A lot of teams and pundits will tell two big falsities leading up to the draft: free agency doesn’t impact draft decision making and teams don’t draft for need. Those are two huge lies.
Teams ignore need when there’s an occasional world-class player available, but they’ll generally make sure that their first-round selection has a role on the team almost immediately.
That’s why this mock draft will have a much different look. Teams have added and subtracted some players in free agency, so their thinking has changed leading up to the draft. Also, I projected some trades that would make sense for teams involved.
Don’t give up before the end, either, as I project Buffalo’s picks for rounds two through seven, as well.
1. Houston Texans – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
They’ll be tempted by Jadeveon Clowney, but they’re a good quarterback away from being a playoff team again. Bortles is a big and strong pocket passer.
2. Atlanta Falcons – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (TRADE W/ STL)
Clowney said he wants to play in Atlanta, and it just so happens that GM Thomas Dimitroff has made a bold move up to get a star player before. It’s a perfect match.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There’s been a lot of speculation that the Jaguars will continue to rely on stop-gap Chad Henne. If they want to sell tickets then they have to end that charade.
4. Cleveland Browns – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Browns don’t have a real need at tackle, but they do have one at guard. Robinson can start at right tackle which would allow them to move Mitchell Schwartz inside.
5. Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
They’ve found success from some unknown wide outs in recent years, but they need a real stud on the outside. Watkins has incredible leaping ability and great hands.
6. St. Louis Rams – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (TRADE W/ ATL)
The NFL has moved towards having two stud tackles instead of just one on the blindside. The selection of Matthews gives St. Louis a long term starter on their right side and someone to help keep Sam Bradford healthy.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
Mack might end up going much higher, but Lovie Smith would be ecstatic if things played out like this for him. Mack played his best against his strongest opponents.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Minnesota reached for Christian Ponder a couple years ago and that failed miserably. This time they get great value as Bridgewater, potentially the best QB in this class, falls.
9. Buffalo Bills – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Buffalo’s pursuit of wide receivers recently is no smokescreen. Buffalo has never had a wide out as tall as Evans who consistently made an impact. They’ve struggled in the red zone for years now, and a 6’5″ target can only help those numbers. He’s the perfect compliment to a smaller, faster group of receivers, and EJ Manuel should be pretty well equipped to succeed if this is indeed the selection.
10. Detroit Lions – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
There might not be a more obvious pick in the draft. Detroit’s secondary has been leaky, to say the least, for years now. If they want to compete in the NFC North they have to fix that.
11. Tennessee Titans – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Titans are moving to the 3-4 this year, and Anthony Barr is the ideal rush linebacker. He fits into the mold of guys like Von Miller and Aldon Smith. Barr is big, strong and fast.
12. New York Giants – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Giants really need to address their offensive line. Eli Manning was horrible last year, and if they want him to get back to normal they’ll need to keep him standing up.
13. St. Louis Rams – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
They addressed the offensive line earlier, so they can shift their focus to a bigger need. Clinton-Dix, like many Alabama defenders, should make an immediate impact.
14. Chicago Bears – Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
His 40-time at the combine got everybody talking about him, but his stock is rising for more than just that. He’s the perfect three-technique defensive tackle for the Bears.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Pittsburgh has started cutting some older players from a once great defense. Dennard will help speed up the rebuild on defense. He doesn’t have great size, but he’s very physical.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The issue in Dallas last year wasn’t the play of Tony Romo late. Instead, it was the failures of the defense late in games. They took a big blow when Jason Hatcher left.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Pryor will replace Ed Reed positionally, but he’ll actually be replacing the style of Ray Lewis. Pryor will strike fear into opposing players coming across the middle.
18. New York Jets – Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Eric Decker isn’t going to be enough to fix an anemic Jets offense. They’ll need additional targets whether it’s Geno Smith or Michael Vick throwing the ball.
19. Miami Dolphins – Zach Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Martin played tackle while he was at Notre Dame, but he fits more at guard in the NFL. Miami has to replace Richie Incognito after his antics shook the team last year.
20. Arizona Cardinals – Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Arizona’s defense was outstanding last season, but they’ll continue to add to it here. Ford isn’t better than Clowney, like he once claimed, but he’s certainly not bad.
21. Green Bay Packers – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Jermichael Finley had constant injury concerns, and it looks like the team is ready to move on from him. Ebron could go much higher, but he won’t land in a better offense than this.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The team just shocked the league by releasing Desean Jackson and they’ll need a dynamic target to replace his reliability. Lee is quick despite his disappointing 40 time.
23. Oakland Raiders – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (TRADE W/ KC)
Rumors are starting to get around that Oakland really loves this kid. They just acquired Matt Schaub, but he’s not a long-term solution. They’ll have to jump Cleveland to get Carr.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Cincinnati was near the top in pass defense last year, but the loss of Mike Zimmer might change all of that. Roby is an outstanding talent who just needs to stay out of trouble.
25. San Diego Chargers – Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
San Diego’s defense would benefit greatly from having a big nose tackle right in the middle of it. They’re a few years removed from Jamal Williams, and Nix can finally replace him.
26. Cleveland Browns – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Watching any tape of Virginia Tech’s defense is like watching an endless highlight clip of Fuller. He is always around the ball and tackles very well. Fuller would be a great compliment to Joe Haden.
27. New Orleans Saints – Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
They had to move on from Will Smith due to cap concerns. Ealy will provide them an immediate replacement in the pass rush.
28. Denver Broncos – CJ Mosley, ILB, Alabama (TRADE W/ CAR)
They might not have to jump New England, but they should. He does everything and would be a top-ten pick if it weren’t for the way the NFL values players at his position.
29. New England Patriots – Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
Murphy fits into the Bill Belichick mold of pass rushers with his great instincts and physical play. The J.J. Watt comparisons won’t stick as those close to him question his motor.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
San Francisco made a late push for Desean Jackson, but their attempts failed. Cooks brings a similar dynamic with his speed and craftiness in route running.
31. Carolina Panthers – Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
He seemed like a lock to go in the first half of this round until medical concerns popped up. Those questions have cleared up, and he should do well in replacing Jordan Gross.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
The Seahawks will be forced to make some tough decisions soon as many of their stars will be due for contract extensions. That’s exactly why a versatile player like Su’a-Filo is perfect.
41. Buffalo Bills – Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
They could’ve addressed the right tackle position in the first round, but Moses is a strong value in the second round. Erik Pears is a likely cap casualty when training camp rolls around, so they’ll need Moses to step in immediately to protect EJ Manuel.
73. Buffalo Bills – Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Jerry Hughes had a breakout season next year, but the expectation should be that he’ll go right back to where he started. He was a bust in the 4-3 for the Colts, and Buffalo will likely be playing out of that formation a lot in 2014. Mario Williams is the only true 4-3 DE Buffalo has. Jeffcoat’s father, Jim, played for Buffalo in the mid-90s.
109. Buffalo Bills – Anthony Steen, OG, Alabama
Bills fans better hope that the team doesn’t actually believe that Chris Williams is an NFL starter. Williams has been one of the worst starters in the league since he came into it, and there aren’t many signs of hope. Even if Williams pans out, Buffalo needs more depth at guard. Steen’s size could make him a better fit at center which also bodes well considering Eric Wood’s injury history.
149. Buffalo Bills – Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
Buffalo needs to do more to stop the run. They added Brandon Spikes which should have a major impact on the run defense, but they need some more beef. Ellis is a huge human being who will probably need some time to adjust to the NFL game, but he’s definitely got the potential to stuff the middle of a defense.
185. Buffalo Bills – Tom Hornsey, P, Memphis
The most popular player in Buffalo might be their punter, Brian Moorman. That’s because of the incredible work he does in the community. Unfortunately for him, it no longer has anything to do with his punting abilities. The team will have to at least bring in some competition, but Hornsey figures to be more of a replacement.
224. Buffalo Bills – Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas
Today’s NFL calls for teams to have unlimited depth at corner. Buffalo has done well by adding Corey Graham to that this off-season, and Byndom could potentially add more to that. However, he’ll have to fight to make any rosters this season. This pick is purely a prayer that would be a steal if Byndom can do anything with his career.