Staff writer Chris Gross submits his mock draft, based on what pick he thinks each NFL team should make in round one. Stay tuned later for my mock draft 4.0, rounding up recent mock drafts and giving my final prediction for what I think the Jets will do – JC
With countless mock drafts surfacing over numerous media outlets leading up to Thursday night, the common theme seems to be predicting what every team is most likely to do. However, there are so many aspects that are impossible to predict for every NFL team during the draft. Therefore, that will not be my approach in this mock. Instead, I will actually play GM for every NFL team and select which player each of them should pick, rather than who I think they will pick. I will not account for trades, other than ones that have already been made, because if I get into which teams should make trades and to where, it will get far too sticky. Again, this is not how I think the draft will play out, but rather how I think it should play out.
1 – Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB Stanford - The Colts have already told Luck that he will be the first overall selection on Thursday night, and rightfully so. They took one of the biggest gambles in NFL history this offseason, agreeing to part ways with the man that rebuilt the franchise from the ground up. They need to be extremely smart with this pick, because if it flops, the fan base in Indianapolis will likely form a mutiny against Jim Irsay, especially if Manning proves to be healthy and effective in Denver. That being said, Luck is easily the most logical, and safest choice at number one. Sure, Robert Griffin III is appealing for all of his intangibles, but Luck not only has the ability to be an elite NFL quarterback very soon, but he also possesses the confidence and leadership qualities that will help make the transition from Peyton Manning in Indy much less difficult.
2 – Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor - Washington made this trade to get Griffin, and that was exactly what they needed to do in this draft. Griffin will give the Skins the face the franchise has been starving for. Owner Daniel Snyder has made a name for himself by overpaying veteran free agents that have rarely worked out. However, Washington has drafted well recently (Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Roy Helu). He has begun to build this team the right way, through the draft, and selecting RGIII will be the most significant step in that process.
3 – Minnesota Vikings – Justin Blackmon, WR Oklahoma State - I realize Matt Kalil is probably the safest pick for a team that needs more lanes for Adrian Peterson, and protection for their young quarterback, Christian Ponder. However, other than Peterson and Percy Harvin, who is constantly hampered by migraines, what other playmakers does this team have on offense? Minnesota hasn’t had elite talent at WR since the departure of Randy Moss, and I believe Blackmon is too great a talent for them to pass on. He will give Ponder another much needed weapon, while spreading out defenses more, which in turn, will help Peterson and the run game.
4 – Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB Alabama - Offensively, the Browns are a disaster. They have massive questions at Quarterback, and their best offensive player, Running Back Peyton Hillis, bolted for Kansas City. The only bright spot on this offense is Tackle Joe Thomas. Not only is this a smart pick for Cleveland, because they should be doing nothing but selecting the best player available here, but it also fills a great need. Richardson is going to be elite at the next level, and there is no better way to rebuild an offense than with a strong running game.
5 -Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Luke Kuechly, LB Boston College - Everyone loves Morris Claiborne here, and rightfully so. Claiborne is the best CB in the draft, and the Bucs are a little light in the secondary. However, can anyone name Tampa’s starting inside linebackers? Kuechly is the best in this year’s class, and new coach Greg Schiano, a former linebacker at Bucknell, should not hesitate to draft the potential Quarterback of his defense for the next decade. Some might consider this a reach, but do you really see any reason 500+ career tackles should fall out of the top 5?
6 – St. Louis Rams – Matt Kalil, OT USC - The Rams could address their need at WR with Floyd here, but it is time for them to start considering the future of their young Quarterback, Sam Bradford. Jason Smith hasn’t turned into the elite protector they thought he would be when they took him with the 2nd overall pick in 2009. Bradford played in only 10 games last season due to injury, but in those 10 games, he was sacked an astounding 36 times. The Rams need not to hesitate on taking Kalil to prevent Bradford from becoming the next David Carr or (gasp) Chad Pennington.
7 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Michael Floyd, WR Notre Dame - Jacksonville could easily address its much needed pass rush here, but the idea of giving second year quarterback Blaine Gabbert a big target like Floyd is too great to pass up. As much as the defense is in need of help, so too is the offense in need of a playmaker outside of Maurice Jones-Drew and Mercedes Lewis. New owner Shahid Khan needs to find a way to prevent blacking out games in Jacksonville, and there is no better way to put people in the seats then grabbing a high profile offensive player. This move makes both football and business sense.
8 – Miami Dolphins – Morris Claiborne, CB LSU - I realize that the Dolphins greatest need is at quarterback, and I am actually a fan of Ryan Tannehill, just not at this pick. If the Dolphins trade back and grab him that could suffice, however Claiborne’s value here is extremely high, and Miami would be foolish to pass him up. Claiborne has elite talent and would provide an instant upgrade to a secondary that struggled last season. If Miami is smart, it passes on Tannehill, who I feel is a boom or bust prospect, takes Claiborne, and holds hope of landing Matt Barkley next year, whom they’ve wanted all along.
9 – Carolina Panthers – Fletcher Cox, DT Mississippi State - I’ve said before, I think Cox is on another level in terms of defensive lineman in this year’s class. Defensive Tackle is the greatest need for Carolina, and this is great value for this year’s top dog. Cox is fast, strong, explosive, and aggressive and should be able to make an impact immediately.
10 – Buffalo Bills – Riley Reiff, OT Iowa - Buffalo has needed an elite left tackle for years now, and Reiff has to potential to provide that down the road. The Bills made the big splash this offseason with the Mario Williams signing, now it is time to address its most pressing need. Reiff will provide stability to help Ryan Fitzpatrick get the ball to the playmakers (Jackson, Spiller, Johnson) on offense.
11 – Kansas City Chiefs – Dontari Poe, DT Memphis - Although I am not sold on Poe, and do think his skill set will serve him much better in a 4-3, rather than the 3-4 scheme that Kansas City runs, I feel his intangibles and potential as a NT are too much for new head coach Romeo Crennel to pass up. Although Poe is very much a boom or bust product as well, Crennel and KC should take a chance on this one. Poe has the size (348 lbs) and strength (44 reps) to develop into an elite NT in this league. This will certainly take time, but if it works out, Poe will be another building block in Kansas City establishing an elite defense.
12 – Seattle Seahawks – Melvin Ingram, DE South Carolina - Although I think Ingram is better suited as a 3-4 DE/OLB hybrid, there is no doubt in my mind his abilities will allow him to excel in any scheme. Seattle is another team in need of a pass rusher and Ingram is arguably the best available here. He has the ability to move around the defense and will be an asset for years to come in Seattle.
13 – Arizona Cardinals – Quinton Coples, DE/OLB North Carolina - To me, Coples hasn’t been consistently productive enough throughout college. This does not mean he won’t succeed at the next level. His intangibles give him tremendous upside, and he could become a dominant pass rusher in the right system, especially in the NFC West. Some view Coples as a better fit in a 4-3, however his speed and athleticism could make him a perfect fit as a DE/OLB hybrid.
14 – Dallas Cowboys – Mark Barron, S Alabama - It is no secret Dallas needs help in the defensive secondary. Safety is the biggest need, and Barron is the best of the bunch this year. Jerry Jones should not hesitate on taking the Alabama product because if he doesn’t, division rival Philadelphia will be waiting at pick 15 right behind them.
15 – Philadelphia Eagles – David DeCastro, G Stanford – Philly has more pressing needs at defensive tackle and outside linebacker, but no one can deny the beating that Michael Vick took last year. Vick certainly doesn’t help his own cause with the amount of running he does, but DeCastro should provide more stability on the offensive front, allowing Vick to sit in the pocket just a bit longer. Tackle could be addressed, but the Eagles just signed free agent Demetress Bell.
16 – New York Jets – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB Alabama - I’ve said it all along, and I am sticking with my pick until the end, if Upshaw is available, he should be the Jets’ pick. His experience, ability, and leadership skills will make him an asset in Rex Ryan’s scheme, and he will fill the need that the Jets have had on defense since Ryan’s arrival. How could you not want the Defensive MVP of College Football’s National Championship game?
17 – Cincinnati Bengals – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Alabama - Cornerback probably isn’t the biggest need for Cincinnati but pairing Kirkpatrick with Leon Hall will greatly bolster their secondary. The Bengals just resigned S Reggie Nelson, and at pick 17 the value is far too high to pass up the first team All American.
18 – San Diego Chargers – Chandler Jones, DE Syracuse - Jones’s stock is rapidly rising as draft day approaches, and some don’t see him making it past the Jets at 16, so his value here could be fantastic. San Diego has not had an elite pass rusher since Shawn Merriman’s “Lights Out” Days, but Chandler could finally revitalize that. He has the physical tools and size to develop into an elite OLB/DE in San Diego’s system.
19 – Chicago Bears – Michael Brockers, DE, LSU - Defensive Line is a big need for the Bears, and Brockers is the best available here. His physical intangibles and violent play will make him a great fit in front of Urlacher and Briggs.
20 – Tennessee Titans, Dont’a Hightower, ILB Alabama - Tennessee made a great move to improve their defense this offseason by signing Kamerion Wimbley. They have solid youngsters in the secondary between Michael Griffin and Jason McCourty, while Akeem Ayers still has potential to develop into a good OLB. Now they just need someone to be the foundation in the middle. Hightower’s value is amazing here, as I said I think he is worthy of a top 15 pick. Tennessee would be adding to a quality, up and coming defense.
21 – Cincinnati Bengals – Kendall Wright, WR Baylor - The Bengals overhauled their offense last year, and for the better. Andy Dalton and AJ Green have the makings of a deadly combo for years to come. Now it is time to add some speed opposite Green to really open the offense up. Cincinnati was smart in adding Benjarvus Green-Ellis this offseason to sure up the run game, and Wright will add another dynamic to the passing attack.
22 – Cleveland Browns – Ryan Tannehill, QB Texas A&M - As I said earlier, I like Tannehill, just not as a top 10 pick. Here, his value is so much higher, and the Browns are reportedly in love with him. Odds are Tannehill’s inflated stock will have him picked well before here, but if he is available at 22, you can bet everything that the Browns will take him, as they should. Let’s face it, Colt McCoy is not the answer, and Tannehill’s ceiling is through the roof.
23 – Detroit Lions – Stephon Gilmore, CB South Carolina - Detroit has one of the most, if not THE most, dominant Defensive Lines in all of football. Adding a true number one corner to their secondary could put them among the NFL’s best defenses. Chris Houston is decent, but he needs help opposite him. Gilmore would start immediately, and has the potential to make a significant impact as a rookie.
24 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Cordy Glenn, G Georgia - Pittsburgh needs help up front, and pairing Glenn next to Center Maurkice Pouncey would give them a dominant interior in front of Roethlisberger and Co. Running Back could be another option, with Mendenhall hampered by the ACL injury, however, that can be filled in one of the later rounds.
25 – Denver Broncos – Coby Fleener, TE Stanford - Peyton Manning loves a good, athletic Tight End and Fleener is the best of this year’s class. If you haven’t already, check out this kid’s “Sports Science.” Strong, fast, explosive, and huge. His physical tools are scary, and having come from Stanford, he shouldn’t have a problem adjusting to Peyton Manning mentally.
26 – Houston Texans – Nick Perry, DE/OLB USC - Houston lost both DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams this offseason, so they are a little light at the linebacker position. Their defensive line is extremely young and talented. JJ Watt proved he will be a force for years to come with an impressive rookie campaign last year. Putting Perry next to fellow USC LB Brian Cushing will give Wade Phillips one of the youngest, most athletic front sevens in the NFL.
27 – New England Patriots – Harrison Smith, S Notre Dame - Is it just me or is the safety play in the AFC East among the worst in the NFL? Like the Jets, New England struggled immensely at safety last year, even to the point where Ross Ventrone began to see time. Smith provides immediate upgrade, and is the big, physical, athletic safety that this defense has been missing since Rodney Harrison.
28 – Green Bay Packers – Shea McClellin, OLB Boise State - Other than Clay Matthews, there is no one on the Packers defense capable of rushing the passer. Putting McClellin (7 sacks in 2011) opposite Matthews could give Green Bay one of the best edge rushing defenses in all of football. McClellin is still somewhat raw, but will benefit from teams constantly game planning around Matthews.
29 – Baltimore Ravens – Peter Konz, C Wisconsin - Baltimore just resigned Matt Birk to a 3-year deal, but they need to plan for his retirement. Grooming a young center will provide a seamless transition when Birk finally decides to hang them up. Konz is the best available, and has good value at this point.
30 – San Francisco 49ers – Janoris Jenkins, CB North Alabama - San Francisco is returning 11 starters on defense, which is unheard of in the NFL. There is a need at WR, but the team just spent a lot of money at that position in Free Agency, so they should improve the only shallow spot on their defense. Jenkins has the potential to be an absolute steal here, and could learn a lot under the veteran leadership of Carlos Rogers.
31 – New England Patriots – Kendall Reyes, DT/DE UConn - Reyes reportedly has a great relationship with Bill Belichick, who frequents visits to UConn, and for good reason. Reyes is a perfect fit in a Belichick type system. He is a very smart, very versatile player, with tremendous upside that can play multiple positions along the defensive front. New England lost DE Mark Anderson to Buffalo this offseason, so this is a position of need as well.
32 – New York Giants – Jonathon Martin, OT Stanford - Although the Giants are the defending Super Bowl Champs, they struggled to protect Eli Manning at times last year. Kareem McKenzie is gone, and I do not think the Giants are too fond of the idea of Will Beatty (AKA Wayne Hunter 2.0) entering the season as the starting RT. Martin should play immediately and will learn a ton from New York’s veteran offensive line.