It starts with Houston with the first pick and ends with the Lions at No. 10, and there is no taking anything back.
My picks are based on talking to beat writers in other cities, but the final judgments are my own. No trades are included in the top 10, but there is mention that a number of teams – the Rams, Falcons, Vikings and Lions among them – are trade candidates.
Here is my final mock draft. As always, feel free to disagree:
1. Houston Texans: No quarterback in this draft will solve their offensive problems, but a pass-rusher to go with J.J. Watt will create havoc for opposing passers. They can get a QB prospect in the second round.
Pick: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina. He’s the most talented player in the draft.
2. St. Louis Rams: Trading down is a possibility, but they need a tackle to protect Sam Bradford, as long as he’s their QB. Reports say they’re high on Johnny Manziel – but they could be leaks to spark trade interest. OT Jake Matthews of Texas A&M is pro-ready, and his father, Bruce, played for Rams Coach Jeff Fisher in Houston and Tennessee. The heart strings tug – but not strong enough to pass on a more talented tackle.
Pick: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn. The best in a strong group of offensive linemen.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: GM David Caldwell either tipped his hand or set up a smoke screen when he said the Jags aren’t expecting to have troubled WR Justin Blackmon in 2014. Regardless, the best player on the board adds to Coach Gus Bradley’s defense.
Pick: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo. Coach Gus Bradley gets another building block on defense and can turn to offense in the second round.
4. Cleveland Browns: Drafting QB Johnny Manziel would energize the fan base, but the Browns seem more intent on helping Brian Hoyer, who showed promise in three starts last year before going out with a knee injury, than replacing him. Sammy Watkins makes sense here because of substance and style points, but word out of Cleveland persists that adding protection for the passer is a priority.
Pick: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M. Fans won’t stand up and cheer on draft day, and I think the Browns should take Sammy Watkins, but adding protection for the QB appears to be the priority.
5. Oakland Raiders: They’re operating in familiar territory. They’ve drafted in the top 8 five times from 2006-2010. None of the picks made the Pro Bowl, and only oft-injured RB Darren McFadden (4th overall, 2008) is still on their roster. They got their QB – again – by trading with Houston for Matt Schaub. Now they add a target – and a safe choice.
Pick: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson. He’s a top 3 talent and adds return ability to the package.
6. Atlanta Falcons: If reports are accurate, no team is working the phones harder than the Falcons in an effort to trade up. The offense that looked like it would be explosive again last year wasn’t. Stephen Jackson got old after signing as a free agent. Julio Jones got hurt. Tony Gonzalez played a final-season swan song. And Matt Ryan got sacked 44 times – 16 more than in any previous season. Word in the ATL is they want the best blocker on the board.
Pick: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan. But don’t be surprised if it’s Zach Martin of Notre Dame. The pros love the temperament and leadership that go with his talent.
7. Tampa Bay Bucs: Defensive tackle Aaron Donald of Pitt fits the Tampa 2 defense of new head coach Lovie Smith, but Smith got fired in Chicago after a 10-6 record in 2012 because of the offense. There are different vibes on how much the coaching staff likes QB Mike Glennon, which makes Blake Bortles a possibility. A receiver makes more sense.
Pick: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M. With Vincent Jackson at 6-5, 230 on one side and Evans on the other at 6-5, 231, the Bucs have a mismatch on every snap.
8. Minnesota Vikings: The question isn’t whether the Vikings draft another QB. It’s when. They declined the fifth-year option on 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder after previously extending journeyman Matt Cassel for two years. Trades last year gave the Vikings three first-round picks – all good ones. They’ll look to deal again to get the quarterback they want deeper in the round. If that fails, take him now.
Pick: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. The fans won’t wait quietly for him to take over the starting job. Neither will Manziel.
9. Buffalo Bills: There is uncertainty over the franchise's future because of the death of franchise patriarch Ralph Wilson Jr. The immediate issue is to get help for second-year QB E.J. Manuel and move out of the losing rut – four 6-10 finishes in the last five seasons and only one winning record in the last 14. A receiving tight end takes pressure off young QBs.
Pick: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina. Offensive tackle is a possibility, but Ebron’s skill set fits an offense ready to lead the Bills to a rare winning season.
10. Detroit Lions: So many choices on a team that needs improvement in areas that don’t come in the draft. Chief among them is discipline on the field, and that should come with Jim Caldwell replacing Jim Schwartz as head coach.
In the draft, trading for Sammy Watkins, the top-rated receiver and one of the top 3 players on the board, becomes more realistic the further he drops in the draft, but it’s pretty much a fantasy. GM Martin Mayhew will make the calls, like he does every year, but I don’t see Watkins landing in Detroit.
The reality is that the biggest needs are playmakers on defense, and that could be at all three levels – up front, impact linebacker and the secondary. One more pair of fresh legs could do wonders for the entire unit.
There are good prospects for all three levels.
Up front, defensive tackle Aaron Donald of Pitt is relentless and athletic, and he provides cover if the Lions lose
In the secondary, Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard lead the cornerback class. Gilbert’s more athletic and has return skills and is rated higher by most analysts. Dennard plays tougher. The cornerbacks and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix get considerable mention as possibilities for the Lions.
Caldwell talked about the pass rush at the NFL meetings earlier this year.
“Anybody can use a flame-thrower,” he said.
For this pick, at this spot, the Lions cannot look at what they might get later. The sole focus is to draft the player who can burn the quarterback.
Pick: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA. He started out at running back and tight end at UCLA, then was shifted to defense and played right outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense the last two years.
He has measurables – a little over 6-4, 251 pounds, a 4.46 best in the 40 – and production to go with it. He had 40.5 tackles for loss and 23.5 sacks at UCLA.
There might have to be some adjustments to fit Barr into the Lions’ 4-3 scheme.
One of them would be to point him at the quarterback.