By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Finally, the NFL Draft is here! Well, almost here. After countless hours of endless analysis and double talk, we’re only 24 hours away to seeing the greatest live soap opera on television.
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 two projected trades mixed in as well.
1) Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney – DE (South Carolina) – Clowney is undoubtedly the top available talent in this draft. The Texans can deploy him as both a five-technique and a rush outside linebacker. Pairing him with J.J. Watt gives the Texans a front that will create sleepless nights for opposing offensive coordinators.
2) St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Greg Robinson OT (Auburn) – The Rams may prefer a trade down, but if their asking price is too high, the decision will likely come down to Robinson and Sammy Watkins. Given the team’s run-first philosophy and Jake Long’s rehab, Robinson could immediately step in at left guard and eventually take over at tackle. Robinson’s upside is higher than any other offensive lineman’s in this draft.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack DE (Buffalo) – Despite the fact the Jaguars aren’t counting on Justin Blackmon to contribute in 2014, they resist the temptation to draft Watkins and instead give Gus Bradley an ideal prospect for his “Leo” role. Mack is a pure playmaker who has speed to bend the edge and a knack for forcing fumbles.
4) Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins WR (Clemson) – While the Browns may be tempted to draft a quarterback here, they opt for Watkins and pair him with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, taking another step toward becoming a modern offense. They’re positioned to land a quarterback and cornerback prospect with their 26th and 35th selections.
5) Detroit Lions (projected trade with the Oakland Raiders): Mike Evans WR (Texas A&M) – The Lions have six selections in the top 136, the Raiders have no fifth- or sixth-round picks and a litany of needs. Adding Evans may be viewed as a luxury pick, but it would give the Lions another basketball player in cleats with a wide catching radius, which is a perfect match for a quarterback with scattered accuracy.
6) Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews OT (Texas A&M) – The Falcons have two major needs, pressuring opposing quarterbacks and protecting their own. Matthews is a plug-and-play starter and a perfect fit for what the Falcons are attempting to do as they rebuild the trenches on both sides of the ball.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Johnny Manziel QB (Texas A&M) – The Bucs addressed several key needs via free agency and with Evans off the board, they could be primed for a trade back. Alas, Josh McCown is an (expensive) insurance policy to keep the seat warm for a young signal caller, so the Bucs take the plunge on Manziel’s tempting ceiling.
8) Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles QB (Central Florida) – In a division featuring some potent passing attacks, the Vikings may be tempted to keep adding to their pass rush, but they can no longer avoid their mess at quarterback. Since Adrian Peterson took over as their lead back, they’ve had 10 different signal callers. Bortles needs work, but he fits Norv Turner’s predilection for drop-back passers who can stand tall in the pocket and deliver.
9) Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan OT (Michigan) – Eric Ebron could also be in play at this spot, but the Bills need to fill a hole at right tackle. Doug Marrone is a former offensive line coach who loves to run the ball, so Lewan’s nasty streak is a perfect fit for the run-happy Bills.
10) Oakland Raiders (projected trade with the Detroit Lions): Eric Ebron TE (North Carolina) – The Raiders have holes on both sides of the ball, but they severely lack playmakers on offense. Matt Schaub has always operated best in two-tight end personnel groupings, so the ultra-athletic Ebron would give the Raiders a mismatch to attack the middle of the field.
11) Tennessee Titans: Justin Gilbert CB (Oklahoma State) – The Titans are making a switch to an aggressive 3-4 led by Ray Horton. Anthony Barr may also be in play, but Horton’s scheme is reliant on a cover corner who can erase half of the field, and Gilbert has the size and athleticism to become a No. 1.
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, and the ultra-productive and relentless Donald is a perfect match. Donald is strong, compact, plays with leverage and wins with quickness and technique.
13) St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix S (Alabama) – The Rams are rumored to be interested in Manziel, but he’s off the board in this scenario. For a defense that generates a lot of pressure on the quarterback, their safeties had few impact plays in 2013, 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 playmaking Pryor. The drop-off to the next group of safeties is vast, and the Bears have huge needs at the position. Pryor is a ferocious hitter who plays with speed downhill and is adept at creating turnovers.
15) Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard CB (Michigan State) – The Steelers could also go receiver here, but they’re rumored to be more interested in acquiring a cornerback with traits they currently lack at the position — specifically, size. Dennard needs to clean up his technique (he has a tendency to grab receivers in the move area), but he fits a big need and can eventually replace Ike Taylor.
16) Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Barr DE/OLB (UCLA) – Even after securing Henry Melton in free agency, the Cowboys still lack the pieces to run Monte Kiffin’s scheme. They must address the void left by DeMarcus Ware’s departure and find a way to get pressure off the edge. Barr looks the part but plays hot and cold, and he could be a boom-or-bust prospect.
17) San Francisco 49ers (projected trade with Baltimore Ravens): Odell Beckham WR (LSU) – The Ravens may be tempted to stay put and select C.J. Mosley, but they’re also primed for a trade down. Armed with six picks in the top 100, the 49ers have plenty of ammunition to move up and are rumored to be hot on the trail for Beckham, who provides an element of speed they lack at the receiver position.
18) New York Jets: Kyle Fuller CB (Virginia Tech) – The Jets have needs at wide receiver, but fortunately for them, that’s the deepest position in this draft class. Fuller is a physical corner who is strong enough to press, quick enough to recover and is a willing hitter in run support.
19) Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin OT (Notre Dame) – The Dolphins would be elated if Martin slid down to them. They need help all across an offensive line that allowed a league-high 58 sacks in 2013. Martin has the versatility to play virtually any position on the offensive line, but he may project best as a left guard.
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: C.J. Mosley LB (Alabama) – For the second straight year, the Packers’ lack of depth on the defensive front was their undoing in the playoffs. Mosley is an instinctive, read-and-react linebacker who quickly diagnoses plays and will fit in immediately as a three-down player.
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) – The Chiefs may prefer a trade down. Nonetheless, they deserve credit 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 in the pipeline. Roby is a premier, quick-twitch athlete who has a tendecy to gamble at times but also has the speed to make up for it.
25) San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett CB (TCU) – The Chargers lost Cam Thomas in free agency (Steelers), so Louis Nix could be in play, but they ranked 29th against the pass and only generated 11 interceptions. Verrett doesn’t have ideal measurables, but his productivity was off the charts. Verrett is a fiesty competitor with a knack for making plays on the ball.
26) Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Teddy Bridgewater QB (Louisville) – The Browns’ patience is rewarded as they’re able to snag the most pro-ready quarterback in this class. The notion that one pro day erases three years of stellar tape is hard to reconcile. Bridgewater has nimble feet, a smooth delivery and laser-beam accuracy both in and out of the pocket.
27) New Orleans Saints: Davante Adams WR (Fresno State) – The Saints have needs at cornerback and along the offensive line, but this may be too high to draft a center, and receiver is another position of need. Adams is a big target who is a smooth route runner, was highly productive in college and can make teams pay for rolling coverage to Jimmy Graham.
28) Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses OT (Virginia) – The Panthers also have needs 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, performed well at the Senior Bowl and would immediately step in on the blindside.
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) Baltimore Ravens (projected Trade with San Francisco 49ers): Jimmie Ward S (Northern Illinois) – The Ravens were able to pick up a few extra picks in this projected trade and add a playmaking safety. Ward is a hybrid prospect who could play free, strong, robber and slot corner. He’ll allow the Ravens to move last year’s top pick — Matt Elam — to strong safety and help strengthen the team’s defense up the middle.
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: Kony Ealy DE (Missouri) – This pick may be in play for a team looking to trade up for a quarterback. However, 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 sign Jared Allen came up short. Ealy would be a value pick who could play multiple techniques across their front.
Follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin.