We are a few days away from the start of the 2014 NFL Draft, which means it's time for my annual mock draft. Hold your applause until the very end.
In putting together this mock, as was the case a year ago, I attempted to account for potential trades. Last year, I predicted the Falcons would jump up to #18 to snag CB Xavier Rhodes, which turned out to be a little too high and the wrong player, even if I had the gist of it. This year, I'm once again predicting a trade up in the first round, for a player that has been hotly debated at The Falcoholic for many months.
Let's get to the mock draft proper.
Round 1: Pick #1, Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Falcons trade #6, 2015 1st, 2014 4th for Houston Texans' #1 pick
You could be forgiven for thinking your home was on fire with all the smoke you've had to choke on regarding the Falcons' plans in the first round. While I can't definitively dispel all of that, I can give you a sense of what I expect the Falcons to do.
I believe Atlanta has made it abundantly clear to Houston that their best offer is already on the table, and I don't think the team will budge much. That's how you get a deal like this, which while far from ideal sacrifices little in this reputedly deep 2014 draft class. I'm sure the Falcons would rather not deal any picks this season, but given Thomas Dimitroff's historic aversion to and struggles with the fourth round, this isn't the biggest loss.
The first next year could prove to be a huge mistake, but the Falcons have legitimate interest in Clowney and may be willing to sacrifice a pick in a potentially weaker draft class to get the best pass rusher in this one. Clowney would immediately step in as a starter and likely the most effective pass rusher on the roster. If Jonathan Massaquoi steps up this season, the team could have two legitimate quarterback killers for the first time this decade, and Clowney certainly has the potential to offer up the kind of terror that Julius Peppers offered early in his career.
Fan opinion will likely be sharply divided on this pick if it occurs, but if Clowney's as impactful as he can be, I believe it will be a worthwhile trade. I put the odds of it actually happening at 50/50.
Round 2: Pick #37, Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State
I fully expect Morgan Moses, my pick in our Mocking The Draft second round, to be gone at this point. Unless the Falcons are willing to trade up again to try to snag a Moses, a Zack Martin or a Calvin Pryor, they'll be sifting through other options at #37. Despite his size, Brooks may be one of the best of them.
This is likely to be the most controversial pick I make, simply because there are strong LaMarcus Joyner and Jimmie Ward contingents here at The Falcoholic. While I like Joyner and think Ward is the kind of high-variance pick that could end up being a terrific player, I'm rolling with Brooks.
Brooks has some concerns, top among them lateral agility and hands, the latter which will need to be a focus for him in the NFL if he's going to come away with a decent number of picks. His closing speed, willingness to light up a receiver and overall physicality still makes him a deeply intriguing free safety, particularly for those fans who want to go in a very different direction after the Thomas DeCoud era. Brooks isn't Calvin Pryor, who fans and William Moore are clambering for, but he would give the team another badly needed physical presence in the secondary. If he works on those hands, he'd got a shot to be an impact safety at the NFL level.
Round 3: Pick #68, Jordan Tripp, ILB, Montana
The Falcons are now in the third round and haven't selected a tackle, and it's likely to be past the point where they can get anyone who projects as an immediate starter. They'll choose to fill another need, instead.
Tripp is a potentially elite special teamer, but more than that, he could be a very good fit for the Falcons' 3-4 looks as an inside linebacker. He's got great instincts against the run, he's a solider tackler and he has underrated athleticism that should allow him to cover tight ends and running backs at the next level, assuming someone can coach him up a bit on that. He doesn't do a great job of breaking off blocks, so he's not going to be much of a pass rusher, but the Falcons won't really need him to be if they line him up inside.
Tripp is a Falcons-type player through and through—special teams contributor, high character, etc.—and I have a feeling the Falcons won't hesitate to pick him up in the third.
Round 4: Pick #110, Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
Falcons trade #147 and #220 with St. Louis Rams to move to #110
There's likely to be a run on running backs in the third and fourth rounds, and Sims would be gone by the time the team gets to its compensatory selection. Unless they're willing to wait and try to land a gem late, I can see the Falcons moving back up to acquire Sims or Storm Johnson.
Sims isn't likely to be a true feature back down the line, but he's got the well-rounded skill set necessary to thrive as the lead in a committee. He can catch, he changes directions fluidly and is dangerous in the open field. He's not the strongest back and the Falcons will need to make sure he works at his ball security, but there's a good chance Sims will turn out to be a useful weapon and a long-term piece of the puzzle at RB.
Round 4 Compensatory: Pick #139, Joe Don Duncan, TE, Dixie State
You don't get much more southern of name than Duncan. The Falcons could go a few different directions with this compensatory pick, but I see Duncan as a viable and desirable option for a team with Levine Toilolo and Bear Pascoe.
Duncan has extremely reliable hands, is a willing if unpolished blocker and surprising bursts of speed when he needs them. While just an average athlete overall, Duncan's hands alone make him a nice addition to a tight end corps that only has one pass-catching tight end at the moment, and that one is fairly raw. Duncan would make a nice backup initially and could be used in two tight end sets and even as a part-time fullback down the line, if he can improve his blocking enough.
Round 6: Pick #182, Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
There's no question teams will be scared off by Seantrel Henderson's character issues, to the point where a former mid-round prospect might realistically fall all the way until the sixth or seventh round. The Falcons, oddly, might be the team to take a chance.
The Falcons have scouted Henderson extensively, he has ideal size for a tackle and there is legitimate talent here. The Falcons will want to add a lineman or two for Mike Tice to try to mold, and with Tice's fondness for a challenge, Henderson could make a lot of sense. I completely understand that many Falcons fans don't want another project at tackle, particularly one with legitimate concerns about off-the-field makeup. I just don't know if the Falcons will be able to pass up on Henderson should he plummet on draft day. I don't think they'd take the chance he's going to the seventh round.
Round 7 Compensatory: Pick #253, Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg
The question here is whether another team scoops up Webster earlier in this round or even a round or two earlier, taking a chance on an extremely raw prospect with amazing measureables. If that doesn't happen, I hope the Falcons scoop him up.
Webster was one of the stars of the Combine, flashing the size, speed and raw athleticism that makes teams drool. There's a question of whether he'll be a pass rusher or a tight end at the NFL level, but either way, that athleticism makes him worth a pick. This late, you can cut your ties if it doesn't work out in a year, but the potential rewards could be gigantic if Webster could realize his potential.
Round 7 Compensatory: Pick #255, Bene Benwikere, CB, San Jose State
The Falcons like to give young defensive backs a chance late in the draft or as UDFAs. If Benwikere makes it that far, he would be an intriguing prospect for the Falcons.
That's primarily because of his coverage skills and awareness, which are exceptional for a corner expected to go in the last round of the draft. He'll still be on the board late because he's not a plus athlete and he's not very physical. At this point you're just taking a gamble, and the Falcons only have two young corners who are clearly part of the team's long-term plans. Benwikere would be worth the shot to finish off this class.
Your thoughts for this mock draft?