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.
It definitely is possible that Houston will gradually fall in love with a quarterback prospect, but right now, 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 has 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: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Rams general manager Les Snead is hoping to auction off this pick and move down. A quarterback-needy team would have to move in front of Jacksonville to be sure to land the top choice if Houston takes Clowney.
If the Rams are stuck at No. 2, I've heard the pick will come down to Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack, but the Rams are falling in love with Mack. The organization feels it can never have enough pass-rushers, and on passing downs, St. Louis will use Mack, Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Even though Mack isn't the best fit for the Rams, he has a big appeal to Gregg Williams and Jeff Fisher.
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.
There was a real buzz about Mack (6-3, 251) heading into 2013, and when one sees his production, it is easy to understand the genesis of the hype. Mack justified it when he dominated Ohio State to open this 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.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
I think the Jaguars could easily pass on a quarterback for one of the elite talents. Jacksonville could use more receiver talent for its new quarterback. The organization can't trust Justin Blackmon and could use a stable of weapons even if Blackmon can stay out of trouble. David Caldwell was in Atlanta when the Falcons traded for Julio Jones, so he knows what a receiver can do for Jacksonville's offense.
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.
Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Cleveland lands their franchise quarterback in Johnny Manziel. Obviously, Cleveland won't tip its hand before the 2014 NFL Draft one way or another, but Manziel could fit Kyle Shanahan's offense.
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.
I think the Raiders will once again look to move down. The Vikings would be a prime trade partner with Minnesota targeting Blake Bortles. Oakland also needs a franchise quarterback, but with the regime on the hot seat, the Raiders could use a player who will help them win now. They have some fast receivers, but could use one with size. Evans would bring that and help get Matt Schaub turned around.
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 Blake Bortles, QB
Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
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. Reportedly, the Falcons love Robinson, who would be a great value at No. 6.
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.
Pick change; previously Taylor Lewan, OT
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
I'll preface this by saying I see Tampa Bay moving down. I strongly believe the Bucs want to trade down with Carr being a target. Josh McCown is a short-term solution for the franchise. Carr could sit behind McCown for a year or two before becoming the starter in Tampa Bay. With his passing ability and intangibles, Carr seems like a good fit for Lovie Smith and Jeff Tedford.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Carr has a strong arm and good mechanics. He has pushed himself up into the top half of the first round during the lead up to the 2014 NFL Draft. The senior started 2013 by completing 52-of-73 passes for 456 yards, five touchdowns and an interception in an overtime victory over Rutgers. He threw for 460 yards against Boise State.
Carr's final collegiate game against USC was a dud. Throughout the game, he was off the mark. Carr overthrew open receivers and struggled with his footwork. He looked flustered by the speed and play-making ability of USC's defense. Considering that was an issue for his brother, and the fact that both beat up on weak competition during their collegiate careers, some teams could be skeptical of Derek Carr. In 2013, he completed 69 percent of his passes for 5,083 yards with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Carr is an improving quarterback who was a 2011 Second-Team All-WAC selection as a redshirt sophomore. The first-year starter completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,544 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran in three scores.
Carr was even better in 2012. He completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,104 yards with 37 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The junior beat up on some weak competition and didn't have his best games against Oregon or Boise State.
Pick change; previously Jake Matthews, OT
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 is consistently rising in the lead up to the 2014 NFL Draft and now is 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.
The Bills have to get some help for E.J. Manuel and bring in a play-maker for him. They need a pass-receiving tight end and Ebron is a great fit. General manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone like size, speed athletes.
Ebron (6-4, 250) has an intriguing skill set with size, speed and strength. He has the potential to be a starting tight end in the NFL with three-down ability. Ebron is very fast running through the secondary and is excellent at attacking the middle of the field on slants and seam routes. He operates well as a slot receiver, too. Ebron needs to work on his hands and route-running, but he has great potential.
In 2013, Ebron hauled in 62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns. He had 199 yards on Miami with other good games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
Ebron was the Tar Heels' second-leading receiver in 2012 with 40 receptions for 625 yards and four touchdowns. North Carolina was thin at defensive end and played him some at both that position on top of his tight end duties. Pretty much all Ebron did was try speed rushes to get disruption upfield, but it was impressive that he was able to apply some pass pressures.
Additionally, Ebron flashes some impressive blocking potential. There are times when he rocks defenders and puts them on roller skates. There are other times when Ebron misses or doesn't finish blocks. He needs to improve his ability to sustain his blocks. Ebron just needs to get more consistent.
Detroit Lions: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Lions clearly want a 3-4 type edge rusher. With Barr lining up on the other side from Ziggy Ansah and Ndamukong Suh on the inside, Detroit would have the pass rush to destroy quarterbacks.
Barr notched 62 tackles with 20 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and a pass batted in 2013. The senior's performances against Oregon, Stanford and USC confirm his high draft grade. He had two sacks against Oregon and three forced fumbles to help lead a comeback win at Nebraska.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder is a tremendous blitzer who would fit well in an NFL 3-4 defense. He is lightning off the edge with a superb first step and incredible agility. His ability to drop his hips to get turned to the quarterback is extremely rare. Barr is strong for his size - although it wouldn't hurt to him to add more strength for the NFL - and is a good pursuit run-defender. He has developed a repertoire of pass-rushing moves and has excellent instincts considering his late switch to defense.
In 2012, Barr went from being an obscure fullback, who had a total of 12 receptions across two seasons, to a potential first-round pick as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Barr owes Jim Mora, Jr. and his coaching staff for making the position change.
Barr's breakout season saw him become one of the nation's leader in sacks. The junior collected 13 sacks, 83 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, five passes batted and four forced fumbles.
Barr was consistently good throughout 2012, but was utterly dominant to close out the regular season. He then made the smart decision to return to UCLA for 2013.
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, 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.
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.
New York Giants: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Giants need to get Eli Manning straightened out and re-establish their run game. Thus, the organization continues the rebuilding of its weak offensive line. If New York drafts a left tackle, Will Beatty would move to right tackle and Justin Pugh would slide inside to guard where the team needs some youth.
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.
Pick change; previously Anthony Barr, OLB
St. Louis Rams: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Rams get their long-term left tackle. Lewan would be a great understudy with Jake Long. Lewan could start out his career competing at right tackle before taking over for Long.
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. Against 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.
Pick change; previously HaHa Clinton-Dix, S
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.
Pick change; previously Calvin Pryor, S
Pittsburgh Steelers: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio 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, Roby could be a good value if he gets coached up by Mike Tomlin. Pittsburgh has shown interest in him and loves Ohio State players.
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.
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.