It's been an interesting year, but it's that time again.
Yes, free agency is in full swing and the most fun part of the NFL offseason is coming up: the NFL Draft, Apr. 25-26. The reason why the draft is such fun, you ask? Simple: every team is important.
Yes, even the 0-16 Lions, because they control their own destiny at the top of the draft (the fact that they had to lose 16 games to get that pick and will again fade to nothingness is beside the point, right now they're important).
Now, without further ado, my mock draft, with a couple of projected trades along the way.
1. Detroit Lions: Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
This Smith is the complete package at OT. He doesn't quite have the feet of a Eugene Monroe, but has all the other measurables, upper body strength chief among them, and also has the leg drive to finish blocks. Plug him in at left tackle from day one, and leave him there for the next 10 years.
The new front office in Detroit CANNOT afford to miss on this pick, and so they'll be obliged to take a lineman. Remember: Calvin Johnson can't get the ball if his quarterback is eating the turf (or stepping out of bounds freely).
2. St. Louis Rams: Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia
Eugene Monroe, like Jason Smith, is a top-flight prospect at the critical LT position. With the loss of longtime mainstay Orlando Pace this offseason, it's a no brainer: the Rams are obliged to take the top OT still on the board with this pick.
In my opinion, it's Jason Smith, if the Lions go quarterback, but Monroe is no slouch either: He's another 10-year starter.
3. Kansas City Chiefs: Aaron Curry, OLB, Wake Forest
Depending on who you ask, Aaron Curry might be the best player in the draft.
B.J. Raji would be the historical pick here (with high picks, the Patriots, new GM Scott Pioli's former team, have gotten the likes of Ty Warren, Richard Seymour, and Vince Wilfork), but Glenn Dorsey was last year's pick and Curry is a phenomenal talent who is extremely versatile.
In other words, he's exactly what Pioli will look for.
4. Seattle Seahawks: B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
What a shame for the Seahawks if the Lions pass up on Stafford- they're left to choose between Hasselbeck and none other than the man Detroit passed up. But even though Raji's a bit of a reach here, he's still a great option and is the consensus best interior defensive lineman in the draft.
I just don't think that at this point Seattle is going to be interested in anything other than trading down. Unfortunately for them, nobody is going to want this pick, so Raji's the best option left.
5. Cleveland Browns: Brian Orakpo, DE/OLB, Texas
Cleveland's pass rush was up there in terms of its ability to suck every week. The best way to fix that is not with a defensive back, but by fixing the poor pass rush. Orakpo is the best player available who can do that, at least in my opinion, although Everette Brown warrants consideration.
With Stafford still on the board, Cleveland might get a phone call from the Denver war room about Jay Cutler, but in my opinion, Cleveland needs to fix its defense NOW with this pick.
6. Cincinnati Bengals: Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
Talk about a risk. Andre Smith at this spot? Still, he's exactly what the doctor ordered from a positional standpoint for the Bengals—with the signing of WR Coles, they've effectively eliminated the possibility of taking Crabtree or Macklin with this pick.
Smith has all the talent in the world, maybe enough to make the Hall one day. But if he's as lazy as some people say he is...well, he could be out of the league in five years.
7. Oakland Raiders: Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
If the Raiders were any other team, I would say they would trade down, but the Raiders are not any other team.
If Al Davis was any other owner, I would say the Raiders should be looking OT in this draft, but Al Davis is not any other owner.
In light of this, I think Davis will go with what he thinks is best- another home-run hitter for the offense, even when I think the 49ers would be extremely interested in trading, say, a fifth-round pick to swap with the Raiders in order to move up and take Stafford here (his price tag will be more manageable at No. 7 than it would be at No. 1).
Don't get me wrong: Macklin is a phenomenal player who has tremendous versatility and can add to any offense. But if the Raiders were to trade to No. 10, Macklin might still be there, and if he isn't, then it's virtually a lock that Michael Oher will be.
The reality, though, is that the Raiders should 1) trade up for one of the top-tier tackles, or 2) trade down to try and grab Oher around picks 10-13.
Sorry, Tom Cable, welcome to draft day in Oakland.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
The experts don't seem to agree with my assessment that the Jags will go WR with this pick. With respect, I think the experts are flat-out wrong. Pat Kirwan is obsessed with the idea that Jacksonville will go QB here, and Stafford will be extremely tempting having fallen so far.
But man, how could the Jags pass up if either Crabtree or Maclin fell right into their laps? They've had problems at WR for years—both players are serious difference makers.
9. Green Bay Packers: Everette Brown, DE/OLB, Florida State
The guy the Packers really wanted is Raji, but thanks to Detroit's decision to pass up on Stafford and Seattle's choice of the best player that also fills a need, there are three things happening.
1) Stafford is pulling a Brady Quinn, crying in the green room, as he sees all of his $$$ go away.
2) Mel Kiper is pissing me off by talking about how important it is that teams don't pass on a franchise QB.
3) Green Bay's front office is forced to take the best player available that fits Dom Capers's new 3-4 defensive scheme.
Brown can bring lots of heat off the edge, but his pass coverage skills are suspect. As a rookie, though, I think the Pack should just let him pin his ears back and rush the passer.
I can see the Pack going with Malcolm Jenkins here, but a good pass rush makes that whole secondary look better.
10. San Francisco 49ers: Matt Stafford, QB, Georgia
The relief on Stafford's face will be evident when he's taken at the No. 10 spot by the 49ers, who were originally trying to move up to No. 7 to try and get him. He's probably the best player left on anyone's board at this point, and having a potential No. 1 overall pick fall to No. 10 is a delight.
Happy birthday, Mike Singletary: You have a legit quarterback instead of journeyman Shaun Hill.
11. Buffalo Bills: Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
Is he a corner? He wants to be, but I think he'd rather take a bigger payday and be a safety than a smaller one and be a corner, especially with his coverage skills. Is he a safety, then? It doesn't matter, because Buffalo needs help at both spots, and Jenkins is a big-time ballhawk who will always be around the ball.
Note to the Bills: When he becomes a free agent, don't let him walk like Nate Clements did. At any rate, he's the best player available at this point.
12. Denver Broncos: Brian Cushing, LB, Southern California
Need some players, Mike Nolan? I've got one for you right here. He isn't Curry or Orakpo, but at the No. 12 spot, Cushing is a great fit in Nolan's 3-4 scheme. He's versatile, has good measurables, is polished, and knows how to win, coming from a winning program at USC.
Penn State LB Aaron Maybin is probably also under consideration here as he's a better pass rusher, but Cushing's versatility is going to be extremely important in a successful 3-4.
13. Washington Redskins: Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
Harvin is, quite simply, a "Baller," and yes, with a capital B. He makes so many plays in space that it's not even funny; just put the ball in his hands and watch the entire defense miss tackles.
This is earlier than I've seen him taken in any other mock drafts, but to me it makes sense because of what the 'Skins need. It sure as hell isn't anything on their defense: the signing of Haynesworth assured that, if he's healthy, they'll remain an elite group.
If Washington wants to really make some noise, though, they need to add a playmaker that isn't named Clinton Portis to the mix. Harvin will make Portis and QB Jason Campbell MUCH better, even if it's a reach to take him here.
14. New Orleans Saints: Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois
This pick NEEDS to be the one if you watched the Saints play defense last year. Mike McKenzie is aging, and to be honest, I can't think of another player in the New Orleans secondary (never a good thing: I'm not a total NFL aficionado, but I'm pretty close—I do check NFL.com every single day. More than once).
Davis is a great cover guy and is also a great value for this point in the first round. He'll be a Saint for the next decade or so.
15. Houston Texans: Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State
Looking for a tough guy who's a thumper to pair with Steve Slaton? "Beanie" Wells is your guy. Houston could go in a couple of different directions, but with Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton, and Matt Schaub all lining up on that side of the football, adding Wells would add another dimension to an already elite offense.
Think about it: If the Texans can score enough, Mario Williams can really go after the quarterback.
16. San Diego Chargers: Rey Maualuga, LB, Southern California
Not a speed guy, but rather, a fear guy. He hits like you wouldn't believe and would make a good pair with the returning Shawne Merriman.
A possibility here is Aaron Maybin as another pass rusher, but Maualuga would bring a needed toughness to the Bolts on the defensive side of the ball. Plus, Maualuga comes from USC and won't tolerate anything less than excellence.
17. New York Jets: Mark Sanchez, QB, Southern California
I see a lot of drafts with the Jets taking Josh Freeman here, but why would they do that if Sanchez is still available? Simple: they wouldn't. Sanchez has polish, coming from an elite program, and is very coachable.
Even though there are some corners here that would help install what new head coach Rex Ryan is going to do on defense, Sanchez is too good a value to pass up.
18. Chicago Bears: Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi
Losing both of your starting offensive tackles is a bad thing in the offseason. Mr. "Blind Side" himself, Oher has all the talent in the world but is maddeningly inconsistent. Still, a player with his kind of talent at a position of need *should* be impossible to pass up.
If Oher is gone, I still think the Bears might look at Eben Britton here, the next-best OT available. There comes a point where Kyle Orton's health gets to be a liability if you wait too long to replace a LT.
PROJECTED TRADE: TB 19th OVERALL PICK & First ROUND PICK IN 2010 DRAFT to DEN for QB JAY CUTLER & ONE CONDITIONAL PICK.
19. Denver Broncos: Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State
Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the big news story as far as the middle of the first round. Several factors combine to make this a good move:
1) The Lions passed on Stafford in favor of Jason Smith, meaning that they, at No. 20, are still in the market for a franchise quarterback.
2) Sanchez is already off the board. If Denver doesn't make this trade and unload Cutler, it's virtually certain that either the Bucs or the Lions will take Freeman, as both teams are desperately in need of a starting QB, leaving the Broncos with fewer trading partners for their disgruntled QB.
The Bucs get a proven QB to solve their issues at that position, while the Broncos get the prerequisite two first-round picks for a franchise player. With this one here, Denver is then obliged to take Josh Freeman, who former QB coach Josh McDaniels will be able to develop for a year or two behind free-agent acquisition Chris Simms in his style.
20. Detroit Lions: Peria Jerry, DT, Mississippi
It was almost a dream scenario for the Lions: pass on Stafford at No. 1, and then manage to get a franchise QB with the other first round pick at No. 20. New coach Jim Schwartz almost owes this pick to Ernie Sims.
Also, keep in mind that most of Schwartz's packages with Tennessee relied on getting pressure with the front four in passing situations. It's impossible to truly replace Albert Haynesworth, but Jerry will be called upon to fulfill that role in Schwartz's system.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
The Eagles need somebody to spell Brian Westbrook. Of course, I could also see them going OT and taking Ebon Britton here—after all, that is what Andy Reid does. Still, Moreno makes a lot of sense and becomes the heir apparent to Westbrook once he leaves.
WR does make sense for the Eagles, but history shows that they ignore McNabb's requests for a true No. 1 receiver, despite the fact that when they had one they went to the big dance. So Moreno is the pick here.
22. Minnesota Vikings: Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina
They made a big-time play for T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency, but were turned down. That means they still have to fill the WR hole through the draft, and Nicks happens to fit in...well, exactly where they are going to pick.
Look for Harvin, if he's still available (it's possible, I have him going earlier than most), but I think that one team in the teens, even if it isn't the 'Skins, will find Harvin's abilities too tempting to pass on.
23. New England Patriots: Aaron Maybin, DE/OLB, Penn State
This is a classic "best guy left on the board" scenario. He could go in the early teens, but with Denver taking Cushing and San Diego taking Maualuga, Maybin becomes the odd linebacker out.
He'll get swept up in a hurry by the "hoody" himself. Pair him with Jerod Mayo, and suddenly the Pats are (again) set at linebacker for years to come. The Patriots could also go CB here if Maybin doesn't fall into their laps.
24. Atlanta Falcons: Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest
As usual, getting into the early 20's is the time where teams will take players that have fallen through the cracks. If the draft does shake out this way, look for the Falcons to take a CB, like Smith, or maybe Darius Butler/D.J.
Moore depending on who they feel is the best corner. Of course, TE Brandon Pettigrew is also still available at this point, and I also wouldn't be surprised to see him go. Smith is a very smart corner who makes the most of his ability.
25. Miami Dolphins: Clay Matthews, LB, Southern California
The Dolphins have a pressing need at linebacker, and Chad Pennington's arm can't make use of Darrius Heyward-Bey's deep speed. Matthews is the best linebacker prospect still left on the board, and is a pretty good value for this part of the first round.
As an interesting side note, look for the 'fins to go after Patrick White if he falls to them in the second round. I don't even want to think about what he'd be like in the wildcat...
26. Baltimore Ravens: Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State
Todd Heap is not the player he once was, and history shows that Ozzie Newsome will take the best player left on the board (with the exception of last year because the team decided there was such a glaring need at QB).
While Shannon Sharpe was still on the roster, Todd Heap was taken late in the first round. This will be a repeat scenario, only this time, Heap will be the one meant to eventually be replaced.
Pettigrew can do it all and will be a great addition for second-year man Joe Flacco.
27. Indianapolis Colts: James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State
Laurinitis's production means that he can't be overlooked, especially given the rap that Indy's defense takes as "fast and undersized." Laurinaitis adds some much needed toughness and is a playmaker, despite a weak 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine.
I could also see the Colts taking WRs Kenny Britt or Brian Robiskie, or maybe even DT Evander "Ziggy" Hood, but any of those players could be considered a reach. Remember, Laurinaitis was a top-10 player entering the draft.
He's only falling this far because of a poor 40-yard dash time. If you recall, Anquan Boldin, by the way, ran a 4.7 at the combine...he's still a pretty good player.
28. Philadelphia Eagles: Eben Britton, OT, Arizona
The fifth offensive tackle to be taken in the first round, Britton takes the place of Tra Thomas protecting Donovan McNabb's blind side. Smart move by Philly to pass on Britton with their earlier pick and have patience dictate that they still get the man they need several picks later.
Britton is a great value at this point in the draft.
29. New York Giants: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
Plaxico Burress is going to do jail time; only an act of God would prevent that. The Giants proved last season that without Burress they weren't the same team. Assuming they're going to lose him, then, he has to be replaced.
They've done a great job addressing all of their other needs, so this one seems pretty easy: take the guy that can stretch the field and open up the run game. Heyward-Bey is a project; he's probably not as polished as some of the other receivers in the draft.
But with a 4.3 40-yard dash, and great game tape to back it up, he can really fly and open up the ground game for Brandon Jacobs and Co.
30. Tennessee Titans: Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee
With Albert Haynesworth leaving via free agency to the Redskins, Tennessee is obliged to replace his explosion on the defensive line. Ayers has rare explosion that can help mitigate the loss of the NFL's best interior lineman.
Ayers is probably a bit underrated coming from a losing program; I think he could be a really good player for years to come. Also look to see if the Titans take "Ziggy" Hood here to directly attempt to replace Haynesworth at the DT position rather than elsewhere along the D-Line.
31. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech
Johnson is a freakish athlete, measuring 6'7" and weighing in at over 260 pounds. Add a 4.6 40-yard dash to that and you've got yourself a world of potential. However, Johnson's game tape doesn't stack up to the numbers he put up at the combine.
He's a really risky pick, but if he pans out, he'll be a huge steal at the end of the first round. Also don't be surprised if Arizona goes RB to try and deal with their troubles at that position.
32. S**tsburgh Steelers: William Beatty, OT, Connecticut
OK, forgive the the pun, but I really hate the Steelers. I cannot stand to be in the same room as a terrible towel without ripping it in half. If I had one, I would use it to clean my bathroom.
Anyway, moving on. Any way you slice it, Pittsburgh had a pretty awful offensive line last year. Their defense was spectacular; there's a reason they won the big dance. But if they really expect to repeat, they're not going to be able to give up eight sacks in a game like they did against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Steelers' decision to take the last of the six possible first round tackles will likely be a good one; Beatty is an athlete with a lot of upside who could really surprise at the next level.
That's all folks- let's hear what you have to think. I'm especially interested in what people think about the situations with Stafford, Harvin, and the Cutler trade.
Steeler faithful who I just insulted: congratulations on winning your latest Super Bowl. However, as a Ravens/Deadbirds fan, I do not hate you any less. :)