(Draft order is based on my projected order of finish and modified playoff projections.)
Andrew Luck (R-So) has said that he’ll state his intentions after the completion of the Orange Bowl, but I think he’s better off going pro. Everyone’s different, but the track record for returning to school during a year when you’re (at least publicly) considered a top 5 pick isn’t so hot. Just ask Jake Locker and Matt Leinart how that worked out for them. IMO Luck is easily the top QB prospect of this potential class, and I don’t think another year in the Pac-10 (especially if Jim Harbaugh moves on) is going to help his development enough to warrant returning. The Panthers drafted Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike last year, but I don’t see them passing on Luck, should he turn pro. He’s a pretty sure thing IMO, and I don’t believe there’s another player that stands out as #1 material.
The pick – Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
I think the Bengals need a pass rusher as much as anything else, and Da’Quan Bowers’ stock has to be shooting through the roof. He’s an undeclared junior, but I don’t see how he returns after a 16 sack regular season. Clemson’s season ender against South Carolina and the September game against Presbyterian are the only games in which Bowers did not record a sack. He’s easily the top pass rusher of this year’s class IMO.
The pick – Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson)
I think Buffalo sticks with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB. I would. Joe Montana he’s not, but he’s also not the team’s biggest problem. Finding someone up front who can block would be nice, but I don’t see a lineman going in the top 5 this year. There’s just not an elite talent coming out. I see this one going one of two ways; either DL or CB. Someone like Marcell Dareus may be the way to go. A DL with 4-3 or 3-4 flexibility would be a wise move for a team that can’t make up its mind on whether it wants to be a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. CB isn’t their biggest weakness, but Patrick Peterson is a lockdown corner who would give them some much needed defense against Tom Brady. For a team that can’t afford to continue making draft mistakes, I’m going with the “surer thing”.
The pick – Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU)
I believe one of their pressing needs is a talent upgrade on the DL. Linebacker, safety, and a reliable backup to Knowshon Moreno are other areas to address, but I don’t see the value in doing so here. Depending on what Buffalo chooses to do, Denver could have their choice at Dareus and Nick Fairley.
The pick – Marcell Dareus (DL, Alabama)
Quarterback has been a huge problem position for the Cardinals this season, but I’m not convinced that they’d take Ryan Mallett here. Rookie John Skelton has been given the #1 job at the end of a meaningless season, so maybe he shows them enough to feel comfortable spending a top 5 pick on another position. Prince Amukamura at corner would fill a need, but would they take the second corner with the fifth overall pick? A possible surprise way to go would be to give Larry Fitzgerald the help he so desperately needs in the receiving game. It would also help Skelton, Max Hall, or whoever they line up under center.
The pick – AJ Green (WR, Georgia)
I have CB, OL, and LB as their biggest needs, and Prince Amukamura is easily the best talent available at each of those positions. I think the Detroit has finally figured out that they need to draft protection for Stafford if they want him to play more than half a season, but again, I’m not seeing a top 5 tackle in this year’s draft. Linebacker isn’t any better. Detroit has played the pass this year better than anyone had anticipated, but I wouldn’t continue to tempt fate. They need an elite talent back there, and Amukamura fits the description.
The pick – Prince Amukamura (CB, Nebraska)
Their situation screams Ryan Mallett here, but from what I’m seeing, Vince Young is returning as QB of a team with a new coach. Owner Bud Adams has been a vocal supporter of Young’s, even after the latest dustup that has Young on the sidelines for the remainder of the season. Randy Moss isn’t returning, so finding an upgrade over Nate Washington across from Kenny Britt could be one way to go. They need to improve at TE over Bo Scaife but not at #7 overall. Same with MLB. I think corner would be the way to go if either Peterson or Amukamura are on the board when they pick, but they aren’t here. DT would be the other area I’d look, and Fairley or Dareus would be wise selections if available. I’d be tempted to go with AJ Green if he was still on the board since a trio of Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, and AJ Green would help Young’s or any QB’s numbers.
The pick – Nick Fairley (DL, Auburn)
The Redskins need help just about everywhere. The talent at RB and WR is unimpressive. Albert Haynesworth won’t be back next year, and their high paid pass defense is among the league’s worst. Dareus and Fairley are gone, and to me this looks too early to be drafting the 3rd best corner. Taking the top RB doesn’t seem like something Mike Shanahan would do, but Mark Ingram might be in play. What about Ryan Mallett? I believe AJ Green is an automatic here if he’s on the board, but I have Arizona taking him three picks ago. Given needs and availability, I’m sticking with receiver and taking the top one remaining IMO.
The pick – Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Colt McCoy will enter next year as the starting QB, and this year’s steal, Peyton Hillis, will be the primary ball carrier. Their biggest offensive problem, aside from having to start Jake Delhomme at QB, has been a lack of playmaking ability at receiver. I think they need to address the right side of their offensive line, but I still think it’s too early to do so here. Right now I’ve got this coming down to WR or a pass rushing LB. I’m tempted to go with Akeem Ayers here, but they’ve been needing a legit #1 receiver for quite a while.
The pick – Julio Jones (WR, Alabama)
No way Brett Favre comes back, right? I think it's less likely that the next head coach goes to battle with Tarvaris Jackson as his #1.
The pick – Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas)
I think the Rams win this division, and Mike Singletary isn’t coaching the 49ers next season. Neither Alex nor Troy Smith should be starting on anyone’s team in the NFL, so I see the next head coach looking to improve this position right away. I don’t think this guy put up a season to warrant being a top 15 pick, but that doesn’t mean he won’t go that high.
The pick – Jake Locker (QB, Washington)
I realize that losing Tony Romo has a huge impact on the overall performance of the Cowboys’ offense, but their running game was has been big disappointment this season. I’m not sure if they’re sold on Doug Free being a franchise LT, but regardless, an aging Marc Colombo and uninspiring Alex Barron cry out for upgrades. This is right about where I see the first offensive lineman being drafted if they don’t take a corner like Janoris Jenkins.
The pick – Derek Sherrod (T, Mississippi State)
With the way this mock has gone so far, I’m looking at either a pass rusher or Mark Ingram here. I assume they’d prefer having more than one pass rush threat (Chris Clemons), but the RB situation is a mess with Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, and Justin Forsett. Is Ingram the solution, or does the focus need to be upgrading 4 of the 5 offensive line spots not occupied by Russell Okung?
The pick – Robert Quinn (DE, North Carolina)
The league’s worst pass defense needs an infusion of talent. Would they take another corner in R1 for the second year in a row (Kareem Jackson in 2010)? Upgrading over Eugene Wilson at FS would be wise, but I think this is too high for Rahim Moore, my highest rated safety. I’ll stay in the secondary but give them another corner with potential.
The pick – Janoris Jenkins (CB, Florida)
Outside linebacker, cornerback, and defensive end are the positions I’m looking at defensively for the Patriots, and I think pick #16 will provide them with multiple options. Here is where I’d be looking at guys like Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan, Akeem Ayers, Von Miller, Jeremy Beal, and Brandon Harris. Offensively they could use some young bodies up front, and giving Tom Brady a playmaker opposite Wes Welker might be on the agenda. This guy doesn’t get a ton of attention, but I’d be intrigued to see what Bill Belichick could do with him.
The pick – Cameron Jordan (DL, California)
Both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams look really old this year. I’m going with an obvious selection.
The pick – Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama)
(I listed Ryan Williams as my #1 draft eligible back, but I’m guessing he returns to Virginia Tech.)
I’m sure there will be the annual shifting of Jacksonville linebackers this offseason, and one of the league’s worst pass defenses will see some personnel changes. There’s also defensive end to think about, as Aaron Kampmann is out with another ACL injury. I’ve narrowed this one down to QB, DE, and CB. As tempted as I am to make Cameron Newton the pick, I don’t think Jacksonville goes in that direction.
The pick – Brandon Harris (CB, Miami)
The offensive line is a big area of concern for the Bears (especially Jay Cutler), so getting someone to protect Cutler’s blind side is a top priority. They have decent talent at receiver but no one who stands out as a weekly threat. Drafting a young linebacker like Travis Lewis to groom as a leader of the future wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The pick – Tyron Smith (T, USC)
Tamba Hali provides nearly all of the Chiefs’ pass rush, so getting someone who can add to the sack stats is a need. The also need an upgrade at cornerback across from Brandon Flowers, and the offensive line still needs help.
The pick – Akeem Ayers (LB, UCLA)
At pick #20 I’m looking at two positions, really two players here. I think the majority of Bucs fans would agree that the biggest need is a pass rusher with a high motor and the ability to do more than tango with a tackle. They also need to get better play from the linebacker level. While I love potential, I want to make sure whoever we pick played at a high level at the collegiate level. I think either Ryan Kerrigan or Travis Lewis would be solid selections here, but when I look at the urgency at DE and WLB the choice gets a little easier.
The pick – Ryan Kerrigan (DE, Purdue)
This team has improved quite a bit on both sides of the football, but defensive tackle, outside linebacker, and the interior of the offensive line are weak spots. I think this guy would be a great addition to a young, up-and-coming defense.
The pick – Travis Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
Watching Peyton Manning get harassed more than usual demonstrates the need for notable talent upgrades on the offensive line. In addition, the defensive tackle position seems to be an annual need, as does corner depth, as they are seemingly starting their 5th and 6th guys there each year towards the end of the season. Protecting Peyton is job #1.
The pick – Anthony Castonzo (T, Boston College)
This team surprised me as much as any this year. Sure they have talent, but they’ve annually given the impression that they don’t want to play for Tom Callaghan, and they fought through a ton of injuries this season. I don’t think you can ever have enough talent in the secondary in this division, and Jonathan Goff hasn’t been a difference maker at MLB. Defensive and offensive tackle are two more spots I’m focusing on.
The pick – Greg Jones (LB, Michigan State)
As solid as the Jets’ defense plays as a whole, I think they could use help at every position on that side of the football, especially DE and OLB. I think Santonio Holmes is the only decent receiver they have, so getting another playmaker could go a long way in furthering Mark Sanchez’ development.
The pick – Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Left tackle, guard, cornerback, outside linebacker, and defensive end strike me as their biggest areas of need. I’d take this guy higher if he was a little bigger. His game is impressive, but I fear he’s going to struggle size-wise at the next level.
The pick – Von Miller (DE/OLB, Texas A&M)
There’s not a real pressing need for the Chargers, but they could use depth at cornerback, inside linebacker, and defensive end. I realize that Philip Rivers would be an All Pro QB even with me as his #1 receiver, but if you assume Vincent Jackson isn’t returning in 2011, it wouldn’t be a bad move to acquire a serious downfield threat. Finding an upgrade at RT might be on the task list.
The pick – Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa)
This team doesn’t have many needs, but getting better at RT is a must. They also need to make additions at corner and safety. If I didn’t think Ray Lewis could play until he was 75, I’d say they need an ILB as well. If I’m Joe Flacco, I’d like to get another WR to go with Anquan Boldin.
The pick – Gabe Carimi (T, Nebraska)
Pass rush help and talent on both sides of Jonathan Vilma are needed.
The pick – JJ Watt (DE, Wisconsin)
Offensive line, cornerback, and strong safety are sure to be addressed this offseason. I like this guy for the Eagles because I think his strengths of pass protection, mobility, and leadership will fit very well in this scheme.
The pick – Rodney Hudson (G, FSU)
Their offensive line needs some work, and improving the talent level at cornerback is a must. I’d also look to add another young body at defensive end.
The pick – Ras-I Dowling (CB, Virginia)
A fine football team, the Falcons need another presence at cornerback and an upgrade over Mike Peterson at weak side linebacker. I’d also look to get a pass rusher if I was drafting for Atlanta. I’m going a little outside the box on this one. Matt Ryan could use another offensive weapon, and despite what he says/thinks, Tony Gonzalez isn’t 24 years old anymore.
The pick – Kyle Rudolph (TE, Notre Dame)
After picking up a defensive lineman with their first pick, I think this one is either a pass rusher or cornerback.
The pick – Jeremy Beal (DE/LB, Oklahoma)
If the Bucs are able to get a pass rusher in the first round, I’m looking at BPA in round two with a focus on LB, CB, TE, and RB (in that order).