By Zach Walker
1. Houston Texans – DE Jadeveon Clowney
The Texans are probably going to burn the midnight oil trying to move out of the 1st overall pick. If they can’t get a team hooked then they should take the most NFL plug-and-play player in the draft. Bill O’Brian is a fantastic hire, and he should be advised that Tajh Boyd will likely be sitting there at the top of the Second Round. Clowney is a Typhoon of potential, and his stock was not at all affected by taking it easy and going into “safe mode” to stay healthy for the draft. The Texans need someone to take some heat off of J.J. Watt and add some fire under opposing quarterbacks which could really improve the play of Brooks Reed and the longevity of Brian Cushing.
2. St Louis Rams (from Washington) – OT Jake Mathews
The Rams finished the season a lot better than could have been expected after losing Sam Bradford to an ACL injury. The injury didn’t occur in the pocket, because Bradford, more often than not, had to either escape the pocket or just eat the play and take a negative. Jake Long had a major blow out of his knee, and Rodger Saffold might swim off into the free agent pool. Jake Mathews might not be as polished as Luke Joeckel, but greatness is in his blood. The Rams have an up and coming running game with Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson, and Benny Cunningham. With Long back healthy and Mathews on the other side they can have something going in a very tough division.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Johnny Manziel
With a team as desperate for a star, and for people to buy jerseys, and fill the stadium, why not take a chance on a player who can import on-field swagger that the Jaguars need. Manziel was in command of possibly the most entertaining bowl game this season, bringing Texas A&M back from a 38-17 halftime defect against Duke, to win 52-48. Manziel was barking at teammates, cooling down Mike Evans on the sidelines, and was in control in his own crazy Johnny “Football” style. Manziel’s at-times unpolished and erratic play is really his niche, and that makes him someone who fans will love to watch.
4. Cleveland Browns – QB Teddy Bridgewater
The Cleveland Browns had quite a season, they lose their starting quarterback, trade away their running back, then start their third string quarterback Brian Hoyer. He played well, got injured, and then got stuck with Jason Campbell as the Browns floundered through their remaining schedule. At the end of the season they dumped their first year head coach and ended up with a couple of offensive stars in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Though the Browns need a running back, they need a starting quarterback like a child needs attention. Bridgewater has average measurables, but an above-average arm with supreme accuracy and good mobility. But let’s face it, Brandon Weeden is going to be 30, Jason Campbell is just awful, and Brian Hoyer was a brief taste of what the Browns deserve. He isn’t the answer and Bridgewater is.
5. Oakland Raiders – LB Anthony Barr
The Oakland Raiders could really use a play-maker, offense or defense; they need to take the best player available. Barr was a monster for the UCLA Bruins, having dominated games against USC, Arizona State, Oregon, Utah, and Nebraska. Linebacker isn’t exactly a need for the Raiders, but they could use a leader on the defensive side of the ball. They need playmakers at most positions, and if they can re-sign Lamarr Houston, that can be the start of something good on defense when teamed with Sio Moore and Miles Burris. The Raiders can abstain from taking a quarterback this season, figure out if any quarterback on their roster is “the guy”, while using this draft to build a team, and then in the 2015 draft do everything possible to get Jameis Winston.
6. Atlanta Falcons – OT Greg Robinson
The Atlanta Falcons completely imploded this year, and Matt Ryan paid for it by turning in a down statistical season. He was only 200 yards short of his career best season, but he set new career marks for attempts and interceptions, and this wasn’t Ryan’s fault, injuries crippled the Falcons. The Falcons lost Roddy White, Julio Jones, Steven Jackson, and Mike Johnson for extended sections of the season, and the Falcons finished dead last in rushing yards per game. It’s a wonder Matt Ryan didn’t get folded in half with his shaky offensive line, lack of run game success, and the amount of passing attempts. Robinson got center stage in the National Championship and looked like a plow for Auburn, leading the way for Tre Mason (who the Falcons should consider later in the draft). And considering how well the Tigers ran the ball, the Falcons should take a long look at Robinson.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Khalil Mack
Letting Michael Bennett walk off last season was the start to a shipwreck of a season for the Buccaneers. Dropping Josh Freeman and letting rookie Mike Glennon take the rest of the season, I’m not so sure if he’s the long term guy, which if they wanted, the Bucs could draft a quarterback in the 2015 draft. But losing Doug Martin put a stranglehold on the direction of the offense, and Da’Quan Bowers has not been the draft “steal” that they had hoped and Adrian Clayborn is a hell of a run stuffer, but the Bucs need more pass rush and Khalil Mack can add the rush needed to get after the talented quarterbacks of the NFC South. Mack is coming out of Buffalo, a MAC college, and it could be easy to shrug off his production, but his game against the Ohio State Buckeyes was amazing, 2.5 sacks and a pick-6. Mack’s stats weren’t an explosion over a single season, 75 tackles for loss and 28.5 sacks over four seasons, with production increasing each season.
8. Minnesota Vikings – QB Blake Bortles
The fans of the Vikings were riding on the coat-tails of a playoff season, then were treated with a quarterback farce. Matt Cassel isn’t making starting quarterback quality throws, the Josh Freeman experiment was quick-in and quick-out and Christian Ponder might still be too raw to give up on, but if you have a glaring need at quarterback, rolling into the next season with the same guys won’t sit well with fans. Bortles has the size and arm to play, and he has Rodgers/Luck-style run ability, not looking to run, but rather, knowing when to escape and get some free yards. Bortles went into the Fiesta Bowl with an opportunity to lead an upset against Baylor, and the Knights and Bortles delivered. His numbers didn’t shine but his leadership was on display. Bringing in Bortles will give Ponder a chance to battle and change his image and maybe salvage a still young career.
9. Buffalo Bills – WR Sammy Watkins
Getting more pieces for EJ Manuel is what the need to focus on. Maybe some more pass protection and a durable running back, while we’re here. But, Sammy Watkins could be a top-10 receiver within his first two seasons; he has “game-breaker” ability. If proof of this potential is needed, watch the Orange Bowl, 16 catches, 227 yards, and 2 touchdowns, he can 1-move as well as the best, and he blew by Ohio State defenders, as he did all season long. Not much to say about Watkins, because he’s just so right and ready for the NFL.
10. Detroit Lions – WR Mike Evans
Calvin Johnson can make a play on the ball while in double-coverage. He can make plays while triple-covered. He is amazing, but for the Lions to unlock the box, and get back into the playoffs, they need a second receiver with more threat to destroy than Nate Burleson; it’s time for Megatron to get a Starscream. Mike Evans is a Calvin Johnson-clone, he’s big and pretty much un-coverable and very dangerous with the football. Anyone watching Aggies football knows just how much Evans can blow a game wide open, remember Alabama (7 catches, 279 yards, and 1 touchdown) and Auburn (11 catches, 287 yards, and 4 touchdowns), and I think all can agree, those teams played some pretty solid defense. Evans and Johnson might be the most dangerous potential duo in the NFL.
11. Tennessee Titans – LB CJ Mosley
The good thing for the Titans is, they have an underrated team, and if Ken Whisenhunt can get the offense to be as good as the Titans defense, they might give the Colts a few fits for the AFC South title. The Titans need a man beside Zach Brown to help mop up tackles and stuff the run. CJ Mosley is a solid rock in the middle of Alabama’s defense, racking up 100 plus tackles two straight seasons and is known for having a great feel of the play around him and being where the action is.
12. New York Giants – OT Taylor Lewan
Protecting Eli Manning was a huge issue this season, and though 39 sacks against Eli seems low, compared to Miami giving up 58, but there was always something happening in front of Eli, and now they have to replace the retired David Diehl. Lewan was a rock for the Wolverines, and is more than capable of stepping onto the Giants roster and take a starting position, whether that’s the left or right tackle, but he’ll be the Giants answer at tackle for the foreseeable future.
13. St Louis Rams – S HaHa Clinton-Dix
Having sat back, and chuckled their way to a second overall pick, and used it on blocking for the offense, now they have to address their defense. The Rams’ secondary is very young, with starters at every position being drafted within the last 2 drafts, and not to slight either T.J. McDonald or Rodney McLeod, but you can always be better. HaHa Clinton-Dix is the top rated safety, and a product of Alabama, so it smells like a winning selection. HaHa had 7 interceptions in the last 2 seasons, and did a great job of being the follow-up guy to Mark Barron. HaHa, missed 2 games with a money-loan suspension, but came back against Arkansas and had an interception.
14. Chicago Bears – DT Louis Nix
The Bears blew up the bank, with the Jay Cutler contract, and with the emergence of Alshon Jeffrey, and with veterans like Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, and it seems like Martellus Bennett found a home. So if they continue to build on the offensive line in later rounds, they can get back into the playoffs. But the Bears defense needs some cleaning up, because the Bears might find themselves extremely disappointed if they roll into training camp, depending on Jeremiah Ratliff, they might be hung out to dry. Sometimes numbers don’t reflect how effective a college player was; look at Star Lotulelei coming into the draft last year. Nix is going to come into the season coming off of knee surgery, but it shouldn’t be a problem by the start of the preseason. Nix, when healthy, is a dominate force plugging the middle, and maybe he can redeem himself against Eddie Lacy for the National Championship game.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Justin Gilbert
The Steelers need help defending against some of the league’s most explosive receivers, Josh Gordon, A.J. Green, and Torrey Smith. Ike Taylor is up-there in years and they need to get his replacement in before they really regret it. Justin Gilbert had a five-star season for the Cowboys, grabbing 7 interceptions against 6 different opponents, including 1 in their bowl game. He scored 3 times during the season, 2 pick-sixes, 1 against Texas, and had a kickoff returned for a touchdown against Kansas. He’s got NFL size, and if he tests highly at the combine, he might not even be available at the 15th pick.
16.Dallas Cowboys – DT Ra’Shede Hageman
The Cowboys were ravaged along the defensive line last season, and will get thinner as free agency opens up, because the Cowboys won’t be able to keep Jason Hatcher or Anthony Spencer. Locking up Dan Bailey was a must. But getting bodies along the defensive line is going to be the goal in the 1st round, and the largest Gopher is who the Cowboys should take. Ra’Shede Hageman is basically the size of Tyron Smith, playing defensive tackle, and that’s exactly what the Cowboys need to line up next to DeMarcus Ware. Hageman’s numbers are basically all racked up when operating against a double-team, 13 tackles for loss and 2 sacks this last season, 7.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks the season before last. Like I said earlier when talking about Chicago’s pick, numbers can’t show how disruptive Hageman was. His senior bowl week was mixed; he showed his push in the 1-on-1 drills.
17. Baltimore Ravens – TE Eric Ebron
The Ravens lost their man, Dennis Pitta before the season started, and Joe Flacco didn’t look like the same guy, and to be honest, the offense didn’t look the same either. I don’t know how much, if any, can be chalked up to losing Pitta and Ed Dickson. Dallas Clark wasn’t any part of his old Indy playing days, but while the tight ends were away, the Ravens may have found a gem in Marlon Brown, a 6’5″ receiver, who hauled in 10.7 yards per catch and 7 touchdowns. Eric Ebron made some of the most graceful and discouraging plays in the middle of the field this season, with 62 catches, 973 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Ebron has the frame to be a knife through the center of defenses, and if he runs in the 4.55-4.65 range at the Combine, people will be labeling him as the next Vernon Davis.
18. New York Jets – WR Kelvin Benjamin
Well, the Jets got their quarterback…? No, Geno did as much as he could with the weapons he had around him, but with basically 3 real weapons, not much could have been expected from Geno year 1. But with a top target to throw at, Geno might just have the Jets flying into the playoffs. Kelvin Benjamin has a high ceiling, and could be the next Larry Fitzgerald in the red zone. Benjamin had a pretty quiet National Championship game until the game defining play, where he beat Chris Davis for the game-winning touchdown.
19. Miami Dolphins – OT Zack Martin
The Dolphins were on the path to the playoffs, then they hit a wall with the Jonathan Martin scandal, and then lost two offensive linemen, and that sort-of left Ryan Tannehill to take a battering, and he wasn’t exactly squeaky clean in the pocket before the distraction. Tannehill was sacked 4 times or more in a game in 9 games this past season, ending up on his back 58 times, the most in the NFL. I realize that the last offensive lineman named Martin didn’t quite pan out, but Zack Martin proved to be the most ready prospect at the senior bowl, and the Dolphins need a sure thing along their offensive, offensive line.
20. Arizona Cardinals – OT Antonio Richardson
Carson Palmer and the Cardinals defense’s emergence almost had them in the playoffs. But the Cardinals really need help moving the chains and keeping their quarterback upright and drafting linemen can help remedy that. The Cardinals almost instantly lost they 1st round pick from last year, guard Jonathan Cooper, to a broken fibula in the preseason. I suppose you can look at it as a redshirt situation, and will get better by him finally getting to play, but adding to the line is still a priority, along with another running back, or just by using Stephan Taylor more next season. Antonio Richardson is un-Volunteering and heading for the NFL, and he has that SEC resume to fill in his blanks. He didn’t allow a sack to Clowney when he faced him this season, and is a major bulk in pass-protection, and knows how to use it to his advantage.
21. Green Bay Packers – DE Kony Ealy
The reason why the Packers almost missed the playoffs was because they lost Aaron Rodgers for a long stint, and the reason why they made it is, well, the Cowboys, but also because Rodgers came back in the final game against the Bears. The Pack racked up 44 sacks this past season, while only getting 7.5 sacks from Clay Matthews, meaning a lot of guys stepped up around him, and they are having to step up, because Matthews is missing more games, missing 9 in the last 2 seasons, and they need a guy to sponge some pressure off of him to keep him on the field. Ealy absolutely raided the stats sheet this season, and had a killer game in the Cotton Bowl, getting 2 sacks and 6 tackles. Ealy has a Ware-size frame, but not quite as fast, but in the Capers system, Ealy could end up being THE pass-rusher in this draft.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – S Calvin Pryor
Philly has the best back in the league, an improving offensive line, a sort-of deep corps of wide-outs (Maclin might leave though), and have solved their quarterback questions with Nick Foles. On defense, however, they still are searching for answers. The Cowboys pass defense was awful, but the Eagles gave up just that little bit more yards, and any addition would help. Pryor put some players down in games, and was a real tone-setter in games for Louisville. His career is littered with game-affecting stats, 18 pass break-ups, 9 forced fumbles, 7 interceptions, and 218 tackles over 3 seasons. Not saying he’s a Kam Chancellor, but the potential is there to be a tone setting safety in the league.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – WR Marqise Lee
There was no shortage of offense in the playoff game for the Chiefs, but during a lot of the season, there were doubts about the Chiefs ability to put up points. The Chiefs need more options than just Dwayne Bowe, and Marqise Lee could give them a boost and at least take some pressure off of Bowe. Lee’s 2012 season was monstrous, 118 catches, 1721 yards, and 14 touchdowns, but his last season with the Trojans was quite forgettable, with just 57 catches, 791 yards, and just 4 touchdowns. It’s going to be interesting to see, at the combine, who posts a faster 40 yard dash time between Lee and Sammy Watkins.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – DE Stephon Tuitt
The Bengals must accept 2 things about thing off-season. First, they aren’t going to be the same team they were for the last couple of seasons, losing both coordinators to vacant head-coaching positions. And second, they are going to have to sign Michael Johnson or find his replacement. They drafted Margus Hunt a year ago, so they could either just use him more, or draft somebody else. Stephon Tuitt is an end who bulked up to defensive tackle size, but continued to make disruptive plays, not quite on par with his 12 sack 2012 campaign, but 7.5 sacks is still quite impressive. He should try and weigh in around 290 at the combine, if he still wants to play more defensive ends.
25. San Diego Chargers – OLB Trent Murphy
The Chargers need to put more pressure on the quarterback in the AFC West, with Peyton showing what happens with pressure and corralling the mobile Alex Smith. The Chargers had to claw against the Chiefs backups just to get into the playoffs, and even then, technically, they shouldn’t have gotten in. But once they got in, the made the Bengals offense look foolish. The Chargers need more boost up front, getting more heat on quarterbacks, and reaching into the local bag at Stanford for Trent Murphy makes too much sense. Murphy led the nation in sacks with 15, had 24.5 tackles for loss, and had 6 pass deflections. And Murphy isn’t from out of nowhere, 10 sacks his junior year and 6.5 sacks the season before that. If he puts out solid numbers at the combine, he’ll definitely be worth the 1st round pick.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis) – LB Dee Ford
Having gotten their much needed quarterback, it’s time to get a player to send after opposing ones. Dee Ford was a tornado against Florida State in the National Title game, racking up 2 sacks. Then 2 weeks later at the Senior Bowl, he racked up 2 more. Ford has Bruce Irvin speed off the edge, and is always on the hunt for quarterbacks.
27. New Orleans Saints – DE Scott Crichton
The Saints don’t really need more pressure after the quarterback, after finishing 4th in the league in sacks with 49 on the season, but this is the NFL, and you can’t sit pretty. Crichton was extremely solid across his 3 seasons with the Beavers, recording 22.5 sacks in his career. Crichton has the ideal size for a 3-4 outside linebacker at 6’3″ 260, and the Saints brought in Victor Butler a season ago, and lost him early, so having Crichton should provide even more pressure for Rob Ryan’s defense.
28. Carolina Panthers – WR Allen Robinson
The Panthers have seriously dodged drafting a replacement for Steve Smith for what seems like forever. Brandon LaFell is a 3rd receiver, playing 2nd receiver reps. Greg Olsen is a beast that Cam Newton loves to use when he gets into opponents territory, and Cam always looks his way in the redzone, but the Panthers need a serious threat on the outside to get past the divisional round of the playoffs. Allen Robinson had 7, 120 plus yard games this past season for the Nittany Lions, finishing out with 97 catches, 1432 yards, and 6 touchdowns. His 6’3″ frame is a perfect target for Cam’s cannon-arm.
29. New England Patriots – TE Jace Amaro
The Patriots just couldn’t get things going through the air at times during the season, and it took some absolutely elite play by Tom Brady to increase the effectiveness of his extremely inexperienced wide receiver group. Without Gronkowski and Hernandez, Brady had to put the ball on some very green receivers, the Patriots need a special player that can be that rock for Brady in his remaining years in the league. Jace Amaro was a bully for the Red Raiders, ending the season with 106 catches, 1352 yards, and 7 touchdowns. Amaro played in the slot often, and late in games, he was a 3rd down machine, being almost uncoverable from the slot. He worked the middle of the field beautifully, and once the ball was in his hands, he was both quick and difficult to bring down.
30. San Francisco 49ers – CB Darqueze Dennard
The 49ers need to get younger at cornerback, Carlos Rogers didn’t play at a strong level. The 49ers need to continue to add to their secondary like they did a year ago, when they picked up Eric Reid, and he was spectacular in his rookie season. Dennard is a strong press corner, and definitely a welcome sight in the aggression department. Dennard has 10 interceptions in his career, and for me, Michigan State players seem like they’re just ready for the NFL.
31. Denver Broncos – CB Marcus Roberson
Peyton couldn’t get it done, and Champ Bailey couldn’t ride off into retirement, and now he’ll never get that championship. Champ Bailey is one of the most seasoned players in the NFL, but with that, they really need to plan for his departure. Roberson is a good sized corner with very good man coverage skills. Bailey can past on wisdom to the young Roberson while trying to get back to the Super Bowl, and then retire and past the torch to Roberson. Roberson doesn’t have the stats to lean on, but his game is solid as a press-man corner.
32. Seattle Seahawks – OT Cyrus Kouandjio
The Seahawks have free reign to take whoever they want, having won the Super Bowl in dominating fashion. The Seahawks could use more bolstering on the offensive line, because their pass protection could make cleaner pockets for Russell Wilson, and maybe he won’t be forced to escape the pocket as much. The Seahawks are a team that can develop a player like Cyrus, and round out his game before tossing him into the starting lineup.