As free agency kicks off, here is my first shot at a mock draft. I always tell people that no one knows anything this time of year, myself included. Even reporters close to teams who get information are likely being fed smokescreens. However, mock drafts are fun and people enjoy them, so here is my best educated guess as of March 11. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter @thepigskinguy.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville – Unless the Texans simply don’t like any of the top quarterbacks, this pick will be used to take one. Bridgewater is criticized a lot because he has been pegged as one of the top two picks in this draft for two years. However, there is also a lot to like about him. I have followed Bill O’Brien for a while and Bridgewater has everything he looks for in a quarterback. History suggests teams with the first pick that need a quarterback usually go with the safe choice over upside, so I think when the smoke settles, Houston will opt for Bridgewater over Blake Bortles.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT Auburn – The Rams would probably like to trade out of this spot but if they stay, Robinson is a logical selection. He fills a need for St. Louis and Robinson is now the top offensive tackle on many draft boards following his impressive combine.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina – Gus Bradley is a defensive minded coach and unless the Jaguars absolutely love one of the quarterbacks in this draft, it will be hard for them to pass up on a prospect like Clowney if he’s still on the board at three.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB Central Florida – Everyone on the planet appears to love Brian Hoyer but an organization needs more than him at quarterback if they want to end decades of losing. Bortles still needs some work but he is smart with a big arm. I describe Bortles as a poor man’s Andrew Luck coming out of college and I say that as a compliment considering I expect Luck to be a Top 3 NFL quarterback very soon.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR Clemson – I actually have Watkins as the top overall prospect in this draft. I think he is the one can’t-miss prospect given all the physical attributes Watkins brings to the receiver position. That theory will be tested if he goes to Oakland but Watkins certainly fills a need for the Raiders. Oakland has some decent receivers but no one close to being in Watkins’ class. He will be a game-changer from Day 1.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE Buffalo – Mack dominated in college and while some will point to the fact that he played in the MAC, he had some of his biggest games against top-level competition. I saw Mack play a couple of times against bigger schools and he was a terror coming off the edge. He will instantly help a dormant Falcons’ pass rush.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT Texas A&M – The Bucs could go in many different directions but Matthews would be tough to pass up here. Matthews is a devastating run blocker and he has quick feet for a guy his size. The Bucs want to run the football and Matthews will help them solidify their line.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M – The Vikings re-signed Matt Cassel but they want to add a young quarterback in the draft and Manziel makes sense for Minnesota. A polarizing figure, Manziel will be an easy sell to a fan base that idolizes the quarterback he is often compared to: Fran Tarkenton. While Manziel does run a lot, when he threw from pocket last season he did a much better job of going through his progressions than the year before. Also, like him or not, Manziel ripped Nick Saban’s defense twice and that doesn’t happen often.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR Texas A&M – The Bills are set on building around EJ Manuel and giving the young quarterback a 6’5 receiver is a great way to help him. Stevie Johnson is slowing down and there aren’t many receivers that can make plays with corners draped all over him like Evans can. Evans, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin would make an intriguing young trio of receivers in Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB Michigan State – A lot of people like Justin Gilbert as the top corner because of his speed but I don’t think it’s close. Dennard was the best cover corner in college football last year. Denard is tough, smart and he would make a great addition to Detroit’s secondary.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, LB UCLA – Barr could easily be a Top 10 selection given his ability and production in college. However, if Barr slips to 11, the Titans will have to strongly consider him. Tennessee can go in a lot of different directions but the Titans are in need of an explosive pass rusher and Barr fits the bill.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT Michigan – Linebacker is a popular pick for the Giants and they certainly need to upgrade at that position. However, the Giants had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season and protecting Eli Manning is the team’s top priority. Lewan was one of the few bright spots on the worst coached team in college football last year once Lane Kiffin was fired.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton Dix, S Alabama – When your name is “Ha Ha” you should be drafted in the Top 15 by law. Dix is all over the field. I actually think he is one of the 10 best players in the draft at any position. The Rams safeties are dreadful. Dix would come in and be a huge upgrade to a defense that already has a nasty front seven.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT Florida State – How bad was the Bears’ rush defense last year? Ray Rice gained 131 yards on them. Chicago is one of the easiest teams to project. They badly need a defensive tackle or safety. If the talented Jernigan is on the board, he will be a strong possibility for the Bears.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Aaron Donald, DT Pittsburgh – Like Chicago, the Steelers could go safety or defensive tackle here. Receiver is also a possibility but Donald is flying up draft boards. He also represents both value and fills a need for Pittsburgh. The Steelers often take the best player available and at 15, Donald would be that guy on a lot of boards.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix, DT Notre Dame – The run on defensive tackles continues. The Cowboys’ defensive line is likely to take another hit when they lose DE Jason Hatcher to free agency, as Jerry Jones’ mismanagement of the salary cap continues to put the team in a bind. Dallas desperately needs a nose tackle and Nix is one of the top ones in this draft. He would be an excellent pick for the Cowboys, which means you can cross him off the list.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Odell Beckham, WR LSU – The Ravens badly need another receiver to complement Torrey Smith and help Joe Flacco. Beckham is a tough receiver that can go inside similar to Anquan Boldin, only with more speed. Beckham is one of the most underrated players in the draft. He has all the skills to be a star NFL receiver.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE North Carolina – Geno Smith took a lot of criticism in his first season and much of it was deserved. Still, the Jets had the worst group of receivers and tight ends in the NFL. New York has to go offense with this pick to help its young quarterback. They could take a receiver but Ebron is the top tight end prospect available and would represent great value if he is still on the board at 18.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zach Martin, OT Notre Dame – Martin was excellent during his career at Notre Dame. He dominated as a left tackle and Martin has the versatility to play multiple positions on the line early in his career. Given all the problems the Dolphins have with their offensive line right now, Martin would be an excellent selection for them.
20. Arizona Cardinals: C.J. Mosley, LB Alabama – We are getting to the point in the draft where value matters and while Arizona does need an outside linebacker, Mosley is too good to pass up here even if the position may not be the team’s most pressing need. Mosley would fit in nicely with one of the emerging defensive units in the NFL.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S Louisville – The Packers had some of the worst safety play in the NFL last year. If either Pryor or Clinton Dix are on the board at 21, Green Bay will have to strongly consider them to address a major weakness.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB Oklahoma State – Gilbert probably won’t last this long but I’m not as high on him as some people. When it comes to corners I think it’s Dennard and everyone else. The Eagles’ secondary was awful last season. They could address it in free agency but either way, corner and safety are both options for Philadelphia at 22.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR USC – The Chiefs need more gamebreakers on offense and Lee would be a steal this low. Lee is slipping among draftniks but they need to look at his college situation. When you still put up numbers despite playing for the worst coach on the planet, it says a lot. I think Lee is one of the top offensive threats in the draft.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE Missouri – The Bengals will likely lose Michael Johnson, so Ealy will help Cincinnati upgrade at a vital position. Ealy is a quick edge rusher who is also strong against the run. He can step in and rotate with Carlos Dunlap and Margus Hunt as a rookie.
25. San Diego Chargers: David Yankey, G Stanford – The Chargers showed at the end of last season their offense is at its best when they can run the ball effectively. Yankey is a piledriving run blocker who will instantly upgrade San Diego’s line at a position of need.
26. Cleveland Browns: Brandin Cooks, WR Oregon State – The Browns are picking here because the Colts thought they said “sixth round” pick instead of “first round” pick for Trent Richardson. Cleveland obviously has many needs but Josh Gordon is really the only threat the Browns have at receiver. The explosive Cooks would change that, along with giving Cleveland a dangerous return man.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE Auburn – I have Ford as a Top 15 player in this draft and will probably move him up as we go along. However, right now this is the area he is projected to go in. Ford dominated last year in the SEC and if he goes to the right team like the Saints, I think he will be a stud in the NFL. I won’t be surprised if someone like the Steelers grab him higher in the draft but if Ford lasts this long, Rob Ryan will love him.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR Florida State – If a top receiver is on the board at 28, I have to think the Panthers will pull the trigger. Carolina has the pieces in place to make another Super Bowl run, they just need more weapons in the passing game and help at offensive tackle. The 6’5 Benjamin would give Cam Newton a huge target, especially in the red zone.
29. New England Patriots: Kyle Fuller, CB Virginia Tech – If New England loses Aqib Talib, I like this pick for the Patriots. Fuller is the kind of smart, versatile corner Bill Belichick likes. Watching him in college, I could see Fuller playing for New England, so I’m projecting him to go there over the more popular Jace Amaro pick.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Bradley Roby, CB Ohio State – The 49ers don’t have many weaknesses but one area where they could stand to upgrade is at cornerback, especially after releasing Carlos Rogers. Roby was inconsistent last season but he still possesses a ton of physical ability. Under the right coaching staff, Roby has the tools to be a top-tier NFL corner.
31. Denver Broncos: Ra’Shede Hageman, DL Minnesota – The Broncos could grab an OT here to protect Peyton Manning but with Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips’ futures both in doubt, defensive line is an area of need as well. Besides, if Hageman lasts this long, the versatile lineman will be one of the top players left on the board.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE Texas Tech – Seattle likes Luke Wilson but Amaro would add another dimension to the Seahawks’ offense. Amaro creates a lot of mismatches with opposing defenses and would give Russell Wilson a legitimate threat at the tight end position. Amaro is coming off a season where he caught 106 passes at Texas Tech.