record. As I had alluded to in my first post on Bull Run, I felt that Khalil Mack would be a good fit in Atlanta's 4-3 defense. I'm sure the Falcons would feel the same way given Mack's proven ability to create havoc in the backfield and his knack for creating big splash plays when his team needs them the most.
Mack would be able to be to use his athleticism in the 4-3 to cover large chunks of the field in pass defense, and move up the field and rush the passer. He would be an impact player in a division that requires a strong pass rush.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Team Needs: OLB, OT, DE
New head coach Lovie Smith would love to get his hands on a player as explosive as Barr. Barr would fill a big need in Lovie's Tampa 2 defense at the SAM linebacker position. Much like the Falcons, the Bucs are in dire need of pass rush help, and Barr is arguably the top pure pass rusher in this year's draft, next to Khalil Mack.
Barr's solid build at 6-4 250 pounds gives him the strength to disengage blockers and move up the field, but he also has the speed to close in and make tackles that other linebackers couldn't make. He's about as NFL-ready as they come and he's in line to make an impact on whatever roster he lands on.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Team Needs: QB, DE, CB
The Minnesota Vikings are doing Adrian Peterson a disservice by wasting away his best years on poorly quarterbacked teams, they can change that by selecting Derek Carr. Now, the last name Carr makes most people think of Derek's older brother David, but, Derek is much more polished than his older brother. He has a quick release and a cannon for an arm, he needs some seasoning, but with a safety net like Adrian Peterson to rely on, Carr should be able to succeed in Minnesota.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Team Needs: TE, OG, WR
I was leaning back and forth between Sammy Watkins and Eric Ebron, but ultimately I think Eric Ebron would be the choice for the Bills. Scott Chandler is a free agent, and while he has been a serviceable tight end, he doesn't have the ability to burn defenses down the seam like Ebron can. Ebron is an absolute matchup nightmare for defenses with his combination of size (6-5 245 lbs) and speed; he is too big for defensive backs to cover, and too fast for linebackers to cover. EJ Manuel could use a reliable safety valve like Ebron who he can count on over the middle. With Ebron the Bills can really open up their offense and attack defenses from all over the field.
10. Detroit Lions: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Team Needs: WR, C, CB
The Lions would be jumping for joy if Watkins is available come draft day. After Calvin Johnson was sidelined with injuries late in the season, the Lions' potent offense suffered greatly. Without a reliable receiver on the roster to pick up the slack for Johnson's absence, defenses were able to focus on pressuring Matthew Stafford.
Sammy Watkins showed in the Orange Bowl that he has the ability to take over a game, and pairing him with the NFL's top receiver Calvin Johnson would be an offensive coordinator's dream, and a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare. Trying to cover Johnson and Watkins without the aid of double teams would be nearly impossible giving the Lions a much needed boost on offense.
11. Tennessee Titans: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Team Needs: S, OLB, QB
New head coach Ken Whisenhunt will want a big bodied receiver to help out oft-injured quarterback Jake Locker. Kenny Britt is unreliable and a locker room cancer, and Kendall Wright is better suited for duty in the slot. Evans can come in and start right away given his Calvin Johnson-esque size at 6-5 230 lbs. With his size he has the ability to go up and get jump balls that receivers a few inches shorter can't reach, and will be a matchup nightmare on the outside against opposing defensive backs.
12. New York Giants: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Team Needs: OT, OLB, OG
With recent news that David Diehl is retiring, rebuilding the offensive line will be a top priority for the G-Men this offseason. Eli Manning was pressured on a consistent basis throughout the season, and him being under so much pressure correlated with the Giants' struggles on offense. Greg Robinson dominated in the BCS National Championship game and could immediately start opposite of 2013 first round pick Justin Pugh, who was the lone bright spot on the Giants' offensive line.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Team Needs: See above
The Rams are able to secure a new starting safety to help fortify their defensive backfield. TJ McDonald, and Darian Stewart were torched often in pass coverage and could be upgraded. In comes Clinton-Dix, whose specialty is pass coverage and would be an asset in the brutal NFC West when going up against the likes of the Seahawks and 49ers on a regular basis.
14. Chicago Bears: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Team Needs: DT, CB, S
Charles Tillman is a free agent, and it seems more and more unlikely that he is resigned now that Tim Jennings has been resigned for the long term, so the Bears could use a new cornerback. Gilbert is a lockdown corner with great speed and hip fluidity. The Bears need as much help as they can get in the defensive backfield and Gilbert can be a big help to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker moving forward.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Team Needs: DT, OT, WR
The Steelers are getting older on defense and could use an infusion of young talent along their defensive line. Jernigan has shown that he can dominate at the point of attack at Florida State by bullying the interior of the Auburn offensive line at times during the BCS National Championship Game. The big knck against Jernigan is his conditioning, so he'll need to get in better shape, but he has the potential to dominate at the professional level.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame
Team Needs: DT, OLB, S
The Dallas Cowboys not only sported the worst defense in the NFL, but they were historically bad, and legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin needs a big body in the middle of his defense to rush the passer and eat up blockers to free up pass rushers. Louis Nix can be the DT that Dallas so desperately needs; his ability to get under the pads of blockers and knock them back in both pass and run situations will help remedy some major issues that the Cowboys had this past season.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Team Needs: WR, LB, OT
18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Team Needs: WR, TE, OG
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT/G, Notre Dame
Team Needs: OT, OG, DT
20. Arizona Cardinals: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Team Needs: OT, TE, OLB
21. Green Bay Packers: CJ Mosely, LB, Alabama
Team Needs: TE, S, LB
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Team Needs: OLB, WR, DE
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Cyrus Kouandijo, OT, Alabama
Team Needs: OT, WR, TE
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Team Needs: CB, OT, QB
25. San Diego Chargers: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
Team Needs: OLB, OG, CB
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Team Needs: See Above
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, OLB, Missouri
Team Needs: OLB, DT, DE
28. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Team Needs: WR, TE, S
29. New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Team Needs: DT, TE, CB
30. San Francisco 49ers: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Team Needs: CB, WR, S
31. Seattle Seahawks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Team Needs: TE, OT, DE
32. Denver Broncos: Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
Team Needs: OLB, C, DE