The NFL Draft is the biggest football event of the year, behind only the Super Bowl. Since its inception, the Draft has grown from a collection of anonymous dudes in a room picking college players to a television ratings bonanza that is broadcast in primetime and spans three days. The NFL Network now provides coverage from the early NFL Combine, and you can now catch footage live from the Pro Days of the Draft’s biggest stars.
But undeniably, the worst bi-product of the NFL Draft’s ascension from non-event to the blockbuster of the NFL’s offseason is the endless cycle of mock drafts and marginally updated mock drafts. The NFL Draft keeps Draft experts in business the same way Game of Thrones has single-handedly kept the fake blood industry alive. Every few weeks, Draft experts produce articles that drum up the hype train of certain players while decrying the follies of others, who ran 40-times slightly slower than expected or failed to prance around their Pro Day with just the proper flair.
I’m not interested in mock drafts. I don’t want to read Mel Kiper’s predictions on how the NFL Draft will play out, like he’s Professor Trelawney trying to read tea leaves. I don’t want to know who these teams will draft, but who they should be drafting.
Rather than looking for my ideal article, I’ve written a thesis on the 2014 NFL Draft. I’ve hypothetically hired myself as the general manager of each of the league’s 32 teams (but realistically, aren’t we all just a nicely-worded cover letter away from being the next GM of the Cleveland Browns?) and simulated the first round of this year’s draft, making the selections I think are best for each team, given the players available after my previous picks.
For example: as the GM of the Houston Texans, I could select Johnny Football with my first overall pick (I wouldn’t), and then I would run across the room to my post as GM of the Rams and have an option to pick any player other than Manziel (I still wouldn’t).
My only rule: no trades. This exercise is more fun when each team stays put and actually makes a selection where they’re expected to. More importantly, as a GM, I would only trade down in a draft to collect more picks and improve my team’s depth. But since my draft philosophy is to only trade down, I wouldn’t trade up as the GM of any other team. It’s a strange paradox, but this is also a strange concept to begin with.
Anyway, enough with the preamble. There’s a lot to say, so my draft is broken into three parts. Check back Tuesday and Wednesday for Parts 2 and 3. Now, let’s get to the drafting. Houston, you’re on the clock.
1. Houston Texans
The Pick: Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
The Method to the Madness: Clowney is the safest pick in the draft. But there’s a ting of irony in calling a man whose goal is to decapitate his opponent on every play “safe.” After giving Clowney the Mitt Romney treatment, where he was the front runner for the first overall pick, we got bored, flirted with selecting every other highly-touted prospect, such as Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, and Khalil Mack, and then realized he was our best option all along. Jadeveon is going first overall. The only knock against his game is that he occasionally takes plays off. But how hard would you play for the industrial-college-football-complex when you know that with healthy knees you’re worth millions, but blow one out and you’re searching for a new career? Houston is in need of a quarterback, but they can find one in the second round or later. With Clowney, you’re at worst getting a highly competent pass rusher and at best, the greatest pass rusher of his generation. Tough to pass that up.
2. St. Louis Rams (from the Washington D.C. Football Franchise)
The Pick: Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
The Method to the Madness: This has to be my most unrealistic selection. According to every mock draft I’ve encountered on the interwebs, Sammy Watkins will be the first wide receiver off the board. I think Watkins is an incredible talent, and it’s not a bad choice to take him ahead of Evans. But I have an unabashed man crush on Evans’ talent and think he has the potential to grow into the best receiver in the NFL. Evans is listed at 6’5” and 231 lbs, nearly the same exact size as Calvin Johnson. When you factor in that footballs stick to Evans’ hands like they’re covered in Crazy Glue, I picture Evans making circus catches with defensive backs draped over his back for years to come.
Watkins is best touted for his speed, which the Rams already have oodles of in Tavon Austin, St. Louis’ first round choice in 2013. I think Evans is a deep threat who perfectly complements Austin’s speed. The Rams had a difficult time incorporating Austin into the team’s pass attack last season (he finished with only 40 receptions for 418 yards and 4 touchdowns), but when the Rams get his role straightened out and Evans evolves into the Calvin Johnson-esqe deep threat I believe he can be, we might just see the second coming of the greatest show on turf.
Bonus Thought: This is the last draft pick still remaining from the now infamous RG III trade, in which the Washington D.C. Football Franchise gave St. Louis its first and second round picks in 2012 and first round selections in 2013 and 2014 for the right to draft Robert Griffin III. The Rams weren’t content with just those picks, and after meticulously trading down over the last two drafts, St. Louis has turned those first three picks from Washington into quite a haul:
2012 1st Round, 14th overall: Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
2012 2nd Round, 39th overall: Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
2012 2nd Round, 50th overall: Isaiah Pead (RB, Cincinnati)
2012 5th Round, 150th overall: Rokevious Watkins (G, South Carolina)
2013 1st Round, 30th overall: Alec Ogletree (LB, Georgia)
2013 3rd Round, 92nd overall: Stedman Bailey (WR, West Virginia)
2013 5th Round, 160th overall: Zac Stacey (RB, Vanderbilt)
No matter who St. Louis selects with the second pick in this year’s draft, it clearly won this trade. While RG III is the most talented player in this group, St. Louis filled holes all over their roster. The Rams have traded down in the first round in each of the last two NFL drafts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rams choose to do so again in 2014. Plus, if any of those “expert” mock drafts are accurate, the Rams could trade down a few picks and still draft Mike Evans.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: Khalil Mack (OLB, Buffalo)
The Method to the Madness: The Jaguars are in desperate need of a quarterback. Suffering through another year with Chad Henne will be brutal and will likely result in having a draft choice in the same range come next season, but I’m not reaching for quarterback when there’s better talent on the board. Head Coach Gus Bradley was the Defensive Coordinator in Seattle from 2009-2012 and was a big part of turning that squad into the dominant group they were in 2013. I want to provide Bradley with players that give him the best chance to replicate his success. Turning around this franchise is going to take time and 2014 isn’t going to be pretty in Jacksonville whether they take a quarterback here or not. The Jaguars have a shot at fielding an above-average defensive unit this coming season, and pairing Mack with Paul Posluszny could serve as the foundation of Bradley’s defense for years to come.
We’ll worry about the offense next season.
4. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
The Method to the Madness: God hates Cleveland. The Browns are going to need more than a couple of superstitious Bud Light drinkers for them to sniff a Super Bowl this season. But, with two first round draft picks (and the third pick in the second round), Cleveland has the ability to bring in a young core of talent that could be competing for a championship very soon (When have we heard that before? Do the names Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson ring a bell?). Cleveland has spent most of the offseason sculpting its defense in the eye of new head coach Mike Pettine. Last season Buffalo was the 5th best-weighted defense according to Football Outsiders, and Pettine has the pedigree to build a top unit after serving as Rex Ryan’s defensive coordinator in New York from 2009-2012.
What Cleveland needs is an offensive makeover, and two First Round picks will go a long way in doing just that. Watkins is the best talent on the board. Imagine pairing him with Josh Gordon. The Dog Pound should be salivating at the mere thought. It seems like an near impossible task for any secondary to properly cover these two at the same time, nearly as impossible as building a winning team in Cleveland. But then again, if Kevin Costner can do it, why can’t I?
Bonus Thought: Cleveland has made such a mockery of the NFL Draft; there is now so much drama in the Browns having a good first round pick that we made a movie about it. Not turning a franchise around or winning a Super Bowl, just getting a good first round pick! Sorry, back to the real world. What I meant to say is that Cleveland still lacks a proper quarterback to throw Gordon and Watkins the ball. Luckily, the Browns still have a second pick in the first round.
5. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
The Method to the Madness: The careers of NFL players are defined by small sample sizes. Joe Flacco throws 11 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions over four games, which just so happen to be in the playoffs, and he’s given a contract worth $120 million dollar. The prolific Peyton Manning plays poorly in a handful of games in cold weather and we deem him unfit to throw a football outdoors in January. Teddy Bridgewater made a few bad passes during his Pro Day and scouts across the NFL have given up on the prospect out of Louisville.
Entering the 2013 college football season, Bridgewater was the consensus best quarterback eligible to enter this year’s NFL Draft. While Jameis Winston attracted all the media attention both on and off the field, Bridgewater quietly set career bests with 3,970 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, and only 4 interceptions. Stat totals can be deceiving when it comes to quarterbacks, as no college quarterback plays the same schedule and same quality of defenses. But Bridgewater also posted career bests in completion percentage, 71%, the second best mark in the nation, and an interception rate of 0.9%, better than Bortles’ 2.3% and Manziel’s 3.0%. This tells me over the course of an entire season Bridgewater is accurate with his throws and avoids bad decisions that lead to turnovers.
If I’m the Oakland Raiders, this is the player I want to build my team around. The Raiders have a checkered past when it comes to first round picks (Rolando McClain, Darrius Heyward-Bey, or JaMarcus Russell anyone?), but Bridgewater is the best quarterback talent in the draft, and I have to believe the Oakland Jinx won’t come for him too. I haven’t found a recent mock draft with Bridgewater as the first quarterback off the board and some even have him falling to the second round, but given the chance, I wouldn’t let him fall past the 5th pick.
6. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA)
The Method to the Madness: I can’t image the Falcons actually picking 6th in the first round, knowing that their real world GM Thomas Dimitroff is always itching to make an unnecessary trade. In 2013, the Falcons gave away their 1st, 3rd, and 6th rounds picks to move up 8 spots and select Desmond Trufant. Two years earlier, Atlanta gave away is 1st, 2nd and 4th round picks and 1st and 4th round selections in 2012, for the rights to choose Julio Jones. There are plenty of rumors the Falcons want to sell the farm to acquire the Texans’ first overall pick or possibly the Rams’ second pick. Luckily, I’m not Thomas Dimitroff. Atlanta is a stars and scrubs team, investing most of their money and picks in a small collection of Pro Bowl caliber players while hoping their talents will compensate for the team’s lack of talent in all other places.
In 2012, Atlanta was a fourth quarter collapse away from reaching the Super Bowl with this strategy. Last season, Jones and Roddy White missed significant time, and now Atlanta has the sixth pick in the draft. It’s a high risk, high reward philosophy. But Atlanta has retained most of those big talent stars and needs to surround them with the depth needed for sustained success in a league where the injury bug will inevitably reach a star player on each team. Atlanta is the poster boy for a team in desperate need of trading down and acquiring picks in the later rounds.
Since a self-imposed rule forbids me from trading this pick, I’m taking Anthony Barr, the Draft’s second best linebacker. Last season Atlanta posted the sixth-worst defense in terms of yards and points allowed, so they desperately need a dominant presence on its defense. Atlanta needs some help on the offensive line as well, but for now, Barr will do.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: Greg Robinson (OT, Auburn)
The Method to the Madness: This selection comes down to whether or not you believe in Mike Glennon. While I haven’t hitched my horse to his wagon just yet, I’d definitely invite Mike Glennon on my journey down the Oregon Trail. In the 13 games Glennon started, he threw 2608 yards, 19 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions. Here are those stats prorated for a full 16 game season next to Russell Wilson’s rookie season.
Mike Glennon: 59.4% Cmp Pct, 3,209 YDS, 23 TD, 11 INT
Russell Wilson: 64.1% Cmp Pct, 3,118 YDS, 26 TD, 10 INT
No, Mike Glennon is not the next Russell Wilson, but his personal success was overshadowed by his team’s losing record. If he put these same numbers up on a better team, he may have been in the Rookie of the Year discussion. Certainly, he’s earned himself another year as the Bucs’ starting quarterback. Tampa Bay will be better suited taking the best offensive tackle in the league, strengthening its offensive line and seeing if Glennon can improve on his solid run in 2013.
8. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
The Method to the Madness: Since Brett Farve retired (He is still retired, right?), the Vikings have started the following quarterbacks: Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, Donovan McNabb and Joe Webb. While the Vikings lucked into a playoff appearance with adequate production from Ponder in 2012, I feel like Minnesota is doing the entire football community a disservice by wasting away Adrian Peterson’s prime with these subpar signal callers. Opposing defenses lack respect for the Vikings’ passing game and consistently stack the box to stop Peterson.
With Bortles, the Vikings can invest in a competent quarterback with the potential to grow into a player better than any of the options they’ve toiled with over the last three seasons. Bortles’ size (6’5” and 232 lbs) sure makes him look the part of a prototypical quarterback, but he’s also recorded more than 250 rushing yards in each of his two seasons as UCF’s starting quarterback. With a spry Cordarrelle Patterson and veteran Greg Jennings as Bortles’ main receiving options, the Vikings’ new passer would be in a good position for success right out of the gate.
9. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M)
The Method to the Madness: The fact that I seem to be drafting my offensive tackles so late only goes to show that I have little idea how to properly evaluate offensive lineman. It truly seems to be the position I least understand. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate their value to a football team. As mentioned above, the Bills had an underrated defense last season at Pettine at the helm and need to go with the best talent available to them on the offensive side. Matthews is easily that guy. He won’t sell jerseys or put extra butts in the seats. But, last year, the Bills invested their first round draft choice in E.J. Manuel and after an injury plagued rookie season, Buffalo should now invest in keeping him healthy.
10. Detroit Lions
The Pick: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (FS, Alabama)
The Method to the Madness: This pick is all about need. Aaron Donald may be the best defensive player available right now, but Detroit already has more talented defensive lineman than they know what to do with. Where the Lions most need held is in their secondary and Ha Ha is the best defensive back in the draft. During Clinton-Dix’s two years as a full-time starter, Alabama ranked 10th and 7th in passing yards allowed in the FBS, while he intercepted 6 passes and recorded 88 total tackles. Detroit already has the dominant front seven, by adding Clinton-Dix, they could be one of the best units in the entire league.
Those are my first 10 picks. Plenty of big names left on the board, so come back tomorrow for Part 2 and Wednesday for Part 3. Happy drafting!