With most of the Week 16 games in the books, it’s time to take another look at how the draft’s top 10 might play out.
(Note: The order for this mock is based on current strength of schedule, which is the first tiebreaker used by the NFL for draft position.)
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville.
Let's say the Texans pass on Bridgewater (or another QB) here. Then what? There's a possibility Jay Cutler will get to the free-agent market, where he likely will be overpaid by a desperate team. Perhaps someone will jump out for Houston in Round 2 or 3 -- we've seen enough success later in the draft, especially recently, to possibly convince the Texans to wait. Or there's the trade possibility: Kirk Cousins' name will stay on the table, despite his up-and-down play in relief of Robert Griffin III.
So, there are some options. Do any of them stand out as particularly great? If not, there's no reason to pass on what could be the very best player in this draft at a must-have position.
2. St. Louis Rams -- via Washington: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M.
It took Jake Long's possible ACL injury to get me to change my tune here, from Jadeveon Clowney to an offensive lineman. Matthews might be a better prospect than his former A&M teammate, Luke Joeckel, who was drafted in this spot last April. With uncertainty at right tackle and now the possibility of a long-term rehab for Long, the Rams have to bulk up in the trenches.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina.
OK, let's spin this the opposite direction of Houston's choice at No. 1, because the top QB prospect already has come off the board. And this pick has Gus Bradley written all over it. Remember, he helped build Seattle's defense with pressure off the edge and aggressive, physical cornerbacks. The Jaguars need to find both types of players, and they won't get another chance at a player like Clowney.
4. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA.
Slotted in Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans to Oakland last week, when the Raiders picked No. 3. He's still on the board this time around at No. 4, so why the change?
Well, partially to mix things up a bit for discussion's sake. But also because it has become abundantly clear over the past few weeks that the Raiders will not go anywhere without doing something about their defense. One player will not turn the tide on his own, but Barr has the still-developing skill off the edge to strike fear into opponents.
5. Cleveland Browns: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State.
Not the best impression from Carr in a bowl game loss to USC. In my mind, he's still the No. 2 quarterback in this class, and he has just the type of game to step in and put up numbers working with Cleveland's expanding array of offensive talent. Want him to hit Josh Gordon deep? No problem. Rather work the short game a bit? He's done plenty of that in Fresno State's quick-hit offense.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M.
With a few minor adjustments up top, Evans falls into the Buccaneers' laps. Some might consider this too much of a luxury pick for a team that has Vincent Jackson under contract and ample needs elsewhere. But drop Evans in on this offense, with Doug Martin returning healthy in 2014, and suddenly there's something to work with in Tampa Bay.
7. Atlanta Falcons: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan.
Note: The Falcons play Monday night, so their result could adjust the top-10 order.
The Falcons are built around their offense -- one that should be much better in 2014 (even if Tony Gonzalez retires) with a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White and a full season of Steven Jackson. Atlanta simply cannot allow Matt Ryan to continue facing the type of pressure he's faced all season, though, and this pick would go a little ways toward relieving that situation.
8. Minnesota Vikings: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama.
The Vikings' linebacking corps has been a mess this season, with Leslie Frazier openly admitting earlier this month that the plan last offseason never was to use Erin Henderson at MLB. That's where the Vikings wound up, at least until Audie Cole stepped in and bumped Henderson to an OLB spot.
Cole actually has played better than most would have expected in the middle, meaning Minnesota might envision him as a contributor in 2014. The beauty of the Mosley pick, then, is that Minnesota could drop him in on the weak-side or slot him as Cole's replacement.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo.
Until I find some dramatic reason to change this pick -- either a team above the Bills has reason to bypass another position for a player like Mack or the Bills make a move to upgrade on the edge -- I see no reason to switch this up. Mack had a relatively quiet bowl game ... because San Diego State adjusted its entire gameplan to avoid him.
10. Tennessee Titans: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina.
Sort of throwing a dart here, because the Titans are in a bit of no man's land. If they don't trust Jake Locker anymore, either to get them to the playoffs or to stay healthy, then a QB (Johnny Manziel? Blake Bortles?) could be in the cards. They also could use one of those edge-rushers like Clowney or Barr -- even if the latter would force them to be a little more creative defensively. Instead, a home-run swing. Justin Hunter has been a disappointment at WR, Kenny Britt's on his way out of town and Nate Washington has just one year left on his contract. Ebron has the potential to help offset those losses with his ability to challenge defenses at various levels, while creating mismatches against linebackers and safeties. Combining him with the versatile Delanie Walker would make Tennessee's offense a total headache for opposing defenses.