It was nothing short of a nightmare season for the Texans, who came into the year with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations but instead wound up as the worst team in the NFL. The good news is that thereís still plenty of talent in place and a quick turnaround is well within the realm of possibility. Every team could use a dynamic pass rusher like Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina but defense is not the problem in Houston. After all the Texans were one of the best in the league on that side of the ball and already have a truly dominant defender in J.J. Watt yet they still finished in the cellar. Itís clear that the quarterback position is the real problem, with Matt Schaub suddenly showing signs of his advanced age and morphing into a turnover machine. Itís still a three-way race to see who will be the first signal caller off the board but Blake Bortles of Central Florida may have a slight edge over Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. Not only does Bortles appear to be the type of big pocket passer that Bill OíBrien seems to prefer but the new Texans head coach got an up close and personal look at him this past season
when the Golden Knights traveled up to Happy Valley and upset Penn St. A good athlete with a large sturdy frame, a strong arm and above-average mobility, Borltes is rough around the edges and will require some patience and development but possesses all the raw tools to be a franchise signal caller at the next level. For comparisons sake think along the lines of Jake Locker. Houston would be remiss to not at least consider a rare talent like Clowney but at the end of the day a quarterback must take precedence above all else.
St. Louis has been loading up on young talent the past couple of years with a big assist from the blockbuster trade that landed Robert Griffin III in Washington. This is the final payment on that bill and it is a real gut-punch for the Redskins, who donít even get to enjoy the one benefit that usually comes with such a disappointing season. It seemed as though St. Louis had finally solved their long-standing problems along the offensive line last offseason by spending big money on Jake Long. Unfortunately Long suffered another injury and Rodger Saffold, who has started at both left and right tackle as well as guard, is going to be an unrestricted free agent. It's extremely rare for a redshirt sophomore offensive linemen to enter the NFL Draft let alone come off the board this early but that just puts into perspective how good Greg Robinson of Auburn is. What makes Robinson so special is a rare blend of athleticism and strength that enables him to get the job done at a high level as both a run blocker and a pass protector. Itís basically a 1A and 1B type of situation with Robinson and Jake Matthews of Texas A&M but while Matthews may be a more well-rounded and polished player right now Robinson offers more potential long-term. Initially Robinson could start off at right tackle or even inside at guard before eventually taking over for Long on the blindside. Even though the Rams have used a ridiculous number of premium draft picks on wide receivers in recent years they still have more questions than
answers at the position and could consider Sammy Watkins of Clemson. St. Louis has also let it be known that they are willing to trade down, which is what General Manager Les Snead has done in round one every year that heís been at the helm. The most likely scenario might be a deal with the Atlanta Falcons and Sneadís mentor Thomas Dimitroff, who has a reputation for being aggressive on Draft Day and could use a top pass rusher like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE, SOUTH CAROLINA
Everyone knows that the Jaguars desperately need a quarterback to build their team around but donít be surprised if they go in another direction with this choice. After all this Jacksonville brain trust showed last year that they are willing to simply select the best player available rather than reach to address a need. Plus they may have become smitten with one of the signal callers they coached at the Senior Bowl that can be had later, whether it be Derek Carr of Fresno St. or Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois. To say the Jaguars pass rush hasnít been getting the job done would be a massive understatement. In fact, they were dead-last in the league in sacks for the second year in a row. That has to be extremely disconcerting for Head Coach Gus Bradley, a defensive specialist who understands the importance of generating pressure. Most feel Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina is the best defensive end prospect to come along since Julius Peppers in 2002 and some even go as far back as Bruce Smith in 1985. A freakish physical specimen with an eye-popping blend of size, speed and athleticism, Clowney has the potential to be a true impact player and difference-maker at the next level. Clowney struggled to live up to unrealistic expectations this past season but was more disruptive than the box scores might indicate and itís important to remember that Peppers and Mario Williams were criticized for being inconsistent underachievers during their final years in college too. There are some minor character and durability concerns with Clowney as well but the potential rewards outweigh the risks and when push comes to shove itís difficult to imagine such a rare talent at a premium position falling too far on Draft Day.
A quarterback certainly canít be ruled out though and Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Blake Bortles of Central Florida and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M will all be in the conversation. The Jaguars could also bolster their pass rush by adding Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack or UCLA OLB Anthony Barr, both of whom can terrorize opponents as blitzers off the edge. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins could be a possibility too if the talented but troubled Justin Blackmon, who is currently suspended again, isn't in the long-term plans.
There is little or no doubt that the Browns top priority this offseason will be finding a young quarterback to build around. It doesnít necessarily have to be with this pick though. There have been a lot of conflicting reports out of Cleveland as to which signal caller they prefer, which isnít all that surprising considering the organization just went through yet another major shakeup with their front office and coaching staff. Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Blake Bortles of Central Florida and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M are all very much in the picture for the Browns and they could even use some of their extra choices in the early rounds as ammunition to trade up if they fall in love with one of those options. However, the Browns could also opt to address another need with this selection then target Derek Carr of Fresno St., who they have also been linked to, later in round one. Josh Gordon has emerged as one of the top young wideouts in the league but he is just one more failed drug test away from a lengthy suspension and there isnít another starting-caliber pass catcher on the roster. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins is an explosive athlete with
top speed, excellent hands, terrific ball skills and body control and the ability to create in space. Watkins is the best prospect to come along at the position since A.J. Green and profiles as a true go-to target at the next level. If the Browns arenít interested in either a quarterback or Watkins at this point it might be wise to move down and target someone such as Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley, Texas A&M WR Mike Evans, Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert or Alabama S Hasean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix later on if possible.
This will likely be one of the key turning points at the top of the draft because the Raiders could use help just about everywhere. Of course the biggest concern is at quarterback since neither Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin seized the job last season. With that said you have to wonder whether General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Dennis Allen are prepared to start all over at the games most important position since they are already on thin ice when it comes to their job security. Then again an argument can be made that adding an exciting spark at quarterback might be the best way to save those jobs. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel is the most polarizing prospect to come along since Tim Tebow for a litany of reasons, both on and off the field. There is absolutely no denying that Manziel was an incredible college football player but there are plenty of reasons to be apprehensive when projecting "Johnny FootballĒ to the next level. Not only does Manziel lack the prototypical size that you look for but his free-wheeling style of play may not be nearly as effective in the pros and could leave him susceptible to turnovers and injuries. Then there is the rather extensive list of character concerns and Manzielís behavior over the last couple of years has earned him labels such as immature, undisciplined, selfish, hard-partying and quite possibly the worst of all a distraction. Those arenít the types of words generally associated with successful NFL signal callers. If drafting a quarterback in the first round is akin to betting on red or black in roulette, i.e. a 50/50 proposition, then taking a chance on Manziel is like putting all of your chips on a single number. Sure it could hit and produce a big payoff but the odds are against it. Despite all the warning signs it appears as though there are multiples teams prepared to roll the dice on Manziel in the Top 10 and the Raiders have shown a willingness to
go out on a limb for talented but troubled prospects in the past. Oakland could also opt for one of the other top quarterbacks, whether it be Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Blake Bortles of Central Florida or perhaps even Derek Carr of Fresno St. The other most likely options would be South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney and Clemson WR Sammy Watkins but the Raiders have a ton of glaring needs on both sides of the ball and could probably justify going in almost any direction with this choice.
Not much went right for the Falcons this past season but there are still a lot of pieces in place to contend. With that said Atlanta will be in the market for upgrades at a couple of the games most important positions this offseason. In a perfect world the Falcons would add South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney to bolster one of the leagues most anemic pass rushes but that would most likely require a trade up, which is a distinct possibility. After all their General Manager Thomas Dimitroff has shown a willingness to move up in round one if there is a specific player they covet, whether it be Julio Jones or Desmond Trufant just last year. If they opt to stand pat there should be an outstanding consolation prize still on the board in the form of Auburn OT Greg Robinson or Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews, either of whom would instantly solve their issues on the blindside. Matthews is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and his family tree is chock full of outstanding football players. One of the safest prospects in this class, Jake is a well-rounded blocker with all of the physical tools and intangibles required to be a rock-solid starter for the next decade or more.
In fact most believe Matthews is a better prospect than former teammate Luke Joeckel, who was the #2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. If Atlanta is committed to bringing in a pass rusher and canít find a way to land Clowney they could turn their attention to Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack or UCLA OLB Anthony Barr, who are both dynamic blitzers off of the edge. As a darkhorse watch out for North Carolina TE Eric Ebron since future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez retired for good this time.
On paper the Bucs would appear to have enough talent to compete with anyone in the league but for one reason or another the team underachieved. The good news is it shouldnít take long to turn things around. The most glaring hole on the depth chart may be at defensive end opposite Adrian Clayborn and there were only a handful of teams with fewer sacks this past season than Tampa Bay. Unfortunately there is a big drop-off at the position after Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina, who will be long gone by this point. There are other ways to generate pressure off the edge though and either Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack or UCLA OLB Anthony Barr would be outstanding alternatives. Mack flew under the radar because he didnít play for a big-time program in a power conference but a standout performance against Ohio St. as a senior served as proof that he could hang with the big boys. An explosive athlete with a terrific blend of size and speed, Mack is a dynamic playmaker who excels at wreaking havoc behind the line of scrimmage as evidenced by his NCAA career records for forced fumbles and tackles for a loss. Mack isnít just a one-trick pony though and is a true three down player who never has to leave the field, which is a quality that can't be underestimated. The Buccaneers could also consider North Carolina TE Eric Ebron or Michigan OT Taylor Lewan,
each of whom would address a need while offering value in the Top 10 overall. Donít rule out Clemson WR Sammy Watkins either since the organization is less than pleased with the way Mike Williams continues to make headlines for the wrong reasons off the field. Even though Mike Glennon likely showed enough as a rookie to get another opportunity new Head Coach Lovie Smith wouldnít rule out a quarterback either, although those comments might have been made to generate a trade market in case one of those top signal callers happens to slide this far.
A lot of pieces are in place for the Vikings, especially on offense, but they continue to fall short at the games most important position. Needless to say if a top quarterback were to fall into their laps it would be a no-brainer and if they are all gone Minnesota could even reach for Derek Carr of Fresno St. Ideally one of the "Big 3Ē would be available though and the Vikes would probably settle for Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M or Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. After all beggars canít be choosers! Bridgewater may not be as flashy as Manziel or have quite as much long-term upside as Bortles but he is arguably the most polished signal caller in this class. In many ways Bridgewater is a taller version of Russell Wilson. A good athlete with adequate size and enough arm strength to make all of the throws, Bridgewater is able to make plays with his feet if needed but is a passer first and foremost. Bridgewater also gets extremely high marks for his intangibles such as intelligence, work ethic and leadership ability
and just seems to have an innate feel for the game. This would be a great fit for both player and team with Bridgewater seemingly capable of quickly turning around the fortunes of the franchise. If they were to go in another direction the Vikings would likely turn their attention to the other side of the ball where there are issues on all three levels of the defense. With that said Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack, UCLA OLB Anthony Barr or Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley would make the most sense at this point when factoring in value and need.
There arenít many teams in the league with a more exciting core of young talent than the Bills. Thatís not to say there isnít still work to be done but Buffalo finally appears to be on the right track. One area where there is room to upgrade is tight end, where Scott Chandler has been serviceable the past few seasons but is hardly the dynamic pass catching threat that most teams are looking for at the position these days. This may appear to be a reach but North Carolina TE Eric Ebron has a lot of fans around the league and is going to come off the board earlier than most realize. An outstanding athlete with excellent speed, Ebron can get down the seam and stretch the field vertically and is an extremely difficult matchup for opposing defenses.
Adding another weapon like Ebron to the passing attack would also aid the development of young quarterback E.J. Manuel, which is of the utmost importance. The Bills could also use some more help at linebacker, where the cupboard is relatively bare beyond Kiko Alonso, so watch out for Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack, UCLA OLB Anthony Barr and Alabama LB C.J. Mosley. Other possibilities could include Michigan OT Taylor Lewan or perhaps even Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the event they're unable to re-sign Jairus Byrd.
There was a time not that long ago when the Lions were the laughing stock of the league for using not one, not two but three Top 10 overall picks on wideouts in a four year span. Detroit finally got it right with Calvin Johnson after missing on Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams but since then theyíve been unable to find a reliable pass catcher to compliment "MegatronĒ. It hasnít been for a lack of effort though. In the last five years the Lions have used either second or third round picks on Derrick Williams, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles to little or no avail and as a result they may be forced to go back to the well yet again. Texas A&M WR Mike Evans was Johnny Manzielís favorite target and was downright dominant at times as a redshirt sophomore, including 279 YDS and 1 TD against Alabama and 287 YDS and 4 TDís against Auburn. Now thatís what you call rising to the occasion against top competition! A big-bodied playmaker and matchup nightmare, Evans solidified his standing as the second best wideout in this class and likely secured a spot in the top half of round one after answering questions about his speed at the Scouting Combine.
The Lions have also made significant investments in the secondary in recent years with little to show for it so Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert, Michigan St. CB Darqueze Dennard and Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will be very much in the conversation as well. Donít rule out Michigan OT Taylor Lewan, Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack, UCLA OLB Anthony Barr or Alabama LB C.J. Mosley either as they'd not only represent upgrades at their respective positions but would usually be gone by this point most years.
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