Thu Mar 18 06:55pm EDT
Now that free agency is done - at least for the most part - it's a good time to head back to the Land of Mock Drafts and see how teams might fill their needs after a surprisingly busy player acquisition period. As always, the idea is to run these mocks as one would a real draft; with a mixture of need picks and "best-player-available" mantras, with the occasional shocker mixed in for good measure. Here are picks 17-32, the first half of the mock can be found here.
17. San Francisco 49ers: S Taylor Mays, USC - We're still not sure what kind of 40-yard dash Mays ran at the combine - it wasn't a 4.24, but it sure didn't look like a 4.43, either. Say he ran a sub-4.4, and does the same at USC's Pro Day on the 30th. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he'd be an irresistible pick for a San Francisco team that always valued raw athleticism in the Scot McCloughan era. No matter who runs their draft in 2010, here's betting that the Niners find Mays impossible to pass up.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: OL Maurkice Pouncey, Florida -- Idaho's Mike Iupati is a potential pick here, but Pouncey is running up a lot of boards for his intelligence with line calls. The Steelers may or may not be looking for a franchise quarterback sooner than later, but one thing's for sure - if the guy under center isn't Ben Roethlisberger(notes), Pittsburgh's front office will have to stop assuming that their QB can fight off five different pass rushers on every play, and actually do something about the offensive line. Pouncey is tough enough to deal with all the 3-4 nose tackles he'll face in his new division and elsewhere.
19. Atlanta Falcons: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida -- Signing cornerback Dunta Robinson(notes) was Step one in Atlanta's big more to redefine their defense and get back to contention level. Step two is to get the kind of pass rusher that Jamaal Anderson(notes) will never be. Pierre-Paul can fly off the edge with the best of them, leaving the rest of the Falcons' underrated line to play gap-control defense just as head coach Mike Smith(notes) intended.
20. Houston Texans: CB Kyle Wilson, Boise State -- And after losing Robinson, the Texans will look to grab the best replacement possible. Slightly underrated because of his school affiliation, Wilson could impress at the NFL level just as former teammate Ryan Clady(notes) did. Wilson isn't anything approaching a run-stopper, but the Texans have enough of those. What they need is a guy who can cover like flypaper, and that's the ability Wilson brings to the field.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma -- The Bengals desperately need middle coverage help to augment their outstanding cornerbacks, but sometimes the draft doesn't fall the way you want it to. And they'd be taking a chance on Gresham, who didn't play in 2009 due to a knee injury, but this offense could benefit greatly from an enormous target who enjoys running over linebackers. Gresham is just that kind of player.
22. New England Patriots: OLB Sergio Kindle, Texas -- Jerod Mayo(notes) is a stud on the inside, but the Pats have long needed reinforcements on the perimeter of their defense. Kindle has the ability to put his hand down and fire out after the quarterback, or play well in space.
23. Green Bay Packers: RB Ryan Matthews, Fresno State -- Ryan Grant(notes) was the second-most efficient back in 2009 according to Football Outsiders' statistics, but those numbers don't factor in blocking. To put it bluntly, Grant is a terrible pass-blocker, and that doesn't work in an offense where the line has vulnerabilities everywhere. In Matthews, head coach Mike McCarthy will have the kind of player whose ability to do the dirty work matches his physical tools.
24. Philadelphia Eagles: DE Brandon Graham, Michigan -- The Eagles need another elite edge rusher to complement Trent Cole(notes). Graham absolutely blew up during Senior Bowl week, but he's no one-hit wonder -- he put up 10.5 sacks in the 2009 season, and he comes to the NFL at the perfect time. In past years, teams might have held a bias against a 6-foot-1(ish) edge rusher, but considering Elvis Dumervil's(notes) success in Denver and Dwight Freeney's(notes) production over a longer period of time in Indianapolis, Graham could be the next great one in that line.
25. Baltimore Ravens: WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame -- There's no question that the Ravens need an elite pass-catcher. While the acquisition of Anquan Boldin(notes) gives them the toughest possession receiver in the league, Tate would give the Ravens two other important things - an instant ability to get the hang of pro-style offenses, and the kind of downfield speed that could really boost Joe Flacco's(notes) numbers.
26. Arizona Cardinals: WR Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech -- Going from Kurt Warner(notes) to the somewhat mystifying combination of Matt Leinart(notes) and Derek Anderson(notes) is like waking up one day and discovering that Gary Cherone is singing in your band instead of Sammy Hagar. How do the Cards solve this problem? By surrounding Mr. Mystery Quarterback with as many great receivers as possible. Thomas' foot injury will probably keep him from working out before the draft, but the tape doesn't lie - he's got rare downfield ability and would be an outstanding complement to Larry Fitzgerald(notes).
27. Dallas Cowboys: OT Rodger Saffold, Indiana -- An underrated player who could help Dallas' obvious need for edge protection, Saffold stood out at the East-West Shrine Game, but didn't make the Senior Bowl list. No matter - at the combine, he put up the best times at his position in the vertical jump, the broad jump, three-cone drill and short shuttle. Saffold is another player whose stock could rise over the next month.
28. San Diego Chargers: DE Jerry Hughes, TCU -- And speaking of late draft-board jumpers, teams are finding more and more to like about Hughes. His ridiculous speed and ability to get after the quarterback will prove indispensable to the Chargers, who have some key decisions to make with their front seven in the next few seasons.
29. New York Jets: G Mike Iupati, Idaho -- The Jets' offensive line might have been the NFL's best in run-blocking last year. Still, left guard Alan Faneca(notes) will be 34 in December, and Iupati would be the perfect long-term replacement. He's a nasty guy on the inside with some technique issues that could be solved with a year to learn at the pro level. In a pinch, he could start right away.
30. Minnesota Vikings: CB Devin McCourty, Rutgers -- When you have a front four as dominant as Minnesota's, and you give up 26 passing touchdowns and allow an opposing quarterback rating of 92.5, it's a fair bet that there are issues with your secondary. The Vikings would be wise to snap McCourty up, and get on with the business of courting the Mississippi Queen.
31. Indianapolis Colts: DT Brian Price, UCLA -- For years, the Colts ran a blitz-averse defense that focused on nickel sets and Tampa-2 looks. That went away with Tony Dungy. Now, under Larry Coyer, Indy will set its linebackers on the edge and wreak havoc in a less-than-polite fashion. Price, who amassed more tackles for loss than Ndamukong Suh in 2009, would be a perfect sparkplug for this defense.
32. New Orleans Saints: OLB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri -- In replacing Scott Fujita(notes) in Gregg Williams' system, Weatherspoon would impress immediately with his ability to make zone drops. This is a must with all the fake blitzes and different looks Williams throws at opposing quarterbacks. Weatherspoon also brings a hammer when he's pursuing at the line, which makes him even more important to a defense that struggled against the run, right up to and through their Super Bowl victory.
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