Johnny Manziel could benefit from a system that hides his so-so arm strength. (David J. Phillip/AP)
Tanking suggestions -- or allegations, depending on how you feel about them -- have reached a crescendo, which means Mock Draft season is in full effect.
Part of the fun of mocks is they use team needs and talent fit to slot players by draft order. But what if the players got to decide where they wanted to go based on best fit?
Few have that luxury outside of the occasional querulous first-round pick (looking at you Eli Manning), but even those players are hamstrung by the bottom of the standings.
But where, if a player could go anywhere, would be best for him, factoring in scheme, coaching and environment? Where would he best succeed regardless of draft position?
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: Houston Texans: Bridgewater would walk into an offense built around his strengths with a new coach, plus a team ready to bounce back and potentially compete for the playoffs. The Texans have an elite running back coming off injury, a franchise left tackle to protect his blind side, plus two top-level receivers. Having Hopkins coming off a stellar rookie season also gives Bridgewater a potential battery for years to come.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Jacksonville Jaguars: Clowney doesn't really have a "right" scheme (a 4-3 defense fits Clowney the best, but he could play anywhere), but he'd be a great fit in Jacksonville with a creative, defensive-minded coach, and a team needing a star. Gus bradley’s LEO position was tailor-made for a player with Clowney’s skillset and his innovative defensive mind would no doubt find myriad ways to get Clowney in a position to dominate. With Jason Babin and Andre Branch also on the roster, Clowney wouldn’t necessarily be asked to play every down, allowing him to save himself for key moments.
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Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: New York Jets: Rex Ryan -- assuming he stays in New York -- is a defensive master, and the Jets are one impact rusher away from being an elite defensive team. Gang Green also has a veteran in Calvin Pace who can teach Barr the finer points of the position, while Ryan can use the ultra-talented Barr all over the field on a defense already loaded with recent top picks like Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: Miami Dolphins: Why would anyone want to play in Miami given what has happened on the offensive line this year? Well, for Matthews, it’s a chance to play for his college coach and quarterback in a scheme he’s familiar with on a team in desperate need of a smart, physical blocker to open running lanes and protect the quarterback. Matthews is a dominating run blocker and has the type of (healthy) tenacity and grit that's much needed on the Dolphins offensive line.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: Carolina Panthers: Watkins, who is a mix of Pierre Garcon and Demaryius Thomas, will want a big-armed quarterback who can drive the ball down the field. Cam Newton certainly qualifies, and the Panthers already run many of the concepts Clemson uses with Watkins, it’s just that the Panthers don’t have anyone with his dynamic speed/size ratio. Watkins is precisely the type of big-bodied receiver that would allow Steve Smith to play in the slot, where he belongs. He could also become Cam Newton’s go-to receiver as Smith’s career continues to decline.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Green Bay Packers: Mosley can play inside or outside, but he excels in coverage in the middle of the field, where he could play next to three former first-round picks, A.J. Hawk, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Mosley would be a perfect fit for the Packers, who love to run A-gap blitzes with their inside linebackers. His estimable coverage abilities would become a central cog for Dom Capers and his pressure packages. Plus, if there is an atmosphere in the NFL most similar to the SEC and Alabama with its rich history, it's in Green Bay and Lambeau Field.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Chicago Bears: If Marc Trestman can turn Josh McCown into Rich Gannon, then imagine what he can do with a quarterback as talented as Manziel. Johnny Football would have a top-flight running back to hand it to, along with two huge receivers who can make him look good (something he benefits from at A&M now with Mike Evans). Trestman’s offense also won’t require Manziel to drive throws deep downfield, hiding Manziel's average arm. Manziel can thrive under Trestman, who will allow Manziel to be Manziel, but reign in some of his reckless tendencies. And if any fan base is used to a little gun-slinging and occasional bouts of petulance from its quarterback, it's Chicago fans.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon: Minnesota Vikings: Ekpre-Olomu is an Antonie Winfield clone and would fit perfectly in Minnesota’s defensive schemes. His lack of size (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) would be mitigated by having promising rookie Xavier Rhodes, who is much bigger, opposite him. The Vikings also have young talent at every level of their defense and if Harrison Smith is healthy, he can erase the mistakes of the corners in front of him. Ekpre-Olomu is also best at the line of scrimmage in Cover-2 or in man coverage, and Minnesota relies mostly on a mix of those schemes.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: Atlanta Falcons: Assuming you're sure Tony Gonzalez isn't going to Favre us and come back again, there may be no better situation for a young tight end than Atlanta. The Falcons already love to use the tight end -- you would too if you had the best ever -- but they also have an elite quarterback and skill position players around him: Julio Jones to clear space, Roddy White to work the intermediate routes and Harry Douglass in the slot. Ebron and Gonzalez are nearly identical in terms of size and body type. You even see Ebron snatch the ball with his hands and leap to make catches the way Gonzalez did in his prime. Even if Gonzalez comes back for one last ride (again), Ebron would have the chance to learn from the best.
Hasean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: Pittsburgh Steelers: The rangy Clinton-Dix, known by his teammates as "HaHa," would slide in next to Troy Polamalu and play the perfect deep safety role in Pittsburgh's defense. Clinton-Dix has tremendous instincts in the passing game, but isn't a great tackler and can get lost occasionally in run support. When you have one of the most versatile safeties ever, even in decline, playing next to you, that's an enormous Band-aid. The 'Bama standout would get to learn from one of the best safeties of his generation, plus play on a team built around its defense. It's the ideal situation for the best safety in the draft.
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