By Jeff Risdon
Now that the Combine is over, it’s time for a slightly more educated mock draft. It’s still way too early to accurately project targets (free agency will have a BIG say in that), but it’s now easier to place players into more proper draft ranges.
In order to try and make this more realistic, I added some trades to the mix. Some of these are purely products of my imagination, while others do have a root basis in whispers I believe in. All trade projections are marked with an asterisk (*).
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. I know, I know, he’s not going to be even the No. 1 quarterback on many team boards, let alone the top-rated player. But the Texans hired a QB guru as their head coach and Bortles has the ideal athletic traits the NFL is looking for, and Bill O’Brien is already on record for really liking him.
2. *Minnesota Vikings from St. Louis Rams (from WAS): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Minnesota seizes the opportunity to move up and select their franchise QB in Bridgewater. They give the Rams the No. 8 and No. 40 picks this year and their 2015 third round pick in compensation. I don’t believe they move up for any other QB.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. Tough decision here for the Jaguars, and they go with the impact pass rusher. Clowney has rare ability, though some question whether he really wants to be great.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. I’ve said this before, but Cleveland is the ideal spot for Mr. Football and his unconventional style that will either equate to NFL brilliance or spectacular failure. Browns fans have had enough of “safer” QBs that have flopped.
5. *St. Louis Rams from Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, T, Auburn. The Rams package their booty from the earlier trade, sending #8 overall and their own second round pick at #44 to the Raiders to move up and take the tackle with the highest ceiling since Joe Thomas.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo. Mack is much more than just a pass rusher, but he’s also quote adept at doing that too. He is a nice, perhaps even better, consolation prize for Falcons fans who covet Clowney.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. His ability to get open down the seam and impressive Combine workout should strongly appeal to the Bucs, who are set at outside receiver but need better targets in the middle half of the field.
8. *Oakland Raiders (from STL via MIN): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. The Raiders fall back a few spots and land the consensus top wideout in the draft while picking up an extra second-round pick. The depth at WR causes the teams near the top to address positions with scarcer top-tier talent.
9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M. His ability to play all over the OL gives him great value to the Bills, who are looking to solidify the protection in front of EJ Manuel. He’s the most NFL-ready left tackle in the draft in a long time.
10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. The prospect of pairing the 6’5”, 230+ pounds Evans across from Calvin Johnson has to appeal to new OC Joe Lombardi, who comes from working in New Orleans’ vertical passing attack.
11. Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan. One of the big winners of the Combine, Lewan offers outstanding athleticism and snarl to a team in the process of overhauling the offensive front.
12. *New York Jets from New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU. The Jets trade with their stadium mates, giving up the No. 18 pick as well as QB Mark Sanchez and the No. 69 overall pick, which they previously acquired in the Darrelle Revis trade. They move up to take the dynamic Beckham, one of the biggest winners of the Combine and instantly their No. 1 receiver.
13. St. Louis Rams: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. A body-rocker with great size and decent range, Pryor helps shore up the back end of an inconsistent pass defense. Another big Combine winner.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh. He’s shorter and lighter than ideal but has proven to be a lethal interior rusher with great quickness and functional strength. The Bears are terrible up the middle at all three levels of the defense, and taking Donald here is a great start to remedying what ails them.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. Barr is not a finished product, as he’s only played defense for two seasons. His exceptional ability to flatten around the edge and close on the ball should immediately help the fading Steelers defense while he learns to be a more all-around player.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Hasean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. A relatively safe pick is a good pick for the Cowboys, coming off one of the lamest defensive efforts in NFL history. Ha Ha is smart and has shown he can make plays at the back end.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. The unquestioned winner of the Combine at CB, Gilbert has a lot of inconsistent game tape that waters down the enthusiasm. The Ravens pounce on his potential here.
18. *New York Giants (from New York Jets): Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. After falling back, the Giants still get an immediate impact starter along the line in Jernigan. He’s an active anchor that can make those around, and behind, him a lot better.
19. *San Francisco 49ers from Miami Dolphins: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. The 49ers package several of their picks (#30, #55 from KC, and #77 from TEN) and send them to Miami to move up and select the giant but enigmatic wideout from the national champs.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zach Martin, T, Notre Dame. Many project him to kick inside to guard, but Martin showed during Senior Bowl practices he’s pretty darn good at tackle too. The Cardinals need both, so he makes a great fit.
21. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama. Mosley offers outstanding instincts, great power, and all-around versatility to play all three downs in any of Dom Capers’ unusual personnel packages.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri. The versatile end didn’t set the Combine on fire, but he can rush the passer from the edge as well as inside. Philly needs a player with his talents.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC. I originally had a QB here, but Lee is too tempting to bypass. He’s the forgotten stud in this deep wideout class, and the Chiefs have to get more dynamic at receiver.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn. Cincy has a number of solid options here, and in this scenario they opt to go with the dynamic edge rusher. He fills the Michael Johnson role and offers more juice than Margus Hunt.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. The Chargers get the dogged cover man they sorely lack in Verrett. He lacks size but might be the most instinctive cover man in the draft.
26. *New England Patriots from Cleveland Browns (from IND): RaShede Hageman, DT, Minnesota. The Patriots send the Browns No. 29 overall, a seventh rounder this year and a 2015 second round pick in order to move up and select the giant but inconsistent Hageman. Don’t forget that new Patriot draft consigliere Mike Lombardi was running the Browns draft room just two weeks ago; expect at least one trade between these two franchises.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State. His ranginess and attacking mentality fit well in the Saints defense, and he showed his outstanding athleticism in what Combine workouts he participated in.
28. Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses, T, Virginia. The retirement of Jordan Gross raises the imperative for the Panthers to get a new offensive tackle, and Moses presents excellent length and upside.
29. *Cleveland Browns (from NE): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. His stock took a hit when he measured in at under 5’11” and he looked tight in drills, but game film says he can play.The Browns get their complement to Joe Haden.
30. *Miami Dolphins (from SF): Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL, UCLA. He is an outstanding guard prospect, but he also has a chance to be a very good tackle. Miami needs one of each. Perfect fit and they got extra picks to get him.
31. Denver Broncos: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame. Tuitt is another player who did not meet expectation in 2013 but still has enough to offer to merit first round consideration. The Broncos could take the chance on his upside.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame. The Irish defensive lineman comes off the board to the Seahawks, who continue to stockpile depth and talent to keep the defense fortified.
33. Houston: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
34. Washington: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
35. Cleveland: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
36. Oakland: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
37. Atlanta: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
38. Tampa Bay: Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
39. Jacksonville: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
40. *St. Louis Rams (from MIN): A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
41. Buffalo: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
42. Tennessee: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
43. New York Giants: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
44. *Oakland (from STL): Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana
45. Detroit: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
46. Pittsburgh: Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State
47. Dallas: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
48. Baltimore: Joel Bitonio, T, Nevada
49. New York Jets: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
50. Miami: Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
51. Chicago: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
52. Arizona: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
53. Green Bay: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
54. Philadelphia: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
55. *Miami (from SF via KC): Jerry Attaochuo, DE/OLB, Georgia Tech
56. Cincinnati: Keith McGill, DB, Utah
57. San Diego: David Yankey, G, Stanford
58. New Orleans: Dion Bailey, S, USC
59. Indianapolis: Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
60. Carolina: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
61. San Francisco: Seantrel Henderson, T, Miami
62. New England: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
63. Denver: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
64. Seattle: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
65. Houston: Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
66. Washington: Aaron Lynch, OLB/DE, South Florida
67. Oakland: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
68. Atlanta: Antonio Richardson, T, Tennessee
69. *New York Giants (from NYJ via TB): Brandon Thomas, T/G, Clemson
70. Jacksonville: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
71. Cleveland: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
72. Minnesota: Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton
73. Buffalo: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
74. New York Giants: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
75. St. Louis: Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
76. Detroit: Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State
77. *Miami (from SF via TEN): Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
78. Dallas: Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
79. Baltimore: Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
80. New York Jets: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
81. Miami: Jon Halapio, G, Florida
82. Chicago: Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
83. Cleveland (from PIT): Yawin Smallwood, LB, Connecticut
84. Arizona: Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
85. Green Bay: Demarcus Lawrence, OLB/DE, Boise State
86. Philadelphia: Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon
87. Kansas City: Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty
88. Cincinnati: Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
89. San Diego: Shaq Richardson, CB, Arizona
90. Indianapolis: Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
91. New Orleans: Jack Mewhort, T, Ohio State
92. Carolina: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
93. New England: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
94. San Francisco: Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
95. Denver: Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
96. Minnesota (from SEA): E.J. Gaines, CB,Missouri
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By Jeff Risdon
All the postseason contests are done, and the underclassmen declaration date has passed. That means it’s time to update the mock draft!
I included a couple of trades in this one to make it a little more realistic. The Rams are not shy about putting the No. 2 pick up for sale. I also believe the 49ers use their bevy of picks to move up and selectively target a player or two.
As always, these picks represent what I think the given team might do in the given situation. It does not necessarily indicate the decisions I would make in the same situations.
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida--The surprise ascendant has a lot of buzz around going No. 1 overall. Notable among those is the fact that new Texans coach Bill O’Brien raved about Bortles earlier this fall. My colleague Dane Brugler of CBS Sports was ahead of the curve last year with Eric Fisher as a surprise #1 pick, and he could be poised to repeat his prescience with Bortles.
2. *Atlanta Falcons, trade with St. Louis Rams (from WAS): Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina--The Falcons go all-in on another premium pick, trading the sixth pick and next year’s first round pick to move up four spots to take the best defensive end prospect since Bruce Smith.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville--That sound you hear is the city of Jacksonville exploding in glorious delight. With the third pick in the draft they get the player who has a very good chance to go No. 1.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M--Cleveland is in a position to roll the dice on the variable that is Johnny Football. It will either be a stroke of brilliance or the most spectacular in a dubious line of failures for the Browns revolving door of management.
5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo--He’s a do-it-all defender with enough bulk to play end but enough litheness to play well in space. Mack gives the Raiders an impact presence that can force turnovers and create mismatches.
6. *St. Louis Rams, trade with Atlanta: Greg Robinson, T, Auburn--The Rams pick up an extra first round pick and still get the man many believe is atop their draft board anyways. Robinson has rare power for a tackle and showed great movement skills in Auburn’s option-based offense.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M--Forget the nonsense about moving him to center; Matthews is the most technically sound tackle prospect since Joe Thomas, blessed with truly awesome feet. His ability to play either side helps in Tampa, where the OL could be shuffling quite a bit in the next couple of years.
8. Minnesota Vikings: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama--Two reasons why I slotted Mosley here. First, new coach Mike Zimmer knows what he needs more than anyone else, a do-it-all linebacking presence to shore up a lot of weaknesses and depth issues. Second, it’s just too early for a quarterback the likes of Derek Carr.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina--One of the most tired clichés in football is that every good young quarterback needs a good young tight end as a security blanket. Giving E.J. Manuel a wide-bodied target with seam-stretching speed like Ebron fits the cliché, which keeps getting spouted for good reason; it’s a darn sound idea. I could see them going after Ha Ha Clinton-Dix here too.
10. Detroit Lions: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson--If you think Jaguars fans were happy when they got Bridgewater earlier, wait until you hear the roar from Lions fans when Sammy Watkins falls here to Detroit. There might not be a better marriage of need and skills fit in this entire draft than Watkins and the Lions. If he’s gone, Kyle Van Noy is definitely in play.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA--He’s fairly limited as a player right now, offering little else than speed rushing around the edge. But he’s exceptionally good at that one thing. The new coaching staff can use him situationally until he develops more of an all-around game. An offensive tackle would not surprise here.
12. New York Giants: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame--The beauty with Martin is that while he’s an elite guard prospect, he’s also talented enough to handle playing tackle in the NFL pretty well. Seeing as how the Giants need both, it’s a match made in heaven. I know they’ve scouted him extensively.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama--Adding the rangy Clinton-Dix helps mitigate the downside of having riverboat gamblers at cornerback. He’s a proven backside cog with a high football IQ. That will appeal to Jeff Fisher, a former safety himself.
14. Chicago Bears: RaShede Hageman, DT, Minnesota--General Manager Phil Emery has to prominently address the massive holes all over his team’s defense, and here it starts up front with Hageman. He’s a hit-or-miss type of player who can play too tall at times, but he’s proven he can dominate for prolonged stretches too. Ask Northwestern, a game at least two Bears staffers were spotted at.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kony Ealy, DL, Missouri--Ealy brings great versatility to the Pittsburgh front. He has the physical tools to play either the 3- or 5-technique, a hand-in-the-dirt end in a four-man front, or even standing up across the formation as an attack dog linebacker. The Steelers need that type of diverse skill set as they continue to remake the defense.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State--He brings a similar style to current Ravens corner Jimmy Smith, a physical press corner who does not back down from anyone. He has the highest ceiling of any corner in this draft even though he’s not the biggest. Marqise Lee or another wideout makes sense too.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State--Big beef in the middle. It’s what the Cowboys need and it’s what Jernigan offers. His base strength and nose for the ball are a great fit for a Dallas defense that desperately needs help up the gut. If Clinton-Dix is somehow still on the board I have a hard time seeing Dallas pass on him, though.
18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech--Getting Geno Smith some better weapons is paramount for the Jets. Amaro is a massive target but also a smooth route runner. His bull-like ability after the catch makes him more of a threat than most flexed tight ends. He’s not a great blocker, but you don’t take a tight end in the first round to have him block.
19. Miami Dolphins: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State--Many believe Gilbert will go higher than this, but I suspect there is enough bad game tape to make teams a little gun-shy. The Dolphins pull the trigger and get an athletic beast who also offers exceptional return-man ability. They’ll work on the offensive line a little later.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State--This is more of a reflection on Carson Palmer’s age than his performance, which was better than you might think. Palmer gets to serve as a mentor for one year while Carr sits and learns, hopefully straightening out his awkward mechanics along the way. Offensive line is always a need too.
21. Green Bay Packers: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida--He has the requisite size and killer closing burst that the Packers look for in their corners. He’s also got something to prove after being overshadowed by the vastly inferior Louchiez Purifoy in the Gator secondary. Ted Thompson loves guys with shoulder chips, and Roberson has enough talent to justify it. I don’t see the Calvin Pryor hype at all, and I don’t think the Packers will either.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State--Shazier is an interesting prospect for a linebacker. He’s smallish for the position but has very good skills at both blitzing and coverage. He can take over a nickel LB role right away but has enough stoutness to make a three-down backer down the road.
23. *New Orleans Saints, trade with Kansas City: Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA--The Saints trade the 27th overall pick and their third and sixth round picks to move up and take the massive Bruin. He can play right tackle, but Su’a-Filo is hands down the best guard prospect in this draft. The Saints sorely need reinforcements inside.
24. *San Francisco 49ers, trade with Cincinnati: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M--The 49ers trade the 30th overall pick and the 55th overall pick, previously acquired from Kansas City for Alex Smith, to the Bengals for the right to move up and select the giant wideout from Texas A&M. His experience with an improvisational QB and massive catch radius are too much to resist for the Niners, and they are unsure if he would fall to them.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU--According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Chargers’ most effective corner in 2013 was Johnny Patrick. He ranked 94th among all corners in the NFL. Getting warm bodies with any sort of cover skills are a huge imperative for the Chargers. Verrett is smallish but naturally sticky and tough in man coverage.
26. Cleveland Browns (from IND): Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama--He could wind up lasting on the board a lot longer than expected, but Kouandjio offers enough potential as a right tackle to merit selection here. With Joe Thomas entrenched at left tackle, the Browns won’t need to watch him flounder there.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, OLB/DE, Auburn--The New Orleans defense was surprisingly successful in 2013, but adding Ford’s pass rushing prowess would help ensure that it was no fluke. His ability to dip and weave between lanes is outstanding, just what a creative coordinator like Rob Ryan wants.
28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC--The depth at wideout pushes down Lee, a potential top 10 pick. The Panthers don’t mind, inserting him with Steve Smith to invigorate the passing attack. Sleeper pick: Calvin Pryor.
29. New England Patriots: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh--Fresh off an outstanding Senior Bowl, Donald vaults himself into the first round as a dynamic interior pass rusher. He’s undersized, but Team Belichick values football players and Donald is a straight baller.
30. *Cincinnati Bengals (from SF): Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State--Roby is one of those prospects who failed to meet lofty expectations in 2013. It’s caused some folks to forget just how good he was in 2012, and his Combine numbers will help remind folks of his potential. Cincy moving down in this scenario makes him less of a reach.
31. Denver Broncos: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida--Had he not torn his ACL--for the second time--Easley would likely have been a top 10 talent. The Broncos take the risk that he will be even 90% of his old disruptive self. Easley’s experience playing both tackle and end help his value.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan--The pugnacious Wolverine barely hold on to first-round status, as the Seahawks add him to the fold. He has a chance to be a very good right tackle, but he needs technical refinement and maturity.
33. Houston Texans: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
34. Washington Redskins: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
35. Cleveland Browns: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
36. Oakland Raiders: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
37. Atlanta Falcons: David Yankey, G, Stanford
38. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
39. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
40. Minnesota Vikings: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
41. Buffalo Bills: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
42. Tennessee Titans: A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
43. New York Giants: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
44. St. Louis Rams: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
45. Detroit Lions: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
46. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
47. Baltimore Ravens: Antonio Richardson, T, Tennessee
48. Dallas Cowboys: Dion Bailey, S, USC
49. New York Jets: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
50. Miami Dolphins: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
51. Chicago Bears: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
52. Arizona Cardinals: Jerry Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
53. Green Bay Packers: Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
54. Philadelphia Eagles: Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
55. San Francisco 49ers (from KC): Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
56. Cincinnati Bengals: Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
57. San Diego Chargers: Morgan Moses, T, Virginia
58. New Orleans Saints: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
59. Indianapolis Colts: Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
60. Carolina Panthers: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
61. San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
62. New England Patriots: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
63. Denver Broncos: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
64. Seattle Seahawks: Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
65. Houston Texans: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
66. Washington Redskins: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
67. Oakland Raiders: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
68. Atlanta Falcons: Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State
69. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
70. Jacksonville Jaguars: DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
71. Cleveland Browns: KaDeem Carey, RB, Arizona State
72. Minnesota Vikings: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
73. Buffalo Bills: Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
74. New York Giants: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
75. St. Louis Rams: Jack Mewhort, G/T, Ohio State
76. Detroit Lions: Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
77. San Francisco 49ers (from TEN): Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
78. Dallas Cowboys: Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
79. Baltimore Ravens: Ryan Grant, WR, Tulane
80. New York Jets: Keith McGill, CB, Utah
81. Miami Dolphins: Billy Turner, T/G, North Dakota State
82. Chicago Bears: Terrance Brooks, S, Florida State
83. Cleveland Browns (from PIT): E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
84. Arizona Cardinals: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
85. Green Bay Packers: Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn
86. Philadelphia Eagles: Taylor Hart, DE, Utah
87. Kansas City Chiefs: Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
88. Cincinnati Bengals: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
89. San Diego Chargers: Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA
90. Indianapolis Colts: Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
91. *Kansas City (from NO): Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
92. Carolina Panthers: Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
93. New England Patriots: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
94. San Francisco 49ers: Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
95. Denver Broncos: Jon Halapio, G, Florida
96. Minnesota Vikings (from SEA): Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State
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By Jeff Risdon
$.01--For all of the buildup about Brady vs. Manning, the Denver Broncos/New England Patriots game was surprisingly anticlimactic. Manning threw for 400 yards, mixing the ball around to keep the beat-up Patriots defense from keying on any one player. Demaryius Thomas was the primary recipient, but four receivers caught at least four balls and that doesn’t include backup TE Jacob Tamme and his TD reception.
Meanwhile, Brady struggled to find anyone not named Julian Edelman, who had 10 catches but bagged just 89 yards on those catches. The inability of any Patriots target to get open beyond about eight yards down the field was a prevailing theme of the day. Denver’s defense struck with a couple of well-conceived and well-timed blitzes. They broke up or tipped several passes as Brady had major issues finding open lanes ot open receivers.
Manning had no such problems. He was the better quarterback with the better supporting cast in this game. Denver did exactly what they needed to do: they were efficient on offense and converted drives into points. The critical mistakes were avoided, and Denver survived and advanced. Now he gets a chance to match his brother with a second Super Bowl win.
For Brady and the Patriots, the conclusions seem pretty easy to draw. They must improve their offensive weaponry around Brady. On a good offense, Julian Edelman is the fourth receiver, not a No. 1 target. They must solidify the interior offensive line, which could do nothing like a week ago in the roughshod win over the Colts. They must figure out whether oft-injured Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkwoski, the two most talented targets on the team, can be relied upon or merely hoped for.
They face a lot of very difficult decisions like that, and it will be quite interesting to see how they progress. As long as they have Belichick and Brady, it’s hard to bet against them, but there really is not a lot else to like going forward. Maybe that’s the great testament to Brady, that he was able to accomplish so much this year with so little around him.
It will forever be fashionable to compare and contrast Brady and Manning, but given the stark differences in the two teams they play on, it’s really not fair to either man.
$.02--On the NFC side of the bracket, the Seattle Seahawks prevailed in one of the most physical and intense games in recent memory. It was a game for the ages.
It did not start well for Seattle. Aldon Smith strip-sacked Russell Wilson on the first series, and the Niners seized an early 10-0 lead over the hosts. They held on to lead 10-3 at halftime, thanks to a controversial after-the-whistle penalty on a failed fourth down conversion. There was not much offense throughout the first half, particularly through the air:
The second half was all about the strength of the Seahawks. They came out blazing on offense, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal on their first three drives. Russell Wilson was more in control and command of the game. His offensive line held together better, even asserting itself at times against the tough Niners defense. They took advantage of a free play to score a touchdown on an offsides penalty, a play where Wilson and his receivers instinctively attacked down the field when they saw the flag even though that was not the play called. But it was the Seattle defense that really took over.
Everyone in the world, most notably Richard Sherman himself, will point to the star corner having an incredible second half. But the entire defense was stellar. Other than one touchdown drive, the Niners offense ground to a halt. The final four San Francisco drives: 3-and-out, fumble, interception, interception. The last INT came in the end zone courtesy of Sherman breaking up a pass for Michael Crabtree, tipping the ball into the air for an easy grab by Malcolm Smith.
Sherman earned his taunting penalty after the play, and it didn’t matter. Wilson kneeled down a couple of times, and the Seahawks were headed back to the Super Bowl.
The game opened with a pick-‘em line at most sports books, which indicates we all should be in for quite a treat in two long weeks from now.
$.03--With the Detroit Lions hiring Jim Caldwell, the Tennessee Titans tabbing Ken Whisenhunt, and the Minnesota Vikings choosing Mike Zimmer as their respective new head coaches, there is one coaching vacancy left. The Cleveland Browns are having a hard time finding anyone who wants to tackle that job.
They only have themselves to blame. More specifically, the short-sightedness of the new front office, led by Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner. Neither man has done much of anything to engender respect or trust in their first years in Cleveland.
This is what happens when you botch a coaching hire. They opted to go with Rob Chudzinski for their vacancy last year. It was a move many, including myself, openly questioned. Chud had previously been with the Browns as an offensive coach. During that time he did little to impress the rest of the staff, and even less to the ancillary staff. He was not well-liked by those folks, and many of them rued his return.
I still think Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner made the right move to drop the axe quickly, before things spiraled any more out of control. What they failed to comprehend was that the quick churning turned off a lot of potential candidates. If they can fire someone they clearly liked and desired so much after just one season, what makes them have any more commitment to anyone else?
This should be an attractive position. There is Pro Bowl talent at several key spots. Cleveland has two first-round picks to find a quarterback and perhaps a right tackle or cornerback to pair with Joe Haden. The defense is loaded with young talent brimming with potential.
That should tell you just how poorly regarded the Browns organization is by the rest of the league. They are widely viewed as a sad, incompetent joke. The legal issues of owner Jimmy Haslam don’t help matters. This has caused any candidates of even moderate regard to not even answer the phone when they see “216” on the caller ID.
I don’t know who they are going to hire. Broncos Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase is most often mentioned, but there’s no guarantee he’ll take it. Even if he does, his experience is scant; just one season as a coordinator, and that was with Peyton Manning essentially calling the plays himself. For all for Chud’s numerous faults, at least he had a requisite body of experience.
I still hear whispers of placing a blank check in front of Auburn Head coach Gus Malzahn, but those are just unsubstantiated rumors at this point. Good luck Cleveland, you’re going to need it.
$.04--After Senior Bowl week I will update my draft rankings and get back to creating extensive mock drafts. Until then, here’s a quick mock draft of how I think the first 32 picks might go:
1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
2. St. Louis Rams (from WAS): Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
8. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
9. Buffalo Bills: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
10. Detroit Lions: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
11. Tennessee Titans: Zach Martin, T, Notre Dame
12. New York Giants: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
13. St. Louis Rams: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
14. Chicago Bears: RaShede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
17. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
18. New York Jets: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama
20. Arizona Cardinals: Kony Ealy, DL, Missouri
21. Green Bay Packers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
22. Philadelphia Eagles: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
25. San Diego Chargers: Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State
26. Cleveland Browns (from IND): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
27. New Orleans Saints: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
28. Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
29. San Francisco 49ers: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
30. New England Patriots: Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
31. Denver Broncos: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
32. Seattle Seahawks: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
$.05--I spent most of the last week at Shrine Game practices in St. Petersburg. It’s one of the highlights of my working calendar every year. The Shrine Game staff do an excellent job setting up the week, and it’s a more conducive and relaxed working environment than this coming week’s Senior Bowl.
Here are three questions or comments I got a lot during the week, so I’ll respond to them en masse.
What am I looking for when I watch players?
The number one thing I look for is technical proficiency at the position. But that doesn’t mean that lacking it is a death knell, because many of these players have not had the greatest coaching or experience at such a high level.
After the mechanical side, it’s all about athleticism. Size, speed, strength, body control and agility are the five pillars. Most players at the Shrine Game are lacking at least one of those. It’s why they are seen as later-round prospects or priority free agents and not at the Senior Bowl with the better-regarded prospects.
Third, I want to see ability to learn, especially with small schoolers or players who are more of a projection than a proven commodity. Quickly absorbing and incorporating coaching is a very encouraging sign.
How do you view the quarterbacks, notably Jimmy Garoppolo, Jeff Mathews, and Keith Wenning?
Those are the only three draftable commodities from St. Pete, as Jordan Lynch, Tommy Rees and especially Keith Price all looked untouchable as NFL prospects.
Mathews was my clear favorite, though Garoppolo closed the gap as the week progressed. As I noted on Wednesday:
Mathews is from Cornell and did not have much to work with his senior season. As a result, his star dimmed throughout the year. What I saw in St. Pete was incredibly encouraging, however. He’s got a great arm and the best ball placement of any QB there. Mathews also has the cleanest mechanics; he’s ready to go out of the box in terms of fundamentals. He struggled a bit in progressions, and I have a strong sense that he is what he will ever be already. That’s a third round quarterback likely destined to be a career spot starter in the mold of Josh McCown or Brian Hoyer.
Garoppolo is from Eastern Illinois and comes with a pretty significant amount of hype from a lot of folks. Yet he’s not near NFL-ready as a passer. He showed an alarming propensity for throwing off one foot and falling away from his throws instead of squaring up his hips and shoulders and following through towards his target. As a result, his arm faces undue stress and his accuracy can be a little wild. Yet when he was mechanically proper, man he was impressive. While his arm isn’t quite as live as Mathews’, he has enough velocity to make any throws he’ll be asked to make in the NFL. He’s more mobile and keeps his eyes up very adeptly while on the move. I would say his ceiling is higher than Mathews. That’s why he will be drafted earlier and why he’s bound for the Senior Bowl to replace the chicken-shit A.J. McCarron, who backed out because he didn’t think it was important.
Then there’s Wenning, the Ball State gunslinger for the West. He’s got one of the biggest arms I’ve ever seen in terms of velocity out of his hand. The ball has a hum to it when he launches it. He’s bigger, tougher, and more cocksure than his East compatriots. His biggest issues are a befuddling, Jake Locker-esque propensity for crazy inaccuracy; even when his mechanics are clean, there are throws where God only knows where it’s going. He’s not the most agile guy either, though he has a sturdiness to help him break free from rushers. He’s a late-round developmental prospect with just enough talent to believe in.
It must be awesome to go to all these places and watch football, right?!
Well, it beats teaching inner-city seventh graders or helping auto dealers make more money off of you (two prior vocations), but it really is a lot of work. The first practice session starts at 9:40, and I’m there by 9:15. Of course, I’ve spent about 45 minutes already prepping my notes and going over roster changes, background info on players, and stuff like that.
After the first practice ends, I write up a summary piece and grab a quick bite on the run before heading across town to the next practice. During each practice I take about 3 pages of hand-written notes, and a lot of it is in shorthand.
After the next 2-hour practice session, I type up notes again. As I am writing for multiple websites, I wind up writing about 7500 words a day. Avoiding redundancy and offering something unique to the other people in my profession is a challenge. Most days I’m “on the clock” from about 8:30 to about 11 PM, with an hour or so for dinner and a drink or three. There is ample networking, talking to agents, team scouts, as well as my fellow internet scribes.
Yes, folks, it really is work. It’s mentally quite draining. I’m writing this cent on a flight headed to Senior Bowl week to do it all again. I was home for 36 hours, enough time to do laundry and be daddy for a precious little bit.
When I get back next Sat., I’m in full draft prep mode. I watch at least two full college games every day, often double that amount. And when I watch a game, I’m the master of the remote. I rewind and rewatch each play at least once, checking out different players for my notes. When I’m focusing on one particular player, I might head to draftbreakdown.com and watch a handful of their useful game cut-ups.
I’m often texting back and forth with agents, coaches, and scouting eyes I trust. I’m emailing sports information directors and football departments to get coaching tape of games. I do anywhere between three and ten radio interviews and podcasts during a typical week.
So yeah, it really is a lot of work. But I love it, and I thank you for reading it and helping to support my dream!
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