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Free agency looms imminently on the horizon in the National Football League, but with the NFL Scouting Combine still fresh in our thoughts, we bring you our latest, and most definitive mock draft yet. Drafting strategies around the league will undoubtedly change once free agency begins and teams attempt to fill holes in their rosters with new signings, but as things stand, this is how we see the first round going down on May 8.
1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End, University of South Carolina
Knocking Clowney for his work ethic or lack of production last season have become popular pastimes over the last couple of months, but his talent is just too special for the Texans to allow to slip through their fingers. Houston may need to target a genuine 3-4 NT in free agency/later in the draft to accommodate both Clowney and J.J. Watt on their defensive line, but this is a player they can’t afford to pass on.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins) – Greg Robinson, Offensive Tackle, Auburn
Trading down could be an enticing option for GM Les Snead, but if the Rams choose to stay in the number two spot, then Robinson is their man. Protecting the fairly injury-prone Sam Bradford has to be a high priority for St. Louis, and Robinson is arguably the best tackle to come out of the college game in the last few years.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback, Louisville
The Jaguars have been in dire need of a franchise quarterback for some time now, and Bridgewater could well be their man. The most pro-ready quarterback in his class, Bridgewater can make an immediate impact in the NFL, and help spark a much-needed revival in Jacksonville.
4. Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel, Quarterback, Texas A&M
Manziel needs to thank Russell Wilson for him being considered for such a high draft spot, but with the Browns in as much need for a quarterback as Jacksonville, they take the risk and go all in on ‘Johnny Football’. Manziel has a stellar college career under his belt, not to mention a Heisman Trophy, and should help breathe life into the Browns.
5. Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Clemson
Watkins is without doubt the premiere wide receiver in this year’s draft, and would give the Raiders the offensive weapon they have been seeking for some time now. Unless Oakland believes Terrelle Pryor is the answer, the Raiders could target a quarterback in the later rounds or in free agency.
6. Atlanta Falcons – Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
Whilst defensive upgrades are needed in Atlanta, particularly with their pass rush, keeping their high-powered offense rolling is critical, and Matthews answers a big need at the tackle position.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Khalil Mack, Linebacker, Buffalo
The Buccaneers have a lot of needs, but would be wise to adopt a strategy of drafting the best available player at this point. Mack would become a difference maker on a defense which already includes the likes of Darrelle Revis, Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Blake Bortles, Quarterback, University of Central Florida
The Vikings have the offensive weapons in Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph, but desperately need a quarterback to utilize them. They may be reaching slightly, but with pro comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger, this pick could prove to be a highly praised one a year or two down the road.
9. Buffalo Bills – Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M
The big-bodied receiver has been rising up draft boards since his impressive showing at the Combine, and could prove the perfect foil to Steve Johnson in Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions – Justin Gilbert, Cornerback, Oklahoma State
Like Watkins, Gilbert is the undisputed number one prospect at his position, and his arrival will come as sweet relief for Detroit’s secondary, which has lacked consistent playmakers for several seasons now.
11. Tennessee Titans – Anthony Barr, Linebacker, UCLA
Mack’s rise on draft boards has unsurprisingly coincided with a fall for Barr, but if the linebacker falls to the Titans, they would be crazy not to draft him. Barr would provide the Titans with a much-needed pass rusher amongst their young linebackers.
12. New York Giants – Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
Lewan arguably outperformed both Robinson and Matthews at the Combine, but whether it was enough to see him leapfrog both tackles is unlikely. That being said, Lewan has easily enough quality to be considered an elite prospect at the position, and answers a big need for the Giants.
13. St. Louis Rams – Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback, Michigan State
With the release of Cortland Finnegan, the Rams are light at the cornerback position, and teaming up Dennard with Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson in their secondary, should bolster them at the position for years to come.
14. Chicago Bears – Timmy Jernigan, Defensive Tackle, Florida State
A fairly obvious selection for the Bears, who would fill perhaps their biggest need by drafting Jernigan. Trading down is another option, especially with both Aaron Donald and Ra’shede Hageman also available.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – C. J. Mosley, Linebacker, Alabama
The Steelers are trying to rediscover the defensive style of football that made them so successful in recent years, and Mosley could form a fearsome duo at inside linebacker with Lawrence Timmons.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh
One of the biggest winners of the Combine, Donald is the perfect replacement for Jason Hatcher, should the defensive tackle take up a more lucrative offer elsewhere in free agency.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Safety, Alabama
GM Ozzie Newsome will surely be tempted by Eric Ebron at this point, but with Dennis Pitta re-signing, and this year’s class of wide receivers and offensive tackles being particularly deep, Clinton-Dix makes the most sense. The Ravens’ defense is a playmaker in the secondary away from being elite again, and Newsome’s Alabama connections could be enough to sway him in favor Clinton-Dix over Calvin Pryor.
18. New York Jets – Eric Ebron, Tight End, University of North Carolina
Admittedly, Ebron could go much higher than this, but his fall coincides with impressive Combine performances from many of the players above him. The Jets can target a wide receiver in the later rounds, but can’t afford to miss out on an offensive prospect like Ebron at this point.
19. Miami Dolphins – Zack Martin, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame
The Dolphins’ offensive line is a mess, and taking a solid lineman like Martin will help pave the way towards fully rebuilding it. A safe pick at a position of weakness is just what Miami need right now.
20. Arizona Cardinals – Bradley Roby, Cornerback, Ohio State
Arizona have two of the most exciting, young defensive backs in the league in Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, and adding Roby to the unit will help keep them competitive in the ever-improving NFC West. A pass rusher such as Dee Ford would be another logical fit with this pick.
21. Green Bay Packers – Calvin Pryor, Safety, Louisville
A consistent, playmaking safety has been on Green Bay’s shopping list for a while now, and Pryor fits the bill perfectly. This year’s safety class is not the deepest, but is stacked at the top, with very little separating Clinton-Dix, Pryor and Jimmie Ward.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Jason Verrett, Cornerback, TCU
Verrett impressed at the Combine and his Pro Day recently, so much so that his impending surgery on a torn labrum does not seem to be putting any teams off. The Eagles are developing an exciting offense, and with some additions to their defense, particularly in the secondary, could take control of the NFC East.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver, USC
Though Lee underwhelmed somewhat at the Combine, his performances at USC are more than enough to make him a first round talent, and with the Chiefs looking to add more offensive weapons for Alex Smith, Lee makes a lot of sense here.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Dee Ford, Defensive End, Auburn
Michael Johnson is unlikely to return to Cincinnati next season, and the Bengals will be looking to find a way to replace his lost production. Ford could do just this, and even if not an immediate starter, would add quality depth to their rotation at the position.
25. San Diego Chargers – Morgan Moses, Offensive Tackle, Virginia
Phillip Rivers resurrected his career last season, and keeping him upright will be of the upmost importance to San Diego. If drafted, Moses could form an effective partnership with D. J. Fluker as the Chargers’ bookends for the next decade.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts) – Carlos Hyde, Running Back, Ohio State
The Browns may be hesitant to take another running back in the first round so recently after the Trent Richardson debacle, but GM Ray Farmer will also know patience isn’t high on Cleveland’s list of virtues, and that he will need to be bold in this year’s draft. Taking both a quarterback and running back in the first round is about as bold as it gets in the draft.
27. New Orleans Saints – Kony Ealy, Defensive End, Missouri
Ealy would give the Saints a hybrid defensive end/linebacker that can get after the quarterback, and help pressure the likes of Cam Newton and Matt Ryan in the NFC South.
28. Carolina Panthers – Odell Beckham Jr, Wide Receiver, LSU
The Panthers undoubtedly fill one of their three biggest needs at this point; defensive back, wide receiver, or offensive tackle. At this point, Carolina would possibly be reaching for a defensive back, and with the depth at tackle available, wideout Beckham becomes the obvious selection.
29. New England Patriots – Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tight End, Washington
Seferian-Jenkins is not quite in Ebron’s league, but with Rob Gronkowski struggling to stay fit, and Bill Belichick’s fondness for two tight end sets, he could quickly become Tom Brady’s new best friend in New England.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Louis Nix III, Defensive Tackle, Notre Dame
San Francisco have struggled to find a 3-4 nose tackle for some time now, and having Nix fall to them at this point would be a dream come true. Nix should go higher, but many 3-4 teams already have a starting NT, and those that don’t, have bigger priorities to address.
31. Denver Broncos – Kyle Fuller, Cornerback, Virginia Tech
Although this would make Fuller the fifth corner taken in the draft, Denver will still be confident they have a bona fide first round talent. Outside of Gilbert, there’s not too much separating the top five corners this year, and with Champ Bailey no longer a Bronco, their need at the position is great.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Kelvin Benjamin, Wide Receiver, Florida State
Like Lee, Benjamin underwhelmed at the Combine, but the Seahawks will be confident they can help him achieve his frightening potential, and turn him into one of Russell Wilson’s most valuable weapons.
Image credit: Johnny “Football” Manziel via Facebook.com