Here is my new mock draft. I look forward to your comments questions, and conversation.
1. St. Louis Rams: Jimmy Clausen QB, Notre Dame
The Rams number one priority this off season will be to find a new Quarterback. There’s no debate about it. In the last two years they have passed on Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez. Clausen had a great season despite his teams overall poor play and scouts will love the fact that he plays in a pro-style offense under center. Heading into an uncapped year means the Rams can dump Marc Bulger’s salary without any future consequences. If they manage to find a QB in free agency or feel they would rather target a project QB in the later rounds they might take Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh, who has solidified himself as the most dominant defensive player in college football this year.
2. Detroit Lions: Ndamukong Suh DT, Nebraska
What the Lions need most is an impact player. This team needs playmakers everywhere other than QB and TE. They need a cornerstone LT to protect their 40 million dollar man in Matt Stafford but Suh is too great a player to pass on. After watching Suh absolutely dominate Texas’ lineman in the Big12 championship to the tune of 4 & ½ sacks and being the first defensive player since 1997 to be invited to the Heisman ceremony, he looks to be the best defensive lineman prospect since Warren Sapp. At this pick, they only other options I can see them going with are Russell Okung or Eric Berry. But if Suh is available they would be crazy to pass on him.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eric Berry S, Tennessee
What the Bucs would really love is for Suh to fall to them because he is the type of 3 down, 2-gap player that is perfect for defensive coordinator Jim Bates’ scheme. Unfortunately he is no longer available but getting Eris Berry is more than just a consolation prize. Not only myself but every draft pundit you hear, including Mel Kiper and Todd McShay of ESPN, have said that Berry is an absolute stud and top player of this draft. He's drawing comparisons to Ed Reed, which is just about the best compliment a safety can get. Berry is a nightmare for opposing QB's. College teams don't even throw in his direction. He's got a nose for the ball and is a serious threat to take a pick back to the house every time.
4. Kansas City Chiefs: Russell Okung OT, Oklahoma State
Matt Cassell needs a LT that will give him enough time to throw the ball down field. KC spent a lot of money on Cassell and it would be nice if they got a return on their investment. It would also allow them to move 2008 1st round pick Brandon Albert to LG, his natural position, since it doesn't seem like he can make it playing on the outside. Okung is the top OT in the draft and would be a great addition to the Chiefs O-line. He's athletic, uses his hands very well, and has quick feet to get out in front of speed rushers.
5. Cleveland Browns: Gerald McCoy DT, Oklahoma
This franchise is a disaster. Cleveland needs help everywhere except for LT where they have Joe Thomas. A lot of draft lovers think they will target a QB, but I’m not sure the franchise is quite ready to give up on Brady Quinn. Although there are reports that new football czar Mike Holmgren may indeed fire head coach Eric Mangini, in which case any new hire may insist on drafting “his guy”, in which case this pick could easily be Sam Bradford or Ryan Mallett. Regardless, McCoy is the most technically sound DT in this draft and could play DE in the Browns 3-4 or DT in a 4-3, which Holmgren may decide to switch them to in the off season.
6. Washington Redskins: Sam Bradford QB, Oklahoma
Regardless of whether or not you’re a Jason Campbell fan the fact remains that this team is not winning with him. His play against the Giants certainly didn’t inspire any faith. I know a lot of the problems are because of the injuries to the offensive line but Snyder is going to go with a flashy, big name like Bradford, especially when they hire Mike Shanahan in the offseason. As ESPN has reported, Bradford is having his shoulder operated on by the renowned Dr. James Andrews, who also just happens to be the Redskins team doctor. So Snyder will definitely have the inside track on whether Bradford’s shoulder is going to hold up. If Snyder doesn’t think Bradford shoulder will hold up they may target Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, who Shanahan may prefer because of his penchant for strong-armed QB’s.
7. Buffalo Bills: Bruce Campbell OT, Maryland
Look for the Bills to fill the gaping hole left by the Jason Peters trade to Philly. The Bills would love for Gerald McCoy to fall to them so they can fix their horrendous run defense. It’s also not out of the question that they target one of the top tier QB’s given that they will have a new head coach and as of yet Trent Edwards hasn’t been able to distinguish himself.
8. Denver Broncos(via Chicago Bears): Rolando McClain ILB, Alabama
Look for the Broncos to take the best defensive player available. McClain is a natural leader, is continuing to rise up draft boards, and would be a perfect fit considering he already plays in a 3-4 defense at Alabama. The Broncos have very few holes to fill as they have plenty of young talent that will develop over time. But after going 6-0 they have been exposed for their lack of the deep ball. If given the opportunity they may look to go QB with this pick as they really need a strong armed QB that can sling it downfield, especially with a receiving core of Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley, and Brandon Marshall. Other considerations would be a NT like Alabama’s Terrence Cody or Tenn.’s Dan Williams, or a CB like Florida’s Joe Hayden.
9. Seattle Seahawks: Ryan Mallett QB, Arkansas
Look for the Hawks to find an heir apparent to often injured Matt Hasselbeck. Mallett has a few kinks to work out with his footwork but he has a rocket for an arm and has played impressively this year. Another dire need is to replace the aging and oft-injured Walter Jones. They may consider trading back and targeting Rutgers’ Anthony Davis or USC OT Charles Brown. If Bruce Campbell or even Russell Okung manages to slip then I would expect the Seahawks to go for one of them and try to find a project QB later in the draft such as Old Miss. QB Jevan Snead or Texas’ Colt McCoy.
10. Oakland Raiders: Taylor Mays S, USC
As many who have read my mock draft before already know, I’m not very high on Mays. He plays without discipline, has stiff hips, takes poor angles, and is usually more worried about laying someone out rather than holding his coverage. He will stumble out of the top 10 to 15 on draft day if he falls past Oakland. If Oakland comes to its senses and picks a replacement for the failed JaMarcus Russell experiment, Davis will surely try to trade up for Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett who has a cannon for an arm. Don’t be surprised if Davis goes with Florida DE Carlos Dunlap, whose freakish measurables Davis with also love.
11. San Francisco 49ers(via Carolina Panthers): Joe Hayden CB, Florida
Hayden is the top CB prospect in this draft. The 49ers need someone to shore up their secondary. Perhaps their greatest need is a RT to play opposite Joe Staley which they could address with their other first round pick. There will also be good RT prospects available in the second round such as Notre Dames’ Sam Young.
12. San Francisco 49ers: Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa
Bulaga has had a down season with injuries and a thyroid condition but would be a perfect fit at RT at the pro level with his work ethic and run-blocking ability. I know this seems high for a right tackle but having a road grader to open up more running lanes for Frank Gore is worth the price. They may also consider a long-term solution to their QB troubles if Mallett slips, although Alex Smith seems to be redeeming his career after a porous start.
13. Houston Texans: Earl Thomas S, Texas
The Texans need help in multiple areas but the biggest concern is in the secondary, especially if they let the unhappy Dunta Robinson leave via free agency in the offseason. Thomas is only a red shirt sophomore but is having a great year and being a local boy will only help boost ticket sales. Thomas has been quoted as saying that he will not pass on first round money. They would absolutely love for Joe Hayden to slip to them. They may also consider a NT to shore up the front of their defense after sending former 1st round pick Travis Johnson to the Chargers earlier in the year.
14. Atlanta Falcons: Derrick Morgan DE, Georgia Tech
The Falcons will take the best defensive player available, particularly an OLB or DE. Previously I had them taking Ole’ Miss. DE Greg Hardy but he has some injury issues the last two years and wasn’t even able to finish out this season. Morgan’s stock has continued to grow with each passing week this season and he has become the top DE for a 4-3 scheme. Look for the Falcons to also target a DB like Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling.
15. Miami Dolphins: Dan Williams NT, Tennessee
With the secondary shored up in last years draft look for the Fins to plug up their defensive front. They have been using aging veterans to plug the gaps for some time and could really use a shot of youth. Alternatives here could be help at linebacker. Previously I had them taking Alabama’s Terrence Cody but in my opinion Williams has surpassed him. He has all the attributes Cody has, except he doesn’t seem to wear down as much as the game progresses. They may also go for a receiver to help the progression of young QB Chad Henne. The best option would be USC WR Damian Williams, who many consider to be the most complete WR in the draft. They would also consider an OLB such as Missouri’s Sean Weatherspoon or Oklahoma’s Travis Lewis.
16. New York Jets: Dez Bryant WR, Oklahoma State
The Jets biggest need is in the secondary, particularly a corner to play opposite Darrell Revis. Unfortunately there are no corners besides Joe Hayden that are worthy of a pick this high although they could target Ras-I Dowling. They may also look for defensive line help at DT where Kris Jenkins has had the second season-ending injury of his career and also for a defensive end that can play in a 3-4, but there are none worthy of a pick this high. The suspension of Bryant for lying about conversations with Deion Sanders will not hurt is draft stock. He’s got all the intangibles you look for in a receiver and looks a lot like Andre Johnson did when he came out of Miami. The Jets may also consider USC WR Damian Williams, whom QB Mark Sanchez had a great re pore with during his last year in college and will almost assuredly lobby for.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ras-I Dowling, CB/FS Virginia
Another week goes by and another dire performance from our secondary, the safeties especially. Without question the Steelers greatest need is in the secondary. It’s become ridiculous to watch this group give up leads, and eventually the game, each week to far inferior opponents. They need a safety who would eventually replace Ryan Clark given that he’s in the final year of his contract and he’s over 30 years old, and replace Tyrone Carter who has played horribly week in and week out. I’m positive Ryan Clark will take a discount to finish his career in the Burgh which would allow Dowling the time to learn the Steelers complex scheme. In the event that they don’t draft a safety in the first round there’s still going to be some talent in round two such as South Florida’s Nate Allen, or in the third with Georgia’s Reshad Jones. Cornerback could also be another option considering none of the rookies from last year have seemed to distinguish themselves, although it’s definitely too early to tell. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Steelers trade up and target Joe Hayden. Casey Hampton is 32 years old, in the final year of his contract, and with two Super Bowl rings already on his chubby fingers he may seek a big pay day somewhere else. An option many people are high on is Alabama NT Terrence Cody. He’s managed to lose almost 50 pounds in the last year and keep the weight off so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could continue that positive trend into the NFL, especially with the right guidance. Weight issues or not, we’re going to need someone large enough to anchor our defense so our linebackers can continue to flow freely to the opposing QB. The offensive line for the most part has gotten better every week and no longer seems like a dire position of need. Idaho’s Mike Iupati could fill the one weak point at RG where Darnell Stapleton and Trai Essex are lacking and rookie Craig Urbik didn’t show much during the off season. He’s a big road grader and could possibly slide over and play RT if Willie Colon leaves via free agency. Although this is too high to consider any lineman other than tackle. Of course there’s also a chance the Steelers may be able to get him or Alabama OG Mike Johnson in the second or third round. To a lesser extent would be to find an eventual replacement for James Farrior. He’s playing at a high level this year but he’s 34 years old and since it takes a couple years for linebackers to learn the system anyway it would be nice to find his replacement now. Keyarn Fox has filled in admirably at ILB for Lawrence Timmons but is not a permanent solution. Besides, Fox is too valuable as a special teamer. If he’s available we should definitely take Rolando McClain. A lot of people are high on Florida ILB Brandon Spikes, who may be great against the run but is somewhat of a liability in zone coverage. An option in the third round would be TCU ILB Daryl Washington. A player I really like in the later rounds would be Baylor’s ILB Joe Pawelek. Clemson RB C.J. Spiller would be a slightly long-shot option. Willie Parker is most likely not going to be resigned in the off season and Spiller would be a great speedy compliment to Mendenhall’s power for a lot less cost than Parker. But more importantly he would also fill what has become a dire position of need over the years as a return man. Stephan Logan has been serviceable but it’s inefficient to have a return specialist on the active roster, plus he can’t manage to down a kickoff for a touchback even when he’s 7 yards deep. One player I would love for the Steelers to take in the second or third round would be Stanford RB Toby Gerhart, who has become my official man-crush, regardless of whether the Steelers need him or not.
18. Jacksonville Jaguars: Travis Lewis OLB, Oklahoma
The Jags young receiving corps has come on this year and as such seems to be no longer a dire position of need. This team could use an OLB and Travis Lewis is versatile enough to play in a 3-4 or a 4-3, as the Jags make the transition back to after a woeful attempt at using a 3-4. As the Jags continue to win games and fall back in the draft order Florida QB Tim Tebow may become are real option for them, especially since team owner Wayne Weaver had said previously that he would draft him given the opportunity. They could really use a big name to lure fans to the game so they don’t eventually become the L.A. Jaguars. I know he isn’t a first round talent but picking him wouldn’t be about talent, it would be about selecting a local hero who will bring fans to the game. I would’ve considered giving them Florida’s Carlos Dunlap but I think they have had their fill of under-performing and immature DE’s from Florida like Derrick Harvey.
19. Tennessee Titans: Carlos Dunlap DE, Florida
Who would have thought that Vince Young would turn this season around? The Titans are starting to roll after the most disappointing start a team could have. They have multiple needs but Young’s play means they won’t be looking for a QB. Cornerback is their biggest need but without one worthy of this pick they’ll address their D-line which has been exposed by the loss of Albert Haynesworth to free agency. Anyone who’s read my mock draft before knows I’m not big on Dunlap and I have likened him to Vernon Gholston. But there’s no denying his physical gifts and maybe the Titans can get him to mature.
20. Seattle Seahawks (via Denver Broncos): Anthony Davis OT, Rutgers
Having taken care of their QB needs earlier in the draft, the Seahawks will look to take the best OT available. Walter Jones will probably retire at the end of the season and Sean Locklear cannot stay healthy. They will need someone to keep Matt Hasselbeck upright long enough for them to develop Ryan Mallett. They may also look for a RB, but they should be able to grab either Cal’s Jahvid Best or Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer in the second round. Davis is rated much higher than this but has fallen due to other team’s needs and a draft loaded with underclassmen.
21. Baltimore Ravens: Damian Williams WR, USC
This is a toss-up between a WR and Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham. Todd Heap has been surprisingly healthy this year which is the first time in a long time. Many consider Williams to be the most complete WR in the draft. He can also give a boost in the return game as well. A lot of people will think that the Ravens will draft a CB, especially considering how badly they have been torched through the air, but the Ravens draft on value and there won’t be any other first round CB’s left. If not Williams then Gresham will be the pick.
22. New York Giants: Charles Brown OT, USC
Unfortunately the Giants biggest needs, DB and MLB, do not meet up with the talent that is available. They could use a replacement for Kareem McKenzie who is over 30 and starting to show his age. Fortunately in the second and third rounds there will be good value picks for them to fill their biggest needs such as Trevard Lindley, Nate Allen, Daryl Washington, and Brandon Spikes.
23. Arizona Cardinals: Jermaine Gresham TE, Oklahoma
Arizona’s biggest need is for a LT. They drafted Levi Brown a couple years ago to be a RT when they thought Matt Leinart, a lefty, would be the QB of the future. Well he hasn't been so far and Warner is suffering because of it. Unfortunately there aren’t any OT’s that project to play on the left side worthy of this pick. Gresham would be a great addition to this explosive offense. Even though he's been out with a knee injury for the year, he will have plenty of time to rehab before the NFL combine.
24. Dallas Cowboys: Trent Williams OT, Oklahoma
The Cowboys need to take an OT to replace the aging Flozell Adams who’s just too old to hack it anymore. They also need help at safety and perhaps a receiver like Notre Dame’s Golden Tate to go with Miles Austin. Jerry Jones may look to trade up for a flashier pick.
25. New England Patriots: Sergio Kindle DE/OLB, Texas
The Patriots need more youth and depth in their linebacking corps. Kindle lines up all over the field for Texas and is the sort of versatile player Belichick loves. And speaking of versatility, it wouldn’t shock me to see them draft Tim Tebow if he slips past Jacksonville. He could be their QB for life after Brady. And yes I know this is high for a QB who could be a back-up for a few years, but he can also serve as an H-back and be put in for trick plays such as the Wildcat. He also has that air of smugness that reminds me of Brady that I hate so much.
26. Green Bay Packers: Jason Fox OT, Miami
Green Bay will take the best tackle available after watching QB Aaron Rogers eat dirt every week. It’s obvious that Rogers is starting to show that the never-ending beatings each week are taking a toll on him. This is a little high for Fox, who many consider to be a high second round pick, so they may look to add an OLB to replace Aaron Kampman who’s in the final year of his contact and clearly not comfortable after making the switch from DE to OLB. They may also target a CB if one manages to slip down this far.
27. Cincinnati Bengals: Brandon LaFell WR, LSU
The Bengals don’t have many real needs at this point, so look for them to take someone to help their offensive become more explosive. Outside of Chad OchoCinco, none of their WR’s has had much of an impact this year.
28. Philadelphia Eagles: Sean Weatherspoon OLB, Missouri
Without any tackle prospects left to replace the often injured Shawn Andrews, look for the Eagles to take the top DE or Linebacker prospect available. They also need to fill the DE spot opposite of Trent Cole but may find better value for that in the second round. Weatherspoon is probably the best OLB suited to play in a base 4-3 defense.
29. San Diego Chargers: Terrence Cody DT, Alabama
Assuming they resign LT Marcus McNeill and in all probability franchise tag Shawn Merriman, they will most likely target a NT to replace the aging Jamal Williams who was put on IR at the beginning of the season. Other options may be to take Clemson RB C.J. Spiller since they will most likely lose either Darren Sproles to free agency or cut LaDainian Tomlinson after the season, or a WR to play opposite Vincent Jackson, especially since Malcolm Floyd is a free agent. I’ve seen mock drafts where Cody is a top 10-15 pick and some where he doesn’t even go in the first round.
30. Minnesota Vikings: Greg Hardy DE, Ole’ Miss.
Without too many major holes on the team the Vikings have the luxury of bolstering the strength of their team, the defensive line. The one weak link is the end spot opposite Jared Allen. Hardy has some injury issues but is adept at playing both the run and the pass. They may also consider future replacements for the Williams boys such as Jared Odrick from Penn State.
31. New Orleans Saints: C.J. Spiller RB, Clemson
There are rumors that the Saints will be letting go of Reggie Bush in the offseason. His injury history and unreliability are not worth the 8 millions dollars he will be due. The Saints will need to find someone to replace him. Spiller is similar in the aspects of speed and vision, only he does not shy away from contact. They may also consider taking a linebacker, especially if Sean Weatherspoon is still available. The Saints would be lucky to get Spiller at this point who has dropped due to other team’s needs and a plethora of talent available.
32. Indianapolis Colts: Joseph Barksdale OT, LSU
As usual, the weak point of this team is its defense, but the Colts will continue to add to an already dominant offense. Tony Ugoh has been a disappointment after a promising rookie year and his replacement Charles Johnson will be a free agent. The Colts will also consider a CB such as Wake Forest’s Brandon Ghee or GT free safety Morgan Burnett.