Last year's Senior Bowl featured 10 first-round picks, an incredible number considering how many top seniors usually sit the game out. Don't expect that number to be near the same this year. In this week's mock draft, just three players are participating in the Senior Bowl.
That means a couple things. First, the 2014 NFL Draft is heavy on top underclassmen. After all, a record number of 98 them are in the draft this year. Secondly, the draft status for a lot of players is still in flux. A good week from some seniors and they could land in the first round. A bad week from the three in this mock draft and there could be none in the first round.
The scenario for this week's mock was to change things up at the top. That means no quarterback for the Houston Texans. What fun is a mock draft if we do the same thing every week?
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The thought of the Texans simply drafting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater isn't quite a slam dunk. The Texans will have to do their due diligence on the top quarterbacks in this year's draft. If the scouting department and general manager Rick Smith don't see a franchise quarterback, Clowney could be the choice. Owner Bob McNair has said Clowney is a once-a-decade player, and that may not be a smoke screen.
Trades in mock drafts lead to too much hypothetical madness, so we don't do them. If we did, the Rams wouldn't have this pick. Look for St. Louis to try to swap out of No. 2 to a team wanting a quarterback. If the Rams stay in the top 10, the pick should be between Watkins and Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews. Watkins is the true No. 1 receiver the Rams don't have. Despite taking Tavon Austin in the top 10 a year ago, Watkins is a legitimate top-five choice and the clear top wideout in the draft this year.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
If there happens to be a scenario where Bridgewater is still on the board when Jacksonville picks, he should be the choice. Bridgewater isn't at the level of someone like Andrew Luck, but no one is going to be. Across the board, Bridgewater can do everything well. He may not blow you away in any particular area, but he's not deficient either. He's a complete quarterback and NFL ready from a poise and football intelligence standpoint. He's a Day 1 starter a team can build around.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The rumors have been rampant that the Browns covet Manziel. Say what you will about this being rumor season, but the ones surrounding Manziel and Cleveland have been happening since the college football season ended. Without a head coach (still), it's impossible to pinpoint what the Browns will do on offense. But it's clear the team needs a quarterback, and Manziel has boom or bust potential. Manziel is undoubtedly a dangerous prospect, but the Browns need to take the chance. Which is better, a quarterback who dynamically explodes in their face, or one that whimpers into obscurity like Brandon Weeden or Brady Quinn?
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The team that draft Bortles has to take him based on the potential he possesses. He's not a finished product coming out of Central Florida. His size and raw tools are good enough to warrant a top-five pick. For a team like Oakland – one that is more than a quarterback away – Bortles is an ideal choice. Start his development process now and add pieces around him.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The argument for Matthews being the pick is simply best player available. The Falcons have to decide what they want to do at both tackle spots this offseason. At left tackle, Sam Baker has been injured and pretty average when he does play. At right tackle, Lamar Holmes rated as the second-worst offensive tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus. Matthews could step in and play either side, letting the Falcons figure out what to do with Baker and Holmes while upgrading the position with a top talent.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Buccaneers are in a similar situation as the Falcons. Go with Donald Penn for another year at left tackle and hope he plays better, or add a younger, more talented player? Robinson was a revelation this season. He's a powerful blocker who could open up massive running lanes for Doug Martin.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Carr's draft placement is on the line this week at the Senior Bowl. If he looks good in practice, he'll justify a first-round pick and make people forget his bad bowl showing. A poor performance in Mobile, Ala. and he'll plummet. With quarterback-needy teams in front of them, the Vikings are in a tough spot to find a signal caller.
9. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Mosley, MLB, Alabama
The Bills were one of the worst teams in the NFL in run defense this season, even with rookie Kiko Alonso piling up tackles. Mosley is an athletic middle linebacker, in the mold of NaVorro Bowman. He's always around the ball in the run game and can drop in coverage.
10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
It's true, a top-10 wide receiver for the Lions despite having the best wide receiver in the NFL with Calvin Johnson. But quarterback Matthew Stafford needs another receiver with good hands. Evans is a big target with an enormous catch radius. He excels at coming back to the quarterback on broken routes and drops few passes.
11. Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Titans are going to be tied to an offensive tackle throughout much of the draft process. In this instance, the top two in Matthews and Robinson are gone. Lewan may have spent his entire Michigan career on the left side, but he has the functional strength to work on the right. When Michael Roos decides to retire, Lewan could shift over.
12. New York Giants: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
A player of Mack's caliber would be impossible for the Giants to pass up with the 12th pick in the draft. While cornerback may be a great need for New York, Mack is a complete linebacker. He's capable of dropping in coverage, can stack and shed versus the run and gets around the edge on the pass rush.
13. St. Louis Rams: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
With Jake Long's injury, and Rodger Saffold's free agency, the Rams should look to address the offensive line early in the draft this year. While that goes against Jeff Fisher's draft history, he doesn't have the pieces in St. Louis he did in Tennessee.
14. Chicago Bears: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Going into the 2013 season, the Bears weren't set at safety. You could say the same thing coming out of the season. Clinton-Dix is the draft's best safety because of his size/athleticism combination. He can get after the ball carrier in the run game and has good instincts when patrolling the back half of the field.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
With Ike Taylor turning 34 by the start of next season, the Steelers should find some young talent in the secondary. Dennard's style is similar to Taylor in that he's physical with receivers and he's a sound tackler. Drafting a cornerback (or two) early would allow the Steelers to move Taylor inside to safety if they wanted.
16 or 17. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California
Torrey Smith had an excellent 2013 season, but after his 1,128 receiving yards, Baltimore's highest yards total came from Marlon Brown with 524. Lee, an expert route runner, would pair nicely opposite Smith. If the Ravens want to get the most out of their investment in Joe Flacco, they have to give him better receivers.
16 or 17. Dallas Cowboys: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman is another player who could really help or hurt himself at the Senior Bowl. The Cowboys need someone to pair next to Jason Hatcher and Hageman would give Dallas a dangerous duo.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Jets will have to make a tough decision during the first round. Do they take whatever wide receiver may fall to them, arguably the draft's best tight end or hope a pass rusher slips this far. In this scenario, the pick came down to Ebron versus UCLA pass rusher Anthony Barr. Ebron was the choice (this time) because he'd help the development of quarterback Geno Smith.
19. Miami Dolphins: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Dolphin fans should be used to this sort of pick by now. Whatever offensive lineman falls to Miami, within reason, should be the choice. Richardson is an athletic left tackle who can beat speed rushers to the edge and is capable of getting out on the move.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
With the best offensive tackles all picked, the Cardinals would do well by taking one of the top pass rushers in the draft this year. Barr may slip to this range because he's limited outside of blitzing the quarterback. While stopping the run may not be Barr's strong point, he's the kind of player who should get double-digit sacks as a rookie.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The need for quality safety play in the NFL is great. Teams that need them – like the Packers desperately do – need to find one early in the draft or miss out. If the Packers don't strike on someone like Pryor in the first round, the team immediately after them will. This isn't just a courtesy, need-based pick either. Pryor is a legit first-rounder who can lay heavy hits and has good hands in coverage.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
It can be argued that Philadelphia's cornerbacks struggled so much in 2013 because they were on the field so often. A better argument is that Philadelphia's outside cornerbacks just aren't very good. Brandon Boykin is a budding star in the slot, but he needs to stay there. To keep him inside, the Eagles should take whomever they view as the best cornerback in the first round. Gilbert gets the nod over TCU's Jason Verrett because of his size.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Even though Dwayne Bowe was signed to a five-year, big-money contract before this season, the Chiefs need to add more talent at wide receiver. Benjamin is a physical marvel and at times looked like Calvin Johnson for Florida State in 2013. There is no more physically gifted wide receiver in the draft this year than Benjamin.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals were near the bottom of the league in pass defense, trying to get by with cornerbacks like Adam Jones and Terence Newman. With Leon Hall recovering from a torn Achilles, the Bengals could struggle if they stick with veterans or a younger player like Dre Kirkpatrick. Verrett may not be the biggest cornerback in the draft this year, but he's a playmaker with good instincts to go up and play the ball in the air.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
San Diego is another team that tried to get by with average corners, using players like Derek Cox, Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright heavily in 2013. It's true that Roby had a down junior season, but the talent is there. It wasn't long ago that Roby was considered as the best cornerback prospect in this year's draft. Good coaching could make him that player again.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Davone Bess' future in Cleveland is up in the air for off-field issues. Greg Little's future in Cleveland should be up in the air because of on-field reasons. Even with them, the Browns need another quality wide receiver. Beckham has stellar hands and is capable of being the type of steady foil opposite the dynamic Josh Gordon.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
The thought of pairing Ealy with Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is too intriguing to pass up. Ealy is an extraordinary athlete who should be able to line up at end and outside linebacker, regardless of the formation.
28. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Carolina and a wide receiver is another one of those overwrought picks. In this scenario, Matthews is the best wide receiver available. Matthews has good size for a wideout and can haul in difficult catches.
29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
It's easy to associate the best available tight end with the Patriots because it's such a big need. Amaro may not be a superstar athlete like Ebron, but he's bigger with better hands. Amaro won't be a field stretcher like Rob Gronkowski, but when he's split out wide, he can create mismatches with his size.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
When the 49ers pick, they'll be weighing the fifth- or sixth-best wide receiver or another piece to add on defense. In this scenario, the best cornerbacks are gone. Conversely, the best 3-4 defensive linemen are available. Tuitt would enter an ideal situation in San Francisco where he'd be part of a rotation.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Wesley Woodyard is entering free agency, and Shazier is a better player anyway. Ohio State liked to get Shazier upfield, but he's athletic enough to handle tight end and running backs in coverage.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Another weapon for Russell Wilson. Cooks is a speedy receiver capable of picking a defense apart underneath or working vertically. If nothing else, he's high-level Percy Harvin insurance.