NEPD Contributor: Peter Bukowksi
Now that the draft order is essentially set and underclassmen have had to declare, it’s prudent to start looking at potential scenarios for the draft. This early, particularly before free agency gets going and the offseason workouts for the prospects have happened, these types of projections are more about finding 32 players who are most likely to be drafted in the first round than they are for accuracy.
You can determine what the needs for each team will be based on the roster, and get a feel for who might be there at various points in the draft. This is a difficult draft to project right now because teams are split on many of the elite prospects and the important positions like quarterback. While there may only be one or two quarterbacks with first round grades, we could see three or four taken in the first round and maybe even six taken in the top 50.
It’s early, but everyone loves a mock draft.
1. Kansas City Chiefs – Geno Smith QB West Virginia
Even the scouts who like Smith concede that he’s probably only about the 10th best player in the draft. That certainly doesn’t adhere to what GM Ken Dorsey says he’ll do with this pick – he’s said he’ll go best available – but the Mountaineers quarterback is the best player at the biggest need position for the Chiefs. If Brandon Albert is re-signed, there isn’t really much value anywhere else. Still, this would be a pretty big reach in my opinion.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars – Bjoern Werner DE Florida State
Jacksonville doesn’t just need a pass-rusher, they need a star. Werner reminds me of former Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley and if he can consistently bring his energy and fire, Werner’s physical tools are elite. Star Lotulelei may be a safer pick and is aptly named for what the Jaguars seek, but he doesn’t have the upside of Werner and it seems as though ownership in Jacksonville wants to make a splash.
3. Oakland Raiders – Damontre Moore DE Texas A&M
This will be GM Reggie McKenzie’s first real draft, considering he didn’t have a pick in the top 90 last year thanks to the Carson Palmer trade. To be able to get a stud pass-rusher to supplement an anemic defense will be a great start. Moore brings explosiveness off the corner and should be stout enough to handle the corner in Oakland’s 4-3 defense.
4. Philadelphia Eagles – Luke Joeckel OT Texas A&M
Aggies go back-to-back in the biggest no-brainer of the draft if it plays out this way. The Eagles are desperate for a tackle and Joeckel is an elite pass-blocker coming out of College Station. He also happens to be the top overall prospect in the draft which means Philadelphia couldn’t possibly get better value at this pick. There have been recent rumblings about Ryan Nassib at this spot to pre-empt the Bills getting him, but if Joeckel is here, I don’t see Chip Kelly passing – literally and figuratively.
5. Detroit Lions – Jarvis Jones OLB Georgia
Detroit could get lucky and have either Werner or Moore fall to them here, but if not, they could opt for the best pass-rushing linebacker in the draft. Jones has some medical concerns with a spinal condition, but his play on the field speaks for itself. He could be used in Detroit much the same way Denver uses Von Miller, both as an outside linebacker and a rush end in passing situations. This fits two needs as Cliff Avril is set to be a free agent and the Lions could use an upgrade at linebacker.
6. Cleveland Browns – Star Lotulelei DT Utah
The base of any 3-4 defense is the nose tackle and Cleveland, in switching to Ray Horton’s aggressive 3-4 scheme, doesn’t have that building block. Lotulelei is one of the few elite talents in this draft and if he falls this far, the Browns would be hard-pressed to pass him up. Despite his considerable size, Lotulelei is nimble enough that Utah even used him on zone blitzes to cover backs out of the backfield. His versatility is his biggest attribute.
7. Arizona Cardinals – Eric Fisher OT Central Michigan
Fisher’s impressive Senior Bowl week and the decision by both Jake Matthews and Tyler Lewan to return to school have pushed the Central Michigan tackle into the top 10. Fisher was one of the best players on the practice field in Mobile and held his own against some of the top defensive linemen in the draft. The Cardinals could take a look at a new quarterback here, but it wouldn’t help much if they don’t address this leaky offensive line.
8. Buffalo Bills – Ryan Nassib QB Syracuse
When early reports came out that the Bills were interested in Nassib before Doug Marrone was hired as coach, it was easy to roll your eyes. Now, the Bills are reportedly cooling on Nassib, which naturally means they’ve been in on him all along. At least three quarterbacks are rated higher on most boards, but if they’re going to reach for a quarterback here – which is exactly what taking any QB would be – then Nassib makes the most sense. That being said, some evaluators believe Nassib is the best in his class and s strong showing at his pro day could make this less of a reach once April rolls around.
9. New York Jets – Chance Warmack G Alabama
When the Jets were winning road playoff games under Rex Ryan, they were pulverizing opponents with a smash mouth brand of football. The offensive line play has dropped off considerably and has been as big a reason as any that this offense has struggled. Warmack is a top 5 talent and would bring an immediate upgrade to the guard position. Warmack is equally adept as a pass or run blocker and has tremendous value at this point in the draft. I don’t see New York drafting a quarterback in the first round because there’s no getting out from under Sanchez’s contract.
10. Tennessee Titans – Dee Milliner CB Alabama
All of the over-drafting we expect to go on with quarterbacks at the top of this draft will mean really good players should tumble. A team like the Titans could very well be the beneficiary with a player like Milliner who is a great fit in both need and value here. Milliner is a tough, physical corner who has the speed the cover deep. The Titans have great safety play, but their cornerback group is thin.
11. San Diego Chargers – Dion Jordan OLB Oregon
The Chargers used a first round pick on Melvin Ingram last year and remain optimistic about his development. However, with Shaun Phillips a free agent this offseason and Antwan Barnes coming off an injury -plagued season, a freak athlete like Jordan could be a welcome addition to this defense. There certainly are other positions of need for the Chargers, but many of the best players on the board right now are redundant given the current San Diego roster. The Charges seem like a good bet to trade down and acquire more picks, particularly given how talent-poor the Bolts are.
12. Miami Dolphins – Sheldon Richardson DT Missouri
Miami’s pick will be easier to forecast once free agency gets going because if the Dolphins pick up a receiver like Greg Jennings, then suddenly they can turn their attention to the defensive side of the ball and potentially pick up a receiver later in the draft. As it is, Richardson is the best player on the board and could give the Dolphins a stud interior pass-rusher to go with Cameron Wake. Richardson is a top 10 talent and was one of the most consistently disruptive defensive players in the nation of the last two seasons.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Barkevious Mingo DE LSU
This would be another easy decision as the Buccaneers were awful defending the pass last season and a lack of pressure was a big reason why. Mingo is talented, but undersized to play end in the NFL and could be used similarly to the way Aldon Smith was as a rookie in San Francisco. Great in space, Mingo has a relentless motor and although he isn’t the top 3 player some thought he could be going into the year, this is a great value for him here.
14. Carolina Panthers – Keenan Allen WR California
Carolina has bigger needs than at wide receiver, but Allen is the best player at his position and the potential of a Newton-to-Allen connection for the next 10 years is a pretty powerful draw for this pick. A big, physical receiver who can make catches in traffic, Allen is the ideal guy to play opposite Steve Smith and eventually replace him as the go-to receiver in this offense.
15. New Orleans Saints – Johnathan Hankins DT Ohio State
New Orleans needs some serious help on defense and the transition to a 3-4 scheme means versatile linemen are a previous commodity. Hankins can play nose tackle or the 5-technique depending on the formation and situation. He is extremely talented, blessed with tremendous quickness and strength, but his production on the field doesn’t always match his skills for whatever reason. An inside linebacker like Alec Ogletree would make some sense here as well, as the thought is Jonathan Vilma isn’t long for this world in New Orleans.
16. St. Louis Rams – Alec Ogletree LB Georgia
Although most see Ogletree as an inside linebacker in the NFL, he has the speed and playmaking abilities to play outside as well. He had the luxury of playing behind a massive defensive line at Georgia and didn’t always show a willingness to take on blocks, which may actually mean Ogletree is better suited to play outside where he’s taking on lead blockers with much less frequency. Jeff Fisher loves to go defense in the first round and Ogletree can be an impact player for this defense.