It's that time of year again, folks—mock draft season!
With the playoffs approaching and plenty of teams out of the mix, the one thing fans have to look forward to next is the NFL Draft in April. And while it's still early in the process and a lot will change before now and then, it's fun to start projecting the draft.
And where there is a draft, there are players bound to jump up draft boards, shock the NFL community by being picked far sooner than expected and completely chance the complexion of the draft. In this mock, I focused on three such players I expect to do just that.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12): Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
This is a tough slot for Kansas City. There isn't a true top player worth this pick, and the team's biggest need is at quarterback in a weak year to snag a signal-caller. I would guess the Chiefs would look to trade down, but even if they remain at the top slot I think they'll take Smith.
Smith isn't the ideal top overall pick, but he's an accurate passer who makes smart reads, gets rid of the ball quickly and can scramble out of danger if needed. He's a pocket passer first, however, and should be able to step in immediately as a game manager for the Chiefs.
Yes, Kansas City will be overpaying by selecting him here, and they could likely trade out of the top five and still draft him. But if nobody takes that bait, I believe the Chiefs will bite the bullet and make a much-needed upgrade at quarterback.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12): Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The Jaguars need to improve their pass rush. Jones is the most dynamic pass-rusher available. If his health checks out, Jones won't get past the Jaguars.
3. Oakland Raiders (4-10): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Raiders need a lot of help, but adding a dynamic interior lineman is a major need. Lotulelei is the top player on the board here and a great value at No. 3.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10): Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M, OT
The logic here is simple—the Eagles offensive line is terrible, and even if the team keeps Jason Peters, it can slot Joeckel into the right tackle position and move Todd Herremans back to guard. Bada bing, bada boom—the team improves two positions with one draft pick.
5. Detroit Lions (4-10): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama,
This pick will surprise some folks, seeing as the Lions generally draft for talent over need and this is a slight reach for Milliner. But this team badly needs an upgrade at cornerback, and Milliner is unquestionably the top option at the position this season.
Milliner is physical, fast enough to effectively play bump-and-run coverage, doesn't lack for athleticism and is a willing tackler. He'll step up in the run game and won't be pushed around. I'm not sure he has the pure cover skills of Morris Claiborne from a year ago, but he's likely going to be a top-10 pick.
And if the Lions end up with the fifth pick, he'll go top-five. Detroit has too many needs in the secondary to pass him up.
6. San Diego Chargers (5-9): Taylor Lewan, Michigan, OT
If the Chargers don't draft an offensive lineman, I'm fairly sure Philip Rivers will spontaneously combust out of pure anger. This is as automatic selection as you'll see.
7. Buffalo Bills (5-9): Manti Te'o, Notre Dame, LB
I was tempted to give the Bills Tyler Wilson here, but instead of taking a risk and eating Ryan Fitzpatrick's salary, I think they'll make the safe pick and draft the leader of their defense for the next 10 years. Te'o will instantly improve the Bills run defense and develop into an elite, three-down linebacker.
8. Cleveland Browns (5-9): Damontre Moore, Texas A&M, DE
The Browns don't have a player with more than five sacks on the season. Adding a natural pass-rusher like Damontre Moore is the right move for Cleveland.
9. Tennessee Titans (5-9): Bjoern Werner, Florida State, DE
The Titans need to improve their pass rush, and luckily for them there is no shortage of defensive ends taking a shot on. With the ninth pick, they'll take a chance on Bjoern Werner, Florida State's fiery pass-rushing expert.
10. Carolina Panthers (5-9): Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State, DT
Upgrading at defensive tackle seems to be a common theme for the Carolina Panthers in various mock drafts, and for good reason—the Panthers have been vulnerable against the run this year and need an upgrade at defensive tackle. Enter Johnathan Hankins.
11. Arizona Cardinals (5-9): Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
When your quarterbacks this past season were Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley, you know it's time for an upgrade. And while some will feel this is way too high to select Wilson, teams routinely overdraft quarterbacks.
And what team is more desperate for a quarterback than Arizona?
Wilson would likely be higher on the board had Arkansas not had such a ridiculously bad season. He's not a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination, but it's hard to believe he won't be better than what the Cardinals are currently working with.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Texas A&M tackles are dominating this draft. While the Bucs' biggest need is at cornerback, there isn't a player worth selecting at this slot. Matthews is an NFL-ready right tackle and will instantly solidify that position of need for the Bucs.
13. New Orleans Saints (6-8): Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB LSU
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is at his best when he can generate pressure with his front four without relying solely on the blitz. So adding a talented pass-rusher like Mingo will certainly help his cause next season.
14. Miami Dolphins (6-8): Keenan Allen, WR, California
Miami really needs a dynamic, No. 1 receiver. While Allen has battled injuries in the past, he's a force to be reckoned with when healthy. This might look like a reach now, but don't be surprised if Allen shoots up draft boards.
15. New York Jets (6-8): Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
The athletic and versatile Jordan is the perfect player to add some youth and vitality to the outside linebacker position in New York's 3-4 defense. Well, if Rex Ryan is still the coach after this year, that is.
16. St. Louis Rams (6-7-1): Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
He may not be the sexiest pick, but Warmack is a top-10 talent and a player that should be an All-Pro guard for years to come. For a team needing an upgrade in the offensive line, this is an excellent selection.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7): Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Say hello to Casey Hampton's successor.
18. Dallas Cowboys (8-6): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Safety has been a position of need for several seasons now. Luckily for the Cowboys, the top safety on the board falls to them this year.
19. Minnesota Vikings (8-6): Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Williams is big, strong and fills a need at the nose tackle position. The jury is out on where he'll land in this draft, but if Minnesota is looking to strengthen up the middle once more, the defensive tackle from North Carolina makes a lot of sense.
20. New York Giants (8-6): Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
It seems like a broken record at this point—the Giants are weak in the secondary. Adding a talented prospect like Banks is the logical move for the Giants.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6): Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Bengals could use an upgrade at right tackle and, would you look at that, one falls right into their lap. Don't you love it when that happens?
22. Chicago Bears (8-6): Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Say hello to Brian Urlacher's successor. Urlacher may come back to Chicago next year, but let's be honest—the end is near.
23. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins) (6-7-1): Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
This pick might surprise some people, but Eifert is a natural pass-catcher at the tight end position and will instantly become Sam Bradford's favorite target. I know wide receiver and right tackle are also needs, but I don't see a value at either position as solid as Eifert. Bradford will love this pick.
24. Indianapolis Colts (9-5): Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
The Colts need to solidify the interior of their defensive line. Luckily for them, players don't come much more solid—literally and figuratively— than the massive Williams, who will seriously upgrade this team's run defense.
25. Seattle Seahawks (9-5): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
He's not the biggest receiver around, but the speedy Austin is a playmaker and will pair well with the more physical Golden Tate to give the Seahawks a young, one-two punch for the future. If Sidney Rice could stay healthy, this would have the making of a solid trio for Russell Wilson.
26. Baltimore Ravens (9-5): Sam Montgomery, DE/OLB, LSU
If Montgomery drops to the Ravens here, you can bet they'll add the explosive edge-rusher to pair with Terrell Suggs.
27. Green Bay Packers (10-4): Johnathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Cooper is a solid fit in Green Bay and a great value at this point. You can never have too many good offensive lineman, right?
28. New England Patriots (10-4): Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
What do you get the team that has it all? How about a versatile defensive lineman that will perfectly fit the team's 3-4 scheme? Sure, why not?
29. San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1): Matt Elam, S, Florida
Donte Whitner is overrated. It's time this team found an upgrade, and Elam looks as though he fits that bill.
30. Denver Broncos (11-3): Barrett Jones, G, Alabama
The Broncos will gladly strengthen the interior of the offensive line with Jones, another mauler from college football's best offensive line this season.
31. Atlanta Falcons (12-2): Zach Ertz, Stanford, TE
Tony Gonzalez is awesome. He's also pretty old. Bringing in Ertz this year as the future successor to Gonzalez and another weapon for Matt Ryan makes a lot of sense.
32. Houston Texans (12-2): Eric Reid, S, LSU
The Texans have few weaknesses. One of them has been the team's secondary. Adding a player like Reid at the end of the first round is a great value at a position of need.