2014 NFL Mock Draft: Exclusive TMW Picks

Traditionally, the NFL Draft would have taken place last weekend and NFL fans would already be studying about the new players that had been drafted to their respective teams. However, last year NFL commissioner Roger Goodell moved the draft back two weeks to the second weekend of May, adding to every NFL fan’s anxiety. This has contributed to a mock draft frenzy across NFL blogospheres as more and more mock drafts have surfaced across the internet. Here I will take a stab at how I believe the first round of next Thursday’s draft will shake out.

1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney / DE South Carolina

A freak athlete like Clowney hasn’t come around since maybe Julius Peppers in 2002. Clowney is said to have the speed of Devin Hester and the strength of an NFL offensive lineman. With such a rare set of skills, Clowney is a superior pass rusher, but also effective against the run as we have all seen from the hit he put on Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl. The Texans need a pass rusher on the opposite side of J.J. Watt, who is already the best defensive player in the NFL. A Watt-Clowney combination for the next decade will be downright scary to opposing offenses.

2. St. Louis Rams – Greg Robinson / T Auburn

The St. Louis front office has not done a good job of putting together a great offensive line behind former number one overall pick Sam Bradford. As a result, Bradford has struggled to stay healthy and tore his ACL last season. While Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan were the top offensive tackles coming into the college football season, Robinson showed he was the best NFL prospect as a redshirt sophomore at Auburn. He possesses a rare combination of size and athleticism that will keep Bradford’s blind side protected for years to come.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Khalil Mack / LB Buffalo

Coming into the season, draft experts considered Khalil Mack a mid-to-late first round pick due to his competition in the Mid-American Conference. Then came his dominant performance early in the season against Ohio State, in which he was without a doubt the best player on the field and had his name buzzing around NFL scouts. Mack is an all-around linebacker in the mold of Navarro Bowman, one of the best linebackers in the NFL. ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge recently called Mack the best defensive prospects he has ever seen. Mack would be a perfect fit on a Jacksonville team that is looking for an outside linebacker to play as the Leo in Gus Bradley’s system that he brought over from Seattle.

4. Cleveland Browns – Sammy Watkins / WR Clemson

I was really having a tough time picking between Sammy Watkins and Johnny Manziel with Cleveland’s pick, but here is why I believe the Browns will decide on the Clemson product: the Browns also own the 26th pick in the draft which they nabbed from the Colts for Trent Richardson in a rare mid-season trade. The Browns are rumored to be enamored with Derek Carr, the Fresno State quarterback that should still be available at pick No. 26. Even if Carr is gone, the way the draft shakes out could possibly cause either Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater to fall to 26. Watkins is the best player on the board and will accompany Josh Gordon as perhaps the best receiving duo in the NFL. The Browns should wait on a quarterback and take the best player available, who is Watkins.

5. Oakland Raiders – Blake Bortles / QB Central Florida

Not a lot of people knew of Bortles coming into the season other than NFL Draft junkies. Then the Central Florida quarterback upset Louisville on national television and people began to notice. In early December, people thought Bortles could be a first round selection. And then, after a great performance in Fiesta Bowl against Baylor, Bortles was labeled as a top ten pick. He has more than the prototypical NFL quarterback size and also a very strong arm that is capable of making every NFL throw. He is nowhere near as ready to step in right away as a guy like Andrew Luck or maybe even Robert Griffin III, but he has the most upside of any quarterback in the draft. Oakland currently has Matt Schaub—a recently-signed washed up quarterback—and Matt McGloin, a player who showed potential last season but is not the long-term answer. Make no mistake: Oakland will need to draft a quarterback early.

6. Atlanta Falcons – Jake Matthews / T Texas A&M

Many scouts believe that Matthews is a better prospect than his former college teammate Luke Joeckel, who was selected second overall last year by the Jaguars. Therefore, to get a talent like Matthews at number six would be a huge get for Atlanta. While the Falcons have certainly made it clear that they prefer a pass rusher like Clowney or Mack, the two are virtual locks to go in the top five and Atlanta will most likely have to trade up to select one of the two. Tackle is a glaring need on the roster, and while Sam Baker is solid, he is no lock to stay healthy on the left side. Even if Baker is healthy and plays well, Matthews could slide over to the right side as he would be an instant upgrade over Lamar Holmes.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Johnny Manziel / QB Texas A&M

A lot of people do not know where Johnny Football will land, but the belief is that if he slips, it could be a far slide as not a lot of teams after Tampa Bay and Minnesota need a quarterback. However, ESPN NFL insider Adam Shefter believes Manziel will fall no further than 13th and his word is as good as anybody’s. Tampa Bay brought in 35-year-old quarterback Josh McCown to compete with Mike Glennon who was below average, at best, as a rookie last season. McCown isn’t the long-term answer and while Glennon has potential, new head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht will likely want their own quarterback in place to lead the rebuilding Bucs.

8. Minnesota Vikings – Anthony Barr / LB UCLA

Many believe the Vikings will go quarterback in the eighth spot, but with Bortles and Manziel both selected in the top seven, the Vikings will likely turn to defense. Considering that quarterback is deep in talent this year and that the Vikings will likely not make the mistake of reaching for a quarterback again (like Christian Ponder in 2011), the Vikings can wait for a guy like A.J. McCarron, Jimmy Garoppolo or Zach Mettenberger in the second round. Barr is an impact player who will step in as a first day starter at outside linebacker if the Vikings take him eighth overall.

9. Buffalo Bills – Taylor Lewan / T Michigan

Widely considered a top 10 pick had he declared for the 2013 NFL Draft, Lewan stayed in school, where his draft stock remained relatively stagnant. While Cordy Glenn is a solid player, he may not be the future left tackle and could easily slide over to the right side if needed. That would allow the Bills to take the Michigan man and plug him in as their left tackle of the future from day one.

10. Detroit Lions – Mike Evans / WR Texas A&M

Detroit is rumored to be enamored with Sammy Watkins, but likely will not have the ammunition to trade up and grab him. However, Evans is a nice fallback option and could pair with Calvin Johnson to give the Lions a threat on the opposite side of Johnson for the first time in his career. Evans was dominant catching passes from Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M last fall, and the former basketball player has the size and speed combination that will make teams zealous.

11. Tennessee Titans – Justin Gilbert / CB Oklahoma State

While there may be no top-flight corner in this draft that is a lock to go in the top ten like in years past (Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne, Dee Milliner), Gilbert is close. The Oklahoma State product is considered a poor-man’s Patrick Peterson, with a rare blend a of size, speed, athleticism and return skills. The Titans recently lost cornerback Alterraun Verner in free agency and have a glaring need at cornerback, so Gilbert makes a lot of sense here.

12. New York Giants – Eric Ebron / TE North Carolina

The Giants still do not have a starting-caliber tight end on the roster and really haven’t had one since the days of Jeremy Shockey. They recently signed Kellen Davis, but he is a journeyman who is better suited in a backup role. Eric Ebron is considered the consensus top tight end among many scouts and will likely be drafted somewhere in this range and maybe as high as ninth by Buffalo.

13. St. Louis Rams – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix / S Alabama

Free safety is a major issue for the Rams right now, and while T.J. McDonald is solid in the strong safety position, Rodney McLeod is no solution at free safety. Clinton-Dix has been considered by most as the top safety in the draft since prior to the college football season. He has a terrific blend of size and athleticism and is praised for his terrific ball skills. Just add Clinton-Dix to another first round defensive back produced by the Crimson Tide in recent years.

14. Chicago Bears – Aaron Donald / DT Pittsburgh

Donald emerged out of nowhere as the top defensive tackle in the draft after strong postseason performances at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. Even Roy Helu and Bryce Brown gashed the Bears pour run defense last season. Donald would be the perfect fit to a defense that also lost defensive tackle Henry Melton in the offseason.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers- Darqueze Denard / CB Michigan State

The Steelers have had an aging defense for quite some time now and Ike Taylor especially isn’t getting any younger at age 34. Denard lacks little things that he could develop over time like awareness and technique, but he has all of the physical tools that you look for in a cornerback.

16. Dallas Cowboys – Timmy Jernigan / DT Florida State

Although the Cowboys signed Henry Melton away from Chicago during the offseason, they still need a lot of help on the interior defensive line since their run defense was amongst the worst in the NFL last season. Jernigan, who is a dominant run stuffer, will provide great depth on the defensive line to a team moving to a 4-3 defense.

17. Baltimore Ravens – Calvin Pryor / S Louisville

The Ravens drafted Matt Elam in the first round. He looks to be the long-term starter at strong safety, but the Ravens still lack a rangy free safety. Darian Stewart, who was a cast-off by the Rams after struggling in St. Louis is the current starter. Pryor is a tenacious safety that needs improvement on taking angles, but he could be a player in the mold of Bob Sanders based on his ability to come down into the box and hit ball-carriers.

18. New York Jets – Brandin Cooks / WR Oregon State

Even with the addition of Eric Decker in the offseason, the Jets have made it no secret that they are looking for a playmaker from the slot position. New York was enamored with Tavon Austin leading up to the draft last year, but he went one slot before the Jets’ selection in 2013. Cooks is one of the fastest players in the draft and while his size may be the only knock against him, we have seen similar playmakers such as Austin and Randall Cobb emerge for their respective teams.

19. Miami Dolphins – Zack Martin / G Notre Dame

The Miami offensive line is a complete mess, and it’s hard to see Dolphins not investing a couple of early picks to add some beef to the unit. The team lost Jake Long last offseason and was haunted by an embarrassing bullying scandal during the regular season that saw the departures of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Zack Martin is not the greatest athlete, but he is a four-year starter for the Fighting Irish and very technically sound. He would step in right away and fill one hole in the Dolphins’ depleted offensive line.

20. Arizona Cardinals- Kony Ealy / LB Missouri

The Cardinals were actually one of the better teams in the league at sacking the quarterback, but John Abraham, aged 36 was their best pass-rusher. While his teammate Michael Sam garners more headlines and was a more productive player in college, Ealy translates much better to the pros as a prospect due to his size and athleticism. He could become a dominant pass rusher as a 3-4 outside linebacker, which fits the Cardinals’ scheme.

21. Green Bay Packers – C.J. Mosley / LB Alabama

Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk are both very mediocre at linebacker, and the Packers have been desperately looking for an intimidating linebacker that can deliver the big hit since Desmond Bishop departed. Mosley fits that bill and is likely the best player available at this point in the draft. General manager Ted Thompson may also opt for a safety, but with Clinton-Dix and Pryor off of the board, he should wait and take a guy like Jimmie Ward, Deone Buchanon or Kenny Ladler on the second day of the draft.

22. Philadelphia Eagles – Kyle Fuller / CB Virginia Tech

The Eagles will definitely look for a wide receiver here but I am not sure if there is one worth taking at this point, especially with cornerbacks like Fuller and Courtney Roby available. Obviously, the Eagles will be looking to replace DeSean Jackson, but Brandin Cooks is likely the perfect replacement and he is off the board. With this draft so deep with wide receivers, the Eagles should wait until the second day and instead draft one of the top players available in Kyle Fuller.

23. Kansas City – Odell Beckham Jr. / WR LSU

While the Chiefs could also wait on a wide receiver, they have fewer holes to fill on their roster than the Eagles and could take a top talent like Beckham to complement Dwayne Bowe. The Chiefs have never been able to pair Bowe with another good receiver, and while Donnie Avery was a surprise, he is better suited as a third wideout. Beckham is a dynamic athlete who can stretch the field vertically and give Alex Smith another weapon in the passing game.

24. Cincinnati Bengals – Ryan Shazier / LB Ohio State

Plenty of Bengals fans would love to see the former Buckeye land in Cincinnati. While Shazier may not have prototypical length and bulk, he has the potential to fit in just about any defense, whether that is as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense or as a middle linebacker in a 3-4. He has outstanding speed and should be superior in coverage, which is what teams are looking for against today’s passing attack offenses. Due to his small stature and playmaking ability, Shazier has drawn comparisons to Lavonte David, who has turned into one of the game’s best with the Bucs.

25. San Diego Chargers – Louis Nix / DT Notre Dame

The Chargers do not have a starting caliber nose tackle on the roster, so this would be a perfect landing spot for the 330-pound Notre Dame big man. While Nix is still lacking as a pass rusher, he would step in right away and bolster a weak run-stopping defensive line.

26. Cleveland Browns – Derek Carr / QB Fresno State

This is why Cleveland should wait to take a quarterback instead of reaching for one with the fourth pick. There are many teams in the teens and early 20’s that have no need for a quarterback and will likely pass one up. That should leave quarterbacks such as Carr and Teddy Bridgewater still on the board by the time the Browns pick. In this case, the Browns get the draft’s top receiver and the third best quarterback in Carr rather than reaching for a quarterback of similar value that they could have gotten in the late first round.

27. New Orleans Saints – Jason Verrett / CB TCU

Verrett is outstanding in coverage and has seen his stock increase over the last month after a strong Combine performance. In fact, many draft experts consider him the best cover corner in the draft. The Saints have never really had a top cornerback over the last decade so Verrett would be a great fit here.

28. Carolina Panthers – Cyrus Koaundjio / T Alabama

Koaundjio was considered a top five pick for the 2014 Draft at this time last year, but a mediocre 2013 collegiate season with a lingering knee injury dispelled that notion pretty quickly. Instead, he has fallen into the second tier of offensive linemen, but if his knee checks out, he could be a dominant force on a team that badly needs help protecting Cam Newton.

29. New England Patriots – Rasheed Hagemann / DE Minnesota

Hagemann is one of the freak physical specimens in this draft class, but most people outside of the state of Minnesota have not heard of him since he spent the last four years with the Gophers. Hagemann is still raw, but he is exactly the type of big and versatile athlete that Bill Belichick covets on his defense.

30. San Francisco 49ers – Kody Latimer / WR Indiana

Latimer has been flying up mock drafts after a stellar combine and it would not be a surprise to see him go in the first round over the likes of Kelvin Benjamin and Marqise Lee, both of whom are also still on the board. Latimer has a great frame at 6’2, 215 pounds, and he possesses some of the strongest hands in the draft, which will make him a sneaky pick by a 49ers team that busted on their selection of A.J. Jenkins in the first round a couple of years back.

31. Denver Broncos – DeMarcus Lawrence / DE Boise State

With the departure of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Broncos could settle for Courtney Roby here, but the Ohio State defensive back was recently arrested and could see his stock slip a bit. The Broncos need a lot of help on defense and I will be shocked if this pick isn’t on that side of the ball. Like Hagemann, Lawrence is another athletic freak who is versatile, but also raw. Under the tutelage of DeMarcus Ware, he could thrive a few years down the road.

32. Seattle Seahawks – Xavier Sua-Filo / G UCLA

While the Super Bowl Champions don’t have many roster needs, it is never bad to add depth on the offensive line, especially with a player like Sua-Filo, who is considered the top guard in the draft class. Sua-Filo may not be an instant starter from Day One, but he has the versatility to play anywhere on the offensive line should an injury occur.