Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina Walt also has the Texans passing on a quarterback and it just doesn't make sense for Houston to reach on an inferior talent. I think they will channel their 2006 approach when they took Mario Williams instead of Reggie Bush, Vince Young or Matt Leinart. In speaking with sources, none of the quarterbacks are grading out as a true No. 1 overall pick.
I think Bill O'Brien will look to work with a veteran and target a Russell Wilson-like or Colin Kaepernick-like quarterback on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft. If that plan doesn't work next season, the 2015 NFL Draft is loaded at the quarterback position, so the Texans can aim to get their franchise signal-caller in Year 2 of O'Brien's regime.
Even though Houston had a rough 2013, general manager Rick Smith and his staff have built a talented roster. The Texans could use an edge-rusher to come from the other side of J.J. Watt. With Clowney's blinding speed and rare athleticism, he'll fit just fine in a 3-4.
The 6-foot-5, 266-pounder has the athletic talent to be a Hall of Fame player. There were times when Clowney was impossible to single-block with his elite repertoire of pass-rushing moves. Not only is Clowney a great pass rusher, he can be ferocious against the run.
Athletically, there is nothing Clowney can't do on a football field. Saying that Clowney is extremely fast is an understatement. At the Combine he timed as fast as a wide receiver and he plays with that speed. His burst off the snap and ability to close on the quarterback is out of this world. Immediately Clowney will be one of the fastest front seven defenders in the NFL. Clowney also has natural power. He uses that strength to shed blocks and can bull rush offensive tackles down the pocket. Clowney has a great repertoire of pass rushing moves that will only get better with more coaching. It would be a shock if Clowney wasn't a steady double-digit sacker producer in the NFL.
It was evident during the 2013 season opener against North Carolina that Clowney's conditioning was subpar. His snap count didn't warrant him being as tired as he was, and he clearly took some plays off. Sources told WalterFootball.com Clowney lacked a good work ethic in his conditioning and took a significant amount of plays off in 2012. Clowney's effort and conditioning was a lot better over the rest of 2013 season; it seems all the criticism woke him up. At the Combine, sources said that Clowney interviewed well and they didn't have any concerns about his work ethic going forward.
Clowney played well against Georgia and had his best game of the season against Vanderbilt. He decided to sit out versus Kentucky, but flashed against Tennessee and Florida. In 2013, Clowney totaled 50 tackles, three sacks, 11.5 tackles for a loss, four passes defended and a forced fumble.
Clowney has shown off elite speed, strength and athleticism as a pass-rusher since Day 1. He was a dominant force in 2012 as one of the best players in college football. The sophomore amassed 54 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks. Steve Spurrier has said Clowney was NFL-ready coming out of high school.
A prep superstar, Clowney was the top recruit in the nation for 2011 and didn't disappoint as a freshman. He was the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year and a Second-Team All-SEC selection. He totaled 36 tackles, eight sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles. Clowney did well against top competition including a good game versus Georgia's Cordy Glenn.
St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
St. Louis general manager Les Snead is hoping to auction off this pick and move down. If the Rams are stuck at No. 2, I've heard they are leaning toward Greg Robinson. In their team meetings, they've debated and are settling on Robinson. Some in the organization want Khalil Mack, while others are said to want Sammy Watkins. However, the offensive line is considered to be the bigger need considering the team already has two elite edge rushers and a lot of picks invested in its wide outs.
Robinson could start out at right tackle or guard. In a year or two, the Rams could cut Jake Long to save cap space and move Robinson to left tackle. Considering Robinson needs some development and Long's body is breaking down, that is a smart plan by St. Louis.
The Tigers' formidable offensive line was led in 2013 by left tackle Greg Robinson, who had a great redshirt sophomore season. Against Missouri and Alabama, he put on clinics. Robinson had power blocks to spring long runs and dominated in the ground game. He did a superb job of sustaining his blocks to keep his defenders from making tackles.
Robinson has an impressive skill set. The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder is very strong to push defensive linemen at the point of attack. He also has quickness and good feet to be a pass-blocker in the NFL. Robinson could use some development in his pass-protection skills, but he has the physical talent to be a special player.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
This pick is coming down to Khalil Mack, Johnny Manziel or Sammy Watkins. Two sources told me they're hearing Manziel. One source said the Jaguars love Watkins but Gus Bradley is pushing for Mack. That was echoed by another general manager. Jacksonville's pass rush has been pathetic and the team doesn't have any long-term answers there. This is a deep receiver draft, so the Jaguars can land a good wide out on the second day.
Mack is a deadly edge rusher with explosion off the snap. He is a very fast and instinctive hard hitter who has excellent pursuit skills. Mack could turn into a double-digit sacker off the edge. He has a great motor and has surprising power in his upper body.
There was a real buzz about Mack (6-3, 251) heading into 2013, and when one looked at his production, it was easy to understand the genesis of the hype. Mack justified it when he dominated Ohio State to open the season. The senior had nine tackles with 2.5 sacks versus the Buckeyes, plus an interception returned 45 yards for a touchdown. He recorded 10.5 sacks, 100 tackles, five forced fumbles, seven passes broken up, three interceptions and 19 tackles for a loss for the year.
Mack entered 2013 with 56 career tackles for a loss and was a downhill play-maker throughout his career. He registered 94 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, four forced fumbles, one blocked kick and two passes broken up in 2012. Mack totaled 65 tackles with 20.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, two passes batted and five forced fumbles in 2011. He had 68 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 10 passes batted and two forced fumbles as a freshman.
Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Sources told me the Browns want to address receiver early because they know that Josh Gordon is one misstep away from a year-long suspension. Cleveland's new quarterback will need a stable of weapons, and Watkins should be the pick for the team if he makes it to No. 4.
The 6-foot, 211-pound Watkins is the most explosive play-maker in the 2014 NFL Draft. He is the best wide receiver to enter the NFL since 2011 and, as a prospect, is on a par with A.J. Green and Julio Jones. Watkins is a threat to score on any touch and features rare first-step quickness. He is game-breaking receiver for the NFL who should be a difference-maker right away and looks like a potentially elite No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
In 2013, Watkins hauled in 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. He played well against Florida State even though Clemson was blown out. Watkins opened the season against Georgia looking like the 2011 version of himself. After catching a 15-yard bullet from Tajh Boyd, Watkins shed a tackle and exploded down the field. No Bulldogs defender could catch him as he sprinted for a 75-yard score. Watkins caught six passes for 127 yards versus Georgia, but did muff a punt. He also had huge games against Virginia, Maryland and Georgia Tech. To finish the year, the junior dominated Ohio State (16-227-2).
Watkins had a fantastic freshman season in 2011. The speedster totaled 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also ran the ball 32 times for 231 yards. The versatile receiver averaged 25 yards per kick return with one score.
Watkins was suspended for the first two games of 2012 and was then was banged up all year. That led to DeAndre Hopkins taking over as the primary receiver for Tajh Boyd. Watkins had 57 receptions for 708 yards and three touchdowns for the season. He also took 14 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown. The sophomore threw a 52-yard touchdown pass against Florida State, too.
Sources tell me the players the Raiders really want are Clowney, Mack and Watkins. If Oakland can't land one of those three, the plan would be to draft Mike Evans. The Raiders feel that Evans gives them a big receiver to complement their speedy wide outs. Evans has gotten good reports regarding his character, and Oakland feels he can be its No. 1 receiver.
Evans was dominant during part of 2013. The redshirt sophomore had 69 receptions for 1,394 yards with 12 touchdowns for the year. He absolutely destroyed Alabama (7-279) and made a lot of difficult catches for big gains along the sideline. While Texas A&M was dropped by Auburn, Evans put on a show for NFL scouts. He continued his stellar season with a dominating performance. Evans finished with 11 receptions for 287 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers.
The 6-foot-4, 231-pounder can beat defenses downfield with his mismatch size, the speed to get vertical and his ability to rip off yards after the catch. Evans has insane body control to make acrobatic and contested catches. Because of his size, he is never completely covered. Evans looks like a Vincent Jackson-type receiver for the NFL.
Evans had an awesome freshman season in 2012 and overtook Ryan Swope to be the No. 1 receiver for Johnny Manziel. Evans caught 82 passes for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns.
Pick change; previously Sammy Watkins, WR
Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
I think the Falcons will try to move up and land either Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack. If Atlanta misses out on them, I think the organization will change course and try to move down while targeting Anthony Barr. The Falcons could use extra picks to address depth on the roster. If Atlanta is stuck at No. 6, the best value is offensive tackle. Matthews would be an upgrade for the Falcons over Sam Baker.
Matthews took over in 2013 as the left tackle to protect Johnny Manziel's blind side. He was excellent at protecting Manziel and opening up running lanes. Matthews passed his tests against his best defensive line opponents, Alabama and Arkansas.
Auburn's speed rushers, however, gave Matthews some issues. He won the majority of his blocks, but he was beaten for a sack by Ladarius Owens on a left-armed rip move. Matthews played much better in the second half, and his pass protection was strong.
In the majority of games, Matthews was dominant, including the bowl game against Duke. Across the season, he sustained some blocks for ages with the way that Manziel held onto the ball and scrambled around.
With Luke Joeckel as the left tackle, Matthews was superb on the right side in 2012 and 2011. In 2012, the junior got the better of LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo. Matthews followed that performance with excellent games against Mississippi State and Alabama. Manziel picked up a lot of yards on the ground and through the air because of his fabulous tackle tandem.
The Aggies tackle is the son of Bruce Matthews, so the bloodlines are there for a standout NFL offensive lineman. Jake Matthews is both a superb pass-protector and a quality run-blocker; a great cut-blocker, too. The 6-foot-5, 308-pounder is quick and athletic. His intelligence and instincts are superb.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Tampa Bay lands their future franchise quarterback for Lovie Smith. Manziel is a good fit in Jeff Tedford's offense. With Lovie Smith and Josh McCown's Texas roots, they can work with Manziel and teach him to be a pro. Plus, ownership would love Manziel considering the Buccaneers have struggled to sell tickets since firing Jon Gruden.
The concern that Manziel (5-11, 207) is undersized is being eased by the quality play of some other short NFL quarterbacks. Drew Brees is a dominant force and future Hall of Famer; Russell Wilson has been phenomenal to help disprove the height requirement. Based off the past two seasons, plenty of teams will be willing to overlook the height issue. However, Manziel's maturity is a bigger concern according to sources. Some quarterback-needy teams are afraid to draft him because of the bust potential that stems from his party lifestyle.
While Manziel's running ability gets a lot of attention, 2013 showed that his passing skills are improved and underrated. Manziel's instincts are off the charts, too. The redshirt sophomore completed 70 percent of his passes in 2013 for 4,114 yards with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He ran for 923 yards (759 net) with nine scores as well.
Versus Alabama, Manziel completed 28-of-39 passes for 464 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran for 98 yards on 14 carries, too. His impressive performance helped the Aggies light up the Crimson Tide defense to the tune of 42 points, but Texas A&M still lost due to its porous defense. Manziel also had big games against Ole Miss, Auburn and Vanderbilt.
Manziel took college football by storm in 2012 on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. The redshirt freshman completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The first-year starter also ran for 1,571 yards (1,410 net) with 21 touchdowns. Alabama's defense, laden with NFL talent, was incapable of stopping him. Manziel could only get better as he gains experience, unless his off-the-field maturity issues distract him from becoming a good pro.
Pick change; previously Derek Carr, QB
Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Minnesota is a prime candidate to trade up for Blake Bortles. The Vikings clearly need a franchise quarterback. They have the extra ammo to move up, and even if it costs a 2015 first-round pick, they still would have drafted six first-round talents over a 4-year span (2012-2015). If Minnesota misses out on Bortles, it sounds like Derek Carr is the Plan B.
Back in mid-February, sources with two teams picking in the top five told WalterFootball.com that Bortles is grading out as their top-rated quarterback. His stock has consistently risen in the lead up to the 2014 NFL Draft, and he is now one of the favorites to go first overall.
Bortles has a bigger physical skill set than Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr. In 2013, Bortles completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,581 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He completed 63 percent of his passes this year for 3,059 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The 6-foot-5, 232-pounder has a nice set of tools for the NFL. He has a strong arm with good size and the athletic ability to scramble for yards.
Bortles needs to improve his footwork for the NFL. He needs to become more uniform and could stand to improve his throwing mechanics. That would improve his accuracy and ball placement. Also, Bortles has a good arm, but his ball flutters on some throws. The redshirt junior is very intelligent, but didn't throw every NFL route in his college offense, so he's going to need some development there.
Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Bills have to replace right tackle Erik Pears this offseason. That would help Buffalo's investment in E.J. Manuel by improving the team's pass blocking and opening holes in the ground game for C.J. Spiller. Sources have told WalterFootball.com that this pick is coming down to Lewan, Jake Matthews or Zack Martin. Matthews is likely to be gone. Lewan fits this slot, while Martin would be a reach.
Lewan played well in 2013. He did a nice job against Michigan State and was consistent in his pass protection throughout the season. Lewan looked much better versus Notre Dame in Week 2 this year against the Fighting Irish than he did in 2012. Lewan was impressive all night in pass protection and run blocking. He did well against Notre Dame's edge rushers Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo. Versus Connecticut, Lewan was beaten for a sack.
2012 was Lewan's third straight season as the starter at left tackle, and he got better as the year progressed. Lewan was solid as a pass-protector and very effective as a run-blocker. The redshirt junior didn't have his best games against Alabama or Ohio State, but he wasn't dominated by Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl. The Wolverines tackle held his own and had his share of wins. Lewan was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection in 2011.
The 6-foot-7, 309-pounder is a good run-blocker with the athleticism to be a pass-protector. He should fill out his frame, but has ideal length and athleticism. Lewan has some upside and just needs more development.
Everybody knows the Lions want to trade up for Sammy Watkins, but they would be fortunate if Watkins falls within striking distance. If Detroit is stuck at No. 10 and misses out on both Evans and Watkins, the team could address cornerback. I've resisted this projection, but league sources convinced me to change my view. Chris Houston is injured while the Lions other draft picks haven't panned out. The new staff can't have any confidence in the organization's corners other than the solid, but unimpressive, Houston. Gilbert gives Detroit a difference-maker to combat the passing attacks in the NFC North.
For the NFL, Gilbert (6-0, 202) projects to being a No. 1 cornerback. He can line up in man coverage and take on the other team's best receiver. Gilbert has the size to match up on big receivers and the speed to run with deep threats down the field. He is very good in bump-and-run and also excels in off-man coverage. Gilbert is very fast with the athleticism to turn and run with receivers to not allow separation. His loose hips allows him to flip around to stay with wide outs in and out of their breaks to maintain coverage. Gilbert also has good ball skills and is adept at taking the ball away. As a pro, he should put up some good interception totals.
In 2013, Gilbert recorded seven interceptions, 42 tackles, seven passes broken up and one kick returned for a touchdown. He had an interception returned 31 yards for a touchdown against Iowa State and a 41-yard pick-six against Texas. Gilbert returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Kansas. He finished the season with some clutch performances.
Gilbert had an excellent sophomore campaign in 2011 with 59 tackles, 10 passes broken up and five interceptions. He averaged 27 yards per kick return over 2010-11. Gilbert recorded 63 tackles, nine passes defensed and averaged 26 yards per kick return in 2012. He performed well against former Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams.
Pick change; previously Mike Evans, WR
Tennessee Titans: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
I've been told by sources that some of the finalists for this pick are Justin Gilbert, Anthony Barr and Kyle Fuller. I've been told that Bradley Roby or the quarterbacks are unlikely. Tennessee could use more talent at cornerback after losing Alterraun Verner in free agency. Sources with the team told me the Titans loved Dee Milliner in the 2013 NFL Draft, so I think they will be inclined to go with a cornerback early. Ray Horton comes from having Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden, so the coach could use a shutdown corner with the Titans. With Gilbert gone, Fuller makes sense.
Fuller has some real upside and ran well enough at the Combine to merit first-round consideration. The 6-foot, 190-pounder doesn't have elite speed, but he has quickness to go along with his size. Virginia Tech is typically a factory for defensive backs, so Fuller enters the NFL with plus preparation after getting playing time for four years. He has some man-coverage skills and experience playing on an island.
The 2013 season opener against Alabama gave Fuller the opportunity to be extremely impressive. He was excellent versus the Crimson Tide and did a superb job of smothering Amari Cooper in man coverage. Fuller had four tackles, an interception, at least one pass batted away, some good hits and solid play on special teams. He also played well against Georgia Tech with some fantastic run defense. Fuller had a pick and other nice plays against North Carolina, but was beaten on a double-move for a touchdown. The senior recorded 24 tackles, 10 passes batted and two interceptions in 2013.
As a junior, Fuller totaled two interceptions, five passes broken up, one forced fumble and 52 tackles. He made six starts as a freshman in 2010, recording 32 tackles and six passes broken up. Fuller improved his play in 2011 and started every game. He totaled 65 tackles with two interceptions, one forced fumble and seven passes broken up, along with being a Second-Team All-ACC selection.
Pick change; previously Justin Gilbert, CB
New York Giants: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Giants need more offensive line help, plus Martin is a better version of Justin Pugh. Martin could play left tackle or right tackle with Will Beatty manning the other spot. Meanwhile, Pugh could slide inside. New York has to get Eli Manning back on track, and Martin makes sense as part of the solution.
In 2013, Martin was excellent for the Fighting Irish. The senior's pass blocking looked better and was extremely reliable. Martin did a tremendous job of blocking Trent Murphy and finished the year with dominant game against Rutgers.
At the Senior Bowl, Martin did a superb job as an edge blocker in the one-on-ones. While Martin has short arms (32 1/4"), he proved that he has the quickness and agility to mirror speed rushers. Martin also is strong for his size with the ability to anchor against bull rushers. With his success late in his senior season and at the Senior Bowl, Martin has given plenty of evidence that he can stay at tackle.
Martin (6-4, 308) improved over the course of 2012 and was an essential part of the Fighting Irish's success. His run blocking was strong for Notre Dame throughout the year.
Pick change; previously Anthony Barr, OLB
St. Louis Rams: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Rams need a replacement for Cortland Finnegan. Jeff Fisher likes fast, athletic cornerbacks, and Roby could form a nice duo with Janoris Jenkins. Sources recommended that I project Greg Robinson and Roby to St. Louis.
The 5-foot-11, 194-pounder is an instinctive cover corner who has a knack for big plays. He hurt his draft stock with arrest over the 2012-2013 offseason for a bar fight. 2013 was an ugly season that hurt Roby's draft stock significantly. He shouldn't have come out for the 2014 NFL Draft, but his speed and athletic ability could be enough for him still to be a first-round pick.
Roby was awesome for Ohio State in 2012. He was one of the nation's leaders in passes defended with 19 total passes broken up - 17 batted away and two interceptions. Roby also recorded 63 tackles, a sack and blocked kick. He had three interceptions, six passes broken up and 47 tackles as a sophomore in 2011.
2013's games against California and Wisconsin may have hurt Roby's stock even more than his off-the-field issues. He was beaten on a number of receptions by the Golden Bears, including a touchdown. Roby dropped an interception and was nearly beaten for another touchdown, but got lucky that California wide receiver Bryce Treggs dropped the pass.
Roby was also torched by Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. Abbrederis kept the Badgers in the game as he went over 200 yards receiving, including one touchdown at Roby's expense. Abbrederis would have bested Roby for more points, but Joel Stave couldn't get him the ball. Stave had a terribly thrown pass intercepted by Roby. In the ground game, he had some tackles and slapped away a couple of quick slants.
Against Northwestern, Roby blocked a punt for a touchdown, but he was beaten for pass plays of 67 yards and 41 yards. Roby had a 63-yard pick-six versus Illinois as the highlight of a mixed outing against the Illini. Roby was injured and missed the bowl opportunity to go against Clemson's Sammy Watkins. Roby totaled 62 tackles, 13 passes broken up and three interceptions in 2013.
Chicago Bears: HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Bears have to land defensive talent for their secondary. They need to improve their safety play and can land one of the top two in the 2014 NFL Draft. Clinton-Dix will help Chicago to defend the dynamic receiving weapons in the NFC North.
The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Clinton-Dix is very good in pass coverage. He covers a lot of ground, defends big receivers and has ball skills. The Crimson Tide has produced a lot of good defensive backs, and Clinton-Dix has received excellent preparation for the NFL through the coaching of Nick Saban.
Clinton-Dix totaled 50 tackles, two interceptions and four passes broken up in 2013. He played well against Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The junior was suspended for two games for taking a loan from an assistant.
Clinton-Dix broke out in 2012 as a platoon player. The sophomore recorded 37 tackles with five interceptions, four passes broken up and a forced fumble.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
I think Pittsburgh would like to trade down while targeting some defensive help. The Steelers could use young talent at cornerback, and if they're stuck at No. 15, Dennard could be a good value if he gets coached up by Mike Tomlin. Pittsburgh has shown interest in him.
Dennard (5-11, 191) has nice coverage ability along with apparent speed and toughness. In 2013, he recorded 62 tackles with 10 passes broken up and four interceptions. The senior is a physical corner who needs to become more disciplined about his contact to avoid penalties, but he has some press-man ability and is a gritty defender.
Johnny Adams was expected to lead the Spartans' secondary in 2012, but it was Dennard who was the most impressive defensive back. He had a good year and was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection. The junior recorded 52 tackles with three interceptions and seven passes broken up. Dennard totaled three interceptions, 42 tackles and three passes broken up in 2011.
Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Cowboys need to get a difference-maker for their defensive line. Donald is a perfect three-technique for Rod Marinelli to work with.
Scouts have told me that Donald is grading as a late first-rounder because he really only fits a few teams' schemes, so don't be surprised if Donald is this year's Sharrif Floyd and falls a bit lower than the hype is suggesting.
Donald was one of the best pass-rushers in college football in 2013. The 6-foot, 288-pounder picked up 11 sacks and led the nation in tackles for a loss with 28.5. He also totaled 59 tackles and four forced fumbles. Donald played well against Florida State and its tough offensive line in Pittsburgh's 2013 opener. He dominated Georgia Tech with 11 tackles, six tackles for a loss, one sack and two forced fumbles.
After recording two sacks as a freshman, Donald had a breakout sophomore season in 2011 with 47 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. He had 64 tackles with 18.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, two passes broken up and one forced fumble in 2012. The junior put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.
Donald is quick off the snap, has the strength to shed blocks and has developed some nice pass-rushing moves. For the NFL, he could fit best as a 4-3 defensive tackle who rotates into the game for his pass-rush ability.