After an even longer wait than usual, the NFL Draft is finally upon us. More than ever, this draft has been filled with smoke screens in terms of player draft stock and who teams want. For that reason and various others, this is one of the toughest drafts to predict in recent memory. Regardless, it should be a very interesting first round as there are many compelling players to key in on throughout the evening.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney , DE South Carolina: The Texans are most likely going to be spending the entire time up until the time expires hoping to get a Godfather offer for this pick. While more and more analysts are saying Khalil Mack could be in play for the Texans, Clowney’s once a decade talent is too much to pass up. The Texans have the ability to form a ridiculous pass rush pairing Clowney with J.J. Watt which would be a lethal tandem for years. While the team needs a quarterback, there is not that big a difference between the guys who are projected as first rounders and those who are supposed to go in the second. Heck, there is a good chance the quarterback many thought could be the number one pick a few months ago (Teddy Bridgewater) is available at 33.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, T Auburn: This pick has the ability to swing the whole draft as the Rams could go a bunch of different directions here. The Rams could trade down as a team covets Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins or Robinson. However, I believe they’ll ultimately stay put and select Robinson who is considered a fantastic prospect in his own right. Regardless of if Sam Bradford is the quarterback of the future for the Rams, they will need to have a formidable offensive line in a division full of stingy defenses.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, LB Buffalo: This pick is one of the ideal scenarios for the Jaguars as they would most likely chose which either one is still on the board between Clowney/Mack. Mack is also a great fit in Gus Bradley’s defense as he should give them the double digit sack guy they’ve been after for quite some time. Other options here could be Johnny Manziel (could be a smokescreen but it’s in play regardless), Sammy Watkins or Jake Matthews. Watkins would make sense due to not knowing Justin Blackmon’s situation. However this is a very deep draft for receivers and the Jaguars could address that in the second or third rounds as they have other pressing needs. The Matthews option isn’t talked about much, but could make sense considering the Jaguars in this scenario would play a combined four games against the Clowney/Watt tandem and Robert Mathis. Matthews would also be reunited with a tackle he started opposite from at Texas A&M in Luke Joeckel.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M: Chances are that this pick is going to come down to Sammy Watkins (if available) or one of the top quarterbacks. The Browns front office is said to really like Manziel and he would also rejuvenate a passionate fan base that hasn’t been to the playoffs in quite some time. If they don’t go quarterback with this selection, look for the Browns to consider Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater (if they’re available) with the 26th pick.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR Clemson: The Raiders don’t have many picks so they would really benefit from trading down if possible. However, in this scenario, Watkins is still on the board and as a team lacking a number one receiver they can’t pass it up. If Watkins is gone and the Raiders do keep the pick, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans could both be options here.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, T Texas A&M: There have been talks of the Falcons trading up for either Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack or Greg Robinson but it looks unlikely that will happen unless they’re willing to send a ridiculous haul of draft picks. Fortunately, Matthews is hardly a bad consolation prize. He is the best player available at this point and would also upgrade Matt Ryan’s protection which was an issue last season.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR Texas A&M: There have been talks of teams trying to trade up to try and draft Evans but if he’s available, the Buccaneers will be ecstatic. Outside of Vincent Jackson, the team is really lacking in weapons for Josh McCown to throw to. The team is also have said to be eying a quarterback here (Manziel and Derek Carr are two that have been mentioned), but with Manziel off the board in this scenario, Evans should be the pick.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Gilbert, CB Oklahoma State: For a while, I thought about putting Blake Bortles here but ultimately felt with a defensive minded head coach (and abysmal play on that side of the ball last year), Gilbert should be the pick. He isn’t a finished product, but Gilbert has all the skills and measurables teams are looking for in number one corners. If you’re the Vikings in a division with potent passing offenses in the Packers, Bears and Lions, it’s essential to have a strong defensive back corps. Bortles is an option here, but options like Zach Mettenberger should be available in the second round who also fits Norv Turner’s scheme. Despite going defensive tackle with Shariff Floyd last year, Aaron Donald can’t be ruled out with this selection either.
9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, T Michigan: Talks the past few days have indicated the Bills are very much trying to lock up one of the top picks in this draft. Some have said it is to try and land Jadeveon Clowney while others have looked at Greg Robinson to solidify the offensive line. Regardless of where they pick, the Bills have a big need at tackle and based off his ability, Lewan is a very solid pick here if they decide to stay put. Lewan has the ability to become an immediate starter and hold down a tackle spot for years to come. Other large needs for the Bills include wide receiver and tight end. While Mike Evans would be ideal, the Bills would most likely have to pay a heavy price to trade up and get him. Eric Ebron is a possibility at tight end but while he’s considered the top option in this draft at the position, he’s not the Vernon Davis/Jimmy Graham type of difference maker where he would be worth a top ten pick.
10. Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, LB UCLA: The Lions have plenty of different ways they could go here. The first option is receiver. They could trade up if they really covet Watkins or Evans and now even Odell Beckham is being thrown into the mix here. An option is to trade down if someone is very high on Beckham or focus on getting the best player they can while hopefully filling a need. While many would think that means the team selects Justin Gilbert who is considered the best corner in this draft (if available), the Lions have a few young corners they are high on. One thing that Jim Caldwell has come out saying the team is missing is a pass rushing linebacker. Barr, who was considered by many a top five pick just a few months ago, certainly fits the bill. Other than Gilbert, the team could also consider Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix here. Considering Clinton-Dix’ first name, it would only be fitting if the Lions selected him as for the most part the franchise has been a laughing stock for 50 plus years.
11. Tennessee Titans: Blake Bortles, QB UCF: The Titans are in serious need of a cornerback, so they would be ecstatic to see Justin Gilbert still on the board. However, this is an area where trades are possible as many teams in the bottom third of the draft order are coveting receivers such as Odell Beckham so the Titans could be looking to move down. If Gilbert is off the board, Bortles could very well be the pick here. A new regime usually means a new quarterback and Jake Locker is entering the last year of his contract.
12. New York Giants: Zack Martin, OT/G Notre Dame: The Giants are in desperate need of protection for Eli Manning and they would have that in Martin. He can play multiple positions on the line and should come in as an immediate starter. The team could also be looking at Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in light of Will Hill’s recent suspension or a playmaker such as Beckham to fill in for Hakeem Nicks.
13. St Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Alabama: The Rams have a big need at safety and Clinton-Dix could come in right away and change that. Unless Taylor Lewan is somehow available, this pick will most likely be used to patch up the secondary. Along with Justin Gilbert if available, Bradley Roby is a player that can’t be ruled out here. Roby struggled in 2013, but what he showed in 2012 could be too much for a team to pass up. The character issues that are there won’t scare Jeff Fisher away either.
14. Chicago Bears: Calvin Pryor, S Louisville: For months now, it seems as if Aaron Donald has been linked with the Bears, but now I’m not sure if it is going to happen. The Bears still may go with him as he’s arguably the best available player, but Pryor’s stock has been soaring of late and fits a need. Other options to consider here are Kyle Fuller as he has the ability to play safety along with corner and Clinton-Dix.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Odell Beckham, WR LSU: If he hasn’t been selected up to this point, I’m guessing that Beckham will be selected with this pick whether it’s the Steelers or another team. Beckham would give the team another dynamic playmaker opposite Antonio Brown they were lacking last year so the pick makes sense. If they don’t trade the pick or take Beckham, the Steelers will likely be in the market for a corner with this selection.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT Pittsburgh: The Cowboys defensive line play was laughable at times last year. If Donald (who many view as a top ten player in the draft) is available, he would be a huge get. If Donald isn’t on the board here, the Cowboys could also be looking at offensive line help or a safety.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Fuller, CB Virginia Tech: While defensive back isn’t the most pressing need for the Ravens, Fuller could be too good of a value to pass up here. Outside of that, the team is said to be very interested in Eric Ebron which makes sense since Gary Kubiak loves utilizing tight ends. Another possibility for the Ravens could always be to trade down. Ozzie Newsome has had great success in the past when he’s done this and if a team is desperate for a player at the right price it very well may happen again.
18. New York Jets: Darqueze Dennard, CB Michigan State: It’s well noted that the Jets are in need of offensive weapons, but at this point their secondary might be in even worse shape. Dennard excels in press coverage which Rex Ryan really likes to implement so he would be a very good fit here. Other potential selections with this pick would be Brandin Cooks, Calvin Pryor or Kyle Fuller.
19. Miami Dolphins: C.J. Mosley, LB Alabama: The Dolphins really would like some offensive line help with their first selection, but they may not think it is worth trading up. While the team could be high on options such as Morgan Moses, JaWuan James or Joel Bitonio, they could probably trade down to select one of them. If they stay put, Mosley could very well be the pick as he fits a need and could come in and be an immediate contributor. Another name to consider here is Ryan Shazier as he has been rising up draft boards of late and the Dolphins could be higher on him than Mosley.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Shazier, LB Ohio State: For a long time, I was thinking about putting Derek Carr here. He is a great fit in Bruce Arians’ offense as a long term guy, but the rest of this Cardinals team is ready to compete now. For that reason I have them taking Shazier as he will come in right away and replace Karlos Dansby who left in free agency. My guess is the pick will come down to Shazier or Carr, but a cornerback could also be in play as Antonio Cromartie is only signed on a one year deal.
21. Green Bay Packers: Eric Ebron, TE North Carolina: Considering the amount of teams (Bills, Lions, Rams, Steelers, Ravens and Jets) this would have to go through to happen, this would be considered unlikely. However, like I mentioned earlier, Ebron is not a game changing tight end in a Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham mold and those who aren’t usually aren’t picked where many initially think. The Packers would love for Mosley or Shazier to be here, or possibly even a safety. Ebron also fills a need though and would give Aaron Rodgers yet another weapon in the passing game.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR Oregon State: The Eagles would be ecstatic if Cooks made it to this point as he has the skill set that would make him a very viable DeSean Jackson replacement. In the case he is not there, look for the Eagles too look into improving their secondary or a receiver such as Marqise Lee who Chip Kelly is familiar playing against from his days coaching Oregon.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR USC: Andy Reid would probably love to have Cooks if he is here, but Lee wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. The Chiefs are in desperate need of a second receiver, so my guess is that’s the route they’re going to go. If not, a guard such as Xavier Su’a-Filo from UCLA could be an option here.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB TCU: Due to injuries and getting up there in age, the Bengals could use some youth at the cornerback position. At this point, it would come down to Verrett or Roby and while the Bengals have had some luck turning around character guys of late, Verrett also proved to be the more consistent player on a year to year basis throughout his collegiate career.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bradley Roby, CB Ohio State: The Chargers are in serious need of secondary help so despite the issues Roby has had, the talent will probably be too much to pass up here. Other options to consider here would be Varrett, Louis Nix or Cody Latimer as a receiver to start opposite Keenan Allen.
26. Cleveland Browns: Cody Latimer, WR Indiana: If the Browns go with Sammy Watkins or an offensive lineman at number four, they will most likely be selecting a quarterback here. In this case, they would be solidifying the receiver position opposite Josh Gordon by selecting Latimer. A big, physical receiver, Latimer would be a very good complement to Gordon’s skill set and would fit well in the tough AFC North.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE Auburn: The Saints are in need of cornerback depth, but at this point all the best options are gone. They could also use another receiver, but five have already been selected and there will be plenty of depth on the second day. In this case, the selection of Ford is more of a luxury pick. When four of your games come against Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, a team can’t have enough pass rushers and Ford gives them a guy with plenty of ability off the edge.
28. Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses, T Virginia: Most would immediately look at this and say the Panthers need to go receiver with this pick. Considering the depth that will be available in the second or third rounds, that isn’t the case. Regardless, they do need to find a replacement for the recently retired Jordan Gross at left tackle. Moses hasn’t received as much attention as some of the other tackles in this class, but he’s gained a lot of momentum of late. It wouldn’t be surprising if he doesn’t even make it to this pick. Joel Bitonio could also be in play here.
29. New England Patriots: Joel Bitonio, T Nevada: Knowing the Patriots, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team trying to get back in the first round for a quarterback ends up trading for this pick. If they do keep it, Bitonio has the ability to play both tackle and guard and would be a nice fit. Interior defensive lineman could also be in play here such as Ra’Shede Hageman or Louis Nix along with tight ends such as Jace Amaro or Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR Florida State: The 49ers have the picks to make a big trade for an explosive playmaker such as Odell Beckham. If they stay put, they could still land a potential big play guy in Benjamin. Jim Harbaugh and company are very good at coming up with unique ways to find mismatches and the idea of someone with Benjamin’s size would make them giddy. He would also bring more size to the receiving corps as his 6’5 frame is a contrast from the 6’0-6’2 range Anquan Boldin or Michael Crabtree check in at.
31. Denver Broncos: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT Minnesota: The Broncos had a solid defensive tackle rotation set up last year, but word has it that John Fox is a big fan Hageman. He has the potential to give whatever team selects him a pass rushing option as a defensive tackle which isn’t always easy to find. There’s a chance Hageman might not even make it to this point, so there’s a chance the Broncos could look for a defensive end such as Kony Ealy to replace Shaun Phillps and Robert Ayers.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Dominique Easley, DT Florida: Chances are if you win the Super Bowl, your team doesn’t have a ton of needs. While the Seahawks could use some receiver depth or maybe a lineman such as Joel Bitonio if he’s here, the pick of Easley would be a luxury. If it was not for a torn ACL, Easley would probably be going in the top half of the first round as he showed game changing ability during his time at Florida. The Seahawks have the depth to let him get up to full strength and learn the NFL game so in this case, the potential reward outweighs the risk.