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Row12.com - A Community of Sports Writers and Fans!                                               ***Attention Writers***
 
2014 NFL Draft Blog: Day 1
By Matt Horkman

Welcome to Row12’s coverage of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Stay with us throughout the night as we provide instant analysis of each first-round selection.

The NFL’s decision to move the draft to May is unpopular with fans. Commissioner Roger Goodell says Radio City Music Hall couldn’t have hosted in April, but that’s just spin. This was a business decision by the league, who wanted the draft to air during May sweeps, so they can create more television revenue.

Day 1 Buzz

The biggest buzz leading into this draft is what Houston will do with the No. 1 overall pick. It seems unlikely the Texans will move down, as their asking price is too high. That leaves them with the choice of selecting South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who would play outside linebacker in their base defense, or Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack.

Mack is a better fit for their defense, but defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel worked under Bill Belichick in New England. The Patriots used to run a base 3-4 defense, but they now run a hybrid defense. Crennel would be wise to consider implementing 4-3 packages (like Belichick did) if the Texans choose Clowney, as defensive end is his natural position.

Tonight’s other major storyline is the draft stock of Johnny Manziel. Will the Rams take him at No. 2? Will they grab him at No. 13? What about the Jaguars, Browns, Raiders, Buccaneers, and Vikings? There’s even one rumor suggesting the Giants could draft him.

You can checkout an article I did on him at this link.

My opinion is that he’ll go to Tampa Bay at No. 7 or he’ll fall out of the top 15. If that happens, I suspect somebody (Jacksonville) to jump back into the first round to select him if the price is right.

Trade Scenarios

The three teams I think could move down early are Houston, St. Louis, and Oakland. The Texans may just select Clowney No. 1 overall and look to trade him ala Eli Manning for Philip Rivers in 2004. NFL Network just reported that Houston will get their best offer while they’re on the clock. Atlanta, Buffalo, and Jacksonville are ideal candidates to move up, though the Texans can’t move down to No. 6 or No. 9 and still get Mack.

The Rams need to decide whether they want the draft’s best tackle prospect (Greg Robinson) or extra picks. Jeff Fisher coached Bruce Matthews in Houston and Tennessee, so he’s known Jake Matthews, who is Bruce’s son, for along time. That comfort factor could work in Matthews’ favor.

I suspect the Raiders could move down several times, targeting a quarterback. They could call up San Francisco, who could put together a huge package of picks that may tempt general manager Reggie McKenzie. Imagine the 49ers coming up to select Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins.

We’ll soon find out all the answers to our questions as the Texans are about to go on the clock.

Round 1

1. Houston Texans select South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
Reaction: As I said above, don’t rule out a possible trade with another team ala Eli Manning for Philip Rivers ten year ago. However, if the Texans keep Clowney, they have the potential to field a defense featuring the league’s top inside rusher (J.J. Watt) and edge rusher (Clowney). It would be the modern day equivalency of Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones, who wreaked havoc on quarterbacks for the L.A. Rams in the 1960s.

Great drama with that pick, though.

2. St. Louis Rams select Auburn OT Greg Robinson
Reaction: Assuming the organization still believes in Sam Bradford, building an offense around him is the No. 1 priority for the Rams tonight. Robinson is the top tackle prospect in the draft. His combination of athleticism and size is rare. The Rams already have Jake Long, who is coming off a torn ACL, and Rodger Saffold, so Robinson won’t have to play left tackle right away. They’ll likely put him at guard or right tackle. The Ravens did something similar with Jonathan Ogden his rookie year.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars select Central Florida QB Blake Bortles
Reaction: Another season with Chad Henne starting at quarterback spells 4-12, so the Jaguars needed to address the position. Three attributes scouts want in quarterbacks are size, mobility, and arm strength. Bortles checks the boxes on all three. However, his accuracy, decision-making, and mechanics need a lot of work. These are correctable problems, but it might not come right away.

And Buffalo moves up to No. 4. I think they want Sammy Watkins.

4. Buffalo Bills select Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
Reaction: The Bills are going all in this season as they traded their first and fourth-round picks in 2015 to move up to select Watkins, who is the best skill player of his class. He has the versatility to lineup outside, in the slot, or even in the backfield. His acceleration is elite and he’s dangerous after the catch. Simply put, he is a unique talent with the ability to change the game with a single play. Buffalo potentially could have their own version of the triplets with E.J. Manuel, C.J. Spiller, and Watkins.

5. Oakland Raiders select Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack
Reaction: The pressure is on general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen to produce results, after back-to-back disappointing seasons. Allen was Denver’s defensive coordinator when they selected Von Miller with the No. 2 overall pick a few seasons ago. He can use Mack in a similar fashion. I suspect Mack will play linebacker on first and second downs. On passing downs, he’ll likely put his hand in the dirt and rush the quarterback.

6. Atlanta Falcons select Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews
Reaction: Matt Ryan is coming off a season in which he took a career-high 44 sacks, so upgrading their pass protection was important in Atlanta. Matthews is the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. His cousin Clay Matthews III is currently one of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the NFL. The Texas A&M prospect is big, strong, and plays with a mean streak. He drives opponents off the ball in the run game and is an NFL-ready pass protector.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
Reaction: At 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, pairing Evans with Vincent Jackson (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) gives Lovie Smith a pair of receivers that mirrors Chicago’s Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Evans uses his massive frame to outmaneuver opponents, allowing him to win many jump balls. He also makes good adjustments to the ball while it’s in the air. Overall, he is a bid-bodied possession receiver with good upside.

8. Cleveland Browns select Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert
Reaction: A playmaking corner, Gilbert does a terrific job of undercutting routes. He had five interceptions in 2013, emerging as one of college football’s biggest playmaking defensive backs. His technique and tackling need work, but his physical attributes are off the chart. Pairing him with Joe Haden solidifies the position for Cleveland, and they still have a first-round pick later tonight to address their quarterback woes.

9. Minnesota Vikings select UCLA OLB Anthony Barr
Reaction: The Vikings play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, and Matthew Stafford, so upgrading the pass rush with this pick was about countering those quarterbacks. In addition, new Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer wants versatility with his linebackers, and Barr brings that to the table. He can standup or play with his hand in the dirt. He’s also discipline against the run.

10. Detroit Lions select North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
Reaction: While the Vikings want to stop Green Bay and Chicago, the Lions want to try and outscore them. Ebron is a great route runner. He’s capable of torching man coverage on the outside as a receiver. I wouldn’t compare him to Jimmy Graham or Vernon Davis, but he displays all the necessary attributes to develop into a high-level pass catcher.

11. Tennessee Titans select Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
Reaction: The Titans did sign Michael Oher in free agency to play right tackle, but he’s among the most overrated players in the NFL. Lewan had an excellent pre-draft process. He put on a show at the combine. Frankly, the separation between him, Robinson, and Matthews isn’t huge. I suspect they’ll plug him in at right tackle, with Oher moving to second string.

12. N.Y. Giants select LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Reaction: Upgrading the talent around Eli Manning is definitely something the Giants needed to do. Beckham Jr. does a nice job of catching the ball with his hands, not his body. He runs excellent routes, which is vital to succeeding in Ben McAdoo’s offense. Beckham Jr. also offers value in the return game.

13. St. Louis Rams select Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald
Reaction: Adding Donald to a defensive line that already consists of Robert Quinn and Chris Long is, well, frightening. He took full advantage of the pre-draft process by performing well during Senior Bowl week and at the NFL combine. His production was outstanding. He totaled 59 tackles (28.5 for loss) and 11 sacks. Based on their first two picks, the Rams are ready for a fight in the NFC West.

14. Chicago Bears select Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller
Reaction: Both Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are in their 30s, so Chicago is thinking long-term with this pick. Fuller has good measurables. He’s 6-foot, 190 pounds, and has long arms. He has good instincts and recognizes routes, consistently making plays on the ball. I look forward to watching him battle with Green Bay’s Randall Cobb in the slot.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers select Ohio State OLB Ryan Shazier
Reaction: You get players with athleticism, but they lack production. You get players with production, but they lack athleticism. Shazier has both. He ran a 4.38 in the 40 at his pro day, which is blazing for a linebacker. He’s versatile enough to play inside or outside linebacker in Pittsburgh’s scheme. The more I watched of him, the more I liked.

I would be shocked if Dallas drafts Johnny Manziel.

16. Dallas Cowboys select Notre Dame OT Zack Martin
Reaction: The versatility of Martin definitely attracted Dallas to him. He’s the most polished offensive lineman in the draft, starting 53 consecutive games for the Fighting Irish. His short arms (under 33 inches) will probably keep him from playing left tackle, but he moves well and plays with a mean streak. His best position is right tackle, but he could also kick inside and play guard. Assuming he starts this season, he’ll be the third starter on Dallas’ offensive line drafted in the first round. The other two are left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick.

17. Baltimore Ravens select Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley
Reaction: I wonder what this means for second-year linebacker Arthur Brown, who the Ravens took in the second round last year. Regardless, Mosley is a good run defender and times his blitzes well. He does a nice job of diagnosing plays and reacting to them. He takes great angles in pursuit. He’s not the next Luke Kuechly, which is why he fell to No. 17, but his toughness and tackling fundamentals suggest that he’s a future high-end starter.

18. N.Y. Jets select Louisville S Calvin Pryor
Reaction: Pryor serves as an intimidator on the backend. His tackling fundamentals are very good. He’s isn’t somebody who is going to launch himself at an opponent just for the sake of landing a big blow. In Rex Ryan’s scheme, he could become the Jets’ version of Troy Polamalu. Like the Pittsburgh all-pro, he doesn’t cover the slot well, but he trusts his instincts, and is always one of the most physical players on the field.

19. Miami Dolphins select Tennessee OT Ja’Wuan James
Reaction: Ryan Tannehill took a league-high 58 sacks last season, so adding an offensive lineman to the mix was definitely on their radar. James held up well against SEC opponents in pass protection. He has good size (6-foot-6, 311 pounds) and arm length (35 inches). His footwork needs a lot of work and he lacks the athleticism to consistently reach the second level. He’ll play right tackle or kick inside and play guard.

20. New Orleans Saints select Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks
Reaction: The Saints surrendered a third-round pick in this year’s draft to swap first rounders with the Cardinals. A lot of what Sean Payton did with Darren Sproles he can do with Cooks. His blazing speed makes him elite after the catch. He’ll turn a short gain into a long one in the blink of an eye. He was incredibly productive at Oregon State, winning the 2013 Biletnikoff Award. He‘ll do most of his damage from the slot and compares with Green Bay receiver Randall Cobb.

Assuming the Packers don‘t trade their pick, I’m suspecting Darqueze Dennard, Marqise Lee, or Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. The latter would be perfect for them.

21. Green Bay Packers select Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Reaction: And there it is. The Packers haven’t had a legitimate free safety since Nick Collins was forced into retirement because of an injury sustained in 2011. Clinton-Dix has the range to act as the last line of defense on the backend, but he also has the physicality to help in run support. The Packers couldn’t go into 2014 with Sean Richardson and Micah Hyde vying for the spot opposite of Morgan Burnett, so it’s probable Green Bay just added a starter to their defense.

22. Cleveland Browns select Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Reaction: The Browns lost a third-round pick to swap spots with Philadelphia. This is a good spot for Manziel to land. They have a good offensive line -- anchored by Alex Mack and Joe Thomas -- and they already have an elite receiver in place with Josh Gordon. Manziel is more Michael Vick than he is Russell Wilson, as he depends on his legs instead of his arm. That’s something the Browns will have to correct. They already have a talented defense, so Manziel could be the sparkplug that puts their offense over the top.

23. Kansas City Chiefs select Auburn OLB Dee Ford
Reaction: An outstanding Senior Bowl week elevated Ford into round one. Ford played defensive end in college, but will convert to outside linebacker in the pros. He’s an explosive upfield rusher, who does an excellent job of anticipating the snap count. He also accelerates around the edge well. He struggles against the run, but his pass-rushing made him a day one pick.

24. Cincinnati Bengals select Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard
Reaction: Grabbing a cornerback was something Cincinnati needed, as their current corners are aging. Next season, Adam Jones turns 31 and Leon Hall turns 30. Because of injuries, they relied on 35-year-old Terrance Newman last season. Dennard reminds me of Darrelle Revis. That’s a big comparison, but he thrives in man coverage and is excellent at jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes he can be too grabby downfield, but overall, he had the best tape of any corner in this draft.

25. San Diego Chargers select TCU CB Jason Verrett
Reaction: You’re not going to beat Peyton Manning if you don’t have quality cornerbacks. Verrett displays good recovery speed, ball skills, and instincts. His size (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) is an issue. In fact, it may be the only issue. He had a terrific combine, posting a 39-inch vertical leap and a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. I think he’ll thrive as a slot corner.

26. Philadelphia Eagles select Louisville OLB Marcus Smith
Reaction: The 2013 American Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Smith can play with his hand in the dirt or standup and play outside linebacker. His athleticism allowed Louisville to play him in a variety of positions, which is something the Eagles value in pass rushers. Philadelphia was last in pass defense a year ago, so finding ways to slow down opposing quarterbacks is a priority. One way to do that is generate pressure and Smith can get that done.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Arizona go quarterback here. They could also grab Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby.

27. Arizona Cardinals select Washington State S Deone Bucannon
Reaction: An excellent run defender, Bucannon is a playmaker with terrific athleticism. In fact, his combination of size and athleticism is arguably the best of this safety class. He was productive, earning first-team All-American honors. He was also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.

28. Carolina Panthers select Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
Reaction: Carolina’s major needs are receiver and offensive tackle. There simply isn’t a first-round worthy tackle left on the board. Benjamin reminds me of Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery, which is a trendy comparison. He has excellent size and fantastic hands. He lacks the elite straight-line speed, but he makes up for it by using his big body to out position defensive backs. His route running is still a work in progress, but it’s getting better.

29. New England Patriots select Florida DE Dominique Easley
Reaction: New England prides itself with versatility on the defensive side of the ball and Easley can play both end and tackle. He is a terrific athlete for his size (6-foot-2, 282 pounds), exhibiting the movement skills to even standup. In many ways, he’s not so different from Green Bay defensive lineman Datone Jones, who went in the first round of last year’s draft. He tore his ACL for the second time in three seasons last September, which is why he didn’t generate much first-round buzz. Assuming he fully recovers, he displays the athleticism, power, and versatility to emerge as a starter.

30. San Francisco 49ers select Northern Illinois S Jimmie Ward
Reaction: A foot injury prevented Ward from working out at the combine, but his tape -- especially his 2013 Orange Bowl performance against Florida State -- is very good. The 49ers did sign Antoine Bethea this off-season and Eric Reid is entering his second season, so it’s likely they’re targeting Ward as a slot cornerback before he eventually replaces Bethea, who turns 30 this July.

I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a draft where four safeties went in round one.

31. Denver Broncos select Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Reaction: Despite signing Aqib Talib in free agency, Denver needed to address their secondary, after they parted ways with long-time cornerback Champ Bailey. Roby has tremendous potential. A strong combine performance elevated him back into round one after he disappointed in 2013. Right now, he is a developmental cornerback with the athleticism and size to develop into a quality NFL Starter.

A total of nine defensive backs go in the first-round.

Minnesota trades back into round one ahead of Houston. I expect them to select Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater. My guess is the latter.

32. Minnesota Vikings select Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater
Reaction: The Vikings are a quarterback away from competing with Green Bay in the NFC North. Bridgewater could be the guy that puts them back into contention. He lacks the wow factor, but Bridgewater displays every major attribute needed to develop into a top-flight signal caller. He demonstrates total command over his surroundings, frequently calling audibles at the line of scrimmage. His throwing mechanics are excellent and he gets rid of the ball quickly. He lacks the big arm to throw a great deep ball, but makes up for it with his accuracy. His mechanics, arm strength, and accuracy compare with current Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Unlike Ryan, though, he has the mobility to extend plays with his legs.

Thanks for checking out Row12’s coverage of the 2014 NFL Draft. I’ll be back tomorrow night with instant reaction to rounds two and three.

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