With the 2014 Senior Bowl in the books and the NFL Combine looming on the horizon, this is an excellent time for my first mock draft. To make sure we go through each pick and it’s reasoning thoroughly enough, I’ll go pick by pick in a series format, obviously starting with the Houston Texans. Disclaimers note: I’m not going to be calculating trade possibilities, of which there are unlimited. I’m going to assume each team will use their pick. Also, I’m not trying to predict the order of the draft and who I actually think will go where, but who I would take if I was their GM (in some distant fantasy world).
So far, my draft looks like this: no.1 Texans (Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina), no. 2 St. Louis Rams (Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M), no. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars (Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M), no. 4 Cleveland Browns (Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville), no. 5 Oakland Raiders (Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn), no. 6 Atlanta Falcons (Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson), no. 7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Anthony Barr, DE, UCLA, no. 8 Minnesota Vikings (Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State), no. 9 Buffalo Bills (Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan), no. 10 Detroit Lions (Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State), no. 11 Tennessee Titans (Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo), no. 12 New York Giants (C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama) and no.13 St. Louis Rams (Marqise Lee, WR, USC) and no. 14 Chicago Bears (Timmy Jernigan, DT, FSU). With the 15th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, who do the Pittsburgh Steelers select?
This was an easy one. Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame. He’s the guy I wanted here more than any other player.
DC Dick LeBeau has fielded an effective 3-4 defense for many years in the Steel City, but it’s slowly been unraveling due to ineffective play at the most important position of an odd front, the nose tackle. Anyone who understands the most basic of concepts of the 3-4 defense knows the scheme relies heavily on an effective nose tackle who plugs both ‘A’ gaps, thus freeing both interior linebackers behind him to flow to the ball and fill any of the outside gaps. Casey Hampton was an absolute rock for many years in this position, but since he left, we’ve been scrambling to find an adequate replacement.
Steve McLendon played admirably last year, but he’s not the kind of talent that Nix is, who’s the best nose prospect I’ve seen come out of college since Vince Wilfork was selected by the New England Patriots 21st overall in 2004.
Nix is utterly gigantic at 6-foot 3, 360-pounds, making him a perfect fit physically for the position. He’s played head up on the nose for one of the most effective 3-4 defenses in the collegiate game for Notre Dame en route to earning All-American honors, so he’s well versed schematically. Considering his immense size, he’s actually got an elite first step get off, with even quicker hands. He’s got good instincts for re-directing, the strength and bulk to split or go through double teams while also collapsing the pocket.
On top of all his immense physical skills, he’s an even better person. Known as a hard worker, good leader and diligent student, he’ll be a positive asset in the locker room. He’s incredibly well liked and received by his teammates, fans, coaches, administrators, etc. He’s a gregarious, outgoing, booming personality who will be fan favorite in a short amount of time.
Adding an impact nose like Nix would re-vitalize the front seven, and go a long way in repairing an aging defensive core. Plus, that front three of Cameron Heyward, Nix and Brett Keisel (who I’ll re-sign to a 2-year, cap friendly, incentive-laden deal) would be as solid of an odd front as there is in the league.
If I didn’t go with Nix, who then? Either Zack Martin (OT, Notre Dame) or Cyrus Kouandjio (OT, Alabama). There’s no edge protectors on this team I’d feel confident in for the future and Ben Roethlisberger needs much better protection.
With the 16th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, who do the Baltimore Ravens select?