1. Houston – DE Jadeveon Clowney
The Texans take the first step in building a powerhouse defense to slow down Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, while putting themselves a cut above the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South.
2. Cleveland (MOCK TRADE WITH ST. LOUIS) – WR Sammy Watkins
As I mentioned several months ago, the most explosive player in this year’s draft – and the second-best overall football player – deserves the No. 2 slot. Plus, new general manager Ray Farmer needs offensive firepower to compete in a stout defensive division. Quarterback is a strong possibility with Brian Hoyer as the bridge guy, but look for the Browns to grab a young signal-caller with their second pick #26.
3. Jacksonville – QB Blake Bortles
Coach Gus Bradley will be tempted by outside linebacker Khalil Mack here. GM Dave Caldwell already did a great job in adding some key defensive pieces via free agency (defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, as well as nose tackle Ziggy Hood), though, and a QB of Bortles’ ilk has eluded the Jags since Mark Brunell.
4. St. Louis (MOCK TRADE WITH CLEVELAND) – OT Jake Matthews
Trading back and accumulating more picks in an ultra-deep draft is crucial for a young team competing in the toughest division in the NFL. More than just an insurance policy for the rehabbing-from-ACL-surgery Jake Long, Matthews can become Sam Bradford’s chief bodyguard and open holes for Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham.
5. Oakland – OLB Khalil Mack
The Raiders were very active in free agency, adding several seasoned veterans to boost a team that lacked playmakers, leadership and depth in 2013. Quarterback is a strong possibility, but with Bortles already off the board, the Raiders brass won’t pull the trigger on Johnny Football at No. 5.
6. Atlanta – OT Greg Robinson
Coach Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff understand that in a pass-happy NFC South, you better have an aggressive defense and protect the passer. While Robinson will need some NFL tutelage when it comes to his pass-blocking techniques, running the football and grinding the clock behind this big man will translate into winning the division.
7. Tampa Bay – WR Mike Evans
The addition of this playmaking wideout, who boasts the size and speed to be the cornerstone opposite of Vincent Jackson, will give QB Josh McCown another weapon outside the numbers and coach Lovie Smith balance to go along with bell-cow running back Doug Martin.
8. Dallas (MOCK TRADE WITH MINNESOTA) – LB Anthony Barr
Cutting fan favorite and perennial Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware was a huge decision for the Cowboys’ front office. Replacing him won’t be easy, but Barr – a former UCLA Bruins running back – may be the most versatile defender in the draft. It will be fun to watch Dallas D-coordinator Rod Marinelli make use of this talented athlete.
9. Buffalo – TE Eric Ebron
The Bills could add a wide receiver to the mix with this pick, but Ebron is the perfect fit for second-year QB E.J. Manuel to work the middle of the field and down the seam.
10. Detroit – CB Justin Gilbert
This top-notch cornerback has huge upside and is a dynamic return man with explosive big play ability.
11. Tennessee – CB Darqueze Dennard
Here’s a plug-and-play corner who can thrive in press or a zone system. He is slightly muscled up tight in transition but FBI and a combination of size and speed is off the charts.
12. New York Giants – OT Zach Martin
Eli Manning took a beating in 2013. Protecting him off the edge and up the middle is perhaps GM Jerry Reese’s main priority, and Martin would be a much-needed addition.
13. St. Louis Rams – DT Aaron Donald
With all the top safeties still available do the Rams draft for need or take the best available player. Drafting a playmaker to team up with second year pro TJ McDonald on the backend, Coach Fisher and GM Les Snead put a smile on the face of new Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams with the addition of the drafts best interior defensive linemen to terrorize the NFC West
14. Chicago – DB Calvin Pryor
Corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings lock down the edges, but the back end of the secondary is missing an intimidating force with collision tendencies. Pryor fits that need. Defensive tackle is also a strong possibility.
15. Pittsburgh – CB Kyle Fuller
This athletic corner has all of the positional attributes and a tremendous skill set, not to mention length, speed and change-of-direction ability. He’s a fit in a press scheme and also projects as a bait-and-snatch zone defender.
16. Minnesota (MOCK TRADE WITH DALLAS) – QB Johnny Manziel
The trade down from No. 8 makes this pick feel better from a value standpoint. Yet Manziel doesn’t fit offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s size preference or throw consistently from the pocket. Other quarterback possibilities: A.J. McCarron and Teddy Bridgewater. Don’t discount Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage or defensive tackle Ra’shede Hageman, either.
17. Baltimore – DB HaHa Clinton-Dix
GM Ozzie Newsome goes calling to his old stomping grounds and drafts the best man cover safety in the draft.
18. New York Jets – WR Marqise Lee
Adding another playmaker outside the numbers – and one who will energize the Jets’ return game – will help in a tough division. Lee’s 2012 campaign at USC, however, was much more impressive and productive than what he did last fall.
19. Miami – OT Taylor Lewan
An offensive tackle who brings a very good, athletic package of toughness and aggressiveness; fills a major need.
20. Arizona – DE Marcus Smith
This defensive end was a multi-functional player at Louisville and, once up and running, he would hunt like a linebacker. Smith will complement John Abraham perfectly, and ultimately replace the stellar weakside linebacker.
21. Green Bay – ILB C.J. Mosley
The Packers have coveted a true middle linebacker for several years, and here he is for the taking. Mosley is athletic, with great eyes and FBI to play downhill against the run. He also possesses good man cover skills and awareness in space.
22. Philadelphia – WR Odell Beckham
This player is more than a receiver – he is a toy that is fast, explosive and productive with the ball in hand. Expect electrifying production from the slot position on hitch screens, bubble throws and reverses. He’ll thrive in Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme and should be used as a return threat, too.
23. Kansas City – WR Brandin Cooks
Cook’s sterling combine numbers reflected his speed, COD and explosive movement, all of which pops on film. Andy Reid gains another speedy receiver to go along with multi-purpose running back Jamaal Charles. Watch out, AFC West.
24. Cincinnati – OLB Ryan Shazier
Maybe the most versatile linebacker in the draft, Shazier can play both inside and outside. He is an aggressive tackler, and the athleticism shows in space and coverage.
25. San Diego – CB Bradley Roby
I really like Roby’s positional attributes and skill set, short-area movement and his potential to develop into a core special teams player at the next level. Still, his off-field issues continue to be a flashing yellow for all teams.
26. Cleveland – QB Derek Carr
The best pure passer in the 2014 draft class, Carr will have a multitude of explosive players on the edge to throw to in Sammy Watkins (No. 2 pick), Josh Gordon and Greg Little.
27. New Orleans – DE Dee Ford
A dream come true for D-coordinator Rob Ryan. Ford will align in several spots, unleashing his explosive temperament on opposing quarterbacks.
28. Carolina – OT Cyrus Kouandjio
With the retirement of offensive tackle Jordan Gross, Kouandjio becomes the key to protecting Cam Newton’s blindside.
29. New England – DT Ra’shede Hageman
This athletic run-stuffer has excellent size and length, not to mention natural pass-rushing skills that fit perfectly in Bill Belichick’s defense.
30. San Francisco – CB Jason Verrett
Short but very talented corner with COD, speed and man cover skills. Verrett is tough and very competitive in all games viewed.
31. Denver – OLB Jerry Attaochu
John Fox and Jack Del Rio will have fun with this edge rusher. Align him opposite of outside linebacker Von Miller, and cut him loose.
32. Seattle – OT Morgan Moses
Pete Carroll and John Schneider had to bear with a cobbled-together offensive line down the stretch of last season’s Lombardi Trophy run. While most of those injuries have healed, Moses figures to compete for a starting position right away.