Note: This was written before Marcus Mariota announced he was returning to school.
The NFL Draft order is in flux. A mock draft done just a week or two ago will look completely different than it does now. The same will be said until May when the draft takes place. Because of that, and the world's unwavering love of mock drafts, here's the latest take on what could happen in the 2014 NFL Draft. Consider it an early Christmas gift.
As you'd expect, quarterbacks dominated the mock draft with five quarterbacks being picked. If that holds true, it will be the most first-round quarterbacks since 1999. While they all have potential right now, there is assuredly a Cade McNown or Akili Smith in the bunch. That's how the NFL Draft works. No one could have predicted McNown or Smith would bust, so it will be up to those quarterback-needy teams to parse them from the possible Donovan McNabb. That's right, quarterback references from last century.
The strangest thing about all these quarterbacks is that one or even two more could have been squeezed into the early part of the first round.
Wide receivers and offensive and defensive linemen were also popular choices in this version of the mock draft. We're going to be doing them more frequently going forward as the draft process kicks into high gear. If there's something you want to see or have a mock draft of your own, feel free to share it in the comments.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: As they flip between Case Keenum and Matt Schaub this season, it should be apparent that the Texans don't have a franchise quarterback. As long as you don't judge him against players like Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson, Bridgewater has the classic traits of being a franchise quarterback. His on-field intelligence is advanced, and he has plenty of physical talent.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State: The Jaguars are suddenly, and strangely, one of the hotter teams in the NFL. They've abandoned the No. 1 pick and, with an upcoming game against the Houston Texans, could continue tumbling down the draft order. Wherever they land, finding a franchise quarterback is critical. Why Carr over Oregon's Marcus Mariota? General manager David Caldwell was part of the scouting departments that drafted Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and Matt Ryan in Atlanta. He may be more comfortable with the quarterback that fits the same classic pocket passer mold.
3. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: This is the first pick where things get challenging. Would the Rams consider moving on from Sam Bradford while he still has two years left on his contract? Until there are indications otherwise, let's assume they stick with Bradford. That gives St. Louis a lot options. It would be funny if they managed to flip the final pick from the Robert Griffin III trade into more picks. But to keep things simple, lets go with Matthews, the unquestioned top offensive tackle in next year's draft. Matthews can play either side if the Rams choose to continue going with Jake Long at left tackle. Another option could be a true No. 1 wide receiver like Sammy Watkins.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: By the time the draft comes around in May, people are going to be sick of seeing this projected pick. But unless the Falcons win themselves out of getting Clowney, he makes the most sense. While his stats are down this season, Clowney is a phenom. Defensive ends who are 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds shouldn't have the first-step quickness Clowney possesses. NFL teams won't be double- and triple-teaming Clowney like he's getting this season — at least not initially. This is a sprint to the podium pick for Atlanta.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has played decently over the past few weeks (other than a couple turnovers on Sunday). There is a lot an offense could do with a player like Watkins. He's capable of splitting out wide and was a star as a freshman at Clemson mostly working from the slot. Pairing Watkins with Vincent Jackson would give Tampa Bay one of the better wide receiver groups in the league.
6. Minnesota Vikings: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Christian Ponder hasn't worked out. Neither has Josh Freeman or Matt Cassel. The Vikings may revamp their coaching staff in the offseason and could go after a franchise-type quarterback like Mariota. The redshirt sophomore has as much or more upside as any player eligible for the draft. His arm is strong and he's a threat on the move. He's faltered slightly the past few weeks but the potential is limitless.
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7. Cleveland Browns: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU: The Browns can't sit around and wait for a quarterback with their second first-round pick. While Mettenberger is the fourth quarterback off the board in this scenario, he's a natural fit in head coach Rob Chudzinski's vertical offense. Mettenberger has at times been compared to current Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, but he should enter the NFL with a better grasp of a pro passing system. Also, he's not 30. The thought of Mettenberger launching passes to wide receiver Josh Gordon is scary.
8. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: Whether it's a defensive end or a pass rushing linebacker, the Raiders need a player who can get after the quarterback. Barr has some warts as he still learns the position after transitioning from running back, but he can blitz. In this year's draft, Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo were top 10 picks who get scarcely used but have the potential to be top edge rushers. The same could hold true for Barr who should be eased into the NFL. The Raiders will consider a quarterback high if Matt McGloin doesn't look like the future. Passing on a player like Barr, however, would be difficult.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo: Mack carries a lot of value because of his versatility. He's capable of being a three-down linebacker because he can drop in coverage, play the run and certainly blitz. He can even play with his hand in the dirt on occasion. The Bills have done a nice job of adding talent to their defense and Mack would help round out that side of the ball. If it's not a player like Mack, a tight end like Texas Tech's Jace Amaro or wide receiver like Texas A&M's Mike Evans should get some attention from Buffalo as well.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: It's true the Steelers have used several early round picks on offensive linemen since 2010. Several of them just haven't panned out. The thought of the big, nasty Lewan lined up next to David DeCastro would improve the running game greatly and keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright.
11. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: In a passing offense that features a grab bag of wide receivers, the Jets clearly need a No. 1 option. Evans may not have blazing speed, but he consistently wins at the catch point and is nearly impossible to push around at the line of scrimmage.
12. Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, MLB, Alabama: If the top two left tackles gone when they pick, Tennessee could look toward bolstering its linebackers with a player liker Mosley. The leader of Alabama's highly regarded defense could step in as a rookie and play the middle and play the weak side when the team goes with just two linebackers.
13. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame: The Chargers need to work on their defense. In a 3-4, having a capable nose tackle is key. A player like Nix can occupy multiple blockers, opening things up for the team's middle linebackers. Cornerbacks like Jason Verrett of TCU and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon also make sense.
14. New York Giants: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama: Will Beatty's time in New York is likely running out. The Giants did use a first-round pick last year on an offensive tackle in Justin Pugh, but he doesn't necessarily project out to being a left tackle. The phsyical Kouandjio plays a lot like Cordy Glenn of the Bills. He's a mauling tackle who can set the tone in the run game and is fluid enough to handle speed blitzers.
15. St. Louis Rams: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech: The Jared Cook experiment is not working. Amaro has emerged as the top tight end in next year's draft thanks to his stellar hands and play after the catch. There are some questions about his ability as a blocker, but Tech's scheme doesn't often ask him to play inline.
16. Green Bay Packers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: Green Bay's cornerbacks haven't been playing that well this season, so if the opportunity to take a player like Verrett presents itself, they should pounce. Verrett is currently rated as the draft's top cornerback because of his athleticism and ball skills. He could be the player general manager Ted Thompson falls in love with at the Senior Bowl.
17. Chicago Bears: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: The defensive tackle spot has become a weakness for the Bears and they may lose Henry Melton to free agency in the offseason. Hageman's play is similar to reminiscent to former Bears star Tommie Harris. He's a lanky player capable of being physical and splitting double teams.
18. Miami Dolphins: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee: Considering the current offensive line situation for the Dolphins, this would be an easy choice to make. Richardson, who blocks well on the second level and can handle speed rushers at the edge, would be a plug-and-play rookie.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: Head coach Chip Kelly said that Nick Foles will be his starter for the "next 1,000 years," so presumably the Eagles won't be drafting a quarterback until we're all dead and the robots have taken over. So, at least for now, that means no Johnny Football in Philadelphia. The Eagles would be smart to add pieces to a troublesome defense. The secondary in particular is messy with Earl Wolff and Patrick Chung struggling at safety. Clinton-Dix is easily the top safety in the class. He's capable of playing up at the line and dropping into coverage. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon makes sense here as well.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: While Carson Palmer may be signed through the 2015 season, his final year is voidable. Given his struggles and age, the Cardinals would be smart to find a player who can come in and develop for a year. Manziel's skill set is unique, but he has some tools to succeed in the pro game. Namely, his arm is looking markedly stronger and he's seeing the field better. He still tends to freelance a lot, but Ben Roethlisberger did well doing that for head coach Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh.
21. Baltimore Ravens: Marquise Lee, WR, Southern California: While Torrey Smith has turned a good player for the Ravens, a wide receiver like Lee could really open up the offense. Lee is a precise route runner with good hands and speed. He's dropped some in the rankings because of injuries and bad quarterback play at USC this season. But when Lee was on point, he was considered the top receiver in college football.
22. Detroit Lions: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon: Cornerback Chris Houston may be signed to a long contract, but the Lions secondary is struggling. If the team wants to improve the league's 26th-ranked passing defense, Ekpre-Olomu could come in and start immediately. Ekpre-Olomu has made strides this season as a prospect and may end the draft process as the top cornerback. Teams will like his ability to play out on an island and play man coverage.
23. Dallas Cowboys: Stephon Tuitt, DE/DT, Notre Dame: There's a real argument that can be made that no defensive tackle has played better than the Cowboys' Jason Hatcher. He's almost assuredly a Pro Bowler. But the problem for Dallas is that he's a free agent at the end of the season. If he happens to depart, defensive tackle becomes a priority for the Cowboys. Tuitt plays end in Notre Dame's 3-4 scheme but he projects inside in the NFL. He's a solid athlete for the position and is just quick enough to split through gaps.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor: Starting end Michael Johnson is most likely leaving in free agency, and Oakman is a bigger and better version. While the Bengals did draft Margus Hunt this year, a player with Oakman's ridiculous upside would be hard to pass up this late in the draft. If Oakman goes back to Baylor for his junior season, he has the potential to be a top five pick in 2015.
25. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor: The Browns need to improve the right side of their offensive line in the offseason. The issue would be if the team's front office thinks better guard play would make right tackle Mitchell Schwartz a better player. Considering how poorly Shawn Lauvao has played this season, a player like Richardson could take some of the burden off Schwartz. Richardson is a big, bruising guard can open up holes in the run game and is hard to move off the line.
26. San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: Even with Michael Crabtree in the lineup, the 49ers need more talent at wide receiver. Players like Jonathan Baldwin and Mario Manningham just aren't getting it done. Beckham is a sure-handed receiver who can get vertical in a hurry. Get more weapons for Colin Kaepernick and let him become the quarterback Ron Jaworski thinks he can be.
27. Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: Anthony Fasano and Sean McGrath have played about an equal number of snaps at tight end for the Chiefs this season and both have been equally below-average. Ebron may be only a receiving tight end, but he's a good one. He'll likely be the fastest tight end in the draft and can make spectacular catches.
28. New England Patriots: Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU: Chris Jones and Joe Vellano have done an admirable job up front for the Patriots this season, but they're both more backup-type players. A player like Ferguson could be plugged into the middle of New England's line to play the run and pass. He's a three-down player only scratching the surface of how good he can be.
29. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: Whether it's Matthews, LSU's Jarvis Landry or Penn State's Allen Robinson, the Panthers need to add a wide receiver early in the draft. Matthews just happens to be the top player left at the position.
30. New Orleans Saints: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford: Oh, the things Rob Ryan could do with a player like Murphy. He's just athletic enough to stay at linebacker thanks to an improved snap anticipation this season. But Murphy is also capable of playing end when the Saints use a four-man front.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State: The play of middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard has been down this year and he's an impending free agent. Shazier may play outside linebacker for Ohio State, but he's the kind of linebacker capable of playing inside or out. He's a fast-flowing linebacker who can stop the run and drop into coverage.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, G, Stanford: The guard play for Seattle this season has been subpar. A player like Yankey is capable of stepping in as a rookie and can play either side of the ball. He's a strong blocker but also able to get out on the move on pulls. On a very good Stanford offensive line, Yankey is the standout.