So we all know that the NFL Draft is a total mystery. Every year the “experts” write up their mock drafts and tell you where guys are going to go. Then draft day comes and our favorite analyst Mel Kiper will be lucky if he got 10 or so picks right in the first round. But hey, it’s fun to speculate and with a little research into teams’ needs and the draft entrants’ backgrounds we can make an educated guess. As such, what follows is my first NFL Mock Draft of the season. I will update again after the Combine and probably again right before the draft. Enjoy!
1. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers, unlike a lot of teams that end up with the first pick, actually have some nice building blocks on both sides of the ball. Their defense in particular has some players I really like (namely Charles Johnson). Lining their needs up with the guys that figure to be top 5 picks, you get options of Nick Fairley (DT, Auburn) and Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU). I don’t particularly like big corners like Peterson because they usually have to move to safety. I also think the positional value of a corner is lower than a lot of the “experts”. The term “shutdown corner” is thrown around far too much. That leaves us with Fairley. While I don’t think Fairley is quite on the level of Ndamukong Suh as a prospect, he is close. And we all saw the impact Suh had on Detroit’s young defense this past season. Fairley is quick, strong and can take over games at the line of scrimmage.
2. Denver Broncos
With the Broncos moving back to a 4-3 defense, they have quite a few needs on that side of the ball. Elvis Dumervil (assuming he is healthy) will move back to right end. However the rest of the line is a mess. Fairley and Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson) would both be huge upgrades for them at impact positions. In this scenario, with Fairley off the board, the decision should be an easy one for John Elway with his first pick. Bowers is a physical freak at 6’4’’, 275 lbs. He was the top high school recruit in his class and finally put it all together last season. He’s the rare 4-3 defensive end who is both big enough to hold up in run support on the left side and provide an excellent pass rush. These guys don’t come along too often and there is sure to be a few Julius Peppers comparisons thrown around (hint: they aren’t that far off base). There is however some bad tape on Bowers from Clemson, so don’t be surprised if Denver gets scared off and goes with the perceived “safe” pick in Patrick Peterson.
3. Buffalo Bills
The Bills could go a few different ways with this pick and a lot of it depends on which scheme they decide to go with on defense. They showed both 3-4 and 4-3 looks last season, but regardless of which scheme they choose (if they even choose one), they are in desperate need of pass rush help. Von Miller (OLB, Texas A&M) would certainly help there, but he’s a bit too much of a one-trick pony to take this early. I don’t see Chan Gailey going with any of the young signal callers and while they are desperate for a blue chip offensive lineman, there are none in this draft. I think this pick comes down to Marcell Dareus (DL, Alabama) and Patrick Peterson. Dareus makes more sense if they choose to stick with the 3-4 as he would slot in nicely alongside Torell Troupe and Kyle Williams as a classic 5-technique. However, if they go with the 4-3, there’s not a really a spot for him along the line. In that case I could see Peterson being the pick.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati’s needs become reasonably smaller if they can somehow convince Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson (formerly Ochocinco) to stick around. However if both are traded, those positions go from depth needs to primary needs. The physical talents of both AJ Green and Cam Newton (QB, Auburn) will surely mystify the Bengals’ front office. They shouldn’t have any problem with Newton’s off-the-field troubles as they have been a safe haven for players with character concerns recently. If Palmer can be calmed down and convinced to come back, I think Green is the pick. However, if both he and Johnson fly the coop, a full rebuild could be in effect and Newton would look like a good bet to go here. With so many teams needing QB’s and and this draft lacking them, I am betting that Palmer gets traded (as of now). If this happens, I think the Bengals fall in love with Newton, his rocket arm and his freakish athleticism. He will however need a ton of work in terms of mechanics, footwork, running a pro style offense and reading a defense.
5. Arizona Cardinals
I have a hard time seeing Ken Whisenhunt taking a QB and starting a full rebuild here, so I think he goes in another direction. Unfortunately, there’s no OT’s worth taking here because the Cards could really use one. Von Miller would be a huge upgrade to the pass rush, but he has concerns in run support and pass coverage, so he may be too one dimensional to take this high. It’s hard to believe a team with Larry Fitzgerald has a need at WR, but with Steve Breaston and Early Doucet hitting free-agency, there’s zero depth to speak of. This makes Julio Jones (WR, Alabama) an option along with AJ Green if he’s still on the board. However, with all of that said I think Arizona goes with value here and takes the perceived “safe” pick in Patrick Peterson. He’s a big physical corner and will give them a nice complement across from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who struggled a bit last season.
6. Cleveland Browns
Colt McCoy showed some serious moxie last season taking on some tough defenses and fairing quite well for a rookie QB. The addition of a top notch playmaker would be huge and AJ Green would be a slam dunk if he makes it this far down the board. In this scenario, Green is still on the board. If that’s the case come draft day, expect Mike Holmgren to run to the podium full-speed. Green has all the tools scouts look for in a #1 receiver. He’s got speed, hands, size, run after the catch ability, and he’s a vertical threat. I could also see the defensive line being an option. The Browns are switching back to the 4-3 from the 3-4, and there’s not much personnel on hand to fit the scheme. This makes both Robert Quinn (DE, North Carolina) and Cameron Jordan (DE, Cal) fits here as well. However, in the end I think it is most important to give McCoy a young playmaker to throw the ball to. Green fills a need and is probably the best player on the board.
7. San Francisco 49ers
This pick is really looking like a QB to me. Alex Smith has been given plenty of chances and has not been able to stabilize the position. You have to think Jim Harbaugh will want to go get a young signal caller to mold for the future. Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri) will be an option here, and I see Gabbert being a pretty nice fit. His only real question marks are the fact that he played in a spread offense in college and his sometimes curious decision making (comparable to Matthew Stafford a few years ago). Other than that, he has all the tools you look for in a QB prospect.
8. Tennessee Titans
The Titans desperately need a QB, but I can’t see them taking Cam Newton after the soap opera they endured with Vince Young. Corner is a need across from Cortland Finnegan, but I don’t think Prince Amukamara is a fit here. Defensive line is a need and Cameron Jordan would be a nice fit across from last year’s first rounder Derrick Morgan. Jordan manhandled opposing lineman at the Senior Bowl. He may never be a double digit sack guy, but he’s tough, has a non-stop motor, plays the run well and can get to the QB.
9. Dallas Cowboys
The secondary was awful this year. Corner and safety are both huge needs. Prince Amukamara makes a lot of sense and he’s still on the board here. One of the 3-4 5-technique linemen would be a fit as well, but I think Amukamara is the perfect fit both in terms of need and value for the Cowboys here. Don’t expect the Cowboys to use all the time on the clock if he or Peterson are still on the board.
10. Washington Redskins
The needs are plentiful for the Skins on both sides of the ball. QB, RB, WR and OL are all needs on offense and help is needed at all three levels of the defense. With Julio Jones (WR, Alabama) still on the board, you have to think the Skins will be tempted to go with a playmaker for the offense. However, the entire defensive line is basically a hole right now so the best lineman available would make a lot of sense. JJ Watt (DL, Wisconsin) is the prototypical 5-technique and would be a solid building block for Washington’s defense. He’s strong enough to hold the point in the run game and can push the pocket in the passing game. He’s also got a relentless motor and is a leader.
11. Houston Texans
I have to say, Houston’s move to the 3-4 doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. Mario Williams is easily their best defender and his skills will not be utilized properly in that scheme. However, if they are going to make the move, they need a legit 3-4 NT and another edge rusher. There aren’t any NT prospects that would be a good value this high, but Von Miller would be a great addition at the hybrid OLB position. Miller has concerns in run support and pass coverage, but he showed well enough in LB drills at the Senior Bowl to make those less of a concern. His ability to get to the QB would be a huge asset for a defense that really struggled against the pass last year.
12. Minnesota Vikings
Again, QB is a big need here, but this team is built to win now, so a young signal caller doesn’t make a ton of sense. The offensive line, secondary and linebacking cores could all use upgrades. Akeem Ayers (OLB, UCLA) would be a solid addition across from Chad Greenway (assuming he’s re-signed). Ayers is an excellent athlete who is fluid in coverage and solid in run support, but a bit raw as a pass rusher/blitzer. He would be a solid fit in their cover-2 scheme.
13. Detroit Lions
After a horrid stretch of seasons, the Lions managed to win a few games and take themselves out of the top 10 this year. They have some excellent building blocks to work with on both sides of the ball, but their offensive line could really use some help. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, there aren’t any blue chip offensive line prospects in this draft. Corner is also a big need, but after Peterson and Amukamara, there is a big talent drop-off. A speed rusher to help Ndamukong Suh up front could be an option, and there is solid value left to be had there. Because of character concerns, Robert Quinn, a phenomenal talent, falls to 13. The Lions though are renowned for taking the best player available and Quinn could certainly fit the bill here. He’s an excellent pass rusher and would look very nice with his hand on the ground right next to Suh.
14. St. Louis Rams
WR is a big need here as Sam Bradford was throwing to guys off the street last year. And here at the 14th pick, Julio Jones just happens to fall into GM Bill Devaney’s lap. Jones is not the burner that AJ Green is, but he possesses most all the other traits of a prototypical #1 receiver. He’s got great size, is an excellent leaper and can make plays down the field. His hands were in question at one point, but he put a lot of those concerns to rest by snagging balls this season with a broken finger. The Rams will make this pick without hesitation.
15. Miami Dolphins
Running back might be the worst position to draft in the first round. Running backs are found all over different rounds of the draft and they often aren’t productive for more than a few years. Unfortunately, I think Miami has talked themselves into needing a RB since both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are free-agents. Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama) is the consensus best RB in the draft, and as such I see Miami reaching for him here. Ingram isn’t really a game breaker in terms of speed, but he’s got excellent vision, quick feet and a knack for finding the hole. He was also extremely productive in college.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars
I have to say, I was quite impressed with Jacksonville last season. I did not expect them to contend for a playoff spot and they almost snuck in there. The Tyson Alualu pick last year was crucified by the experts, but he turned in a solid rookie season playing next to human mountain Terrance Knighton. These are two solid tackles for the Jags’ defense, but they could use an edge rusher on the outside as they have struggled with their pass rush the past few seasons. Ryan Kerrigan (DE, Purdue) would be an excellent fit here. He’s not going to wow you with his speed, but he gets to the quarterback, makes plays in the backfield and is excellent against the run for his size (6’4’’, 263 lbs).
17. New England Patriots (via Oakland)
The Patriots have an absolute stockpile of picks in the first few rounds of this draft, including two in the first. Their main goal should be to get younger on both lines. Tyron Smith (OT, USC) has probably the most upside of any OL in this draft and could sit a year (to gain weight and refine his technique) while Matt Light winds down his career. He’s a great athlete and has shown great potential in his short time at USC.
Prediction: Tyron Smith
18. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers had a disappointing season, but make no mistake, they are very talented on both sides of the ball. They could use help at right tackle, defensive end and rush LB. Aldon Smith (DE/OLB, Missouri) would be a nice pick for AJ Smith here. Larry English hasn’t developed and right now Shaun Phillips is the only real pass rushing threat for the Bolts. Smith is a freak athlete with long arms who could make the transition from DE to OLB and provide a threat opposite Phillips. He had a bit of a down year, but he is the type of guy who is going to test off the charts at the combine.
Prediction: Aldon Smith
19. New York Giants
The Giants have loaded up on the defensive linemen the last few years while other units of theirs have continued to struggle. The offensive line in particular has shown its age the past two seasons. The Giants could use a young blocker at right tackle right now and eventually to replace David Diehl at left tackle. Both Anthony Castonzo (OT, Boston College) and Nate Solder (OT, Colorado) fit that description. I think Solder would be a better fit as he is a more advanced run blocker and fits the Giants’ scheme better. He’s also a great athlete and has a lot of upside.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Yes, I went old school with “Buccaneer Bruce”. I love that logo! The Bucs badly need a speed rusher to complement their two young tackles they drafted last year. Justin Houston (DE/OLB, Georgia) is undersized, but he showed great pass rushing ability at Georgia. He would take a lot of pressure off of the middle of the line and the young secondary.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City have needs at NT, rush LB, OT and WR. All of the top rush LB’s are off the board and the remaining receivers aren’t really a fit here. Anthony Castonzo is a good pass blocker and would be a solid fit for their zone blocking scheme, but I think big Phil Taylor (NT, Baylor) could be the guy here. Taylor is built like a house (6’4’’, 337 lbs) and has the strength to hold the point of attack at the always important NT position in a 3-4. Taylor had some off the field run-ins at Penn State before landing at Baylor, but I believe their need to plug the middle outweighs their concerns here.
22. Indianapolis Colts
Indy needs help at tackle on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. There are still some solid DT’s on the board, but priority #1 has to be protecting Peyton Manning. Anthony Castonzo is the perfect fit for their scheme and would ensure that Manning stays upright throughout the length of his upcoming contract extension. Castonzo is an excellent pass blocker and an excellent athlete for a man his size. He is very good at pulling and getting to the second level.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles need help on the offensive line if they are going to keep Michael Vick healthy for 16 games. Winston Justice was just given a contract extension, but he really struggled last season. Andy Reid loves big offensive linemen and Gabe Carimi (OT, Wisconsin) has plenty of size at 6’7’’, 327 lbs. He’s agile enough to stick on the outside and is an excellent in-line blocker.
24. New Orleans Saints
The Saints don’t have a ton of holes, but they could really use an upgrade at DT next to Sedrick Ellis. Corey Liuget (DT, Illinois) would be a solid addition. He’s not the biggest guy, but he can get into the backfield and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
25. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle has needs all over the field, but I have a feeling Pete Carroll falls in love with one of the quarterbacks. Ryan Mallet (QB, Arkansas) and Jake Locker (QB, Washington) are both borderline first-round picks. I think Mallet’s on-field production sets him apart here as Locker really struggled this past season and at the Senior Bowl. He’s got excellent size, a great arm and throws a very good deep ball. There are some questions about his character and his footwork, but Carroll never shied away from questionable character guys at USC and I don’t expect him to start now.
26. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens usually do a good job of sticking to their board and getting good value, but they could really use some help at corner. As such I think they take a bit of a reach here. Brandon Harris (CB, Miami) isn’t a great ballhawk, but he’s shown the abilities to be a good cover corner. He’s probably more of a second round talent, but Baltimore is desperate for help in the secondary.
27. Atlanta Falcons
It’s amazing that Roddy White has put up the numbers he has when you take into account the receivers that have been playing opposite of him. I can only imagine what he would do with a capable route runner across from him. Jon Baldwin (WR, Pittsburgh) didn’t put up the biggest numbers last year, but he also didn’t get much help from his QB. Baldwin is a physical freak at 6’5’’, 230 lbs. For a guy his size, he has good speed, though he’s a bit of a long strider and takes time to get to top speed. Some have questioned his character, but there hasn’t been anything substantial uncovered (yet).
28. New England Patriots
New England fortified its offensive line with its first pick and now turns its attention to the defensive line. Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa) had a bit of a disappointing season. However, he is big and strong and could be a nice fit as a 5-technique in New England’s 3-4. He plays the run well and can push the pocket in passing situations.
29. Chicago Bears
The Bears have one very clear need: offensive line. Jay Cutler may not be the greatest QB in the NFL, but no QB can survive when hit as much as Cutler was this year. The Bears will take the best OT left on the board, in this case, Derek Sherrod (OT, Mississippi State). Sherrod is solid in both run blocking and pass blocking, but needs to refine his technique. He is however head and shoulders above any current Bears offensive tackle in terms of talent and could start immediately.
30. New York Jets
The Jets could really use a rush LB to help them get constant pressure on the QB. They simply have to blitz too much, leaving their secondary exposed. However, there isn’t really any value at that position here in this scenario and I think the franchise has been scared off by the lack of development from Vernon Gholston. In that case, I think the Jets target the best defensive lineman on the board in Cameron Heyward (DE, Ohio State). Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce are getting up there in years and Mike DeVito is probably best suited for a rotational role. Hey ward is another lineman who had a disappointing season, but he has the prototypical size to be a nice fit as a 5-technique in the Jets’ 3-4.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers clearly need offensive line help and it only makes sense for them to go to the well one more time and take a familiar name. Mike Pouncey (G, Florida), the brother of Steeler C Maurkice Pouncey, is probably the best interior lineman in the draft. He fits a need and would fit well in Pittsburgh’s blocking scheme.
32. Green Bay Packers
The Packers, fresh off a Super Bowl victory, don’t have a ton of glaring needs. They could use a LB across from Clay Matthews and a LT to groom behind Chad Clifton, but there isn’t one area (assuming they get their injured players back healthy) that is a major red flag. As such, I think Ted Thompson continues his strategy of going with the best player on the board and takes Danny Watkins (G, Baylor). Watkins is an interesting story is he is already 27 and didn’t play football until 2007. He played tackle at Baylor, but working out at guard at the Senior Bowl he showed a real mean streak, excellent strength and good athleticism. He could be an immediate starter and a solid upgrade over Daryn Colledge.