Predicting the 2014 NFL Draft

With this year’s NFL draft coming up in May, now is the time when many so-called experts predict where some of college’s biggest phenoms will land. This draft is being regarded as one of the deepest drafts, talent-wise, in a long time, making it a difficult one to forecast. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to try, though. Without further ado, here is The Marietta Times 2014 NFL mock draft:

No. 1 – Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end, South Carolina. Clowney probably has the most talent out of any player in the draft. Although the Texans have a need at quarterback, it will be hard to pass up a player with so much potential. Several years back, Houston took a defensive end with the first overall pick in Mario Williams. I think they’ll do it again.

No. 2 – St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, offensive tackle, Auburn. The Rams have struggled to protect quarterback Sam Bradford since he came into the league. Robinson would give them an instant franchise left tackle who can protect Bradford’s blindside and is also a tremendous run-blocker.

No. 3 – Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, quarterback, Texas A&M. Jacksonville has longed for some type of excitement on the gridiron for awhile now. Manziel would step in and instantly give them a watchable offense. Many people believe Johnny “Football’s” small frame won’t translate into the NFL, but don’t overlook his athleticism and rocket arm.

No. 4 – Cleveland Browns: Khalil Mack, outside linebacker, Buffalo. There are a few plausible scenarios here for the Browns. They could try to get a franchise QB here or add an offensive weapon. However, with a defensive-minded head coach at the helm, Mack is the likely choice. If it weren’t for Clowney, Mack would easily be the top pass rusher in the draft. He had a dominating season for Buffalo, with his best performance coming in week one when he caused fits for Braxton Miller and Ohio State.

No. 5 – Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Clemson. With quarterback Matt Schaub recently acquired, the Raiders may hold off on using an early pick to take a QB. With almost no major playmakers on offense, picking Watkins would be a wise choice for Oakland so Schaub has something to work with.

No. 6 – Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, offensive tackle, Texas A&M. Matthews is a safe pick here. He can play on either side of the line and would give Atlanta significantly better protection for quarterback Matt Ryan, who could certainly use it.

No. 7 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, wide receiver, Texas A&M. The third Aggie goes off the board in the first seven picks. With young Mike Glennon at the helm under center, Evans would team up with Vincent Jackson to give the Bucs a pair of tall, athletic targets at wideout.

No. 8 – Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, quarterback, Central Florida. A lot of people would be surprised to see Bortles fall this far. The Vikings would likely be very excited. After another mediocre season from Christian Ponder, Minnesota needs to try something different at quarterback. Bortles has a strong, accurate arm and is tough to bring down.

No. 9 – Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Michigan. After drafting quarterback E.J. Manuel last year, the Bills need to commit to that pick by providing him with a stable offensive line. Lewan would be a solid first step in that process.

No. 10 – Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, cornerback, Oklahoma State. The Lions need to not get cute with this pick. They badly need to improve at corner. Gilbert is arguably the best corner in the draft.

No. 11 – Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, outside linebacker, UCLA. The Titans hired Ray Horton, who loves to blitz, as their defensive coordinator this offseason. Barr is a freak athlete who excels at blitzing. It’s a good fit for a team that struggled to pressure the quarterback a year ago.

No. 12 – New York Giants: Eric Ebron, tight end, North Carolina. Ebron is by far the highest rated tight end in the draft and the Giants have a big need at that position. Tight ends are as active as ever in the passing game and having an elite one would give the Giants an edge on a lot of teams.

No. 13 – St. Louis Rams: Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, free safety, Alabama. Another situation where a team can use a pick to address its biggest position need with the highest rated player at that position. The Rams need a safety and Ha-Ha is laughably good.

No. 14 – Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh. There’s been a lot of speculation that the Bears desperately want Donald on their roster. They may even trade up to get him. In this mock, though, he’s available at 14.

No. 15 – Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, cornerback, Michigan State. For awhile, the thought was that the Steelers would go with a receiver with this pick. But after signing Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey in free agency, their biggest need now is a corner. Ike Taylor has been declining for awhile now and Pittsburgh needs a shutdown cover guy to match up with the likes of A.J. Green and Josh Gordon in that division.

No. 16 – Dallas Cowboys: Dee Ford, defensive end, Auburn. This might be a bit of a reach, but Ford is probably the best pass rusher available at this point and, with DeMarcus Ware gone, that’s something the Cowboys could use. Really any type of defensive player would make sense as the Cowboys struggled on that side of the ball last season.

No. 17 – Baltimore Ravens: C.J. Mosley, inside linebacker, Alabama. The Ravens need to build their defense back up. Could this Alabama star be the next Ray Lewis?

No. 18 – New York Jets: Marqise Lee, wide receiver, USC. The Jets need to build around young QB Geno Smith. Signing free agent Eric Decker was a great start. Add a rookie of Lee’s caliber and Smith will have no excuse not to succeed.

No. 19 – Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, offensive tackle, Notre Dame. With the mess the Dolphins had on the offensive line last season thanks to Ritchie Incognito/Jonathan Martin, the Dolphins try a different Martin here. At this point, he’s likely the best remaining offensive linemen on the board. He’s versatile enough to play tackle or guard.

No. 20 – Arizona Cardinals: Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback, Louisville. The Cardinals surprised a lot of people last season by going 10-6 thanks to a beast defense and manageable play from QB Carson Palmer. But as Bengals fans know, Palmer can take a massive turn for the worse at any moment. Bridgewater, once the projected No. 1 overall pick, could come as an insurance policy or, at the very least, sit behind Palmer for a couple years and eventually take over as the starter.

No. 21 – Green Bay Packers: Ryan Shazier, outside linebacker, Ohio State. The Packers could use some speed at linebacker. Shazier is a guy who is very quick and can roam all over the field and make plays. Him opposite of Clay Matthews would look very nice.

No. 22 – Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Oregon State. Following Desean Jackson’s release, the Eagles have room for a speed-demon receiver and Cooks absolutely fits the bill. He ran the second-fastest 40-time in the draft and would be a perfect fit in Philadelphia’s offense.

No. 23 – Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, LSU. The Chiefs became one of the NFL’s elite teams last season but had trouble keeping up with dominant offenses like the Broncos’. Part of that was due to a lack of offensive playmakers outside of running back Jamaal Charles. Beckham Jr., another standout in this draft’s strong group of receivers, would help remedy that dilemma.

No. 24 – Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, defensive end, Missouri. The Bengals like to have depth on the d-line. After losing Michael Johnson to free agency, Ealy would be a great candidate to plug into the system and develop into a top pass rusher. However, the Bengals may also look at a cornerback with this pick.

No. 25 – San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix, defensive tackle, Notre Dame. At this point Nix would be one of the best available players remaining in the draft. The Chargers could use a stout run stuffer in the middle of their defense.

No. 26 – Cleveland Browns: Xavier Su’a-Filo, offensive guard, UCLA. The Browns were weak at the guard position last season and it showed in the running game, or lack thereof. They’ve signed running back Ben Tate, but a running back can’t run through holes that aren’t there. Su’a-Filo is a guy who could help immensely in creating those holes.

No. 27 – New Orleans Saints: Timmy Jernigan, defensive tackle, Florida State. The Saints did a great job of solidifying their secondary this offseason by adding safety Jairus Byrd and corner Champ Bailey. Now they can look at improving up front with Jernigan, who is adept in stuffing the run as well as rushing the passer.

No. 28 – Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, wide receiver, Florida State. Cam Newton is a great quarterback, but he needs people to throw to. The Panthers currently have next to nothing at receiver. It would behoove them to take advantage of such a receiver-rich draft. Benjamin is a big, strong wideout who can go up and fight for the ball.

No. 29 – New England Patriots: Calvin Pryor, free safety, Louisville. The Patriots could use some help in the back end of their secondary and Pryor, to some people, is the best safety in this draft.

No. 30 – San Francisco 49ers: Kyle Fuller, cornerback, Virginia Tech. The 49ers definitely have an elite defense, but their secondary has taken a hit this offseason. They are especially thin at cornerback. Fuller is regarded as an NFL-ready player who can cover top receivers as well as come up and hold his own against the run, which fits what San Francisco is looking for.

No. 31 – Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, cornerback, TCU. The Broncos were active in free agency with a focus on their secondary, signing corner Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. Still, they could look to add depth to that unit with the 31st pick. Talib has never played a full NFL season so Denver should probably stock up on corners. Verrett could be productive playing opposite Talib or filling in for him now and then.

No. 32 – Seattle Seahawks: Allen Robinson, wide receiver, Penn State. Seattle’s receivers took a lot of flak throughout last season as the team’s biggest weakness. The unit stepped and played well in the playoffs, but could still use an upgrade with Golden Tate and Sidney Rice gone. Robinson had a nice junior season for the Nittany Lions and could work well with QB Russell Wilson.

Jordan Holland is a sports writer for The Marietta Times. He can be reached at 740-376-5449 or at jholland@mariettatimes.com.