With one week left before the draft begins, teams are in lockdown mode. Boards are being finalized, those last player checks are done, and if there's a nagging feeling in the back of your head that you need to go watch a bit more film on that long-snapper from Kutztown University ... well, now's the time to get with the program. Here's our penultimate mock in two parts — picks 1-16 here, with the rest of the first round soon to follow.
This is also a good time to promote the "Tale of the Tape" series, which takes the two best players at a position and looks to see how they match up based on film study. We're up to the linebackers now (inside and outside here), with links to other positions below.
Now, on to the mock!
1. St. Louis Rams — QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma: At this point, the only real question about the first overall pick is whether Bradford will sign before the draft starts. Then, it will be about how the Rams will set their new franchise quarterback up for success. Bradford operated almost exclusively out of the shotgun for the Sooners, tackle Jason Smith(notes) is still a better shotgun, two-point-stance blocker, and you'd think that running back Steven Jackson might benefit from a few draws. The Rams ranked around the average in shotgun plays last season; don't be surprised if there's a major upswing in 2010.
2. Detroit Lions — DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska: As great as Suh is, his excellence does drain the mind of adjectives after a while. We can tell you about his ridiculous upper-body strength, his unbelievable speed in space, and his unparalleled pursuit instincts. Or, we could just send you to this video and let you decide for yourself. Ouch. Imagine you're Jay Cutler(notes), and you're trying to deal with this guy twice a year behind the worst pass-blocking line in the game. Cutler might not look much better than that crash test dummy after a couple series.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma: The formerly excellent Tampa Bay front four has fallen to the dregs of the NFL in rushing yards allowed per play, and sacks racked up per pass attempt. McCoy might not be in Suh's league from a sheer power standpoint; he will get lost in double teams and he doesn't get a great push off the ball. But with his quickness at the snap, McCoy will make the kinds of negative plays needed as the Bucs' defense redefines itself.
4. Washington Redskins — OT Russell Okung, Oklahoma State: It's possible that Oklahoma's Trent Williams might be the better left tackle in two or three years, but Okung is the more polished pass blocker right now. And right now is when the Redskins need a replacement for Chris Samuels(notes) — all the better to protect Donovan McNabb(notes). Okung isn't great in space and you might like more strength from a pick this high. That said, he will be relatively plug-and-play in keeping pass rushers away from McNabb's blind side.
5. Kansas City Chiefs — OT Trent Williams, Oklahoma: The Chiefs have several defensive needs, but they've also invested a lot in Matt Cassel(notes), and left tackle Branden Albert(notes) allowed nine sacks last season. While that might be a matter of experience and technique, there's been talk about moving him to right tackle and pursuing the best available left tackle in the draft. Williams had a slow start to the 2009 season — he started that year as the only remaining member of the '08 line that was one of the best in NCAA history. Moving from right to left tackle added to the complication. Losing Sam Bradford to an overload blitz in the season opener against BYU didn't help, either, especially as Williams was blamed in part for giving up the sack. But watching his play on the left side later in the season was to see the upside of a work in progress. Williams' combination of quickness and drive-blocking power makes him a very valuable asset.
6. Seattle Seahawks — S Eric Berry, Tennessee: In his first NFL draft as the man with the recipe book in his hand, expect Pete Carroll to rely heavily on the connections he's made over a long lifetime in football. Carroll and former Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin go back a long way, and Kiffin will be able to tell Carroll just how special Berry is. When you watch Berry play, it's easy to understand why coaches would sing his praises — he comes to the NFL with an unrivaled skill set at his position in this class. He can play center field or close to the line with equal aplomb, and as much as he throws himself around on the field, his tackling discipline is amazing.
7. Cleveland Browns — DB Joe Haden, Florida: in 2009, no team gave up more pass plays of 20 yards or more than Cleveland's 62, which is bad news when your head coach is supposed to be a pass defense expert. With a new front office above Eric Mangini, the problem is somewhat solved with the acquisition of Haden, the most well-developed cornerback in the draft. He has the speed to play man-on-man, and the intelligence to develop into a fine zone corner over time. No matter the scheme, Haden can make an immediate impact.
8. Oakland Raiders — DE Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida: Yes, the selection of Pierre-Paul here is a bit odd. He's a one-trick pony who rushes the passer well, but gets washed out in run support and against slide protection. He's got just one season at a school of any import, and there are arguably better players at his position still left on the board. And the fact that the Raiders have more needs just about everywhere else. But this would be the very definition of an Al Davis pick — grounded in Pierre Paul's raw athleticism, and based on the belief that one is ahead of the curve, when one is actually about five time zones behind.
9. Buffalo Bills — OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa: One wild card to consider for all those who automatically assume that the Bills would take Jimmy Clausen here: new head coach Chan Gailey has a real feel for option quarterbacks — the kinds that most NFL teams wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. He made Tyler Thigpen(notes) look serviceable out of the Pistol formation in Kansas City, and he could do it with another sleeper QB as the Bills address other needs. There are definite needs on the Bills' offensive line, and Bulaga comes to the NFL as perhaps the best-coached of anyone at his position in this draft group. There is also some concern that Bulaga may have been coached to his ceiling, but at worst, he's got the potential to be an elite right tackle.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars — S Earl Thomas, Texas: Jack Del Rio has been talking about the poor on-field discipline exhibited by safety Reggie Nelson(notes) for at least two seasons; there's been a real sense in Jacksonville that for this team to go forward, the athletic but unfinished players favored by former GM Shack Harris need to get with the program or go. Thomas would be an ideal fit for a team with deep coverage needs — he has cornerback speed and a great ability to deal with long routes. He's not an elite tackler, but he may have more pure range than any soon-to-be rookie coverage defender this season.
11. Denver Broncos (from Chicago) — ILB Rolando McClain, Alabama: With the trade of Brandon Marshall(notes) to the Dolphins, many people have Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant automatically going to the Broncos as a risk/reward replacement. But it's another recent Dolphins departure that will affect the team more over time — when Josh McDaniels cashiered defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, he lost a coach who had done a near-miraculous job with holes at several positions. McClain has extensive experience in a pro-style 3-4 defense, he's a total film junkie, and he's a natural leader on the field. The Broncos will need more players like this if they are to maintain defensive improvement, and they can use that extra second-round pick received in the Marshall trade to select from a stacked receiver class.
12. Miami Dolphins — DT Dan Williams, Tennessee: Likewise, getting Marshall prevents the Dolphins from over-reaching for Bryant and instead dealing with the one thing that could prevent them from contending in the AFC East — a hole at the nose tackle position. Jason Ferguson(notes) will miss the first games of the season with a suspension, and he'll be almost 36 years old when he does hit the field. Williams played primarily in a 4-3 front under Monte Kiffin and other coaches at Tennessee, but he does have some experience inside and he projects well in that role. He's a perfect fit for the hybrid defenses that Mike Nolan will run in Miami.
13. San Francisco 49ers — RB C.J. Spiller, Clemson: Spiller can fill three needs in San Francisco. As a change-of-pace back for Frank Gore(notes), he can open up the rushing offense in ways that the team has been seeking for years. Allowed to line up in the slot or split wide, he can add to the increasing array of weapons enjoyed by San Francisco's quarterback. And as an elite returner, he could dramatically improve a special teams unit that was one of the NFL's worst in recent memory.
14. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver) — DE Brandon Graham, Michigan: The Seahawks were the other movers in the Brandon Marshall sweepstakes, but don't assume that they'll automatically reach for a playmaker. They also need to deal with a pass rush ravaged by the trade of Darryl Tapp(notes), and with Patrick Kerney's(notes) retirement. Graham is a bit of a sleeper here because he played many roles in different fronts at Michigan, but really stood out at the Senior Bowl, where he was able to focus on edge rushing. Defined in that role in the NFL, he has legitimate 15-sack potential in the right system.
15. New York Giants — RB Ryan Mathews, Fresno State: The Giants' rushing attack is but a faint echo of the "Earth, Wind, and Fire" days. Brandon Jacobs(notes) now runs like there's a spike strip at the line of scrimmage, and change-of-pace back Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) was the team's only efficient back in 2009. Adding Mathews to the mix would be a great idea — he led the NCAA in rushing yards per game last season, and he has an exciting combination of power and speed perfectly suited for the team's man-on-man/pulling blocking scheme.
16. Tennessee Titans — DE Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech: Jeff Fisher is in the process of rebuilding Tennessee's defensive line after losing two cornerstones — Albert Haynesworth(notes) and Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes) — in consecutive years. Replacing Haynesworth at his best is a near-impossibility, but Morgan echoes the best days of Vanden Bosch with his deep skill set. As aggressive as he is against the pass, he's also very good at avoiding the one debit common to most pass-rushers — the tendency to get lost against the run. Morgan exhibits line discipline even when he pins his ears back, making him the most well-rounded end in this draft.
- Trent Williams
- Ndamukong Suh