With the NFL Combine in the books, only the only events left to alter grades are school’ Pro Days. 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 for next season or the players that will run them, 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.
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1. Kansas City Chiefs -- LT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
I said I would put Geno Smith at this spot until the Chiefs make a move for another quarterback. So, after they reportedly agreed upon trade of Alex Smith, Andy Reid will almost certainly go in a different direction. If Branden Albert is resigned, this pick gets very interesting, but until then expect Joeckel or Eric Fisher to be the selection. The two are very close.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars -- DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
This is all based on a guess for scheme fit. Gus Bradley’s scheme featured a run stuffing defensive end in Seattle, likely a role Tyson Alualu can play. On the opposite side, the Jaguars need a pass rusher whose main goal is to get to a point in the backfield and disrupt while penetrating. Mingo can line up from the 7 or 9 technique and do this quite well. Don’t get caught up in his dip in production, since it appeared Mingo was asked to take less aggressive lines at the QB in order to keep contain.
3. Oakland Raiders -- DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
I have no idea who Reggie McKenzie is going to cut this offseason. Neither do the players on the Raiders roster. I almost slotted Geno Smith into this slot, since McKenzie has no ties to Carson Palmer or Terrelle Pryor. However, due to Tommy Kelly’s and Richard Seymour’s likely departures, along with Desmond Bryant’s arrest, I don’t see a starting defensive tackle on the Raiders’ roster right now. Floyd’s talent is worthy of this selection.
4. Philadelphia Eagles -- DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
Many will question this selection after Star was given an incomplete medical report due to a heart issue. Keep in mind, the medical wasn’t failed, doctors just want the massive defensive lineman to receive multiple opinions. Lotulelei might be classified as a nose tackle, but he is much more than that and adds a lot of versatility to the Eagles’ front seven.
5. Detroit Lions -- CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
The Lions could use a pass rusher, and in fact I usually side with the defensive end in situations where they have equal grades as corners. For some reason, possibly due to ex-GM Scott Pioli’s junior rankings, I get a feeling Milliner will be more highly coveted than many pass rushers that are generally considered to be in his talent range.
6. Cleveland Browns -- OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon
With the Browns' front seven likely in place outside of a strong side rush linebacker behind a three man front, expect the team to address that need at this selection. Even though he will be asked to predominantly rush the passer, that is the aspect of Jordan’s game I am least confident in. I do believe Jordan’s shoulder injury limited him in that regard last season, but the Duck’s comfort and agility in space is outstanding for his size.
7. Arizona Cardinals -- LT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
There’s a real chance that Eric Fisher is the first overall pick. This obviously fills a great need, and although I’m not confident in selecting quarterbacks in the second- and third-round to produce right away just yet (Eric Stoner gives a great breakdown here), the new phenomenon certainly has paid off.
8. Buffalo Bills -- QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
This certainly would end the fairy tale of Ryan Nassib reuniting with college coach Doug Marrone, but Smith is a more intriguing talent. The Mountaineer did seemingly regress week to week, but I love his demeanor, reported work ethic, and pocket movement to buy himself extra time.
9. NY Jets -- OLB Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Even though I think Ansah’s best projection is at five technique or strong side end in a four man front, more and more reports are surfacing that the BYU pass rusher is being considered at outside linebacker. I can see why, since Ansah currently struggles to create separation on his own. However, when he does, Ansah’s closing speed is the best in this pass rushing class.
10. Tennessee Titans -- G Chance Warmack, Alabama
I try not to use the term “safe pick” since we’ve seen many of those fail in the past, but I think we might see more selections based on comfort than upside this year. Some will read into Warmack’s workout numbers and drop their evaluation, but I do not think there was a more consistently dominant player in 2012 that is available in this draft.
11. San Diego Chargers -- T Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
Despite Joeckel and Fisher going ahead of Johnson, the latter could end up being the best of the bunch. Johnson is not a finished product and will likely add weight to fill out a growing frame in order to absorb first contact more efficiently, but his agile feet to mirror pass rushers will keep evaluators optimistic. His posture versus power rushers could use some work.
12. Miami Dolphins -- WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
I could be wrong, but I believe Jeff Ireland was very impressed with Percy Harvin when the receiver was entering the NFL. Austin doesn’t run with the same power, but I think he could reignite that same spark Ireland had in 2009. Although he only spent one season with him, head coach Joe Philbin did have some experience getting the ball to Randall Cobb, another potential comparison.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- CB Xavier Rhodes, FSU
The Bucs have a good number of talented and young defensive players, and Rhodes fits the bill as an overly physical edge corner with speed to stick with receivers down field. He can be a bit unorthodox at times, but I definitely consider Rhodes a first-round talent, especially for a scheme that utilizes physical edge defenders.
14. Carolina Panthers -- S Johnathan Cyprien, FIU
By the time mid-March rolls around, I expect Cyprien to be a unanimous first-round projection. Sure, some will complain he is listed before Kenny Vaccaro and Matt Elam, but the FIU product has a real chance to be the best of the bunch. Reports surfaced after last year’s draft that the Panthers thought highly of Mark Barron, and although a new GM is in place, safety is one of the positions in need of an upgrade.
15. New Orleans Saints -- OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Without a true pass rushing linebacker that has experience in a 3-4 scheme on the roster, Jones is a sensible pick. He didn’t choose to work out in Indianapolis, and there have been numerous reports of failed medicals, but Jones has edge pass rushing talent while flashing leverage.
16. St. Louis Rams -- WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
I wasn’t planning on giving a receiver to the Rams, who extracted a lot from Chris Givens and likely remain high on Brian Quick. Patterson is a different kind of talent, and could remind Les Snead of a smaller, less physically dominant, Julio Jones.