Here’s Part One of my mock draft: picks 1-16. A little explanation is in order before I begin. I chose players based on my film study and evaluations, and then factored in my sense of team needs. I have no idea what different teams' draft boards look like, nor will I speculate what they might be. I didn’t do a study of each organization, and how they have drafted in previous years. I didn’t analyze general managers, personnel directors and coaches to ascertain a profile or template that speaks to their draft patterns.
I’m certain there will be significant discrepancies between what you have seen from many analysts and my mock draft. The point of my mock is not to be right, i.e., to predict which players are selected by particular teams. My main objective is to further discuss the players I have evaluated highly by placing them in a draft format. It’s simple as that. So please, don’t look at my mock and reflexively say, that won’t happen. You know that, I know that, but that misses the point.
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One other caveat: I am disregarding documented off-field transgressions, character concerns, potential medical problems that might impact draft position, anything that is not a function of on-field play. I understand that teams significantly factor those into the equation, but again each team weighs those differently, and I am not in the speculation or guesswork business. So I am basing my player evaluations solely on the tape. That’s what I do. I watch tape, and I love it.
Here's picks 17 through 32; you can read picks 1-16 here.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: The pick is Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, my No. 2 rated corner. Milliner is a comfortable press man corner with smooth balance and body control. In Alabama’s defense, he often aligned to the boundary, or the short side of the field. He was very aggressive as a run defender, and he was an aggressive blitzer. He reminded me of Stephon Gilmore coming out of South Carolina a year ago. In an era in which wide receivers are trending bigger, the 6-foot, 201 pound Milliner provides the size that’s increasingly demanded. Remember, the Steelers play Cincinnati, Baltimore and Cleveland each twice. They must match up to bigger receivers with AJ Green, Torrey Smith and Josh Gordon. Milliner can do that. He’s both short-area quick, with excellent change of direction and transition, and fast enough to run vertically. And in Nick Saban and Kirby Smart’s Crimson Tide defense, he has extensive experience with multiple coverage concepts.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Do the Cowboys have a healthy starting safety on their roster? Here’s where extreme need intersects with talent, and an outstanding prospect: Safety Kenny Vaccaro of Texas. Vaccaro is 6-foot, 215 pounds. That’s very good size for the position. He’s a smooth athlete with excellent movement skills. Not only did he display the ability to play man-to-man versus wide receivers, he also was utilized as a deep safety, both in single high coverage and two deep shells. In those situations, he was both fluid and active in coverage, and aggressive playing downhill in the run game. He always pressed to the ball, and demonstrated sideline-to-sideline range with outstanding play speed and a reckless attitude. He showed explosion as a tackler with natural pop. Overall, I saw Vaccaro as a multi-dimensional safety with expansive skills and no physical shortcomings that would limit new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
19. New York Giants: Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah of BYU. For many observers, he’s a top-five player in this draft. They see the natural athleticism, the size/speed combination and the rare arm length. He looks like an intuitively project "big-time player." That may happen. By means of comparison, Ansah did not show the kind of pass rush skills that Jason Pierre-Paul displayed at South Florida, and Pierre-Paul was seen as exceedingly raw. Ansah is not close to being a finished product, but he competed on every play, and he showed the ability to maneuver his body in almost any position. His size, body type and movement profile best at DE, but I can easily see him aligned inside at DT in sub-package situations. Ansah is a fascinating prospect who needs to be taught much as a pass rusher, so there’s a significant leap of faith, but the movement and motor are there.
20: Chicago Bears: I’m selecting D.J. Fluker, the mammoth right tackle from Alabama. Fluker impressed more and more every time I evaluated him. I looked at a lot of Alabama games, and I must admit I initially thought Fluker was best suited to move inside to OG. And by the way, I believe strongly he would be an All-Pro OG, right from the start. The more I watched, the more I felt he could develop into a very good NFL RT. I saw a powerful and imposing player whose run blocking was outstanding. I loved the way he kept his feet moving on contact, sustaining blocks. Fluker is a work in progress in pass protection. At times he can be a little slow out of his stance, and choppy in his pass set. Those are concerns that need to be addressed with hard coaching. They will be with Marc Trestman and his staff. And keep in mind that Trestman’s passing game features shorter drops, with the ball coming out quicker. The bottom line, however, is Fluker’s overall size/movement package is hard to find.
21: Cincinnati Bengals: Here’s where one of my favorite players in the draft comes off the board. It’s safety Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International. I loved this kid on film. The first thing I noticed was his size and muscle definition. His dimensions are similar to Vaccaro’s, but Cyprien looks bigger and more defined. What really stood out was he played the game fast, with velocity, passion and tenacity. There were times when he was over-aggressive and reckless, although overall he played with an efficient mix of ferocity and control. Given his height – over 6-foot – and his physique, he exhibited surprising athleticism, with excellent change of direction and closing speed. As a deep defender, Cyprien showed a smooth back pedal, with the ability to plant and drive with burst and speed. His range as a single high safety, with his size and stride length, was outstanding. He made an interception against Louisville that was as good as any I have seen this offseason breaking down college tape.
22. St. Louis Rams: I’m selecting defensive tackle Sylvester Williams from North Carolina, another player whose game impressed the more I watched. This is a draft with some very athletic defensive tackles, and Williams fits that profile. What I really liked was he improved significantly as the season progressed. Early in the fall, he did not always play to his athleticism. He did later in the season. Williams showed excellent initial quickness with the balance, body control and closing burst to finish. He showed quick and active hands to both strike and swim. He played multiple positions along the Tar Heels' defensive front, so he brings both position and scheme versatility. I see him best as a one gap penetrator, but he can be equally as effective as a two gap DT. Think about a DL with Williams and Michael Brockers at DT, and Chris Long and Robert Quinn at DE. Not bad.
23. Minnesota Vikings: This is where the offensive player that intrigues me the most comes off the board. That’s Justin Hunter, the Tennessee receiver. Hunter has a very similar body type to AJ Green: long, lithe and sinewy. Relax, I am not saying he’s Green at this point. But Hunter is the most explosive outside receiver in this draft class with his size/speed combination. He’s 6-foot-4, and there are not many with his height, length and movement. He showed the kind of vertical acceleration that impacts games. With free access, he ate up ground in a heartbeat, lifting the top off the coverage. The concern as he transitions is his inconsistent hands. He must catch the ball more consistently. But no WR has Hunter’s mix of size, fluidity, speed and explosion.
24. Indianapolis Colts: My pick is Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes played boundary corner in Florida State’s defense. He was predominantly a press man corner; he was competitive and challenging. He had some balance and footwork issues that can be coached and cleaned up. There were times I felt he was a little tight hipped and stiff in his transition when he turned and ran versus vertical routes. Yet, as with Milliner, in an era in which bigger wide receivers are more widespread, Rhodes, at 6-foot-1 1/2 and 210 pounds, brings the size and physicality that’s needed. There’s no question Rhodes needs work in zone coverage awareness and discipline, not having played a lot of it in college. But overall, he has a very intriguing blend of size, length and physicality. He would give the Colts and Chuck Pagano two very good press man corners, teaming with Vontae Davis. You have maximum flexibility defensively when you can line up with two corners that can play man-to-man.
25. Minnesota Vikings: My favorite overall linebacker in this draft is Arthur Brown from Kansas State. He’s not as athletically gifted as Alec Ogletree but at this point he’s a more consistent player. Brown is an active, athletic, movement LB with some quick twitch to his game. He showed excellent agility and change of direction. As a tackler, he was sudden and explosive, with short area burst and striking ability. What I really liked was his ability to fight through blocks, work through traffic and take the most direct path to the ball. He trusted what he saw, showed excellent play recognition and was decisive with his reactions. His overall consistency was such I believe he could step right in from day one and be Minnesota’s starting MLB.
26. Green Bay Packers: My pick is defensive lineman Datone Jones of UCLA. In some ways, Jones reminded me of Richard Seymour when Seymour came out of Georgia in 2001. Seymour was a bigger man at 315 pounds, which of course enhanced his value significantly; it was one of the reasons he was the sixth pick in the draft. Jones is 280 pounds but his overall skill set is somewhat similar. I would describe Jones as a chameleon. By that I mean he played both bigger and smaller than his 280 pounds. He showed outstanding short area quickness with both explosion and power. He was very effective as a gap penetrator. He was active and disruptive, and strong and powerful. He has great position and scheme versatility, with the attributes to play 3-4 DE, 4-3 DE and 4-3 DT. My sense is he’d be most effective in a one-gap scheme. One final point: I believe he will develop into a better pass rusher in the NFL than he was in college.
27. Houston Texans: Again, this is a clear example of need and talent intersecting. I select receiver Keenan Allen from California. Many see Allen as purely a short to intermediate receiver due to his size (6-foot-2, 206 pounds) and lack of explosive speed. I saw much more than that. He’s a smooth accelerator with deceptive vertical burst. He’s very fluid, quick in-and-out of breaks. He had a wide catching radius, consistently snatching the ball with his hands. He handled press coverage very well, with both quickness and strength. You do not see that very often with college receivers. Something else you don’t see frequently in college, and it’s so critical in the NFL, is the ability to make every route look the same off the line of scrimmage. Allen did that with his compact vertical stem. NFL corners will tell you it’s very difficult to read routes when that’s the case. How about this for a comparison: Reggie Wayne, who was the 30th player chosen in the 2001 draft. By the way Wayne was the sixth WR selected that year. Remember the top 5: David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Rod Gardner, Santana Moss and Freddie Mitchell.
28. Denver Broncos: I’m going with defensive end Cornellius "Tank" Carradine from Florida State. I know he’s coming off an ACL injury, but I really liked Carradine on film, more so than his teammate Bjorn Werner. He was a more fluid, flexible athlete than Werner, with a broader skill set and better overall attributes. Carradine possesses size, length, flexibility and excellent movement. He was not a classic bend the edge, get low pass rusher; there are not many of those. If he was, I’d be talking about him as a top ten pick. But he showed the ability to transition from speed to power, and he had the kind of closing burst you look for. What stood out on film was his playing personality; he always pressed to the ball. He’s the most active DE in this draft class. He ran down Florida QB Jeff Driskel after a 31-yard run that was as impressive as any play you’ll see by a DE. There’s no question he has to get stronger, but it’s much easier to do that than make a player more athletic or more competitive.
29. New England Patriots: This is where Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson comes off my board. He’s a multi-dimensional weapon that can align anywhere in the formation, including the backfield, which he did at Tennessee. He is dynamic with the ball in his hands: shifty, elusive and explosive. He has open field movement ability that you cannot teach. And remember, he’s 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds. My guess is Bill Belichick will figure out a way to utilize him effectively. But don’t lose sight of the fact that Patterson has much work to do as receiver. At this point, he is not as quick and explosive as a route runner as he is with the ball in his hands. He’s more measured and methodical. He has little sense of the pace and tempo of route running, and how to set up and beat corners. But he has the athletic traits you look for; in addition, he showed good hands, and a willingness to make tough catches in the middle of the field.
30. Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons select my fourth-rated corner: Jamar Taylor of Boise State. Taylor was one of the smoothest corners I evaluated, an easy mover with very fluid change of direction and transition skills. He was predominantly the boundary corner at Boise State, and he played significant snaps of both press man, and off coverage man and zone. He showed the ability to mirror in press position, and then flip his hips and turn and run. He was a deceptive accelerator running with vertical routes. What really stood out was his fluidity in off coverage. He may have been the best I watched planting and driving with closing burst and speed. Taylor has a complete skill set to be a very good outside corner, but he also can move inside and play over the slot. As the boundary corner in college, he blitzed on occasion, and he was very good at it, showing the necessary closing speed.
31: San Francisco 49ers: Here’s where another player I very much liked on film comes off my board: defensive tackle Jesse Williams of Alabama. I’ll just start by saying I did not see a large difference between Williams and Star Lotulelei the more I watched each player. Williams aligned at multiple DL positions for the Crimson Tide, including “3 technique”, a position normally associated with athleticism and explosiveness. He played with excellent leverage and strength; he had a powerful lower body. What really jumped off the screen was his movement; again, I will use the word nimble. Williams had incredibly light and athletic feet for a man almost 6-foot-4 and 320-plus pounds. He dominated the LSU offensive line with his outstanding combination of core strength and short-area quickness. There was a lot to like about Williams, and he is nowhere close to being a finished product given his lack of football experience.
32. Baltimore Ravens: The final pick in the first round is Kevin Minter, the LSU linebacker. Minter is the kind of player you like the more you watch him. He’s not a top athlete for the position so he doesn’t immediately stand out with his movement. But he’s very active, very competitive. His play recognition was consistently good, his reactions were decisive, and he always pressed to the ball. Like Arthur Brown, Minter showed the ability to work through the bodies in front of him, and efficiently find the ball. He’s a smooth inside mover with the ability to scrape and flow and make tackles in the run game. And he was deceptive with his overall movement; as I said, he was not an explosive athlete, but he is field fast and showed sideline-to-sideline range. He was also very good in pass coverage. He can run the middle hole in zone, and he can lock up man-to-man, even at times against wide receivers. I saw him run the seam with Arkansas WR Cobi Hamilton, and he was stride-for-stride. Minter is a better player than athlete, and has the look of a Day One starter.
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