Clowney goes No. 1 in NFL mock draft

Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP

What will the Houston Texans do with the first overall pick? Will they take a franchise quarterback? Trade down? Or go with the most talented player in the draft in South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney?

We pulled together three of our top football contributors—Justin Dunk, Geoff Lowe and Jeff Simmons—to put on their GM hats (none of them actually wore hats) to determine what the first round of the NFL Draft could look like.

So here is our version of the 2014 NFL mock draft. Cue the hate mail.

1) Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (Dunk)

If Houston can’t trade down and acquire more picks it seems like an obvious choice to select a once-in-a-decade-type player in Clowney. He is a physical freak with enormous upside and would be a versatile piece for defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to utilize. Clowney and J.J. Watt on the same defence is a scary thought for opposing offences.

2) St. Louis Rams (from Washington) — Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (Lowe)

While Greg Robinson or Khalil Mack would make sense here, a dynamic player like Watkins is just too hard to pass up for an offence that could go from average to frightening with the addition of the best receiver in a stacked class. Watkins and Tavon Austin would soon become the best playmaking duo in the league.

3) Jacksonville Jaguars — Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo (Simmons)

Quarterback is an obvious need here but there just isn’t one worth it at this spot. Mack has game-changing ability as an outside linebacker and offers elite potential at the next level.

4) Cleveland Browns — Greg Robinson, OL, Auburn (Dunk)

In our mock draft the best offensive-line prospect in the 2014 class has fallen to the Browns. Robinson would bookend with All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas nicely and provide great protection for whoever Cleveland’s starting quarterback ends up being.

Simmons: Wonder if Jimmy Haslam steps in and pushes for Manziel. He’ll sell tickets.

5) Oakland Raiders — Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (Lowe)

With Matt Schaub slotted at the top of Oakland’s depth chart, it’s obvious the Raiders are in desperate need of a quarterback. Who better to inject life into the hapless franchise than Johnny Football? Despite the risk and the long list of failed draft picks in the past, a highly entertaining playmaker like Manziel would enthral Raider Nation.

Simmons: Nice pick. Very Raiders-esque.

Dunk: The late Al Davis would have loved Johnny Football and probably would’ve done anything to trade up to secure him at No. 1 overall.

6) Atlanta Falcons — Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (Simmons)

The two top defenders are off the board so the Falcons are left to shore up what was a brutal offensive line last season. Matt Ryan is the franchise player and can now be protected by one of the elite tackles in the draft.

7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (Dunk)

After trading Mike Williams, the Bucs need a receiver who can come in and contribute right away. Pair Evans with Vincent Jackson and it resembles the Alshon Jeffery-Brandon Marshall duo new quarterback Josh McCown threw to and had success with in Chicago.

8) Minnesota Vikings — Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida (Lowe)

The Vikings are reportedly interested in trading up to acquire Bortles, so GM Rick Spielman will be thrilled the UCF pivot has fallen into his lap at No. 8. The “Christian Ponder-Matt Cassel-Josh Freeman experience” failed miserably in Minnesota, and now the team gets a fresh start with a strong arm, good size and athleticism.

Simmons: Hopefully, this works out better than Ponder.

9) Buffalo Bills — Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina (Simmons)

E.J. Manuel had a rough rookie season so the Bills need to put more weapons around him. Mike Williams was already added in a deal with Tampa but he’s in the final year of his contract. With this pick, the Bills add another big deep threat down the middle of the field.

Dunk: Great addition for the Bills.

10) Detroit Lions — Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama (Dunk)

The Lions’ secondary has been in rough shape for a while. Detroit’s new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin came from Baltimore where he coached the defensive backs, including Ed Reed. Clinton-Dix is a rangy, instinctive safety and will help instantly upgrade the Lions’ pass defence.

Simmons: He also has an awesome name.

11) Tennessee Titans — Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (Lowe)

While Anthony Barr could also go here, this position is a big hole for the Titans after losing their best cornerback, Alterraun Verner, to free agency. Facing Andrew Luck twice a season means Tennessee must immediately address this need and Gilbert—the top-ranked corner in the draft—has the size and speed to be a great cover guy as a pro.

Simmons: Interesting pick. Wouldn’t be surprised if Titans go QB but Gilbert fits what they do for sure.

12) New York Giants — Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (Simmons)

Eli Manning was knocked on his ass a lot last season so the Giants made it a high priority to upgrade the offensive line. The Giants brought in Geoff Schwartz in free agency and continue to add the group by taking the beastly tackle out of Michigan. Good value.

13) St. Louis Rams — Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame (Dunk)

Lowe picked Sammy Watkins at No. 2 for the Rams, so offensive line makes sense at 13. Lewan would’ve been ideal, but Zack Martin is a solid second option. Martin is durable, he made 52 consecutive starts at Notre Dame (a school record), and would provide Bradford with added protection coming off his knee injury.

Simmons: Bradford is trouble. They need to consider a quarterback at some point.

14) Chicago Bears — Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (Lowe)

The Bears were able to shore up defensive end through free agency but the tackle position is a big need after losing both Henry Melton and Corey Wooton. Without a natural defensive tackle on the roster, Donald—who rose up the rankings after a stellar combine performance—would bring much-needed explosiveness to the position.

Dunk: Love this pick—great fit.

15) Pittsburgh Steelers — Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA (Simmons)

The Steelers may have bigger needs elsewhere (defensive line, cornerback) but they stick to their philosophy of taking the top player on their board. The Steelers’ defensive talent has rapidly declined so they’ll be pleased to add the highly athletic linebacker. Once he refines his technique with Dick LeBeau, the sky is the limit.

16) Dallas Cowboys — Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville (Dunk)

Safety is a desperate need for the Cowboys. Pryor would instantly become the best player at the position on Dallas’s roster. He is a physical playmaker on the back end.

17) Baltimore Ravens — Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia (Lowe)

After the selection of Pryor one pick ahead at No. 16 leaves the Ravens scrambling, Ozzie Newsome decides to select Moses to help bolster an offensive line that just lost Michael Oher on the right side. Moses is a solid run blocker, showed a marked improvement in pass blocking at the Senior Bowl and is rising up draft boards.

Simmons: The first surprise of the draft! But Newsome loves him some big offensive linemen.

18) New York Jets — Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU (Simmons)

The electric Beckham is a perfect complement to free-agent addition Eric Decker, and the tandem will give either Geno Smith or Michael Vick a much-improved group of weapons at receiver. All of a sudden the Jets’ offence doesn’t look so bad.

Dunk: Sexy pick for the Jets.

19) Miami Dolphins — Cyrus Kouandjio, OL, Alabama (Dunk)

It’s no secret after the fallout from the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation that Miami needs to retool along the offensive line. Free-agent signee Brandon Albert gives the Dolphins a new starter at left tackle and Kouandjio could do the same on the right side.

Simmons: Anything will be an upgrade to that line from last year. Cyrus has medical concerns but they gotta risk it.

20) Arizona Cardinals – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (Lowe)

With the Cardinals last year Carson Palmer had his best season since 2010, but he’ll be 35 next December and Arizona has to be thinking about a replacement. Considered by many to be the draft’s second-best QB behind Blake Bortles, Carr could sit behind Palmer for a season before taking over Bruce Arians’s offence in 2015.

21) Green Bay Packers — Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State (Simmons)

Green Bay’s last two playoff losses have been the result of a defence that doesn’t have enough speed and athleticism. In Shazier, the Packers get a perfect fit—a sideline-to-sideline linebacker that had one of the best 40 times and led the Big 10 in tackles. So maybe now they’ll be able to tackle Colin Kaepernick in the open field.

22) Philadelphia Eagles — Dee Ford, DL, Auburn (Dunk)

Philadelphia has a solid group of corners and added safety Malcolm Jenkins in free agency, so a pass rusher is logical. Ford was productive in the tough SEC getting after the quarterback, recording 10.5 sacks in the final 11 games of his 2013 season.

Lowe: The Eagles lose their best wide receiver and draft a defensive lineman? Interesting move…

Dunk: The Eagles still have more-than-capable receivers on the roster like Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin. Plus it’s a deep class of pass catchers, so I expect them to get a receiver later in the draft.

23) Kansas City Chiefs — Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State (Lowe)

The Chiefs lack a deep threat at wide receiver, accentuated by the loss of Dexter McCluster. Cooks, who racked up more than 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, has great hands, could be that deep threat, is a solid route runner and will give the Chiefs a viable option in the slot.

24) Cincinnati Bengals — C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama (Simmons)

Rey Maualuga’s play has dropped off and the Bengals upgrade the position with Mosley. The Bengals were surprised Mosley was still sitting around and quickly jump to the podium to take the highest-rated player on their board.

25) San Diego Chargers — Darqueze Dennard, DB, Michigan State (Dunk)

San Diego has a clear need for a top-tier cornerback and Dennard fits the bill. He won the Jim Thorpe Award as the NCAA’s best defensive back in 2013 and would be an immediate upgrade for the Chargers.

26) Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis) — Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (Lowe)

Drafting an offensive lineman at No. 4 to help protect the quarterback of the future along with Joe Thomas, the Browns select that QB with the 26th pick. Bridgewater, who threw 31 touchdowns to just four interceptions last season, has fallen out of favour with many after a below-average pro day and will be eager to prove doubters wrong.

27) New Orleans Saints — Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech (Simmons)

An aging Champ Bailey isn’t enough to fix the Saints’ secondary. This way, Fuller can spend a year learning the position behind the future Hall of Famer and take over down the road. It’s a perfect spot to take a chance on a highly talented player at a need position.

28) Carolina Panthers — Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana (Dunk)

For a simple game of pitch and catch to occur someone has to throw the ball and another has to catch it. Steve Smith was inexplicably released in the off-season. Yes his speed was declining, but he was the only consistent receiver on the Panthers roster. So, Cam Newton needs a new legitimate No. 1 receiver. Latimer is garnering a lot of buzz heading into the draft. He has a nice combo of size (six-foot-two, 215 lb.) and speed (4.44 40-yard dash at his Pro Day).

Simmons: Who’s the left tackle gonna be?

29) New England Patriots — Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (Lowe)

The Patriots and Vince Wilfork were able to agree to a new contract, but he and Tommy Kelly are both on the wrong side of 30 and infusing some youth into the group would only make them more dangerous. Hageman had 13 tackles for a loss and seven passes batted down in 2013, and would add power and quickness to the Pats’ defensive line.

30) San Francisco 49ers — Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (Simmons)

Typical 49ers. They get a steal at a position they desperately needed to upgrade. Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are no longer with the team while Chris Cook, Eric Wright and Chris Culliver don’t exactly inspire confidence. Roby can start from Day 1 on one of the best defences in the league.

31) Denver Broncos — Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (Lowe)

The Broncos went on a free-agent spending spree after being blown out by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, but still have an underwhelming group at linebacker. Van Noy had a solid season at BYU—68 tackles, 17.5 for a loss and four sacks—and impressed at the Senior Bowl and his pro day.

32) Seattle Seahawks — Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State (Dunk)

Obviously the Seahawks have a loaded roster, meaning Seattle could go in a number of directions with this selection. Russell Wilson needs a No. 1 target to develop and play with for years to come; Benjamin could be that player. He has some character concerns, but Pete Carroll and John Schneider have never shied away from players with questions about their attitude. Benjamin could be especially lethal in the red zone—he caught 15 touchdowns in 2013 for Florida State—with his six-foot-five frame and 83-inch wingspan.

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