1. Miami Dolphins - Jake Long, OT, Michigan
It’s the safe move, it’s the smart move - a building block to protect John Beck or whomever the next franchise quarterback will be in Miami - and it’s the most cost-effective move. Of course, now word on the street is that Long doesn’t want to play for the Fins and won’t sign a discounted deal.
2. St. Louis Rams - Chris Long, DE, Virginia
Ram defensive ends produced 5.5 sacks last season. Total. For the season. Long may not have Vernon Gholston’s sexy upside or off-the-charts measurables, but there’s no questioning his effort or bloodlines. Again, it’s a safe pick rather than a “swing for the fences” selection with more upside - and more risk.
3. Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College
There is some concern that Atlanta is putting the cart ahead of the horse here, drafting a quarterback who might get beat up (a la Tim Couch or David Carr) before he can fully develop. So long as the Falcons address their offensive line in Round Two - where they have two of the first six selections and three of the first 17 - that shouldn’t be a problem.
4. Oakland Raiders - Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State
With Al Davis on the clock you can throw logic out the window. Darren McFadden is tempting, but the Raiders finished sixth in the NFL in rushing without him last season. Glenn Dorsey is probably the smart pick, considering Warren Sapp retired and the Raiders struggle to stop the run, but Gholston is sexier while still helping the club.
5. Kansas City Chiefs - Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
The Chiefs would dearly love to field calls from teams interested in McFadden, as their primary need is offensive line help and there would still be plenty left later on in the round. If forced to make this pick, Dorsey is simply too talented to pass up - and there should still be line help available in rounds two and three.
6. New York Jets - Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
Expect at least a couple of Jets fans to be in attendance at the draft, and if Run DMC is still on the board and the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets pass on him there is certain to be bloodshed. Eric Mangini can envision a Thomas Jones/McFadden split a la the Vikings’ Chester Taylor/Adrian Peterson tandem, with Alan Faneca playing the role of Steve Hutchinson.
7. New England Patriots (from 49ers) - Keith Rivers, LB, USC
Bill Belichick doesn’t take linebackers on Day One. And he doesn’t take cornerbacks in the first round. But unless he trades out of this spot he has to take somebody, and Rivers is too talented - and too good of a fit at a position the Pats need to address - for him not to be the pick. Of course, if he’s not they could go with Ryan Clady.
8. Baltimore Ravens - Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy
Some mocks predict the Ravens will take a lineman here to replace the soon-to-retire Jonathan Ogden, but the Ravens may already have his replacement on their roster courtesy of the 2007 supplemental draft and a fifth-rounder spent on Jared Gaither. McKelvin helps the once-proud Baltimore defense get younger and maybe even regain some of their swagger.
9. Cincinnati Bengals - Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC
Not only does Ellis step into a defense that dearly needs help up front, he also brings a clean rap sheet to the table. A trade of Chad Johnson might elevate wide receiver to the top of the Bengals’ list of needs, but there’s no pass catcher who warrants top 10 consideration.
10. New Orleans Saints - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee State
Any move in which Jason David is moved further away from the playing field has to be considered a good one. If Keith Rivers is still on the board he’d be an option as well, as the Saints may still be kicking themselves for believing they could afford the luxury of more offensive help in last year’s first round.
11. Buffalo Bills - Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State
The biggest need is still a big receiver, and while Thomas may not be as tall as Limas Sweed, Malcolm Kelly, or James Hardy he comes to the NFL with fewer question marks. The Bills have proven in the past they’re willing to reach down the board a bit to fill a need, and they’ve certainly stretched farther than they would in taking Thomas here.
12. Denver Broncos - Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State
Clady offers the quick feet Denver requires for its zone blocking system, but more importantly he’s capable of protecting Jay Cutler’s blind side. Fast-rising Branden Albert would be a consideration as well, but while he’d need to transition to tackle Clady has experience at that position.
13. Carolina Panthers - Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt
Williams is capable of playing left tackle, which would allow Jordan Gross to play on the right side, where he’s more comfortable. That’s a solid tackle tandem, one that might keep Jake Delhomme healthy as well as open holes for DeAngelo Williams.
14. Chicago Bears - Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh
Da Bears extend the run on offensive linemen, though it has to be tough passing on Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Stewart. The smart move is building a line for backs to run behind, then digging into the deep pool of runners in the next round. Of course…
15. Detroit Lions - Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois
…no one ever accused Matt Millen of making the smart move. The run on tackles leaves the Lions approaching the rebuilding project that is their offense from the opposite angle: a back now, with next-tier linemen the likely target in round two and beyond.
16. Arizona Cardinals - Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina
Arizona proved last year that a) they’re willing to reach a bit to fill a need and b) they want to rebuild this team from the lines out. Jonathan Stewart is a tempting option here, but there will be backs available in later rounds and Edgerrin James still has a little tread left on his tires.
17. Minnesota Vikings - Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida
In a startling reverse of tradition the Vikings should sprint to the podium if Harvey is still on the board when their time on the clock begins. The pass-rushing end fills a glaring need; if he’s not on the board, reaching for Phillip Merling or addressing the right side of their offensive line are on the short list for Plan B.
18. Houston Texans - Branden Albert, G/T, Virginia
The Texans are hoping the deep offensive lineman well doesn’t run dry before their selection. Albert is a guard with the athleticism to play tackle; he could step in now for the injured Charles Spencer, then move elsewhere on the line if Spencer returns to form. Or, Houston could avoid offensive linemen again and take Stewart.
19. Philadelphia Eagles - DeSean Jackson, WR, California
Jackson would team with Kevin Curtis to give the Eagles plenty of speed on the outside; his return skills would also allow Philly to take Brian Westbrook out of that role. If the Eagles are determined not to use a first-round pick on a pass-catcher, Calais Campbell and Phillip Merling would come into play with this selection.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida
Ronde Barber isn’t getting any younger, and while Cover-2 corners are typically available in later rounds the talented Jenkins would help Tampa Bay’s defense recapture some of the glory from yesteryear.
21. Washington Redskins - Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson
Washington could use some defensive backfield help, but with no standout candidates on the board the next-best thing might be to put pressure on the passer and help hide some of the current secondary’s deficiencies.
22. Dallas Cowboys (from Browns) - Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas
While Stewart may be the better back, Jones would seem to be the better fit for the Cowboys’ offense in a tag-team role with Marion Barber. Of course, battering defenses with a double dose of Barber and Stewart would have to be an appealing thought as well.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers - Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College
The Steelers lost Alan Faneca from a line that underachieved last season. Again, Stewart would have to draw consideration here as an inside complement to Willie Parker. Ultimately, however, the Steelers recognize the need to address the blockers before adding backfield help in later rounds.
24. Tennessee Titans - Limas Sweed, WR, Texas
The Titans’ biggest need is a target for Vince Young. Killing multiple birds with one stone, Jeff Fisher reunites Vince Young with a fellow former Longhorn who - in a departure from the typical mold of diva wide receivers - isn’t afraid of a little hard work.
25. Seattle Seahawks - Sam Baker, OT, USC
Baker used to be considered on par with Jake Long, but an injury-marred senior season and some underwhelming postseason workouts have dropped his stock. The Seahawks reap the benefits, as Baker is capable of stepping in at guard immediately before eventually sliding outside to replace All World tackle Walter Jones.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars - Quentin Groves, DE, Auburn
The Jaguars’ defensive line took a hit in the offseason, and while they were stout in the middle they needed pass-rushing help even before free agency claimed Bobby McCrary. Groves is also athletic enough that he could stand up and play linebacker if Jack Del Rio is so inclined.
27. San Diego Chargers - Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee
The pending suspension of Stephen Cooper further weakens an area that’s already a bit thin. The Chargers could look for secondary help as well, but Mayo is the better value here.
28. Dallas Cowboys - Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma
If your big, talented, temperamental receiver is getting a bit long in the tooth, there’s no better time than the present to start grooming another big, talented, temperamental receiver to take his place. If the Pacman Jones trade doesn’t materialize the Cowboys could be in the market for a defensive back as well.
29. San Francisco 49ers (from Colts) - James Hardy, WR, Indiana
You have to believe Mike Martz is looking for an upgrade to the San Francisco receiving corps. Hardy’s size/speed combination would be a very nice fit for a Martz-run offense.
30. Green Bay Packers - Brandon Flowers, CB, Virginia Tech
Flowers will need to start growing his hair out now to fit into the Packers’ well-coiffed secondary. The free-falling Jonathan Stewart would have to be an option as well, as could tabbing Brian Brohm as Brett Favre’s successor. How do you think Aaron Rodgers would feel about that?
31. New York Giants - Dan Connor, LB, Penn State
Connor seems to be a logical fit for the Big Blue defense, though using the pick on Miami safety Kenny Phillips is a viable option as well. And if Michael Strahan decides to announce his retirement, fellow ‘Cane Calais Campbell could factor into the mix as well.
Falling out of the first round from the last mock draft: Kenny Phillips, S, Miami (FL); Calais Campbell, DE, Miami (FL); Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon; Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas; Early Doucet, WR, LSU.