Ben Volin’s NFL mock draft
Needs: QB, OLB, RT, NT, DE
Projected pick: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Outlook: The Texans are in a tough spot at No. 1. They need a quarterback, but none of the prospects are worthy of such a high pick. And while Clowney is generally regarded as the top player in the draft, who knows if he can be quite as dominant in a position switch to 3-4 outside linebacker? Here’s betting the Texans want to trade back a few spots and take Khalil Mack, a better fit for their defense. But if they can’t, they’ll just take Clowney.
Needs: OT, WR, CB, G, S
Projected pick: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Outlook: The Rams have a clear theme for this draft: get help for Sam Bradford. They sit in a great spot with two first-round picks (Nos. 2 and 13, thanks to the Robert Griffin III trade) and can snag a top offensive tackle plus an elite receiver. Greg Robinson is tempting here, but we think coach Jeff Fisher will tap Matthews, a Day 1 starter at right tackle with good bloodlines. His father, Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, once played for Fisher.
Needs: QB, WR, DE, C, G
Projected pick: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Outlook: Hello, Johnny Jacksonville. The Jaguars make the big splash of the draft and waste little time in taking Manziel as their franchise quarterback. There’s no reason for them not to take a quarterback — Blaine Gabbert was traded to San Francisco, Chad Henne isn’t going to win them many games, and most of their free agent investments came on defense — and the franchise could use the jolt of energy that Manziel would bring, on and off the field.
Needs: QB, WR, CB, RB, OL
Projected pick: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Outlook: Count the Browns as one team that will wait to find a quarterback instead of over-drafting one in the top 10. They have a good seat-warmer in Brian Hoyer, and will try to surround him with elite weapons instead of forcing in a franchise quarterback. Wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron are already among the best young players in the game, and adding Watkins could give the Browns an absolutely electric offense.
Needs: QB, WR, DE/OLB, WR, OT
Projected pick: OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Outlook: The Raiders need help on both sides of the ball, and will gladly start with Mack, an athletic freak and potential candidate for the No. 1 overall pick. They might have to retool their defense to a 3-4 with Mack, who is a better fit as an edge outside linebacker than a traditional 4-3 end, but he is worth the investment. Mack had 10½ sacks and three interceptions (two touchdowns) as a senior and can be used all over the defensive formation.
Needs: OT, DE, TE, LB, S
Projected pick: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
Outlook: The Falcons badly need offensive line help to protect Matt Ryan, and they race to the podium to grab Robinson, one of the most physically gifted tackles to enter the draft in years. Robinson could start the year at guard or right tackle, but it won’t be long before he takes over for LT Sam Baker. Robinson is not a finished product, but he’s a nasty, physical blocker in both the run and pass game.
Needs: WR, QB, G, TE, DE
Projected pick: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Outlook: The Bucs desperately need a receiver after trading away No. 2 target Mike Williams, and will gladly snap up Evans if he is available at No. 7. They might not have a quarterback of the future, but Josh McCown could certainly put up good numbers with two 6-foot-5-inch, athletic receivers in Evans and Vincent Jackson, plus a solid running game with Doug Martin. The Bucs can then look for a quarterback in the second or third round.
Needs: QB, LB, WR, CB, DE
Projected pick: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Outlook: The Vikings take the bait on a new franchise quarterback by snagging Bortles. He is certainly raw as a prospect, and has mechanical issues to work out (stepping into all of his throws), but he definitely looks the part of franchise quarterback, with a 6-foot-5-inch, 232-pound frame, strong arm, and great athleticism. If he can tighten his mechanics, Bortles draws comparisons with Ben Roethlisberger because of his size and pocket movement. He might sit behind Matt Cassel initially, but he’ll be the Vikings’ starting QB before the season is out.
Needs: WR/TE, OT, DE, RB, LB
Projected pick: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Outlook: The Bills could use another playmaker for E.J. Manuel, and North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is a tempting pick, but there will be plenty of solid receivers and tight ends for the taking in the middle rounds. Lewan is an elite tackle prospect — much better than what the Bills could find later in the draft — and they would be smart to snatch him up and start him right away at right tackle, with the possibility of eventually moving him to the left side.
Needs: WR, CB, DE, S, OT
Projected pick: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Outlook: The Lions need another pass rusher and another target for Matthew Stafford, but the team’s most glaring weakness the last few years has been the secondary. They are old at cornerback with Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis, and would love to get a playmaker like Gilbert, who is the top cornerback in the draft with great size (6 feet, 200 pounds) and outstanding speed. Also has extra value as a kick returner.
Needs: OLB, QB, DT, RB, LB
Projected pick: OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Outlook: The Titans spent a lot of resources on improving their offense the past two years, including hiring Ken Whisenhunt this year as head coach, and now it’s time to fix the defense. Barr, an explosive edge rusher, is just what the Titans need to infuse youth and skill into their 3-4 defense. He’ll likely sit behind newly-signed veteran Shaun Phillips, but it won’t be long before the Titans unleash him.
Needs: OT, WR, TE, DT, DE
Projected pick: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Outlook: The Giants defense is soft and thin up the middle, and could use an explosive young player to anchor the line over the next few years. Enter Donald, a productive college player (30 career sacks) whose speed and power more than make up for his less-than-ideal size. Donald, who was unblockable at the Senior Bowl, could give the Giants a much-needed interior pass rush and also help free up space for ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore.
Needs: OT, WR, CB, G, S
Projected pick: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Outlook: The Rams might get more trade offers for this pick than their No. 2 spot, especially if Johnny Manziel is still available. But if they stay put, Dennard would be the perfect fit. They need another talented young cornerback after cutting Cortland Finnegan, and Dennard, last year’s Thorpe Trophy winner as college football’s best cornerback, would look great across from Janoris Jenkins in Jeff Fisher’s defense.
Needs: DT, S, CB, LB, QB
Projected pick: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Outlook: The Bears clearly need to improve their 30th-ranked defense and worst-ranked run defense. Don’t be surprised if they try to trade down and grab a defensive end or tackle later in the first round; but if they stay at their pick, Clinton-Dix would certainly fill a need at free safety. Rated by many as the top safety in the draft, Clinton-Dix is an excellent center fielder who is a sure tackler and has the wing span to cover tight ends.
Needs: WR, CB, DE, OLB, ILB
Projected pick: WR Odell Beckham, LSU
Outlook: The Steelers have an aging roster with significant holes on both sides of the ball, but they should probably get Ben Roethlisberger another elite weapon after losing Emmanuel Sanders to the Broncos. Beckham, an explosive receiver who can play all three receiver positions and score from anywhere on the field, would be a great fit opposite Antonio Brown. Beckham has extra value as an electric kick returner. The Steelers can use their next few picks to address their secondary and pass rush.
Needs: DT, DE, OL, LB, CB
Projected pick: G/T Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Outlook: The Cowboys would love to add an elite player to their defensive line, but might have to trade up from 16, as none are available in this spot. Instead they take a sure-thing prospect in Martin, who can play all five positions on the offensive line and can fill an immediate hole at either guard spot. The Cowboys need to spend most of their 11 draft picks on defensive players, but getting more protection for Tony Romo is never a bad thing.
Needs: RT, FS, LB, RB, WR
Projected pick: LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Outlook: This pick is too obvious. The Ravens need young talent to help improve on last year’s 29th-ranked run defense; Mosley is the best and most athletic linebacker in the draft; and general manager Ozzie Newsome loves drafting players from his alma mater, Alabama. Mosley needs to put a little weight on his 233-pound frame, but can start alongside Daryl Smith in the 3-4 defense and ideally blossom into the team’s next defensive leader.
Needs: WR, TE, CB, S, OLB, G
Projected pick: TE Eric Ebron, UNC
Outlook: The Jets badly need help at receiver and tight end for Geno Smith. The player they probably want is Odell Beckham, but they’ll gladly settle for Ebron, a supremely athletic tight end who is faster than most linebackers and bigger than most defensive backs. He would look great running down the seam and creating room for Jeremy Kerley and Chris Johnson. He’s an improved run-blocker, as well.
Needs: RT, G, LB, WR, S
Projected pick: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Outlook: The Dolphins are in a tough spot at 19. They badly need a right tackle and/or guard, yet all of the top prospects are gone and none of the remaining ones are worth this pick. Unless they can trade back, the Dolphins should just keep giving Ryan Tannehill more playmakers, and Benjamin certainly qualifies. He’s a 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound monster of a receiver who would provide a much-needed red zone presence.
Needs: S, OLB, DE, TE
Projected pick: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Outlook: This is another pick that makes too much sense. The Cardinals have an obvious hole at safety with the retirement of Yeremiah Bell, and Pryor is one of two elite prospects in this draft. He is athletic and physical enough to play either safety position, is regarded by many scouts as the top safety in the draft, and would round out an electric secondary that already has Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, and Antonio Cromartie.
Needs: LB, TE, FS, WR, DE
Projected pick: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Outlook: The Packers would love to get their hands on one of the two top safeties, but they also love Ohio State linebackers and will gladly take Shazier, who racked up a ton of tackles the last two seasons. Shazier was a weak-side linebacker and run stopper in college but will likely transition to inside in the Packers’ 3-4 scheme. He’s also an excellent blitzer.
Needs: CB, WR, OLB, S, OL
Projected pick: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Outlook: A second straight Buckeye comes off the board when the Eagles grab Roby to bolster their secondary. The high-scoring Eagles need to shore up a leaky secondary, and Roby is a good fit as an athletic, physical cornerback with a great vertical leap and solid tackling skills. He can sit behind Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Nolan Carroll to start, but should eventually take over as a top-two cornerback.
Needs: WR, OL, CB, S, OLB
Projected pick: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Outlook: If the Chiefs want to compete with the Broncos and Patriots in the AFC, they need to get Alex Smith more weapons, pronto. They don’t have much at receiver or tight end other than Dwayne Bowe, and they just let Dexter McCluster walk away in free agency. Cooks, a 5-foot-9-inch Junior Olympic sprinter, would be a great replacement for McCluster. He’s not just fast, he set Pac-12 records last year with 128 catches and 1,730 yards while adding 16 touchdowns. He can return kicks, as well.
Needs: CB, WR, OT, LB, QB
Projected pick: OT Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee
Outlook: There’s a lot of speculation that the Bengals will draft quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as insurance for Andy Dalton, but here’s betting they give Dalton, who took them to the playoffs three years in a row, another chance to prove himself as the long-term answer at quarterback. Instead the Bengals should look to build around Dalton, and could use help along the offensive line with Anthony Collins leaving for Tampa Bay and Andrew Whitworth now 32 years old.
Needs: CB, OLB, WR, NT, OL
Projected pick: OLB Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
Outlook: The Chargers could stand to rejuvenate their defense with young players, particularly at edge rusher, because who knows how much Dwight Freeney, now 34, has left in the tank? Lawrence, a natural 3-4 outside linebacker, would be a great fit. He had 20 sacks in two seasons at Boise, has great length and athleticism, and should be able to contribute right away.
Needs: QB, WR, CB, RB, OL
Projected pick: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Outlook: The Browns hit a home run by landing their quarterback without having to trade down, and pairing him with one of the best receiver prospects of the last decade in Sammy Watkins. Bridgewater does have a slim frame and has had inconsistent workouts this offseason, but he’s also a deadly accurate passer who had a lot of pre-snap responsibilities and made some impressive throws in the face of a pass rush. Plus, he can sit behind Brian Hoyer for a year.
Needs: WR, CB, OL, OLB, OT
Projected pick: CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Outlook: The Saints could use another offensive weapon to replace Darren Sproles, but their cornerback situation is a big concern, with Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey slated to start as of now. The Saints bolstered their safety position by drafting Kenny Vaccaro last year and signing Jairus Byrd this offseason, but could really use a young cornerback to develop and take over for Bailey. Fuller, a polished cover corner with good athleticism, would be a nice addition.
Needs: WR, LT, CB, S
Projected pick: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Outlook: The Panthers need to get new receivers for Cam Newton, but they have to protect him, too. Left tackle is a more important position than wide receiver for a run-first team, and Jordan Gross’s retirement left a big hole in the offensive line. Kouandjio has been a bit inconsistent during the predraft process, and there are concerns about his knee, but he also shows massive upside with his large size and athleticism and periods of dominance at Alabama.
Needs: TE, DE, DT, RB, QB
Projected pick: DL Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
Outlook: The Patriots are pretty well set, maybe other than a safety or an offensive line spot, so they can take any number of players. But they clearly need to add youth and explosion to the defensive line to develop behind Vince Wilfork (32), Tommy Kelly (32), Rob Ninkovich (30), and maybe Will Smith (33). Tuitt is a big, versatile lineman who could play end or tackle in any defensive front.
Needs: WR, OLB, CB, S, RB
Projected pick: WR Marqise Lee, USC
Outlook: Loaded with 12 draft picks, the Niners are definitely a team to watch as far as trading up and making a big splash in Round 1. They need speed on offense and help at cornerback on defense, and would do well to add a playmaking receiver like Lee. He has tremendous athleticism and is great after the catch, and would be a great complement to Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis.
Needs: LB, CB, DT, G, S
Projected pick: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
Outlook: The Broncos are ready for another Super Bowl run after loading up with DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. They need to find a new starting middle linebacker, but can probably draft one in the second or third round. They need help in the secondary, and Verrett is an athletic and tenacious cornerback who can cover the slot.
Needs: OL, WR, DL, TE
Projected pick: OT Morgan Moses, Virginia
Outlook: The Seahawks could use some depth at pass rusher, but their biggest need appears to be a right tackle after letting Breno Giacomini walk in free agency. Moses played both tackle spots in 43 career starts at Virginia, and has tremendous arm length and size. The Seahawks could also look for depth at receiver and running back, but Moses appears to offer the most value in the first round.