To this point, through my previous six 2014 NFL mock drafts (seven, if you count the adjustments made on Mock 3.1 when Marcus Mariota decided to stay at Oregon), I have kept things pretty straightforward.
No longer. Blame the NFL for making us wait an extra two weeks for the actual draft, if you will, but in hopes of mixing things up -- and of recreating a draft that more closely resembles its real-life counterpart -- I pulled the trigger on a few hypothetical first-round trades. Six trades, to be exact, three made by teams looking to land their next quarterback.
This year's draft shapes up as one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. A first round like the one that follows would shoot the excitement factor through the roof:
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Texans have held the No. 1 overall pick twice in their history. They used the first, as an expansion club, on David Carr; the second, four years later, on Mario Williams. Obviously, riding defense there worked out better for them.
That's not to say that Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles would be a total bust as the No. 1 pick, or that Clowney is a sure bet -- there really are no guarantees when it comes to the draft. Coaching staffs and GMs hang their tenures on top-10 QBs, though, so to draft one a team has to be totally sold, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Even if the Texans have a hankering for Bortles, they don't seem to have reached that level quite yet.
In Clowney, they may be drafting the league's next great defensive superstar. Pairing him with J.J. Watt off the edge would turn the Texans into a borderline unblockable pass-rushing machine. This is the safest, smartest pick in this spot.
2. TRADE: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from St. Louis via Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
*Buccaneers send picks 7, 38 and a 2015 second-rounder to St. Louis for pick No. 2
In the words of Michael Keaton's Batman, "You wanna get nuts? C'mon! Let's get nuts!"
The Falcons have been discussed as a likely trade-up candidate, with their eyes on either Clowney, Khalil Mack or an offensive tackle. Detroit, too, has been floated as a possible aggressor during Round 1, a Calvin Johnson-Golden Tate-Sammy Watkins receiving corp revving the fan base there.
But Tampa Bay needs a receiver worse than Detroit does after dealing Mike Williams. Plus, not so quietly, the Buccaneers have undergone a Lovie Smith-led roster shake-up this offseason, leaving them with far fewer holes than a team picking at No. 7 ought to have. It all adds up to Tampa Bay throwing caution to the wind and nabbing Watkins, giving new QB Josh McCown a Watkins-Vincent Jackson pairing to work with in what would be a dangerous passing game.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Basically, the same spiel from Houston's No. 1 pick can be copied over here. In his last mock draft, SI's Don Banks wrote: "They are conducting pre-draft visits with every big-time quarterback, but mark it down, the Jaguars aren't going QB. At least not at No. 3 in such a deep and talented draft ..."
Good enough for me. And landing Mack, an impact player to slide in as a Leo-position type in Gus Bradley's defense, justifies waiting on a QB.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Tough to read the tea leaves regarding which way Cleveland might be leaning at QB. One thing does appear rather certain, though: Cleveland plans to spend one of its two first-round picks at the position. Waiting until No. 26 would leave the Browns in a position to miss out on the guy they really want. With the way the top three fell here, they get their choice.
Perhaps they have their eyes on Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles. I'd put my money behind Manziel being the guy.
5. TRADE: Minnesota Vikings (via Oakland): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
*Vikings send picks 8, 72, 96 to Oakland for pick No. 5
You get a trade! And you get a trade! And you get a trade! #OprahDraft
The Vikings may not need to pull the trigger on this deal if just one QB falls in the top four. By doing so, they ensure that Oakland and/or any other QB wild cards (Tennessee?) do not get to climb the ladder for one of the top prospects.
Minnesota may not have all the pieces in place to go win a Super Bowl, but the clock is ticking on their Adrian Peterson window. So, nabbing the most NFL-ready QB with this pick gives the Vikings their best shot to make a run in 2014 or '15.
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6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
As luck would have it, the Falcons stay put at No. 6 -- watching Tampa Bay and Minnesota leapfrog them in trades -- and still get their choice of offensive tackles. Clowney or Mack might be the preferred option, but this is far from a disappointing fallback plan. If the Rams do not stay put at No. 2 and take a tackle, Matthews or Robinson are likely to be on the board for Atlanta's pick. In Matthews, the Falcons land a more polished product for a team hoping to engineer a quick turnaround.
7. St. Louis Rams (via Tampa Bay): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Trade down, add a pair of second-rounders (one in 2014, one in '15), still get the guy you might have taken at No. 2? Not bad for the Rams.
There will be plenty of St. Louis fans clamoring for their team to stay put in the two-hole and just take Watkins, and there definitely is some merit to that approach. If the opportunity arises, though, to keep stockpiling picks while also addressing what was a troublesome O-line, the Rams will jump.
8. Oakland Raiders (via Minnesota): Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Watkins would have been a welcome addition for the Raiders, as well. Although, had they stayed at No. 5 in this mock, the pick likely would have been Jake Matthews -- a plug-and-play starter at RT who could then allow Menelik Watson further time to develop, while Donald Penn locks down LT. Oakland has just six picks, however, with none in Rounds 4 or 5, which is hardly the recipe a rebuilding team wants to follow.
By swapping spots with Minnesota, GM Reggie McKenzie picks up a pair of extra third-rounders (Minnesota has two, courtesy of the Percy Harvin trade). He also adds a receiver that may be right on par with Watkins to free-agent signee James Jones, forming a suddenly potent tandem.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Not really the way the Bills want the board to fall, with two OTs, both of the top WRs, plus Mack and Clowney all gone. Dropping back might be an option; OT Taylor Lewan could be another one, with Buffalo in need of an upgrade on the right side of its line. The Ebron pick essentially accomplishes what the Bills would have been hoping for with Evans: adding a big, reliable weapon for EJ Manuel. Ebron is the top prospect at his position and a potential Pro Bowler in the near future.
10. TRADE: Dallas Cowboys (via Detroit): Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
*Cowboys send picks 16, 47, 158 to Detroit for picks 10 and 111
Another top-10 move, this time so the Cowboys can cut in front of a few teams with D-line needs. Donald may fit a similar mold to recent Dallas addition Henry Melton, a slightly undersized three-tech. Part of the appeal of Donald, though, is that he can and has played just about everywhere on the line. He could rotate in for Melton at the three-tech or slide over to a one-tech spot and do just fine. This is a case of taking the top player available, then worrying about exactly how to employ him later.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
This all dropped into place rather well for the Titans, who are searching for an impact edge rusher for their new hybrid defense. They find one of the best available here in Barr, whose upside is far too high to justify any rumored stock drops that may be occurring in mid-April.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Giants might have been tempted by Ebron or Donald, had either made it here. Heck, they might have one eye on Odell Beckham Jr. or Marqise Lee as they head to the podium with this pick. The fact of the matter remains that the Giants absolutely have to upgrade their O-line in front of an aging Eli Manning. Lewan is not far behind Matthews and Robinson -- some might argue that he's just as good.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Don't rule out St. Louis looking to drop down again here, especially if an earlier trade down works out as well as it did with Robinson landing seventh. The alternative in this case -- staying put and landing the No. 1 safety on the board -- would be just fine. Check another huge need off the list for St. Louis.
14. Chicago Bears: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Bears might have been crossing their fingers that Clinton-Dix fell one more spot, as they definitely would like to find another safety somewhere in this draft. With St. Louis selecting the Alabama safety, Chicago gets its pick of a talented crop of cornerbacks. Gilbert would allow the Bears to ease back a bit on 33-year-old Charles Tillman and 30-year-old Tim Jennings.
15. TRADE: Miami Dolphins (via Pittsburgh): Zack Martin, G/T, Notre Dame
*Dolphins send picks 19 and 81 to Pittsburgh for picks 15 and 192
Martin sort of sits alone in the 1A group of offensive tackles -- behind Robinson/Matthews/Lewan but above the second-tier group of guys like Morgan Moses and Cyrus Kouandjio. At 19, Miami would be reaching for one of those players, which is why the Dolphins might pass on OT there in favor of another position. To avoid having to put off addressing its biggest need, Miami moved up a few spots here (at relatively minimal cost) to take a versatile, talented lineman in Martin.
16. Detroit Lions (via Dallas): Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Lots and lots of possibilities on the table for Detroit, even after moving back six spots. Does it go with Odell Beckham Jr., adding another receiver anyway after missing out on Watkins? Or, how about Darqueze Dennard, a local product at a position of need?
There are few bad plays here. Pryor stands out because of Detroit's situation at safety, where it lost a Pryor-like Louis Delmas to free agency and signed fill-in James Ihedigbo. This pick would help solidify Detroit's secondary, with Pryor's style of play better meshing alongside Glover Quin than Jimmie Ward would.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Speaking of Jimmie Ward ...
The Northern Illinois product may not have much of a shot to go any higher than this, but he's hardly a mistake by Baltimore at 17. At just 5-foot-11, Ward would give the Ravens two safeties on the smaller side (Matt Elam is 5-10). His rangy game also would pair perfectly with Elam, who would be freer to drop down into the box.
18. New York Jets: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Rex Ryan's defense thrives on aggressive, press coverage outside -- precisely where Dennard excels. While passing on someone like Beckham would be tough here, the Jets boxed themselves into a corner (no pun intended) this offseason by taking a passive approach to their secondary. Dennard is a terrific fit, and he would be nice value at the No. 18 pick.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (via Miami): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Beckham could wind up much closer to the top 10 before all is said and done. He falls into the Steelers' laps in this mock, after a trade down from the No. 15 spot. Pittsburgh has issues to address elsewhere, including along both lines. This pick would more than ease the pain of losing Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery to free agency.
20. TRADE: Houston Texans (via Arizona): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
*Texans send picks 33, 65, 181, 2015 third-rounder to Arizona for pick No. 20
Why, hello there. By all accounts at the moment, the Texans are wavering between Clowney and Bortles at No. 1 overall. So, how could they pass up the opportunity to add both, even at the expense of their second- and third-round picks (plus a random sixth-round selection)? Both Oakland and Jacksonville left the top 10 without adding a franchise QB, so Arizona might be able to hold a bit of a bidding war here. Without anyone jumping off the page for their own pick, the Cardinals can slide back a few spots and pick up another top-65 selection in a deep draft.
Houston, meanwhile, hands away its selections atop Rounds 2 and 3 to add a second Round 1 pick. Rarely do teams have the opportunity to secure the two players they want most in the draft. Houston accomplishes the feat within the top 20, landing a potential superstar on defense and now a QB that Bill O'Brien might able to mold into a long-time starter.
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All three of the potential Round 1 safeties are off the board, eliminating any real tough decisions for Green Bay. Mosley brings some injury question marks with him, and he'll need to prove he can thrive outside of Alabama's dominant defense. With Clay Matthews Jr. and a strong front helping him, he would do so in Green Bay.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
DeSean Jackson is over in Washington after an ugly falling out with the Eagles. Chip Kelly wastes little time finding his replacement in the dynamic Cooks, a burner capable of doing it all from the receiver position. Cooks is the type of player who should thrive within Kelly's system.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
A somewhat forgotten man at receiver, Lee might be quick to remind everyone that he had 118 catches just two seasons ago. The Chiefs would love to add another playmaker on offense, especially one like Lee who can stand out as a reliable, comfortable option for Alex Smith in the passing game.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Even with Gilbert and Dennard off the board, there still are several potential Round 1 cornerbacks out there for the taking. Cincinnati starts a run on the remaining talent by landing Fuller, who, now that he's healthy, has the appearance of a legitimate starter at the NFL level.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Chargers were an utter mess at the cornerback spot for most of last season, leaving them little recourse but to search high and low in the draft for help. In Verrett, they would be taking a player who can line up outside and who might dominate in the slot. The TCU product projects to be available around here only because he stands 5-9. The skill level is borderline top-10.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Make it three straight corners, with the Browns jumping into the mix by rolling the dice on Roby. Assuming he has refocused, thus putting a shaky start to 2013 behind him, Roby might be in the discussion of this draft's top cornerback before long. His length and athleticism would make him a welcome addition opposite Joe Haden in the Browns secondary.
27. New Orleans Saints: Demarcus Lawrence, DE/OLB, Boise State
Thanks to Junior Galette, Cameron Jordan and a returning Victor Butler, the Saints are far from barren off the edges on defense. Had CBs not been taken with the previous three picks, New Orleans may have dipped its toe in there -- Verrett, especially, would have dropped in nicely.
Lawrence may not fill a glaring need, per se, but his ability to get to the quarterback could turn him into a phenomenal threat for Rob Ryan's defense. NFL teams can never have too many pass rushers, and Lawrence would turn a solid Saints group into a clear strength.
28. Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Far from the sexiest pick in the first round. Yet, this is one of obvious need, and, given the depth at the position, Carolina can find a starting receiver in Round 2 or beyond. Moses improved throughout his Virginia career, then kept upping his game right on through the combine.
29. TRADE: Oakland Raiders (from New England): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Raiders send picks 36, 96, 219 to New England for picks 29
The Raiders send one of those selections added in the Minnesota deal (No. 96), plus its upcoming second-rounder and an early seventh-rounder to the Patriots. The goal for Oakland: ensure that it doesn't miss the boat on adding a potential No. 1 quarterback. Coming out of Round 1 with Evans, Carr and an extra third-round pick would be a complete boon for this team.
New England, meanwhile, has never been opposed to jumping around. A drop of seven spots at this point does not sting very much, mainly because that fall comes hand-in-hand with an extra top-100 pick.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
The latest Aldon Smith situation could force the 49ers to find an OLB earlier than they initially planned. Opinions are somewhat mixed on Ealy -- a few have him far higher than this; I'd argue that late-Round 1 should be his ceiling. That said, assuming he develops at even half the rate that Smith did after arriving in San Francisco, he would provide a legitimate safety net in the event that Smith is cut loose.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA
Su'a-Filo has worked his way into the top-20 conversation, so it would be serendipitous for Denver to stand at 31 and still land him. That's exactly what happens here, as the teams above all turn their attention to other areas of the field. Su'a-Filo would join Louis Vasquez as the starting guards on a clear Super Bowl favorite.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
A very Seahawks-esque pick here -- a player with loads of untapped potential, added at minimal cost. Hageman showed enough disruption during his Minnesota days to lead most to believe that he can develop into a bonafide three-down guy. He may need a year or two to really find his footing ... and Seattle would be able to provide it because of its depth on defense.
That wraps Round 1. A far shorter glance at Round 2 follows. The only trades taken into account there were the ones already completed in real life and those mentioned above in this mock.
33. Arizona Cardinals (via Houston Texans): Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
34. Washington Redskins: Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State
35. Cleveland Browns: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
36. New England Patriots (via Oakland Raiders): Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
37. Atlanta Falcons: Jace Amaro, TE, Atlanta
38. St. Louis Rams (via Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
39. Jacksonville Jaguars: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
40. Minnesota Vikings: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
41. Buffalo Bills: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
42. Tennessee Titans: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
43. New York Giants: Marcus Martin, C, USC
44. St. Louis Rams: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
45. Detroit Lions: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
46. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
47. Detroit Lions (via Dallas Cowboys): Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
48. Baltimore Ravens: Stephon Tuitt, DE/DT, Notre Dame
49. New York Jets: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
50. Miami Dolphins: Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
51. Chicago Bears: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
52. Arizona Cardinals: Joel Bitonio, OT, Nevada
53. Green Bay Packers: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
54. Philadelphia Eagles: Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
55. Cincinnati Bengals: Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
56. San Francisco 49ers (via Kansas City): Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
57. San Diego Chargers: Daquan Jones, DT, Penn State
58. New Orleans Saints: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
59. Indianapolis Colts: Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State
60. Carolina Panthers: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
61. San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
62. New England Patriots: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
63. Denver Broncos: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
64. Seattle Seahawks: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State