This will not be a draft where the talent suddenly plummets after Round 2, or even after Day 2. There are definite starters to be had in the mid-rounds -- players like Keith McGill, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ja'Wuan James, Donte Moncrief and A.J. McCarron did not make the cut here, in Audibles' first two-round mock of the season. All could climb into the top two rounds eventually, and they plus dozens of others ought to be able to compete for jobs in camp.
The usual reminder before we dive in: The mocks are separate from the Big Board (version 4.0 of that will be rolling out Friday), in that this is an attempt to assess team needs and player draft slotting; the Big Boards rank the players in specific, talent-based order. One of the main goals here is to provide a little better idea of what each team has and does not have on its depth chart, an important study as free agency approaches.
That's enough blabbering. On with the picks ...
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville.
You'll see Blake Bortles in this No. 1 spot across plenty of post-combine mocks. A lot of the signs right now, in late February, point toward new Texans head coach Bill O'Brien nabbing the tall Central Florida QB as his franchise guy. And that may end up being the pick in the long run.
Bridgewater is still here because he's the best quarterback in this draft and the one most ready to step into an NFL lineup. The Texans have the pieces in place to embark on a Chiefs-like bounceback next season -- remember, this was a playoff team in both 2011 and '12. Bortles may be very good in the long run; same with Johnny Manziel. Bridgewater has a shot to be terrific out of the gate.
2. St. Louis -- via Washington (3-13): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn.
This is the reverse of the Bridgewater argument. In terms of being better developed for the 2014 season, Jake Matthews has the edge on Robinson. Robinson showed at the combine, though, why scouts are drooling over his upside. His minimal work as a pass-blocker at Auburn remains a concern, but the Rams have the stable of young backs in place to make the run game the focus here.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina.
Here's what Gus Bradley had to say at the combine in regard to his QB spot: "Everybody is tagged with, 'Is he a franchise quarterback?' That's really difficult. I guess Chad Henne is ours and he's our starter ... if we get him re-signed."
Hardly reassuring words for Jaguars fans. A QB would be easy to justify and to understand here. That said, Bradley is a defensive-minded coach who is badly in need of someone to pressure opposing quarterbacks off the edge. He may never get another chance to land someone like Clowney to fill that role.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M.
There might be a temptation to draft Sammy Watkins or even Mike Evans in this spot to pair with rising superstar Josh Gordon. But who's going to throw them the ball? Brian Hoyer might be OK in spurts, maybe even for the entire 2014 season. Eventually, the Browns need to find a long-term answer at QB, and the electrifying Manziel would work.
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson.
Similar problem here as with the previous pick: Who is the quarterback? Oakland, however, does not have the benefit of a Josh Gordon in its back pocket. Watkins would add instant credibility to a rebuilding Raiders offense, thus making the job of whoever is at quarterback much easier.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M.
Clowney may be the best fit for the pass rush-deficient Falcons, so much so that they might give one of the top three teams a buzz to gauge trade wishes. Sitting at No. 6 and having the choice between Matthews and Khalil Mack would not be too disappointing as a backup plan. The choice here is Matthews because of how porous the Falcons are on the edges offensively. With how much they throw the football, adding a tackle comfortable dropping into protection would be a huge boost.
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7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo.
With Lovie Smith in town, the Buccaneers are a good bet to bulk up on defense should the opportunities present themselves. Here, one does. The Tampa Two preferred by Smith needs speedy linebackers to work. With Mack on the strongside and Lavonte David on the weakside, few teams would have a better combination at the position.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF.
Minnesota may not be able to sit here and wait, especially if two quarterbacks come off the board in the top three or four picks. This mock fell perfectly for them, with Bortles available for the taking at No. 8. With Bortles, Cordarrelle Patterson and Adrian Peterson in place, the Vikings would have the makings of an intimidating, balanced offense.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina.
What seems to be the likely loss of Jairus Byrd could force the Bills to hunt for a Round 1 safety, either here or after a trade down. Yet, sooner or later, this team needs to find more oomph on offense -- EJ Manuel's future depends on it. Ebron would offer a dynamic option in the passing game.
10. Detroit Lions (7-9): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M.
Lions GM Martin Mayhew said during his combine presser that the franchise is confident in Chris Houston, expecting great things from Darius Slay and believes it has talent in Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. In other words, they don't appear to view cornerback as the pressing need others see it as.
Wide receiver, on the other hand, is a must. Mayhew and new coach Jim Caldwell both have spoken about the importance of finding someone to help Calvin Johnson. Bringing in Evans would create another NFC North WR duo similar to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Plus, Evans' high-point catch ability would play well with Matthew Stafford's gambler mentality.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama.
Either Clinton-Dix or Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley would drop right into the starting lineup ... and Anthony Barr's still on the board as well. The Crimson Tide safety would provide Tennessee with necessary help over the top, something that was lacking in 2013.
12. New York Giants (7-9): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State.
In case you did not already have a sense for why this draft class is so exciting, this pick ought to provide an idea. A cornerback has yet to come off the board here, despite at least two (Dennard and Justin Gilbert) being top-10 quality. There is just so much talent that some players -- and some positions -- have to slide.
The Giants happily would take this scenario. Put Dennard with Prince Amukamara at corner and their secondary would be set to contend with just about any passing attack it comes across.
13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA.
I've long believed (and still do) that Clowney should be an option for the Rams at No. 2, with the argument being that his skillset is special enough for the Rams to tweak their defense to accommodate it. Dropping the athletic but raw Barr in as a rush linebacker would offer many of the same benefits of having Clowney, while forcing less readjusting of the scheme.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame.
When the Bears held the 14th pick in the 2004 draft, they used it on 300-pounder Tommie Harris, who then went on to become an anchor up front on Chicago's NFC championship team. This team needs that space-eater who can push the pocket inside again. Nix proclaimed himself 23 pounds lighter at the combine than his college playing weight: "Yeah man, my stomach doesn’t stick out as much. That’s kind of nice. I like that part. My thighs got a little smaller. I just feel sexier, man."
He's still a healthy 330 pounds -- just the type of guy Chicago needs up front.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State.
Gilbert's combine showing -- a sub-4.4 40, among other things -- could force some team's hand in the top 10 (Detroit?) Or it could force Pittsburgh, Dallas or others to consider trading up for him. Pittsburgh has to get better at the CB spot given Ike Taylor's descent into mediocrity. Gilbert could be a shutdown guy at the next level.
16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt.
Sure, Clowney's 4.53 40 time was incredible. But Donald's 4.65, at 280-plus pounds, might have been even better. The Cowboys do not have any cash lying around with which to re-sign Jason Hatcher. Nabbing Donald would make Hatcher's impending departure sting a lot less. The Pitt product is capable of disrupting offenses on a consistent basis.
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17. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan.
In the same vein as Gilbert, Lewan's combine effort could make it tough to let him linger on the board this long. As mentioned above, however, a few players are bound to tumble. Assuming the Ravens can retain either Eugene Monroe or Michael Oher (preferably the former), drafting Lewan would lock up their tackle spots.
Oh, and that nasty streak Lewan has been criticized for in the past? Seems to fit the Ravens' mold, no?
18. New York Jets (8-8): Marqise Lee, WR, USC.
Is Lee still the No. 3 receiver in this class? It says here that he is, although the combine proved that he has plenty of competition. Given all those choices, the Jets should have no problem finding someone who can expand their options offensively. Now that he's healthy again, it is not hard to see Lee making the leap into being a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver for a very, very long time.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Zack Martin, G/T, Notre Dame.
For reasons off the field and on, Miami's situation on the offensive line is in shambles. In fact, the Dolphins may commit multiple picks to their guard and tackle spots. Martin would offer them the versatility to bolster their situation either outside or inside. This would be a strong first step toward remaking the Miami front.
20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Dee Ford, DE/LB, Auburn.
As sensational as John Abraham was for the Cardinals last season, he'll be 36 before training camp opens. Even if he's on the field for all 16 games in 2014, this defense could use another threat off the edge. Ford did not work out at the combine because of a back-related "medical precaution," but that did not stop him from proclaiming himself better than Clowney.
That's not an opinion shared here, but Ford definitely can get to the QB.
21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama.
Perhaps chalk this up to the lengthy pre-draft process, but it feels like Mosley has slipped out of the discussion a bit. That's a mistake. He's a legitimate plug-and-play starter on defense -- a guy with the ability to chase down running backs or drop back into coverage. The Packers badly need to find some safety help somewhere, so Calvin Pryor may be near the top of the board. Mosley, though, is a value pick and a LB who could solidify the Packers' linebacking corps.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville.
I realize "debaclefest" is not a word, but the Eagles' current situation at safety is a debaclefest. They may get the expected rookie-year-to-Year-2 bump from Earl Wolff, but the need is there for another playmaker. Say hello to Pryor, whose smash-mouth style would make him an instant favorite in Philadelphia.
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23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU.
What else do you want? Beckham ran a 4.43 official 40 time at the combine, then chalked up a 38.5-inch vertical jump. He can catch and run, burn defenses deep and outmuscle defenders for 50-50 balls. This is precisely the type of weapon Kansas City's offense is missing.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech.
Injury issues behind him, Fuller has re-established himself as a legitimate first-round option at cornerback. He turned in a 4.49 40 time at the combine -- not blazing fast but plenty good enough to keep his arrow pointing upward. The Bengals would love to be in position to pick between Fuller and Jason Verrett here. It'd be hard to go wrong either way.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU.
Whichever guy the Bengals pass on would make sense here. Verrett is on the small side at 5-foot-9, but he also reminded everyone who asked at the combine that he covered much bigger receivers out wide during his TCU career. He may have a better chance to succeed in the slot as an NFL corner. Pigeon-holing him into just that spot would be a mistake.
26. Cleveland Browns -- via Indianapolis (11-5): Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt.
Mentioned above that the Browns could consider going after Sammy Watkins with that No. 4 pick. That Matthews, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin and other impressive receivers are sitting here at 26 highlights why they may wait to address this position.
Matthews ran a 4.46 40 at the combine, off a strong Senior Bowl. He caught 112 balls last season for Vanderbilt in spite of shaky QB play. Count on him to produce in the NFL.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State.
Last year, the Saints scored with Kenny Vaccaro. This year, they might receive just as much of a boost in the secondary. Roby displayed his sensational athleticism at the combine, topping out with a 4.39 40 time. Although he should have been better in 2013, he was not as bad as the buzz around him may have led everyone to believe.
O-line or wide receiver could be intriguing options for the Saints here, too. But the tackle value simply is not there to reach given how Terron Armstead played late last season.
28. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State.
The Panthers are in dire need of an offensive tackle or two on the heels of Jordan Gross' decision to retire. Expect them to dip into free agency with aggressiveness, which would free them up to seek out a buddy for Cam Newton in the passing game. Cooks may have locked himself into Round 1 with his combine -- his 4.33 40 blew away the field.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri.
Not as high on Ealy as some others, but this is a Patriots prospect if I've ever seen one. Ealy has desired size at 6-4 and a little more than 270, plus he excelled in the three-cone drill, which is a favorite of this Patriots regime.
There might be more of a pressing need inside on the line -- Florida State's Timmy Jernigan or Minnesota Ra'Shede Hageman jump off the page a bit there. Ealy's a tough prospect to get a handle on right now, so how he does at Missouri's Pro Day and in individual workouts may determine his final standing.
30. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State.
The 49ers might lose Anquan Boldin to free agency, thus leaving them shy a physical fail-safe receiver on the outside who can go snatch Colin Kaepernick's passes from DBs. Benjamin was inconsistent for the Seminoles, yet his 6-5, 244-pound frame (matched with a 4.53 40) falls right in line with what the 49ers crave at wide receiver.
31. Denver Broncos (13-3): Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State.
Just on how the board happened to fall, the Broncos land a top-20 talent at No. 31 overall. Jernigan stands only 6-2 and a little south of 300 pounds, leaving him shy of an ideal nose tackle build. He still could play there, if needed, or kick out a little wider into the three-technique hole.
"When you’ve got a guy that can play multiple positions and understand how to play multiple positions and has the ability to learn different schemes," Jernigan said, "I feel like it can make any team better no matter what scheme it is."
32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech.
The rich get much richer. Amaro is a lethal weapon in the passing attack, plus he showed unexpected strength in the combine bench press. That's important because it may mean Amaro is better equipped than expected to handle a blocking role in front of Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson. And he already proved time and again at Texas Tech that he can shift out away from the line to smoke linebackers and safeties in the passing game.
33. Houston Texans: Stephon Tuitt, DE/DT, Notre Dame.
34. Washington Redskins: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State.
35. Cleveland Browns: Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA.
36. Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State.
37. Atlanta Falcons: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington.
Tuitt's a value pick here -- he should be a Round 1 guy, but a shaky 2013 coupled with an untimely foot injury could drive him down. Though the Redskins need help in the trenches and secondary, a Robinson-Pierre Garcon duo would be lethal. Su'a-Filo had a stellar combine and would slot in well on Cleveland's underrated line. If Carr's not off the board by pick No. 8, there could be a steep slide for him, which benefits the QB-needy Raiders in Round 2. Atlanta gets its Tony Gonzalez replacement and a guy who should aid the run game with his blocking.
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38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama.
39. Jacksonville Jaguars: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU.
40. Minnesota Vikings: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State.
41. Buffalo Bills: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois.
42. Tennessee Titans: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State.
Kouandjio's combine performance (and a report of failed medicals) certainly will not help his stock, and that may be just fine with the Buccaneers as they add some needed tackle depth in the second round. Kouandjio has the potential to dominate, at least at times.
The Jaguars get their QB, the fifth off the board, after zeroing in on Clowney early -- pairing Mettenberger with Chad Henne (should he re-sign) would buy them some time. Shazier at 40 would have the Vikings cartwheeling to the podium. The Bills nab a replacement for Jairus Byrd in Ward, a do-everything player at the backend. With Chris Johnson's days in Tennessee looking numbered, the Titans take the first RB off the board.
43. New York Giants: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee.
44. St. Louis Rams: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois.
45. Detroit Lions: Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State.
46. Pittsburgh Steelers: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State.
47. Dallas Cowboys: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State.
New York has to do a better job protecting Eli Manning, so though Richardson has some inconsistencies in his game, it would be hard to pass on the potential first-rounder at No. 43. Using a pick like this on Garoppolo makes more sense for the Rams than taking another QB with that No. 2 pick -- Garoppolo could push Sam Bradford and then take over for him later. The Lions still like the thought of a Chris Houston-Darius Slay combo at corner; Joyner would give them their slot guy and an option at safety, where Louis Delmas departed. Bucannon would make Pittsburgh feel better about losing Ryan Clark and potentially Troy Polamalu. Another D-line pick for the Cowboys, who here add a strong edge rusher to pair with the inside force of Aaron Donald.
48. Baltimore Ravens: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State.
49. New York Jets: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State.
50. Miami Dolphins: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota.
51. Chicago Bears: Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas.
52. Arizona Cardinals: Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State.
With Lewan and now Adams, the Ravens offense would upgrade substantially over the course of two picks. Same for the Jets, who go reverse order -- WR, then O-line -- and nail down arguably the top guard in this class. Hageman belongs in the first round; with Paul Soliai and Randy Starks en route to free agency, Miami likely will need help up front. The Bears' young line adds another punishing blocker in Swanson, the No. 1 center. Arizona nabs a tackle after missing out on the top guys in Round 1.
53. Green Bay Packers: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame.
54. Philadelphia Eagles: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU.
55. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU.
56. San Francisco 49ers -- via Kansas City: Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida.
57. San Diego Chargers: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia.
Whether or not Jermichael Finley returns, Aaron Rodgers would love having dual-threat TE Troy Niklas to employ in the offense. Landry came up hobbling at the combine, which could push him out of the first tier of receivers ... and work to Philadelphia's advantage. Cincinnati almost certainly will lose Michael Johnson this offseason and James Harrison is on his last legs, so finding another pass-rush threat off the edge is imperative. Another typical 49ers pick at 56: an athletically gifted player with high upside in Watkins. And the Chargers add a much-needed lineman in Moses, who said at the combine he could play any tackle or guard spot.
58. New Orleans Saints: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson.
59. Indianapolis Colts: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin.
60. Carolina Panthers: Brandon Thomas, G/T, Clemson.
61. San Francisco 49ers: Keith McGill, CB, Utah.
62. New England Patriots: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin.
See how much WR talent there is in this draft? It's absurd to think a player with Bryant's upside could slip to 58, yet it's perfectly feasible. The Colts have to increase productivity at linebacker and Borland may be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. At pick 60, Carolina takes a step toward rebuilding its Jordan Gross-less line. San Francisco doubles down on DBs in Round 2 with the tall, athletic McGill, who can play cornerback but has safety experience. Good luck avoiding the "scrappy" receiver comparisons if Abbrederis winds up in New England -- he might be another of their 100-catch guys if he does.
63. Denver Broncos: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida.
64. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, G, Stanford A swing-for-the-fences type of selection for Denver, which could use more depth up front and might score the draft's best DT should Easley get all the way back from a knee injury. Opinions on Yankey are split, especially after a disappointing combine. The Seahawks need guard help enough to roll the dice.