Of all the years I haven’t known anything entering the draft, this is really the year I don’t know anything. I texted congratulations to a general manager with a top-10 pick Sunday, saying he deserved praise because no one around the league knew what he was doing at his pick.
“Ha!’’ this GM texted back. “Neither do we :)”
There’s another team that is practicing intentional misdirection right now. By that I mean this team knows some of its coaches and front-office officials talk to people around the league, and some of the employees have been told it wouldn’t be such a terrible things if you left the impression we might take so-and-so, or this-and-that. Earnestly. That’s why it’s so dangerous to trust everything you hear at this time of year. You’re best to go with your gut feeling, judging by what teams need.
More than ever this year, my strategy is to get as many first-round picks as possible correct. I won’t have many direct hits—that’s a guarantee. But if I do well, say 27 or 28 first-round picks actually getting picked in the round, I’ll consider it a success.
Also, if you want to see what teams should do in the first round, colleague Greg Bedard has you covered.
Style notes: Teams that I have trading, either up or down, are listed in italics. And teams that want to trade but weren’t able to find a deal in my mock are listed with an asterisk.
1. *Houston: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
While everyone talks about the immense athleticism of Jadeveon Clowney, let’s point this out: Mack’s 40 time at his Pro Day was 4.53 seconds. Clowney’s was 4.53 seconds. Mack vertical-jumped 40 inches, Clowney 37.5. GM Rick Smith must ignore the heat for bypassing Clowney.
2. St. Louis: Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
Biggest question for Jeff Fisher, obviously, is how he can not pick Jake Matthews, the son of a former great Oiler/Titan. But Bruce Matthews will understand. Robinson has the potential to be Orlando Pace II.
3. Jacksonville: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
All along I’ve thought it’d be Watkins or Mack here. One GM told me, “Take the safest guy here. David Caldwell will go safe.” Nobody truly is a safe pick in the NFL, but in the Watkins-versus-Clowney game, Watkins seems safer to me. And talk about a need pick.
4. Atlanta: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, S. Carolina
(Acquired from Cleveland for first- and third-round picks.)
I wouldn’t be surprised if Mack was higher-rated by the Falcons, but with Clowney still there at such a vital position of need, it’s worth the risk to jump up and ensure the Raiders don’t pick him.
5. Oakland: Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
Raiders get their Texas A&M offensive star, just not the one lots of Raiders fans wished it was. But offensive line is a huge need for Oakland, and GM Reggie McKenzie can dip into the deep pool of second-round quarterbacks with the 36th overall pick.
6. Cleveland: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
(Acquired from Atlanta, with a third-round pick, in the trade-down from 4 to 6.)
Browns get their Texas A&M offensive star, just not the one lots of Browns fans wished it was. But how about a trio of Josh Gordon, Evans and Andrew Hawkins, the former Bengals waterbug, in the slot? Browns need a lot. This is good value for the spot. It would also give the Brown a ridiculous seven of the top 110 picks.
7. Tampa Bay: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Wow. Three players in a row from A&M. Imagine that. If the Bucs do this, Manziel gets to learn for at least half the season behind Josh McCown (a very good player-coach), and the Bucs might be able to turn Mike Glennon into a late day-two pick.
8. Minnesota: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Not buying the Blake Bortles buzz here, as much sense as it makes. The Vikings just have too many quarterbacks rated too closely, and they know they can get one with the 40th pick. Donald has some freakish athletic traits. Not quite John Randle, but the man is quick and can get to the passer.
9. *Buffalo: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
Bills stunned that Lewan’s still hanging around, and they pass on tight end Eric Ebron, who could be a great security blanket for E.J. Manuel. Keep in mind that GM Doug Whaley is very much open for business here, and could trade down and still get another guy they love: Odell Beckham.
10. Detroit: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
I’ve heard just about every position possible here, and this could end up being Eric Ebron. But the Lions have to go corner. They just have to. Especially with the new defensive staff not seeing much talent to work with at the position.
11. Tennessee: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Ken Whisenhunt gulps hard when passing on a corner, and on Derek Carr. But the Titans need a pass-rusher badly. Barr has some limitations as a complete player, but he can get after the quarterback, and the Titans are going to need to threaten Andrew Luck to win the AFC South.
12. N.Y. Giants: Zack Martin, T-G-C, Notre Dame
The offensive line is being overhauled and the Giants will pounce if Martin’s there. “Most versatile lineman I’ve seen come out in the draft in the last 10 years,’’ one assistant GM tell me.
13. *St. Louis: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Mich. St.
Too bad Martin didn’t fall just one little slot here; if so, Rams GM Les Snead could have made a good trade for this pick with desperate Miami at 19. Dennard is a luxury pick who can challenge Trumaine Johnson at left corner in camp. I don’t have a good feel for the Rams’ pick here, but I am pretty sure it won’t be Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
14. Chicago: Calvin Pryor, SS, Louisville
My bet is GM Phil Emery would have liked Aaron Donald a lot here, and he’d be happy to move down if a greedy team threw him a day two pick. The Bears need some secondary reconstruction, and Pryor could start it.
15. Philadelphia: Odell Beckham, WR-KR, LSU
(Acquired from Pittsburgh for first- and second-round picks.)
A bit of a risky move, because the Eagles probably could have stayed at 22 and gotten Marqise Lee, another object of their affections. But the versatility of Beckham—who can play outside and slot and on returns—makes him a good replacement for DeSean Jackson. And cheaper.
16. Dallas: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Defensive coaches breathe a big sigh that Manziel’s off the board, because they know Jerry Jones was smitten with him. Jernigan will be day-one help for the league’s 30th-ranked run defense from last year. Not a giant, but a good run player because he plays with strong leverage.
17. Baltimore: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Party in the Ravens’ draft room. They love Ebron’s ability to be an instant force in the passing game and, combined with Dennis Pitta and perhaps Owen Daniels, the Ravens will have the best tight-end depth chart in football. Joe Flacco is very, very pleased.
18. N.Y. Jets: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Still smarting from the Stephen Hill bust of a pick two years ago, the Jets get it right this time with a player who is every bit as good and explosive as last year’s top receiver picked—Tavon Austin. He’ll be exciting to watch. Finally the Jets can be competitive in offensive weaponry after being awful for the past few years.
19. Miami: Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama
Not the tackle the Dolphins wanted, but at this point, beggars can’t be choosers. The Dolphins’ need is so big that new GM Dennis Hickey just had to do this. I expect Hickey to try to move up for Zack Martin, but I also expect he’ll find the price way too high.
20. Arizona: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
I just get the feeling that GM Steve Keim looks at his draft board here and thinks, “Well, Ted Thompson took Aaron Rodgers when it wasn’t a crying need—and maybe Carson Palmer will give us two more solid years. But Carr’s too good, and too high on our board, to pass up.”
21. Green Bay: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
I wanted to put Ryan Shazier here, and that could well be Ted Thompson’s pick. But the Packers have to like Mosley’s nose for the ball, and Green Bay’s need at inside linebacker is big. This is a logical pick, and Thompson’s a logical man.
22. Pittsburgh: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
(Acquired from Philadelphia in the trade-down from 15 to 22.)
The Steelers are desperate to rebuild their cornerback depth chart, and this four-year starter in the ACC is a good way to begin. He’s physical too, the kind of player Mike Tomlin demands in the defensive backfield.
23. *Kansas City: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Alex Smith, you’ve got a weapon. Dwayne Bowe, you’ve got a running mate. Though I think the Chiefs are hungry to get out of the pick—they don’t pick again till 87, having surrendered two second-rounders to San Francisco for Smith—I also think Andy Reid knows he needs help at receiver to upgrade his offensive attack.
24. Cincinnati: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Safety’s not the biggest need for the Bengals, but this pick falls into the category of “I’ve got to find a spot for Ha Ha.” Cincinnati has replenished good positions in recent years, and that’s what this pick is about. The Bengals can use help in the back end.
25. San Diego: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Chargers gave up 259 passing yards a game last year, and they face the reality of having to beat Peyton Manning for at least the next two years if they want to win the AFC West. A corner upgrade is vital. Verrett might be the best slot corner in this draft, and he’s good value here.
26. Cleveland: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Fla.
The crash-and-burn that was Bortles’ night in the draft green room ends as Ray Farmer wins his game of chicken with the rest of the league. Can this happen? I am dubious, but I do think a very good player or two will fall precipitously, and as I made my calls in the past few days, I couldn’t find a Bortles lover. One may be in hiding. We’ll see.
27. New Orleans: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
GM Mickey Loomis has gotten some very good value picks over the years, and this would be right up with the better ones in that class. I still think Loomis could go Darqueze Dennard in this scenario and be happy; Champ Bailey will be 36 in June. But Shazier is Rob Ryan’s kind of guy: disruptive (30.5 tackles behind the line last year) and tough, tough, tough.
28. Carolina: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Now we get into the not-so-cream of the receiver crop. GM Dave Gettleman likes college experience and production out of his picks, so here comes the SEC’s all-time leading receiver, coming off a 112-catch season. Doesn’t hurt that he’s 6-3 and runs below a 4.5.
29. *New England: Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
Everyone I’ve talked to said some version of, “Oh, New England’s trading out.” Which I buy. I also would buy tight end Jace Amaro here. I do not buy Ra’shede Hageman. Too boom-or-bust. Tuitt’s a very strong Patriot kind of versatile tackle and 3-4 end with the ability to play outside, a la Vince Wilfork.
30. *San Francisco: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
The 49ers lack speed outside, and that’s why I think it’s more likely they vault way up using their treasure trove of picks (56, 61, 77, 94, to name the next four) than it is that they’d stay put. But if they don’t find a partner, Latimer and his 4.4 speed could be a good compliment to receiving-game staples Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.
31. Denver: Ra’shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
“John Fox loves Hageman,’’ one GM told me Monday, and putting him in a three-man combo platter with Sylvester Williams and Terrance Knighton would be big trouble for the offensive coordinators of the AFC West … if Hageman can be the kind of consistent player he wasn’t always at Minnesota.
32. Cleveland: Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA
(Acquired in trade with Seattle for a second- and low fourth-round pick.)
The Browns have been trying to sneak into the lower first round, thinking they’d need to move ahead of Houston at 33 to get their quarterback. But if they get Bortles or Manziel, now they have the luxury of jumping up four spot to get the best guard in the draft, filling a big need.