Lunacy continues in the August version of the 2014 NFL mock draft. The surprises don’t stop after the top five. Unexpected teams and picks continue to round out the top ten. Where will the next set of players land?
#6 – Tennessee Titans – A.J. McCarron – QB – Alabama
Count this writer as a non-believer in Jake Locker. Despite some offensive line issues the young quarterback has had some decent offensive pieces around him to at least show he is growing. Tossing just 10 touchdowns to 11 interceptions while completing just 56% of his passes in 2012 doesn’t cut it. If he struggles again the Tennessee Titans can and should end the experiment. In his place is perhaps somewhat of a surprise pick. A.J. McCarron doesn’t get much press as a quarterback, but after winning two national titles and throwing 30 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions, he’s a proven game manager with the potential to be much more. Tennessee is built as a run-first team around Chris Johnson, so McCarron would fit right into their system since it mirrors Alabama.
#7 – Indianapolis Colts – Taylor Lewan – OT – Michigan
Andrew Luck has his arrow pointing way up and the Indianapolis Colts have done some great things for their roster. That said, they suffered a key loss in Bruce Arians. He was a huge reason why they won so many tight games, and now the offense must start over with Pep Hamilton. Couple that with a defense that is still in the process of molding itself, it signals a hiccup season is coming for the Colts before they get back to regular contention. If so, they don’t waste the opportunity and fortify the protection of Luck with talented Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan. He returned to college to work on his technique but once that is complete he should rate as the best all-around left tackle in the draft. Indianapolis is happy to have him, and Luck has another piece to help him thrive.
#8 – Carolina Panthers – Sammy Watkins – WR – Clemson
Problems that dogged the Carolina Panthers last year haven’t completely gone away. Cam Newton still doesn’t have an imposing group of receivers to work with outside of Steve Smith. The offensive line seems steady but does have some depth issues and the defense should do fine but has some lingering contract problems approaching that might create unwanted distractions. Toss in the fact Carolina has the toughest schedule of any team in the NFL according to ESPN and it is not a good sign. This could very well get Ron Rivera fired, but whether it does or doesn’t, the Panthers have to better arm Newton. So they scoop up Sammy Watkins. Unlike his teammate DeAndre Hopkins, Watkins scares teams because of his sheer explosion. Pure speed and athleticism make him such a danger, and a perfect replacement for the aging Smith.
#9 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Jake Matthews – OT – Texas A&M
One of the hardest teams to pin down as far as record in 2013 is the Pittsburgh Steelers. On paper they look like a team that will compete for the division title and is still good enough to make one more deep playoff run. However, early film has failed the eye test. Pittsburgh looks like it still has issues protecting Ben Roethlisberger. They lost receiver Mike Wallace and then veteran Plaxico Burress. Key veterans on the defense like Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are getting up there in age. Put simply the team is getting ready for a transition. The temptation to keep feeding the defense with young talent is strong, but the Steelers’ best hope of getting back to the playoffs in 2014 is with Roethlisberger. That means better protection. Jake Matthews is arguably the best tackle in the 2014 draft, but is meant for the right side. Paired with Luke Joeckel in 2012, they helped turn Johnny Manziel into a star. A second generation athlete, son to Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews, Jake was brought up with the talent and teaching to excel in the pros.
#10 – Minnesota Vikings – Johnny Manziel – QB – Texas A&M
Before anybody asks the question, here is why the Minnesota Vikings fall this far. Two words: Christian Ponder. The young quarterback got away with throwing for just 2,935 yards and 18 touchdowns last year because Adrian Peterson had a near record-breaking season. Yes,Minnesota improved their receiving group, but the expectations for a ridiculous season by Ponder are unrealistic because signs would’ve already shown he is ready to do that and it’s unlikely Peterson will repeat what he did last season. Throw in a tough division and the Vikings regress in 2013. While they aren’t ready to replace Ponder quite yet, they get the process rolling by making the buzz pick of the draft so far, taking 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. The young quarterback is more famous for his off-the-field incidents of late but is athletically gifted and knows how to win. Despite questions about his height, he can fit nicely into the Vikings offense and start pushing Ponder for the NF starting job.