First-Round Mock Draft
God I love the Draft! I love how in one weekend the future of the NFL is forever altered. I love the trades, I love the second-guessing, I love Chris Berman getting loopy as ESPN heads into the tenth hour of coverage, I love the last player in attendance sitting there praying to get picked soon so ESPN can stop shoving cameras in his face (two years ago Aaron Rogers put on a performance for the ages in this role), and mostly I love watching all the college football highlights four months after the season ended. Like I said earlier, for junkies like me the NFL Draft is a football oasis in the desert of April. By the way, my favorite draft site on the planet is NFL Draft Countdown - Scott Wright is a true draft freak and he does a tremendous job putting as much information as possible out there. I don't agree with all of his projections but I'll take him over Mel Kiper any day of the week. Anyway, here's my first mock draft of the season. Obviously a lot's going to change after the all-star games, NFL combine, free agency, and pro days are over but I think this is a pretty good starting point:
1. OAKLAND RAIDERS (QB, OL, WR, RB, DT)
QB JaMarcus Russell, LSU
The Raiders offense in '06 was one of the most pathetic units on either side of the ball that I've seen in a long, long time. There are a ton of statistics and anectodes I could throw out to prove just how sucktacular Oakland was this year, but the one stat that sums it up the best is this: the Raiders were last in turnover differential at MINUS-TWENTY! Two-zero! That's incredible. You almost have to try to suck that bad and in fact if you watched Oakland play O last year it did appear that the quarterbacks were throwing to the wrong team on purpose at times (maybe they just liked the other team's DBs better than they liked Randy Moss). The situation under center simply has to change. Enter Jamarcus Russell, a giant for the position that's exactly the kind of big-armed QB Al Davis wants. Russell's still raw and he won't fix all the Raiders' problems right away but he's already better than anything they've got and if Moss could ever extract his head from his own ass he and Russell could form a lethal combo as good, if not better, than Daunte Culpepper and Moss formed back in Minnesota.
2. DETROIT LIONS (QB, DE, S, CB, WR)
QB Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
Is there anyone in America who's worse at his job than Matt Millen? Okay, yes there's George W. is there anybody else? Despite being blessed with hands-0ff owners who remain free-spending even after losing $11 billion dollars, and an array of high draft picks to spand that money on Millen has managed to run this once-proud franchise into the ground with a series of fuck-ups too long to recount here. One of his biggest oversights was investing heavily in skill-position athletes without ever adequately addressing his offensive and defensive lines, so it's almost inevitable that on draft day when Joe Thomas - the best offensive tackle prospect to come along in at least five years - is sitting there for the taking you can bet the farm that Millen will grab the glory boy from Notre Dame. Don't get me wrong, I think Quinn can be an excellent quarterback and he's a huge upgrade over the Jon Kitna, who made more turnovers than Betty Crocker this season, but at some point the team from Motor City needs to invest in some Mack Trucks for the front lines. And here's a scary question foryou Detroit fans: since Charles Rogers and Mike Williams appear to be on their way out would Millen consider taking another first-round receiver in Calvin Johnson? And if so, would that necessarily be a bad thing? I mean, how far can you go with Mike Furrey as your #2? One thing's for sure, with Millen involved this promises to be one of the more entertaining picks in the top 10.
3. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (OL, CB, DT, WR, TE)
WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
The Buccaneers have to get better play from their offensive line if they want to become competitive again, but after investing their first two picks last year on linemen I can't see them going that route again. They also need an infusion of youth on the defensive side of the ball, since that unit has apparently lost the ability to create turnovers or pressure the quarterback. But more than anything they need a gamebreaker who can make plays on offense and along comes Calvin Johnson, the best wide receiver prospect since Keyshawn Johnson went #1 overall to the Jets in '96. In many years Johnson would be the #1 pick as well, but due to team needs I think he'll fall into the Buccaneers lap and they'll be happy to have him. With his incredible combination of size, speed, and hands he should help the 'Bucs offense in a number of ways, from catching balls to drawing double-teams to blocking. Michael Clayton hasn't worked out as a lead receiver and Joey Galloway is getting up there in years so in my mind this is a total no-brainer for Tampa Bay.
4. CLEVELAND BROWNS (OL, DE, S, WR, QB)
OT Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
Here's another team that has neglected its front lines - the Browns have only taken one lineman on Day One of the draft in the last three years (DT Amon Gordon) - but Cleveland has a coach that understands the importance of offensive line play and if he's available I have no doubt the Browns will snatch up Thomas. They may be tempted to grab Calvin Johnson if he's still available, but after investing in Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards you've got to figure the Browns have higher priorities than picking up more receivers. Thomas may not be an exciting pick, but he's the right one for Cleveland.
5. ARIZONA CARDINALS (OL, DT, MLB, DE, S)
DT Alan Branch, Michigan
Much like the Lions, the Cardinals find themselves with excellent players on the edges that are limited by the poor play of the lines. Arizona's offensive line play last year was flat-out awful and really that's the area they need to address the most. Unfortunately for them, outside of Joe Thomas there really isn't an offensive lineman worthy of a top 5 pick so I could see them trading up for Thomas or trading down if Calvin Johnson somehow falls to this spot. But, if they stay in the five-spot I think they'll address their other glaring weakness, the middle of their defense. They could reach for a safety but I think they'll take the best defensive tackle in the draft and that's Branch, a huge man with quickness and pass-rushing ability who was the centerpiece of Michigan's top-rated defense this year. By teaming Branch with Darnell Dockett and Gabe Watson the Cards could find themselves with a talented young tackle rotation that should help shore up the run defense. They could also use a pass rusher and I'm sure Gaines Adams will get some consideration here, but great defenses are built from the inside out so I think Branch is the right call.
6. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (DT, DE, S, LB, WR)
DE Gaines Adams, Clemson
The Redskins find themselves in an awkward position; the offense really let them downthis year, yet that was the side of the ball they invested a ton of resources into. Do you blow it up all ready and start over, or do you give some love to the defense? I wouldn't be surprised to see them trade this pick for extra picks or for an established player, since they seem to prefer that route, but if they stay at #6 I think they'll take the oppotunity to address a terrible pass rush that was led by Andre Carter with only six sacks for '06. Gaines Adams is the top defensive end out there, and although there are some questions about whether or not Adams may be better suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense after watching the guy play for the past two years any FSU fan will tell you he can really get after the quarterback. This could be another really interesting pick in the top 10, though.
7. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (WR, TE, DE, LB, CB)
WR Dwayne Bowe, LSU
The Vikings were good at running the ball and stopping the run this year, but they didn't make the playoffs bacause they couldn't make plays in the passing game. At this point it's abundantly clear that Troy Williamson isn't a #1 receiver and I don't know who they can get to fill that role in free agency (actually, could Moss be an option? Hmmmmm). In my mind Dwayne Bowe was an unrecognized superstar in college football, and although this is higher than he's being rated right now I think that after the all-star games and the NFL combine are through he's going to skyrocket up draft boards. By taking Bowe - a big, physical receiver who is simply too much for most CBs to handle one-on-one - the Vikings can make Williamson more of a #2 receiver and deep threat specialist while picking up a big weapon for young quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. If Southern Cal's Dwayne Jarrett runs well in testing he could also be an option here but right now there are questions about his speed, so Bowe is the pick. The Vikings could also really use a pass-rusher and if Gaines Adams falls this far I think they'd have a hard time passing on him but I don't think that's likely at this point.
8. HOUSTON TEXANS (RB, CB, S, DE, QB)
RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
Passing on Reggie Bush and Vince Young clearly pissed off the football gods because they've been smiting the shit out of Houston ever since. Domanick Davis' right leg immediately exploded and to make matters infinitely worse it now appears that David Carr could be on thin ice. But the Texans earned some karma back by taking DeMeco Ryans, the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and soime building blocks for the offensive line. Now it's time to take the next step by adding a super-duper-star running back in Peterson, who may have been the #1 pick if he could have come out as a freshman. Behind an improving line AP could finally give Houston a consistent threat out of the backfield which would help Carr and Andre Johnson in the passing game. I really don't think the Texans have a choice if Peterson is there for the taking; if they pass on another star their fans might just burn down that fancy new stadium, and frankly who could blame them?
9. MIAMI DOLPHINS (QB, OL, DT, TE, CB)
OT Levi Brown, Penn State
The Dolphins finished a disappointing 6-10 despite having the NFL’s 4th-ranked defense and an array of offensive weapons with great potential - four players caught more than 50 passes and Ronnie Brown had his first 1,000-yard rushing season - but disappointing productivity, finishing just 29th in scoring offense. Obviously the big hole is at quarterback but there are no available quarterbacks worthy of a pick this high. The offensive line could sure use some work though. Levi Brown may be a bit of a reach at this point but he's been a solid performer throughout his career at Penn State and has played well against top competition. And he has added value by allowing Venon Carey to move inside, fixing two holes with one pick. Why don't I have a job doing this for real?
10. ATLANTA FALCONS (WR, S, LB, CB, DE)
FS LaRon Landry, LSU
Ahhhh, the Dirty Birds. Anyone who watched Atlanta this past season knows the receiving corps is still the unit that needs the most fixing, but after sinking a ton of draft picks and free agent dollars into the position there's just no way Atlanta can take another receiver here. So the Falcons move on to the next most-busted group, the safeties. Chris Crocker and Lawyer Milloy were brought in to replace Atlanta's previous group of ineffective deep men, and while they did improve the run support they're both useless in coverage. After picking up Jimmy Williams last year the Falcons are still trying to fix their secondary and the bast way to do that is to pick Landry, a playmaker who was productive throughout his college career and excels against both the run and the pass. The explosive Reggie Nelson could also be a possibility here but I think Landry fits the Falcons mold a bit better. Atlanta could also decide to build up depth at defensive end, an area that's been cursed with injuries lately, and reach for local boy Quentin Moses of Georgia but I think Landry is the safer and smarter pick.
11. SAN FRANSISCO 49’ERS (CB, WR, S, LB, DT)
CB Leon Hall, Michigan
This year the 49’rs started to see signs of improvement from their young offense but the defense still isn’t up to par. When a team is often behind, i.e. their opponent is more likely to run, and they’re still in the bottom ten in passing defense you know they’ve got coverage issues. Leon Hall grew into one of the anchors for Michigan’s defense and although he’s susceptible to the big play he’s also an impressive package of sped and size. The race to be the #1 corner taken is far from over and candidates like David Irons or Aaron Ross could climb up to this spot, but right now Hall seems the most likely candidate to step in and help right away, and San Francisco needs all the help they can get.
12. BUFFALO BILLS (OL, DT, CB, WR, TE)
DT Amobi Okoye, Louisville
Buffalo addressed the secondary last year in the first round and the passing game finished 7th in the NFL. Now it’s time to fix the 28th ranked run defense. Sure, some of that rushing yardage was due to a lot of teams being ahead and trying to ram it down the Bills’ throat, but there were also holes in the defensive front. A 19-year-old college senior, Okoye is a tremendous prospect with a lot of room to grow as a player, and by all accounts he already plays with a maturity far beyond his age. The Bills aren’t afraid to take chances in the draft and this risk is one that's likely to pay off.
13. ST. LOUIS RAMS (LB, S, WR, OL, DT)
OLB Lawrence Timmons, Florida State
It seems like the Rams have been looking for outside linebackers forever and the best candidate to fix their problems at the position this year is Timmons, a versatile linebacker who was stout against the run and also handled coverage responsibilities well for the ‘Noles. Penn State’s Paul Posluszny could be another candidate here but the athleticism of Timmons is a better fit for St. Louis’ style of...you know what, I really don't want to talk about it because I get a little emotional when I think about Timmons moving on. Give me a minute...
Let's just move on.
14. CAROLINA PANTHERS (OL, DT, WR, QB, S)
OT Justin Blalock, Texas
Like a lot of teams near the top of the draft the Panthers are in need of offensive line help and I think this is about where it makes sense to pull the trigger. This may be a bit high for Blalock but with a shortage of marquee lineman in this draft he'll get a boost in position thanks to his skills and his versatility in being able to play guard or tackle. The Panthers could also look at adding another weapon at wide receiver and there are some intriguing defensive line prospects out there, but if the Panthers are going to become contenders again they first need to fix their offensive front.
15. DALLAS COWBOYS (FS, OL, LB, CB, DE) trade with PITTSBURGH
FS Reggie Nelson, Florida
If Nelson falls out of the top ten I have to think the Cowboys would start making inquiries with every team ahead of them about trading up. As much as I want Pat Watkins to grow into Dallas’ free safety of the future Nelson is a guy who can step in and change their defense right away. He would free up Roy Williams from a lot of his bothersome coverage responsibilities so he could just focus on hurtin’ people, and Nelson could help out in that aspect as well. The Steelers seem like the most likely candidate to trade down because they can pick up a linebacker or a quality offensive lineman later in first round.
16. GREEN BAY PACKERS (CB, OL, DT, S, RB)
RB Marshawn Lynch, California
This draft is fairly deep in running backs but I there’s only two guys in the top tier – Peterson and Lynch. The Packers need to continue overhauling their skill position players and the venerable Ahman Green is on the downside of his career, and while Vernand Morency and Noah Herron provide some depth neither is a long term solution. Lynch has a chance to be special and would give Green Bay an important weapon that could help ease the transition to whoever succeeds Favre at quarterback.
17. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (QB, CB, OL, WR, DE)
DE Jamaal Anderson, Arkansas
The Jaguars have spent most of their recent top draft picks on building up the offense, so now it's time to give the defense a boost. Jacksonville was stout on D in '06 but there's still room for improvement, especially at defensive end. Enter Anderson, an underrated player who thrived against top competition and would be a great building block for the future. I could also see Jacksonville grabbing one of the talented cornerbacks still out there, but Anderson is a potential top 10 talent and if he falls this far the Jags will be getting a gift that they can't pass up.
18. CINCINATTI BENGALS (LB, DT, S, OL, OLB)
CB Aaron Ross, Texas
Ever since the Bengals surrendered 42 second-half points in a week 10 loss to the Chargers it was clear Cincinnati needed secondary help. Thorpe Award winner Ross would provide Cincinnati with a long-term complement to Jonathan Joseph and a talented group of young corners to succeed Deltha O’Neal and Tory James. The middle of the defense needs to be addressed as well, and in light of Odell Thurman's issues Patrick Willis would be a sound invetsment here, but Cincinnati has to stop getting torched deep. I think secondary help is a must here.
19. TENNESSEE TITANS (DT, DE, LB, CB, S)
DE/DT Adam Carricker, Nebraska
Tennessee found some answers on the offensive side of the ball with QB Vince Young and RB Travis Henry, but on defense they have nothing but question marks. A versatile talent like Carricker could help them against the run, but more importantly he could boost the Titans' awful pass rush. Kyle Vanden Bosch led the Titans with 6.5 sacks this season, or the same amount as Shawne Merriman had just against Oakland and Seattle (and he missed the second Oakland game). Carricker has shown the ability to put heat on opposing QBs and he's a physical presence on the line that could even provide some insurance if Albert Haynesworth isn't brought back. I'm sure Tennessee would also like to get Pac-Man Jones some help in the secondary but Carricker brings too much to the table to pass up.
20. NEW YORK GIANTS (CB, LB, OL, S, DT)
CB Darrelle Revis, Pittsburgh
There’s no way to single out one specific deficiency that led to the Giants late-season collapse since you could point in any number of directions and find a player or coach who deserves a share of the blame. But since Tom Coughlin is apparently staying and the expensive offensive stars aren’t likely to be moved yet I think the Giants will look to augment a pass defense that finished 28th in the NFL and struggled to force turnovers. Revis is a solid cover corner with good size that could help shore up New York’s porous secondary and provide a future replacement for their aging duo of RW McQuarters and Sam Madison.
21. DENVER BRONCOS (CB, DE, RB, OL, DT)
CB David Irons, Auburn
Even before the untimely passing of Darrent Williams I’m sure the Broncos were thinking of getting some help for Champ Bailey in the Broncos’ secondary. Unfortunately, what was a luxury pick is now a necessity as Denver finds itself down a starting cornerback. Irons is a tough, scrappy corner who’s handled big, physical receivers in the SEC and could provide Denver with some immediate help in the secondary. There may be bigger names out there but I think Irons will impress during the pre-Draft activities and prove that he's a guy who can play right away, which is exactly what Denver needs.
22. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (FS, LB, CB, OL, WR) from DALLAS
LB Paul Posluszny, Penn State
Pittsburgh could look to further bolster their receiving corps after drafting Santonio Holmes last year, or they could look to add a cornerback help since tehre's no way Ike Taylor's coming back after his disastrous season. However, for years the main weapon in the Steelers 3-4 defense has been fast, versatile, aggressive linebackers. Not only does Posluszny possess all of those traits, he’s a Pennsylvania hero who brings the blue-collar attitude that defines the franchise. Poz could line up inside or outside for Pittsburgh and would provide long-term insurance for Clark Haggans and James Farrior. To me this would be a match made in football heaven.
23. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (DT, WR, S, OT, CB)
WR Ted Ginn, Ohio State
For most of the decade the Chiefs managed to boast one of the league’s top passing games despite the lack of a #1 receiver. With the departure of Gunther Cunningham and instability at quarterback the streak of prolific passing attacks came to an end in 2006 and it’s time for Kansas City to finally pay some serious attention to its receiving corps. Now I happen to think that Ginn is somewhat overrated - I would take a guy like Tennessee's Robert Meachem over him in a second - and I doubt he’ll be a lead receiver in the NFL, but he has added value for Kansas City since he can provide a spark in the return game and eventually take over for the fading Dante Hall. Also, it should be noted that with the exception of the Browns the Chiefs may have been the worst-drafting team in the league over the past few years, and taking an overrated player twenty spots too high is pretty much par for the course with them so in that regard this pick makes total sense.
24. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (CB, WR, S, LB, DE) from SEATTLE
DE/LB Quentin Moses, Georgia
The Patriots linebacker corps started to show its age in 2006 and with Teddy Bruschi contemplating retirement it’s time to bring in some reinforcements. Bill Belichick likes SEC players and I think Moses' versatility plays right into what the Patriots want to do defensively. It will be interesting to see if he can handle pass coverage duties, but if he can make the transition to linebacker and the Patriots can iron out the inconsistency in his game they could be getting another big-time playermaker in their front seven.
25. NEW YORK JETS (CB, LB, OL, RB, WR)
CB Daymeion Hughes, California
The Jets could very well pick a workhorse back like Kenny Irons or Michael Bush here to pick up the load that Curtis Martin carried for so many years, or they could look to bolster the defensive front after beefing up the offensive line in the first round last year, but what they really need is a steady cover man to line up opposite Andre Dyson, and with the top cornerback talent rapidly slipping away at this point I think they’d pull the trigger on Hughes, a stand-out players for Cal for the past few years and an experienced corner who’s gone up against some great wide receivers in the Pac-10.
26. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (LB, SS, DT, RB, QB)
SS Aaron Rouse, Virginia Tech
For some reason I wound up watching a ton of Eagles games this season and every time I couldn’t help but notice what a huge liability Sean Considine was to their defense. He's perfected the move where a defender is totally burnt so he dives at the runner's heels, swinging his arm in a vain attempt to trip up the runner before he can complete his 60-yard jaunt to the endzone. Seriously, no one pulls off that move like Consididine. Plus he sucks against the run and the pass! Rouse, a huge safety that can play in the box but also has good coverage skills, would change all that. The Eagles have traditionally invested high draft pick on lineman and their secondary, and if they hold to that philosophy I think Rouse would be a great fit for them.
27. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (CB, DT, LB, OL, S)
MLB Patrick Willis, Ole Miss
For years the Saints have been trying to build up their front seven, and while they finally appear set at defensive end and Hollis Thomas has helped out at defensive tackle they still need an upgrade at linebacker where Mark Simoneau and Scott Shanle are nothing special. Willis is the best inside linebacker in the draft and one of the best ‘backers available overall. A tackling machine, he would immediately help New Orleans’ 23rd-ranked run defense and with his speed he’d add some versatility to the position. I’m sure the Saints would also like to bring in a replacement for Fred Thomas, who was beaten more often than the Washington Generals over the past month, but the Saints have been trying to upgrade their linebackers forever and they can’t pass on a talent like Willis.
28. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (CB, WR, S, LB, DE)
CB Marcus McCauley, Fresno State
For the past few years the Patriots have been getting by with castoffs and overachievers in the secondary, and while Asante Samuel turned in a great performance this season he seems likely to bolt in free agency. Regardless of whether he stays or goes, the Pats could use an infusion of youth and size at cornerback and McCauley has both. New England does a great job of stockpiling draft picks and just like with Vince Wilfork the Pats could have the luxury of picking up a long-term solution for their defense late in the first round thanks to shrewd maneuvering. They could also be tempted to take a receiver here but with the emergence of Jabar Gaffney in the playoffs and Chad Jackson still developing I think they'll focus on defense and take McCauley.
29. BALTIMORE RAVENS (WR, RB, DE, LB, QB)
WR Dwayne Jarrett, Southern Cal
There was nothing wrong with the Ravens’ defense in ’06 but the offenses left a lot to be desired. I’m sure they’d like to bring in a long-term solution at quarterback but I don’t know that one is available at this point. With their preference for big, bruising runners Michael Bush could be an intriguing choice here, but I think they have to continue overhauling their receiver corps and Jarrett is a top prospect who’s a touchdown-scoring machine. If he runs well in testing he’ll go way earlier than this but right now there are rumors that he runs in the 4.6 range, and if that's the case the Mike Williams comparisons could cause him to fall in the first round. If that's the case the Ravens would be crazy not to swoop him up as a perfect long-term complement to Mark Clayton.
30. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (WR, LB, CB, DE, S)
WR Robert Meachem, Tennessee
The Chargers are arguably the NFL’s most talented team and are pretty stacked at every position (except Head Coach, of course), but one area where they really lack difference-makers is at wide receiver. Eric Parker might get run out of town after his disastrous performance against New England, and while Vincent Jackson is an intriguing prospect he only caught 27 passes in 2006. Meachem is a big, physical receiver who could team with Jackson to present a match-up nightmare for opposing secondaries and in time he could give the Chargers a true lead receiver. Since the Chargers are reportedly (and inexplicably) rumored to be shopping Donnie Edwards and Shaun Phillips can’t stay out of trouble they could also look at a linebacker here but I think receiver is a more pressing need for them.
31. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (DT, LB, CB, OL, WR)
MLB Brandon Siler, Florida
The Colts run defense has been better in the playoffs but they were shredded like lettuce during the regular season and they have to address their interior defense, so this pick is either going to be a defensive tackle or an inside linebacker. The Colts aren’t afraid to take smaller, quicker defenders so Buster Davis could be a possibility here or they could grab Tank Tyler or Quinn Pitcock to clog up the running lanes, but I think Siler would be a great addition. He brings speed, size, and leadership to the position and is a beast against the run. He’ll probably run faster than Davis in testing and with his superior size and coverage skills I think he fits perfectly into Tony Dungy's defense.
32. CHICAGO BEARS (OL, CB, S, QB, LB)
OLB Rufus Alexander, Oklahoma
Last year the Bears surprised just about everyone by focusing on their defense even though it was already the strength of their team. A lot of observers felt they made a mistake, yet now Chicago's headed to the Super Bowl and rookies like Mark Anderson, Devin Hester, and Danieal Manning are a big reason why. Since the Bears biggest needs on offense are wide receiver and offensive line and the elite prospects at those positions are gone by now I think they’ll depart from conventional wisdom yet again and go with defense. Alexander is cut from the Bears mold; he’s a big, aggressive intimidator at linebacker who could step right into the void left when Lance Briggs bolts in free agency.
Okay, that's it. Look for an updated two-round mock draft after the NFL Combine and then I'm shooting for a full Day One, three-round mock draft right before Draft Day. Enjoy!