NFL news has slowed to a snooze-inducing crawl with just under three weeks left before May's draft, which was pushed back over a week by the league's revised offseason schedule. I sure hope the calendar-makers reconsider this next year. But without further ado, my latest mock draft:
1. Houston Texans -- South Carolina DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney
The Texans have kept their cards close to the vest regarding the draft's top pick, but Clowney is the odds-on favorite as Houston transitions to Romeo Crennel's style of 3-4. Crennel's defenses have historically relied on outside linebackers to generate pressure, rather than down linemen. Clowney would play the Willie McGinest role in Crennel's scheme, bookending Whitney Mercilus with Brooks Reed kicking to inside linebacker. Houston can select a quarterback at No. 33 overall.
2. St. Louis Rams -- Auburn OT Greg Robinson
The Rams tinkered with a pass-happy spread early last year, but played more efficient offense with a run foundation featuring Zac Stacy in the season's second half. Although Robinson must improve his pass-protection technique, he blocks out the sun in the run game. In Paul Boudreau, St. Louis has an elite line coach to show him the pass-pro ropes. If the Rams intend on playing "Fisher Ball" in Sam Bradford's first year back from an ACL tear, this is a match made in heaven.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Buffalo DE/LB Khalil Mack
The Jaguars are quietly a franchise in ascent, but have two major hurdles to clear to become consistently competitive on game days. They need a franchise quarterback and a franchise pass rusher. While the top of round two may provide opportunities to address the former weakness, this draft is not deep on the latter. Mack is a relentless, violent edge disruptor with special traits.
4. Cleveland Browns -- Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews
Armed with ten selections in his first-ever draft, rookie GM Ray Farmer may opt to go "safe" with his first-ever pick, aiming for a top-five double rather than a home run. A strong bet to be a solid long-term starter and natural fit in new playcaller Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme, Matthews' addition would allow Cleveland to kick incumbent RT Mitchell Schwartz inside to guard. With Alex Mack, Joe Thomas, and John Greco returning, the Browns would suddenly boast a top-shelf offensive line. Cleveland has two more top-35 picks to address quarterback and receiver.
5. Oakland Raiders -- Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
Handling a roster laughably bereft of young talent, GM Reggie McKenzie won't have to think twice about staying true to his board. Watkins is likely to be his highest-rated player if the draft plays out as this mock portends. Even in his prime, Matt Schaub was a quarterback who required a top-notch supporting cast to function effectively. Watkins would significantly upgrade Schaub's "weapons." I also think Oakland will trade contract-year wideout Denarius Moore during the draft.
6. Atlanta Falcons -- North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
This mock arguably presents a nightmare scenario for the Falcons, who would likely run to the podium were any of the top-four players here available at No. 6. Fallback options include trading down -- perhaps with a quarterback-needy team -- or deciding between Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Taylor Lewan, Anthony Barr, and Ebron. An athletic phenom with seam-stretching speed, Ebron has the highest ceiling in that group and would give Atlanta an immediate successor for Tony Gonzalez.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
It's hard to imagine Evans getting past Tampa after the Mike Williams trade. Their current No. 2 wideout is Louis Murphy. Not only would Evans' addition allow the Buccaneers to semi-recreate Josh McCown's jumbo-sized 2013 Bears receiver corps, Evans would fit new OC Jeff Tedford's preference for a plus run-blocking wideout. The Bucs plan to pound the rock under Lovie Smith.
8. Minnesota Vikings -- Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald
Mike Zimmer's new Geno Atkins. Although this match may seem surprising because it probably doesn't appear often in other mock drafts, we don't know how Minnesota's new defensive-minded coach feels about Sharrif Floyd, and Zimmer's units have always functioned at their maximum with deep rotations of explosive pass rushers. Donald is the type of all-out-effort player Zimmer loves. The Vikings were very involved on Henry Melton during free agency -- even after signing Linval Joseph -- strongly suggesting they believe the interior defensive line remains a weakness.
9. Buffalo Bills -- UCLA DE/LB Anthony Barr
Edge rusher isn't perceived as a glaring need in Buffalo due to the 57 sacks recorded by old DC Mike Pettine's 2013 defense, but the scheme is changing under new coordinator Jim Schwartz. The Bills are vanishingly thin at defensive end beyond Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes, and Schwartz teaches a Wide-9 technique that requires waves of outside rushers. Barr has limitations, but his strength is bee-lining to quarterbacks and defeating blockers with speed. He's an ideal fit.
10. Detroit Lions -- Alabama FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
A long, rangy center fielder with man-coverage skills and few deficiencies, Clinton-Dix would give Detroit truly "interchangeable" safeties alongside onetime-corner Glover Quin. The Lions signed James Ihedigbo in free agency, but he is best suited as a third safety and special teamer. New DC Teryl Austin is an ex-secondary coach and should have a good feel for Detroit's back-end needs.
11. Tennessee Titans -- Notre Dame NT Louis Nix
A Wilforkian zero-technique nose, Nix is the defensive anchor new Titans DC Ray Horton's 3-4 units have always required, spanning from Casey Hampton to Dan Williams to Phil Taylor. Hampton, Williams, and Taylor were all first-round picks. Nix commands double teams and can threaten the pocket. Due to quarterback woes, Tennessee's best chance to be competitive in Horton and Ken Whisenhunt's first year would be to field a strong defense and run game. Look for the Titans to attack each of those areas with their first two picks.
12. New York Giants -- LSU WR Odell Beckham
I think GM Jerry Reese will hope a pass rusher like Donald or Barr falls to No. 12, but I'm less sure either will be available. As new OC Ben McAdoo hails from Green Bay, where they frequently run three- and four-receiver sets, Beckham would make sense as something of a fallback option. Current Giants Nos. 2 and 3 wideouts Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan are unproven commodities in prominent roles, while Victor Cruz is coming off knee surgery and a disappointing season. Beckham could start at X or Z receiver, adding homerun-hitting ability on punt returns.
13. St. Louis Rams -- Northern Illinois FS Jimmie Ward
Expect Ward's name to gain steam as the draft approaches. A versatile, playmaking free safety, Ward clocked twin forties of 4.47 at the NIU Pro Day and plays the game like Kenny Vaccaro with an ability to cover slot receivers, roam center field, and fill versus the run. The Rams are needy at Ward's position, with only 2013 third-round pick T.J. McDonald returning as a probable starter.
14. Chicago Bears -- Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert
Gilbert's college tape isn't as impressive as Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller, or Jason Verrett's, but he offers the highest ceiling in this year's cornerback class. Gilbert stands 6-foot, 202 with 33 1/8-inch arms, and ran 4.37 at the Combine with an explosive 10-foot-6 broad jump. Phil Emery has shown a fondness for measurables through two drafts as Bears GM. Charles Tillman turned 33 in February, while Tim Jennings is best suited for a No. 2 corner role. Gilbert has tools to be a No. 1.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller
A pro-ready, complete corner from a college program with a good success rate for producing NFL defensive backs, Fuller is a plus-sized, sure-tackling cover man with versatility. He can defend the slot and match up with bigger receivers outside, and projects best into a zone or off-coverage scheme. Steelers DC Dick LeBeau historically utilizes zone concepts in the defensive back end.
16. Dallas Cowboys -- Notre Dame G/T Zack Martin
Martin's short arms (32 7/8") will likely kick him inside after he made 52 starts at tackle for the Irish, but Dallas' biggest offensive line need just so happens to be guard. The Cowboys will be one of football's pass-happiest teams under new OC Scott Linehan, who runs a spread-style offense. Martin could afford to get stronger, but will be a sturdy pass protector from day one.
17. Baltimore Ravens -- Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
Off-field woes may adversely affect Lewan's stock, but the Ravens have a locker room strong enough to embrace him. He's also a top-half-of-the-first-round talent. Baltimore has a pressing right tackle need after letting Michael Oher walk in free agency. Lewan is a no-brainer pick at 17.
18. New York Jets -- UCLA OG Xavier Su’a-Filo
The Jets are returning to Ground 'N Pound offense, with Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory in the backfield and dual-threat Michael Vick likely to unseat Geno Smith at quarterback. Ideally, Rex Ryan's 2014 team will push for the NFL lead in rushing attempts while leaning on its front seven to stay competitive on a weekly basis. New York's offensive line was a below-average run-blocking unit last year due to shaky guard play. Su'a-Filo is a nasty interior blocker with plus athleticism.
19. Miami Dolphins -- Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley
Right guard and tackle are the Dolphins' biggest on-paper needs, but they may have to look elsewhere if Martin, Lewan, and Su’a-Filo all fly off the board before No. 19. New GM Dennis Hickey was clearly displeased with incumbent MLB Dannell Ellerbe's 2013 performance, pursuing but ultimately whiffing on would-be replacements such as D'Qwell Jackson in free agency. Mosley gives the Fins a plug-and-play upgrade with pass-coverage skills to play on all three downs.
20. Arizona Cardinals -- Auburn DE/LB Dee Ford
Blake Bortles and perhaps even Johnny Manziel should both tempt GM Steve Keim if they fall as far as this mock projects, but round two is a likelier target area as Arizona pursues its long-term quarterback successor for 34-year-old Carson Palmer. Edge rusher is a more pressing need with John Abraham entering his age-36 season, and little behind him on the rush 'backer depth chart.
21. Green Bay Packers -- Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
I believe tight ends may go earlier than most expect because this year's class is incredibly top heavy with only four or five likely starters, and a huge drop off after that. The NFL is also an increasingly tight end-oriented league. Amaro would be a seamless fit into Green Bay's offense, replacing Jermichael Finley at "move" tight end and offering a big talent upgrade on Andrew Quarless. Amaro is a smooth-moving, soft-handed pass catcher with underrated blocking tools.
22. Philadelphia Eagles -- Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard
Dennard's shorts-and-t-shirt measurables aren't on par with Justin Gilbert or Kyle Fuller's, but his game tape is more impressive than both, and his skill set will appeal to the Eagles. Second-year DC Billy Davis combines blitz-heavy concepts with press coverage on the perimeter. Dennard is the premier press-man corner in this year's draft. He would be a Week 1 starter in Philadelphia.
23. Kansas City Chiefs -- Louisville FS Calvin Pryor
The Chiefs' hands were tied in free agency due to cap constraints, and they don't have a second-round pick. They need a plug-and-play starter at No. 23, because they don't pick again until No. 87. Pryor manned the deep middle at Louisville, but attacks the run like a strong safety and offers plus ball skills. He would team with Eric Berry to give Kansas City an imposing back-half tandem.
24. Cincinnati Bengals -- TCU CB Jason Verrett
Verrett lacks prototypical cornerback size (5'9 1/2, 189), but is a sudden, quick-twitch mover with 4.38 wheels and an attacking style of play. He projects as a shutdown slot defender who won't embarrass himself when asked to move outside. Cincinnati is needy at corner with Leon Hall coming off his second Achilles' tear in three years, and Terence Newman and Pacman Jones both well past their primes. 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick has been a big disappointment.
25. San Diego Chargers -- Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Roby's stock is picking up steam, so it's entirely possible he doesn't last into the 20s. He is a special athlete and covers with swagger. It's just hard to overlook Roby's inconsistent tape and technical flaws. Either way, I think he would be a value pick for the Chargers, who are the NFL's most cornerback-needy team. Shareece Wright would be their "No. 1" if the season began today.
26. Cleveland Browns -- Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
I don't pretend to know what will happen in the draft. I'm connecting dots and simply looking for reasonable explanations of why particular players might attract particular teams. And I think this year's quarterback class is flawed, and the signal callers will not go as early as others predict. I do think the Browns make sense for Manziel, whether it's at No. 4 or 26. New OC Kyle Shanahan has a diverse quarterback history, having tutored Matt Schaub, Rex Grossman, and Robert Griffin III. Shanahan has consistently designed his offenses to emphasize strengths and mask weaknesses. I think he would be an outstanding teacher for this year's most polarizing quarterback prospect.
27. New Orleans Saints -- Boise State DE/LB Demarcus Lawrence
Drawing comparisons to Aldon Smith, Lawrence has been a draft-process riser with ideal length and athleticism, and big-time pass-rush potential. Preventing Lawrence from leaping into the teens is a suspect off-field history; he was suspended three times at Boise State. But NFL teams tend to overlook character in favor of upside. And Lawrence has the latter in spades. He would give Saints DC Rob Ryan a dangerous bookend for Junior Galette, battling Victor Butler for snaps.
28. Carolina Panthers -- Virginia OT Morgan Moses
Although Carolina's receiver deficiencies get more attention because wideout is simply a more well-known position, offensive line is GM Dave Gettleman's most glaring need. As is, I'd rank Carolina's O-Line as a bottom-three unit across the league. Moses is not the prettiest athletic specimen, but consistently got the job done against college football's top pass rushers. He must polish his technique, but has a good chance to be an adequate day-one starter with room to grow.
29. New England Patriots -- Florida DT Dominique Easley
Game-tape watchers know Easley displays dominant interior pass-rush tools, but he tore both of his ACLs in college and will fall in the draft due to scary medicals. The Patriots have a history of taking chances on players like this, however, and currently lack a penetrating three technique. Easley would team with Vince Wilfork to give New England a formidable defensive tackle tandem.
30. San Francisco 49ers -- Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks
Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree are physical, short to intermediate wideouts who win in contested situations. The 49ers lack a field stretcher to fully capitalize on Colin Kaepernick's hose of an arm. Although Cooks' most common player comparison is Tavon Austin, San Francisco could use him in a Victor Cruzian or DeSean Jacksonian role, threatening the perimeter and running vertical routes out of the slot. Cooks is going to be a far better NFL receiver than Austin.
31. Denver Broncos -- Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier
Linebacker is Denver's biggest need, and athletic freak Shazier offers value at the bottom of round one with sideline-to-sideline range and cover skills to stay on the field for three downs. The Broncos could explore moving WLB Danny Trevathan inside or train Shazier there, letting him take his lumps on the job. Shazier would add a ton of athleticism to the second level of Jack Del Rio's defense.
32. Seattle Seahawks -- Minnesota DL Ra'Shede Hageman
The Seahawks run a defense that utilizes 3-4 concepts on the strong side and 4-3 concepts on the weak side. Their strong-side end for the last three years was Red Bryant, whom Seattle was forced to release in a salary-cap move. Hageman is a far more athletic version of Bryant with much more disruptive ability. The biggest knock on Hageman is his inconsistent snap-to-snap effort. He would be a role player on the Seahawks, contributing 25-30 snaps per game.
33. Houston Texans -- Central Florida QB Blake Bortles
Securing Bortles at 33 would be a coup for the Texans. It would also more easily allow the team to justify treating Bortles as a developmental quarterback as opposed to starting him in Week 1.
34. Washington Redskins -- USC C/G Marcus Martin
The Redskins don't have a first-round choice and will target an Opening Day starter with the 34th pick. Martin adds size to a Washington line Jay Gruden has been incrementally making bigger.
35. Cleveland Browns -- USC WR Marqise Lee
I believe Penn State's Allen Robinson should be considered by Cleveland here, but Lee is more of a vertical threat and arguably a superior tactical complement to alpha-receiver Josh Gordon.
36. Oakland Raiders -- Fresno State QB Derek Carr
It's no secret that the Raiders are high on Carr, a big-armed prospect with plus athleticism. Using an early draft pick at quarterback might buy beleaguered GM Reggie McKenzie one more year.
37. Atlanta Falcons -- Georgia Tech DE/LB Jeremiah Attaochu
Attaochu is a high-energy, explosive edge pass rusher capable of playing 3-4 rush 'backer, or end in a wide-technique scheme. He would be a great fit in Mike Nolan's "multiple" defensive system.
38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Nevada T/G Joel Bitonio
The Bucs' biggest need beyond wide receiver is guard, where LG Carl Nicks' health is a question mark and RG Jamon Meredith is a below-average starter. Bitonio could start at either position.
39. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater
Teams worry about Bridgewater's smallish frame and hand size, but there isn't a passer in this draft with better college film. He is a pro-ready short to intermediate thrower and excellent system fit for West Coast OC Jedd Fisch, who schemes to give his wideouts run-after-catch chances.
40. Minnesota Vikings -- LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
Mettenberger is the anti-Christian Ponder with a big arm and nonexistent mobility, but most importantly a quarterback prospect who perfectly fits the Norv Turner mold. He'd quickly push Matt Cassel for playing time.
41. Buffalo Bills -- Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort
The Bills can afford to pass on right tackles at No. 9 because starters there are acquirable later on. Mewhort is technically sound with impressive versatility. He can play anywhere on the line.
42. Tennessee Titans -- Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde
Hyde is the back new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted Beanie Wells to be in Arizona. A pro-ready feature runner, Hyde could carry the Titans' offense until they find a franchise quarterback.
43. New York Giants -- Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas
Reports indicate the Giants are concerned that Eli Manning is declining. The G-Men could buoy Eli by surrounding him with more talent. The Giants have a glaring tight end need, with injury-riddled Adrien Robinson currently topping the depth chart. Niklas is an impact in-line tight end.
44. St. Louis Rams -- Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan
If the Rams secure a safety and offensive lineman in round one as this mock forecasts, they're left without pressing needs. Jernigan could conceivably sit atop St. Louis' draft board at No. 44. The Rams have been annual underachievers in run defense, and Jernigan is relentless in pursuit.
45. Detroit Lions -- Penn State WR Allen Robinson
The "elite" receiver prospects will be out of reach for Detroit at No. 10 overall, but GM Martin Mayhew can circle back and select a big-time round-two wideout at the draft's deepest position. Despite the Golden Tate signing, the Lions aren't done upgrading Matthew Stafford's weapons.
46. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
The Steelers have reportedly promised Ben Roethlisberger a "big receiver" in this year's draft. Benjamin is a boom-or-bust prospect, but would give Pittsburgh a needed red-zone threat.
47. Dallas Cowboys -- Missouri DE Kony Ealy
Dallas currently "boasts" the weakest defensive line in the league. Ealy isn't an edge-bending pass rusher, but could develop into a Michael Bennett-type player at defensive end and tackle.
48. Baltimore Ravens -- Florida State DB Lamarcus Joyner
I expect this year's top-three safeties to fly off the board in round one. Joyner would be a solid fallback target for GM Ozzie Newsome. He could play a Tyrann Mathieu role, manning free safety in Baltimore's base defense and giving the team slot corner options in the nickel and dime.
49. New York Jets -- Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Although many have pinpointed No. 2 wideout as a need for the Jets, I think tight end should be a preferred target for a team intent on running the ball relentlessly. "ASJ" is a pro-ready in-line blocker with potentially dominant red-zone chops. He should be a high-volume touchdown scorer.
50. Miami Dolphins -- Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio
Medical and technique concerns have all but burst Kouandjio's first-round draft-stock bubble, but he would be a value pick at No. 50. Kouandjio could start at right tackle for the Fins in Week 1.
51. Chicago Bears -- Oregon State DE Scott Crichton
GM Phil Emery did an admirable job of patching up his defensive line in free agency, but won't want elder statesmen Jared Allen, Jay Ratliff, and Israel Idonije playing too many snaps. Crichton has been likened to Panthers sack master Charles Johnson by Rotoworld draft guru Josh Norris.
52. Arizona Cardinals -- Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage
Savage's pre-draft buzz has bordered on annoying, but the well-traveled college journeyman has some franchise-QB traits. Bruce Arians could groom Savage as Carson Palmer's heir apparent.
53. Green Bay Packers -- Louisville DE/LB Marcus Smith
Packers All-Pro OLB Clay Matthews has been unable to stay healthy, while 2012 first-rounder Nick Perry has underwhelmed on the field. Mike Neal is a utility player, and I expect Julius Peppers to play most of his snaps on the line of scrimmage in Green Bay. Smith can harass quarterbacks, a crucial attribute in today's NFL. The Packers need more outside edge-rush help.
54. Philadelphia Eagles -- Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief
Moncrief's 2013 tape leaves something to be desired, but he has the physical makeup of a No. 1 wide receiver. Riley Cooper is a lower-end No. 2 wideout, and Jeremy Maclin has a one-year deal.
55. Cincinnati Bengals -- North Carolina DE Kareem Martin
Another defensive end/tackle "tweener," Martin is a highly athletic left end prospect who can kick inside on sub-package downs. The Bengals need to improve their depth at both D-Line positions.
56. San Francisco 49ers -- Rice CB Phillip Gaines
The 49ers covet rangy press corners, and Gaines fits the bill as a 6-foot, 193-pound cover guy with adequate arm length and 4.38 wheels. Expect the Niners to select two corners in this draft.
57. San Diego Chargers -- Clemson WR Martavis Bryant
Malcom Floyd's neck injury is career threatening, and 2013 Week 1 starter Vincent Brown won't be guaranteed a 2014 roster spot. Eddie Royal is a middling slot receiver. The Chargers need a vertical stretcher to complement route-running maven Keenan Allen. Bryant is huge and can fly.
58. New Orleans Saints -- Clemson CB Bashaud Breeland
The Saints' first-round pick may be out of reach for this draft's top cornerbacks, but Breeland would be a formidable round-two target with loose hips and plus physicality. New Orleans could nurse Breeland along behind Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey, before making him a 2015 starter.
59. Indianapolis Colts -- Stanford OG David Yankey
This is the Colts' first pick after trading their first-rounder for Trent Richardson. Indy surprisingly made no notable free-agent upgrades on the offensive line, and will likely draft one early in May.
60. Carolina Panthers -- Fresno State WR Davante Adams
Adams has a size-speed combination similar to Michael Crabtree and Hakeem Nicks, the latter of whom Panthers GM Dave Gettleman helped draft with the Giants. With good arm length and a knack for high-pointing throws, Adams would help compensate for Cam Newton's accuracy flaws.
61. San Francisco 49ers -- Colorado State C Weston Richburg
The Niners expect Daniel Kilgore to be their Week 1 starting center, but he won't be handed the job free of competition. Richburg and Marcus Martin are the top-two centers in the 2014 draft.
62. New England Patriots -- Florida State LB Telvin Smith
Smith is an undersized but lightning-fast linebacker/safety "tweener" who's drawn comparisons ranging from Lavonte David to Kam Chancellor. Smith could contribute in sub-packages and on special teams initially, and potentially grow into a starting outside 'backer for New England.
63. Denver Broncos -- Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
Matthews has similarities to Eric Decker with superior measurables, if inferior college tape. 33-year-old Wes Welker is likely in his final season with Denver. Emmanuel Sanders could replace Welker in the slot in 2015, with Matthews taking over No. 2 wideout across from Demaryius Thomas.
64. Seattle Seahawks -- Florida OG Jon Halapio
Halapio is a relentless blocker with medical concerns but punishing ability in the running game. Seattle needs to upgrade the right side of its offensive line. Halapio projects as NFL right guard.