Surely all of these picks will be correct on Thursday night … surely.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
There has been plenty of pre-draft speculation that the Chiefs will select Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher with this pick, and maybe they will. But general manager John Dorsey will ultimately have the final say, and he has a history of taking big-school prospects. Whether it’s Joeckel or Fisher, expect the Chiefs to select an offensive tackle first overall.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Dion Jordan is a logical (and popular) pick for the Jaguars because they finished with 20 sacks last season, which is a brutal stat. But the bottom line is that this is a quarterback-driven league, and neither David Caldwell nor Gus Bradley were around when the former regime took Blaine Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in 2011. Would I take Geno Smith this high? No. But Caldwell and Bradley might set the tone in their first draft by taking who they believe is a franchise signal-caller.
3. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (PROJECTED TRADE W/OAKLAND)
Martin Mayhew tried and failed to land top cornerback prospects Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne the past two years, so there’s a possibility the Lions will stay at No. 5 and take Alabama’s Dee Milliner. But following the retirement of Jeff Backus and the departure of Gosder Cherilus (FA/Colts), the Lions can’t pass on addressing their need at left tackle. Fisher has as much upside as any offensive lineman in this draft, which includes Luke Joeckel. With the Jaguars passing on Fisher in this mock, the Lions swap picks with the Raiders to ensure that they land their left tackle of the future.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Eagles could go in a variety of ways here, including Oregon’s Dion Jordan or even Florida’s Sharrif Floyd if he’s available. But Jason Peters is coming off an Achilles injury, and he’s set to make $10 million in 2014. Johnson is the most athletic offensive tackle in this year’s draft, which makes him a fit for Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense. The Eagles could slide Todd Herremans inside to guard and have Johnson start at right tackle until they’re ready to part ways with Peters.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (PROJECTED TRADE W/ DETROIT)
The Raiders need more draft picks after Hue Jackson foolishly gave up a ransom to acquire Carson Palmer from Cincinnati two years ago. Thus, they make a logical trade partner for any team looking to move up in the top 10. But whether they trade out of the No. 3 spot or not, Floyd is a solid fit. He gives them the interior defensive line help that they desperately need following the departures of Desmond Bryant and Tommy Kelly.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Unless the Browns intend to start career backup Christopher Owens opposite Joe Haden in their secondary, then cornerback remains a priority. Outside linebacker isn’t a pressing need for Cleveland but when it comes to a pass-rusher with unlimited upside versus a No. 2 corner, there is no debate for NFL teams. Jordan may not slide out of the top 5, but if he does, the Browns would be hard-pressed to pass on the versatile Duck.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
If Lane Johnson slides to the Cardinals at this spot, then he’s the most logical choice. In D’Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie, Arizona had the worst offensive tackle tandem in the league last year, so upgrading its line should be a priority. But with Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson off the board, the Cardinals could address their need at pass rusher with Mingo, who is an athletic freak. There’s some question whether the svelte Mingo will hold up against the run, but for now, Arizona can use him as a designated pass rusher against the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.
8. Buffalo Bills: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib has been a popular pick for the Bills either at this spot or in the second round because of his connection to new head coach Doug Marrone. But Manuel is the better overall prospect, and he’s the best fit in this year’s draft class to run the read-option (which Marrone plans to utilize in his offense). The Bills could use Kevin Kolb as a bridge player this year and turn the keys to Marrone’s offense over to Manuel next season.
9. New York Jets: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
If the season were to start today, Rex Ryan’s edge rushers would be Garrett McIntyre and Antwan Barnes. Thus, while receiver, running back and quarterback are all holes for the Jets, they can’t head into next season without addressing their need for edge rushers. Ansah is versatile in that he lined up both inside and outside at BYU, and has the ability to stand up as an edge rusher as well.
10. Tennessee Titans: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Everyone expects the Titans to draft a guard with this pick, but after they signed Andy Levitre to a massive free-agent deal, defensive end becomes a bigger need. Thus, if Ezekiel Ansah were to fall to this spot, he would be a logical selection. But with all of the top pass-rushers coming off the board in this mock (save for Florida State’s Bjoern Werner), the Titans take the best defensive back available in Milliner. He’s the type of press man corner that Tennessee is seeking, and his medical history could scare off teams like Cleveland, which has been a popular landing spot for Milliner in other mocks.
11. San Diego Chargers: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
Many draftniks will view this pick as a major reach, but I’m willing to bet that Watson’s name will be read by Roger Goodell far sooner than people expect. There’s a team out there that has already fallen in love with his size (6-6, 320 pounds) and will undoubtedly pull him off the board before he’s projected to go. Is that team the Chargers? Outside of cornerback and linebacker, there is no bigger need in San Diego than offensive tackle, so it’s certainly a possibility.
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
I’m making this pick based on the assumption that the Dolphins will acquire OT Branden Albert before the draft. Miami signed Brent Grimes to a one-year deal, but he’s coming off an Achilles injury that wiped out most of his 2012 season and there’s an opening that was created when Sean Smith signed with Kansas City. If the Dolphins don’t trade for Albert, then Watson could be the selection at No. 12 and Rhodes could be San Diego’s pick at No. 11.
13. New York Jets: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Tavon Austin and Tyler Eifert are definite possibilities at this pick, but the Jets lost LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell in free agency and thus, safety is a huge need as well. Rex Ryan has yet to find a long-term solution at safety since taking the New York job in 2009, but the versatile Vaccaro could be the answer.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Panthers have needs at offensive tackle, cornerback and safety, but Richardson is arguably the best player available and would give Carolina’s pass-rush a boost. Playing on the same line as Charles Johnson could do wonders for Richardson, who should be a stud as a three-technique tackle.
15. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Jones is hard to project because you don’t know how many teams have flagged him as a medical risk. (He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis in 2009.) But the condition didn’t hinder him in 2012 and despite his poor showing at his pro day in March, he certainly stands out as a playmaker on film. The Saints need to give Rob Ryan more edge rushers, and the versatile Jones could be used in a multitude of ways.
16. St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Rams have holes at safety, running back, outside linebacker and guard, but adding offensive playmakers continues to be a priority. After signing tight end Jared Cook in free agency, Austin could provide Brian Schottenheimer and the Rams with another mismatch in the slot. (He also fills an immediate need as a returner.) Many pundits don’t believe he’ll fall this far, but the NFL is still about height, weight and speed. Austin certainly has speed, but his small frame could cause him to fall further than people expect. If he comes off the board to the Jets at No. 13, as many suspect, then Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and Chance Warmack, North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins are all possibilities at this spot.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
The Steelers could go in a variety of directions here, including pass rusher, guard or safety. But after losing Mike Wallace to the Dolphins via free agency, they need to find another weapon to go along with Antonio Brown in their passing attack. Heath Miller blew out his knee in Week 16 last year, tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL in the process. With the 30-year-old due over $5 million in 2013 and $6 million next season, the Steelers could address an immediate and future need with the selection of Eifert (who can attack the seam as well as line up on the outside and challenge cornerbacks with his size and athleticism).
18. Dallas Cowboys: Eric Reid, S, LSU
The Cowboys have needs along both their lines, but Jerry Jones loves to draft skill players in the first round. (Not that offensive and defensive linemen aren’t skill players in the NFL.) Prospect to prospect, I like Florida’s Matt Elam more than I do Reid. But Elam is 5-9 and 208 pounds, while Reid is 6-2 and 213 pounds and can run a 4.53 forty. He fills a need for Dallas and quenches Jones’ thirst to add athletic marvels on draft day.
19. New York Giants: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Is there a general manager in the league who values defensive ends more than Jerry Reese? With Osi Umenyiora now in Atlanta and Justin Tuck slowing down, Werner gives the Giants youth and upside at their most coveted position. While he’s shown a tendency to avoid tackling ball carriers, Werner had no issues getting after the quarterback at Florida State and is arguably the most skilled pass-rusher in this year’s draft.
20. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Nobody expects Cooper to fall this far, but the average slot position for guards over the last 10 years is No. 23. Who thought David DeCastro would fall to the Steelers at pick No. 24 last year? Simply put, guards rarely go as high as everyone thinks they will. Phil Emery is currently paying for past mistakes made by former Chicago GM Jerry Angelo, who missed on former first-round busts Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi. Either Cooper or Alabama’s Chance Warmack would offer an instant upgrade over Lance Louis at right guard.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The Bengals could still wind up re-signing Andre Smith after the draft, but if they don’t, right tackle becomes a huge need for them. Alec Ogltree or a wide receiver are also options for Cincinnati.
22. St. Louis Rams: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Assuming the Rams take a receiver at No. 16, they could go in a variety of ways with this pick, including guard, outside linebacker and safety. That said, I ultimately envision Jeff Fisher and Les Snead taking Lacy off the board here in efforts to fill the void left by Steven Jackson, and then address their need at safety in the second or third round. A combination of Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson won’t cut it for a head coach like Fisher, who wants to pound the ball between the tackles. Would I take Lacy here? No. Quality running backs are found in the middle rounds all the time (see Matt Forte, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, Jamaal Charles, Stevan Ridley, Frank Gore and Ray Rice). But I don’t get the impression that Fisher is as concerned about the safety position as he is acquiring as many weapons for Sam Bradford as possible.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The Vikings did well to sign Greg Jennings in free agency, but they still have a need at receiver following the trade of Percy Harvin to Seattle. Patterson is raw and will need to refine his route-running ability, but he’s also an explosive playmaker when he gets his hands on the ball. If OC Bill Musgrave is creative, he’ll design ways to get Patterson the ball while he learns the nuances of becoming an NFL receiver.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
The Colts addressed a lot of their defensive needs in free agency, so turning their attention to their offensive line is logical. While they did sign Donald Thomas in free agency, Indy could out-draft Mike McGlynn with the selection of Warmack or fellow guard Jonathan Cooper.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Te’o could easily slip into the second round because the middle linebacker position just doesn’t hold as much value as it did 10 years ago. It’s a pass-happy league and teams will continue to avoid paying two-down linebackers big money, as well as drafting them high in the first round. But at 23, the Vikings could fill a need with Te’o, who was one of the best defenders in the nation last year despite his lousy performance in the national title game. He could start Week 1 and represents an upgrade over current MLB Marvin Mitchell.
26. Green Bay Packers: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
There’s a good chance that Lotulelei won’t fall this far, but the Packers and Steelers always seem to have top prospects fall into their laps on draft day. Last year nobody thought Stanford guard David DeCastro would slip out of the top 15, and he wound up going to Pittsburgh at No. 24. Nick Perry also fell to Green Bay with the No. 28 overall pick last year, and Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod wasn’t slated to slip to No. 32 in 2011. Lotulelei wasn’t one of the 23 prospects invited to Radio City Music Hall on Thursday night. And while that might not mean a damn thing, it also could be an indication that draftniks have the Utah defensive tackle rated too high. Either way, I’m calling my shot: Lotulelei falls further than people think on Thursday night.
27. Houston Texans: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
The Texans desperately need a weapon opposite Andre Johnson, which was evident during their postseason run last year. Hunter’s 2012 season was marred by a knee injury, but he’s one of the most explosive receivers in this draft and has as much upside as any prospect slated to go in the first round.
28. Denver Broncos: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
The Broncos might wind up signing a veteran free agent like Dwight Freeney or John Abraham to address their need at defensive end, but even then they still need a long-term replacement for Elvis Dumervil. Jones might not get past the Giants at No. 19, but if he did, the former Bruin could be a steal at this spot. He has an aggressive style and often wins off the edge with strength and power. He’s also versatile enough to play inside in obvious passing situations.
29. New England Patriots: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
I’m not convinced that Allen will be a first-round pick, but he was highly productive at Cal and might be the best route runner in this year’s draft class. New England is always a mystery on draft day thanks to Bill Belichick, but receiver is a need, as is cornerback, defensive end and safety.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Plenty of mocks have the Falcons selecting a defensive end at this spot, which makes sense given their need for pass rushers. But they signed Osi Umenyiora in free agency and remain high on undersized pass rusher Kroy Biermann. They also seem to like former mid/late-round picks Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews as well. Thus, the bigger need is at corner following the release of Dunta Robinson. Trufant might be off the board at this spot, but if he’s still available, he has the speed, agility and quickness to be a starter from Day 1. He just needs to be more physical, both in coverage and when defending the run. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons trade up to get Trufant, or maybe an edge rusher like Bjorn Werner if he falls. (Don’t rule out a defensive tackle such as Sheldon Richardson, either.)
31. San Francisco 49ers: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
When Justin Smith tore his triceps in a late-season game against the Patriots last year, the 49ers’ secondary fell apart. But instead of investing a high draft pick in a cornerback, GM Trent Baalke once again went the bargain-bin route by signing Nnamdi Asomugha to a cheap one-year deal. (Baalke made a similar move a couple of years ago when he signed Carlos Rogers off the scrap heap in early August.) It makes sense that the Niners continue to focus on their front seven, and the versatile Hunt would be a nice fit at this spot.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
Ozzie Newsome signed Michael Huff in free agency, but the addition of Cyprien could make the Ravens’ safeties interchangeable. They need to find a replacement for Ed Reed and, while the safety position is deep in this year’s draft, Baltimore can’t wait to land one seeing as how it’s picking at the bottom of each round. A linebacker such as Manti Te’o or Kevin Minter also makes sense.