Viking Update Mock Draft: Round 1, Version 2

The Vikings are in an interesting position, hoping a quarterback might fall but in a position for the best linebacker if a franchise QB isn't available. Following the NFL Scouting Combine, our first-round mock draft has shuffled quite a bit but the Vikings' pick remains the same.

OVERVIEW: The NFL Scouting Combine is over and the next stop on the ride to the 2014 season is free agency. As a result, teams will fill some of their most pressing needs on the open market. Things will change as March rolls along, but, for now, teams are eyeing the rookie talent that will be the foundation of their franchises, especially the elite first-round talent. As things currently stand, this is how we have the draft shaking out and, believe it or not, we're projecting a trade involving the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams that will allow the Rams to drop just two spots and acquire the No. 26 pick the Browns acquired in off-loading Trent Richardson to Indianapolis.

1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. There is something to be said about having an impact quarterback and there is no shortage of them at the top of the draft this year. But with J.J. Watt terrorizing quarterbacks from one side, the addition of Clowney would have a much bigger immediate impact on a Texans team that lost 14 straight games. It doesn't cure their QB problems – they would be giddy if Derek Carr makes it to the second round, but a sketchy history with the Carr family might scare them away. QB is still a definite possibility, but Clowney and Watt could make the Texans return to the top of the AFC South quicker than any of the young quarterbacks.
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2. | PROJECTED TRADE | Cleveland Brown (from St. Louis) – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. The Browns' last franchise QB was Bernie Kosar and that was so long ago the team has relocated since and came back to the NFL in the form of an expansion franchise. With Clowney going first, the real possibility of quarterbacks with the next three picks exists. Manziel has his detractors, but when you evaluate a quarterback, the level of competition he faces on a weekly basis has to come into play and Manziel was a dominant figure in the pre-eminent college conference in the country. Word out of Cleveland is that the Browns will have a significant interest and Teddy Bridgewater's refusal to run or throw at the NFL Scouting Combine has (momentarily anyway) dropped his stock. Manziel will sell jerseys, which is needed for a franchise that has seen all three of the other teams in the division rise and fall while they have remained consistently in last. There are no guarantees with Johnny Football, but he has the attitude to succeed.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Bridgewater has all the characteristics of the new breed of NFL quarterbacks – a strong arm combined with quick feet and the ability to read defenses instantaneously. The Jaguars reached for Blaine "Sunshine" Gabbert and have suffered with that decision ever since. While the Jags have multiple needs, Bridgewater will come in with the chance to win the starting job immediately. The Jags swung and missed with Gabbert. They believe Bridgewater has too much upside to be a second consecutive mistake.

4. | PROJECTED TRADE | 4. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland) – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. If the draft falls this way, the Rams would be ecstatic. Had they stayed at No. 2, Robinson would be their pick. To get him at No. 4 (and Cleveland's pick at No. 26), it would be a perfect storm for the Rams. Robinson proved at the Combine that he is the best left tackle in the draft and seeing that Jake Long tore his ACL and MCL in December and Rodger Saffold is scheduled to hit the free agent market, the Rams need to address the position. The last time they used a high pick on a left tackle, it was Orlando Pace – one of the all-time greats at his position. Robinson has the potential to reach those sorts of heights.

5. Oakland Raiders – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. The speed of Sammy Watkins might win the day here because, although Al Davis is gone, his long shadow remains and Watkins' stock will rise at the Combine. But the Raiders haven't had a legitimate starting quarterback that was weaned within the organization since Daryl Lamonica. Their draft choices have so consistently been failures that they have picked the free-agent market clean. Bortles has a strong arm and can make the plays needed to be a franchise quarterback. If he makes it past Oakland, barring a trade, he drops to the Vikings.

6. Atlanta Falcons – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. Sam Baker hasn't lived up to his contract at left tackle, and while some scouts have Matthews rated as the top tackle on the board he is ideally a right tackle that, with more time, can become a solid left tackle. Seeing as the Falcons are only one year into the six-year deal, they aren't throwing in the towel on Baker just yet. If he pans out, they're set with bookend tackles for the next five years. If not, Matthews will get a year or two of catching up to speed and then make the move to left tackle.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. A talent-on-the-board pick, the Bucs have other more pressing needs, but the combination of Watkins and Vincent Jackson could be lethal. It might be a trade position if the Bucs want to cash in on moving down and allowing someone else to jump in here. But with the Falcons, Saints and Panthers in the same division, a weapon like Watkins is likely too hard to pass up.

8. Minnesota Vikings – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo. As expected, Mack lit up the Combine with his amazing athleticism. The question prior to the Combine was whether Mack's stock was going to slide because he played for Buffalo and rarely faced elite competition. The question now seems to be centered on whether he will still be on the board when the Vikings pick at No. 8. Mack is a fast-rising prospect who has had his name linked with both Atlanta and Tampa Bay as a potential impact player. The Bills would love the home-schooled linebacker to stay in Buffalo, but he has such an athletic upside that the Vikings will likely find it difficult to not take him. A lot of our picks in the second version of our mock have changed, but Mack is still the player we see landing with Minnesota.

9. Buffalo Bills – Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA. During the Bills' heyday, linebacker was a dominant position. In the years since, Buffalo has struggled at the position and is in need of a significant upgrade. Whether it's an inside linebacker like C.J. Mosley of Alabama or a versatile outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid like Barr, it seems clear this is the most vital position to be addressed by the Bills this offseason and Barr could go a long way to returning Buffalo to respectability.

10. Detroit Lions – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. Another seeming "hometown" pick, the primary reason the Lions missed the playoffs last season was that Rashean Mathis was the most consistent corner on the roster. At this point, the Lions would have their choice of the cornerback they think best fits their offense. It may not be Dennard, although he would seem to make sense. It could be one of a handful of CB prospects that make an indelible impression on the Lions scouts, but the position seems clear. Whether they value Dennard as highly as we do is another story. But he's the pick.

11. Tennessee Titans – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. Michael Roos and David Stewart have been advised to rent, not own. That's never a good sign. If Jake Locker is ever going to live up to the promise the franchise put in him, he needs a pocket that will be cleaner than it has been of late. Lawson in necessary insurance moving forward for the Titans.

12. New York Giants – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. The Giants have shown the signs of age at cornerback over the last couple of years and, although offensive tackle may be a bigger need, there isn't a pick at this point that wouldn't be considered a reach with Robinson, Matthews and Lewan off the board. If Lewan is still on the board, he could be the selection here, but Gilbert is arguably the best cover corner in the draft and, in a division with improvisational QBs like Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III, having a cornerback that can maintain coverage longer than expected is a must and Gilbert provides that option.

13. St. Louis Rams – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. Nobody calls him Mikey Football, but, when you watch Manziel film, it's hard to ignore how many plays Evans made when Manziel passes were thrown up for grabs. While Tavon Austin was an expensive experiment, without a running mate on the outside, the Rams offense can't utilize Austin to his fullest potential. Evans will go a long way to opening up the entire offense, which could be the theme of the early portion of the Rams draft. If, however, the Rams make yet another quarterback-for-riches trade, they may go in a different direction here. But giving Sam Bradford every chance to succeed before giving up is a must.

14. Chicago Bears – Timothy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. Henry Melton was viewed as the future of the franchise at the DT spot. A sub-par season and off-field drama make his bid for free agency a reclamation project. However, someone will be willing to pay more than the Bears to land him and start the career rehab process. Even if Melton comes back, getting a foundation pin in the middle of a sorry-looking Bears defense late last year is likely a tipping point in Jernigan's favor.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame. This may be a VU defiant pick much in the same way we refused to pick Dontari Poe to the Chiefs in 2012. It's a pick that screams. Steelers fans got spoiled by the consistent play of Casey Hampton. Of all the players on the board at this point that "fit" with a long-term check mark on the roster, it's Nix to Pitt. In all the incarnations of the VU mock drafts this year, this pick may never change.

16. Baltimore Ravens – Marqise Lee, WR, USC. Soon to be known as Mr. Spellcheck, he's a system college receiver going to a system NFL passing game. Lee would have been the top wideout on the board if not for an influx of underclassmen throwing their hats in the ring. As a result, the big thing about this pick is whether the Ravens finally do something to replace Anquan Boldin, who proved his toughness back when he was with Arizona. Lee has YAC potential that will make Torrey Smith more dangerous. Considering Ozzie Newsome is running the show, tight end Eric Ebron could get strong consideration. If that's the case, wide receivers may start dropping. If not, it's a positional land grab coming.

17. Dallas Cowboys – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. This is the type of player Jerry Jones loves. When Jones is enamored with a player, his absolute power kicks in. He has always had a weakness for big-hitting safeties and Clinton-Dix fits that mold. His stock may rise or fall at the Combine, but, if he's on the board when Jerry is on the clock, don't bet against Clinton-Dix landing here.

18. New York Jets – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. The Jets need a lot of help on offense and they may be the first of several teams to say they will wait until the second round to grab a wide receiver – a clear need for the Jets. But in a division where playmaking tight ends can alter the landscape, landing a Patriot clone would be an ideal spit in the eye from Rex Ryan.

19. Miami Dolphins – Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame. The Dolphins offensive line was a mess long before the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin debacle put Miami in the news for all the wrong reasons. Neither of them is expected back and, depending on what Miami plans for their newest Martin, he has the size and ability to be a solid left tackle and the versatility to be a dominant Pro Bowl fixture at guard. Seeing as the Dolphins have a need at both tackle and guard, Martin would be an immediate upgrade.

20. Arizona Cardinals – Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama. Once viewed as a lock to go at or near the first half of the first round, his stock is dropping after an inconsistent Combine performance. If you went strictly from the eyeball test, Kouandijo would be a lock to go in the top 10. But if you saw Alabama games last year, you saw a player with massive talent but a questionable work ethic and technique. If harnessed under the right coaching system, he could blossom into one of the steals of the draft, but his stock is currently heading in the wrong direction. If he makes it past Arizona, he could remain on the board for some time.

21. Green Bay Packers – C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama. The Packers have a dominant offense that became more balanced with the selection of Eddie Lacy. Now it's defense that needs to get a boost. Mosley has a significant injury history that likely will scare off some teams but when healthy is the most dominant player on the field, which is saying something considering he plays for the Crimson Tide and they have a brutal schedule from one week to the next. Alongside Clay Matthews, they could become a dominant tandem.

22. Philadelphia Eagles – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. Nate Allen is a free agent and Patrick Chung didn't live up to expectations. The Eagles have the best team in the NFC East on both sides of the ball, but if the Eagles have any hopes of returning to playoffs, upgrading the safety position is a must. Wide receiver was viewed as a primary objective in the first round, but the re-signing of Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin has reduced that need considerably, opening the door to select a safety.

23. Kansas City Chiefs – Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU. Few players made more money than Beckham at the Combine. Not only did he run a great 40 time (4.43 seconds), he also posted some of the strongest times in the 20-yard shuttle (3.94) and the 60-yard shuttle (10.93). The Chiefs have overpaid inconsistent Dwayne Bowe, but to make that investment pay off they need someone who can consistently blow the top off the back end of a defense. This is a deep WR class, but Beckham has risen up the ranks and Kansas City looks to be a good landing spot for him.

24. Cincinnati Bengals – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. Leon Hall turned 30 in December and has torn his Achilles twice in the last three year and is a free agent. Terence Newman and Pac Man Jones are both nearing the end of their NFL ride as well. Even if the Bengals keep the band together for another season, they need an infusion of youth in the secondary, especially in a division that already has strong-armed Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger in the mix and Cleveland likely to add another young gun to the division.

25. San Diego Chargers – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State. When inconsistent veteran Richard Marshall was your best corner, there is clearly a need to be addressed – perhaps both in free agency and the draft. If San Diego is going to build on its surprising late-season run to the playoffs (in which they still finished third in their four-team division), upgrading the secondary to compete with Peyton Manning and Denver will be a top priority.

26. | PROJECTED TRADE | 26. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland) – Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota. The Rams cash in again by trading out of the No. 2 spot in the draft. While much of the attention was on the NFC West last year, the Rams finished last despite having an 8-8 record. The team already parlayed that pick into getting the player they coveted (OT Greg Robinson) and now get a chance to help the middle of the defensive front. It's been a long time since the Gophers had a first-round draft choice, but Hageman is a powerful building block in the middle of a defense that can grow into a dominant force in the right system. Don't sleep on the Rams. Their stockpiling of top picks is going to start paying dividends sooner than later.

27. New Orleans Saints – Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame. The Saints may have bigger needs, but Tuitt is ideally suited for Rob Ryan's defense. With needs at all three levels of the defense, getting an improved pass rush is critical at every step and Tuitt is a value pick that fits both a need and a best-athlete-available mantra. In that scheme, he may be an early frontrunner for defensive rookie of the year.

28. Carolina Panthers – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. The Panthers have depended on Steve Smith and little else in the passing game for years. Smith is nearing the end of his career and the Panthers not only need to get a solid veteran in free agency, but need to draft a rookie that can project to be a No. 1 receiver down the line. In our first mock, we projected that Cooks could see his stock rise at the Combine. After posting the best times for WRs in the 40-yard dash (4.33 seconds), the 20-yard shuttle run (3.82) and the 60-yard shuttle (10.72), the only question remaining is whether he will still be on the board when the Panthers pick.

29. New England Patriots – Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. The Patriots had the best of all worlds when Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were running free through defensive secondaries. With Hernandez never coming back and Gronk a significant injury risk, the Patriots need to bring that dual-threat component back. They were a different team in the few weeks they had Gronk last season. If he's back, great. If he's not 100 percent, they need an insurance policy.

30. San Francisco 49ers – Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida. He isn't the hardest worker in the business, but he has natural talent that jumps out on tape and he seems like an ideal fit for the disciplined system in San Francisco. If the 49ers are to get back to the Super Bowl, they will need help at cornerback. Carlos Rogers could be a cap casualty because he didn't earn his pay in 2013. Tarell Brown and Tremaine Brock can hold down the starting spots, but Roberson would give them immediate competition for their starting spots.

31. Denver Broncos – Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri. Shaun Phillips played well last year, but at age 33 the clock is ticking. Denver is built to win a Super Bowl this year and, as teams showed late in the season, the defensive vulnerability is there. If an elite cornerback remains on the board that the Broncos love, they could well make the move there, but, in lieu of that, they go with a big-time edge rusher who can be disruptive. Expect veteran free agents to sign with Denver in hopes of getting a ring to help fill the short-term voids that may exist, but Ealy is an investment in the future.

32. Seattle Seahawks – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. Percy Harvin is going to be the centerpiece of the passing attack, but slot receivers rarely are the dominant focus of a pass offense. At 6-5, Benjamin is a huge target who will go a long way to help Russell Wilson take the next step in his maturation. With Sidney Rice gone and Golden Tate an unrestricted free agent, a thin receiver corps could get even thinner. Benjamin will be an infusion of talent the champs need in hopes of defending their title in 2014.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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