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2014 NFL Mock Draft 4.0
By Matt Horkman

1. Houston Texans -- Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Acquiring New England backup Ryan Mallett and selecting South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick remains an enticing option for Houston. Any trade proposal, however, is mere conjecture at this point. The Texans need a quarterback and they seem to favor Bortles over Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel. Many view Bortles as an elite prospect because of his upside, but his accuracy, decision-making, and mechanics need work. Still, the Texans hired Bill O’Brien as their head coach because they wanted him to develop a young franchise quarterback. Even those skeptical of Bortles (myself included) recognize he has the talent to emerge as the best from this draft class.

2. St. Louis Rams -- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Trading out of the No. 2 pick is probably the most likely scenario for St. Louis. There’s sure to be a ton of activity regarding the selection, especially if Clowney is available. Atlanta is the perfect trading partner, as they could then use the pick on Clowney. Drafting him would finally give the Falcons a young centerpiece on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams could also select Clowney, though. Adding him would give them a three-man rotation in their base defense. They could also kick him inside in sub-packages. The trio of Clowney, Chris Long, and Robert Quinn would give them the league’s most formidable defensive line. More than likely, however, St. Louis will move down to target a skill player or offensive tackle.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
No team needs a quarterback as much as Jacksonville does. The organization did re-sign Chad Henne, but they‘re paying him backup money, and another year with him starting has 4-12 written all over it. In addition, the Jaguars sent the farm (general manager, head coach, and offensive coordinator) to Manziel’s pro day. They wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t have substantial interest in him. Many compare Manziel to Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, but I believe the proper comparison is Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick. When a play breaks down, Manziel tucks the ball and runs. It’s his legs (and not his arm) that gives him his wow factor. This isn’t necessarily good for his long-term future, but the Jaguars could use a spark at the position.

4. Cleveland Browns -- Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Not drafting a quarterback with the No. 4 selection and choosing the best player available instead may entice the Browns. Cleveland already has Joe Thomas playing left tackle, but they could use Robinson at right tackle (or even guard) before eventually replacing Thomas with him. They could also choose Sammy Watkins and pair him with all-pro receiver Josh Gordon. In other words, Cleveland has plenty of options should they decided to pass on a quarterback.

5. Oakland Raiders -- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
This off-season has been one of the most active in recent memory for Oakland. They’ve signed several veteran free agents on both sides of the ball, causing some to question the way general manager Reggie McKenzie is building his team. The Oakland general manager could be receiving pressure from owner Mark Davis to field a competitive team, especially after watching the AFC West send three teams to the playoffs in 2013. As a result, McKenzie may put off drafting a young quarterback in favor of targeting a player that’ll make an impact immediately. Just so happens that Watkins could be offensive rookie of the year in 2014. Pairing him with James Jones would give Oakland the best receiving combination they’ve had in over a decade.

6. Atlanta Falcons -- Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
I have a hunch the Falcons will jump the Jaguars in order to draft Clowney. The Rams are the logical trading partner, as they’re looking to move down, and Matthews could easily be their fallback option. Football is in Matthews' blood. In fact, his father Bruce Matthews actually played for current St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher when Fisher coached in Houston and Tennessee. Whether it’s with Atlanta or St. Louis, Matthews has the ability to step in and contribute as an immediate starter.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
Because they filled many of their needs via free agency, Tampa Bay has the luxury of selecting the best player available with the No. 7 pick. Some would argue Mack is one of the five best players in this draft. Tampa did sign free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson in the off-season, but head coach Lovie Smith could plug Mack opposite of him, giving him perhaps the most talented set of defensive ends he has ever coached.
Teddy Bridgewater
8. Minnesota Vikings -- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Whether it’s Bridgewater or somebody else, Minnesota’s probably targeting a quarterback with its first pick. An underwhelming pro day makes for good television, but it isn’t likely to have a significant impact on Bridgewater’s draft status. He’s a top 10 pick, who is ready to step in and start immediately because of his polished mechanics. His game tape is vastly superior to Bortles and Manziel, so the Vikings would be getting excellent value by making him the third quarterback taken in this draft. In fact, given the existing talent on their roster, Bridgewater could be the final piece to put this team back into playoff contention.

9. Buffalo Bills -- Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Bills have a good left tackle in Cordy Glenn, but they could upgrade the right side. Lewan entered the combine as the clear-cut No. 3 offensive tackle in this draft, but he displayed the kind of athleticism and movement skills you see from top 10 tackles. He still remains this draft’s No. 3 tackle, but the gap between him, Matthews, and Robinson may not be as wide as many (like myself) thought.

10. Detroit Lions -- Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Lions need secondary help, but the prospect of pairing Evans with wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate could prove too enticing for general manager Martin Mayhew to pass up. Evans and Johnson are both 6-foot-5, so lining them up on the outside, with Tate in the slot, could make Detroit’s receiving corps one of the most difficult to defend in all of football.

11. Tennessee Titans -- Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
As they switch to more of a hybrid defense, Tennessee will need to re-shape their front seven. Barr has enough athleticism to transition from college defensive end to pro outside linebacker. He can drop in coverage and is versatile enough to play multiple positions, giving the Titans an asset to use to create mismatches upfront.

12. New York Giants -- Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
After a woeful performance on offense in 2013, the Giants decided to shake things up and hire Green Bay quarterback coach Ben McAdoo as their offensive coordinator. McAdoo will bring a calming influence to the Giants, and he’ll bring along the knowledge of developing a high-octane passing game. One of the ingredients to such an offense is a bona fide stud tight end, which Ebron has the skill set to become.

13. St. Louis Rams -- Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
St. Louis neglected the safety position last off-season. It’s a mistake they could repeat if they don’t address the position in this year‘s draft. Clinton-Dix has good size and is physical enough to play in the box. He’s also a natural enough athlete to thrive on the backend. He could step into Fisher’s defense on day one and help the Rams compete with San Francisco and Seattle in the NFC West.

14. Chicago Bears -- Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
After addressing their defensive line throughout free agency, Chicago may turn their attention to their defensive backfield. Pryor is a hard-hitting safety with a nose for the football. He somewhat compares with Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu. He’d have an early impact on a defense that needs to improve if they’re to reach the postseason in 2014.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
With Ike Taylor regressing last year, Pittsburgh finds themselves in the market for cornerbacks. The Steelers finished tied for 29th in interceptions last year, so they need to generate more turnovers. This makes Gilbert an enticing option. He‘s this draft‘s biggest playmaker in the defensive backfield. He’s still developing, but the Steelers aren’t afraid to develop a raw talent.

16. Dallas Cowboys -- Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Cowboys signed Henry Melton in free agency to play defensive tackle in their 4-3 defense. Specifically, Melton will be a three-technique defensive tackle. His presence shouldn’t alter Jerry Jones’ draft strategy, however, as the Cowboys simply need more bodies up front. Landing Donald would be a major get for them. Because of his size (6-foot-1 and 285 pounds), Donald lacks the ideal size of stud defensive tackles. Yet, that’s exactly how he performs. In 2013, he recorded 59 tackles (28.5 for a loss) and 11 sacks. His strong showing during the Senior Bowl and combine likely eased any concerns teams had regarding his size.

17. Baltimore Ravens -- Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Losing right tackle Michael Oher -- who was one of the league’s most overrated players -- in free agency creates a void at right tackle for the Ravens. They can fill it by drafting Martin, who was outstanding at the Senior Bowl where he displayed enough versatility to project as a guard or tackle. Martin could slide into Oher’s old job. Pairing him with Eugene Monroe solidifies Joe Flacco’s protection.

18. N.Y. Jets -- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Pairing Benjamin with the recently signed Eric Decker would give the Jets a pair of big receiving threats on the outside. Benjamin, who has outstanding hands, is 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds. He’s still developing, but he made significant progress in 2013, especially as a route runner

19. Miami Dolphins -- Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Trading up or down to target an offensive lineman is a distinct possibility, especially after Miami surrendered a league-high 58 sacks in 2013. However, guard and right tackle aren't premium positions in the NFL, so the Dolphins could wait until day two of the draft to address both needs, and grab themselves a defensive player with their first pick. The Dolphins need a run-stopping defensive tackle after losing Paul Soliai in free agency. They could fill the void by drafting Jernigan, who is very good in that department.

20. Arizona Cardinals -- Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Dennard thrives is man-coverage and uses his physicality to disrupt receivers downfield. The Cardinals already have Antonio Cromartie, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu, but Cromartie signed for just one season and Mathieu tore his ACL last December. Adding another cornerback is a viable option.

21. Green Bay Packers -- C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Toughness and versatility is what Green Bay wants from their front seven, as they strive to compete with San Francisco and Seattle in the NFC. Signing Julius Peppers makes them more versatile. Drafting Mosley would make them tougher. Many regard the Alabama linebacker as one of the elite prospects of this draft, but linebackers tend to fall on draft day, and the Alabama tag makes him a little overrated. Still, Mosley is an excellent tackler and takes good angles to the football. He and long-time Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk would give the Packers a rugged look at the position.

22. Philadelphia Eagles -- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
You don’t release DeSean Jackson without having a plan in place to replace his production. That plan (if it exists) could involve Cooks, who has the blazing speed to play in Kelly’s offense. Cooks reminds me of Green Bay receiver Randall Cobb, though he also compares with Jackson. His size (5-foot-10 and 187 pounds) could concern the Eagles, but in the last two years, he’s caught 195 passes for 2,881 yards. He’s also scored 23 touchdowns. Kelly coached against him in 2012.

23. Kansas City Chiefs -- Ra'Shede Hageman, DL, Minnesota
Hageman has excellent size (6-foot-6 and 310 pounds) and is versatile enough to play 3-4 defensive end or 4-3 defensive tackle. His inconsistencies suggest that he’s not yet ready to make an immediate impact, but Kansas City head coach Andy Reid values defensive and offensive lineman in round one. Reid has drafted a defensive or offensive lineman in the first round in eight out his last nine attempts.

24. Cincinnati Bengals -- Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Cincinnati is in the market for a pass rusher after losing Johnson to Tampa Bay in free agency. They did draft Margus Hunt in the second round last year, but he’s not a legit pass rusher. Ealy has an outstanding pass-rushing repertoire. He can rush inside or accelerate around the edge. He’d have the potential add another layer to Cincinnati’s defense.

25. San Diego Chargers -- Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Upgrading the defense is a priority for San Diego, especially since they play in the same division as Denver does. Drafting a cornerback is a legit possibility, but their defense would really benefit from having a true nose guard. At 6-foot-2 and 342 pounds, that’s exactly what Nix III is. He’ll stuff the run and absorb double teams, making San Diego’s inside linebackers (Donald Butler and Manti Te’o) better players.

26. Cleveland Browns -- Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
If the Browns opt to pass on a quarterback with their first pick, you can expect them to target one with their second pick. Carr is an interesting prospect. He was very productive for Fresno State in 2013 and his quick release is similar to Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. That doesn’t mean he‘s the next Marino, though, as Carr sometimes forces the ball into coverage. He also needs to work on his accuracy. Nevertheless, he’s an appealing quarterback to any team searching for one in the latter half of round one.

27. New Orleans Saints -- Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
The Saints made major strides defensively under Rob Ryan, but his unit still needs more talent that is aggressive. Bringing in a rusher capable of winning one-on-one battles with opposing offensive lineman is a good start. Throughout Senior Bowl week, Ford displayed enough athleticism to shift from defensive end to outside linebacker. His ability to accelerate around the edge may give him the advantage over BYU’s Kyle Van Noy here.

28. Carolina Panthers -- Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
With a Super Bowl caliber defense in place, Carolina turns their attention to upgrading their offense via the draft. The need for a receiver only grew after the organization parted ways with long-time starter Steve Smith. Beckham does a great job of going up and battling for the football. He’s also versatile enough to play outside or the slot, while athletic enough to get deep. 

29. San Francisco 49ers -- Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Releasing Carlos Rodgers puts the 49ers in the market for another cornerback. A strong combine performance could elevate Roby back into the first round, after he disappointed in 2013. Roby ran a sub 4.40 in the 40-yard dash and scouts like his upside to develop into a quality NFL starter. Drafting a slot receiver instead of a cornerback is also a viable option for San Francisco. 

30. New England Patriots -- Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Surrounding Tom Brady with better skill players is a priority for New England. They need somebody versatile enough to play inside and outside, while athletic enough to stretch the field. Turns out there’s quite a few players like that in this draft. Lee is one of them. He didn’t play as well in 2013 as he did in 2012, but that was mainly due to injuries. When he’s fully healthy, he’s a dynamic threat who is terrific after the catch. Brady could turn him into a star.

31. Denver Broncos -- Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Drafting a cornerback remains in the cards for Denver, even after they signed Aqib Talib in one of free agency’s blockbuster moves. Verrett displays good recovery speed, ball skills, and instincts. His size is an issue, but the Broncos do have smaller cornerbacks on their roster, so they may overlook it. While Verrett can play the outside, I think he’d thrive as a slot corner.

32. Seattle Seahawks -- Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Seahawks need pass catchers. Specifically, they need somebody who can move the chains, as a healthy Percy Harvin will settle in as their big-play threat. Amaro did a great job of moving the sticks at Texas Tech. In fact, he was the most productive tight end in college football last season. You could argue he’s not an elite athlete, but he’s a steady player across the board, and could help take Seattle’s passing game to the next level.

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