We are now less than a month away from the 2014 NFL draft, and I'm close to finished with most of my evaluations of this year's prospects. The majority of the significant free-agent moves have been made as well, giving us a clearer idea of each team's needs heading into the draft.
Those two factors make this a good time to unveil my latest mock draft -- and this one is a two-rounder. A few trends jumped out at me as I went through this:
1. The four elite prospects in this year's draft class went off the board early, as more and more it's looking like it's going to be tough for teams drafting high up in the order to pass over any of those players, even when it isn't a perfect need fit.
2. With those four elite players going early, one of the top-rated QBs slipped out of the top eight picks, and finding a team fit for him beyond the top eight was the most difficult decision of this whole mock draft. That's a situation to keep an eye on as the draft unfolds -- the soft landing spots are few and far between for any QB that gets past Minnesota at No. 8.
3. When I was torn between two choices for a team, I usually broke the tie by picking the higher-ranked player on my board -- even in cases when that player didn't perfectly fill a team need.
4. It seemed like every time I looked up I had picked another wide receiver. There are a lot of teams with needs at the position, and a lot of good receiver prospects in this draft.
With all of that out of the way, let's get to the picks. Here is my projection of the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL draft.
1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
There has been some Johnny Manziel-to-Houston buzz in the last few days, but I think this pick will come down to Clowney and UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. The Texans really need a QB, and Bortles has the highest ceiling of any passer in this draft, but I just think it's going to be too difficult for the Texans to pass on Clowney. He is the best player in this class and the most naturally talented defensive lineman I've ever evaluated, and guys like him simply don't come around that often. The Texans will find a good fit for him in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's versatile scheme.
2. St. Louis Rams (from WAS): Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
If Clowney goes No. 1, I think this pick will come down to Robinson or Clemson WR Sammy Watkins. I'm going with Robinson because the Rams need to keep QB Sam Bradford upright (especially given the pass-rushers they'll see in the NFC West), and because I have Robinson rated as the slightly better player. But I could see how St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher might lean in Watkins' direction. You need playmakers to offset the defensive backs in that division, and historically, Fisher does not spend high picks on offensive linemen. If Clowney drops, he's definitely in play here, or the Rams could get a lucrative offer to trade back.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The likeliest options for the Jaguars in this scenario are Mack, WR Sammy Watkins or QBs Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel. Jacksonville really needs a QB, but in Mack the Jags would be getting the second-best defensive player in the draft and a guy who could play the "Leo" role in their defense -- the weakside edge player (something of a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker) whose primary task is to disrupt opposing backfields as a pass-rusher and run defender. Mack is a tone-setter and a difference-maker, and he is versatile enough to hold up in pass coverage when asked.