Schrager’s Mock Draft 3.0: Who is moving up after NFL Combine?
It’s an amazing thing tracking the NFL Draft Combine from 5,800 miles away, but that’s what I did the past several days. In between covering figure skating at the Olympics with Michelle Kwan for FOX Sports 1 and navigating around Sochi with little knowledge of the Russian language, I was texting and emailing all of my contacts around the NFL as they were in Indianapolis. From Russia with love, yes, but the Combine was on my mind. Since returning to the States, I’ve been collecting notes, having conversations, and catching up with sources around the league. The result? My latest NFL Mock Draft. There will be plenty more from now until May, but here’s how I see things playing out at the moment. Feel free to disagree. Let me know what you think by tweeting me at @Pschrags or emailing me at PeterSchrager@gmail.com.
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." Clowney wowed at the Combine in the 40-yard-dash as expected, and proved he was the physical freak he showed flashes of in 2012. He’s still growing. The Texans have a hole at quarterback and Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles could be tempting, but you don’t pass on Clowney. Pair him with J.J. Watt, and suddenly Andrew Luck isn’t so comfortable in the AFC South for the next 10 years.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: I’ve heard the Larry Allen comparisons, and can’t say that they aren’t that far off. Robinson does it all. A run-blocking mauler and a pass protector of the highest order, he’s exactly what Sam Bradford needs in St. Louis. Jake Long on one end, Robinson on another – the Rams could have a fighting chance in the loaded NFC West, after all.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: You’ll hear a lot of hype around Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles the next few months, and they both deserve the attention, but I still think Bridgewater’s the first quarterback off the board in May. He comes from a pro-style offense under offensive coordinator Shawn Watson at Louisville (now a coach at Texas) and can contribute as the starter right away. Some question his size and arm strength, but I think he’ll put those worries away when he throws at his Pro Day in March. Jacksonville’s got one of the best young coaching staffs in the league and in offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, an innovative mind. Bridgewater could be the right man to run the show.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: If there’s any fan base in the NFL that needs a spark and a reason to be excited, it’s that of the Browns. After another mess of a season and another coach and GM change, the Browns are in desperate need of someone and something to rally around. I’m not a huge Manziel fan, but he’s certainly a guy fans will rally around. Ron Jaworski and Phil Simms may be right — Manziel could be a disaster – but at this point, the Browns need to roll the dice and be willing to find out.
5. Oakland Raiders: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF: A team in desperate need of a quarterback, this could be the perfect fit, as Bortles falls to the Raiders. I don’t see the Ben Roethlisberger comparisons other pundits are making — Roethlisberger’s bigger, has a better arm and better footwork – but I think Bortles has a future. Top 5 seems high for a guy who didn’t exactly tear up the American Athletic Conference, but he’s got a shot to go as high as No. 1.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: Barr does it all. Think Von Miller Part II. Offensive line could be the greatest need in Atlanta, but having a pass rush would be nice, too. Mike Nolan’s D couldn’t get to the quarterback in 2013. Barr’s capable of doing just that. The crazy thing? He was the second best linebacker on UCLA last season.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: The Buccaneers have needs outside of wide receiver, but if Sammy Watkins falls to No. 7, they can’t pass on him. I haven’t had a wide receiver rated as high as Watkins since A.J. Green and Julio Jones in 2011. He’s the real deal ‘ big enough to take a hit, fast enough to burn the best cornerbacks deep. Pair him with Vincent Jackson, and the Bucs instantly have one of the more feared wide receiver combinations in the league.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State: Twelve years ago, Carr’s older brother David was the first pick of the NFL Draft. I think Derek will go to the Vikings at No. 8. I know he didn’t light up the USC defense in his bowl game and I know there’s a lot more Internet love for Bortles at the moment, but Carr should impress in his workouts and dazzle in interviews. I still think he’s a top-10 guy, despite the critics.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: Could Ebron go in the top 10? Why not? Doug Marrone and coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s offense is a work in progress, the offensive line had a good year and Ebron has been compared to Jimmy Graham. One of Ebron’s former UNC teammates who’s now playing in the NFL told me he’s got the potential to be an NFL game-changer. The tape doesn’t lie, either. He’s the real deal; a game’changer.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: Another year, and another draft in which I’ll peg a cornerback going to the Lions. This one makes a lot of sense. Dennard is a local guy out of East Lansing, a Thorpe Award winner and has the physicality to match up with the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson and Brandon Marshall in the NFC North. Jim Caldwell is an offensive-minded head coach, but you can’t ignore the defensive backfield that’s been seemingly made up of Scotch tape and high hopes the past few years.
11. Tennessee Titans: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: The Titans have needs on offense, but Mack is the type of OLB that would fit perfectly in a Ray Horton coached 3-4 defense. There are some promising young defenders on that Titans D; Mack would be a wonderful addition. If Bortles, Carr, Bridgewater or Manziel are still on the board, Ken Whisenhunt could go QB, too.
12. New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: The Giants took Justin Pugh in the first round last year. They’ve got Will Beatty on a big contract, too. I still think they go offensive line with the 12th pick. If needed, Pugh can move inside to guard. Matthews was being discussed as a top-5 pick after the college football season. I still think he goes Top 15.
13. St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: There have been a lot of folks saying they like Evans more than Watkins. I don’t see it. I don’t think the two belong in the same conversation. But he’s the perfect complement to Tavon Austin in the Rams offense. A big, tight end-sized receiver with tremendous hands and physicality. He’s a great pickup at 13th overall.
14. Chicago Bears: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: In a conversation in December, one NFL scout compared Hageman’s mix of physical build and athleticism to J.J. Watt’s. High praise. The Bears struggled against the run in 2013, and after injuries riddled their corps, the defensive line became the team’s Achilles’ heel. The son of two Dartmouth grads, Hageman has the smarts and the physicality to sneak into the Top 15.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State: A star at the Combine in which his speed lived up to the hype, Gilbert offers more than just play at cornerback. He could be the best return man in this draft, too. An awfully nice pickup, if available, for a team with one of the oldest defensive backfields in the league.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame: Not the sexiest pick, but an area of need in Dallas. The Cowboys went offense with their first three picks in 2013. They add some depth with a player who was once a top high-school recruit at his position in 2014. Nix is coming off an injury of his own, but should be more than ready to go come the start of training camp.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: The Ravens, as thin as any team outside the Jets at wide receiver, would have this pick’s envelope in to Commissioner Goodell before the clock even starts if Mike Evans is still on the board. In this scenario, he’s not. So they go with Lewan, the accomplished offensive tackle who handled the competition in the loaded Big Ten.
18. New York Jets: Xavier Su’a Filo, OG, UCLA: Jets fans may cringe at the thought of a big offensive guard being the pick over a wide receiver, but the Jets’ interior offensive line is in as much need as the receiver spot. 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, a bit behind Stanford’s David Yankey. The man can run block. Toss on the tape. I can’t get enough.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama: You may have heard, but the Dolphins had some issues on their offensive line last season. Kouandjio didn’t participate in physical drills at the Combine due to medical reasons, but that shouldn’t keep him from going in the first round. Solid pickup at 19 for Miami.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: How important is the Senior Bowl? Donald dominated and raised a lot of eyebrows. How important is the Combine? He did the same and solidified his place in the first round of May’s Draft. Arizona already has a solid front seven. Add Donald to the mix and this D is right up there with the other three NFC West units.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois: This is a lot higher than I’ve seen Ward going in other mock drafts, but I see Green Bay as the right fit. The sky’s the limit for this kid, a hard-hitting safety who could also cover receivers in the slot. Ward didn’t participate at the combine due to a foot injury, but I don’t see it impacting his draft stock too much.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville: Though Charlie Strong’s other big prospect, Bridgewater, will get the bulk of the media attention, I think Pryor is a first-round pick, as well. The Eagles’ defensive backfield played a lot better than many expected in 2014, but there’s room for upgrades all over. Pryor had 69 tackles, three interceptions, and was all over the field for Louisville in 2013.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Lee has been compared to everyone from Steve Smith to Torry Holt. How’s that for some high expectations? Blessed with superb hands and fluid movement, he’ll be a functional pro, despite his less-than-breathtaking measurables (6 foot, 185 pounds). As a sophomore, Lee had 1,721 receiving yards and scored 14 touchdowns. His dip in production his junior year was a result of subpar play at the quarterback position. I don’t see it as any sort of red flag.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: David Yankey, OG, Stanford: A two-time, All-American, Yankey would beef up an already incredibly talented offensive line in Cincinnati. One of the top pulling guards in all of college football, he’ll make a rather seamless transition to the AFC North. Tyler Gaffney ran for 1,709 yards in 2013. Most of that came running right behind Yankey.
25. San Diego Chargers: Timmy Jernigan, DT/DE, Florida State: Jernigan’s name popped up late in the season and he solidified his place as a Day 1 or 2 prospect in the BCS Championship Game in January. At 6-foot-2, 290-300 pounds, he’s got the size to play either inside or outside in defensive coordinator John Pagano’s 3-4 scheme. He finished with 63 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2013. He’s rather light on his feet and has a lot of potential to work with. A good pickup at 25th overall.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame: A big boy who could play either tackle or guard, Martin started a school-record 52 games for the Fighting Irish over the course of four years. A two-time captain who can protect the pass and also create holes in the run game, Martin is a good fit in hard-nosed Cleveland.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU: More than one scout has compared Van Noy to Clay Matthews. A pass-rushing star who can also drop into coverage, he’d be an excellent fit in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 D. He’s cerebral, too. Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah credits Van Noy as teaching him how to play football.
28. Carolina Panthers: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood: Captain Munnerlyn is a free agent and though Melvin White played nobly down the stretch, cornerback is an area where the Panthers could improve. Desir has been compared favorably to Richard Sherman and the small school prospect fits Carolina’s blue collar D. A big, rangy cover corner who elevated his draft stock in the Senior Bowl and at the Combine, he could be a late first round surprise.
29. New England Patriots: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: Verrett ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard-dash, and he registered a 39-inch vertical which was one of the best of all players at the combine. He also shows up on tape. What’s the catch? Well, there really isn’t one. I love this pick for the Patriots, who are always looking to beef up their defensive backfield.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: For the third straight year, the 49ers reached the NFC Conference Championship Game and didn’t bring home a Lombardi trophy. Is Cooks the guy to put them over the top? Probably not, but the Pac-12 superstar is an underneath threat of the Victor Cruz/Percy Harvin variety. That’s something the 49ers would gladly take at 30th overall.
31. Denver Broncos: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama: The Broncos are likely still licking their wounds from the beating they took in Super Bowl XLVIII. Clinton-Dix is fluid in his footwork and can level the boom in the open field. Denver’s defensive backfield got by last season, but it’s by no means the deepest part of the roster. Nice addition at No. 31 overall.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri: 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 is the next in line. A 6-foot-5, 280-pound force on the edge, he could be a sound addition to a defense already loaded across the board.