With the regular season ending and picks 1-20 locked in, I thought it was time for an updated mock. These will be posted more frequently, but like I previously mentioned, I have a love/hate relationship with mock drafts. First, many fans seem to get stuck in groupthink, leading to outrage when a certain player is or is not mentioned in the top-32 picks because of how "unrealistic" that would be. Aren’t we all surprised at what actually happens in April? One of my main goals, especially this early in the process, is to introduce you to some new names that could ultimately end up as one of the top players at their position. I will shoot for accuracy at a later date. For now, this is all in fun.
There a few strategies to drafting. Obviously need is factored into the final grade teams give, along with talent, medicals, and character concerns. However, the one thing that may alter a prospect’s grade from team to team more than anything is scheme and fit. Since it is early in the offseason process, we have no clue what many teams’ schemes will be next season, so the proverbial darts are being thrown at this time. Also, consider that many teams select prospects in the hopes of them taking over for a declining name-brand player, usually ones that are on the down slope of their career. It may not be a popular tactic, but it makes sense when keeping future success and salary cap in mind.
As always, you can comment below or reach me on Twitter.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14) -- LT Luke Joeckel (junior), Texas A&M
Branden Albert is a free agent and the team will have a new coach, but for now Scott Pioli remains the GM. For that reason, I wouldn’t be surprised if he chooses to go after a veteran quarterback since the Chiefs’ roster isn’t as bad as the pick projects. Joeckel has not officially declared for April’s draft and won’t announce his decision until after Texas A&M’s bowl game, but this would be a nice pick to add consistency to a struggling offense.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14) -- DE Damontre Moore (junior), Texas A&M
Damonster has already declared his intentions of entering April’s Draft prior to Texas A&M’s bowl game, and we think he has all the necessary tools to be the first defensive player off the board. Moore has tape at both defensive end in a four man front and pass rushing outside linebacker in a three man, which will be a big advantage in the eyes of NFL evaluators. The junior’s motor is outstanding, which is icing on the cake when you factor in his length, strength, and first step off the line.
3. Oakland Raiders (4-12) -- QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
Reggie McKenzie has no ties to Carson Palmer or Terrelle Pryor, and he may see some similarities between top quarterbacks and Geno, specifically pocket awareness and mobility. The Raiders may be going through an offensive overhaul, and Geno is a good piece to build around. He may not be a transcendent talent, but he can elevate those around him and help a team win.
Evaluation on Smith
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12) -- DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
I struggled with this pick, but with the defense likely heading in a new direction, I don’t see a player on the Eagles’ roster that can play nose tackle at a potentially high level. Enter Star, a prospect who has improved his backfield vision against the run and has some positional flexibility in terms of pass rushing.
5. Detroit Lions (4-12) -- DE Bjoern Werner (junior), Florida State
A key to predicting the Draft is to recognize big name players on the decline, and Kyle Vanden Bosch is certainly one of those players despite playing the third most snaps along the Lions defensive line. Werner can step in immediately due to an explosive first step and strong hands. I don’t see the motor everyone seems to rave about, but I will always take the pass rusher over the defensive back if the two have a similar grade.
Evaluation on Werner
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11) -- DE Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Surprised? I don’t think you will be by early March. Ansah has only a couple seasons of football under his belt, and only one as a starter, but the senior’s development is clear every week. Ansah implements technique he is taught, which is why I consider him inexperienced instead of raw. There is a difference. If Chip Kelly joins Cleveland, I could see this being Tajh Boyd, however.
Evaluation on Ansah
7. Arizona Cardinals (5-11) -- T Jake Matthews (junior), Texas A&M
The Cardinals need offensive line help, badly. I wouldn't be surprised if Matthews stays with the Aggies for his senior season to take over on the left side, making it a Pouncey-like situation. Regardless, he can already be projected at left tackle and he offers more aggression while blocking than his counterpart, Joeckel.
8. Buffalo Bills (6-10) -- QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
No quarterback, or perhaps prospect at any position, has improved off their 2011 tape more than Boyd. His bowl game capped it, but Boyd is so much more comfortable in the pocket and stands up against interior pressure if he can’t evade it. Some will question his height, but I think his quick release, ability to find lanes, and downfield arm overcome a lot of questions. It helps that he can run the read option, too.
9. New York Jets (6-10) -- OLB Jarvis Jones (junior), Georgia
I wouldn't be surprised if Jones goes later than this. His speed around the edge is undeniable, but I think Jones will struggle with length, height/weight, and possibly medicals. I won’t touch on the last part, but my biggest issue with Jones is his ineffectiveness after his initial momentum is stopped. He will need to build a counter in the NFL. I compare Jones more to Bruce Irvin than Von Miller, which is not an insult.
10. Tennessee Titans (6-10) -- DT Sheldon Richardson (junior), Missouri
Richardson burst onto the scene this year and consistently found a home in the opponents’ backfield. He has some off-field questions, which actually may take him off a team like the Titans’ board (Pacman, Vince Young), but I obviously do not have access to that information. His talent warrants this selection, even if the Titans do you have positive contributors in Jurrell Casey, Mike Martin, and Karl Klug.
11. San Diego Chargers (7-9) -- LT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
Although he comes from a smaller program, Fisher definitely has left tackle ability. His frame, balance, posture, and length all combine to make the senior an early starter in the NFL. The Senior Bowl could be a coming out part for Fisher.
12. Miami Dolphins (7-9) -- WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
It doesn’t mean that much, since GMs look at every name brand prospect at one time or another, but a report surfaced that Jeff Ireland attended West Virginia’s bowl game against Syracuse. Reggie Bush is not expected to return to Miami, and although Austin takes some snaps at running back, he is best used in the open field from a variety of spots. We consider him a mini version of Randall Cobb or Percy Harvin, the only question is if he runs as strong.
Evaluation on Austin
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9) -- CB Xavier Rhodes (junior), FSU
Outside of their secondary, the Bucs defense has plenty of talent. Mark Barron is a good young piece, and we think Rhodes would be a nice addition. He brings the physical style Greg Schiano looks for and offers good size for the position.
14. Carolina Panthers (7-9) -- NT Jesse Williams, Alabama
Williams is exactly what the Panthers need: an incredibly strong run defender inside that possesses a nasty streak, and he may offer some push when pass rushing. Ron Edwards is likely gone, and although the Panthers saw Greg Hardy take a nice step forward on the outside (and inside in some packages), they need plenty of work on the defensive line.
15. New Orleans Saints (7-9) -- DE Barkevious Mingo (junior), LSU
Many will point to Mingo’s drop in production, but he was used a bit differently this year. From watching games we think at times LSU asked Mingo to not take as aggressive of a line towards the quarterback, instead making note of containing mobile SEC quarterbacks. The Saints need pass rushing, and Mingo can be used on twists or stunts from a variety of different angles. We could also see Dion Jordan here if Spags projects the Duck as a better Mathias Kiwanuka.
16. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1) -- OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon
The Rams would be wise to add a third pass rusher that can also play SLB in a four man front. Again, people will read box scores and note that Jordan is not one of the leaders in sacks. That is because he spent so much time in coverage, even against receivers in the slot, where he is very comfortable. Jordan is lean but he covers a ton of ground and is strong on contact.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) -- T Taylor Lewan (junior), Michigan
The Steelers added two early round pick offensive linemen, but with one being injured for most of the season and the other being Mike Adams (who could become a consistent starter but isn’t there yet), it wasn’t enough. Enter Lewan, who has a mean streak and an aggressive style of blocking on the left side.
18. Dallas Cowboys (8-8) -- G Chance Warmack, Alabama
Cowboys fans rejoice, this is who you want. Warmack may end up being my top grade among senior prospects, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he is selected before this, but it is a great fit. not only can he consistently win one on one matchups, Warmack can move to the second level and maul smaller players.
19. New York Giants (9-7) -- ILB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
I know Te’o is getting a ton of love, even for the number one slot. It isn’t popular, but I don’t think the senior’s talent necessarily matches the hype. He is good, maybe even great, but Te’o is not revolutionary. The Irish ILB has improved a lot since 2011, especially in coverage, and offers starting linebacker skills. The Giants are always a tough guess, and a pass rusher could certainly work here too.
Evaluation on Te'o
20. Chicago Bears (10-6) -- G Jonathan Cooper, UNC
The Bears need an overhaul among their offensive line despite the large amount of shuffling that took place. Cooper is a good prospect, especially on the move when asked to work in space. I question his ability against face up opponents at times, but apparently I am in the minority there.
21. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins) (10-6) -- T Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
There are plenty of poor offensive lines in the NFL, and the Rams have one of them. This pick may not sit well with all Rams fans, but Johnson has impressed more and more each week. He reminds us of Riley Reiff, with more length. Expect to hear the Sooners' name more often throughout the process.
22. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) -- ILB Kevin Minter (junior), LSU
As I am writing this, Ray Lewis announced he is retiring after the season. Enter Minter, who may end up being the top player selected at his position if he declares. He doesn’t have the length of Alec Ogletree, but Minter is a hammer on the interior with enough speed to work towards the sideline. He is an excellent prospect.
23. Minnesota Vikings (10-6) -- WR Keenan Allen (junior), Cal
Allen finished the season on the sideline and had a somewhat quiet year thanks to his half brother’s, quarterback Zach Maynard, poor performances. His routes are crisp and Allen brings strong hands at the catch point. Along with Jarius Wright as a vertical threat and Percy Harvin’s run after catch skills, this would be a nice trio at receiver.
24. Houston Texans (12-4) -- S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
Vaccaro showed off his versatility against West Virginia, locking up Tavon Austin in the slot after showing off his back half coverage ability. Alen Dumonjic can explain the Longhorn’s strengths better than I can, so here is his article.
25. Green Bay Packers (11-5) -- C Barrett Jones, Alabama
Jones has an extremely tough matchup in the National Championship, since he will consistently face monster NT Louis Nix face up. It will go far in showing if Jones has the quickness of the snap to get his hands onto defenders and a strong enough anchor to keep his balance and not give up the pocket. Otherwise, his future may be at guard.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) -- S Matt Elam (junior), Florida
Elam is a big hitter with range and will only add to the aggressive and young talent the Bengals are building defensively. A linebacker like Arthur Brown would be nice here, too, but Elam and Reggie Nelson could be a nice tandem in the back half, as long as Elam plays within himself and limits big plays over the top.
27. Atlanta Falcons (13-3) -- LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State
The Falcons need pass rushing help, so Sam Montgomery, Alex Okafor, or Datone Jones could be options here, but Brown is too good of a talent to let go. Bryce’s brother, Arthur, reminds us a lot of Lavonte David, although he has the play style and a bigger build where the inside linebacker projection is not a stretch. Right now, I actually prefer him over Te’o.
Evaluation on Brown
28. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) -- DL Johnathan Hankins (junior), Ohio State
Man, I loved Hankins prior to his junior season. He was disruptive with strong hands to press the pocket or light feet when he needed to burst past mirroring offensive linemen. In 2012, Hankins disappeared far too often and I couldn’t find a real reason why. He has upside because we saw the talent, but the consistency wasn’t there to warrant a higher pick. I think he fits with the Colts as an end in a three man front or as an athletic nose tackle.
29. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) -- WR DeAndre Hopkins (junior), Clemson
Hopkins had a great bowl game, but even when Sammy Watkins was on the field, the junior outperformed the superstar sophomore. Despite his lean frame, Hopkins has very strong hands at the catch point and is not afraid to go up and get it. Add in vertical speed and explosive cuts, and Hopkins is a legit receiver talent.
30. Denver Broncos (13-3) -- S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State
This is a tough one, because I don’t think Thomas is extremely physical or aggressive, but he is a great ballhawk. He reminds us of Reggie Nelson before the Bengals' transformation. Thomas does close against the run, but he just slightly misses tackles due to his lines and failure to break down in space.
31. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) -- CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
Milliner loves to get into it along the sideline, which fits the 49ers mentality. If there was illegal contact called in college football, Milliner would be flagged far more often, but we think the way he turns his head to locate the football with an armbar translates very well to the NFL. It is tough to find a need for the 49ers...
32. New England Patriots (12-4) -- DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
Vince Wilfork remains awesome, but the Patriots have struggled to find a counterpart in the middle. Floyd flashes the strength of an ox while playing snaps at three technique or outside at end.
Others considered: QB Mike Glennon, QB Tyler Wilson, QB Matt Barkley, CB Johnthan Banks, DE Sam Montgomery, DE Alex Okafor, DL Datone Jones, DT John Jenkins, DT Kawann Short, S Tony Jefferson, S D.J. Swearinger, ILB Alec Ogletree, OLB Khaseem Greene, G/T Kyle Long, RB Giovani Bernard, TE Tyler Eifert, TE Zach Ertz, TE Jordan Reed, WR Terrance Williams, WR Robert Woods, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, WR Stedman Bailey, WR Quinton Patton