Mike White’s 2014 Pre-Combine Picks

No sooner had the Seattle-coloured tickertape settled on the field at MetLife, everyone had begun to talk about the ‘new breed’ and what would happen on their big day at Radio City Music Hall in downtown New York. The NFL Draft is one of those things that bubbles under the surface of a regular season, and as soon as the final whistles are blown on each and every team’s year, it explodes into the foreground.

Speculation and rumour are what we’re dealing with at this stage, but a great deal of research and deduction also need to be added to create a mock draft. So while this is a time-consuming, educated guess, it is a guess nonetheless; one that is made at the beginning of a long, fluid process that ends on May 8th with the revelation of 32 teams’ summer planning.

I have found this year’s draft class particularly difficult to decipher, its depth is excellent but there are very few ‘top end’ talents. Many teams will have very different evaluations of certain players and how they would fit into their varied and complex systems, so expect some surprises.

This mock is the first of many in the coming months, and I have no doubt that, as in every year’s process, the final mock will look totally different to the first; so let the speculation begin with my mock draft v1.0.

 Mike White’s Pre-Combine Picks 2014

1. Houston Texans DE Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina First thing’s first: Clowney is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He is the only one that stands out as such in this draft and it doesn’t matter what your needs are, he is a player you have to take. You have to take the gamble on his off the field issues, his possible attitude problems when he gets paid and his big time status all because if things go right, you have a legitimate star on your team. Houston may need a QB, but there are none that come close to Clowney’s talent level. This is the pick, and I’m pretty sure it will be all the way until May.
2. St Louis Rams

(from Washington)

OT Jake Matthews Texas A&M I’ll start by saying that I’m 90% certain this pick will be traded to a QB needy team. Even if it is, I think the Rams would be reluctant to move down any lower than Minnesota at 8, because they have an opportunity to take a top drawer tackle early. They need to protect Sam Bradford better for him to fulfil his potential. Matthews is not a flashy pick, and some may have the younger, more athletic Greg Robinson here, but I just think the chance to have an NFL-ready, solid tackle straight out of college doesn’t come around too often, and Jeff Fisher knows that.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars QB Johnny Manziel Texas A&M This pick HAS to be a QB, it’s just a matter of which one. They’re trying to build a new franchise really now in Jacksonville, and the best way to do that is to get someone recognisable to lead the team. Owner Shahid Khan is a businessman at heart, and flashy with it, so while he may not be the ‘best’ QB in the class, Johnny Manziel certainly is the most famous. He has a good arm, great awareness and some real playmaking ability both with his arm and his legs, but, as with many prospects, it’s the well-documented off-field things that pose questions that need to be answered. I just think that after Gus Bradley saw what the Seahawks did with a shorter, mobile QB with a decent arm, he’ll feel he can rein in Manziel and help him to win football games.
 4. Cleveland Browns QB Teddy Bridgewater Louisville Probably the best ‘pocket passer’ of the 2014 QB draft class, Bridgewater would add immediate poise, football IQ and playmaking ability to the Cleveland Browns. They need a leader on the offense to knit all the talent on their roster together, and Bridgewater is the safest bet in this year’s class to do that. Yes he’s a bit light, but behind that offensive line, he will have good protection, and it’s something he can work on. Anyway, Tom Brady? Aaron Rodgers? Not exactly bodybuilders. Teddy’s a massive upgrade for Cleveland, and he could put them in the playoff.
 5. Oakland Raiders QB Blake Bortles UCF The Raiders are the third team in the top 5 with a QB need, and they grab the guy who is going to blow up the QB competition at the combine. He could even catapult above the other two QB’s eventually, but I have concerns over his decision making and nouse. Oakland will love his stereotypical height/weight/speed/arm combination, and although he will need some work, I think he’d be instantly better than McGloin or Pryor.
 6. Atlanta Falcons OT  Greg Robinson Auburn  Who thought the Falcons would be picking here this time last year? Wow. Anyway, remember Lane Johnson from last year, now the impressive Philadelphia Eagle? Greg Robinson is this year’s Lane Johnson. Crazy physical and athletic potential rolled into a ball of OT goodness. He’s a pounder in the run game and light on his feet in pass protection. Matt Ryan’s smiling somewhere, because last season really hurt: his offensive line was a disgrace.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Sammy Watkins Clemson The Bucs need some D-line, but at this juncture, they’re faced with a bit of a reach for a position that looks pretty deep this year, so a trade back would make sense. However, they may also find themselves with the option of arming Mike Glennon (or another QB?) with one of the nation’s top weapons to go alongside Vincent Jackson. Sammy Watkins is pretty close to a unanimous pick by all the ‘experts’ and scouts to be a star. Needs can wait for Tampa.
8. Minnesota Vikings OLB/DE Khalil Mack Buffalo With the top 3 QB’s gone in this scenario (don’t rule out a trade up), the Vikes need to fill the rather large shoes of Jared Allen with someone who can rush the passer.  Khalil Mack is a disruptive, developed pass rusher whose versatility will appeal to the Vikings. He is less of a ‘bust’ candidate than…
9. Buffalo Bills OLB/DE Anthony Barr UCLA  This man is a project, but one with such a high ceiling, that it could be worth the risk. An ex-RB, Barr has all the athleticism and explosiveness that Buffalo would love to add to their D. The Bills will hope to chase Tom Brady down twice a season with this man’s pure speed off the edge.
 10. Detroit Lions CB Justin Gilbert  Oklahoma State  It seems like the same old story for Detroit now: need secondary help, need to help CJ. It seems that the secondary is the most pressing need seeing as the Lions’ offense was huge at times last year anyway, and taking Gilbert here at 10 could turn out to be good value. The man from Oklahoma State has the size, speed, instincts and aggression to be a very good corner in the NFL.
11. Tennessee Titans  LB CJ Mosley Alabama The Titans go and grab the centrepiece to their young, athletic defense in Mosley. His leadership in the middle of that D would be a good addition to the speedy core of LB’s they already have. I think Mosley could be one of the safest picks for quality in the whole of the draft, so at #11, Tennessee do well to snag this tackling machine.
 12. New York Giants OT Taylor Lewan Michigan  Eli’s poor performance last year was, to a large extent, down to his awful O-line, and I know that the Giants’ front office will be desperate to fix that issue as soon as possible. Lewan is a technically excellent tackle with the potential to be a 10 year starter in the league, and if Tom Coughlin’s grit rubs off onto his game, he could become a pro-bowler.
 13. St Louis Rams FS Calvin Pryor Louisville  There is a trend in the NFL, that big, hard hitting defensive backs with swagger go a long way. Calvin Pryor is all of these things, who, with some coaching, could become a special football player. It is difficult to separate Pryor and Clinton-Dix at this position, but while Clinton-Dix is a solid player, Pryor can be an awesome player. He sets the tone for a defense, and alongside Janoris Jenkins, makes the Rams’ D just that bit harder to crack.
14. Chicago Bears FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Alabama  The Bears have glaring issues all over their defence, and if they have to make a difficult choice regarding Julius Peppers’ large contract, this could very well be a D-Lineman. But in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford, you’re going to need some strong Safety play. Clinton-Dix will provide that and more; he is someone that Marc Trestman can begin to rebuild his defense around.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Kelvin Benjamin Florida State  With Emmanuel Sanders on his way out, Big Ben needs more than just Antonio Brown to throw to. I think Benjamin is the best fit for the Steelers here: Mike Evans may fall due to speed concerns and Marquise Lee is too similar to Brown to fit in the offense. Benjamin is a huge, strong, clutch receiver who attacks the ball in the air and isn’t afraid to throw chip blocks or cross the middle when needed.
16. Dallas Cowboys DT Louis Nix III Notre Dame  This pick is dependent on how Nix looks at the combine and in his workouts, because if that ACL tear hasn’t healed completely, the unnatural quickness shown by this 345lb DT won’t be evident. When he was healthy, Nix was a monster for the Fighting Irish, something the Cowboys are in desperate need of in the middle of their defensive line.
17. Baltimore Ravens WR Marquise Lee USC  Marquise Lee’s stock will surely keep rising in the lead up to the draft: his athleticism and explosiveness is impressive, and he is probably the best player available here, something the Ravens’ front office always goes for. Lee would be a brilliant addition for Joe Flacco, forcing defenses to respect two targets rather than just Torrey Smith.
18. New York Jets TE Eric Ebron North Carolina Many of you may say that Ebron will never fall to 18, but I just don’t think that TE is a position that is that highly valued in the Draft.  The Jets would be delighted to pick him up here, giving whoever is playing QB for Gang Green a big, explosive middle-range target. This pick will almost certainly be offense.
19. Miami Dolphins OT Zack Martin Notre Dame  The Dolphins’ offensive line is a mess, everyone knows that, and so do the front office in Miami. It’s a case of best lineman available here, and Martin is a man who fits the bill and instantly improves a beleaguered O-line.
20. Arizona Cardinals OT Antonio Richardson Tennessee  Arizona has the basis of a very good team, but a glaring weakness is up front where they may be losing some of their current starters to free agency, so quality replacements are needed. Richardson is not the finished article, but is excellent in the run game while he has the speed and lateral agility to be coached up to become a force in pass protection. Big potential and starter characteristics here.
21. Green Bay Packers DT Timmy Jernigan Florida State  In this scenario, the Packers’ prayers worked and the big 3 technique DT they needed falls to them at 21. The probable loss of BJ Raji to FA is huge, and Green Bay will be desperately looking for someone who can replicate his presence. Jernigan could easily go higher than this on draft day though.
22. Philadelphia Eagles CB Darqueze Dennard Michigan State  The Eagles’ high powered offense needs to add a receiver to keep Nick Foles happy with enough targets, but this is a very deep draft for receiving talent, and they have another big need on the defense. The secondary is currently a pretty bad unit, and with a player like Dennard sitting here, they’d be mad not to consider it strongly.
23. Kansas City Chiefs WR Odell Beckham LSU  The Chiefs look to be losing multi-purpose threat Dexter McCluster, and as we all know, Andy Reid loves him some offense. So why not replace McCluster with another explosive, speedy, multi-threat ball player in Beckham. He has the potential and work ethic to outshine anything the outgoing KC WR ever did, and this is an excellent fit.
24. Cincinnati Bengals DE Kony Ealy  Missouri  Cincy may lose Michael Johnson in FA and with Geno Atkins coming back off injury, they could do with making sure they have some pass rush ready to go. Kony Ealy is an intriguing prospect who needs to put a few pounds on and develop his strength, but he is definitely a disruptive, speedy presence on the defensive line. Strength and weight tests at the combine could be very important.
25. San Diego Chargers CB Jason Verrett TCU He’s too small. So was Tyrann Mathieu. That’s not worked out so badly. The Chargers are desperate for help on the back end of their defense, and a competitor like Verrett is exactly what they need. The man from TCU has great technique and fights for everything.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis) WR Mike Evans Texas A&M The Browns drafted their QB at 4, and now they need to give him another weapon alongside Josh Gordon to throw to. Evans is a big, big target and a ridiculously strong possession receiver. He would add something too big to miss for whoever’s pulling the trigger in Cleveland, helping the Browns to move the chains more effectively. He won’t test that well at the combine, hence the ‘slip’ to 26.
27. New Orleans Saints DE Stephon Tuitt Notre Dame After losing Will Smith, the Saints need to help Cam Jordan and provide some pass rush. You can bet that Rob Ryan will be petitioning ceaselessly to spend this pick on the defense, and he gets his prototypical defensive end. Tuitt has all the physical tools to be a star in this league, but he just needs to up his motor and be a bit nastier. Ryan can definitely teach him to do that.
28. Carolina Panthers WR Allen Robinson Penn State  Cam Newton needs receivers, especially with Steve Smith ageing, and Robinson is a well-rounded player who can do a lot of things well. He ran a full route tree in college, something many receivers in this Draft haven’t done, and his smarts combined with his body control, good speed and strength could make him an in-demand prospect.
29. New England Patriots TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins Washington I was loathe to mock a TE to the Pats in round 1, but in this scenario, there isn’t a pick that stands out as obvious. They would like some D-line, but there are concerns about many of the prospects available here: If Ra’Shede Hageman tests and interviews well, he could be the choice, but until he does, he has serious bust potential. So I’ve gone with the best TE left on the board. Seferian-Jenkins is a big, athletic target for Tom Brady and while he will have to work on his blocking, he has the frame to grow into an all-round TE role.
 30. San Francisco 49’ers CB Bradley Roby Ohio State Roby is someone who fits the hard-hitting, trash talking mould of a 49’ers defender, but just needs to keep on the straight and narrow, keeping focussed on his talents. He has the potential to be an excellent corner in the league with some great ball skills.
31. Denver Broncos CB Kyle Fuller Virginia Tech The Broncos really need help on the back end with ageing corners, corners who are injury prone and corners who just aren’t very good. Kyle Fuller is a pretty solid prospect at the position. Good speed and zone cover ability combined with durability and leadership equals a very solid contributor to a defense that struggled at times last year.
32. Seattle Seahawks DT/

DE

Aaron Donald Pittsburgh Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Tony McDaniel may all be gone from the SB Champs this spring, so they will have to restock their defensive line with some pass rush ability. Although he’s undersized for a regular DT, Aaron Donald is a guy with a high motor and a chip on his shoulder. He was impressive at the Senior Bowl and someone will take a chance on the man from Pittsburgh. Donald is a Pete Carroll style player: one who works hard to prove a point.

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