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Initial 2015 NFL Mock Draft

By Jeff Risdon

I know, college football season hasn’t even started yet. So why put out a mock draft now?

There are a couple of reasons. First, consider this a sort of “watch list” for players who I believe could wind up as first-round picks next May. I haven’t really perused other mock drafts to this point, so the players populating this list are talents I believe are either already highly regarded or will emerge to that level in the ’14 season.

Second, it’s always fun to look ahead and try to project where NFL teams will be nine months from now. What might they be looking for in the ’15 draft? Obviously that’s quite difficult to predict, as several teams will have coaching and front office changes.

The order here is based on current (as of 8/18/14) season win total over/under lines in ascending order. In cases of ties, I broke those ties with my own forecast for which team will win more games. The draft order here is technically impossible, as it does not account for division winners and playoff seeding. Get past that, folks…

1. Oakland Raiders: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Sure they just drafted Derek Carr in the second round. They cannot afford to look past a superior overall prospect and dual-threat weapon like Mariota. He needs some passing polish, but the physical tools are all there for Mariota to be Colin Kaepernick’s equal, if not superior. He’s just a junior, so it’s far from a given that he declares.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon. Ducks go 1-2 in this premature edition. IEO, as he’s known in scouting shorthand, enters the season as my personal No. 1 overall player. He’s got size, speed, vision, instincts and playmaking flair. He has a chance to be the best CB in the NFL at some point, something that cannot be said of any first-rounders in the last 2-3 drafts.

3. Cleveland Browns: Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn. He’s a downfield demon with legit 4.3 speed, impressive for a rocked-up 6’2”, 200+ pounder. Coates is dripping with potential. If he shows he can improve his footwork on routes and concentration over the middle, he’s going to be the first wideout taken. The Browns need every weapon they can get for Johnny Football, and character concerns are going to matter. Coates

4. Cleveland (from Buffalo Bills): Vic Beasley, Edge, Clemson. The booty for dealing the pick that became Sammy Watkins to Buffalo is the top pass-rushing prospect heading into the season. Beasley has a lightning first step and great closing burst to the ball. He fits better as a 3-4 OLB as he appears fairly maxed out at about 245 pounds.

5. Minnesota Vikings: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford. The Vikings already have a solid pair of tackles in Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, but Peat could be too skilled to pass on here. He’s got outstanding length and quick feet, a natural left tackle. The Vikings do like to trade picks, too…

6. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DT, USC. He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Ndamukong Suh since the Lions stud was dominating at Nebraska. A violently strong interior presence with the athleticism to play anywhere along the line, the rising junior has everything NFL teams want. The Titans have a sturdy young line with Jurrell Casey, Mike Martin and Sammie Lee Hill, but Williams gives them real star potential up front. Have to think that if they’re picking this high they’ll look strongly at a QB, however.

7. Houston Texans: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. It might seem inconceivable for the reigning Heisman winner and field general of the national champs is not a top 5 pick, let alone No. 1 overall. I think he’s a victim of hyper-scrutiny about his character, but also his surprisingly spotty mechanics and accuracy. He can--and I suspect he will--iron the on-field issues out, and that should be enough to convince the Texans to trust him with the keys to the franchise.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa. The Bucs offensive line is in the process of a major turnover, and Scherff has the potential to be the centerpiece of a rebuilt front. Physical and relentless, he’s likely a right tackle at the next level, but could be an awesome one. When I graded him for the ’14 draft he came out ahead of No. 11 overall pick Taylor Lewan, a similar style of player. Scherff isn’t as athletic, however.

9. New York Jets: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State. If you liked Mike Evans in the ’14 draft, Strong is your kind of receiver. Big and strong (no pun intended) with a huge catch radius, the 6’4” junior is a better route runner than Evans already. He’s a viable potential No. 1 receiver, something the Jets could pair nicely with a talented No. 2 in Eric Decker. 

10. St. Louis Rams: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA. If the Rams miss out on the playoffs once again, it’s likely Sam Bradford’s fault. That means it’s time for a change, and that change is the rangy Bruins junior. He’s a divisive prospect already, as some (I raise my hand high) worry about his accuracy as much as they are tantalized by his huge arm and great size.

11. Washington Ethnic Slurs: Landon Collins, S, Alabama. Washington drafted a pair of safeties in 2013, but Philip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo have yet to emerge past decidedly average journeymen Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather. Collins is a do-it-all safety with strong tackling skills and solid instincts vs. the pass, giving them a long-term solution at a position of growing importance. Collins is just a junior.

12. Arizona Cardinals: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. Fowler is a rising junior with freak closing speed and lateral quickness for a 275ish-pound edge player. He’s not afraid to get physical. If he can clean up his positional discipline and continue to wreak havoc in backfields, he could go a lot higher than 12th. I think the Cardinals are better than this slot, so for them to add another impact piece to their solid defense would be quite fortunate. Fowler and Calais Campbell would be a devastating DE/OLB duo to try and block.

13. New York Giants: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M. Ogbuehi continues the strong line of premium tackles in College Station. He’s not quite as high-end as Luke Joeckel or Jake Matthews, but he’s a high-floor talent who is ready to start right out of the box at either tackle spot. The rebuild of the Giants offense continues by building up the front and adding skill position weapons in the next few rounds.

14. Miami Dolphins: Devante Parker, WR, Louisville. Long and strong, Parker proved he could make the tough catch from Teddy Bridgewater. Now he gets to break in a new QB at Louisville. His projected 4.55 speed waters down his draft stock a bit, but there might not be a better catcher of the football in the next draft. He’d make a great complement for Mike Wallace to help Ryan Tannehill’s progression in Miami.

15. Kansas City Chiefs: Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford. A blazing speedster with reliable hands, Montgomery would immediately upgrade a Kansas City receiving corps that scares Chiefs fans more than it does opponents. In his junior season, he can elevate his stock by improving his footwork and selling his moves better.

16. Carolina Panthers: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State. A fluid athlete with a very high football IQ, Williams will get a lot of exposure playing for the Seminoles. He can elevate himself higher than this if he makes more impact plays as a junior. He would immediately step into Carolina and be their No. 1 corner.

17. San Diego Chargers: Shilique Calhoun, Edge, Michigan State. He’s a fierce pass rusher with explosive athletic metrics, a perfect fit along a Chargers front that needs more sizzle off the edge. His ability to play both end and 3-4 outside backer gives the defense more options. The junior reminds me of Mario Williams.

18. Dallas Cowboys: Randy Gregory, Edge, Nebraska. Another player who is going to divide the draft community, Gregory has potential to be a dynamic edge rusher with a great first step. If he can even out some truly ugly ’13 game tape (Michigan, among others), the rising junior would bring speed and length to what appears to be a brutal Dallas defense.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers: Devin Funchess, TE/WR, Michigan. He’s a hybrid receiver along the lines of Eric Ebron or Tyler Eifert, a wideout in a tight end frame. The junior offers great potential as a seam-stretcher and giant slot presence. He could blossom with more consistent QB play, something he would get in Pittsburgh with Big Ben.

20. Atlanta Falcons: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. The two-year drought of first round running backs ends with the eminently talented Bulldogs junior. He will remind some of Steven Jackson, others of Marshawn Lynch. With Jackson nearing the end, the Falcons could add the local product to bolster and balance the Matt Ryan-centric offense.

21. Detroit Lions: La’el Collins, OT, LSU. A massive and punishing line presence, Collins offers the Lions options up front. LaAdrian Waddle and Riley Reiff are both versatile, which would allow Detroit to find the best combination to help fuel their high-powered offense. Yes, once again the Lions do not take a first-round corner…that’s what free agency is for.

22. Baltimore Ravens: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. With Darqueze Dennard now a Bengal, the Ravens tap his Spartans mate to be their own shutdown corner. The rising junior has size and attitude, two attributes in high demand in the NFL today. Of all the picks I’ve made here, this is the one that is the most likely to actually come to fruition.

23. Chicago Bears: Derron Smith, S, Fresno State. Smith is a playmaking cover safety, something the Bears desperately need. He lacks size but doesn’t lack punch when he’s flying all over the field. He’d make a great fit for Chicago in the pass-happy NFC North, a division I think they win in 2014 despite a still-leaky defense.

24. Philadelphia Eagles: Noah Spence, Edge, Ohio State. The rising junior performed at his best against top competition, and he’s an impact player against both the run and pass. His game is similar to Kyle Van Noy from the ’14 draft, and Spence has the similar lack of power and strength that he can build up to improve his stock.

25. Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina. Bengals fans are used to a former SEC behemoth anchoring the offensive line. As Andrew Whitworth approaches his mid-30s, Cincinnati reloads with the 6’7”, 330ish Robinson. He’s still fairly raw with his technique, but you can’t coach his length and brute power.

26. Indianapolis Colts: Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA. The junior’s upside is similar to the good Nick Fairley, a disruptive gap penetrator with both power and quickness. McCarthy has to be reminded he’s big at times, but guys his size (6’4”, 325) with his movement skills from a major program typically don’t last long on draft boards.

27. New Orleans Saints: Ramik Wilson, ILB, Georgia. A tightly-wound tackling machine with decent range, Wilson would make a great fit in Rob Ryan’s aggressive, oft-unconventional defense. He could lead the nation in tackles in 2014, but his best NFL attribute might be his cover skills in the short and intermediate range.

28. San Francisco 49ers: Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston. Every year there are a couple of surprise first round picks, and it’s often the 49ers who make one. Greenberry is a long, speedy monster along the lines of Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas. He needs to show his strength more frequently, and then the junior can take the NFL draft process by storm.

29. Green Bay Packers: Alvin Dupree, Edge, Kentucky. Dupree is a player I think will blossom going forward as he gets stronger and learns how to better use his hands. He’s already physical and has nifty feet for a 260-something pound edge rusher, and he’s also shown he is fluid in space. Great fit for a zone blitzing team like Dom Capers’ Packers, who can use him opposite Clay Matthews.

30. New England Patriots: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. This is probably lower than you’ll see the talented Cooper in most mock drafts, but his lack of any elite trait will water down his stock. That doesn’t mean the Patriots won’t be getting a potentially great receiver, as his sticky hands, route savvy and professional polish are all already evident.

31. Seattle Seahawks: Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State. The player Greene most reminds me of is former Seahawk Golden Tate, who took the money and ran to Detroit. He’s comfortable lining up in the slot or outside, has superb hands and body control and he can make tacklers miss. He’s not as fast at Tate, but the reigning Super Bowl champs can use his NFL-ready game.

32. Denver Broncos: Josh Shaw, CB, USC. The onetime Florida star recruit has the traits of a hybrid corner/safety a la Kenny Vaccaro or Calvin Pryor, two recent first round picks. His high football IQ and great burst out of breaks should translate well to the NFL. Denver needs to keep reloading secondary talent. 

Next 10 players picked: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor; Marcus Peters, CB, Washington; Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State; Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami; Ty Smabrailo, OT, Colorado State; Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland; Jordan Jenkins, Edge, Georgia; Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn; Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington; Christian Covington, DT, Rice


Houston Texans 2014 Season Preview

By Jeff Risdon

2013: 2-14, last in AFC South

2014 Over/Under:  +/- 7.5 wins

Why the over

So much went wrong in the abysmal 2013 season. It’s hard to envision one franchise suffering so many negative twists of fate befalling one team once again.

The biggest positive is the removal of Gary Kubiak as coach. The players had grown stale and complacent under his tenure, tired of hearing the same old things and running the same old plays. Kubiak lacked adaptability, and the rest of the league figured out his Texans. New coach Bill O’Brien brings more outward enthusiasm and a more demanding nature. Veterans will be challenged and the entitlement is gone. That can only be considered a positive for Houston.

Getting star RB Arian Foster back to full speed will do a lot to help fix the offense. Foster averaged over 90 yards per game and hit double figures in TDs every year from 2010-12, remarkably consistent and productive. He also averaged over 50 catches per year in that span, providing a viable threat out of the backfield that further stressed defenses. He was the central focus of the opponent’s entire linebacking corps every week.

Yet last year he struggled with nagging injuries before going on the shelf halfway through the season. While he’ll always be nursing one minor bruise or muscle soreness--he’s perennially limited in practice--he should get back to his customary 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 12-15 TDs. Fantasy owners, trust in Foster.

The Texans finally found a worthy second banana to Andre Johnson at wideout in DeAndre Hopkins. “Nuke” was impressive as a first-round rookie, pulling down 52 catches with just one drop. What impressed me is that he appeared to his a rookie wall midway through the year but then emerged from it as a more complete receiver; his blocking and intermediate route running both improved at the end of the year. Playing across from Johnson afforded him lots of isolated coverage, and he gradually figured out how to take advantage of that.

The Texans have the core of a strong offensive line. A return to 100% by Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown would help a lot. He’s one of the best blindside protectors in the league, and he’s also quite adept at getting out in front of Foster on edge runs and screens. A toe injury really limited Brown last year, but he is reportedly in prime shape as camp opens.

Center Chris Myers and right guard Brandon Brooks are both good starters. Myers is the consummate savvy veteran. He’s also a great run blocker on the move and is pretty consistent in picking up DL twists and interior blitzes. Brooks is more of a sledgehammer, but a devastatingly effective run blocker in tight quarters. He’s one of the most functionally strong players in the entire league. Pass protection is not his strength, but he surrendered just one or two sacks, depending on which stat service you believe.

Rookie Xavier Su’a-Filo should solidify the left guard spot, though he’s probably the best right tackle on the roster too. He and Brooks should quickly form one of the best run-blocking guard tandems in the NFL.

In Garrett Graham and rookie C.J. Fiedorowicz, the Texans have talent at tight end to replace Owen Daniels. OD was a beloved icon but the wear and tear was clearly getting to him, and his pass protection as an inline blocker was often scary. Graham isn’t as lithe, but his hands are reliable and he runs strong routes. He should top last year’s 49 receptions and 5 TDs. Fieodorowicz is a big target with soft hands and sneaky quickness in the open field, and he’s ready-made as a replacement for Daniels. Second-year talent Ryan Griffin finished his rookie campaign with a big outing and is the most athletic TE on the roster. Expect to see lots of multiple TE sets, and the Texans have the talent to make it very effective.

Defensively, J.J. Watt. Does any more really need to be said about the best defensive player in the NFL today? He’s the face of the franchise and remained wildly effective even as the team crumbled around him.

Adding #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney puts a real fire-breathing rusher outside Watt. With Whitney Mercilus also showing some pass rushing sizzle last year, the Texans should have no trouble getting pressure on opposing QBs. Try and help too much on Watt, and now the Texans have the help at outside linebacker to make him pay. The only other time they’ve really had that was Connor Barwin’s one good year (out of four).

A healthy return by Brian Cushing inside would help matters. When he’s patrolling the middle of the field, the Texans defense raises to another level. Not only is he an intimidating presence between the tackles against the run, he’s also surprisingly lithe in coverage. Cushing can also bring the heat on the blitz too. He was sorely missed last year.

The secondary should be better. Johnathan Joseph is a solid top corner. 2013 was not his best year but he is generally reliable in coverage and can get his hands on many balls. Moreover, his veteran savvy plays well and sets the tone for the youngsters around him.

Kareem Jackson has progressed from being a major liability to being an okay corner. He’s learned how to better use his size. At safety, D.J. Swearinger should progress in his second season. The hard-hitting presence still needs some maturity and refinement. Adding veteran Kendrick Lewis from Kansas City represents an upgrade over Shiloh Keo, whose stiffness was a major liability.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Shane Lechler, the best punter in NFL history. His first year in Houston was not his best, but it was still among the tops in the league. Even though he’ll be 38 when the season kicks off, there is no reason to expect anything less than greatness from Lechler as he continues to build his case for the Hall of Fame.

Why the under

The most important position on a football team is the quarterback. And while Matt Schaub needed to go, the Texans are kidding themselves if they think Ryan Fitzpatrick is the man to lead them back to the AFC South title.

Fitzpatrick is smart and mobile, and he is coming off his best statistical year. In 11 games, 9 of them starts for the Titans, the Harvard grad completed 62% of his passes at 7.0 yards per attempt. Both represent career highs. Yet he went just 3-6, and no small part of that was his 14/12 TD/INT ratio and 9 fumbles. Plain and simple, he makes too many mistakes and is careless with the football.

The uncertainty surrounding Andre Johnson doesn’t help. Johnson remains a top 10 overall wideout, but he’s aging and understandably doesn’t want to stomach a rebuild. There have been trade rumors and talk that he won’t report for training camp, perhaps even holding out into the season. Remember, he’s given back money on his contract several times and should feel like the franchise owes him.

If Johnson departs, or even if he continues to succumb ever so gradually to Father Time and loses his fighting spirit playing with a subpar quarterback and little hope of a return to the playoffs, the Houston offense is really going to suffer. I like Nuke Hopkins a lot, but he’s not capable of replacing Johnson yet. And then who would replace Hopkins?

The receiving corps is thin, as prospects like Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey just haven’t progressed into anything other than eminently replaceable parts. The team signed Mike Thomas, who wasn’t good enough to beat out a rotting collection of practice squad wannabes in Detroit last year, yet he’s got a very good chance to be the 4th wideout this fall. 

Running back depth took a hit with Ben Tate’s departure. Primary backup Andre Brown simply cannot stay healthy, making the perennially gimpy Tate seem like Iron Man. Alfred Blue and Dennis Johnson don’t inspire much confidence for the 2-3 cumulative games--at minimum--Foster will miss with his various nicks and bruises. There isn’t much depth along the OL either.

The quarterbacks behind Fitzpatrick are Case Keenum and Tom Savage. Some Houston sycophants will harp on Keenum’s great game against the Colts last year, but that was literally the only time he did anything positive in his eight starts. They all ended in losses. He’s gritty and smart but erratic and weak-armed. Savage has more than enough arm strength, and he flashed starting potential at Pittsburgh. However, he’s a 25-year old rookie who bounced around three colleges and has the mobility and internal clock of a 1982 Pontiac Parisienne. If he doesn’t have time and a clean throwing lane, it’s ugly.

Then there is the up-the-gut defense. It’s less of an issue when Cushing is in the game, but he’s missed 20 games in the last two years and has had a litany of soft tissue injuries going back to his early USC days. Even when he plays, Cushing can only do so much.

Brooks Reed is not an inside backer. He’s not much of an outside backer either, but he’s really not cut out to play solely between the tackles.

The depth all over the back eight is weak. Castoffs like Akeem Dent and Elbert Mack are likely the top reserves at inside backer and outside corner, unless late-round or UDFA rookies like Max Bullough and Andre Hal beat them out. I do hold some optimism for Mr. Irrelevant Lonnie Ballatine, a hard-hitting safety from Memphis, but he needs one year on the practice squad. Then again, if Shiloh Keo makes the team over him and practice squadder Eddie Pleasant, it’s not likely to ever happen for him…or Houston.

The lack of depth took its toll last year, and this group appears even thinner across the board. It’s an ugly truth when a new coaching staff comes in and gets rid of many veterans that are not perceived as worthy fits anymore. There will be a heavy reliance on unproven talents with limited ceilings to handle important reserve roles. Veteran defenders like Antonio “Ninja” Smith, Earl Mitchell and Brice McCain are replaced with greenhorns like Jason Ankrah, Marcus Williams and Ricardo Mathews.

Bill O’Brien is a rookie, and that will make for some growing pains. Even though he has some NFL experience with the Patriots, he’s been working with college kids recently and there is a difference. What worked in State College is not guaranteed to work at the beautiful Reliant complex. The change of culture was absolutely necessary, but getting all the veterans in line with the starkly new regime will not happen overnight.

Forecast

Houston will be better. The 14-game losing streak will be snapped rather quickly. If Foster and Cushing stay healthy and Clowney makes the immediate impact expected of the #1 overall pick, these Texans have a chance to bounce right back into playoff contention. Watt and Clowney together offers amazing defensive potential.

Yet there are deep issues here that will hold back the Texans from rebounding into playoff contender. The overall depth has taken a hit over the past couple of seasons, particularly on defense. There’s just not a lot of NFL middle class on this roster, and that’s where strong organizations thrive.

The bottom line here is that when the division rival Colts bottomed out from Super Bowl contender to 2-14, they picked up Andrew Luck and got right back on the higher horse. Houston is trying to do that with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tom Savage. To quote the late, great game show host Jim Perry, “Oooh, no sale!”

Houston finishes 6-10, but I wouldn’t advise putting much on the under in a division with so many unknowns. The potential is there for Fitzpatrick to hit a hot streak and the defense to carry the way to 8 or 9 wins. That’s an even longer bet than the under, however.


The Best Pick For Every Team

By Jeff Risdon

I’m not a big fan of issuing draft grades right after the fact. And with so much negativity floating around, I opted to stay on the positive side of the coin.

Here are my favorite draft selections for each team.

Arizona Cardinals

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech--the fourth round pick (#120 overall) wound up in the best possible situation for his NFL potential. He’s got better athletic potential and a better arm than #3 overall pick Blake Bortles, and there are times (the Miami game comes to mind) where Thomas looks like a legit NFL star. Not starter, star.

He was often really, really bad too, and that’s why many groaned when the Cardinals took Thomas in the fourth round. But Bruce Arians uses an offensive system that plays to his downfield strengths, and there’s no pressure to rush his progress. Give him two years of advanced coaching and encouragement, and the Cardinals just might have themselves a franchise quarterback. The reward is worth the risk here.

Atlanta Falcons

Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M--This was a toughie, as they made some very good value picks and fits. Yet Matthews was my No. 1 player in the entire draft, and the Falcons landed him with the sixth overall selection. He’s instantly the best starter on what has been a problematic line for the last couple of years. He’ll be protecting Matt Ryan and clearing holes for another pick I really liked, 4th round RB Devonta Freeman. Matthews is a can’t-miss prospect for a team that desperately needed one.

Baltimore Ravens

Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State--Gillmore is a player I really grew to like after seeing him in person at Shrine Game week and Senior Bowl week. He didn’t have a lot to do at CSU, but in those two weeks I saw a sure-handed receiver who could use his big frame to get separation and reach out to pluck the ball from the air. He’s a solid in-line blocker and he can chip and release nicely. Gillmore projects as a very good second tight end, something the team needed. They could have done a lot worse with the 99th pick.

Buffalo Bills

Preston Brown, LB, Louisville--I do really like adding Sammy Watkins to the mix, but I’m not sure they had to give up as much as they did to get him. Brown, on the other hand, is a strong value in the third round. He should be able to line up inside or outside. When I watched Louisville film to break down Eagles 1st round pick Marcus Smith, all I saw was Brown making plays all over the field. He and Kiko Alonso make a very nice young LB tandem for a team that should be on the rise.

Carolina Panthers

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State--The giant wideout was the epicenter of some very divisive opinions in the scouting community. I happen to value his athletic gifts, and think his detractors ignored a lot of very strong plays he made under pressure for a championship team. He landed in the perfect spot; Cam Newton has the same style as Jameis Winston and Benjamin will get every chance to shine, and he wasn’t a reach in the late first round. Benjamin is my too-early projection for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Having said that, it also wouldn’t be a surprise if he washed out a la James Hardy either.

Chicago Bears

Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech--The Bears absolutely had to upgrade the defense. I like all of their first three picks; Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton are both limited role players, but the Bears sorely needed those roles filled. Fuller has a chance to be a very good cornerback, and he fits schematically. I also like that they didn’t reach to fill the gaping hole at safety, sticking to their board with the higher-end player. The Bears had one of the best drafts of 2014.

Cincinnati Bengals

Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State--Cincinnati landed my 16th-rated player overall and top CB on my board with the 24th pick. Aside from the value they got, Dennard’s aggressive style fits well both within the context of their defense (assuming they keep a similar scheme with the change in coordinator) and in the AFC North. Jeremy Hill could wind up being a very good power RB for them, too, though I think he went too high.

Cleveland Browns

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M--I wrote earlier about my mixed feelings on their tumultuous first round. The more I look at the reaction to Manziel and how he’s reinvigorated my hometown, the more I support the decision. He’s a unique player that represents a stark contrast to the “same old Browns”. Johnny Football is the face of the franchise and seems quite capable of handling that pressure. I would not bet against him.

Dallas Cowboys

Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor--This one is all about relative value. They badly needed a safety, and Dixon could have gone at least two rounds earlier. He’s stiff in coverage and tested poorly in workouts, but he’s still immediately the second-best safety on the Cowboys roster. They got him with the 248th overall pick deep in the 7th round. I do like Demarcus Lawrence’s potential as an edge rusher, too.

Denver Broncos

Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State--Roby is the top choice with a condition: the Broncos have to get the 2012 version and not the 2013 one. He’s got very similar skills and upside to Joe Haden, who just signed a monster contract extension with the Browns. The Broncos filled their top need with the best value on the board at that spot. It’s risky but should pay off.

Detroit Lions

Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU--The Lions aggressively pursued the versatile Van Noy, trading up a few spots in the second round to reunite him with his former Cougars roommate, Ezekiel Ansah. He is a perfect fit for the new defensive scheme, which will play more 3-LB sets and blitzes. His biggest weakness--sifting through traffic--is mitigated by the Lions’ strong defensive line in front him. Van Noy could be very, very good right away.

Green Bay Packers

Khyri Thornton, DT, Southern Miss--Third-round pick Thornton is an odd fit on the surface. He’s a one-gap upfield penetrator who doesn’t tie up blockers well despite being a large man, and that tends to fit better in a 4-3 defense than Green Bay’s variable 3-4 front. Yet I love his energy and the reckless edge he brings. He’s a poor man’s Nick Fairley without the baggage, both off-field and in the midsection. Thornton is an agitating instigator of a defensive lineman, something this defense badly needed. I really like Davante Adams in the second round too, though he’s not apt to contribute much as a rookie.

Houston Texans

Jadeveon Clowney, Edge, South Carolina--Houston had to be tempted by a quarterback, but they smartly held off and added the defensive prospect with the highest talent ceiling to hit the draft in the last 25 years. He’s not a sure thing, but passing on Clowney could have been as disastrous as passing on Dwayne Wade or Carmelo Anthony for Darko Milicic. Clowney could be the LeBron James of the NFL. Could be. You have to take that gamble with the #1 overall pick.

Indianapolis Colts

Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss--I’m not going to lie here: I have major reservations about what GM Ryan Grigson has done in the last 15 months, and this draft did not help his cause. Moncrief is a great value with the 90th overall pick, but he carries some risk. While he’s a dynamic athlete who looked like a first-round talent at times, he also has a lot of disturbingly lethargic and disinterested games too. A team with limited draft resources probably should have opted for a safer route, though if Moncrief is a hit, he’ll be a big hit. I’m optimistic he will.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State--The Jaguars took two wideouts in the second round, and I love both picks. Marqise Lee went earlier, and the USC receiver has a chance to be special if his knee gets healthy. Robinson came later in the round (61st overall) and should prove more than worthy of the trade up to nab him. His size and leaping ability nicely compensate for a lack of top-end speed, which Lee brings. I love that they got two receivers who complement one another so well. Now about that massive reach for a quarterback in the first round…

Kansas City Chiefs

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, T, McGill--The 200th pick of the draft was a complete mystery to many, but for those of us who saw “Larry” in person at the Shrine Game practices, we know how good the giant Canuck can be. He was every bit as dominant in St. Pete as Terron Armstead, the 75th pick in 2013, was a year earlier. He’s light on his feet but very tough and strong. Once he learns the American game (Canada has different rules on the line), he can be an above-average starting left tackle. The Chiefs got him in the 6th round. I also like guard Zach Fulton from Tennessee, their other sixth rounder. KC could very well have landed two starters in that round.

Miami Dolphins

Jordan Tripp, LB, Montana--The Dolphins had an interesting draft. I like a lot of their players, but they almost universally went about 15-20 picks higher than I liked. Not so with Tripp, whom I graded a solid 3rd round talent. They got him in the 5th, and he’s got a chance to be a solid starter if he can add some functional strength. Billy Turner in the third could wind up being better than first-rounder Ja’Wuan James, and I say that as someone who liked James too.

Minnesota Vikings

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville--Absolute jackpot pick. GM Rick Spielman was patient in watching Bridgewater fall, and then he pounced on the best quarterback in this draft by trading up into the 32nd pick. The best part is they don’t have to rush him onto the field if he isn’t quite ready, though I suspect he’ll be starting for Minnesota by Halloween and will be for a very long time. I like the Anthony Barr pick at 9, too, especially since they pilfered an extra fifth rounder from Cleveland and still got him. That’s good, because none of their Saturday picks might make the final 53-man roster.

New England Patriots

Jemea Thomas, DB, Georgia Tech--With their third 6th round pick, and I like all three of them, the Patriots scored with the versatile Thomas. He can play the nickel corner over the slot, but he also plays big enough to handle safety duties. He’s small and that limits his upside, but Jemea Thomas is a smart, quick-twitch football player. Guard Jon Halapio from Florida, the first of their 6th rounders, will start sooner than later too.

New Orleans Saints

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State--Not only did the Saints get their replacement for Lance Moore, they just might have gotten their new #1 wideout. Cooks is smallish but freakishly quick, and he catches the ball effortlessly. He answered the speed questions, as silly as they seem in watching lots of Beavers tape, by running a 4.33 at the Combine. He should prove worthy of the move up to the 20th overall pick; he was not going to fall to 27th. The NFC South isn’t exactly crawling with defensive back talent, so he could be very good very soon.

New York Giants

Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State--I freely admit to a major bias here. Richburg was my favorite player in this entire draft, my prospect man crush. I even told him so when talking to him during Senior Bowl week, and he accepted it graciously. He’s a smart tactician who can play guard or center, and he adjusts on the fly to opponents as well as any center in the NFL right now. He helps fill one of the gaping holes along their lines. Side note: he was a high school teammate of Baltimore’s above entry, Crockett Gillmore.

New York Jets

Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech--Their second-round pick was rated much higher on my board than their first-rounder, safety Calvin Pryor. Amaro is a monster of a target on crossing and out routes, and he can lay out unsuspecting defenders as a blocker. You can pencil him in for 65-75 catches for 850-950 yards and 5-8 TDs every year. Fourth-round guard Dakota Dozier is a promising project, though he probably won’t contribute much as a rookie. Shaq Evans was a solid pick too.

Oakland Raiders

Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo--Their first four picks could all realistically emerge as quality starters by the middle of 2015, but only Mack has the potential to be great. No matter what they ask him to do--blitz, cover, play end, stuff the A-gap--Mack can do it all very well. Hopefully they unleash him quickly instead of playing it safe. I am a Derek Carr supporter, too.

Philadelphia Eagles

Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon--The first pick of the fifth round could very well end up being a much better player than the man they took 26th overall, Marcus Smith. Hart is a smart, aggressive, strong end who disengages and chases very well for a 280-pound guy. Coach Chip Kelly knows what he’s got in him. I really like adding his Duck teammate, WR Josh Huff, in the third round too.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA--He’s not a great player, but Zumwalt is a consummate Steeler. His throwback style and almost scary toughness scream Pittsburgh. I expected him to be a 4th round pick, but he slid to the sixth. He is the ying to first-round pick Ryan Shazier’s yang. I happen to like Shazier’s fit here too, as the Steelers are finally acknowledging their egregious lack of range in the back end of their defense. Wesley Johnson was a strong pick, too.

San Diego Chargers

Jason Verrett, CB, TCU--This is another great pick with a condition. Verrett is an outstanding, sticky man-coverage corner, but he’s got serious durability questions between his small frame and balls-out style. His fight/size of dog ratio is off the charts. As long as he stays healthy, the Chargers got themselves a very useful player they desperately lacked with their first round pick.

San Francisco 49ers

Marcus Martin, C, USC--I did an in-depth scouting report on Martin, which you can read here. He was a very fun player to study. Martin has some warts, namely a lack of strength and a bizarre lack of second-level vision, but everything wrong with him can be fixed with experience and good coaching. He could be the best guard from this draft class too, though I think he should stick to center. Good developmental pick in the third round for a team that didn’t have any pressing needs to address. Though I don’t issue draft grades, the Niners still earned no worse than an A-minus.

Seattle Seahawks

Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama--The second of their three 4th round picks could very well be the only player the Seahawks picked who makes their active roster in 2014. While he lacks second-rounder Paul Richardson’s blazing jets, Norwood does every single other thing a receiver needs to do, including catch the ball, better that the one-dimensional Colorado Buffalo. Fourth-round LB Kevin Pierre-Louis has great athleticism that Pete Carroll can work with, though he’s smaller and weaker than some safeties.

St. Louis Rams

Greg Robinson, T, Auburn--This was not a no-brainer of a #2 overall pick, and I rated Jake Matthews higher, but Robinson was a smart choice and a better fit for the Rams. Coach Jeff Fisher cherishes his combativeness and truly devastating power, even if he will have some pass protection struggles. I really like 6th round corner E.J. Gaines, who completely erased #7 overall pick Mike Evans from the field at Missouri.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington--The big tight end will make for a fantastic red zone target, and at his pro day he proved his athleticism came back after being asked to bulk up in 2013. ASJ is a great weapon at a position of dire need for the Bucs. First-rounder Mike Evans should wind up being a very good wide receiver, but I worry they’re going to ask him to do too much too soon.

Tennessee Titans

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington--Sankey is a great fit for the Titans, a very quick, efficient slasher with great hands out of the backfield. He should reliably move the chains. I like the concept of him running behind first-rounder Taylor Lewan, though they took the Michigan tackle a few spots higher than I preferred. Third round DT DaQuan Jones was a nice pick.

Washington Football Team

Zack Hocker, K, Arkansas--This probably comes off as a dis on the earlier picks, but I really do like their 7th round placekicker. He’s got a booming leg and should be a mainstay in Washington for years. Fourth-round corner Bashaud Breeland has major talent but fell because of some off-field concerns and spotty reliability. Third-rounder Morgan Moses has some tools. Did I mention how much I like Hocker?



Post Draft Report – Way Too Early First Impressions (AFC Edition)

The Browns, Bills, Texans and Jaguars made the most noise in the draft.


Round 1 Thoughts, Looking Ahead At Round 2

This was indeed a deep draft, with more prospects than ever evaluated as worthy of being drafted, but it was still filled with surprises.


Rules Of Thumb Following The First Round

Great first rounds for the Rams, the NFC North as a whole, Bengals and Chargers, while the Eagles and Patriots received thumbs down, while Cleveland had the most intriguing night.


Final 7-Round NFL Mock Draft

The two extra weeks of NFL Draft season have led to way too much smoke and speculation. It's one of the most confusing drafts ever, with beat writers for the same teams often wildly differing in their own projections and information.


2014 NFL Team & Draft Preview

Breaking down the draft needs, tendencies, draft history, round 1/entire draft priorities for all 32 teams.


Looking Team-By-Team At The 2014 NFL Schedule

The schedule of an NFL team is critical in predicting how they will manage the ups and downs of a season. Here is a team-by-team breakdown.