Until April 26th rolls around you’ll read your fair share of NFL mock drafts, if you haven’t already.
Each one has its similarities (namely the first overall pick), but each one also has some differences of opinion in what players will be selected after that consensus No. 1 pick. I’m no different from any of these mock drafts; I agree with the first pick but vary on the others.
What I want to do with my mock draft is take free agency into account for some of these teams who can fill needs via that route.
I mean it is a mock draft, and I think free agency plays a part in who a team will select in April. Also I think it’s worth nothing that these picks are subject to change post-combine.
Let’s begin, shall we:
This is pretty obvious. Andrew Luck has been the surefire No. 1 overall pick since 1989.
Well, maybe not that long, but it sure seems that way. Though there have been many speculations about the Colts trading that first pick to another team, I don’t feel that will be the case.
You don’t pass up the chance to draft a franchise QB in today’s NFL, and Andrew Luck will be just that. On the flip side, you don’t just throw a rookie in as the starting QB when you have a Hall of Famer already on your roster.
If Peyton Manning is healthy, then he plays. I know most players, especially QBs, want to come in and play right away, and in most cases (i.e. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, etc.) it has worked out well.
But if you have the chance to learn how to play the position at a high level from a Hall of Famer like Manning, then I say you just wait your turn; it worked for Aaron Rodgers.
A lot of mock drafts I’ve seen have the St. Louis Rams picking OT Matt Kalil at this pick.
Understandably so, since the Rams were horrible up front: The Rams QBs were sacked 55 times (Bradford taking 36 of those sacks), good for tops in the league. So taking an OT here makes sense.
What people tend to forget is that Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold were both injured this year and only played in six and nine games, respectively. They are both young and talented players who can come back next year and play at a high level for the Rams.
Here is where Blackmon comes in.
The Rams offense ranked dead last in points per game (12.1), 31st in yards per game (283.6) and 30th in pass yards per game (179.4).
I’m assuming that Blackmon will be able to boost all of those statistics in his rookie season, and with Brandon Lloyd possibly leaving in free agency, I think the time is now to infuse some youth and talent into the position.
Not only will he be a talented young receiver for Bradford to have for years to come, but he’ll also take some pressure off of Steven Jackson and that 23rd-ranked rushing attack.
Let’s face it, Jackson has been the heart and soul of that offense for a long time, and Blackmon can help take some of the burden of carrying this team off of Jackson's shoulders.
This is where I see Matt Kalil being called off the board. The Minnesota Vikings tied for fifth with the Chicago Bears in sacks allowed with 49, and the Vikes' two tackles played in all 16 games.
Kalil will be a big step forward in keeping Christian Ponder upright so he can find open receivers.
There are debates that the pick here should be Morris Claiborne.
It’s very true that the Vikings were pretty bad at pass defense, giving up 251.2 yards per game, good for 26th in the NFL. But I believe that free agency can help them with their secondary problems, so I’m going to throw out two names I feel will fit the Vikings well—Jared Bush and Tom Zbikowski.
Jared Bush is already playing for a division rival in the Green Bay Packers and knows the NFC North quite well; I think he makes a good fit given his familiarity.
Zbikowski is a physical and fast safety who isn’t scared to help in run support, and if there's one thing the Vikings have been known for, it’s stopping the run. But he’s also a pretty good pass-defender, and at 26 he’ll put some youth back in an aging secondary.
The Browns need QB help...fast.
RG3 can, and most likely will, be the franchise QB that Cleveland has wanted since the Otto Graham days. RG3 is accurate, has great arm strength and can run the ball.
I don’t think the Browns can pass on a franchise QB, not when everyone else in the division has one.
The Browns were 24th in passing, 30th in points and 29th in total yards last season; all of those numbers just scream the need for a QB.
Greg Little showed flashes of what he is capable of last season, and with more consistent play from the QB I think he can be less of a “flash” player and more of a starting-caliber receiver.
Most people would imagine putting an RB like Richardson at this pick. The Browns have a second first-round pick, and I think they'll address their running game with that pick.
If you’re the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then there is no reason that you pass on Claiborne—he’s just too talented.
With the off-field troubles of Aqib Talib, and father time revving up Ronde Barber’s age odometer, Claiborne can be the cornerstone of your pass defense for a while.
Claiborne has size, speed and instincts, and he’s everything you’re looking for in a shutdown cover corner.
Their defense struggled mightily this past season, ranking near the bottom of most statistical categories, Including dead last in rush defense.
I attribute that in large part to Gerald McCoy missing 10 games this season. Coincidence? Probably, but he was playing pretty well.
Consider this: When McCoy played, the defense gave up 122.3 yards per game, well below their 156.1 average to end the season. I think McCoy coming back healthy, and staying that way, will help improve that run defense.
As far as pass defense, well the Bucs ranked 21st, which isn't horrible but it isn't good either. When you factor in the division that they play in, you almost have to shore up your secondary, because the NFC South is loaded with receivers and QBs.
The Bucs need help, and Claiborne can fill that need.
Though he’s still producing, London Fletcher is getting up there in age and is set to be a free agent (though I don’t see the Washington Redskins letting him go).
Luke Kuechly has been one of the most productive linebackers in college football over the past couple of years, if not the most productive.
He’s not the most athletic linebacker in the draft, but he’s a sure tackler and a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball.
Now I know what Redskins fans, and pretty much everybody, is thinking: “They need to get a WR if a QB isn’t available."
Well that’s where free agency comes into play; I think Dennis Dixon or Matt Flynn can fit well in a Mike Shanahan offense. As far as WR goes, there are some prospects in the second round that the Redskins can possibly take advantage of.
Some people may look at the Jacksonville Jaguars and automatically think defense.
Not so fast.
The Jags ranked in or near the top 10 in points allowed (11th), yards allowed (sixth), pass yards allowed (eighth) and rush yards allowed (ninth).
The defense is still pretty young and has room to improve, but their offense needs help, and Blaine Gabbert needs weapons.
Michael Floyd can help make the tough catches and give Gabbert another target in the red zone besides Marcedes Lewis; just imagine what a credible pass game can do for Maurice Jones-Drew and that 12th-ranked rushing attack.
Another pick here would be offensive line help, because the Jags gave up a lot of sacks last year, and if Gabbert doesn’t get protection he’ll be the latest top-10 QB to be a bust in the NFL.
Free agency can be a nice place to find some offensive line help. Ben Grubbs and Carl Nicks come to mind, and they really can help keep some pressure off of Gabbert.
But Floyd is a receiver who they need to get to help out their young QB.
The Miami Dolphins were ranked 25th in passing yards allowed this past season, and they could use Dre' Kirkpatrick to help against some of those potent pass attacks in the AFC East.
Kirkpatrick is a sure tackler from the best defense in all of college football, and at 6'2" he has exceptional size, fluidity and instincts. His skills can allow Miami to play zone coverage or man coverage; in short he’s the pick that the Dolphins need at No. 8.
QB would be the better pick for Miami here, and it’s possible that they can grab one in free agency or trade up to possibly grab Griffin (or somehow create a miracle to grab Luck).
I think that they'll probably stick with Matt Moore, but only time will tell.
CB or WR are two positions that come to mind at this pick. I say neither; the Carolina Panthers were actually pretty bad at stopping the run, coming in near the bottom of the league in run defense.
Michael Brockers can help alleviate that issue.
At 6''6, 306 lbs, he’s a monster in the middle of the defensive line, and he’ll be sure to open up some one-on-one opportunities for DEs Charles Johnson and either Greg Hardy or Thomas Keiser.
With Brockers helping out the pass rush and clogging up running lanes, as well as keeping defenders off a healthy Jon Beason, the Panthers defense will have improved greatly.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “What about that pass defense?”
Well, you’d be amazed what a pass rush can do for your secondary. As for the WR help, I think Ron Rivera should look no further than his former team for help.
Vincent Jackson will be a free agent this offseason, and if Rivera can bring him into the organization it instantly upgrades an offense that was already pretty scary with Cam Newton at the helm.
Oh Buffalo, *shakes head* Buffalo, Buffalo, Buffalo.
You had us all believing that you were on track for a stellar season, but defensive woes have the Bills picking in the top 10. The Bills were near the bottom of the league in yards allowed, rush yards allowed and points allowed.
Quinton Coples is what this team desperately needs.
Coples stands at 6'6", 285 lbs and is athletic enough to play the five-technique in the Bills 3-4 scheme, or be the outside pass rush that the Bills are also looking for. Coples is great at rushing the pass, but he’s also able to be a stout run defender with his size.
I would agree with most people when they say that the Bills are in need of some LB help as well.
Well Dan Connor, Rocky McIntosh or Ernie Sims could come in and fill the need right away and supply another sure tackler next to Nick Barnett.
I’m not sure what the future holds for Matt Cassel, but I have the feeling that the Kansas City Chiefs will give him at least one more year to get things straight. Providing him with an OT who can protect him would only further his success.
Riley Reiff is big (6'6", 300 lbs), athletic and has all the tools to be a dominant tackle in the NFL.
The Chiefs were near the bottom of the league in total offensive yards and pass yards this season, and if they are able to bring back Dwayne Bowe, and have Jamaal Charles return to his 2010 form, the addition of Reiff will only strengthen this offense.
The Seattle Seahawks need help with their pass rush; they also need QB help, but at pick 12 it would be a reach to grab a QB.
So I have them taking Melvin Ingram and adding a quick explosive pass-rusher to their defensive line.
Ingram, a former high school RB, is very quick off the edge and can help get to the QB in a hurry. He’s not the most athletic player, but what he lacks in athleticism he makes up for with his ability to make plays.
It’s possible that the Seahawks look for a QB in free agency; I’m not sure how likely it is though.
It’s only been one year so far, and i think people are already questioning the Kevin Kolb signing.
I mean he probably can be the franchise QB the Arizona Cardinals need; he did well in the games that he played in, but he can’t seem to stay healthy (you see where I’m going with this). I mean, he played in nine games and was sacked 30 times.
Enter Jonathan Martin, the 6'6", 300-lb OT who is probably the most athletic blocker in this year’s draft. His athleticism and nimbleness make him a natural left tackle and the perfect candidate to block Kolb’s blind side.
Martin excels at pass-blocking, but he’s also a very talented run-blocker. That can help with that 24th-ranked run offense, and give Beanie Wells and a healthy Ryan Williams some nice running lanes.
Just like the Panthers, the Dallas Cowboys could use the help of an effective pass rush to take some pressure off their secondary, and Courtney Upshaw is that help.
He can come in immediately opposite DeMarcus Ware and provide the help that this defense needs.
Ware, for all intents and purposes, WAS the Dallas pass rush, having 13.5 more sacks than the next closest person. Put it this way: Dallas had 42 sacks in 2011, and Ware had 46 percent of them.
Upshaw is explosive off the ball, and when he gets to the ball-carrier he has a gift for causing fumbles. He’s been productive against the run as well as the pass.
I think he fits Rob Ryan’s defense perfectly, and with a more effective pass rush the secondary won’t have to cover receivers for so long; their flaws won’t be exposed so often.
Now for those of you who still believe that DB is a priority, I suggest we look at the free-agent talent (I hope you're paying attention, Jerry).
At corner there is Tracy Porter, Cortland Finnegan or Carlos Rogers, assuming they can lure any of them to Big D.
At safety you can look at Michael Griffin or LaRon Landry; both are still young and both still have a lot of football left.
OL is also a priority, and OGs Carl Nicks and Ben Grubbs are available in free agency.
One word comes to mind when I think of Vontaze Burfict: nasty.
This guy is one of the most violent hitters in all of college football—when he gets to the ball-carrier he is putting them down…hard. I used to live in Philadelphia, and this guy definitely will be embraced by the city for his style of play.
The Eagles weren’t horrible against the run (ranked 16th), but they weren’t great against the run either. The Eagles just need someone in the LB core who will seek the ball and hit the ball-carrier.
The red flag here is that Burfict reminds me of Alvin Mack from the movie The Program.
He’s passionate on the field, but his passion clouds his judgment, and that has led to personal foul calls that have hurt his team, not to mention the “dirty” tag that was given to him.
Burfict can be a great fit in Philly, but Andy Reid has to try to control this kid and channel his emotion in a way that helps the team.
I think we all can agree that Philadelphia should probably stay away from the free-agency pool this year, other than trying to sign DeSean Jackson to a long-term deal.
You’re probably looking at this and saying “Trent Richardson at 16? You’re crazy.”
Me being crazy is definitely possible, but him going 16 is also possible. If for some reason he slips past five to the Bucs, this is where I see him landing, and it’s not a bad spot for him.
I think that the Shonn Greene experiment is just about over, and the New York Jets need to get back to their identity of being a hard-nosed, smash-mouth, run-first-and-ask-questions-later football team, and Richardson was built for that.
Can you imagine Richardson running behind The Terminator? My head hurts just thinking about it.
Richardson is a physical beast; he can grind out the tough yards on the ground between the tackles, or use his speed and elusiveness to beat the defense to the edge.
He is the most pro-style runner in the draft, and a perfect fit for Rex Ryan’s style of play.
Who knows, maybe with an effective running game Mark Sanchez won’t suck so much.
The Cincinnati Bengals need secondary help.
It's possible that they go after Alfonzo Dennard here, after Jonathan Joseph injured his Achilles, but I think they go with the versatility in Mark Barron.
Barron is a big (6'1", 223 lbs), athletic safety who has all the traits that NFL scouts covet. He can make plays in space and he can come up and support the run. I don’t think this is a player that the Bengals can pass up.
Besides, their pass defense was ninth in the league last year. Not bad, but Barron can make it better. Plus if corner help is what they need following Joseph’s injury, there are free-agent options.
At 6'2", 242 lbs, Zach Brown has the explosiveness to be an amazing edge rusher, and the versatility and athleticism to drop back and help in coverage.
I think he is the logical piece to get that San Diego Chargers pass rush back to where it was.
Shaun Phillips is 30, Larry English hasn’t quite panned out and Antwan Barnes is emerging as a good young pass-rusher for this defense; adding Brown will infuse some youth and toughness.
Another safety to play beside Pro Bowler Eric Weddle is something for them to discuss, because all Bob Sanders showed us is that his days of being a premier safety are over. He can’t seem to stay healthy for a full 16 games.
Again, either free agency or a later draft pick can help fill that need.
Regardless of what people say, I just don’t think that Alshon Jeffery is a top-10 wide receiver.
He’s definitely a first-rounder; his size (6'4", 229 lbs) and pure jumping ability make sure of that. But he lacks top-end speed and his route running leaves much to be desired.
Having said that, he would still be the best WR on the Chicago Bears if he goes here at 19.
The Bears don’t have a pure No. 1 WR. Devin Hester is a speedster and can make plays, but he isn’t consistent enough; the same goes for Johnny Knox. Earl Bennett just received a contract extension and he’ll benefit greatly from the addition of Alshon Jeffery.
The Bears could also benefit from picking up a DB or OL; there are names out there in free agency to get. But picking up a WR who potentially can make plays for your QB is important right now; their offense needs playmakers not named Matt Forte.
The Tennessee Titans' offensive line play was so bad last year that it was even criticized publicly by the coaching staff.
Chris Johnson didn’t seem like he was worth the contract extension that they gave him, but it was more the lack of blocking than lack of effort on Johnson’s part.
David DeCastro is just the lineman the Titans are looking for to get their big-play rushing attack back on track. DeCastro has just what scouts look for in an OG; he’s tough, physical, athletic and smart.
He’ll open big holes for CJ to run through and keep the rush off of Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker.
The Titans also had trouble stopping the run, but going after Calais Campbell or Aubrayo Franklin could help shore up the middle of that defense.
The Cincinnati Bengals are moving toward having a more dynamic team, and Cedric Benson’s grind-it-out running style and low yards-per-carry average might see him on the free-agent list this offseason.
Enter David Wilson, the speedy and elusive RB from Virginia Tech.
Wilson is what this offense needs in order to head in a more explosive direction. He was told that he has a second-round grade; I feel that after the combine he’ll move into the late first round (a la Chris Johnson).
His versatility in receiving makes him a great option for Andy Dalton if he gets in trouble.
Wilson can beat defenders on the edge and get those tough physical yards between the tackles—and if he gets into the open field you might as well just forget about catching him.
The Bengals addressed defense earlier in the draft; going after a corner in free agency might help also.
Most would suggest the Cleveland Browns should go defense with their second pick, but their defense was actually pretty good this past season. By picking RG3 earlier, I think you need to build an offense around him.
Lamar Miller is a running back who could help this offense and even special teams right away. I’m not sure if the Browns will try to re-sign Peyton Hillis, or if they have enough faith in Montario Hardesty, but I believe that Miller is a smart choice for them at 22.
The Browns offensive line isn’t all that bad, but their lack of a game-changing RB was worse. Miller potentially can remedy that.
Though his production did slip in the second half of the Hurricanes’ season, he showed deceptive speed and elusiveness during the year. With their second pick in the first round, I think the Browns can afford to take a chance on an RB who could be their future.
This kid just fits with Detroit, and the Lions need some secondary help (being 22nd against the pass last year).
What Dennard lacks in height (5'9", 205 lbs) he makes up for in competitiveness and toughness. He isn’t afraid to stick his nose in there and stop ball-carriers, and he is excellent at pass coverage.
The Lions showed during their last two games against the Packers and Saints, respectively, that they have trouble stopping the opposing team's pass offense.
Dennard can step in and bring that fierce competitive spirit and tough physical play to a Lions team that is already known for it.
Other than DB, I can’t really think of any other glaring holes that the Lions have. They should re-sign Stephen Tulloch and maybe look for another pass-rushing DE via free agency.
Big Ben just wasn’t the same QB after he hurt his ankle; his mobility is what made him a dangerous QB.
But to be completely honest, he has always been running around in the pocket; he hasn’t really had great protection these past few years.
Mike Adams can help supply some athleticism and be a quality left tackle to protect Roethlisberger’s blind side for years. He’s 6'6", 320 lbs and is extremely nimble for a guy his size. His natural fluidity makes him a perfect NFL left tackle.
The Steelers defense needs to get younger, but it’s possible to address those concerns with picks later in the draft. There still can be some quality corners available in the second round, but protecting Big Ben is the priority with this pick.
At 6'4", 310 lbs, Devon Still is a monster to try to move in the middle of a defensive line.
His presence on the Denver Broncos defense will help out potential defensive rookie of the year Von Miller tremendously. Let’s not forget about the one-on-one opportunities he’ll create off Elvis Dumervil as well.
The Broncos were credited for having a good run defense (even though they were 22nd in the league stopping the run), but the addition of Still will help clog holes and allow Wesley Woodyard and DJ Williams to roam free and make tackles.
The secondary probably should be addressed, either in free agency or somewhere in the draft. Champ Bailey hasn’t slowed down, but he is in his mid-30s, and Brian Dawkins is also getting long in the tooth.
Youth in the secondary would help keep this defense good for a long time.
When I watch the New York Giants I see a defense that needs LB help (although that wasn’t so evident this past weekend when they stopped Michael Turner). Dont'a Hightower can step in and be the middle LB who will man the Giants defense for years.
Hightower is a huge middle LB. Standing at 6'4", 260 lbs, he has the size and power to stop runners dead in their tracks, and he possesses the instincts to pursue plays from sideline to sideline.
If I had to point out a flaw it would be his pass coverage. He isn’t as fluid as he could be, but as an MLB you’re not really asking him to cover TEs—that’s what you have Michael Boley or Jacquian Williams for.
When the Houston Texans don’t have Andre Johnson, their passing game struggles.
Of course their passing game struggles when they don’t have Matt Schaub also. The Texans have a running game, they have a strong OL and a top-five defense—what they need is a complement to Andre.
Kendall Wright is that complement.
He can blow the top off of a secondary with his explosiveness and speed, and he excels in yards after the catch.
If he can back up defenders with his speed, there will be open spots in the defense for Andre to roam. Better yet, it will leave more space for Arian Foster to gash defenses with long runs.
Kendall Wright isn't the best route runner, and he’s a bit on the short side for a receiver (5'10", 190 lbs), but he is still a playmaker who will be much-appreciated in this offense.
Top free-agency priority: Re-sign Mario Williams! Other than that I think this team is good.
You’re probably wondering why you’re just now seeing Whitney Mercilus’ name come off the board.
Well, he went from having one sack in 2010 to 16 sacks in 2011, so the “one-year-wonder” tag is there.
Having said that, Mercilus is talented, very talented, and at 6'4", 265 lbs he has the athleticism to make plays as a 4-3 or 3-4 pass-rusher (if they decide to switch back) in New England’s defense. But he is raw, and who better than to refine his raw skills that Bill Belichick.
I’m not adding a free-agency pickup for New England because they have another first-round pick. Also, is it just me, or does it seem like Belichick and the boys have two first-rounders every year?
It’s starting to be unfair.
The 49ers were 29th in pass offense this year; I don’t think it was all Alex Smith’s fault for that number, but I do think that Colin Kaepernick gets a shot at taking that starting job next year.
The issue in my opinion was a lack of effective WRs.
Michael Crabtree had 874 yards last year, and the nearest WR to that total (and I’m not counting Vernon Davis because he’s a TE) was Kyle Williams with 241 yards.
Break out your calculators folks, that’s 633 more yards than the next guy, not to mention Crabtree had 52 more receptions than the nearest WR (also Williams).
The 49ers need help.
Nick Toon can provide that help. He’s big (6'2", 220 lbs), strong and has natural pass-catching skills. Coming from a school like Wisconsin means that he is used to being a run-blocking receiver, and that fits the 49ers offense perfectly.
Toon isn’t the fastest wide receiver and has trouble separating from coverage, but he can make tough catches across the middle and move the chains.
Besides, it seems like the 49ers aren’t really looking for 1,000-yard receivers, and Toon should at least be able to get more than 241 yards in a season.
If not for his size and his dismissal from Florida, Janoris Jenkins would be a lot higher on this list.
But New England needs secondary help, and Janoris Jenkins can be the Asante Samuel that the Patriots have been missing since…well…Asante Samuel.
Jenkins is 5'9", 182 lbs and can excel in either man or zone coverage. His instincts and awareness make him one of the top playmakers on defense in this entire draft.
Again, he does have character red flags, but there's something about Belichick and the Patriots that can make players straighten up and fly right.
I have no doubts that this organization can get the best out of Jenkins, on and off the field.
Terrell Suggs needs help.
Not mentally, although there are some who would disagree, but he needs help rushing the passer. Suggs had 14 of the Baltimore Ravens' 48 sacks, while the next closest pass-rusher on the team had less than half that with six.
Branch had 18.5 sacks over the last two years (10.5 in 2011) and was one of the most dominant pass-rushers in college football.
His size (6'4", 260 lbs), speed and quickness make him very hard to block one-on-one, and he has the build and skills to be a 3-4 rush OLB—the perfect complement to Suggs.
The Ravens could probably use some extra help on the offensive line if they lose Ben Grubbs to free agency. But if they’re able to re-sign him, they’ll be able to draft an OLB late to develop him down the road.
The Green Bay Packers were gashed in the passing game this past season, ranking dead last in defending the pass. They have the secondary to cover receivers, but the loss of Cullen Jenkins really hurt their pass rush.
Ronnell Lewis is no Jenkins, but he is a fast and explosive OLB who excelled once Oklahoma started using him as a pass-rusher.
He’s 6'2", 245 lbs and can be the pass-rusher Green Bay needs opposite Clay Matthews. His athleticism makes him capable of dropping back and helping out in coverage schemes as well.
After going 15-1, I can’t imagine many other needs for the Packers. Possibly offensive line, but they can address that with later draft picks and then focus on developing them for the future.