Yup, I'm going off the grid right away! I've seen UCF's Blake Bortles in this spot more and more recently but if I was in charge of the Texans I would have committed to taking Jadeveon Clowney months ago (which they may do). With that being said, from a marketing stand point alone Manziel is worth the risk. He also has an array of skills (no matter what Merril Hoge says) that should make Texans fans forget about the debacle of the season they just endured. He can singlehandedly take a game over and those abilities will help turn the Texans around in a weak AFC South. If it isn't the A&M product, I still expect the Texans to go quarterback here, most likely the previously mentioned Bortles. Fair warning though, if Manziel doesn't go in the top eight expect him to plummet into the late twenties like Aaron Rodgers did after Alex Smith was the first pick in 2005.
Clowney is arguably the most prized asset this draft will produce. If you listen to detractors, he takes plays off and can be lazy in preparation for games. If you watch the Gamecock defensive end in action though, he is a force to be reckoned with that can change the course of a game by his lonesome. St. Louis' big need is offensive line so many pundits have Auburn's Greg Robinson as the pick at 2. I just think a talent like Clowney is too good to pass up and would instantly put the Rams' D-Line in the upper echelon, a trait you need to succeed in the NFC West.
The Jaguars haven't had the best track record of giving their fans what they want recently. Since Jags' brass don't seem to want to give fan favorite Tim Tebow a shot, they NEED Bortles, a dynamic quarterback from within the state of Florida. The Central Florida starter combined for 31 TDs passing and rushing in 2013 and is considered to be the most well rounded quarterback prospect. Jacksonville has holes everywhere but I just can't see them passing up on Bortles at pick number three. They whiffed on their last quarterback (Blaine Gabbert, who was just traded) and just signed Chad Henne to a two year deal, but if they care about their fans and the future, Jacksonville won't hesitate to write Blake Bortles on the card they hand to the commissioner.
During the course of this season, the #1 pick spot was seemingly Bridgewater's to lose. Well, he lost it and is now the third quarterback off the board. Lucky for the Louisville signal caller I have that third quarterback getting selected with pick four and not sliding further down. Cleveland could go several directions with this pick but if they stand pat at four they need to go quarterback to avoid having to use another three-headed QB monstrosity like they did in 2013. If Teddy goes in the first three expect Cleveland to take either of the other two top flight QBs here seeing how they've cut ties with both Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.
The Raiders are a mess and any pick they make here can't do anything but help. I take that back because the Raiders have been in this position in recent years and have blundered the pick, if they even had a first rounder. Therefore I whittled down this pick down to what Oakland will do against what they should do and decided on the latter. Mack is the safer pick than Clemson WR Sammy Watkins or Auburn OT Greg Robinson. Mack's combine affirmed his status as a top five pick and would be able to play either at outside linebacker or at defensive end for an Oakland defense that ranked 22nd in 2013. If Al Davis was still alive this pick would have probably been Dri Archer, the fastest guy at the combine.
There is a great deal of speculation that Atlanta is going to try to move up from this pick in an attempt to get Jadeveon Clowney but as I said in the opening this mock is not factoring in potential trades. For a team that throws as much as Atlanta does (Matt Ryan was second to Peyton Manning in 2013 in pass attempts per game and the total was 13th in NFL history) they don't protect the quarterback particularly well. Robinson would be an upgrade at the tackle position on either side but is better suited guarding Matty Ice's blind side at left tackle. Getting a player of Robinson's caliber at six would be a steal and there is a very good chance he may be off the board before this point. If that happens and Atlanta cannot maneuver up the draft to get Clowney, expect the Falcons to take another tackle in Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or Michigan's Taylor Lewan.
Once Greg Robinson has been picked, if you need a stud offensive tackle Texas A&M's Jake Matthews is your man. Tampa's offense is a debacle and will be worse if Doug Martin cannot come back 100%. Even with a healthy Dougie Fresh in tow, the Bucs need to sure up on an offensive line that has more holes than a play-through of Portal 2. Matthews is a talent equal to former A&M mate Luke Joeckel, who went #2 to Jacksonville a season ago, and took over the left tackle position protecting my projected top pick Johnny Manziel. New coach Lovie Smith may want to put his stamp on the team with a defensive player, either Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert or UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, but he shouldn't pass up a chance to protect Mike Glennon or Josh McCown this season and whomever is going to be under center for the Buccaneers going forward.
Some teams just don't learn. The Minnesota Vikings are one of those teams and like they did with Christian Ponder in 2011, they will reach for a quarterback in the "lottery" selecting Derek Carr. The younger brother of David Carr is no slouch by any means, but he is also a player that could be had in the late first round. Instead of trading down though and getting Carr for a better value, the Vikes will panic and take Carr at eight. Hopefully for his sake he is not thrown to the wolves early like Ponder was and given the proper time to develop into an NFL ready signal caller. If history repeats itself he will be battered by this point in 2016.
Bills fans as well as the front office will be doing backflips when they see the biggest home run hitter in the draft, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, on a plate for them at #9. First rounder from a year ago E.J. Manuel needs some weapons and the former Clemson Tiger is quite the weapon. He can play inside, outside, run the ball, and be a vital cog in the return game, all things the Buffalo offense need desperately. They may have some competition for Sammy if he has anything to say about it. If you look at Watkins' Instagram, he would like to be paired with Calvin Johnson in Detroit (cue Matt Millen joke). Sorry Sammy, you are going one pick too early.
Though the Lions let go of Matt Millen in 2008, the stigma still stays with the team that they will draft a wide receiver in the first round regardless of need. They're long shots to get Sammy Watkins without a trade and have been rumored to be looking at Texas A&M's Mike Evans. Where they need to be looking at is a player who can stop a wide receiver. That is where Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert comes in. He killed it on the field with seven interceptions and two touchdowns and entrenched himself as the top corner prospect with an impressive combine and pro day. He will help better a passing defense that finished 24th in the NFL last year.
Tennessee has a new coach in Ken Whisenhunt and he is installing a 3-4 defense. With that they'll need a linebacker that can make tackles and Alabama's C.J. Mosley is that guy. Most of Tennessee's tackling was done in the secondary last year due to runners and receivers getting through the Titans second line of defense easily. Mosley led the Crimson Tide in tackles in both his junior and senior season. He was the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year (with Michael Sam) this past campaign and was a consensus All-American. Anthony Barr from UCLA is another name being bantered about with this pick but he is more of a pass rushing linebacker. I feel Mosley fits Tennessee's need more holding his line and making tackles while allowing the Tennessee secondary to focus on coverage.
The Giants organization has had a great deal of turnover this offseason on both the roster and on the coaching staff. With all that moving and shaking, Eli Manning will be under more pressure than ever. Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan will help relieve some of that pressure on the younger Manning brother. The two-time and reigning Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and two-time All American will provide a rock at left tackle or line up on the right side opposite current occupant Will Beatty. If Lewan is not the pick then it gets real foggy here as the Giants have many holes to plug. When in doubt though, you'd assume the Giants will just add a pass rusher and Anthony Barr from UCLA fits that bill.
I have the Rams addressing the defensive side of the ball with the pick they got from Washington at #2. With their own pick, I have them going offense with the third Texas A&M Aggie to come off the board in wide receiver Mike Evans. If Sam Bradford is ever going to succeed in the Gateway City he needs to have some players to throw to. They spent a first rounder on Tavon Austin last season but still lack enough talent at the position to be able to adequately attack the brutal secondaries within their division. Evans shines on the big stage, breaking the 275 yard mark last season against both Alabama and Auburn and I think he'll relish facing Richard Sherman, Carlos Rogers, and Patrick Patterson two times apiece each season.
The Bears will always be a team that revolves around the defensive side of the ball. That's why it must have killed them that they were 30th in total defense last year struggling against both the run and the pass. The explosive Clinton-Dix can help in both aspects. Ha Ha (actual name Ha'Sean) ran into a bit of trouble during his time under Nick Saban but I think the Bears have enough leadership in their secondary to keep him in line. Marc Trestman may want some offensive firepower at this pick but with Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans already gone, trading down would make the most sense to try to get a wideout. At pick 14, Clinton-Dix is the best player available AND fills a need.
It seems that every year the Steelers are playing fourth string offensive lineman by season's end due to injuries and poor play. Pittsburgh needs a stockpile of able bodied lineman and Martin more than fits the bill. The all-time leader in games played by a lineman at the Golden Dome, Martin was the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl MVP after defeating Rutgers. He played left tackle at ND but could play on either side of the line in the pros, even the guard spots, and most importantly is incredibly durable. With the glut of pass rushers in the AFC North, Pittsburgh is going to need all the help they can get.
The Cowboys were the worst defense in the NFL last season. They were the only team in the league to give up more than 400 yards a game and so far this off season have had four defensive lineman leave via free agency or be cut. Two of those four were starters in Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware. Jernigan is coming off a National Championship with the Seminoles and would slide into the vacancy the former has left on the Cowboys' defensive front. The ESPN All-American led the National Champions in tackles for loss, recorded 4.5 sacks, and was an invaluable stopper of the run. These are all qualities that could help the Cowboys right away. I think Jernigan is the better fit for Dallas but they could also go the route of Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald. But similar to the old Raiders' joke, until Jerry Jones dies there is no real way of predicting what Dallas will do.
After the signing of Steve Smith from Carolina, the immediate need for wide receiver help in Baltimore evaporated. I would say after that offensive line is the next area to address. Unfortunately for the Ravens at #17 all the first round caliber offensive lineman are gone. Since those two options are gone it is time for Baltimore to dredge out the oldest cliché in the draft book: best player available. It is a novel concept most times but in this case it actually helps. Barr is a top 10 talent and for him to slide to the Ravens is too good a prospect to pass up. Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs aren't getting any younger and Barr could be the torch bearer of a new Ravens' linebacking corps for years to come. They could still go wide receiver here if Barr doesn't entice them (or is gone) and if so that'd most likely be USC's Marqise Lee.
The Jets organization is committed for now with second year man Geno Smith at quarterback, even with the signing of Michael Vick. For that to work, they need to surround him with a substantially better supporting cast than they did last year. They've made one big stride already with the signing of Eric Decker from the Broncos but they still have much progress to make. ESPN All-American Eric Ebron is a playmaker that the Jets could insert into the starting lineup immediately. They've resigned Jeff Cumberland but Ebron is the top tight end prospect in the draft. He displayed great speed in UNC's offense and at the Combine. His yardage in 2013 usurped his previous two seasons combined. If John Idzik doesn't go with Ebron expect another pass catcher like Marqise Lee or Brandin Cooks.
In the write up for the Ravens' pick I said that all the first round caliber was gone by pick 17. I stand by that statement but when a team's offensive line was as putrid as Miami's was last season a reach is necessary. Not to say that Alabama left tackle and All-American Cyrus Kouandjio is a bad player but at only 20 years old the Cameroonian is still an unfinished product. The Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito fiasco turned what could have been Ryan Tannehill's emergent season into one in which he got sacked a league high 58 times. Kouandjio may take some time to develop into a top notch tackle, the reason why he could easily slip into the second round, but when (not if) he does Tannehill won't spend half of his dropbacks running for his life.
The Cardinals defense was really good last year allowing them to surprisingly almost make it back to the postseason at 10-6. They are stacked in the secondary but they are starting to get up in years in the front seven. Darnell Dockett has been a three time Pro Bowler for the Cards but he is 32 now and in the twilight of his career. Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald would be a perfect heir apparent to the career Cardinal in the middle of the defensive line. The consensus All-American was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and won countless other accolades including the Outland, Bednarik, Nagurski, and Lombardi Awards. Slipping to #20 is quite the coup for the Cardinals as many think Donald should be the first DT selected. Defense is the name of the game in the NFC West and to compete you can never have too much of it.
The Packers snuck into the playoffs last year somehow with Aaron Rodgers missing a good chunk of the schedule. With Rodgers back in full health, the offense should be back running on all cylinders. The defense however is continuing their overhaul. They brought back B.J. Raji and brought in Julius Peppers to sure up the defensive front. They resigned Sam Shields at corner and when healthy are perfectly content at linebacker. Safety is the one position they are lacking depth at. Lousiville man Calvin Pryor can step in and provide the Pack with a ball hawking free safety who isn't afraid to come up and crack some skulls in run defense. He had three interceptions last season and two forced fumbles en route to all-AAC honors.
The Eagles gave up the most yardage through the air last year. They continue to try to rebuild their secondary after their ill-fated attempt at a so-called "Dream Team." They have brought in two safeties so far in free agency and now will address the cornerback position with Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. The 2013 Thorpe Award winner (Best Cornerback) snagged 4 interceptions and forced two fumbles, doing both in the game with archrival Michigan. The cousin of Patriots defensive back Alfonzo Dennard has been given the moniker of the "No Fly Zone" which could be a marketing challenge playing for a team named after a flying animal. There shouldn't be any challenge however with Dennard acclimating to the rigors of playing cornerback in the NFC East.
The Chiefs will be very disappointed that both first round safeties are off the board here as they desperately need a competent compliment to Pro Bowler Eric Berry deep in their secondary. However they will gladly accept their consolation prize of USC wide receiver Marqise Lee. Dwayne Bowe is more up and down than an elevator and Donnie "Dropsies" Avery is the #2 receiver. Jamaal Charles led the team in receiving last year. Lee would give Alex Smith a deep threat that has been lacking in Kansas City and take some pressure off the combustible Bowe in the passing game. If not Lee, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks or Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin could fit.
Cincinnati's defense is one of the better units in the AFC. Someway, somehow they were able to make it to the playoffs last year with the festering corpses of Pacman Jones and Terence Newman playing cornerback. The spent a high pick on Dre Kirkpatrick recently but he's been inconsistent and injury prone. Ohio State's Bradley Roby had eight games in 2013 on 5 tackles or more all the while intercepting three passes with one returned for a touchdown. He isn't the biggest corner but he makes up for it with blazing speed and superb technique. With Mike Zimmer's magic gone, they are going to need some youth in the defensive backfield.
If your fantasy team's quarterback was facing San Diego last year you had a lot of reasons to smile. Mostly that grin came from the knowledge of how bad the Chargers' secondary was. Though Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, and Bradley Roby are gone, Jason Verrett is still available. Though the former Horned Frog may be shelved until training camp, he is a above average cover corner who can make the field one sided with his great closing speed. Verrett makes the most sense but if San Diego does go in a different direction it should still be on defense. Defensive tackles Louis Nix from Notre Dame or Ra'Shede Hageman from Minnesota are the best options for San Diego.
The run on corners continues with Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller. Fuller's Hokie career has been quite the volatile affair but when he's healthy, watch out. Fuller is more a complete defender than your average cornerback. In his sophomore season he made half of his starts as a whip linebacker. His experience at the position makes him that much more lucrative pick for the Browns. Though he missed the last third of his senior season at Virginia Tech, Fuller will be completely healed before training camp and gives the Browns a Robin to Joe Haden's Batman. After taking Teddy Bridgewater with their own pick at #4, there is little doubt in my mind the Browns will be going defense with the pick they got from the Colts for Trent Richardson.
The Saints need some defensive help. New Orleans was one of the worst defenses in 2012 by most metrics. Last year under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Saints leaped up all the way to 4th in the league in team defense. The more Santa Clausian of the Ryan brothers now needs some young blood to install into his 3-4 scheme. They were tied for 24th last year with 37 sacks. Dee Ford had 10.5 sacks for Auburn last season including two in the National Championship on Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The All-SEC selection could start right away or provide a stellar rotational player to attack divisional foes Cam Newton and Matt Ryan.
The Panthers' receiving corps is hard to look at. They lost their top four wide receivers from last year and the replacements through free agency haven't done much to appease Panther fans' concerns about the position. Brandin Cooks may be just a shade under 5'10", but the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner as the best wide receiver in the nation can fill the void left by his diminutive predecessor Steve Smith. The consensus All-American had 128 receptions for 1730 yards and 16 touchdowns last year and furthered his legend with a great showing at the Combine. If he isn't available at this point, which is quite possible, expect Carolina to still go wide receiver here with either Odell Beckham Jr. from LSU or Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State in an effort to keep Cam Newton's head from exploding.
The Patriots were able to renegotiate with Vince Wilfork this offseason. Bringing their big nose tackle back into the fold will be huge in New England's efforts to return to the Super Bowl. However, Wilfork will turn 33 this year and is coming back from a torn Achilles' tendon. The Hoodie may be able to get by another year or two with #75 as the anchor of his defensive line but he needs to address the future in this draft. I think Golden Gopher Ra'Shede Hageman should be that future. He regressed a bit from his junior season but the 6'6" Hageman eats up double teams and can even slot outside as a pass rusher if necessary. New England loves versatility in its defenders and Hageman is extremely versatile for his size.
They may have resigned Anquan Boldin in the offseason but the 49ers would be crazy to let Kelvin Benjamin get by them at pick 30. Benjamin had a stellar sophomore season (54 catches, 1011 yards, 15 TDs) but his three biggest games came in his final three games of the 2013 season, including an ACC Championship rout of Duke and a victory in the National Title Game. He may not be a burner but he is a mountain of a man at 6'4" and 240 lbs. which will provide the sometimes erratic Colin Kaepernick a nice target in the redzone. If not the former Seminole, look for Odell Beckham Jr. from LSU to be the pick.
I know. I am well aware that the Broncos signed DeMarcus Ware this offseason. I am also quite cognizant of the fact that Denver's other main pass rusher, Von Miller, is coming off ACL surgery. Not to say that those are the only two rushers of the quarterback that Denver possesses, but when you have no glaring need, a player like Ealy at pick 31 is Christmas in May. Under the tutelage of the future Hall of Famer Ware, Denver may have themselves their next stud defensive end. Ealy had 8 sacks and 3 forced fumbles for Missouri in 2013 alongside 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam and I wouldn't be surprised if he was putting up similar numbers at altitude by 2015.
The reigning Super Bowl champions don't have many weaknesses. The one glaring one though is the receiving corps. It was bare bones to begin with but with a stout rushing attack and a near unbreakable defense the champs were able to get by. The unit took a big hit with the offseason departure of Golden Tate to Detroit. I was waffling back and forth between LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and the man I eventually settled on, Jace Amaro. The former Red Raider is quite arguably the best tight end available in the draft, but injury concerns drop him below UNC's Eric Ebron. That makes him an incredible value pick for the Seahawks at the bottom of the first round. Amaro was an unanimous All-American at tight end in 2013 piling up 106 receptions, 1352 receiving yards, and 7 touchdowns. He may be listed as a tight end but Amaro was a semifinalist for both the Mackey (Best TE) and Biletnikoff (Best WR) awards. Seattle would best be using Amaro in an Aaron Hernandez (minus the murder) type of role since he is a below average blocker.
Well that is my first draft of my first round NFL Mock Draft. I may make some revisions over the coming weeks or even do a less detailed seven round layout by NFL Draft weekend, May 8-10. I'll at least do a two round mock so that I can put a name next to the words "Indianapolis Colts" on a draft board. You better not suck this year Trent. For more NFL draft coverage keep it locked here to Bleeding Your Colors over the next month. I hope your team gets their man.
Trevor Utley is bummed that the Colts don't have a first round pick. He won't lie though and say he didn't like the Trent Richardson trade when it happened. Fucking Predator.
Image Credits: Johnny Manziel (texarkanagazette.com), Jadeveon Clowney (atlantablackstar.com), Blake Bortles (trbimg.com), Teddy Bridgewater (pictures.zimbio.com), Khalil Mack (nfl.com), Greg Robinson (wareagleextra.com), Jake Matthews (sportsillustrated.cnn.com), Derek Carr (sportsillustrated.cnn.com), Sammy Watkins (zimbio.com), Justin Gilbert (detroitnews.com), C.J. Mosley (media.timesfreepress.com), Taylor Lewan (isportsweb.com), Mike Evans (bleacherreport.net), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (rolltide.com), Zack Martin (southbendtribune.com), Timmy Jernigan (binaryapi.ap.org), Anthony Barr (247sports.com), Eric Ebron (fanspeak.com), Cyrus Kouandjio (247sports.com), Aaron Donald (espn.com), Calvin Pryor (247sports.com), Darqueze Dennard (espn.com), Marqise Lee (college2pro.com), Bradley Roby (snimg.com), Jason Verrett (cstv.com), Kyle Fuller (fansided.com), Dee Ford (wp.streetwise.co), Brandin Cooks (walterfootball.com), Ra'Shede Hageman (Wikipedia.org), Kelvin Benjamin (rantsports.com), Kony Ealy (foxsports.com), Jace Amaro (fansided.com)