2014 NFL Mock Draft 6.0: Blake Bortles goes No. 1 overall, plus a few trade pitches
Don't believe everything you hear.
Like, for instance, that the entire league suddenly has cooled on Teddy Bridgewater because of one so-so pro day. The concerns about Bridgewater's game -- height, weight, playing style, accuracy -- are the same as they have been all along. So are his strengths. If a team (or a few teams) liked him before, there's nothing new to change that opinion. The same goes for Johnny Manziel, who put the full gamut of his talents on display at Texas A&M.
So, why the ongoing backlash?
Some of it is bound to be a red herring. Enough scouts anonymously float the idea that "Nah, our team has no interest in Manziel" and ... poof! ... down drives the draft's perceived trade market. Teams are in the process of hammering out their wish lists, meaning that every player is a candidate to shift around the board some. Front offices are extra cautious when it comes to QBs, too, since the investment there in Round 1 stands to be of greater importance than at other positions.
All of these "rises" and "falls" have set us up for what could be one of the most active first rounds in recent NFL draft history. Point to pretty much any team in the top half of Round 1 and you'll find a franchise that may be willing to wheel and deal, one direction or the other.
With that in mind, this latest mock pitches a few top-10 trades that could go down. In no way do the suggestions cover the full range of scenarios, but the idea this far out from the draft is to get the ball rolling from a discussion standpoint.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Trade possibility: Down to No. 6, Atlanta takes Jadeveon Clowney
The Texans' addition of Ryan Fitzpatrick drew little attention, but Fitzpatrick could be a key piece if Bortles is indeed the pick here. There is ample doubt that Bortles will be ready for a starting gig out the gate -- remember, the key word with him is "potential." Fitzpatrick (and Case Keenum, in theory) will provide a safety net.
Of course, there is the possibility that the Texans do not fall in love with any of the QBs. No. 1 overall is not a spot to reach. So, in that scenario, they could take Clowney themselves ... or dangle him in front of a team desperate for pass-rush help, like the Falcons. Even at No. 6, the Texans likely would find either Clowney/Khalil Mack or one of the top three QBs.
MORE COVERAGE: 2014 NFL mock draft database: SI’s experts weigh in
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Trade possibility: Down to No. 5, Oakland takes Teddy Bridgewater
I've circled back around to my original opinion here: Clowney is too talented to pass up. Trotting out a deep, dynamic pass rush has been an equalizer for defenses against the league's offensive explosion. With Clowney, Robert Quinn and Chris Long, the Rams would be borderline unstoppable off the edge.
They also have the benefit of not desperately needing any one player here, which makes them a prime trade-down candidate. Why Oakland as the target? Because if the Raiders set their sights on a particular QB, waiting out Jacksonville and Cleveland would be a massive gamble.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Trade possibility: Up to No. 1 for a QB
For much the same reason Oakland would be in the trade-up mix, Jacksonville may consider such a move if it has a definitive desire to land one specific quarterback. Right now, I can envision only two real options for the Jaguars with their first pick: take a QB (and Bridgewater remains the most pro-ready) or nab Clowney/Mack as a focal point for Gus Bradley's defense.
4. Cleveland Browns: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Trade possibility: Down to No. 10, Lions take Sammy Watkins
Joe Thomas at left tackle, Robinson on the right side and Alex Mack at center (assuming he stays) -- that's a sensational start on the line. Slide former RT Mitchell Schwartz in to right guard, with John Greco at LG, and the Browns could have one of the top fronts in all of football.
There may be more value for them in dropping down and accumulating even more picks, as that's the fastest way to turn a rebuilding project into a playoff-caliber roster. If Watkins is still on the board here, Cleveland almost certainly will be able to drum up some interest.
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5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Trade possibility: Down to No. 9, Bills take Khalil Mack
The Raiders -- like the Buccaneers, Lions and others -- have done enough so far this offseason to leave the door wide open at No. 5. They could take a quarterback or add a piece on defense or snatch up a wide receiver. They don't necessarily have a clear aim right now. Watkins, paired with James Jones, would push a former position of weakness into a clear strength.
Buffalo's desire to move up would rely on Clowney being gone at this point. Atlanta badly needs a pass rusher, so either Clowney or Mack would be an obvious target at No. 6. If the Bills get a shot to drop Mack in on their defense first, they may jump.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Trade possibility: Down to No. 13, Rams take Mike Evans
The Falcons have to decide if they want to cross their fingers or get aggressive to acquire some defensive pop. With a switch to a 3-4 defense apparently in the cards, an edge rusher is an obvious need. And should both Clowney and Mack be elsewhere by this spot, trading back would be the ideal play.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Trade possibility: Up to No. 4
Would a Vincent Jackson-Sammy Watkins pairing entice the Buccaneers on draft day? Or how about swapping in Johnny Manziel for Mike Glennon as the team's QB of the future? In either case, getting in front of Oakland might be a necessity.
Staying put here, with the way the board has fallen so far (Bortles-Clowney-Bridgewater-Robinson-Watkins-Mack) makes things tough. Taking a TE at No. 7 may seem like a stretch, but Ebron is the top player at his position and would open up the Buccaneers offense. It would not be all that surprising to see Ebron put up the top receiving numbers of any rookie next season.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Trade possibility: Down to No. 14, Bears take Aaron Donald
The fan base of whichever team winds up with Manziel probably will be nervous until they see him succeed at the NFL level. It says here that he will. Manziel running an offense that features Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson would be hugely problematic for defenses as they game planned.
The benefit of a trade down comes if Minnesota would prefer to wait on a QB until Round 2 or 3, with the Vikings stashing an extra pick or two and still improving upon Christian Ponder. Chicago should have Donald near the top of its draft board, just as several other teams will.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Trade possibility: Down to No. 19, Dolphins take Matthews
Robinson to Cleveland and Matthews to Buffalo changed the look of this mock. Neither team would object. Matthews is arguably a top-five talent landing at No. 9, and he would allow the Bills to get RT Erik Pears out of the starting lineup. Miami's in even worse shape up front, though Branden Albert helped exponentially. A slight slide from Matthews would have several teams itching for a move.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
Trade possibility: Down to No. 15, Steelers take Justin Gilbert
I do not believe the Lions are going to take a cornerback at No. 10. And after they signed Golden Tate, I'm less inclined to see the Lions spending a top-10 pick on another WR. So, that brings us around to Barr. Detroit did well with a raw prospect last year in Ziggy Ansah. Barr brings similar upside, could bump Ashlee Palmer from the starting lineup and would continue to add youthful energy to the pass rush.
The other possibility? That it's Watkins or bust for Detroit. Barr or Gilbert would be great, Mike Evans could be a star ... heck, even Aaron Donald makes some sense. Moving back rather than settling on someone is the smarter move. Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard would be on Detroit's radar; Pittsburgh may want one of those guys badly enough to hand over a pick or two.
11. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Assuming new defensive coordinator Ray Horton wants to implement a hybrid defense with a 3-4 focus, Donald would be a godsend. He can play inside in a 4-3, outside in a 3-4, even slid to nose tackle back at Pittsburgh. Donald would provide tons of flexibility, including the ability for Tennessee to limit Al Woods to a two-down role, where his run-stopping abilities would be most beneficial.
12. New York Giants: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
By signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond this offseason, the Giants all but eliminated any need to think CB here. With Matthews and Robinson off the board and Hakeem Nicks departing via free agency, the lure of Evans is too much to ignore. New York's attempts thus far to replace Nicks have been uninspired at best.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Rams fans may be hoping for a skill-position splash in Round 1. Should the Rams walk out of Radio City Music Hall with Clowney and Clinton-Dix, however, there would be little cause for dissension. The depth at receiver in this draft class has been well-documented. It's not there at safety, where St. Louis carries an underwhelming group. Clinton-Dix's rangy game would let the rest of the secondary play aggressive football, and he would benefit from the dangerous front four.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
With the Bears staying committed to their 4-3 scheme, the explosive Jernigan gets the nod over the beefier Louis Nix III here. Jernigan's penetration from the tackle spot would pair well with Lamarr Houston and Willie Young at DE. That he projects well as a three-technique -- where Henry Melton played for Chicago -- will not hurt his cause either.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Staying put and having their pick of every cornerback in this draft would be a dream scenario for the Steelers, who must get younger and more physical in the secondary. (In that vein, a safety -- Calvin Pryor or Jimmie Ward -- could be in play here, too.) Gilbert has excelled in both zone and man coverages, the former being a favorite of Pittsburgh's.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Cowboys need ends more than they need interior linemen, thanks to their recent addition of Henry Melton. The problem with that statement is that the value simply is not here for an edge rusher. Dee Ford? Kony Ealy? Demarcus Lawrence? All would be stretches at No. 16.
The flip side for Dallas is that there will be plenty of DEs in the middle rounds. And any pass-rusher would be lucky to step into a situation where Melton's locking down the three-tech and Nix is handling business up the gut.
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17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan's lingering legal woes are worrisome, but you can bet that NFL teams ran the gamut with him on that topic during the combine and will do so again during individual meetings. Assuming all checks out adequately, there is top-10 talent here. It also may do Lewan some good to land somewhere with a strong locker room situation like Baltimore, and this is hardly a team that turns its back on players with a little edge.
18. New York Jets: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Antonio Cromartie signed with the Cardinals, basically leaving the Jets up a creek at cornerback. Problem solved here with Dennard, an aggressive, in-your-face cornerback who would fit right in with what Rex Ryan likes to do defensively. There is not a more impressive press-cover CB in this draft.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, G/T, Notre Dame
Is this too obvious a selection? Rarely do a team and a prospect so perfectly line up this far in advance of the draft. Albert was almost a must-have at left tackle. Martin would plug a gap either on the right side or at one of the guard spots -- all places Miami needs help.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
One more tremendous talent for a defense that's on the rise. Drafting Pryor would provide the Cardinals with a fallback plan if Tyrann Mathieu's rehab from a knee injury takes some extra time. And when Mathieu's back? Heck, a Pryor-Mathieu combo at the safety spots would be intimidating on a number of levels.
Mosley's spending most of his public time these days trying to convince NFL minds that he is fully healthy. Green Bay would be fine if the perception that Mosley is fragile lasts right up until draft day. Capable of attacking the football or dropping in coverage, Mosley has the type of game the Packers are badly missing in their linebacking corps.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
You don't think Chip Kelly will pass on a potential Pro Bowl receiver, do you? One way or another, the Eagles appear ready to move on from DeSean Jackson, leaving them searching for another game-breaker on offense. Beckham has a lot of the same traits that Philadelphia used to love in Jackson -- his explosiveness being chief among them.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Blame it on his disappointing, injury-plagued 2013 season, but Lee just is not generating the buzz that many other receivers in this class are right now. Quite frankly, that's ridiculous. Lee was the Biletnikoff Award winner in 2012 as the nation's top WR and, healthy again, absolutely still has what it takes to be a productive NFL receiver over the long-haul.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Bengals will and should be taking the best player available at No. 24 -- their roster remains strong pretty much across the board, despite some offseason losses. For me, Ealy does not hold that "best available" tag as this board sits, but he does have plenty of fans in the NFL ranks. On a Cincinnati defense that needs to replace Michael Johnson's production but also has some depth remaining at DE, Ealy has a real chance to work. The Bengals could pick and choose when to use him so as to maximize his ability to find the QB.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
This is close to a no-brainer for me. San Diego has to find more capable bodies at cornerback, particularly in a division that features Denver's wide-open attack. Verrett's size (5-foot-10) has kept him from the Gilbert/Dennard conversation as the top CB in this class. His performance at TCU tells a different story. Verrett matched wits with the opposition's best receivers regularly, no matter the height, and often came away with the upper hand.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Patience pays off for the Browns, with Carr stepping into the QB battle alongside Brian Hoyer. Whoever wins the job will have several legitimate targets waiting for him: Josh Gordon, TE Jordan Cameron and recent free-agent acquisition Andrew Hawkins. The Browns may be but a quarterback away from playoff contention. Here he is.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Wide receiver would be intriguing here (Brandin Cooks? Kelvin Benjamin?). In the end, the choice came down to a pair of former Ohio State teammates in Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby. The argument for a CB does not require much more than a cursory glance at New Orleans' depth chart. Shazier's not as obvious a need until one considers the decline in production from guys such as David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton, in addition to Shazier's versatility. Just keep adding athletes for Rob Ryan's attack.
28. Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
For as much as the Panthers have to find some help at receiver in this draft (and they will), the offensive line is in as dire a situation following the retirements of Jordan Gross, Geoff Hangartner and Jeff Byers. Moses is not on the level of the Robinson-Matthews-Lewan trio, but he is capable of starting as a rookie at multiple spots.
29. New England Patriots: Dee Ford, OLB/DE, Auburn
Though tight end is a tempting pick for the Patriots here, this defense needs another motor. Ford, though undersized at 6-2, would provide it and then some. It might take Ford some time to convince coaches he's worthy of pushing Chandler Jones or Rob Ninkovich for playing time on first and second down. In a passing situation, though, his quick strike would be welcome.
Another possible choice here, with similar upside: Missouri's Kony Ealy. He's all over mock-draft boards right now, even pushing the top 10 some places. This is a better range for him -- late in Day 1 into Day 2.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The 49ers wisely took a shot on ex-Vikings CB Chris Cook this offseason, yet they still find themselves a bit thin in the secondary -- with the loss of Tarell Brown to Oakland stinging. Adding Fuller to a mix that includes Chris Culliver, Tramaine Brock, Eric Wright and Cook would make the situation a lot friendlier. Bonus: Fuller lined up in multiple spots at Virginia Tech, so the 49ers could be creative with how they used him.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA
Say hello to Zane Beadles' younger, cheaper replacement. By signing DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib to bolster the defense, John Elway left himself in position to hone in on one or two areas of specific need in Round 1. The OG spot without question belongs at the top of the list, and there is not a better prospect there than Su'a-Filo.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State If Percy Harvin can stay on the field, he and Cooks would be almost impossible to handle from a speed perspective. And if Harvin cannot maintain his health (there's enough evidence to back this stance), Cooks has the quickness and elusiveness to take over his role in the offense.