With the draft swiftly approaching on Thursday, what better time than now to put out a mock draft? This mock draft will only be one round deep, and will not account for any trades, so accuracy isn’t really the goal here. The purpose of this mock draft is to show what each team should do instead. Each pick will be provided with analysis about the player, how he fits the prospective team, and reasons why that player was selected over certain other ones. This is not a simple run down the big board of prospects with disregard for positional need, but there will not be an egregious amount of attention paid to positional need. Hopefully this mock draft can give some context to what some teams need and where certain prospects fit well.
#1 Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
While QB may be a much more pressing need than edge rusher for Houston, they just can’t pass up this much talent at the top of the draft. While I personally think Teddy Bridgewater will be an excellent QB, I don’t think the Texans can really pass up the opportunity to pair up Clowney and Watt in their front seven. Clowney doesn’t seem to have a clear spot to fit in the Texans defense with them running a 3-4, but Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel has said he plans on running a lot of nickel packages, which would allow for Clowney and Watt to both play on the line often. The fact that Bill O’Brien is Houston’s new coach makes this pick a bit easier, as he is known for coaching up QBs, so Houston can take a risk on a mid-round QB, especially if a specific one strikes O’Brien’s fancy.
#2 St. Louis Rams: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
I think ultimately that St. Louis trades down from this spot in order to accrue even more picks, but I’m not accounting for trades in this mock, as they are very unpredictable. With that in mind, Watkins is the best player the Rams could really pick without reaching at this spot. He gives them a true #1 WR who really helps solve some offensive problems. Watkins on the outside with Tavon Austin in the slot, and some combination of Austin Pettis and Chris Givens on the other side can be a very, very good set of weapons for Sam Bradford. I was slightly tempted to have a tackle go here, but even if Jake Long misses a few games, the Rams still have Joe Barksdale and Roger Saffold to hold down the tackle positions just fine.
#3 Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
For the past couple of drafts, the Jaguars have stayed away from taking a QB. Now, the reasons for that seemed to have changed depending on the GM in charge. Gene Smith was likely giving Blaine Gabbert time to turn into something, and David Caldwell seems like he wants to build a team up and have the QB be the last piece, which is a very smart way to build a team. While the Jags roster is much improved now as compared to the end of 2011, it still isn’t a QB away. They made some nice FA additions in the offseason, and adding someone like Mack can add even more to that offseason. The Jags front seven looks decent this year, but nothing special, and Mack can immediately help out the linebacking corps. Add a wide receiver or two in the middle rounds, and suddenly you have a good defense and some nice weapons for a QB from the seemingly loaded 2015 class.
#4 Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Jaguars taking Mack has to be an absolute dream for Cleveland. Even with the promising play of Brian Hoyer in his short audition last year, the Browns desperately need a QB. They also could use another weapon opposite Josh Gordon. If two of the top three picks are Clowney and Mack, then Cleveland is locked in for either Sammy Watkins or Teddy Bridgewater, which is a huge boon for them. In this case, they end up with Bridgewater and may just have found their franchise QB for the first time in a loooooong time. The Browns already have a solid defense and a good line, and with another pick in the first round, they can really build a good team round Bridgewater (or Hoyer) very quickly.
#5 Oakland Raiders: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Raiders could go a lot of ways with this pick as GM Reggie McKenzie chose to gut the roster and start over when he took over. They could go QB here, but I feel that if it isn’t Bridgewater, they might be reaching a little. Instead they solidify their offensive line to give Matt McGloin (or a mid-late round choice) something less sieve-like to stand behind. Menelik Watson looks like he can be a good tackle, but he doesn’t seem like a long-term choice at left tackle. Jake Matthews can either immediately take over on the blind side, or start on the right and then switch to the left when the decision is warranted, having experience with both in college. Greg Robinson is seen by some as the best lineman in the draft due to his ceiling, but Matthews is much more polished and can have an impact right away.
#6 Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
With back to back teams with offensive line needs, the top two tackles go off the board very quickly. The Falcons, like a few other teams, were absolutely ravaged by injury last year, and it really showed on their offensive and defensive lines. The Falcons might try to swing a trade up for Clowney, but failing that, they should address the other side of the trenches. Robinson gives them someone who can start at right tackle right now, and can possibly move to left tackle and take over for Sam Baker down the line. While Robinson doesn’t solve all of the Falcons O-Line woes, he helps as much as one pick can at this point. If Matthews doesn’t go in the top 5, I don’t see how Atlanta can pass him up instead, but either way, I see them going tackle.
#7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
There is no team that I am less confident is going to pick in their assigned slot than the Bucs. I feel like they could move up or down and fill their needs better than they could at number 7. I really think they could move down and get Evans later, or get one of the top corners, or trade up for Clowney or Mack. However, since I’m forcing everyone to stay put, I’m going with Evans with this pick. Some might say that Evans is redundant since they already have a big physical receiver in Vincent Jackson, but the Bears have two big physical receivers and have one of the top receiving corps in the league. Evans can be a big target who can fight for the ball, and the Bucs don’t have a whole lot of receiving threats outside of V-Jax right now.
#8 Minnesota Vikings: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Minnesota is another QB needy team in the top picks, but I feel like Derek Carr really fits them well, and 8 is too early for them to pick him, so instead they shore up their defense by adding to a dismal linebacking corps form last year with one of the top inside linebackers in the draft. Putting a good interior linebacker like Mosley in the middle can take pressure off of Chad Greenway, and with the addition of Captain Munnerlyn at CB, the Vikings would be in great position to run the nickle with Mosley and Greenway being the linebackers. Adding Mosley would put the Vikings a safety and a corner away from having a very good and very underrated defense.
#9 Buffalo Bills: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
I’m not actually a huge fan of Dennard going in the top 10, but with the Bills needs, this is really the best pick I could see them making without trading up or down. The Bills have a very good front seven with Kiko Alonso, Brandon Spikes, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus headlining, but their defensive backfield could use some help. Taking one of the top CBs in the draft class to play opposite Stephon Gilmore helps shore up that backfield, and takes pressure off of the safeties to try and cover for the loss of Jairus Byrd. With the defense they’d have, and the offensive line and weapons they do have, E.J. Manuel would have no excuses to not produce something with the Bills next year.
#10 Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Just like the Bills, the Lions have a very good front seven and a questionable defensive backfield, and just like the Bills, going CB here is probably their best option. They could go safety here, but I feel that they wouldn’t get good value with a pick like that, so they would be better off trading down if they are going to go safety. As of right now, the Lions have a bunch of young promising CBs, but none of them really seem like a true number 1. Gilbert would give them a potential #1 corner and allow them to rotate the rest of their young corners through the second spot and give a few different looks in nickle and dime packagaes. Really, what this pick does is take a good defense and make it better.
#11 Tennessee Titans: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
I was very tempted to go wide receiver here, but with the depth of this year’s class and the fact that the Titans already have Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, who could both keep improving, I couldn’t really justify it. So instead, the run on corners continues. The Titans could go safety here, but, like the Lions, I think it’s a bit too early for safeties. Also, Jason McCourty is an excellent number 2 corner, but he’s not a real number one, and Coty Sensabaugh isn’t really an answer on the outside. Roby would come in and be able to play opposite McCourty and really solidify this defense.
#12 New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, UNC
The Giants seem to have two pressing needs right now: (especially after their free-agency splurge), offensive line and tight end. With Matthews and Robinson off the board, there are no O-Lineman I like that would be available here that wouldn’t be considered a reach. So instead, they go the tight end route and nab the top tight end in the draft. Eric Ebron is more a receiving tight end than a balanced one, but he is very athletic and can be yet another weapon for Eli Manning to throw to. The Giants haven’t had a really reliable tight end since Kevin Boss left, and taking Ebron would allow them to return to that type of threat.
#13 St. Louis Rams: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Outside of safety, I don’t see a pressing need for the Rams at this pick, so they can afford to take a risk a bit here. If trades were a thing, I would expect a team to trade up to snag Barr by now, as he’s very talented but not polished enough for any of the top teams to risk a pick on him. The Rams, however, can afford to take the risk because, if Barr struggles early, they can run the nickle often (like they already do) and keep James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree on the field instead while he develops. Then, assuming he improves as he should, they can get more creative with their front-seven looks through moving around Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Barr. This is a sort of a luxury pick, but the value is too high to pass up.
#14 Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt
The Bears have to be very happy that Donald falls to them here. He’s a very good 3-technique tackle for 4-3 fronts, and is a borderline top 10 talent. However, barring a trade up by a team like the Cowboys, no one is really in position to take him and use him. Donald can come in and help lessen the pain from losing Henry Melton, and might help bring the Bears defense back to something at least looking somewhat like the Bears defenses of old. They could also go safety here, but getting a value who also fills a need like Donald is better than just filling a need in the end.
#15 Pittsburgh Steelers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Steelers unfortunately miss out on the run on corners, but they have such a need there with the aging Ike Taylor, that they should go with the best available one anyway. Fuller is not as talented as the trio who went before him, but the Steelers can have him back up Taylor for the time being, and then let him take over when it’s time for Taylor to hang it up. It’s also very hard to not pick defense for the Steelers, as it feels as if they pick a defensive player in the first round of every draft, and usually to good effect. Fuller isn’t a reach, so the Steelers can justify going need over best available here more than the average team can.
#16 Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
With Aaron Donald off the board, the Cowboys go with someone who fills a huge hole at a proper value with Pryor. I do like Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix more than Pryor as an overall prospect, but the Cowboys had an issue with tackling last year, and Pryor is more of an in-the-box, hard hitting safety, where Clinton-Dix’s strength is coverage. Pryor helps fill the hole at safety well enough that he could potentially make this defense a lot better. With how bad they were last year, I doubt he’ll be a savior, but I think Pryor can have quite the noticeable impact on the Cowboys’ defense.
#17 Baltimore Ravens: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
With the addition of Matt Elam last year, the Ravens got a new hard-hitting strong safety to replace the departed Bernard Pollard, but they didn’t really have a replacement at free safety for Ed Reed. Clinton-Dix is one of, if not the, best free safeties in the draft, and pairing him with Elam would give the Ravens a very good safety combo for at least a few years, if not longer. Finally getting a cover safety who can at least passably take over where Reed left off would help bring the Ravens defense back to the strength it was for a long time.
#18 New York Jets: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
The Jets benefit from the depth of this class, as a lot of teams with somewhat of a need at wide receiver can afford to pass up on the top wide-outs with an eye on taking a mid-round receiver or two. This allows Beckham to be available when the Jets pick at 18. With no receivers really worth mentioning outside of Jeremy Kerley and the newly added Eric Decker, the Jets probably have the biggest need for a receiver out of anyone in the league. Adding Beckham would give them a number one option, allowing Kerley to operate in the slot, and take pressure off Decker to be the number two. (Though Decker would likely start as the number one) If the Jets could do as well as they did last year with no real weapons, they can go far with Beckham and Decker being brought in.
#19 Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Even if the Richie Incognito-Johnathan Martin scandal didn’t happen last year, there still would have been huge holes on the line for the Dolphins and they really need to address them. As of right now, LT and C are locked down with Brandon Albert and Mike Pouncey respectively. Since they have such a need at the three other spots, a versatile lineman like Martin would do them well. Martin played tackle at Notre Dame, so he could play RT for the Dolphins and give them bookend tackles, or he could be moved inside to play guard, where he could help give the Dolphins a very good left side of the line, and prevent Tannehill from being blindsided too often. Either way, Martin makes a vast improvement to Miami’s O-Line, and I feel that this is the easiest pick of prospect to team in the first round since Clowney.
#20 Arizona Cardinals: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The Cardinals only really have two pressing needs, safety and guard. With Clinton-Dix and Pryor off the board, all of the remaining safeties would be a reach this early, and the same is true for guards. So the Cardinals can nab Bortles to have him sit and develop behind Carson Palmer for a couple years with the idea that he can fix his flaws and take over when Palmer’s contract is up or he retires. If Bortles is forced to start right away, he could flame out, so going to a team like the Cards where he can sit and learn for a little while is really beneficial for both parties.
#21 Green Bay Packers, Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
The Packers have two large needs this year, and, in typical Packer fashion lately, they’re both on the defensive side of the ball. Those positions being safety and linebacker. With trades, I actually think the Packers are in a good position to trade down and snag Jimmie Ward, but staying put they can address the linebacker spot instead. A.J. Hawk is solid, but outside of Clay Matthews, there aren’t really any linebackers the Packers can count on to perform week in and week out, whether due to injury (Nick Perry) or talent level (Brad Jones). Shazier would be able to come in and complement Hawk in the run-stopping department and help the Packers front seven get a lot better than it has been.
#22 Philadelphia Eagles, Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Another team that needs safety help that picks too late to nab one of Clinton-Dix or Pryor, the Eagles are in a prime spot to trade up, but barring that, they can pick up the last of the top 5 CBs in Jason Verrett and still add to the quality of their defensive backfield. Having better pass defenders coupled with their pass rush, the Eagles defense should improve with the upgrade at CB that Verrett represents.
#23 Kansas City Chiefs, Bradin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Behind the Jets, the Chiefs may be the next most wide receiver needy team in the draft. Outside of Dwayne Bowe, their receiving threats leave more than a bit to be desired. Cooks can come in and give them a threat in the slot immediately. With a QB like Alex Smith who is excellent at making smart, safe throws, Cooks’ underneath game should thrive in Kansas City, and really help the offense take off. A legitimate QB like Smith throwing to Bowe, Jamaal Charles, and Cooks is a recipe for a good offense.
#24 Cincinnati Bengals: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Bengals biggest needs are in the secondary, but there aren’t really any safeties or cornerbacks left that I can really justify spending a first on, so instead the Bengals get their replacement for the departed Michael Johnson. Tuitt can play DE in a 4-3, and if he can adequately fill Johnsin’s shoes, he can help keep the Bengals already formidable front seven as good as it was last year. A line with Tuitt, Domata Peko, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins on it is not one to be taken lightly.
#25 San Diego Chargers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
I am not a fan of Lewan as a first round pick because of some mechanics issues and his off the field incidents, but a left tackle is pretty much the missing piece to the Chargers’ line and possibly offense in general. Lewan can start at LT right away, and if he can iron out the mechanical issues he can be dominant. With this pick, the Chargers could either solidify their line and give Philip Rivers plenty of time to throw, or they could just be drafting King Dunlap’s backup. This is the most high risk high reward pick I’ve put in this mock so far.
#26 Cleveland Browns: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Since they snagged Teddy with their first pick, the Browns can grab a weapon for Bridgewater to play with here. Lee is one of the more raw receivers in this draft, but he has incredible potential and could develop into a great threat opposite Josh Gordon. Adding Lee to Gordon, Jordan Cameron, and Ben Tate would give the Browns’ QB (in this case, Bridgewater) a ton to work with, and pair that with their very good defense, and the Browns might finally be turning the ship around. Of course Lee is a risky pick due to how raw he is, but since the Browns have two first rounders and a bunch of second, third, and fourth rounders, they can afford to take a risk here.
#27 New Orleans Saints: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
None of the Saints’ needs (ILB, CB, S) are really good picks at this point, so if this is the position they are in in the real draft, I fully expect them to try to trade down. However, standing pat they can try to lessen the loss of Lance Moore by getting Drew Brees a new toy to play with. Matthews is a perfect outside receiver to play second fiddle to Marques Colston, and in the likely event that Colston misses a few games, Matthews can likely carry the load as the number one for a little while. Like the Rams with Barr, this is a bit of a luxury pick, but you don’t get to be pick number 27 without being good enough to make luxury picks. There are enough defensive backs in the mid-rounds for the Saints to take a chance on for them to get hurt by this pick too much.
#28 Carolina Panthers: Joel Bitonio, OT, Nevada
With the retirement of Jordan Gross, offensive line has leap-frogged wide receiver as the biggest need for the Panthers (especially after the additions of Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and Tiquan Underwood). Also, with how deep this draft is at WR, they can afford to wait on WR for a little while. The Panthers have a need both at tackle and at guard, but I feel that this draft is a little bit deeper at guard then at tackle. Bitonio can help fill the hole left by Jordan Gross and lessen the pressure put on Byron Bell to play better than he is. I was thinking of having them take Xavier Su’a-Filo here, but taking Bitonio means they could take David Yankey or Cyril Richardson later, and I’m not sure there’s a tackle of equal quality who would be around when those two would be, so Bitonio won out.
#29 New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots love to run a lot of two TE sets, and with Aaron Hernandez no longer around, they need a new H-back/move-TE. Jace Amaro can fill exactly that role, as he was more of a H-back at Tech than a traditional TE. Also, if and when Rob Gronkowski goes down with an injury, Michael Hoomanawanui is not exactly the best answer to fill in, so Amaro would be valuable in that way. Last year was considered a bad year for the Pats offense with all of the injuries and lack of weapons, so one can only imagine what adding someone else for Brady to throw to can do for this offense.
#30 San Francisco 49ers: Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
Nix is one of the few true nose tackles in the draft, and for the past couple seasons the Niners seem to have kept trying and trying to find a permanent solution there. While Glenn Dorsey seemed to work last year, I’m not confident he can do that long term, so Nix can take over the spot. And if Dorsey can hold down the NT spot? Then Nix could probably slide to 3-4 DE and be a rotational player until he takes over for Justin Smith. Either way Nix provides a boost to the Niners’ already strong D-Line.
#31 Denver Broncos: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
With the departure of Zane Beadles to the Jags, the Broncos are left with a hole at guard, and their biggest objective on offense should be protecting Peyton Manning. With that in mind, taking Su’a-Filo here is a no brainer. If he can be the answer at guard, the Broncos will once again have a very strong line, and a strong line brought together with Peyton, multiple receiving threats, and good running backs equals lots of points. The Broncos don’t have many positions where they are truly hurting so taking Su’a-Filo here just makes a lot of sense.
#32 Seattle Seahawks: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The rich get richer here, as the Seahawks add to their impressive line with Hageman. Hageman can play pretty much every spot on the Seahawks defensive line besides the LEO end, as he’s not a pure pass rusher. However, he can play the interior line positions on Seattle’s front quite well, and can play the run stopping end if needed every once in a while. Hageman can start off as a rotational player on their line and then allow the Seahawks to have the luxury of letting some of their D-Line players walk in free agency. With no huge needs outside of maybe offensive line, the Seahawks can afford to add to a strength here.