Here is my It-Better-Be-Official-Because-The-Draft-Is-In-Two-Days Mock Draft. The new CBA and the uncertainty surrounding this particular Draft class make trades (and a lot of them) likely on Thursday. That also makes mocking the Draft an even more than usually tricky proposition. But… without trying to predict trades… here goes nothing:
1. Chiefs select Luke Joeckel (OT, Texas A&M)
Without much ado, the Chiefs do exactly what they need to do: take the best player in the Draft. It so happens that they've got a new coach who loves linemen and like he did when he brought Jon Runyan in via Free Agency with the Eagles, he aims to give his new team a franchise tackle for years to come.
2. Jaguars select Eric Fisher (OT, Central Michigan)
Gus Bradley, being a defensive guy, has been linked to Dion Jordan in most mock Drafts, but here he decides to go with the best player available. If you listen to scouts, it's clear that the best group in this Draft is along the offensive line. And just like that… the top two tackles are gone before pick #3.
3. Raiders select Sharrif Floyd (DT, Florida)
The Raiders need so many things, but the chance to get the most explosive defensive lineman in the Draft is too much to pass up. Floyd showed that he could dominate games at times even with relatively raw skills. The Raiders will hope to polish those skills and develop a version of Warren Sapp that they get to enjoy before the age of 32.
4. Eagles select Star Lotuleilei (DT/DE, Utah)
This is a spot where, if I were considering trades, I might be likely to project one. But since I am not… the Eagles stay put and take the versatile defensive lineman that gives new Coach Chip Kelly and new Defensive Coordinator Bill Davis a toy to play with in their new defensive scheme.
5. Lions select Lane Johnson (OT, Oklahoma)
Much to chagrin of everyone sitting below the top 5, the Lions keep the run on OTs going strong. That's the top 3 gone in the first 5 picks of the Draft. The Lions need the help as much as anyone at the tackle spots and, unlike most teams drafting this high, they actually have a franchise quarterback to protect. Giving Stafford time to look downfield for Megatron is not a bad plan. Lane Johnson, a freakish athlete in his own right, provides that.
6. Browns select Dion Jordan (OLB/DE, Oregon)
I've had Dee Milliner going in this spot for months, but recent reports that the Draft's top corner might miss the beginning of camp due to injury is enough to scare my mock-Browns into taking Jordan. Frankly, the Browns are thrilled that Jordan has slipped to this point and getting the Draft's top edge-rushing project at #6 feels like a major win for a new staff that has already added a lot to the defense via Free Agency.
7. Cardinals select Chance Warmack (G, Alabama)
These first 6 picks turned into a sort of worst case scenario for the Cardinals who had hoped to get a top OT or Dion Jordan to help off the edge. But rather than settling on Ziggy Ansah or Barkevious Mingo they decide to stick with their guns and add to the Offensive Line. They do so by adding the best player in the Draft. Guard may not be a glamour position, but Kevin Kolb saw enough pressure right in the middle of the pocket to respond to this pick with, "Sure… now they get help."
8. Bills select Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
So much for no QBs in the first round this year. The top signal caller goes to a team that desperately needs one. New Coach Doug Marrone loves athletic quarterbacks who can sit in the pocket and also get outside and make plays. Geno Smith has taken a lot of unfair hits in this process from a lot of folks who got too comfy scouting Andrew Luck and RGIII last year. He's no Luck, but he's no bum either. Geno has all the tools to succeed at the NFL level.
9. Jets select Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
The Jets are scared and happy when Dee slips to them at #9. Scared because taking him makes him the immediate heir apparent to Darrelle Revis and heaps onto the rookie a lot of pressure that no rookie needs. Happy because they never expected one of the Draft's 5 best players to make it to #9. They snap up the big, fast, physical corner and plug him into the starting lineup across from Antonio Cromartie who's a little less bummed about losing Revis now.
10. Titans select Jonathan Cooper (G, North Carolina)
The Titans need help along the offensive line and they're going to take the best offensive lineman available so long as one of the top 5 guys (Joeckel, Fisher, Johnson, Warmack, Cooper) are there. Cooper is athletic, he's versatile, he can play all three interior positions and he can run in space. The Titans running game is predicated on speed and space and Cooper is the right guard for them. Doesn't hurt that he's the only one of the above mentioned still available at #10.
11. Chargers select Ezekiel Ansah (DE/OLB, BYU)
Here's another team that could be looking to move up to get one of the pass protectors in this Draft. If none of the top guys are available, the Chargers are so hard up for protecting Philip Rivers that they will consider DJ Fluker here. But if they can't move up or back they will settle on the best player left. Ansah is a raw player if ever there was one… but the example of Jason Pierre-Paul with the Giants is still fresh in the minds of many and if Ansah can develop in that mold, he's a great value at #11.
12. Dolphins select Xavier Rhodes (CB, Florida State)
The Dolphins are a complicated projection because they are currently close to adding OT Brandon Albert from Kansas City. If they decide not to pull the trigger on Albert it will likely be because they've agreed on a trade that will get them in position to draft Joeckel, Fisher, or Johnson. Bottom line… OT is priority number 1 in Miami. They would love to put a big bookend tackle in Jake Long's old spot and dress him up in their new toothpaste-logo inspired uniforms. But with trades off the table in this mock Draft, they go with need #2 and take the Draft's second best CB.
13. Jets select Barkevious Mingo (DE/OLB, LSU)
Thrilled that he's still there, the Jets jump on the chance to address a real need for a defensive playmaker. The Jets made the trade with Tampa, in part, because they knew they needed help in a lot of places. Replacing Revis with Milliner at #9 and still adding a dynamic defensive player like Mingo at #13 makes the trade, at least for now, look like a big victory for the Jets. Mingo, like most of the pass rushers in this draft, needs some polishing. But he may be the most ready (between he, Jordan and Ansah, to perform from Day 1 in the league.
14. Panthers select Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri)
Luke Kuechly began the defensive rebuild for the Panthers. It continues with Richardson. The versatile defensive lineman gives new GM Dave Gettleman the beginnings of the kind of defensive line he learned works during his time with the Giants.
15. Saints select Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina)
The Saints were bummed to see Richardson come off the board 1 pick before they would've taken him. But Williams scores not far behind Richardson and fills the biggest position of need on the Saints' defense. This pick might be considered a slight reach at #15, but the Saints are a team with enough talent and a limited enough window (Brees is 34) that they've got to address needs.
16. Rams select Tavon Austin (WR, West Virginia)
The Rams lost playmaking WR Danny Amendola and replace him with an even more exciting version. Amendola 2.0 is Tavon Austin who comes in as the 16th pick and the leading candidate for Offensive ROY. Sam Bradford is thrilled with this pick as Austin's motor and his ability to turn a quick pass into a huge play makes every quarterback look good. Geno Smith's numbers were off the charts at West Virginia and not in small part due to what Austin provided.
17. Steelers select Jarvis Jones (LB, Georgia)
Medical concerns aside, the Steelers add the most productive player in the nation. Jones was a dominant pass rusher in the country's best conference. His poor showing wearing shorts and no pads doesn't do anything to deter the Steelers. And they sit at #17 and take a player that they likely graded as a top 5-10 talent in the Draft. Not to mention the Steelers generally have good luck developing OLBs in their seemingly always effective 34 defense. Jones becomes the newest piece and is a starter from the moment he puts on a practice jersey.
18. Cowboys select Kenny Vaccaro (S, Texas)
Thrilled. That's Jerry Jones when Vaccaro falls to #18. The Cowboys figured they'd have to trade up a few spots to land the Draft's best safety, but the board falls right for the Cowboys and they add the in-state prospect to a secondary that needs him badly.
19. Giants select DJ Fluker (OT, Alabama)
It's been hours since an offensive lineman came off the board and the Giants are glad for that. They need help protecting Eli Manning and that need outweighs their desire to add Alec Ogletree at #19. Fluker is a top 2-3 tackle in most Drafts and only falls to this point because he isn't quite the prospect the trio of Joeckel/Fisher/Johnson are. But he is a starter for the Giants somewhere along the line. Fluker is versatile in that he can play inside or outside.
20. Bears select Alec Ogletree (LB, Georgia)
The second linebacker from Georgia comes off the board to replace Brian Urlacher. Not a small task for Ogletree. But one he is athletically capable of performing. Off the field troubles push this top-10 talent into the 20th spot in the Draft, but the Bears and new Coach Marc Trestman have a high character organization and believe that Ogletree will get with the program. He's got the frame to fill out and the speed/size to be a disruptive force on all 3 downs.
21. Bengals select Eric Reid (S, LSU)
The Bengals are tough team to figure because they still need to sign RT Andre Smith. If they can't, OT becomes a really strong need. Otherwise, the Bengals spot in the Draft doesn't seem to match well with their needs. Reid is a bit of a reach at #21 but he fits the Bengals history of taking high-upside prospects with tons of pure ability. Reid is not a complete prospect, but he fits here better than the idea of reaching for the 5th best OT or a defensive end.
22. Rams select Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame)
Sam Bradford is just bursting with joy at this point in the Draft. The Rams got a lot of Draft help by trading away the right to Draft Robert Griffin last year. They are going to use those picks to make the quarterback they are banking on (Bradford) look good. Tavon Austin and #16 and Tyler Eifert at #22 give Bradford a big play threat and a safety net. He's very excited to get to camp.
23. Vikings select Keenan Allen (WR, California)
I think the decision in the Vikings war-room between Allen and fellow WR Cordarrelle Patterson will be a heated debate. In the end the high ceiling of Patterson will be passed up in favor of the more polished ready-to-contribute Keenan Allen. Greg Jennings and Allen ease the pain of needing to part ways with Percy Harvin due to… let's say… compatibility issues.
24. Colts select Bjoern Werner (DE/OLB, Florida State)
Bjoern's stock has been all over the place in the months leading up to the Draft. Most recently there have been reports that he'll slip out of Round 1 altogether. I still feel like he's Round 1 material and more importantly, I think the Colts will agree that he's the best fit for their 34 defense. He can play from a two-point stance or put his hand on the ground. He's big and surprisingly quick and agile for his size. The offense took over a major chunk of the early Draft in 2012 for the Colts. I think they focus on defense in 2013.
25. Vikings select Kawann Short (DT, Purdue)
The Vikings have a big need on the interior of their defensive line and they'd sure like to see Sylvester Williams last until 23 or 25. But, here, he doesn't. So they look to the same position and grab an inconsistent player in Short. A guy who can look dominant and then look lazy on the same tape.
26. Packers select Johnathan Jenkins (DT, Georgia)
Another Bulldog defender comes off the board as the Packers address a need along the defensive front. BJ Raji and Ryan Pickett both have deals that end in 2013 and Jenkins has the chance to outproduce either of them from day 1. He is a load. And teams with good linebackers (like Green Bay) look for players like Jenkins to day up space allowing those linebackers to make plays. There is so much talent at DT in this Draft that a lot of teams will be coming away with 'their guy' based on individual scouting reports. Jenkins and the Packers are a fit.
27. Texans select DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Clemson)
The Texans need to provide some help for an aging Andre Johnson that, at times, seems to be draped with 40 or 50 defensive backs. The choice between Hopkins, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Justin Hunter will be a difficult one, but I think Hopkins wins out because of his intangibles. He does well the things you can't teach easily… high pointing the ball, using his hands correctly, positioning his body in front of a defender. He's a more polished product than the other two WR candidates and the Texans have a team ready to win so polish is more valuable than upside.
28. Broncos select Desmond Trufant (CB, Washington)
I think the Broncos would've loved the free fall of Werner to continue to this point, but there's no doubt they're happy to see Trufant at #28. Champ Bailey isn't getting any younger and to get a corner with some pretty NFL ready skills makes sense for a team that has a limited window (Peyton can't play forever… right?) Trufant has great feet and a lot of folks think he's the second best corner in the class. Getting that at #28 is a big win for Denver.
29. Patriots select Jamar Taylor (CB, Boise State)
The Pats need help at cornerback. Badly. It's been one positions that has eluded the expertise of Bill Belichick. Taylor's lack of ideal physical tools are the reason he's falling to pick #29. But that lack of combine-popping numbers is more than made up for by his well-rounded game. He plays well off coverage as well as manning up well against larger receivers and will be a pick without much fanfare. Coach Belichick hates fanfare.
30. Falcons select Datone Jones (DE, UCLA)
The Falcons need help at cornerback and at defensive end. With two corners being taken immediately before they pick, they decide to take a value pick with the end out of UCLA. Jones is a big end that can also slide into the DT slots in the right system. He projects best to a traditional 43 defense like the one the Falcons run.
31. 49ers select Jonathan Cyprien (S, Florida International)
Cyprien is one of those fan-favorite picks for a lot of different teams. He plays a position fans love; safeties tend to fly around the field and make plays agains the run and pass. He's from a smaller school. And he's got some impressive tape. His jumping ahead of Matt Elam is surprising considering that a few months ago few people (outside of scouting departments) knew who Cyprien was, but he's a better prospect to replace Dashon Goldson in San Fransisco and could end up being the best safety in the 2013 class.
32. Ravens select Matt Elam (S, Florida)
I believe the Ravens are silently hoping to see Cyprien fall to them at 32. But, in lieu of that, Elam is the pick. They need someone to replace Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard and so the safety position looks like an obvious need. Ozzie Newsome, it's said, 'loves to hit doubles.' He likes sure thing-ish prospects and Matt Elam fits the bill as he's a guy who's shown all the skills necessary to play safety in the NFL. The feature he lacks is size. And that's why he's available at #32. But no further.