17. Houston Texans: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (Jr.)
Louis Nix would be the best player available in this scenario, but his defensive linemate would be a better fit for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ defensive front in Houston. Starting defensive linemen Antonio Smith and Earl Mitchell are set to become free agents in 2014, and the Texans could turn to Stephon Tuitt for an upgrade or depth with their first-round pick.
Tuitt is a big, strong and athletic defensive lineman who is well-suited to play 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. He would be a good fit to replace the soon-to-be-32-year-old Smith opposite J.J. Watt, but he could also project inside to nose tackle given Phillips’ scheme, which looks for smaller, penetrating defensive tackles at that position.
The explosive, massive Nix would be an ideal fit as a nose tackle in most 3-4 schemes, but he does not fit Phillips’ preferences at the position.
18. Detroit Lions: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State (Jr.)
The Detroit Lions are building one of the league’s best defensive lines, but can better take advantage of that defensive front by adding more playmaking ability at linebacker.
Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier would make the Lions’ defensive front seven even better. He is a tremendous athlete at the linebacker position with sideline-to-sideline range. He can be a three-down player at weakside linebacker as an active run defender, skilled coverage linebacker and dangerous blitzer.
19. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (RS So.)
The Baltimore Ravens need to add another playmaker at the wide receiver position opposite Torrey Smith to replace Anquan Boldin, and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans could be the perfect fit should he declare for the 2014 NFL draft.
Like Boldin, Evans is a big wideout who attacks the ball in the air and uses his size to box out defensive backs. He has great athleticism relative to his size, and consistently creates mismatches with his length and physicality.
20. Atlanta Falcons: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame (Jr.)
A potential top-10 draft selection, Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III looks like he would be a steal at the end of the top 20, and selecting him would address one of the Atlanta Falcons’ biggest needs.
Nix could give the Falcons a massive and explosive nose tackle and an immediate upgrade on the defensive line next to Jonathan Babineaux. Listed by Notre Dame’s official athletics website at 6’3” and 340 pounds, Nix can be a block-occupying space-eater with his size and strength, but he also has penetrating quickness.
The Falcons have a weak defensive front, but Nix could help make it stronger immediately.
21. Dallas Cowboys: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Will Sutton may not quite be Warren Sapp, who Arizona State coach Todd Graham compared him to this offseason according to NFL.com, but he does have him a similar skill set. An explosive, quick penetrator up the middle with enough strength to make up for his lack of height (listed at only 6’1” by Arizona State’s official website), Sutton would be a very good fit as a penetrating defensive tackle in Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defense in Dallas.
With Jay Ratliff’s best years behind him and Jason Hatcher slated for unrestricted free agency, defensive tackle should be a position the Dallas Cowboys address early in the 2014 draft.
22. Miami Dolphins: Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State (Jr.)
Jonathan Martin is a subpar starting left tackle and Tyson Clabo is only on a one-year deal at right tackle, so the Miami Dolphins are likely to be looking for at least one offensive tackle in the 2014 draft. Florida State’s Cameron Erving is a promising young prospect at the position who could draw the team’s interest.
Erving is a long, athletic and physical offensive tackle whose game remains raw but is progressing quickly. He has the potential to be an upgrade at left tackle, but could also shift over to right tackle and be developed at that spot to start as a rookie.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Alex Smith is off to a terrific start as Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, but he needs more outside receiving weapons to work with. The Chiefs should be in the market for a solid No. 2 wideout to start opposite Dwayne Bowe, and they could get that in Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews.
Matthews is a big wideout who uses his size well, attacks the ball and is a strong route-runner. He may not be exactly the big-play threat the Chiefs could be looking for at the position, but he could be an excellent intermediate target for Smith to work with.
24. Green Bay Packers: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington (Jr.)
The Green Bay Packers should be in the market for another receiving playmaker and another blocker, and they could get both from Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who would be a steal if he is still available late in the first round.
Seferian-Jenkins is a massive tight end (6’6”, 276 pounds according to Washington’s official athletics website) who also has great athleticism. He is a skilled receiver who can create consistent mismatches for opposing defenses, while he could also provide much-needed help for Green Bay as a blocking extension of the offensive line. He would be a great addition to replace Jermichael Finley, who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (RS So.)
Johnny Manziel to the Bengals may be the most radical projection in this mock draft, but it should be considered a real possibility. While Manziel is a tough prospect to evaluate, it only takes one team to fall in love with his playmaking ability to take a chance on him (think Tim Tebow, 2010 NFL draft).
That team could be the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have been shaky early this season, and if they fall short of expectations again, they may have to seriously consider whether Andy Dalton is the quarterback they need to lead an otherwise talent-laden team to the Super Bowl. Manziel could be left off many teams’ draft boards due to character concerns, but the Bengals have never been averse to taking a chance on a player with red flags.
With few pressing needs on their roster, a boom-or-bust selection like Manziel may be worth the risk in 2014.
26. Chicago Bears: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon (Jr.)
The Chicago Bears have many key players slated for unrestricted free agency in 2014, including both of their starting cornerbacks, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. As both should command significant contracts on the open market, the Bears may be forced to replace one of their starters with quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive tackle Henry Melton also on the hook for new contracts.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is an aggressive playmaking cornerback who would be a good choice late in the first round. He does have great size, but is a very good athlete and sound tackler. He could be a replacement starter or an immediate impact player as a nickel cornerback.
27. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): De’Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon (Jr.)
If the Cleveland Browns land Marcus Mariota with their own draft pick, it would make sense to use the pick they acquired from the Indianapolis Colts in the Trent Richardson trade to pair him with Oregon teammate De’Anthony Thomas.
Thomas could be exactly what the Browns to need to spark their offense away from the quarterback position. He is not an every-down running back, but he is a dynamic athlete with outstanding speed and quickness with big-play potential every time he touches the ball. He has huge upside as a third-down back who can also be split out as a wide receiver, so the pick would bolster the Browns at both positions of need.
28. New Orleans Saints: Vic Beasley, OLB/DE, Clemson (Jr.)
The New Orleans Saints got a one-year loan on Parys Haralson by acquiring him in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers, but that does not solve the team’s lack of a long-term premier pass-rusher at the outside linebacker.
Clemson’s Vic Beasley is having a breakout junior season, and shooting up draft projections as a result. An explosive athlete with great burst and outside-inside pass-rushing ability, he projects favorably to the 3-4 outside linebacker position, and could be on track to end up as a first-round pick. Buffalo’s Khalil Mack is another possibility who could project as a late first-round pick.
29. San Francisco 49ers: Louchiez Purifoy, CB, Florida (Jr.)
Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver are the only cornerbacks on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster who have been on the roster for more than a week and are under contract for 2014: Rogers’ best years are behind him, and Culliver is not quite starting-caliber. The 49ers should be in the market for a cornerback in the draft, and they could take a shot on Florida’s Louchiez Purifoy.
Purifoy is a terrific athlete who plays the ball well and has great length. He needs to become a more disciplined player and more consistent in both coverage and tackling, but his upside would make him well worth taking a chance on late in Round 1, where he also offers the versatility to play wide receiver and on special teams.
30. New England Patriots: Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU (Jr.)
The New England Patriots have been neglecting their lack of defensive tackle depth for years, but Vince Wilfork’s torn Achilles should be the wake-up call the Patriots need. The Patriots do not have the depth to make up for his loss currently, and even when Wilfork is back next season, he will be 32 years old.
It is time for the Patriots to find Wilfork’s heir apparent. They could try to find his eventual replacement with a massive nose tackle in Tennessee’s Daniel McCullers, but they may be better suited looking for a different type of player entirely in LSU’s Anthony Johnson.
Johnson is a much smaller defensive tackle than Wilfork, listed at 294 pounds by LSU’s official athletics website, but he has both very good athleticism and power for his size. He presents the versatility to play either defensive tackle spot in a four-man front, and be an asset as both a run-stopper or interior pass-rusher.
Given the Patriots’ need for a playmaking outside wide receiver and their affinity for Rutgers players, Brandon Coleman is another strong first-round possibility for the Patriots.
31. Denver Broncos: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State (Jr.)
The Denver Broncos have looked like the NFL’s best team through four weeks, but one thing they lack is a premier player at defensive end. Von Miller will be back from suspension after the Broncos’ sixth game and free-agent addition Shaun Phillips has played well filling in at his strongside linebacker/situational pass-rusher role, but the Broncos do not yet have a replacement for Elvis Dumervil, who the team lost to the Baltimore Ravens this offseason.
Oregon State’s Scott Crichton is a well-rounded defensive end who could, along with 2012 fourth-round pick Quanterus Smith, help fill that void on the Broncos’ defensive line. Crichton is an explosive athlete who can beat his opponents with both speed and power, and get into the backfield in a hurry.
32. Seattle Seahawks: David Yankey, OG/OT, Stanford (Jr.)
The Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line could use some rebuilding, especially on the right side of the line.
Stanford’s David Yankey is one of the nation’s best guard prospects. He could come in and immediately push for a starting spot at either left or right guard, while his offensive tackle experience could allow to slide out to right tackle in a pinch.
Best Players Out:
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville (Jr.)
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
James Hurst, OT, North Carolina
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Christian Jones, OLB, Florida State
Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers (Jr.)
Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
David Fales, QB, San Jose State
Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Daniel McCullers, NT, Tennessee
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (Jr.)
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (RS So.)
Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota