By Todd Singer @breakingbadfish on March 28, 2014
With free agency off and running and the NFL Draft just over a month away, a lot of the uncertainty that surrounds the early-draft process is starting to come into focus. Now that the combine is finished, pro days are occurring and many of the free agents are off the board, teams and pundits alike are getting a better read on which player each team will likely target in May. Without further ado, here is my 2014 NFL Mock Draft.
Having lost Golden Tate to free agency, the Seahawks could be in the market for another receiver, especially if Percy Harvin's injuries persist. While Seattle rarely strays from its board to address a position of need, this could be a situation where need and best player available intersect. Although Benjamin still drops a few too many passes, his massive frame and athleticism could make him a dangerous target in the red zone for Russell Wilson.
The Broncos have made a huge splash in free agency, addressing many of their shortcomings on defense. One area that they still need to fill, however, is OLB after the departure of Wesley Woodyard to Tennessee. Although Shazier is smaller than a typical linebacker, the same was said of Lavonte David, who has gone on to become one of the best OLBs in football. Shazier could further bolster a Denver defense that figures to be much improved in 2014.
The 49ers defense lived up to its billing as one of the best units in football last season, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for upgrade. While Glenn Dorsey performed admirably as a zero technique tackle for San Fran, the Niners could use a bigger body at NT to help stem the opposing run game and keep pressure off Justin Smith. Nix is a behemoth in the middle, but is surprisingly agile for a big man and could make this defense even tougher.
While the Patriots reworked Vince Wilfork's contract to keep him with the team, New England is always on the lookout for heir apparents. Hageman, a DT by trade, could also slide over to end in the Patriots 3-4 and eventually replace Wilfork when he leaves. Hageman is a solid run-stuffer, which will be a welcome sight to Bill Belichick, and can also hold his own getting to the quarterback, making him a solid choice for the Pats.
Having cut Steve Smith and lost Brandon LaFell to free agency, Carolina's wide receiver depth chart is rail thin. Although the Panthers would like to add help on the offensive line, it's imperative they provide franchise QB Cam Newton with adequate weapons to work with. Beckham had an outstanding combine, running one of the best 40s of any receiver, and although his size has come into question, he could be a big-play guy for the Panthers.
The Saints have taken great measures to improve their defense under Rob Ryan and it'd be no surprise if they chose to address that side of the ball again in the draft. Having moved to a 3-4 last season, New Orleans is still in need of a dominant pass-rushing force off the edge which is where Ford comes in. While Ford was a dominant end in a 4-3 at Auburn, he's versatile enough to play standing up and drop into coverage for the Saints.
While the Browns already have Josh Gordon and signed Andrew Hawkins this offseason to be their slot receiver, they could use an upgrade over the inconsistent Greg Little at the Y receiver. Lee was one of the best receivers in college football and, while he isn't the biggest guy, has solid hands and is capable of running both over the top and underneath routes. Putting Lee next to Gordon would make life a lot easier for the next Browns' QB.
The Chargers had surprising success last year, making it to the second round of the playoffs even with a suspect pass defense. It's vital that San Diego moves to improve their secondary this offseason, especially in a division with Peyton Manning. Verrett was one of the big winners at the combine, running one of the fastest 40 times of anyone which, coupled with his advanced ball skills, should allay concerns about his 5-foot-9 frame.
With Leon Hall coming off a season-ending injury and Dre Kirkpatrick not turning out as Cincinnati had hoped, the Bengals could be in the market for a corner in the draft. Kyle Fuller is another prospect who really helped his stock with a strong combine and, at 6-feet tall, possesses perhaps ideal size for a cornerback. Fuller needs to improve in man coverage, but he has the tools to be successful at the next level.
The Kansas City Chiefs were already on the look out for receiving help to augment Dwayne Bowe when they lost Dexter McCluster to free agency. As such, the Chiefs' need at wideout appears even greater and it's a good bet that they'll address that position in the draft. Cooks, while on the diminutive side, was one of the most productive pass catchers in college last season and possesses the ability to break any play with his game-changing speed.
The Eagles' pass defense was their downfall last season and it'd behoove them to address that in this year's draft. In a division with some of the best receivers in football, Cary Williams and Brandon Boykin simply haven't cut it. Roby ran one of the fastest times at the combine and has good size and ball skills that he displayed at Ohio State. Having lined up against some high quality WRs in the Big 10, Roby would be a good get for Philly at 22.
Even though the Packers possess strong cornerback play, since Charles Woodson left town, the back end of their defense has struggled. In a division with Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, it's vital for Green Bay to shore up the safety position and they can do so by selecting Pryor. He has been shooting up draft boards, is a solid all-around safety who can cover WRs or TEs and one who can also step up to help with the run.
The Cardinals had a surprising season last year, but it might have been even better if they could do a better job protecting stationary QB Carson Palmer. Arizona signed Jared Veldheer to play LT, but they still need help on the line. Moses didn't get much recognition playing for a bad Virginia team, but his massive size and solid footwork is likely to make him a first rounder on draft day.
The Dolphins took a flier on Dustin Keller last season, but Keller was injured in preseason and missed the entire campaig. As a result, Miami is back in the market for a difference-making tight end. While many believe Ebron will be off the board before this, if he gets by the Giants at 12, there aren't many teams in between who are in dire need of a tight end. Ebron is a weapon in the passing game and, with improved blocking, he could be special.
The Jets are still looking for ways to improve their offense, so Ebron or Cooks could be tempting here, but it's unlike Rex Ryan to pass on a difference-making defender. New York could use a dynamic pass rusher from the OLB spot in their 3-4 and, although Barr was at one time considered a top-five prospect, he'd be a potential steal at 18. There are questions remaining about Barr's coverage ability, but he can certainly get after the QB.
The Ravens watched Michael Oher walk during free agency and are on the hunt for a replacement at RT. Fortunately for them, there should be some good options available on draft day. Martin has been moving up boards lately, thanks to his unshakable consistency and his incredibly versatility which could allow him to play virtually any position on the line. Martin won't wow you, but he's the epitome of a reliable lineman.
The Cowboys' defensive line was a revolving door last season and they should move to address it, especially with DeMarcus Ware now a Denver Bronco. Dallas is in the market for any difference-maker on the line, be it an end or a tackle and Jernigan certainly fits that bill. Jernigan's bread and butter is his ability to occupy multiple blockers and slow down the opposing run game, something the Cowboys could certainly use help with.
With the presence of A.J. Green, Josh Gordon and Torrey Smith in the AFC North, it's imperative that the Steelers find a corner capable of staying with those receivers. Ike Taylor has been the Steelers' best corner for years, but he's seen better days and Pittsburgh doesn't possess much in the secondary beyond him. Dennard is arguably the best cover corner in this class, with good size to go with great ball instincts and a physical style of play.
While the Bears' defensive line was a mess last season, it's no coincidence that their run defense went downhill after the retirement of Brian Urlacher. Chicago has moved to address their line deficiencies this offseason, but they could still use some help in the linebacking corps -- no offense to D.J. Williams. Mosley was arguably the best linebacker on the best defense in college football last season and has a knack for being around the ball.
While the Rams have managed to shore up many of their problem areas, they're still in need of a game-changing safety. While they got by last season, thanks to an above-average pass rush and solid corners, with Cortland Finnegan gone, the need for a top-end safety could appear even more glaring. Clinton-Dix is regarded as the best safety in this class, with solid cover skills, as well as an aptitude for run support.
The Giants could go any number of directions with this pick, but they rarely go away from the best player remaining on their board. While the Giants could certainly use another pass rusher after the departure of Justin Tuck, the loss of Linval Joseph may precipitate them looking at a defensive tackle as well. Donald, who's lack of height could be an issue, was a combine star, putting up great measurables to go with his relentless play.
The Titans' offensive line was one of the worst in the league last season and they tried to remedy that by signing Michael Oher. That being said, it'd be foolish of them to pass on a potential franchise left tackle, even with Michael Roos seemingly entrenched there and, as a result, Lewan could be the pick on draft day. Even though he's got some anger issues and off-field baggage, Lewan is a massive road grader who can dominate smaller ends.
Playing in the NFC North with the multitude of dynamic passing offenses it possesses, the Lions still haven't found a lockdown corner to limit the opposition's best receiver. Gilbert was already considered to be one of the best corners in this class and then went out and ran the fastest 40 time of any CB, likely cementing his place in the top 15. With that kind of speed at 6-feet tall and advanced ball skills, Gilbert would be a solid pick here.
The Bills have several areas of need to address, not the least of which is a game-changing receiver for young QB E.J. Manuel. Stevie Johnson is better suited as a Y receiver and the rest of Buffalo's WR corps isn't much to write home about, which could lead to Evans being the pick. Evans ran well enough at the combine to put himself in top 10 consideration and at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Evans is a load to handle and can box out DBs for jump balls.
The Vikings might be doing cartwheels if this scenario played out as, at this juncture, there's no guarantee a top QB prospect falls to them. Minnesota has grown disenchanted with former first-rounder Christian Ponder and is on the lookout for a replacement. Once considered the best QB in this class, questions about Bridgewater's accuracy and level of competition could cause him to fall a bit on draft day, but he won't make it past the top 10.
The Buccaneers, in dire need of improving their pass rush, signed Michael Johnson to a massive deal in free agency, but that shouldn't prevent them from trying to add another player capable of getting after the QB. While Mack doesn't have the notoriety having played at Buffalo, he's one of the best defensive prospects in this class, with a rare blend of size, speed and an ability to get after the opposing QB.
The Falcons are in dire need of addressing their porous offensive line and they took steps toward that by signing Jon Asamoah in free agency. However, Atlanta still needs to address the tackle position and, fortunately for them, they should have their pick of the litter here. At one time considered a possible top pick, Matthews is still one of the best linemen in this class, with a massive frame and the ability to keep pass rushers at bay.
The Raiders' receiving corps was rather barren last season and they could certainly use some more weapons on offense for new QB Matt Schaub. It'll be very tempting for Oakland to grab a QB of the future here, but with Schaub in the fold for at least this season, it could open them up to address other areas. Watkins is a special type of receiver, with an ideal blend of size and speed, and could immediately improve the Oakland offense.
The Cleveland Browns have been looking for a franchise QB for seemingly forever and former first rounder Brandon Weeden, who was released this offseason, wasn't the answer. Owner Jimmy Haslam needs to make a big splash to win back a disenfranchised fanbase and drafting the polarizing Manziel could be just that move. Manziel was very impressive during his pro day and, while he still has his doubters, could change the culture in Cleveland.
The Jaguars are also in need of a franchise signal caller after Blaine Gabbert busted out and they could use this opportunity to take one. Even if Houston takes a QB first overall, Jacksonville will likely have its choice of a top QB at this spot and could opt for the local kid in Bortles. While Bortles still needs to improve his decision-making, he possesses a strong arm and a big frame to go with above-average athletic ability.
The Rams acquired this pick from the Redskins in the Robert Griffin trade a few years back and, even though they brought back Rodger Saffold, they could still use an heir apparent at LT to Jake Long. Robinson really burst onto the scene last season during Auburn's run to the national title game, displaying tremendous agility in the read-option offense to go with great size and strength. He'd be an ideal fit for Jeff Fisher in this spot.
While there's a lot of speculation that the Texans could opt for a franchise QB here, each of the QBs have their warts. One player who doesn't, however, is Clowney, who some consider to be a once-in-a-generation pass rusher. Although Clowney has never played outside in a 3-4, as he'd be asked to do in Houston, he's the kind of player who can likely succeed lined up anywhere and adding him to J.J. Watt would wreak havoc on opposing QBs.
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