Oct 12, 2013; Fayetteville, AR, USA; South Carolina Gamecock defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) runs through a block by Arkansas Razorback offensive tackle David Hurd (69) during the first half of a game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. South Carolina defeated Arkansas 52-7. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports
Almost halfway through the regular season and the 2014 NFL draft order is beginning to take shape. How do picks 1-15 stack up for the upcoming college class?
#1 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater – QB – Louisville
This is the only pick that can be considered as close to a lock as any this far away from the 2014 draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars are pitiful at quarterback with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. Teddy Bridgewater is the best of a very deep class. It makes too much sense.
#2 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Marcus Mariota – QB – Oregon
By this point people can rest assured that Greg Schiano is long gone, as is his vision for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster. The new coaching staff may desire a change at the one position holding them back. That might not be fair to Mike Glennon, but Marcus Mariota out of Oregon is just more talented across the board.
#3 – New York Giants – Jadeveon Clowney – DE – South Carolina
With Eli Manning in their back pocket, the New York Giants are free to reap the rewards of a bad season by plucking uber-gifted defensive end Jadeveon Clowney out of South Carolina. He should rev up their long lost pass rush almost immediately and give their defense some of its bite back.
#4 – Minnesota Vikings – Brett Hundley – QB – UCLA
Josh Freeman, Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel have all tried and failed to get the Minnesota Vikings going. That’s pretty sad considered all of them had Adrian Peterson drawing all the attention. So the Minnesota Vikings cut their losses and start over with the talented and well-coached Brett Hundley out of UCLA.
#5 – Houston Texans – Tajh Boyd – QB – Clemson
The Matt Schaub era ends with a sad whimper. The Houston Texans need a quarterback who can take their offense to the next level. With three options already off the board they can’t afford to wait. Tajh Boyd lacks ideal height but he has a very strong arm, loads of experience in a sophisticated offense at Clemson and the mobility along with it.
#6 – Atlanta Falcons – Jake Matthews – OT – Texas A&M
Matt Ryan strikes gold again. After getting Julio Jones two years ago a hiccup season allows the Atlanta Falcons to get him the franchise left tackles he’s sorely lacked since entering the league. Jake Matthews is the best of the 2014 NFL draft class: big, athletic, smart and boasting terrific football bloodlines. He can step in day one.
#7 – Oakland Raiders – Taylor Lewan – OT – Michigan
Having just missed on Matthews the offensive line-needy Oakland Raiders don’t hesitate to get a tackle of their own. Though not at the same level physically as Matthews, Taylor Lewan is a polished prospect out of Michigan. He is technically sound, a powerful run blocker and agile enough to handle most pass rushers.
#8 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Cyrus Kouandjio – OT – Alabama
The runs keep coming at specific positions. The Pittsburgh Steelers have tried to get more protection for Ben Roethlisberger with mixed success. If they could land him a left tackle is might solve a lot of problems. Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama is the youngest and most inexperienced of the first rounders, but he probably has the most athletic upside.
#9 – St. Louis Rams (from WAS) – Louis Nix III – NT – Notre Dame
One last gift comes courtesy of Washington and the RGIII trade for the St. Louis Rams. With the first wave of quarterbacks past they can’t feel too anxious to reach with this high of a pick. Instead they look to fix their porous run defense. Louis Nix III is an ideal fit for a 3-4 but Jeff Fisher should find a place for the massive 340-lbs nose tackle.
#10 – Arizona Cardinals – Antonio Richardson – OT – Tennessee
Having taken guard Jonathan Cooper last year, the Arizona Cardinals choose to forego taking a quarterback to learn behind Carson Palmer and instead give Cooper a wingman. Antonio Richardson is huge, powerful and nimble given his weight. He does sometimes get beaten by pass rushers but his benefits in the run game alone trump that minor issue.
#11 – Baltimore Ravens – Anthony Barr – OLB – UCLA
Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will both be north of 30-years old by the time this draft rolls around. Ever the savvy GM, Ozzie Newsome plays his board correctly and lands a first round steal. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr is the second best pass rusher in his class behind Clowney and a perfect fit for the Baltimore Ravens 3-4 defense.
#12 – Buffalo Bills – Mike Evans – WR – Texas A&M
With plenty of speed at wide receiver with C.J. Spiller, Robert Woods and Marquis Goodwin the Buffalo Bills only lack one last dimension to a solid receiving corps: size. Mike Evans is the best big receiver in college football. At 6’5″ he is already hard to cover. Add in explosive leaping ability and quality speed and he is just what the Bills need to open up the red zone.
#13 – Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel – QB – Texas A&M
Somebody was going to do it before the end of the first round. It might not sound ideal to fans of the Cleveland Browns but there is no denying Johnny Manziel, for all his personal faults, is a playmaker. He’s mobile, tough, and has a good enough arm to make plays. Football lovers can liken him to a Tim Tebow who actually throws the ball well.
#14 – Philadelphia Eagles – Khalil Mack – OLB – Buffalo
Tempted to take a quarterback, Chip Kelly must understand his offense can’t carry the day until the defense is bolstered to a point where it can take advantage of opponents playing from behind. That requires a pass rush. Khalil Mack is a solid fit for their defense, an athletic dual threat who can get after the quarterback but also stop the run.
#15 – St. Louis Rams – Zach Mettenberger – QB – LSU
The unprecedented sixth quarterback to come off the board in the first 15 picks. Sam Bradford tearing his ACL changed a lot of things for the St. Louis Rams. With no certainty as to the future of the 2010 first overall pick, they use their second first round choice to get some insurance in the much improved Zach Mettenberger out of LSU.
Stay tuned for the 2014 NFL mock draft picks 16-32.