The NFL scouting combine is valuable for many reasons. One of the primary reasons for the whole event is that it allows coaches, general managers and team owners to get a sense of priorities and targets in a huge pool of talent. That applies to the faux-GMs who do mock drafts, including your humble draft correspondent. With pro days and player interviews coming up, there's still a lot to get through, and that's why we'll have multiple mocks over the next two months. But after the combine is when things start to shake out. One thing hasn't changed: There really isn't a first-round talent at quarterback -- we have two in this mock, and we tend to think that both will be overdrafted.
Here are our first 16 picks; 17-32 can be found here.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan. Andy Reid knows about offensive line. He also knows that the Chiefs aren't just a few missing pieces away from the playoffs. Because he's in the starting stages of a multiyear rebuilding project, he can take Fisher, who I think has more overall potential, instead of the more pro-ready Luke Joeckel. Fisher absolutely dominated Senior Bowl week and looked great at the combine. He's an elite pass-blocker who's stronger in run-blocking than people think. Amazing footwork as well. Oh, and Alex Smith will have another first-round left tackle from Central Michigan (following Joe Staley of the Niners). How random is that?
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU. The Jags are in desperate need of pass rushers anyway, but new head coach Gus Bradley learned a lot about the LEO end position under Pete Carroll for three years in Seattle. Gus will want a guy who can burn it around the edge, and loop inside while tackles stop up the gaps. Mingo may have the best skill set in this class to do those things.
3. Oakland Raiders: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M. The Raiders' front office is trying to rebuild things from the bottom up, and establish a franchise more rooted in fundamentals and a consistent organizational philosophy. That kind of team often starts with a great left tackle, and Joeckel is the one who checks all the boxes. Double the over on this pick if Mike Holmgren comes aboard -- Holmgren doesn't want any questions at that position.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma. Johnson's stock has been rising since a dominant Senior Bowl, and his combine tests proved what he already knew -- he's a very mobile lineman with freakish athletic tendencies. New head coach Chip Kelly may adapt some of his Oregon offensive principles for the NFL, but don't expect him to stray from the idea of a multiple zone-blocking system that provides optimal flexibility. Perhaps more than any other lineman in this class, Johnson has the pure athleticism to bring it in Kelly's schemes.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama. The Lions are desperate for cornerback help, and general manager Martin Mayhew has said as much. Milliner answered questions about his speed with an incendiary performance at the combine, and he provides the all-around palette of attributes any team would want.
6. Cleveland Browns: Sharrif Floyd, DL, Florida. The Browns need help in other areas, but if the draft falls this way and Floyd is there at the sixth spot, they'd be crazy not to pull the trigger. Floyd is the best defensive player in this draft, and might wind up as the best player overall. He can play multiple positions and gaps, and reminds me of Richard Seymour when he's playing his best.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Rumors have the Cards taking Matt Barkley with the seventh pick, but I don't think new head coach Bruce Arians goes that way. When he was in Pittsburgh, Arians controlled a deep-passing offense, and he had Andrew Luck throwing deep more than any other quarterback last year when he was Indy's main man. Barkley doesn't have the arm for Arians' offense, but Smith does, and he also has the kind of mobility necessary to run Arians' full system.
8. Buffalo Bills: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon. The Bills have spent a great deal of money on their defensive line, but Jordan is a rare, outlier sort of player. He needs strength and leverage help, but he's versatile enough to play at end and outside linebacker, and can cover slot receivers in a pinch.
9. New York Jets: Matt Barkley, QB, USC. It doesn't fit what they need, and they already have an overpaid and similarly-skilled quarterback in Mark Sanchez, but hey -- this is the Jets. It would be easy for me to see Woody Johnson jumping in the draft room and insisting on a "name guy." And that Manti Te'o guy is just too flaky for our high pick, I can imagine Woody saying.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotuleiei, DT, Utah. This pick is based on Lotuleiei's most recent medicals -- if the heart read proves to be a result of dehydration or some such thing, he could easily vault back into the top 5. But the Titans would be doing a lot of happy dances if they got the next Warren Sapp here.
11. San Diego Chargers: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama. New head coach Mike McCoy's offensive system is heavily dependent on guards who can pull and get athletic upfield. Warmack isn't as athletic as Jonathan Cooper, but he can pull and play zone, and his root strength will provide a measure of protection for quarterback Philip Rivers as McCoy tried to turn Rivers' mechanics around.
12. Miami Dolphins: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU. Yes, the Fins need help at receiver, but they can get that later in the draft. Raw like sushi but ridiculously athletic, Ansah will solidify a potentially dominant defensive line over time.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State. Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan may have more experience coaching linebackers, but he knows that his defense desperately needs secondary help. Rhodes best fits the NFL's new paradigm for cornerbacks with his size, physical style, and trail speed.
14. Carolina Panthers: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina. Expect head coach Ron Rivera and new offensive coordinator Mike Shula to dispose of the pass-heavy approach favored by Rob Chudzinski last year. The Panthers have a great running quarterback in Cam Newton, and three backs who can make things happen all over the field. As one of the most athletic guards of the last decade, Cooper is a perfect fit for a multi-tiered ground-based offense.
15. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia. Shutdown Corner learned in Indianapolis last week that as many as eight different teams have red-flagged Jones because of a spinal stenosis condition, but the Saints aren't risk-averse by any means, and they really need an edge rusher who can make a difference. As long as he's healthy, Jones is a perfect fit for Rob Ryan's multiple defensive fronts. This could be such a bargain, Roger Goodell may have to void it out of spite. (That's a joke, I think...)
16. St. Louis Rams: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee. Now that Sam Bradford will finally get the same offensive system two years in a row for the first time in his NFL career, he needs targets. And Patterson, though raw from a route-tree concept, could be a real game-changer. Big, fast, and physical, he brings to mind Brandon Marshall and will give Bradford the true "1A" receiver he's never had in the pros.
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