The 2014 Scouting Combine ended last Tuesday. Free agency is the next major event on the NFL's offseason schedule. It’ll whittle down team needs considerably, so doing a mock draft before signings, re-signings, and franchise tags is an exercise in futility. With that said, mock drafts are fun. I just don't expect this to be the least bit accurate.
This is my initial mock draft of the 2014 offseason. I'll probably end up doing three. If you're an intense follower of NFL draft prospects and information, be sure you're tracking @JoshNorris and @Rotoworld_Draft on Twitter, as well as keeping up with Rotoworld's continuously updated NFL Draft Player News page.
1. Houston Texans -- Central Florida QB Blake Bortles
I think this pick will come down to Bortles versus Jadeveon Clowney, and Bill O'Brien will push owner Bob McNair and GM Rick Smith to let the rookie coach put his stamp on the franchise with a quarterback who possesses many prototypical traits. At 6-foot-5, 232, Bortles lands somewhere between Andrew Luck and Jake Locker with plus athleticism and above-average arm strength, but suspect accuracy. Like Locker, Bortles' mechanics are a work in progress. Like Luck, Bortles is a physical, efficient pocket manager who isn't easy to sack. In an ideal world, O'Brien would sign a veteran "bridge" quarterback to open the season as Houston's starter, easing Bortles into the job.
2. St. Louis Rams -- Auburn OT Greg Robinson
Robinson is this year's highest-ceiling lineman at 6-foot-5, 332 with 35-inch arms and a freakish 4.92 forty time. Drawing Larry Allen comparisons inside the NFL, Robinson is ready to clear alleys in a pro run game. He's the most consistently dominant prospect in this class, regardless of position. As LT Jake Long is recovering from ACL and MCL tears, RT Rodger Saffold is a free agent, RG Harvey Dahl and C Scott Wells are cap-casualty candidates, and left guard remains a revolving door in St. Louis, the Rams don't have a single offensive line position settled for 2014.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater
Second-year Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell will have a regime-defining decision to make should Clowney and Bridgewater both "fall" to No. 3. Like division-rival Houston, I think Jacksonville would lean quarterback in that scenario, with hopes of landing an edge rusher at a later selection. Although Bridgewater is generally considered a somewhat low-ceiling passer, his pocket instincts, accuracy, touch, and leadership skills remind of Russell Wilson. As Jags coach and ex-Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley can attest, Wilson's had a sea-changing impact on his team.
4. Cleveland Browns -- Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
As Jimmy Haslam has displayed an itchy trigger finger with hirings and firings in under two years as Browns owner, rookie GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine should feel overwhelming urgency to produce immediate wins. I think they're all but locked into quarterback at No. 4. Cleveland is also set up to hone an unconventional style of signal caller with Kyle Shanahan in place as offensive coordinator. During stints with Houston and Washington, Kyle showed an impressive knack for designing offense around his quarterback's strengths, rather than forcing square pegs into round holes. It can't hurt that Manziel would instantly energize an antsy fan base.
5. Oakland Raiders -- South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
Hotseat GM Reggie McKenzie's fingers are crossed that one of the draft's top quarterbacks will last to No. 5. Clowney and Clemson's Sammy Watkins figure to be McKenzie's primary "fallback" options, as both are instant-impact prospects, albeit at positions of lesser importance. Clowney would fill a gaping need. Oakland's full starting defensive line is entering free agency: RE Lamarr Houston, LE Jason Hunter, NT Pat Sims, and DT Vance Walker. This position was arguably the Raiders' biggest 2013 team strength, creating a colossal cavity in coach Dennis Allen's defense.
6. Atlanta Falcons -- Buffalo LB/DE Khalil Mack
The Falcons are popularly viewed as a potential trade-up team based on GM Thomas Dimitroff's past draft-day aggressiveness, but this is a club coming off a 4-12 season that received bottom-five line play on both sides of the ball. Atlanta is not one player away. Dimitroff needs to stand pat and take best player available, and Mack is it at No. 6. Coordinator Mike Nolan's defense requires a front-seven makeover highlighted by a game-changing pass rusher. Mack could fill a Von Miller-like strong-side role, or play 3-4 rush 'backer. Nolan has history working with both alignments.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
The Bucs' biggest need lies at defensive end, but I expect rookie GM Jason Licht to attack that position in free agency, allowing Tampa to select its highest-rated player at No. 7. Watkins would be just that, giving sophomore quarterback Mike Glennon an embarrassment of supporting-cast riches as Vincent Jackson's bookend. Making the Watkins pick in this hypothetical scenario even more of a no-brainer is incumbent No. 2 wide receiver Mike Williams' offseason misdeeds. New coach Lovie Smith has deemed Williams' behavior "disturbing," and likely wants no part of him.
8. Minnesota Vikings -- Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
The Vikings have bigger “needs” than wideout, but Evans would be difficult for GM Rick Spielman to overlook in the eight hole as a player physically gifted enough to make quarterbacks better. Evans is an NFL-ready high-pointer of jump balls, and possesses an otherworldly catch radius at 6-foot-5, 231 with 35 1/8-inch arms and a 37-inch vertical. Minnesota selects again at No. 40, where Spielman could target Fresno State's Derek Carr or Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. Barring a trade up, the Vikings simply are not in position to select a first-round signal caller.
9. Buffalo Bills -- Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews
The Bills are set at three positions on the offensive line, but lack stability at right tackle and left guard. Projected to various spots by various evaluators, Matthews would upgrade either. More consistent in pass protection than Auburn's Greg Robinson, Matthews is regarded as one of the surest bets in this year's draft class. Adding him would improve E.J. Manuel's odds of success.
10. Detroit Lions -- North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
The Lions won't stop slinging it around under rookie OC Joe Lombardi, a Sean Payton disciple who promises to bring a Saints-style offense to Detroit. Lombardi had a front-row seat to the benefits of a mismatch-creating tight end in New Orleans. Ebron is already a better run blocker than Jimmy Graham, and he will stretch the seam vertically with 4.60 speed at over 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. Ebron offers a significant playmaking upgrade on free agent Brandon Pettigrew.
11. Tennessee Titans -- Notre Dame NT Louis Nix
The Titans will switch from a base 4-3 defense to a 3-4 under new coordinator Ray Horton, whose teams have never lacked space-eating nose guards throughout his coaching tenure. In Pittsburgh, then-secondary coach Horton had Casey Hampton (6'1/325) up front. In Arizona, Dan Williams (6'2/327). In Cleveland, Phil Taylor (6'3/334). Nix goes 6-foot-2, 331 with Wilforkian movement skills for his size.
12. New York Giants -- Notre Dame G/T Zack Martin
Aside from 2013 first-rounder Justin Pugh, Giants GM Jerry Reese's recent drafts have yielded sub-par results from offensive linemen. Teams don't often use back-to-back first-rounders on the same position, but New York's current situation requires it. Reese's front five fell directly off a cliff in 2013, regularly torpedoing the Giants' run and passing games. Martin played tackle for the Fighting Irish, but will be a guard in the pros. He stands in at 6-foot-4, 308 with 32 7/8-inch arms.
13. St. Louis Rams -- Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
The Rams are so needy up front that drafting two first-round offensive linemen is conceivable, but in all likelihood that won't happen. St. Louis is similarly needy on the back end, where SS T.J. McDonald struggled mightily when he wasn't injured as a rookie, and FS Rodney McLeod is stretched as a starter. Safety has been a Rams weakness for years. "HHCD" would shore it up.
14. Chicago Bears -- Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald
I believe GM Phil Emery's preference would be to re-sign free agent DT Henry Melton and use the 14th pick on a run stuffer. Donald should be in serious conversation if Melton gets away. Although undersized at 6-foot-1, 288, Donald is an ideal scheme fit at three-technique tackle in DC Mel Tucker's defense. Highly disruptive, he's generated Geno Atkins and La'Roi Glover comparisons.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stated in February that Steelers management has promised Ben Roethlisberger it will select a "tall wide receiver early in the draft." Mike Evans won't make it to No. 15, but 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin will. A touchdown magnet for the BCS champion Seminoles, Benjamin has mammoth 10 1/4-inch hands and 34 7/8-inch arms, and scored 15 times as a redshirt sophomore in 2013. An "X" receiver, he'd be an ideal complement to natural "Z" Antonio Brown (5'10/186), with Markus Wheaton occupying a No. 3/deep threat role.
16. Dallas Cowboys -- Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley
The Cowboys plan to move incumbent Mike 'backer Sean Lee to Will in an effort to task Lee with fewer physically challenging situations and preserve his health. He's missed 15 games over the past two years. Bruce Carter will move to Sam. Mosley is a middle linebacker through and through with sideline-to-sideline range, powerful hands, and plus pass-coverage skills. Mosley would solidify the second level of Dallas' defense, which was the most porous in football last season.
17. Baltimore Ravens -- Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
The Ravens intend to re-sign LT Eugene Monroe and get LG Kelechi Osemele (back) healthy. RG Marshal Yanda is a strong starter. Center and right tackle remain glaring deficiencies, however, with Gino Gradkowski having flopped at pivot and free agent Michael Oher on his way out. At 6-foot-7, 309 with intriguing and arguably untapped athleticism, Lewan would shore up right tackle and even give Baltimore blind-side options down the road. It's a nice match of value and need.
18. New York Jets -- UCLA OLB Anthony Barr
Barr is a long, explosive edge presence who needs technical work, making him an excellent fit for teach-first Jets coach Rex Ryan. Ryan has a lengthy history of maximizing player talents, and has lacked a difference-making outside rusher for most of his time in New York. With Barr opposite Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison up front, the Jets could field a dynamic pass rush again, masking their numerous flaws in the secondary.
19. Miami Dolphins -- UCLA OG Xavier Su’a-Filo
The Dolphins seem locked into an offensive lineman at this pick for a couple of reasons. They need to put the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito fiasco behind them. And C Mike Pouncey is currently Miami's only worthwhile front-five starter. During a recent tape study of Su’a-Filo, SI's Doug Farrar dubbed him a "pure finisher" with a "nasty streak" who "seems determined to play right to (and sometimes through) the whistle." Su’a-Filo proceeded to tear up the NFL Combine.
20. Arizona Cardinals -- Auburn DE/LB Dee Ford
John Abraham turns 36 in May, and the Cardinals return a pedestrian foursome of Sam Acho, Lorenzo Alexander, Alex Okafor, and Dontay Moch behind him at outside linebacker. This team sorely needs a threatening presence off the edge. Ford is an explosive rusher with edge-bending ability at 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds. He's an ideal fit at outside linebacker in Todd Bowles' 3-4.
21. Green Bay Packers -- Louisville S Calvin Pryor
NFL Network's Mike Mayock has projected Pryor as a top-15 pick, dubbing him a "bigger version of Bob Sanders." Annually in need of more defensive physicality, I think Green Bay would sprint to the podium for Pryor at 21. A clock-cleaning hitter with ample range, Pryor can play strong or free, and interchangeable is how coordinator Dom Capers fancies his safeties. Incumbent SS Morgan Burnett is coming off a miserable season, while FS M.D. Jennings is not a starting-caliber player.
22. Philadelphia Eagles -- Minnesota DL Ra'Shede Hageman
An edge-setting five technique at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds with nearly 34-inch arms, Hageman fits the Eagles' profile with a prototypical build. Snap-to-snap consistency concerns may keep Hageman out of the top-20 selections, but he would add high-ceiling talent to an Eagles defensive front seven that should be the cream of the crop in the NFC East this season. After locking up Riley Cooper, Jason Kelce, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Peters, look for the Eagles to attack defense in the draft.
23. Kansas City Chiefs -- Northern Illinois S Jimmie Ward
A versatile safety with experience in slot coverage, Ward was a ballhawking playmaker in the MAC and is capable of playing all over the secondary. Kansas City's largest 2013 defensive hole was at free safety, where incumbent starter Kendrick Lewis is now entering free agency. Teaming Ward with SS Eric Berry and CBs Sean Smith, Brandon Flowers, and Marcus Cooper would give Kansas City more blitz freedom up front. Second-year DC Bob Sutton loves to send the house.
24. Cincinnati Bengals -- Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard
Cornerback is Cincinnati's biggest need on either side of the ball as Leon Hall rehabs his second Achilles' tear in three seasons, and Terence Newman and Pacman Jones creep further into their 30s. 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick has been a major disappointment. Dennard is a scheme fit for the Bengals as the premier press corner in this year's class. He would be a day-one starter.
25. San Diego Chargers -- Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert
Possessing a prototypical size-speed combination at 6-foot, 202 with 4.37 jets, Gilbert is pushing Dennard to be this year's first cornerback selected. Gilbert is the better athlete, while Dennard plays with more pro-ready technique. The 2013 Chargers were shredded by the pass, in large part due to league-worst cornerback play. Gilbert would give them instant credibility at the position.
26. Cleveland Browns -- LSU WR Odell Beckham
An all-purpose playmaker who profiles as a more explosive version of Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, Beckham is an agile, sudden wideout and punt returner who creates separation from defensive backs. Beckham would play "Z" receiver in Cleveland, upgrading on former second-round bust Greg Little and bookending Josh Gordon. Pairing Beckham with No. 4 overall mock pick Johnny Manziel would give first-year OC Kyle Shanahan's offense 2014 breakout potential.
27. New Orleans Saints -- Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Roby allowed too many 2013 completions due to an overly aggressive playing approach, but is a high-ceiling prospect with elite tools. After Jabari Greer's release, the Saints' lone starting-caliber corner is Keenan Lewis, with burnable Corey White, draft bust Patrick Robinson, and fringe NFL players Trevin Wade and Rod Sweeting behind him. It's the biggest need position in New Orleans.
28. Carolina Panthers -- Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas
Wideout and offensive line look like bigger needs for Carolina on paper, but Niklas could assist in both areas as an impact in-line blocker with an enormous catch radius. He goes 6-foot-7, 270 with 34 1/8-inch arms, and is built country strong enough to block defensive ends. As the Panthers are short on wideouts, their base 2014 offense would make heavy use of 12 personnel with Niklas and Greg Olsen on the field together. OC Mike Shula is a proponent of smash-mouth offense, and Carolina could assert its will via this new “two-tight” approach, particularly in the running game.
29. New England Patriots -- Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
Losing Aaron Hernandez, and later Rob Gronkowski for 9-of-16 games, New England's offense took a 2013 step back as OC Josh McDaniels was forced to rely on Julian Edelman and two rookie wideouts as Tom Brady's go-to pass options. Although not nearly as refined as a blocker, Amaro profiles similarly to Gronk at 6-foot-5 3/8, 265 with 4.72 speed. A healthy Gronkowski and Amaro would allow New England to restore its two-tight attack, in which Brady is most comfortable. I fully expect the Pats to prioritize a tight end, be it in free agency or the draft.
30. San Francisco 49ers -- USC WR Marqise Lee
Flip on the 2012 tape, and Lee looks like a top-ten pick. He played all of 2013 injured and his draft stock plunged. In San Francisco, the 22-year-old would offer much-needed field-stretching ability across from run-after-catch maven Michael Crabtree and aging possession receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin, currently a free agent, is entering his age-34 season. Crabtree is in a contract year.
31. Denver Broncos -- Ohio State OLB Ryan Shazier
Assuming Denver retains free agent CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, its biggest team need is on the second level of DC Jack Del Rio's defense. LBs Paris Lenon, Wesley Woodyard, and Stewart Bradley all have expiring contracts. Look for Shazier's stock to soar at the Buckeyes' March 7 Pro Day, when he may flirt with 4.4s in the forty. Possessing outstanding range, cover skills, and striking ability, Shazier could play middle or weak-side linebacker for the Broncos.
32. Seattle Seahawks -- Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan
Seattle's roster is loaded enough that GM John Schneider can stay true to his board on draft day. Highly disruptive versus both the run and pass, Jernigan can play one and three technique in a 4-3. The Seahawks released LE Red Bryant to save salary cap space, and three more key Seattle D-Linemen are free agents: DE Michael Bennett, DT Clinton McDonald, and DT Tony McDaniel. Jernigan would quickly challenge to start next to Brandon Mebane.
Also Considered: Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks, TCU CB Jason Verrett, Georgia Tech DE/LB Jeremiah Attaochu, Stanford OG David Yankey, Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller, Missouri DE Kony Ealy, Clemson OL Brandon Thomas, Arizona State DT Will Sutton, Fresno State QB Derek Carr, Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde, Clemson CB Bashaud Breeland, Virginia OT Morgan Moses, Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Florida State DB Lamarcus Joyner, Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews, Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort, Florida DT Dominique Easley, Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Louisville DE/LB Marcus Smith, South Florida DL Aaron Lynch, USC C Marcus Martin.