With the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl behind us and all but two teams focused on the 2010 season, it’s time to launch the mock draft season. We’ll find out more about these players as they’re poked, prodded, and probed at the Scouting Combine in February, and free agency may tweak team needs a bit, but here’s a first stab at what might shake down during the NFL’s three-day player dispersal event.
1. St. Louis Rams — Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
The Rams desperately need a quarterback, but it’s the one shallow position in an otherwise deep draft. Unless they fall in love with Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen at the Combine they’ll fortify defensively with the best college player in the country last year.
2. Detroit Lions — Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma
There are still plenty of needs in Detroit. The Lions could opt to protect franchise quarterback Matt Stafford with the best offensive tackle in the draft, but Jim Schwartz is a defensive guy and McCoy plugs a huge hole in the middle.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
The above scenario couldn’t have played out any worse for the Bucs, who are dearly hoping one of the two elite defensive tackles falls to them at No. 3. Berry is hardly a consolation prize, but if the Bucs feel set in the secondary they could also look at offensive line help or a pass rusher like Jason Pierre-Paul.
4. Washington Redskins — Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
All the teams hoping for an offensive lineman later in the first round had to do a little dance when Mike Shanahan signed on with the Redskins, because you just know he’s picking his quarterback of the future here. The alternative would be some desperately needed help up front, like Russell Okung or Trent Williams.
5. Kansas City Chiefs — Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State
The old Patriots' modus operandi was to draft offensive linemen later, but a shot at the best tackle in the draft might be too tempting to pass up. The alternative would be a moderate reach for LB Rolando McClain, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see Scott Pioli trade down the board and add extra picks.
6. Seattle Seahawks — Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame
There’s a strong need for offensive line help here, but with another selection eight picks later Seattle should be able to fill that need and still get their quarterback of the future. Clausen gave Pete Carroll’s Southern Cal squad all they could handle in a 34-27 loss last year, and Matt Hasselbeck might still have enough left in the tank to afford the Seahawks and Clausen a year of clipboard duty.
7. Cleveland Browns — Joe Haden, CB, Florida
Mike Holmgren may not even get a chance to draft a quarterback here, and Jerome Harrison’s strong finish to the 2009 season lessens the need for a running back in this spot as well. The best cornerback in the draft is hardly a consolation prize.
8. Oakland Raiders — Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland
The Raiders’ recent track record—Darrius Heyward-Bey, Darren McFadden, JaMarcus Russell—isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of their scouting department. Maybe Al Davis can have Campbell and Anthony Davis run a 40-yard race at the Combine, with the winner (?) going to Oakland.
9. Buffalo Bills — Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma
Last season Buffalo started two rookies and another second-year player with no previous NFL experience along their offensive line. In a draft class loaded at the position, the Bills should definitely find some help for new coach Chan Gailey and whomever he fields at quarterback.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars* — Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
This is essentially the same decision the Texans faced when Vince Young was coming out of college, only with a different outcome as the Jaguars take the hometown hero who’s not exactly a perfect fit for a pro style offense. What’s to stop the Jags from incorporating the spread into their own offensive scheme—oh, and filling those empty seats and selling a ton of teal jerseys in the process?
11. Denver Broncos (from Bears)* — Rolondo McClain, LB, Alabama
Dez Bryant to replace the soon-to-be-departed Brandon Marshall would make sense here as well, but the way Josh McDaniels runs off talent you get the feeling he’s confident he can plug any warm body into his system and get results. That leaves the Broncos to go with defensive help; the options include McClain or DEs Carlos Dunlap or Derrick Morgan.
12. Miami Dolphins — Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State
If ever there were a team in need of passing-game playmakers it’s the Dolphins, so if the top wideout in the draft falls to them and McClain is already off the board Chad Henne will have a new weapon.
13. San Francisco 49ers — Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho
The Niners need help along the offensive line, and at the rate Iupati is moving up the draft board—think Branden Albert a couple years ago—he may not even last this long. A guard at Idaho, Iupati’s long arms have some projecting him at tackle; his versatility provides an immediate fix for whatever o-line need the 49ers deem most pressing.
14. Seattle Seahawks (from Broncos) — Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers
Carroll’s gambit works, as the Seahawks are able to get in on the end of the elite offensive tackles and draft protection for Clausen. If Seattle reverses the scenario and addresses their line needs first, it wouldn’t be surprising to see C.J. Spiller go off the board here.
15. New York Giants — Earl Thomas, S, Texas
There are multiple needs on the back half of the Giants’ defense, and a linebacker like Sergio Kindle or Brandon Spikes would make sense here as well. But with the Giants’ borderline desperate in the secondary and a deep stash of linebackers available later on, Thomas makes the most sense.
16. Tennessee Titans** — Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech
It’s unlikely Morgan actually makes it this far, but there’s always a player or two who inexplicably fall on draft day and in this case it’s the Titans who benefit. Tennessee’s primary needs come on defense, and Morgan is not only the best defensive player left on the board but also a great fit for a distinct need.
17. San Francisco 49ers (from Panthers)** — Taylor Mays, S, USC
With o-line help acquired four picks earlier, San Francisco now looks to upgrade the secondary. The options are to reach for a corner like Donovan Warren or Patrick Robinson... or give Mike Singletary a punishing safety who hits like a truck. Guess which one is more likely to get Singletary excited?
18. Pittsburgh Steelers — Brian Price, DT, UCLA
The Steelers are set at the skill positions, but for a team just a year removed from a Super Bowl title they have plenty of other needs. With a plethora of options here—CBs Patrick Robinson or Donovan Warren, S Nate Allen, OL Bryan Bulaga or Maurkice Pouncey—look for Pittsburgh to upgrade the defensive line. And even there they have options, with ends Carlos Dunlap and Corey Wootton pushing Price and fellow tackle Dan Williams for a black-and-gold jersey.
19. Atlanta Falcons*** — Corey Wootton, DE, Northwestern
There are two ways to improve your pass defense: upgrade the secondary or upgrade the pass rush. With John Abraham aging and Jamaal Anderson underachieving, expect the Falcons to follow the latter plan—if not with Wootton, then possibly Everson Griffen or Carlos Dunlap.
20. Houston Texans*** — Donovan Warren, CB, Michigan
Offense or defense? Running back or cornerback? There will be a serious temptation for Gary Kubiak to add a between-the-tackles runner like Jonathan Dwyer or Ryan Matthews to complement the existing array of offensive weapons in Houston. Ultimately, however, the need for a corner is just too great.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — Jermaine Greshem, TE, Oklahoma
This draft is relatively deep in most of Cincy’s areas of need—a speed wideout, offensive line help, another linebacker—which should free them up to fill a longstanding void. Past Bengals’ offenses haven’t had much use for the tight end, but in Greshem they get another weapon for Carson Palmer who won’t be a liability as a blocker.
22. New England Patriots — Sergio Kindle, LB, Texas
The Patriots’ primary needs come in the defensive front seven, and this draft is so deep in those areas that they have options. Kindle fits the hybrid mold of Bill Belichick linebackers, but they could opt for Senior Bowl MVP Brandon Graham or Brandon Spikes instead—or even look for defensive line help in Everson Griffen or Jason Pierre-Paul.
23. Green Bay Packers — Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa
It’s a deep class for offensive linemen, but enough teams will be targeting tackles that the Packers will consider themselves fortunate if Bulaga is still on the board here. The alternative might be a dynamic back like C.J. Spiller or Ryan Matthews or an interior lineman like Maurkice Pouncey, Matt Tennant, or Mike Johnson with a tackle on Green Bay’s radar a round or two later.
24. Philadelphia Eagles — Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida
There’s a chance Philly opts for a running back to complement LeSean McCoy as he attempts to fill Brian Westbrook’s shoes. But there’s a greater chance they upgrade the pass rush with either Dunlap or Everson Griffen.
25. Baltimore Ravens — Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois
The Ravens’ defense needs to get younger and prepare for life after Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, but their most glaring need is a pass-catcher. From a group of receivers with the size to stand up to AFC North defenses—one that includes Bandon LaFell and Demaryius Thomas—Benn stands out; we’ll see if that holds up through the end of April.
26. Arizona Cardinals — Brandon Graham, LB/DE, Michigan
With Kurt Warner retiring the Cardinals won’t be able to put up 40 points on a regular basis anymore; that means they need to upgrade a defense that was shredded twice in the postseason. Even this deep into the first round they’ll have options, with the focus on linebackers and defensive ends. If Graham isn’t the pick, Jason Pierre-Paul or Jerry Hughes could be.
27. Dallas Cowboys — Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida
The Cowboys wouldn’t mind preparing for life after Flozell Adams, but doing so here would mean reach reaching for Charles Brown, Ciron Black, or Vladimir Ducasse. They might also be intrigued by an interior d-lineman like Dan Williams or Terrence Cody who would allow Jay Ratliff to move outside. But ultimately they need to recognize Bobby Carpenter didn’t pan out and Keith Brooking is past his prime—a move made easier with Spikes still on the board.
28. San Diego Chargers — C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
It will be a whole lot easier for the Chargers to say goodbye to LaDainian Tomlinson if they’re bringing in his replacement—and surprisingly, this late in the draft the Bolts may actually have some tough choices as to who that might be. The question may be whether Spiller or Jahvid Best can handle a three-down workload, or if Ryan Matthews might be a better option.
29. New York Jets — Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida
Expect a three-way tug-of-war among the Jets’ decision-makers between a run stuffer like Terrence Cody, downfield help for Mark Sanchez in the form of Golden Tate, and an edge rusher. Last year the Jets went heavy on offense with Sanchez and Shonn Greene; after not getting to Peyton Manning in the AFC title game they may lean the other direction this time around.
30. Minnesota Vikings — Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee
A key Viking is mulling retirement, and the team needs to get a replacement in line sooner rather than later. Certainly that description fits the quarterback position, but unless Jimmy Clausen slips or the Vikings reach for Colt McCoy or Tony Pike it will be the massive void left by the possible retirement of Pat Williams they’re angling to fill.
31. New Orleans Saints**** — Everson Griffen, DE, USC
The Saints need to upgrade their defensive front seven, and even picking this deep in the draft they’ll have options. Griffen makes the most sense, though linebackers like Ricky Sapp and Jerry Hughes or a slight reach for a defensive tackle like Jared Odrick could come into play as well.
32. Indianapolis Colts**** — Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri
No glaring needs here, though most mocks have Indy targeting an offensive tackle with their first pick. That position is deep enough—and the Colts have had enough success mining the later rounds for o-line help—that Indy can upgrade their underrated defense with a play-making linebacker.
* The 10th and 11th picks (Jaguars and Broncos via Bears) will be determined by a coin flip
** The 16th and 17th picks (Titans and 49ers via Panthers) will be determined by a coin flip
*** The 18th and 19th picks (Falcons and Texans) will be determined by a coin flip
**** Pending the outcome of the Super Bowl