Forget about trying to predict what teams are going to do Thursday night. It's an impossible task. Instead, let's focus on which players make the most sense for each first-round team—even though it won't come close to unfolding this way
I hate mock drafts, probably because I stink at them. Also, the whole exercise can be rendered moot with one early trade. So this year, taking a page from Jerry Seinfeld’s decision not to run, I chose not to mock. And luckily, the bosses obliged.
So what you will read below is, basically, “Who each NFL team should have picked, if their power brokers didn’t overvalue their own team’s talent, fail to see trends in the game and fear for their jobs and/or ego.” Every four years we look back on a draft and think, multiple times, “How did that team not draft that guy?”
In 2011, quarterbacks Jake Locker (Titans), Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars) and Christian Ponder (Vikings) went in a span of five picks (8-12) in the first round. Those quarterback-desperate teams pressed the issue instead of being patient and picking, say, J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn or Nate Solder, who all went later in the draft.
With that draft still fresh in general managers’ minds four years later (some rose to power because of it), they could be overcorrecting when it comes to the quarterbacks. There’s a chance the top three: Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles, could be bypassed by needy teams and slip out of the top 15 altogether. That’s overthinking it. All three are capable, with the right plan, of being franchise quarterbacks. We’re trying to point that out ahead of time and predict how things will look three seasons out, after the results on this draft class are in.
If you want a more traditional mock that takes a look at what predicting teams will do, bossman Peter King has you covered. But for now, I present The MMQB's inaugural Who Teams Should Select Mock Draft:
1. Houston: Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, S. Carolina
The preferred option would be for the Texans to move down a little lower, draft Blake Bortles (who most fits what coach Bill O’Brien is looking for to trigger his pocket-based offense down the road) and pick up a few draft picks. But failing that, Clowney has to be the pick. Even though there are concerns about how much he wants it, Clowney is worth the risk because he’s a physical freak. Plus, between Texans OLB coach Mike Vrabel and end J.J. Watt, there’s enough help there to get the best out of Clowney.
2. St. Louis: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
There isn’t an immediate need for the Rams, who have Jake Long at left tackle and the improving Joseph Barksdale at right tackle and former left tackle (now guard) Roger Saffold all in the fold. However, the Rams can get out of Long’s deal after the 2014 season, and possibly Saffold’s as well.
3. Jacksonville: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Jaguars have a lot of needs (pass rusher, receiver), and a trade down would probably be the wisest course of action, but they need to find a way to end up with Manziel. From coach Gus Bradley’s familiarity with a shorter quarterback (Russell Wilson in Seattle), the outside-the-box thinking of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and a needed injection of energy into the franchise (never mind that Chad Henne is the starter right now), Manziel in teal makes too much sense for it not to happen.
4. Cleveland: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Can’t take a quarterback with the rock solid Matthews on the board. General manager Ray Farmer would be well served by following the example set by Ozzie Newsome in 1996 when he had the same picks (4th and 26th) as a first-time personnel director of the Ravens after their move from Cleveland. Newsome took the best player on the board, Jonathan Ogden, and never looked back. Having LT Joe Thomas, C Alex Mack and Matthews at RT is a very solid base for a franchise.
5. Oakland: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Raiders have to show a lot of improvement this season for GM Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen to last another season. They need another option besides Matt Schaub at quarterback for that to happen, and Bridgewater can get up to speed fast.
6. Atlanta: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
If GM Thomas Dimitroff is eyeing another trade up, I would think it would be for Mack, who’s a better fit, and not Clowney. Falcons are desperate for pass rushers.
7. Tampa Bay: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Would be the perfect versatile compliment to Vincent Jackson. Bucs are better off at quarterback, with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, than many think.
8. Minnesota: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Fla.
Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder are not the long-term answers at quarterback, but their presence allows Bortles to be developed slowly, as he needs to be. It’s the perfect situation for him, and for the Vikings.
9. Buffalo: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Scott Chandler is a solid tight end, but the Bills can and need to do better at the position. Ebron’s ceiling is very high. This is not too early for him.
10. Detroit: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Detroit (still) needs a lot of help in the secondary, especially at free safety. It has become a premium position so this wouldn’t be a reach, especially in that division.
11. Tennessee: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
New Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton needs a versatile triggerman in the middle of his defense to make it work. Mosley is plug-and-play and an instant upgrade.
12. N.Y. Giants: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Not exactly a need, but with Ebron gone earlier, Evans is too good to pass up. He’ll give Eli Manning the kind of size matchup problem that Jerrell Jernigan hasn’t yet become.
13. St. Louis: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Mich. St.
You can never have enough good cornerbacks, and Dennard is the type of player who isn’t afraid to stick his nose in against the run, which is important in this division.
14. Chicago: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Put Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young out there with Donald in the middle and suddenly the Bears go from one of the worst pass rushes to one of the toughest to block.
15. Pittsburgh: Justin Gilbert, CB, Okla. State
The AARP secondary needs some talented new blood. Gilbert is the top-rated corner at this spot. Don’t overthink it.
16. Dallas: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
If UCLA edge rusher Anthony Barr is still available, Jerry Jones will run to take him, but that would be a mistake. Barr needs too much work as an end. Be smart, and get better up the middle.
17. Baltimore: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
If Baltimore learned anything from last season, it’s how important it is to be strong on the offensive line. None of the in-house options at right tackle are as good as Martin, who can play anywhere.
18. N.Y. Jets: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
If Barr is still available (and he could be if teams don’t outsmart themselves about the quarterbacks) then the Jets should sprint to take a desperately needed edge rusher.
19. Miami: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
The Dolphins need to get a right tackle here so the debate is between James, who has flown under the radar, and Taylor Lewan. After Richie Incognito, the Dolphins can’t take a character risk, even a minor one like Lewan.
20. Arizona: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
He’s got swagger, speed and a love of physical football. In other words, he’s the perfect guy to drop into the Cardinals’ defense at a position of need.
21. Green Bay: Ra’Shede Hageman, DL, Minnesota
For a 3-4 team, the Packers are extremely small up front, and that’s been a problem for them. It’s time to inject some girth in there, and Ted Thompson makes amends for the Justin Harrell pick in 2007.
22. Philadelphia: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
DeSean who? That will quickly be the sentiment of Eagles fans if they pick the more versatile Lee, who is also excellent with the ball in his hands.
23. Kansas City: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
The Chiefs need a lot versatility and playmaking ability injected into their passing game. Beckham brings all of that and more.
24. Cincinnati: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The position isn’t a major need for the Bengals, but they could use more talented youth in the back end. Love the versatility of Fuller, who is going to be an excellent pro.
25. San Diego: Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
Perfect player and perfect scheme. Nix instantly upgrades the middle for the surging Chargers.
26. Cleveland: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
He’s not Manziel, and Matthews was too good to pass over for Bridgewater, but Ray Farmer gets his quarterback of the future. Brian Hoyer is a terrific mentor and short-term starter.
27. New Orleans: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon St.
Drew Brees lost a valued, diminutive target in running back Darren Sproles, so give him the next best thing at receiver. Cooks would offset the Saints’ length at the position.
28. Carolina: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
In reality, because executives are overthinking the quarterback prospects, Lewan goes before this. But in five years, this will have been in range. He’s not in the same class as Robinson or Matthews.
29. New England: Xavier Su’a Filo, OL, UCLA
The Patriots need some size and youth on the interior of the OL, and with a possible contract issue with Logan Mankins coming next offseason, the Patriots always plan ahead.
30. San Francisco: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
With Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers both across the Bay with the Raiders, 49ers desperately need a corner. Verrett is the best slot corner with a higher upside.
31. Denver: Chris Borland, MLB, Wisconsin
The Broncos could really use a plug and play middle linebacker and Borland is the only viable option here. He’s small at 5-11, but Borland is smart, tough and ready to play.
32. Seattle: Joel Bitonio, OT, Nevada
The Seahawks were brutal at points last season on the offensive line. Bitonio’s versatility all over the line gives Seattle the option of playing the best five.