Hindsight will eventually show that even the most accurate mock draft was just a glorified educated guess. That said, the crystal ball does get a lot clearer after the first few weeks of free agency.
After all, no matter how clandestine NFL teams can be, their actions give you a first-hand look at an organization’s thought process as the clubs begin to cobble together their rosters for the 2014 season.
With that in mind here’s The Sports Network’s latest snapshot in time, Mock Draft version 3.0, the free agency fallout edition:
1. Houston Texans – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida – Houston officially moved on from Matt Schaub, dealing the veteran to Oakland for a late-round pick, and signed veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. The 2014 starter, however, will still likely come from this draft. The Texans are well aware there are really only four elite prospects in this process and none of them play the game’s most important position (South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson, Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack and Clemson WR Sammy Watkins) so the first option remains to trade down with someone who wants to go all-in on Clowney or Robinson. Absent of that, though, new coach Bill O’Brien will choose the prototypically- sized Bortles over Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and popular but undersized Texas A&M stalwart Johnny Manziel.
2. Atlanta Falcons (trade with St. Louis Rams) – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina – With quarterback Matt Ryan in the prime of his career, the Falcons believe they can pull off a worst-to-first-type scenario in 2014 as long as they fix the problems on both of their lines. First and foremost, general manager Thomas Dimitroff was intent on getting bigger and more physical, and he took some significant strides in that direction, bringing in run-stuffer Paul Soliai from Miami and big, five- technique defensive end Tyson Jackson on the defensive side. Jackson’s teammate from Kansas City, guard Jon Asamoah, was snared to help the offensive line. Now Atlanta needs the big-time edge pass rusher and that’s Clowney, the best pure talent in this draft with an upside that is off the charts. The Falcons will have to trade up to do it and they seem prepared to do so.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville – The best talent left here is Robinson, but taking another tackle a year after drafting Luke Joeckel at No. 2 overall probably isn’t feasible. Bridgewater has taken a lot of hits recently after a so-so pro day, but he remains the most polished and NFL-ready signal caller in this draft.
4. Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M - Plenty of observers were swooning like teenage girls at a boy band concert after Manziel’s performance at his pro day on Thursday. He flashed a better arm than advertised, embraced the big stage and has already improved on what were some shoddy mechanics at times. Only two teams weren’t on hand to see the festivities in person (Cleveland and Miami) and that leads me to believe first-year GM Ray Farmer is playing games, hoping to feign disinterest in what might be the ultimate boom- or-bust pick in this year’s draft.
5. Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson – Both general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen remain on very short leashes in Oakland and need to win now. That’s why the team brought in a veteran like Schaub to take over the reins at QB, and Allen is hoping for a Kurt Warner-like resurgence from the former Texans’ starter. Getting a playmaker like Watkins will only help.
6. St. Louis Rams (trade with Atlanta) – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn – Things work out perfectly for the Rams in this scenario. St. Louis already has what Clowney projects to be (Robert Quinn), along with another solid end in Chris Long. Getting the best tackle in the draft serves as solid insurance because Jake Long is a descending player who tore an ACL late last season.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo – Mack cemented his status as a top-10 pick after finishing well in the 40-yard dash (4.65 seconds), vertical jump (40 inches), broad jump (10 feet, 8 inches), and 20-yard shuttle (4.18) at the combine. Neither UCLA’s Anthony Barr nor Mack are really scheme fits for Lovie Smith’s 4-3 cover-2, but Mack has the chance to be the far more well-rounded ‘backer.
8. Minnesota Vikings – C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama – Most believe the Vikings will go QB here, but after swinging and missing badly by reaching for Christian Ponder back in 2011, general manger Rick Spielman doesn’t have the political capital to roll the dice on any QB this early. Add in the fact the aggressive Mike Zimmer is the new coach and defense is the logical direction. Minnesota has already addressed the front four and cornerback in free agency, but they have been quiet on the linebacker front, save for bringing back the limited Jasper Brinkley on a make-good deal. Mosley turned a few people off at the combine by not running the 40 and refusing to address the media, but if he checks out medically, Mosley could be the type of seek-and-destroy player who could be a terror in a Zimmer scheme.
9. Buffalo Bills – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M – The Bills probably wouldn’t mind adding either Mack or Barr at linebacker next to 2013 rookie standout Kiko Alonso, but it’s also a good idea to build up around E.J. Manuel to help him develop in his second season. Matthews was once regarded as a potential No. 1 overall selection so he’s tremendous value here.
10. Detroit Lions – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State – The Lions and new coach Jim Caldwell would probably love to add Mike Evans opposite Calvin Johnson, but improving outside the numbers on defense is also a priority. They should have their choice between Gilbert and former Michigan State star Darqueze Dennard. Dennard would probably be the more popular pick in the Wolverine State but he’s a tick behind Gilbert athletically, who cemented himself as the draft’s top corner in Indy by running a 4.37 in the 40, posting 20 reps on the bench press and recording a 35 1/2-inch vertical leap.
11. Tennessee Titans – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State – Ken Whisenhunt was brought in to help Jake Locker, not give up on him, so forget about a QB here and focus on defense. The Titans lost cornerback Alterraun Verner in free agency but picked up veteran Shaun Phillips to help on the edge. That makes Dennard a better fit here than Barr.
12. New York Giants – Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA – The Giants’ linebacking corps was a vast wasteland a year ago and Barr was once thought of as a top-five- type selection. He’s still raw after starting his career in UCLA at running back and needs to add strength, but Barr would be a perfect fit in North Jersey — an explosive player who figures to eventually be an impact guy off the edge.
13. St. Louis Rams – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M – Adding playmaking ability and much-needed size opposite their top pick from a year ago, Tavon Austin, makes a lot of sense especially if the Rams are really intent on moving forward with Sam Bradford.
14. Chicago Bears – Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh – The Bears were dismal up front last season and have addressed the defensive end position by bringing in Jared Allen as well as Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. The interior still needs plenty of help, though, and Donald, although undersized, is the best and most athletically gifted three-technique tackle in the draft.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan – Former seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum is currently penciled in at left tackle for the Steelers, but get out the eraser if things break and Lewan remains on the board. Lewan proved to be nearly as athletic as Robinson at the combine with a 4.87 40-yard dash and solid efforts in the broad jump and 3-cone drill. He could immediately solve a long-time problem area in the Steel City.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame – Jerry Jones probably doesn’t even know what the Cowboys are going to run defensively this season, but if they stick with a Kiffin-Marinelli Tampa-2 amalgamation, getting a potential impact player at the three-technique and a solid run-suffer at the zero-spot was paramount. The ‘Boys think they filled the hole at under tackle by inking former Chicago star Henry Melton, who is coming off a serious injury. Nix, who is a load in the middle, would solidify the nose.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama - The Ravens wanted to upgrade the safety position opposite Matt Elam anyway, but James Ihedigbo’s exit to Detroit only expedited things. Clinton-Dix has the range and ball skills to be a playmaker early in his career.
18. New York Jets – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina – Whether it’s Geno Smith or Michael Vick at QB for the Jets won’t matter unless the team can acquire some playmakers. Getting Eric Decker in free agency was a good start and it’s possible New York will be keen on Vick reuniting with the recently released DeSean Jackson. That would leave tight end as the biggest need and Ebron is the best in this draft, an athletic marvel in the mold of a Vernon Davis.
19. Miami Dolphins – Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame – Miami allowed a league- high 58 sacks and couldn’t protect Ryan Tannehill with Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito or without them. The Fish started the rebuild up front by giving left tackle Branden Albert a monster deal, but more needs to be done, making Martin the logical pick because he has a ton of position flexibility.
20. Arizona Cardinals – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State – In case you haven’t noticed, the Cards are one of the most talented teams in football. Their biggest weakness — the offensive line — was addressed in free agency when the team brought former Raider Jared Veldheer in to play left tackle. That move, along with the return of the immensely talented Jonathan Cooper from injury should solidify things in front of Carson Palmer. Arizona should be able to sit back here and think about the future. Snaring Carr as the heir apparent to the 34-year-old Palmer is a luxury the Cardinals will be able to afford.
21. Green Bay Packers – Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois – The Packers claimed they wanted to get more athletic up front but brought in Julius Peppers to play outside linebacker and re-signed plodding nose tackle B.J. Raji. Their plan hasn’t made much sense to this point, but at some point, Green Bay really has to address the safety position, where Morgan Burnett is the lone somewhat proven commodity. Louisville’s Calvin Pryor is the best safety left, but he is more of a cover safety like Burnett, making the more physical Ward the better fit in Titletown.
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State – The divorce between Jackson and the Eagles means Chip Kelly and Philadelphia will be in the market for a field-stretcher. Cooks is a Doppelganger for Jackson physically with 4.33 straight-line speed.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Odell Beckham, WR, LSU – Alex Smith gets criticized a lot for being a game manager and failing to push the ball down the field, but one of the major reasons he didn’t last season was the fact Kansas City had no threat outside the numbers to pop the top on opposing defenses. If Andy Reid doesn’t reunite with Jackson, Beckham, who is the kind of dynamic athlete who can stretch a defense, is a solid fit.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Calvin Pryor, safety, Louisville – With Zimmer now in Minnesota, the Bengals will have a tougher time masking deficiencies on their defense, so upgrading the talent on the back end is a necessity. Pryor is an instinctive player with solid range and a nose for the football. He should fit in nicely next to Taylor Mays.
25. San Diego Chargers – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State – The Chargers ranked 29th overall in pass defense in 2013 and dead last in the AFC, so the talent level has to improve on the back end. Roby has world-class speed and enough size to hold up outside the numbers.
26. Cleveland Browns – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State – The Browns already have a true No. 1 at wide receiver in Josh Gordon and a very good receiving tight end in Jordan Cameron. The team also signed a solid slot option in free agency (Andrew Hawkins) and finally addressed the running back position with Ben Tate. Drafting the 6-5 Benjamin would give Manziel everything he needs to succeed at the professional level.
27. New Orleans Saints – Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State – Rob Ryan worked some serious magic in turning around the Saints’ defense a year ago, and adding Jernigan, a prototypical under tackle, may not seem like a great fit but remember the team has the massive John Jenkins as a pure nose. Brodrick Bunkley, on the other hand, is aging and on the downside. Drafting Jernigan will only open things up further for players like Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks.
28. Carolina Panthers – Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal – The Panthers needed help at the wide receiver position before they moved on from Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn. Now the situation has reached a critical mass with pedestrian free agent pickup Jerricho Cotchery as the No. 1 option. Lee projects as the best route runner in this year’s draft and should give Cam Newton help on the outside.
29. New England Patriots – Ra’shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota – Pats fans breathed a sign of relief almost as big as Vince Wilfork himself after the team made up with the big nose tackle and worked out a new deal with him. That said, New England still needs to get younger and more athletic up front and Hageman is the kind of raw athlete Bill Belichick will salivate over.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech – The 49ers need a receiver and figure to be all in on the DeSean Jackson sweepstakes. Even if they don’t get D-Jax, however, the first-round-worthy receivers are all gone by this point, making corner the more logical position for San Fran. Fuller has the size, length and physicality that Seattle made en vogue now.
31. Denver Broncos – Xavier Su’a Filo, OG, UCLA – The loss of Zane Beadles in free agency means the Broncos are thin at guard opposite Louis Vasquez. Su’a Filo, the most experienced and NFL-ready member of UCLA’s impressive O-line, could step right in as a starter.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama – The one real weakness in Seattle is the offensive line, and the team lost Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan in free agency. Kouandjio isn’t all that athletic, but at 6-7, 330 pounds, he could be a road-grader as a right tackle.