The draft must get tired of being mocked. Every day it’s ridiculed mercilessly by bloggers and draft gurus, and it just sits there and takes it. Poor little guy.
This is the first of two (maybe three if you’re lucky) mock drafts that we’ll do during the NFL season of screens with smoke and little fire. The grand finale will come during the week of the draft, when yours truly hosts a collaborative effort with Devang Desai and Alen Dumonjic. We’ll rotate picks, so in a small sense it’ll be like a real draft, and we’ll also be loaded with Red Bull and five-hour energy drinks. So yeah, it’ll definitely be like sitting in a real draft room.
For now, though, you’re stuck with me. I didn’t wait long to take my first risk which will likely lead to anger, and an assortment of rotten vegetables hurled in the general direction of my groin. So I’ll just wait for you to read Ryan Tannehill’s name, and then I’ll duck. Cool?
Let’s do this…
1. Indianapolis Colts: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford — Sure, the gap between Luck and Robert Griffin III isn’t a gap at all, and it more closely resembles a sidewalk crack. But that doesn’t mean a true race exists here, despite whatever useless smokescreens Jim Irsay is casting off. The Colts will take the true pocket passer, and the prospect who’s been compared to John Elway and/or Peyton Manning.
2. Washington Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor — Now it just becomes simple math. The Redskins paid a sizable fee to move into the No. 2 hole knowing that one of the top two quarterbacks will be available. It’ll almost surely be RG3, but they’re fine with Luck too if the Colts surprise us.
3. Minnesota Vikings: OT Matt Kalil, USC — Fueled by desperation, the Vikings reached last year and took Christian Ponder 12th overall. Ponder appeared in just 11 games, but he was still sacked 30 times. Offensive line fortification is needed fast if the Vikings want to get the proper return on the steep investment they made in Ponder.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M — Barring a trade, the top three are set, and this spot could be the cornerstone for the entire draft, or at least the top 15. There’s well documented and significant risk with Tannehill despite his promising upside, most notably the fact that he only had one full season as a starter for the Aggies. But if the Browns don’t trade out of this spot, it’s much better to invest that risk in a quarterback and address a glaring need if one is available (and hey look, Tannehill is available), instead of spending a top five pick on a running back. Trent Richardson will almost surely be a stud, but this is a passing dominated league now, and a running back’s shelf life is far too short. With their 37th overall pick the Browns can take either Lamar Miller or Doug Martin and get an RB to play behind Montario Hardesty and provide insurance and upside. Let someone else take the risk on Richardson, like, say, the Bucs…
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama — Richardson’s NFL life expectancy is still far too short in this spot, but herein lies the problem he presents in the top five. He’s a rare, elite talent at the position, and he warrants the right to occupy top five real estate. So if he falls and there aren’t especially massive needs elsewhere, Bucs GM Mark Dominik simply can’t allow him to fall further. LeGarrette Blount is entering the final year of his contract, and Richardson will look kind of awesome running behind Carl Nicks. The difference between the draft strategies in Cleveland and Tampa Bay is that despite his regression last year, Josh Freeman was a first-round pick just three years ago, and he showed great promise for the Bucs in 2010. Colt McCoy was selected much later, and the Browns are still waiting on him to show that he’s a long-term NFL starter.
6. St. Louis Rams: CB Morris Claiborne, LSU — There’s talk of Claiborne going as high as third. But if the draft plays out like this with both needs and a calculated risk by Cleveland prompting a mini tumble for the draft’s best defensive player who’s been compared to former teammate Patrick Peterson, then the Rams have to pounce. Cornerback may not necessarily be an area of need, so a trade down here is also possible.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State – The cupboard is nearly bare for Blaine Gabbert, and teams were able to blitz constantly and leave their secondary in single coverage with the passing game presenting a minimal threat. Blackmon will change that quickly.
8. Miami Dolphins: OT Riley Reiff, Iowa — The best tackle on the board goes to the team that allowed 52 sacks last year, which was only three ahead of the league worst Rams.
9. Carolina Panthers: DT Dontari Poe, Memphis — There’s been concern over Poe recently, with Mike Mayock noting that despite his impressive Combine performance, his game tape still doesn’t look great. He may need some time to mature, but if they’re wise the Panthers will sign on for his tremendous upside, and then show a bit of patience.
10. Buffalo Bills: DE Melvin Ingram, South Carolina — Even after the blockbuster free agency signings a defensive end is still ideal in this spot if Ingram falls because of Buffalo’s plan to switch to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. Ingram had 15 sacks in 2011 for the Gamecocks.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College — Justin Houston had 3.5 sacks over his last five games of 2011. So with him taking care of the outside along with Tamba Hali and Kuechly on the inside with Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs’ linebackers would suddenly be very scary.
12. Seattle Seahawks: DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina — Another team that benefits greatly from a player dropping due to needs elsewhere. Coples will be solid against the run, but he’ll also fill the pass rushing void left by the departure of Anthony Hargrove.
13. Arizona Cardinals: WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame — Floyd will immediately upgrade Larry Fitzgerald’s running mates, and hopefully be a valued asset in the success of the Kevin Kolb experiment.
14. Dallas Cowboys: OG David DeCastro, Stanford — This may feel a touch early for DeCastro, but the Cowboys are among his pre-draft visits, and Tony Romo punctured a lung last year while his O-line gave up 40 sacks.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: SS Mark Barron, Alabama — This would have been a spot for Dont’a Hightower, but with DeMeco Ryans aboard to address a run defense that was historically bad for much of last year, safety becomes the next priority.
16. New York Jets: OLB Whitney Mercilus, Illinois — The nation’s leader in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (9) will quickly restore youth to a team with a pass rush that regressed last year. Calvin Pace isn’t getting any younger, or healthier.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland): CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama – Kirkpatrick fills a hole that’s still empty after Johnathan Joseph’s departure last year, and it’s especially vacant with Leon Hall still recovering from a ruptured Achillies.
18. San Diego Chargers: DE Courtney Upshaw, Alabama — Upshaw has tumbled down some boards, but he was still a beast in Nick Saban’s defense with 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss.
19. Chicago Bears: OT Mike Adams, Ohio State — This would have been the ideal landing spot for Kendall Wright. But after the Brandon Marshall trade, keeping Jay Cutler healthy and upright continues to be a priority. Chicago’s offensive line allowed 49 sacks in 2011.
20. Tennessee Titans: WR Kendall Wright, Baylor — Sure, the Titans’ current receiver corps is young and promising. But with the 23-year-old Kenny Britt progressing well in his rehab, if young Jake Locker wins the starting job over Matt Hasselbeck he’ll have two elite wideouts at his disposal if Wright is taken in this spot.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: OG Cordy Glenn, Georgia — With DeCastro gone and the need at cornerback already addressed, Glenn makes the most sense with his versatility that should allow him to slide over and also play tackle.
22. Cleveland Browns (From Atlanta): WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech — Reach much? Maybe. But as I wrote earlier in my Tannehill justification, this is a team that needs to take a few calculated risks, and as risks go, Hill isn’t nearly as difficult to forecast as Tannehill. If they can also grab Martin or Miller early in the second round, this draft will be a massive success for Cleveland, and they’ll have addressed their three most pressing offensive needs with their first three picks.
23. Detroit Lions: CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina — Janoris Jenkins is arguably the most talented CB still on the board, but he’s opened up his own red flag store, where he specializes in the design and manufacturing of his own unique brand of flag. With Mikel Leshoure contemplating a marijuana diet and Nick Fairley also busted for pot this week, Jenkins’ flags are enough to shift the Lions to Gilmore.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Dont’a Hightower, Alabama — Pittsburgh cut the aging James Farrior, and even though he’s still producing at a high level when healthy, James Harrison hasn’t been able to reverse the human aging process either.
25. Denver Broncos: DT Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State — Many mocks have Cox coming off the board much earlier, with talking hairpiece Mel Kiper Jr. giving him to Philly at No. 15. That could easily happen, but with greater worries elsewhere, the best defensive tackle available falls to Denver, a team looking to upgrade its rush defense.
26. Houston Texans: OLB/DE Nick Perry, USC — The run on WRs led to the disappearance of first-round worthy prospects at the position to act as insurance against another Andre Johnson injury. The next priority for Houston is finding a pass rusher to replace the pocket pressure that went to Buffalo with Mario Williams.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans): DT Michael Brockers, LSU — The desire to upgrade a putrid secondary is clear in New England, but since Bill Belichick has two first-round picks (assuming he doesn’t trade down, which is a horrible assumption) that can wait for four more picks.
28. Green Bay Packers: OLB/DE Andre Branch, Clemson — Cullen Jenkins departed for Philadelphia through free agency last August, and the impact of his absence in Green Bay was underestimated. Clay Matthews had little help, and an elite pass rush in 2010 quickly became tame.
29. Baltimore Ravens: C Peter Konz, Wisconsin — Matt Birk was re-signed, but at 35, his clock is ticking loudly. While Birk plays out his golden years Konz can slide over and fill the hole at left guard left by Ben Grubbs’ move to New Orleans.
30. San Francisco 49ers: OG Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin — This could be an ideal landing spot for Stephen Hill, whose projections are widespread early in April. But since he’s gone to Cleveland in this mock, it’s a little early for the next WR on the draft board (Alshon Jeffrey), and the depth at guard is far too thin in San Francisco.
31. New England Patriots: CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama — If he doesn’t trade out of this spot, red flags, attitude problems, and disgruntled castaways haven’t scared Belichick yet. All he sees is talent that can fill a need.
32. New York Giants: TE Coby Fleener, Stanford — Martellus Bennett was signed so that the Giants have a somewhat experienced tight end on their roster after the dual Super Bowl ACL tears by Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum. But grabbing the draft’s best tight end will provide further confidence at the position and fortification.