By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) While some NFL teams continue to monitor which players slipped through the cracks of free agency, the NFL Draft is only 42 days away.
In terms of position players, this is one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. However, it’s a passing league, so quarterbacks will still be at a premium.
Here’s a seemingly obvious, yet essential, fact to keep in mind when you read this mock draft of mine: This is a hypothetical projection of the first round. If you have a different viewpoint about how your team may want to use its selection, feel free to tweet me. I’m always open to sensible NFL banter.
Here goes, from 1 to 32, with a projected trade mixed in too:
1) Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB (Central Florida) – The Matt Schaub trade cleared the way for this move. Bortles resembles Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg and gives head coach Bill O’Brien (formerly at Penn State) a potential franchise cornerstone for his new franchise.
2) St. Louis Rams (from Washington) – Projected trade with the Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE (South Carolina) – Flush with pass rushers, the Rams will put this pick out for bidding and fetch a nice haul. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s history with Rams general manager Les Snead should ease this negotiation and provide the Falcons with the pass rusher they desperately need.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB (Louisville) – A lackluster pro day performance can’t overshadow Bridgewater’s brilliant collegiate career. Drafting Johnny Manziel to sell tickets is a popular narrative, but general manager David Caldwell is smarter football executive than that.
4) Cleveland Browns: Derek Carr, QB (Fresno State) – The Browns’ recent modus operandi has been to bypass the quarterback early and take one later in the first round. That plan has yielded Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden. Carr’s stock has been soaring since the Senior Bowl, and his arm strength will bode well in the windy Cleveland winters.
5) Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB (Buffalo) – Armed with the most free cap space heading into free agency, not much has gone right for the Raiders this offseason. They’ve resorted to past-their-prime rental pass rushers, so Mack gives them an intriguing young prospect with plenty of upside.
6) Atlanta Falcons – Projected trade with the St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT (Auburn) – The Rams are able to slide back four spots and still get their guy in this mock. Robinson has rare movement skills for a man his size and is still developing as a left tackle. Depending on Jake Long’s recovery, he could start out on the right side but will eventually become the blindside protector.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR (Clemson) – The Bucs addressed several key needs via free agency and could be in position to trade back. However, Watkins is too intriguing to pass up. Josh McCown saw first-hand what two big-time receivers can do for an offense (and his bank account), and pairing Watkins with Vincent Jackson gives the Bucs a dynamic duo.
8) Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB (Texas A&M) – Since Adrian Peterson took over as the Vikings’ lead back, 10 different quarterbacks have lined up under center in Minnesota. Manziel is a polarizing figure, but he’s productive in and out of the pocket. Norv Turner likes to throw it deep, and Manziel has great touch on deep throws.
9) Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT (Texas A&M) – The Bills have a gaping hole at right tackle, so Matthews is a perfect fit. Head coach Doug Marrone is a former offensive line coach who loves to run the ball, so getting more talent up front is essential.
10) Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB (Oklahoma State) – While it may be tempting to take a player like Mike Evans here, the Lions fill their need at cornerback to solidify their defense. Gilbert is an electric athlete with fluid hips who will also make an impact on special teams.
11) Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, DE (UCLA) – The Titans need an edge rusher to complement the inside push they get from Jurrell Casey. Barr is an angular athlete with excellent burst to close speed, but he could be a boom-or-bust prospect.
12) New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE (North Carolina) – The Giants depth chart at tight end had a combined six targets in 2013, so they have a huge need at the position. Ebron is an excptional athlete for his size who will draw safety attention up the seam and allow Victor Cruz space to operate in the underneath zones.
13) St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S (Alabama) – The Rams safeties had very few impact plays in the 2013 season, so there’s a need to up the talent level. Clinton-Dix is the top center-field free safety in this draft class and will be an immediate starter from Day 1.
14) Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT (Pitt) – The Bears’ moves in free agency have created a lot of flexibility in the draft, but glaring needs remain at free safety, three-technique and to a lesser extent cornerback. With Clinton-Dix off the board, Donald is the logical choice. Donald is quick and compact, and he’s an excellent hand-fighter who wins with quick feet and technique.
15) Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Evans, WR (Texas A&M) – The Steelers are still searching for their Plaxico Burress-type playmaker, and Evans is all that and then some. Evans’ football grade was high given his prowess to win 50/50 balls down the field, but his athletic grade took a big boost at the combine. He will be an immediate impact player in the red zone.
16) Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE (Missouri) – After securing Henry Melton in free agency, the Cowboys must address the void left by DeMarcus Ware’s departure and find a way to get pressure off the edge. Ealy is a productive and versatile pass rusher coming from a program that has recently churned out several successful pros.
17) Baltimore Ravens: Darqueze Dennard, CB (Michigan State) – The Ravens lost Corey Graham to the Bills, which leaves a big void at their nickel back position. Dennard has a tendency to grab receivers down the field, which will need to be cleaned up, but he’s a physical player who will fit right in with the Ravens and push for a top-two spot in 2015.
18) New York Jets: Odell Beckham, WR (LSU) – Adding Eric Decker in free agency can’t be the only move the Jets make to improve their skill position players. Beckham has elite speed, great open-field vision and will be an impact kick and punt returner.
19) Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT (Michigan) – In terms of football, Lewan is better than the 19th overall selection, but his off-the-field issues may prompt a slide. The Dolphins may have pause drafting a player with pending charges given their tumultous season, but they had great luck previously with an offensive tackle from Michigan in Jake Long.
20) Arizona Cardinals: Calvin Pryor, S (Louisville) – The Cardinals’ low-risk, high-reward draft gamble in 2013 on free safety Tyrann Mathieu paid huge dividends, and now they pair him up with the best strong safety in this draft class. Pryor is a playmaker. He’s a ferocious hitter who plays with speed downhill and is adept at creating turnovers.
21) Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB (Alabama) – The Packers have made a concerted effort to improve their defense but still have a void up the middle at the second and third levels. Mosley is an excellent read-and-react player who doesn’t take many false steps, keeps his pads clean from blockers and is a sure tackler.
22) Philadelphia Eagles: Dee Ford, DE/OLB (Auburn) – When looking for an NFL comparison to Dee Ford, the Eagles’ Trent Cole came to mind. Ford stole the show at the Senior Bowl, showcasing a quick get-off to bend the edge and press the pocket.
23) Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR (USC) – Hat tip to the Chiefs for winning 11 games and making the playoffs without a receiver who gained more than 700 yards. Lee needs to polish up his route-running, but he’s an elite athlete for Andy Reid to develop.
24) Cincinnati Bengals: Bradley Roby, CB (Ohio State) – Given the age of their top three corners and the slow development of Dre Kirkpatrick, the Bengals need younger talent at cornerback. Roby has lapses in coverage, but his athleticism erases a lot of mistakes.
25) San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix, DT (Notre Dame) – The Chargers lost Cam Thomas in free agency to the Steelers, so Nix would be an ideal replacement to man the nose in their 30-front. Nix is brutally strong with his punch at the point of attack, but conditioning and a meniscus tear will raise some red flags.
26) Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Xavier Su’a Filo, G (UCLA) – Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking attack is predicated on lateral movement and second-level flow from linemen, which makes Su’a Filo a perfect fit. Injuries along the line forced Su’a Filo to play some left tackle, where he fared well, but he’s best suited inside.
27) New Orleans Saints: Zack Martin, OT (Notre Dame) – Drew Brees’ deft footwork in the pocket to find passing lanes has covered up for plenty of poor protection in New Orleans. Martin was dominant at the Senior Bowl, displaying versatility to mirror edge rushers at left tackle, as well as maul the run game at guard.
28) Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR (Oregon State) – In order to maximize Cam Newton’s talents, the Panthers desperately need more weapons in the passing game. Cooks is a quick-twitch athlete who has a little Steve Smith to his game, playing much bigger than his measurables.
29) New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT (Florida State) – Once Vince Wilfork was lost last season, the Patriots’ run defense sagged. Jernigan would be an ideal replacement to man the nose in New England. While he doesn’t offer much in terms of pass rush, Jernigan is a stout run defender.
30) San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR (Florida State) – Armed with six picks in the top 100, the 49ers may move up to secure a receiver with a bit more speed, which is what they currently lack. If not, Benjamin gives them another big-bodied target to box out defenders down the field and give Colin Kaepernick a wide catching radius to throw into when coverage is tight.
31) Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, LB (Ohio State) – The Broncos learned first-hand from the Seahawks what youth and depth on defense does for a team. Shazier is a unique athlete who quickly shoots gaps and is equally capable in his coverage drops.
32) Seattle Seahawks: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT (Minnesota) – The Seahawks may be tempted to go for a tight end or wide receiver, but Hageman’s value could be too good to pass up. Hageman is a size-to-speed prospect whose ability to play both one- and two-gap would be an ideal fit for the Seahawks’ hybrid fronts.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin.