Rotoworld's mock NFL draft
Josh Norris, Rotoworld NFL draft writer
Read Josh Norris' entire article here.
Please note that the order is completed by simulating the playoffs by the highest seed winning and then formatting for record and strength of schedule. I do not claim to be an expert on every team’s schemes and needs, but I do ask questions. As I say every year, if the draft was predictable we would not tune into the event. You should be surprised by some of these selections. The point is to work through scenarios and present options, not accuracy.
1. Houston Texans
QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
The obvious choice but the right one. The statement will pop up many times throughout the draft process (and this mock), but if a team does not have a quarterback, they are treading water. Find the guy, then go and get him.
Let me start by saying I am a big fan of Bridgewater’s. The recent criticism seems to focus on Teddy’s lean frame and size. I think that is a topic we will laugh at in a few years. Bridgewater does not take unnecessary hits or produce frenetic behavior in the pocket (see RGIII). His eye level, movement, anticipation and placement are all great. His vertical shots have been listed as a negative, and I have critiqued them, but maybe he is asked to put lost on these targets. I do not think there is a debate on the top passer in this draft. It is Bridgewater.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Redskins)
T Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
This is a tough one, and I half expect the Rams to trade this pick. Jadeveon Clowney should be the first non-QB off the board, but I don’t see Chris Long shifting inside often enough for the three man rotation to be practical. Yes, The Rams signed Jake Long last summer. A late season injury along with Joseph Barksdale in a contract year, plus the assumption that Rodger Saffold is not resigned, makes Matthews the logical pick. He is a technician with a powerful punch and experience at both sides of the line.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Clowney is a rare talent, and I would not be surprised if a team moves up for him. The Jags lack consistent pressure from the edge. Windmill Andre Branch has improved, and the scheme does not ask Tyson Alualu to impact upfield, but Clowney would add an instant impact. His burst off the line is ridiculous, as is his arm over swim, but hand use is the most important skill in order to sustain success. Clowney’s blend of size, strength, and speed is unreal. And if you are worried about the drop in sack numbers, just keep in mind disruption is production.
4. Cleveland Browns
QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
Whether it is Josh McDaniels or Bill O’Brien, there will be plenty of buzz around Lombardi trading for Ryan Mallett or sticking with Brian Hoyer. Regarding Hoyer, keep in mind he was a free agent and the Patriots, with McDaniels on staff, chose to sign Tim Tebow.
No one has a better arm in this class than Carr. From short to vertical routes, he displays velocity or touch to hit windows many cannot. A potential problem is that Carr understands this, so he does not always play with a proper base or throw with balanced footwork. This has improved, but it can be a major issue. The comparison I keep going back to is Jay Cutler, and we have all watched the highs and lows of his career. Carr bugs me.
5. Oakland Raiders
QB Blake Bortles, UCF
Bortles has not officially declared, but signs seem to point that way. While Bridgewater is drawing so negative buzz for his frame, Bortles seems to be gaining steam because he has that look of an NFL QB. That might sound crazy, but these really are the types of comments made to justify selections. I do like Bortles, but I am not sold on him as a quality starter. His game could be classified as a poor man’s Andrew Luck, displaying strong pocket movement, an ability to lift the talent around him, and passes that appear to have more touch than velocity. The Raiders could do some serious self-evaluating at the QB position this offseason, and Bortles is different than any passer on their roster.
6. Atlanta Falcons
T Greg Robinson, Auburn
I still have plenty to watch on Robinson and would love it if someone put together a clip of Robinson’s individual pass protection opportunities on the outside. Many of Robinson’s blocks are double teams when crashing down or second level moves that allow him to get in space. He is so strong and a great athlete with a mean streak, but I want to see Robinson’s balance and recovery skills. I bet the NFL loves him, though.
7. Tampa Bay Bucs
SLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
The Bucs need pass rushing help, but there are no traditional defensive ends worth taking at this spot. Mack could replace Dekoda Watson on the strong side, and even though Watson is an adequate role player, Mack offers much more. He would then move into a pass rushing role in specific situations. I do not know if the NFL considers Mack a better prospect than Barr, but he is the better player right now.
8. Minnesota Vikings
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Again, I have no clue if the Vikings consider Manziel “the guy.” Maybe it is Brett Hundley instead. Either way, it is time to exit QB purgatory. Manziel’s pocket movement is his gift and his curse, but he has the improvisational skill of Tony Romo. I would love to see him be more patient and not back up 11 yards in his drop, but Manziel has displayed quick decision making and an ability to throw to contested receivers outside the numbers and downfield. He has absolutely improved as a passer this season.
9. Buffalo Bills
LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
The Bills can go in a variety of directions, but I believe Barr fits the versatility up front. I know Jerry Hughes played well, but consider Barr a replacement for Manny Lawson. Barr is only in his second season on the defensive side of the ball. He added weight this season and kept the same ridiculous closing speed. When he keeps that space on the edge, watch out. When he loops inside, watch out. But I want to see more hand use and counter moves from Barr. The upside is absolutely there, however.
10. Detroit Lions
WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Calvin Johnson and Watkins on the field at the same time? Sure.
11. Tennessee Titans
T Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
Beat writer Jim Wyatt does not expect RT David Stewart back in 2014. Maybe that is one reason the Titans already invested so much into their offensive line, specifically on the interior. They could use defensive help, and who knows where the go at quarterback, but I think Ogbuehi is the second best tackle in this class. He reminds me of Tyron Smith and will test well in multiple phases. The junior could stay another season and move to left tackle, but I have seen enough.
12. New York Giants
CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Dennard is my top corner in the class. I would not be surprised if he runs a bit slower than other cornerbacks in Indianapolis, but do not let that fool you. He is extremely talented. In fact, I think he could move even higher on this list. Dennard forces his opposition to play at his speed, controlling their pace. He can press and play off coverage and displays valuable ball skills.
13. St. Louis Rams
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
There is a chance Clinton-Dix goes earlier than this, but the Rams would be a great landing spot. Cortland Finnegan will be out, so Rodney McLeod could be pushed to slot duties. Clinton-Dix is a rangy player with the versatility to play near the line of scrimmage or in the deeper portions of the field.
14. Chicago Bears
DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Nix III ended his season on the sideline after undergoing knee surgery. The injury impacted his season, but there were shades of Vince Wilfork back in 2012. Obviously he can stop the run, but Nix can also press the interior and reset the line of scrimmage. Disruption between the tackles is a difference maker.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
The Steelers should be locked in on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive back can be upgraded, but I think adding Mosley next to Timmons would allow Polamalu to play in the deeper portions of the field and keep everything in front. Mosley has always had the range and awareness in coverage, but he attacks blockers better than given credit for. The Sean Lee comparisons are real.
16. Baltimore Ravens (Coin flip with Cowboys)
WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
The Ravens have Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta, but Evans could really improve this offense. He is the best in the class at winning at the catch point and is very adept at working back towards his quarterback. His yards after the catch are also an under discussed skill, since Evans takes many short screens for extended gains. Do not expect his short speed to be great in Baltimore, but you already knew that if you watched his tape. Don’t knock him twice for it.
17. Dallas Cowboys (Coin flip with Ravens)
DL Kony Ealy, Missouri
The Cowboys need to upgrade their defensive line, and I think the NFL likes Ealy more than where the consensus currently puts him. The Missouri defender can win with power and agility on the outside or move inside when necessary.
18. New York Jets
TE Eric Ebron, UNC
Jets fans will want a wide receiver, but hear me out with Ebron. First of all, he allows for personnel versatility, lining up inline or detached. Think of a Vernon Davis type athlete who has improved at the catch point. He is still growing his game, but Ebron can be a ridiculous prospect. He can take those Kellen Winslow or Jeff Cumberland targets and maximize them.
19. Miami Dolphins
T Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
#TeamTannehill. The Dolphins need offensive help, but unless Tannehill starts getting more time to stand and observe the coverage, the targets available do not matter. Kouandjio started the season a bit rough, but he has straightened it out since. There are flashes of waist bending and getting jolted on first contact, but Kouandjio can dominate with a strong grip.
20. Arizona Cardinals
T Taylor Lewan, Michigan
I like Lewan, but he has some deficiencies, specifically dropping his head on first contact or losing in that initial hand fight. Still he is an upgrade on what the Cardinals currently have. I would not be shocked if the Cardinals do take a QB early in this draft, though.
21. Green Bay Packers
DL Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
This is not the best spot for the Packers. They need safety help and also value length at the corner positions. With Hageman, I see a player that can line up at any one of the spots in an odd man front. He has played a lot of one technique this season, and has contributed at three and five technique as well. His athleticism will be on display at the Combine. Finding consistency is the key.
22. San Diego Chargers
CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
I need to watch more of Gilbert from the season, since many quotes coming from NFL evaluators place him in the first-round. His game was not impressive in 2012. The Chargers need edge defenders, and Gilbert has improved in Oklahoma State’s more aggressive and physical defense this year.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Tight end might not be a major need for the Chiefs, since draft twitter was a big fan of Travis Kelce, but the two can absolutely be on the field at the same time. Amaro is a very fluid mover that can be a mismatch with safeties, corners or linebackers. He is a willing blocker, but I wish his hands were a bit stronger at the catch point. Vernon Davis had a few very good seasons with Alex Smith.
24. New Orleans Saints
LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Rob Ryan uses his linebackers as thumpers, but Shazier could be paired with safety Kenny Vaccaro has versatile and rangy pieces to match up with the opposition’s personnel. Shazier has also displayed good instincts and physicality on blitzes in recent months. He is not Lavonte David, but Shazier is a very good prospect.
25. Philadelphia Eagles
CB Jason Verrett, TCU
Brandon Boykin wins in the slot, but Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are two replaceable players on the outside. Verrett is physical and frequently forced the opposition to work away from his side of the field.
26. Cincinnati Bengals
DB Lamarcus Joyner, FSU
Am I crazy? Maybe, but with Leon Hall suffering another major injury and Terence Newman aging, Joyner could offer versatility needed in the Bengals’ defensive backfield. He wins at safety, in the box, or lining up in the slot to counter mismatches on offense. Yes, Joyner lacks ideal size, but he is very physical.
27. Cleveland Browns (via Colts)
WR Marqise Lee, USC
Reggie Wayne keeps popping into my head when watching Lee. There were lapses in concentration this season in the form of drops and injuries to boot, but he is so fluid and agile to create separation. Lee’s body control helps him create that sliver of space at the catch point, and he is smooth after the catch. He would be a great complement to the vertical ability that Josh Gordon presents.
28. San Francisco 49ers
WR Kelvin Benjamin, FSU
Anquan Boldin is a free agent, but there might not be a trio of receivers (Boldin, Crabtree, Davis) who win at the catch point better than these three. Add Benjamin to this list. The redshirt sophomore turns 23 in February, leading me to think he declares for May’s draft. He dropped passes at times this season, but really came into his own in the home stretch of the season. Benjamin does not have to be open to be open, and that skill is growing in importance in the NFL.
29. New England Patriots
DL Aaron Donald, Pitt
Sure, Donald is “undersized,” checking in at 6’0/290 pounds, but consistent interior disruption trumps everything. Donald has great length and wins from the one, three, and five techniques. I prefer Dominique Easley overall, but Donald has no health concerns and could really help the Patriots’ interior push. Chris Jones played admirably, and I would not be surprised if he has a soft spot in Bill Belichick’s heart, but Donald is an immediate improvement.
30. Carolina Panthers
WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
The Panthers do not have a receiver on their roster that consistently wins in contested situations. Yes, including Steve Smith (at this point in his career). Cam Newton does not throw many jump ball targets, and it is worth asking if this is a chicken or the egg type situation, but Landry dominates in this area. He has seen time in the slot and outside, and along with offering strength after the catch, Landry is adept at finding soft areas in coverage or hauling in difficult grabs.
31. Denver Broncos
OL Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Peyton Manning masks deficiencies on offense. If the team does not re-sign Eric Decker, receiver could be an option here, but a versatile offensive lineman is also an option. As is another edge pass rusher on the defensive side of the ball. I project Martin to guard, and although he does not possess the most athletic lower half, his upper body strength compensates for those deficiencies in tight spaces.
32. Seattle Seahawks
WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
The Seahawks want a big bodied receiver. Sidney Rice will likely be cut, and Matthews has posted countless catches where he climbed the ladder and hauled in extended grabs. I do wonder if a tight end like Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be of use in this spot.