I might have one more slightly tweaked, quick version right before the main event, but here are my current thoughts on how the draft will play out. For what it’s worth, I feel really solid about the top 5, and after that is where I think you’ll start to see some swapping of spots, especially if the top 5 goes the way I believe it will. Also included are my selections for all 8 Buccaneer draft picks. Some of this will deviate from my predictions piece. Consider those “don’t be shocked if this happens” suppositions.
I’ve gotten a bit bolder with several selections. They’re picks you probably won’t see anywhere else, but I think (hope) there’s some logic behind each of them. While I don’t project/make trades in these mocks, I will mention the teams I think will be actively looking to move. Also, what I did in a couple of instances is mock a pick that I think will happen earlier or later than the order currently projects (basically project a player to a team that I think will deal up/down to get him without changing the mock by having two teams swap picks).
1) Carolina Panthers
(QB, DT, CB, WR)
Again I’ve narrowed this one down to Cam Newton or Marcell Dareus, and while I’d personally take Patrick Peterson, I still think the Panthers go with the QB. Newton will sell more tickets, and don’t discount the pressure on Carolina to take a QB given that the other three teams in their division have surefire franchise passers. If Blaine Gabbert had much of a resume to speak of, he’d be getting a lot more consideration for the top spot.
The pick – Cam Newton (QB, Auburn)
2) Denver Broncos
I think this recent QB interest talk is 100% smoke. They have to go defense with this pick, and with the money recently committed to Champ Bailey, I don’t see them shelling out #2 money on Patrick Peterson. That means it’s a defensive lineman, and with the Broncos being really unsettled inside, I think DT is much more likely than DE. I still think this one is going to be Dareus as he is the best player at their biggest area of need.
The pick – Marcell Dareus (DT, Alabama)
3) Buffalo Bills
(QB, DE, OLB, CB)
This is the draft’s first pivot pick for me. The Bills could go in a number of directions, including QB, but I don’t see a Chan Gailey led team spending this pick on a passer who I think is more media hype than production (Gabbert). I’m sure they’d like Dareus, but he’s off the board. Da’Quan Bowers has drawn a lot of Bruce Smith comparisons from Bills’ staff, but the uncertainty surrounding his knee likely takes him out of the equation. That said, I think this comes down to either Von Miller or Patrick Peterson. Peterson would be best available and fill a need, but I’m taking the bait and saying they pick a pass rusher. I still worry some about Miller’s ability to hold up as a 3 down contributor in the NFL, but he’s the draft’s (consensus) best pass rusher.
The pick – Von Miller (LB, Texas A&M)
4) Cincinnati Bengals
(QB, WR, CB)
I wouldn’t blame the Bengals for going the safe route with Peterson, and he could fill a need depending on what happens with Jonathan Joseph. If I’m the Bengals, I ask myself – I know I need a QB, but is what’s available really worth the price of the pick? Has Gabbert really shown enough for penny pinching Paul Brown to make him a millionaire? Or, do you take one of the draft’s safer picks and add him to a young and talented group of receiving threats in Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley, and Jermaine Gresham? That sets up nicely for whoever is at QB for the Bengals. Cincinnati writers can’t even agree on this one. A top 5 bust at WR hurts you a lot less than it does at QB. I’ve got to think Brown takes the safer option.
The pick – AJ Green (WR, Georgia)
5) Arizona Cardinals
I still don’t think they’d take a QB if Newton or Gabbert was available, and with Miller going to Buffalo, I’m not sure they take the next OLB on their board. Are they sold on Robert Quinn? They reportedly want an impact player, someone who can step in right away and make a difference. This guy fits the profile better than anyone else in the draft.
The pick – Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU)
Here’s where I think you might start to see a little action, especially if Gabbert is still on the board. Four of the next seven teams are in the market for a passer and could get really aggressive about moving up.
6) Cleveland Browns
(DE, DT, WR)
If Peterson is still here, I believe the Browns will take him. With the move to a 4-3, the Browns need help all along the line, and both Da’Quan Bowers and Nick Fairley are still on the board. More so with this team than any other I’ve read that they’re trying to take the safe route with their early picks, so that, to me, means that Bowers and Fairley are both unlikely to hear their names called here. If I’m staying on the defensive line, Robert Quinn might have the best value at #6. Is the fact that he missed all of this past season too much of a risk for the Browns? Are they a team that is concerned about his benign brain tumor? If not, the talent is certainly there for him to be an elite pass rusher. AJ Green being off the board will disappoint a lot of Browns’ fans, but with a traditional WCO in place, there’s another highly ranked receiver that just might be a better fit due to his physical style of play and the fact that he is this class’ best blocker at the position. Adam Schefter thinks they’re going receiver. Defensive end or receiver? Quinn or Jones? Given your ugly defensive front and the impressive defensive line talent in this draft, do you really need to take the draft’s second receiver with the sixth overall selection?
The pick – Robert Quinn (DE, North Carolina)
7) San Francisco 49ers
(QB, OLB, CB, DE)
With Peterson off the board, I don’t think they go with Prince Amukamara, and with Quinn going with the last pick to the Browns, is there another OLB worth taking here? That narrows it a bit for me down to Gabbert, Cameron Jordan, or JJ Watt. Justin Smith and Patrick Willis are this team’s top sack threats as they’ve gotten very little from Parys Haralson, Travis LaBoy is a situational guy, and getting to the passer just isn’t Manny Lawson’s thing. Pairing Watt with Smith would give them a couple of guys up front who can tally some sacks, and they could get a LB later on. But the Niners have no QB, and the #1 rule of football is if you don’t have a QB, get one. I recently read that Jim Harbaugh recruited Blaine Gabbert out of high school. That means little now, but it does show that Harbaugh had interest in him at one point. Does he still? I know he’s not going to cross his fingers for hopes of getting Andrew Luck next year, and year one is as good a time as any to take that franchise passer gamble.
The pick – Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri)
8) Tennessee Titans
With Gabbert and Newton gone, I think the focus shifts to the DL. Do they go with a defensive tackle (Nick Fairley) or defensive end (Da’Quan Bowers)? Fairley’s position coach at Auburn is now the Titans’ defensive line coach, so if he can (wants to) sell them on him, Fairley has a strong chance of being the guy. I don’t like his, what I consider, dirty on field play at times, and his lack of a lengthy collegiate resume worries me a bit. How true are the reports of irresponsibility/immaturity regarding his interactions with NFL teams heading up to the draft? Everyone and their brother has Fairley going to the Titans with this pick, and we know how that often plays out. Personally, I think that if they want to bring in a DT, they’d be looking for someone a little bulkier to play next to Jason Jones. If Bowers checks out healthy, pairing him with last year’s #1, Derrick Morgan, would make a lot of sense. There’s a lot of talk heating up about Jake Locker to the Titans and how they’re seriously considering him. My gut says they’re not interested in him and are just trying to get Washington or Minnesota to move up for him. I think they could move down to 10 or 12 and still get Fairley. Dallas was one of only two top 10 teams (Arizona) that didn’t bring Fairley in, and Houston at 11 isn’t taking Fairley either. As much as it pains me to do it, I’m going against an earlier prediction about this guy falling.
The pick – Nick Fairley (DT, Auburn)
9) Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys reportedly love Patrick Peterson, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved up to get him. I still think JJ Watt would be a much better pick here than the guy I’m going to choose, but I’m going with the (growingly) popular opinion. Although I think it’s pretty high to take a RT, this guy would give the Cowboys’ offensive line two young, talented bookends.
The pick – Tyron Smith (T, USC)
10) Washington Redskins
(QB, WR, OLB, DE)
How much does Mike Shanahan like Jake Locker? Mel Kiper said he would have taken him at #4 last year, and Shanahan himself has compared Locker to Jake Plummer. What gets lost in all the Washington QB talk is that this is Kyle, not Mike, Shanahan’s offense. Check out this scouting report:
“He has nice size and great arm strength and outstanding mobility for a QB, which often works in his favor, but sometimes works against him as he tries to do too much on his own, a la Kordell Stewart…He still tends to be somewhat a streaky player that can run a little "hot and cold" and tends to create too much on his own at times, but all the skills are there…his physical tools and intangibles are very exciting to NFL teams.”
Thing is, that’s a Donovan McNabb scouting report from ’99; eerily similar to a typical Locker assessment. McNabb and Kyle Shanahan butted heads quite a bit in offensive philosophy and execution standpoints this past season. McNabb’s personality/relationship with Shanahan has nothing to do with Locker, but the fact that Shanahan was resistant to McNabb’s request for a lot more short/underneath stuff, tells me he’s not looking for a guy like Locker. Will the Redskins bring in a newer version of McNabb? Mike might, but I’m guessing Kyle won’t. I’m going with a bit of a safer pick.
The pick – Julio Jones (WR, Alabama)
11) Houston Texans
I’ve read reports that the Texans would take a corner over a pass rusher, but I’m not convinced. Last year’s draft should have little to do with this one, but would the Texans spend back to back R1 picks on corners? They have quite a few pass rushers from which to choose, but I’m calling for the draft’s first real swerve here. I think this guy is the type of defender who will excel in Wade Phillips’ defense.
The pick – Ryan Kerrigan (DE/OLB, Purdue)
12) Minnesota Vikings
(QB, CB, DL)
I’m having a hard time getting a decent read on Minnesota’s direction with this pick. Amukamara is still on the board, and if he checks out healthy, Bowers is a steal here. That said, reference back to San Francisco’s pick. If you don’t have a passer, get one. Rumors have the Vikings high on Locker, and while that might be a smokescreen and #12 may seem too high to take him, are they confident they can get someone better later?
The pick – Jake Locker (QB, Washington)
13) Detroit Lions
(CB, OL, DE)
The Lions would have to love the way things have played out so far. They have their pick of any corner not named Peterson and any offensive lineman other than Smith. Amukamara or Castonzo? Corner is in pretty bad shape, but they need to invest in some young talent to protect Matthew Stafford. I’m thinking they go in a slightly different direction. Rookie sensation Ndamukong Suh led the team with 10 sacks last year, and while Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson, and Kyle Vanden Bosch aren’t the worst set of pass rushers in the league, Avril and Jackson are coming off career years and Vanden Bosch is 32. Solid pass rushers are like QBs. They’re both football gold, and if you don’t have one, get one. I’m counting on this guy being healthy and the Lions getting the draft’s first steal.
The pick – Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson)
14) St. Louis Rams
(WR, DL, LB)
This is a pretty easy pick for me with Julio Jones off the board. They’re reportedly really high on this guy, and as I’ve mentioned in the predictions piece, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they passed on Fairley for him should they both still be on the board here.
The pick – Corey Liuget (DT, Illinois)
15) Miami Dolphins
(RB, QB, OL)
Woohoo! I’m not projecting Mark Ingram here this time. Miami is the team most likely to trade down in my opinion, and they could still get Ingram late in R1 if they wanted to. They’ve met quite a bit with Ryan Mallett, but can the current management afford to go to the QB well again this early? If they did go QB, I’m guessing they’d take Christian Ponder. Regardless of who is under center, the Dolphins need to upgrade the interior of their offensive line. Another position they’re reportedly eager to upgrade is TE, but I’ve got to think this is way too high for Kyle Rudolph. Since I don’t project trades with my mocks, I’ll just go with the guy I think they end up drafting whether it’s at 15 or a little further down.
The pick – Mike Pouncey (OL, Florida)
16) Jacksonville Jaguars
(CB, DE, QB)
I think the Jaguars would be pretty pleased if the draft fell this way. They still have their choice of several pass rushers as well as Prince Amukamara. David Garrard always has his head on a swivel, so does he need to worry about Ponder or Mallett being the pick? As much as I’d like to mock Ponder here, I don’t think they’ll do it. JJ Watt, Cameron Jordan, or Aldon Smith would look great here, but I can’t see them passing up a major talent upgrade for their wretched secondary.
The pick – Prince Amukamara (CB, Nebraska)
17) New England (via Oakland)
(DE, OL, OLB, RB)
Ingram is still on the board, and although they’re rumored to have interest in him, I think they can get him with their next pick if they really want him (also, how often has a credible Patriot rumor been leaked?). LT Matt Light might not return, LG Logan Mankins was franchised and wants a long term deal, and RG Stephen Neal retired. Given their needs, I’m guessing Pouncey and Anthony Castonzo are the two linemen at the top of their board. The Patriots drafted three Gators last year (Hernandez, Spikes, and Cunningham), and Bill Belichick and Urban Meyer are friends. Don’t be surprised if Pouncey is the pick if he’s still available at #17. I don’t think Aldon Smith is a fit for their defense, but Justin Houston might get a look. In the end, given the way this mock has played out, I think the Patriots would take the top DE on their board. Is it Watt, Jordan, Cameron Heyward, Adrian Clayborn, or Muhammad Wilkerson? I think this guy deserves to go a lot higher than this.
The pick – JJ Watt (DE, Wisconsin)
18) San Diego Chargers
(DE, OLB, RT)
I see a big focus on the front seven here with three players in particular – Aldon Smith, Justin Houston, and Cameron Jordan. They’d have a hard time going wrong with any of them, but I’m going with the local talent and one of the draft’s safer selections.
The pick – Cameron Jordan (DE, California)
19) New York Giants
(OL, CB, RB, DT)
There are several players at key need areas available for the Giants. Do they take Ingram as an upgrade to Brandon Jacobs? What about some offensive line help, specifically center and left tackle? Pouncey is off the board, but every tackle except Tyron Smith is available? What about Jimmy Smith to fill a need at corner? Corey Liuget would be tough to pass up if he was still on the board, and my alternate/surprise pick here is Mikel Leshoure. Tom Coughlin goes back to his BC roots.
The pick – Anthony Castonzo (T, Boston College)
20) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(DE, CB, OL)
Quickly, lets’ take a look at the Bucs’ top needs – DE (2), LB, RB, CB, RT, and my personal peeve, an explosive/elusive receiver. There’s not a LB worth taking here, and despite Mark Ingram’s recent visit, the Bucs aren’t going RB in R1. Aqib Talib’s gunslinging act might make him a former Buccaneer once this lockout situation is resolved, but I don’t think it will (or should) impact the team’s approach to this pick. They’re not going to take Jimmy Smith because he’s basically Talib’s 2011 twin. His off field issues have will have him drafted later than he should go, but he projects as a potential shutdown corner if he can stay out of trouble. Sound familiar? Castonzo and Gabe Carimi are the only OL I’d be happy about drafting, but I’ve got to think there will be a pick-worthy pass rusher at #20. Who are still there – Justin Houston, Aldon Smith, Adrian Clayborn, and Cameron Heyward. Most folks have Aldon Smith off the board by now, but I think he’s going to fall a bit (young, questionable motor, scheme tweener, plenty of other pass rushers to choose from). A lot of folks aren’t high on Adrian Clayborn, but I wouldn’t be upset if they took him here. This time last year, Patrick Peterson was the only player I wanted to be a Buccaneer more than Clayborn. I don’t dislike Heyward, but I think he’d be poor use of the #20 pick. We need a more explosive pass rusher right here.
That said, I still think there’s a better chance Mark Dominik deals up rather than watching it play out and waiting his turn. If I’m on track, I’d start listening out around #13 (Detroit) but really think it’s going to be at #15 (Miami). It’s not a big move (R3 pick as compensation?), but it would allow Dominik to get ahead of the Jags, Pats, and Chargers (three teams looking to upgrade their pass rush) to get Watt or Jordan. I wouldn’t be upset with either of those guys, but man I hate giving up draft picks. Last year’s step forward was great, but there are still plenty of holes to fill and roster spots to upgrade. Stay at #20 and take a guy who gives you some position/scheme flexibility and simply gets after the passer.
The pick – Justin Houston (DE/OLB, Georgia)
My thoughts on Houston:
explosive; his play "pops"; takes great angles to the passer; combines speed and strength as a rusher to keep tackle from establishing perimeter; able to get really low, drive through the blocker's outside shoulder, and cut down his angles to the passer; consistently wraps with one hand and chops the QBs arm with the other to try and force the turnover; interested to see his arm length in comparison to other rushers; seems to use his arms well to gain position and make plays; not a real quick stepper, takes long strides and has some trouble breaking down and changing direction, causes him to miss some tackles; at his best moving forward using strength and speed; not an overpowering guy but has impressive strength for the position; like his base and the leg drive he gets when engaged by a blocker; strong upper body with room to add some bulk; lines up in multiple spots, hand up hand down left side right side; closes really well; stays with plays and finishes downfield better than most at his position; lapses of laziness/fatigue; when he's on, he works to the whistle to make an impact on the play; seems to diagnose run/pass and locate ball well; didn't see him overrun or guess wrong a lot, just didn't always show effort to get to the ball; looks out of place at times in coverage, especially short zones where he needs to react quickly
All that said, he’s not going to be a top 10 pick for a reason. As a comparison, he doesn’t have Quinn’s elite athleticism or hips. He doesn’t have Bowers’ overall size, isn’t as stout against the run, and doesn’t adjust as well on the move. I like him most as a RE. That seems like the best way to utilize his explosiveness and ability to fire off the line and gain that first step on a blocker. I really like him with the Bucs if Raheem is going to continue mixing things up and moving his rushers around. Houston put up some numbers and made plays the last two years at Georgia, but I think he’s far from a finished product. With a more consistent motor and NFL coaching, he has the potential to be one the best pass rushers in this class.
21) Kansas City Chiefs
(OLB, OL, NT)
Last time I commented on Mike Vrabel’s longevity, but if he’s going to keep stealing from casinos, all the health in the world isn’t going to keep him on the field. Aldon Smith could be an option, but I’m not sure his skill set is what they’re looking for across from Tamba Hali considering they have a similar (yet not as naturally athletic) player in house in Andy Studebaker. They could go OL with Solder, Gabe Carimi, or Derek Sherrod, but I’m sticking with the big run stuffer.
The pick – Phil Taylor (NT, Baylor)
22) Indianapolis Colts
This still seems like a pretty safe pick to me. OT is their most glaring need, and Peyton Manning is a pretty valuable part of their franchise. Carimi and Solder could be options as well, but Sherrod looks like the most pro-ready tackle with the safest projection on the left side.
The pick – Derek Sherrod (T, Mississippi State)
23) Philadelphia Eagles
I’ve still got this one coming down to Smith or Carimi, and the final decision isn’t changing either. They really need another corner opposite Asante Samuel. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if this guy ends up going significantly higher.
The pick – Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado)
24) New Orleans Saints
I’ll be surprised if the Saints don’t take a defensive lineman with this pick. Muhammad Wilkerson is one option, but if this guy is still on the board, he’d be a nice addition to a weak pass rush.
The pick – Aldon Smith (DE, Missouri)
25) Seattle Seahawks
(OL, CB, QB)
I’ve picked a different QB for this team twice previously, so why not do it a third time? This guy’s stock is hard to gauge, and like Seattle’s head coach, he has his detractors. They should get along well.
The pick – Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas)
26) Baltimore Ravens
(OLB, DE, OL, WR)
Carimi, my last pick for Baltimore, is still on the board, but I’m going on the defensive side of the ball. Do they take a 5-technique or an outside linebacker since Sergio Kindle still hasn’t been cleared for action? They’re reportedly pretty high on this guy, and he’s still available.
The pick – Muhammad Wilkerson (DL, Temple)
27) Atlanta Falcons
(WR, OL, DE, TE)
I still think they pass on both Torrey Smith and Kyle Rudolph if they’re on the board here, but in my opinion Rudolph would be the more likely selection of the two. No one would blame them for taking Carimi or Solder and improving Matt Ryan’s protection, but a pass rusher who can pay immediate dividends may be more attractive. 32 year old Jon Abraham had 10 more sacks than the next defensive end on the team last year.
The pick – Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa)
28) New England Patriots
(OL, OLB, RB)
Ingram’s still there, and with all this increased talk about the Patriots being interested in him, he’s going to sit on the board even longer. You’d think the Patriots would consider taking a pass rushing LB here, but do they like Brooks Reed enough? What about Jabaal Sheard? Back to that stuff I said earlier about the state of the offensive line, a lineman might take priority. This could be seen as a surprise given the talent still on the board, but don’t be shocked if this guy goes higher than some other, more popular linemen. I think his position flexibility and skill set are great fits here.
The pick – Danny Watkins (OL, Baylor)
29) Chicago Bears
With Liuget and Wilkerson off the board, I don’t think the Bears will take the risk of drafting Marvin Austin here, so I’m shifting my focus to the OL. The tackle situation is unsettled, and the interior is an aged group. With Pouncey off the board, I think this pick gets easier. This guy can step in right away at RT and could have potential on the left side as well.
The pick – Gabe Carimi (T, Wisconsin)
30) New York Jets
(OLB, CB, DE, WR)
Like their rival Patriots, I think the Jets’ early attention will be on the front seven. Heyward would make a lot of sense at DE, but I think they’re seeking a more explosive threat on the edge. Their 40 sacks last year as a team isn’t a bad stat on its own, but linebacker Bryan Thomas topped the list with 6. They need to improve the quality of their pass rush and are reportedly interested in this guy. I’m not sold he’s the answer to anyone’s pass rush problem, and if I put more of my personal feelings of a player into this, he’d be going fourteen picks later to the Lions. But that’s just me.
The pick – Akeem Ayers (LB, UCLA)
31) Pittsburgh Steelers
With Jimmy Smith off the board, do they go after Aaron Williams or Brandon Harris to address their corner issue? NT Phil Taylor would get a lot of consideration here if he was still available. I’d look to infuse some youth along the offensive line, and while I’m not big on this guy at all, from consensus projections, he looks to be good value here.
The pick – Nate Solder (T, Colorado)
32) Green Bay Packers
(DE, OLB, CB, WR)
I’ve lost a little love for the Torrey Smith pick. I still like his talent, but I believe the concerns over his receiving skills (body catcher) and limited route experience will have him slide a bit. Receivers always slide anyways. I’d like to mock Watkins here if he was still on the board, and don’t rule out Benjamin Ijalana either. Both would be fine offensive line selections. On defense, Cullen Jenkins is expected to leave, and while they do have bodies at DE, they aren’t without questions – Ryan Pickett (31), Mike Neal (injured in ’10), Justin Harrell (always hurt), John Jolly (facing big time jail time), Jarius Wynn (R6 ’09), and CJ Wilson (R7 ’10). It might be a bit cluttered, but this guy is a R1 talent and a great fit for this defense.
The pick – Cameron Heyward (DE, Ohio State)
33) New England Patriots
There’s a good chance the Patriots aren’t the team drafting at #33 when all is said and done. That first pick of day two is going to have a ton of value, especially if a QB or pass rusher is available. If they do end up keeping the pick, I’m calling RB here, but it won’t be who everyone is expecting. Day 2 starts off with a shocker.
The pick – Mikel Leshoure (RB, Illinois)
34) Buffalo Bills
(DL, QB, CB)
Chan Gailey loves Christian Ponder, and if their first pick wasn’t spent on a QB, I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t take him. They may have to move up to get him though. I predicted/projected 5 QBs to go in R1, and I think Ponder is the guy that someone is very likely to deal into the bottom or R1 to get ahead of Buffalo in order to draft.
The pick – Christian Ponder (QB, FSU)
35) Cincinnati Bengals
(QB, OL, DE, RB)
Adding Mark Ingram to eventually replace Cedric Benson wouldn’t be a bad move, nor would drafting a corner like Brandon Harris or Aaron Williams. Still, if they don’t take Gabbert at #4 overall, I think they get a passer here if this guy is still around. Both Ponder and Andy Dalton project as solid WCO QBs, but only one of them is still on the board.
The pick – Andy Dalton (QB, TCU)
36) Denver Broncos
(LB, RB, CB, S)
The Broncos have stated that Knowshon Moreno will have some help (competition?) in the backfield this coming season. I’m guessing they weren’t counting on this guy still being available with their second pick. If he is, I think they take him.
The pick – Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama)
37) Cleveland Browns
(DL, LB, OL)
Again, Cleveland is going to have a really rough transition to a new defense in my opinion given the talent on the roster. After getting Quinn as a pass rusher in R1, they could come back here with a DT like Stephen Paea or Quinn’s teammate at UNC, the equally suspended Marvin Austin. I also think this is as far as Adrian Clayborn would fall if he doesn’t go in R1. Cleveland has had a solid offensive line for some time now, but their weakest link is easily RT. This guy played LT in college, but he can handle the right side just fine and provides guard versatility as well. I’d love to see him as a Buccaneer, but it won’t happen.
The pick – Benjamin Ijalana (T, Villanova)
38) Arizona Cardinals
(OLB, TE, OL)
After missing out on Von Miller in R1, pass rusher becomes even more of a priority. This wasn’t intentional, but taking the hometown kid who fills a need could be the way they go.
The pick – Brooks Reed (DE/OLB, Arizona)
39) Tennessee Titans
(QB, CB, LB, OL)
There’s value at corner, and while the Titans have made known their interests in getting more active and talented at linebacker, is Bruce Carter (ACL) too much of a risk for them? Rusty Smith shouldn’t be atop anyone’s QB depth chart, but with everyone but Kaepernick gone, do they like the Nevada passer enough to take him here? I’m guessing they do.
The pick – Colin Kaepernick (QB, Nevada))
40) Dallas Cowboys
(CB, S, DE)
If Aaron Williams happens to fall this far, I think the Cowboys would love to have him. They’re openly interested in adding a cornerback, and Williams also projects as a potential FS, a position where Alan Ball disappointed this past season.
The pick – Aaron Williams (CB, Texas)
41) Washington Redskins
(QB, LB, DE)
I gave them Julio Jones in R1, and with Kaepernick off the board, I don’t think they’re getting a QB here. The front seven still needs addressing, and getting someone who can pressure the passer other than Brian Orakpo (he had 8.5 sacks, next highest was 2.5) is a must.
The pick – Jabaal Sheard (DE/OLB, Pittsburgh)
42) Houston Texans
(CB, SS, WR)
If they don’t take a corner in R1, I think they should here.
The pick – Brandon Harris (CB, Miami)
43) Minnesota Vikings
(DL, OL, TE)
Minnesota could go OL here to improve a unit that needs some help, but I think they can find that a little later on. They’ve stated their intention to get younger at this position, and since one has yet to be selected, they have their pick of the litter.
The pick – Kyle Rudolph (TE, Notre Dame)
44) Detroit Lions
The Lions are looking for help at linebacker, and they’re known to have interest in this guy. Davon House would be my alternative pick.
The pick – Bruce Carter (LB, North Carolina)
45) San Francisco 49ers
The Niners need to find a replacement for Nate Clements at corner, and if they miss out on Peterson in R1 (I can’t see how they’d get him), look for them to take one here.
The pick – Davon House (CB, New Mexico State)
46) Denver Broncos (via Miami)
(LB, CB, S, TE)
After adding two Crimson Tide players, the Broncos head north for their next selection. While this might be a “huh?” pick, this is a position of need, and this guy’s stock is reportedly higher throughout the league than most realize.
The pick – Lance Kendricks (TE, Wisconsin)
47) St. Louis Rams
(RB, WR, LB)
I think most would try to slot a skilled position player here (I have) after going DL in R1, but I know the Rams really want to upgrade at WLB. I haven’t been projecting this player this high, but he’s reportedly well on the rise. He fits. I just wonder how high his ceiling truly is.
The pick – Mason Foster (LB, Washington)
48) Oakland Raiders
(OL, DL, CB)
The Raiders have a couple of holes to fill up front offensively, and I think this massive dude fits in well with their move to more aggressive/physical run blocking.
The pick – Marcus Cannon (OL, TCU)
49) Jacksonville Jaguars
(QB, DE, S)
Without a pass rusher or QB screaming “pick me!” here, I think they can afford to double down on the back end of the defense. Pairing this guy with Amukamara would be a huge boost to their pass defense.
The pick – Rahim Moore (S, UCLA)
50) San Diego Chargers
(OLB, S, WR)
I don’t see great OLB value here unless they really want to reach for Dontay Moch, so I’m going receiver. Vincent Jackson is unlikely to be around much longer, and without him this past season, their top receivers were third down back Darren Sproles (59 receptions) and Antonio Gates (50), the TE who missed 6 games. Malcolm Floyd, a free agent, led all wideouts with 37 receptions.
The pick – Jonathan Baldwin (WR, Pittsburgh)
51) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(speed on offense, CB, speed on offense, DE, speed on offense, OL, speed on offense)
I don’t see a DE being available that will allow the Bucs to double down like they did last year with McCoy and Price at DT, and with Carter off the board, I don’t see a LB worth taking. I’d love to get Ijalana for the OL, but I think he’ll be long gone. Pewter Report is reporting that the Bucs have a strong interest in Lance Kendricks. Like RT in R1, I’ve got to think the Bucs can get better value out of this pick than Kendricks.
For me it comes down to two players – Randall Cobb and Ras-I Dowling. With Aqib Talib’s future as a Buc looking pretty grim, there may be more urgency to add a corner this offseason. Dowling has been high on my list for a couple of years now, and nagging injuries are the only thing keeping him from being an elite talent in the NFL. You’ve heard me say it before – The Bucs must add speed on offense. Blount, Benn, and Mike Williams are nice key pieces, but none is known for being a shifty, explosive threat. Cobb is that weapon who can line up at multiple positions and is lethal with the ball in his hands. Either Cobb or Dowling would make an instant impact, but I say feed Freeman!
The pick – Randall Cobb (WR, Kentucky)
REMAINING BUCCANEER PICKS
Hopefully the Bucs stayed at #20 and still have all of their remaining picks. This draft isn’t as talented overall as last year’s, but I believe there are fits at key areas of need throughout, starting with this next pick.
Round 3 (#84)
So far, I have the Bucs picking up a pass rusher and either a receiver or corner. For me, that would leave the most urgent needs as another pass rusher, linebacker, corner (if Cobb in R2), running back, offensive line, and tight end. I still don’t see the value in a R3 pass rusher or tight end, so I’d remove those positions from consideration here. That leaves LB, RB, OL, and CB.
At corner, I think you’d be looking at guys like Chimdi Chekwa (Ohio State) and Curtis Brown (Texas) at this point. I believe there is better value at the other positions, so I’ll table corner for the moment. I say this with or without Talib. If I’m Tampa, I’m not forcing a pick on someone I’m not completely sold just to address a need. That said, I have three positions and three players in mind.
On the offensive line I’m changing my focus a bit. I’m banking on the Bucs re-signing Davin Joseph, and Ted Larsen pretty much has the LG spot locked down. If/When they cut Jeff Faine, Jeremy Zuttah should take the starting center job. We have some bodies at RT, but no one has claimed ownership of the spot. Jeremy Trueblood (a pending free agent), James Lee, Demar Dotson, and Will Barker make up the competition. Lee impressed enough late last season that I wouldn’t panic with him on the right side, but I think we can do better. Considering the team’s talent and draft approach, I’d feel more comfortable with guys like Brandon Carter and Derek Hardman as guard depth than having Lee and Dotson as our top options at RT. If I’m going OL here in R3, James Carpenter (T, Alabama) would be my target. Carpenter is a big bodied guy who played LT at Alabama but projects more as a RT or even guard at the next level. He’s an asset in the running game; not incredibly strong or overpowering at the point, but he consistently remains engaged and takes his man to his spot. Carpenter moves pretty well for a big guy – vertically when getting to the second level in the run game and also laterally in pass protection when mirroring pass rushers. The fact that he’s a durable two year starter coming out of a national championship winning pro style offense should be taken into consideration as well.
At running back, the Bucs were led last year by free agent steal, LeGarrette Blount. Sucker Punch ran for just over 1,000 yards in his rookie year and looks have Tampa Bay’s lead back job locked down. Where I’m looking to get better is in the change of pace or complimentary back category. Cadillac Williams is still a face of the franchise, but he’s on the downside of his career and is no longer an explosive threat out of the backfield. I value his receiving and pass protection abilities, but we need to get more “wow” back there. Kareem Huggins has shown some nice skills in preseason play, but coming off the ACL injury, anything we get from him is a plus. The guy I see as a fit to filling that need for backfield speed as well as complimenting Blount in a change of pace way is California’s Shane Vereen. He’s not a burner, but Vereen is a guy who uses his total package to do a lot of damage. It starts with his build as a smaller, compact guy who shows a consistent balanced running style and low center of gravity. He has impressive edge quickness and vision, which combined with his running style and body type, gives you a guy who will get you those extra yards when there doesn’t appear to be anything available. Despite not having the largest build, Vereen is a strong inside runner who accumulated over 2,000 yards the last two years on more than 400 carries. He’s also an accomplished receiver out of the backfield and is simply a player that will beat you a number of ways. Again, he’s not the fastest back in this draft, but I love how his overall game projects in our backfield.
Last but not least is linebacker. As I said last time, this area needs a thorough and proper evaluation. I believe that if Quincy Black is deemed a free agent once this CBA BS is sorted out, enough teams will show interest that he’ll price himself out of Tampa Bay, especially considering the Bucs have Dekoda Watson and Adam Hayward (a more likely to be resigned free agent) as potential replacements at SLB. That said, I’m focusing the offseason upgrades at WLB and MLB. Again, this isn’t Derrick Brooks’ Tampa 2 where all/most of the action is being funneled to a future Hall of Fame WLB. Still, there should be more production, of both the long term and instant impact varieties, coming from that position. No one is calling on Hayes to be Brooks, but more consistent progression than what has been shown is needed at WLB.
The same can be said for the MLB position that has been occupied by Barrett Ruud for the last four years. Take a look at some stats:
2010 – #28 @ 131.7 yds game
2009 – #32 @ 158.2 yds game
2008 – #19 @ 118.8 yds game
2007 – #17 @ 107.9 yds game
That’s Tampa Bay’s rush defense ranking in the four years that Ruud has occupied the MLB position. You see a big jump from the ’07 and ’08 numbers to the performance of the last two seasons, and it’s no coincidence that those were Derrick Brooks’ last two years as a Buccaneer. Granted stopping the running game isn’t solely Ruud’s responsibility and the DT play in front of him hasn’t been the greatest, but you’d expect your MLB to be more of a stout presence in the run game, regardless of scheme. With his contract up once again, I think it’s time for the Bucs to move on from Ruud.
Focusing back on the draft, at this point in R3, I think you’re more likely to find a MLB replacement than one at WLB. The top WLB options for the Bucs look to be Carter and Foster, and I have both of them going off the board before we pick in R2. It wouldn’t surprise me if Quan Sturdivant got a good look from the Bucs due to his versatility, but for me, this still comes down to one player – Nate Irving. As I said last time, Irving has the sideline to sideline ability that the Bucs have long coveted, but he’s more of a force against the run than we’re used to from the position. Irving is extremely active at the line of scrimmage, and we’re less likely to see our MLB turning and chasing with him on the field. His ability to consistently and properly diagnose and react to the action in front of him is impressive.
As enticing as adding Vereen is and as attractive an addition as Carpenter could be to the OL, I’m still firmly locked into this one. I think this guy would make a huge positive impact, especially paired with a R1 pass rusher.
The pick – Nate Irving (LB, NC State)
Round 4 (#116)
So far it’s still DE (Houston), WR (Cobb), and LB (Irving) just like the last draft. We’re getting more explosive on both sides of the ball. Here’s where I’m making a change from the last draft. In the previous version I went with John Moffitt, but I’m bypassing the offensive line right now. Here I’m looking mainly at three positions – cornerback, tight end, and another pass rusher.
I have two corners in mind in this range – Rashad Carmichael and Jalil Brown. I like Carmichael a lot more than guys who will go a lot earlier than he will. He totaled 10 INTs over the last two years and was one of Bud Foster’s most active defenders. You never see him not hustling. I feel pretty confident that he’s going to be a successful pro, and his skill set fits in well with the Bucs. He can turn and run with receivers, diagnoses and reacts really well, and doesn’t hesitate to put a hat on someone. Brown is bigger and more physical than Carmichael, but he doesn’t get after it as much as the Hokie. Brown doesn’t have Carmichael’s ball skills, but if the Bucs prefer to go the more physical route, Brown might be their guy.
The Bucs are looking at adding talent to the TE position, and a guy I think could be available here is Rob Housler from FAU. Housler’s been the 5th ranked TE on my list for a while and is a guy I think can create mismatches in the middle of the field out of the slot. I really like his hands and the sharpness of his routes. Combine that with his ability to separate, and you’re looking at a valuable weapon to pair with Kellen Winslow. I know the Bucs are probably looking for someone that can help out a little more as a run blocker, but if they don’t get Cobb in R2, I like Housler as a shifty, mismatch guy.
Back to defensive end. With Houston, the Bucs have one roster spot worthy pass rusher. Even if they sign someone in free agency (whenever that is), they need to draft another player who can pressure the passer. A guy who was on my radar in this round last time is Greg Romeus. He’s not as explosive as Houston and the other pass rushers who will get drafted earlier, but he plays with more power than Houston and holds up better against the run. Romeus is likely to slide this far due to having undergone back surgery and rehabbing a torn ACL and because of the abundance of talent at the position this year. He has the size and ability to play LE, but at worst, he and Houston could split time on the right side as rookies.
The pick – Greg Romeus (DE, Pittsburgh)
Round 5 (#151)
If the draft was to play out this way so far, I’d be looking to add a corner right about now. If Carmichael or Brown falls this far, I’d obviously be interested. Another corner I’m looking at that figures to go in the R4-R5 range is Curtis Marsh from Utah State. Marsh has good size (6-1, 197) and looks like he can (should) fill out a bit more. He initiates contact with receivers at the line and doesn’t let them get into him; controls the action. I like how smoothly he flips his hips in coverage and how quick his feet are when changing directions; looks really athletic. I admittedly haven’t seen much of him in action, but from what I have seen, the Bucs could do a lot worse with this pick. I also find it intriguing that Marsh has only two years of experience at the position and think Raheem Morris could do a lot with a guy like him; size, speed, fluid; physical.
I’ll mention Deunta Williams (FS, North Carolina) again should he remain on the board this late. He’s still my #1 safety this year, and if his leg injury allows him slip this far, he has a chance to be a huge steal. We still don’t know if/when Tanard Jackson will return, and while I’m a Corey Lynch fan, I think we need more big play potential at the position. Williams brings impressive size, range, and ball skills.
The one other player I’m considering here is Derrick Locke from Kentucky. He’d more than satisfy the need for backfield speed and contribute substantially as a receiver out of the backfield. He’s lethal in space, and if the Bucs haven’t yet added some offensive explosiveness, they’ve got to consider him. Locke compares favorably with Darren Sproles.
The pick – Curtis Marsh (CB, Utah State)
Round 6 (#187)
Through five rounds I’m feeling good about addressing a lot of weaknesses:
Justin Houston (DE)
Randall Cobb (WR)
Nate Irving (MLB)
Greg Romeus (DE)
Curtis Marsh (CB)
Josh Johnson is a free agent after the season, and I find it extremely unlikely that he returns to a team where he has zero shot of taking the starting job. I still think something can be worked out with the Niners, especially if they don’t take Gabbert. If I’m Tampa, I have to decide if one year of Freeman insurance is worth more than a potential mid round draft pick. I’m as big a supporter of Josh Johnson that you’ll find, but if you know he’s not going to be around much longer, don’t you at least try to get something for him? Here’s where I think you’ll find his replacement. Tyrod Taylor came a long way as a passer and leader during his time at Virginia Tech. He has a really good arm, is very mobile, and I believe has a lot more potential as a passer than he’s given credit for.
Mike Mohamed from California is a guy I’d take a look at here for MLB if they don’t address the position earlier. He’s a big effort guy they could have compete with Tyrone McKenzie for early down work in the middle.
The pick – Tyrod Taylor (QB, Virginia Tech)
Round 7a (#222)
With the first of their two seventh round picks, I’m looking to bring in an offensive tackle. Two players I’m keying on are Willie Smith of ECU and David Mims from Virginia Union. Smith is a raw athlete (6-5, 310) who hasn’t even played tackle for three full seasons. With a little more bulk and experience, it’s not unreasonable to think he could be a valuable swing tackle. David Mims on the other hand is a massive dude (6-8, 330) with upside as a right tackle. No, I haven’t seen him play, but having read multiple reports, but he looks like a strong, stout guy who can move a little bit. Their skill sets are different, but both offer intriguing potential.
The pick – Willie Smith (T, ECU)
Round 7b (#238)
With the Bucs’ last pick, I have three players in mind – Mark LeGree, Aldrick Robinson, and Fred Rouse. LeGree is the free safety from Appalachian State that I passed on for Richard Sherman in the last mock. He’s very productive, finishing his career at ASU as the active NCAA Division I leader in INTs with 22. As I suggested last time, he might have some corner flexibility and, worst case scenario, would be a solid special teamer. Robinson is a speedster from SMU who would provide speed and elusiveness from the slot. I don’t like him as a deep ball guy, but in the intermediate area, if he catches it with some cushion he’s a threat to break off some serious yardage. Last but not least is Rouse, the former Nole who’s back on the football radar again via Concordia College. There’s a chance he gets drafted late because he’s reportedly still got the speed and strength to go with his size and supposedly isn’t an assclown anymore. Keep an eye on him late or as an undrafted free agent. As I mentioned in my last rankings piece, Greg Little has a chance to be this year’s Mike Williams, but Rouse could be a poor man’s Little. If I went with Dowling in R2 instead of Cobb, I would have mocked one of the receivers with this pick.
The pick – Mark LeGree (FS, Appalachian State)
WHAT WE GOT
Two pass rushers – Because they’re so bad at the position and free agency cannot be relied upon, I think they’ve got to take two ends in the draft. I’ve given them a RE who can stand up if/when Raheem wants to mix up fronts in Houston and another who is an accomplished pass rusher and might be able to line up on the left side in Romeus.
Speed at receiver – Josh Freeman has shown tremendous promise, and surrounding him with more talent is only going to increase his effectiveness. Adding Cobb to Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe, and Kellen Winslow gives the passing game another dimension and stretches the field even more for Freeman.
Oomph at linebacker – Geno Hayes needs to step up, but I believe adding Houston, Romeus, and Irving to a front seven that includes last year’s top picks Gerald McCoy and Brian Price is going to put hair on this defense’s chest. With Irving in the middle, I think you’ll see a steep decline in the number of tackles made downfield. The Bucs are going to leave the draft with a linebacker, and if it’s not Irving, I’m guessing it will be one of his rival Tar Heel backers, Carter (if he happens to fall in R2) or Sturdivant.
Secondary depth – Marsh projects as a boundary corner, and as I mentioned before, with his skill set, Raheem should be able to develop him into a viable starter. He and the staff have done quite well so far with former R7 pick EJ Biggers, and I could see the same thing happening with Marsh (or Dowling, Carmichael, or J Brown). LeGree joins fellow Mountaineer Corey Lynch at safety, and as I mentioned before, he might have some corner ability.
Johnson’s replacement – I’m in the camp that believes the Bucs will deal Josh Johnson at some point, and Taylor is an experienced passer with upside.
Offensive line project – Smith brings athleticism and raw potential for new OL coach Pat Morris to work with.
WHAT WASN’T ADDRESSED
OLB – I found a replacement for Ruud, but like last time, I don’t see the draft falling out in a way that will allow the Bucs to make a significant upgrade over Hayes at WLB. The best options in my opinion are Bruce Carter and Mason Foster, and both could be gone before we pick at #51. R2 is too early for Sturdivant in my opinion, and I wouldn’t pass up Nate Irving for him in R3. After that you’re looking at guys like Ross Homan, Lawrence Wilson, and Doug Hogue. I like those guys, but I’m not sure any is an upgrade over Hayes.
RB – I think the Bucs will leave the draft with a receiver or a back, not both, and I happened to go receiver. Cobb is my preference for an offensive playmaker, but Vereen and Locke might have better chances of becoming Buccaneers.
TE – With the need for two ends, help at linebacker, corner, and my preference for an offensive playmaker, I’m not willing to spend an early pick on a TE. After that you’re looking at guys who are primarily blockers or projects, and I like the late value better at other positions.
G/C – As I mentioned earlier, assuming Davin Joseph is resigned, I think the guard positions are locked down. I’d still be fine if the Bucs let Jeff Faine go and replaced him with Jeremy Zuttah, but it looks like Faine is staying. I could see them bringing in an undrafted free agent interior lineman (when they’re allowed to), but I’m satisfied enough with Derek Hardman and Brandon Carter as depth / developmental talent to not spend a draft pick on this area.
DT – With the Bucs drafting Gerald McCoy and Brian Price last year to go along with Roy Miller, there’s no need for the Bucs to spend one of this year’s draft picks on a defensive tackle. I’m fine with Frank Okam and Al Woods as depth.
DRAFT PICK SUMMARY
R1 (#20) Justin Houston (DE, Georgia)
R2 (#51) Randall Cobb (WR, Kentucky)
R3 (#84) Nate Irving (MLB, NC State)
R4 (#116) Greg Romeus (DE, Pittsburgh)
(previous - John Moffitt)
R5 (#151) Curtis Marsh (CB, Utah State)
(previous - Markus White)
R6 (#187) Tyrod Taylor (QB, Virginia Tech)
R7a (#222) Willie Smith (T, ECU)
(previous - Richard Sherman)
R7b (#238) Mark LeGree (FS, Appalachian State)
1 (#20) Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa)
2 (#51) Ras-I Dowling (CB, Virginia)
3 (#84) Shane Vereen (RB, California)
4 (#116) Rob Housler (TE, FAU)
5 (#151) Deunta Williams (FS, North Carolina)
6 (#187) Mike Mohamed (MLB, California)
7a (#222) David Mims (T, Virginia Union)
7b (#238) Aldrick Robinson (WR, SMU)