By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Believe it or not, the NFL Draft is only 21 days away.
This is shaping up as one of the more unpredictable drafts in recent memory. Clearly, moving the draft to May is an attempt by the NFL to have a presence in virtually every month of the calendar, but the additional two weeks have just added more speculation and uncertainty.
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: Jadaveon Clowney DE (South Carolina) – Clowney is undoubtedly the top available talent in this draft. Any quarterback the Texans might consider taking first overall comes with far more risk than Clowney. Pairing him with JJ Watt gives the Texans a front that will create sleepless nights for opposing offensive coordinators.
2) St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Sammy Watkins WR (Clemson) – The Rams may prefer a trade down here, but if not, Watkins makes a lot of sense. Tavon Austin gave them a playmaker in space, now they need a bigger-bodied split end. Watkins has tantalizing size-to-speed skills.
3) Minnesota Vikings (Projected trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars): Blake Bortles QB (Central Florida) – Since Adrian Peterson took over as the Vikings load back, ten different quarterbacks have lined up under center. None of the quarterbacks in this class are can’t miss prospects, but Bortles is the safest of the group, so the Vikings move up to secure his services and give Norv Turner a prospect to mold.
4) Cleveland Browns: Derek Carr QB (Fresno State) – The recent Browns 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 Cleveland late in the season.
5) Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack DE (Buffalo) – Armed with the most free cap space heading into free agency, not much has gone right for the Raiders. 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: Greg Robinson OT (Auburn) – The Falcons have two major needs: pressuring opposing quarterbacks and protecting their own. Robinson has rare movement skills for a man his size and is still developing as a left tackle.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans WR (Texas A&M) – The Bucs addressed several key needs via free agency and could be in position to trade back. Josh McCown saw first-hand what two big-time receivers can do for an offense (and bank account). Evans will be an immediate red zone threat, and paired with Vincent Jackson, he’ll give the Bucs a formidable duo.
8) Jacksonville Jaguars (Projected trade with the Minnesota Vikings): Johnny Manziel QB (Texas A&M) – Manziel has signficiantly improved his stock throughout the draft process. He boosted his athletic grade at the combine, made all the throws at his pro day and aced the Wonderlic. For a team that hasn’t had any buzz around it, adding Manziel would bring focus to a franchise who has historically garnered it for the wrong reasons. The hope is “Johnny Football” won’t add to the folly.
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) – The Lions fill their need at cornerback and solidify their defense with Gilbert. Gilbert’s an an electric athlete with fluid hips who will also make an impact on special teams.
11) Tennessee Titans: Teddy Bridgewater QB (Louisville) – After missing out on Gilbert, the Titans could decide between Bridgewater and Anthony Barr. Jake Locker has been inconsistent, injured, and ineffective, so Ken Whisenhunt won’t pass on the opportunity to get his quarterback of the future.
12) New York Giants: Aaron Donald DT (Pitt) – With Linval Joseph now in Minnesota, the Giants have a need to get more push from the interior of their defensive line, so Donald is a perfect match. Donald is strong, compact, and wins with quickness and technique.
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: Calvin Pryor S (Louisville) – With Gilbert, Donald, and Clinton-Dix off the board, the Bears turn to the top available playmaker at a position of need. Pryor has experience as a middle of the field player, he’s a ferocious hitter who plays with speed downhill, and is adept at creating turnovers.
15) Pittsburgh Steelers: Eric Ebron TE (North Carolina) – Heath Miller’s career is nearing an end and the Steelers need a more playmakers in the passing game. The dynamic Ebron would make an immediate impact in ’12’ personnel looks and give the Steelers their tight end of the future.
16) Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Barr DE (UCLA) – 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. Barr is an angular athlete with excellent burst to close speed, but he could be a boom-or-bust prospect.
17) Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Lewan OT (Michigan) – With Michael Oher now in Tennessee, the Ravens have a void at right tackle. Lewan has some off the field concerns, but he’s an excellent value and a Day 1 starter who projects as their left tackle of the future.
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 receiving corps. Beckham has elite speed, great open-field vision and will be an impact returner.
19) Miami Dolphins: CJ Mosley LB (Alabama) – The Dolphins could also look for help along the offensive line, but they need a read-and-react player in the middle of the second level. Mosley has injury concerns, but he’s an instinctive player who doesn’t take many false steps, keeps his pads clean from blockers and is a sure tackler.
20) Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier LB (Ohio State) – Entering his 15th season, it’s fair to wonder how much longer John Abraham can produce. Throw in a potential suspension for Daryl Washington, and the Cardinals have a need at the second-level. Shazier is a versatile athlete who can find holes on the blitz and strikes in run support.
21) Green Bay Packers: Kony Ealy DE/OLB (Missouri) – For the second straight year, the Packers lack of depth on the defensive front was their undoing in the playoffs. They brought in Julius Peppers, but that’s really a one-year trial. Ealy gives them another versatile piece up front who can play from both a two and three-point stance.
22) Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks WR (Oregon State) – With DeSean Jackson now in Washington, the Eagles need to find a playmaker in space, and Cooks fits the bill. Chip Kelly got to scout Cooks up close and will make good use of his quick-twitch athleticism.
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: Kyle Fuller CB (Virginia Tech) – Given the age of their top three corners and the slow development of Dre Kirkpatrick, the Bengals need younger talent at cornerback. Fuller is a big hitter with strong coverage skills.
25) San Diego Chargers: Darqueze Dennard CB (Michigan State) – The Chargers lost Cam Thomas in free agency (Steelers), so Louis Nix could be in play, but the Chargers ranked 29th against the pass and only generated 11 interceptions. Dennard has a tendency to grab receivers, which will need to be cleaned up, but he’s a physical player and immediate starter.
26) Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Bradley Roby CB (Ohio State) – The Browns interest in Darelle Revis shows they’re still looking to upgrade opposite Joe Haden. Roby is a gambler, but his athleticism erases a lot of mistakes.
27) New Orleans Saints: Zack Martin OT (Notre Dame) – Drew Brees’ deft footwork in the pocket to find passing lanes covers up for poor protection, so the Saints must improve up front. Martin was dominant at the Senior Bowl, displaying versatility to mirror pass rushers at left tackle, as well as maul in the run game at guard.
28) Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses OT (Virginia) – The Panthers also have a big need at wide receiver, but Jordan Gross’ retirement has left a huge void on the offensive line. Moses has experience at both right and left tackle and showed well at the Senior Bowl.
29) New England Patriots: Ra’Shede Hageman DT (Minnesota) – Once Vince Wilfork was lost last season, the Patriots run defense sagged. Hageman’s versatility to play virtually any technique along the defensive line makes him an ideal fit in New England. He will be an immediate rotational player and future starter.
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: Xavier Su’a Filo OG (UCLA) – With Zane Beadles now on the Jaguars and backup Chris Kuper retired, the Broncos have a need on the interior of their offensive line. Su’a Filo was versatile enough to play some left tackle in college, but projects as an impact player at guard.
32) Seattle Seahawks: Timmy Jernigan DT (Florida State) – The defending Super Bowl Champions have some needs along their defensive line. Gone are Clinton McDonald, Chris Clemons, and Red Bryant, and their attempt to Jared Allen came up short. While he doesn’t offer much in terms of pass rush, Jernigan is a stout run defender, who can play zero, one or three-technique.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin