Mock drafts are equally as fun as they aren’t, projecting what appear to be sure-fire talents to teams like the 49ers, Rams and Packers — and then there’s Johnny Manziel.
Manziel has been the talk of college football since 2012, the redshirt freshman winning, then winning, and winning some more.
Manziel won his way to the Heisman, being the elite among elite. It used to be that Heisman winners didn’t often become long-term NFL solutions.
Even so, 14 quarterbacks have won the trophy over the last 20 years (Manziel and Jameis Winston, not yet in the NFL) and only four of those have been, or are, starters at the pro level.
Smaller QBs, like Troy Smith — and Manziel — haven’t done well after being drafted.
Often needing to use their legs to escape the pocket and see receivers downfield creates serious problems for the offense. Other scrambling quarterbacks to win Heisman honors include the likes of Tim Tebow, who gave fans a reason to pray — for another quarterback.
Skip Bayless really liked Tebow, as he does Manziel. That gives me a head start on the guessing game, and, no, I don’t like Manziel’s prospects.
Teddy Bridgewater, David Fales, Derek Carr and Zach Mettenberger? I think, yes.
But Manziel? No.
If Johnny Football didn’t throw the ball into traffic a lot (like he did here against Alabama, 50 second mark), my opinion would differ. For no other position is the saying “football is 10 percent physical, 90 percent mental,” more true.
Playing quarterback is advanced chess and Manziel can be forced into sacrificing his queen much too easy. Worse, if he continually threw into traffic like he’s been known to do, he’d have nobody left to throw to after Week 12.
Great NFL quarterbacks have always had one particular talent: an innate mental capacity to create the means for a receiver to get open — whether it be looking down a safety, using a pump fake, etc. Manziel thrives in chaos, but will have a hard time finding ways to cope at the NFL level.
Now that you’ve read that, here’s my first mock draft for 2014, a full 79 days before the May 8 NFL Draft in New York City:
1. Houston Texans
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Questions regarding Clowney’s work ethic and motor should be put to rest if he’s taken by Houston. For one, there’s nothing else to do in Texas but play or watch football. He’d be silly not to get that money. With a mentor like JJ Watt, the ceiling is unimaginable for the young fellow.
2. St Louis Rams
Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
It makes more sense for the Rams to trade down than anything else, though every NFL team had to fall in love with Ford at the Senior Bowl. There’s a chance that Ford finishes with a better NFL career than Clowney — off the field issues or not.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater is the most polished quarterback in the draft by a lot. He can move in the pocket, read coverages and throw the ball anywhere he chooses with precision. For a team that has needed a quarterback since entering the league, Bridgewater could be a game-changer.
4. Cleveland Browns
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Browns already have a top-five receiver in Josh Gordon. Imagine the fits that defenses would enter if they had to cover Watkins also. Then imagine those fits multiplied if Watkins can really live up his potential. That’s scary.
5. Oakland Raiders
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
First, Oakland is likely to trade back here. They could use extra picks and have too many needs at this point, though free agency decisions will be telling.
Barr is a terrific pass rusher and Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie spent his playing days at linebacker. Barr would anchor Sio Moore and Nick Roach, possibly elevating Oakland into a top-tier defense.
6. Atlanta Falcons
CJ Mosely, ILB, Alabama
Atlanta’s biggest needs come on defense. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and the rest of the offense, really don’t need much help. A solidified defensive presence like Mosely could make the dirty birds a scary opponent.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Affectionately known as the “Yucks,” by Warren Sapp, Tampa is a team that nobody should want to be drafted by. Oddly, the roster appears very talented. After adding a lot to their defense in 2013 (Dashon Golston, Darrelle Revis, Akeem Spence), they should be looking to fortify their offense line. Robinson is top of the class at tackle.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Another team plagued by epic fails at quarterback, the Vikings take the high-profile prospect I hate. Manziel has benefited from his receivers making plays, throwing the ball where he has no right to throw it. That said, the running combination of Adrian Peterson and Manziel could be incredibly difficult to plan for.
9. Buffalo Bills
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
After drafting EJ Manuel in 2013, the Bills finished with the same record than they did the year prior. That’s after also getting one of the most productive players in the 2013 draft class, Kiko Alonso. Though they also need WR help (can anyone say Mike Evans), there’s a strong possibility they take another QB who stood out at the Senior Bowl.
10. Detroit Lions
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
New head coach Jim Caldwell was the single most important reason that the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2013, where Caldwell was their offensive coordinator.
The second most important reason? Strong coverage over the top. Of any team that recently fired a head coach, the Lions have the best personnel.
Deep at several positions, one glaring hole is safety. Clinton-Dix (I know, the name makes any immature person chuckle) is far ahead of any safety being drafted and could provide an immediate impact.
11. Tennessee Titans
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
After signing Delanie Walker last offseason, the Titans failed miserably. Walker was often targeted, though he dropped nearly half the passes thrown to him.
12. New York Giants
Louis Nix III, DT, Penn State
Assuming the football Giants re-sign Linval Joseph, Nix could step in and make the Giants impossible to run on. Nix is six-foot-three and weighs 340 lbs, similar to Joseph. There’s only a B-gap to cover and the Justin Tuck–Cullen Jenkins combo would be tough to block.
13. St Louis Rams
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Lee has suffered from injury issues while playing for SC, though he has been the only receiver thrown to as well. For a team that finished 7-9, the Rams are a very good football team.
If the Rams were in any other division, they’d probably have made the postseason in 2013. Lee gives them the weaponry to beat the Seattle secondary and enough quickness for Sam Bradford to get rid of the ball before 49ers’ linebacker Aldon Smith can get to him.
14. Chicago Bears
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Jernigan is the most talented defensive tackle to enter the draft in years. His skillset was evidenced during the national championship game, Auburn was unable to move the ball when he was on the field — but had no problem when taking a breather.
Ultimately the reason Nix goes before Jernigan, his injury status remains murky. But when healthy, this is that dude you want on your roster.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Ben Roethlisberger is only 31, but has taken a beating that would make Muhammad Ali cringe. He often plays hurt, and isn’t very effective when he does. Bortles can step in a produce in the event that Big Ben can’t, and provides the Steelers with a great project in the meantime.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Jacoby Jones is not a number two receiver. He’s just not. Torrey Smith is a great number two. Mike Evans is the number one receiver that coaches drool over. Six-foot-five with a solid frame and good ball skills, Evans could elevate Baltimore back into the playoffs instantly. This is a no-brainer.
17. Dallas Cowboys
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
What can you say about Hageman, except for his first and last names? He’s six-foot-six with an ungodly wingspan, high motor and beat double-teams all day long during his senior year.
18. New York Jets
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
The Jets haven’t drafted a wide-out in the first round since 2001, when they selected Santana Moss. That’s a major reason for their perennially bad offense, that needs a serious fix.
They took Geno Smith lat year and the man needs help. Robinson’s six-foot-three with speed and decent hands, willing and able to be the guy to deliver.
19. Miami Dolphins
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Everyone knows about the Dolphins drama on their offensive line. Matthews is a unique talent that could at least help out, something necessary after signing Mike Wallace to a monster deal last season.
20. Arizona Cardinals
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Cardinals are almost there: Good looking 3-4 defense, an above average QB, with receivers and a stable of running backs. The only thing missing is a number two corner to pair with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu.
Gilbert fits the bill, and though corners are rarely productive in their first year, Gilbert can be a difference maker.
21. Green Bay Packers
Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
Green Bay would have been a different team had Aaron Rodgers stayed healthy in 2013. If a team can’t put up points, then you gotta have a pass rush.
Beasley is another linebacker in a deep defensive class that can step in as a rookie and produce. It’s also a position that will be needed in January, when every team has a good offensive line.
22. Philadelphia Eagles
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Tuitt is a gangster, straight up. He is electric off the edge and Philly needs a lot more from their pass rush. He appears NFL ready and could step in as the Eagles sack leader his rookie season, ideally. He has the talent, all he needs is the circumstance.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Louisiana State
Beckham Jr. is a guy that’s hard to really figure out. His college production was underwhelming, but only when compared to his high ceiling. He can stretch the field as well as any receiver in the draft, something Alex Smith needs.
Kansas City is extremely limited at receiver and Dwayne Bowe isn’t a deep threat by any means. Beckham brings another dimension to an offense that doesn’t have the personnel to give Smith the elite numbers that he is capable of putting up.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard were big-time additions last year, though the jury is still out on quarterback Andy Dalton. A first-round tackle should help both Dalton and the Bengals front office. The team’s needs are few and this makes sense.
25. San Diego Chargers
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Mack is a top 10 pick in a number of mocks, but has never played the sort of stiff competition found in the SEC and like conferences. San Diego gets younger yet again at linebacker and scores on of the best pass-rushers of the draft class. They’ll need him to vault past Denver and Kansas City next year.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis)
Kony Early, DE, Missouri
The Trent Richardson trade showed how much better Cleveland was at their o-line than many thought. They swap the running back for a talented run-stopper who excels at rushing the quarterback.
Cleveland was underwhelming up front in 2013, despite a few major signings like Paul Kruger. Early could provide the necessary push up front to jaunt the oppositions offensive line so that Kruger can get another sack.
27. New Orleans Saints
Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Saint are in salary cap purgatory and should be forced to let a few players go this offseason. While defensive ends and wide receivers are replaceable, offensive tackles that can start in the NFL, are very rare.
Martin might possess the rare traits to do just that and the Saints need to take a shot here in order to maintain their standing as a premiere offense.
28. Carolina Panthers
Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida Gators
Carolina will likely lose Captain Munnerlyn in free agency and need a top-flight cornerback in order to keep up with the NFL elite.
Roberson provides experience covering SEC receivers, several of whom he will be covering in the NFL. Roberson looks as if he will be a rare candidate to produce as a rookie cornerback at the highest level.
29. New England Patriots
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Aaron Hernandez could very well get the death penalty and will almost certainly be convicted of at least one of the five murders he is charged with. Rob Gronowski has serious injury concerns.
Amaro could relieve the Pats brass of some concern, possibly jaunting New England back into the top spot for tight end tandems.
30. San Francisco 49ers
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
There’s a strong possibility that the 49ers will move up in the draft to nab Benjamin. He’s six-foot-five and has the uncanny ability to turn a jump-ball into a sure touchdown.
Richard Sherman isn’t swatting a pass intended for Benjamin. Period.
31. Denver Broncos
Ego Ferguson, DT, Louisiana State
The key to the Chargers victory over Denver (besides not having Wes Welker healthy) was their inability to stop the run. Ferguson gives them some depth, as well as a cheap contract to use as leverage against other defensive players, if they decide to retain Peyton Manning in 2015 for his final contract year.
32. Seattle Seahawks
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Though it’s hardly discussed, Seattle is facing serious cap issues — enough to make the Saints woes look like a walk in the park.
It’s possible they’ll lose both starting corners by 2015 (it’s possible they lose Sherman for the 2014 season if he wants to re-negotiate his deal) and the team will need someone ready to fill the void for cheap.
Ekpre-Olomu stood out against Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and had a great junior season. Seattle might also trade out of the first round since their cap issues are so bad.