Free agency is a week old, but the heavy lifting is done. What teams can accomplish from here out until the draft is mostly fine-tuning, with only a few notable free agents left available and a handful of veterans who might remain on the trading block.
That doesn't mean that needs can't change on a dime, and there are still some medical issues that teams will want to clear up on a few notable players before setting their boards in stone. But rosters are starting to crystallize as we approach the May 8-10 draft. Compensatory picks will be added at the end of the month, which will change the landscape a bit, but most teams have a feel for how many picks they'll end up with and where they will be.
With that in mind, and most teams' draft grades approaching locked-in status, we thought we'd try our hand at a two-round mock draft. Hey, why not?
1. Houston Texans — South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
I believe Bill O’Brien would take a quarterback here if he felt there was an overwhelming favorite. In his mind, we think, there is not. O’Brien believes the defense lacks toughness, multiple sources around the Texans told Shutdown Corner. So could the Texans find a way to pry Vince Wilfork away from the Patriots on the cheap? That’s a deal that makes sense. Put Wilfork and J.J. Watt on either side of Clowney and let those veterans light a fire underneath the rookie. Romeo Crennel can act as father figure. I believe Crennel helped Dontari Poe mature in Kansas City and could do the same for Clowney. He’s the most dominant player in the draft when he’s motivated.
The surprise return of Rodger Saffold to the Rams initially had me rethinking this pick. But it doesn’t appear Saffold is coming back as a tackle. Saffold pinch hit late in the season at right guard, despite having not played much there, and the results were strong in a blowout of the Colts. Jeff Fisher might have seen enough in that one game to project a full-time change. "He made the switch last year, a difficult switch," Fisher said recently. "He was very, very productive inside. Our plan is to play him at guard as we continue to fill the pieces around him." So there you have it: Robinson at right tackle, despite the temptation and allure of projecting wide receiver Sammy Watkins here. But with Robinson, this O-line would be vastly improved and much better equipped to handle the rigors of NFC West pass rushers.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars — Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater
I had convinced myself, as recently as 10 days ago, that Khalil Mack was the play here. Gus Bradley, a defensive guy, wanted his “Leo” rush linebacker and Mack appeared a perfect fit. But their moves in free agency, which centered around strengthening the front seven, appear to nix this idea and (again) highlight the need for a strong-willed, athletic and determined quarterback. That’s Bridgewater, even with his blah pro day effort. Who cares, really? His intangibles might be his biggest strength, but he can sling the rock a little, too. The Jaguars want to be a play-action football team — power football setting up the downfield pass — and Bridgewater has gotten better on his deep touch and accuracy. This is a nice fit for a team that is going to surprise people next season.
4. Cleveland Browns — Central Florida QB Blake Bortles
This is a tough one. This is a pick that you’d think would have to be quarterback, but the Browns will keep you guessing as much as any team in the NFL. Their moves have been strange, interesting and unpredictable, and we’re talking about a first-year general manager and first-year head coach making a pick here. Ink is running dry in Cleveland these days. For now, it’s Bortles — an upside-driven pick at a need position, despite his tangible flaws.For what it’s worth, I don’t think Bortles should be the fourth pick in the draft. I just think he could be.
5. Oakland Raiders — Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
Even if Bortles were here, I believe the Raiders would pass on him. Their desire to treasure others’ trash — Matt Schaub, Mark Sanchez, et al — makes me think they are not in love with these rookie quarterbacks or that they’d much rather wait until Rounds 2 or 3 for one of them. Watkins makes sense because he can be a star, and as much as there is a need for offensive line help still, the feeling is that Jake Matthews might not be enough here to make them pull the trigger. (Plus, they are negotiating with left tackle Donald Penn.) It might be flawed thinking, but it’s the Raiders. We’re trying to put ourselves in their heads, not project what they should do.
6. Atlanta Falcons — Buffalo LB Khalil Mack
It’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie, basically saying, “Go sack the quarterback, kid.” But the Falcons could do it, having filled the pieces around him in a defense that has all the earmarks of switching to a base 3-4. The responsibilities will be similar for Mack to what he did in college, and there is some great tape out there (avert your eyes on the Bowling Green game, however) that shows he can be that edge terror. The Falcons can get their guy without moving up, and when you’re a 4-12 team you have multiple needs. You’re not just a player away. This is a good solution to remedy that.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — UCLA LB-DE Anthony Barr
Until Da’Quan Bowers proves himself, the Buccaneers are lacking a pass rush opposite new defensive end Michael Johnson. Barr might be able to play with his hand on the ground for the Bucs in this scheme or up as a pass-rushing strong-side backer. Both are needs in Tampa. He’s best in a 3-4 scheme standing up, but this is where I am going for now. Could tight end Eric Ebron land in this draft spot? Yes, especially as Lovie Smith thinks about what Greg Olsen should have done for him in Chicago and what Ebron could do inside, between exterior threats Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
8. Minnesota Vikings — Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
I can’t get the blinders off. I think about Manziel on the field with Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson, being coached by Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner, and I have to squint. It’s too bright, too much to take in. This is not a perfect fit, that Turner never has had to change his style for a quarterback’s skills as much as he would for Manziel. There is a chance that if Manziel falls past this point, he could float down to the 20s. But I also know that Zimmer might be the kind of red-ass coach who could get the most out of the young buck, and maybe even push the kid to new heights. It’s a fascinating prospect. The Vikings have solved other needs, including securing a worthy placeholder starting QB in Matt Cassel, and now they can roll the dice on greatness.
9. Buffalo Bills — Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews
This would be a home-run pick after, frankly, a B-minus free-agent period. I loved the Anthony Dixon signing, and Brandon Spikes and Corey Graham can help. But Chris Williams? Too expensive. One way to make about that signing would be to draft Matthews, a player Doug Marrone can appreciate and put to good use, making the entire line a better group in the process. Instant upgrade at right tackle and a 10-year starter waiting to happen. I like him better coming out than I did Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick last year.
10. Detroit Lions — Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
I don’t believe they think there is a safety worth taking here. And yet, having filled most of their pressing needs, almost every position is in play here now. The team talked up their young corners at the combine to the point where I don’t think they will take one here. That said, the Lions' brass also said it was “comfortable” with LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard at right tackle, and pardon me for calling the bluff. Adding Lewan toughens them up and puts Hilliard where he belongs: in the swing role. Remember, third tackles played a fair amount in New Orleans, and new coordinator Joe Lombardi wants to bring that Saints' blueprint to Detroit. The Lions could be building a devastating right-side combo with Lewan and Larry Warford.
11. Tennessee Titans — Auburn OLB-DE Dee Ford
Based on their questionable decision to sign Michael Oher to replace David Stewart at right tackle, we can eliminate that possibility here. (I had been mocking them Lewan for weeks, but that wouldn’t be possible in this scenario anyway.) So where is the pass rush coming from? I say they reach on Ford, a la the Seahawks taking Bruce Irvin at No. 16 in 2012. That’s not a direct parallel, as Ford is younger and likely has better upside. But as they transition, at least part of the time, to a 3-4, the need to find screamers off the edge rises. I don’t see Kameron Wimbley and Akeem Ayers filling that role. Derrick Morgan could stand up, or be down. Hard to say. But needless to say, this personnel right now screams 4-3.
12. New York Giants — North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
Prediction: A month from now, I will have Ebron going even higher. Ebron has Vernon Davis-like athleticism, and Davis, you might remember, was a fast riser in 2006, all the way up to No. 6. Ebron could go as high seventh. But if he falls here, he would be the perfect inside weapon for Eli Manning. The Giants have fallen back on a rent-a-TE approach that has produced OK results, but zero continuity at the position. This could change that, and new coordinator Ben McAdoo could do the same things with Ebron that the Packers did with Jermichael Finley.
13. St. Louis Rams — Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert
I don’t believe the Rams can live with Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson as their top two corners, and there’s a slot need with Cortland Finnegan gone. Gilbert fits the mold of a Rams corner: physically gifted, confident and, at times, immature. Jenkins might end up being best inside eventually, where he and Brandon McGee could vie for time. Gilbert is a better option here than the draft’s best safeties, who might be overhyped.
14. Chicago Bears — Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan
Having filled their end needs, the Bears look inside for more front-line help. I have been beating the Aaron Donald drum all season, and you could make the argument that he’d be the perfect fit given his penetration ability. It’s not as if Lamarr Houston and Willie Young have been or will be 13-sack producers; they might combine for that next season. But the gut feeling is that Jernigan’s strength and youth appeal to the Bears more considering how soft their defense was against the run a year ago. Those linebackers will have much clearer lanes to make plays, but it says here that Donald is the better player when it’s all said and done.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers — Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
The Steelers have promised Ben Roethlisberger more help — big help — at wide receiver that hasn’t been there in recent seasons. Throw in a declining Heath Miller, and the red-zone targets have been too few recently. Evans is a nice fit here opposite Antonio Brown, and both could average 4-6 catches per game in a balanced passing attack. The Steelers have been all over Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard, too, so that pick would make a lot of sense.
16. Dallas Cowboys — Pitt DT Aaron Donald
This is a great fit for a Rod Marinelli defense, and Donald could be the godsend this gutted front needs. The one drawback would be that Donald struggles against double teams, and with few other notable talents (yet) on that Cowboys’ line, it could be a long rookie season. But Donald’s white-hot motor and interior penetration skills could pay off in the long term. This would be a pick that could help this defense regain some respectability.
17. Baltimore Ravens — Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
Torrey Smith is the No. 1 outside, and Steve Smith will play a lot in the slot. Yes, they still need a right tackle, but Ozzie Newsome won’t see the value here in this scenario. Instead, he’ll take a chance on the immense upside of Benjamin, to whom few other receivers can match physically. Benjamin should be the guy whom everyone wanted Ed Dickson to be. What a difference a year should make in the Ravens’ passing game, if the protection is better up front.
18. New York Jets — LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr.
They still could find a speed receiver — maybe DeSean Jackson if he comes free — to complement Eric Decker and whatever else they are counting on at the position. Beckham is a more polished receiver than Benjamin, and he can help fill in the Jets' gaps. Geno Smith needs a receiver who can catch a short pass and gain yards after the catch. Although Beckham was not asked to do this a lot at LSU, his skills suggests he very well can.
19. Miami Dolphins — Notre Dame OT-OG Zack Martin
The reshaping of the Dolphins’ offensive line has begun, and this move would represent an upgrade over what they currently have at either right guard or right tackle. Martin might not have the arm length to be an ideal tackle or the experience at guard, but he possesses the quick feet, work ethic and leadership qualities to be a success. That’s what the Dolphins need up front in the wake of the hazing mess: accountable, hard-working and hard-hitting linemen.
20. Arizona Cardinals — Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard
It makes a lot of sense to project strong-armed QB Derek Carr here, but we can’t help but think that the Cardinals — if they do not sign Antonio Cromartie, that is — will want to protect themselves against Patrick Peterson’s future contract situation and Tyrann Mathieu's rehab from an ACL injury. Beyond that, Dennard fits the type of gritty, press-man corner that Todd Bowles can use.
21. Green Bay Packers — Louisville S Calvin Pryor
This pick would please Packers fans, who have been on a winterlong safety-foraging mission, which almost makes me think it’s not the player Ted Thompson will pick. (Only a slight joke there.) But with the Packers re-signing B.J. Raji, and adding Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion, the front has been addressed. Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley certainly would be tempting, and the Packers seldom reach for a need. But Pryor is a tone setter who would rattle a few cages in a division that has some big, talented receivers.
22. Philadelphia Eagles — Alabama S Hasean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix
The Eagles don’t play a true strong and free safety; they are seeking interchangeable parts at the position in order to be flexible and help disguise coverages and pre-snap intentions. Clinton-Dix has the range, length and instincts to play opposite Malcolm Jenkins and form a far more formidable duo than the team had at any point last season.
23. Kansas City Chiefs — Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks
The Chiefs could stand to trade down and help make up for the lost second-rounder from the Alex Smith trade. They have plenty of needs, especially on the offensive line, which lost three contributors in free agency, and at safety, too. But if they stay here, the Chiefs might not pass up a speedster such as Cooks, who could inject some life into the passing game and help pull that eighth defender out of the box and away from injury-prone Jamaal Charles.
24. Cincinnati Bengals — TCU CB Jason Verrett
The Bengals’ two biggest losses this offseason were defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive tackle Anthony Collins, and both of their vacated spots could use some outside reinforcements. But Verrett is an active, ballhawking and instinctive pest of a slot corner who could spruce up an aging secondary. His scrappy style would fit beautifully in the rough-and-tumble AFC North.
25. San Diego Chargers — Notre Dame NT Louis Nix III
Cam Thomas moved on, leaving the biggest hole in the middle of the Chargers’ defense. Yes, the secondary can use some help, and the tight salary-cap situation has made it tough to add players on the back end. But you don’t play the 3-4 defense and invest heavily in your two inside linebackers if you can’t shield blockers in front of them. Nix would be a good fit for the role with his mass (331 pounds) and strength, and his penetrative abilities would be a good fit for John Pagano’s defense — that is, if Nix has proven to the Chargers he can take on double teams.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts) — Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Lost amid the call for offensive help at several spots is the fact that corner remains a burning need. Leon McFadden struggled mightily when called on, and the Browns currently don’t know who can step up opposite Joe Haden. There was talk they were in on Darrelle Revis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, so it wouldn’t be wild to project Roby here. He’s a field-fast, tough corner who is scheme-diverse and not afraid of big matchups, even with some warts in his game.
27. New Orleans Saints — Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller
In a division with Vincent Jackson and Julio Jones, and with games this season against A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Michael Crabtree, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Josh Gordon, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant (!!!), the Saints will need all the defensive back help they can get. It doesn’t hurt that Fuller has long arms, decent height, good foot speed and a competitive spirit. He would need all of that with those matchups.
28. Carolina Panthers — USC WR Marqise Lee
Lee isn’t as special as his junior season would lead us to believe, and he’s not as bad as he was through stretches last season. He’s somewhere in between — a competitive, adequately sized run-after-the-catch threat who plays as fast as he times. Lee is not a blazer and doesn’t have the moxie of Steve Smith but would be an excellent target who can work through traffic to put up good numbers, even though health could always be a worry.
29. New England Patriots — Missouri DE Kony Ealy
I almost got cute here and projected a quarterback … to another team, of course, as the Patriots’ annual trade-down tradition continues. But let’s keep it simple: The Patriots need another edge player, and Ealy’s ability to kick inside on passing downs makes him the type of versatile disruptor that Bill Belichick seeks.
30. San Francisco 49ers — Minnesota DE-NT Ra’Shede Hageman
Big, enigmatic and strong as an ox, Hageman fits the physical mold of what the 49ers would seek up front. Although this group needs to get younger on the whole, Hageman wouldn’t need to be overburdened at first unless Justin Smith got hurt. Hageman might actually be best inside, using his long arms to disrupt passing lanes, and he might not be called on for more than nickel duty as a rookie. But in time, he could develop into something special.
31. Denver Broncos — Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
This would be a dream scenario. In terms of pure football talent, Mosley might be a top-10 player. But positional needs and fits could drop him into the lower third of the first round, and this would be an ideal fit for a defense that was weak inside with Paris Lenon last season. Mosley would add a new dimension of instincts, toughness and hitting ability to the position and prevent the team from signing a veteran or promoting backup Nate Irving to the starting lineup. This would be a steal for a team looking to put it all together now defensively.
32. Seattle Seahawks — Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio
The Seahawks are not afraid to gamble and go against the grid with their first-round draft picks, and Kouandjio — despite his obvious, raw talent — would fit into that category because of his questionable medical condition and his less-than-inspiring 2013 season. But the team was in trouble when starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini went down around midseason, and Giacomini has signed with the Jets last week. It’s time to develop a power player such as Kouandjio, who has some of the longest arms in this draft class and could be a bulldozer in the run game for years to come.
33. Houston Texans — Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Being patient pays off. They get their quarterback to groom in Bill O’Brien’s rhythm passing game.
34. Washington Redskins — Virginia OT Morgan Moses
Jay Gruden would like more size up front, and he wants a healthy RG3. Local kid Moses would start from Day 1.
35. Cleveland Browns — UCLA OG Xavier Su’a-Filo
Right guard remains wide open, and the charismatic and athletic Su’a-Filo would be a great building block inside.
36. Oakland Raiders — Fresno State QB Derek Carr
If the Raiders can pair Carr and Watkins, their offseason would look a lot better after an awful start.
37. Atlanta Falcons — Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
The Falcons still want to land some big blockers up front, but they can’t pass on Tony Gonzalez’s replacement.
38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — LSU WR Jarvis Landry
Don’t be thrown off by Landry’s pedestrian 40 times. He could be for the Bucs what Mario Manningham was to the Giants a few years ago.
39. Jacksonville Jaguars — Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort
Big, strapping, feisty right tackle to help anchor the run game and fit right in on this ascending team.
40. Minnesota Vikings — Stanford OG David Yankey
They must improve over Charlie Johnson. Yankey fits the Vikings' mold of a big-school power player.
41. Buffalo Bills — Northern Illinois S Jimmie Ward
Ward isn’t the hitter that former Lions safety Louis Delmas was coming out but fits the Jim Schwartz style of aggression and confidence.
42. Tennessee Titans — Auburn RB Tre Mason
A one-cut runner who could take the place of Chris Johnson as the go-go back to Shonn Greene’s power.
43. New York Giants — Notre Dame DT Stephon Tuitt
More Chris Canty than Linval Joseph, Tuitt nonetheless fills a need and is a first-round-caliber player who was beset by injury.
44. St. Louis Rams — Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
Scouts are split on his upside, but this SEC battle-tested receiver won’t be scared by battles with NFC West secondaries.
45. Detroit Lions — Clemson CB Bashaud Breeland
Another early round corner? Why not? Chris Houston turns 30, and neither Darius Slay nor Bill Bentley has proven anything yet.
46. Pittsburgh Steelers — Nebraska CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
The Steelers need length and youth at corner to match up with WRs Josh Gordon, Torrey Smith and A.J. Green.
47. Dallas Cowboys — Boise State DE Demarcus Lawrence
This would be a steal who could team with Aaron Donald to give the Cowboys another 1-2 punch up front.
48. Baltimore Ravens — USC C Marcus Martin
The Ravens know they have to get better inside, and Martin looks like he holds up well against bulky nose tackles.
49. New York Jets — Florida State CB Lamarcus Joyner
The type of player Rex Ryan can’t help but draft. Might be forced to play corner now but he'll be a safety down the road.
50. Miami Dolphins — Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde
The Dolphins want to run downhill, and Hyde is a major upgrade over Daniel Thomas.
51. Chicago Bears — Florida CB Marcus Roberson
Perfect understudy to Peanut Tillman, who can instill work ethic in Roberson and get him ready for 2015 starting duty.
52. Arizona Cardinals — LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
The kind of golden-armed quarterback Bruce Arians cannot pass up at this stage of the draft.
53. Green Bay Packers — Fresno State WR Davante Adams
This Michael Crabtree-esque flanker could be a steal in the range where Ted Thompson has unearthed gems.
54. Philadelphia Eagles — Oregon State OLB Scott Crichton
Chip Kelly gladly will put aside Civil War allegiance to land this strong-side, ball-stripping edge player.
55. Cincinnati Bengals — Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier
He’s perhaps best on the weak side, but Vontaze Burfict always can switch inside if Shazier proves worthy.
56. San Francisco 49ers (from Chiefs) — Mississippi WR Donte Moncrief
This physical marvel has some serious upside and might be the sleeper of this extremely deep receiver group.
57. San Diego Chargers — Utah CB Keith McGill
A reach perhaps, but long corners are all the rage and he’d help combat the big AFC West wideouts.
58. New Orleans Saints — Stanford OLB Trent Murphy
Stack him over Cameron Jordan’s outside shoulder and let this natural born leader produce for Rob Ryan.
59. Indianapolis Colts — Washington State S Deone Bucannon
LaRon Landry will keep breaking down as he approaches 30, and Bucannon can help fill the physical void.
60. Carolina Panthers — Tennessee OT Antonio Richardson
As bad as their receiving corps is, the offensive line isn’t much better. Massive, powerful college left tackle needs technique work.
61. San Francisco 49ers — Colorado State C Weston Richburg
Center stands as one of the few immediate worries, and Richburg could beat Daniel Kilgore for a starting gig.
62. New England Patriots — Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas
Gronkowski knockoff might need a little refinement in his game, but he has the physical skills to eventually wow.
63. Denver Broncos — Clemson OG Brandon Thomas
Left guard remains unclaimed, and don’t put it past this dependable college left tackle to win that job.
64. Seattle Seahawks — Clemson WR Martavis Bryant
Few receivers have his natural gifts. Are we looking at Sidney Rice Jr. here?
Other possible top 64 picks:
Alabama QB A.J. McCarron; West Virginia RB Charles Sims; Washington RB Bishop Sankey; Colorado WR Paul Richardson; Penn State WR Allen Robinson; Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins; Nevada OT-OG Joel Bitonio; Tennessee OT Ja’Wuan James; North Dakota OT Billy Turner; Baylor OG Cyril Richardson; Mississippi State OG Gabe Jackson; Arkansas DE Chris Smith; Texas DE Jackson Jeffcoat; Louisville DE Marcus Smith; Florida DT Dominique Easley; Arizona State DT Will Sutton; Princeton DT Caraun Reid; BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy; Georgia Tech OLB Jeremiah Attaochu; Florida State LB Telvin Smith; Florida CB Louchiez Purifoy; Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir; South Carolina CB Victor Hampton; Wyoming CB-FS Marqueston Huff; Florida State S Terrence Brooks; LSU S Craig Loston
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