Albright makes his NFL draft prognostications

Now that the combine and players’ Pro Days are over, it is time to draw up Joe Albright’s Mock Draft 2.0.

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles and University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack have improved their stock considerably while Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has definitely fallen out of the No. 1 spot with his miserable Pro Day performance.

I wrote in my last column that Bridgewater would be the No. 1 pick, but now am no longer convinced he is.

So how will the top five picks play out now that all the top players have shown what they can and can’t do. Read on for my shot at attempting to nail the first five draft picks … again.

The Houston Texans, who appeared on track to take Bridgewater, are now faced with a dilemma similar to 2006.

During the 2005 draft, the Texans were torn between with drafting either the best defensive player, Mario Williams, or the best offensive player, Reggie Bush. The Texans selected defensive help in Williams while the Bush went second. While neither player has had the greatest career, Williams so far has had a better time of it in the NFL than Bush. Yes I know Bush won a Super Bowl in 2010, but he was injured and didn’t contribute much to the championship.

So does history repeat itself in 2014? Yes, though my colleague Dave Poe is of the impression Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel should be the top pick, citing if he goes elsewhere and succeeds, the Texans would look like fools.

Manziel is also smaller than Drew Brees, lacks the arm strength of Brees and whose body isn’t likely to hold up to the pounding of NFL defenses. Further, he sticks by the fact Manziel was a winner in college and his experience should help him succeed in the NFL. Sadly though, college success does not translate into NFL wins – just ask his fellow Heisman Trophy winners Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, Troy Smith and Sam Bradford.

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s talent, strength and speed are special and will help him compete for starting time immediately. The Texans are looking to get J.J. Watt some help in getting through double-teams and getting to the quarterback – particularly Andrew Luck and whoever starts for the Titans and Jaguars who we will get to in a minute – and Clowney is just that. Though he has baggage, his talent justifies the risk of being taken No. 1.

Owning the second pick are the St. Louis Rams, the only first-five drafting team that hasn’t had to rethink its approach with the recent shakeup at the top. The Rams know their needs and, barring a trade, will select either an offensive lineman or wide receiver. I’m pretty confident about this, given the Rams recently worked out 6-5 wide receiver Mike Evans from A&M and the fact the team requires a skilled offensive lineman to protect Kellen Clemens or Sam Bradford.

Auburn’s Greg Robinson looks as if he will win out over Evans and be the first O-lineman to go in the draft because of his overall talent and ability to compete for a starting job right away.

Chaos rears its ugly head again when Jacksonville goes on the clock at No. 3. If Clowney is available, the Jags will take him. However, if Clowney is gone, Jacksonville should fill its next biggest need quarterback. Manziel should still be available, but so should Bortles, who has shot up draft boards in recent weeks and would be a Jacksonville favorite.

Having said that, wide-outs Sammy Watkins of Clemson and Evans will also be available and one of those paired up with Justin Blackmon will prove too enticing for the Jags to pass up, which is why they too will wait to draft a quarterback.

The Cleveland Browns, the owners of the fourth pick, made headlines last week by signing quarterbacks Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen to compete as backup behind probable starter Brian Hoyer, sidelined since knee surgery last October.

Those of you who read my last column know I predicted Manziel would be the “Savior of Cleveland,” which is unlikely to happen with at least three experienced NFL quarterbacks on the roster.

So who will the Browns take? My bets are on either a wide receiver to pair alongside Josh Gordon or a linebacker.

If the Jaguars select Watkins or Evans, expect the Browns to take whichever one is left, regardless of how good any available linebackers may be.

Rounding out the top-five pickers are the Oakland Raiders, who like the Rams, aren’t really sweating all of the pandemonium swirling around them and their initial draft selection. The Raiders know they need to improve defensively, and have recently shied away from LB Anthony Barr and are looking toward Mack more and more.

Will all of these picks pan out? I have no idea and am really glad I didn’t put any money down on my first predictions. Maybe next year, I will wait until after the combine before I make such bold predictions and share them in my column.

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