2014 NFL Mock Draft 3.1: Adjusting for Marcus Mariota's decision to return to school
Marcus Mariota's announcement Tuesday that he would return to Oregon for his redshirt junior season delivered an early jolt to the 2014 NFL draft board ... and rendered our Mock Draft 3.0, released just hours before Mariota's news, relatively moot.
So, in light of that, here's Mock Draft 3.1, with the necessary adjustments made to account for Mariota being off the board.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Expect the Texans to finish out their evaluation of Case Keenum in Weeks 14-17, but this franchise needs a new start under center. In Bridgewater, they would add the best quarterback in this year’s class to a talented offense already stockpiled with players like Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Ben Tate.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
How desperate are the Jaguars to score their franchise quarterback in Round 1? Mariota was the pick slotted here in Mock 3.0, but with him off the board, here's the dilemma: Stay the course and go with Derek Carr (or whichever other QB is behind Bridgewater on Jacksonville's board)? Or continue to build up Gus Bradley's defense and grab a QB later (either by trading back into Round 1 or using the high Round 2 pick). For now, it's door A.
3. St. Louis Rams -- via Washington: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA.
Clowney to Jacksonville would make St. Louis' decision a little easier here. If St. Louis lands around this spot with Washington’s pick, another RGIII-like move down the board would make sense. Working off the assumption they stay put, though, I’m dropping Barr in on that defense.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Disappointing turn of events for the Falcons, who would love to add Clowney. (How about a trade up to Jacksonville's spot, with the Jaguars sliding down and taking Derek Carr here?) That O-line needs a makeover, too, and Matthews is the best tackle available.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Matthews slides up a spot in the Mariota-less draft, leaving the Buccaneers in need of a new selection here, too. So how about adding perhaps the best WR to complement Vincent Jackson and to give emerging quarterback Mike Glennon another weapon?
6. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
What happens after Bridgewater at the QB spot depends so much on which players declare -- Mariota did not. Will Johnny Manziel? Blake Bortles? Brett Hundley? We know Carr, a senior, will be available. And if you think his prospects are gaining steam now, just wait until the Senior Bowl.
7. Cleveland Browns: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Up from No. 17, to the Bears, in Mock 3.0. The initial plan for the Browns here was to wait and nab a quarterback later on, with Sammy Watkins the choice at No. 7. Mariota's departure takes a big piece out of the QB puzzle, forcing the Browns to strike a lot earlier. Mettenberger can hit all the throws, a must for Rob Chudzinski's vertical passing attack. (Update: Mettenberger reportedly suffered a torn ACL in LSU's last game, which will keep him out of LSU's bowl game and likely cause him to miss most pre-draft workouts. With that news, Mettenberger's probably a Day 2 pick at best, with Johnny Manziel leading the list of replacement options for Cleveland here.)
8. Oakland Raiders: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
A few of you might love this. Most probably will hate it. Even in penciling it in here, I’m not sure on which side of the fence I fall. But Manziel is better than anything the Raiders have at QB right now, be it Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin (both of whom have played admirably at times). This could be a franchise-changing type of selection.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Count the Bills as a possible landing spot here for someone like, oh, TE Eric Ebron -- a matchup nightmare for defenses and a safety net for a young QB like EJ Manuel. But in Mack the Bills would add an athletic edge player to complement rising star Kiko Alonso inside. Mack’s abilities would allow defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to be even more creative with his hybrid D.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
It’s not too much of a stretch to see Pittsburgh addressing its aging defensive line or secondary early in the 2014 draft. This pairing, however, makes too much sense. If you watched Lewan against Ohio State, you saw a lineman who can win at the point of attack or get out into the open field. With what an OL-starved Pittsburgh team wants to do on offense, he’s an ideal fit.
11. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Blame Geno Smith all you want for the Jets’ offensive woes (and he’s certainly part of the problem), but who is this team’s go-to guy right now? There really is not one. The 6-foot-5 Evans would slide right into that role and bail out Smith on some of those errant throws.
12. Tennessee Titans: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Jurrell Casey is enjoying a monster 2013 season. Drop Nix in next to him on the interior of the line, and the Titans would have a DT combo to rival those of the likes of Detroit and Cincinnati. Tennessee would be set at tackle for years to come.
13. San Diego Chargers: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The first corner off the board (though Tennessee, Pittsburgh and a couple teams above could be in the market there). The Chargers have to improve against the pass, and bringing in an aggressive corner of Ekpre-Olomu’s ilk would set the table.
14. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
After I tabbed Mosley as a Giant in last week’s mini-Mock, ESPN’s Dan Graziano kindly reminded me that it had been three decades since the Giants took a linebacker in Round 1 — Carl Banks, back in 1984. Well, that Banks pick worked out brilliantly, and the Giants find themselves with a clear need at the second level.
15. St. Louis Rams: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Thanks to Joe Barksdale’s surprisingly competent play at right tackle this season, the Rams do not appear nearly as desperate for help there as they did a couple months ago. Kouandjio here, though, might be too juicy to pass up, especially with Rodger Saffold on the verge of free agency.
16. Green Bay Packers: HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
That’s three straight Alabama picks, if you’re keeping score at home. This match has felt like it has been in the cards for months … so it probably won’t happen, if history has taught us anything. Still, the Packers have a clear need for a safety to partner with Morgan Burnett. That tandem alone would not fix Green Bay’s ills on D, but it would be a significant start.
17. Chicago Bears: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
This was a home-run pick in the earlier mock, with Mettenberger penciled in here as a Jay Cutler replacement. There could be other QB options on the board still, including a couple of those intriguing guys mentioned earlier (Bortles and Hundley, for starters). But with Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings both potentially out as free agents, the Bears look for cornerback help instead.
18. Baltimore Ravens: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Tuitt has taken heat for a somewhat disappointing 2013. His talent and ability to play in a number of different looks up front will win out in the end. Arthur Jones is headed toward a hefty free-agent contract while Chris Canty is due a roster bonus in March. Nabbing Tuitt would allow the Ravens to move on from one or the other without losing sleep.
19. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
My gut says that Ebron and possibly Jace Amaro are off the board by this point come May. In this Mock, the stars did not align until this pick. Arizona has to find an offensive tackle or two somewhere — Antonio Richardson, James Hurst and Jack Mewhort are all still on the board, to name a few. Ebron’s the best player available, and he would be a godsend for Carson Palmer or whoever is at QB next season.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Merely sliding up a cornerback here. Dennard was a Lion as of Mock 3.0, but with the Eagles' pick in that first draft now up at No. 17, to Chicago, Philadelphia nabs the Spartan instead. He's just what Philadelphia needs: an aggressive, physical cornerback capable of playing in man coverage.
21. Detroit Lions: Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State
The Mariota move really changed the gameplan here. As mentioned above, this spot initially was reserved for Dennard as a top-two corner. OLB Ryan Shazier could make some sense, but Detroit has a strong duo at linebacker in Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy, plus spends a lot of time in nickel. So a swing for the fences with Joyner, an undersized (5-8) DB, who could be Detroit's nickel starter or provide depth behind oft-injured Louis Delmas.
22. Miami Dolphins: Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
The Dolphins traded for Bryant McKinnie. That happened in real life. Miami has to find some answers at its tackle positions, even if the top few prospects there are off the board. Erving’s a high-risk, high-reward pick here — a player who could develop into a long-term starter on Ryan Tannehill’s blindside.
23. Dallas Cowboys: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
For the Cowboys, who have not gotten what they hoped they would from Bruce Carter this season, this pick might feel like a steal. Shazier is undersized compared to the prototypical 4-3 OLB, but he gets to the football over and over again.
24. Cleveland Browns -- via Indianapolis: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Swapped in a QB at the Browns' top-10 pick, so the earlier choice of Tajh Boyd here is now null and void. Instead, the Browns address their need for another WR to work with Josh Gordon. Lee has not had a terrific last season at USC, but he remains a big-play threat.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
In paying Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, the Bengals all but assured that DE Michael Johnson would leave via free agency this summer. And in drafting Beasley, they would uncover a cheaper and possibly as-productive replacement.
26. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The 49ers have been searching for corner help since the offseason, which explains moves to add Nnamdi Asomugha (later waived) and Eric Wright. Verrett does not have top-end size at the position, but he’s demonstrated shutdown abilities throughout his career.
27. Kansas City Chiefs: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
A wholly underrated player who has produced all season despite being one of the few viable options on Penn State's offense. At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he can play a physical game and go up to get the football. He's also proven himself adept at turning short passes into big gains, either via play call or by making defenders miss. That would work well with Alex Smith's capabilities.
28. New England Patriots: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman plays smaller than his 300-pound frame would indicate, but it’s that size that would up his value for a New England team that lost Vince Wilfork and then traded for Isaac Sopoaga this season. The Patriots covet guys who can both anchor and press into the backfield from the DT spot, and Hageman has those traits.
29. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vandy
Not nearly enough attention has been paid yet to the second tier of receivers in this class -- guys like Matthews, Jared Abbrederis, Tevin Reese or Jeremy Gallon who are destined to be productive pros. Matthews may not burn a lot of defenses deep, but he’s an ultra-reliable receiver at all areas of the field. He could complement Steve Smith now, then take over for him down the line.
30. New Orleans Saints: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Considered really going for broke with someone like Oregon RB DeAnthony Thomas here -- he’d be the eventual replacement for Darren Sproles, who has one year left on his contract and has battled injuries in 2013. But the line, particularly in relation to RT Zach Strief, needs a boost. Richardson, though a tad raw, does his best work as a pass-blocker -- no small note, given Drew Brees’ presence in New Orleans.
31. Denver Broncos: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Champ Bailey and Quentin Jammer in the CB rotation, the Broncos could stand to get younger there. There is not much of a gap, if any, between the four CBs already taken and Gilbert. He’s a well-built corner who does not hesitate to fly up in run support.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech