I’d like to say I am so good that I only need one version of my mock draft, but the reality is I barely had time to get this one version out (let alone several). The only time I really like to do several is when free agency is happening, as it can vary the needs. I think I say this every year, but ignore all of the big sways in players moving one way or another in mock drafts. This is the season of misinformation, and teams are trying to get anything they can in the media to confuse other teams and try to get the player they want to slide to their pick. I always rely on what I have watched on film, and what perhaps the combine and pro days have confirmed from a measureable numbers standpoint. Unlike the big dogs on ESPN, I don’t have “sources” or ‘insider information’. And I don’t pick my mock drafts like I am pretending to be psychic and know what a team will do. I look at this as if I am the GM of that team and I am drafting based on who is available. I look at what the team needs, the value of the players left, the depth of the positions available, and several other minor things that factor into a decision (like is it a position that transitions quickly to the next level, or am I picking in the bottom quarter of the round and can afford a project player).
So you will notice my Mock Draft will look very different to the other media outlets. What I always pride myself on is going back in 3-5 years and seeing what I had thought was right. It usually turns out the players I thought should go higher ended up being better players. When teams get caught up in ideas like ‘positional value’ and that, it’s when you let better football players pass you by. You can’t assume you will get player X in round Y. If you like them, and they fit your scheme, and you are confident they will be better than what other people think they will be, go take them. The teams that can do this with conviction are the teams that consistently do well.
The only caveat I throw in here is I do not have detailed information on injury reports or character questions other than what is available in the media. Those are probably the two key things that will cause someone to slide when I think they should be picked higher.
Here goes nothing, feel free to post comments or stop by next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for the Live blog coverage.
1. Carolina Panthers- Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
No QB here for me, as I just have too much risk aversion in both Gabbert and Newton to get this one wrong. QB is definitely the most important position on a team, so the value is higher, but that also means the magnitude of messing this up is so much higher. This pick won’t set back the franchise for years as Dareus is NFL ready, a clean prospect, and he’s very versatile. New head coach Chico Rivera has run both 4-3, 3-4, and even hybrid 46 defenses. He’s more than likely going to be pressing his D-coordinator to do the same. Dareus is a great fit in this regard as he can play all along the line in even and odd man fronts. He’ll make an impact from day one in a positive way, which is all that matters. The only other player I consider here is Patrick Peterson, but the Carolina defensive backfield was actually pretty good last year. I wouldn’t complain if that were the pick though.
2. Denver Broncos- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
I think Peterson is the best overall player in this draft, regardless of position. Denver could probably use front seven help on the defensive line, but Champ Bailey isn’t getting any younger, and Parrish Cox may be going to prison (look it up for more details). Peterson can come in and start immediately, and he also gives Denver a huge weapon in the punt return game. Is it a risk to put the number two overall pick in on kick returns? Sure, but it’s also bound to bring some reward when he potentially changes a loss to a win with a return TD. The only other players I consider here are Da’Quan Bowers or Robert Quinn. I skip both because I rate Peterson higher, and all three are even needs at this point. Plus he has a clean injury record, so it’s a no-brainer.
3. Buffalo Bills- Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
I make this pick with some trepidation. I’m one of the few still a bit on the fence about Miller. While he improved this year, I still worry that he is more of a one-dimensional speed rusher than a complete prospect. I thought about Robert Quinn here, but I think Buffalo does not want to risk drafting another transition player who will be learning to play with his hand off the ground in a 3-4. Miller proved this year he can drop into coverage, and he’s played in a hybrid defense like this. Plus he’s good enough to play SLB if the Bills do move to more 4-3 looks. Don’t believe the hype of people saying ‘they have Merriman and Kelsay, they don’t need an upgrade on the OLB spot’. I think that’s precisely why they need an upgrade, as neither of those players strikes fear into opposing offenses any more.
4. Cincinnati Bengals- AJ Green, WR, Georgia
Gabbert and Newton are still on the board, and the Bengals need a long term option at QB even if Palmer decides to come back, but I just think it’s still not worth the risk here. I’d rather take a player like Green, and now you have a potentially lethal group of pass catching options with the late surging Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley in the slot, Chad Johnson potentially staying, and a healthy Germaine Gresham at TE. I really have a hard time splitting hairs between Jones and Green as I really like both. I think Jones is the best blocking WR I have seen since Hines Ward, but Green just has a feel for the position that can’t be taught and he will be a star in time. If I’m Palmer, I’d be rushing back to play with this cast of weapons to throw to, as you won’t find another team as loaded with young talent on the skill positions as they are. If they did go for Gabbert, I wouldn’t argue too much. I would argue if it’s Newton though, more on that later. If Cincinnati went with a DE like Bowers or Quinn, I would also not argue one bit.
5. Arizona Cardinals- Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
I absolutely love Robert Quinn, and I’m confident he can make the transition to OLB in a 3-4 and make a huge impact for this Cardinals team. Arizona is loaded on the defensive line, but they’ve been missing that true rush OLB for some time now. Quinn can provide that, and it’s all he will be asked to provide. With a sleeper player I liked previously (O’Brien Schofield) developing on the other side, this Cardinals front seven could very quickly be one of the most dangerous in all of the NFL. It doesn’t matter who is QB’ing, as they will be in ever game if this develops like I think it can. Drafting Newton or Gabbert here doesn’t make much sense to me. The Cardinals drafted two developmental QBs last year, they don’t need a third. They need a veteran like Palmer or Bulger in here instead.
6. Cleveland Browns- Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
I’m one of the few apparently who really think that Bowers will be an excellent pass rusher at the next level. What I like best is he’s a stout run defender as well, so he’s a two-way player worthy of a top ten pick. The only thing that makes me think this will not happen is all of the bad press about how his knee may be a long term issue. As someone who has a knee that went from something simple being cleaned out to it now being a lifelong problem, I can see why a team may be skeptical to invest such a large chunk of money in a player with this issue. But I am going to assume it’s fine until we all see otherwise, and in this case, Bowers is a steal. The Browns could use a top notch WR talent like Julio Jones, but as long suffering Browns and DDA fan Danimal pointed out, Cleveland only has two defensive linemen under contract right now. So of it’s not Bowers, it’s Quinn if he’s here, or it may even be Nick Fairley (although I would pass on Fairley at this point due to the risk).
7. San Francisco 49ers- Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Once again I make this pick with trepidation. While I like Gabbert, and see the potential, it’s just that: potential. Do not believe for one second he’s in the league of Sam Bradford. Everyone wants to compare this year’s QBs to Bradford or Ryan or Flacco. The closest one I would compare them to is Flacco, but he went in the late teens, not in the top 10. Bradford was always a QB I said would be a star. His accuracy and ability to throw people open superseded any offensive scheme he played in. You can’t teach that. And that’s something I don’t see in any of these QBs this year. Gabbert has the least flaws though, and he fits well in a WC style offense that Harbaugh is more than likely to run. Plus, Gabbert has the athleticism and ability to throw on the move, which we have seen Harbaugh do in his days at Stanford. It’s the best case scenario, and it’s finally to the point where I think the risk balances with the reward. If everyone else in the media is right, and Gabbert is gone by this pick, then I think a corner like Prince Amukamara is the best choice. Or if Quinn were available, he’s a solid pick as well.
8. Tennessee Titans- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
I think this is the highest I would feel comfortable taking Fairley, and I did a good bit of thinking before I put pen to paper here. It’s a solid fit, and what makes me choose Fairley here is his college positional coach Tracy Rocker is the new DL coach for the Titans. Rocker obviously did something right to get the most out of Fairley this year, and having someone he’s comfortable with makes me think he will be more likely to succeed. But I am saying this with hesitation as I think he’s got the highest ‘boom or bust’ potential of these top ten picks. If he can learn to play at the next level with the same quickness, but with better pad level, he will be what this defense has desperately missed since they had a motivated Albert Haynesworth. I know Newton is still here and Tennessee needs a QB, but they have the same player on their roster in Vince Young, They will not make that same mistake twice, and will look for a prospect with a better value for the position in the second round.
9. Dallas Cowboys- Tyron Smith, OT, USC
I know some of you will immediately point out how I have said Gabe Carimi is my favorite OT in this draft, but hear me out on this one. While I do like Carimi slightly better, I do think Smith has as good of a floor as him but a higher ceiling as well. So I am going a bit on potential here, and because Smith will be asked to line up at a position he is confident playing in the right tackle spot. Dallas has a good number of options here with top notch players available at their three greatest positions of need (CB, DE, OT). I rate Smith slightly higher in the need department, and on par with someone like Amukamara at CB or J.J. Watt of Wisconsin at DE. This will be the start of rebuilding the Cowboys OL with some youth and talent at both tackle spots now.
10. Washington Redskins- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
I would run to the podium with the card tat this point, as Jones is a flat out steal. I thought long and hard about drafting him four overall, and at six, and at eight, so I cannot pass on him here at the ten spot. Due to years of incompetence in the draft room, the Redskins have needs all over their roster. Cam Newton is a possibility since he has the skills to roll out and throw on the run that Shanahan likes in his QBs, but I just feel Jones is a better overall NFL prospect. He will immediately be their number one receiver, and I think Jones will be in the top 10-15 WRs in the league within the next three years. If not Jones, then a DE like J.J. Watt would make an awful lot of sense here.
11. Houston Texans- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
I will always agree that a very good pass rush makes up for a weak secondary, so going for a rush OLB here like Aldon Smith would actually make sense. But when comparing where I feel these players rate value wise, I can’t pass on a secondary need in the secondary (get it? Yeah, that was weak). This would make for back to back first round CB selections for the Texans, but I think it’s warranted based on how poorly they played last year. Wade Phillips will make a difference, but it’s a big issue considering this team really doesn’t have the horses to run the 3-4 defense. Having said that, they have talented players that should fit, and I think getting an immediate starting corner of Amukamara’s talent is necessary when playing the Colts twice a year. Amukamara is a value at this point of the first round, and I could very easily see him go as high as number seven overall. If Prince is not the man here, then Aldon Smith does make sense and even Baylor NT Phil Taylor would fit probably the most glaring need on this transitioning defense (although he’s third on this list if all were available).
12. Minnesota Vikings- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Sure, I am probably one of the only mock drafts you will find with Newton going this low. But if I am honest with myself, I’d have him go even lower, probably in the second round. I look at Newton very much how I looked at Tim Tebow last year. I just don’t see him as a successful NFL QB. It has nothing to do with the off-the-field stuff, although that doesn’t help; it has everything to do with his on the field ability to transition to a pro-style QB. I think it’s the chic thing to compare him to Vick, but I think that’s not a great thing as Vick is exactly what Newton may be. He’s potentially good enough to get you to the playoffs, but that’s it. And even that is with a very strong cast around him. I just don’t see it in him, and it’s a huge risk taking him this high. I actually prefer Ryan Mallet, but with a somewhat porous OL, Minnesota needs a QB who can escape and hopefully make plays on the move. It’s a decent situation for him to go to, as there is a strong running game in place, so he won’t be asked to do too much right away. Going through progressive reads and putting the ball where it needs to be accurately will never be things Newton can do. Hopefully he proves me and other doubters wrong, but I am sticking strongly to this assessment until I see it. Personally, I would rather take a DT like Corey Liuget, a DE like Aldon Smith, a CB like Jimmy Smith, or an OT like Gabe Carimi. But I will weight need, with positional value, with some potential here and make take the plunge while holding my breath. And as a Bears fan, I secretly hope this happens and he’s as bad as I think so that it’s one less team to worry about in the division.
13. Detroit Lions- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
I’m probably making a mistake here based on the fact that I don’t really know any of the history of Smith’s apparent ‘off-the-field’ issues. I’m going strictly based on the talent of this player and the glaring hole in the Lions secondary at the CB position. I think if Smith is a ‘clean prospect’, he’s potentially going in the top ten, and may even go higher than Amukamara. But weighing the risk, it’s worth it at this point as I think he can make a bigger impact than a DE or OT for the Lions. Those are positions that can be addressed later or in free agency if that ever occurs. Smith is very physical and is great at jamming guys at the line of scrimmage. It’s perfect for a young Lions team with an outstanding DL, as it will slow the passing routes up just enough to let those big guys get to the QB. Scary to admit it, but the Lions are starting to look VERY good. They just need to develop that finisher’s mentality, and they could be a force to be reckoned with.
14. St. Louis Rams- Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
I almost picked Liuget before I picked Fairley from the DT group as I know you are at the very least getting a high motor player with almost as much impact potential in Corey Liuget. Liuget is slightly undersized, but he’s quick, and his initial penetration is what causes him to be so effective. The Rams would love to see Green or Jones fall here, and I could actually see them making a move up to try to get one (which I wholeheartedly support), but neither will be available. So the Rams are better off going with a DT, a DE, or even a CB if Jimmy Smith is still available. I think Liuget may end up making a quicker impact than the other two DTs picked above him simply because he’s coming in to a better situation with some pass rushing talent already there on the outside in Chris Long and George Selvie. He’s the ideal three technique, and I’d love to see the Bears make a move for him, but this is pretty high to move up and they have to get at least to this spot to get him.
15. Miami Dolphins- Ryan Mallet, QB, Arkansas
I know most of you are probably wondering what changed my mind on Mallet considering I was not that high no him before. I think what has changed my mind slightly is the fact that he just has a much better base to work with than the other QBs in this draft. He is very limited athletically, but this is the perfect fit for him. Mallet is a pocket passer who needs some time, and he can pick a defense apart. He has the throwing ability you find in a franchise level QB, so with a good OL like the Dolphins have in place, he fits perfectly. Yes, Miami could use a center like Mike Pouncey, but I don’t think they will go with OL over the QB like they did three years ago with Jake Long over Matt Ryan. They made that choice then, which I still defend and think was the right choice, to make a selection like this possible. With the value of players left on the board, based on what the Dolphins are lacking, this just makes too much sense to me. I understand that Miami has no starting caliber RBs under contract right now, and Mark Ingram would be a great idea, but good RBs can be had in free agency or in rounds three and onward. I’d much rather pick Mallet, sign a free agent like Darren Sproles or DeAngelo Williams and get a veteran OC, then trying to fill those spots at this point in the draft. This is where the risk is worth the reward. I will also say this though: It would not surprise me one bit to see Mallet go higher or much, much lower. This QB class is really up and down and every team probably looks at every prospect very differently.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars- Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
While I slightly prefer J.J. Watt, I think Smith is a better fit for this defense. There is more potential there from a pass rushing perspective, although Watt is a much better run defender. The Jags desperately need someone who can really bend the edge and get after the passer, and with a solid DT group and a healthy Aaron Kampman coming back, Smith will fit in very nicely into their DL rotation. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Jacksonville go with a QB they like to develop over the next couple of years while they run out the David Gerrard, but they have a team that can win now, so this is not as pressing a need in my opinion. If Smith is not here, and DE is the choice, than Cameron Jordan, J.J. Watt, and Ryan Kerrigan would all be very good fits as well and I would not argue at all with any of those guys.