Jay Skurski’s mock draft: After Clowney, receivers will populate the first round
There is expected to be a bonanza of wide receivers walking across the stage Thursday night during the first round of the NFL draft. Not that you needed any more evidence of how the NFL is a passing league, but anywhere between five and eight wideouts could share an awkward hug with Commissioner Roger Goodell at Radio City Music Hall. That doesn’t count the two tight ends projected to go in the first 32 picks, both of whom are pass catchers first. ¶ Not surprisingly, with all those receivers being selected, there is a need for cornerbacks to cover them. Their value is also shown here – with five being taken in the top 28 picks. ¶ Also reflected in this projection is the value of contracts for players selected in the first round, particularly at quarterback. Teams have the option of picking up a fifth year on contracts for players drafted in Round One, an important consideration for teams looking to move up into the bottom of the round. ¶ Here’s The News’ fourth and final look at how the first round will play out Thursday night.
1. Atlanta Falcons (projected trade with Houston). Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. Trading up to No. 1 overall only makes sense if you truly think your team is one missing piece from being a Super Bowl contender. With a franchise quarterback in place in Matt Ryan, it’s easy to see how the Falcons could believe that. Clowney is one of the best pass-rushing prospects to enter the league in years. To get him, the Falcons give up their first-round pick next season, as well as their third-round pick this year (No. 68 overall).
2. St. Louis Rams. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. Protecting Sam Bradford is priority No. 1 for the Rams. Matthews can play on the right side until Jake Long is done playing, then slide over to the left. His Hall of Fame father, Bruce, has a long-standing relationship with Rams coach Jeff Fisher.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. It’s sounding unlikely that troubled receiver Justin Blackmon will be with the Jaguars next season, which makes receiver an even bigger priority for the Jaguars. St. Francis graduate and Jacksonville General Manager David Caldwell will entertain offers to move down, but with 11 picks, he ultimately decides on an elite talent with game-breaking potential.
4. Cleveland Browns. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo. Browns coach Mike Pettine simply can’t pass up the opportunity to bring in a player with as much versatility as Mack.
5. New York Giants (projected trade with Oakland). Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. With Mack off the board, the Raiders elect to trade out of the top five for the second straight year, picking up the 12th and 43rd overall picks in the process. The Giants continue the rebuild of their offensive line that they started in free agency.
6. Houston Texans (projected trade with Atlanta). Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Johnny Football stays in state, and the Ryan Fitzpatrick era in Houston is over before it starts.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. Manziel’s favorite target goes to the Bucs, who have a hole at receiver after dealing Mike Williams to the Bills in the offseason.
8. Minnesota Vikings. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. True, the Vikings whiffed on Christian Ponder at No. 12 three years ago, but they’ve got to try again until they get it right. With Matt Cassel having been re-signed, Bortles could sit for a year and learn.
9. Buffalo Bills. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. With Watkins gone early, the Bills elect to stay put. Serious consideration will be given to Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin, but ultimately Ebron’s play-making ability wins out. The Bills finished 28th in the NFL in passing offense last year. Ebron’s addition is a big step toward improving that.
10. Detroit Lions. Odell Beckam Jr., WR, LSU. Beckham’s rise takes him all the way into the top 10 as the Lions grab a running mate for Calvin Johnson.
11. Tennessee Titans. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. The Titans have a hole at outside linebacker, and their coach at the position, Lou Spanos, was Barr’s defensive coordinator with the Bruins.
12. Oakland Raiders (projected trade with New York Giants). Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. Donald is undersized for an interior defensive lineman – but has the one trait the Raiders typically covet: speed.
13. Carolina Panthers (projected trade with St. Louis). Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. The Panthers make a big move up the board to get Jordan Gross’ replacement along the offensive line.
14. Chicago Bears. Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. Might be the best hitter in this year’s class, and Chicago needs all sorts of help in the secondary.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. Ike Taylor will be 34 this season, so the Steelers continue the run on defensive backs with Gilbert, who doubles as a dynamic return man.
16. Miami Dolphins (projected trade with Dallas). Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame. The Dolphins pounce when Martin slips out of the top 15. Martin steps right into the starting lineup, and brings some much-needed leadership into the locker room.
17. Baltimore Ravens. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. If the Ravens were to pair Clinton-Dix with 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam at safety, it would be as big a sign as any as to the increasing importance teams are placing on the safety position.
18. New York Jets. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon St. The Jets are building an awesome Madden 2008 team with their signing of quarterback Mike Vick and running back Chris Johnson. Cooks gives them some explosiveness – and youth – on offense.
19. Dallas Cowboys (projected trade with Miami). Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri. He’s not a finished product yet, but Ealy is one of the better pass rushers in the draft.
20. Arizona Cardinals. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama. Outside linebacker might be more of a pressing need for the Cardinals, but Mosley is the best player available at this point. In that case, take him and figure out how to best use him.
21. Green Bay Packers. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame. The Packers need to shore up their run defense. They do so by adding Tuitt.
22. Philadelphia Eagles. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. The Eagles gave up 289 yards passing per game last season. Fuller can play in a variety of different roles, including on special teams, early in his career.
23. Kansas City Chiefs. Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California. Andy Reid’s offense isn’t the easiest to pick up for rookies. Lee’s got a good football IQ and runs sound routes.
24. Cincinnati Bengals. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan St. First-team All-American’s film is better than his workout results.
25. San Diego Chargers. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio St. Roby’s stock shouldn’t be affected too much, despite pleading guilty late last month to physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
26. Cleveland Browns. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno St. Carr has good accuracy, sufficient arm strength and underrated athleticism. Love the fit here.
27. New Orleans Saints. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio St. Ran a ridiculous 4.38-second 40-yard dash at his pro day and has the versatility to play a number of different roles in Rob Ryan’s defensive scheme.
28. St. Louis Rams (projected trade with Carolina). Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. Verrett reminds some scouts of Cortland Finnegan, whom Jeff Fisher knows well. To move this far down, St. Louis picks up Carolina’s first-round pick in 2015, while sending its ’15 third rounder to the Panthers.
29. Oakland Raiders (projected trade with New England). Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh. The Raiders jump into the bottom of the first round to grab the strong-armed Savage, one of the fastest risers in the pre-draft process.
30. San Francisco 49ers. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida St. The 49ers have 11 picks in the draft, so it’s possible they try to package some of those to move up. If they stay put, Benjamin has long-term potential to be a No. 1 receiver, and won’t have a lot of pressure on him to contribute immediately.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (projected trade with Denver). Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois. Notice a trend here? The Jaguars have 11 picks, so they send their third rounder to Denver to get ahead of Houston and take Garoppolo. The Broncos need a guard, which should be available with their extra third-round pick.
32. Seattle Seahawks. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. Amaro gives the Seahawks an attractive option up the seam.
41. Buffalo Bills (second round). Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise St. Jerry Hughes is heading into his contract year and Mario Williams’ contract takes up a massive chunk of salary cap space. The Bills need to build their depth behind them, and Lawrence is a tremendous athlete who can contribute early as an edge rusher. He’s got some character questions; that hasn’t stopped the Bills’ current brain trust.