This year’s NFL Draft is being held two weeks later than usual because the site, New York’s Radio City Music Hall, had been booked for a five-week run of a new Rockettes show called Heart and Lights. Now, Thursday night, finally, begins the three-day run of an NFL show that should be called “Guess and Pray.”
Drafting football players ranks with astrology among inexact sciences, which I say as a disclaimer in presenting my 23rd annual official Miami Herald Mock Draft. Because if drafting players is a crap-shoot, imagine the guesswork that goes into predicting what teams with near-limitless options might decide to do.
That’s why what I am offering here should come with a government label like cigarettes: “Warning: Reading This Mock Draft May Lead One to Wonder What Greg Cote Has Been Smoking.”
A year ago, I correctly had 24 of 32 first-round picks overall in my first round, which is slightly below average for me. But I hit only three bull’s-eyes with exact player to exact team; that’s way below average. And this draft is tougher, more muddled.
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This year, my draft prep consisted of speaking to an estimated one pro talent scout, and chatting with a handful of writers in other cities who are guessing just like me. I did watch a ton of film — but mostly Tarantino, the Coen brothers and early Hitchcock.
Just about everybody does a mock draft now, but ours is the Mockiest.
Selections below do not factor possible draft-day trades. As always, exclusive Super Bonus Draft Facts are interspersed in italics.
Now let’s Mock!
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina – Texans need a quarterback but no arm is No. 1-worthy, so a trade down is possible. Houston can’t go wrong, though, if it keeps the top spot and takes the draft’s premier athlete to pair with J.J. Watt for a fearsome pass rush.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn – Rams got this pick from Washington via trade, and best use of it would be somebody to help keep QB Sam Bradford upright. But they’ll be tempted by WR Sammy Watkins as well.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson – Like Houston, the Jags need a QB but don’t love any this high. So they go for a guy who’ll make any passer better. Jags can’t count on Justin Blackmon, and this offense was awful last season.
4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M – Johnny Football to the Dawg Pound, with Brian Hoyer an OK stopgap until he’s ready. Not all agree Manziel will be a franchise-maker, but the upside is there, along with the likelihood he’ll be NFL’s most insufferably disliked quarterback.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: New Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey displayed a veteran’s savvy during this week’s predraft media news conference, artfully divulging as little information as possible about the team’s plans. Asked if Miami had narrowed its first-round thoughts to a particular position or need, Hickey refused to acknowledge a draft would be held or whether the Dolphins planned to participate.
5. Oakland Raiders: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M – Raiders always prone to draft-day surprises, and this is a slight one, but Oakland is going “O” and this is the draft’s top pass-catcher after Watkins.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo – Atlanta needs pass-rush help as much as anything, and Mack is a prize who many had going earlier. Tackles Taylor Lewan or Jake Matthews would fit here, too, considering Matt Ryan’s 44 sacks in 2013.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan – O-line is Bucs’ biggest if not sexiest need, and Lewan is one of draft’s Big 3 tackles. Also like Evans, if he falls, to pair with Vincent Jackson.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF – Vikes doubt Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder is the answer and hope Bortles is, although his average arm strength and accuracy create some doubt.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: As they do every year, draft protestors have gathered outside Radio City Music Hall in New York, marching and angrily chanting, “Hell, no, we won’t go!” When informed this is a football draft and not a military draft, protestors double-down against drafts of any kind and begin chanting in demand of an all-volunteer NFL.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina – Major offensive tight ends are trendy, and Ebron is this draft’s only one stamped first-rounder. Although could also see Buffs playing it safe with OT Matthews.
10. Detroit Lions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama – Lions need a safety first and, no joke, the best one in this draft answers to Ha Ha, not his given name Ha’Sean. They’ll also ponder a cornerback.
11. Tennessee Titans: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M – Claim check on last of draft’s Big 3 tackles, although CB Darqueze Dennard also is possible. Even a flier on QB Teddy Bridgewater would not shock, although I think it’s more likely he will not hear his name called Thursday night.
12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh – Biggies land draft’s best interior D-lineman, a large need. NYG also will be tempted by a wideout, but they’re more plentiful than what Donald brings.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: Commissioner Roger Goodell will personally announce and greet all 32 first-round selections Thursday night. Nine of the top picks will then immediately be suspended four games by the law-and-order commissioner as a preemptive action against anticipated future arrests.
13. St. Louis Rams: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Louisiana State – Rams took a tackle with earlier pick, and now help out QB Bradford in a different way. But also might snatch Clinton-Dix if he falls.
14. Chicago Bears: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville – An improved secondary is Chitown’s clear priority, and the safety need slightly outweighs the need for a corner such as Justin Gilbert.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State – Has the size, athleticism and closing speed coveted at the position.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State – Player who also is on Miami’s radar might be a slight reach at 16, but also might be draft’s best OLB after Mack. Great fit for Dallas’ 4-3 scheme.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has gathered outside the draft site in an annual protest against the 14 NFL teams with animal nicknames. “We personally have no problem with the name Redskins,” noted a PETA spokeswoman, “unless the Redskin is riding a horse or wearing fur. Also, we’d like it if the city of Buffalo changed its name.”
17. Baltimore Ravens: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame – This is the player Miami would love if he fell to 19. But he won’t get past Ravens, who have a big need at right tackle with the free agent departure of Michael Oher.
18. New York Stinkin’ Jets: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State – Planes looking to plug somebody in at corner for departed Antonio Cromartie, although a WR also could tempt.
19. MIAMI DOLPHINS: C.J. MOSLEY, ILB, ALABAMA – What I think the Dolphins should do is trade up for Martin and plug him in on the right side to fill their greatest position need. But new general manager Dennis Hickey, with only a bare-bones seven draft picks, is not likely to part with any. And barring a trade-up, Miami would be in no-man’s land at No. 19: Draft’s four best tackles all gone and no other O-lineman worthy. A trade-down to then select an OT such as Virginia’s Morgan Moses also is in play. If they stay put, well, ILB is not as great a need but it is a need, and Mosley is the best one in this draft, the only one of first-round quality. Miami’s run defense was astoundingly bad or at best erratic last season, and Mosley brings that Alabama pedigree. He also is top notch in coverage, a need for a team that tended to get clobbered by opposing tight ends. Mosley has a bit of an injury history, but if Miami is confident he’s healthy, he would be a great value at 19. He would be in that “best available” category, with OL needs not forgotten, but deferred to later picks.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young – Birds go for a speed rusher, although a cornerback or a QB to groom behind aging Carson Palmer also might be considered.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: Draft-coverage rivals ESPN and NFL Network will air what seems like nonstop coverage throughout the weekend. Just tuned into ESPN and heard Mel Kiper Jr. comparing the top-rated receivers’ relative times in the 40-yard Motap, an agility drill in which players are asked to tap-dance 40 yards while singing a Motown song. NFL Network simultaneously aired breaking news, reporting that Kiper had tested positive for performance-enhancing hair gel.
21. Green Bay Packers: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA – Pack loads up on D, although a WR toy for Aaron Rodgers also would tempt.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State – With DeSean Jackson departed, offense-minded coach Chip Kelly eyes a replacement.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal – Another player who could tempt Miami. Guard is a position Chiefs need more, but this draft holds no first-round caliber OGs.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian – ’Gals also could opt for a pass rusher, but Verrett is a corner who makes you forget he’s only 5-9.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: The Dolphins’ official annual Draft Day Party begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday on the stadium’s club level. Alumni players will be on hand to gripe about lack of medical benefits and there also will be cheerleader lap dances. WHAT!? Wait, that can’t be right. Hang on. Checking. No, turns out that was a typo. Sorry. Should be, “there also will be cheerleader autographs.”
25. San Diego Chargers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech – Another good fit here for Bolts might be Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III.
26. Cleveland Browns: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana – Got Johnny Football with earlier pick, now with this one (obtained from Indianapolis) they target a receiver for him to pair with Josh Gordon.
27. New Orleans Saints: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State – Although you know Drew Brees will be lobbying for a pass catcher with speed.
28. Carolina Panthers: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia – The Dolphins might reach for Moses or target him in a trade-down. Although Carolina also will be tempted to seek help for a depleted WR corps.
SUPER BONUS DRAFT FACT: Some might not be aware Kiper consults experts in each city for inside draft info and that I was his main Miami guy until last year’s regrettable mix-up. What happened was, I was fed a bad tip by a trusted source, and based on that, instead of reporting that Miami would trade up and select Dion Jordan in the first round, Kiper reported exclusively that Miami planned to draft defrocked Food Network star Paula Deen.
29. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame – Vince Wilfork turns 33 during season. Bill Belichick eyes his heir.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State – Niners envision a WR/tight end hybrid to create matchup problems.
31. Denver Broncos: Xavier Su’a-Fila, OG, UCLA – Peyton Manning could use another guard. Any questions?
32. Seattle Seahawks: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame – Former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland has been a draft consultant for Seattle. [Your punch line goes here.]