For a moment, forget about drafting for value. Forget about simply taking the best player on the board even if team needs are elsewhere. Ignore your fear of reaching for players or taking a chance on high-risk, high-reward athletes.
Instead, let's focus on team needs. On this mock draft, I'm interested in matching the top talent left on the board to the top need for each team once its draft slot comes up.
Sure, the actual draft won't play out this way, but it's certainly a strategy certain teams could employ. Let's mock some team needs!
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Chiefs don't have clear-cut needs outside of offensive tackle that fit the top of the draft board, so I fully expect they'll take the top player available in Joeckel.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
This pick is going to surprise some people, but hear me out.
In a draft that's full of talented pass-rushing outside linebackers, Jordan seems to represent the best of all worlds. He's more experienced than Ezekiel Ansah or Barkevious Mingo at the position. He's far more athletic than Jarvis Jones (or most human beings in general).
And he seems to be a great fit for the Leo position in Gus Bradley's defense. This pick may end up surprising a few folks, but it makes a lot of sense for a Jaguars team that really needs some playmakers on defense.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
After trading for Matt Flynn, I really don't see Geno Smith being the pick for the Raiders. Though the team could go in a number of directions, solidifying the defensive line with Floyd—a natural fit in a 4-3 defense—should be a top priority for Oakland.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
With a solid pro day behind him, Lotulelei's stock should rise once more. Dynamic linemen that can play either the nose or defensive end in the 3-4 scheme aren't easy to find. The Eagles would do well to add Lotulelei with this selection.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Lions could look to add Dee Milliner here, but with Fisher falling to No. 5, it will be too tempting to upgrade at the tackle position for the Lions to ignore.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
For a moment, just imagine the tandem of Milliner and Joe Haden at cornerback for the Browns. Scary, right? After signing Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves in free agency, the Browns can focus on upgrading at corner.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
After trading for Carson Palmer and signing him to a two-year, $16-million deal, it's hard to imagine the Cardinals using this pick to select Geno Smith. Lane Johnson is probably a reach here, but offensive tackle is such a huge need in Arizona that the Cardinals will gladly reach away.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
After cutting Ryan Fitzpatrick and signing Kevin Kolb, it's obvious the long-term solution at quarterback in Buffalo will be added in the draft. If Smith falls to the Bills, I can't imagine the team would pass him up. I think this kid can play if he's put in the right system. He has just enough accuracy and athleticism that he'll be better than people expect.
9. New York Jets: Ezekiel Ansah, BYU, DE/OLB
The New York Jets need to add an impact rusher on the edge. Athletically, Ansah is the most intriguing prospect in this draft at any position.
At 6'5" and 271 pounds, he ran a 4.63 40-yard dash and posted a 34.5-inch vertical at the NFL Scouting Combine. Sure he's raw, but with that type of physical ability and size, he elicits comparisons to DeMarcus Ware.
If the Jets don't mind taking a risk on a player that has only played football since 2010 and never really played the 3-4 outside linebacker position, the payoff could be huge. Rex Ryan needs some playmakers on defense, and Ansah has the potential to be one.
10. Tennessee Titans: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
With Andy Levitre signed at guard, the major needs left for the Titans remain at safety and defensive end. While there isn't a safety worthy of this selection, Werner is the best 4-3 defensive end on the board and should instantly upgrade the pass rush.
11. San Diego Chargers: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
I've seen King Dunlap play, so I know the Chargers still need to upgrade at tackle. Some may see this as a reach, but Watson is an exciting talent and should continue to improve as a football player with more experience.
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller were all excellent additions to the passing game, but cornerback is still a huge need on the other side of the ball. Rhodes may be a slight stretch here, but the Dolphins shouldn't be afraid to fill team needs after splashing so much cash in free agency. The future is now for Miami.
13. New York Jets (from Tampa Bay): Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
If you've read any of my past mocks, you know that I think Darrelle Revis will eventually be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for a package that includes this selection. Guards don't generally go this high, but Warmack might be the safest player in this draft and would fill in a huge need. After taking a chance on Ansah, the Jets would probably be wise to go for a sure thing here.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
At this point, it's become pretty common to see Richardson mocked to the Panthers. Why? He's a stud, and the Panthers' biggest need is arguably at defensive tackle. That's why.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
With a 3-4 defense now in place, upgrading the 3-4 outside linebacker is a major need. The team could also target safety Kenny Vaccaro here, but Mingo is a much better value and has far more upside.
16. St. Louis Rams: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Danny Amendola may be off to New England, but folks won't blink an eye if the recently signed Jared Cook is paired with the explosive Patterson in St. Louis. Patterson has top-10 athleticism, but he's a bit of a project and should drop into the teens. Sam Bradford and company will be thrilled if he drops this far.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
A 4.92 40-yard dash at Georgia's pro day and undersized frame will probably drop Jarvis Jones out of the top 10. The Steelers will be glad to land the player who had 28 sacks and nine forced fumbles the past two seasons alone, especially since the Steelers will gladly trade some size for Jones' aggressiveness.
With James Harrison gone, Jones is going to get the opportunity to step in from day one and start. This just has the feel of another Pittsburgh steal in the draft.
Don't be shocked if Jones is a Pro Bowler in a few seasons and accumulates sacks and tackles for loss for the Steelers.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Two guards in the top 20? What the heck is going on here, Rapp? I know, I know, it seems crazy, but both Warmack and Cooper are top-10 talents. Seriously, they're that good. The Cowboys are getting a steal here.
19. New York Giants: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
If Vaccaro drops this far to the Giants, I think Tom Coughlin might do a little jig. It's possible that Vaccaro won't get past the Cowboys, but if he does, the Giants will likely take about five seconds calling this pick in.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
With Brian Urlacher moving on, linebacker becomes the priority. Ogletree comes with some character concerns, but his natural abilities are dynamic. The Bears could go for Manti Te'o here, but I don't see them passing on the pure athleticism of Ogletree.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Matt Elam, SS, Florida
Sure, the Bengals generally hibernate through free agency. But hey, if they can keep landing prospects like human missile Matt Elam in the draft, maybe they can continue to slumber while other teams throw money around at free agents.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Redskins): Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
After signing Jake Long, the Rams are in a position to either draft for need or simply take the top player on the board. Or, they could combine need with value and select the heat-seeking Brown, who will upgrade the linebacker position and cause more than a few running backs to see stars at the next level.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Vikings have seen a lot of turnover at wide receiver this offseason. Percy Harvin was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, and then Greg Jennings was signed. The combination of Jennings as a deep threat and Austin as a slot receiver or weapon out of the backfield—along with Adrian Peterson, of course—would give the Vikings one heck of an offense for defensive coordinators to deal with.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Banks has dropped down some boards—and may drop down further than this—but he has the type of size and college production that makes me think he'll be successful in the NFL, even if he ends up moving to safety.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle): Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Received in the Harvin trade from Seattle, the Vikings could go in a lot of directions with this pick, including Te'o, but I think bulking up on the defensive line will be the priority. Jenkins would certainly bulk this team up on the interior of the line.
26. Green Bay Packers: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Jesse Williams is a large, run-stuffing man. On a deep roster, the one area the Packers could use some quality depth is in the down three on the defensive line.
27. Houston Texans: Keenan Allen, WR, California
You have to wonder where Allen would have been drafted if he had stayed healthy in 2012 and Cal hadn't been so bad. Still, he's the big, fluid receiver the Texans crave to pair next to Andre Johnson and should be an instant impact player for the team.
28. Denver Broncos: Cornellius "Tank "Carradine, DE, Florida State
With Elvis Dumervil gone to the Baltimore Ravens in the great Fax Machine Debacle of 2013, addressing the pass rush is a need in Denver. Despite coming off an ACL tear, a healthy Carradine is one of the top rushers available in this draft and could end up being a huge steal this late in the first round.
29. New England Patriots: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Even after re-signing Aqib Talib, it's been clear for a few years now that the secondary in New England is vulnerable. Bill Belichick has done well rebuilding the front seven, but adding a player like Trufant should help to bolster the secondary.
Damontre Moore is falling and he can't get up. Moore's athleticism will cause some teams to stay away, but the Falcons will look at his production on the field last season and gladly select him here.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Eric Reid, S, LSU
With Dashon Goldson signing in Tampa Bay, upgrading at safety is the most obvious choice for San Francisco. Reid may be a player you see in the second round more often than not, but I think he'll sneak into the first round and land with the Niners.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame, LB
Don't worry, I didn't forget about Te'o. All he'll be asked to do is replace Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe for the Ravens. After signing Elvis Dumervil, the team's priority should be linebacker or in the secondary. After a solid pro day, Te'o is a better value than any of the secondary options at this point on the board.