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The NFL offseason is often a long and arduous process for fans of the sport, but on May 8, some measure of relief will come with the beginning of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Senior Bowl, Combine and Pro Days have all come and gone, and with individual workouts and player interviews ongoing, most NFL teams will now have a solid idea of what their final draft boards will look like. With a few projected trades, here is our final mock draft, as we begin the countdown to the draft’s opening night at Radio City Music Hall, New York.
1. Atlanta Falcons (projected trade with the Houston Texans) – Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina
This trade is by no means guaranteed, but it makes a lot of sense. The Falcons are in desperate need of another pass rusher, and Clowney is certainly the most physically gifted in the entire draft. It’s a side note, but Clowney has also publicly stated he wants Atlanta to trade up for him, and any concerns over his work ethic might be eased with the knowledge he’d be playing for a team close to home (South Carolina) and one that he truly wants to play for.
2. St Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins) – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Rams have explored shopping the second pick of the draft, but if Clowney is off the board after the first pick, there’s likely to be little interest in paying the price St Louis will surely demand for the pick. Picking Robinson will give them a franchise left tackle and help keep Sam Bradford upright and healthy in a division full of dynamic pass rushers.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Quarterback is obviously a need here, but Jacksonville seem happy to persist with Chad Henne until they find a prospect they truly fall in love with. Mack can be a difference maker on their defense, which has already been bolstered by the additions of Chris Clemons and Red Bryant during free agency.
4. Cleveland Browns – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Cleveland have swung and missed in some of their recent drafts, and for that reason, they opt for the most reliable and pro-ready quarterback in the class, Bridgewater. A poor Pro Day had Bridgewater plummeting on some mocks, but with weapons like Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron already on the roster in Cleveland, Bridgewater can help make the Browns a competitive force in the AFC North.
5. San Francisco 49ers (projected trade with the Oakland Raiders) – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
If Watkins makes it past both Jacksonville and Cleveland, it could well initiate a bold move from San Francisco, who have a plethora of picks and few open roster spots. Drafting Watkins would give the 49ers the speed and dynamism they need to compliment a receiving corps already boasting the likes of Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin.
6. Houston Texans (projected trade with the Atlanta Falcons) – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Houston need a quarterback but taking any of the ‘big three’ with the first pick of the draft would probably be considered a reach. By trading down, the Texans garner more picks and can still take their preferred quarterback, keeping Manziel in the Lone Star State.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Buccaneers need to bolster their receiving corps with Mike Williams now plying his trade in Buffalo, and who better to partner Vincent Jackson than the rookie who most are comparing to him? Evans will be able to learn from Jackson for his first few seasons before taking over the mantle of number one receiver in Tampa.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
There’s plenty of upside about Bortles, but there’s also no escaping the fact this is a risky pick for the Vikings. Bortles is arguably less pro-ready than Bridgewater, Manziel and Derek Carr, but it’s a pick that could certainly payoff in the long run if he can reach his potential in the league.
9. Buffalo Bills – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Thanks to Vernon Davis-like athleticism, competent blocking ability, and receiving skills which should only improve under the tutelage of NFL coaches, it’s highly conceivable that Ebron could break the top 10 on May 8. The Bills are determined to help E. J. Manuel succeed, and drafting a dynamic safety blanket for the second-year quarterback will do just that.
10. Detroit Lions – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma St.
Detroit desperately need to improve their secondary, and drafting the best cornerback in the class is a solid step towards that goal. Giving Matthew Stafford another weapon should also be a priority, but with Watkins, Evans and Ebron all off the board, Gilbert makes the most sense for the Lions.
11. Tennessee Titans – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
There are suggestions the Titans will adopt a 3-4 defense next season, making this pick look like extremely good value, but even if they don’t, Barr still represents the best player available for a Tennessee defense which needs more playmakers.
12. New York Giants – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Drafting Lewan would probably require a reshuffling of the Giants’ offensive line, but chances to grab a franchise left tackle don’t come along every year, and Lewan is too enticing a prospect to ignore here. A starting caliber receiver and linebacker can be found in the later rounds, addressing the Giants’ other pressing needs.
13. St Louis Rams – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Clinton-Dix is a dynamic playmaking safety, and alongside emerging talents like Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and T. J. McDonald, would help ensure St Louis’ secondary is one to watch over the coming years.
14. Chicago Bears – Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida St.
The Bears need interior disruption to help new signings Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen wreak havoc on the edge, and if Jernigan can continue to draw double teams in the NFL, then he shades Aaron Donald in that area.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan St.
Dennard would provide the Steelers with a solid corner to help ease the transition that is surely coming when both Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu decide to hang up their cleats. He has prototypical size for the position, but durability will be a concern, especially given the brand of tough, hard-nosed football played in the AFC North.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
If the Bears pass on Donald, it could be a dream come true scenario for Dallas, who have a major need at the position. Not only that, but with DeMarcus Ware and his production now in Denver, finding new pass rushers is vital for the Cowboys, and Donald is arguably the best interior pass rusher in the entire draft.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Clinton-Dix would have been the more obvious fit had he been available, but obsession on Pryor’s hard-hitting style has led to some ignoring his ability to undercut routes and get after the football. It’s a selection which would allow Matt Elam to move to his preferred strong safety spot, and give the Ravens a dynamic duo for years to come.
18. New York Jets – Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU
Eric Decker excelled as a number two receiver in Denver, but for him to succeed as a number one receiver in New York, he will need a playmaking deputy to help draw attention away from him. That could well be Beckham.
19. Miami Dolphins – Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
No unit in the NFL was in such a dire situation last year as the Dolphins’ offensive line, and Martin would help rebuild the line with his solid technique and praiseworthy work ethic. Long-term he may be better suited to a spot on the interior of the line, but he should do a capable job at right tackle in his rookie season.
20. Arizona Cardinals – Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
Ford is seen by many as a prime candidate to transition from defensive to outside linebacker in the right scheme, and if he landed in Arizona, would an extra dimension to what is an already impressive Cardinals’ defense.
21. Green Bay Packers – C. J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The ‘Bama linebacker would be a very nice fit alongside A. J. Hawk in the heart of the Green Bay defense, and as a noted locker room leader, would add as much off the field as he would on it. A smart pick in a division loaded with impressive running backs and tight ends.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio St.
It’s been an impressive offseason for Roby, who has understandably risen up experts’ draft boards, moving from a second round talent to an almost guaranteed first round pick. He helps fill a need on the Eagles’ roster and also allows them to subscribe to the best player available policy.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Chiefs were burnt recently by a big-bodied receiver in the form of Jon Baldwin, and could opt for a different approach to the receiver position this time round. Kansas City already have a number one receiver in Dwayne Bowe, and Lee could prove to be the perfect complement.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
With Ford off the draft board at this point, Ealy is clearly the best available defensive end left. He would replace Michael Johnson on the edge for the Bengals and would have to worry about little else than pinning his ears back and getting after the quarterback.
25. San Diego Chargers – Kyle Fuller, CB Virginia Tech
Cam Thomas departed for Pittsburgh this offseason, making Louis Nix a very tempting prospect, but finding a playmaking corner in today’s passing league arguably takes preference. Well-balanced corner, who despite not being the master of any trades as of yet, has no glaring weaknesses to his game.
26. Cleveland Browns (via the Indianapolis Colts) – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon St.
You’ve rolled the dice and taken a quarterback with the fourth overall pick, you now need to make sure he succeeds. Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron are good weapons to start with, but add a player like Cooks to play in the slot and the Browns will test any defense they come up against this season.
27. New Orleans Saints – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida St.
Benjamin is an exceptional physical talent, with an extremely high ceiling, but he is also raw. New Orleans wouldn’t have to rely too heavily on Benjamin in his rookie season with Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills on the roster, something which could be beneficial for a receiver who is still learning his trade.
28. Carolina Panthers – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
If, as projected, there is a rush on receivers prior to Carolina’s pick, they could well go in favor of a corner at this point, and still pick up a starting quality receiver in the second round. Both positions are big needs for the Panthers, as is the left tackle spot, but without trading up, Carolina will struggle to avoid being criticized for reaching at this point.
29. New England Patriots – Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
Planning for the post-Vince Wilfork era is a must for the Patriots and Nix could be a solid contributor to their future (and current) defensive line. There are few better teachers in the NFL than Bill Belichick, whilst learning from Wilfork is an opportunity many defensive linemen around the league would love to have.
30. Oakland Raiders (projected trade with the San Francisco 49ers) – Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Raiders will have charged the 49ers a kings’ ransom to move up in the draft, and although they miss out on drafting a premiere talent, the accrued picks will serve them better in the long run. Oakland surprised a lot of people last year by passing on Shariff Floyd, but could get their disruptive interior presence this year in the form of Hageman.
31. Denver Broncos – Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
The Broncos made numerous big splashes in free agency, but didn’t find a replacement for Zane Beadles, who left for Jacksonville. Su’a-Filo, as the top guard in the draft, can step into the Broncos’ offensive line immediately with little fuss or disruption.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Russell Wilson is superb at making plays on the run, but reinforcing the offensive line and ensuring that he doesn’t have to on a regular basis is paramount in Seattle. Moses, although not projected as a franchise left tackle, could have a very productive career at right tackle, or inside at either guard spot.
Image credit: Atlanta Falcons via Facebook.com