Once again, the Head Cheese weighs in with his prediction on how the first round will play out in next Thursday night’s NFL draft. I’ll forgive you if you scroll down to #28 first; can’t blame you there. But here is my mock beginning with the pick that was made in Jim Irsay’s head the moment he knew his Colts had locked up the #1 pick.
1. Colts: Andrew Luck, QB Stanford This one has already been officially reported and has been assumed for months. The only way you let go of Peyton Manning is if you’re lucky (and bad) enough to own the #1 pick, particularly when Luck is being called the most complete prospect since John Elway.
2. Redskins: Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor I love the aggressiveness by the Redskins here. Enough fooling around at quarterback. You’re in a division with Eli, Tony and Mike and you need to compete. Griffin’s season was Newton-like and he doesn’t bring self-proclaimed “icon” status like last year’s QB phenom did. I don’t think he’ll put up the numbers Newton did last year, but I think his upside is just as high.
3. Vikings: Morris Claiborne, CB LSU I’ve flipped on this one and here is where my mock diverges from 99% of the others. Rick Spielman has done his job making it sound like Kalil is not a shoo-in, that he believes Super Bowl teams today can get by without a superstar tackle (if they have the right QB). Matt Kalil is the safe, unquestionable pick. But I get the sense Spielman would rather address the other side of the ball and add a potential #1 corner for a team that currently doesn’t have one. A team that will face Rodgers, Stafford and Cutler six times. First shocker of the draft. If Spielman can’t trade back a few spots, he goes for the corner.
4. Browns: Trent Richardson, RB Alabama Real tempted to put Kalil here and move him to right tackle, since Joe Thomas mans the left side and is the best in the business. Team wiz Mike Holmgren has won a Super Bowl without a superstar running back and the West Coast scheme doesn’t demand one, but he can’t pass up the talent Richardson brings to the table and the pressure he will take off the passing game. It’s hard enough to get run production in this division as it is. Richardson would provide a test for the aging defenses in Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
5. Buccaneers: Matt Kalil, T, USC Obviously, the Bucs didn’t expect the best tackle in the draft to be sitting here and they scoop him up. They had hoped Claiborne might be waiting for them here, but gladly pick up a guy who will give Josh Freeman peace of mind.
6. Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St. It’s time to get Sam Bradford some weapons. The addition of Scott Wells to steady the line was a good start and Steven Jackson remains one of the game’s best backs. The team desperately needs a playmaker and they’ll roll the dice a bit that Blackmon can handle stepping right in.
7. Jaguars: Quinton Coples, DE, UNC These guys are always unpredictable and could go with a number of defensive linemen here. There is a clear need for a pass rusher and I say they go with the upside Coples brings to the table.
8. Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB Texas A&M This is an organization running in circles and will likely be looking up at the other three teams in the division. They swung and missed a few times in trying to get a QB this offseason and now most of the free world believes they’ll reach a bit, like the Vikings last year, and grab Tannehill who played for new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman at A&M. Michael Floyd could also be the pick here, since the team ditched Brandon Marshall in the offseason.
9. Carolina: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi St. This side of the ball needs a lot of attention in this draft. With the offense in very capable hands, the defense must improve to keep the Panthers from playing all of their games in the 30s.
10. Bills: Riley Reiff, T, Iowa The fan base, and most mocks, expect Floyd to go here and he might. But I think their WR group is OK–their line needs an upgrade. Ryan Fitzpatrick is being counted on keep pace in a very competitive division and giving him more protection should be a priority. The team made a big defensive splash in free agency–now they need to upgrade the line.
11. Chiefs: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis The Chiefs could use some beef up front and this workout warrior is the choice. Disappeared in games against s0-so competition but has physical tools you rarely find.
12. Seahawks: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame I’m guessing Pete Carroll won’t have a problem with this Fighting Irish player who has improved his draft standing 180 degrees in the past six months. The Seahawks need to give their new QB some toys, and Sidney Rice can’t be counted on till he proves he can stay on the field.
13. Cardinals: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU With no pick in the second round, this one’s important and the Cards grab a guy who will help them stop a stable of RBs from the division like Steven Jackson, Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch.
14. Cowboys: Mark Barron, S, Alabama Huge area of need for the ‘Boys, who need a lot of help all over the place on defense. Thought hard about corner Stephon Gilmore here, but the lack of a top flight safety has really hurt this team and Barron’s the only surefire first round safety in the draft.
15. Eagles: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, S. Carolina The Eagles thought they might get Barron here, but are thrilled to see Ingram still on the board. This defense is loaded with talent up front, but can use another young pass rusher and Ingram’s the best one left.
16. Jets: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB Alabama Rex Ryan can’t wait to add another pass rusher to his defensive arsenal. With the offense in flux thanks to the arrival of Tebow, the defense needs to get younger.
17. Bengals: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina The Bengals pick again four picks later and will go to offense for that pick. The defense was a big surprise last season and is poised to be solid again, but secondary help is needed and Gilmore is the second best corner in the draft.
18. Chargers: David DeCastro, G, Stanford If you watched the Chargers last season you know their line needs a lot of help and they’re happy to scoop up the best interior lineman of the draft.
19. Bears: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama Like Minnesota at #3, the Bears know they need more talent at corner in a pass-happy division. Many believe they’ll go offensive line here, especially with Tice running the offense, but I think they believe they’ll find linemen later and coach them up. Besides, they took Carimi in the first round last year.
20. Titans: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois Knocked as a one year wonder, the Titans can’t pass up the chance at a serious pass rusher.
21. Bengals: Kendall Wright, WR A four year starter at Baylor, Wright can line up immediately opposite AJ Green and force defenses to decide who they want to shadow. At 5’10″ he’s smaller than a lot of first round receivers, but his quickness and productivity have offensive coordinators drooling.
22. Browns: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech They really wanted Wright, but will settle for Hill. An offensive lineman is possible here as well, but I’m going with a receiver with upside to provide McCoy a downfield threat.
23. Lions: Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford The offensive line needs attention. They have to run the ball a bit this year and Martin provides an instant upgrade.
24. Steelers: Luke Kuechly, Boston College Pittsburgh can’t believe its good fortune that Kuechly fell into their lap. He will provide an instant youth transfusion into a linebacking corps that has said good-bye to some longtime stars.
25. Broncos: Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati The Broncos hit a home run with last year’s #1 pick, Von Miller, and this year they look to add another piece to what is becoming an elite level defense, especially in the front seven.
26. Texans: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford The Texans saw what a stud tight end can mean in today’s game and watched one of theirs (Dreesen) walk away this offseason. They’ll enter the season tabbed as a Super Bowl favorite, and adding Fleener makes an already potent offense, even more dangerous.
27. Patriots: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse First of two picks in the first round, the Patriots address their mediocre pass rush with a guy who’s climbing up the boards and is definitely high on Ted Thompson’s board at this point.
28. Packers: At this point, the top guys left on Thompson’s board include a few outside linebackers like Southern Cal’s Nick Perry and Boise State’s Shea McClellin and a couple of defensive linemen in Jerel Worthy (Michigan State) and Devon Still (Penn State). I think Thompson may have designs of moving up in the second round to grab either a safety or an outside linebacker–maybe offering up his third and fourth rounders to do it. I think he realizes the drop-off for quality d-lineman is precipitous and he takes one here. Worthy has consistency issues and was unimpressive at the combine. I say the pick is…
Devon Still, DT, Penn State Still will have a chance to step right in next to BJ Raji and try to replace Cullen Jenkins. Thompson knows now he has to move on from Mike Neal and put a stud in there who can make plays and take pressure off Clay Matthews. Still was an All American at Penn State with 17 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. He suffered a turf toe injury right before their bowl game and was still dealing with it at the combine. A great 3-4 needs a great line, and with Pickett getting older, Thompson needs to strengthen this unit now.
29. Ravens: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin Konz can watch and learn from Matt Birk and take over in 2013.
30. 49ers: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State The league’s best defense gets better.
31. Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, CB, N. Alabama The troubled corner has top 10 talent and Bill Belechick will believe he can set the kid straight, especially since he has this extra pick.
32. N.Y. Giants: Cordy Glenn, G/T Georgia Top guy left on their board, will help out an offensive line that got its act together in the playoffs, but can use some re-enforcements.