With the regular season complete, NFL Draft season has begun for 20 teams. The top of the draft looks like it will be heavy on quarterbacks, but will the quality meet the need? If not, 2014 could be a repeat of 2011 when six of the first 36 picks were quarterbacks. Between now and May, teams will be trying to figure out which quarterback is Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick and which is Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder.
With the need for so many quarterbacks in the top 10, some of the draft's best players could slide. In the real draft, that could lead to a flurry of trades. For the purpose of this mock draft, no trades were made. But don't be shocked when the Rams get a bounty in return for the No. 2 overall pick once again.
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Whether the Texans hire Bill O'Brien or someone else as a head coach, it's evident Houston needs a franchise quarterback. Compared to the other quarterbacks expected to be in next year's draft, there are far fewer downsides about Bridgewater than the others. He's more of a cerebral quarterback who does work before the snap and has the natural talent to make plenty of difficult throws.
Starting left tackle Jake Long, whom the Rams just signed before the season, tore his ACL and MCL in the team's second-to-last game of the season. It's possible Long will be healthy by the start of next regular season. But how effective will he be upon his return? If nothing else, Matthews is a good, safe pick. Matthews is capable of playing at a high level on either the left or right side. With Rodger Saffold approaching free agency after this season, Matthews would be an upgrade to the line.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Jacksonville may not be a quarterback away from challenging for the AFC South division title, but having one could expedite the team's turnaround. Carr is only as good as the offensive line in front of him, so general manager Dave Caldwell will have to make sure his pass protection is in order. If Caldwell isn't comfortable selecting who they view as the second-best quarterback, a pass rusher like Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack will come into play.
The Browns are, once again, in search of a new head coach after firing Rob Chudzinski after one season. So with the team's first pick in this mock draft, let's do a hypothetical. Say the Browns hire New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. There have been several reports about it already. By extension, let's say the Browns trade a second-round pick for Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. With what it'd view as the quarterback of the future in place, that would leave Cleveland to address its other needs. Adding a wide receiver like Watkins opposite Josh Gordon would give the Browns a dynamic receiver group that would be unrivaled in the AFC North. Watkins is a playmaker who can be used outside or in the slot.
If the Browns don't add a quarterback with their first pick, the Raiders are the beneficiary. Bortles is somewhat of a project at quarterback, but he has the natural ability to succeed. Oakland hasn't used a first-round pick on a quarterback since striking out on JaMarcus Russell in 2007, but it needs to take a chance again. Oakland will be tempted to draft Jadeveon Clowney as well. Either way, the Raiders can't do wrong in next year's draft.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The last time Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff had the sixth pick at his disposal, he did well for himself drafting wide receiver Julio Jones. Getting a player of Clowney's caliber with the sixth pick would be as big of a coup. Because of the need for quarterbacks, it's possible a premier player like Clowney could slip to the Falcons.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
It has to be sort of a bummer to finish the season 4-12 with one of the NFL's worst offenses and still only get the seventh pick in the draft. Bright side, Bucs fans: Tampa will at least have the third pick of the second round. This is a tough spot for Tampa, though. The best quarterbacks are gone, as are Clowney and Matthews. Mack could be brought in as a combo end/linebacker. The fit is not perfect, but Mack is a player with few flaws who would unquestionably improve the defense. A tight end like Eric Ebron of North Carolina would also be under consideration.
After failing with Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman and Christian Ponder this season, the Vikings need to try for another franchise quarterback in the draft. Manziel is a quarterback who possesses every intangible asset. He's a tough player and widely respected as a team leader. From the intangible and size standpoints, Manziel is Russell Wilson. He's not quite the passer Wilson is at this point, but he can get there. If he does, the Vikings would have a steal with the eighth pick.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
There is going to be a heated debate about what the Bills should do with this choice. Which has more value in an offense, a lead tight end or a No. 1 wide receiver? If there was a Jimmy Graham-like tight end in the 2014 draft, that might be the answer. There's not. Because of that, a player like Evans would be a wiser choice. He can win any jump ball situation and pull in bad throws. He's a good foil for receivers like Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Although Ezekiel Ansah is an emerging talent and Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh are stars in the middle, the Lions finished near the bottom of the league in sacks. Barr has the talent to at least be a pass-rush specialist early in his career. A player like Evans would probably be the preferable option for the Lions, but he's off the board here. A cornerback makes sense as well, but there is depth at the position.
11. Tennessee Titans: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Right tackle Dave Stewart may not be back next season, and if he's let go the position becomes a big need for Tennessee. Robinson is a powerhouse left tackle for Auburn and has the physical blocking style to succeed on the right side. Once Michael Roos retires or moves on, Robinson can shift to the left. It will be worth monitoring what the Titans say about Jake Locker. A quarterback could be on the table.
12. New York Giants: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Giants would probably love to see a linebacker like Barr or Mack available. If they're gone, this is somewhat early for a player like C.J. Mosley of Alabama. Instead, a big, athletic cornerback like Gilbert makes sense. He has the size and athleticism that will get him ranked highly by general manager Jerry Reese.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
There has been some back and forth about whether or not Ekpre-Olomu will enter the draft. Since a mock is a hypothetical, let's say he goes pro. If he does, he's a better choice for St. Louis than safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama. Clinton-Dix isn't quite the coverage safety the Rams need, and there isn't one worth a first-round pick. Ekpre-Olomu is a physical cornerback who can play the run. A wide receiver makes sense here as well, but Ekpre-Olomu might have a bigger impact.
14. Chicago Bears: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Anyone who watched the Bears lose to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday saw shoddy safety play throughout the game. The Bears have needs throughout their defense, so getting the best safety in the draft is a nice place to start. While they also need a defensive tackle, there is depth at the position this year.
The Steelers have one of the oldest defenses in the league, so an infusion of talented youth is needed this offseason. The Steelers wouldn't go wrong if they went defensive line or secondary. Dennard gets the nod at cornerback over someone like Jason Verrett of TCU because he's a more physical player.
Considering how Lee played in USC's bowl game, his draft stock is on the upward tick again. Because of that, he may be viewed by general manager Ozzie Newsome as the best player available. He would pair well with Torrey Smith. Lee can run any route and has good hands.
Baltimore and Dallas will flip a coin at the NFL Combine to determine who gets picks 16 and 17. Baltimore is at No. 16 here because the two teams are in alphabetical order.
16 or 17. Dallas Cowboys: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Jason Hatcher was a superstar for the Cowboys this season, but Nick Hayden struggled next to him. The addition of Hageman would improve one of the league's worst run defenses, and add an extra element to the pass rush. If the Cowboys happen to show three-man fronts, Hageman has the athleticism to play end as well.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
With the top three wide receivers gone, the Jets could go after a dangerous pass-catching tight end like Ebron or Texas Tech's Jace Amaro. Ebron gets the nod because he's basically an oversized wide receiver. He attacks the seam and can beat most defensive backs over the top with his speed.
Projecting an offensive tackle to Miami is going to be a common occurrence in mock drafts. In fact, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Dolphins used their first two picks on offensive linemen. Kouandjio obviously fits a big need, but he's arguably the best player available. Just scratching the surface of his potential, Kouandjio can overpower defenders but has enough quickness to stop speed rushers on the edge.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bradley Sowell was the worst offensive tackle in the NFL this season. Getting a player like Lewan is a steal. He's a big, nasty blocker who can overpower defenders in the run game. There are some technical flaws with Lewan's footwork, but if he gets it figured out, he profiles as a 10-year starter at left tackle.
21. Green Bay Packers: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The last year of B.J. Raji's contract is voidable, and Green Bay's veteran defensive end has struggled. Tuitt comes from Notre Dame's three-man front and has experience playing outside and inside. He's a sneaky good athlete for being more than 300 pounds and would help improve Green Bay's 25th-ranked rush defense.
22. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Nix would fit nicely in the middle of San Diego's defense where Cam Thomas has struggled some this season. Nix is the type of defensive tackle who can occupy multiple blockers and still push the pocket backward.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Pick any defensive back and it would be an upgrade for the Eagles. Having Verrett on the outside would be a nice complement to Brandon Boykin, who has developed into Philadelphia's best cornerback.
The upside Benjamin possesses is unequal in next year's draft. He's a massive wide receiver at 6'5 and more than 230 pounds and can make spectacular catches look routine.
Roby didn't have quite the season many expected, but the talent is still evident. If Cincinnati's coaching staff can get the most out of him, Roby could be one of the bigger steals of the draft.
Although Richardson played left tackle at Tennessee, he's a strong enough player to line up on the right side in the NFL. Mitchell Schwartz didn't have quite the second season many expected, and a player like Richardson could make him a good depth piece or allow him to try playing guard.
Mosley is the leader of Alabama's defense and capable of playing the middle or weak side. He's a highly instinctual player who would give the Saints a steady playmaker in the front seven.
28. New England Patriots: Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor
Not only is Richardson arguably the best player available here, but Bill Belichick might see some Logan Mankins in his playing style. Richardson is a rugged blocker who seems to like putting defenders on their back.
It's sort of lazy to go best wide receiver available for Carolina, but it fits a big need and Beckham is a good value here. Beckham has superb hands and can do enough to get himself open.
Tarell Brown is a free agent after the season and Carlos Rogers didn't play particularly well this season. A player like Joyner can be a tone-setter in the secondary because of how physical he is against receivers.
Wesley Woodyard is a free agent after this season, and it would not only be more cost-efficient to add Shazier, but he's a better player in general. Shazier may not be able to take on the most powerful of blockers, but he has the speed to make plays sideline to sideline and is a deceptively good pass rusher from the middle.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The value here is too much to pass up. Amaro is viewed by many as the top tight end in next year's draft and would step in to be Seattle's starter straight away. Amaro's blocking gets knocked, but that's more a consequence of Tech's offense.