It’s been more than five months since the BCS National Championship Game was played and I posted my first NFL mock draft for FOXSports.com. There’s been three more versions along the way, all of which leads to this — my annual seven-round mock draft. That would be 256 picks. 1 to 256.
So print this out, spread it out amidst the buffalo wings and tortilla chips, and start getting to know Winston-Salem linebacker Carlos Fields, the 212th player I have being selected in this year’s draft (great wingspan and a two-time CIAA Defensive Player of the Year!).
Some notes for this one:
1. No first-round trades are included or hypothesized, but I do expect several towards the third hour of the first round. The bottom third of the first round could be completely shuffled, with teams looking for a quarterback moving up into the 20s to grab them before the start of Day 2. There’s great incentive for a team to draft a quarterback in the first round as opposed to the second. The current CBA gives teams a fifth-year option on a first-round pick; just four-year deals for second-round selections.
2. I’ve made some slight changes to the first round based on conversations I’ve had with teams over the last couple of days, but I expect multiple teams to trade up in the first 10, causing the current order below to be thrown into flux. So, cut me some slack if I don’t go 32 for 32 in the first round. Please.
1.Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: As one source told me a few weeks back, "Is he a risk? Maybe. Is it a bigger risk to pass on him? Yes." The comparisons to Lawrence Taylor have been scoffed at, but Clowney is as good, if not better, than Taylor coming out of college. Pair him with J.J. Watt, and suddenly Andrew Luck isn’t so comfortable in the AFC South for the next 10 years. In front of a group of reporters, I spoke with Clowney on Wednesday and he said with a smile, "I don’t think they’re going to pass. I think it will be (me). If I have to (go) No. 2, I’m going to be upset. I’m going to have to do something about it."
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: St. Louis could trade this pick. Whether they can find a suitor or not is another issue. It’s worked before (they’re still reaping the benefits of the RG3 trade) and they’re going to be open to any and all suitors here. If they stay here, they’ll go with Robinson. I think Larry Allen was arguably the greatest, most dominant offensive lineman to ever play the game of football. Multiple scouts have compared Greg Robinson to Larry Allen. How’s that for high expectations? He can play tackle or guard and the potential’s limitless.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: For two years, we’ve been going back and forth on where Johnny Manziel ends up. When it’s all said and done, I think Jags GM David Caldwell — in his second year on the job — rolls the dice and turns Jacksonville into the most relevant professional team in the state of Florida. Jacksonville is in an ideal spot with the third pick and could go Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, or Blake Bortles here (I see them going offense, not defense), too. But I think it’s Manziel. Pair him with offensive coordinator and wunderkind Jedd Fisch, build an offense around him, and send the CBS trucks there for Week 1’s national game.
4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: I’ve gone back and forth and in a million circles on Cleveland over the past few days. As one NFL executive told me, "The Browns hold the keys to the entire Draft. What they do at four will set dominoes in motion for the next 10 teams." So, what do they do? I think they go with Watkins, the do-everything receiver, who can serve as the complement to Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron in the Browns offense. A bevy of quarterbacks will be available with the 26th and 35th picks.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: The Raiders loaded up on household names in free agency, adding veterans up and down the roster. The biggest move, however, was the trade for Matt Schaub. The Oakland brass believes he’s got some good football left in him and could lead this team back to relevancy and I know offensive coordinator Greg Olson likes him. It’s either Mike Evans or Mack, here, and I’ve got Oakland going with the pass-rush specialist out of Buffalo.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: The Falcons have to keep Matt Ryan upright if they stand a chance in the loaded NFC South. Matthews, the son of NFL great Bruce Matthews, is a 6-foot-5, 310-pound brick wall. He’s so athletic and nimble on his feet that he looks like a tight end at times. Some NFL folks like Matthews as much, if not more, than Robinson. Great fit for the Falcons if they stay put at No. 6 overall.
7.Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: Jason Licht and Lovie Smith would be awfully happy if the draft played out this way and Evans lands in their laps without having to trade up into the top five. Evans is right up there with Watkins on a few teams’ boards, and the value of getting a 6-4 receiver with pass catching ability like Evans at seventh overall is off the charts. If Evans is gone, this pick could be Aaron Donald, the big defensive tackle out of Pitt. And if Manziel is still on the board, this is where it gets interesting.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State: Remember, Mike Zimmer’s a defensive backs coach at heart. And Justin Gilbert — in a relatively weak defensive back class — is an absolute stud. An athletic specimen who can step right in and be a lockdown corner in a division loaded with tall, rangy receivers, this could be the pick at No. 8. I can’t see Minnesota going quarterback at this point, though defensive tackle might be the move.
9. Buffalo Bills: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU: Want to talk about a player whose stock is rising by the hour? Beckham’s the guy. Buffalo likes what they’ve got at quarterback in E.J. Manuel and feature one of the top front sevens in the entire league. Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin — two rookies from a season ago — have promise at wide receiver with Stevie Johnson. Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s offense is obviously still a work in progress, but adding Beckham would be a nice bonus. He can do it all and I’m hearing Buffalo as a landing spot more and more.
10. Detroit Lions: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: Suh and Fairley’s contracts are up in the near future and Donald falls to Detroit at 10th overall? I think they’d scoop him up. As one scout told me in March, âIf he was one inch taller he’d be talked about like a top three pick.â So, Donald’s somewhat undersized, but he pops off film and his production at the college level was off the charts. He ran the fastest 40-yard-dash for defensive tackles at the Combine and was dominant at the Senior Bowl the entire week in Mobile. Scouts love this guy.
11. Tennessee Titans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida: I’ve been hearing cornerback or pass rusher for Tennessee the past few weeks, but if Bortles slips all the way to 11, Ken Whisenhunt — an offensive mind at heart — may go quarterback. As one coach put it to me at the NFL League Meetings in March, "People scoff at the Roethlisberger comparisons, but watch the way he escapes trouble in the pocket. There’s one guy who does it like [Bortles] does, and it’s Roethlisberger." Jake Locker’s offered mixed results and hasn’t been able to stay healthy. The fifth year of his option wasn’t picked up last week. The writing’s on the wall. If Bortles is on the board, I like him as a Titan.
13. St. Louis Rams: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville: The Rams defense is on the cusp of being one of the league’s very best, if they’re not in the conversation already. Safety is a position they’d like to upgrade. Rodney McLeod and TJ McDonald are the projected starters now. Pryor, who I actually have rated slightly higher than Alabama prospect Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, is an explosive hitter with fantastic range. He fits the Rams’ defensive style. He plays angry, aggressive, and can make a difference right away. If Johnny Manziel slips around here, he could be a wild card pick at 13, too. Jeff Fisher’s a fan.
14. Chicago Bears: C.J Mosley, LB, Alabama: In a conversation at the League Meetings back in March, Mosley was compared by one league personnel man to Patrick Willis and DeMeco Ryans. The Bears could use someone like that in the middle of their defense. Linebacker’s a tradition in Chicago. Butkus, Singletary, Urlacher … big shoes to fill, but Mosley could be handed the torch. I like this fit for Chicago. Mosley could play inside or outside and should be a tackle machine at the next level.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: Fuller’s rocketed up draft boards in recent weeks and could go as high as the top 15. A Virginia Tech standout, he’s got good NFL size and can make an impact right off the bat. Comes from an NFL family (brothers Vincent and Corey) and can contribute on special teams. Good fit for a cornerback group that could use some more depth.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri: Not the flashiest name on the board, but one that could help the Cowboys’ ailing pass rush. Mizzou has become a bit of a defensive line factory in recent years with Aldon Smith, Ziggy Hood, and Sheldon Richardson all going in the first round. Ealy’s the next in line. A 6-5, 280-pound force on the edge, he could be a sound addition to a pass rush that’ll desperately miss the presence of DeMarcus Ware.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: I haven’t seen Clinton-Dix mocked to the Ravens many other places, but it’d make some sense if he fell all the way to 17th overall. Safety is a position of need (Matt Elam could play one spot; Clinton-Dix could play the other), and Ozzie Newsome loves his Alabama guys.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: Jets fans in Radio City would be thrilled to see the athletic Ebron slip all the way to 18. If Buffalo passes on him at 9, as we have them doing here, I could see him falling to New York. Compared to Jimmy Graham, he’s the next in a recent outpouring of big bodied, athletic, pass-catching tight ends. The Jets need to give their quarterback — whether it’s Geno Smith or Michael Vick — a go-to security blanket. Ebron would be just that.
19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: You may have heard, but the Dolphins had some issues on their offensive line last season. Branden Albert will man the left tackle position in Miami. If Lewan falls to 19, he’s the perfect complement on the other side.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: The Arizona defense is one of the best in the league. Adding Barr would be quite the steal at 20th overall. A converted college running back who excelled when moved to linebacker, Barr’s an ideal fit for Arizona’s 3-4 attack. He’s been listed as high as sixth overall in mock drafts. He could end up being the prize of the first round at 20.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State: Not the flashiest name on the board, but one that could fit right into Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme. He’ll play the OLB spot at the next level, an area where he excelled at Ohio State. He recorded back-to-back 115 tackle seasons and had a conference-best 143 tackles in 2013. A pass-rushing talent you can’t find everywhere and one of the draft gems multiple sources around the league have in their first round.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: The Thorpe Award winner could slip all the way to 22. There’s been talk in league circles about his arms being too small and his physical style with smaller receivers at the college level not translating to the NFL. All that said, the man is a lock-down corner and if he’s on the board at 22, Philadelphia would be more than thrilled to add him to their secondary. Will Chip Kelly draft a wide receiver? Yes, at some point. I don’t see him grabbing one here if Dennard’s still on the board.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: If the Chiefs keep this pick and Cooks is still on the board, the DeSean Jackson-like speedster out of Oregon State could be a mighty good fit in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense. Cooks broke the record for receptions in a Pac-12 season last year and can play either the slot or outside.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State: Jernigan’s not the biggest guy in the world, but uses leverage well and stuffs the run. The Bengals are always looking to add talent up front. If Jernigan falls to 24, he’d be a good fit.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: Verrett ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard-dash, and he registered a 39-inch vertical leap, which was one of the best verticals of all players at the combine. He also shows up on tape. His height could be a bit of an issue in the pros, but he’s a playmaker. I could see him in John Pagano’s scheme.
27. New Orleans Saints: Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Between Drew Brees, Jairus Byrd, and whatever Jimmy Graham’s next contract will be, the Saints’ salary cap is tied up in three big names for the forseeable future. That makes them a candidate to trade out of this pick and load up on later selections. If they keep this selection, I like Lee — the dynamic receiver out of USC. He can step in, almost immediately, and be a reliable weapon in Sean Payton’s high-flying offense.
28. Carolina Panthers: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois: Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, and Ted Ginn are all gone. Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood aren’t going to replace any of those three, but with such a rich, deep draft of wideouts, I can’t imagine Carolina reaching to take one here. Ward is a punishing hitter across the middle who could help alleviate the loss of Mike Mitchell in the defensive backfield. Carolina’s in a tough spot, too, like New Orleans — where between Cam Newton, Greg Hardy, and Luke Kuechly — they’ve got three very large contracts looming. This could make them a trade-down candidate to a team looking to get a Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater, here, too.
29. New England Patriots: Dee Ford, OLB/DE, Auburn: All that talk of New England’s interest in a quarterback seems like a smokescreen to me. Want to get a team to trade up to 29? Talk up Tom Savage, Teddy Bridgewater, and the rest. Ford can play the edge or outside linebacker. The loss of Brandon Spikes will be felt in New England, at least somewhat, and Ford could provide some of the run stuffing Spikes provided.
30. San Francisco 49ers: DeMarcus Lawrence, DE/OLB Boise State: Lawrence’s draft stock’s been rising since the end of the college football season. A 6-foot-3, 250 pound pass rush talent, Lawrence ran a 4.69 40-yard-dash at a recent workout. He recorded 20.5 tackles for loss in 2013 and he’s compared favorably to Seahawks pass rushing star Bruce Irvin. This could be a great fit for San Francisco’s scheme.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA: I’ve seen Su’a Filo, the 305-pound, road-paver slotted as a third or fourth-round pick on some lists. Nonsense. If he’s not the top offensive guard in this draft, he’s right up there as No. 2 or 3. The man can run block. Toss in the tape. I can’t get enough. Denver lost Zane Beadles this offseason. He’s a productive run and pass blocker they’ll miss. The "X-Man" would be a solid addition.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jeremiah Attaochu, LB/DE, Georgia Tech: The depth of Pete Carroll’s front seven gets even deeper with a pass rushing talent like Attaochu. The owner of the Georgia Tech sack record, Attaochu could be used in an outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end in Dan Quinn’s defense. Will only be a 21-year-old rookie when the season starts in September. Plenty of potential and already a pretty solid foundation.
33. Houston Texans: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
34. Washington Redskins: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
35. Cleveland Browns: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
37. Atlanta Falcons:Marcus Smith, LB/DE, Louisville
38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers:Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame