An Early 2014 NFL Mock Draft
Predicting the First Round of the 2014 NFL Draft
Now that we've finished a third of the 2013 NFL season, there are several teams who have given up any realistic hope of competing, and their fans will begin to turn their focus toward the 2014 NFL Draft. Though we're still about seven months away from draft weekend, it's now becoming more reasonable to think about what's going to happen now that we have a better idea of how players are performing, and which teams figure to be at the top of the board.
The biggest debate right now seems to be over which player is most worthy of going first overall. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney are the favorites at the moment, with Clowney losing ground by the day due to his mediocre performance and injury struggles this season. It's by no means guaranteed that either of these players will end up being the guy; no one would have guessed at this point last year that Central Michigan's Eric Fisher would end up being taken with the first pick.
For this mock draft, the order was created as closely as possible to what it would look like if the season ended today. Picks 1-20 are based on win-loss record, with strength of schedule breaking the ties. Picks 21-32 contain the 12 teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today, and their success in the playoffs is determined strictly by their record and strength of schedule. To clarify, the only difference from the normal procedure comes with division leaders, such as the Dallas Cowboys, who have worse records than other teams in wild card contention. Teams are also slotted by the projection of how their playoff matchups would turn out. For example, Kansas City has a 5-0 record and the second-strongest schedule among the undefeated teams, but they have pick 28 in this order as they would be projected to go up against the Denver Broncos, who have the strongest schedule.
Mock drafts never really end up being too accurate due to the amount of trading and adjustment that occurs on draft day, but here's a very early guess at how things might pan out.
1. New York Giants: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
It really seems ridiculous to think that the New York Giants could have the first pick overall, let alone use it to select a quarterback. But Eli Manning's stats have regressed steadily since 2010, and he's almost matched his 2012 interception total in less than a third of the games this year. It's very possible that he'll recover, but if he continues to struggle and the Giants maintain this pace, they may decide that it's time to move on.
The most sensible move would seem to be to let Manning have one more season in New York while the Giants transition to the now-20-year-old Bridgewater. However, they could save $13.4 million in cap space by releasing him next year. Those savings go up another $4 million if they wait until after 2014.
Bridgewater would provide the Giants with an athletic, strong-armed and accurate quarterback, and if the team brings in a new coaching staff next year, they would have the freedom to build the offense around Bridgewater. Granted, their pass rush is a big problem too and they may have trouble passing on Jadaveon Clowney, but ultimately their biggest priority needs to be their passing game.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadaveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Make no mistake: the Jaguars desperately need a quarterback. But with Bridgewater off the board and Clowney still there, they can't afford to pass on the massive defensive end. This is a deep quarterback draft, so the Jags can expect to find a legitimate starter in the early second round, and Clowney would provide a huge boost to a defense that doesn't have an elite pass rusher.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jake Matthews, LT, Texas A&M
Matthews makes perfect sense for the Steelers here. They've struggled too long to find a competent left tackle, and it's beginning to seriously affect their offense. Matthews would solve those problems with his elite combination of strength and athleticism.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Many believe that the Bucs' greatest need here is a quarterback. Though that may be the case, they've obviously determined that rookie Mike Glennon has what it takes to be a starter. Whether he actually does remains to be seen, but since he's more of a raw athlete, it seems unfair to give up on him after less than a full season. Things could always change, however, if head coach Greg Schiano is fired.
Out of all the tight ends that have come into the league over the past decade, Seferian-Jenkins is the most complete player out of all of them. He's big, athletic, and a great blocker and receiver. Drafting him is basically equivalent to selecting a no. 1 receiver, which makes him so valuable. He would be a huge threat in Tampa's offense, and boost a receiving corps that is fueled at the moment almost exclusively by Vincent Jackson.
5. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Though cornerback Cortland Finnegan still has three years left on his contract, it's pretty clear that he's lost a step at 29-years old. Finnegan's poor play has begun to negatively affect the Rams' defense, and they would be wise to upgrade by selecting Bradley Roby.
Roby has a physical style that is similar to Finnegan's, but he is more adept at playing in press coverage. He has elite playmaking ability, and would form a great cornerback tandem with Janoris Jenkins. Many Rams fans probably would like to see the team take a quarterback here, but Sam Bradford has put up decent numbers during 2013, and the front office says they want to sign him to an extension. So, it's unrealistic to think that they'd change their minds and give up on him.
6. Minnesota Vikings: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
It's very clear at this point that the Vikings need a quarterback. Christian Ponder seems to have been given up on for good, Matt Cassel is by no means a competent starter, and even if Josh Freeman plays well, he's a free agent after this year and is no guarantee to return.
Hundley, who won't even turn 21 until next June, has all the potential in the world, combining innate passing ability with great mobility. He'd be a great selection for the Vikings, who haven't had a long-term franchise quarterback since Daunte Culpepper's run in the early 2000s.
7. Carolina Panthers: Taylor Lewan, LT, Michigan
Carolina's most important player is Cam Newton by far. They need to make sure that he's properly protected, and that is not the case right now. Carolina's offensive line has already given up 15 sacks this year, which is slightly alarming considering how mobile and adept Newton is at avoiding the rush. Their right tackle Byron Bell has struggled significantly, and their left tackle Jordan Gross is aging, declining and a free agent after this season.
Lewan would give the Panthers an imposing presence on the line, using his 6-foot-8, 310-pound frame to keep defenders away from Newton. While the Panthers could still use an offensive playmaker, there's none that really fit into this slot, and Lewan will solidify their line for years to come.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE, Buffalo
Mack is a guy that's been on the rise big-time during 2013, especially against Ohio State when he had 9.5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception return for a touchdown. Because there's such a great need for pass rushers, Mack's success could turn him into a top-10 pick, much like BYU's Ziggy Ansah last year. The 6-foot-3, 251-pounder would be an ideal fit in Atlanta, where injuries have decimated the Falcons' pass rush this season.
He'd be making the transition to a 4-3 defensive end after playing 3-4 outside linebacker at Buffalo, but it seems easier for players of this type to switch to a 4-3 rather than the other way around. Mack is close to the same size as John Abraham, who was a staple of the Falcons' defense for the past several years, and he would be expected to make a similar impact.
9. Philadelphia Eagles: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
If Chip Kelly expects to effectively run his pass-heavy, high-speed offense in the NFL, he's going to need a better receiver than Riley Cooper to complement DeSean Jackson. Lee was widely regarded as the top receiver in the nation following 2012 when he had 118 catches for 1721 yards and 14 touchdowns, though he's slumped a bit this year and has dealt with a knee injury. Whatever the case, Lee will probably be considered the most talented receiver available by the time the draft comes around, and Kelly should be familiar with him considering that he's faced him in the Pac-12 for the past two years.
10. Oakland Raiders: HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
This is earlier than most experts are projecting Clinton-Dix to come off the board, but it would be insane for the Raiders to not take him if he's available at pick 10. First of all, Clinton-Dix is arguably the most valuable player in the draft in terms of how good he is compared to the next available player at his position. He's very comparable to Ed Reed, and is probably the best free safety to enter the league since Reed was drafted in 2002.
The Raiders have plenty of needs, but their issues at safety are more glaring than most. They're starting 37-year-old Charles Woodson, who was been decent, but should not be an every-down player at his age. And because of the injury to strong safety Tyvon Branch, they've been forced to start Brandian Ross, a former undrafted free agent. Clinton-Dix would solidify their secondary and make up for the loss of Michael Huff, who was not effectively replaced this year.
11. Buffalo Bills: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
The Bills are getting a real steal with Barr at pick 11, and he'd be a great fit in their hybrid defense. He's kind of a tweener who doesn't really seem to fit the profile of a 4-3 defensive end, but that wouldn't be as much of an issue in Buffalo, where he would have the freedom to rush with his hand in the dirt, as Mario Williams often does, or stand up on the edge like Manny Lawson. Buffalo's pass rush is lacking beyond Lawson and Williams, and with an offense that has already been well-built through the draft, it's time that they upgrade on defense with a guy that could very well be the best pass rusher in the draft.
12. St. Louis Rams: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Realistically, if the Rams end up with two picks in the top 12, they'll probably end up trading down as they have in the past two drafts in order to stockpile more talent. After selecting Roby, the Rams' most clear positions of need would be at running back, guard and safety. But, no player at any of those positions is really worthy of being selected this early. Watkins would give the team another reliable option in a passing game that has struggled thus far in the 2013 season.
13. San Diego Chargers: Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
The Chargers have struggled in the defensive backfield this year, and they haven't really had a shutdown cornerback sinceAntonio Cromartie left. Purifoy's addition would change that as his size and man-to-man coverage ability would enable him to succeed, especially against divisional opponents Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas who have previously dominated with their combination of size and speed. For what it's worth, Purifoy has also played receiver for the Gators, and he could add an interesting wrinkle to their offensive playbook, much like the Arizona Cardinals have attempted to do with Patrick Peterson.
14. Houston Texans: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Houston will be extremely lucky if they can land Nix at pick 14, as he is the best pure defensive tackle in this draft. Due to his 6-foot-3, 340-pound frame, Nix is thought of many strictly as a nose tackle, but he's athletic and agile enough that he has significant pass-rushing value no matter what defense he plays in. The Texans would likely plug him in between J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith, where he would further add to a pass rush that has the capability to be one of the league's best, but has been rather mediocre in 2013.
15. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
For the recent past, Green Bay's been in the position to draft the best player available. They've spent several picks upgrading their offensive and defensive lines, and though not too many of them have panned out, the Packers will probably want to change things up in 2014. Mosley would fill a need for the Packers, as A.J. Hawk is aging and Brad Jones, a former seventh-rounder, has been solid as a starter but isn't too much of a difference-maker. Mosley is the best inside linebacker in this draft, and should be able to make a seamless transition to the Packers' defense after playing in a similar setup at Alabama.
16. New York Jets: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
The Jets have worked tirelessly to upgrade their pass rush, having spent first-rounders on pass rushers in the past three drafts. While the team's offense could use an upgrade, Van Noy would complete the process of rebuilding the Jets' defense. Though there are some concerns over his size, Van Noy's elite playmaking ability and penchant for pressuring the quarterback would make him a threat at the 3-4 outside linebacker position.
17. Detroit Lions: A.J. Johnson, MLB, Tennessee
The Lions have upgraded at virtually every position through the draft or free agency in the past few years, and the only area that really remains lacking is the linebacking corps. Middle backer Stephen Tulloch is undersized and aging, a bad combination for a player that will be 29 next year and isn't really a huge playmaker to begin with. Johnson would be a satisfactory replacement, and his fantastic tackling ability outweighs his average athleticism, making him an upgrade for Detroit's defense.
18. Cleveland Browns: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Most Browns fans are probably hoping that Cleveland native Brian Hoyer will return and take over the starting quarterback job next year, but the reality of the situation is that Cleveland needs to upgrade at the position. Boyd is a bit undersized, but his athleticism and spectacular accuracy will enable him to run Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner's offense better than Hoyer or Brandon Weeden do.
19. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals are another team that's made huge strides through the draft in recent years, and now they're in a position to take the best player on the board. Verrett would help the Bengals out, as they're currently trusting the top cornerback positions to aging veterans Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Pacman Jones, while former first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick has been a disappointment.
20. Tennessee Titans: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Tennessee has been making a serious effort to upgrade their offensive line, and Richardson, the in-state product, would help complete those efforts. Current starting tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart are aging and will be free agents in 2015 and 2014, respectively. Due to Richardson's superior size and physicality, he would be able to slide rather easily into the right tackle spot next year, and then take over at left tackle in 2015 if Roos leaves. Richardson, a true junior, has plenty of potential, and he'd be a high-value pick for Tennessee.
21. Dallas Cowboys: Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
Tuitt has played out of the 3-4 defensive end spot at Notre Dame, but at 6-foot-6 and 322 pounds, he shouldn't have too much trouble transitioning to the tackle spot as a pro. Jason Hatcher has been surprisingly effective as a starter for Dallas, but he's 31-years old at a position where there's a rather short lifespan. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff has been injured for the entire season thus far, and his replacement Nick Hayden has no sacks. Tuitt is big and strong enough to play both the 3-technique and nose tackle spots, and he could provide a huge impact as a pass-rushing force.
22. Chicago Bears: Ifo Ekpre-Olowu, CB, Oregon
It seems right now like Chicago has a need for a defensive tackle, but they should be able to get both Henry Melton and Nate Collins, who suffered torn ACLs, back next season. As well, they still have Stephen Paea. Meanwhile, the team's top four corners entering the season were all aged 28 and older, though 30-year-old Kelvin Hayden was placed on IR. Ekpre-Olomu has the type of physical style that the Bears like from their defensive backs, and he'll give them insurance as Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman begin to slow down.
23. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, LT, Alabama
Miami let their longtime left tackle, Jake Long, leave as a free agent this offseason, and instead of signing a veteran free agent, they decided to slide Jonathan Martin, who had previously struggled on the right side, into Long's spot. It seems to have been a poor decision on their part, as the Dolphins have given up the second-most sacks in the NFL at 25, and Martin has had serious issues as a pass-blocker.
Kouandjio is extremely raw and based on his college performance, he probably doesn't deserve to be a first-rounder, but the fact that he's just 20-years old, stands 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, and is extremely strong and athletic makes him irresistible to the Dolphins, who need protection for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
24. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Ravens failed to adequately replace their top receiver Anquan Boldin this offseason, and the effects have shown during the regular season, as the Ravens are averaging just 6.8 yards per catch, good for 22nd in the league. Evans is somewhat unproven as a redshirt sophomore, but his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame and superior receiving ability make him an ideal replacement for Boldin.
25. San Francisco 49ers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The 49ers can no longer count on 34-year-old Justin Smith to stay healthy throughout the season, and when he's been out, the team's lack of depth has been seriously exposed. Hageman's 6-foot-6, 311-pound build and exceptional physicality would make him a good fit on San Francisco's defensive line and eliminate the concern that's come this season as fringe backups DeMarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie have gotten into the defensive line rotation.
26. Arizona Cardinals: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
The Cardinals were dealt a major blow earlier this season, when they lost both of their starting linebackers, Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander, with season-ending injuries during the same week. Alexander probably shouldn't have been starting in the first place, but now the team is left with veterans Matt Shaughnessy and John Abraham as their starters, neither of whom has a sack thus far. The Cardinals can't afford to be in this type of situation next season, and it's an absolute must that they upgrade their pass rush.
Murphy is a powerful pass rusher, and has a very imposing presence at 6-foot-6 and 261 pounds. He'd at least give Arizona a fighting chance against the powerful offensive lines of their division rivals.
27. New England Patriots: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Though they've generally gotten effective results out of them this year, it's pretty clear that the Patriots needs to upgrade their receiving corps. There's no receiver that really makes sense in this slot, but Ebron would bolster the passing game while effectively replacing Aaron Hernandez. Among tight ends, the junior trails only Vernon Davis and Heath Miller in career NCAA receiving yards, and he would allow the Patriots to restore more of the two-tight end sets that they've used in the past.
28. Kansas City Chiefs: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
Kansas City has no obvious needs here, but Reynolds would provide them with an upgrade at the free safety position. Kendrick Lewis has been solid, but Reynolds' tackling ability and physical style of play make him a better complement to Eric Berry at strong safety.
29. Seattle Seahawks: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
Seattle is pretty well set across the board, so they're in position to simply take the player who provides the biggest boost to their team. Abbrederis, a former walk-on, has emerged as a legitimate big-play receiver in 2013, and he would improve a Seattle receiving group that doesn't really have a traditional no. 1 receiver, particularly as a weapon in the red zone.
30. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
After trading Trent Richardson and replacing him with past-his-prime Willis McGahee, it's clear that the Browns need an upgrade at running back. It would seem logical for the Browns to go with a power back similar to Richardson, such as Baylor's Lache Seastrunk, but Thomas would provide Cleveland with a more deceptive weapon that would be a threat in both the running and passing games. The 5-foot-9, 176-pounder may be undersized for an NFL back, but his speed and elusiveness are too good to dismiss.
31. New Orleans Saints: Scott Crichton, OLB, Oregon State
The Saints are in the process of transforming their defense into a 3-4 look, but they didn't get the chance to improve their pass rush off the edge in the 2013 draft. Starting outside linebackers Junior Galette and Parys Haralson have combined for just four sacks over the team's first five games, so a player like Crichton would be a wise pick.
Crichton's not really a big name, but he's been effective during his career at Oregon State and registered nine sacks last year. With most of the elite pass rushers already being off the board by this point, Crichton will deliver a boost to a Saints defense that really needs an upgrade.
32. Denver Broncos: Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
Denver has struggled significantly on the interior of their offensive line, so it would make a lot of sense for them to upgrade there during the draft. The 6-foot-5, 340-pound Richardson's power and physicality would greatly aid the Broncos' offensive line, and it would allow them to take Zane Beadles, who has struggled this year, out of their lineup.