Mike Mayock is a well-respected draft analyst for the NFL Network. His top-5 position-by-position draft prospect rankings - updated many times during draft season - are closely followed by both expert and amateur draftniks. Mayock's latest rankings - version three - were published on April 5, at NFL.com (link).
I'm a passionate follower of the NFL draft - and college football - throughout the year. I'm also part of the small minority who will begin creating 2015 mock drafts a week after the 2014 draft in May. Apart from watching a lot of football games (and video as time permits), I enjoy reading commentary, analyses, and scouting reports related to college football players and the NFL Draft. However, no one will ever mistake me for Mike Mayock, as I'm no more than an interested observer, and a truly amateur draftnik.
The accompanying chart presents my top-5 positional rankings for the 2014 NFL Draft:
Position Player School Quarterback Blake Bortles Central Florida Derek Carr Fresno State Teddy Bridgewater Louisville Johnny Manziel Texas A&M Zach Mettenberger LSU Running Back Carlos Hyde Ohio State Jeremy Hill LSU Bishop Sankey Washington Andre Williams Boston College Tre Mason Auburn Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins Clemson Mike Evans Texas A&M Marqise Lee USC Brandin Cooks Oregon State Jordan Matthews Vanderbilt Tight End Eric Ebron North Carolina Austin Seferian-Jenkins Washington Jace Amaro Texas Tech Troy Niklas Notre Dame C.J. Fiedorowicz Iowa Center Marcus Martin USC Travis Swanson Arkansas Weston Richburg Colorado State Bryan Stork Florida State Gabe Ikard Oklahoma Guard Xavier Su'a-Filo UCLA Gabe Jackson Mississippi State David Yankey Stanford Trai Turner LSU Dakota Dozier Furman Offensive Tackle Taylor Lewan Michigan Jake Matthews Texas A&M Greg Robinson Auburn Morgan Moses Virginia Zach Martin Notre Dame Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald Pittsburgh Louis Nix III Notre Dame Ra'Shede Hageman Minnesota Tim Jernigan Florida State Anthony Johnson LSU Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina Kony Ealy Missouri Stephon Tuitt Notre Dame Dee Ford Auburn Scott Crichton Oregon State Outside Linebacker Khalil Mack Buffalo Anthony Barr UCLA Ryan Shazier Ohio State Jeremiah Attaochu Georgia Tech Kyle Van Noy BYU Inside Linebacker C.J. Mosley Alabama Shayne Skov Stanford Chris Borland Wisconsin Christian Jones Florida State Max Bullough Michigan State Cornerback Justin Gilbert Oklahoma State Darqueze Dennard Michigan State Kyle Fuller Virginia Tech Bradley Roby Ohio State Jason Verrett TCU Safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix Alabama Deone Bucannon Washington State Jimmie Ward Northern Illinois Calvin Pryor Louisville Terrence Brooks Florida State
With less than a month to go before the draft, it's evident a consensus is forming regarding the top prospects. While compiling the rankings for this draft, a couple of aspects immediately became apparent: the overall high quality of the draft, and the depth at many positions. With 12 selections - including two picks early in the first round - the Rams are ideally positioned to markedly improve the roster.
Although it will be tempting for the Rams to stand pat with their picks - especially in the first round - it will be equally tempting to trade down and accumulate additional picks. Under Les Snead and Jeff Fisher, the Rams have consummated six trades in the previous two drafts. Four of those trades involved moving down in the draft order. It should come as no surprise if the Rams are involved in multiple trades this year, moving both up and down in the draft order.
The Rams can go in many different directions - and use multiple strategies - in this years draft. They're in an enviable position, for the Rams can choose from among many different players/strategies, and still be reasonably assured of quality results. How will the Rams approach this years draft? Will they trade up/down? GM Les Snead recently summarized the Rams' philosophy heading into the draft [link]:
"I think the way to get it right is you make the right decision for the organization, and I like to say you make the best decision long term because the short term is by definition short—it won’t last as long. But because this draft is really good, it’s a good chance for us to take some shots with picks in this draft to improve the team. Not only tomorrow and opening day, but also four and five years down the road."
The rankings list includes 65 of the top players in the country. I'm convinced the Rams will be active traders come draft day, and end up with a minimum of 4 selections in the first two rounds [a pair of 1st and 2nd round picks]. This draft should have a one-word mantra for the Rams: Dominance. I believe the surest path for the Rams to follow to reach the playoffs is the development of both a dominant offensive line, and a dominant defense.
As an armchair GM, my four selections - from the 65 in the rankings, and after trade downs - would be: Taylor Lewan/Jake Matthews, Justin Gilbert, Gabe Jackson, and Deone Bucannon. On defense, the idea is to develop a secondary that rivals the dominance of Seattle's league-leading unit. The Rams defense needs little else to achieve a top-10 ranking, on par with their division rivals. A strong offensive line will keep Sam Bradford upright, open running lanes for Zac Stacy, and have a dramatic impact on the offense as a whole.
With 65 players in the rankings to choose from, which four players would you like to see in a Rams uniform this September? Which positions should be addressed in the first two rounds of the draft? Should the Rams stand pat, or be wheelers and dealers on draft day? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. We'll tabulate the results, and feature them in a future post.