Fifteen years ago, when Andy Reid was the Green Bay Packers' low-key quarterbacks coach, he was a conspicuous and consistent target for a certain prank-loving pupil.
During one preseason game in Denver, Reid's quarterback hid on the sidelines after receiving a play-call from the coach, provoking Mike Holmgren into erupting at his befuddled assistant.
Yes, long before he became known for premature retirement announcements, Brett Favre was the clown prince of Titletown.
Now, as fate would have it, Reid has a golden opportunity for payback — if only in a mythical manner. As the newly hired head coach and designated "Decider" of the Kansas City Chiefs, Reid gets to make the first selection in the ninth annual Ultimate Mock Draft, which brings up all kinds of devious hypothetical possibilities.
[Also: Watch: Drafting quarterbacks is overrated]
Given a chance to select any football player on earth, as is — continuing a tradition that began with the first Ultimate Mock Draft in 2005 and was extended in UMD II, III, IV, V, VI, VII and VIII — Reid can invite Favre to join him in the team's war room.
pick up Aaron Rodgers from the airport."
Then, once on the clock, Reid can tell the future Hall of Famer, "Brett, I've got a surprise for you. I've decided to hand the ball to a quarterback who can take my team to the promised land, the way he turned the Packers into Super Bowl champs. This guy is special. He rallies his teammates and overcomes adversity, and I have to have him. He's the key to our success. And speaking of keys, could you do me a favor and drive my car over to the American terminal? I need you to
That would be awkward, but such is life in UMD-ville, where Chip Kelly has a tremendous chance of making an immediate splash as Reid's successor in Philly, Jadeveon Clowney does not have to stay in school and Colin Kaepernick can be compelled to don a uniform that will make every 49ers fan cringe.
As always, we take the original draft order and allow each of the league's 32 teams to select any human in his current physical condition. Obviously, this is an imaginary exercise, though the sentiment behind the selections is absolutely authentic. Many of the league's top talent evaluators and coaches helped me determine which players would be deemed most valuable in such a scenario. And this year, in some cases, the general manager (or another powerbroker) of the team in question was actually put on the clock before providing me with the hypothetical pick.
In other words, don't be fooled by cheap imitations of the Ultimate Mock Draft. And please don't be one of the confused souls who calls me out for, say, not realizing that the Rams own the 22nd overall pick, given that the words original draft order now appear twice in this introduction.
Otherwise, I'll clown you like Favre did Reid back in the late '90s. And you will deserve it.
1. Kansas City Chiefs — Aaron Rodgers, QB:
For the third consecutive year, Rodgers goes first overall in the UMD, and this one is a no-brainer. At 29, and coming off another spectacular season (39 touchdown passes, eight interceptions, 4,295 passing yard, 67.2 completion percentage), Rodgers is at the top of his profession and seems poised to remain there for the foreseeable future. For you UMD trivia fiends, Rodgers now surpasses two-time No. 1 overall selection Tom Brady as the most mythically coveted player in our nine-year history. None of the other former No. 1 overall picks (Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Peyton Manning) could crack our top 27 in 2013.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars — Matt Ryan, QB:
This may seem a bit high for Ryan to come off the board — and, in fact, some of you will likely inquire as to whether I'm
high. For the record, my well-documented man crush
on Matty Ice notwithstanding, I'd have gone with Brady here; though he'll be 36 at the start of the '13 season, I still think we're looking at five or more seasons of sublime brilliance. Ryan, however, is the internally sanctioned choice. A month before his 28th birthday, and three months removed from his first playoff victory
and a near Super Bowl appearance
, Ryan is still ascending. Given that the Jags' newly hired general manager, Dave Caldwell, saw what Ryan did for the Falcons' franchise as a member of Atlanta's front office, this pick makes a lot of sense. And with apologies to my man Blame Gabbert
, Matty Ice is the most exciting thing to hit Jacksonville since Shad Khan's 'stache.
3. Oakland Raiders — Andrew Luck, QB:
Last month, I shared the contents of a documented generated by a frustrated Raiders employee
that compared the Colts' dramatically successful rebuilding effort with Oakland's obvious regression in 2012. That prompted a whole lot of people on my Twitter feed
to object stridently, in all their spelling-challenged splendor, claiming that Indy's ability to select Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in last spring's (real, not Ultimate Mock) draft accounted for the huge discrepancy between the two franchises' fortunes. Hey, whatever gets you through the night, Raider Nation. Just be gratified that in UMD-ville, Luck is now property of the Silver and Black, which will allow us to see if, in fact, Reggie McKenzie and Ryan Grigson end up trading places like Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd
4. Philadelphia Eagles — Robert Griffin III, QB:
Given that RG3 is coming off a severe knee injury, which ended his transcendent rookie season, this may not seem like a prudent choice. Chip Kelly, the Eagles' new coach, doesn't care. The man is a risk-taker, and the thought of having the unreasonably athletic and preternaturally accurate Griffin direct a pro-style version of the spread-oriented offense Kelly ran at Oregon is too enticing to disregard. 'Skins fans, don't adjust your HDTV screens: Mike Shanahan's face did, in fact, turn purple.
5. Detroit Lions — Tom Brady, QB:
When Brady played college football in the state of Michigan, he had a hard time getting satisfaction
, what with the competitions lost to Brian Griese and Scott Dreisbach and the platooning with Drew Henson. Now, after being summoned to Motown by Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, Brady has swagger like Jagger. With coach Jim Schwartz (and Mayhew) likely needing to rock it in 2013
to stay employed, Brady is the ideal front man.
[More: NFL teams probe trashed hotel room incident at Combine ]
6. Cleveland Browns — Drew Brees, QB:
Back in 2001, during Norv Turner's one-season stint as the Chargers' offensive coordinator, Brees was a rookie backup to starter Doug Flutie. By the time Turner returned to San Diego as head coach in 2007, Brees was starring for Sean Payton's Saints. Now, with Turner serving as offensive coordinator for Cleveland's rookie coach (and former Chargers assistant head coach) Rob Chudzinski, a reunion is finally possible. New owner Jimmy Haslam, CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi are thrilled to build their franchise around the 34-year-old passer.
7. Arizona Cardinals — J.J. Watt, DE:
Bruce Arians, the Cardinals' new coach, is Ben Roethlisberger's BFF. Steve Keim, Arizona's newly promoted GM, loves
Big Ben. Yet when it comes time to hand in the card, Keim chooses a quarterback destroyer over the QB he and Arians covet. Coming off a monster second season in which he earned NFL defensive player of the year honors — Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called it "the best season ever
" — Watt is a one-man Desert Swarm.
8. Buffalo Bills — Joe Flacco, QB:
The Bills haven't made the playoffs since the 1999 season, when the team coached by Phillips was done in by the Music City Miracle
. In the hope of reaching the postseason this
century, Bills general manager Buddy Nix and newly hired coach Doug Marrone put their trust in a quarterback who took the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his five NFL seasons and just won the Big One. Basking in the glow of a record-setting contract, Flacco has no problem shuffling off to Buffalo. Nor would you, for $120.6 million over six years. Just sayin'…
9. New York Jets — Richard Sherman, CB:
Desperate to win in 2013, embattled coach Rex Ryan makes one, final plea for cornerback Darrelle Revis. Before he can finish the sentence, owner Woody Johnson shuts him down. New general manager John Idzik, formerly the Seahawks' vice president of football administration, lobbies for Russell Wilson, who went from third-round draft pick to franchise quarterback in a matter of months last season. Johnson, however, pledges loyalty to Mark Sanchez, to whom the team must pay a guaranteed $100 billion dollars in 2013. (Yes, that's a slight exaggeration. But it does allow me to link to Dr. Evil
, so there's that…) Ever the pragmatist, Johnson comes up with a solution: "How 'bout we take a cornerback and
a Seahawk? Everybody wins…" Well, except Revis, who given his public spat with Sherman
earlier this offseason won't be especially thrilled.
[More: Jets need to trade Darrelle Revis soon if they want max value]
10. Tennessee Titans — Ben Roethlisberger, QB: Owner Bud Adams orders
general manager Ruston Webster to pick Vince Young. Webster informs the 90-year-old Adams that Young is a free agent who, in essence, will work for food. "Well, get me a quarterback with at least some
dysfunction in his past!" Adams demands. The scouting report on Big Ben: High maintenance, set in his ways, constant drama … and really, really good.
11. San Diego Chargers — Calvin Johnson, WR:
Personally, I believe Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver in football. Tragically, when I voice this sentiment to people who evaluate football players for a living, I get laughed at. With his uncanny combination of speed, size and ball skills, Megatron is the nearly undisputed king. If newly hired Chargers GM Tom Telesco wants to give rookie coach Mike McCoy a fighting chance to burnish his résumé as a shrewd offensive strategist — and give embattled quarterback Philip Rivers a chance to regain his mojo — there is no better pick than Johnson.
12. Miami Dolphins — Adrian Peterson, RB:
At the dawn of the inglorious Nick Saban era
, the Dolphins famously shied away from signing Brees because of concerns that the quarterback's injured throwing shoulder wouldn't heal properly. Oops. Suffice it to say that history won't repeat here: General manager Jeff Ireland isn't especially worried about Peterson, who returned from reconstructive knee surgery in 2012 and had an MVP season
that left him only nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. Put it this way: When Ireland announces that AD is taking his talents to South Beach, LeBron James will buy season tickets.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Jadeveon Clowney, DE:
By enlisting the ultra-talented South Carolina junior-to-be to anchor his defensive line, second-year Bucs coach Greg Schiano can suddenly become as popular with college coaches (minus the Gamecocks' Steve Spurrier, of course) as he is unpopular with NFL talent evaluators
. And since there is no rule requiring UMD selectees to be three years removed from their high school graduation — because, you know, we believe in logic — Clowney can ball out in 2013 and actually get compensated for his efforts. Opponents will also pay; this kid is legit.
14. Carolina Panthers — Von Miller, OLB:
New Panthers GM Dave Gettleman has the same idea as his Bucs counterpart, Mark Dominik — find an elite pass rusher who can blow up the pocket. With Watt and Clowney off the board, Miller is the obvious choice. The 2011 NFL defensive rookie of the year had a strong sophomore season and is the prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker. Carolina coach Ron Rivera presided over an effective 3-4 defense during his days as the Chargers' defensive coordinator and could surely implement a scheme that gets the most out of Miller and inside linebacker Luke Kuechly (the 2012 NFL defensive rookie of the year).
15. New Orleans Saints — Russell Wilson, QB:
The thought of Wilson, who showed exceptional poise and touch in his revelatory rookie season, teaming up with Sean Payton, who spent his year-long suspension conjuring cutting-edge plays the way Tupac summoned a surplus of brilliant rhymes in prison, is downright scary. Together, the preternaturally mature quarterback and the hyper-motivated coach could make beautiful music together in the Crescent City for the next decade. And given his experiences with Brees, we know
Payton has positive associations with short quarterbacks.
16. St. Louis Rams — Geno Atkins, DT:
Yes, Jeff Fisher is a fan of the Atkins Diet, at least as it pertains to clogging up gaps in the trenches (as opposed to arteries). The man who presided over Albert Haynesworth's best years in Tennessee gets a dominant defensive tackle who, at 25, still has significant upside, giving another boost to a deceptively impressive defensive line. (St. Louis led the league in sacks last season.) And yes, I am in the UMD war room as Atkins is selected, as I was for the selection of defensive tackle Michael Brockers with the 14th overall pick
in the real
draft last April.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers — DeMarcus Ware, OLB:
Ware will be 31 by the start of next season, but age is just a number to Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who'll be 76 in September. Ware has averaged 14 sacks a season over his eight-year career and is disruptive in other ways, too. He'd be Pittsburgh's biggest force off the edge since … well … James Harrison.
18. Dallas Cowboys — Colin Kaepernick, QB:
After continually pledging allegiance to Tony Romo — and, last month, pledging another $55 million in guaranteed cash — Jerry Jones is all in on his quarterback of the present. Until, that is, he gets a crack at Kaepernick, who took over the Niners' offense last November and emerged as a multi-dimensional threat capable of taking San Francisco to within five yards of a championship. Remember when T.O. celebrated on the star at Texas Stadium
? Jerry just got revenge, and it was served cold.
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19. New York Giants — Eli Manning, QB:
Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin aren't overthinking this one. The GM and coach each owns a pair of Super Bowl rings, thanks largely to Manning's timely heroics, and they're willing to stay relatively boring by UMD standards. There is, of course, an even more decorated and successful veteran quarterback still on the board… one who also happens to have Manning as a surname. Peyton, however, is 37 (five years older than his kid brother) and rebounding from multiple neck surgeries. And in this case, familiarity breeds comfort.
20. Chicago Bears — Cam Newton, QB:
Though Newton had a somewhat rocky 2012 season after his record-setting rookie campaign, he was much better during the second half of last year, and his talent is too tantalizing to ignore. With his size and athleticism, Newton is a load to defend, and newly hired coach Marc Trestman's creative offensive mind is spinning with the possibilities. While tempted to select incumbent Jay Cutler, Trestman has a thing for mobile quarterbacks, having previously enjoyed success as a coordinator with Steve Young and Rich Gannon. He even fell for Tim Tebow while working with the former Florida star
before the 2010 draft. Suffice it to say that Newton has a bit more upside.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — A.J. Green WR:
As with the Giants, the Bengals' powerbrokers (owner Mike Brown and coach Marvin Lewis) have no problem taking one of their own. 26. Other than Megatron, Green may already be the most feared receiver in the game
. Now, if Lewis can just persuade offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to get his best player the ball before the third quarter
of the team’s next playoff game, things will be just swell in the ‘Nati.
22. Washington Redskins — Jason Pierre-Paul, DE:
Mike Shanahan, a noted offensive guru, goes counterintuitive by picking a player who can derail the best laid plans of the Eagles and Cowboys, etc. Though Pierre-Paul had only 6 ½ sacks last season after his breakout 2011 campaign, he's still regarded as a freakishly versatile force. He's only 24, and he's still playing out his club friendly rookie contract, which brings some solace to general manager Bruce Allen as he navigates the team's unjustly hellacious salary-cap situation
23. Minnesota Vikings — Marshawn Lynch, RB:
With the game's preeminent running back gone, general manager Rick Spielman gives coach Leslie Frazier the next-best thing. Lynch, while not blessed with Peterson's breakaway speed, is a punishing runner who averaged five yards a carry while gaining 1,590 yards for a playoff team. If he can provoke seismic activity
in Minneapolis, the man will truly become legendary.
24. Indianapolis Colts — Percy Harvin, WR:
When the Seahawks traded picks in the first, third and seventh rounds
for Harvin last month, it illustrated just how valuable this shifty, explosive receiver is in league circles. Second-year general manager Ryan Grigson can't resist selecting this game-wrecker with rare skills, though the move is not without risk. Harvin has a history of getting grumpy toward his employers and making his frustrations known, and the fact that the Vikings deemed such a talented weapon to be expendable tells you all you need to know. Then again, Grigson's willing to take a chance. When you're the reigning NFL executive of the year, you can afford to swing big.
25. Seattle Seahawks — Darnell Dockett, DT:
General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, who like to groove out to reggae music in the war room
, do some Burnin' and Lootin
' of their NFC West rivals' defensive line. While Dockett had his issues in Arizona last December, incurring a $200,000 fine for conduct detrimental to the team, the confrontation with teammate Kerry Rhodes that got him in trouble
spoke to the player's competitiveness: Dockett vehemently disagreed with the coaches' directive to let the Jets score on purpose. Carroll can live with that, especially given Dockett's consistently disruptive and aggressive interior line play.
26. Green Bay Packers — Joe Thomas, OT:
True to his nature, GM Ted Thompson is beholden to his draft board, and Thomas, the game's premiere left tackle, is the easy choice. Thompson bringing the 28-year-old, ex-Badgers star back to Wisconsin should make Packers coach Mike McCarthy smile. McCarthy, however, is holed up in a dark basement watching Terms of Endearment
and sobbing his eyes out as he ponders Graham Harrell's name atop his depth chart at quarterback. McCarthy hates the UMD — for obvious reasons.
27. Houston Texans — Matthew Stafford, QB:
When coach Gary Kubiak said "I believe in Matt
" a day after his team's 41-28 playoff defeat to the Patriots last January, he was talking about his quarterback, a productive but embattled fellow by the name of Schaub. My belief is that, in an alternate UMD universe, Kubiak would say the same thing about Stafford, only more convincingly. The 25-year-old Texas native didn't have a stellar 2012 season, but he looked like a rising star in leading the Lions to the playoffs the previous year, and his china-doll stigma is long gone. And while losing one's Johnson (Calvin) is never ideal for a quarterback, getting another highly serviceable Johnson (Andre) tends to ease the pain.
28. Denver Broncos — Peyton Manning, QB:
John Elway could do something pragmatic here, like bringing Cutler back to Denver, but after the Broncos' magical 2012 regular season, the old gunslinger has a thing for, well, old gunslingers. In this case it helps that each of the gunslingers in question ranks among the very best ever to have played the quarterback position. So, while Manning is 37 — and, in theory, one bad hit to the neck area away from beginning his five-year Countdown to Canton — Elway's willing to ride or die with him anyway. With Wes Welker joining Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to give Manning a terrific trio
of wideouts and an expectation that the quarterback will improve in Year 2 with the Broncos, the immediate future could be akin to a trip in George Jetson's flying car.
29. New England Patriots — Larry Fitzgerald, WR:
Bill Belichick may be one of the greatest franchise architects in football history, but when it comes to picking wide receivers, the future Hall of Fame coach has more drops than his old friend
Freddie Mitchell. Suffice it to say that Fitzgerald is a can't-miss prospect. While the Cardinals' post-Kurt Warner quarterback wasteland has cramped Fitz's style, and some may have forgotten how truly great he is, no one is better at going up and getting the football, awkward angles and clamp-down defenders be damned.
30. Atlanta Falcons — Julio Jones, WR: Given the Oscars-style-goodie-bag
of draft picks that Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff surrendered to land Jones two years ago
— and the fact that the fast, physical wideout emerged as a tremendous force in 2012 — this pick isn't much of a stretch. Consider this what if?
: Had then-Browns GM Tom Heckert told Dimitroff "no thanks" two years ago and picked Jones, might he (and coach Pat Shurmur) still be employed? Probably not, given the ownership change in Cleveland, but it's not a totally outlandish question.
31. San Francisco 49ers — Teddy Bridgewater, QB:
What, you thought Jim Harbaugh was going to sit around and mope after losing Kaepernick? "That's water under the bridge," the amped up coach declares in the Niners' war room, to which general manager Trent Baalke responds, "Funny you should say that…" While Texas A&M redshirt-sophomore-to-be Johnny Manziel may have the ubiquitous nickname and Heisman Trophy, Bridgewater is the quarterbacking prospect who truly has pro scouts drooling. After two seasons at Louisville, the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder has shown enough passing touch and athleticism to convince most NFL GMs and coaches that he's ready for prime time. Now, imagine the creative play-calls
that Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman will come up with to get the most of out Bridgewater's talents.
32. Baltimore Ravens — Patrick Willis, ILB:
After ushering out the Ray Lewis era in style
—and initiating the roster equivalent of a cayenne-pepper-lemonade-cleanse
in the aftermath of Super Bowl XLVII — Ravens general manger Ozzie Newsome lands the ultimate heir to Lewis' legend. Willis, this era's preeminent inside linebacker, doesn't get a ton of hype these days, as he's surrounded by a slew of other standouts (including fellow ILB NaVorro Bowman) on the Niners' defense. At 28, however, he's very much at the top of his game. If he can summon Lewis' powers of endurance and remain a force for the next decade, Willis will make Newsome look as shrewd in UMD-ville as the GM typically does in real life. As for Newsome's gloating head coach in the corner of the war room? Well, that Harbaugh family Fourth of July barbecue just got that much more charged. Getcha fireworks
ready, Tom Crean
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