As the free agent feeding frenzy levels off, teams now have a better grasp on putting together their NFL draft boards.
The Cleveland Browns, the most active team during free agency with a top-5 draft choice, now seem intent on targeting the best available player opposed to the initial theory of grabbing a franchise running back. Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions' No. 2 pick seems to be the most likely traded – assuming an offer meets their expectations without them having to slide too far down in the round. Here's the latest mock draft, which also includes second-round projections.
1. Oakland Raiders – LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell. They could completely pass on quarterback and either select wide receiver Calvin Johnson or deal down several choices. They will narrow down the options to three or four by April 1 and then spend the final three weeks concentrating on those prospects.
2. Detroit Lions – Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas. The Lions will not pick a quarterback here nor do they feel drafting Thomas or a defensive player is worth the value of this selection. I anticipate them making a draft-day deal with someone who wants a quarterback or receiver Calvin Johnson and then taking Thomas a few picks later.
3. Cleveland Browns – Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. The Browns have made a number of short-term free agent moves to help fill their most glaring needs, including running back, offensive line and their defensive front four. They are sure to address cornerback later on the first day, but this pick comes down to adding a new face to the franchise and getting the most bang for your buck. Quinn does both for the “Dawg Pound."
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson. There is a very good chance that the Bucs try to deal up in order to secure the services of Johnson, who would bring their offense out of the stagnant shape it was in all of last season. They also have needs up front on defense, so they could deal down from this spot to select a defensive lineman.
5. Arizona Cardinals – Arkansas defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson. He gives them a versatile defender capable of creating matchup problems. However, if they are desperate to add an offensive tackle, they could deal down with a team looking for a pass rusher.
6. Washington Redskins – Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams. They can go after a pass rusher here like Adams or use this choice as part of a package to obtain the services of cornerback Dre' Bly from Denver. If a trade for Bly happens, they could possibly use the Broncos' pick to take a pass rusher at No. 21.
7. Minnesota Vikings – Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson. This is the worst-case scenario for the Vikings. It's possible the top two quarterbacks and top two defensive linemen will be off the board, and they would likely be over-drafting if they selected a wide receiver or defensive back with this choice. The Falcons have already made their move to get ahead of the Texans in order to secure the top-rated safety on their board, but more than likely this would be a trade-up spot for a team that has extra draft choices on the first day. Ultimately, the Vikings will seek the best playmaking option to jolt one of the worst big-play offenses in the league.
8. Atlanta Falcons – LSU safety LaRon Landry. Their trade with the Texans on Wednesday, sending quarterback Matt Schaub to Houston, gives them options. They have the ammunition to deal up into the back end of the first round, as well, or possibly make a last-minute push toward a top-3 pick as they have a total of four second-round picks in the next two drafts. Landry would give them an instant playmaker in the middle of the field to pair with All-Pro cover corner DeAngelo Hall. A pair of wild-card options would be for them to go after offensive tackle Levi Brown, who would give them the bigger, more physical type blocker that head coach Bobby Petrino prefers, or select Petrino's former man-child Amobi Okoye.
9. Miami Dolphins – Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. They are ideally hoping to find 1-2 players for their secondary, a pass catching tight end and an interior defender to create havoc inside and allow their pass rushers less opportunity to be double-teamed. The fact that new head coach Cam Cameron has had a lot of success with Antonio Gates will lead them to take a long look at Greg Olsen, but their actual choice will come down to the defensive side of the ball. Okoye’s ability to get up field, handle double teams and give them the type of force in the middle to allow Jason Taylor and Joey Porter easy lanes to the quarterback will make this an easy decision.
10. Houston Texans – Penn State offensive tackle Levi Brown. With a new starter at quarterback (Schaub) and running back (Ahman Green), Brown would help fortify a position that has been one of the most inconsistent since the team began play in 2002. Not everyone is convinced Brown can be a shutdown left tackle and they cannot afford to miss with this selection. However, with Landry off the board, Brown is the best option. If both are off the board, the Texans could trade back and pick up an extra pick for the one they just traded.
11. San Francisco 49ers – Nebraska defensive lineman Adam Carriker. Picking Carriker over Amobi Okoye will simply come down to the type of scheme and versatility one player brings over the other. Okoye could easily be the choice here, but finding a guy who can make plays from defensive end in a 3-4 is far too rare to pass on since they have the expectation of challenging for a playoff spot this coming season.
12. Buffalo Bills – Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis. The loss of linebacker London Fletcher-Baker is weighing more on the minds of front office folks and coaching staffs than the recent trade of starting running back Willis McGahee. I expect them to stick with choice of Willis here and then go after a back in Round 2 or 3. If they trade up for someone such as Peterson, chasing down a linebacker in the second becomes a major necessity.
13. St. Louis Rams – Pittsburgh cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Rams have needs at both defensive line and cornerback, and will likely use their second pick (No. 52 overall) on an interior defender to help them improve against the run. Revis seems to be on the fast track to start as a rookie and over time, could develop into one of the better young, man cover corners in the league. There will be an array of talented defenders on the board at this point, but Revis' size, speed (4.38) and return skills help put him over the top.
14. Carolina Panthers – Miami (Fla.) tight end Greg Olsen. The Panthers have a number of needs for a team that was one of the trendy choices to win the NFC just a year ago. However, adding Olsen, who can flex out to receiver and even line up in the slot, would help open up an offense that was way too inconsistent last season. They would take a very close look at Brown if he were here, since he has the experience and ability to move Jordan Gross back to the right side of the line. A source close to the team also identifies linebacker and safety as positions they intend to monitor heavily in the first day of the draft.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Michigan cornerback Leon Hall. Hall seems to resemble Ronde Barber, the All-Pro cornerback who thrived in the same defensive scheme and mentality that new coach Mike Tomlin is bringing to the Steelers. Cornerback and home-grown talent Darrelle Revis is also an option if still available.
16. Green Bay Packers – California running back Marshawn Lynch/ The Packers need to find another playmaker on offense and address their lack of depth in the backfield. Lynch fits their play style, although they seem to be looking more at the possibility of passing on running back in the first round.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars – Florida defensive back Reggie Nelson. They seem convinced that keeping him in-state could help their drive toward a title. There should still be a solid group of pass rushers on the board in the middle of the second round if they address safety here.
18. Cincinnati Bengals – Michigan defensive lineman Alan Branch. The Bengals have had a run of bad luck between injuries (David Pollack) and arrests, but they could catch a break with a formidable front-four defender slipping into their lap. Branch has top-10 skill and ability, but he has had just average workouts and even looked a bit out of shape at his pro day. He can be a bit too fine at times, and some worry about whether he will be a great playmaker, but the Bengals would gamble on his upside at this portion of the first round.
19. Tennessee Titans – Tennessee wide receiver Robert Meachem. This has been a consistent pick among the mock drafts. He fits their need for adding a vertical threat to an offense that would have some very good young talent around him. The other obvious option of the Titans would be that in a deep class of cornerbacks, they could jump on a cover cornerback like Darrelle Revis or Aaron Ross to protect against the outcome of legal proceedings against starting corner Adam Jones.
20. NY Giants – Miami (Fla.) linebacker Jon Beason. The Giants have addressed their need at running back with the addition of Reuben Droughns, but have not been able to make much of a play in free agency to add depth at linebacker, offensive line or cornerback. If Beason is not the choice, left tackle Joe Staley of Central Michigan could give them the versatility of providing Eli Manning with a 10-year fixture on that side of the line.
21. Denver Broncos – Central Michigan offensive tackle Joe Staley. They still have a glaring need for an edge rusher and left tackle. They will listen to the Redskins all the way up to draft day, but will not overpay to acquire the No. 6 pick – which could be used on Joe Thomas. If they stay put, the Broncos could grab a young, but sometimes raw pass blocker like Staley or offensive tackle Tony Ugoh.
22. Dallas Cowboys – Arkansas cornerback Chris Houston. The Cowboys plan to meet and hopefully sign free agent safety Ken Hamlin, which would take them out of the safety market, but could help them land a top-rated cornerback like Houston. An Arkansas grad like owner Jerry Jones, Houston is a protégé of Deion Sanders. However, the chances are that if they ink Hamlin, they will trade back in order to secure either an extra pick on day one or move up in Round 2. They could grab a guy like Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, who could take a year to progress before taking over the full-time left tackle job in 2008.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Ohio State wide receiver/return man Ted Ginn, Jr. The Chiefs have some concerns on the offensive line, but they seem hopeful that All-Pro guard Will Shields will return for one more season and that free agent Damion McIntosh will fill a major void at left tackle. With speedy receiver Eddie Kennison getting up in age and tight end Gonzalez now 31 years old, the chance to add a versatile playmaker like Ginn, who might slide this far if he is unable to work out for scouts prior to the draft, would be ideal to help loosen up opposing defenses that like to play eight-in-the-box against Larry Johnson.
24 New England Patriots – Florida defensive end/outside linebacker Jarvis Moss. The Patriots have continued to solidify their offense through free agency, but now have a pair of first-round choices to improve the depth of their defensive unit. Linebackers Mike Vrabel (31) and Tedy Bruschi (33) are getting up, so a young pass rusher like Moss could fill in 20-25 plays and give them a future building block. A few sources have linked Beason to this spot if he is still available.
25. New York Jets – Purdue defensive end/outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. Their current list of needs include finding an edge rusher who can fill the void left when they dealt John Abraham last year, cornerback and a pass-catching option at tight end. They are armed with a pair of second-round choices who could either help them fortify all three spots or give them the ammunition to make several deals. Spencer has the speed and ability to contribute instantly off the edge and showed an outstanding motor this past season.
26. Philadelphia Eagles – LSU wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. They have All-Pro quarterback Donovan McNabb coming back off of injury and need to give him a few more weapons. However, there is also another vibe surrounding this choice that the decision-makers feel comfortable with young receivers like Hank Baskett and Jason Avant, so they could turn their attention to talented, all-around running back Brian Leonard.
27. New Orleans Saints – Texas cornerback Aaron Ross. The Saints could be in the hunt for a pass-catching tight end even after signing under-rated Eric Johnson, but they would have to overpay to get up high enough to secure a shot at Greg Olsen. They have been auditioning veteran wide receivers to complement youngsters Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, but it would not be a shocker if they took someone like USC's Dwayne Jarrett. He would give them another strong presence in the middle of the field and continue to free up big plays for Reggie Bush. However, the run on defensive backs will start right around this area and the Saints do not want to get caught flat-footed again, so Ross or Marcus McCauley are the likely names heard on this choice.
28. New England Patriots – Syracuse defensive back Tanard Jackson. If the Cowboys fail to come to an agreement with Ken Hamlin, the Patriots might need to make a move on a defensive back with the first of their two picks. Jackson would be a surprise choice over more recognizable names, but he is a versatile defender who can back up Rodney Harrison and even fill-in at nickel back and special teams. However, there is a good chance that more than a few teams will be making calls for this spot if the Pats are looking to deal back up into the first round.
29. Baltimore Ravens – Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh. If Ugoh is still on the board, he gives them a valuable backup to All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who might retire as early as the end of the 2007 campaign. Another option would be that they could find a fixture like Ryan Kalil for the pivot spot and move second-year pro Jason Brown to guard on a full-time basis.
30. San Diego Chargers – Miami (Fla.) safety Brandon Meriweather. The Chargers biggest needs are to find a better starting safety after releasing Terrence Kiel, and adding depth at receiver and linebacker. Meriweather could be way off the board depending on what goes on with the Cowboys and Patriots, but if not, the Chargers just found themselves the first adequate replacement they have had since losing Rodney Harrison four years ago.
31. Chicago Bears – Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny. After acquiring safety Adam Archuleta, their biggest issues are locking up an interior run stuffer who can contribute if Tank Johnson serves an early four-game suspension and a backup plan if Lance Briggs holds out. If the Bears re-sign backup defensive tackle Ian Scott, they could turn their attention to offensive guard or even cornerback. They could lose either Nathan Vasher or Charles Tillman in free agency a year from now. Since they have pick No. 37 overall, they can add Posluszny here and find the defensive tackle a few picks later.
32. Indianapolis Colts – Rutgers running back Brian Leonard. The Colts brass does not feel it has nearly as much of a glaring need at linebacker as outsiders do because Freddie Keiaho is expected to secure a starting spot in just his second year. Secondly, in all the years under Tony Dungy's reign, the Colts have never drafted a linebacker in the first round. They believe more in drafting the best available player instead of purely going for need. Leonard would give the Colts a dynamic 1-2 punch and offensive coordinator Tom Moore could be creative on third down by having Joseph Addai in the slot and the bigger, more physical Leonard in the backfield.