Alright, news and notes are flying around, and the draft is a month away. I can’t wait. My newest mock draft takes into account the most recent happenings in the NFL (as of March 24th), how I rank the players, as well as team needs, team histories, and the dirt on what’s been going down during workouts and scout evaluations. Dream big!!!
1. Detroit Lions- Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia: The Lions probably have to take Stafford here. I don’t like the pick for them, I think they can wait to get a quarterback next year, or even later in the draft, but it is what it is, and they have no future stud quarterback and they are a floundering franchise, and they have the top pick in a class that has no clear number one – so they’ll do what almost any other franchise would do in that situation and grab the big upside quarterback, and they’ll likely find themselves right back in this spot next year with a quarterback that they’re still not sure about, but maybe there will be a number one that seperates himself, and hopefully for the Lions that isn’t Sam Bradford. As much as I hate to admit it, Stafford is probably the pick the Lions will choose. Seeing as though the Lions will likely have a shot at a solid OT with the 20th pick, because it’s a deep position, they probably have to make this move. Stafford teaming up with Britton or Oher makes more sense than Jason Smith and Josh Freeman, in my opinion. I would take Jason Smith here and a stud defensive prospect at #20, but I’m a front line guy – I don’t build teams the Lion way…
2. St. Louis Rams- Jason Smith, OT, Baylor: I thought the Rams would make a pick like this even before they released one of the better offensive tackles of all time, Orlando Pace. With the big OT gone, they’ll take their pick of the deepest position in the draft. Jason Smith looks to have the most upside and the best motor, a fantastic combo for your QB protector to possess, and thus he’ll likely go here.
3. Kansas City Chiefs- Aaron Curry, OLB, Wake Forest: The Chiefs need to get better in more than a few places, and they’ll likely consider taking offensive line help here. But, with a defensive difference maker available for one of the league’s worst defenses, a guy that many consider the best overall talent in the draft, Curry seems to be the best fit at #3.
4. Seattle Seahawks- Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia: Seeing that the defensive tackle spot wasn’t very deep, and probably deciding that they didn’t want to throw their 4th pick at B.J. Raji, the Hawks went ahead and traded one of their playmaking linebackers to pick up a solid young DT that has upside. That leaves the Hawks in a great place to get better where they need help the most. They’ll take either Aaron Curry or Eugene Monroe. I have the Chiefs grabbing Curry at 3, which will get Monroe, the most polished and consistent left tackle in the draft, a plane ticket to Sea-Tac.
5. Cleveland Browns- Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas: First of all, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mangini and the Browns make a move that changes their need and or pick selection heading into the draft. Right now lets assume that all the players on the Browns roster stay in Cleveland. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brian Orakpo go here. Mangini took a chance on a hybrid backer last year, and Orakpo is a much better player with more “now” skills than Vernon Gholston was, and he has the same sack happy upside as last year’s top pick.
6. Cincinnati Bengals- B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College: Cincinnati needs defensive help. I don’t think they could make a better pick at this point than Raji. B.J. is a beast and has excelled in key off-season areas such as the senior bowl and the combine. Put that performance together with his hard work at Boston College and you have a great prospect at one of the draft’s weakest positions. This might be too smart of a pick for the Bengals.
7. Oakland Raiders- Andre Smith, OT, Alabama: Not even God knows what Al Davis and the Raiders will do now. Some like to think that Michael Crabtree will be the guy, and while he certainly is the most popular and well known prospect here, I’m not so sure he’s even Al’s favorite WR prospect. That might go to lightning quick Maclin or physical freak Darrius Heyward-Bey. That being said, I think the Raiders stun the masses, skip over elite skill players, and grab Andre Smith. The big tackle has seen his stock tumble a bit, but I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he finds his way into the Top 10. The Raiders don’t seem to care much about character, and personality aside, Smith is one of the most talented big men in this draft.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars- Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech: The Jaguars should count their blessings if Crabtree falls to them. It’s not often that you get an elite offensive NFL talent in a position you desperately need. There are a few people with their heads slammed directly up their hoo-hoo’s that think the Jaguars need to go quarterback here. Because Garrard is 31. Please. This isn’t running back here, and it’s not like Garrard failed last season without any real receiving threats and no offensive line. The Jaguars could take Oher or maybe even an awe inspiring selection of Rey Maualuga, amongst many others, but Crabtree is everything they’ve asked for since Jimmy Smith got caught in the life cycle aging process.
9. Green Bay Packers- Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State: The Packers seem like they’re looking for more of a “now” player than Aaron Maybin might be, but I really like the Penn State product. The Packers might be choosing between him and Everett Brown, and while I like Brown’s athleticism, I happen to think Maybin’s upside is greater. Both are young players that need some time. but Maybin could be special and the Packers should go that direction.
10. San Francisco 49ers- Mark Sanchez, QB, Southern California: If the Raiders go dumb and take the most impressive 40-time or just find better value in another positioin, that might leave Andre Smith here for Iron Mike and the 49ers. If that’s the case, I don’t see them passing up on the big OT even though his “work ethic” might not roll with the former Bears great. However, Mike can motivate a mole to sunbathe, so one of the most talented OTs in the draft at pick 10 would make sense. Since he’s not here in my mock, that leaves two choices I see the 49ers choosing between – Mark Sanchez and Jeremy Maclin. I like Shaun Hill, but he’s not a future pro-bowler by any means. Sanchez has the leadership and work ethic that Mike Singletary and his staff would love. Maclin would give the team a nice gamebreaking option on a team that relies too heavily on Frank Gore. For a team building for the future, Sanchez gets the nod. All in all, there might be a couple teams looking to shoot up to grab Sanchez. If there’s an option out there, the 49ers could pass on the SC product.
11. Buffalo Bills- Everette Brown, DE, Florida State: If there’s any team that needs defensive playmakers as much as the Detroit Lions, it’s the Buffalo Bills. Everett Brown might be a bit of a tweener, but he’s a physical freak of an athlete that does everything he can to put pressure on opposing backfields. Brown could play OLB for the Bills, but could immediately give them pass rush help on passing downs.
12. Denver Broncos- Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU: If there’s a dying breed of player it’s the DE in a 3-4 scheme. With pass rushers getting faster and more athletic, the big space eating ends that do it all have almost disappeared. Jackson is the only real player out there with a first round grade. The Broncos need a lot of help, mostly on the defensive side of the ball, and Jackson looks like a great fit to start his career with first year coach Josh McDaniels in Denver.
13. Washington Redskins- Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi: The Redskins could stun a few folks here by grabbing Jeremy Maclin. Maclin would be a nice number 2 option, the one they were looking for when they spent two first day picks on receivers that disappointed last year. He would allow Randel-El to work in the slot where he’s more effective, and relieve some deep help on Santana Moss. However, I think the Redskins give their young receivers another year to establish themselves and take a chance on an elite offensive tackle prospect in Michael Oher. They need help protecting the quarterback, if you watched them in the 2nd half of 2008, that fact is obvious. Oher might have moments where he shows his youth, but those team with moments of greatness.
14. New Orleans Saints- Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State: If the Saints draft a running back here, you can’t even begin to imagine the failing grade I’ll give them on draft day. They have a great pass catching back in Reggie Bush, one they spend a ton of money on. They also have an even better back in Pierre Thomas, one they don’t seem to like much despite his elite production when given a chance. Beanie Wells is still on the board, but if they know what’s good for them, the Saints will leave him there. Maclin is also available, and you never know what Payton will trick his GM into doing, but Jeremy should stay on the board as well. This team needs to take a chance on defense, and get their offensive help later in the draft. Brain Cushing, Peria Jerry, or Michael Jenkins are three options I like here, with Jenkins being the best for the Saints. He may not have timed out well in the 40, but he has great ability to help a defense that stinks at just about everything.
15. Houston Texans- Brian Cushing, OLB, Southern California: Could the Texans draft Jeremy Maclin? A kid whose gamebreaking ability projected higher than this pick in the draft? The Texans have solid offensive talent, and they probably don’t “need” Maclin, but what a tandem that could be… Still, that’s my fantasy hopes busting into my real football knowledge, and that’s very unlikely to happen. What else is unlikely to happen? The Texans taking a running back this high, so those who expect Beanie or Knowshon to be a Texan, think again. I think the Texans could improve if they got help at defensive end, and maybe outside linebaker (though I do like Xavier Adibi and his future with the club). Brian Cushing could be an immediate impact guy, a linebacker that is effective on all downs – something that shouldn’t be overlooked. I think Cushing is a bit of a reach here, but he fits. A freak like Michael Johnson could really benefit from all the attention Super Mario gets, but he’s even more of a reach because of his inconsistency. I think Cushing fits the bill here.
16. San Diego Chargers- Rey Maualuga, ILB, Southern California: What a difference a year makes. The Chargers came into the ’08 draft with the “pick the best player, we don’t have any huge needs” thing going for them, and everyone thought they’d be a Super Bowl contender. As it turned out, they struggled like a fish out of water just to make the playoffs, but once they got there it looked like they belonged. But the off season hasn’t done much to secure the make-up of this team. Merriman is expected to be back after missing most of the ’08 season, and LT fixed his contract which allowed him to stay. Darren Sproles looks to get more touches in 2009, but the Chargers could still use some help making holes for their two headed running back monster. With LT back, I don’t think the Chargers will waste an early pick on a running back, no need to spend another 6 million on the RB position. Vincent Jackson’s immergence, Antonio Gates greatness, and Chris Chambers’ consistency seems to keep any focus off the skill positions in Round 1, even though it’s not all about needs. If Jenkins falls this far, they have to grab the corner/safety. He’s too solid to pass up for a team that ranked 31st in pass defense and I think he could play anywhere for them. They could take a shot on a guy like Vontae Davis but I wouldn’t go there. I think they end up taking Rey Maualuga. The USC product is a tackling machine, and they could really use a sure thing in the middle of their defense.
17. New York Jets- Beanie Wells, RB, Ohio State: Coles absence and Maclin falling right into their laps gives the Jets a great option here. They could go for Freeman if they really think he could be the long term answer, but Maclin is a big time game breaker that can do things most players can’t. He’d help the field position game and allow the Jets to use Cotchery’s skill set more appropriately. At 17th overall, this kid might be a steal for the Jets. However, the I have this feeling that the Jets might grab the first running back in the draft. Thomas Jones is talking hold out, and he wants a raise (and probably deserves one, despite his age), so they could cut him loose and draft a back with all the talent in the world. This would allow them to use Leon Washington more, a guy that has proven his worth when he gets the touches. Thunder and Lightening? Lots of ways the Jets could draft under their new staff – but I’m throwing my wild card out there with the OSU big back.
18. Chicago Bears- Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland: Heyward-Bey is a physical specimen, no doubt about that – but there’s not doubt in my mind that Maclin is the better receiver. However, in Chicago this big bad fast son of a gun might be the perfect fit. He and Devin Hester could prove to be a tough combo to cover. If Mark Sanchez is still here, I think the Bears go with the USC product. As is, they are looking for more explosion and while Bey might not be the immediate answer, his upside and elite numbers likely get him the nod in Chicago.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri: More than a few people have Josh Freeman going here. I don’t think that’s the best move for the Bucs, especially with an elite prospect falling into their laps. Antonio Bryant did big things in Tampa last season, but Maclin would only assure the explosive nature of the offensive weapons being gathered in Tampa. This team has a solid offensive line, so nice running options, and will have a nice plethora of receiver options with Kellen Winslow, Bryant, and Maclin. Probably not a need, but the best prospect on the board is Maclin if the speedster falls this far.
20. Detroit Lions (from Dallas)- Jerry Peria, DT, Mississippi: The Lions traded a promising young defensive tackle to grab perrenial Pro-Bowl OLB Julian Peterson from the Hawks. Getting this quick underrated tackle would be a great bargain because after Peria the talent level at the position really drops off. The Lions need lots of options, no doubt about that, they could go with a project like Robert Ayers, OT Eben Britton, or if they decided to go with Jason Smith in Round 1, Josh Freeman maybe? Like I said, there will be a lot decided by draft day, but as is Peria would be a nice pick for the Lions here, especially with the strengths of the draft the way they are.
21. Philadelphia Eagles- Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia: I see Moreno as a Maurice Jones-Drew type runner, a smaller back that runs with elite physicality and power. A guy that is super quick and not afraid of contact at the same time. Moreno has all the athleticism to be a run and catch player for the Eagles, and while Philly has always looked for a big back to compliment Westy, they may walk right into the Brian Westbrook of the future. They don’t run exactly the same, but I do think Moreno has a high ceiling. Now, it’s unlike the Eagles to grab a running back in the 1st round, they are usually more interested in line moves, but even if the don’t go with Moreno here, I don’t think they’ll go for the line. Robert Ayers is an interesting option, but Brandon Pettigrew is my wild card. The big TE does it all, and with L.J. Smith moving teams (and having been hurt for more than a few games over the last couple years), Brandon could be a nice option for McNabb in the passing game. Still, I like Moreno’s fit in Philly.
22. Minnesota Vikings- Percy Harvin, WR, Florida: What a threat Percy could be as a change of pace guy with Adrian Peterson and a receiver both out of the back field, out wide, and in the slot. Harvin has freakish moves in the open field, and definitely will be a difference maker when healthy in the NFL. Do the Vikings need Harvin? I’m not so sure, but the fact that they went after T.J. Houshmanzadeh makes me think this is a possibility. Harvin and AP would form a disturbing duo for opposing defenses, and that’s something the Vikings could look forward too. And instead of stealing carries from AP, both could spend every down on the field together, with Harvin split out wide.
23. New England Patriots- Clay Matthews, OLB, Southern California: The Patriots need an outside linebacker, definitely, but there’s more than a few and though Matthews has been climbing the board like slick bottle rocket, I’m not sure that he’ll be a lock for New England at 23. It wouldn’t stun me for a second to see the Pats grab a guy like Brandon Pettigrew. He’s a very good blocker with very good hands and a great frame for red-zone activities and physical first downs through the air. He may not fit everything they do offensively, but a football player that does everything well seems like something they dig. As is, I think they go for Clay Mathews here because of his similar skill set. He does things well. He has a chance to start from Day 1 in New England, and this is a team ready to win now.
24. Atlanta Falcons- Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois: Lots of players to choose from for the talented yet youthful Falcons. I think Brandon would be a great fit for a run-first team that keeps their tight end blocking most of the time, but would love to have a useful option to sneak out into passing situations when needed. Pettigrew doesn’t run with the speed of an elite pass catcher, but he’s athletic, has great hands, and is one hell of a blocker. And I don’t think the Falcons would trade the third one for great speed, not the way they run their offense. That being said, Pettigrew is a TE, and I don’t know if the Falcons have enough talent to go tight end in Round 1. He may be more of a sure thing, but the Falcons need defensive help something fierce. They lost two starting linebackers and a starting corner on a defense that wasn’t elite to start with. So lets say they can’t afford to go TE here. Assuming that, Vontae Davis is on the board, and despite his knocks, he’s one of the more physically talented corners in the draft. That’s enough to take him at 24, something the Falcons might very well do.
25. Miami Dolphins- Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee: I think Michael Johnson has all the ability to be one of the best pass rushers in this draft. He just needs to find the motivation to do so. Being a top 10 talent and dropping to 25 might be enough. Spending time on a Bill Parcells run team might be even more help. This kid is a freak, and has the athletic ability to even be considered as an OLB in the 3-4, at least I think so. However, I don’t know if a questionable motor guy is Parcells’ cup of tea, and thus he will probably get passed up again here. They could also go for Vontae Davis, as they certainly could use help in that secondary. However, I think they’ll take Robert Ayers. This kid was solid on a bad defense last season. He practices and plays well, and despite his mediocre times at the combine, has proven to be effective on the football field, using his skills and a solid motor. More Parcells style maybe? I think so.
26. Baltimore Ravens- Eben Britton, OT, Arizona: This kid is solid, and this offensive line needs to get some young help (at least for the future) for franchise quarterback Joe Flacco. Britton has great upside and with a monster frame and great quickness, he might be a steal at 26. I’m not sure that he’ll last this long with the importance of tackles and the way they seem to be screaming off the board over the past few years, but if he does go this far, the Ravens would be smart to grab him. Other options could be Vontae Davis, or maybe they go for an even bigger project with more freak upside like Michael Johnson – and use that strong willed defense to turn him into a rush linebacker sack artist. As is, I like Britton going here.
27. Indianapolis Colts- Evander “ZIGGY” Hood, DT, Missouri: Weird, the Colts are hurting for defensive line help on the interior. Hood is dancing up the draft charts, and for good reason. He’s very athletic and quick for a defensive tackle, and would fit well in the Colts system, if they indeed stay in that system. Some have said they’re looking for more size up front, but Hood is the best available, and the Colts could definitely use him.
28. Philadelphia Eagles (from Carolina)- Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State: Without a tackle to grab here, I wonder if the Eagles will even risk it by taking Moreno with their first of two picks in Round 1. That being said, I’m not going back on my picks because of the way the draft panned out, and the Eagles can go a couple different directions with this pick. They could grab Hakeem Nicks right here. They have a solid young receiver in DeSean Jackson, but Nicks would look nice on the opposite side. Still, they need help on the offensive line, even though they got better by signing Shawn Andrews’ big brother, Stacy, from the Bengals, they could still use a guy like Max Unger for the future. But I’m going with Pettigrew here because the kid is a stud, they just lost an injury plagued L.J. Smith to Baltimore, and Pettigrew not only helps out with the passing game but in the run game as well. He’s more than the 28th best player in this draft. I expect him to help from Day 1.
29. New York Giants- James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State: I really like Hakeem Nicks, and while I don’t think the Giants need to run and pick up the best receiver available because of Plax’s situation, I think Nicks is a nice receiver. Receiver galore in Round 1 though? I’m not so sure. Plus, as much as I like Nicks, the guy put on 15 pounds between the combine and pro day workouts, and is up over 225. Don’t be a pig for 30 days, help your draft stock, I mean come on man…. I think they could find a lot to like at the position in Round 2, and should instead build up their line in the draft with a guy like Max Unger or Alex Mack or maybe linebacker. And trading down is always an option, especially if they like a couple receivers here and don’t see need to pick another one in Round 1. All that being thrown about, I think the Giants see something they like in James Laurinaitis and go get him. He’s not great at shedding blocks, but D-line has been a power for the Giants, and James should do good things behind that group.
30. Tennessee Titans- Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech: Could they go receiver here? Yes, they could try once again to snag a competent starting receiver, but it’s a strong position with many players to be had – why would they pass on a chance at the second coming of Javon Kearse (during his freak days of course)? Michael Johnson has that freakish athleticism and size and the Titans can grab the kid and have him learn from some team greats. He won’t be needed on every down right away, and he has upside to burn. I think they skip taking the 5th 1st round receiver and go for upside on the D-line. I like to wait on receivers, so I’m expecting the Titans to pick without fantasy hopes on the line here. Hakeem Nicks might be the guy, but in a weighted coin flip I’m going with Johnson.
31. Arizona Cardinals- Alex Mack, C, California: LeSean McCoy is my favorite here because I love the running back’s vision and acceleration. However, I think adding a great young center, a guy that can play a couple positions and is basically a sure fire solid starter, seems like the right move. They have a young back they like in Tim Hightower, so getting him help up front might be a better move that tossing a first round pick at another back. Later in the draft is the time to add depth, not Round 1. Another option would be Hakeem Nicks if Boldin is traded. I think ‘Quan will sign a deal with the Cards, however, so that’s “a moo point, like a cow’s opinion, nobody cares”. So I’m skipping over my favorite back in the class for one of my favorite O-line leaders.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers- Max Unger, C/G, Oregon: The Steelers will have options. But if the draft unfolds like this, I don’t think they spend another high pick on a receiver, they let Hakeem Nicks fall dreamily into the lap of another suiter in Round 2. They take Max Unger because the Steelers could use O-line depth, and they are a smart franchise. Unger is a beast, he can play multiple positions, and he’s always been the leading force of great Oregon rushing attacks. Last pick in Round 1 should be a great one for the Steel-City.
Best Available After Round 1:
1. Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina
2. LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh
3. Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest
4. Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut
5. Ron Brace, DT, Boston College
6. Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers
7. Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State
8. Phil Loadholt, OT, Oklahoma
9. Louis Delmas, S, Western Michigan
10. Conner Barwin, DE, Cincinnati
11. Darius Butler, CB, Connecticut
12. Clint Sintim, OLB, Virginia
13. Larry English, OLB, Northern Illinois
14. Derrick Williams, WR, Penn State
15. Jamon Meredith, OT, South Carolina
16. Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida
17. Shawn Nelson, TE, Southern Miss
18. Shonn Greene, RB, Iowa
19. Rashad Johnson, S, Alabama
20. Sean Smith, CB, Utah
21. Andy Levitre, OG, Oregon State
22. Chase Coffman, TE, Missouri
23. Gerald Cadogan, OT, Penn State
24. Patrick Chung, SS, Oregon
25. Mike Thomas, WR, Arizona