It was nothing short of a nightmare year for the Texans, who went into last season with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations but instead wound up as the worst team in the NFL. The good news is that there are still plenty of pieces in place and a quick turnaround is well within the realm of possibility, a la the Colts and Chiefs the past couple of years. Houston also has the opportunity to select a truly rare and elite pass rush prospect who has the sheer talent to be an all-time great. Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina is a freakish physical specimen with an eye-popping blend of size, speed and athleticism who most feel is the best pass rusher to come along since Julius Peppers in 2002. Some even go as far back as Bruce Smith in 1985! Clowney struggled to live up to unrealistic expectations this past season but he was much more disruptive than the box scores might otherwise indicate. Itís important to remember that Peppers and Mario Williams were criticized for being inconsistent underachievers during their final years in college too. There are clearly some minor character concerns associated with Clowney but the potential rewards far outweigh the risks which is why when push comes to shove he is probably going to be the #1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Texans are willing to move down but are asking for a kingís ransom and itís highly unlikely any team will step up to the plate and pay such an astronomical price. Especially for anything other than a blue-chip quarterback. There have also been reports that Houston covets Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack, although that would probably be in a trade down scenario. It would be BOLD to pass on both Clowney and a local hero like Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel because if either of those guys become the players they are capable of the organization and its key decision makers would never, ever live it down. Central Florida QB Blake Bortles could be in the mix if they trade out as well. If Houston does pass on all of the quarterbacks with their first choice other teams will most likely be trying to leapfrog their next pick at #33 to get a signal caller. In other words they better be sure there are
multiple quarterbacks that they are comfortable with later on because there are absolutely no guarantees theyíll be able to land one specific guy considering all the competition for singal callers. As special as Clowney is the Texans could add eleven defenders just like him but if they are unable to find a good quarterback it simply wonít matter. After all they actually had the seventh best defense in the league in 2013 statistically plus arguably the most impactful defender in the game in JJ Watt and look at where it got them.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (f/WAS): JAKE MATTHEWS, OT, TEXAS A&M
Itís no secret that the Rams are very interested in moving down and it isnít too difficult to understand why since they could conceivably land a blue-chip prospect that they were considering at #2 overall outside of the Top 5 while continuing to stockpile those extremely valuable early round picks. Regardless of whether it is at #2 or a little later I have a hunch Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews may be the blocker they wind up with. Matthews is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and his family tree is chock full of outstanding football players. Quite possibly the safest prospect in this entire draft, Matthews is a well-rounded, versatile 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 feel Matthews is a better pro prospect than former teammate Luke Joeckel, who went #2 overall a year ago. Also keep in mind that Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher has a connection to the Matthews clan, having played with Jakeís father Bruce in college then later coaching him with the Oilers / Titans. That has to count for something, right? Itís hard to make an argument against Auburn OT Greg Robinson though... If they do move down and both Matthews and Robinson are gone they could audible to Michigan OT Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin. St. Louis is also reportedly high on Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack and he would be a legitimate option if they do stay put. Technically they could probably justify going with Clemson WR Sammy Watkins too but that might be a tough pill to swallow considering they have used a first, a second, two thirds and three fourth round picks on pass catchers over the past four years.
And that doesnít even include the booty they surrendered to trade into the Top 10 overall for Tavon Austin. Going back to that well yet again would be tantamount to admitting defeat on all of those other guys. One final option that needs to at least be mentioned is Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, who they began showing interest in late in the process. The rumors have all the hallmarks of a classic pre-draft smokescreen and I donít see them going in that direction with this choice. Perhaps ĒJohnny FootballĒ could be in play a bit later though.
Everyone knows that the Jaguars desperately need a quarterback to build around but donít be surprised if they go in another direction with this choice. After all this Jacksonville brain trust proved last year they are willing to wait patiently for the right signal caller rather than reach out of necessity. Plus they may have become smitten with one of the second-tier quarterbacks they coached at the Senior Bowl who can be had later such as Derek Carr of Fresno St. or Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois. Now that the Jags have essentially conceded that Justin Blackmon isnít in the organizations long-term plans the need for a dynamic playmaker at wideout is more glaring than ever. 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. While Watkins isnít a truly elite prospect along the lines of Calvin Johnson he is the best pass catcher to come along since A.J. Green and Julio Jones in 2011 and profiles as a true go-to target at the next level. To say that the Jaguars pass rush hasnít been getting the job done would be an understatement as they have finished dead-last in the league in sacks two years running. That has to be disconcerting for Head Coach Gus Bradley, a defensive guru who clearly understands the importance of generating pressure. With that being the case donít rule out South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney or Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack. If Jacksonville does go with a quarterback at this point it would probably be Blake Bortles of Central Florida. What about Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M? There have been strong indications that General Manager David Caldwell
would ideally prefer to go the ďsafeĒ route with this selection and say what you want about ĒJohnny FootballĒ but he is anything but safe. Plus if they wanted to make a splashy move for the sake of public relations and jersey sales they could've just signed Tim Tebow. In fact, if Jacksonville truly wants to go with a sure-thing they might also consider reuniting Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews with former Aggies teammate Luke Joeckel to give themselves a rock-solid set of young bookends for at least the next decade.
This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult selections to peg in large part because the Browns new General Manager Ray Farmer does not yet have a track record to reflect back upon. There is little or no doubt that the Browns top priority is finding a young quarterback to build around, but it doesnít necessarily have to be with this pick. There have been a ton of conflicting reports out of Cleveland as to which signal caller they prefer and that shouldnít come as a surprise considering the organization just went through yet another major upheaval with both their front office and coaching staff. If they do target a quarterback with this selection Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M could be their guy. Granted there have been reports that the Browns ďwon't be drafting Manziel at #4,Ē but even if thatís accurate there is a very important qualifier in there. ĒAt #4Ē. So does that mean they would take ďJohnny FootballĒ at #6? #7? #9? #10? How about at #26? Cleveland may or may not be interested in Manziel but there is no other move the Browns could make that would have a greater potential impact. Not only could Manziel be the solution to their long-standing issues under center but his star power and exciting style of play would reinvigorate a loyal fan base that deserves something to finally cheer about. On the other hand Manziel could also turn out to be a monumental bust considering all of the concerns there are both on as well as off the field. Will his unorthodox skill set translate to the next level when all of the defenders are bigger, faster and stronger? Will his free-wheeling approach be nearly as effective in the pros or will it leave him susceptible to turnovers and injuries? Is his primary ambition to be a great football player or will he constantly be pulled away from the game by the trappings of celebrity? Simply put Manziel isnít for everyone and there might not be a better example of a Boom or Bust prospect. 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 probably against it. If Cleveland doesnít grab a signal caller with their first choice they will most likely be targeting either Derek Carr of Fresno St. or Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville later on. I suppose they could go with Blake Bortles of Central Florida too. See what I mean about this one beging tough to nail down? Regardless of who is playing quarterback the Browns will have to add another playmaker to the passing attack at some point. 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. As a result Clemson WR Sammy Watkins is very much in the mix for this pick, as is Texas A&M WR Mike Evans. Auburn OT Greg Robinson and Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews are possibilities as well and but that seems like a bit of a
luxury since the offensive line is a ways down on their list of problem areas. Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack would have to at least be in the discussion from a talent perspective but once again another pass rusher probably wouldnít move the needle much for this downtrodden franchise. After taking all that into account and nearly breaking my brain I am reluctantly going with Manziel, although I'm obviously not overly confident in the projection as you can probably surmise. Then again Iím not sure there is any spot I'd feel comfortable placing Manziel.
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. Granted they plugged quite a few holes in free agency but most of those moves qualify as short-term, stop-gap solutions at best. Plus any gains were likely offset by inexplicably allowing Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston, arguably their two most talented players just entering the prime of their careers, to get away while receiving absolutely nothing in return even though they had more salary cap room than any team in the league. Of course the most important position to address is quarterback, where they are currently hitching their wagon to a 33-year-old Matt Schaub who almost single-handedly transformed the Houston Texans from a Super Bowl contender to the worst team in the league. Good luck with that! It doesnít appear as though Oakland is inclined to use this choice on a signal caller though and they may target Derek Carr of Fresno St. later on. With so many areas that require attention the Raiders canít go wrong by simply taking the best player available. Buffalo OLB Khalil 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 shouldnít be underestimated. The Raiders could utilize Mack standing up and / or with his hand in the dirt and he would immediately become the most talented player on their entire roster. The Raiders could also use a dynamic playmaker on offense so Clemson WR Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M WR Mike Evans are in the picture as well. Many have speculated that Oakland could grab an offensive lineman but Iím not sure I buy that. After all they just signed Donald Penn, Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe plus last yearís second round pick Menelik Watson is one of the few young guys on the team that you can get excited about. Now I certainly wouldnít rule out
Auburn OT Greg Robinson, Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews or Michigan OT Taylor Lewan but it seems as though there are other more pressing issues to deal with. GM Reggie McKenzie has pulled a surprise or two out of his hat on Draft Day as well and you always have to expect the unexpected when it comes to this organization. Is Pittsburgh DT / DE Aaron Donald a potential, albeit unlikely, darkhorse? Finally donít rule out a trade down because the Raiders need all the draft picks they can get their hands on and there would be robust market for this choice.
I donít necessarily believe Auburn OT Greg Robinson is going to fall this far but I do have a feeling he may end with the Atlanta Falcons when all is said and done. After all Atlanta has proven on multiple occasions that they will be aggressive on Draft Day and arenít afraid to move up for a prospect they covet. The most notable example was the blockbuster deal for Julio Jones but just last year they traded up for Desmond Trufant in round one as well. At one point it appeared as though their target might be #1 overall and South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney since they desperately need a pass rusher. However, the Texans asking price for the top pick is reportedly exorbitant so perhaps they will turn their attention to the Rams at #2 and Mr. Robinson. 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 puts into perspective just how good Robinson is. What makes Robinson so special is a rare blend of strength and athleticism that enables him to get the job done at a high level in both the run game and as a pass protector. Robinson is battling Jake Matthews of Texas A&M to be the first blocker off the board and itís basically a 1A and 1B situation. While Matthews may be a better, more polished player right now Robinson probably offers more long-term potential. Of course the Falcons could also just stay put and probably still land either Matthews or Michigan OT Taylor Lewan without having to surrender any premium draft picks. Donít rule out General Manager Thomas Dimitroff ultimately finding a way to land Clowney either though.
If they are dead-set on nabbing a pass rusher Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack could be a target if they trade up and UCLA OLB Anthony Barr could be a fallback option at #6. North Carolina TE Eric Ebron may be a darkhorse since Tony Gonzalez has retired for real this time. In the end look for the Falcons to come away with either a left tackle or pass rusher and the newest member of their team will likely come from a core group comprised of Clowney, Robinson, Mack, Matthews, Lewan or Barr. That could even be their order of preference.
On paper the Bucs have enough talent to compete with anyone in the league but for one reason or another the team grossly underachieved last season. The good news is it shouldnít take too long to turn things around. Tampa Bay could go in a handful of different directions with this choice but their most pressing need is at wide receiver, where they have Vincent Jackson and nothing else of consequence. Texas A&M WR Mike Evans was Johnny Manzielís favorite target during their time together in College Station 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 that is what you call rising to the occasion against top competition! A big-bodied playmaker and matchup nightmare, Evans is the consensus second wideout in this class and secured a spot in the Top 10 overall by quieting concerns about his timed speed at the Scouting Combine. The Bucs have also been linked to Clemson WR Sammy Watkins but a trade up into the Top 3-5 would be required to make that happen. If Watkins and Evans are both gone could they opt for L.S.U. WR Odell Beckham? The new front office and coaching staff brought in 35-year-old journeyman Josh McCown and immediately named him the starter so Mike Glennon obviously isnít in the organizations long-term plans. McCown is just a stop-gap solution at best so as a result the Bucs have been doing their homework on most of the top quarterback prospects. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel has been rumored to be a strong possibility for this choice but Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Blake Bortles of Central Florida and Derek Carr of Fresno St. could all be in the conversation as well.
Whenever a new coach is brought in it is always important to look at what they specialize in. After all they probably have more influence in the very beginning than at any other time and might want to start their tenure off by focusing on the area they know best. In this case Lovie Smith is a defensive guru and Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald would be a fantastic fit in the penetrating scheme that he prefers to utilize. Donít completely rule out a stud blocker such as Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews or Michigan OT Taylor Lewan either.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: BLAKE BORTLES, QB, CENTRAL FLORIDA
There have been strong indications that the Vikings would prefer to use their first pick on a defender then look for a quarterback later. That might be true but did they expect Central Florida QB Blake Bortles, who I believe to be the top rated signal caller on their board, to fall into their laps? I do think Bortles is the only quarterback that would tempt Minnesota at this point as he would be a perfect fit for the system of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Bortles appears to have all of the tools to eventually be a franchise signal caller at the next level, including a large frame, enough arm strength to make all of the throws, above average athleticism and mobility and excellent intangibles. Bortles is still rough around the edges and will require some patience and development, which even his college head coach conceded, but there is no denying the immense upside. If the Vikings do go defense they could realistically use help on all three levels, which would give them a bunch of options and perhaps even lead to a trade down. Some names to keep an eye on are UCLA OLB Anthony Barr, Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert, Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald, Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville S Calvin Pryor.
However, when it comes right down to it the Vikes could come out of this draft with seven studs on defense but unless they fix the situation under center it wonít make a lick of difference. One even has to wonder if the Vikings truly donít like any of the top signal callers or if General Manager Rick Spielman is just gun-shy and worried about saving his job after going out on a limb for Christian Ponder and having it not work out? Because running the organization from a place of fear would be a bad approach.
There may not be a better indication of just how strong the top of the 2014 NFL Draft is than the realistic possibility of Michigan OT Taylor Lewan falling all the way to the back end of the Top 10. A legitimate case can be made that Lewan is on par with or perhaps an even better prospect than Eric Fisher, who went #1 overall a year ago. The offensive line may not be the Bills most pressing concern but there is certainly room to upgrade and Lewan is simply too good to pass up at this point. Lewan has drawn favorable comparisons to Jake Long and there are indeed a lot of similarities, most notably their large frames, well-rounded games and blue-collar mentalities. There has been some debate as to whether Lewan is capable of protecting the blindside at the next level but an impressive showing against Jadeveon Clowney in the 2013 Outback Bowl along with an outstanding workout at the Scouting Combine should have put those fears to rest. Also keep in mind that similar concerns were raised when Long was coming out of college and they proved to be unfounded. Even in a worst-case scenario Lewan should have no problem excelling on the right side. There are some character concerns that could affect Lewanís stock and push him down the board a bit but I donít envision that happening. If Lewan is gone, which is a distinct possibility, they could turn their attention to Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin.
Itís never a bad idea to surround a young quarterback like E.J. Manuel with weapons and North Carolina TE Eric Ebron would bring an entirely new dimension to the Bills up-and-coming offense. Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville S Calvin Pryor could be darkhorses but this sure appears as though it'll come down to Lewan / Martin or Ebron. One last thing to keep a eye on is a possible trade up, with Auburn OT Greg Robinson or Clemson WR Sammy Watkins rumored to be potential targets.
The Lions are rumored to covet Clemson WR Sammy Watkins but they would have to trade all the way up into the Top 3-5 overall and that will most likely prove to be too cost-prohibitive. A more likely scenario would be moving up a handful of spots for Texas A&M WR Mike Evans or standing pat and hoping he falls into their laps, with L.S.U. WR Odell Beckham as a potential alternative. They have also flirted with the idea of going with North Carolina TE Eric Ebron even though they already have Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria. With all that said is another weapon for the passing attack really that much of a priority for Detroit? After all throwing the ball and scoring points seems to be the least of their concerns. On the other hand their secondary is still a complete mess after all these years and they could have an opportunity to select any defensive back in this entire class. How do you not take advantage of that? In many ways Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert is a poor-manís Patrick Peterson as they both bring a rare blend of size, speed, athleticism and playmaking ability to the table. Not only is Gilbert capable of locking down opposing wideouts in coverage but he will also make quarterbacks pay dearly for their mistakes. As an added bonus Gilbert is also an outstanding return man with six career touchdowns on special teams. An argument could be made that Gilbert is a Top 100 talent based on that skill alone. If Gilbert is gone the Lions could turn their attention to Michigan St. CB Darqueze Dennard, Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller, Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville S Calvin Pryor. Or perhaps they even prefer one of those other guys to Gilbert. Regardless anyone from that group would represent a
huge upgrade in the secondary for a team that has to face Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler twice a year. The Lions could also opt to bolster their offensive line with Michigan OT Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin and they could use another edge pass rusher like Anthony Barr of UCLA to team with Ziggy Ansah too. As you can see there are a number of scenarios in play but at the end of the day why not address their most glaring need with the prospect they deem to be the best defensive back in this class, whoever it may be ?
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