by Mario "Game" Granata
Mock Drafts for the National Football League are all the rage, and since Mel Kiper Jr. is constantly spewing out predictions here and there, I thought I would throw my hat into the proverbial ring, and test out my draft chops. Now, I have only supplied the Top 10 in the upcoming 2014 Draft, and I have a few reasons behind my madness, and if I am wrong with my picks come May 8th, at least I can say that I am no worse then Mel.
Studying and analyzing the NFL Draft is something that I have been doing for the past 10 years, and being the distance I am away from the League, I can remain as objective as possible. Taking a look at the current landscape of the NFL, and the teams that are drafting 1-10 on May 8th, I thought it would be fun to see if I have my pre-draft chops to bestow a Mock Draft for the fans of Hashtag Nation. Agree, disagree, or just call me insane, here is how I think that picks 1 through 10 will play out, and my reasoning.
1. Houston Texans - TRADE with the Atlanta Falcons - Atlanta Drafts Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina.
Yes, I feel that Jadeveon Clowney will go #1 in the 2014 Draft, but I am not certain that he will go to the Texans. Bill O'Brien is a disciple of Bill Belichick, and although during his time with the Patriots he never had a pick this high before, he probably took a few notes about trading back and acquiring picks to load up his team. Clowney is worth more to other teams than he is to the Texans, and while the thought of Clowney alongside JJ Watt appears sexy, I don't think that it will happen. Romeo Crennel runs a 3-4 front, and you don't take a defensive end #1 in the draft if you have to teach him how to play an OLB role, no matter how athletic and amazing he might be. Could the Texans do it? Probably, but my money is on the Texans trading back and getting bodies in camp, especially in a deep draft, and Atlanta is no stranger to betting the draft for a top pick: Julio Jones ring any bells?
2. St. Louis Rams - TRADE with the Indianapolis Colts - Indianapolis Drafts Greg Robinson, T, Auburn.
Indeed, it has never happened in the NFL, where the first two picks were traded back in the draft, but I don't foresee the Rams holding onto the #2 pick. They were able to swindle the pick from Washington during the RGIII draft, and with St Louis also holding the 13th overall pick, they can still pick up a player that they need in a draft that is very deep. The Colts need to make up for the debacle that was the Trent Richardson acquisition, and feel that they are just on the cusp of being a legitimate contender for the Lombardi Trophy, and all they need is to solidify that line a little. By trading into the #2 pick, and probably offering a little more, the Rams will still have a Top 15 pick, and secure some more picks for the future, and competing in the NFC West, you need to plan ahead.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo.
Finally, a pick that isn't traded back. Mack offers, not only a freak-of-nature-once-and-a-lifetime-talent to the Jags, but it also does something else for the Jags: puts fans in the seats. The NFL, as many of you have deduced, is a business, and with talks of the Jags going to London (um, what) they are in desperate need to fill their stadium. So why not pick up a player, who is dynamic in his own right, and will make plays, and grew up only 3 hours away in Fort Pierce? Also, the new defensive coordinator of the Jags, Bob Babich, who was hired in January of 2013, who runs a 4-3 alignment, and who has some history of coaching linebackers for the Bears, will know just what to do with Mack.
4. Cleveland Browns - Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M.
Many analysts, in their mock drafts, has another Texas A&M player going to the Browns, but as Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend." Matthews will serve to be the other 'book end' to Joe Thomas, so whoever the Browns decide to take with their second pick of the first round as a quarterback, he will be well protected. However, the Browns have been down this road before. In 2007, they held the 3rd and traded back into the first round for the 22nd pick, and took a tackle (Thomas) with the 3rd and a quarterback (Brady Quinn) with the 22nd. In this draft, they have the 4th and 26th, and it's unclear if they want to repeat history and do that again, but as for the 4th pick, a technician like Matthews is just what they need.
5. Oakland Raiders - Anthony Barr - OLB, UCLA.
Many experts are calling for Sammy Watkins from Clemson to go to the Raiders, but off-season moves by the Raiders, and history will prove otherwise. The Raiders were able to pry James Jones from the Packers, and late in the 2013 season, even though the Raiders were down, they had some surprise receivers step up in Rod Streater and Andre Holmes. Plus with the addition of MJD joining the oft injured Darren McFadden in the backfield, it seems that the Raiders philosophy will be to control the clock against the high flying division rivals of the AFC West. We also must remember, there was another wide receiver who wowed scouts at the combine, and was taken 7th overall in the 2009 draft, who was on a team that was then in the ACC. Darrius Heyward-Bay was drafted by the Raiders after a stellar combine performance, and we all were witness to his futility in the league. Barr, playing college ball just down the road at UCLA will provide a buzz like Mack will in Jacksonville, and is also a solid defender, which will bolster a tough Raider defense.
6. Atlanta Falcons - TRADE with the Houston Texans - Houston Drafts Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina.
Too high, right? Well, Bill O'Brien, other then witnessing the draft savvy during his time with the Patriots, also was present when the Patriots picked up Rob Gronkowski and saw the impact that a tight end could have on the offense. One has to ask why the Texans weren't worried at all by letting Owen Daniels go to the Ravens? Could it be that they were looking for some more athleticism out of the TE position? Ebron definitely provides athleticism, and will be a very nice 'security blanket' for whomever the Texans decide to hand the reigns of the offense over to. With Ebron joining Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Arian Foster, and if the Texans can return to their defensive dominance, they can ease the transition for whichever quarterback they decide to pick in the later rounds.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson.
Watkins is a playmaker, but one has to question the percentage of passes that he caught this season for the Tigers. Watkins was targeted 65 times BEHIND the line of scrimmage, and that will work well in college, but with the speed of the NFL, Watkins will be looked more to remove the cover off the defenses in the NFC South. With the atmosphere in Tampa, and playing road games in Atlanta and New Orleans, Watkins speed will be a factor every time he is on the field, and Josh McCown proved last year in Chicago that he will throw it deep, no matter what the coverage. Another sign that points to Tampa picking Watkins was when they traded Mike Williams (who was signed before the regime change) to Buffalo for a 6th round pick, leaving 9-year vet, Vincent Jackson as the primary target. Watkins and Jackson can put up some points, and with the return of the Muscle Hamster Doug Martin, Tampa will be a formidable contender.
8. Minnesota Vikings - Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan.
The third of the 'Big 3' of tackles will be making his way up to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, as Minnesota tries to solidify their line by taking the 'Mean Wolverine' from Michigan. Lewan, has seen his stock take a minor hit in the draft due to some off the field issues stemming from a post game altercation, but this doesn't discount the type of player that he is. With Matt Cassel at the helm and Adrian Peterson in the backfield, Lewan's primary focus will be protection and production. Get a body on someone so All Day can find some running room, and give Cassel some time to find Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson deep. With Minnesota taking Lewan, and teams creeping toward the line to stop Peterson, the Minnesota receivers should have some room to make plays.
9. Buffalo Bills - CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama.
Being a Bills fan, Mosley wasn't my first pick, but seeing how the first 8 picks shape up, he seems like a really good fit for the Bills. Although this might seem like a strange pick for the Bills at #9, due to the recent signing of Brandon Spikes from New England, Spikes isn't a player who is great in pass coverage. Enter CJ Mosley. He can play the run, and the pass, and with Spikes only being on a 1 year deal, the Bills are not sure if he will be in Buffalo for the long haul, or just using this season with the Bills as an audition for the rest of the league. With the current roster of the Bills, if they get teams to 3rd-and-long, they will probably move Kiko Alonso to the middle, and take Spikes out, even though Spikes said he wants to be a 3 down player. If the Bills add Mosley, they won't have to worry about different packages. Mosley will give the Bills defense leadership, and a player who can solidify a shaky run defense that the Bills had in 2013.
10. Detroit Lions - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State.
Torn between Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State, I decided to go with Gilbert for 3 reasons: Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall, and Cordarrelle Patterson. You could extend that number to 6 if you wanted to include Randall Cobb, Alshon Jeffery and Greg Jennings, but the same reasoning applies, and that is the Lions need help at the cornerback position to be competitive in the NFC North. Gilbert is a presence that quarterbacks have to account for, and with his impressive 4.37 40-time, 35.5 vertical, and 20 bench reps at 225, he has the physicality and the speed to hang with the the best in the NFL, not just the NFC North elite. Only time will tell, but this will be a step in the right direction for the Lions.
Well, there you have it folks, the first 10 picks of the 2014 NFL Draft brought to you by The Game. The great thing about doing a mock draft for the NFL is that no matter how bad I might miss on each of these predictions, my record will still be substancially better than Mel Kiper Jr. But then again, who's record isn't better than Mel's at this point?
Be sure to tune into the Pre-Draft Show, brought to you by Hashtag Crew, Wednesday, May 7th right here on Hashtag Sports.