Here is my Pre Scouting Combine 2014 NFL Mock Draft. It will be followed by regular updates after the NFL Scouting Combine up until the NFL Draft on May 8th.
My mock draft has been linked by The Football Fan Spot, Sports Jabber, DC Pro Sports Report, Walter Football, FF Toolbox, hailRedskins.com, The Football Expert, Fantasy Football Help Desk, The Huddle Report, Niners Nation, EDS Football, NFL Mock Draft Central and NFL Pro Zach in their Mock Draft Databases.
This is not a mock draft where I attempt play general manager and substitute my own judgment for the 32 NFL teams.
I do my best to research what particular players or positions each team may be targeting based upon the opinions of reliable beat writers, scouts and insiders in order to provide links and then my analysis as to why a team may be focusing on a particular player.
1. Houston Texans – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A and M: The Texans have a new coach, who in turn needs a new quarterback. Houston seems to be focusing on local product Johnny Manziel, while "Johnny Football" has made it very clear that he wants the Texans to select him with the number one pick. Watch for Cleveland as a potential partner for Houston to trade down with in the even that they are not sold on any of the available QB's.
2. Cleveland Browns (from Washington, via projected trade with St. Louis) - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: Is there a more dysfunctional franchise in all of pro sports right now than the Cleveland Browns? Having blown through two head coaches and two GM's in just over a year, it's now being leaked that the Browns offered to trade their entire 2014 draft for San Francisco 49er head coach Jim Harbaugh. Regardless of who their coach is, the fact of matter is that the Browns won't be going anywhere until they find a franchise quarterback. They have the ammunition to go get one, the question is whether or not those calling the shots will be able to make the right call.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Much like the Browns, Jacksonville owner Shad Khan has already disclosed that he intends on finding a new quarterback for the Jaguars somewhere in this draft. And while that's not a surprise, it does put another QB hungry team like Cleveland on notice to trade up if there's a player like Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater that they truly want. In that event, Jacksonville will either be forced to settle for a consolation prize at QB or the best player available at another position of need. Fortunately for the Jags their next biggest need is at DE, so if the QB's go off the board at #1 and #2, they may still end up with the draft's highest rated player in Jadeveon Clowney.
4. St. Louis Rams – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: I look for the Rams to trade down, possibly with Cleveland at #4 and still have the opportunity to select the tackle or true go-to WR that Sam Bradford desperately needs. Not only does Sammy Watkins seem to be a hot commodity heading into the Scouting Combine, but Jeff Fisher has a history of avoiding offensive linemen with his first round picks. So while a LT is still a huge need, the skilled position player seems like the more likely option with their first pick of the first round.
5. Oakland Raiders - Jake Mathews, T, Texas A and M: Oakland has huge needs at key positions like QB, WR and DE. If Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Jadeveon Clowney and Sammy Watkins are all off the board it would be the worst case scenario for the Raiders. Look for Oakland to either try and trade down, or stay put and take an OT like Jake Mathews since Jared Veldheer is currently set to hit free agency. In that event, the Raiders could look to a veteran QB like Josh Freeman or Michael Vick.
6. Atlanta Falcons – Greg Robinson, T, Auburn: Whether it's Jake Mathews or Greg Robinson, the Falcons desperately need help at OT. Auburn OT Greg Robinson would be an immediate upgrade over current LT Sam Baker. If Atlanta can address their need for a starting LT in free agency, they could also look at Anthony Barr or Khalil Mack as a pass rushing DE.
7. Tampa Bay Bucanneers – Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA: The Buccaneers are going back to a "Tampa Two" defense under new head coach Lovie Smith, which means they will put a premium on getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks from their front four without the benefit of many blitzes. Anthony Barr of UCLA is probably a better fit as a LB in a 3-4 scheme, but there are too many 4-3 teams in need of a pass rusher from the DE position who are drafting in the top ten to let a player of Barr's skill-set slide. Tampa Bay is one of those teams, and they have the depth with larger run stopping DE's to allow Barr serve as a pass rush specialist while he bulks up into a 3-down player at DE.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Blake Bortels, QB, Central Florida: Unless they really see something they like in Blake Bortels or Derek Carr, the Vikings could find themselves on the ass end of the QB lottery. As of right now, there's enough hype around Bortels to support him being a top ten pick. With Matt Cassel voiding his option for the 2014 season, I don't think the Vikings have any other choice.
9. Buffalo Bills – Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo: Buffalo could go for an OT in the first round, or they could target an OLB, a TE or a WR. If local product Khalil Mack is available when the Bills pick at #9 he could be too tempting to pass up. And while new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has never placed much value in OLB's, Mack also has considerable value on passing downs, potentially playing with his hand on the ground.
10. Detroit Lions – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State: The Lions two biggest needs are for an elite CB and a WR to play opposite Calvin Johnson. Because this is a deep WR draft, the Lions would be wise to get a lock down corner while one is still available in Round 1 and fill their need for a #2 receiver with someone like Jordan Mathews on the second day of the draft. While local product Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State is an option at CB, the Lions have expressed an interest in bigger corners, making Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State the more likely target.
11. Tennessee Titans – C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama: With a huge need at pass rusher and OLB, C.J. Mosley would provide the Titans with the hybrid OLB/DE that they need as they transition into more of a 3-4 defense.
12. New York Giants – Zack Martin, T, Notre Dame: The Giants offensive line is a complete mess, and tackle is the best place to start to address that problem. Drafting a true LT would have a positive cascade effect, allowing Will Beatty to move to RT and Justin Pugh to move to G. With his performance at the Senior Bowl, Zack Martin may have propelled himself over Taylor Lewan, who never quite lived up to his hype at Michigan, either on or off the field.
13. St Louis Rams - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: In this scenario, the Rams have already landed a #1 WR in Sammy Watkins, so they look to solidify their offensive line with their second pick in the first round. Alternatively, they could target Jake Mathews with their first pick and a WR like Mike Evans or Marqise Lee with their second, but going WR first and LT second plays out as the better value with Sammy Watkins seeing his value surge as the clear cut top WR in this year's draft.
14. Chicago Bears – Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State: The Bears aging defense has finally caught up to them, and they now must address major holes at CB, S, LB, and DT...And that's before a salary cap decision has even been made on Julius Peppers. A DT would have to be a consideration should Henry Melton leave in free agency, as would a playmaker at S like Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should Melton return. Timmy Jernigan of Florida State would seem to be a perfect fit for the Bears defensive scheme as a disruptive and penetrating DT.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame: The Steel Curtain is broken, with holes at key positions like NT, OLB and S. Louis Nix III would have to be a strong consideration at NT if he's still available given Steve McLendon's inability to stop the run last season in a failed bid to replace Casey Hampton at the nose. With age and injuries limiting Troy Polamalu's playing time and effectiveness in recent years, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama could also be an intriguing option at S if he's still available.
16. Dallas Cowboys - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: Dallas realized the deficiencies in Monte Kiffin's "Tampa Two" defense, so they replaced him with....wait for it....Monte Kiffin...I mean Rod Marinelli, who's an even more stubborn version of Kiffin. With that said, the three most essential pieces in the "Tampa Two" defense are a disruptive DT, a "Will" LB, and athletic safeties who can patrol the deep zone. The Cowboys are in need of help at both DT and S. While Dallas would love to add Timmy Jernigan as their version of Warren Sapp at DT, they'll have to settle for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as their version of John Lynch at S, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A and M: Baltimore still seems to have some interest in re-signing free agent LT Eugene Monroe. However, Monroe hasn't graded out well enough over the past few seasons to justify a big contract, so Baltimore may want to start from scratch with a young LT that new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak can develop in his zone blocking scheme. However, if both Taylor Lewan of Michigan and Zack Martin of Notre Dame are off the board when the Ravens pick at #17, they could be in the market for a WR like Mike Evans or Marqise Lee.
18. New York Jets – Marqise Lee, WR, USC: As of right now, the Jets are sticking with Antonio Cromartie at CB. Should that hold true following free agency and heading into the draft, it would free the team to pursue a player at a position of need like WR or TE. The question remains as to whether or not one of the top three receivers will still be on the board when the Jets select at #18. In this case the Jets have their choice of either WR Marqise Lee, TE Eric Ebron or CB Darqueze Dennard.
19. Miami Dolphins – Morgan Moses, T, Virginia: With Miami losing the entire left side of their offensive line due to the Ritchie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal and potentially needing two more linemen on the right side, the Dolphins have little choice but to address LT with their 1st Round pick. Zack Martin, Taylor Lewan and Morgan Moses will all be in consideration when the Dolphins pick at #19.
20. Arizona Cardinals – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: At #20 Arizona can either reach for a LT or take the best playmaker available at another position of need. Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State is the type of CB that you can place on an island, which would give the Cardinals the best pair of press corners in the NFL when paired with Patrick Peterson. Arizona could then address their need for a LT in one of the deeper free agent classes in recent memory, with players like Jared Veldheer, Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert all scheduled to hit the open market.
21. Green Bay Packers - Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn: Green Bay has needs across the board on defense, and their first round selection will ultimately be determined by which of their own free agents they are able to re-sign. Finding a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball is a must. After trying to convert several college DE's to play OLB in their 3-4 defense, it's time that Green Bay goes in the other direction and finds a LB to play opposite Clay Mathews who cannot only rush the passer, but is more natural in coverage and containing the edge. Auburn's Dee Ford showed those skills in the BCS Title Game and at the Senior Bowl, and will look to cement his status as a solid 1st Round pick at the Scouting Combine.
22. Philadelphia Eagles - Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville: Philadelphia's secondary finished 32nd in the league in passing defense last season, and their biggest hole was at safety. Calvin Pryor of Louisville would be an instant upgrade, especially if the Eagles can re-sign and team him with Nate Allen.
23. Kansas City Chiefs - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: Kansas City could go in several different directions in this year's draft, whether it's S, CB, WR, TE or DL. With Alex Smith in need of another receiving target, WR could be an option. However, the Chiefs could satisfy the same need at better value should TE Eric Ebron of North Carolina fall to them at #23 in the draft. In fact, a TE with receiving skills may even be a better fit than a WR for Alex Smith considering the Chief's conservative west coast passing scheme.
24. Cincinnati Bengals - Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State: On paper the Bengals look good at CB, but they are aging and injury prone. Leon Hall is coming off his second Achilles injury, and pro athletes aren't always lucky enough to even come back from one Achilles injury, let alone two. Lamarcus Joyner is undersized, but he was a little stick of hate in the secondary for the Seminoles last season. Better yet, he has the ability to play both CB and S, which would give the Bengals expanded range in pass coverage in their base defense at S, as well as a nickle on passing downs.
25. San Diego Chargers - Kony Ealy, OLB/DE, Missouri: With the versatility to excel at either DE in a 4-3 or OLB in a 3-4, Kony Ealy would give the Chargers another much needed edge rusher. CB and T could also be considerations depending on who might fall to the later part of the first round.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis) - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State: This is not necessarily where I would go if I was Cleveland, but Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay and Tony Grossi all agree on the position, if not the player. Kelvin Benjamin's route running, effort and blocking all raise red-flags, but there's no mistaking his raw physical talent as possibly the most gifted WR in this year's draft. CB also has to be a strong consideration for the Browns at #26.
27. New Orleans Saints - Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida: With a need at CB, the Saints will have a plethora of options. Of the second tier CB's after Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard, Loucheiz Purifoy has the biggest potential as a playmaker, which fits the the aggressive style of the Saints on defense.
28. Carolina Panthers - Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU: The Panthers need more explosion on offense, and Odell Beckham, Jr. of LSU would provide them just that, especially when paired opposite of veteran Steve Smith. Should Carolina elect to let Greg Hardy depart as a salary cap casualty instead of electing to use the franchise tag on him, DE could also be a consideration.
29. New England Patriots - Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: With Vince Wilfork aging and injury prone, New England can use a disruptive DT to either play along side or ultimately replace him. Ra'Shede Hageman's size and versatility make him an ideal fit in a Bill Belichick defense. In fact, after playing in relative anonymity at Minnesota, he could end up being the steal of the draft.
30. San Francisco 49ers - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: The 49ers biggest obstacle to returning to the Super Bowl are their division rivals in the Seahawks. The best way to counteract Seattle's super-sized secondary is with quickness, and that's where a playmaker at slot receiver could help not only negate the size advantage in Seattle's secondary, but possibly even turn it into a liability.
31. Denver Broncos - Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame: Denver has plenty of needs on the defensive side of the ball. With Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers set to test the free agent market and Derek Wolfe coming off of an injury, the Broncos can start with a solid 3-4 defensive end. CB and S could also be considerations, but may not have the necessary value on the board when Denver picks at #31.
32. Seattle Seahawks - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: The Seahawks have very few weaknesses after winning the Super Bowl, although they will still be facing a few decisions involving the salary cap. Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh is coming off of a strong Senior Bowl performance, and is exactly the type of DT that Seattle is looking for in their 4-3 defense.