The NFL season is over and now the long off-season takes flight. Fans of every team now have reason for optimism as we head into the next few months. Free Agency brings excitement, but nothing creates more buzz and discussion than the NFL draft.
The draft is the most crucial part of building a consistent winning franchise, not free agency. If you think differently, look no further than the Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks.
The combine is days upon us, so now it is time for my pre-combine mock draft. For the record, it is extremely too early to begin these discussions, but we do them anyway. It is hard to predict what teams will pick whom without seeing how free agency unfolds. So now its time for the way too early mock draft:
1. Houston Texans- Johnny Manziel
This is the most college player that has entered the draft since Tim Tebow. Manziel has a unique skill set, but his size makes him a difficult prospect to judge. Russell Wilson is a huge reason why the door is now open for Manziel to potentially be the number one overall pick. His ability to extend the play makes him an attractive prospect. This is Johnny Manziel’s best place of opportunity at being a successful NFL QB to me.
2. St Louis Rams- Greg Robinson
St Louis has this second pick thanks to the Washington Redskins for the RG3 pick just a few short years ago. The Rams have other needs, but they do hold the 13th pick as well. So with the second pick, they will draft the top left tackle prospect of their choice. Jake Long went down with an ACL tear, so they will need a replacement until he is once again healthy. Greg Robinson is SEC battle tested and his presence was hard to miss when watching the national championship game.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars- Jadeveon Clowney
The Jaguars are in need of a QB also, but this team has been amongst the worst in pass rush for years. Gus Bradley enters year two and he is a defensive minded head coach. He was there to see how Seattle rebuilt their defense through the draft and he will mimic that exact process. They drafted a safety at the start of round two last draft, so now its time to build the front of the defense. Clowney would be a home run pick for the Jags at the third spot. He has all the potential in the world to be a top 5 defensive player in the league. His motor is at times question, but we will see his motivation at full force once he hits the field.
4. Cleveland Browns- Teddy Bridgewater
Many draft experts will put Blake Bortles as this selection, but the hire of Kyle Shanahan makes this my clear-cut choice. It’s no secret that the Browns need a franchise QB. This would be a good situation for Bridgewater because there are weapons in Cleveland. They have Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon and a good offensive line. I like this situation for Bridgewater.
5. Oakland Raiders- Blake Bortles
Another top QB prospect goes off the board here in Oakland. Pryor did not look all that bad in limited situations last season, but as Dennis Allen heads into a make it or break it year, a QB selection could be the risk taken here. Bortles has the prototypical size and look of a franchise QB. Oakland is in need of other weapons to help a QB out, so a Sammy Watkins selection remains a possibility.
6. Atlanta Falcons- Jake Matthews
The Falcons had a horrific season last year after entering it as a potential super bowl contender. Nobody could have predicted Atlanta’s downfall, but it could be a blessing in disguise. It will not take them long to get back into the NFC south race, but they need to fix the offensive line and defense. Protecting their franchise QB is priority number one, so the next best left tackle is the selection here. As the draft gets closer, it would not surprise me to see Atlanta try and trade up to the second selection to make a play for Clowney.
7. Tampa Bay- Anthony Barr
Barr is one of my favorite prospects in the NFL draft. He is a polished pass rusher and the Bucs need to add more of those types of players. Their defensive front is solid, but their linebacker corps needs work. Barr would be a perfect fit for this situation. Lovie Smith is now head coach so defense will be the selection here. It is between Barr and Mack, but I see Smith taking a chance on the big school player.
8. Minnesota Vikings- Khalil Mack
Mack is one of the more interesting prospects in the draft. He made his name at the start of the college football season by having a monster game against Ohio State. Mack is a versatile linebacker and there’s not a better situation for him than going to a team led by coach Zimmer. Zimmer was a genius in Cincinnati when working with defense. Mack’s raw ability in combination with a great coach like Zimmer makes this a tremendous selection. Last season the Vikings selected Floyd and Rhodes to the defense, they now address the middle with this selection.
9. Buffalo Bills- Eric Ebron
This is one of my to die for NFL prospects in this years draft. Ebron has great size, but also incredible athleticism to go with it. Ebron was a force for North Carolina all season. Tight ends have become so important in today’s game and the Bills don’t have a stud tight end. There is talk about Watkins here, but they drafted Woods and Goodwin last draft. They are still without a stellar tight end to assist their young QB, so I feel they will go star tight end over receiver here.
10. Detroit Lions- Darqueze Dennard
The Lions need to repair their secondary fast. Their defensive line is amongst the best in the league, but the back end of the defense continues to fail them. In a division that features Aaron Rodger and Jay Cutler, the secondary needs to be up to par. Dennard is the local Michigan St product and the top CB in the draft, so this would be the best selection for Detroit.
11. Tennessee Titans- Sammy Watkins
The Titans have several different holes on both sides of the ball. Ken Wisenhunt comes in as head coach, so you know he will try and reboot the offense. Tennessee needs a receiver to compliment Kendall Wright and Watkins would be the perfect piece to go along with Wright. Delanie Walker was also a solid tight end last season, so with Watkins being added to the mix they have a good foundation.
12. New York Giants- Taylor Lewan
The Giants were horrific on offense last season all around. Eli Manning had a turnover-crazed year and the run game was non-existent. They addressed the offensive line last season with the selection of Justin Pugh, but they are going to need more than just him. Lewan is one of the best tackles in the draft and would help Eli feel more protected. Maybe with better protection, Eli wont be throwing so many interceptions. Linebacker is a possibility here too such as Mosley from Bama.
13. St. Louis Rams- Mike Evans
Mike Evans was Manziel’s go to man at Texas A&M and his size is ridiculous. He is reminiscent of Vincent Jackson and his size is needed in the Rams receiver rotation. The Rams have solid weapons, but all of them are on the smaller end. Evans would give the Rams the size they need and his presence would help free up Tavon Austin.
14. Chicago Bears- Timmy Jernigan
Jernigan is the top defensive line prospect and even one of the best defenders in the entire job. He was a big part of a physical Florida state defense that helped them win the national championship. The Bears need to repair the defense because they do have a high powered offense. The defense at one point suffered the loss of seven defensive starters. They need to begin to fix the defense so what better way to start with the defensive line. Jernigan’s strength is being a force in the run game, but he also is versatile. Soldier Field would be a great fit for Jernigan.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers- CJ Mosley
The Steelers have holes on the offensive line and could deal with that here, but their defense needs help as well. It is in need of a spark of youth on the interior of the line backing corps. Jarvis Jones was the outside pick in the last draft and he will get better with time. The Steelers could use help on the interior defensive line, but with Mosley dropping here it is tough to pass on this kind of hard-nosed playmaker.
16. Dallas Cowboys- Ha Ha Clinton Dix
It is time for the Cowboys to finally draft a safety. There was speculation that they would select Vaccaro last year, but were unable to. The Dallas defense was one of the worst defenses in the league, especially in the back end. It is time for Dallas to add another defensive playmaker to the secondary along with Morris Claiborne. The defensive front could be in play here too, keep in mind Louis Nix III and Aaron Donald.
17. Baltimore Ravens- Cyrus Kouandjio
There is speculation that wide receiver and tight end are needs here, but offensive line right now is the bigger issue in Baltimore. The Ravens could not run the ball last season if their lives depended on it and Joe Flacco was constantly on his back. The Ravens can deal with their needs at receiver and tight end later in the draft. The receiving class is deep and Baltimore only needs a second tight end. Dennis Pitta will be retained, but it is uncertain what will happen with both the tackles. Cyrus gives Baltimore a great left tackle prospect and drafting from Alabama is a common occurrence with Ozzie Newsome.
18. New York Jets- Marqise Lee
The Jets defense was so good it helped lead them to an improbable eight win season. Geno Smith was a roller coaster ride in his rookie season, but ended the last quarter on a high note. There is no talent surrounding Geno Smith, so adding weapons around him is a necessity. Stephen Hill has been a disappointment and Santonio Holmes is found more on milk cartons in New York then on the field. Cumberland ended up being Smith’s most reliable target and that needs to be fixed. Lee gives Smith a reliable playmaker who can also get down the field. New York should not be thinking any other position of need with this pick.
19. Miami Dolphins- Morgan Moses
Moses is a tackle prospect that will rise as May comes closer. He has great size, but he is slightly raw. Just look at last years draft and you will see this is not a reach. Offensive line draft selections were at a premium last year and teams were selecting players higher than they were supposed to go. Moses fixes an obvious need for Miami with the ongoing bullying scandal. Zach Martin is an obvious choice here for most draft experts because of his versatility. While this is true, don’t overlook ties that Moses has with Miami. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was the head coach at Virginia that recruited Moses to play there.
20. Arizona Cardinals- Zach Martin
The Cardinals continue to build on the offensive line to help protect Carson Palmer. Cooper was unable to play last season because of a season ending injury in the preseason. Adding Martin to the mix along with a healthy Cooper would boost their overall offensive play right away. Martin is in question whether he can be a left tackle or not. The safe thing with drafting him is his versatility. He has the potential to be an all-pro guard, similar to a Marshall Yanda.
21. Green Bay- Aaron Donald
This is one of my top 5 favorite players in the draft. Donald’s only concern is his size, but I am not worried about that at all. This guy is the definition of a football player. If you watch the Pitt film, disruptive is all that you see. Donald is an absolute monster and pairing him with BJ Raji would be incredible. The Packers need to revamp the defense and this would be a fantastic start. While secondary is a need, it is going to be hard to pass on a guy like Donald.
22. Philadelphia Eagles- Calvin Pryor
The Eagles offense was high powered in Chip Kelley’s coaching debut. That does not need any work, but the defense does. Having Pryor slip to their laps at 22 would be hard for Philly to pass on. They need more playmakers in the secondary. A defensive pass rusher could be of interest here, but is there a pass rusher higher rated than Pryor at this spot?
23. Kansas City Chiefs- Odell Beckham Jr.
The Chiefs defense for the most part of last season was great, especially when healthy. The offense needs more to it than just Charles carrying the load. To help take the pressure off, Alex Smith needs another weapon on the outside that is dependable. Dwayne Bowe is your bigger style of receiver, so I don’t see Benjamin as the pick here. Beckham is that dependable and physical type of receiver KC needs.
24. Cincinnati Bengals- Justin Gilbert
Leon Hall was hurt last season and Terrence Newman is way past his prime. Having the second rated Corner slip to 24 here would be great for the Bengals. Their front seven is already in place, so the secondary will be the part of the defense that needs repair. Gilbert at 24 would be a steal.
25. San Diego Chargers- LaMarcus Joyner
You could argue that Joyner would be the number one corner in the draft if it weren’t for his short stature. His ball instincts are the best of any corner in this year’s class. San Diego needs to continue to add to their secondary, especially when facing Denver twice a season. Pass rusher could be another position of interest here, but Joyner would be a great defensive playmaker from day one.
26. Cleveland Browns- Allen Robinson
Allen Robinson is the best receiver out of the Big 10 and possesses great size at 6’3. His speed is in question, but the Browns already have a speedy Josh Gordon to stretch the field. Robinson will be a late riser as the draft gets closer. It doesn’t hurt the Browns to add more weapons to the mix, especially if they draft Bridgewater at 4. Running back could also be a pick here. The day of running backs going in the first round are just about over, but at least the Browns have a previous first rounder in this draft to play with.
27. New Orleans Saints- Antonio Richardson
The Saints played Terron Armstead last season, the rookie from Arkansas Pine-Bluff, he did decent. The Saints found success in the post season running the football, so they would like to continue that trend. Adding a tackle like Richardson would boost the run game and it would help protect Bree’s even more than he already is. Richardson would be a good value pick here.
28. Carolina Panthers- Kelvin Benjamin
I am a huge fan of Benjamin as a prospect. To me, he is the second best receiver in the draft, but his inconsistent hands make it hard for people to rank him that high. He has all the size and athleticism that make him a man child and man amongst boys. If Carolina is lucky enough to draft him, the NFC south better watch out. Cam Newton needs more weapons than just the aged Steve Smith on the outside. Adding Benjamin to this offense would be lethal and if this pick does indeed happen, I’m ready to make an offensive rookie of the year pick.
29. New England Patriots- Austin Seferian-Jenkins
It is no question that the Patriots want to get back to their two tight end offense they liked to run with Gronk and Hernandez. Jenkins gives the Patriots an athletic tight end with great size. His playmaking ability in the red zone makes him attractive here and would help keep the pressure off the injured Gronkowski. They could look at receiver, but they had several rookies last year that have another year to grow. Tight end is the more glaring need.
30. San Francisco 49ers- Louis Nix III
The 49ers often take chances on injured players because they already have great depth and can afford to take those risks. Nix III is a hefty gap clogger and would be a great fit to the defensive front rotation in San Francisco. He is considered one of the top defensive tackles of the draft, but his late season injury helps slip him down here to me. This would be one of the best value picks of round one for a consistent Super Bowl contender.
31. Denver Broncos- Marcus Roberson
The Broncos playoff run put on full display of their dire need. Champ Bailey is not getting younger and Chris Harris suffered a devastating injury in the post season. So corner back is the obvious need for Denver here and they should look no further than that. Roberson is the next best guy off the board or they could go with Roby from Ohio State.
32. Seattle Seahawks- Jarvis Landry
The Hawks don’t have a need at defense whatsoever, so offense will be the side of the ball to add to. With both receivers entering free agency and Percy Harvin never being consistently healthy, Landry would be the good choice here. Jace Amaro the tight end from Texas Tech could be another name to remember. I just feel receiver is the biggest need because you figure Seattle will lose at least one starter to free agency.