Here’s picks 1-16 in my mock draft, you can see picks 17-32 here. The parameters I presented for those selections still apply. One other point: I don’t place grades on players based on the round in which I believe they should be selected. I project players to the NFL, and then look at team needs. If a player I feel transitions well to the NFL fits a given team, then, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good pick.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: My pick here is Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher. He and Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel have very similar skills, but I like Fisher a little more. The Alex Smith trade was the impetus for this selection. Andy Reid acquired Smith to solidify the quarterback position. Smith is an efficient, system player who does not turn the ball over. The objective was not to lose games because of your quarterback. That’s the Smith factor. It makes little sense to make that trade, structure your offense that way, and then not address your OL, especially when you have Jamal Charles in the backfield.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: The next best player on the board is Luke Joeckel. And it just so happens to be at a position of serious need for the Jaguars. As of this writing, they do not have a RT. Right now, their quarterbacks are Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. Neither can function without a high quality OL. Just like Fisher, the strength of Joeckel’s game is repetitive execution more than elite athleticism and movement. What always stood out watching Joeckel (and Fisher) on tape was he never seemed to be off balance. He was comfortable, composed and economical on every play. Joeckel is a smoother mover than Jake Long when he came out of Michigan as the No. 1 overall pick, but not as naturally fluid as Ryan Clady, who was the 12th pick in the same 2008 draft.
3. Oakland Raiders: This selection is easy. It’s defensive tackle Shariff Floyd of Florida, one of my favorite players to evaluate on tape. Forget about the fact the Raiders do not have a starting quality DT on their present roster. Floyd is worthy under any circumstances. You talk to outstanding defensive tackles like Warren Sapp, and they talk about hips. Floyd has very loose hips. He’s lively and limber, with great balance and body control. He played both through and around blocks. He’s what a tackle-for-loss DT, disruptive with an explosive closing burst. He transitions best as a classic 3-technique in a four-man line, but he would be equally effective as a DE in 1-gap 3-4 front.
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4. Philadelphia Eagles: This is where the most intriguing defensive player comes off the board. That’s Oregon DE/OLB Dion Jordan. I was fortunate to be on the field at the scouting combine, and to watch this 6-foot-6, 250-pounder move was a revelation. He looked like a wide receiver. On film, he was naturally athletic, very smooth and fluid, and surprisingly explosive given his length. At Oregon this past season, he primarily played in space, which he did exceptionally well. I had to study a lot of games to get a feel for his pass rush skills. They were impressive, and I believe he will become a very good edge rusher in the NFL. He showed the ability to get low and bend the edge with the needed flexibility to succeed against quality NFL offensive tackles. There’s much to like about Jordan, and he’s just scratching the surface. Want a comparison? How about Jason Taylor.
5. Detroit Lions: What is a greater position of need for the Lions – OT or CB? Which of those two positions has the higher rated player? For me, it’s OT. My pick is Oklahoma LT Lane Johnson, who is still a work in progress due to his lack of experience at the position, but he improved steadily in 2012. He has all the traits you look for in an NFL LT: he’s light on his feet, agile, a natural knee-bender, has long arms, and he’s competitive. He plays LT, Riley Reiff is your RT, and you are set at the position for years. Your franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford, will be well protected.
6. Cleveland Browns: I’m selecting Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert. Conventional wisdom says TE is not a position you take in the top ten. Two tight ends have been taken in the top ten since 2004, both at No. 6: Kellen Winslow (2004) and Vernon Davis (2006). I have written extensively about the increased value of the “Joker” TE in today’s NFL, and have talked to many defensive coordinators who have told me that matching up to “12” personnel (one back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers) is a problem. Eifert is the most athletic TE in this draft class. I saw him split outside the numbers many times, and beat corners on vertical routes. Two things to keep in mind: Rob Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2007 when Winslow had 82 catches for 1,106 yards (the Browns won the AFC North that season), and new OC Norv Turner is a master at utilizing the TE, most recently Antonio Gates, but you can go all the way back to Jay Novacek with the Cowboys in the early 1990s.
7. Arizona Cardinals: West Virginia WR Tavon Austin. Most know at this point how I feel about Austin. Here’s how I described him in a previous column:
He aligned all over the formation, including in the backfield, and possesses an extraordinary combination of flash quickness, lateral explosion, stop and start acceleration and top end speed. He’s a live wire with the ball in his hands: shifty, elusive and unpredictable, with the ability to turn routine plays into impact, game changing masterpieces.
Now think about new head coach Bruce Arians. Last year in Indianapolis, he had rookie T.Y. Hilton, at 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds. Hilton played 61 percent of the Colts' snaps, had 861 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. In addition, he averaged almost 12 yards per punt return, with another touchdown. Prior to that with the Steelers, Arians featured 5-foot-10, 186-pound Antonio Brown. In 2011, Arians' last year in Pittsburgh, Brown had 69 catches for 1,108 yards. Austin is more versatile, and more explosive than both Brown and Hilton.
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8. Buffalo Bills: LSU DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo makes perfect sense for the Bills. They do not have a pass rusher at linebacker, and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, formerly of the Jets, feature scheme multiplicity with athletic players who can align in different spots. Mingo flashed explosive traits and the kind of closing speed you cannot teach. He’s a work in progress since he did not show elite body flexibility, with the ability to bend the edge. He needs an NFL weight room. But you put on the Clemson tape, and you see the burst and speed that can impact games.
9. New York Jets: The pick here is my No. 1 guard in the draft, North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper. As I mentioned with Floyd, Cooper was also one of my favorite players to evaluate. He was as athletic as any guard I can remember studying. He had remarkably light feet for a 310-pound man, with such ease of movement. As a puller in the run game, he had extraordinary balance and body control. His best trait is his tenacious competitiveness, with a nasty streak. He looked to initiate contact whenever possible. He is the kind of player who will be a tempo setter for an offensive line. Everybody is focusing on defense with the Jets, but their offense is worse than poor, and in my mock, Cooper is the best player available.
10. Tennessee Titans: The next best offensive guard on the board is Alabama's Chance Warmack. The Titans are trying to manage and manipulate an erratic Jake Locker with a consistent running game. That’s why they signed Shonn Greene to complement Chris Johnson, and underrated OG Andy Levitre. Warmack is an outstanding prospect, with excellent core strength and a powerful lower body. Overall, he showed a desirable combination of size, strength and athleticism. What stood out for a man with his squatty build was his movement in space, his ability to strike a moving target with balance and body control. In addition, he had unyielding anchor strength in pass protection. Warmack and Cooper: two of the best OG prospects we have seen in recent years.
11. San Diego Chargers: The best combination of size, speed and athleticism at linebacker in this draft is Georgia's Alec Ogletree. He has no athletic limitations -- he’s field-fast with sideline-to-sideline range and speed. He consistently showed explosive traits both as a run defender and in pass coverage. The concern is play recognition, or what most refer to as instincts. He needs to become quicker and more decisive with his reactions, especially in the run game. There were times he was too hesitant. But the bottom line is Ogletree is long and athletic with outstanding movement, a classic run-and-chase linebacker in a game increasingly defined by the passing game.
12. Miami Dolphins: Here’s where my top corner comes of the board. That would be D.J. Hayden of Houston. He’s the most physically gifted corner in this draft class. As I wrote in a recent column, Hayden has the most complete and impressive combination of sudden movement, change of direction, the ability to play both press man and off coverage zone, a challenging and competitive playing temperament, and as an added dimension, his willingness to support in the run game with aggression. No corner has a more fluid and compact backpedal, with balance, body control and the quickest feet of any prospect in the draft.
13. New York Jets: My pick is Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones, who is the most ready of all the potential 3-4 outside linebackers in this draft. Ignore the 40-yard dash time. Put on the tape. Jones is a fluid athlete with sudden movement and quick change of direction. He showed body flexibility as a pass rusher, with excellent closing speed. I also liked his ability to transition from speed to power as a pass rusher. He got underneath the pads of bigger OL, and drove them back into the quarterback. He reminded me of Terrell Suggs, another player who ran a supposedly slow 40 when he came out of Arizona State. Remember, Rex Ryan was in Baltimore for the first six years of Suggs’ career.
14. Carolina Panthers: Again, you have a team with a glaring need at a specific position, and a terrific prospect who can fill the void. Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, along with Sharrif Floyd, is one of the two most athletic interior defensive linemen in this draft. What I saw when I watched his tape was initial quickness, active and light feet, strong and at times violent hands, and outstanding overall athleticism. There was a sudden and explosive element to his game; he was quick in everything he did. And I loved his effort and competitiveness. He made many plays in pursuit, showing the kind of range you don’t normally see from defensive tackles. Like Floyd, he transitions best to the NFL as a one gap “3 technique” with dominant traits, and the potential to be a disruptive penetrator and double digit sacker.
15. New Orleans Saints: My pick here is Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Lotulelei, based on overall skills, could have easily been selected higher in my mock. He has an impressive combination of size, strength, athleticism and competitiveness. He has light feet, ease of movement, strong hands. There were times I conjured up the word nimble to describe Star’s movement. He isn't explosive in the same manner as Shariff Floyd or Sheldon Richardson, but Lotulelei was stronger with the ability to shoot his hands with power. He’s not a true inside pass rusher, but he has the attributes to develop into an effective rusher due to his athleticism and strength. In an ideal Rob Ryan defense, which places a premium on position and scheme versatility, Lotulelei is a perfect fit.
16. St. Louis Rams: Who will run the ball for the Rams? How about Alabama running back Eddie Lacy? St. Louis can't play effective offense without a consistent running game. I don’t do discussions of “value.” Those philosophical conversations don’t have any meaning for coaches in the middle of the season when they are trying to win games. There are three backs in this draft who are foundation/feature backs: Eddie Lacy, Le’veon Bell and possibly Montee Ball. Lacy is easily the best of the three, and without question, one of the 20 best players in this draft. He’s my pick for the Rams. He’s a decisive and powerful downhill runner with deceptively quick feet and short area burst. He can move the chains consistently and can be effective in confined space. The only question with Lacy: Does he have the mentality to be a foundation back? He did not truly fill that role for Alabama. There’s no question, however, he has the physical attributes. By the way, I’d rather have Lacy and DJ Swearinger than Kenny Vaccaro and Bell.
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