NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Nation mock

We held our NFL Nation mock draft this week on ESPN.com and on SportsCenter.

I took Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the 49ers at No. 30.

But that was not my intention. I tried to trade up. I tried a lot. Spanning picks 15-28, I made nine inquiries. Nine of them. I never truly came close to executing a deal. There was some potential with Kansas City at No. 23. But I wasn’t giving up the No. 30 pick.

I think the 49ers would like to draft twice in the first round, so that was my goal. I wouldn’t worry my lack of trade success will translate into trouble for the 49ers finding a trade partner Thursday night. I think the actual decision makers may be more willing to move back than the folks I was trying to convince.

Honestly, I don’t love the Benjamin choice, but he was really the only way I thought I could go. I would have been much more satisfied if he was my second first-round pick and I was able to get a cornerback earlier. Even without a trade, I thought I might get TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, but his slide ended at No. 28 to Carolina. Yes, I talked to Carolina about a deal, too.

At No. 30, in addition to Benjamin, I considered Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews and Fresno State receiver Davante Adams as well as Auburn pass-rusher Dee Ford. In the end, I went with Benjamin, whose size and skill can translate into big NFL success.

But, overall, I leave this exercise disappointed. I wanted to get a cornerback and a receiver. But no one would play with me.
The Seahawks are pretty tight-lipped about what they might do in the draft, as all teams are. But Seahawks general manager John Schneider made it clear Tuesday what they like to do.

The more picks, the better, and Seattle only has six picks at the moment.

“I think we do a great job throughout the draft of trying to acquire picks and making those decisions along the way,” Schneider said. “We have a track record where I tried to acquire as many picks as we possibly can.

“At the top of the draft, you’re excited about the players, but the further you get into the draft, you wish you had more picks toward the end. There are quality players that you know the coaching staff could work with and coach up. So you always want as many picks as you can.”

With that in mind, don’t be shocked to see the Seahawks try to trade their pick at the end of the first round.

In our live mock draft Tuesday on ESPN.com, I had a deal worked out with Minnesota to give the Vikings Seattle’s pick at No. 32 for their second-round pick at 40 and the third-round pick the Seahawks sent to Minnesota as part of the Percy Harvin trade last year.

However, our Vikings reporter, Ben Goessling, made a last-minute deal with Denver reporter Jeff Legwold to move up to 31, nixing my deal at the last minute.

So I selected UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo in the first round. He fills a clear need for the Seahawks on the offensive line with the player widely-regarded as the second best guard in the draft and a guy who can step in immediately and compete for a starting spot. It’s also possible he could play right tackle after playing a lot at the tackle spot in college, but is generally seen more as a guard in the NFL.

In the real draft Thursday, I still think the Seahawks will trade down if possible, which could depend on how the quarterbacks fall early.

The Seahawks had 11 draft picks last year. This year, the Rams and the 49ers have the most draft picks in the NFC West. St. Louis has 12 picks and San Francisco has 11.

“With all of the picks that the 49ers and Rams have, I hope it will be really confusing for them,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll joked on Tuesday.
PITTSBURGH -- Yep, I was that guy.

The first one who prompted ESPN draft analyst Matt Williamson to really tsk-tsk a pick in the ESPN NFL Nation mock draft conducted Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Barr can bolster the Steelers' pass rush, but the former running back needs seasoning at linebacker.
And I have to imagine that what Williamson typed was much more diplomatic than what came out of his mouth when the former NFL scout saw I had picked UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr for the Steelers at No. 15.

Let me preface my selection by saying that I tried trading down in the first round, something I think the Steelers will attempt to do Thursday night.

I thought I had a deal with Jets writer Rich Cimini when he inquired whether I would swap spots with him in exchange for two fourth-round picks. That would have been ideal as I would have only had to move from No. 15 to No. 18 while pocketing a pair of extra picks in a deep draft.

Unfortunately, Rich let the draft come to him. When it became clear that he would have his pick of a couple of players he liked at No. 18 he pulled the offer.

At least I could take comfort that my demand for a breakfast buffet in the press box when the Steelers visit the Jets this season hadn't been the deal-breaker.

In the end, I only received one trade offer, and 49ers writer Bill Williamson dangling a host of picks -- though none in the first round -- wasn't enough for me to seriously consider.

First-round picks are gold to the Steelers and no way could I give this one up, no matter how deep this draft is.

LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller were still on the board when the Steelers were up at No. 15. And believe me, I strongly considered each player.

But I hadn't anticipated Barr being there as well.

In the end I couldn't pass on a player who could bolster the Steelers' pass rush as well as provide immediate depth at a position where they sorely need it.

Nothing will help the Steelers' defense regain its swagger more than if they add some teeth to their pass rush. Only five teams had less sacks than the 34 the Steelers managed in 2013.

And the outside linebackers on the Steelers' roster have a combined 24 career sacks -- one-half more than what Barr produced in his final two seasons at UCLA, where he didn't exactly play against intramural teams in pads.

Barr didn't record any sacks his first two years in Westwood, and there is a good reason for that: He played running back.

After growing two inches, the 6-5, 255-pounder moved to outside linebacker before his junior season, and he promptly dominated. Barr's 13 1/2 sacks in 2012 were second in the country only to Jarvis Jones, the Steelers' first-round pick last year.

He is still a baby at his position, which makes Barr far from a finished product. Let him learn the position from new defensive assistant Joey Porter, who is fifth on the Steelers' all-time sacks list with 60. Let him improve his strength, something Jones has had to do after his first NFL season.

In the meantime, Barr can provide depth behind Jones and Jason Worilds, and contribute on special teams as well as a situational pass rusher.

There are no guarantees with Worilds as there is a question as to whether the Steelers are committed to him beyond 2014. That uncertainty makes outside linebacker as pressing a need as any that the Steelers have.

They need to groom a possible replacement for Worilds. The Steelers also need to help a defense that has 20 interceptions in the last two seasons combined -- one less than they had in 2010 -- create more turnovers by collapsing pockets.

And they can never have enough outside linebackers, which is as important as any position on their defense.

Some see Barr as a player who is not instinctual and not strong enough against the run. I see a player who has a knack for getting after the quarterback and has a high ceiling.

If he is willing to work there may be no better situation for Barr than the Steelers.

He can learn from Porter, learn from linebackers coach Keith Butler, learn from defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau -- and he doesn't have to be rushed into the starting lineup.

If Barr slips to the Steelers in the first round, and they don't trade down, they should take him.

The draft is exceptionally deep at wide receiver. It is also strong as cornerback.

Address those positions later in the draft and go with a player who has a chance to be a real difference maker on a defense that desperately needs more of them.
We at NFL Nation celebrated the home stretch of the lead-up to the NFL draft with a mock version, with 32 reporters taking the place of 32 general managers.

As I continue my countdown to the draft, just two days to go now, I'll look back on what was a fun process.

We started this countdown with 15 days to go. Each day I examined a number that correlated to the number of days remaining. At 15 we looked at the 15 times the Texans' offense turned over the ball during the 2013 season. At 14, the team record number of catches in a game, set by Andre Johnson. And so on.

And now ...

2. The number of trades I made in our first-round NFL Nation mock draft.

If you checked out our live mock draft, I traded the first overall pick to the Buffalo Bills. In exchange for the first pick, out Bills writer Mike Rodak gave me the ninth and 41st picks this year, his first- and second-round picks next year and his third-round pick in 2016.

I began the process by putting out feelers to see who was even a little bit interested. I spoke with every team in the top 10 except for Tampa Bay. No rhyme or reason to that, it just slipped my mind. Lions writer Mike Rothstein wanted to include Nick Fairley in a trade, but I couldn't see him being a fit in Houston. Cleveland, Atlanta, St. Louis, Minnesota and Oakland weren't interested. Jacksonville asked for a chance to match my best offer.

Buffalo's was the first fictional general manager I tried, and ultimately the one that worked.

To start, he offered me just this year's second-round pick and next year's second-round pick. Total lowball.

I knew he wanted Clowney, and I knew I wanted at least one future first-round pick, so I asked for two future first-round picks in addition to those two second-round picks. I stressed that I had interest from another team who also wanted Clowney and the only way to get him would be to get the first pick.

It was too steep a price and would set back the franchise too much, he told me, but came back with an offer that matched up great on the trade value charts. I let him know another team asked for the chance to match (which was true, Mike DiRocco's Jaguars had), but he stood firm with his offer. As I expected, DiRocco wasn't interested in parting with that much, given the Jaguars' needs.

Dropping all the way down to nine made me a little bit nervous.

My plan was to pick up Bortles there, because I think Texans coach Bill O'Brien likes him and wants to develop him. I worried about the Vikings taking Bortles just because he was there, or someone else who wanted him jumping ahead of me. I swapped a fifth and sixth rounder for the Vikings' eighth pick. The Texans are heavy at the bottom of this draft.

In retrospect, I could probably have waited until the ninth pick, or even traded down again and still taken Bortles. But that was the quarterback I wanted, and there was a limit to the risk I'd take.

I'll be surprised if anyone offers the Texans that much in the real thing ... which is only two days away. Hooray!
If you haven't seen it, you should probably check out our first ESPN NFL Nation mock draft, which we did live Tuesday. It's definitely interesting with the Buffalo Bills kicking things off by trading their first-round pick (No. 9 overall), a 2015 first-round pick, 2015 third-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick to the Houston Texans to move up eight spots to No. 1, where they took South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Playing general manager for the Chicago Bears, we didn't make any splash trades, and instead, stuck to filling a need in taking Louisville safety Calvin Pryor at No. 14.

Rich Cimini, who covers the New York Jets for NFL Nation, offered a trade -- a third-round pick -- to swap spots, moving the Bears to No. 18 overall. But with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Aaron off the board already to Detroit and St. Louis at Nos. 10 and 13, I didn't want to risk losing targeted prospects by moving back four spot.

Obviously, with hindsight being 20-20, I probably would've taken the trade knowing what I know now. Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosely doesn't come off the board until 17th, while Justin Gilbert, Ra'shede Hageman and Kyle Fuller stick around until picks No. 21, 23 and 24. Knowing that, I probably would've pulled the trigger on the trade, drafted one of the players above and scooped up the extra draft pick.

Either way, Pryor addresses a need for the Bears, which currently have openings at both safety spots. Despite picking up Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray in free agency, I'm not convinced any of those players is the answer for one of the starting jobs. Meanwhile, Chris Conte is coming off shoulder surgery and could start training camp on the physically unable to perform list. So why not intensify the competition for the starting safety jobs by adding a promising prospect in Pryor, who could turn out to be an intimidating presence on the back end if he can win a starting job as a rookie?

At this point, it appears Chicago's most pressing needs come along the defensive line and in the secondary.

So a defensive tackle would seem to provide the most value at 14 for the Bears, but with Donald already off the board, it just made more sense to grab Pryor, who possesses the potential to come in and start.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- One by one, many of the players the Green Bay Packers likely covet in the first round of this year's draft came off the board in our NFL Nation mock draft on Tuesday.

The top-two safeties -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor -- were both gone, taken by NFC North teams no less.

The top-two inside linebackers -- Alabama's C.J. Mosley and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier -- were both gone, with Shazier lasting until the pick right before the Packers.

The top tight end -- North Carolina's Eric Ebron -- was long gone.

Four receivers also were gone.

If that happens on Thursday when things are for real, who knows what Packers general manager Ted Thompson will do?

After fielding two trade offers -- including one from a quarterback-needy team within the division and one from a familiar NFC team that is a possible postseason opponent -- I decided to stick at No. 21 and make the pick.

The primary reason was that Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert was still available even though cornerback is not among the Packers' top needs, although it could be in 2015 if Tramon Williams, who is in the last year of his contract, is done and if Micah Hyde's move to safety becomes full time.

Gilbert also has kick return ability. He had six career kickoff returns for touchdowns in four seasons at Oklahoma State, and the Packers have a need at the return spot.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, in his latest mock draft, has Gilbert moving up the board more than any other player, having jumped from No. 22 to No. 11 in the last week.

Picking at No. 21 is a tough spot, especially if things unfold anywhere near how they did in Tuesday’s mock. As one NFL scout said on Tuesday when presented with the Packers' scenario in the ESPN NFL Nation mock, there are probably only 17 or 18 real first-round picks, and Gilbert is one of them.
If the Titan face a scenario like I faced on their behalf in our NFL Nation mock draft Tuesday, they could trade down and still land quite a player.

Ebron
Eric Ebron, Taylor Lewan, Aaron Donald, Calvin Pryor, Anthony Barr, Zack Martin, C.J. Mosley and Justin Gilbert were all available at No. 11.

I chatted with Jets reporter Rich Cimini before the draft about a possible trade: The Titans would have sent No. 11 and 141 in the fourth round to the Jets for No. 18 and 49 in the second round.

Trade down as low as seven spots and the worst the Titans could do was land one of that pool.

But when the time came, Cimini had lost interest in that deal and I was less willing to move because I had a guy I think will be gone and is too good to pass up –- Ebron the tight end from North Carolina.

The Titans aren’t tight end-desperate by any means.

But we’ve seen some two-tight end situations crush defenses, starting with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in New England (before Hernandez was charged with murder).

In Cincinnati, Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham are promising duo. Last year, the Eagles got a combined 68 catches for 971 yards and 10 touchdowns out of Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. If Dwayne Allen is healthy and Coby Fleener gets better, Andrew Luck could lean on a pair of tight ends.

And in Tennessee, if Ken Whisenhunt was calling plays for an offense with both Ebron and Delanie Walker, I think it could be tremendous.

Think of Kendall Wright in the slot on one snap and Ebron there the next. How many guys in the league have a chance at covering the small, shifty Wright and the giant, strong Ebron? Defenses would struggle trying to keep up.

The Titans have two former NFL tight ends, Whisenhunt and tight end coach Mike Mularkey, as part of the offensive staff as well as offensive coordinator Jason Michael, who coached tight ends in San Diego. With the Chargers, Ladarius Green was emerging as a nice supplement to Antonio Gates.

Craig Stevens is a solid blocker, but a non-threatening pass-catcher who just took a pay cut. Taylor Thompson is on the verge of busting.

I think the Titans like Ebron. I think he’d be a hard guy to pass up.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- An elite pass-rusher and a franchise quarterback. Not a bad haul in the first round in the NFL Nation mock draft that was held on Tuesday afternoon.

Bridgewater
Mack
Each of the NFL Nation bloggers whose team had a first-round pick acted as general manager and made picks they thought the team they cover would make. In doing my best David Caldwell impersonation, I grabbed linebacker Khalil Mack with the third pick and then jumped back into the latter part of the first round and landed Teddy Bridgewater at 29.

Here's what I was thinking as the draft unfolded ...

I actually went after Jadeveon Clowney. I had some discussions with Houston reporter Tania Ganguli to move up to No. 1 but I felt the price was too high. The Jaguars need to continue to build the roster and I thought losing as many picks as she wanted was not the best approach. Ganguli managed to work out a deal with Buffalo reporter Mike Rodak, though. I wrote about that the Mack selection and how he would fit with the Jaguars earlier Tuesday.

I didn’t really consider taking a quarterback at No. 3 because I wasn’t completely sold on any of them that high. It would have been too risky of a pick and right now the Jaguars can’t afford to take those kinds of risks.

However, when Bridgewater dropped into the teens I got interested, and when he was still on the board at No. 20 I knew I needed to take a shot to land the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft and a guy I believe can be an elite quarterback.

So I exchanged a few emails and texts with New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss, who had let everyone know he was open to trading down, in an attempt to work out a trade for the 29th overall pick. Complicating things was the fact that another team got into the mix.

After some quick back and forth, Reiss and I settled on this deal. In exchange for the 29th pick I agreed to give him the Jaguars’ second-round pick (39th overall), one of their two fourth-round picks (114th overall), one of their three fifth-round picks (150th overall), and their seventh-round pick (222nd overall).

I felt it was a good deal because I still have a fourth- and two fifth-round picks and eight picks total, which still gives me some ammunition if I wanted to trade back into the third round. Plus, I got the quarterback I wanted more than any other.

I know he had a poor pro day workout, but the bottom line is he's the most pro-ready quarterback and he has more experience in a pro-style system than any of the other quarterbacks. When you put on the tape there are no reservations about Bridgewater.

There are some bad throws and bad decisions, as there are with any quarterback, but the tape shows a quarterback who has good feel and mobility in the pocket, goes through progressions, and has a strong enough arm to succeed at the NFL level.

Not a bad start.
Each of ESPN.com's 32 NFL Nation reporters took part in a mock draft on Tuesday, and trades were allowed. That added a fun twist to mock draft from a Patriots perspective.

The task for reporters was to make the decision that we thought the team would, not what we would do personally.

Because I believe Bill Belichick favors a trade-back scenario in this year's draft if the right opportunity presents itself, the main thing I was looking for was if a quarterbacks slipped to the bottom of the first round and if that created any trade activity. That's exactly what unfolded, as by around pick 16 there were calls from the Jaguars and Vikings. If the player they wanted was stil there at No. 29, they wanted to know what it would take to get back in.

The baseline was last year's trade, which netted the Patriots second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks from the Vikings. If that volume or quality of picks wasn't a possibility, talks would have to include a 2015 first-rounder.

Things moved quickly, with the Jaguars (picking near the top of each round) ultimately offering this package:

Second round (39th)
Fourth round (114th)
Fifth round (150th)
Seventh round (222nd)

I was pretty far down the road with Jacksonville when the Vikings sweeted an offer that was also compelling:

Second round (40th)
Third round (96th)
Fifth round (141st)

At that point, I felt like ethically I was far enough down the line with the Jaguars that I couldn't back out of the trade and take the Vikings' offer. That lack of killer instinct might be frowned upon by Belichick, or perhaps he'd still like getting four picks for his first-rounder just to move back 10 spots from No. 29, especially when he's taking those picks from a team within the conference.

Either way, I thought both deals would be solid and if that type of scenario unfolds Thursday night, I think Belichick would be pleased.
ESPN’s NFL Nation held a mock draft Tuesday afternoon. The mock was only for the first round, so of course that means the Indianapolis Colts didn’t have a pick since they gave their first to Cleveland for running back Trent Richardson last season.

So for the fun of it, let’s take a look at who the Browns picked at No. 26.

ESPN.com Cleveland reporter Pat McManamon has the Browns selecting receiver Cody Latimer out of Indiana.

I wrote a post Tuesday where receiver is a secondary need behind safety for the Colts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks will be free agents at the end of next season.

Latimer had 72 receptions for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last season with the Hoosiers.

Safety is the primary need for the Colts.

The two best safeties in the draft – Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor – were selected by Detroit and Chicago at No. 10 and 14, respectively.

The Colts need to find a replacement for Antoine Bethea, who signed last month with San Francisco.
Yes, serving as San Diego Chargers general manager for the NFL Nation mock draft, I would have liked to trade out of the No. 25 overall selection and get more picks, particularly with so many needs to fill.

But with Cleveland already taking a quarterback in Johnny Manziel at No. 4, no suitable offers were made by QB-needy teams looking to move back up into the end of the first round for San Diego’s first-round pick.

So the Chargers stood pat, played it safe and selected Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III.

The Chargers gave up 4.59 rushing yards per carry, No. 27 in the NFL, last season. Nix fills an obvious need up front, reuniting with former Fighting Irish teammate Manti Te'o. His presence in the middle should help keep Te’o and fellow inside linebacker Donald Butler clean.

Auburn edge rusher Dee Ford and UCLA interior offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo were also considerations.

Yes, cornerbacks like Jason Verrett and Bradley Roby were still on the board. But the Seattle Seahawks have proven you can get productive corners later in the draft if you select talented players that fit your scheme. Starting corners Richard Sherman (fifth round, 2011) and Byron Maxwell (sixth round, 2011), along with nickel corner Jeremy Lane (sixth round, 2012) were all late-round selections.

Through shrewd talent evaluation and good coaching, the Seahawks developed one of the best defensive backfields in the league.

For those thinking Nix won’t play enough to warrant a first-round selection, the person he would replace, Cam Thomas played 453 snaps in 2013, or 47 percent of San Diego’s defensive snaps. So the Notre Dame product will play enough to make an impact.

Look, in the trenches and at quarterback is where games are won in the NFL. And 6-foot, 200-pound corners and receivers are easier to find later in the draft because there are just more players with those measurables and athletic ability.

However, 6-3, 300-pound players with good movement skills are not as plentiful. That’s why teams push defensive linemen who can play up the draft board. It’s not a given Nix would be available at No. 57 when the Chargers select in the second round.
In ESPN's NFL Nation mock draft, I had the Baltimore Ravens select Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley with the 17th overall pick.

I know what you're going to say. What about taking a safety? Why not take an offensive tackle? Shouldn't the Ravens trade down?

My answer: No, no and no. Mosley is an immediate starter with Pro Bowl potential. The Ravens couldn't pass on such an impact player. This was a "best player available" pick more than a need one.

Inside linebacker isn't a priority. The Ravens re-signed Daryl Smith this offseason and invested a second-round pick in Arthur Brown last year. But, unlike both of those players, Mosley can be the centerpiece of this defense for next decade. Brown could be another second-round pick who needs more time to develop (like Paul Kruger, Chris Chester and Terrence Cody).

The NFL Nation mock draft didn't do the Ravens any favors. Some potential targets were gone by the time the Ravens were on the clock: Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix went to the Detroit Lions at No. 10, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron was selected by the Tennessee Titans at No. 11 and Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin was taken by the Dallas Cowboys at No. 16.

One option was trading back, something the Ravens have done quite often over the years. ESPN's team reporters from the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers inquired about trading into the Ravens' spot, so there was an opportunity to move back in the first round and acquire more picks.

Mosley, though, represented too much value at No. 17. He's the consensus top inside linebacker in this draft, and Mel Kiper Jr. has him rated as the draft's No. 9 prospect. If the Ravens weren't going to be able to move back and get Mosley, the Miami Dolphins would've selected him at No. 19.

Other considerations were a highly rated cornerback like Kyle Fuller or an offensive tackle Morgan Moses. In the end, Mosley was the pick because he is a difference-maker.

Why I drafted Mike Evans

May, 6, 2014
May 6
4:31
PM ET
In case you missed it, we conducted our NFL Nation live mock draft Tuesday.

I made the selection for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 7. It turned out to be one of the easiest things I've ever done.

With no hesitation and no viable offers to trade down, I quickly selected Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans. Yeah, I would have considered Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, whose speed might make him a better fit for the Bucs, but he was already gone.

Evans is a big receiver just like Vincent Jackson, who already is in Tampa Bay's lineup. Putting Evans and Jackson is going to cause matchup problems for some defensive backs. The Bucs still need a slot receiver, but they might be able to find that later in the draft. In time, Evans can be an eventual successor to Jackson as the No. 1 receiver.

I had two other thoughts in mind when the draft started. One was to take quarterback Johnny Manziel, which is something I think the Bucs could do in reality. But that wasn't an option after Cleveland took Manziel at No. 4. It was the same story for offensive tackle Jake Matthews, who went No. 6 to Atlanta.

In the end, Evans was the only logical choice for me.
At the risk of sounding like a cinematic preview, we'll start here: What would you do if you knew you would be fired within the year? How would you act? What decisions would you make? How much would your risk tolerance rise?

As the NFL draft approaches, there are key employees of one franchise who can and should be asking those questions. The Buffalo Bills have been in a unique transition period since owner Ralph Wilson's death in March. Wilson's family has opted against inheriting the team, the search for a buyer is well underway and a daunting industry precedent faces its current decision-makers.

The chart illustrates repercussions of the past four NFL teams to be sold, not including family inheritances. In summary: The general manager/personnel director and coach were replaced within a year in seven of eight possible instances. (In the eighth, the Miami Dolphins botched an attempt to hire Jim Harbaugh, cornering themselves into another year with coach Tony Sparano in 2011.)

So if history can be a guide, Bills general manager Doug Whaley and coach Doug Marrone have a different long-term outlook than any other leadership duo in the NFL. Barring a dramatically improved 2014 season, they won't have one. Sooner rather than later, new owners install their own handpicked decision-makers, largely independent of performance or reputation. (The most dramatic example: Jerry Jones firing Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry in 1989.)

I'm fascinated to see how the Bills approach this week's draft, a time when teams implement their long view. Will Whaley and Marrone act conventionally and in essence build for another regime's future? Or will they take some risks and think in unconventional ways, whether they are motivated by self-preservation or simply the freedom from consequence?

That's why I was more intrigued than I was shocked during Tuesday's NFL Nation mock draft, which began with a bold move by Bills reporter Mike Rodak. The details can be found here, but in essence Rodak sent five draft picks over a three-year period to the Houston Texans in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, with which he selected South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

The conventional response, of course, is that no team should mortgage its future for a non-quarterback -- no matter how rare a talent Clowney might be. The Bills, however, aren't in a conventional situation, and I for one hope they capitalize on it.

This is not to endorse trading up for Clowney as much as it is to support the idea of going for broke. What do the Bills' decision-makers have to lose?

When you look at the roster, centered around a questionable commitment to quarterback EJ Manuel, you sense that their best chance for competing in 2014 is with a dominating defense. In this particular case, imagine Clowney -- or even Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack -- lining up with a defensive front seven that already includes Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kiko Alonso.

Remember, this is a defense that finished 2010 ranked 10th in the NFL in terms of yards allowed. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was hired as the Cleveland Browns' head coach and has been replaced by the highly qualified Jim Schwartz.

It's almost crass to suggest that Whaley and Marrone would be motivated purely to convince the Bills' next owner to retain them, and I don't know that to be the case. Whaley, for one, is entering his first draft as an NFL general manager and might not be willing to act counter to convention.

But the circumstances are ripe for the Bills to part from the crowd, think independently and not worry about the consequence of reaction. Let's assume Whaley is fired and, two years from now, interviews with another owner for a general manager job. Asked to defend or explain an unconventional 2014 draft, his answer should be easy: I wasn't worried about getting fired or what the public might think. I had an opportunity to draft an elite player to build on our team's strength, and I took it.

This wouldn't be self-preservation as much as capitalizing on a rare instance to make decisions in a vacuum, knowing your job evaluation is already written. Unfettered by a fear of getting fired -- chances are that it's just a matter of time for Whaley and/or Marrone -- how would you act? Boldly, I hope. We'll see.
So our 32 NFL Nation team reporters conducted a mock draft, one in which trades were allowed. It was a fun exercise, one that required some on-the-clock decisions. Picking for the New York Jets, I ended up selecting wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

There was an opportunity to trade up to the Pittsburgh Steelers (15), and an opportunity to move down to the New Orleans Saints (27). Ultimately, I decided to stay put at 18, picking Beckham over cornerback Justin Gilbert, wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Kyle Fuller. It was a tough call. Frankly, I think cornerback is a bigger need than wide receiver, but I've heard the Jets really like Beckham, as do a lot of teams.

Truth be told, I don't think Beckham will make it to 18 in the real draft. Based on what I'm hearing, I wouldn't be surprised if he's off the board several picks before the Jets. He's a hot player right now. As I noted yesterday, it wouldn't shock me if the Jets trade up for a receiver (perhaps Beckham), trying to get ahead of the Steelers, who have similar needs. In our mock draft, the Steelers picked linebacker Anthony Barr, saving me the trouble.

The full mock is now available. Check out the blockbuster trade at the top.

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