Quarterbacks move back to forefront in NFL draft
The NFL might be a quarterback league, but that wasn’t reflected in last year’s draft. Only one quarterback was selected in the first round — EJ Manuel, picked 16th by Buffalo — and one each in the next two rounds.
This year should be a return to the familiar, as the draft is rich with quarterback prospects. This mock draft projects three quarterbacks will be taken in the first five picks May 8, and five in the entire first round. The wild card is Texas A&M;'s Johnny Manziel, who could be the No. 1 overall pick of Houston, or conceivably could tumble all the way out of the first round.
1. HOUSTON: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina — Even with his dubious work ethic and disappointing bench-press performance at the combine, the 6-foot-5, 266-pound Clowney is too much of a physical freak to ignore. Imagine how he and J.J. Watt could cave in one side of an offensive line.
2. ST. LOUIS (from Washington): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn — Jeff Fisher has never drafted an offensive lineman in the first round, but now would be a good time to start. The Rams are hurting for help there, and Robinson had a terrific combine.
3. JACKSONVILLE: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville — Of all the quarterbacks in this deep draft, Bridgewater is the most ready to play immediately. He uses his feet to create throwing opportunities. Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley saw Russell Wilson do that effectively in Seattle.
4. CLEVELAND: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida — Yet again, Cleveland is looking for a quarterback. Bortles is raw, but he has a Ben Roethlisberger quality to him that allows him to shed would-be tacklers and extend plays the way Pittsburgh’s quarterback does.
5. OAKLAND: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State — The Raiders are known for their unconventional picks, so Manziel might seem like a natural fit for them. Word is, though, that they liked Carr more coming out of the combine.
6. ATLANTA: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo — If the Falcons can’t get Clowney to bump up their pass rush, Mack would be an excellent alternative. He showed his explosiveness at the combine, and his draft stock figures to continue to climb during the next two months.
7. TAMPA BAY: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA — The Buccaneers need to ramp up their pass rush, especially in a division that features quarterbacks Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. Barr is still learning the position, yet he’s already an elite talent. His ability to play multiple positions shows how he can adjust and fit into any scheme.
8. MINNESOTA: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M; — The diminutive Manziel could be the 2014 version of Fran Tarkenton for a Vikings team that needs to achieve a better pass-run balance. Then again, the Vikings reached for Christian Ponder in 2011, and that might leave them gun-shy.
9. BUFFALO: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M; — The Bills have some capable talent at receiver and running back, but they need to provide second-year quarterback Manuel with some more time to throw. Matthews has Hall of Fame bloodlines and would be a solid pick.
10. DETROIT: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson — Watkins could go as early as second overall, and while the thought of the Lions using another first-round pick on a receiver might make their fans cringe, Watkins has the makings of a game-breaker and would be great value.
11. TENNESSEE: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan — If the Titans can’t get one of the elite pass rushers — Mack and Barr are gone in this mock — they’ll be on the lookout for a right tackle. Lewan is an aggressive blocker who would pair well with guard Chance Warmack.
12. N.Y. GIANTS: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama — The Giants haven’t taken a linebacker in the first round since selecting Carl Banks in 1984. But Mosley will get strong consideration as a potential replacement for middle linebacker Jon Beason.
13. ST. LOUIS: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M; — The 6-5 Evans was a go-to guy for Manziel and would give the Rams a much-needed big target. If they don’t grab Watkins with the second pick, the Rams might zero in on Evans.
14. CHICAGO: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville — Giving up big plays over the top was a problem for the Bears, in part because of poor safety play. The play-making Pryor is the best safety in this class, and doesn’t shy from hitting.
15. PITTSBURGH: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State — The Steelers need to develop another starting corner, as the aging and expensive Ike Taylor won’t be around forever. If Evans is still on the board, taking a receiver will be tempting.
16. DALLAS: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh — The Cowboys were tied for 25th with 34 sacks last season. They need to generate a pass rush, and Donald is capable of causing havoc in an opposing backfield.
17. BALTIMORE: Marqise Lee, WR, USC — The Ravens missed Anquan Boldin last season, and they could use another target to help take some pressure off Torrey Smith. Lee is a playmaker.
18. N.Y. JETS: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU — The Jets were a disaster at receiver last season, and Santonio Holmes looks to be on his way out. Beckham has stretch-the-field speed and is very good after the catch.
19. MIAMI: Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA — The Dolphins are desperately trying to put the Richie Incognito mess in the rear-view mirror. Su’a-Filo is not only an outstanding player but also is known for his character.
20. ARIZONA: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame — The Cardinals are perpetually in need of help on their offensive line, and Martin can play tackle or guard. If there are any top-shelf pass rushers left, Arizona will take a long look.
21. GREEN BAY: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina — With the Packers future of Jermichael Finley in question, Green Bay could look to grab the draft’s best tight end.
22. PHILADELPHIA: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama — Philadelphia’s safeties were a disaster last season, and “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix would be a welcome upgrade.
23. KANSAS CITY: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State — Cooks ran a 4.33 40 at the combine, second-best among the receivers, and could help stretch the field for the Chiefs’ offense.
24. CINCINNATI: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State — Cornerback is the top draft priority for the Bengals, and if Gilbert were to slip this far, he would be a solid pick.
25. SAN DIEGO: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU — Even though the resurgent Chargers need to continue the rebuild of their offensive line, San Diego needs to shore up its 29th-ranked pass defense. This draft is deep with corners.
26. CLEVELAND (from Indianapolis): Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State — The Browns finished 27th in yards rushing per game, and they never got the consistency they wanted from Trent Richardson, ultimately trading him.
27. NEW ORLEANS: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois — Drew Brees is 35 and won’t be around forever. Why not develop Garoppolo behind him? Remember, Saints Coach Sean Payton was a quarterback at Eastern Illinois too.
28. CAROLINA: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State — The 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin would be an interesting complement to Steve Smith and a big, sure-handed target for Newton.
29. NEW ENGLAND: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame — Regardless of what happens with Vince Wilfork, the Patriots need to bulk up their defensive front. Nix would fit their scheme well.
30. SAN FRANCISCO: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech — With the long-term futures of Tarell Brown and Carlos Rodgers in question, the 49ers are in need of at least one corner. Fuller is the younger brother of Lions receiver Corey Fuller.
31. DENVER: Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin — The Broncos have gotten old at middle linebacker, and Borland impressed a lot of people at the combine. He’s on the smaller side at 5-11, 247, and this might be a bit early for him, but he’s a solid player.
32. SEATTLE: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech — The Seahawks have a reliable pass-catching tight end in Zach Miller, but he has gotten too expensive. They could groom Amaro to replace him.
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