One year ago at this time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were preparing for the rookie mini-camp at One Buc Place that always follows a week after the NFL Draft. This year, they're still tweaking their board for a draft that starts two weeks later than usual.
Also a year ago, Buccaneers.com had a little adjunct site called the "Captain's Blog," which had a cute name but a somewhat tenuous raison d'etre, if you will. Eventually, that blog's content was beamed back into the mother ship, which was fine, but in the process I did lose my Point/Counterpoint partner, Andrew Norton.
Andrew? Andrew, are you there? Oh wait, I first need to let him out of the cryogenic chamber we've been storing him in ever since the demise of the Captain's Blog, just waiting for the next time he could be of some use. A moment to thaw and…there we go.
Andrew, my man, welcome back to the sunlight. When your eyes have adjusted, answer me this: Are you up for another Point/Counterpoint for old time's sake? And not just any Point/Counterpoint, but the ultimate back-and-forth subject at this time of the year, the incredibly addictive bit of folly we call THE MOCK DRAFT? You and me, alternating selections, what do you say? I'll even give you the first overall pick.
Andrew Norton: Really? 11 months in a cryogenic chamber and all I get is an "Andrew, my man" and then it's straight into, "Let's make a Mock Draft?" Not only was I avidly against throwing me in there in the first place (a simple, "we're discontinuing the Captain's Blog, you won't need to write for the site anymore," would have more than sufficed), but I wake up and there's not even a cheeseburger waiting for me on the other side? You know that whole "cryo" part comes from the Greek for literally "icy cold," right? Maybe like a blanket or something could have been nice. Thanks a ton, Scott.
What is it now, anyways? 2014? APRIL?! Geez. That's nuts. How'd the Bucs do last fall? Oh… uhhh. Well… Any big offseason changes I should know about? WHAT?! Yikes. And an entirely new uniform? Give me a moment. This is a lot to take in. Next thing I know you're going to tell me that Matthew McConaughey won a Best Actor Oscar. EXCUSE ME?!? I don't know what to believe anymore.
Well, luckily you guys kept me plugged in next to a staticky radio station playing nothing but college football coverage, so I picked up a thing or two. I've got a lot of the rest of the world to catch up on apparently, so let's get down to business and kick off this Mock Draft.
Scott Smith: Well, that's gratitude for you. Anyway, before I officially put you/the Texans on the clock, I think I should point out that we did this same thing on the Captain's Blog last year and I scored a crushing, overwhelming, legend-making victory over you by getting exactly one pick right to your zero. And that was the FIRST pick, Eric Fisher (which at the time of the mock draft was at least a little bit of a gamble over Luke Joeckel.) C'mon, we can do better than that this year, right?
That's my pep talk. Now get to pickin'.
1. Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (Andrew Norton's pick)
The Texans need a quarterback. So the question that they will ask themselves from here until roughly 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 8th, is, "Can we get a possible franchise quarterback with the first pick of the second round?" I vote yes, and we see at least one of the top three QBs fall to #33. So, the Texans wait for their quarterback and take the best and most physically gifted player in a seemingly stacked draft class. Plus there's that "Defense Wins Championships" thing and how on Earth are you going to block Clowney and J.J. Watt?
Will Jadeveon Clowney (center) actually go first, as many now believe, and will Teddy Bridgewater (left) and Eric Ebron (right) end up as steals?
2. St. Louis Rams: T Greg Robinson, Auburn (Scott Smith's pick)
Ugh, I hate this pick. I can feel myself losing this competition already. I really think Sammy Watkins is going to go second, and I even think it’s possible that the Rams take him. If we were predicting trades, I would absolutely go with Watkins here, with maybe Cleveland, Oakland, Buffalo or even the Buccaneers trading up. In the end, though, I think St. Louis will decide that tackle is just too great of a need and they’ll go the safe route…and then cross their hoofs and hope that Watkins doesn’t end up in the NFC West.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (AN)
WR Sammy Watkins could be seen as the best player available and does fit a need for the Jaguars, but Johnny Manziel provides something that Watkins just doesn’t. A splash. Manziel has a strong arm and second-to-none ability to extend plays, which not only gives the Jags a new starting quarterback, but also energizes the Jags' fan base and puts Jacksonville in the national spotlight.
4. Cleveland Browns, WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (SS)
Our ongoing theme here is that we keep wanting to take Watkins, but don’t. I’m stopping that right here. I think Cleveland wanted Johnny Football but you just sent him to Jacksonville (which was not a nice thing to do), and now I think the Browns wait and get Brian Hoyer some competition in Round Two (assuming a run on QBs doesn’t develop and pull the likes of Carr, Garoppolo and Savage up into the first round with Bortles and Bridgewater). Here, they get Hoyer something he’ll like a lot more, a Calvin Johnson type to team with Josh Gordon and potentially give the Browns the best 1-2 punch at wideout in the NFL.
5. Oakland Raiders, LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo (AN)
Many people have said this about the Buccaneers, and I think it holds pretty true for the Raiders as well: They made a lot of moves in free agency to open themselves up to best player available here. Mack's versatility could have him starting as an outside linebacker or with his hand in the ground at DE alongside free agent signings Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley. They could go Bortles to backup Schaub as a potential QB of the future, but the Raiders want a day-one contributor and find it in Mack.
6. Atlanta Falcons, T Jake Matthews (SS)
I'm trying to win a prize for least imaginative mock draft ever. How am I doing, Andrew? As the Atlanta G.M., I would have seriously considered a trade up for Clowney had he dropped a spot or two, and I would have at least considered Mack if he made it to #6, even if he's not a perfect scheme fit. But with those two gone, there's just no reason not to marry my biggest need with the best available value here and take a tackle. This could easily be Taylor Lewan – I mean, what do I really know about how the Falcons have those two players comparatively rated – but I'll stick with Matthews as the slightly safer prospect. Plus there's the bloodline connection with his uncle Clay and the Falcons.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M (AN)
Obvious Disclaimer: This in no way reflects or could reflect the thinking of the Bucs’ decision-makers. I am most certainly not privy to that discussion. But this makes a whole lot of sense to me.
8. Minnesota Vikings, QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida (SS)
I don't know how the Vikings can reach for a quarterback (from the state of Florida, no less) just three years after they reached for Christian Ponder to, well, less than spectacular results. The thing is, I don't see how they cannot go after a quarterback. Neither Ponder nor Matt Cassel are the answer, long-term or maybe even this year, and they basically admitted as much when they gave Josh Freeman an audition last year. They could go cornerback or linebacker here (and I suppose Anthony Barr is tempting) and hope to get a Garoppolo type in Round Two, but they risk missing out if that QB run I mentioned does materialize. There's not a Sammy Watkins here to justify that risk, so they make what, ironically, might be the safest pick. And just to be clear, Andrew, you're telling me you haven't been sitting in on Jason Licht and Lovie Smith's private draft meetings? Really?
9. Buffalo Bills, OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA (AN)
Could use a tight end here, could further solidify the offensive line, but if I'm the Bills I'm not going to pass up this chance to create a young LB duo that could wreak havoc in the AFC for years to come. The Bills moved last year's Rookie of the Year Candidate Kiko Alonso outside and draft his strongside counterpart ninth overall. Barr is a pass rush threat that also fits ominously well with Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes, who combined for 23 sacks last season.
10. Detroit Lions, CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (SS)
Like you, I'm tempted by Eric Ebron, the one tight end likely to go high. But I think the needs in the secondary are too great, so this will be either a cornerback or a safety. There's at least one player at each spot who could go here, and maybe two depending upon how you feel about Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. Some mock drafts have Gilbert going a little lower, but cornerbacks, like quarterbacks, tend to rise on actual draft day. Detroit takes the first cornerback off the board at #10, which feels just about right.
11. Tennessee Titans, DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh (AN)
You have to think that Gilbert is at the top of Tennessee's wish list after losing
12. New York Giants, T Taylor Lewan, Michigan (SS)
I really like that last pick, Andrew. If Donald makes it to pick 11, I think you've got a decent chance at actually getting one correct prediction this year. Your mom will be proud. As for me, I'm missing on this one if you go by what seems to be the popular opinion about the Giants' intentions. This is where most analysts have TE Eric Ebron landing, and I'm sure that would make Eli happy. However, Lewan is great value here – he could end up being better than Jake Matthews – and the Giants strike me as a team that won't let that kind of O-line value pass. Justin Pugh could move back to guard to open up a tackle spot (there seems to be a hole at left guard, in fact), or Will Beatty could take some time coming back from last year's injury. Either way, Lewan is there to anchor the line down the road.
13. St. Louis Rams, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama (AN)
One correct this year is all I'm asking for. That one's for you, Ma. Onto the Rams' second pick of the draft. After locking down the highest-rated tackle at number two overall, the Rams shift gears to the defense to fill their biggest need on that side of the ball. Clinton-Dix comes in to roam the middle, allowing the other defenders to play more aggressive. It may not sit well with St. Louis fans that the team didn't snag a WR on Day One, but landing the top lineman and safety in the draft should help ease that pain.
14. Chicago Bears, S Calvin Pryor, Louisville (SS)
I like where the Bears sit in this draft. There’s a very small chance (almost negligible, really) that the first 13 picks we predicted will be incorrect, Andrew (especially the odd-numbered picks), so the pool of available players I’m choosing from could be a bit different when the Bears are actually on the clock. Still, if you shuffle the first 13 names, add and subtract one or two, I still think you end up with the same basic landscape as far as the Bears are concerned. They really need a safety and/or a defensive tackle, and I think there’s a good chance the second-best one at both positions will be there. (Heck, you just took Clinton-Dix with the last pick.) So, safety Calvin Pryor or defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan? I like the depth better at DT, so I’m going with Pryor, who can cover and hit.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers, LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama (AN)
Look at the mock drafts on NFL.com, ESPN, Yahoo and most any other online news source and 95% of them have the Steelers nabbing either cornerback Dennard or Roby to help cure their ailing secondary. But at 15, they see Mosley, the unanimous best ILB in the class, waiting for them and that may be too hard to pass up. They can grab a corner in a later round and instead snag a potential Pro Bowl regular with this pick.
16. Dallas Cowboys, DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State (SS)
That Mosley pick is a steal, and not at all a surprising one for the Steelers, who seem to be able to draft stud linebackers in the mid to late-first round at will. The Cowboys would be just as happy if there was an elite defensive end available, but I don't see one even close to going at #16. I think they're happy with Jernigan – that line needs A LOT of help, but not as happy as they could have been. If they like Louis Nix or Ra'Shede Hageman as much as Jernigan, maybe they try to trade down. Or maybe they trade down and do target a sleeper defensive end, like Kareem Martin or Scott Crichton.
17. Baltimore Ravens, OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame (AN)
The Ravens need to find themselves a right tackle here and should take the safest remaining offensive lineman. Flacco was sacked 48 times in 2013 (4th most in the league), 10 more times than in 2012 when they won the Super Bowl. And their 3.1 yards per carry in 2013 was dead last, down 1.2 yards per carry from their championship season. Martin played mostly left tackle in college, but has experience on the right side, and analysts are saying that with a bit more weight he could move to guard as a worst-case scenario.
18. New York Jets, WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (SS)
That would be a fun one to sell to the Ravens' fan base: 'Hey, we've already thought of and planned for the worst-case scenario with our first-round pick, in case he sucks at the position we're drafting him to play!' As for the Jets' pick, it's my easiest one so far. Just has to be a receiver, and all I had to do was choose between Cooks and Odell Beckham. That was legitimately a little tough, but I went with Cooks thinking the Jets would want to add a real vertical threat opposite free agent acquisition Eric Decker.
19. Miami Dolphins, WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State (AN)
I highly doubt, "The Ravens select offensive-tackle-but-offensive-guard-in-the-worst-case-scenario Zack Martin" will be the script they hand the commissioner, so that shouldn't be an issue. As for the Dolphins, this is not the way they wanted the first 18 picks to turn out. They need offensive line help, but the best tackles are gone, leaving them looking at more upside than "sure things." My crystal ball is telling me that they like Miami product OT Seantral Henderson in the second round, so they surprise everyone in round one with 6'5", 240 lb., go-up-and-get-it Kelvin Benjamin, making for a scary receiver trio with Wallace and Hartline.
20. Arizona Cardinals, QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (SS)
Why not? A safety would have been nice, but you'd have to force one here with Pryor and Clinton-Dix gone, unless you're on the Jimmie Ward bandwagon, which has been picking up passengers lately. Some have projected a bit of a tumble for pass-rushing LB Anthony Barr (but not Andrew, who took him all the way up at #9) and that would be a nice scenario for the Cardinals. But with nothing really ringing the bell for the Cardinals right here, how about grabbing the quarterback that will replace Carson Palmer in a year or two? (By the way, this looks like prime trade-down territory, given that there are a bunch of teams looking for a receiver after this pick and Odell Beckham is still on the board.)
21. Green Bay Packers, TE Eric Ebron, UNC (AN)
The Packers tip their collective cheese-shaped hats to the 20 teams before them for keeping the top tight end on the board for this long. Green Bay only saw glimpses of what having a dynamic game-changing tight end would be like with Jermichael Finley, who too often succumbed to the injury bug. Ebron immediately gives them that impact in the middle to free up Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson and make a formidable arsenal for Aaron Rodgers.
22. Philadelphia Eagles, WR Odell Beckham, LSU (SS)
Let's see, did the Eagles recently release any players of note? I feel like there was some minor news along those lines not long ago. Well, let's just say that if there was, for any reason, a sudden 80-catch, 1,300-yard hole in the middle of the Eagles' passing game, then Mr. Beckham is here to fill it. I'm not sure I fully believe that Beckham will be available at #22, which means a trade might be necessary, but this would be an awfully nice development for Chip Kelly.
23. Kansas City Chiefs, WR Marqise Lee, USC (AN)
And the Chiefs contribute to the mid-round WR run, drafting the fourth receiver in the last six spots. They'd have liked to see Beckham fall just one more spot so he could fill some of the return duties left vacant by Dexter McCluster's departure. But they are happy to find Lee with this pick, giving Alex Smith a much-needed wide receiver option opposite Dwayne Bowe.
24. Cincinnati Bengals, CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (SS)
I think it's an indication of how incredibly deep this draft is that teams in this range are just sitting put and having their top needs met by high-level talent. A lot of mocks have Dennard coming off the board five or 10 picks earlier than this and the Bengals taking Bradley Roby instead. Well, in this make-believe universe we've created, with Eric Ebron falling to the Packers and Andrew's mom proud of him for some reason, Dennard is sitting there when the clock starts ticking on the Bengals.
25. San Diego Chargers, CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State (AN)
The Chargers will join in the celebration of gifted secondary players falling into the mid-20s and grab Roby, whose name is never far from Dennard's. San Diego knows that to remain a players in the AFC West, they need to keep pace with the Broncos' offense and the competitive, quick and sure-tackling Roby should help them do that. He also proved to be a more-than-effective special teams player at Ohio State.
26. Cleveland Browns, QB Derek Carr, Fresno State (SS)
The Browns missed on Manziel by one pick and took Watkins instead of Bortles or Bridgewater. Can they afford to wait again and try to get their eventual (and maybe soon) Brian Hoyer replacement, since they have another selection nine spots later? Maybe? I guess it depends on how much you like Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Savage and A.J. McCarron. If I'm the Browns, I see the Texans waiting at pick #33, having passed on QB for Clowney, and I get nervous. I take Carr because he's the quarterback left that I like the best. (That's the Browns me talking. The real me has a feeling about Garoppolo.)
27. New Orleans Saints, LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (AN)
Good speed and ability in both the pass and run game make him a potential every-down linebacker. Junior Galette had a 12-sack season for the Saints last year, and they could benefit from another option on the opposite side. Victor Butler has shown flashes in his young career, but he is coming off a torn ACL and is unproven long-term. But this is the Saints, who just lost Lance Moore and pass-catching Darren Sproles… so another receiver here is not entirely out of the question.
28. Carolina Panthers, T Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama (SS)
Ugh, I have to pick for the Panthers? Can I give them Ryan Leaf? How about Leon Sandcastle? The best-case-scenario would be some kind of Trojan Horse, a pick that looks good here on paper but is secretly a locker room cancer who will rip that team apart from inside. But I don't possess that level of scouting. Nor can I really tell you who the best of the next tier of receivers is; only that there's a lot of them. So I'll surprisingly pass on Carolina's #1 need and take Kouandjio, who has an awesome collection of vowels and who will be the replacement for the retired Jordan Gross. Receiver comes in Round Two.
29. New England Patriots, DL Louis Nix, Notre Dame (AN)
The interior D-line for the Patriots is getting a little up there in age, so why would you not draft a young defensive tackle who A) has been frequently compared to New England-favorite Vince Wilfork; B) can study behind Wilfork before ever having to be a full-time starter; C) adds immediate depth at a position of concern a season ago; and D) would eventually step in for Wilfork after having learned all the tricks of the trade from him? Unless, of course, they are involved in a trade like they seem to be nearly every year.
30. San Francisco 49ers, CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (SS)
Wait, is that a rhetorical question, Andrew? It is, right? I wasn't aware there would be a quiz. Assuming I'm free to move on, I'll grab the next cornerback, and only the fourth one off the board. There are so many good receivers and offensive linemen, not to mention all those QBs (whether they're really that good or not), that a good player at a premium position is pushed down this far. The rich get richer, as San Francisco addresses the cross-bay departures of Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown with this good-size, good-speed, good-character corner.
31. Denver Broncos, G Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA (AN)
Denver's offensive line got straight bullied in the Super Bowl and I'm sure that will be on their minds when they're on the clock. They have added major pieces on the defense in Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and DeMarcus Ware to make another solid push to the championship game, so in the draft it makes sense that they shift focus to the offensive line. Su'a-Filo is the highest rated guard in the draft and should be an anchor for their interior line for years to come.
32. Seattle Seahawks, DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota (SS)
I think the Super Bowl champs can straight up take whoever is the highest-rated player on their board to finish the first round, but in this case, if it is Hageman, he also fills a bit of a need. The Seahawks brought their defensive linemen in waves all throughout the 2013 season and I'm sure they plan to do the same thing in 2014. With Chris Clemons and
Well, that was entertaining. And almost sure to be wildly off base. I think our reasoning at each pick was relatively solid, but I would be shocked if we collectively got more than six or seven right. It only takes one or two teams going in unexpected directions early to throw the whole order of picks off. So, before we wrap this up, let me ask you this, Andrew: Which pick or two do you feel the best about? And also, which pick or two would you consider changing if we were to do this over?
Andrew Norton: Of course, I have to say that I'm confident about my number-one overall selection, Jadeveon Clowney. But really, after that, it's hard to have a ton of confidence in your predictions because, as we stated a few times throughout, there are about a dozen picks in the first round that are ripe to be traded away. And that could very well be our undoing in this little exercise, because it really just takes one trade to knock everything out of whack. (See Dolphins, Miami in 2013 NFL Draft.)
But, assuming no trades will happen, I do like the Steelers to grab Mosley if he is indeed available that late, and I'm confident in saying the Chiefs grab a receiver at 23 while the Chargers go DB at 25. And to throw the Buccaneer name in there one more time, if a move isn't made and Watkins is off the board, I see Mike Evans being a great pick to pair with Vincent Jackson and drive NFC South secondaries crazy this season. Again though, that’s just me.
As for least confident selections, I'm not certain about my three and five selections. There is a whole lot of noise surrounding the entire quarterback class and it's nearly impossible to predict which teams like which QB. The Jags could very well not love Manziel and opt to take Khalil Mack instead, thereby screwing up a handful of my predictions. Also, looking back, it is hard to imagine the Dolphins going wide receiver at all, that was just the nature of our draft landscape, a cornerback or offensive tackle is more likely.
I would imagine that you are crazy confident in all of your selections and will quickly proclaim that you'll be 16 for 16 come draft day, but I'll pose the same questions to you. Which of your picks do you think will come true on May 8th and which ones would you change if we were to draft again?
Scott Smith: Well, considering that I just predicted we'd get about six or seven right combined, no, I'm not nearly that optimistic about my picks. This is never easy (okay, predicting draft picks is easy and fun, and that's why we're doing it, but correctly predicting picks is a different story), but I think it's particularly difficult this year because of the uncertainty surrounding the top three quarterbacks. We've got them going to Jacksonville, Minnesota and Arizona, but would it shock anyone if they instead went to Houston, Cleveland and Tampa Bay?
So it's more a matter of which picks I'm least shaky about. I think that if the picks before it go somewhat as we predicted, Jake Matthews to Atlanta is pretty solid. I certainly like the Eagles taking Beckham if he is indeed still there at 22. And…that's about as far as I'm going to go, because I don't want to double down on the mistakes I made above by crowing about them down here.
Which picks might I change if we did this over? Well, Arizona taking a quarterback might be me over-thinking it; chances are there will be a very attractive non-QB option at #20. And I might have gone a little high on Taylor Lewan to the Giants at #12; in retrospect, I wonder if they would jump on Mosley before the Steelers could get him.
Anyway, Andrew, thank you. That was fun. And if the stars align just right, you might get double or even triple the amount of predictions right this year. In fact, I'm willing to guarantee it. Now, back to the chamber.