Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Reloading the Musket: 2014 Mock Draft, Volume 2 - Free Agent Frenzy Edition

Mock drafts are a waste of time and effort.

But contrary to what the late, great actor James Gammon quipped so eloquently in the iconic baseball cinema epic Major League, "I'm for wasting sportswriters' time", sportswriters put out mock drafts to waste your time...

...and if they piss you off while they're at it, so much the better - just so long as your mouse click registers as a page view, they have done exactly what they set out to do. Bitch and whine all you want, call them lazy plagiarists, half-wit morons and bombastic megalo-maniacs, because you clicked on the link and took the ride, so you deserve to offer your opinion.

Most learned long ago to not even bother reading the comments, dismissing them as an unfortunate bi-product of the hatred that their superior intellect elicits from their subjects - nothing well-meaning or constructive, just a bunch of opinionated yahoos who become angry because the player that the writer mocked to their team isn't who they think it should be.

Be that as it may, many fans draw their knowledge of the process by composing subconscious mocks based on what they see on the websites, so the writers recognize that they have an obligation to have a working knowledge of team deficiencies and needs, taking into account the trends and habits of the various general managers, coaches and the odd-owner that tries to get involved...

...which is bullshit, of course.  At this point of the offseason, most are still trying to be cute - but now that free agency has trimmed down to second tier players, the teams will be entering the draft with their needs pretty much obvious.

In this first sequel of our mock draft, much stayed the same from the original as some teams were unable to address their greatest needs in free agency either because of limited cap space or because no one wants to play for them (insert your own Rex Ryan pun here)...

...and still others have changed because of abysmal showings at their school's "Pro Day", which is cause for concern when you can't impress scouts with everything set up just how you like it - regardless, some of the names on the original, such as Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor and Jace Amaro have disappeared due to either incompetence or to losing out on the numbers game while others have benefited from increased demand.

In the case of the Patriots, with Amaro dropping like a stone they may be able to make a move up into the middle of the second round to snag the tight end that many had projected to be their first round selection - but we are still seven weeks shy of Draft weekend, so everyone's mock draft is fluid.

1. Houston - Jadeveon Clowney, DE. South Carolina

It certainly sounds as if the Texans are planning to do everything they can to avoid picking a quarterback with the first overall selection in the draft, but Mark Sanchez? With no sure-fire franchise signal caller in the draft, the Texans take the top rated player in the draft to team with JJ Watts to give them the most imposing pair of bookend pass rushers in the NFL.  A Quarterback?  They'll take Jimmy Garappolo with the first pick in the second round.

Original projection: Clowney

2. St. Louis - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Unabashedly, the Rams are dangling the #2 overall pick in front of quarterback hungry teams willing to give up a boat load of picks as compensation - but it seems that the excitement surrounding the top three quarterback prospects has waned a bit with either poor combine showings, or not working out at all - so the Rams' status of having the second pick is a bit fluid.

On paper, this team has it all, everywhere except along the offensive line.  If they stay at #2, they take the top rated tackle in the draft second overall, than address a need for a field stretching wide receiver at #13.

Original projection: Robinson

3. Jacksonville - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

The Jaguars are a mess, but they're not as bad off as they were at this point last season due to the drafting of Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, who protected the blind side of manic quarterback Johnny Manziel - and who has spoken on record that he believes that his former teammate belongs in northern Florida. The Jaguars insist that they are not targeting a quarterback, but they lie.

"Johnny Football" becomes "Johnny Jaguar" and gives the Jaguars their franchise quarterback - not to mention putting butts in the seats at EverBank Field - right now, that's what it's all about for the floundering Jags...

Original projection: Manziel

4. Cleveland - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

New Browns' bench boss Mike Pettine is apparently enamoured with brief 2013 starter Brian Hoyer and says that he's the top guy going into the offseason process - and while things change in a hurry in the NFL, for the moment it sounds like he won't take a QB with the #4 overall.

Cleveland follows the lead of the Texans and grabs the most explosive playmaker in the draft and waits until #26 to snag their franchise quarterback, who will have the luxury of being able to use his huge arm to throw to both Watkins and Josh Gordon, then solidifies their line with guard David Yankey in the second round.

Original projection: Watkins

5. Oakland - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

The rumor mill has the Raiders interested in swapping quarterbacks with the Texans and bringing Texans' fans' punching bag Matt Schwab to Oakland in exchange for Matt McGloin, who quarterbacked for new Texans' coach Bill O'Brien at Penn State.

Whatever the case, the primary concern with any signal caller is to protect him, and the Raiders tried to spend major money on their tackle positions in free agency, Bringing in Austin Howard from the Jets and Roger Saffold from the Rams, but Saffold somehow managed to fail his physical and reverted back to the Rams, so the Raiders look to the best tackle available in the draft.

Original projection: Teddy Bridgewater.  Bridgewater calls himself a perfectionist, saying that he would not throw at the combine because he wanted to throw to his own guys back on the campus of Louisville on his Pro Day in mid-March - citing chemistry and that "You want to be with your guys to have that timing and that connection"...but when he did it was a monumental disaster.  Bridgewater may fall out of the first round with that weak performance.

6. Atlanta - Kahlil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

Jadeveon Clowney all but begged the Falcons to trade up to the top pick of the draft to select him - but that's going to take some draft capital that the Falcons can't afford to part with, and the Falcons have already pretty much played that hand out in free agency by spending big bucks on their defensive line.

With both of the top offensive tackles off the board, the Falcons have some decisions to make as far as draft value - do they take the next best offensive lineman, or wait until the second round and take a pass rushing terror to continue their defensive overhaul?  The bet here is that they won't be able to pass on Mack.

Original projection: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

7. Tampa Bay - Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

The biggest need in Tampa is for an edge rusher, and short of Jadeveon Clowney slipping to the Buccaneers at seven - which wouldn't happen in even the strangest of parallel dimensions -  Barr is the guy, whether the new regime has a stongside linebacker spot waiting for him or they need him to bulk up to play with his hand in the dirt.

The Buccaneers with Lovie Smith appear to be in full rebuilding mode, as they have dismantled their offensive line and dumped major salaries across the board, and also have brought in Smith favorite Josh McCown to call signals under center so there is work to do everywhere and nothing should surprise Bucs' fans on draft weekend.

Original projection: Barr

8. Minnesota - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida 

Bortles has climbed most mock drafts all the way to the top pick of the draft, but this quarterback class has it's share of mystery and certainly no locks to be a success - and with a talent evaluator's charge being to find the guy that give the offense the best chance of succeeding, the Vikings would have to be considered a perfect destination for Bortles.

Classic pocket quarterback that can balance the Vikings' offense and with the play action talent to take advantage of the attention that defense pays to their running game - and the big hands that you want your quarterback to have when you go to places like Green Bay and Chicago in the middle of the freaking winter.

Original projection: Bortles

9. Buffalo - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

When approached on the matter of trying to resign tight end Scott Chandler, coach Doug Marone was less than enthusiastic in his response, telling reporters that it was a matter for team management, not him - not exactly a ringing endorsement, yet they re-signed him anyway.

Without a doubt, the fastest and most versatile tight end in the draft is an immediate upgrade over the plodding, yet effective Chandler - which is more an indication of Ebron's skill than any thing to do with the serviceable Chandler and immediately gives quarterback E.J. Manuel a solid safety valve in the middle of the field and a huge, athletic target in the red zone.

The Bills lost free safety Jarius Byrd in free agency, so it would not surprise to see them go for the best safety in the class to replace him, though it sounds as if the coaching staff is counting on strong safety Aaron Williams to make the switch.

Original projection: Ebron

10. Detroit - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M 

The Lions desperately need a big, fast wideout to take some heat off of Megatron, and the speedy Evans can do just that. At a rangy 6' 5" and a sturdy 231 pounds and the longest arms of any receiver in the draft class, the only question the Lions needed answered was what manner of straight line speed Evans brings - and he ran a respectable 4.53 at the combine.

Don't be fooled by the Lions acquisition of Seattle's Golden Tate, who at 5' 10" projects into more of a slot role.  The team needs Evans.

Original projection: Evans

11. Tennessee - Aaron Donald, DT/DE Pittsburgh

A defensive end is what the defense really needs along with a violent safety - and the speedy and large Donald could represent one very big piece to an evolving monstrous defense in Nashville.  A relentless pass rusher off the edge and on the interior, Donald is a once in a decade freak that the Titans will not pass on if he drops to 11.

Original projection: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

12. New York Giants - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Lewan's got a questionable reputation coming out of college, being linked (in name only) to a couple of indiscretions on the campus of the University of Michigan, but he did his best at the combine to quell the talk and stop the rumor mill - did he say enough to keep the Giants enticed?

This is need number one for the Giants, protecting Eli Manning's blind side.

Original projection: Lewan

13. St. Louis - Marquis Lee, WR, USC

The Rams used the second pick to protect Sam Bradford's blind side...giving him time so he can throw to Marquis Lee down the field.  See how that works?

And while Lee didn't wow anyone with his combine 40 time, when coupled with his solid hands and the fact that he looked fluid in and out of his cuts while dealing with a sore knee that limited him in the latter parts of his 2013 season, his toughness may have even raised his draft stock a bit.

Original projection: Lee

14. Chicago - Hasean Clinton-Dix, SS, Alabama

With the passing attacks that the Bears have to face in the NFC North, not to mention a couple of pretty good running backs, the Bears just can't continue to rely on patchwork in the safety positions any longer.  In Clinton-Dix, Chicago gets a free safety that can cover deep or underneath and has some man press abilities.  He's not the most physical of safeties, but his speed and lateral quickness could work wonders.

Original projection: Clinton-Dix

15. Pittsburgh - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Ike Taylor fell apart in the second half of last season and carries a cap hit equivalent to what the franchise tag offers, and the Steelers just can't afford it. Releasing Taylor for cap relief is probable, and even if they somehow manage to retain him, he's 33 years old with a lot of wear on his tires.

As fluid a corner as you'll find in the draft, the Steelers will snatch up Dennard in a heartbeat if he's there for them at 15.

Original projection: Dennard

16. Dallas -Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

How disappointed would the Cowboys be that Aaron Donald had already been snatched up by this point?

After already letting their entire interior defensive line get away in free agency, the Cowboys' hands are tied - they absolutely must draft a defensive tackle that fits their scheme.

Original projection: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

17. Baltimore - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

How perfect was Anquan Boldin for the Baltimore Ravens' offense?  Well, good enough to take a stab at another big, reasonably fast possession receiver - and the Ravens should be a top destination for Benjamin regardless of the Steve Smith signing.

Benjamin is a beastly cross between the storied Ravens' possession receiver and a move-type tight end and will undoubtedly draw plenty of attention away from Torey Smith on the other side of the field - and at 6' 5" and 240 pounds and huge hands, he could be a natural insurance policy should tight end Dennis Pitta either not be retained or get injured.

Original projection: Benjamin

18. New York Jets - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Poor Rex Ryan.  He can't get anyone to sign with the Jets outside of the over-rated money grabber Eric Decker from the Broncos.  But at least Decker fills that need, but the fact that Ryan had to cut his best remaining cornerback while banking on picking up a top DB in free agency blew up in his face.

Now he has little choice but to take the best man cover corner in the draft in Justin Gilbert.

Gilbert is a high-wire act, taking incredulous risks and relying on his his range and athleticism to get him by if his plans backfire - but a solid man corner with a nose for the ball, and while he isn't overly aggressive or physical at the point of contact, his risky style leads to some spectacular plays and with a little NFL coaching, he could be the outside shut-down corner of the immediate future in this defense.

Original projection: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU

19. Miami - Zack Martin, T/G, Notre Dame

It requires zero brains to realize that dysfunctional Miami needs to rebuild an offensive line torn apart by scandal last season, and Martin could wind up being the binding agent that brings it all together.  While not as accomplished as a Matthews or a Robinson, he is far more versatile and can play every position along the line - though his best spot would probably be holding down Richie Incognito's old left guard position.

Original projection: Martin

20. Arizona - Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

The Cardinals got a lot out of greybeard John Abraham last season, but they would be wise to lock up a young defensive end for Abraham to mentor.  Ealy has some positional versatility and can rush the quarterback from the blind side from an end position or from a standing weakside linebacker position.

Original projection: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

21. Green Bay - CJ Mosely, ILB, Alabama

The Packers need many things, but for their defense to take a step up to the next level, the front seven must be stabalized.  They took steps in free agnecy to do just that by signing Julius Peppers and re-signing OLB Mike Neal.  Neal can play anywhere in front seven but his best posiotion with Green Bay is on the outside, which mean the need for an interior linebacker is key.

There's nothing spectacular about his game and he is rated as high as a top 10 pick in some mocks to as low at the top of the second round in others, so it's more or less a crap shoot with Mosely - but less so with Green Bay, surrounded by top notch outside backers and a stout defensive line.

Original projection: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

22. Philadelphia -Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

An interesting prospect that would be among the highest rated tackles in the draft were he more consistent.  He's explosive in getting into the backfield, and when rushing the passer he can shoot through gaps or simply pull his man to the ground and run over him, but he is a project when it comes to the running game, his length working against him as shorter guards can get under his pads.

Not a bad pick in this spot for an Eagles' team that values mobile and versatile linemen in their defensive scheme.

Original projection: Calvin Pryor, SS, Louisville

23. Kansas City - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

Speed is what Andy Reid needs.  Actually, what Reid needs is some consistency, and with the explosive Dexter McCluster probably on his way out of town, it leaves just Dwayne Bowe and the wildly inconsistent Donnie Avery for Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith to throw to on the outside and down the field.

Enter the appropriately named Cooks, who absolutely burned up the field at Lucas Oil Stadium during the combine with an overall best 4.33 on the 40 yard dash, coupled with him going for over 1,700 yards and catching 16 touchdowns in an incredibly average Oregon State offense and winning The Bilitnikof Award for the nation's best receiver...

Original projection: Cooks

24. Cincinnati -Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

The Bengals needs are very simple: they need some help at offensive tackle, maybe at guard depending on how things shake out in a seemingly fluid situation - and also at corner, where Terrence Newman is getting a little long in the tooth and Dre Kirkpatrick is not the successor.

In this instance, Fuller gives the team some versatility as he is a scrapper that has extensive collegiate experience at both inside and outside techniques as a corner and at safety as well.  He could be the Swiss Army Knife on the back end of the Bengals' defense.

Original projection:  Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

25. San Diego - Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Verrett is the intense, twitchy guy that would be the pest on a hockey team - smallish, talkative, always buzzing around your head, just waiting for the opportunity to drop the gloves...

The TCU product is smallish in stature but big in confidence and attitude, a perfect combination for a nickle slot back - his athleticism and natural football instincts allow him to be exceptional in space and he is willing in run support - a perfect addition to an over-achieving team.

Original projection: Verrett

26. Cleveland - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

So now Cleveland has Josh Gordon and Sammy Watkins and a truly great offensive line - they also have Brian Hoyer at quarterback, who will play the part of "incumbent" to the strong-armed rookie and let the chips fall where they may.

Ideally, Carr would win a quarterback competition (isn't that what you would expect from your first round pick?) and have one of the most able backups in the NFL in Hoyer, just in case.

Original projection: Carr

27. New Orleans - Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

Ideally, the Saints could use a good cover corner, but the best ones are off the board by this time.  The Saints are pretty lean on pass rushers as well, and Ford is the best athlete left on the board in an area of need.

Ford is undersized for defensive end, but is perfectly sized for either the nickle rusher in Rob Ryan's defense or at weak side.  He is strong at setting the edge and for holding containment.

Original projection: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

28. Carolina - Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

The Panthers have an emergency need at wide receiver and some help along the offensive line, but all of the elite talent has already been scooped up - so a question to ask themselves is if they reach for a second round talent in an area of need, trade out of the round and pick up draft capital for the second day or take the best athlete left on the board?

At this point Robinson would be a decent pick as a bigger receiver who has a knack for making himself available as a safety valve type possession receiver who picks up the majority of his yardage after the catch.  He's not a burner by any means, but gets constant separation and works the middle of the field like a tight end - and is also a willing downfield blocker in the mold of recently departed receiver Brandon LaFell.

Original projection: Robinson

29. New England - Ryan Shazier, LB/SS, Ohio State

The need here is for a nickle rusher as well as a physical intimidator underneath the coverage - and Shazier could be both.

Small for a linebacker at 6' 2" and 235 pounds, Shazier was the fastest linebacker in the nation the past two seasons, easily covering running backs and tight ends in the pattern underneath with a penchant for causing cases of alligator arms amongst them - he was a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, and anyone who saw Ronnie Lott play for the 49ers knows what "impact" means.

An accomplished blitzer who hits like a brick wall, coupled with being one of the best sideline-to-sideline talents in college football, Shazier projects as a big nickle who would also provide quality depth on the weak side - a cover backer with his safety skill and range, as well as being an explosive pass rusher, Shazier would complete the back seven picture for the Patriots' defense.

Original projection: Shazier

30. San Francisco -O'Dell Beckham, WR, LSU

Beckham can flat out fly, and plays even faster than his 4.3 forty time suggests.  his greatest advantage of playing in the 49ers' system is that his strengths lie in his solid route running, sticky fingers and creativity and illusiveness after the catch.

San Francisco is loaded with short-area play makers, and Beckham would add another dimension to an offense that gets bogged down when defenses can take away their short passing game.

Original projection: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

31. Denver - Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

Perhaps a reach in the first round, but Denver has a need for a corner opposite newly signed Aqib Talib with Rogers-Cromartie turning down many dollars from the Broncos and bolting for the Giants.

What may end up happening is that Denver could move up or down the board - up to take a stab at Mosely or Shazier to bolster their linebacking corps, or down to get better currency out of their draft picks.

Original projection: CJ Mosely, ILB, Alabama

32. Seattle - Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

Big, rangy, incredible hands - a true all-around tight end who can line up next to the tackle and block in the running game and can also stretch the seam in the pattern - but questions about his maturity and a fractured bone in his foot that may or may not heal before training camp drives down Sefarian-Jenkins value as a first rounder, and the Seahawks snag him.

It might be that the off-field issues and the foot injury doesn't bother other teams that are desperate for an athletic freak of a pass catcher, but chances are that if Seattle doesn't take him here, he becomes a better value somewhere on the second day.

Original projection: Seferian-Jenkins

For those that are interested, other players who would fit in well with New England later in the draft:

Corners: Keith McGill, Utah; Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska; Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Tight ends: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech;Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa; Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State
Receivers: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Martavis Bryant, Clemson
Centers: Weston Richburg, Colorado State; Bryan Stork, Florida State; Tyler Larsen, Utah State
Guards: Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA; Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State; Dakota Dozier, Furman
Defensive Tackle: Dominique Easley, Florida; DaQuan Jones, Penn State; Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
Safety: Jimmy Ward, Northern Illinois; Ed Reynolds, Stanford; Tre Boston, North Carolina
Quarterback: Zach Mettenberger, LSU; A. J. McCarron, Alabama; Tom Savage, Pitt; Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

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