It’s finally here. Tomorrow night, at 8 p.m. EST, Roger Goodell will walk up to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and officially open up the 2014 NFL Draft.
After months of waiting, teams will finally make their selections.
NFL Draft analysts and bloggers, including me, will stop all the speculation and finally learn how wrong they were. Because nobody ever has a perfect mock draft, much less a mostly correct mock draft.
And then three weeks later, we can debut our 2015 NFL Mock Draft and player rankings.
Anyways, after weeks of thinking, pondering, and reading, I have finally put together a comprehensive final Mock Draft. I took everything I have gleaned, read and heard, and used it to write this mock.
And still, I have a greater chance of getting all 32 picks incorrect, than getting most of them right. In reality, it will probably be about 60 to 90 percent incorrect, but, hey, I could get lucky right?
To make things easier (also increasing the likelihood of incorrect picks) I am NOT predicting trades in this Final Mock Draft. But here are some first round trades I do think are a possibility come draft day:
- The Houston Texans trade down with the Atlanta Falcons. Falcons select Jadeveon Clowney, Texans select Blake Bortles.
- The St. Louis Rams trade down with the Atlanta Falcons. Falcons select Khalil Mack or Greg Robinson, Rams select Jake Matthews.
- The Minnesota Vikings trade up with the St. Louis Rams. Vikings select Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel. Rams select Jake Matthews.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers trade up with the St. Louis Rams. Buccaneers select Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack. Rams select Jake Matthews.
- The Detroit Lions trade up into the Top 5, select Sammy Watkins.
- The Buffalo Bills trade up into the Top 5, select Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans.
- The Carolina Panthers trade up into the Top 10, select either Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans.
- The Cleveland Browns trade up, from No. 26, into the Top 20 to select Johnny Manziel or another QB.
- The Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars or Cleveland Browns trade back into the first round from the second round and select a QB.
And trades always do shake up the draft, so you can guarantee a few, but with the draft heavily front-loaded this year, with four great prospects: Clowney, Mack, Robinson and Watkins, many teams in the Top 10 are reluctant to trade down unless given a substantial offer. But we’ll just have to wait and see till tomorrow night.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is part five of five in my NFL Draft series, leading up to the draft on May 8. Each Wednesday I posted a new NFL Draft related post. In case you missed it, here’s last week’s post: my Defensive Player Rankings, two weeks ago I posted my Offensive Player Rankings, three weeks ago I posted my NFL Mock Draft 6.0: The Penultimate Mock and four weeks ago I posted my NFL Mock Draft 5.0: Scenario Mock.
Until then, here’s my predictions for how the first round will shake up:
- Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. Even with a glaring need at quarterback, Jadeveon Clowney is just too good of a prospect to pass up. A rare prospect, Clowney has been NFL-ready, according to some scouts, since his freshman year of college. Clowney has a rare combination of size, explosiveness, strength, speed and technique, that when paired with current Texans defensive end, J.J. Watt, will turn Houston’s defensive line into a force to be reckoned with. Having Clowney and Watt on the ends of their defensive line is just too exciting to pass up. The Texans could also go with Khalil Mack here, but Clowney fits their system better as a 4-3 defensive end. In the event that Houston decides they really want a quarterback, look for them to trade down, possibly with the Falcons, so they don’t have to reach for Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel.
- St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. This pick has been a consensus pick by many experts for a while and I still think the Rams will take the top offensive tackle in the draft, even though they re-signed Roger Saffold. The Rams need to protect Sam Bradford after only having played the full 16 game slate in two of his four seasons with the Rams. Robinson has the size, strength and power that scouts look for when trying to find offensive lineman. Robinson is an imposing offensive lineman who should start from day one for the Rams and protect Bradford for many years to come. The Rams could also select Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins to add to their receiving core, but Watkins may be too similar to their first round pick last year, Tavon Austin, and receiver is not as big of a need as offensive tackle.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo. In previous mock drafts I had the Jaguars selecting Clowney, but with the best prospect off the board, the Jaguars take the second best prospect in Mack. The Jaguars can afford to wait on a quarterback, as they are more than a year away from competition and could still find a good quarterback in the second round. With a huge need for a pass rusher, and a defensive-minded in Gus Bradley, the Jaguars select Mack, an excellent pass rusher off the edge who had 10.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss his senior year, along with 16 career forced fumbles, a FBS record. Alternatively, some experts have suggested the Jaguars might take Sammy Watkins, but with Justin Blackmon still on the roster, and a defensive-minded coaching staff, I fully expect them to take Mack, if available.
- Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. I believe the Browns have narrowed this pick down to two guys, Watkins and Johnny Manziel. Both would be excellent picks and would help the franchise tremendously, but I don’t believe the Browns will take a quarterback at No. 4. This quarterback class is not great as in years past, there’s no surefire prospect like Andrew Luck or RGIII. And with such a deep class, the Browns can get the QB they want at No. 26 or even No 35, if they choose. Watkins is one of the four top-tier prospects in this draft, the others being Mack, Clowney and Robinson, that are almost too good to pass up. Watkins is a receiver that defenses have to plan for week in and week out, due to his speed and playmaking ability. Putting him alongside Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron would give the Browns one of the best, young receiving cores in the NFL and give their future QB, whether it be Brian Hoyer or someone else, lots of weapons to work with.
- Oakland Raiders: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. With the signing of Matt Schaub, the Raiders are in win-now mode, and they need to supplement their offensive weapons to give Schaub a chance to succeed. Evans is a gigantic receiver that can use his size to make catches over cornerbacks, and had 69 receptions for 1394 yards and 12 touchdowns this past year for the Aggies. Evans would give the Raiders a legitimate No. 1 receiver for Schaub to target. At 6’5” and 231 pounds, some view Evans as the best receiver in the draft and he should definitely be a top-flight receiver for the Raiders and Matt Schaub.
- Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. With the top two rushers off the board in Clowney and Mack, the Falcons elect to fill another position of need at offensive tackle. After giving up 44 sacks this past year, tied for No. 10 worst in the NFL, the Falcons overhauled their offensive line with free agent signings, but still need an upgrade at offensive tackle. Matthews, a solid, all-around prospect, is an excellent rush and pass blocker and should protect Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for years to come, along with opening up holes for Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF. A few sources, including Walter Football, have reported that the Buccaneers are interested in taking a quarterback, specifically Blake Bortles, but are unwilling to trade up to get him. However, with the Jaguars, Browns and Raiders passing on quarterbacks, Bortles falls to Tampa Bay, and they select him here. Bortles will sit a year behind Josh McCown and then be ready to start the following year for head coach Lovie Smith. Bortles has good mobility and pocket presence, both important factors in determining whether a quarterback will succeed at the next level. After completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 3581 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions this past year, Bortles is selected to be the Buccaneers quarterback of the future. The Buccaneers could also select a wide reciever here, but with Evans off the board, Brandin Cooks would be a reach here.
- Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. The Vikings haven’t had a capable quarterback since Brett Favre, and after not picking up the fifth-year option on Christian Ponder, the Vikings are headed in a new direction at quarterback. Manziel has proven production and playmaking ability at Texas A&M, having passed for over 4000 yards and rushed for over 700 yards his sophomore year with the Aggies. With the Vikings playing in a dome in the coming years, the turf at the future Viking stadium will help Manziel succeed. A polarizing prospect, Manziel will bring his playmaking ability and swagger to the Vikings at the quarterback position. It is rumored that the Vikings also really like Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, but Johnny Manziel is too big of a prospect for the Vikings to pass up.
- Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. The Bills need to give last years’ first round pick, quarterback E.J. Manuel, some weapons on offense. With the two top receivers off the board, taking Oregon State wideout Brandin Cooks would be a bit of a reach here, so the Bills improve their tight end with the selection of Ebron. Ebron fits the mold of large, tall tight ends who will continue to improve during their NFL careers, and after a season with 62 catches for 973 yards and three touchdowns, Ebron should move ahead of Scott Chandler on the depth chart and give E.J. Manuel a big target over the middle of the field from day one.
- Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. With Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, along with the future Vikings QB, passing the ball in the NFC North, the Lions need to improve their secondary, which ranked No. 23 in the NFL this past year. A first team All-American and the winner of the Jim Thorpe award, given to the nation’s top cornerback, Dennard is a great, physical corner who will matchup well with the top receivers in the AFC North. There has been some talk of the Lions trading up and taking Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins to complement Calvin Johnson, and while that would be one heck of a duo, cornerback is a greater need for the Lions.
- Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. The Titans had trouble putting pressure on the quarterback last year and only nine teams had fewer sacks than the Titans. With new defensive coordinator Ray Horton coming in, he will put a premium on rushing the passer, as Horton did last year in Cleveland. Kamerion Wimbley has been a disappointment at outside linebacker and the Titans select his replacement here in Barr. A great pass rusher, Barr accumulated 23.5 sacks and 41.5 tackles for a loss the past two seasons at UCLA and should improve the Titans pass rush from day one. If he can improve his play against the run, he could be an every down linebacker for Tennessee.
- New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh. Lival Joseph’s departure via free agency leaves the Giants with a hole in the middle of their defensive line. And having signing two offensive tackles in free agency, the Giants select Donald here, who will anchor New York’s defensive line for years to come. His senior year at Pittsburgh, Donald had 11.0 sacks and 28.5 tackles for a loss to lead the NCAA and was awarded the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation’s best defensive player. Donald is an excellent interior rusher and should shore up the Giants defensive line for years to come.
- St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton Dix, S, Alabama. After upgrading their offensive line with their first pick, the Rams look to upgrade their pass defense, ranked No. 19 in the NFL this past year. The Rams have a hole at safety after neither Rodney McLeod or T.J. McDonald performed up to expectations. Clinton Dix is a very athletic and physical defender with the ability to handle differing coverages, helping translate his skills to the NFL. A product of Nick Saban’s Alabama defenses, Clinton Dix is one of the most NFL-ready prospects in the draft and should start for the Rams at safety over McLeod and McDonald.
- Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. The Chicago Bears had the worst run defense in the NFL last year, allowing an average of 161.4 yards per game. The run defense needs to improve and it starts with the middle of the defensive line, at the tackle position. With 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for Florida State, Jernigan helped the Seminoles win the BCS National Championship game. A solid defensive tackle, Jernigan hasn’t even reached his full potential yet and should improve the Bears run defense so that they are no longer allowing a 100-yard rusher every single game.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. The Steelers’ secondary is aging and with top-flight receivers such as Josh Gordon, A.J. Green and Torrey Smith catching balls in the AFC North, the Steelers’ secondary needs an upgrade, especially as Ike Taylor is no longer able to cover No. 1 wideouts. Gilbert is the most athletic corner in the draft class, and after having seven interceptions and seven passes defended for the Cowboys this past year, should step into the Steelers secondary and improve an already solid pass defense.
- Dallas Cowboys: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota. The Cowboys signed Henry Melton and Terrell McClain to shore up their defensive line, but it could still use improvement as the Cowboys ranked No. 27 against the rush and No. 30 against the pass. In addition, the Cowboys cut their star defensive lineman, Demarcus Ware and need a replacement that can get to the quarterback. Hageman has great versatility, having lined up all over the Golden Gopher defensive line, and displayed great pass rushing abilities. After totaling two sacks, two forced fumbles and 13.0 tackles for a loss his senior year, Hageman should join Melton and McClain along the Cowboys defensive line as a versatile player who can help improve the Cowboys miserable defense.
- Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. Michael Oher left the Ravens via free agency and while Eugene Monroe was re-signed, the Ravens still need another tackle to shore up their offensive line and protect Joe Flacco. The Ravens are known for their physical nature and having a mean streak so Lewan, a Top 10 talent, is a perfect fit for Baltimore. Lewan was a four-year starter at Michigan and has good size and athleticism for an offensive tackle. If Lewan can cut down on his off the field issues, he’s facing three alleged assault charges, he will become a mainstay on the Ravens offensive line.
- New York Jets: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. The Jets are a terrific defensive team, but their offense, especially the passing game, was anemic at times and besides free agent signee Eric Decker, the Jets have few offensive weapons in the passing game. No matter who’s throwing the ball for the Jets, either Michael Vick or Geno Smith, they need a receiver and take the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner, given to the nation’s top receiver. After amassing 128 receptions for 1730 yards and 16 touchdowns this past year at Oregon State, Cooks is a speedy receiver who will step in to give the Jets quarterback a valuable target.
- Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame. The Dolphins are in need of offensive lineman after losing Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin to bullying scandals and free agency. Miami has holes all over the offensive line and fills them with this pick of Martin. Martin has great instincts and natural ability, and is a versatile lineman who could play either the guard or tackle position. This versatility will help Martin succeed and find his place in the Dolphins offensive line and turn into a solid protector for Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill.
- Arizona Cardinals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri. The Cardinals need to improve their pass rush with John Abraham aging and holes at the outside linebacker position. Ealy is a versatile defensive end that could play 4-3 or 3-4 outside linebacker, who had 8.0 sacks and 14.0 tackles for a loss this past year at Missouri. Ealy, a very athletic and quick pass rusher, will continue to improve at the next level and has the potential to one day be an All-Pro, as he is drawing comparisons to Rams defensive end Robert Quinn.
- Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. Suffering from terrible coverage at the safety position, the Packers had the No. 24 pass defense in the NFL this past year. In a division with Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the Packers need to improve their secondary. Pryor is a hard-hitting safety capable of making open field tackles in both coverage and run support. With seven interceptions and 18 passes defended over three years at Louisville, Pryor was an excellent safety for the Cardinal and will shore up the Packers’ pass defense at the next level.
- Philadelphia Eagles: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU. After the release of Desean Jackson, the Eagles are really thin on the wide receiver depth chart with Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, coming of ACL surgery, at the top of the chart. The Eagles need to give quarterback Nick Foles more targets if they want to again make the playoffs and have a dominant Chip Kelly style offense. Beckham is a dangerous athlete with dynamic quickness and acceleration, and after catching 59 balls for 1152 yards and eight touchdowns this past year, Beckham will step in and add another playmaker to the Eagles offense.
- Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC. The Chiefs have one reliable receiver in Dwayne Bowe but after him, no reliable targets for quarterback Alex Smith to throw too. Lee, 6’0” and 192 pounds, is a great athlete with great speed and route-running ability that impresses scouts. And after finishing his college career with over 3,000 yards receiving and 25 touchdowns, Lee will be a great receiver for Kansas City and give Smith and coach Andy Reid another reliable target in the passing game.
- Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. The Bengals will improve their secondary with this selection as Leon Hall tore his Achilles heel twice in the past three years and may never return to Pro Bowl form. The Bengals pride themselves on defense, and take the Virginia Tech cornerback here. Fuller is a physical corner with great awareness and route-recognition. With six interceptions and 32 passes defended in his career at Virginia Tech, Fuller should improve the Bengals secondary and help Cincinnati guard the better receivers of the AFC North.
- San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. After giving up an average of 258.7 passing yards per game last season, ranked No. 29 in the NFL, the Chargers need to upgrade their secondary, especially with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in their division. Verrett has great cover instincts and was a three-year starter at TCU. With nine interceptions and 41 passes defended over three years at TCU, Verrett was a productive and smart corner for the Horned Frogs and should be a solid corner in the NFL, helping to improve the Chargers secondary.
- Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. After taking Sammy Watkins at No. 4, the Browns find their quarterback at No. 26 in Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater has slipped down some draft boards due to his pro day performance and durability concerns, but he’s still the safest quarterback in the draft, with proven production at the collegiate level, as he completed 71.0 percent of his passes for 3970 yards, 31 touchdowns and four interceptions his junior year. Bridgewater is NFL-ready and should step into the starting role very quickly in Cleveland.
- New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama. The Saints current inside linebacker, David Hawthorne, has been a bad free agent signing and with Mosley, a possible Top 15 pick, falling to the Saints here, New Orleans finds an upgrade in the middle of their front seven. A product of Nick Saban’s Alabama defense, Mosley is an NFL-ready prospect with great instincts and a high football IQ. Athletic enough to line up at any linebacker position, Mosley should immediately take over as the head of the Saints defense and start at either inside or outside linebacker.
- Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia. The Panthers blind side protector, Jordan Gross, retired earlier this year and Carolina needs to find a suitable replacement to shore up their offensive line and protect quarterback Cam Newton. At 6’6” and 314 pounds, Moses has the ideal size and length for an offensive lineman, giving him the potential to be an excellent blind side protector for Cam Newton.
- New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame. Injuries to defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly opened up huge holes in the Patriots defensive line and led to the Patriots finishing No. 30 in rush defense, allowing over 130 yards per game. Wilfork is coming off a torn Achilles and may never fully return to health at 32, so New England could use an upgrade. Nix III is a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle at 6’2” and 331 pounds, and will help shore up New England’s woes against the rush along their defensive line.
- San Francisco 49ers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State. The 49ers cut cornerback Carlos Rogers, and while they signed Chris Cook, they still need another addition to improve their secondary. Roby is an aggressive corner, who will fight for the ball and try to make plays in coverage and against the run, similar to the 49ers defensive methodology. Roby has great potential, even after slipping a bit due to injury concerns this past year, and could eventually become a No. 1 corner for the vaunted 49ers defense.
- Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State. The Broncos defense was more of an after thought this past season and Peyton Manning and their superb offense led the Broncos to the Super Bowl. But after being demolished, the Broncos need to improve their defense if they want to get back. After a few free agent signings, the Broncos draft Shazier here, a versatile player who was one of the most productive linebackers in the nation at Ohio State. Shazier is a solid linebacker who should immediately improve the Broncos defense with the potential to be one of the best linebackers of this draft class.
- Seattle Seahawks: Xavier Su’a Filo, OG, UCLA. The Seahawks need to improve the interior of their offensive line and protect their most valuable assets in Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson. With Paul McQuistan leaving via free agency, the Seahawks could use an upgrade at both guard positions. Su’a-Filo was the most experienced member of the Bruins top-notch offensive line, posting 38 career starts. Su’a-Filo projects well at the next level due to his versatility and blocking skills, helping him become a core part of the Seahawks offensive line.