1. Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, 6-5, 266, South Carolina
If the Texans don’t force a quarterback here, they’ll take the best player on the board. That’s Clowney, one of the most talented defensive ends to enter the draft in a long time.
2. St. Louis Rams: LT Greg Robinson, 6-5, 332, Auburn
With Clowney off the board, Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack and Greg Robinson are widely considered to be the elite prospects remaining. Watkins will be tempting — despite taking four receivers in the top four rounds since coach Jeff Fisher took over, they still don’t have a clear No. 1 — but the Rams just signed Kenny Britt, so they do have some flexibility here.
Left tackle Jake Long is rehabbing after tearing his ACL and MCL late last season, so Robinson — a mauler in the running game who flashes great potential in pass protection — offers insurance in the short-term. If Long is ready to go this season, Robinson could also step in and be a dominant left guard as he refines his technique in preparation for a future move to left tackle.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Sammy Watkins, 6-1, 211, Clemson
If the Jaguars aren’t in love with any of the top quarterbacks, they might just pick one in the second round and go with Watkins, an established playmaker with blazing speed who has all the tools needed to be a top-shelf receiver in the National Football League. He blows by cornerbacks, tracks the ball well and also has the ability to contribute as a returner.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Blake Bortles, 6-5, 232, Central Florida
The Texans’ and Jaguars’ decisions to pass on a quarterback benefits the Browns, who now have their choice of the top three prospects at the position. Of the three, I have them going with Bortles, a late-riser who possesses prototypical size and plus intangibles. He also excels at running bootlegs and playaction, which will fit well in Kyle Shanahan’s version of the West Coast offense. Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater could also be options here.
5. Oakland Raiders: OLB Khalil Mack, 6-2, 251, Buffalo
The Raiders are trying to contend this year, and Mack is a plug-and-play type who will immediately help the defense with his versatility and ability to rush the passer. Mack can help out at defensive end, where LaMarr Woodley, Justin Tuck and Kevin Burnett are all 29 or older. He can also help out as a conventional outside linebacker in the Raiders’ 4-3 scheme, though 2013 third-round pick Sio Moore flashed potential there, too. There are a lot of bodies up front for the Raiders but it’s hard to pass on a blue-chip talent like Mack.
6. Atlanta Falcons: OT Jake Matthews, 6-5, 308, Texas A
The Falcons have to do a better job protecting quarterback Matt Ryan — the guy was sacked a career-high 44 times last season. Rectifying this starts with fortifying the edges, where tackles Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes struggled mightily last season. There’s no doubt what Matthews can do; the guy is a plug-and-play tackle at either left tackle or right tackle, a rock-solid option with fantastic bloodlines (he’s the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews).
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans, 6-5, 231, Texas A
With the recent trade of Mike Williams, the Bucs could easily scoop up a wide receiver here. New quarterback Josh McCown thrived in Chicago with two big receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the Bucs have a chance to recreate some of that magic by teaming up Evans — a massive receiver with strong ball skills —with another big, established playmaker in
8. Minnesota Vikings: QB Johnny Manziel, 6-1, 207, Texas A
New offensive coordinator Norv Turner could use a long-term option at quarterback who is better than Matt Cassel, and there are no shortage of options still on the board. The Vikings could go with Bridgewater, Manziel or even Derek Carr, but Manziel has the arm strength and competiveness to make Turner’s vertical offense sing.
9. Buffalo Bills: TE Eric Ebron, 6-4, 250, North Carolina
The Bills could use a right tackle, so if Matthews falls here, he could be the pick. But after investing a first-round pick in quarterback E.J. Manuel last year, the Bills may give their young quarterback a weapon in the athletic Ebron, who is the draft’s best prospect at tight end.
10. Detroit Lions: OLB Anthony Barr, 6-4, 255, UCLA
The Lions wouldn’t mind taking Evans if he was still on the board, but Barr is a nice consolation prize. As a former fullback, he lacks polish and is still developing his football instincts, but his combination of size, speed, burst and collegiate production makes him an intriguing fit in Detroit’s attacking 4-3 defense. He’s a high-upside prospect worth taking a chance on.
11. Tennessee Titans: QB Teddy Bridgewater, 6-2, 214, Louisville
The Titans aren’t expected to pick up the option on Jake Locker’s contract, which means he’s essentially on a one-year audition in Tennessee. Enter Bridgewater, whose stock has fallen since a disappointing pro day but still has the pocket presence and smarts to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. There are some questions about his thin frame, but in this scenario, Bridgewater could sit for a year and develop behind Locker before taking over in 2015.
12. New York Giants: OT Taylor Lewan, 6-7, 309, Michigan
The Giants could use an upgrade at left tackle, so while the Giants rarely spend high picks on linemen, the chance to add a top-10 talent in Lewan — at a position of need, no less — could prove to be too tempting to pass up.
13. St. Louis Rams: CB Justin Gilbert, 6-0, 202, Oklahoma State
The Rams need help at safety, but their starters at the position last season — Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald — are only 23 years old. They should get better. So instead of safety, the Rams go with Gilbert, a player whose speed and ball skills potentially give coach Jeff Fisher and new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams another chess piece for their attacking defense.
14. Chicago Bears: DT Aaron Donald, 6-1, 285, Pittsburgh
Donald is small for a defensive lineman, but there’s no doubting his production, quickness or motor. This guy has checked all the boxes during the pre-draft period and is an ideal fit as a three-technique defensive tackle to replace Henry Melton, who bolted for Dallas this offseason.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Darqueze Dennard, 5-11, 199, Michigan State
Dennard is an aggressive, physical press-man corner who fits the profile of the type of player defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau likes at the position.
16. Dallas Cowboys: S Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, 6-1, 218, Alabama
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones loves big names, and Clinton-Dix fits the bill, thanks to in large part to his amusing nickname (which is Ha Ha). But the Cowboys also need plenty of help at safety, and while Clinton-Dix isn’t elite in any area, he’s competent in several, which makes him a plug-and-player for Jones.
17. Baltimore Ravens: OT Zack Martin, 6-4, 308, Notre Dame
General manager Ozzie Newsome has an eye for talent and often leans toward taking the best player on the board. Fortunately for him, Martin is still out there. He’s smart and versatile and should be able to step right in at right tackle and contribute. As an added bonus, he also plays center and guard.
18. New York Jets: WR Odell Beckham Jr., 5-11, 198, Louisiana State
Brandin Cooks and Marqise Lee are also options here, but Beckham is bigger than Cooks and doesn’t have Lee’s injury woes. Beckham’s ability to stretch the field, play inside or outside and contribute on special teams makes him a potential contributor from day one.
19. Miami Dolphins: LB C.J. Mosley, 6-2, 234, Alabama
New Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey is reportedly a fan of taking the best player available, and Mosley — a smart three-down linebacker with excellent intangibles — fits the bill. He also fills a need at inside linebacker.
20. Arizona Cardinals: OLB Ryan Shazier, 6-1, 237, Ohio State
Shazier is a nice fit for the Cardinals, a run-and-hit outside linebacker who is coming off a strong junior season in which he finished as the Big Ten’s leading tackler. His size is a concern, but he covers a ton of ground (he ran a 4.4 40 during his pro day) and the Cardinals have the size up front to protect him.
21. Green Bay Packers: S Calvin Pryor, 5-11, 207, Louisville
The Packers get a break and select perhaps the most imposing hitter in the 2014 draft class. Pryor is a physical player who will fit right in next to Morgan Burnett in the Packers’ secondary.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Marqise Lee, 6-0, 192, Southern California
If anybody knows what Lee can do, it’s Philly coach Chip Kelly. He coached against him in 2011 and 2012, back when Kelly was at Oregon and Lee was ripping up Pac-12 defenses. Lee’s durability is a concern, but he is a natural playmaker with the speed and talent to stretch the field the way Kelly likes.
23. Chiefs: CB Bradley Roby, 5-11, 194, Ohio State`
At this range, the Chiefs might be tempted to look at Zack Martin, who can play guard, and big-play receivers like Marqise Lee and Brandin Cooks. But in Roby, they can also take a feisty, physical and fluid athlete who was inconsistent as a junior but was once regarded as a top-15 pick. He’s a tad shorter than the Chiefs general manager John Dorsey typically likes — just a tick under 6-feet tall — but he does have long arms and tends to play bigger than his size.
The Chiefs have already given big-time money to Sean Smith and Brandon Flowers, but for a team in the AFC West, the road to the Super Bowl leads through Denver and star quarterback Peyton Manning, and the Chiefs’ two losses to the Broncos — not to mention their playoff loss to Indianapolis — showed you can never have enough cornerbacks.
Adding Roby to the mix, along with Marcus Cooper and Chris Owens, gives the Chiefs at least five playable cornerbacks. It also provides valuable insurance at the position in case the team decides to save money next year by cutting Smith or Flowers.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: DE Kony Ealy, 6-4, 273, Missouri
The Bengals could use a little more juice on their defensive line, especially after the free-agent departure of defensive end Michael Johnson. Ealy has the tools to be a good professional defensive end.
25. San Diego Chargers: NT Louis Nix III, 6-2, 331, Notre Dame
San Diego is reportedly comfortable with Sean Lissemore at nose tackle, but Nix is a massive space eater who fits the bill as a run-stuffer in the Chargers’ 3-4 defense.
26. Cleveland Browns: CB Kyle Fuller, 6-0, 190, Virginia Tech
Fuller’s stock has been rising. He has a good football pedigree — two of his brothers have played in the NFL while his youngest brother now plays at Virginia Tech — and he has the talent to step right in next to star cornerback Joe Haden and solidify the position for years to come.
27. New Orleans Saints: OLB Dee Ford, 6-2, 252, Auburn
Ford is a pass rusher, though and through, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan knows exactly how to use guys like that in his 3-4 defense.
28. Carolina Panthers: WR Brandin Cooks, 5-9, 189, Oregon State
After the team parted ways with Ted Ginn and Steve Smith, finding a target for star quarterback Cam Newton should be a priority. Cooks is a player whose strong pre-draft workouts are backed up by his junior year film, so he could very easily go before this point. If he lasts to No. 28, consider it a steal for the Panthers.
29. New England Patriots: DT Ra’Shede Hageman, 6-5, 318, Minnesota
The Patriots’ starting defensive tackles are well over 30, and while a handful of young backups played well last year, none of them have the athleticm and talent of Hageman. He’s raw, but if anybody can help him reach his potential, it’s Bill Belichick.
30. San Francisco 49ers: CB Jason Verrett, 5-9, 189, Texas Christian
Verrett is small, so long-term durability is a concern. But the 49ers need quality depth at cornerback, and Verrett has the speed, aggressiveness and ball skills to contribute immediately as a nickel corner.
31. Denver Broncos: OLB Jeremiah Attoachu, 6-3, 252, Georgia Tech
Attoachu is a pass-rusher with a chance to develop into a long-term starter. Given Von Miller’s off-field troubles and DeMarcus Ware’s age (31), it certainly wouldn’t hurt to add a little edge-rushing insurance.
32. Seattle Seahawks: DT Stephon Tuitt, 6-5, 304, Notre Dame
The Seahawks lost some key members of their defensive line this offseason, but Tuitt can step right in and contribute immediately. He can anchor against the run and he also displayed pass-rushing production in college. If he’s over the injuries that slowed him down last year, he could be a steal.