The withdrawal phase has officially begun. It's not like there is nothing else in the sports world to keep me entertained, but after spending so much time and effort on analyzing the draft for weeks....the comedown is hard. I know what's best for me is to just relax, unwind, enjoy my summer vacation, and feel satisfaction in the fact that the Cardinals are the best team in baseball. But dammit, I like all of you, so I'm not going to do that. Instead, at the risk of my own mental health, I will bring you a totally not too early first version of my 2014 NFL Mock Draft.
1. Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney/DE (South Carolina)
This is tricky. Clowney is undoubtedly the top prospect in the class and does fill a need for the Raiders, but it's also going to be tough for the Raiders to pass up on the strong group of quarterbacks near the top. Realistically, I imagine the Raiders fielding calls from teams for the #1 spot. If they can trade down and still be inside the top 10 or so, they can still take a guy like David Fales or A.J. McCarron and get a bevy of extra picks from the resulting bidding war. However, it would still make sense if the Raiders stayed put and drafted Clowney, the best end prospect in quite some time.
2. Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater/QB (Louisville)
This is a good situation for Jacksonville, and seems to be the one they've been aiming for all along. The new FO isn't stupid; they probably passed on taking a QB early in 2013 because they realize that in all likelihood the 2014 QB crop is much better than the one in 2013. Bridgewater is at the top of that group as of now. With an outstanding arm and solid mobility, he appears to be the ideal quarterback in today's NFL. If Jacksonville is serious about turning around the culture of losing, Bridgewater is a great piece to build around.
3. Jets: Marqise Lee/WR (USC)
It's reasonable to assume that the Jets will go BPA once again due to lack of talent on their roster, but they find themselves in a predicament. The top guys at this juncture (Tajh Boyd, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan) don't really make any sense for them. Right tackle will be a need, but that would be a waste of Matthews or Lewan's talent and a waste of a pick since they could get a right tackle later. So, the Jets here reach slightly for the dynamic receiver Lee. Players like Lee are at a premium today, and while he fits the 6-10 range better, you couldn't knock the Jets for bringing him in to instantly make the talent around Geno Smith more potent.
4. Browns: Tajh Boyd/QB (Clemson)
This is a very intriguing quarterback class. Bridgewater is the clear top right now, but then it's a jumble of about 4 or 5 guys vying for the #2 spot. Right now Boyd is the guy I like the most. He seems to always be forgotten in the conversation of great college players, but Boyd is one of the best quarterbacks out there. The Browns by this point will be in the position where they will be needing to take a new quarterback or feel the ire of the city of Cleveland. Boyd would be a good long-term solution that the Browns have needed for quite some time.
5. Bills: Jake Matthews/OT (Texas A&M)
The Bills need to build around E.J. Manuel if they want him to succeed, and while Robert Woods is a good start, they could stand to have a better cornerstone left tackle. While there is a logjam for the top offensive tackle spot between Matthews, Taylor Lewan, and Cyrus Kouandjio, I feel like Matthews' upside and pedigree will to him winning out.
6. Titans: Johnny Manziel/QB (Texas A&M)
My prediction is that if he decides to enter the draft, the saga of Johnny Football's draft stock is going to be dominant in the draft media next year. A couple years ago, Manziel might have been screwed as far as going this high is concerned. One guy, though, has indirectly saved him: Russell WIlson. WIlson found immediate success despite being as short as he is because the Seahawks were willing to develop their offense to fit his skill set. Manziel's height should not be much of an issue to GMs. He is taller than Russell WIlson and barely shorter than Robert Griffin. For a team considering using a read-option type offense, they will be drooling over Manziel, as his athleticism is a fit, and his upside is arguably even higher than Wilson or Colin Kaepernick. 2013 is going to be the make or break year for Jake Locker, and while I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that he fails, I think that outcome is more likely. An offense featuring Manziel and Chris Johnson is a scary thought for NFL defenses.
7. Eagles: Sammy Watkins/WR (Clemson)
It's tempting to give the Eagles another quarterback, and if Johnny Manziel is there that temptation is even higher. However, even with David Fales and A.J. McCarron there, I'm hesitant to say that they give up on both Nick Foles and Matt Barkley after year one. Chip Kelly probably indeed wants "his guy," but the Eagles will probably be patient enough to give his group another year, and if they fail, Marcus Mariota will probably be there in 2015. It's also tempting to give them De'Anthony Thomas, but I'm not sure his stock will be high enough to go 7. Watkins, however, is also extremely dynamic. Jeremy Maclin will be a free agent next year and if the Eagles let him walk, Watkins would be an excellent X-factor for the Eagles offense.
8. Chargers: Taylor Lewan/OT (Michigan)
The Chargers drafted D.J. Fluker, but have no long-term plan at left tackle. Unless they give up on Philip Rivers next year and aim for one of the top quarterbacks, they really need to snag one of the top 3 tackles. They luck out with Lewan sitting there. Had Lewan entered the draft this year, it's highly likely he could have been the first overall pick.
9. Cardinals: Cyrus Kouandjio/OT (Alabama)
Speaking of teams who need to need to take a top left tackle: The Cardinals have worked to revamp their offensive line, but still could use a true cornerstone to protect the blindside. I have Kouandjio ranked behind Matthews and Lewan because he has less experience, but from a pure talent standpoint is an absolute monster who could solve Arizona's problem with holding off the pass rushers of the NFC West.
10. Chiefs: Stephon Tuitt/DE (Notre Dame)
The Chiefs have done a lot to overhaul their roster, but still have not completely solved the issue of the bust status of Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson. Thus, they will likely look into a long-term answer at 3-4 DE. The Notre Dame defensive line is shaping up to be an NFL factory, and Tuitt is among the best of them right now.
11. Buccaneers: Anthony Barr/OLB (UCLA)
This would be a hard pick to pass up for the Bucs. Barr, a former running back, is a rising star in college football. It's yet to be seen what the Bucs' quarterback situation will be next year with Josh Freeman as a free agent, but a top-tier linebacker would be a great addition. Barr can fit into both the mold of an outside linebacker in the 3-4 or 4-3 and can do a lot of different things. A linebacking corps consisting of Barr, Mason Foster, and Lavonte David would be a nightmare for opposing offenses.
12. Lions: De'Anthony Thomas/RB/WR (Oregon)
Where Thomas goes if he declares is a bit of a mystery as of now. His athleticism is unmatched in the NCAA, but he isn't a clear fit at one position. However, we saw the way NFL teams coveted Tavon Austin this year, and Thomas is a similar player, only with arguably higher upside. The Lions need to continue to add more offensive talent to divert double and triple teams from Calvin Johnson, and the Reggie Bush signing shows the Lions are interested in adding more exciting offensive weapons.
13. Cowboys: Kyle Van Noy/OLB (BYU)
There was a lot the Cowboys could and should have done in the 2013 draft for their front seven but failed to do. Next year, they will still need to build at end, tackle, and outside linebacker. Van Noy would be a great start. He's a riser who, like Barr, fits the profile at OLB in any system. His big-time athleticism and versatility should be highly coveted by teams next year, and he could go even higher than this.
14. Panthers: Bradley Roby/CB (Ohio St.)
Roby is the top corner prospect as of now and will almost definitely go higher than this. However, I couldn't find a place in the top 13 to put him, so the Panthers get a steal here. Both D.J. Moore and Drayton Florence will both be free agents next year so the Panthers will possibly look to address corner via the draft with a strong class near the top. Roby is smaller, but extremely quick with good coverage skills, and could have gone in the first round had he declared this year.
15. Dolphins: Loucheiz Purifoy/CB (Florida)
One of my favorite prospects right now is Purifoy. Tall, strong corners are a hot commodity in the NFL today, and Purifoy hits the mold. He is still raw but extremely athletic and versatile. He's one of the best punt blockers in football and is even planning on lining up at receiver for the Gators this year too. There a few ways Miami could go here with some key players at multiple positions hitting free agency next year. Here they go with the best guy on the board and fill the void that will be left if Brent Grimes walks.
16. Steelers: C.J. Mosley/ILB (Alabama)
The Steelers always seem hesitant to take inside linebackers in the first round, but should do so here, especially if Sean Spence's career is over. Mosley is the top inside linebacker prospect right now and fits Pittsburgh's defense like a gem.
17. Vikings: David Fales/QB (San Jose St.)
Looking ahead, it's always hard to tell which teams will be taking quarterbacks early next year. Don't be surprised to see the Vikings be one next year. Adrian Peterson alone will win them some games next year, but might look into finding a new quarterback of the future if Christian Ponder isn't playing up to snuff. Fales is a rising prospect worth watching in 2013.
18. Saints: Trent Murphy/OLB (Stanford)
The Saints were not able to address the rush linebacker position in the 2013 draft, so it's highly likely they will look in that direction next year. The pass rush class near the top might not be as good as this year, but this would be a good value pick. There are a number of quality Stanford defensive prospects next year and Murphy is at the top.
19. Bears: Austin Seferian-Jenkins/TE (Washington)
Despite signing Martellus Bennett, the Bears could still use a longer-term answer at tight end and until then could form a pretty outstanding tandem by taking Seferian-Jenkins, whose upside is even higher than Tyler Eifert. His DUI arrest may hurt his draft stock, but a good season should make it matter less.
The Rams covered one safety position in 2013 with T.J. McDonald, but still lack a clear long-term answer at the other spot, especially with Darian Stewart hitting free agency. The 2014 safety class has no clear #1 right now, but "HaHa" Clinton-Dix is a contender if he declares. He finished his 2012 season strong with interceptions in his last two games while steadily gaining more playing time. The former blue chip recruit looks to form a formidable tandem with Vinnie Sunseri at Alabama this season.
21. Colts: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu/CB (Oregon)
The Colts still lack a long-term answer across from Vontae Davis and could fix that problem with this pick. Ekpre-Olomu is a rising prospect and one of my players to watch for the 2013 season. He is a smaller, quicker type corner, but being the Ducks fan I am, I have seen a ton of tape on him, and his coverage skills are impeccable. This corner class has a ton of potential, and Ekpre-Olomu will be one of several players vying for the top spot.
22. Bengals: Ed Reynolds/S (Stanford)
Another contender for the top safety prospect is Reynolds. Like other Stanford defensive players, he is smart, tough, and instinctive, despite maybe not being able to put up the blazing workout numbers. The Bengals have an impressively talented defense, but could still use another starting safety for the future.
23. Giants: Timmy Jernigan/DT (Florida St.)
Justin Tuck and Peanut Joseph will both be free agents next year, so the Giants could very well look into upgrading at defensive tackle in the 2014 Draft. Plus, Jernigan would be pretty close to BPA at this point. There are a number of really solid defensive tackle prospects next year, and Jernigan has one of the highest upsides of any of them.
24. 49ers: Jordan Matthews/WR (Vanderbilt)
Once again the Niners won't have a ton of needs, but they will probably aim to improve at receiver next year. Anquan Boldin should be productive but his productive days are limited, and Mario Manningham will be a free agent. Some new blood would be helpful. Matthews is a tall, physical receiver with the athleticism to go up and make tough catches. He would be the type of receiver the Niners would want to match up against the physicality of NFC West corners like Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, and Cortland Finnegan, as well as the speed of guys like Janoris Jenkins and Patrick Peterson.
25. Rams: James Hurst/OT (North Carolina)
While safety is almost guaranteed to be a position looked at next offseason, what else will need to be addressed depends a lot on what happens with a couple free agents, namely Rodger Saffold and Jo-Lonn Dunbar. While Saffold is not seemingly bent out of shape about playing right tackle this year, next year he may want to play left tackle for a team willing to play him left tackle money. If so, it's very likely one of the first round picks will be spent on a right tackle to bookend across from Jake Long. There are a few good tackles left on the board, but James Hurst is the top one here according to my projections and would settle in nicely at a right tackle role.
26. Ravens: Brandon Coleman/WR (Rutgers)
The Ravens already have uncertainty at the receiver position, and may face even more if Jacoby Jones walks next year. Coleman is a massive, strong receiver type that many teams value highly today. His speed is not elite, but his hands and 6'5", 220 frame are comparable to a guy like Marques Colston, which would pair up nicely with Torrey Smith.
27. Texans: Aaron Colvin/CB (Oklahoma)
The Texans don't have a ton of needs to address, so they can afford to invest in the future with a guy like Colvin. He can play nickel corner in 2014 and then take over if Kareem Jackson leaves via free agency the year after. Colvin is another prospect in the mix for first-round corners next year, and how he plays this year could give him a huge edge against the rest or bury him in the crowd.
28. Falcons: Anthony Johnson/DT (LSU)
The Falcons still have a need next at defensive tackle next to Jonathan Babineaux and get what could be a huge steal here with LSU's Johnson. He is still relatively unpolished as a pro prospect, but is just as talented as any tackle out there and could go even higher than this with a big season this year. He will also need to put on some more bulk if he wants to get looked at by 4-3 teams like the Falcons.
29. Seahawks: Aaron Lynch/DE (South Florida)
The Seahawks have Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett on the roster now, but neither are signed for the long term. Lynch, the former Notre Dame end who transferred and will be playing his first season at USF this year, has immense upside rushing the passer and could be a nice project for a team picking near the bottom of the first like Seattle.
30. Patriots: Louis Nix III/DT (Notre Dame)
The Patriots don't have much next to Vince Wilfork right now. Tommy Kelly might get them through the year, but is a bum who should not be depended on for the long term. The Pats can end their string of bringing in lazy defensive tackles to pair next to Wilfork by drafting Nix, another product of the Notre Dame defensive line that is becoming an NFL factory. He is athletic for his size and demonstrated so by scoring a touchdown in the Irish's spring game as a quarterback.
31. Packers: Jackson Jeffcoat/OLB (Texas)
Clay Matthews will be a free agent next year, and while I highly believe the Packers will be able to retain him, there still might be a need at rush linebacker if Nick Perry doesn't pan out this year. Jeffcoat, the son of former NFL player Jim Jeffcoat, is one of a number of highly talented defensive players to keep an eye on this year at Texas.
32. Broncos: Scott Crichton/DE (Oregon St.)
The Broncos signed Shaun Phillips to address the void at pass rusher left by the Elvis Dumervil fax fiasco. However, Phillips is just a short-term solution and defensive end should still be taken care of early in the draft. Crichton is one of the top defensive players in the Pac-12 currently and would fit well into the Denver system.
33. Raiders: A.J. McCarron/QB (Alabama)
34. Jaguars: Lache Seastrunk/RB (Baylor)
35. Jets: Adrian Hubbard/OLB (Alabama)
36. Browns: Gabe Jackson/G (Mississippi St.)
37. Bills: Karlos Williams/S (Florida St.)
38. Titans: Antonio Richardson/OT (Tennessee)
39. Eagles: Quandre Diggs/CB (Texas)
40. Chargers: Will Sutton/DE (Arizona St.)
41. Cardinals: Brett Hundley/QB (UCLA)
42. Chiefs: Mike Evans/WR (Texas A&M)
43. Buccaneers: Aaron Murray/QB (Georgia)
44. Lions: David Yankey/OT (Stanford)
45. Cowboys: Daniel McCullers/DT (Tennessee)
46. Panthers: Colt Lyerla/TE (Oregon)
47. Dolphins: Zack Martin/OT (Notre Dame)
48. Steelers: Henry Anderson/DE (Stanford)
49. Vikings: Shayne Skov/ILB (Stanford)
50. Saints: Jason Verrett/CB (TCU)
51. Bears: Logan Thomas/QB (Virginia Tech)
52. Redskins: Redskins: Marcus Roberson/CB (Florida)
53. Colts: Ka'Deem Carey/RB (Arizona)
54. Bengals: Trey DePriest/LB (Alabama)
55. Giants: Ryan Shazier/OLB (Ohio St.)
56. 49ers: Bryan Stork/C (Florida St.)
57. Rams: Christian Jones/OLB (Florida St.)
58. Ravens: Deshazor Everett/CB (Texas A&M)
59. Texans: Kareem Martin/OLB (North Carolina)
60. Falcons: Cody Hoffman/WR (BYU)
61. Seahawks: Cyril Richardson/G/OT (Baylor)
62. Patriots: Ty Zimmerman/S (Kansas St.)
63. Packers: Craig Loston/S (LSU)
64. Broncos: A.J. Johnson/ILB (Tennessee)
65. Raiders: Charles Sims/RB (Houston)
66. Jaguars: James Gayle/DE (Virginia Tech)
67. Jets: Lamarcus Joyner/S (Florida St.)
68. Browns: Justin Gilbert/CB (Oklahoma St.)
69. Bills: Cassius Marsh/DT (UCLA)
70. 49ers (from Titans): Damian Swann/CB (Georgia)
71. Eagles: Andrew Jackson/ILB (Western Kentucky)
72. Chargers: Michael Dyer/RB (Arkansas Baptist)
73. Cardinals: Odell Beckham/WR (LSU)
74. Chiefs: Bo Wallace/QB (Ole Miss)
75. Jets (from Buccaneers): Seantrel Henderson/OT (Miami)
76. Lions: Randall Telfer/TE (USC)
77. Cowboys: Chaz Green/OT (Florida)
78. Panthers: Devin Street/WR (Pittsburgh)
79. Dolphins: Calvin Barnett/DT (Oklahoma St.)
80. Browns (from Steelers): Vinnie Sunseri/S (Alabama)
81. Vikings: Ra'Shede Hageman/DE (Minnesota)
82. Saints: Russell Bodine/C (North Carolina)
83. Bears: Ben Gardner/DE (Stanford)
84. Redskins: Josh Huff/WR (Oregon)
85. Colts: DeAndre Coleman/DE (Cal)
86. Bengals: Deion Belue/CB (Alabama)
87. Giants: Gabe Ikard/G (Oklahoma)
88. 49ers: Jonathan Brown/OLB (Illinois)
89. Rams: Jeoffrey Pagan/DT (Alabama)
90. Ravens: Dion Bailey/ILB (USC)
91. Texans: Silas Redd/RB (USC)
92. Falcons: Isaiah Crowell/RB (Alabama St.)
93. Vikings (from Seahawks): Eric Ebron/TE (North Carolina)
94. Patriots: Xavier Su'a-Filo/G (UCLA)
95. Packers: Jared Abbredaris/WR (Wisconsin)
96. Broncos: Carrington Byndom/CB (Texas)