A few thoughts before diving into my third and final mock draft …
I based these picks on what I would do with each selection as general manager of your favorite team. Good rosters are built from the inside out, so when forced to make a close decision I often lean toward the big guys. It's much harder to find elite defensive and offensive linemen than skill position players.
Every organization has a different evaluation process. Some value long-term projection more than college production, others focus more on height, weight and speed. I trust the eye test. I look at everything, but ultimately my decision always goes back to the eyes: What did I think when watching said player?
I trust my eyes more than a 40 time.
[Related: Shaun King's traditional mock draft, 2.0 version ]
One of the most overlooked aspects of the selection process is system fit, something I make a big priority. No matter how talented a player, there are certain systems he just doesn't fit in. I have seen this happen many times, where a player is drafted into a scheme he doesn't fit and ends up being labeled a bust because he doesn't produce.
With that, here are my picks based on what I've seen and how I feel certain players fit into teams' current systems.
1. Houston Texans
Needs: QB, OLB, safety
The pick: Khalil Mack (LB, Buffalo) – A perfect fit for Romeo Crennel and what he does as defensive coordinator. Also Mack has the talent and future ceiling deserving of being taken this high. Plug-and-play guy from Day 1; an absolute nightmare on third downs rushing the QB alongside J.J. Watt.
2. St. Louis Rams
Needs: OL, safety, WR
The pick: Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson) – This draft's best playmaker and most complete WR, Watkins fills a major need for the Rams, who lack an elite number No. 1 receiver for Sam Bradford.
Jadeveon Clowney (USA TODAY Sports)
[Related: Watkins best WR in draft]
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Needs: QB, DE, WR
The pick: Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina) – Too much talent to pass up. Also a great fit from a scheme standpoint. Gus Bradley has worked well with talented pass rushers and will get the best out of Clowney.
[Related: Clowney once in a generation talent]
4. Cleveland Browns
Needs: QB, CB, safety
The pick: Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville) – Bridgewater has endured a tough pre-draft process, but I'm trusting my eyes here because when you watch the film he is the top guy – no questions asked. Josh Gordon was asked which QB he would choose if he was making this decision and he said Bridgewater. Josh, I agree.
[Related: Size shouldn't be issue for Bridgewater]
5. Oakland Raiders
Needs: WR, DT, QB
The pick: Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh) – It's baffling that Donald hasn't been a bigger part of the draft conversation, because he was dominate at Pitt, aced the draft process and is clean off the field. Donald is one of the few defensive linemen who consistently won in one-on-one pass rush situations. He probably won't go this high, and teams will scratch their heads later as to why they passed on him.
6. Atlanta Falcons
Needs: DE, OL, TE
The pick: Greg Robinson (OT, Auburn) – Fate smiles on the Falcons as they stay put and get the monster mauler from Auburn. When watching Robinson on film you come away in awe that a guy that big can move like that. Matt Ryan gets the protection he desperately needs.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Needs: WR, OG, DE
The pick: Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M) – After trading Mike Williams to Buffalo, wide receiver became a top priority for Tampa and Evans fills that need. His talent and ceiling are deserving of being drafted this high. Tampa, however, should be proactive in trying to trade down from this spot.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Needs: QB, LB, safety
The pick: C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama) – I'm trusting that Norv Turner can get the best out of Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder, so I'm selecting the leader of my defense here in Mosley. Surprisingly the Vikings have a talented roster. Mosley is the kind of player who makes guys around him better and a perfect fit for Mike Zimmer's defense.
9. Buffalo Bills
Needs: OT, TE, safety
The pick: Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M) – Priority No. 1 is keeping EJ Manuel healthy. Matthews is the most NFL-ready player available. He can play either right or left tackle and has a chance to be elite at either.
[Related: Matthews most polished player in draft]
10. Detroit Lions
Needs: CB, safety, WR
The pick: Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State) – I love Dennard. He is adept at man or zone, has good ball skills and is a willing and effective run-supporter. The Lions could go safety or wide receiver here, but top-level cornerbacks are hard to find.
11. Tennessee Titans
Needs: QB, DE CB
The pick: Blake Bortles (QB, Central Florida) – He's big, athletic, smart and has a good arm. Most important: he's durable, which has been the biggest problem for Jake Locker. New coach in Ken Wisenhunt, new QB in Bortles.
[Related: Bortles needs to improve footwork]
12. New York Giants
Needs: TE, OG, DL
The pick: Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina) – Ebron is the only true matchup nightmare in this draft class at tight end. His combination of size, speed and skill is outstanding. The Giants replace Brandon Myers, gone via free agency, with a better player in Ebron.
[Related: Ebron looks like next Jimmy Graham]
13. St. Louis Rams
Needs: (OL, safety, LB)
The pick: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Safety, Alabama) – He solidifies the back end of the Rams' defense. Clinton-Dix has excellent range, great instincts and ball skills. He should be a great fit with the way the Rams rush the passer.
[Related: Clinton-Dix projects to be Earl Thomas-like]
14. Chicago Bears
Needs: DT, safety, OL
The pick: Calvin Pryor (safety, Louisville) – I could have gone DT here but I don't have any with a higher grade than Pryor. Also with the money Earl Thomas, T.J. Ward and Jarius Byrd have gotten, the league is starting to place a higher value on safeties. Pryor is an aggressive tone-setter, a major upgrade for the Bears.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Needs: DL, DT, CB
The pick: Louis Nix III (NT, Notre Dame) – Big, agile, athletic nose who is unblockable when he is on his game. Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau will get the best out of nix.
16. Dallas Cowboys
Needs: DE, CB, safety
The pick: Timmy Jernigan (DT, Florida State) – This selection is based on the assumption both Henry Melton and Anthony Spencer will be ready to go for Week 1. Jernigan is a talented interior clogger who will bring much needed talent and depth to Dallas' front four.
17. Baltimore Ravens
Needs: RT, FS, LB
The pick: Taylor Lewan (OT, Michigan) – After signing Eugene Monroe and trading for Jeremy Zuttah, the Ravens go ahead and complete their offensive line with Lewan. His capabilities of playing LT are up for debate. A switch to the RT spot is a better fit.
[Related: Lewan works hard but doesn't dominate]
[Related: Benjamin plays to his size]
19. Miami Dolphins
Needs: OL, safety, LB
The pick: Zack Martin (OG, Notre Dame) – If you want a true evaluation on your young QB, you have to protect him in the pocket. Martin plays the game well and is versatile which helps a line that has a few holes.
20. Arizona Cardinals
Needs: OLB, CB, QB
The pick: Anthony Barr (LB, UCLA) – Barr has a chance down the line to be one of the top 10 players from this draft. Great fit for him in Arizona where it can slowly work him in as he learns the position.
[Related: Barr should transition to 4-3 defensive end]
21. Green Bay Packers
Needs: WR, TE, safety, LB
The pick: Odell Beckham Jr. (WR, LSU) – Quietly Aaron Rodgers has lost key WRs the last few years in Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones. Beckham brings elite talent and skills to make this WR group as feared as it used to be.
22. Philadelphia Eagles
Needs: OLB, WR, CB
The pick: Dee Ford (DE, Auburn) – Outside of Trent Cole, the Eagles don't have another top-level pass rusher. Problem solved. In a draft lacking players who can consistently get to the QB, Ford excels at it.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
Needs: WR, OG, safety
The pick: Marqise Lee (WR, USC) – Donny Avery is the starting WR opposite Dwayne Bowe. Lee would be an instant upgrade and also brings that yards-after-catch ability the Chiefs currently lack.
[Related: Lee hurt by inconsistent QBs at USC]
24. Cincinnati Bengals
Needs: CB, safety, DL
The pick: Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech) – The Bengals have been good defensively without an elite CB. Fuller has all the tools to develop into one. He is a competitor who loves to go against No. 1 WRs.
25. San Diego Chargers
Needs: CB, OLB, WR
The pick: Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State) – When you play in a division with Peyton Manning you need guys who can cover. Gilbert brings the best physical skills to the table of any corner in this draft. He can use some technique work but that's all learnable. He's also excellent as a returner.
26. Cleveland Browns
Needs: CB, WR, OG
The pick: Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State) – Go Roby here to pair opposite Joe Haden. Roby is an exceptional talent who will get better. The Browns could go WR here but they have an early second-round pick they can use on a wideout.
27. New Orleans Saints
Needs: CB, WR, OLB
The pick: Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State) – Cooks doesn't fit everywhere, but I have confidence Sean Payton will find ways to maximize his talent. Exceptionally quick, he adds athleticism to an offense that has been subtracting rather than adding talent lately.
28. Carolina Panthers
Needs: OL, WR, CB
The pick: Morgan Moses (OT, Virginia) – Massive human being who devours defensive ends at times. Moses is also surprisingly athletic for a guy his size (6-foot-6, 314 pounds). He was much improved at Virginia after moving over to left tackle. Moses fills a major need for the Panthers.
29. New England Patriots
Needs: DL, TE, safety
The pick: Ra'shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota) – The Patriots are getting old up front with Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork as their anchors. After filling needs at CB and WR in free agency, I add a young, athletic tackle.
30. San Francisco 49ers
Needs: CB, WR, DL
The pick: Jason Verrett (CB, TCU) – He's the best pure man-to-man cover guy in this draft class. But he's on the smallish side which is why he is available this late. He gives the Niners something they really need.
31. Denver Broncos
Needs: OG, CB, ILB
The pick: Xavier Su'a-Filo (OG, UCLA) – Denver should replace Zane Beadles with Su'a-Filo. Film shows a guard who plays with a nasty streak and mauls people. He's also extremely athletic and capable of pulling on counters and traps.
32. Seattle Seahawks
Needs: WR, CB, RT
The pick: Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB, Nebraska) – Seattle quietly lost two of its top three corners from last season. So the Seahawks could use Baptiste, who is big at 6-3 and new to the position after switching from WR. He reminds me of a young Richard Sherman – and who better to teach him the position.
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- American Football
- Sammy Watkins
- Jake Matthews
- Aaron Donald
- St. Louis Rams
- Teddy Bridgewater