Composing a mock draft is no easy task. There is plenty of time between now and the end of April for players stock to fluctuate. During this time of year everyone is a draft expert and knows exactly what players their team needs in order to take them to the next level. When compiling a mock draft list, if you don't project the right player for some guy's team there is bound to be backlash.
I have studied tapes of college games I TiVoed over the course of the 2007 college football season. I have watched the college All-Star games and scrutinized NFL teams' depth charts to try and provide fair and balanced analysis for draftniks across the country.
I am sure there will be many out there who will disagree with my projections, but this is the way I see it as of Feb. 21, 2008.
Note that this mock draft is written on the first day of the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, so I am sure there are some players on this list that will see their stock rise or fall over the next few months.
1. Miami Dolphins—Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College
With Bill Parcells first draft at the helm of the Miami Dolphins, he will look to take a franchise quarterback that the 'Fins have lacked since Dan Marino was setting records in Miami.
Watching tape of Ryan last season, I feel he lacks the arm strength to make all of the NFL throws. He is also interception prone. The Dolphins selected John Beck last year in the second round as their quarterback of the future. Parcells pick here will tell us exactly what he thinks of Beck's talent.
I personally believe that if the Dolphins end up selecting Ryan, he will go down as another quarterback who was picked first overall who never lived up to his lofty draft status. A better move here would be Chris Long, but all signs point to the Dolphins selecting Ryan.
2. St. Louis Rams—Chris Long, DE, Virginia
Fans in St. Louis will rejoice if Miami selects Ryan No. 1 overall. This will give the Rams the option of selecting the best defensive player in the draft. As a lifelong fan of the Rams, draft day has not been very memorable, but the Rams will have a hard time screwing this one up.
The pick is either Long or Glenn Dorsey (rumor has it the Rams brass are very high on him). Long is a once-in-a-generation type player who can change the course of a franchise with his ability to dominate games, ala Reggie White.
I hope to be celebrating after this Rams selection, instead of crying as I do most years.
3.* Atlanta Falcons—Jake Long, OT, Michigan
Atlanta is a franchise that has had a well publicized run of bad luck. With the selection of Jake Long from Michigan, Arthur Blank and company hope to reverse their fortune.
Long will start immediately at right tackle for the Falcons, protecting the blind side of a yet to be determined starting quarterback. Long is an enormous prospect, but I feel he is overvalued if he ends up being selected this high. He is not very athletic—Vernon Gholston, a speed rusher, burned Long for a sack this season.
Long dominated weak competition in the Big Ten which is cause for concern. How the Falcons passing on Darren McFadden will go over with their fans remains to be seen.
4.* Oakland Raiders—Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC
Al Davis will think long and hard about selecting Arkansas' Darren McFadden, but the Raiders were soft against the run last season and Sedrick Ellis, not Glenn Dorsey, will end up donning the silver and black next season.
Ellis' stock is skyrocketing up draft boards and I believe when April rolls around he will have replaced Dorsey as the No. 1 DT in the draft. Ellis is quicker and more athletic than Dorsey and plays with a nastiness that is a Raider prerequisite.
With the emergence of Justin Fargas late last season and the subsequent retirement of Warren Sapp, the need for a premier defensive tackle is more glaring than the need for a running back.
5.* Kansas City Chiefs—Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
Imagine the Chiefs surprise when the player that many experts feel is the best player in the draft falls to them at No. 5. Dorsey did not participate in any postseason All-Star games and it looks as if he will be absent during the Combine. He played injured for a better part of the 2007 season and those lasting images will stick in the minds of many player-personnel directors around the NFL.
The Chiefs have many needs on both sides of the ball, but if Dorsey falls, his selection is a no-brainer.
6. New York Jets—Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
I have a feeling that if McFadden slips past the top three selections there will be a flood of trade talk with the team that ends up holding the fourth pick. But if he is available at number six, the Jets would have to take him, wouldn't they?
I realize they have Thomas Jones and Leon Washington on their current roster, but Jones is not getting any younger and Washington is used more in third down situations and as a kick returner where he excels. Ultimately I think that the Jets need a playmaker at receiver like DeSean Jackson, so I could see them trading this pick to move down and get him. But right now, barring any trades, pencil in RUN-DMC.
7. New England Patriots—Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas
With Asante Samuels pending free agency and Ellis Hobbs getting burned weekly by opposing receivers, cornerback is a position of need for the AFC Champs. Talib, to me, projects as the No. 1 corner in the draft. This evaluation is not based solely on his performance in the bowl game versus Virginia Tech.
I paid particular attention to Talib all season. I live in Missouri and was able to catch several Kansas games on TV this season and Talib was the best player on the field in every game I caught, except the game against Missouri (Jeremy Maclin and Chase Daniel). Talib has the size and playmaking ability that should make him a successful NFL player.
8. Baltimore Ravens—Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville
Most feel that the Ravens need a franchise quarterback in order to compete in a tough AFC. I am not one of those people.
I think Troy Smith showed enough flashes late last season that makes the selection of a quarterback in the first round unnecessary. But that doesn't mean that they are not going to take one.
Brohm is a polished passer, ready to take over an NFL offense. He played poorly at times last season for a loaded Cardinals offense, which has caused his stock to slip. If he can regain some of his 2006 form, Brohm could be a steal for the Ravens at No. 8. But I am willing to bet that in three years Smith will be the starter, not Brohm.
9. Cincinnati Benglas—Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State
The Bengals desperately need help on the defensive side of the ball, and Gholston should provide immediate relief. Gholston has an explosive first step and could possibly post 4.5 times in the 40 at the Combine.
The knock on Gholston is size and consistency. He often disappeared in games for the Buckeyes and he needs to bulk up in order to play DE in the NFL. He may be better suited at rush linebacker for the Bengals, but I am on record saying that Gholston will be a Pro-Bowl player and will be a steal at this point in the draft. In my evaluations, I feel he is the second best defensive player in the draft, behind Chris Long.
10. New Orleans Saints—Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy
The Saints have needed a shut-down corner for years, and if McKelvin is sitting there at No. 10, the Saints have found their man. McKelvin has all the tools to become an elite NFL corner: speed, agility, playmaking ability, cover skills, burst.
His lone setback would be the level of competition he played in at Troy. I don't see any other option for the Saints if McKelvin is available.
11. Buffalo Bills—Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma
The Bills need somebody to line up opposite deep threat Lee Evans to make plays. Josh Reed would be the fourth option on most teams and Rosoe Parrish is better suited in the slot.
Kelly gives quarterback Trent Edwards a big target that also had the speed to stretch the field. The combination of Evans and Kelly could be lethal. Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert should give opposing defenses fits with a game plan that features two viable deep threats.
12. Denver Broncos—Ryan Clady, OT, Boise St.
The Broncos offensive line has been one of the more consistent units in the NFL for years now, but they are beginning to show their age and need a youth movement on the O-Line.
Boise State's Clady possesses a great combination of size and athleticism that you covet in a left tackle. When I watch Clady play, he reminds me a little bit of a poor man's Orlando Pace, only not as strong. Clady should put the Broncos running game back into elite status in the NFL.
13. Carolina Panthers—Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt
The Panthers are in desperate need of a young quarterback to groom and one day replace Jake Delhomme, but taking a QB here would be an enormous reach and there are plenty of options available in the second round: Andre Woodson, Chad Henne, Joe Flacco, John David Booty, and Josh Johnson just to name a few.
Starting tackles Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton will hit the open market, leaving a possible void at the tackle position. Vandy's Chris Williams is a bit of a reach at No. 13, but he has the size NFL scouts covet.
14. Chicago Bears—Mario Manningham, WR, Michigan
The Bears are also a team in need of help at the quarterback position, and I am sure they will address this in round two. The Bears also lack any playmakers on the offensive side of the ball besides Devin Hester. Because of Hester, the Bears will likely pass on the more talented DeSean Jackson and select Manningham, who is an Isaac Bruce clone.
Manningham's selection this high in the draft is contingent on his 40 time at this week's combine. I speculate he will run in the 4.45-4.48 range, making him a legitimate No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
15. Detroit Lions—Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida
The Lions are in need of help on the defensive side of the ball, having given up 444 points last season. So what do they do? They fire the offensive coordinator. I am beginning to believe that this franchise will never get it together.
Selecting Mike Jenkins out of South Florida is a step in the right direction. Jenkins has good size and timed speed. The knock on him is toughness and some red flags in terms of character, but the Lions are desperate for secondary help and Jenkins should fit into their scheme nicely.
16. Arizona Cardinals—Kenny Phillips, S, Miami (FL)
The Cardinals could be tempted to take one of the highly touted running backs left on the board, but in a division that boasts pass happy offensive coordinator's Al Saunders and Mike Martz, the secondary position will be addressed early on draft day.
Standout safety Adrian Wilson's contract status is uncertain, so selecting Miami's Kenny Phillips fills a need. The Canes have a strong lineage of players who played the safety position and Phillips is a physical player along the lines of Ed Reed and Sean Taylor, and has outstanding size to speed ratio.
17. Minnesota Vikings—DeSean Jackson, WR, California
I will be shocked if Jackson doesn't come off the board before pick 17. I could easily see him end up at No. 6 with the Jets if he runs the 40 in the 4.3 range.
But if he does last this long it is because of his thin frame and inconsistent play in 2007. Jackson is the definition of a playmaker—go to youtube and check out some of his punt returns for touchdowns to get a feel for his ability. He also has a great set of hands.
The problem is Minnesota has used high draft picks on a pair of South Carolina receivers (Troy Williamson and Sidney Rice) and neither one has begun to pay dividends. So the Vikings are probably wary of taking another receiver this high. Whoever ends up with Jackson is getting the most exciting player in college football last season.
18. Houston Texans—Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon
Here is another guy I will be shocked to see fall this far down draft boards. Stewart is a well-built back with speed and quick feet. The Texans will look even smarter now for passing on Reggie Bush for Mario Williams if they are able to scoop up Stewart at 18.
Houston currently has Ron Dayne (slow), Ahman Green (beat up), and Darius Walker (promising, but a bit slow for an every down back) on the roster at running back. The selection of Stewart should be the move for the Texans here.
19. Philadelphia Eagles—Keith Rivers, LB, Philadelphia
The Eagles need to surround their starting quarterback with more weapons. Kevin Curtis can stretch the field, but he is not a No. 1 receiver. They are probably hoping that DeSean Jackson or Mario Manningham will still be around when they pick at 19, but the Eagles organization usually sticks to their draft board and selects the best player available regardless of need.
In this case, that is USC linebacker Keith Rivers, who should provide the Eagles with depth on the weak side. Limas Sweed is also an option here, but his injury problems should cause the Eagles to search elsewhere for a big time receiver.
Isn't Randy Moss a free agent?
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina
Tampa, for better part of a decade, has been known for their defense. Coach Jon Gruden's defense last year was the main reason for the Bucs push into the playoffs.
The selection of Balmer should solidify Tampa's run defense even more, and he should continue to follow in the footsteps of great Buccaneer DTs. Balmer is a strong, athletic d-tackle who enjoyed a breakout 2007 season for the Tar Heels. If they can keep him motivated and coach him up, he could be a force in the middle for years to come.
21. Washington Redskins—Philip Merling, DE, Clemson
Merling is an enormous defensive end with the quickness to get to the passer. With the departure of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Redskins can no longer rely on his scheme in order to be successful on the defensive side of the ball. Williams got the most out his players and I think the Redskins are going to miss him more than they think.
The Redskins are going to have to gravitate towards player with talent and instincts, and Merling fits that mold. Offensive tackle Jeff Otah could also be an option for the Redskins, but right now Merling is the pick.
22. Dallas Cowboys—Limas Sweed, WR, Texas
Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn are getting up there in years. The Cowboys could use a receiver they can groom and possibly even spell one of the two in case of injury. Owens is still an elite receiver and Glenn has the best hands of any receiver right now in the NFL, but both have had their share of injuries last season.
Sweed, who was also injured for most of 2007, is a bit of a health risk, but, like Owens and Glenn, when he is healthy he is dangerous. I actually have Sweed ranked as my No. 2 receiver overall behind DeSean Jackson, but his wrist injury will cause some teams to back off and Sweed to go sliding down draft boards.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers—Chilo Rachal, OG, USC
Alan Faneca is a free agent and the notoriously frugal Steelers will not give him the money he will command on the open market. Rachal is the No. 1 rated guard on most draft boards and should be able to fill in nicely and make the departure of Faneca sting a little less.
Virginia's OG Branden Albert could be another option for the Steelers who historically replace star players who leave in free agency through the draft.
24. Tennessee Titans—Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida
The Titans ultimately would like to select a playmaker to help Vince Young in the passing game, but they may have to trade up to get the guy they want. With that said, DEs Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy are free agents and unless they re-sign them (I imagine Odom will be re-signed) they will need to replace them through the draft.
Derrick Harvey, who dominated Ohio State in the National Championship game in 2007, saw his stock fall dramatically during the '07 season. He might have been a top 15 selection had he come out after Florida's championship season. Harvey could still be selected in the top 15, but I expect him to be there for the Titans at No. 24.
25. Seattle Seahawks—Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois
Shaun Alexander is in the twilight of his career and the Seahawks will look to the future by selecting Mendenhall at 25. The future is now—Mendenhall is a budding star who not only ran all over Big Ten competition, but was the only bright spot for Illinois in the ass-whooping handed to them by USC in the Rose Bowl.
Mendenhall should be the starter in the backfield for Seattle on opening day. With his power and speed, I expect him to go for 1,500 yards and 10 TDs during his rookie campaign.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars—Early Doucet, WR, LSU
With Matt Jones likely headed toward the trash heap and Ernest Wilford departing via free agency, the Jags will look to take a receiver (again) in the first round.
LSU's Doucet had a disappointing senior season because of injury and inconsistent play that has caused his stock to drop from a potential top 10 pick to the end of the first round. Doucet will be nothing more than possession receiver in the NFL. Ideally he could become the equivalent of a Cris Carter, but he is more likely to be another Keenan McCardell, which isn't bad either.
Reggie Williams played well in spurts last season and, teamed with Doucet, will give Jags QB David Garrard a vast array of weapons for 2008.
27. San Diego Chargers—Calais Campbell, DE, Miami (FL)
The Chargers have a wealth of riches at almost every position and boast one of the deepest rosters in the NFL. Few remember that the Chargers selected CB Paul Oliver in the fourth round of the supplemental draft last season. Oliver, had he played last season at Georgia, would have been the first corner selected in the 2008 draft.
The Chargers are in the unique position to select the best player available regardless of need. Campbell is another player whose stock has taken a hit over the past year. Once regarded as a top 10 player, he too has fallen to the bottom of the first round. If Campbell can play like he did in 2006, the Chargers have once again hit the draft jackpot and can add more firepower to an already deep talent pool.
28. Dallas Cowboys—Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas
Julius Jones will be gone and the Cowboys are trying to re-sign Marion Barber as I type this. I will be surprised if Jerry Jones doesn't trade up to try and land Darren McFadden, but if they have to "settle" for his Arkansas teammate, that ain't bad either.
At times last season, Jones outplayed McFadden and had it not been for the fact that he shared the same backfield as No. 5, Jones probably would have gotten some Heisman buzz.
Jones is lightning quick and excelled as a kick-returner for the Razorbacks. He should provide the Cowboys with the same dichotomy that Julius Jones/Barber did, only if Julius didn't suck.
Don't be surprised if the megalomaniac Jerry Jones bets the house on McFadden when he could have stayed put and selected someone who is just a notch below at pick 28.
29. San Francisco 49ers—Dexter Jackson, WR, Appalachian St.
Here is the wild card in the first round. With the addition of "Mad" Mike Martz as offensive coordinator I imagine he will do what he did in St. Louis on draft day: demand that they select receivers with speed. Jackson fits that description
I watched Jackson in awe this season. When he turned it on nobody could catch him. If he posts a 4.3 40 at the Combine he will enter end of the first round territory where Martz will beg those in charge of the War-Room to give him some toys to play with in his high powered offense.
Remember that in the 2000 Draft Martz selected a burner at the end of the first round named Trung Canidate. It was picks like Canidate that eventually got Martz fired, so stay tuned.
Whatever happened to Antonio Bryant? I thought he was a legit No. 1 NFL receiver. Bring him back.
30. Green Bay Packers—Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee St.
Charles Woodson and Al Harris form a respectable cornerback tandem, but they were exposed in the NFC title game when Plaxico Burress schooled them for four quarters. Both are on the back end of their stellar careers, so look for the Packers to infuse the secondary with some youth for 2008.
Rodgers-Cromartie is a small school standout who has been listed on some people's draft boards as their No. 1 cornerback. If the last name sounds familiar his cousin is Antonio Cromartie, one of the best, if not the very best, cornerback in the NFL, so the pedigree is there. Like his cousin, he is a standout athlete with exceptional leaping ability and outstanding speed, and also like his cousin he has a slight frame that he needs to add bulk to.
As a Rams fan I must admit that I hope he falls to the top of round two. This guy is impressive, but they probably would pass on him like they did his cousin and select some midget cornerback from Clemson instead.
31. New York Giants—Dan Conner, LB, Penn St.
The Giants have built a championship team mostly through the draft. They are another team that can sit back and simply take the highest rated player on their draft board, which is a time-tested strategy that has worked for Jerry Reese and company.
Conner is a tackling machine who is athletic and physical and should fill the possible void left by free agents Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor. A tad undersized, but so was Zach Thomas.
*order will be determined by coin flip