Our NFL mock draft series continues with Jared Sherman's second installment. Here is his first.
1. Houston Texans - Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina (6-6/266)
The more I stare at the draft board, the more obvious it becomes to me that the Texans simply cannot pass on a talent like Clowney. His junior season was overly scrutinized by folks looking to make a story where one didn't exist. The explosiveness, speed and quickness that I can only compare to that of Ndamukong Suh when he was at Nebraska, is downright scary. Clowney and J.J. Watt are going to make life miserable for opposing offenses for years.
2. St. Louis Rams via Washington - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn (6-5/332)
Left tackle Jake Long's 2013 season ended with a torn ACL and MCL and the Rams' right tackle spot is occupied by Raiders cast-off Joe Barksdale. Robinson is a Day 1 starter and should dominate for the next 10 years.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (6-3/251)
Yes, the Jags need a QB, but a player as talented as Mack is too hard to pass on -- especially for a defensive savant like Gus Bradley.
4. Cleveland Browns - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (6-1/211)
The Browns already have stud WR Josh Gordon, but putting Watkins across from him will make whatever mediocre QB they throw out there look, well, a whole lot less mediocre.
5. Oakland Raiders - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (6-7/309)
The Raiders let left tackle Jared Veldheer trot off to Arizona as a free agent and replaced him with Donald Penn. Lewan is a nasty competitor with the length and feet to play on the left side, and the strength to play on the right (where former Eagle Austin Howard sits atop the depth chart). He might need a year or two before he takes over for Penn.
6. Atlanta Falcons - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (6-5/308)
The Falcons need help both protecting and rushing the QB. With Clowney and Mack off the board, the best option still available is the rock-solid Aggie LT.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (6-0/207)
Mike Glennon and Josh McCown are decent options at QB, but if Lovie Smith wants to build a long-term winner, grabbing Johnny Football is the way to start. Not only is Manziel the top QB in the draft, he'll create quite a buzz in an area (or state) not known for its passion for pro football.
8. Minnesota Vikings - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (6-5/231)
The third Aggie in a row to come off the board, the Vikings look to pair the big receiver with their No. 1 pick (well, one of them) from 2013, Cordarelle Patterson, to create a dynamic duo for whomever is under center when the 2014 season starts.
9. Buffalo Bills - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina (6-4/250)
The Bills invested a first-round pick in QB E.J. Manuel last season, and need to continue to provide him with tools to work with. While they'd prefer to grab Evans, selecting the top tight end in the draft isn't a bad consolation prize.
10. Detroit Lions - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (6-0/202)
The secondary continues to be the Achilles heel of a very talented (if undisciplined) defense in Detroit. Gilbert is a tall corner with sprinter's speed, great hands and quick hips. And while Eagles fans know the Lions have a pretty good kick returner in Jeremy Ross, Gilbert was also a dangerous returner for the Cowboys, scoring six kickoff return touchdowns during his career in Stillwater.
11. Tennessee Titans - Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (6-5/255)
With new head coach Ken Whisenhunt installing the 3-4 defense in Tennessee, the need for outside pass rushers becomes a priority. Barr, a converted offensive player, is still learning to play OLB, but his physical size, speed and athletic ability are hard to match. Barr will need to become more consistent, as he disappears at times, but the 26 sacks he's recorded in the past two years prove he shows up more often than not.
12. New York Giants - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (6-1/285)
After letting Linval Joseph leave as a free agent, the Giants' interior line still has ex-Eagle Cullen Jenkins slotted in as a starter. Not good. Donald is a short, penetrating 3-technique who causes havoc in the backfield. Something the Giants haven't had in quite a long time.
13. St. Louis Rams - Hasean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama (6-1/208)
Like the Eagles, the Rams have gone through a bevy of safeties over the past several seasons without settling on a pair that can hold down the fort. While Clinton-Dix isn't my top safety in the draft (Calvin Pryor), I feel his strength (coverage skills) is a better fit with incumbent starter T.J. McDonald than Pryor's.
14. Chicago Bears - C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama (6-2/234)
The Bears' defense was a debacle in 2013, as they struggled in just about every facet of the game. Mosley gives them an instant starter at middle linebacker where they sorely missed Brian Urlacher's steadying presence. Mosley is the best cover linebacker in the draft and could be the next Luke Kuechly. A top-10 player in this draft.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State (5-11/199)
Starting cornerbacks William Gay and Ike Taylor are getting old, and more importantly, getting beaten early and often. Dennard isn't the athlete Gilbert is, but he's smart, tough and physical. Not afraid of bigger receivers, Dennard should be starting by the end of his rookie season.
16. Dallas Cowboys - Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville (5-11/207)
Cowboys fans are probably sick of watching players like Jeff Heath and Barry Church get torched again and again. Pryor is my top-rated safety in the draft and would be their best player at the position since Roy Williams' glory days in Big D.
17. Baltimore Ravens - Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame (6-4/308)
Baltimore needs help at both left guard (Kelechi Osemele was inconsistent) and right tackle (Michael Oher signed with Tennessee) this offseason. Martin is versatile enough to play either position at a high level, and is a great character guy (two-time Notre Dame team captain).
18. New York Jets - Odell Beckham, WR, LSU (5-11/198)
While the Jets' QB situation may have improved with the signing of Michael Vick, they need to give him and Geno Smith more weapons to work with. Beckham is a terrific athlete who runs great routes, attacks the ball and can make people miss after the catch. He'll also be a dangerous return man if they let him.
19. Miami Dolphins - Marqise Lee, WR, USC (6-0/192)
While the Fins need to bolster their offensive line, their receiving corps could use a boost as well as the Mike Wallace signing looks like a complete disaster. Lee struggled with injuries in 2013, but when healthy he is a great route runner, explosive with the ball in his hands and a top notch competitor. Lee should give the Dolphins the true No. 1 receiver they've lacked since Brandon Marshall.
20. Arizona Cardinals - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida (6-5/232)
The Cards know Carson Palmer isn't going to be around much longer and they luck into a potential franchise QB here. Similar to Andrew Luck, Bortles is big, mobile, smart and competitive. He lacks only Luck's arm strength. A year behind Palmer (if rookie QBs even get a full year anymore) and Bortles takes over in 2015.
21. Green Bay Packers - Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech (6-0/190)
The Packers re-signed CB Sam Shields this offseason, but Tramon Williams' very mediocre 2013 gives them pause. Fuller was a team captain for the Hokies, and brings size, great feet and a feisty competitiveness to the position. In a division with Calvin Johnson, Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Patterson, the Packers need all the help they can get.
22. Philadelphia Eagles - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State (6-5/240)
I fought the urge to slot Benjamin to the Eagles in my first mock because I think the Birds need to go defense first. But with my top corners and linebackers gone already, I turn to this over-sized wideout. His arm length (34 7/8 inches) and height make his catch radius ridiculously large and presents a physical mismatch against even the biggest corners and safeties. His speed, while not scary, is good enough to pull away from defenders once he gets behind them (read: long strides).
The knock on Benjamin, which is justified, is that he struggles to gain separation from defenders -- something Kelly really values in a receiver. Too often Benjamin has to use his size to hold off DBs who are draped on him. Even with that, Benjamin's physical gifts and size should give Kelly's offense a look it currently doesn't have, and Benjamin has experience working in the slot, stacked, and split out wide. Another plus for Benjamin is his blocking ability -- using his size and strength to engulf smaller DBs. He also didn't shy away from big moments, catching the game-winning TD in the BCS Championship against Auburn and being the Seminoles' go-to guy all season. He should flourish in the red zone.
While not a finished product, Benjamin is the kind of matchup problem Kelly covets. He can move all over the field to exploit defensive weaknesses, and simply gives the Birds' offense a wide receiver with rare size and ability that they haven't had since Harold Carmichael. (I'm not counting Ifeanyi Momah.)
23. Kansas City Chiefs - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State (5-10/189)
The Chiefs took a big leap forward in 2013 thanks to QB Alex Smith's steady play and an improved defense. To take the next step they need to be more explosive in the passing game where running back Jamaal Charles led the team with a mere 693 receiving yards last season. Cooks is being compared to DeSean Jackson, a player Andy Reid is intimately familiar with, and is exactly the type of dynamic playmaker the Chiefs lack. Cooks is a threat over the top or on a simple crossing route, using his speed and elusiveness to baffle defenders.
24. Cincinnati Bengals - Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State (6-1/237)
The James Harrison signing last season didn't pan out for the Bengals, and they're still looking to find a linebacker capable of rushing the passer. Shazier is arguably one of the top athletes in the draft, and while his size is on the small side, his speed (he ran an unofficial 4.36 at his pro day) and quickness are elite. Shazier led the Big Ten in tackles in 2013 and is tremendous in pass coverage (second only to Mosley). Finding a versatile, three-down LB like Shazier at this point of the draft is a coup for Cincinnati.
25. San Diego Chargers - Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (5-11/194)
The Chargers need to address a porous secondary that finished 29th against the pass in 2013. Roby had his ups and downs last season for the Buckeyes but may be the best athlete outside of Gilbert at the position. He has the size and top-tier speed (4.39 40) to cover deep, and is also an effective special teams player, recording two blocked punts in 2013. His recent arrest for OVI (Operating a Vehicle Impaired) is going to throw up some red flags, but if the Chargers are comfortable with it, they're getting a heck of a corner.
26. Cleveland Browns - Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia (6-6/314)
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, Cleveland's 2012 second-round pick, struggled mightily last season, and with a new regime running the show, a replacement might be in the offing. Moses played both right and left tackle at UVA, and has the quickness, strength, and light feet to continue to play either side in the pros. He should team with Joe Thomas to give the Browns a solid tackle duo for years to come.
27. New Orleans Saints - Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana (6-2/215)
For the first time in years, New Orleans' defense may have outplayed the its offense last season, leading the Saints to look to upgrade the weapons they put at Drew Brees' disposal. I'm a little skeptical about Latimer's quick rise up the draft boards, but he certainly has the size/speed ratio teams drool over. He produced in a very ordinary Indiana offense, despite teams focusing on stopping him.
28. Carolina Panthers - Joel Bitonio, OL, Nevada (6-4/302)
The Panthers lost starting LT Jordan Gross to retirement this offseason and have little depth on the roster to replace him. Bitonio is a bit of reach here, but he can play tackle or guard, and he proved he could hang with the big boys as a senior, playing top prospects like UCLA's Barr and Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence to a standstill.
29. New England Patriots - Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame (6-2/331)
The future of Vince Wilfork in New England is a bit cloudy at the moment, so what better way to prepare for the big guy's inevitable departure than to draft the guy many feel could be the next Vince Wilfork. Nix is a wide body (6-2/331) who moves like a much smaller man. Coming off meniscus surgery late in the 2013 season, Nix has dropped down the board a bit, but someone of his size and athleticism is hard to find.
30. San Francisco 49ers - Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (6-6/310)
San Francisco's two starting defensive ends, Ray McDonald and Justin Smith, will both be 30 or older when then 2014 starts. Hageman has tremendous athletic ability for someone his size, and should be able to play both the 3- and 5-technique DE in San Francisco's defense. He could even be moved inside on passing downs, where his quick hands and long arms could make things very difficult for QBs.
31. Denver Broncos - Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri (6-4/273)
The Broncos have been very aggressive during free agency, addressing deficiencies at safety, defensive end, and wide receiver, but still could use depth on the defensive line. Ealy is a pass rushing DE who seems to have only scratched the surface of what he can do. With some time behind vets Derek Wolfe and DeMarcus Ware, Ealy should continue to develop as an all-around player and eventually step into the starting lineup in 2015.
32. Seattle Seahawks - Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (6-5/304)
The Seahawks, like the Eagles, love versatile players who they can move around the field to exploit mismatches. In Seattle's hybrid 3-4 defense, a player with Tuitt's size and agility can be used at both end spots and inside on passing downs. A down 2013 season has dropped Tuitt's stock, but if he can regain his 2012 form that saw him record 12 sacks in Notre Dame's 3-4 defense, the reigning Super Bowl champions just got even scarier.
I can already hear people howling at this pick, but with rumblings about Evan Mathis wanting a new contract and Todd Herremans a possible 2015 salary cap casualty, the Eagles need to start looking for their replacements. I have already made it known that I love Jackson, and the more I watch the more I'm convinced he's the best OG in the draft. I passed on Utah CB Keith McGill and Louisville DE/LB Marcus Smith to pick Jackson.