2014 NFL Mock Draft – The RotoViz Version
As I outlined in How NFL Draft Analysis Can Supercharge Your Fantasy Squad, the twin barriers between fantasy and reality football and fantasy and reality draft coverage are largely imaginary. Draft position is a crucial part of any fantasy projection system. The 2014 rookies are already having a big impact. MFL10s are ongoing, and player news plays a big role in the psychology. Dynasty leagues can be won or lost with a single savvy trade that anticipates a big move in player value. In order to benefit from such wild fluctuations, you need to start creating a framework for where these much-hyped prospects might fall.
In this mock, I’ve focused most heavily on the fantasy positions. All positions are included in the first round, and then I projected “skill” selections only for Rounds 2 and 3. In order to fill the team needs, I’ve put the PFF individual grades for all 32 teams under the microscope. Time permitting, a more detailed – or longer-winded – mock will eventually find its way onto Money in the Banana Stand. To bolster your knowledge about unfamiliar squads, I also recommend Evan Silva’s excellent and exhaustive Team Needs and Roster Rankings column from earlier in the month.
Will many of these projections change as teams address holes in free agency? Certainly. And that’s part of the fun. Also, please don’t hesitate to share your discontent in the comments section. While the vast majority of these picks will end up being wrong on draft day, that’s still no excuse for a projection that’s simply silly on its face.
1. Houston Texans – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
RotoViz hasn’t focused much on the quarterback position so far – it’s less relevant in fantasy – but my study of college quarterback numbers last year was backed up by a recent look at NFL rookie performance. Bortles is a year older than Bridgewater and Manziel and put up much less impressive efficiency numbers. Quarterback projection is difficult bordering on random, but those are red flags.
2. St. Louis Rams – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Considered to be easily superior to the three Top 5 tackles from a year ago, a Robinson pick is the dream scenario for Zac Stacy dynasty owners.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jacksonville is openly trying to copy the Seahawks’ approach. Selecting the draft’s most physically talented player should help a defense that started playing better down the stretch in 2013. They’ll take the risk of finding their Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick later in the proceedings.
4. Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Rumors circulate connecting Cleveland to Derek Carr with their pick at 26, but the paradigm-shifting player in this draft would seem to be Manziel. Over the last two years he accounted for an awe-inspiring 93 touchdowns and did so playing the bulk of his games against SEC defenses. Despite questions about height and arm strength, Manziel is arguably the best deep passer among the elite quarterbacks. He’s also very young, a factor that isn’t getting enough coverage.
5. Oakland Raiders – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater has the best combination of rookie age (22.1) and mid-range accuracy in the draft. Few current NFL quarterbacks had better collegiate efficiency numbers. It’s a difficult position for his fantasy value but a no-brainer for Oakland.
6. Atlanta Falcons – Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
Widely regarded as a lock to be the second defensive player off the board, Mack landing in Atlanta seems preordained.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Bucs are expected to release Mike Williams opening up this spot for the Clemson star. Despite the rhetoric surrounding him, Watkins fits more as a No. 2 at the NFL level. As a complement to Vincent Jackson, he could wreak havoc right away.
8. Minnesota Vikings – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
With all the buzz surrounding Carr, it’s difficult to see him getting out of the Top 10. The reasons behind the sudden groundswell are less clear. Carr will be an old rookie (23.8) and saw his efficiency numbers drop slightly in 2013 despite playing the 102nd ranked schedule in the country. There have been plenty of assertions that Mike Evans made Johnny Manziel even though Evans only represented 30% of A&M’s receiving value. Carr, on the other hand, doesn’t look so good if you take away Davante Adams. He averaged a shade under 7.0 yards per attempt when throwing to other receivers and looks like a longshot prospect based on his on-field performance. Instead of selecting the next Christian Ponder, Minnesota could really use one more dynamic receiving piece. I expect they’ll count on an emergence by Cordarrelle Patterson instead.
9. Buffalo Bills – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Evans delivered his necessary 40 time and now scouts and analysts alike feel he’s a virtual Top 10 lock. Many expect Buffalo to release Steve Johnson, a move which would position them to take Evans as E.J. Manuel’s safety valve. While all of them are probably overrated individually, the young trio of Evans, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin should provide a well-rounded corps for Manuel to grow with.
10. Detroit Lions – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
After (hopefully) addressing their secondary in free agency, the Lions will use the draft to upgrade their receiving firepower. Pairing Ebron with Joseph Fauria would give new OC Joe Lombardi almost unparalleled flexibility to attack defenses. (Check out The Intersect’s excellent article on projecting tight ends to the NFL.)
11. Tennessee Titans – Jake Matthews, OL, Texas A&M
12. New York Giants – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
A new offensive philosophy won’t be enough. The Giants must upgrade one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines.
13. St. Louis Rams – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
St. Louis seems overwhelmingly likely to target a corner or safety with this pick. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix owns the draft’s best name, and its top pedigree at safety. He’s a threat to go in the Top 10 picks.
14. Chicago Bears – Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Combine was an absolute starmaker for Donald. The Bears need a disruptive talent in the interior.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan St.
If rumors about a promise to Big Ben are true, the Steelers might be tempted to select Kelvin Benjamin here. I expect they’ll follow their established pattern of letting the receiver position come to them. In desperate need of help in the secondary, Pittsburgh selects the draft’s top corner.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Cowboys need help at every level of the defense, and Jerry Jones is drawn to spotlight players. Jernigan excelled down the stretch for the national champions.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
The Ravens are expected to feature Torrey Smith in the Andre Johnson/Pierre Garcon-type role in Gary Kubiak’s offense. His Houston squads rarely featured receivers in the red zone, choosing instead to emphasize a run-heavy, TE-centric approach. If he has similar plans for Baltimore, a field-stretching, multifaceted player like Beckham might be preferable to a jump ball type like Benjamin. Beckham performed well at the Combine and is now a definite candidate to be the third receiver selected.
18. New York Jets – Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Among the high profile receiving prospects, Lee is the only one who’s posted a single-season Dominator Rating above .40 in any individual campaign. Arguably the most polished receiving prospect in the draft, he appears a good fit for Marty Mornhinweg’s scheme.
19. Miami Dolphins – Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
The Dolphins will take the best remaining offensive lineman.
20. Arizona Cardinals – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Cardinals will address their offensive line issues in free agency and then turn their attention back to building the NFL’s best defense. Barr’s stock is supposedly in free fall, but you could make a clear case for him as the best 2013 pass rusher based on Greg Peshek’s advanced stats.
21. Green Bay Packers – Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame
22. Philadelphia Eagles – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Locked and loaded on offense, the Eagles are a few defensive pieces short of being a Super Bowl contender. Pryor is reportedly challenging Clinton-Dix to be the first safety selected.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Chiefs are being linked to Kelvin Benjamin, but that would be a strange choice for Andy Reid when you consider his previous predilection for speed receivers. Cooks qualifies as an amped up version of Santonio Holmes and might be the best small receiver to enter the NFL since Marvin Harrison. In 2013 Cooks represented 42% of his team’s receiving touchdowns, in part due to a surprisingly solid 33% RZTD rate and in part due to an ability to score from distance. For more information on which players can be expected to consistently create long touchdowns, make sure you read about Rich Hribar’s new XSPD metric.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Cincinnati already fields an elite defense but with Dre Kirkpatrick struggling and Leon Hall frequently injured, they could use even more depth at the cornerback position. Justin Gilbert isn’t as solid as Dennard but sports better athleticism and upside.
25. San Diego Chargers – Dee Ford, OLB/DE, Auburn
The Chargers finished with only 37 sacks and didn’t have anyone in double figures.
26. Cleveland Browns – C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Most consider Mosley to be an elite linebacking prospect, but inside linebacker tends to be the defensive equivalent of running back in terms of being de-emphasized on draft day. His slide would be a dream scenario for a Browns squad with a void at the position.
27. New Orleans Saints – Justin Verrett, CB, TCU
Verrett posted the best stats in Peshek’s breakdown of the DBs and ran a 4.38 at the Combine.
28. Carolina Panthers – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Panthers need a No. 1 wide receiver to pair with Greg Olsen and Steve Smith. Benjamin struggles badly on the RotoViz metrics – his fantasy footprint comp isn’t even a receiver – but he’s expected to go at least this early in the draft.
29. New England Patriots – Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Few tight ends come into the league with Amaro’s blend of size, athleticism, and production (both raw and weighted). The PFF numbers paint a pretty ugly picture of Tom Brady’s current ability to make most NFL throws, but he’s almost unparalleled in the cerebral aspects of running an offense. If the Patriots select Amaro and Gronk comes back healthy . . . don’t sell low on Brady in dynasty.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller didn’t run as well as Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, but he played much better when on the field in 2013. Other than their widening front office rift, the 49ers’ most obvious weakness is at corner.
31. Denver Broncos – Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
The Broncos need more athleticism on defense and more bodies at linebacker until Von Miller fully recovers from his ACL tear. Once he does, Shazier, Miller, and Danny Trevathan would form an elite, young defensive nucleus.
32. Seattle Seahawks – Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
With cap limitations, the Seahawks will be outbid for Michael Bennett, but Kony Ealy would quickly pick up the slack.
35. Cleveland Browns – Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
The Browns could build their own version of the Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffery duo by selecting Robinson here. The former Penn State star is a key member of our RotoViz Reach bundle, although his closest comps are a mixed bag of players like Big Mike Williams and Kenny Britt. He also finished third at the Combine on the Explosion Index and posted a strong Agility Score for a player of his size.
41. Buffalo Bills – Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
The Bills can start over yet again at quarterback, or they could build around Manuel with multiple picks. If he flops, at least the pieces will be in place to support the next candidate. Niklas is generating first round buzz and comes very close to fitting the template laid out in the Tight End Production model.
45. Detroit Lions – Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Matthews’ comps are so ridiculously good we’re almost embarrassed to publish them. He also matched Sammy Watkins drill for drill at the Combine. Scouts don’t care for him and neither do many excellent fantasy writers, including Sigmund Bloom, whose take you might want to read as a counterpoint. He also appeared in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’s Red Flags column. Detroit hopes to develop Corey Fuller for the deep role and still dreams of Ryan Broyles filling the possession slot. A lineup with Megatron, Matthews, Ebron, and Fauria would give Matthew Stafford the pieces to shred even the Legion of Boom and put him in position to break Peyton Manning’s records.
46. Pittsburgh Steelers – Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Adams is a RotoViz favorite, a guy who might be the next Michael Crabtree, and something of a fulcrum for our draft-beating bundle. He’s not a giant, but at 6’1”, 212 would finally give Ben Roethlisberger someone sizable to target. It’s hard to consider Adams a straight line plodder when he notched both a better Explosion Score and better Agility Score than Sammy Watkins. He’s also a leading prospect according to the Catch Radius Project.
53. Green Bay Packers – Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
The WR College Career App includes numbers for tight ends. Green Bay could use a replacement for and potential upgrade on Jermichael Finley. Many around RotoViz consider ASJ to be the best tight end prospect in the draft. The heat maps for our top three prospects demonstrate why.
57. San Diego Chargers – Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
Last year the Chargers struck gold with Keenan Allen, the poster child for breakout age as a skeleton key, but the rest of their receiving corps was decimated by injuries, age, and overhype. Allen would probably function better as a co-No. 1, and in this mock San Diego pairs him with 2014’s best athlete at the position. Moncrief carries a big DR risk, but his Combine numbers propelled him to the top of this year’s Megatron Index, the top of the XSPD list, and make him something of a Cheat Code candidate.
67. Oakland Raiders – Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Tre Mason didn’t wow at the Combine but his 164 in the Explosion Index should tempt a franchise looking for a three-down back with some flash. With Darren McFadden expected to depart, selecting a player who shined on the biggest stages last fall might act as an olive branch to fans.
70. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
The Eastern Illinois signal-caller appears to have moved ahead of his big school brethren.
71. Cleveland Browns – Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Hyde ran for 1521 yards last year at 7.31 per clip, but some of his peripherals are not particularly stellar (I’ll delve into these issues in a later article). Hyde’s strongest characteristic is probably an 89.2 nQBDR. The Browns have been linked to Hyde because Kyle Shanahan emphasizes success rate over explosiveness. Cleveland could select him as early as No. 35, but that would probably be a mistake in such a deep draft.
72. Minnesota Vikings – Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Bryant isn’t a particularly skilled football player at this juncture, but he’s a rare athlete. He finishes No. 2 in the Catch Radius Project (behind Evans) and No. 2 on the Megatron Index (behind Moncrief). Bryant’s skill set meshes better with the vertical role in a Turner offense and would allow Patterson to stay in his natural RB hybrid role.
74. New York Giants – Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Although I have Mason and Hyde going ahead of him here, Sankey emerged from the Combine as the draft’s best running back prospect. A 10.75 Agility Score combined with his size and speed is going to place him in very select company.
77. San Francisco 49ers – Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Speed receivers need to be really, really fast. That may be obvious, but it’s still important. While I would have preferred Richardson run in the low 4.3s, his elite .47 Dominator Rating places him in the RotoViz Reach bundle and makes him an underrated prospect.
80. New York Jets – Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
New York is being connected to running backs after Chris Ivory failed to emerge as a three-down player despite leading the NFL in yards after contact per attempt. Carey was definitely a Combine loser, but his collegiate production – a crazy 91.3 nQBDR, for example – can’t be completely ignored.
84. Arizona Cardinals – Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
A probable first round pick before his injury, Mettenberger owns the draft’s best combination of size and efficiency. Few teams truly benefit from wasting a pick on a development prospect, but taking a flyer here makes sense for a deep and talented Cardinals squad. Outside of quarterback, they have the strongest roster in the NFC West.
92. Carolina Panthers – Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
I agree with Matthew Freedman that Landry’s production overshadows his Combine disaster. The Panthers need to add multiple receivers.
Others of Note
Few draft experts expect a running back to go in the first round of the 2014 Draft. I’m taking it a step further and projecting no running backs in Round 2 either. It’s not just that the position has been devalued; the teams with needs at RB this year are exactly the types of franchises that can least afford to use an early round pick to make an upgrade. Combine that with a deep but flat pool of runners, and you have the recipe for an entire position falling at once.
Once the fourth round begins, however, I expect players like Isaiah Crowell, Jeremy Hill, Lache Seastrunk, Terrance West, Charles Sims, and Jerick McKinnon to fly off the board. There would appear to be significant needs for Atlanta, Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Miami. Meanwhile, most franchises will be looking to add quality backups in the late rounds. In doing your draft prep, don’t overlook players like McKinnon, Crowell, and West. Jonathan Bales has demonstrated the outsized value small school players can return.
Shawn Siegele is the creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand and Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.