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, a la the Colts and Chiefs the past couple of years. Every team could use a dynamic pass rusher like Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina but defense is not the issue 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 and nothing else they do will matter until the situation under center is resolved. Blake Bortles of Central Florida 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.
Also keep in mind that new Texans Head Coach Bill OíBrien got an up close and personal look at Bortles last Fall when the Golden Knights went into Happy Valley and upset Penn St. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel is in the discussion too and the Heisman Trophy winning, hometown hero would certainly sell a lot of tickets and jerseys. Clowney could be an enticing fallback option though if Houston isnít sold on any of the top quarterbacks or donít want to risk alienating the fan base by bypassing "Johnny Football" for another signal caller.
ATLANTA FALCONS (f/WAS/STL): JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE, S. CAROLINA
Projecting trades in mock drafts is a risky business and something that should probably be avoided but the odds of St. Louis actually staying in this spot seem to be pretty low. After all Rams General Manager Les Snead has moved down in the first round every year that heís been at the helm and theyíve already let everyone know that they are willing to listen to offers again. Atlanta seams to be the most likely partner since they need a pass rusher and have a history of being aggressive on Draft Day. Plus Snead is a former protťgť of Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff and that close relationship could help facilitate a deal. 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 much 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. The Falcons could move up even if Clowney is off the board with Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack being a potential target as well. If Atlanta stands pat there should still be some outstanding options available at #6, whether it be Auburn OT Greg Robinson, Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews or UCLA OLB Anthony Barr.
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 the 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. If South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney is still available the Jags would likely sprint to the podium but Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack wouldnít be a bad alternative. 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. If Jacksonville does go with a quarterback at this point it would probably be either Blake Bortles of Central Florida or Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. What about Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M?
It seems unlikely General Manager David Caldwell would want to go down that road since there are some off-the-field concerns with "Johnny Football" and the organization has a reputation for emphasizing character. Plus if they wanted to make a splashy move for the sake of public relations and jersey sales they would have just signed Tim Tebow. The other possibility would be Clemson WR Sammy Watkins since the talented but troubled Justin Blackmon is currently suspended (yet again) and might no longer be in the organizations long - term plans .
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 lot 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. Assuming they target a quarterback with this selection Blake Bortles of Central Florida and Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville would be the most likely possibilities. Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M is in the conversation as well, although there have been indications that character concerns could steer new General Manager Ray Farmer away from ĒJohnny FootballĒ. The Browns are also rumored to be infatuated with Fresno St. QB Derek Carr and if they truly believe he is the franchise signal caller that theyíve been searching for they could shock everyone and just pull the trigger at #4 rather than risk another team beating them to the punch before their next choice late in round one. Regardless of who is under center 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. 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 / Julio Jones and profiles as a true go-to target at the next level. Donít completely rule out a stud blocker such as Greg Robinson of Auburn or Jake Matthews of Texas A&M either. If Cleveland isnít interested in either Watkins or a quarterback at this point it may be wise to trade down to an area where their needs and the value align better.
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 biggest concern is at quarterback where the current projected starter is recently acquired Matt Schaub, who is going to be 33-years-old and was the main culprit behind the Houston Texans spectacular collapse. It will be interesting to see whether General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Dennis Allen opt to do whatís best for the franchise in the long run or if a lack of job security will force them to take a more short-sighted approach. Nothing would provide a bigger spark than the addition of Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, a former Heisman Trophy winner whose exciting sandlot game and larger than life personality could reinvigorate this moribund organization. ĒJohnny FootballĒ 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 from a pro potential perspective. 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 a 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 of the warning signs it appears as though there are multiple teams considering rolling the dice on Manziel in the Top 10 and the Raiders have shown a willingness to go out on a limb for controversial prospects in the past. Oakland could also opt for one of the other top quarterbacks, be it Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville or even Derek Carr of Fresno St. The other most likely options are Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack or Clemson WR Sammy Watkins.
Itís no secret that the Rams are 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. Despite their best efforts to address the problem St. Louis still has issues along the offensive line, where Jake Long is coming off yet another serious injury and Rodger Saffold may be best-suited to play inside at guard. 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 strength and athleticism that enables him to get the job done at a high level as both a run blocker and 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. However, while Matthews may be a better, more polished player right now Robinson probably offers more long-term potential which is why he gets the ever so slight edge. St. Louis couldnít go wrong with either though and both Robinson and Matthews grade out as better prospects than Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, the top two picks in the 2013 NFL Draft. 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. The Rams are also rumored to be quite high on
Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack and if they were to trade down just a bit further Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert could come into play as well. Of course they could always stay at #2 and grab South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney but that would be an awful lot of resources devoted to a single position. After all Chris Long is in the prime of his career and is making a lot of money while Robert Quinn may be the best young pass rusher in the game and will require a monster contract in the near future as well.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, QB, LOUISVILLE
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 grossly underachieved last season. The good news is it shouldnít take long to turn things around. There is a new front office and coaching staff in Tampa and the fact that they brought in 35-year-old journeyman Josh McCown and immediately named him the starter speaks volumes about their feelings toward Mike Glennon, who doesnít appear to be in the organizations long-term plans. With that being the case the first order of business is to figure out the quarterback situation since McCown is at best a stop-gap. The Bucs have been doing their homework on most of the top quarterback prospects but Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville may be the best fit, assuming Blake Bortles of Central Florida is off the board. 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 necessary throws, Bridgewater can create with his legs if needed but he is a pocket 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. As the pre-draft process drags on Bridgewater has become a victim of over-analysis, with too many focusing on a handful of potential shortcomings while seemingly ignoring all of the positive qualities that he brings to the table.
As a result if Bridgewater gets past Tampa Bay he could experience an Aaron Rodgers-esque slide on Draft Day. The prospect that the Bucs truly covet is probably Clemson WR Sammy Watkins but he will most likely be off the board by this point, although Texas A&M WR Mike Evans would be a nice consolation prize. A top blocker such as Auburn OT Greg Robinson or Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews could prove to be awfully tempting as well and donít totally rule out UCLA OLB Anthony Barr either.
Everyone assumes the Vikings are looking for a quarterback with this pick but donít be surprised if they address one of their many holes on the defensive side of the ball and target a signal caller such as Zach Mettenberger of L.S.U. later on. UCLA OLB Anthony Barr began his college career as a fullback / tight end hybrid but has been nothing short of a revelation since transitioning to defense as a junior. An incredible athlete with an outstanding blend of size and speed as well as top-notch intangibles, Barr terrorizes opponents as a blitzer off the edge and the scary part is heís just beginning to tap into his immense potential. Barr is still rough around the edges and will require some patience but he has all of the tools to develop into an elite pass rusher at the next level. Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack would probably get the edge over Barr but itís unlikely heíll last this long. Keep an eye on Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley too. Donít rule out Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert either as he could be the top-flight cover guy theyíve been desperately searching for in recent years.
Central Florida QB Blake Bortles isnít going to slide this far but he is an ideal fit for Offensive Coordinator Norv Turnerís system and the Vikes could explore a trade up if he were to escape the Top 3. Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater will also be in the conversation and Fresno St. QB Derek Carr could be a darkhorse. As for Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, itís pretty tough to envision a hard-nosed, no-nonsense guy such as Head Coach Mike Zimmer putting up with all of the extracurricular distractions that come with "Johnny Football".
There may not be a better indication of just how strong the top of the 2014 NFL Draft is than the realistic possibility of Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews falling all the way to the back end of the Top 10. Bear in mind that most feel Matthews is a better pro prospect than former teammate Luke Joeckel, who went #2 overall a year ago. The offensive line may not be the Bills most pressing concern but there is certainly room to upgrade and Matthews is simply too good to pass up at this point. 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, 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.
Buffalo could also look to add another dynamic playmaker to their passing attack in the form of North Carolina TE Eric Ebron. Itís never a bad idea to surround a young quarterback like E.J. Manuel with weapons and Ebron would undoubtedly bring an entirely new dimension to the Bills up-and-coming offense. Some options on the other side of the ball could include Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as a replacement for Jarius Byrd, who bolted in free agency, or perhaps Anthony Barr of UCLA or CJ Mosley of Alabama to complete a revamped linebacking corps.
The Lions are reportedly enamored with Clemson WR Sammy Watkins but would likely have to trade all the way up to #2 overall to ensure they get their guy. In the end such a bold move will probably turn out to be too cost prohibitive but they could turn their attention to Texas A&M WR Mike Evans if they are indeed determined to add another weapon to an already potent passing attack. 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 may have secured a spot in the
Top 10 overall by quieting concerns about his timed speed at the Scouting Combine. The Lions still have major issues in the secondary as well and it might finally be time to add a top talent such as Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert, Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Michigan St. CB Darqueze Dennard to fix the problem once and for all. There is also room to upgrade at linebacker so watch out of Anthony Barr of UCLA or C.J. Mosley of Alabama and donít rule out a blocker like Michigan OT Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin either.
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