I always get a kick out of how many draft “experts” come out of the woodwork in the months before the draft and feel it is their duty to impart their knowledge onto the rest of the football loving world. Well, now that I write for a blog, I have decided to join the ranks of the presumptuous mock drafters. I fully recognize that trying to predict a draft that is two months away before pro days are held is more an educated guess than anything else, which is why I chose to predict only the first round. I wanted to complete this after the Combine but before free agency began, and then complete another shortly before the draft to see the changes in my own thinking that occur in two months.
This, as I said, is my first mock draft. This mock draft is more a tool for me because it allows me to organize my thoughts as a reference, and it also provides me feedback from other knowledgeable football fans on BRB. My picks are a mixture of what I think teams will do and what I think they should do. I tried to remain as realistic as possible, but it is really hard to be unbiased when I know who I really want to see in Steel Blue next year. Anyway, I would appreciate the feedback that I know all of you are capable of giving. Let the debate begin!
1. Detroit Lions: Aaron Curry/LB/Wake Forrest – Some might see this pick as putting too much stock in a strong Combine performance, but I tend to disagree. All Curry did at the Combine was validate what coaches and scouts already thought about him based on game film--that he is simply the best defensive talent in the draft. This realization, coupled with all the red flags of drafting an underclassmen QB with a terrible OL to protect him and huge expectations to live up to, will result in Detriot pulling the trigger on Curry. Also of note, Matthew Stafford is represented by Tom Condon, the same agent who brought about the Eli forced trade and the Quinn holdout. Any team that picks first wants a deal worked out in principle before the draft.
2. St. Louis Rams: Jason Smith/OT/Baylor – Smith benefited the most out of all the top OT prospects by Andre Smith’s Houdini act at the Combine. I believe that Jason was probably the second OT prospect, but after Andre verified suspected character defects and Jason performed well against his peers, he probably vaulted himself into this pick. The Rams need a new franchise OT to replace Orlando Pace who may or may not be a salary cap casualty. Even if Pace is there in 2009, Smith can play RT for a year while he learns the nuances of blocking in the NFL.
3. Kansas City Chiefs: Everette Brown/DE-OLB/Florida State – Kansas City had an abysmal pass rush last year, and they need a specialist to anchor their new 3-4 hybrid defense. I think it probably would have been Brian Orakpo, and still might be, but while both Brown and Orakpo had good Combine performances, Orakpo tweaked his hamstring which might have reinforced injury concerns. I believe they will take one of the two, and Cleveland takes the leftover.
4. Seattle Seahawks: B.J. Raji/DT/Boston College – Many people are assuming Seattle will be the new home of Michael Crabtree, but I am not one of them, and it’s not all because of the foot injury. Lofa Tatupu regressed in 2008 because no one was there in the middle of the D line to stop interior O lineman from getting to the next level. Raji will fulfill this need like Ngata does for the Ravens. Also, I think that while Crabtree’s injury itself didn’t hurt his stock, his indecision on how to handle it might have.
5. Cleveland Browns: Brian Orakpo/DE/Texas – As I said earlier, this pick is probably interchangeable with the Chiefs' pick. The Browns might be happy in a year or two with getting Orakpo here, as he is the bigger prospect and maybe the better athlete. Also, it might motivate O-sack-po to know that he was second choice.
6. Cincinnati Bengals: Eugene Monroe/OT/Virginia – Monroe probably doesn’t have the upside of Andre or Jason Smith, but he is more of a sure thing than either of the two. Carson Palmer has been beaten and battered, and if Cincinnati doesn’t want a repeat of last year, they need to get him some protection. Monroe should also be attractive to the Bengals because he played every day in practice against the 3-4, which is the same defense of the Steelers, Ravens and Browns. There are some rumblings that they might be tempted to go WR here to replace the loss of Houshmendzadeh, but the need for protection is too great and the pool of WRs is deep this year, so they can get one in the second round.
7. Oakland Raiders: Michael Crabtree/WR/Texas Tech – The Raiders need an OT, but this is Al Davis we’re talking about. Everyone seems to think he turned a leaf by releasing a lot of dead weight that came from past terrible decisions, but he’s not fooling me. Zombie Al will not be able to resist the siren call of Crabtree if he’s still there. If he’s not, I would expect them to take Andre Smith. When have the Raiders ever put an emphasis on character over talent?
8. Jacksonville Jaguars: Andre Smith/OT/Alabama – The Jaguars’ run oriented machine broke down last year because no one could stay healthy and block on the O line. As long as Andre shows up in shape on his pro day, he’s too talent to slide out of the top 10 picks, especially since so many teams need OT help with very little free agent talent present. Michael Oher might be a possible pick, but he simply doesn’t have Andre’s talent right now. Picking Smith is rolling the dice, but I think they’ll do it.
9. Green Bay Packers: Malcolm Jenkins/CF-FS/Ohio State – Ughh. I’ve been talking your collective ears off about taking Jenkins, but I don’t think he’ll realistically make it to us. I thought there was a chance for him to make it past the Packers but the alternative was Raji, who I think will be gone. Even if Raji was here, the Packers publicly stated that they are confident that current DT Ryan Pickett can anchor their new 3-4 scheme. All dreams eventually must end.
10. San Francisco 49ers: Jeremy Maclin/WR/Missouri – With Stafford continuing to slide, they might be tempted here, but I don’t think it will happen. The 49ers' WRs are old and untalented, which contributed to the over-reliance on Frank Gore and the injuries he suffered. San Francisco also needs help on the OL, but if the top three prospects are gone I don’t think they’ll draft Oher.
11. Buffalo Bills: Matthew Stafford/QB/Georgia – You can look all over the internet, but I doubt you would find another mock that had this pick. Trent Edwards is not terrible, but he is not, and never will be, a franchise QB, something that the Bills have lacked since Jim Kelly. This is a recipe for success as Stafford gets to step into a team that already has an established OL, running game and WR corps. Also, since Edwards is competent, Stafford can sit on the bench for a year and learn the system. I don’t think the Bills are going into the draft specifically looking for a QB, but if Stafford is there I don’t think they can pass him up.
12. Denver Broncos: Rey Maualuga/LB/USC – Denver needs to establish a defense that can help their explosive offense win games. Taking Maualuga allows them to do whatever they want with D.J. Williams in the 3-4 scheme they’re implementing. Maualuga also brings instant fan appeal to a defense that has had little star power outside of Champ Bailey for almost a decade.
13. Washington Redskins: Michael Oher/OT/Mississippi – Despite the Skins’ denial, I believe the rumors that they’ll sign Albert Haynesworth in free agency, or possibly Chris Canty, which takes away the pressing need to draft a D lineman in the first round. Oher would give help to an aging OL that was bruised and battered last year, and didn’t perform well in the end of the season which took Clinton Portis from MVP consideration to a non-factor. My predictions are far from fact, but I admit that predicting Redskins' draft picks is often an exercise in futility because they’re so bad at it.
14. New Orleans Saints: Vontae Davis/CB/Illinois – The Saints’ biggest need is help in the secondary. After Davis’ strong performance in the Combine, he is the number one true CB in the draft. Scouts and coaches had previously been leery of Davis for the same red flags that his older brother Vernon has exhibited, namely lack of intelligence and team focus, but apparently Vontae did a lot to dispel that notion during personal interviews in Indianapolis. If he’s not a head case like his brother, he could be a huge help to New Orleans’ terrible pass defense.
*15. Detroit Lions: Mark Sanchez/QB/Southern California – This would be a huge PR victory for Detroit’s new regime. By trading up to get Sanchez (or even Stafford if he falls this far) it would go a long way towards showing the fans in the Motor City that it’s not business as usual. They got the face of the defense with the first pick, which is smart, but don’t let the rhetoric fool you; they need a face for the offense and the franchise in general. If they could get the franchise QB with their second pick in the first round and show competency by making this trade to jump the Jets, it would win a lot of people over. This year’s QB class is not deep, so to get someone they’ll have to get him early. They’ll likely be looking to get OL help with the next pick, so dropping from 33rd to 46th shouldn’t be a big deal especially if I’m right about 4 OTs going in the first 13 picks. Most of the teams picking 34-45 will have either already picked an O lineman or have other concerns they need to address.
16. San Diego Chargers: Brian Cushing/OLB/Southern California – Most people assume that the Chargers will take a RB here if they let L.T. walk but I don’t think that’s how this will play out. They need help at LB, and even if they need a running back, Cushing is a much better pick than Moreno or Wells at this point. Cushing is a local favorite already; having played his college career up the road, and being highlighted by the media since draft analysis began doesn’t hurt either. The Chargers can get a high profile LB here, and still get a competent RB in the second round.
17. New York Jets: Hakeem Nicks/WR/North Carolina – They may not be looking for a QB in the first place, but if we take the trade down so Detroit can draft Sanchez it won’t matter whether they wanted him or not. Also, after Laveranues Coles turned down $6 million and walked, the Jets desperately need a WR. Nicks doesn’t have Heyward-Bey’s speed, but he’s got all the abilities that the burner from Maryland doesn’t have--receiving, route running and blocking. The Jets don’t have a QB that can throw it deep anyway, so what do they need a receiver who’s nothing but a vertical threat?
18. Chicago Bears: Percy Harvin/WR/Florida – The Bernard Berrian experiment didn’t work out too well for Chicago for the same reason that Heyward-Bey would be a bad fit; they need more than just a vertical threat. Harvin is one of the best offensive athletes in the draft, and his ability to use his quickness to get open while running short routes in the flats and create an extension of the running game through the pass will be tailor-made for the Bears, who utilized Matt Forte in a similar fashion last year when he wasn’t busy running the ball. If Harvin can step in and take a lot of those receptions, not only will it give Chicago a more explosive offense, it will reduce the workload of Forte in an effort to keep him healthy.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Darius Heyward-Bey/WR/Maryland – Joey Galloway saw a revitalization of his career in Tampa Bay because they knew how to let him do what he did best--stretch the field. The Bucs cut Galloway loose because he was getting long in the tooth, but I think they need a replacement that can get vertical and keep defenses honest against loading up in the box to stop the run. Heyward-Bey is little more than a track star at this point, but if he can polish his receiving skills he could end up being the most dangerous WR taken in this draft.
*20. Houston Texans: Clay Matthews, Jr./OLB/Southern California – When I first heard about the possibility of drafting Matthews, Jr., my initial reaction was disbelief and disapproval. Why would we reach that far in the first? The more I research though, the better it looks. No one has raised their stock more in the last 6 months, and he’s done it through sheer determination. Despite coming from an obviously proud football family, Matthews was no blue chipper, as was evident by the fact that he walked on to his father’s alma mater and didn’t start until his senior year. Before he got his chance three games into the senior season, Matthews was named special teams player of the year, twice, which is an attribute to his willingness to play wherever coaches need him. Matthews is by no means a Rudy though; his 4.67 40 was faster than all top prospects besides Aaron Curry, which shows his ability to rush the passer. The one thing that worries me about Matthews is that he played on a defense with an immense amount of talent on it, which may have hidden some of his negatives that weren’t seen in his short collegiate career. No one can deny the kid is a worker though, and apparently every past coach, fellow player and NFL scout says that he plays with a chip on his shoulder and lives in the weight room, which eventually gave him the opportunity to crack the starting lineup as a hybrid DE/LB. Even though some would consider this a reach, I decided it was safer to take him here and target a DE with the next pick because few, if any, teams will be targeting a traditional 4-3 end before the 33rd pick.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Pettigrew/TE/Oklahoma State – The Eagles have the luxury of drafting twice in the first round thanks to Carolina, and since all the top OL prospects are off the board, I think they will fill an immediate need at the TE position. None of the teams that pick before their second pick will likely take an OL, besides maybe New England just because Belichick loves to draft them. Atlanta is interested in TE as well. Pettigrew maybe isn’t the fastest TE in this year’s draft class, but his all around skills are the best, including blocking, which the Eagles can use in their screen oriented passing attack.
22. Minnesota Vikings: James Laurinaitis/LB/Ohio State – Everyone talks about the Vikings being a QB away from a serious contender, and while that may be true, they’re missing one key piece on the defensive side of the ball as well. LB has been a revolving door in Minnesota for the last few years, and this pick will change that. Laurinaitis might be a victim of his own consistency; he’s been good enough to be talked about as a draft prospect since his sophomore year, so people lost the excitement usually associated with a top potential draftee. He can start immediately for the Vikings, and will probably be a success from the get-go because in Minnesota he would play behind Kevin and Pat Williams.
23. New England Patriots: Larry English/DE-OLB/Northern Illinois – Adalius Thomas and Mike Vrabel are getting old, but still have a little bit left in the tank. The LB corps received a spark last year from first round selection Jarod Mayo, and they will get another this year. Larry English quietly looked good at the Combine; specifically, he showed coverage ability to go along with his pass rushing talent. I think Belichick knows that the Dolphins like English a lot, and he won’t be able to resist the urge to not only fill a need, but also to be a little Machiavellian at the same time. S is also a need, but Rodney Harrison’s replacement isn’t in this draft, and Bill knows it.
24. Atlanta Falcons: Jared Cook/TE/South Carolina – The Falcons need a TE, and Cook showed at the Combine that he is a physical specimen. The fear among scouts is while Cook can block, he doesn’t like to do it and needs a fire lit under him. Sounds like a job for Mike Smith, whose coaching prowess was displayed last year. DT and SS are probably the biggest needs for the Falcons, but Peria Jerry is too small to replace Grady Jackson at NT, and this is too early to take Patrick Chung who is probably the best SS in the draft.
25. Miami Dolphins: Clint Stintum/OLB/Virginia – Stintum has a leg up on all other LBs that will be drafted to play the 3-4 because he played in that scheme at Virginia. Bill Parcells, who doesn’t like flashy draft picks, will appreciate the simplicity of this. As I said before, if Larry English is here I think this will be a no-brainer for the Dolphins.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Alphonso Smith/CB/Wake Forrest – After releasing the great but aging CB Chris McAllister, the Ravens will need to address this need early in the draft. Smith lacks the physicality that the Ravens’ defense is known for, but he makes up for it with outstanding man coverage skills. If C Jason Brown is allowed to walk, the Ravens might be interested in Max Unger or Alex Mack here instead.
27. Philadelphia Eagles: Phil Loadholt/OT/Oklahoma – Loadholt lacks the speed and footwork to be what most would consider as a great tackle in the NFL, but the Eagles don’t care. They like huge OTs who are maulers, which is exactly what they’ll get here. The fact that they value this kind of tackle more than other teams is what allows them to wait until this pick instead of taking an OT at 21.
28. Indianapolis Colts: Peria Jerry/DT/Mississippi – The Colts get exactly what they were looking for here with Jerry. The Colts love medium-sized quick DTs, which is precisely what Jerry is. Many people think Jerry will be gone by this point, but I don’t think anyone will bite on him before Indianapolis because of his lack of size.
29. New York Giants: Kenny Britt/WR/Rutgers – I think the Giants would like to take a LB here, but as shown above I believe that there is going to be quite a run on that position before the 29th pick. The Giants know that Plaxico is not going to get out of his current legal problems unscathed, so they have to get Manning another deep threat. Britt has the speed to stretch the field, but he has also shown that he has the strength to break the jam, just like Burress.
30. Tennessee Titans: Fili Moala/DT/Southern California – Haynesworth isn’t coming back to Tennessee. He wants as much guaranteed money as he can get, and it’s not going to come from the Titans. They need immediate help on an aging D line that is suddenly missing its anchor. Another scary thought? I have a sneaking suspicion they might like a local guy by the name of Ayers.
31. Arizona Cardinals: Knowshon Moreno/RB/Georgia – Did you really think that the first round was going to go by without a single RB taken? I don’t know who exactly the Cardinals like here, but I’m almost positive it will be a RB, especially if so many (or all) are left by their pick. I gave Moreno the edge because despite his slow Combine 40, he has football speed and he doesn’t have the injury history of Beanie Wells.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Eben Britton/OT/Arizona – The Steelers drafted enough skill positions last year to last them for a bit, and they obviously have enough LBs, so now they need to focus on the depth of both lines. Britton is projected to be an excellent RT, which is why he will still be available this late. Taking Britton, who has the kind of nasty attitude that the Steelers like, allows them to move Willie Colon to G, which will hopefully cut down on his false start penalties that are quite frequent.
*Trade between the Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans: Detroit gets the 15th and 46th overall picks; Houston gets the 20th and 33rd overall picks.
The trade, which is beneficial to both Houston and Detroit, is validated by the infamous draft value chart. As I was filling out the last of the first round, I really didn’t find a team that I realistically believe would draft either Michael Johnson or Robert Ayers, but I think both players will be gone by 46, so the trade obviously helps us. I believe the trade would be acceptable and helpful for Detroit because they don’t lose any draft picks, which they obviously need a lot of after the season that they just had, but they still get one of the top two QBs on the board.
So, there it is. Let me know what you think.