One thing you have to really like about this year’s draft is that nothing is certain. There has been plenty of speculation about the myriad of teams in the top 10 who need quarterbacks, but the top three QBs available aren’t appreciably better than the next three, while there are some real potential impact players available at other positions like defensive line, wide receiver and linebacker. Hence all the speculation, and the run rampant draft stock of some of the QBs.
Have you been keeping up with your history by watching the NFL Network’s excellent show Caught In The Draft. That program has certainly whetted my appetite for the upcoming fun. And it reinforces the notion that although the draft starts Thursday May 8, it probably won’t end, not really, until sometime in the middle of the 2016-2017 season, maybe even later than that. Let’s see what we’ve got here, shall we?
1. HOUSTON TEXANS: JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE, SOUTH CAROLINA (6’5”, 266 lbs., 4.51)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Houston desperately needs a quarterback, but like I said, the impact players available at the top of this draft don’t play quarterback, and it’s possible one of the top 3 will still be available when Houston picks first in the second round. If not, there are at least 3 or 4 QB prospects who could wind up being just as good or better than the guys rated ahead of them. Still doubt Houston’s intentions? Remember when they had a choice between Reggie Bush and Mario Williams. Pairing Clowney on their defensive line with JJ Watt will be keep-offensive-coordinators-awake-at-night scary. They’ll fix the offense in later rounds.
Strengths: Prototype NFL body. Ridiculous off the charts athleticism. Can dominate at the line. Can take over games in stretches. Can beat double teams or other elite players. Can line up anywhere on the line and can use multiple techniques to get to the passer or into the backfield. Potential is off the charts.
Weaknesses: Takes plays off. A little thin in the lower body. Needs to improve conditioning.
2. ST. LOUIS RAMS: SAMMY WATKINS, WR, CLEMSON (6’1”, 211 lbs., 4.39)
There’s been speculation that St. Louis would trade this pick, or go offensive line, or take Clowney if Houston goes quarterback, but it’s surprising more people don’t have the Rams jumping on a game changing playmaker at the wide receiver position. The Rams are not exactly loaded with weapons on offense, and don’t forget, they can address whatever other needs they want to when they pick again at #13.
Strengths: Elite speed. Terrific athleticism and control. Explosive playmaker who will be a bona fide “home run hitter” for an offense. Gifted at the position – runs routes, blocks, has good hands – a complete package.
Weaknesses: Lacks elite height or build. Played in a gimmick offense at Clemson. Has a few character/maturity concerns coming out of college.
3. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: KHALIL MACK, OLB, BUFFALO (6’3”, 251 lbs., 4.59)
The Jags are another team that needs a quarterback, but let’s be real here, the Jaguars need everything, and getting a marquis rush linebacker who some think will actually be a better pro than Jadeveon Clowney is hardly a bad thing. Plus, the Jaguars are likely to get their QB in the second round (rumor has it they are taken with Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo). If this pick isn’t Mack, it’s most likely because St. Louis took him, in which case Jacksonville would be thrilled to get Sammy Watkins. Either way, Chad Henne will be the opening day starter under center, providing stability while the Jaguars develop their draft picks.
Strengths: Great blend of strength and speed. Instinctive pass rusher with a variety of techniques. Defensive playmaker who forces turnovers. Excellent in pursuit.
Weaknesses: Not a natural fit in a 4-3 defense. Limited range in pass coverage. Needs to play under control.
4. CLEVELAND BROWNS: JOHNNY MANZIEL, QB, TEXAS A&M (6’0”, 207 lbs., 4.63)
The Browns don’t necessarily have to take a quarterback here. Remember, they pick again in the first round, before Houston or Jacksonville get another shot, and rumor has it that they like Derek Carr, who might still be available at the end of the first round. Cleveland might forego QB if Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack were still around, but if those two are gone, the Browns, more than any other team, could truly use the infusion of excitement and potential Johnny Football would bring. None of the QBs in this year’s draft are sure things, but if one of them is going to emerge as a superstar, Manziel would be a damn good bet.
Strengths: Amazing playmaker with great mobility. Remarkable vision. Throws well on the run. Throws a good deep ball. Natural leader.
Weaknesses: Lacks ideal size. Lacks discipline in the pocket. Will have to reign himself in in the NFL or he’ll get killed just like RGIII. Higher bust factor than you would like.
5. OAKLAND RAIDERS: MIKE EVANS, WR, TEXAS A&M (6’5, 231 lbs., 4.46)
The Raiders are another team that was potentially in the quarterback market, but I’m convinced that they signed Matt Schaub to start for them at QB, which means that if they address the position at all in this year’s draft, they’ll do it in round 2 or later. Meanwhile, what the Raiders truly need is an impact player, and Evans projects as a #1 wide out.
Strengths: Elite size. Great combination of size and speed. Uses his body to create separation. Prototype red zone target. Good hands. Hard to tackle after the catch.
Weaknesses: Lacks top end speed. Not a great route runner. Lacks burst off the line. Struggles to get open.
6. ATLANTA FALCONS: ERIC EBRON, TE, NORTH CAROLINA (6’4”, 250 lbs., 4.56)
Here’s my big shocker in the top 10. Going #6 would make Ebron (I believe) the highest selected tight end ever. So what. In 2014, the hyper athletic receiving tight end IS the next big thing, and Ebron is being called the next Jimmy Graham. Tony Gonzalez just retired, and there is a sort of perfect symmetry to Atlanta replacing him with the prototype tight end of the future.
Strengths: Elite speed and athleticism. Ideal NFL size. Good route runner. High football IQ. Still has upside.
Weaknesses: Needs to add a little bulk. Not a great blocker. Sometimes shows lack of concentration.
NFL Future – TE Eric Ebron
7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: JAKE MATTHEWS, OT, TEXAS A&M (6’6”, 308 lbs., 5.01)
The bad news for Tampa is that both receivers will be gone by this spot. The good news is they have their pick on the o-line, and get a blue chipper to add in their protection scheme.
Strengths: Exceptional pass protecting technique. A+ NFL pedigree (father is Bruce Matthews). Great footwork. Excellent run blocker.
Weaknesses: Lacks elite athleticism. Lacks ideal length. Was better at right tackle in college.
8. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: BLAKE BORTLES, QB, CENTRAL FLORIDA (6’5”, 232 lbs., 4.88)
Nothing against Blake Bortles, I hope he does well, but in my opinion this will be the biggest bust pick of the top 10, as Minnesota replaces the underwhelming Christian Ponder with another underwhelming Florida college quarterback. To be sure, of course, Minnesota needs to address the position, but I’m not enamored of Bortles.
Strengths: Has an NFL body. Accurate passer. Good decision maker. Has in-the-pocket mobility. Mentally and physically tough. Coachable player.
Weaknesses: Lacks elite arm strength. Lacks speed. Needs to improve mechanics. Needs to improve ball security. “Combine stud” who was not necessarily an elite signal caller in college.
9. BUFFALO BILLS: GREG ROBINSON, OT, AUBURN (6’5”, 332 lbs., 4.85)
Buffalo wouldn’t mind getting a shot at one of the top 2 receivers or Eric Ebron, but I don’t they’ll complain if Greg Robinson, who I’ve seen mocked as high as #2 to St. Louis, falls into their lap. Every young quarterback needs two things: protection and weapons. E.J. Manuel will be very happy to welcome this guy to the Bills.
Strengths: Prototype NFL body. Elite quickness. Dominating run blocker. Has plenty of upside. Could eventually play either tackle slot.
Weaknesses: Still a raw talent. Pass protection is still a work in progress. Sometimes struggles to adjust to blitz packages.
10. DETROIT LIONS: JUSTIN GILBERT, CB, OKLAHOMA ST. (6’0”, 202 lbs., 4.31)
A lot of people seem to want to blame Matt Stafford for the fact that Detroit blew leads right and left last season, but it’s hardly his fault. The Lions were hideously undisciplined, and they’ll have a new coach this season as a result, replacing Jim Schwartz with Jim Caldwell. The other reason teams blow leads late is bad pass defense. Let’s face it, the team trying to come back isn’t handing the ball off with 4 minutes to go.
Strengths: Elite speed and athleticism. Rare speed for his height. Has shutdown corner potential. Good tackler. Good return skills.
Weaknesses: Can be overly aggressive and draw penalties. Doesn’t always keep his cool on the field. Was sometimes inconsistent.
11. TENNESSEE TITANS: ANTHONY BARR, OLB, UCLA (6’5”, 255 lbs., 4.56)
The Titans are switching to a 3-4 scheme this year, and need some pieces to fill in where some of their existing personnel doesn’t fit. Barr is ideally suited for the 3-4, so he makes good sense here.
Strengths: Explosive burst off the ball. Good pursuit. Disruptive player who’s ready to start in the NFL right now. Eye-opening defensive playmaker.
Weaknesses: Strictly a 3-4 player. Needs to develop more variety of pass rush moves. Needs to improve in pass coverage. Needs to add strength.
12. NEW YORK GIANTS: ZACK MARTIN, OL, NOTRE DAME (6’4”, 308 lbs.)
The Giants can’t afford to have Eli Manning play as badly as he did in 2013, and the best way to have your quarterback start looking good again is to give him time to throw. New York has needs on both lines, but a solid unit on offense was the hallmark of the Giants success in the Eli Manning era.
Strengths: Quick off the snap. Excellent technique. Good athleticism. High football IQ. Durable.
Weaknesses: Lacks ideal length. Lateral mobility may confine him to guard. Lacks powerful burst.
13. ST. LOUIS RAMS: CALVIN PRYOR, S, LOUISVILLE (5’11”, 207 lbs,. 4.58)
The Rams will go defense in this pick since they went offense with their first selection. They have their pick of the two safeties, and for my money Pryor is the better prospect.
Strengths: Good length. Good tackler. Big-time hitter. Reads plays well. Good football instincts.
Weaknesses: Needs to improve in coverage. Can get caught over pursuing. Lacks ideal quickness and agility.
14. CHICAGO BEARS: HA HA CLINTON-DIX, S, ALABAMA (6’1”, 208 lbs., 4.58)
The Bears’ defense was so dreadful in 2013 that Chicago fans barely recognized the product on the field, which was blessed with a productive offense to offset the sieve-like stop unit. Expect Chicago to address multiple needs on that side of the ball, going with “best defensive player available” whenever they can.
Strengths: Good “center fielder” with ideal range. Good ball skills. Good size. Played in a pro style defense. Coolest name in the first round.
Weaknesses: Lacks elite athleticism. Could add bulk. Can be fooled when reading the play.
15. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: DARQUEZE DENNARD, CB, MICHIGAN ST. (5’11”, 199 lbs., 4.41)
The Steelers are another team looking for secondary help, and there’s a plethora of names that might be available here. They’ll take the best available.
Strengths: Good press coverage defender. Good tackler who can help in run support. Good ball skills. Has “catch-up” speed.
Weaknesses: Lacks length. Needs to learn to play zone. Lacks top end speed. Has some injury history.
16. DALLAS COWBOYS: AARON DONALD, DT, PITTSBURGH (6’1”, 285 lbs., 4.62)
Dallas had the worst defense in the NFL AND they’ve lost some key people, so notwithstanding the people out there who apparently despise Tony Romo and have the Cowboys making a run at Johnny Manziel, expect Dallas to go defense early and often.
Strengths: Explosive first step. Sheds blocks. Productive player in college. Very good speed for a player his size.
Weaknesses: Undersized. Cannot play multiple positions on the line. Lacks length.
17. BALTIMORE RAVENS: KYLE FULLER, CB, VIRGINIA TECH (6’0”, 190 lbs., 4.40)
The Ravens would LOVE for one of the top 2 safety prospects to fall to this slot, but instead they’ll be happy to get Fuller, who has the versatility to play corner or safety in the NFL.
Strengths: Good size. Excellent instincts. Good athleticism. Can play either corner or safety in the NFL. Plays physical.
Weaknesses: Needs to add strength. Lacks elite speed. Limited upside. Durability concerns.
18. NEW YORK JETS: BRANDIN COOKS, WR, OREGON STATE (5’10”, 189 lbs,. 4.31)
The Jets came into the offseason needing to inject their offense with some playmaking. They added QB Michael Vick in free agency; now they get a chance to add even more potency to an offense that was plodding in 2013. Cooks is one of the most electrifying players available.
Strengths: Great speed. Great hands. High football IQ. Game-breaking playmaker. Valuable in the return game.
Weaknesses: A bit undersized. Can be jammed at the line. Lacks strength. Needs to improve ball security.
The playmaker: Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks
19. MIAMI DOLPHINS: TAYLOR LEWAN, OT, MICHIGAN (6’7”, 309 lbs., 4.79)
The Dolphins’ offensive line drama was well documented in 2013, as they lost two starters to the Jonathan Martin scandal. Ryan Tannehill had zero protection as a result and took sacks like an alcoholic takes drinks last season. Good news for Miami: Lewan is a top 10 talent who falls to them at 19. They’re thrilled to see a player this good at a need position still on the board.
Strengths: Good height and length. Quick feet and good footwork. Has a mean streak. Good run blocker. Plenty of upside. Committed player.
Weaknesses: Commits too many penalties. Struggles with quick defenders. Needs to be more consistent.
20. ARIZONA CARDINALS: RYAN SHAZIER, OLB, OHIO STATE (6’1”, 237 lbs., 4.38)
Don’t believe the hype about Arizona using this pick to draft Carson Palmer’s successor. There’s too much good talent available here and the Cardinals have too many other needs to take the QB of the future in this spot. More to the point, Arizona was too close to drawing even with the powerhouses in their division to ignore immediate needs. Don’t overlook this team next season.
Strengths: Elite speed. Good tackler. Explosive first step when blitzing. Uses quickness to shed blocks.
Weaknesses: Lacks ideal size and bulk. Needs to add strength. Need to develop coverage ability. Some durability concerns.
21. GREEN BAY PACKERS: C.J. MOSLEY, ILB, ALABAMA (6’2”, 234 lbs., 4.63)
The Packers’ defense has not only been the team’s weak link for the past two seasons, it has been singlehandedly responsible for making Colin Kaepernick look like an MVP candidate. Expect the Packers to look for an impact player in the early rounds on the defensive side of the ball.
Strengths: Smart, instinctive player. Terrific defender either in coverage or off the blitz. High upside with low bust factor. Great teammate.
Weaknesses: Lacks elite size and speed. Has some injury concerns. Inconsistent tackler.
22. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: JASON VERRETT, CB, TCU (5’10”, 189 lbs., 4.36)
Following the release of DeSean Jackson, there’s been speculation the Eagles will take a wide receiver. They might, but this is a deep draft at receiver and the Eagles have more pressing needs in the defensive secondary. I wouldn’t expect them to go wide receiver here unless Mike Evans falls enough to give Philadelphia a chance to move up and take him.
Strengths: Great ball skills. Good speed. Reads plays quickly. Makes plays on special teams.
Weaknesses: Lack of elite size. Has struggled with his confidence in the past. May be limited to slot coverage in the NFL. Has some durability concerns.
23. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: ODELL BECKHAM, JR., WR, LSU (5’11”, 198 lbs,. 4.38)
Andy Reid, true to form, went o-line in his first season as the Chiefs coach. Now look for him to add a weapon in the passing game to pair with uber-back Jamal Charles. Odell Beckham is great value at this spot – many mock drafts have him going top 12.
Strengths: Explosive off the line. Elusive after the catch. Playmaker with home-run hitter capability. Good hands. Runs good routes. Bends it like a Beckham.
Weaknesses: Lacks elite size. Will not win a lot of jump balls. Needs to add strength. Needs to improve as a blocker. Lacks elite speed.
24. CINCINNATI BENGALS: BRADLEY ROBY, CB, OHIO STATE (5’11”, 194 lbs., 4.34)
There are rumors that Cincinnati is not completely sold on Andy Dalton at quarterback and if one of the QBs they really like falls this far (and any of the QBs COULD fall this far, believe me), I would not be completely shocked if they took a run at them. The Bengals have other needs, however, specifically on the d-line and in the secondary, so there are plenty of ways they could go.
Strengths: Good athleticism with catch-up speed. Solid cover corner with good hands. Willing tackler.
Weaknesses: Lacks ideal size. Bites too often on double moves. Could add strength.
25. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: LOUIS NIX, DT, NOTRE DAME (6’2”, 331 lbs., 5.32)
The Chargers could go receiver here or defensive secondary, depending on who’s available. Nix fills their need in the middle of the d-line to plug the run.
Strengths: Elite size. Translates perfectly as an NFL nose tackle. Great strength and power. Agile for a big man. Disruptive force. Good tackler.
Weaknesses: Needs to improve conditioning. Needs to watch his pad level or he can be stood up at the line. Needs to improve rush technique.
26. CLEVELAND BROWNS: MARQISE LEE, WR, USC (6’0”, 192 lbs., 4.43)
Things really work out here for Cleveland, as they add a QB with their early first round pick and a receiver with their late one. This also positions them to address running back with their high second round pick if they want to. A lot of people may be talking Browns when the first day of the draft is over.
Strengths: Elusive and explosive after the catch. Great acceleration. Runs great routes. NFL ready.
Weaknesses: Only average size. Has injury concerns. Doesn’t break many tackles. Sometimes struggles with drops. Needs to buy a vowel, Pat, a “U.”
27. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: KONY EALY, DE, MISSOURI (6’4”, 273 lbs., 4.84)
The Saints have multiple needs on defense, so expect them to go best available on that side of the ball. Ealy is the best DE not named Clowney available in the draft.
Strengths: NFL frame. Possesses a variety of pass rush moves. Terrific athleticism. Defends the run well. Versatile player who fits 4-3 or 3-4 schemes.
Weaknesses: Lacks elite speed. Needs to add strength. Vulnerable to cut blocks. Uncomfortable in coverage.
28. CAROLINA PANTHERS: KELVIN BENJAMIN, WR, FLORIDA ST. (6’5”, 240 lbs., 4.61)
The Panthers have to come out of this draft with help at wide receiver, so even though I think Benjamin is a little bit of a reach here, he’s the best available at the position. The Panthers’ other need is offensive tackle, and any of the remaining choices would also be reaches. If it shakes out this way, Carolina might trade down.
Strengths: Elite size. Has the wing span of a small pterodactyl. Ideal red zone target. Plenty of upside.
Weaknesses: Only average hands. Lacks speed. Not a great route runner. Not a good blocker, especially for his size.
29. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: RA’SHEDE HAGEMAN, DT, MINNESOTA (6’6”, 310 lbs., 4.92)
Who isn’t tired of the Patriots having exactly what they need fall into their laps? New England is looking for interior d-line help, and Hageman is a top 20 prospect who falls about 10 slots so they can take just what they want.
Strengths: Ideal size. Great blend of size and speed. Extremely strong. Disruptive defender who can collapse the pocket and make plays in the backfield. Plenty of upside.
Weaknesses: Has been inconsistent at times. Needs to improve conditioning. Some bust factor.
Ra’Shede Hagmean: another steal for the Patriots?
30. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: CODY LATIMER, WR, INDIANA (6’3”, 215 lbs., 4.44)
Latimer is a reach at this pick, and I actually expect the 49ers to either move up to snag one of the other receivers here or to move down and address the position in a later round. Either way, San Francisco will be looking to add some offensive punch.
Strengths: Good size. Soft hands. Tough runner after the catch. Good blocker.
Weaknesses: Lacks elite speed. Not a great burst off the line. Needs to improve route running.
31. DENVER BRONCOS: XAVIER SU’A-FILO, OG, UCLA (6’4”, 307 lbs,. 5.01)
Denver made some big splashes on defense in free agency. They might be done addressing that side of the ball, but those moves give the Broncos the luxury of taking the best player available instead of shoe-horning a defensive pick in the first round.
Strengths: Mobile player who is terrific in pass protection. Uses athleticism in the run game to pull and trap. Intelligent. Has upside.
Weaknesses: Probably can’t move outside. Needs to add strength. Needs to improve technique.
32. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: MORGAN MOSES, OT, VIRGINIA (6’6”, 314 lbs., 5.28)
It must be nice to have a defense so good that no matter what you do in the draft you’ll still be a top contender coming out of it. Seattle has needs along the o-line and in the receiving game and might even go defense here if one of the run-stuffing DTs is still on the board.
Strengths: Elite size, length and strength. Plays through the whistle. Decent agility for a player his size. Has upside.
Weaknesses: Lacks elite athleticism. Needs to improve technique. Will struggle with speed rushers.
Featured Image Source