Every year, it's the same thing.
"Who do you want your team to take in the draft?"
"BPA." (Best Player Available)
As if it were that easy.
According to the masses, there is some sort of Heavenly Draft Board floating around out there that holds the true and unquestionable, vertically stacked player rankings that should guide every teams' endeavors when attempting to operate the NFL draft.
After all, "reaching" for a "need" is a sure way to get your team into trouble, right?
The free-agency era has produced more roster turnover than ever before. Teams can no longer keep hold of good players for long periods of time. Once they show themselves to be good, they demand to be paid accordingly, which creates cost-benefit decisions across the board.
This results in more teams needing to fill more "need" positions in an offseason than they can possibly fill through their free-agent acquisitions, which forces general managers to turn to the draft in order to plug holes in the roster.
This is the way it has to be, the way it should be.
How do you vertically stack a potential franchise quarterback in a league that is so dominated by the position? If you have Ben Roethlisberger and are stuck drafting No. 1 overall, do you take Andrew Luck because the unquestioned Heavenly Draft Board demands it?
If you have no quarterback of the future, and you pick No. 8 overall, do you allow potential franchise quarterbacks to pass you by, thereby guaranteeing your franchise non-competition for another full year, because the Heavenly Draft Board would have preferred Ryan Tannehill be drafted somewhere around No. 17 or No. 18 overall?
Do you realize how absurd that sounds?
Here is the unpleasant truth about the first round of the NFL draft: the concepts of "need" and "fit" guide about 80 percent of what happens in the round.
All of my mock drafts pay a hefty portion of attention to those concepts of "need" and "fit" which defy the logic of a magical, all-knowing and correct Heavenly Draft Board being out there somewhere that has the correct order that every player available in the draft should be taken.
That said, here is my latest mock draft.
This is a rare case where the most pressing team need coincides with the player that most teams in the NFL should consider the top overall player in the draft.
The Indianapolis Colts have officially cut ties with Peyton Manning, and they have the opportunity to move on quickly.
The media will attempt to stir controversy about this pick. It's what they do.
Between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin, you have two of the most-hyped quarterbacks to come out in the last decade.
They are talented, and they play the most important position in the sport. Yet, because their destinations are all but known, they are now boring.
So, every now and then, the media tries to pick up the old suit from inside the closet, dust it off, and see if they can get a little more use out of it. They do this by pretending that Robert Griffin may actually go to the Colts at No. 1 overall.
But this is the draft standing for which Andrew Luck has been destined for years.
In the first week of November of 2009, I had just gotten done watching several Stanford games where this redshirt freshman quarterback was absolutely lighting up the field.
I correspond near daily with several writers that I have written with during the past decade in various spots. Those writers can tell you that I texted and emailed them at that time approximately 28 months ago and warned them that little-known Andrew Luck would be the No. 1 overall pick in either the 2011 or 2012 draft.
So, you will forgive me if this time around I stick to my guns on this one.
Last year, the Washington Redskins bowed out of the quarterback market, convinced that the combination of John Beck and Rex Grossman were better than any player they could have realistically acquired.
They will not make that mistake again.
The team has a need at this position, the most important in the sport, and they traded a ransom to move up so that they could get a crack at this player.
As I said, the media will attempt to stir controversy, posing "what if" questions about Luck being passed over by the Colts.
That is just an attempt to take a subject that has become boring and make it more interesting.
The reality is, both Luck and Griffin might as well sign their contracts now. They aren't going anywhere unpredictable.
I had originally thought the Minnesota Vikings would steer toward a defensive player at this pick.
The defense was awful in 2011, especially the secondary.
Even at times when the offense was putting up 20-plus points a game, the defense ensured that Minnesota would continue losing.
However, I think Rick Spielman is in a tough position with respect to the quarterback he selected in the 2011 NFL draft, Christian Ponder of Florida State. The consensus at the time was that Minnesota took Christian much higher than he should have gone.
I have heard Spielman talk about Christian's season, and I thought he hit the nail on the head when he said that Christian came out of the gates slinging the ball with reckless abandon and actually succeeding, simply because he didn't know any better.
As the season wore on, Christian started to get a little beat up, and that is when he started to go into a shell.
The pressure will be on Spielman to make Christian Ponder comfortable enough to succeed, because if he doesn't, then Rick is probably out of a job. When I hear Spielman talk specifically about Ponder getting hit a lot and this being the direct cause of him going into a shell, to me that signals the strategy.
The need at left tackle is at least as strong as any need in the Vikings secondary.
I once took a very close look at the Cleveland Browns offense under head coach Pat Shurmur.
What I found was an offense that was highly predicated on the ability to always keep the first-down marker moving closer and closer to the line of scrimmage.
A key component of this sort of attack is that dynamic, physical back who can pound away the tough yards in the middle that keep the offense "on schedule" from a down-and-distance standpoint.
With Peyton Hillis gone to Kansas City, the Chiefs do not have that presence. The wide receiver position may be a mess, and the team cannot get away with Colt McCoy playing quarterback for very much longer, but tailback is legitimately one of the team's greatest needs.
Lucky for them, Trent Richardson happens to be the best tailback to come out since Adrian Peterson.
A big part of me wants to put defensive tackle Dontari Poe at this spot, as the Buccaneers could decide they would like to get back to true Buc Ball.
That's where the defensive tackles wreck the offensive line and the rest of the defense flows off the strength of that pair, much as it did back when Warren Sapp and Booger McFarland were working together.
However, the bottom line is the Buccaneers do have at least one defensive tackle they like already as a dominant presence.
They may decide that another defensive tackle position is not a heavy enough need.
The Tampa Bay secondary was a mess under head coach Raheem Morris. Ronde Barber is clearly on his last legs, and the management clearly does not trust (for good reason) Aqib Talib.
New head coach Greg Schiano once coached the McCourty brothers at Rutgers, and he has a background as a secondary coach. He will want a defense that has built a secondary full of players that can cover.
Morris Claiborne is too talented to pass up, given the need.
The only wide receiver units in the NFL that compared with the Rams in lack of talent and instability belonged to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns.
With players like corner Cortland Finnegan and center Scott Wells freshly added to the roster, while essentially nothing has been done to the receivers unit, this position accounts as the Rams' overall biggest need.
Justin Blackmon is the best player to fill that need.
As previously mentioned, the Jacksonville Jaguars boasted one of the worst and most unstable wide receiver units in the NFL in 2011.
However, the addition of free agent Laurent Robinson to pair with Mike Thomas definitely softens the sharp edge of that need.
The corner position was an absolute wreck in 2011, but that was mostly due to injuries.
It amazed me how well Mel Tucker had the unit playing in 2011 with so many injuries and emergency players in the game.
The addition of Aaron Ross along with the return to health of several players makes this a position that is not a need.
The defensive end position is the team's biggest need despite the re-signing of Jeremy Mincey. The problem is that Mincey does not create his own opportunities. He has no burst off the line of scrimmage, his running ability is mediocre at best, he is not physically powerful, nor does he do a good job bending at the bottom of his pass rush.
His best attributes are his motor and his ability to keep blockers off his body. Regardless, he needs other teammates be it pass rushers or coverage players to create opportunities for him to get after the passer.
In Quinton Coples, the Jaguars could have a guy that actually creates his own opportunities.
General Manager Jeff Ireland will be traveling to Texas in order to watch Ryan Tannehill throw and run the 40-yard dash.
There is a reason for that.
Despite the team's signing of veteran David Garrard, a franchise quarterback remains the team's most pressing issue.
The team has struck out on a lot of quarterback prospects and tried a lot of Band-Aids at the position.
They are left with two men that have the contracts of mid-level backup quarterbacks. Most times, you get what you pay for.
The Dolphins need to give their fans hope, and they need to give their roster hope. They need the roster to feel like all their hard work is not in vain, that they will not keep playing well only to have it ruined by bad or mediocre quarterback play.
Players and fans alike will be patient in dealing with mediocre quarterback play, as long as they have a clear sense of the direction the team is heading in, but in this league if you do not have a quarterback of the future, you do not have that sense of direction.
Some would try and paint pass-rusher as the team's most pressing need. Pass-rusher is not even the second-most pressing issue on the roster. When the Dolphins defense was good in 2010, who was the great pass-rusher opposite Cameron Wake?
The answer is rookie Koa Misi. Having a second pass-rusher is not quite a "luxury," but it is not quite the "must" that a franchise quarterback is.
The Carolina Panthers' top need is clear.
In 2011, they tried to get away with a rookie pairing of Sione Fua and Terrell McClain. That was a disaster.
The defense did not solidify until those two were taken off the field.
It might already be time to go back to the drawing board and pick up a legitimately premium talent to man the middle of the defensive line.
The team has made no moves at the position in free agency.
I have wanted to put Dontari Poe here in past mock drafts. I still believe that could ultimately be the best fit here, but if I am being true to the theme of need then I must pay attention to the fact that between Sione Fua and Terrell McClain, McClain was the bigger weakness.
Fua plays as more of a space-eater at 1-technique, where McClain is supposed to be more of a dynamic presence as a 3-technique.
Many would point to the dynamic, two-way defensive tackle as being the much more important need in any defensive front. Fletcher Cox is the top defensive tackle in the draft, and can play exactly that role.
My previous mock had the Bills taking receiver Michael Floyd at this pick.
That was in large part on need, as the team looks for a threat to complement newly re-signed Stevie Johnson.
However, if in this mock draft we are to go into hypothetical territory based on most pressing needs, then the team will lean toward Iowa's Riley Reiff.
The bottom line is the team cannot expect to get away with plugging Chris Hairston at left tackle for very long.
I have toyed in the past with the idea of the Kansas City Chiefs taking tight end Coby Fleener at this pick, but that is not truly a need.
Sometimes you have to pay attention to a general manager's history in order to predict positions where he will feel need more than others.
However, with Tony Moeaki and Kevin Boss both on roster, that position will probably have enough bodies to lure Scott Pioli away from his affinity for dynamic players at that position.
Right now, the only nose tackles on roster for the Chiefs are Amon Gordon, Jerrell Powe and Anthony Toribio. This is not acceptable.
Kelly Gregg has been indicating his leaning toward retirement since January of this year. The nose tackle position is a key stone position for a 3-4 defense such as the one run by the Chiefs.
Stopping the run starts with that position, and stopping the run is a key component in getting offenses into the kind of predictable pass situations that allow you to pass rush effectively.
Scott Pioli was Bill Parcells' Director of Pro Personnel from 1997 through 2000. I am quite sure Parcells kept Pioli well versed in George Young's "Planet Theory", and Pioli showed it by picking guys like Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Tyson Jackson high in the 1st round over the years.
Dontari Poe could be Pioli's latest foray into the "Planet Theory."
The Seattle Seahawks appear prepared to allow middle linebacker David Hawthorne to walk in free agency.
There have been whispers of them being unhappy with Hawthorne's durability and athletic ability.
They see him as more of a two-down run defender.
No matter what you think of Luke Kuechly, he is not a two-down run defender, and he showed in Indianapolis that he is a lot faster than many thought.
The way I interpret the Seahawks' letting Hawthorne walk, I think they want a player like Kuechly who can make more of an impact against the passing game.
Pete Carroll recruited and put out a lot of really good linebackers at USC. I could see him steering toward Kuechly come April.
I had a tough time projecting this pick based on need, but when I put it all together, it still fit.
I have had the Cardinals leaning toward David DeCastro in several mock drafts now, and I believe that this is a pick that the Cardinals could justify on the basis of getting an elite player at a position of need.
The key is DeCastro's versatility.
He does not have to be a guard any more than Branden Albert had to be a guard when he came out of Virginia. Albert made a smooth transition over to tackle, and DeCastro may do the same.
He is clearly the best player available that could play guard or tackle.
I see the Cardinals giving the pair of O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho another year to see if they have the right pairing at those all-important pass-rush positions.
Phil Costa very publicly won the battle for the position from Andre Gurode prior to the 2011 season.
However, that does not mean he played well.
Gurode went on to play poorly for the Baltimore Ravens, but Costa was not much better.
In looking at the roster, I am struck by how many solid players the Cowboys have at every position. The one that really sticks out as needing a better player is center.
Peter Konz is a legitimately premium center prospect in the 2012 NFL draft.
No center is really in position to challenge Konz as the highest-rated player at this position.
The Eagles took care of a big need when they traded for linebacker Demeco Ryans of the Houston Texans.
They also got DeSean Jackson locked up on a long-term deal.
Not unlike the Cowboys, I look at this team's roster and I am struck by how many solid players they have across all positions.
One of the more obvious positions of need is at center, where Jason Kelce was a rookie late-round pick in 2011.
However, he played better than some players played the position, and I could see the team feeling optimistic about what he could become.
A sneaking need the team has is at corner, where Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been a disappointment, and the team seems ready to potentially trade Asante Samuel.
Given the issues in the team's secondary during 2011, they could look at Dre Kirkpatrick as a player with the kind of versatility to work his way into the rotation in nickel packages, or switch positions between base and nickel packages.
His tackling skills and size should be coveted in the team's style of defensive line play which requires everyone in the back seven to shoulder a little more of the load in support tackling.
Rex Ryan is a sucker for lengthy, explosive pass-rushers.
He gladly accepted an aging Jason Taylor onto the roster.
He was once hellbent on making something of Vernon Gholston, and he sincerely thought he could.
Mike Tannenbaum was the general manager when Gholston was taken in the 2008 NFL draft, and though some may try to blame Gholston on Eric Mangini, I believe Tannenbaum signed on with that pick.
This is the kind of pass-rusher that the Jets defense sorely needs so that it can stop trying to artificially create pressure.
When smart quarterbacks are able to identify the blitz tendencies in the defense, they can beat the pressure. However, nothing beats when you have a defensive end that can line straight up with your offensive tackle and flatly beat him.
I bring up Gholston with Mercilus because to me, he bangs on too many of the smoke alarms that Gholston did. I thought Gholston was immensely overrated back in 2008, and I think Mercilus is a little overrated as well.
However, his combination of length, physique, athletic ability and sack production are tough to ignore for some people.
The Cincinnati Bengals appear ready to allow the oft-troubled Jerome Simpson to escape via free agency, though he has yet to find a suitor.
This actually creates a fairly bad situation for the team at wide receiver.
Outside of A.J. Green, the position is full of role players such as Jordan Shipley and Ryan Whalen.
Michael Floyd’s history of alcohol-related issues may give the Bengals a chance to pick up another true stud to pair up with A.J. Green.
Owner and general manager Mike Brown loves to pick up players that are more talented than their draft standing. He tends to have little regard for the reason the players fell.
The Chargers have a number of needs across the board, but as of this moment the only defensive linemen they have on roster they can count on for significant playing time are Corey Liuget, Vaughn Martin, Jacques Cesaire and Cam Thomas.
The team let Luis Castillo go, and Antonio Garay continues to sit as a free agent.
Even if Garay returns, the team has a hole at the defensive end spots, where Vaughn Martin played poorly and Corey Liuget remains unproven.
The team could look at Brockers as a direct replacement for Martin.
The most obvious and glaring hole on the Bears’ roster is at the tight end position.
Kellen Davis has not been nearly enough to provide Jay Cutler with a security blanket over the middle.
Brandon Marshall is a fantastic threat on the outside, but teams are too willing to erase him by rolling coverage his way at all times, and that means the Bears need other options to keep him free.
Fleener would be ideal in that role.
The team’s biggest needs are at defensive end and corner.
I have had the team taking Bobby Wagner at this pick in a couple of mock drafts, on a hunch that he could go in the first round and the Titans may like him as another Keith Bulluck.
However, Derrick Morgan is not performing up to expectations, and even after signing Kamerion Wimbley to be the primary pass-rusher, the team should still regard this position as a need.
The value and need for a tailback might not be quite there for some, but I believe Doug Martin is legitimately talented enough to get drafted at this spot.
Even after signing BenJarvus Green-Ellis, this is one of the team’s absolute most pressing needs.
The Browns passed on Ryan Tannehill at No. 4 overall so that they could focus on getting Brandon Weeden at No. 22 overall.
There is no way the Browns can approve of heading into the 2012 season with Colt McCoy at quarterback if Brandon Weeden is left sitting on the board at No. 22 overall.
The biggest need area on the Lions’ roster is in the defensive secondary.
The team will probably look to take the most talented corner they can in the first round, and at this spot, the pick would be Stephon Gilmore.
The Pittsburgh Steelers always seem to struggle protecting Ben Roethlisberger.
The team announced that they will be moving right tackle Marcus Gilbert over to Starks' left tackle spot.
That leaves an opening for Jonathan Martin at right tackle.
With Peyton Manning in the fold, surrounding him with the best possible offensive line becomes an issue of utmost importance, and Zane Beadles was one of the worst guards in football a year ago.
The team has yet to sign Jeff Saturday, but when they do, they can rely on Kevin Zeitler to help him on double-teams.
No team in the NFL was in three-tight end sets more often than the Houston Texans.
They would like to change that by getting someone better to play opposite Andre Johnson.
Wright is the real deal and fans should not be fooled by a phantom "official" 40 time in the 4.6s, because no scout in Indianapolis had that time on their own stopwatches.
The Patriots lost Mark Anderson and seem likely to lose Andre Carter via free agency as well.
Both players rushed the passer well in 2011.
With Nick Perry on the board, the Patriots would feel confident about marrying the need with the talent.
The Packers have had trouble finding a pass-rush presence to play opposite Clay Matthews in their 3-4 defense.
I believe Courtney Upshaw would be perfect for that job because he's a well-rounded run stopper as well as pass-rusher.
The combination of Michael Oher at right tackle and Bryant McKinnie at left tackle were not cutting it in 2011.
Joe Flacco is not great under pressure, so the team will need to make sure they get as good tackle play as they can.
Cordy Glenn should be able to stay out at tackle.
The team has very few needs across the board.
However, Isaac Sopoaga will soon beg for replacement at nose tackle due to a combination of age and talent.
Devon Still can play multiple spots along the San Francisco defensive line and train on to be Sopoaga’s eventual replacement.
Bill Belichick needs the help in his defensive secondary badly and has a history of taking players from Urban Meyer's program.
Janoris Jenkins has serious talent, but his off-field issues have also been serious.
Despite the presence of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, the Giants will miss Mario Manningham.
His role in the Super Bowl serves to emphasize how important it can be in that offense to have more than just two weapons catching passes from their quarterback.
Stephen Hill carries with him the added benefit of being able to blow the top off a defense, which is not the specialty of either Victor Cruz or Hakeem Nicks.