Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mock Draft (First round)

There's nothing much more painful than putting together a mock draft. It's incredibly difficult to place the right players with the correct teams so it all makes sense. Plus, let's not forget that the draft is more than a month away, which means I'll probably do at least two more mocks that will contain many changes as more information and rumors flow in.

Nevertheless, here's the first round of my initial mock draft of the silly season. I will post the second round in the coming days.

First round

1. Indianapolis Colts: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck

This a no-brainer. The Colts are in the very fortunate position to acquire a quarterback many believe is the best prospect to enter the draft since Peyton Manning did in 1998. Why would they pass that up? They won't.

2. Washington Redskins (trade-up): Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin

The Redskins gave up a lot to own this pick, but it's understandable, since they haven't had a franchise quarterback since....

Griffin has the skills to be an ideal fit in Mike Shanahan's offense, and Washington has built a good defense over the last few years. Although it will take a little while to get the Redskins back to a championship-caliber level, this selection is the biggest step in that direction.

3. Minnesota Vikings: USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil

The Vikings believe they have their franchise quarterback in Christian Ponder. Now it's time to provide the pass protection Ponder will need to succeed. Kalil is the consensus #1 left tackle prospect in this draft. He's expected to be an elite blindside protector for the next 10-15 years. This is another no-brainer

4. Cleveland Browns: Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon

The Browns are in desperate need of a dynamic threat to fill the #1 receiver role in Pat Shurmur's offense. Blackmon has been compared to Terrell Owens, minus the attitude problems. Colt McCoy will be the happiest man alive after this selection is made.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne

Tampa Bay's defense is filled with an abundance of young talent along the defensive line, but it needs a shutdown cornerback. Claiborne is the top defensive back in this draft, and he would be the ideal successor to Ronde Barber.

6. St. Louis Rams: Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff

By moving down this far, the Rams lose out on getting Blackmon, but they're still able to acquire Reiff, who's considered the best right tackle prospect in the draft. It's rumored St. Louis will release 2009 first-round pick Jason Smith, who's now considered a bust. Reiff could be the bookend to left tackle Roger Saffold for many years to come.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples

Last year the Jaguars selected Blaine Gabbert to be their franchise quarterback. This year they take Coples to be the pass-rusher they've needed for a very long time. Coples is the top-rated defensive end in this draft.

8. Miami Dolphins: Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill

With the offensive-minded head coach in Joe Philbin, the Dolphins need a serious upgrade from Matt Moore at quarterback. Miami missed out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn in free agency, and the recently signed David Garrard just isn't the answer. Tannehill is a reach, but the Dolphins are so desperate for a quarterback of the future that they don't care.

9. Carolina Panthers: Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd

The Panthers have a ton of needs on defense, but their best pass-catcher, Steve Smith, will turn 33 this May, and quarterback Cam Newton will need someone to throw to when #89 is finished. Floyd is a big, strong receiver with the necessary speed to make huge plays in the passing game.

10. Buffalo Bills: South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram

After signing superstar defensive end Mario Williams, and with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus at defensive tackle, the Bills don't appear to have a need for a defensive lineman. But this is a copycat league, so Buffalo will preach that "You can never have enough pass-rushers" after they select Ingram. During pre-draft workouts Ingram has shown he's a superior athlete with a ton of upside. Ingram as the bookend to Mario Williams could turn out to be of the fiercest pass-rushing tandems in the NFL.

11. Kansas City Chiefs: Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe

General manager Scott Pioli wants a Vince Wilfork for his defense. In this class there doesn't appear to be as dominant of a force as Wilfork, but Pioli will settle for the most athletic defensive tackle to enter the draft in a very long time. While Poe didn't dominate at a lower level of competition in college, his upside is immense, and the Chiefs would be thrilled to see him terrorize opposing offenses from the nose tackle spot in their 3-4 for many years to come.

12. Seattle Seahawks: Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus

Carroll continues to build the defense into a more formidable unit by adding one of the elite pass-rushers in this draft. Mercilus led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles in 2011, and he's impressed many with the overall athleticism he's shown in pre-draft workouts. Carroll is a coach capable of getting the most out of such a talent. Hopefully Nick Perry doesn't go all Taylor Mays on Carroll after this selection is made.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw

The Cardinals are in the process of building an outstanding defense, as they possess elite talents in cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. What they're missing is a pass-rushing outside linebacker. For a very long time Upshaw has been considered the best 3-4 outside linebacker prospect in this class. 

14. Dallas Cowboys: Stanford offensive guard David DeCastro

Yes, the Cowboys are very weak in the secondary, as their biggest needs are cornerback and safety, but DeCastro is one of the best offensive guards to come out in awhile. Dallas could definitely use him to team up with Tyron Smith as the key building blocks to an elite offensive line for many years to come.

Considering the Cowboys have to contend with the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Brian Orakpo, and Ryan Kerrigan, putting together a dominant offensive line is much more vital than adding a cornerback such as Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick. Dallas could get by with signing defensive backs in free agency and drafting them after the first round.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers

After trading a fourth-round pick to the Houston Texans for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the Eagles are able to focus their attention on other spots in their defense. In spite of already having defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins on their dominant front four, Philadelphia can't resist the temptation to add Brockers,

16. New York Jets: Alabama running back Trent Richardson

The Jets would be absolutely thrilled if Richardson falls this far, as they desperately need a stud ball-carrier to take the workhorse role away from Shonn Greene. Richardson is actually one of the top five players in this draft, but he will probably drop to this selection because of how devalued the running back position is these days. Regardless, the Jets would be ecstatic to add a back capable of gaining 1,500+ yards behind their offensive line. That would take some of the heat off quarterback Mark Sanchez.

17. Cincinnati Bengals: Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick

The Bengals didn't come up with much of a replacement after stud cornerback Jonathan Joseph left for Houston last summer. Kirkpatrick is the second-best cornerback in this draft, so he's the ideal selection at this point.

Kirkpatrick would likely start right away on the opposite side of fellow corner Leon Hall. By making this pick, Cincinnati would have more firepower to negate the attacks from the top quarterbacks in their division--Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Baltimore's Joe Flacco.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (trade-up with San Diego Chargers): Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly

Kuechly is a very intelligent player who could thrive while playing alongside Lawrence Timmons. The Steelers are ready to move on from James Farrior, who was released last week, and Kuechly is the type that could become another intimidating tackler for the Steel Curtain. By making this selection, Pittsburgh would become an even harder-hitting defense. The Steelers make this move up ahead of the Titans, who would have been happy to select Kuechly.

19. Chicago Bears: Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin

The Bears got their wide receiver this offseason by trading for Brandon Marshall. Now they have to provide better protection for quarterback Jay Cutler, who led Chicago to a 7-3 record before suffering a season-ending broken thumb injury.

Martin is considered by most as the third-best offensive tackle in this draft. By making this selection, Chicago would finally have the left tackle it's wanted as Cutler's blind-side protector. Martin and right tackle Gabe Carimi, last year's first-round pick, would work quite well together in tandem.

20. Tennessee Titans: South Carolina cornerback Stephen Gilmore

After losing Cortland Finnegan in free agency, the Titans need to find a replacement. Gilmore's stock has risen significantly over the last month, and Tennessee would be thrilled to find him here at this point. Gilmore is capable of becoming the top dog in the Titans' secondary.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn

Glenn is perhaps the most versatile offensive lineman in this draft, as many believe he could play guard or right tackle, and he's made a name for himself by tearing it up during pre-draft workouts. The Bengals need help along the offensive line, and Glenn's ability to play either guard or tackle would come in handy. 

22. Cleveland Browns: Stanford tight end Coby Fleener

The Browns add another weapon to their offense with a pass-catching tight end in Fleener. The thought behind this pick is Fleener would develop into the Brent Jones- or Mark Chmura-type tight end that thrived for team president Mike Holmgren when he was an offensive coordinator in San Francisco and a head coach in Green Bay. The Browns may not have gotten their franchise quarterback in this draft, but getting Blackmon and Fleener in the first round would set things up very nicely for whomever is picked to replace Colt McCoy.

23. Detroit Lions: North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins

The Lions have done a great job building their defensive line, but the secondary was one of the worst in the NFL last season. Although Jenkins is a character risk, he has the talent to develop into an elite cornerback, and head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham are the right guys to keep the youngster in line.

24. San Diego Chargers (trade-down with the Pittsburgh Steelers): USC defensive end Nick Perry

The Chargers didn't get their pass-rusher in free agency, as they signed Jarret Johnson, who's predominantly a run-stuffer. Perry is an underrated talent and the best pass-rusher left on the board at this point, so it's a no-brainer to select him.

Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes led the team with 11 sacks last season, but he's just a part-time player, and Larry English is an injury waiting to happen. Meanwhile, Shaun Phillips had a down year in 2011, so who knows if he'll ever return to his Pro Bowl form? Perry would provide fresh talent off the edge, and the hope is he'd produce 10-15 sacks once fully developed.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers (trade with the Denver Broncos): Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright

The Steelers acquire this pick from the Broncos, who signed restricted free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace to a lucrative contract Pittsburgh refused to match. (Note: I'm predicting this trade; it hasn't happened--yet.) Under this scenario, the Steelers replace Wallace with Wright, who is a dual-threat as a receiver and returner. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wouldn't be pleased with Wallace's departure, but he'd be excited about the playmaking ability Wright would bring to the table.

26. New England Patriots (trade-up with the Houston Texans): Alabama safety Mark Barron

The Patriots' entire secondary was embarrassed throughout last season, and Bill Belichick tries to solve that problem by bringing in the top strong safety from this draft. Barron isn't as talented as Troy Polamalu or Eric Berry were coming out of college, but he's the hard-hitting safety New England's defense has missed since Rodney Harrison retired following the 2008 season. Barron and Patrick Chung would be quite a tandem at the safety spots in Belichick's defense.

27. New England Patriots: Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork needs help beside him on the defensive line, so Belichick makes the logical move by selecting Cox to play defensive end in the returning 3-4 scheme. The Patriots were winning Super Bowls when they had Richard Seymour and Ty Warren playing the 5-technique defensive end spots in the 3-4. Since those two left, Belichick's defense hasn't been the same. Cox has the ability to help turn New England's defense back into an effective unit.

28. Green Bay Packers: Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still

Among many other issues, the Packers' defense missed Cullen Jenkins on the defensive line. B.J. Raji is one of the top young nose tackles in the NFL, but defensive end Ryan Pickett will be 33 in October. Still is a young talent who could turn into a dependable starter for defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme.

29. Baltimore Ravens: Wisconsin center Peter Konz

Matt Birk is returning, but he'll be 36 in July. The Ravens need to plan for the future at the center spot, and Konz is the top prospect at the position in this draft. After left guard Ben Grubbs departed in free agency, Konz could fill in at that position until Birk retires.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry

The 49ers signed Randy Moss in free agency, so they now need a slot receiver to complement Moss and Michael Crabtree, and there isn't one worth taking at this point in the draft. So, San Francisco continues to build its defense by selecting a pass-rusher in the first round for the second year in a row. Curry would be the long-term bookend to Aldon Smith at outside linebacker. What a tandem that could turn out to be.

31. Houston Texans (trade-down with the New England Patriots): Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill

The Texans need an impact wide receiver on the other side of Andre Johnson. Hill has dominated during workouts this draft season, and though he didn't catch a lot of passes in Georgia Tech's offense, neither did Demaryius Thomas, who showed a lot of promise in his second season with the Broncos in 2010. Hill's size and speed would add a wonderful element to Houston's passing attack. Quarterback Matt Schaub would surely be thrilled with this pick.

32. Indianapolis Colts (trade-up with the New York Giants): South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery

There's a run on wide receivers, and the Colts don't want to risk losing their man, so they make a trade with the Super Bowl champs and move up to select Jeffery. Heading into the 2011 season, Jeffery was in a battle with Blackmon to be the top receiver in this draft class. Struggling with weight issues and inconsistency, Jeffery lost that fight in a landslide, but he's still a talented pass-catcher who could thrive in the right system. Working with Andrew Luck and veteran receiver Reggie Wayne would certainly help Jeffery thrive.

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