With 30 teams now officially into their offseason and Senior Bowl practices out of the way, the NFL mocking season is now in full swing. Most organizations are now knee deep in the evaluation process, with scouts spread across the country hunting down prospects and coaches locked in film rooms dissecting hundreds of hours of tape as they piece together their Big Boards for the 2014 NFL Draft. While none of us are privy to the happening behind those closed doors, we certainly have plenty to speculate on. It doesn’t take a hardened NFL scouting veteran to infer that the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns are likely in the running for one of the top quarterback prospects. Hence our way-too-early Mock Draft, where we at Ramblin’ Fan are going to attempt to predict which teams will pick which players.
In this format we are going to follow standard mock draft “rules.” Despite the fact that the smart money is on the St. Louis Rams trading down out of their No.2 overall spot, we are going to make our picks under the assumption of “no trades.” So, without further rambling, here is our 2014 NFL Mock Draft: Senior Bowl edition.
1. Houston Texans
The hype surrounding Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel will likely continue to rise over the next few months. However, Bridgewater is certainly a Bill O’Brien-type of player: a primed and polished, pocket quarterback that is ready to plug-and-play in the NFL. Fans in Houston shouldn’t be turned off by the “unnamed scouts and talent evaluaters” that will continue to blow smoke of “concern” about the top signal calling prospect.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington)
According to GM Les Snead, the St. Louis Rams do not believe they have a “need” for a potential No.1 wide receiver in the NFL Draft. However, that hasn’t stopped the golden haired, scouting master in the past (i.e. Julio Jones in Atlanta). In this “new age,” you can never have enough weapons on the offensive side of the football; and with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey already in tow, the Rams should be “set” at receiver headed into the future.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
While inconsistency may be a “concern” for the UCF prospect, Bortles may have the highest ceiling of any of the three top quarterbacks in this Draft class. Prototypical size, solid arm strength, smooth release, and impressive college production will have the Jaguars running to the stage to make his pick. Unless, of course, they sign Tim Tebow to the roster instead…
4. Cleveland Browns
QB, Texas A&M
Earlier in the week, it was reported the the Cleveland Browns were “willing and eager” to move up in the Draft to snag their guy in April. Luckily, the Browns have no need to move up the ranks to land Johnny Manziel, who Cleveland hopes will be the next “Chosen One” in a city suffering through a long drought of success in sports. With five Pro Bowlers in Hawaii this season, including Offensive Player of the Year candidate, Josh Gordon, the Browns could very well be a quarterback away from success in a wishy-washy AFC North division.
5. Oakland Raiders
DE/OLB, South Carolina
Lamarr Houston was a regular in the opposing backfield this season, despite the fact that the Raiders trailed in a majority of their games. Jason Hunter, their other defensive end, was not. At No.5, it would be hard to pass on the consensus top defensive prospect in the draft. Sorry Atlanta!
6. Atlanta Falcons
Aside from an injury bug that went rampant in the Falcons’ locker room, the real issue for Atlanta was their defense’s inability to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. In fact, their top three defensive ends registered only 79 combined quarterback disruptions the entire season; Robert Quinn managed 91 disruptions by himself. Barr is the epitome of a pass rushing specialist, and should be an instant plug-and-dominate outside linebacker at the next level.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
OT, Texas A&M
If Mike Glennon is truly the future in Tampa Bay, they are going to need someone to keep him upright in a division with some scary front-sevens. While Greg Robinson will likely pick up some steam heading into April, there is no arguing that Jake Matthews is the top offensive line prospect of the 2014 Draft class. In fact, many considered him as a better run blocking tackle than his former teammate,and a 2013 Top 5 pick, Luke Joeckel. With Doug Martin expected to be the focal point of the offense, having a “mauler” on the left side of the line will be key to success.
8. Minnesota Vikings
While the Vikings did invest several 2013 picks on their linebacker corps, it doesn’t mean they will shy away from snagging one of the top defensive playmakers in the 2014 class. Mack set NCAA records for tackles for a loss and forced fumbles during his time at the University of Buffalo. They could certainly use a little bit of that magic, especially if Jared Allen is on his way out.
9. Buffalo Bills
WR, Texas A&M
Most mockers are selecting an offensive tackle for Buffalo, despite the fact that Erik Pears and Cordy Glenn allowed only six combined sacks in 2013. The real issue for the Bills was their lack of consistency at quarterback and their continued lack of health in the receiving corps. The combination of Mike Evans, Stevie Johnson, and Marquise Goodwin could arguably give Buffalo the top receiving grouping in the AFC East… assuming Johnson can play all 16 games. Moreover, having two “go-to” receivers should certainly elevate E.J. Manuel, who struggled with limited weapons last season, when he wasn’t on the sidelines.
10. Detroit Lions
CB, Michigan State
The Detroit Lions do not have a single cornerback on their current roster that would be considered anything above “average.” Chris Houston was the only player in that corps to manage an interception this season, but also finished the year with the 14th-worst coverage grade in the NFL (out of 100+ qualifying corners). Darqueze Dennard was arguably the best player on arguably the best defense in the college football last season. He is the closest thing to a “shutdown” defensive back in this year’s class, and will be an instant fan favorite having already displayed his talents in Michigan.
11. Tennessee Titans
Seems odd that three Texas A&M players would go off the board before an Alabama player, but that is how this one is shaking out. The Tennessee Titans should be set on their offensive line after their haul from the 2013 draft and free agency. Under the assumption that Jake Locker is back to full health, the Titans need to sure up their second level of the defensive. C.J. Mosley is that last of the inarguable plug-and-play linebackers in the class, and likely the most “NFL ready” of the three top prospects. Mosley can, and will, be the centerpiece of this defense into the foreseeable future.
12. New York Giants
Throwing 27 interceptions in a season is pretty bad. However, allowing 13 sacks in a season might be worse, and could very well signal the Giants to take another offensive tackle in the opening round of the draft. At No.12, Robinson might be the “steal” of the 1st Round, especially considering some have him marked as Top 5 prospect on their “Big Board.” The combination of Justin Pugh and Greg Robinson should give Eli Manning enough time to bounce back in 2014, and hopefully open some holes in a running game that has been stagnant for the last couple of seasons.
13. St. Louis Rams
After being shut out of the Top 10, Alabama could see their second player go within three picks. The lone “hole” in the St. Louis Rams defense last season was in the deep secondary, where an undrafted special teams ace attempted (admirably) to fill in as a starter for a majority of the season. With T.J. McDonald as the “enforcer,” Jeff Fisher will be eyeballing a versatile safety that can both cover on the inside and play centerfield in a deep zone. Clinton-Dix should be the “final piece” of the Rams defensive puzzle, and with Robert Quinn rushing the passer, should have plenty of chances to make his mark on the league in his rookie season.
14. Chicago Bears
Injuries decimated the Chicago Bears defense in 2013, but it did reveal some glaring weaknesses on that side of the football. Aside from the shear inability to stop the run, the Bears also had trouble getting pressure on the quarterbacks. Julius Peppers and Henry Melton are not enough to disrupt Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford. As a left defensive end, Kony Ealy should eat right tackles for breakfast at the next level. He has the speed and inside-outside moves to be a consistent member of the “sack race,” and, better yet, he is effective against the run. Double points for Chicago.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger won’t last another three years in the NFL if he continues to take punishment like he did last season. Big Ben took 42 sacks (7th most in the NFL), which should be more striking considering the shear amount of effort it takes defenders to wrangle him to the ground. The top two offensive tackles are already off the board at this point, but, luckily the best (arguable) pass blocking tackle is still available. Taylor Lewan has the build and mean-streak to become the next Jake Long in the NFL, and should help lengthen Roethlisberger’s tenure in Pittsburgh. Let’s just hope this offensive lineman can stay healthy.
16. Baltimore Ravens
TE, North Carolina
Without Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin, the Baltimore Ravens looked completely hopeless on the offensive side of the football. Joe Flacco was average, at best, at quarterback, and Ray Rice finished the season as the worst running back in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The return of Pitta (assuming a re-signing) to the lineup will inevitably help, but the addition of the top tight end in the draft class could completely turn the Ravens offense around. Ebron has the build to be effective as an H-back or in-line blocker, and the athleticism, speed, and catching ability to mirror Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham as an offensive weapon in the passing game.