Analysis: I spoke to a number of high-ranking NFL evaluators this week, and this is the one QB anyone felt certain was a top-5 pick. So consider this an early bet, with one major caveat: Bill O'Brien just arrived, is still putting his staff together, knows a good QB when he sees one, and hasn't had enough time (if any) to study the draft class. But we know quarterback is a major need here. O'Brien likes a QB with presence, a leader and a guy who will out-prepare the competition. And while Manziel has gotten his share of bad press, he's a dynamic talent, and I feel he can lead at the next level; I'm not alone in that opinion. While Manziel is currently ranked No. 11 on my Big Board, this reflects the draft.
Manziel doesn't fit the old prototypes of a QB drafted No. 1, and I have concerns about how well he can protect himself given his smaller frame, but he is a magician on the field, and is made for the current NFL. This league protects and welcomes QBs who can improvise, run and make plays beyond the playbook. It's early, but Manziel is a special player and has the draft process to prove it further.
St. Louis Rams (7-9) (From WAS)
COLLEGE: Texas A&M
Analysis: Rams general manager Les Snead has already said that he'll take calls on this draft slot, which makes plenty of sense given the fact that the three teams drafting directly after St. Louis need a quarterback. So if you want a certain QB, you might be trying to work out a deal with the Rams to assure you get him. That said, I can't project a trade, and Matthews would be a tremendous fit for the Rams, who need to bring in an upgrade at left tackle this offseason given the uncertainty regarding Jake Long's health. Matthews has proved capable of dominating on both the left and right side, in fact, and comes with more assurances in that regard than the tackles drafted at the top of the board last season. At tackle, I also think Greg Robinson could compete with Matthews to be the first one taken, and I don't think it's out of the question that St. Louis takes a QB or top defensive lineman.
Jadeveon Clowney *
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
COLLEGE: South Carolina
Analysis: There is no question that the Jags need a QB. It is questionable whether they will take one at this draft slot unless they believe that QB will make them better at that position in 2014. So consider this an early bet on a front office that will look to hit what is still a major need (the pass rush) by drafting the best available player in the draft. Clowney got questioned on his motor in his final college season, but that has more to do with stats than the tape. And any evaluator who saw a tentative player could also imagine what Clowney had on the line. Clowney is physically prepared to come in and make a major impact, and I think there's a good chance the Jags draft for upside and angle for a QB later. Don't forget: Free agency and trades can still shift the QB market in the draft. Think of Kansas City last year at this time. As well, I recall when the Texans took Mario Williams at a time when QB was a question, and their GM told us it wasn't just about needing a QB, it was about the QBs they had to beat. Peyton Manning was in the division. Indy still has a good QB the Jags have to face.
Analysis: While there's plenty of debate in NFL circles regarding which QB in this class has the most upside in terms of overall ability, from a physical standpoint Bortles is at the top of the list. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, with not elite but good arm strength, and the ability to move both in the pocket and to make plays down the field as a runner, he has a chance to add value and eliminate negative plays with his mobility as he develops as a passer. It goes without saying that Cleveland will look to address its QB situation through the draft or via a trade, and this is potentially a good fit for Bortles. He's still somewhat limited as a progression passer and struggles with ball placement, and can also be rigid with his mechanics, but the presence of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron gives any new QB here matchup threats to exploit. Cleveland is, for the first time in a while, a really attractive environment for a young QB to grow and succeed.
Analysis: I count Oakland among the teams that could use a talent upgrade at QB, but the Raiders need to take really good football players who can help the team right away -- and I believe their front office knows it. Watkins qualifies as an experienced and explosive combination of a pass-catcher and dynamic runner after the catch. And while he lacks elite size for the position, Watkins brings an elite level of explosiveness before and after the catch and is a significant threat and can beat defenses over the top. Unless you count a healthy Darren McFadden (who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason), Oakland has lacked a player who is a constant threat to create big plays. Watkins can fill that void.
Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Analysis: Three years ago the Broncos drafted Von Miller, a move that caused many to ask whether Miller would fit in John Fox's scheme. Fox was known as a 4-3 guy, and Miller seemed well-equipped physically to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. I could hear some saying the same about this pick, but (A) great players make great systems more often than the other way around, so don't get too caught up in the whole 3-4 vs. 4-3 thing, and ( the Falcons really need a pass-rusher. Barr gives them that, as an explosive matchup problem on the edge who does more than disrupt the passing game. And he can certainly add weight.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
Analysis: The Bucs are another team that must create more pressure to take advantage of the fact that they have a good defensive core in place to stop the run and make plays in the secondary. Mack gives Tampa a three-down linebacker who can rush the quarterback and drop and make plays in space. He could be plugged in across the formation from Lavonte David and won't need to come off the field. This could be a really good defense in 2014 for Lovie Smith.
Analysis: In terms of his ability as a passer, Bridgewater could go higher. But while I currently have him rated as the top QB on my Big Board, Bridgewater will need to prove to teams that he can command an NFL huddle and be the face of a franchise. I think he has the necessary physical tools to succeed, and shows an advanced approach with his footwork, anticipation, pre-snap command and ability to improvise. He's a very good value here for a team with a huge need at the position. Whether he can start right away is a question we'll need more time to answer.
Analysis: Cordy Glenn has been an adequate and at times above-average NFL left tackle, but the Bills definitely need a right tackle. That could be Robinson as a rookie, or he could come in and Glenn could move to the right side. Robinson has the physical tools and proven level of performance against SEC competition of a potential star at the next level, and the Bills must protect the investment they have in EJ Manuel, who has had issues staying healthy.
Detroit Lions (7-9)
COLLEGE: Oklahoma St.
Analysis: With continued improvement from Ezekiel Ansah to go with the dominance of the interior of that defensive line, the Lions could create a ton of pressure on opposing QBs next season. The problem is if they can't do a better job of covering, it might not make a difference. Gilbert would help the cause coming off a season where you could argue that no cornerback in college football performed better. He has the size to compete with bigger wide receivers and the agility and speed to run with anybody. He also brings strong return skills.
Tennessee Titans (7-9)
Analysis: The Titans have some decisions to make at tackle in the short term, withDavid Stewart likely not to return at right tackle and Michael Roos a free agent after the 2014 season. If they want this offense to take another step forward, adding talent and continuity on the offensive line will be pivotal. Lewan comes off a fine career at Michigan where he started since his freshman season, and added power as a run-blocker to his already ideal frame for a tackle. He could start at right tackle as a rookie and transition to the left side.
New York Giants (7-9)
Analysis: The Giants never draft linebackers in the first round, but if a player of Mosley's caliber is on the board, I think that streak could end. If not for the signing ofJon Beason, this linebacking corps would have been even more of a mess in 2013, and Beason isn't yet a lock for 2014. I'm not sure any team in the NFL has a greater need at the position. Mosley is instinctive and fast, deft in coverage and a physical tackler even if he's not big for the position. He offers immediate help.
Mike Evans *
St. Louis Rams (7-9)
COLLEGE: Texas A&M
Analysis: Last year the Rams added Tavon Austin, a player who is explosive in space and hard to cover due to his quickness and straight-line speed. In Evans, they get a mammoth wide receiver who can't be covered capably because he can simply box out defenders for passes and get to the ball at a point higher than anybody around him.Johnny Manziel benefited greatly from his presence; so can Sam Bradford. We've seen basketball players like Julius Thomas, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham transition well to the NFL after doing very little in college football. Well, Evans was a basketball player and was dominant in college football. Speed is a concern, but it can't ruin the value of his size advantage.
Timmy Jernigan *
Chicago Bears (8-8)
COLLEGE: Florida St.
Analysis: This would be a dream scenario for the Bears, who were repeatedly gashed by the run down the stretch in 2013 due to a lack of interior defenders. They even had to move undersized 4-3 defensive ends inside. Jernigan is an active run-stuffer, a player who disrupts the run game with penetration due to unusual quickness for his size, and with leverage and violent hands that make him hard to move. He'd come in and help Chicago rebuild that interior rotation.
Louis Nix III *
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
COLLEGE: Notre Dame
Analysis: Nix is one of those rare players, a two-gap nose tackle with the feet and quickness to be useful within any scheme. He can hold up at the point of attack and handle double-teams, but also will occasionally use his hands and ability to get off blocks, find a gap and make a play in the backfield. A versatile but huge defender like this will pay dividends in any system, but certainly the Steelers need a player like him, without a true nose tackle on the roster and with Brett Keisel now 35.
Eric Ebron *
Baltimore Ravens (8-8)^
COLLEGE: North Carolina
Analysis: The Ravens desperately need a matchup problem for Joe Flacco, and tight end is a position of uncertainty headed into 2014 as both Ed Dickson and Dennis Pittaare at the end of their contracts. Ebron has the size, speed, hands and catch radius you want out of a new-breed tight end who can be split out, but he also has the frame to add some size and not get totally pushed around as an inline blocker. I have him rated higher than this slot on my Big Board.