I put this off as long as I could. I finally have to do a mock draft.
Frankly, I'd love to push it back even more because usually some of the most reliable information starts flying around a few hours before the draft and, this year more than ever, so many contingencies are in place, so many trades are possible, and with no one knowing exactly where these quarterbacks will land, possibilities abound. It's incredibly difficult to pin everything down and know which players will be on the board when a particular team is picking. The top five is still up for grabs and a lot of this will not truly be set until teams are on the clock.
So if the teams don't know themselves what's going to happen when they are on the clock, how the hell am I supposed to predict it now? Good question. That explains my desire to do this about five minutes before the draft starts.
But alas, I shall relent to the powers that be and throw out my first and only mock draft of the spring right now, with the caveat being I will probably tinker with this thing through the day, so stay tuned. Also, I tend to go bold with these mock draft thingies, otherwise, what's the point?
No one is going to nail it entirely, and if your mock looks like every other one out there, that's lame. In the end everyone is throwing darts and you want them to be educated darts, but one thing will happen, invariably, that throws things off course anyway.
Now that we've got that out of the way, here goes:
1. Atlanta Falcons (via trade with Texans) -- DE Jadeveon Clowney: Owner Arthur Blank can be a relentless man when he gets his mind set on something, and he wants the best defensive player in this draft. I believe the Texans end up doing this deal for a 2014 third- and fourth-round pick and a 2015 first. If the Texans stay here I still make Clowney the pick.
2. St. Louis Rams -- T Jake Matthews: Greg Robinson is another obvious pick here and if the Rams do not trade down, and I wouldn't rule that out at all, I'm going to say coach Jeff Fisher takes his old buddy's son and solidifies an offensive line that's been an issue there for years.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars -- LB Khalil Mack: Gus Bradley gets a perfect fit for his defense and the Jaguars make another prudent selection. Johnny Football at least gets some consideration here, and if Mack is gone to the second pick via trade (if Atlanta moves there), then the Jags take a top receiver, either Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins.
4. Cleveland Browns -- WR Sammy Watkins: Robinson is in the mix here and would get some consideration, and Johnny Manziel is going to be discussed as well. If Matthews was here he might be the pick, but he isn't in this mocky mock. They need weapons, and their emerging stud receiver Josh Gordon has already been suspended. Some might prefer the size advantage Evans provides and he wouldn't surprise me here either.
5. Oakland Raiders -- WR Mike Evans: They love Mack, and if he is on the board, he is the pick. Owner Mark Davis is a big Derek Carr guy and he is the QB the Raiders would take first … but this is still too high. If the Raiders trade down, look out for Carr to be their guy.
6. Detroit Lions (via trade with Texans) -- T Greg Robinson: They need to protect Matt Stafford, which is still an issue post free agency. Robinson has Hall of Fame potential in the eyes of some in that organization. Getting him outside of the top five is a steal, and with Buffalo also exploring a trade up and the value building, the Lions move up to grab him. And the Texans pick up a few more picks, which, after failing to get that second round pick they wanted from the Falcons, is another bonus for them. Still two quarterbacks on the board, so the Texans can afford to drop.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- QB Johnny Manziel: They love Evans, but he is gone. DL Aaron Donald is super high on their board, Lovie Smith loves him and he very well could be the pick here. But the allure of a quarterback with this kind of potential is too strong to ignore, and they have the ultimate mentor in their quarterback room already in Josh McCown, who could still start coming out of the box. They'll pick up a mid-round pick by trading QB Mike Glennon and can add to the defensive line there.
8. Minnesota Vikings -- DT Aaron Donald: New head coach Mike Zimmer is a huge fan of the three technique with pass rushing ability. Perfect fit. He finds his new Geno Atkins to replace that vital role Atkins filled on his Bengals defenses.
9. Buffalo Bills -- T Taylor Lewan: If Atlanta stays at No. 6, Lewan is very likely to be the pick there. The Bills are considering TE Eric Ebron and WR Odell Beckham, but they have to protect QB EJ Manuel or jobs could be on the line at the end of the season. Manuel needs some weapons, but the depth of receivers in this class carries the day here, and they do the prudent thing here after reaching for Manuel a year ago.
10. Houston Texans (via trade with Falcons, Lions) -- QB Blake Bortles: New head coach Bill O'Brien gets his guy, and gets extra draft picks to move back and do it. Manziel again is in the mix, and I'm sure ownership would love all the hoopla he brings with him, but Bortles played for one of O'Brien's mentors in college, he fits the mold of what the Texans are looking for, and the Texans know the Titans, one pick later, might take the kid if they don't do it here.
11. Tennessee Titans -- LB Anthony Barr: The Titans get a new centerpiece for their defense and coach Ken Whisenhunt takes his new quarterback in the second round. They also like CBs Kyle Fuller and Justin Gilbert, but Barr can impact the game in so many ways and I believe they go this route.
12. New York Giants -- T Zack Martin: There are definitely people in that organization who would go Odell Beckham here, and if he goes 12th overall I wouldn't be surprised in the least. But the offensive line has become such a concern, there is a real drop-off at that position after this, and Eli Manning, when he's right, can develop receivers for you. In the end I think the Giants retool from the inside out.
13. St. Louis Rams -- WR Odell Beckham: I know they took a wide receiver a year ago, but there are some teams that believe Beckham could be the most complete receiver in the draft, and the Rams are all-in on trying to make the Sam Bradford experiment work. After addressing the line they add another real weapon to the offense. Oh yeah, and if Johnny Football is still on the board at No. 13, I would slot him to the Rams right here, Bradford or no Bradford. If they take a tackle up high and Manziel gets out of the top 10, he just might be coming to St. Louis after all.
14.Chicago Bears -- CB Kyle Fuller: I've heard a strong buzz among personnel people about Fuller in the last few weeks. He is the top corner on some boards and the Bears have a secondary deficiency without a doubt. A top safety would be in the mix -- I hear there is a split about Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor -- and I am going to go corner here.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers -- CB Darqueze Dennard: He is a scheme fit, the Steelers are very comfortable with him, and he fills an immediate void. Justin Gilbert would be in this equation as well, but I'm going to follow my gut and go with Dennard.
16. Dallas Cowboys -- S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: A year ago the Cowboys were crushed when S Kenny Vaccaro went just ahead of their pick in the draft. Now, they get their pick of the litter at the position and I could see Jerry Jones loving the Alabama product from his beloved SEC. The defensive line needs help for sure, but there isn't much to pick from there and I say they take a shot at that position in the second round.
17. San Francisco 49ers (via trade with Ravens) -- WR Brandin Cooks: Teams love everything about this kid, the 49ers have more picks than they can use (no way 11 draft picks are cracking that deep roster) and they have been working trade angles for weeks. With three receivers already gone and Cooks in play with seemingly every team picking behind the Ravens, the Harbaugh brothers do business once again and the Ravens can still get a safety or tackle they like down in the draft.
18. New York Jets -- CB Justin Gilbert: They land a top corner, which they badly need, and with four receivers gone, all the more reason to remain pragmatic and look at that deep position of need on Friday. There's too much value in the secondary, and S Calvin Pryor would be a very strong consideration here as well. In the end I'll flip a coin and go corner.
19. Miami Dolphins -- LB C.J. Mosley: They solve their lingering linebacker issues, get a potential impact player, and with the run on offensive linemen already afoot, and corners flying off the board, too, this is a nice safe pick for rookie GM Dennis Hickey (although in reality head coach Joe Philbin is driving that ship down there).
20. Arizona Cardinals -- QB Derek Carr: After sweating it out, coach Bruce Arians gets his guy (although again, if the Raiders trade down Carr could be long gone). Carr is in the exact mode Arians looks for, and even if Bortles is still on the board here, I'm going to say the Cards take Carr. Carson Palmer is a year-to-year proposition at this point and savvy GM Steve Keim is trying to build a perennial contender and knows the import of securing the future of this critical position.
21. Green Bay Packers -- TE Eric Ebron: GM Ted Thompson wins again, getting a very good player at a position of need going right to him. They need to replace Jermichael Finley and get a huge target for Aaron Rodgers, and at 6-foot-4, Ebron fits the mold. The Pack can address safety Friday (again, Pryor would be a strong consideration here), but the possibilities of Ebron in that offense are too good to pass.
22. Philadelphia Eagles -- S Calvin Pryor: I can't help but wonder if sleeper S Deone Bucannon goes here, as I hear Chip Kelly loves the Washington State product who he knows well from his Oregon days, but I'm going to give the nod to Pryor. Eagles have real needs at defensive back and if they do trade up, I believe it will be for a corner or safety and not so much a wide receiver, with all the second day value there.
23. Kansas City -- WR Marquise Lee: Some have concerns about his durability at the next level, but this kid made big plays at USC and the Chiefs could look at an interior lineman on either side of the ball, but Andy Reid needs more tools on offense and the top crop of receivers is thinning out by now. There will still be plenty of offensive lineman on the board come Friday.
24. Cincinnati Bengals -- CB Bradley Roby: All things being equal, the Bengals really would love to address corner here, and of the top five, only Roby remains. If he does slip as many in the league expect on the heels of his recent arrest, etc, then this would be a Mike Brown special, as the owner there is never shy about gambling in these types of situations and has had success with it lately.
25. San Diego Chargers -- CB Jason Verrett: Chargers have an acute need here, and they get a corner who can man the slot -- which is increasingly important in this day and age of pinball football. While you could make the case for a number of defensive linemen here as well, and I wouldn't rule out a trade at all, especially if a team wants to move up to grab a quarterback, I'm slotting Verrett here as the fifth of five corners in my first round.
26. Cleveland Browns -- QB Teddy Bridgewater: If Carr is on the board he is definitely in play, and there is no consensus quarterback in the Browns organization between the coaches and the GM and others, but when you factor in the analytics the team has pointing to Bridgewater as the guy, this is the pick. Especially if the board plays out anything close to how I think it might. The Browns don't let some less-than-stellar workouts deter them from a player they have spent a lot of time and energy tracking -- and falling in love with at various points in this process -- in the end.
27. New Orleans Saints -- LB Ryan Shazier: Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan gets a new toy to play with in his defense after doing a great job having to rely heavily on scheme in 2013. I wouldn't rule the Saints out at all from taking a quarterback if a few top guys are still on the board, but Shazier makes sense on a lot of levels. I am less than convinced this kid doesn't go higher, but if he is here at 27 that could be his basement.
28. Carolina Panthers -- T Ja'Wuan James: Just too much need at tackle and the fact there will be receivers available on Friday has me going tackle here. You can find receivers during training camp as guys are cut, too, but that doesn't happen with tackles very often. This is the last shot to really address this. They could easily take Nevada tackle Joel Bitonio, but this kid from Tennessee is generating some real interest in the back end of the first round.
29. New England Patriots -- S Deone Bucannon: He is a big-time thumper who also has the wheels to cover a lot of ground and has been tutored by former standout Kenny Easley. Might he still be there deep into Day 2? Possible but I know evaluators who have this kid as maybe the best safety in this draft, long-term, and Bill Belichick doesn't give a damn what any fool with a mock draft thinks anyway. History tells us he will defy convention. A defensive lineman like Stephon Tuitt and Timmy Jernigan could end up with the Pats in this spot as well, and of course never discount New England trading out of the round entirely.
30. Baltimore Ravens -- T Cyrus Kouandjio: Yes, his knee has scared some teams who have medically flagged him, but GM Ozzie Newsome knows Alabama inside out and has a bond with coach Nick Saban and I could see him doing this. Even if Kouandjio ends up playing only five or seven years, the reality is he will do so very cheaply, he would solidify a rebuilt line at right tackle and heck, the Ravens ended up getting only about that much time before parting with former right tackle Michael Oher, a previous first-rounder himself.
31. Denver Broncos -- G Xavier Su'a-Filo: The Broncos are all in for this year. Let's not kid ourselves. Some pass rushers would fit here, without a doubt, but they picked up Von Miller's fifth-year option and gave a lot of money to DeMarcus Ware and after 2014, who knows what Peyton Manning is up to. John Elway wants to protect Manning above all else, and playing the NFC West this year and shuffling around the offensive line already, he needs as must heft as he can get up there. This kid can be a swing tackle and a starting guard.
32. Seattle Seahawks -- DT Timmy Jernigan: Seattle could trade this pick. Would not surprise me at all. And Jernigan could end up with Dallas at No. 16 as well. But the failed drug test could well fuel a slide down, as many evaluators I spoke to suggested, and Seattle lost a few defensive linemen already. GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll are anything but afraid to take a risk or two, and Jernigan can slide right into their rotation. I'll go with this to close out the first round.
So there you have it. Hopefully I got a decent number of the first 32 names off the board correct, if not in the exact location than perhaps at least on the right night. Trades will throw a wrench in some stuff without a doubt, but I have a good feeling that many of the contingencies are mentions above as to where teams could go when they are on the clock.