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Sant-Miller: Sizing up the NFL Draft

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Over the years, I’ve come to realize two things about the NFL draft.

One, you can’t predict the draft order, let alone the draft choices. Teams make trades endlessly, sliding forward and back, offering picks like loose pocket change. On top of that, every team employs its own draft strategy. While some focus on specific needs, other just want the best player available. Some general managers fall in love with one player and sell the farm to get that guy. Some franchises just historically love 40-yard-dash times (cough cough Oakland cough cough).

Two, predicting draft choices will always make you look like a fool. Inevitably, some incredible blue-chip prospect will embarrass himself in the pros. He may have numbers off the chart, a trunk full of awards and an incredible college resume, but lacks what I call “a legal brain.” Or, he lacks the athleticism to keep up at the next level. Or he lacks a reasonable work ethic. Or the always talked-about and intangible football IQ. Regardless, almost every year some super-stud player is projected to revolutionize the game and years later, after the career face-plant, every analyst and expert looks like an idiot.

So, what am I going to do? Against my better judgment here is my “mock draft.” It’s only the top-20 picks so my editor doesn’t kill me for submitting a column that’s way too long and because divine intervention would be required to pick the last 12 for all the aforementioned reasons. Feel free to ridicule me endlessly years from now.

Pick 1: Houston: Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end, South Carolina

Speed, size, talent, he has it all. The doubters do so only because he is that good.

Pick 2: St. Louis: Jake Matthews, offensive tackle, Texas A&M

Offensive tackle is a safe position to pick early, and Matthews might be the safest selection in the draft.

Pick 3: Jacksonville: Johnny Manziel, quarterback, Texas A&M

With Manziel, you get the ability to make incredibly productive plays out of nothing and attract fans that have showed up to nothing.

Pick 4: Cleveland: Sammy Watkins, receiver, Clemson

Another safe pick for a team with two first-round choices. Watkins has all the talent in the world and would compliment Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron perfectly.

Pick 5: Oakland: Blake Bortles, quarterback, Central Florida

Don’t go into the mind of Oakland. It’s a scary place. They need a quarterback and for some reason people love Bortles, despite his lackluster resume.

Pick 6: Atlanta: Greg Robinson, offensive tackle, Auburn

Tackle-needy Atlanta has the wildest draft room party when Robinson, arguably the top tackle on the board with by far the most potential, is selected.

Pick 7: Tampa Bay: Mike Evans, receiver, Texas A&M

After shooting up draft boards with a fast 40 time and impressive workouts, Evans could do some real damage if paired with Vincent Jackson as an athletic deep-ball duo.

Pick 8: Minnesota: C.J. Mosley, inside linebacker, Alabama

A natural leader, versatile athlete and three-down linebacker will be new head coach Mike Zimmer’s second signing bonus.

Pick 9: Buffalo: Khalil Mack, outside linebacker, Buffalo

Mack stays in Buffalo and Buffalo gets arguably one of the best players in the draft. Playing for the University of Buffalo hurt this potential top-five pick’s draft stock, but it will not hurt his career in the long run.

Pick 10: Detroit: Justin Gilbert, cornerback, Oklahoma State

The best corner in the draft goes to a team in desperate need of secondary help.

Pick 11: Tennessee: Kyle Fuller, cornerback, Virginia Tech

Though the Titans will be in tears after Gilbert is picked, Fuller has the potential and talent to be just as good.

Pick 12: New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Michigan

New York’s offensive line was a disaster last season and Lewan is aggressive, great in pass protection and game ready.

Pick 13: St. Louis: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, safety, Alabama

With a pick that satisfies a gaping hole, the Rams get a much-needed leader on the back end.

Pick 14: Chicago: Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh

A spot where Donald’s athleticism, speed and pass rush skills are much needed, despite his small frame.

Pick 15: Pittsburgh: Bradley Roby, cornerback, Ohio State

His only weakness is his inconsistency. Having experience and leadership with Polamalu behind him should maximize his skills.

Pick 16: Dallas: Anthony Barr, outside linebacker, UCLA

Another draft-room party should be in order when a top-ten talent falls to a team with a need.

Pick 17: Baltimore: Zack Martin, offensive tackle, Notre Dame

Martin is the spitting image of Marshall Yanda, a well-loved Ravens All-Pro. Baltimore need help, bad, along the line.

Pick 18: New York Jets: Odell Beckham, receiver, LSU

Beckham will be a difference-maker from day one on a team that makes few differences.

Pick 19: Miami: Eric Ebron, tight end, North Carolina

They need offensive line help, but with no worthy lineman available and a freak talent sitting there in Ebron, it should be an easy choice.

Pick 20: Arizona: Darqueze Dennard, cornerback, Michigan State

Dennard is tough and physical, as Arizona fills a need and continues to build a top-flight secondary.

Hopefully this test has a curve, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut. Maybe I have a gift and will grow to replace Mel Kiper. Regardless, he can keep the hairdo. I would not pick that bad boy if I had a seventh round pick and a roster with no needs top to bottom.

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