Okay, here goes. My current thought process is to produce a mock draft around this time of month for January (A: Pre-Senior Bowl), February (B: Pre-Combine), March (C: Post-Combine & Pro Days), and April (D: Final). Hopefully I'll get it all done.
For the first 12 picks or so, I address the quarterback situations of teams so as to explain why they do or don't draft one of the quarterback prospects. No draft trades included.
1. Carolina Panthers – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Ron Rivera is a defensive-minded coach which is why, like almost every other recent defensive-minded coach who becomes a new head coach, he eschews conventional wisdom by taking the highly talented offensive player with his first Top 5 pick. Rivera knows he can coach up the defense. Quarterbacks are Jimmy Clausen and a veteran they sign in the offseason (think Billy Volek and Kerry Collins) who will likely beat Clausen out for the starting job.
2. Denver Broncos – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
New head coach John Fox mercifully ends Denver's attempt at a 3-4 defense, and just in time, adds a perfect 4-3 fit in the disruptive Fairley as they do it. Their starting quarterback is Tim Tebow, believe.
3. Buffalo Bills – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix draft their first-round quaterback in the big, strong-armed Gabbert who needs work but can sit and learn behind Ryan Fitzy Fitzpatrick for a year.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
With Jonathan Joseph dealing with injuries lately, and both he and Leon Hall needing new contracts, the Bengals are even more content to take the best player on the board in Peterson who can also play some safety in the meantime. Maybe Carson Palmer isn't their starting quarterback any longer, according to recent news, but all four of the heralded "first round" quarterback prospects need time to develop before playing anyways so the Bengals may wait until the second round.
5. Arizona Cardinals – Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Cardinals don't make a fuss, they just take who they consider the best player at their pick and hope it works out for the best. They sign Marc Bulger to be their starting quarterback, Kyle Orton would be a nice option but I don't see them giving up a draft pick for him nor do I see Denver releasing him instead of getting a trade done.
6. Cleveland Browns – Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
The Big Show gave Mangini his one year, but Holmgren moved on and now will install the 4-3 defense he wants his teams to have. And the biggest part of a 4-3 defense is defensive end. Starting quarterback is Colt McCoy.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Jake Locker, QB, Washington
New head coach Jim Harbaugh isn't going to be interested in a veteran quarterback who might not fully buy into his program, he's going to start with his own franchise quarterback to develop from scratch. Much like his brother John Harbaugh's first draft pick with the Ravens was quarterback Joe Flacco in 2008.
8. Tennessee Titans – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The win-now Titans acquire a veteran quarterback in either Donovan McNabb or Kyle Orton, which then allows them to take the stellar Prince who fell into their laps. Taking Adam Jones sixth overall in 2005 to taking Prince Amukamara eighth overall in 2011, talk about night and day.
9. Dallas Cowboys – Marcell Dareus, DE, Alabama
The Cowboys' decision becomes much easier with Amukamara off the board, they take their top-rated 3-4 DE in Dareus.
10. Washington Redskins – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Shanahan doesn't like any of the remaining quarterbacks, but their wide receiver situation is also pitiful so they look to acquire a big-bodied starter in Julio Jones who can make plays as a receiver and also do a great job of run-blocking.
11. Houston Texans – Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
The Texans hired Wade Phillips as their new defensive coordinator, and he's going to convert their 4-3 defense to his 3-4 defense. Which is why they add the 3-4 OLB prospect they need in the athletic pass-rushing threat who shares his surname with the city drafting him.
12. Minnesota Vikings – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The Vikings will sign either Vince Young or Donovan McNabb in the offseason to be their starting quarterback. Their offensive line is borderline horrendous in pass protection. Rick Spielman is involved in making the draft pick, and he's not averse to some risk in his draft picks and decisions.
13. Detroit Lions – Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
I'm not sure about this pick because I really don't think Ayers is anywhere near tough enough for Jim Schwartz's tastes nevermind nutjob Gunther Cunningham, but Schwartz says the team is looking to further improve its starting 22 and they do have a need at outside linebacker. Side note, the funniest quote of the offseason so far goes to The Detroit News' beat writer Chris McCosky: "The Lions will probably invest significantly to bring Chris Houston back. He showed he could be a shutdown cornerback on the left side ..." Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, that's awesome. Chris Houston, shutdown cornerback. Going to be really hard to top that zinger.
14. St. Louis Rams – Cameron Jordan, DT/E, California
Saw a recent mock that had the Rams taking Maryland WR Torrey Smith here. Terrible. When they could just re-sign Mark Clayton? Or sign Randy Moss for what could be relative peanuts? Plus they also have Donnie Avery coming back off IR, among their other young receivers. Spags would prefer to take an offensive player because he knows he can coach up the defense, but there's no offensive player to take. Not unless they want to trade away Steven Jackson to take Mark Ingram.
15. Miami Dolphins – Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn
Owner Stephen Ross is excited!
16. Jacksonville Jaguars – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
General manager Gene Smith loves to be cute, but he's definitely getting a fantastic player here.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland) – Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
6-4, 260, and runs 4.6. Belichick finally finds his first-round outside linebacker.
18. San Diego Chargers – J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
A.J. takes J.J., making his stout defense even stouter with an outstanding 3-4 DE prospect.
19. New York Giants – Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
General manager Jerry Reese is a good one. Lets extremely injury-prone Ahmad Bradshaw sucker whichever other team that signs him in free agency, meanwhile Reese stays put and has excellent RB prospect Mark Ingram reach his pick. Brandon Jacobs will still be a big dumbass.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Bucs need a DE, settle for the overrated Clayborn and hope his play in the pros is much more like his junior season at Iowa than his senior season.
21. Kansas City Chiefs – Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
I readily admit the biggest factor in this pick is that Scott Pioli apparently loves him some SEC boys, but the pick is conceivable nonetheless as they add to their offensive line. Especially as Sherrod has potential to play left tackle, nevermind right tackle.
22. Indianapolis Colts – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Fortunately for the Colts, the last of their big three of tackles reaches their pick.
23. Philadelphia Eagles – Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
24. New Orleans Saints – Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
Saints want to upgrade their pass rush.
25. Seattle Seahawks – Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
26. Baltimore Ravens – Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
Ozzie Newsome knows how to work the draft board and get value, drafting Heyward with his pick.
27. Atlanta Falcons – Tyron Smith, OT, USC
RT Tyson Clabo is a free agent and LT Sam Baker is much closer to a stopgap measure than a surefire starter. A 13-3 team isn't rife with holes, they can afford to develop Smith.
28. New England Patriots – Stefen Wisniewski, OG/C, Penn State
Logan Mankins is a free agent (maybe they franchise tag him for 2011?), Stephen Neal is in the last year of his contract and could retire this year if not next, Dan Connolly is in the last year of his existing deal, and center Dan Koppen is also in the last year of his existing contract. I think Belichick would prefer someone more athletic than Wisniewski, but all things considered may pull the trigger on him here.
*29-32: Teams involved in Championship Games**
33. New England Patriots (from Carolina) – Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
I'm including this because I originally had this at #28, but I think they can wait until #33 to take Smith while that seems less likey with Wisniewski (particularly past Chicago?). Wes Welker and Deion Branch are each in the last year of their existing contracts. Brandon Tate is a one-trick pony who can't run a full route tree. Taylor Price can probably run a full route tree but doesn't have the speed to seriously challenge NFL secondaries. And Smith fits in line with previous receivers Belichick drafted early, Bethel Johnson and Chad Jackson.
Best players remaining:
- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado – Not only the prospect most likely to crack the above, but the prospect who could jump the most spots in doing it.
- Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame – Him sneaking into the above could also happen, as teams will want a big-bodied tight end who can move well and be a factor in the passing game. Obviously if he's in full health for the draft evaluation process.
- Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/E, Temple – Likely the best available 3-4 DE option, for the growing number of teams with 3-4 defenses.
- Jeremy Beal, DE/OLB, Oklahoma – Similarly, a 3-4 OLB prospect with good size who can provide a pass rush.
- Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida – Actually not one of the best players remaining, but I expect Pittsburgh to draft him with their first-round pick. Just thought I'd throw that in there.
- Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State – I think he's overrated by many “draft experts” and he won't go as high as they are projecting him to be. Of course they'll play it off after the fact.
- Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas – Has character concerns similar to Jimmy Clausen who slid into the mid-second last year, but at least Mallett has the physical tools to play as a legitimate starter.
Any comments you'd like to provide regarding the above, feel free.