Mock draft: Will Texans opt for Clowney over QB?
MAR 08, 2014 1:07p ET
Walt has the Texans going with a quarterback, but I think they will channel their 2006 approach when they took Mario Williams instead of Reggie Bush, Vince Young or Matt Leinart. In speaking with sources, none of the quarterbacks are grading out as a true No. 1 overall pick.
It definitely is possible that Houston will gradually fall in love with a quarterback prospect, but right now, I think Bill O'Brien will look to work with a veteran and target a Russell Wilson-like or Colin Kaepernick-like quarterback on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft. If that plan doesn't work next season, the 2015 NFL Draft is loaded at the quarterback position, so the Texans can aim to get their franchise signal-caller in Year 2 of O'Brien's regime.
Even though Houston had a rough 2013, general manager Rick Smith has built a talented roster. The Texans could use an edge-rusher to come from the other side of J.J. Watt. With Clowney's blinding speed and rare athleticism, he'll fit just fine in a 3-4.
It was evident during the 2013 season opener against North Carolina that Clowney's conditioning was subpar. His snap count didn't warrant him being as tired as he was, and he clearly took some plays off. Sources told WalterFootball.com Clowney lacked a good work ethic in his conditioning and took a significant amount of plays off in 2012. Clowney's effort and conditioning was a lot better over the rest of 2013 season; it seems all the criticism woke him up. At the Combine, sources said that Clowney interviewed well and they didn't have any concerns about his work ethic going forward.
Clowney played well against Georgia and had his best game of the season against Vanderbilt. He decided to sit out versus Kentucky, but flashed against Tennessee and Florida. In 2013, Clowney totaled 50 tackles, three sacks, 11.5 tackles for a loss, four passes defended and a forced fumble.
The 6-foot-5, 266-pounder has the athletic talent to be a special player. The scary part is how good he could be if he develops an inner drive and a work ethic. There were times when Clowney was impossible to single-block with his elite repertoire of pass-rushing moves.
Clowney has shown off elite speed, strength and athleticism as a pass-rusher since Day 1. He was a dominant force in 2012 as one of the best players in college football. The sophomore amassed 54 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks. Steve Spurrier has said Clowney was NFL-ready coming out of high school.
A prep superstar, Clowney was the top recruit in the nation for 2011 and didn't disappoint as a freshman. He was the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year and a Second-Team All-SEC selection. He totaled 36 tackles, eight sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles. Clowney did well against top competition including a good game versus Georgia's Cordy Glenn.
I'm sure Les Snead is going to auction off this pick and move down. A quarterback-needy team would have to move in front of Jacksonville to be sure to land the top choice if Houston takes Clowney.
If the Rams are stuck here, they could go with some offensive line help. Rodger Saffold is entering free agency, while Jake Long will be coming off a serious knee injury. He has suffered repeated injuries in recent years, and his body could be breaking down. Robinson could play guard or right tackle before eventually taking over at left tackle. I'm still torn on projecting Robinson over Jake Matthews given Jeff Fisher's ties to the Matthews family. However, Les Snead's first-round picks have all been players with rare a combination of size, speed or athleticism (Michael Brockers, Tavon Austin, Alec Ogletree). Thus, Robinson fits the profile.
The Tigers' formidable offensive line was led in 2013 by left tackle Greg Robinson, who had a great redshirt sophomore season. Against Missouri and Alabama, he put on clinics. Robinson had power blocks to spring long runs and dominated in the ground game. He did a superb job of sustaining his blocks to keep his defenders from making tackles.
Robinson has an impressive skill set. The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder is very strong to push defensive linemen at the point of attack. He also has quickness and good feet to be a pass-blocker in the NFL. Robinson could use some development in his pass-protection skills, but he has the physical talent to be a special player.
Pick change; previously Jake Matthews, OT
Jacksonville lands its quarterback of the future. While the Jaguars' analytics last year said Blaine Gabbert could play, the rest of us knew that he was a bust and wouldn't pan out in the NFL. After wasting a season on Gabbert and Chad Henne, Jacksonville has to find a new quarterback.
I'm torn on who to project between Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater. Some around the league believe the Jaguars love Bridgewater, but I think that Bortles will be the top-rated quarterback come draft day. Hence, I go with Bortles here. I don't think Johnny Manziel's personality will mesh with Gus Bradley and the Jaguars organization.
Sources with two teams picking in the top five told WalterFootball.com that Bortles is grading out as their top rated quarterback. Thus it wouldn't be surprised if Bortles rises to be the first quarterback selected. It seems very possible that his stock will consistently rise in the lead up to the 2014 NFL Draft.
Bortles has a bigger physical skill set than either Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater. In 2013, Bortles completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,581 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He completed 63 percent of his passes the year before for 3,059 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The 6-foot-5, 232-pounder has a nice skill set for the NFL. He has a strong arm with good size and the athletic ability to scramble for yards.
Bortles needs to improve his footwork for the NFL. He needs to become more uniform and could stand to improve his throwing mechanics. That would improve his accuracy and ball placement. Also, Bortles has a good arm, but his ball flutters on some throws. The redshirt junior is very intelligent, but didn't throw every NFL route in his college offense, so he's going to need some development there.
In terms of value, Cleveland would get the best value by taking Watkins and targeting a quarterback with its second selection. The differences between the top-3 remaining quarterbacks — Derek Carr, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater — aren't sufficient enough to pass on Watkins. The Browns could use another receiving weapon for their young quarterback. A mismatch receiver like Watkins on the other side from Josh Gordon with Jordan Cameron in the middle would be a nightmare to defend.
In 2013, Watkins hauled in 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. He played well against Florida State even though Clemson was blown out. Watkins opened this season against Georgia looking like the 2011 version of himself. After catching a 15-yard bullet from Tajh Boyd, Watkins shed a tackle and exploded down the field. No Bulldogs defender could catch him as he sprinted for a 75-yard score. Watkins caught six passes for 127 yards versus Georgia, but did muff a punt. He also had huge games against Virginia, Maryland and Georgia Tech. To finish the year, the junior dominated Ohio State (16-227-2).
Watkins had a fantastic freshman season in 2011. The speedster totaled 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also ran the ball 32 times for 231 yards. The versatile receiver averaged 25 yards per kick return with one score. The 6-foot, 211-pounder was a threat to score on any touch in 2011 and featured rare first-step quickness. He looked like a potential game-breaking receiver for the NFL.
Watkins was suspended for the first two games of 2012 and then was banged up all year. That led to DeAndre Hopkins taking over as the primary receiver for Tajh Boyd. Watkins had 57 receptions for 708 yards and three touchdowns for the season. He also took 14 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown. The sophomore threw a 52-yard touchdown pass against Florida State, too.
Pick change; previously Johnny Manziel, QB
5. Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Oakland was fortunate to be in position to keep offensive coordinator Greg Olson. He did a great job making Josh Freeman look like a potential franchise quarterback in Tampa Bay, and in 10 games, Olson got Blaine Gabbert to complete almost 60 percent of his passes with more touchdowns than interceptions. Not to mention his development of Drew Brees in college and Jeff Garcia in the NFL.
Olson has worked continued to work wonders with quarterbacks, this time with Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin, but their passing (McGloin) and mental (Pryor) limitations are too big to overcome. Oakland cannot turn down an upgrade at quarterback to actually give Olson some talent to work with.
In 2013, Bridgewater completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,970 yards with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions. The 6-foot-2, 214-pounder is a well-developed prospect as a pocket passer. He hangs tough to deliver passes in the face of pass rush, shows some mobility on rollouts, has a powerful arm and is accurate. Bridgewater can get into rhythms of being deadly on third downs and possesses great poise in the pocket. He is very patient to let his receivers work themselves open. Bridgewater can drop into stretches where he is unstoppable. The junior also has a reputation as a great worker and film junkie.
Bridgewater completed 69 percent of his passes in 2012 for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The signal-caller displayed a strong, accurate arm and good decision-making. He has only gotten better with experience. Bridgewater was excellent against one of the best defenses in the nation as he led his team to an upset win over Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
Bridgewater completed 64 percent of his throws for 2,129 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a freshman starter in 2011. He was going to go to Miami before the school fired coach Randy Shannon. New, now former, Louisville coach Charlie Strong convinced Bridgewater to spurn other schools and head north to Kentucky.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Atlanta's pass rush was a huge weakness in 2013, and the Falcons badly need a franchise player on the defensive side of the ball. They signed Osi Umenyiora to replace John Abraham, but Umenyiora only signed a 2-year deal for a modest amount, and he looks like just a role player at this point in his career. If things work out differently, it wouldn't be surprising if Thomas Dimitroff is aggressive to trade up for Jadeveon Clowney. Still, either Anthony Barr or Khalil Mack would be a good fit for Atlanta, and at least one of those two should get to the Falcons' pick.
There was a real buzz about Mack (6-3, 251) heading into 2013, and when one sees his production, it is easy to understand the genesis of the hype. Mack justified it when he dominated Ohio State to open this season. The senior had nine tackles with 2.5 sacks versus the Buckeyes, plus an interception returned 45 yards for a touchdown. He recorded 10.5 sacks, 100 tackles, five forced fumbles, seven passes broken up, three interceptions and 19 tackles for a loss in 2013.
Mack entered 2013 with 56 career tackles for a loss and was a downhill play-maker throughout his career. He registered 94 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, four forced fumbles, one blocked kick and two passes broken up in 2012. Mack totaled 65 tackles with 20.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, two passes batted and five forced fumbles in 2011. He had 68 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 10 passes batted and two forced fumbles as a freshman.
Mack is a fast and instinctive hard hitter who has excellent pursuit skills. He could use more strength to defend runs that come straight at him.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Bucs are going to try like hell to move down. Jason Licht and Lovie Smith inherited a roster full of holes without unlimited resources to address them. I'm sure they would love to recoup the third-rounder the team traded away for Darrelle Revis.
If Tampa Bay is able to move down I think their targets will be Derek Carr, Kony Ealy or a wide receiver. If the Bucs are stuck at No. 7, Matthews would present the best value. Tampa Bay needs offensive tackle help to improve its run blocking and pass protection. The franchise has spent a lot of money on the offensive line only to have it be a weakness. Donald Penn and Davin Joseph are declining and could be traded for mid-round picks to help make up for the team's lost third-rounder in the Darrelle Revis trade.
Matthews took over in 2013 as the left tackle to protect Johnny Manziel's blind side. He was excellent at protecting Manziel and opening up running lanes. Matthews passed his tests against his Alabama and Arkansas, his best defensive line opponents. Auburn's speed-rushers gave Matthews some issues: He won the majority of his blocks, but was beaten for a sack by Ladarius Owens on a left-armed rip move. Matthews played much better in the second half, and his pass protection was strong. He was dominant in most of his games, including the bowl game against Duke. Matthews sustained some blocks for ages with the way that Manziel held onto the ball and scrambled around.
With Luke Joeckel as the left tackle, Matthews was superb on the right side in 2012 and 2011. In 2012, the junior Matthews got the better of LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo. Matthews followed that performance with excellent games against Mississippi State and Alabama. Manziel picked up a lot of yards on the ground and through the air because of his fabulous tackle tandem.
The Aggies tackle is the son of Bruce Matthews, so the bloodlines are there for a standout NFL offensive lineman. Jake Matthews is both a superb pass-protector and a physical run-blocker; a great cut-blocker, too. The 6-foot-5, 308-pounder is quick and athletic. His intelligence and instincts are off the charts.
Pick change; previously Sammy Watkins, WR
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
With all the comparisons to Fran Tarkenton, it seems fitting that Manziel would be drafted by the Vikings. Minnesota clearly needs a franchise quarterback. Considering Rick Spielman blew it by drafting Christian Ponder, one has to question why Spielman stayed and Leslie Frazier was fired. That seems backward to me, but perhaps Spielman will get it right on the second try.
The concern that Manziel (5-11, 207) is undersized is being eased by the quality play of some other short NFL quarterbacks. Drew Brees is a dominant force and future Hall of Famer; Russell Wilson has been phenomenal to help disprove the height requirement. Based off the past two seasons, plenty of teams will be willing to overlook the height issue. Manziel's maturity is a bigger concern, according to sources. Some quarterback-needy teams are afraid to draft him because of the bust potential that stems from his party lifestyle.
While Manziel's running ability gets a lot of attention, 2013 showed that his passing skills are improved and underrated. Manziel's instincts are off the charts, too. The redshirt sophomore completed 70 percent of his passes in 2013 for 4,114 yards with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He ran for 923 yards (759 net) with nine scores as well.
Versus Alabama, Manziel completed 28-of-39 passes for 464 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran for 98 yards on 14 carries, too. His impressive performance helped the Aggies light up the Crimson Tide defense to the tune of 42 points, but Texas A&M still lost due to its porous defense. Manziel also had big games against Ole Miss, Auburn and Vanderbilt.
Manziel took college football by storm in 2012 on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. The redshirt freshman completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The first-year starter also ran for 1,571 yards (1,410 net) with 21 touchdowns. Alabama's defense, laden with NFL talent, was incapable of stopping him. Manziel could only get better as he gains experience, unless his off-the-field maturity issues distract him from becoming a good pro.
Pick change; previously Justin Gilbert, CB
Lewan played well in 2013. He did a nice job against Michigan State and was consistent in his pass protection throughout the season. Lewan looked much better versus Notre Dame in Week 2 this year than he did in 2012. Lewan was impressive all night in pass protection and run blocking. He did well against the Fighting Irish's edge rushers Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo. Against Connecticut, Lewan was beaten for a sack.
2012 was Lewan's third straight season as the starter at left tackle, and he got better as the year progressed. Lewan was solid as a pass-protector and very effective as a run-blocker. The redshirt junior didn't have his best games against Alabama or Ohio State, but he wasn't dominated by Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl. The Wolverines tackle held his own and had his share of wins. Lewan was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection in 2011.
The 6-foot-7, 309-pounder is a good run-blocker with the athleticism to be a pass-protector. He should fill out his frame, but has ideal length and athleticism. Lewan has some upside and just needs more development.
Pick change; previously Greg Robinson, OT
I think this pick comes down to Brandon Pettigrew. If he's re-signed, the Lions go with a receiver, but if Pettigrew leaves, I think Detroit will take Eric Ebron. The Lions badly need a true complement to Calvin Johnson. Evans would give Detroit a combination like Chicago's duo of two big wideouts who can hurt defenses deep downfield.
Evans was dominant during part of 2013. The redshirt sophomore had 69 receptions for 1,394 yards with 12 touchdowns for the year. He absolutely destroyed Alabama (7-279) and made a lot of difficult catches for big gains along the sideline. While Texas A&M was dropped by Auburn, Evans put on a show for NFL scouts. He continued his stellar season with a dominating performance. Evans finished with 11 receptions for 287 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers.
The 6-foot-4, 231-pounder can beat defenses downfield with his mismatch size, the speed to get vertical, and his ability to rip off yards after the catch. Evans has insane body control to make acrobatic and contested catches. Because of his size, he is never completely covered. Evans looks like a Vincent Jackson-type receiver for the NFL.
Evans had an awesome freshman season in 2012 and overtook Ryan Swope to be the No. 1 receiver for Johnny Manziel. Evans caught 82 passes for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
With the Titans switching to a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense under Ray Horton, they could use another edge rusher. Derrick Morgan had only six sacks in 2013, while Kam Wimbley could be a cap casualty. Barr would be a nice fit in Horton's scheme.
Barr notched 62 tackles with 20 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and a pass batted in 2013. The senior's performances against Oregon, Stanford and USC confirm his high draft grade. He had two sacks against Oregon and three forced fumbles to help lead a comeback win at Nebraska.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder is a tremendous blitzer who would fit well in an NFL 3-4 defense. He is lightning off the edge with a superb first step and incredible agility. His ability to drop his hips to get turned to the quarterback is extremely rare. Barr is strong for his size — though it wouldn't hurt to him to add more strength for the NFL — and is a good pursuit run-defender. He has developed a repertoire of pass-rushing moves and has excellent instincts considering his late switch to defense.
In 2012, Barr went from being an obscure fullback, with a total of 12 receptions across two seasons, to a potential first-round pick as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Barr owes Jim Mora, Jr. and his coaching staff for making the position change.
Barr's breakout season saw him become one of the nation's leader in sacks. The junior collected 13 sacks, 83 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, five passes batted and four forced fumbles.
Barr was consistently good throughout 2012, but was utterly dominant to close out the regular season. He then made the smart decision to return to UCLA for 2013.
The Giants could use some youth on the inside of their defense. Linval Joseph is entering free agency, while Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are older veterans. Having disruption on the inside could help Jason Pierre-Paul to start racking up sacks again. Jerry Reese drafts defensive linemen and early. Landing the perhaps the top defensive tackle outside the top 10 is good value.
Early in the 2013 NFL season, I spoke with some scouts who told me that I should have Timmy Jernigan in the first round. They agreed with me that Jernigan would be a fit for a team needing a three-technique, calling him an ideal fit.
The Lake City, Fla., product is extremely fast and is strong for his size. In 2013, Jernigan had 63 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. He steadily became more and more dominant throughout the season. Jernigan improved his pass-rushing skills and put steady pressure down the middle of the pocket. He showed phenomenal run defense in the National Championship game against Auburn.
Jernigan flashed big-time potential as a freshman in 2011. He totaled 30 tackles, six tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. Jernigan recorded 45 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks in 2012. The 6-foot-2, 299-pounder has a lot of upside.
Pick change; previously Taylor Lewan, OT
13. St. Louis Rams: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
As Walt outlined in the Rams' needs, St. Louis could use help at cornerback and safety. Gilbert is higher rated than either of the safeties, so the Rams would get a better value by going with the top-rated corner and taking a safety on Day 2.
In 2013, Gilbert recorded seven interceptions, 42 tackles, seven passes broken up and one kick returned for a touchdown. He had an interception returned 31 yards for a touchdown against Iowa State and a 41-yard pick-six against Texas. Gilbert returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Kansas. He finished the season with some clutch performances. The 6-foot, 202-pounder has some size and ball skills.
Gilbert had an excellent sophomore campaign in 2011 with 59 tackles, 10 passes broken up and five interceptions. He averaged 27 yards per kick return over 2010-11. Gilbert recorded 63 tackles, nine passes defensed and averaged 26 yards per kick return in 2012. He performed well against former Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams.
Pick change; previously HaHa Clinton-Dix, S
14. Chicago Bears: Ra'Shede Hageman, DE/DT, Minnesota
The Bears need to improve the interior of their defensive line, and Phil Emery likes to draft explosive athletes with size in the early rounds, see Kyle Long. Hageman is a good fit for Mel Tucker's Cover-2 defense with his ability to defend the run and collapse the pocket.
The 6-foot-6, 318-pound Hageman has speed and explosivity, yet still has the size to hold up at the point of attack. He had an impressive 2012 season and was one of the better interior defensive linemen in the Big Ten. The junior totaled 35 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, two passes broken up, one forced fumble and six sacks. He had 13 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in 2011.
In 2013, Hageman recorded 38 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, seven passes broken up, one interception and two sacks. He saw his share of double-teams, but he needs to become more consistent. There were times where Hageman looked unblockable with power and explosion. He has great closing speed when he gets free of blockers. Hageman could fit a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
Hageman had a solid week at the Senior Bowl and showed off a great combination of size, power and speed at the Combine. The only thing really lacking from his game is consistency.
Pick change; previously Darqueze Dennard, CB
The Steelers could use some young talent for their defensive line. Casey Hampton was let go after many good years in the middle of the Pittsburgh defense. Ziggy Hood is entering free agency and may not be worth re-signing in the long term, while Brett Keisel is 35. If the Steelers draft Nix, Steve McLendon could move to end.
Nix (6-2, 331) was a stud in 2012. He was a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage, and his stats don't illustrate how much he dominated interior offensive linemen. The havoc Nix caused helped Stephon Tuitt and Manti Te'o to make plays. Nix totaled 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, five passes batted and one forced fumble for the season.
In 2013, Nix recorded 27 tackles with two tackles for a loss. He played well against Michigan, totaling four tackles and a tackle for a loss, and was very disruptive at the point of attack. Nix started slowly against USC before playing well in the final three quarters. His contribution to the pass rush was greater than the numbers indicate. Nix's season ended early after choosing to undergo knee surgery. He had been playing with a torn meniscus and went to Dr. James Andrews to have the knee fixed.
The Cowboys need to get some defenders for Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 scheme. Mosley would be perfect as a Will (weakside) linebacker; the role that Derrick Brooks made famous. Bruce Carter would be a better fit as a Sam (strongside) linebacker, while Ernie Sims is just a journeyman backup.
Mosley totaled 102 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and five passes broken up in 2013. He had a good game versus Texas A&M with 12 tackles. Against LSU, Mosley was around the ball all night, making tackles and having a physical presence. He finished with 12 tackles, two passes broken up and 1.5 tackles for a loss, although he did drop an easy interception. The senior showcased a well-rounded game with good run defense, pass coverage and blitzing ability.
There were worries after Alabama lost a lot of talent in its front seven to the 2012 NFL Draft, but Mosley stepped up to set the tone for the Crimson Tide defense in 2012 and helped lead the team to another National Championship. The junior led the program in tackles with 107, and also notched two interceptions, four sacks, eight tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and two passes broken up.
The 6-foot-2, 232-pounder had an excellent debut in 2010. The freshman was third in tackles on Alabama's defense with 67. He also had 10 pass breakups and two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. Mosley was banged up some in 2011 and totaled only 37 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss.
Mosely thrives in pass coverage, so he is tailor-made for an NFL defense. Mosley has a lot of talent and had a very productive career for Nick Saban.
Pick change; previously Timmy Jernigan, DT
The Ravens missed Anquan Boldin this season and need to get more receiving weapons for Joe Flacco. A speed receiver like Lee could cause a lot of mismatch problems on the other side of the field from Torrey Smith.
The Trojans' quarterback play held Lee back this year, plus he had a knee injury to deal with. In 2013, the junior totaled 57 receptions for 791 yards and four scores. Lee had a rough game against Arizona State since he dropped an easy pass that was intercepted and injured his knee on a punt return. The severe knee strain fortunately didn't damage any ligaments, but Lee missed some time. He flashed his 2012 form against Oregon State (5-105-1) and looked like his old self when he dominated Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl (7-118-2).
When healthy, Lee has the speed to stretch a defense vertically and is a threat to score on any reception. He generally has reliable hands and is a good route-runner. The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder was phenomenal in 2012 and was so dominant that he took over as USC's No. 1 receiver, while Robert Woods served as the secondary option. Lee hauled in 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Lee broke into the starting lineup as a freshman in 2011. He had a big season playing opposite Robert Woods, hauling in 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Jets need a three-down tight end. Ebron would help New York to develop Geno Smith and give the young signal-caller a safety blanket.
Ebron (6'4", 250) has an intriguing skill set with size, speed and strength. He has the potential to be a starting tight end in the NFL with three-down ability. Ebron is very fast running through the secondary and is excellent at attacking the middle of the field on slants and seam routes. He operates well as a slot receiver, too. Ebron needs to work on his hands and route-running, but he has great potential.
In 2013, Ebron hauled in 62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns. He had 199 yards on Miami with other good games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
Ebron was the Tar Heels' second-leading receiver in 2012 with 40 receptions for 625 yards and four touchdowns. North Carolina was thin at defensive end and played him some at both that position on top of his tight end duties. Pretty much all Ebron did was try speed rushes to get disruption upfield, but it was impressive that he was able to apply some pass pressures.
Additionally, Ebron flashes some impressive blocking potential. There are times when he rocks defenders and puts them on roller skates. There are other times when Ebron misses or doesn't finish blocks. He needs to improve his ability to sustain his blocks. Ebron just needs to get more consistent.
The Dolphins have to revamp their offensive line before they turn Ryan Tannehill into David Carr version 2.0. Miami general manager Dennis Hickey puts an emphasis on high-character players and will avoid drafting players who appear to be thugs, gang-bangers or have any drug issue. Martin fits a need and the player profile.
In 2013, Martin was excellent for the Fighting Irish. The senior's pass blocking looked better and was extremely reliable. Martin did a tremendous job of blocking Trent Murphy and finished the year with dominant game against Rutgers.
At the Senior Bowl, Martin did a superb job as an edge blocker in the one-on-ones. While Martin has short arms (32 1/4"), he showed that he has the quickness and agility to mirror speed rushers. Martin also is strong for his size with the ability to anchor against bull rushers. With his success late in his senior season and at the Senior Bowl, Martin has given plenty of evidence that he can stay at tackle.
Martin (6'4", 308 lbs.) improved over the course of 2012 and was an essential part of the Fighting Irish's success. His run blocking was strong for Notre Dame throughout the year.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
As Walt wrote in his mock, "Darnell Dockett, 33 in May, is due $5.75 million this upcoming season. He's no longer the pass rusher he once was, and Arizona lacks a long-term replacement for him. That would change with the selection of Tuitt, who has over almost 20 sacks the past two seasons. Even if the Cardinals keep Dockett at his high price, they could definitely use Tuitt as a depth rotational player in 2014 before asking him to start in 2015 and beyond."
The 6-foot-5, 304-pound Tuitt took college football by storm in 2012. He was a dominant force for the Fighting Irish with his combination of power and surprising quickness. Tuitt got overweight into the 310-320-pound range while rehabbing from surgery over the 2012-2013 offseason. That sapped some of his speed and explosiveness this year, but he still made big plays for his defense.
In 2013, Tuitt amassed 49 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, two passes batted and a pick-six. He showed off his athletic ability with some pass pressures and a diving interception for a touchdown against Michigan. Tuitt played well against Arizona State with a strip-sack and other pressures.
Tuitt had his best game of the season versus USC. He dominated the line of scrimmage and had success going against guards and tackles. Tuitt recorded seven tackles with two sacks for his first multi-sack game of the year. He drew a holding penalty and had a lot of other pressures. Tuitt finished 2013 with a strong performance against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Throughout 2012, Tuitt lived in the backfield. He recorded 12 sacks, 47 tackles and three forced fumbles, plus returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown against Navy. Manti Te'o received all the headlines, but Tuitt and Louis Nix were phenomenal for the Fighting Irish. Like the rest of the Notre Dame defense, Tuitt had a disappointing performance in the National Championship against Alabama, but he was playing with a hernia.
Tuitt could be an excellent fit in the NFL as a 3-4 defensive end. He also could play end in a 4-3 and move inside to tackle in certain situations.
Pick change; previously Ra'Shede Hageman, DT
21. Green Bay Packers: HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Sources say Green Bay is focused on improving its team speed on defense this offseason. The Packers believe that a good defensive talent will drop to them and they'll on taking the best defensive player available. In this case, that would be Clinton-Dix. He would be an immediate upgrade to defend the deep middle of the field.
The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Clinton-Dix is very good in pass coverage. He covers a lot of ground, defends big receivers and has ball skills. The Crimson Tide has produced a lot of good defensive backs, and Clinton-Dix has received excellent preparation for the NFL through the coaching of Nick Saban.
Clinton-Dix totaled 50 tackles, two interceptions and four passes broken up in 2013. He played well against Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The junior was suspended for two games for taking a loan from an assistant.
Clinton-Dix broke out in 2012 as a platoon player. The sophomore recorded 37 tackles with five interceptions, four passes broken up and a forced fumble.
Pick change; previously C.J. Mosley, OLB
This is a nice value pick for Philadelphia. The Eagles have to improve their safety play. Pryor fits Chip Kelly's pattern of wanting physical defenders with speed.
The 5-foot-11, 207-pound Pryor is big, physical and has some ball skills. He made some big plays for Louisville in 2013 with 75 tackles, three interceptions, four passes broken up and two forced fumbles. Pryor has speed to go along with his size and can cover a lot of ground in the middle of the field.
Pryor notched 100 tackles and five forced fumbles in 2012. He was a Second-Team All-Big East selection for that performance. Pryor broke into the lineup as a freshman in 2011 with 43 tackles, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
The Chiefs could use more talent at wide receiver. While at the Packers and Eagles respectively, John Dorsey and Andy Reid have shown the inclination to select receivers early in the draft.
Benjamin was a big-time play-maker for the Seminoles in 2013. Even though other receivers saw more targets, the redshirt sophomore produced a lot of long receptions for Jameis Winston. Benjamin had 54 receptions for 1,011 yards with 15 touchdowns for the year. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder is a mismatch nightmare with a ton of upside. He has the speed to stretch a defense vertically as he torched Florida and cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy to the tune of 212 yards on nine catches and three scores.
Benjamin saw his first playing time in 2012. He caught 30 passes for 495 yards with four touchdowns.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Bengals signed Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, so the organization probably won't re-sign Michael Johnson. If Johnson leaves, Cincinnati could use another pass-rusher to pair with Dunlap and Margus Hunt.
In 2013, Ealy had 9.5 sacks, 43 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, six passes broken up and an interception. The 6-foot-4, 273-pounder has an excellent combination of size and speed. All season, Ealy was tough at the point of attack on run downs and showed his pass-rushing prowess off the edge. He looks like a natural 4-3 defensive end who can stay on the field for all three downs.
While the Missouri defense was lit up by Auburn, Ealy showed up big with two forced fumbles, three tackles for a loss, one sack and five tackles. From start to finish in the Cotton Bowl, he ended his college career with a big-time presence against Oklahoma State. Early on, Ealy was pressured to help cause an interception. At the start of the second quarter he came close to a strip sack from the blind side, but Cowboys quarterback Clint Chelf got the pass off. In the second quarter, Ealy beat the left tackle with an inside rush to get a sack of Chelf. Ealy beat the left tackle with a speed rush and a bit of a rip move a couple plays later to shed a block on the outside before chasing down Chelf for another sack. Ealy had two sacks, six tackles and a pass batted.
Ealy contributed a decent 2012 season with 37 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, seven passes batted and a forced fumble.
25. San Diego Chargers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Tom Telesco has to improve the Chargers secondary. That is the top priority for San Diego's offseason needs. The team needs two long-term starters at corner.
Dennard (5'11", 191 lbs.) has nice coverage ability along with apparent speed and toughness. In 2013, he recorded 62 tackles with 10 passes broken up and four interceptions. The senior is a physical corner who needs to become more disciplined about his contact to avoid penalties, but he has some press-man ability and is a gritty defender.
Johnny Adams was expected to lead the Spartans' secondary in 2012, but it was Dennard who was the most impressive defensive back. He had a good year and was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection. The junior recorded 52 tackles with three interceptions and seven passes broken up. Dennard totaled three interceptions, 42 tackles and three passes broken up in 2011.
Pick change; previously Dee Ford, OLB
26. Cleveland Browns: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Browns land their quarterback. There have been mixed reports about the Browns' interest in Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr since the change from Mike Lombardi to Ray Farmer. Obviously, Cleveland won't tip its hand before the draft one way or another, but Carr could fit Kyle Shanahan's offense.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Carr has a strong arm and good mechanics. He could push himself up into the top half of the 2014 NFL Draft if he is able to impress during the leadup to the draft. The senior started 2013 by completing 52-of-73 passes for 456 yards, five touchdowns and an interception in an overtime victory over Rutgers. He threw for 460 yards against Boise State.
Carr's final collegiate game against USC was a dud. Throughout the game, he was off the mark. Carr overthrew open receivers and struggled with his footwork. He looked flustered by the speed and play-making ability of USC's defense. Considering that was an issue for his brother, and the fact that both beat up on weak competition during their collegiate careers, some teams could be skeptical of Derek Carr. In 2013, he completed 69 percent of his passes for 5,083 yards with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Carr is an improving quarterback who was a 2011 Second-Team All-WAC selection as a redshirt sophomore. The first-year starter completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,544 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran in three scores.
Carr was even better in 2012. He completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,104 yards with 37 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The junior beat up on some weak competition and didn't have his best games against Oregon or Boise State.
Pick change; previously Odell Beckham Jr., WR
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
The Saints could use another edge rusher for Rob Ryan's defense. An edge rusher like Ford would be a nice weapon on the other side from Cam Jordan. Ford also could play defensive end in the sub package in Ryan's defense. New Orleans likes defenders with versatility — see Kenny Vaccaro — and Ford would fit that description.
Sources have told WalterFootball.com that Ford is grading out as a late second-rounder, but teams think that someone will reach for him late in the first round. In 2013, Ford had 29 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He finished the season playing his best football. Ford recorded six sacks with 34 tackles and a forced fumble in 2012. He missed the majority of the 2011 season with a back injury.
After Aaron Donald, Ford was the most impressive defensive prospect at the Senior Bowl. He had a great week and continued his tremendous play in the game. All week, Ford used his great get-off and quickness to burn edge blockers in one-on-ones. He has the agility to drop his hips and juke tackles to the inside. Ford also has enough upper-body strength to help him break the grip of tackles' hands before using his speed to close in an instant.
The 6-foot-2, 243-pounder projects best as an edge rusher in a 3-4 defense. Ford played defensive end in college, but he doesn't have the size to do that in the NFL. In a 4-3 defense, Ford would have to play as a linebacker who rushes off the edge in passing situations, similar to Von Miller in Denver.
Pick change; previously Scott Crichton, DE
28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
The Panthers could go a lot of directions with this pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The team needs long-term replacements for Steve Smith and Jordan Gross, as well as help at cornerback. It sounds like Carolina has a receiver as a top priority. Of those options, Beckham would be the best player available.
Scouts have told WalterFootball.com that Beckham could go late in the first round and won't last long if he falls to Round 2. They love the kind of weapon he could be as a slot receiver.
Beckham (5'11", 198 lbs.) has the speed to stretch the field and shown the potential to make game-changing plays. He caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards with eight touchdowns in 2013. Against UAB, the junior returned a missed field goal 100 yards for a touchdown, returned a punt 60 yards for a score and caught five passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns. He had six receptions for 204 yards and three scores against Furman.
In 2012, Beckham led LSU in receiving with 713 yards on 43 catches and two touchdowns. He averaged 9.1 yards per punt return, too. Beckham had a strong 2011 season for LSU. The true freshman caught 41 passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns.
Pick change; previously Cyrus Kouandjio, OT
Jace Amaro's declaring for the 2014 NFL Draft wasn't surprising, despite his early-season tweet that he would return to school, because he was dominant during the 2013. Amaro was impressive in the early going before catching fire in conference play. He had huge days against a number of Big XII teams, including Iowa State (9-143), West Virginia (9-136), Oklahoma (8-119) and Oklahoma State (15-174).
The junior recorded 106 receptions for 1,352 yards with seven touchdowns this season. He caught 25 passes for 409 yards with four touchdowns in 2012.
Amaro has some quickness to get down the seam and good athleticism. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder could use some work as a blocker for the NFL, but he has proven to be a dangerous receiving weapon. Amaro's gone through some off-the-field issues in the past.
The 49ers need some youth at cornerback, and it was somewhat surprising that they didn't draft a corner in the early rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. Fuller is a great scheme fit who could be a good long-term replacement for Carlos Rogers.
Fuller has some real upside and ran well enough at the Combine to merit first-round consideration. The 6-foot, 190-pounder doesn't have elite speed, but he has quickness to go along with his size. Virginia Tech is typically a factory for defensive backs, so Fuller enters the NFL with plus preparation after getting playing time for four years. He has some man-coverage skills and experience playing on an island.
The 2013 season opener against Alabama gave Fuller the opportunity to be extremely impressive. He was excellent versus the Crimson Tide and did a superb job of smothering Amari Cooper in man coverage. Fuller had four tackles, an interception, at least one pass batted away, some good hits and solid play on special teams. He also played well against Georgia Tech with some fantastic run defense. Fuller had a pick and other nice plays against North Carolina, but was beaten on a double-move for a touchdown. The senior recorded 24 tackles, 10 passes batted and two interceptions in 2013.
As a junior, Fuller totaled two interceptions, five passes broken up, one forced fumble and 52 tackles. He made six starts as a freshman in 2010, recording 32 tackles and six passes broken up. Fuller improved his play in 2011 and started every game. He totaled 65 tackles with two interceptions, one forced fumble and seven passes broken up, along with being a Second-Team All-ACC selection.
Pick change; previously Stephon Tuitt, DE
31. Denver Broncos: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
The Broncos have to get some long-term help at defensive end. They missed Elvis Dumervil even though Shaun Philips was a nice short-term signing. Robert Ayers is also entering free agency, but he never validated his draft position as a first-rounder. Denver could target a pass rusher to go on the other side from Von Miller.
The 6-foot-3, 273-pounder displayed some natural pass-rushing and play-making ability during his collegiate career. Crichton is strong for his size and has a burst around the edge. In 2013, he recorded 47 tackles with 19 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and three passes batted. Crichton was more disruptive than the numbers indicate. He didn't notch a sack against Oregon, but was constantly pressuring Marcus Mariota and causing lots of disruption.
Crichton turned in an impressive 2012 season with nine sacks, 17 tackles for a loss, 44 tackles and a forced fumble. He recorded six sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss, six forced fumbles and 74 tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2011.
Pick change; previously Marcus Roberson, CB
32. Seattle Seahawks: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Seahawks could use an interior pass-rusher and disruptor. Tony McDaniel and Brandon Mebane have combined for two sacks this season. The fast, strong and physical Donald is a good fit in Seattle's defense.
Donald was one of the best pass rushers in college football in 2013. The 6-foot, 288-pounder picked up 11 sacks and led the nation in tackles for a loss with 28.5. He also totaled 59 tackles and four forced fumbles. Donald played well against Florida State and its tough offensive line in Pittsburgh's 2013 opener. He dominated Georgia Tech with 11 tackles, six tackles for a loss, one sack and two forced fumbles.
After recording two sacks as a freshman, Donald had a breakout sophomore season in 2011 with 47 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. He had 64 tackles with 18.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, two passes broken up and one forced fumble in 2012. The junior put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.
Donald is quick off the snap, has the strength to shed blocks and has developed some nice pass-rushing moves. For the NFL, he could fit best as a 4-3 defensive tackle who rotates into the game for his pass-rush ability.
Pick change; previously Antonio Richardson, OT