Tuesday, December 10, 2013

NFL Draft 2014 Preview

That wonderful time of year has come when the playoff intensity is arriving, the weather is turning brutal, and the awful teams have distinguished themselves. The top of the draft is starting to cement itself. Using my patent-pending formula of projecting final standings, I will now venture a first guess at the top of the draft! I'll be using some hand-wavy combination of Mel and Todd's big boards to base this on. Can you tell we're going to have serious insight here?

1. Houston Texans (2.6 wins) - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
What a mess! The Texans were hoping to contend for a Super Bowl, instead they've lost their quarterback, running back and head coach to injury... and now they've gone ahead and fired their coach. Despite sitting at 2-11, the Texans have only lost 3 games by more than a touchdown. If not for an amazing streak of 5 games with pick-6s and a little bad luck, they could very well be at 7 or 8 wins and contending for the division. It's unlikely Case Keenum is their QB of the future and it's clear they're done with Matt Schaub. Their line hasn't been great, but their left tackle is not the issue. They also have serious issues in the secondary, but the positional value isn't there. Thus, they have no choice but to roll the dice and hope Teddy can deliver.

2. Minnesota Vikings (3.6 wins) - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
After an inspiring 2012, the Vikings have regressed again. Their defense is awful, they give up too many big plays, and their impact guys are aging. Jared Allen may finish with the lowest sack total of his career and he's also making fewer tackles than normal. This is a perfect pick for the Vikings, hitting both need and value. They'd love to land a franchise quarterback (Matt Cassell's probably been the best for them this year), and the 2nd round offers a good chance to do so. Adrian Peterson is still special, and Cordarrelle Patterson is a Percy Harvin-type playmaker, but they have an eroding core and this draft needs to be all about value across the board.

3. Atlanta Falcons (4.2 wins) - Jake Matthews, OL, TA&M
Another team in the Houston mold, the Falcons were more hurt by off-season moves. They neglected their offensive line and run game (trading one old back for another), and made what proved to be a mistake in not keeping John Abraham. While they are doing reasonably well getting sacks by committee, they have no legitimate threat beyond Osi Umeniyora, who is aging out rapidly. Matt Ryan's been sacked at a high rate as well. Really, the Falcons were loaded up for a Super Bowl push the last few years, and finally the team shook apart. They could alternatively go with an impact defensive end, but solidifying the offensive line should help all aspects of their offense which has completely imploded.

4. St Louis Rams (from Washington, 4.2 wins) - Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
The Rams were all set for a promising season, but the injury to Sam Bradford and the slow development of Tavon Austin really limited their offense. While their front 7 is showing good, though intermittent, progress, they still give up too many big plays. They'll have Bradford back next year, and they can hope their playmakers develop. They can pick up additional running backs or secondary in later rounds, and with Jake Long on board they don't need a new left tackle. They need to make the best value pick, and Tuitt paired with Brockers, Quinn and Long could make for one of the best lines in the league. They really hit a homerun with the collapse of the Redskins, and should be able to load up with 2 high picks.

5. Buffalo Bills (4.9 wins) - Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Another disappointing season for the Bills, just seems like they can never get it together. They do have a promising young quarterback and offensive skill players, along with a defense that gets sacks like no other. However, they are surprisingly bad against the run and Barr would enter in a role similar to Von Miller.

6. Oakland Raiders (4.9 wins) - Khalik Mack, OLB, University of Buffalo
If Al Davis were still running the show, this pick would be Johnny Manziel. But, cooler heads are in charge, and they're still cleaning up the mess left by the previous regime. Despite their record, the Raiders have been competitive in many of their losses .. but there's no question Terrell Pryor is not an NFL quarterback and I don't think anyone is holding out for Matt McGloin to be that guy either, though he's been decent. The Raiders don't get sacks, give up lots of passing TDs and play generally mediocre defense. Mack has a chance to make an impact on a team that needs impact players.

7. Tampa Bay (4.9 wins) - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Bucs are finally showing some signs of life! After starting 0-8 and jettisoning their former franchise qb and having a mess in the locker room, they seem to be on the right track. They need more playmakers on offense and Watkins fits that bill.

8. Cleveland Browns (5.2 wins) - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Browns have a clear need for a franchise quarterback, plain and simple. They are playing competitive defense, have a wide receiver with endless potential, a good young tight end and are putting points on the board through the air. However, their running game is awful and they give up almost 4 sacks a game. Their line needs help.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars (5.2 wins) - Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
The Jaguars are terrible all around, and they shipped off their starting left tackle. This draft is deep with replacements, and Lewan represents a clear upgrade. Chad Henne is competent and given how far this team is from challenging, they need to make their high picks count. Offensive line is a much safer place to invest than quarterback.

10. St Louis Rams (5.9 wins) - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma St
The Rams second top 10 pick in this scenario. They've used the first as a value pick on their defensive line and have more flexibility to address need here. Despite a formidable pass rush and good run defense, they give up huge yards per pass. I think the Rams make a bet that their skill guys are going to develop and keep beefing up their defense against the very large and physical NFC West.

We'll revisit this after the end of the season when the order finalizes, then again after the combine.