The NFL season has conclude, and for 18 teams, the next big date on the calendar is April 22: the draft.
The NFL draft order has been largely set, with a couple of coin flips left to settle the precise ordering. With months of evaluations left to be completed, here is an early mock draft. Only rule: No presumptions of teams trading their picks.
1. St. Louis Rams (1-15): The Rams need a whole lot of everything and can go one of two routes. First, they can address their need for a franchise quarterback and take a stab at junior entrants Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen. Aternatively, they can go "BPA" (best player available) and take Nebraska's defensive line dynamo Ndamukong Suh.
The Pick: Sam Bradford (QB, Oklahoma).
2. Detroit Lions (2-14): The Lions invested a No. 1 overall selection and a ton of cash on Matthew Stafford, and the kid took a pretty good beating in his rookie season.
It boggles my mind why franchises take the gamble on a No. 1 overall QB—if it fails, you setback a franchise seven to 10 years—but don't invest resources to protect the youngster.
Detroit also has major needs on defense, and I've got a feeling that the allure of the draft's No. 1 talent will be too much to pass up when the alternative is an unsexy pick like Russell Okung.
The Pick: Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska).
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13): In 2007, the Bucks invested a top-five selection on Gaines Adams. Suffice it to say, that pick has backfired, and Adams has since been traded away for a mid-round pick.
Tampa has severe needs on the defensive line. However, they also have a rookie first round QB, Josh Freeman, who is going to enter 2010 as the starter. He could use some blindside protection. In my view, this pick comes down to two tackles from the same state: Oklahoma's stud defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Oklahoma State's top-rated offensive tackle, Russell Okung.
In the end, I think they opt for the more conservative play and take the offensive tackle.
The Pick: Russell Okung (OT, Oklahoma St.).
4. Washington Redskins (4-12): Through a couple of surprising wins by bad teams, and a tiebreaker with Kansas City, the Redskins find themselves at the No. 4 slot.
A lot of experts have floated the idea of the Redskins looking at a QB. With Jimmy Clausen on the board and owner Dan Snyder having personally flown to South Bend to talk to the kid, Clausen is an obvious option. If Okung is available here, he is another clear option because Washington's offensive line is a disaster.
With Okung likely to be gone to Detroit or Tampa, the decision likely comes down to the owner's fancy vs. common sense. If the fans were to make this pick, it would be the best offensive lineman on the board. If the owner is in control, it will be Clausen.
With new GM Bruce Allen stuck somewhere in the middle of that tug-of-war, the Redskins will be a real mystery. As a fan, you can guess what I want. But until I see otherwise...
The Pick: Jimmy Clausen (QB, Notre Dame).
5. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12): Word on the street is that Romeo Crennel will be joining this coaching staff in the hopes of further cultivating some Patriots-of-the-Midwest mojo along with Scott Pioli.
This addition might suggest that Gerald McCoy or Tennessee safety Eric Berry is a serious option. However, the KC offensive line has been a disaster, and they've paid too much money to Matt Cassel not to protect him.
The Pick: Trent Williams (OT, Oklahoma).
6. Seattle Seahawks (5-11): With Matt Hasselbeck on his last legs, the 'Hawks will seriously consider either Bradford or Clausen if either player falls to No. 6. If, as I predict, both players are gone, then they will likely turn to BPA.
In the view of many scouts and myself, that player is Eric Berry, a hard-hitting, ball-hawking safety reminiscent of Ed Reed. Another option would be to grab an offensive tackle such as Bruce Campbell or Anthony Davis.
The Pick: Eric Berry (S, Tennessee).
7. Cleveland Browns (5-11): With Eric Mangini in full save-my-job mode for the final month of the season, the Browns did their draft position no favors, dropping from the presumptive No. 2 slot all the way down to No. 7 after winning four straight meaningless games.
The Browns have needs on both sides of the ball, ranking in the bottom two in both total offense and total defense. An elite playmaker such as Cleamson RB C.J. Spiller or Oklahoma St. WR Dez Brayant are obvious options.
However, I suspect they will address their defense by selecting the best player available. That could be Florida corner Joe Haden, but I believe they'll look to their abysmal defensive line.
The Pick: Gerald McCoy (DT, Oklahoma).
8. Oakland Raiders (5-11): It's a hopeless exercise to try and guess what Al Davis is going to do. Generally speaking, he falls in love with a workout warrior who has an underwhelming on-field resume.
While the Raider offense struggled for much of the season, recent top-10 picks at RB (Darren McFadden), QB (JaMarcus Russell) and WR (Darrius Hayward-Bey) make it unlikely that the Raiders will reach for an offensive player.
On defense, one guy who will have a great combine and fit the Al Davis profile is Taylor Mays.
The Pick: Taylor Mays (S, Southern Cal).
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): The Bills need a QB in a bad way, but neither of the top QB are likely to be available at No. 9. A trade up is definitely a possibility, with Washington being a well-matched trade partner.
But if they stick here, they may look to address their atrocious passing game by selecting either one of a couple elite tight ends, or a potential No. 1 WR of the future to replace the outgoing Terrell Owens.
The Pick: Dez Bryant (WR, Oklahoma State).
10a. Denver Broncos (from Chicago, 7-9): The Bears and Jags will coin-flip for the No. 10 pick. The Broncos get the Bears pick (as past the Jay Cutler trade), so we'll just cover both teams in our Top 10 mock.
The Broncos had an up-and-down season with their most glaring weakness being their inability to stop the run. If they were to look at the offensive side of the ball, a WR to place the likely-to-be-dealt Brandon Marshall is the place to go. But if Dez Bryant is off of the board, a front-seven player on defense will be the target.
Ideally, a 3-4 defensive end would be the pick. But without that sort of elite player available in this draft, the fall-back position is linebacker, where they can get the best guy on the board.
The Pick: Rolando McClain (LB, Alabama).
10b. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9): The Jags could go in a couple of directions with their pick. But with the 27th ranked pass defense and the top corner in the draft still on the board, there seems to be a natural fit here.
Some will holdout for the hope that they take a stab at Tim Tebow in the hopes of reinvigorating their slumping fan base and potentially saving the team from moving to Los Angeles.
But, if Tebow is the apple of their eye, trading a future pick to move into the back half of the first round is the more logical play. Here, they need to address immediate needs with top-10 talent.
The Pick: Joe Haden (CB, Florida).
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