NFL Network and College Football 24/7 podcast host Matt "Money" Smith delivered his first 2014 mock draft, joining the initial projections from NFL Media analysts Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks and Charles Davis. Here are some thoughts:
Clowney in command
Despite an up-and-down junior season, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney checks in at No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans. Said Smith: "He's the best player in the draft," a sentiment that Jeremiah and Brooks agree with and should be reinforced if Clowney delivers the dominant showing at the combine he has predicted.
Bridgewater in brown, not Manziel
The easiest pairing in the draft is the Cleveland Browns and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, right? The Browns' rumored infatuation with Johnny Football has been well documented, but Smith sees Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville getting the nod because of his superior pocket presence. That opens the door for the Oakland Raiders to take Manziel, which would do wonders for the sales of silver and black jerseys.
All in agreement
With four mock drafts now in the books, there is some consensus emerging on what specific weakness six NFL teams must address.
Everyone agrees the Chicago Bears need a disruptive defensive tackle to bolster the worst pass rush in the league, with Jeremiah, Brooks and Smith each tabbing Florida State product Timmy Jernigan. Ditto for the San Francisco 49ers, though their 3-4 defensive alignment will demand a bigger body capable of occupying blockers and allowing their outstanding collection of linebackers space to operate. Smith sees Louis Nix III (6-2, 342) as the pick, having served that very role at Notre Dame.
The Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks are all projected to bolster their wide receivers corps, while the Miami Dolphins add an offensive tackle to keep Ryan Tannehill upright.
Early and often
The flood of underclassmen into the draft turned wide receiver into arguably its deepest position, reflected by the seven early-entrants Smith has going in the first round. Sammy Watkins would bring speed to a Tampa Bay Buccanners position group better known for the size of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, while Marqise Lee could be the dominant No. 1 receiver Sam Bradford has not had the benefit of relying on. While NFL Media analyst Gil Brandt thought he made a mistake by turning pro, Paul Richardson ends up going ahead of more-touted Pac-12 counterpart Brandin Cooks.
The SEC didn't win the BCS national championship for an eighth consecutive season, but it is on pace to dominate the draft as always. The conference has a whopping 10 picks in Smith's first round, including three each from Alabama and Texas A&M. The Pac-12 has five players represented, including three wide receivers, while there are four from the ACC and Big Ten. Notre Dame has three, which exceeds the output from the entire Big 12.
Smith does not have a running back among the top 32 selections, which reflects both the short lifespan of the position and the lack of a transcendent talent. In fact, only Davis has a ball-carrier selected in the first round, Carlos Hyde of Ohio State to Carolina at No. 28. ... Buffalo standout defender Khalil Mack falls all the way to No. 12, according to Smith, where the linebacker-needy New York Giants would gladly snap him up. Mack, who set the FBS record for career forced fumbles and tied the mark for career tackles for loss, checked in as a top-eight pick in the other three mock drafts. ... Taking into account the immense value of tight ends, Smith has three going in the first round: Eric Ebron to the Buffalo Bills, Austin Seferian-Jenkins to the Green Bay Packers and Jace Amaro to the New England Patriots. You have to go back to 2006 for the last time more than one tight end went off the board in the first round.