It is late January and while many folks have long since put their first mock draft up, I am just wrapping my brain around the concept of preparing for next season.
The Super Bowl is not for another week. In the mean time we have the Senior Bowl this weekend which have been preceded by the Senior Bowl practices in which every NFL team spends a week kicking the proverbial tires on every college senior prospect in attendance. The result will no doubt cause some shaking up in my projections of who each team will choose. But until then, there are the early (so to speak) predictions to be made.
Florida and Oklahoma have the most first rounders with four. There are also a great deal of underclassman because of the possibility of next years draft having a rookie salary cap.
1. St. Louis Rams
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
The Rams need just about everything. That fact has given them the "luxury" of drafting not only the best defensive player in this draft but one of the best football players ever in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. This pick is a no-brainer. They are in the market for a quarterback but they can probably get a good one in the second round. Suh is too good to pass up.
2. Detroit Lions
Gerald McCoy*, DT, Oklahoma
Not surprisingly, the Lions also have an extremely long wish list. But none more glaring than defensive tackle. Even with Suh off the board, McCoy will fit the bill quite nicely. If they somehow either fill the DT spot in free agency or decide to go another direction, offensive tackle Russell Okung would also be a good choice.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Eric Berry*, S, Tennessee
Odd to think of the Buccaneers being one of the worst defensive teams in the NFL. Changing to a new system and completely overhauling a defensive unit will do that to a team. The Bucs have needs at just about every defensive position but Berry is the best on the board at one of those weak areas.
4. Washington Redskins
Sam Bradford*, QB, Oklahoma
Last offseason, Jason Campbell and everyone else became extremely aware that the Redskins were not happy with their quarterback play. They will need to draft a quarterback who can start immediately which is what Bradford is capable of doing. He is a former Heisman winner from a big time program at Oklahoma.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State
The best offensive tackle in the draft is hard to pass up. Especially for team in the Chiefs who are desperate for someone to protect Matt Cassell's blind side. They have several other needs, none of which are as pressing.
6. Seattle Seahawks
Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers
There is not a big drop off in talent from the best offensive tackle to the next best in this draft. The Seahawks' six time All-Pro left tackle, Walter Jones, is reaching the end of his career. Even with talk that he would like to come back for one more year, injury concerns make that unlikely. The Hawks look to not miss a beat by drafting his replacement in the form of Anthony Davis.
7. Cleveland Browns
Joe Haden*, CB, Florida
Browns have a weak secondary and they can nab the best corner in the draft at this spot. They don't pass that up.
8. Oakland Raiders
Rolando McClain*, LB, Alabama
Run support has been the bane of the Raiders existence for quite a while. And while some blame falls on the defensive tackles, equal blame goes to the linebackers. There hasn't been an answer at strong side linebacker for a long time and Kirk Morrison may not be best suited for the middle linebacker spot. McClain can play either spot which means that he could play strong side until he is ready to step into the middle linebacker role. Not to mention he was a huge factor for the National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide. That always sits well with Al Davis.
9. Buffalo Bills
Brian Bulaga, OT, Iowa
The Bills lost their starting left tackle last offseason and their plan to move Langston Walker over from the right tackle spot failed miserably. They are desperate for a stalwart at the position and Brian Bulaga is the best at the position still on the board.
10. Denver Broncos(from Chicago)
Dez Bryant*, WR, Oklahoma State
The Broncos are looking to trade problem-child Brandon Marshall and after not getting what they wanted for him last year only to have him continue to throw temper tantrums, their asking price has likely gone down considerably. They will be looking to replace his production on the field and they get the best receiver in the draft to do it.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars
Derrick Morgan*, DE, Georgia Tech
The Jags are not striking fear in many quarterbacks these days. Mainly because there isn't any threat of the rush from the end position. The take the first defensive end off the board to try and remedy that.
12. Miami Dolphins
Golden Tate*, WR, Notre Dame
When Ted Ginn Jr is your number one receiver, you have problems. He is a fine return man but he is not the deep threat this team needs and he drops the ball far too often. They have a slew of possession and slot receivers in Greg Camarillo, Devon Bess and Brian Hartline. Now they need that guy to stretch the field.
13. San Francisco 49ers
Earl Thomas*, S, Texas
The 49ers weakest position on defense is the safety position. Neither Dashon Goldson or Michael Lewis have been able play well consistently. Earl Thomas was thought by many to be the best safety in college football last season. His ball hawking and hitting skills were a major factor in Texas making it to the National Championship game.
14. Seattle Seahawks(from Denver)
CJ Spiller, RB, Clemson
The Seahawks spent the greater part of last season trying to find a temporary fix at the running back spot to go along with Julius Jones. Nothing seemed to work. CJ Spiller is an amazing talent and he is too intriguing to pass up. The Seahawks will be ecstatic that he is still on the board.
15. New York Giants
Brandon Spikes, ILB, Florida
On a team whose life force is in their linebacker play, it is no wonder they slipped a little last season. After losing some key players after their Super Bowl run, they have never made up for those losses. On top of that Antonio Pierce may be reaching the end of his career. This unit needs some youth injected into it stat.
16. San Francisco 49ers(from Carolina)
Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma
With the left tackle position held down by Joe Staley, this pick is to fill the right tackle position. Trent Williams locked down the right tackle position for the Sooners since half way through his freshman season. So, yeah, he would be the perfect choice.
17. Tennessee Titans
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida
Despite Kyle Vanden Bosch receiving an undeserving invitation to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, the Titans don't have much to speak of as far as a pass rush. Two seasons ago, the combination of Vanden Bosch and Travis Laboy was a potent one. But Laboy moved on and with Albert Haynseworth signing with Washington, the Titans were suddenly exposed. Jason Pierre-Paul is arguably the best defensive end on the board.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers
Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland
Ben Roethlisberger was running for his life all season long and it became clear that the Steelers need an immediate upgrade at the offensive tackle spot. Max Starks has not panned out as well as they had hoped as the full-time starter. Campbell is the last of the top offensive tackle prospects. After him, there is a bit of a drop off in talent so they should not pass him up.
19. Atlanta Falcons
Carlos Dunlap*, DE, Florida
There is no questioning Dunlap's talent and he is a great pick at this spot. The Falcons weak area last year was their lack of a pass rush. It hampered the efforts of the rest of the team all season. Dunlap could come in immediately and bring pressure on the edge.
20. Houston Texans
Brian Price, DT, UCLA
Price was the steadfast anchor in the middle of that line for the Bruins. Which is just what the Texans are lacking. Their offense was great but their defense could not keep opposing offenses off the field. Price could offer the run stopping ability they are sorely lacking.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee
Last offseason the Bengals were one of the few suitors for Cowboys' cast-off Tank Johnson. They have been desperate for a dependable body to hold down the middle of the defensive line and they find it in Dan Williams.
22. New England Patriots
Sergio Kindle, DE/OLB, Texas
The big free agent signing of Adalius Thomas has not quite worked out the way they had hoped. This team only has one solid linebacker in Jerrod Mayo. They consider themselves lucky that the best "tweener" in this draft is still on the board when it is their turn.
23. Green Bay Packers
Taylor Mays, S, USC
While this team needs an offensive tackle more than anything, there isn't one on the board that is worthy of this pick. So they opt for another pretty important need in getting hard hitting safety Taylor Mays. Their playoff loss to the Cardinals in which they gave up 51 points, is all the evidence you need to tell you they need some serious help in the secondary.
24. Philadelphia Eagles
Navorro Bowman*, LB, Penn State
The Eagles finished the season at 11-5 but almost all of those eleven wins were against sub .500 teams. The loss that hurt the most was the last game of the season against the Cowboys. Because it meant they would lose the NFC East and had to play the Cowboys in Dallas in the first round; a game they would lose. The culprit was defense. The Eagles need a few positions but none more than linebacker. Bowman happens to be the best player on the board here and toss in that he played for Penn state, and the choice is obvious.
25. Baltimore Ravens
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma
Todd Heap is not what he once was. He has been battling injuries the past few seasons and he has never been able to get back to his Pro Bowl form. It is time to bring in his replacement and Germaine Gresham becomes the first tight end off the board in this draft.
26. Arizona Cardinals
Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida
Right after the first tight end comes off the board, the next one goes. The Cardinals haven't had a solid tight end for a long time. Many will argue that Hernandez is the best tight end in this draft. The Cards likely have a great deal of interest in University of Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski but he may be a reach at this spot and will likely be gone by their next pick. So there is always the possibility of a trade down.
27. Dallas Cowboys
Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois
With the looming possibility of losing Miles Austin in free agency combined with Roy Williams not quite performing up to expectations, this team could be in desperate need of a receiver.
28. San Diego Chargers
Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State
Jamal Williams has battled injuries every season the last few years and was out nearly the entirety of last season. His future is far from certain and the Chargers need someone to give him some plays off during games. While they would like to bring in a running back with LaDainian Tomlinson reaching the end of his career, defensive tackle is far more crucial.
29. New York Jets
Ricky Sapp, DE/LB, Clemson
The Jets like the 3-4 and they play it quite well. Now they can start upgrading some of the positions like outside linebacker.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Jimmy Clausen*, QB, Notre Dame
Brett Favre says that it is "highly unlikely" he will be back next year. Which in Favre speak means "highly likely". But whether he comes back or not, will not effect their need to draft a quarterback. Clausen could benefit from a season backing up Favre the same way Aaron Rodgers did in Green Bay. And if Favre does actually retire, Clausen could compete with Sage Rosenfels for the starting job. He has worked in a pro system at Notre Dame and many scouts think that he has the potential to be special. If the Vikings don't agree, I still say they get a quarterback. It would just be Colt McCoy instead.
31. New Orleans Saints
Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama
The Saints have been lauded for their good defense all season long. But most of that credit has gone to the coaches for making the best of what they had available. They also have not been as good at keeping the opposing offense off the field early in games. Late in games, the Saints were usually ahead which led to a lot of desperation passes. This has worked well for them and when you are a Super Bowl team you have the luxury of tweaking and upgrading. Defensive tackle is a great place to start.
32. Indianapolis Colts
Everson Griffen, DE, USC
There are many positions that the Colts could address here and defensive end is one of those postions that could use an upgrade. With Griffen falling into their laps, they take him as the best player available.