With the NFL draft fast approaching, mock drafts are becoming as popular as holiday shopping lists at Christmas time. Everybody has one. Three months removed from the college bowl season and post-season all-star games, NFL front offices and scouts have watched countless hours of game tape, scoured the country observing pro day and individual workouts, and even invited selected prospects to team facilities to poke, prod, and interview in anticipation of the annual talent refresh.
For the players, the dizzying pace of a full college season that leads directly to combine training and then to private workouts is about to end as well. The last 40 yard dash and shuttle run has been clocked and recorded, leaving the fates of some 800 or so draft eligible players in the hands, and in some cases luck, of the 32 team selectors.
With apologies to Mel Kiper and draftniks everywhere, here’s one man’s take on Thursday’s first round, with some twists thrown in for fun and argument.
1. St. Louis, Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma Good size and big arm. Sees the field well and generally makes good decisions with his throws. Leader. Knock was frail build that lead to injuries. Seems to have bulked up some and can add more weight. Recent pro day workout demonstrated a full recovery from shoulder surgery. Franchise type quarterback. Will continue to improve with sound coaching. Rams need quarterback piece to add to the rebuilding puzzle.
2. Detroit, Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma St. Prototypical left tackle. Combines good size/strength with fine athletic ability. Long arms. Can redirect pass rushers. Not a mauler, but can be physical at point of attack. Steady. Could be plugged into the lineup immediately and serve as Matthew Stafford’s personal pass protector for years to come.
3. Tampa Bay, Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma Flashes rare inside pass rush ability. Quick. Knows how to get to the quarterback. Strong and physical enough to anchor against the run and handle double-teams. Bucs need to upgrade defensive line with infusion of young talent. McCoy could be part of their long-term solution.
4. Washington, Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa Solid and steady. Might go higher than graded due to team needs. Bulaga has a aggressive style of play and high motor. Good character. Redskins have immediate need after Chris Samuels retirement.
5. Kansas City, Eric Berry, S, Tennessee Chiefs look to aid defense with the selection of Berry, arguably the best defensive back in the draft. Fine athlete. Rangy ballhawk who covers sideline to sideline. Improving instincts and willingness to stick his nose in. Suffered through playing on poor teams recently and may have tried to do too much.
6. Seattle, Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma Has the talent, size, and athletic skills to shine at left tackle, but many observers question his work habits and motivation. Will need to notch up intensity at the next level. At times, demonstrates a physical style of play, but more often, played down to his competition. Seattle looking for replacement for long-time tackle Walter Jones.
7. Cleveland, Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame After publicly questioning his interest in Clausen, new Browns boss Mike Holmgren pulls the trigger on a top ten pick. Clausen will watch Jake Delhomme initially, while biding his time. He’s used to playing in adverse weather, has an above average arm with good touch and can be a fiery leader. Really showed something this past year, playing through injuries for the Irish.
8. Oakland, Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska Surprisingly slips some, not due to any fault of his own, but other team’s needs. Suh was dominant in college and helps replenish the Raiders defensive wall. High effort/motor guy who has solid intangibles. Better at stopping run, than providing rush, but his brute strength will help him earn a few sacks. Al Davis finally makes a shrewd pick.
9. Buffalo, Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers Bills offensive line is a patchwork unit in need of young blood. Davis gradually improved over the last two years and is still developing. Knock is that he takes plays off and isn’t as committed as one would like. Still quick feet and ability to pass protect, earn him points.
10. Jacksonville, Joe Haden, CB, Florida Elite defender who may be too good to pass up. Stock may have slipped a little following his pro day workout, but tape shows instinctive defender who has the measureables and loose hips required in a premium NFL cornerback. Jags play in the deep patrol has been inconsistent recently. Haden looks to be an immediate upgrade.
11. Denver, C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson Dynamic offensive weapon helps Josh McDaniels reshape Denver roster. Creatively used, Spiller is a breakaway threat in the backfield, as a receiver, or returning kicks.
12. Miami, Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan Stock really rose following standout Senior Bowl practices and game. A bit undersized, may be better suited as an OLB in 3-4 setup. Good combination of stopping the run/rushing the passer. Solid character. Gives max effort and will become a team leader. Dolphins looking to replace pass rush skills of Jason Taylor/Joey Porter.
13. San Francisco, Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech Elite pass rusher who possesses quick first step and speed to get to the edge. Can be run on and needs better recoginition. Morgan would give 49’ers another building block in their defense and a legitimate pass rush presence.
14. Seattle, Sergio Kindle, DE, Texas Played with his hand in the dirt, but is being viewed as a combo DE/OLB in 3-4 schemes. Fine athlete with the size/speed ratio desired. Rebounded from off-field issues and appears to have matured after previous poor decisions. Aggressive and knows how to deliver a blow. Seahawks need more pass rush from the end positions and look to replace both Patrick Kearney and Darryl Tapp.
15. N.Y. Giants, Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama Giants need help in their linebacking corps and McClain can offer a physical and athletic presence. He shone as member of national champion Crimson Tide defense. A three-down player who can pursue or drop in coverage.
16. Tennessee, Ricky Sapp, OLB, Clemson After release of Keith Bullock, Titans seek a replacement. Sapp was a difference maker in the ACC and has the requisite size/speed measureables. Could do better at taking on blockers, but offers some pass rush ability.
17. San Francisco, Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech The 49’ers will look to draft Frank Gore’s eventual replacement. The ultra productive Dwyer is too tempting to overlook. Has the speed to get outside, but tough enough to handle the punishment inside. Gets stronger with more carries. Runs with a low pad level. Positive test for speed at combine was linked to medication taken and shouldn’t affect his draft status.
18. Pittsburgh, Earl Thomas, S, Texas Though Ryan Clark was resigned, Steelers want to add depth to deep patrol. Thomas is a solid all-around defender who has seen his stock rise through post-season workouts. Tough and instinctive. Good range and change of direction.
19. Atlanta, Jason Pierre Paul, DE, South Florida Falcons roll the dice hoping for snake eyes. Pierre Paul burst upon the scene in ’09, displaying freakish athletic ability and the ability to get to the passer. Some question whether he’s a one hit wonder, or will continue to improve. Questionable work habits/character concerns. Could be special…or a bust.
20. Houston, Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers After Dunta Robinson left in free agency, the Texans need to plug a hole in the secondary. McCourty is another player who has seen his stock soaring during the post-season. Evaluators are intrigued by his athletic ability and field instincts. Loose hips to sink and turn. Has an air of confidence. Not overly physical in run support, but willing.
21. Cincinnati, Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State After his season was basically wiped out for NCAA rules violations, Bryant has tumbled down draft boards. Injury issues forced him to miss pro day workout, and when rescheduled, Bryant didn’t look sharp. His ’08 tape will show a physical receiver who can pluck the ball and will fight for it. While not a blazer, he plays fast and can get separation. Decent route runner. Character concerns and work habits will need to be addressed. If focused and he works at it, Bryant can develop into a go to receiver. Bengals have a history of drafting/acquiring players with attitude issues. They have a need at the position. With maturation and sound coaching, Bryant could provide plenty of rewards.
22. New England, Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame Wes Welker’s injury prompts the Pats to add security to the position. Tate skyrocketed up draft charts with an impressive junior campaign in which he caught everything and made big catch after big catch. Size and speed not exactly what teams covet, but makes up for it with a quick release and first step. Solid route runner who knows how to get open.
23. Green Bay, Corey Wooten, DE, Northwestern Wooten may not be a perfect fit for Dom Capers 3-4, but his steady play and football intelligence translate across any system. Finally started to round back into top prospect toward the end of his senior campaign, following surgery that wiped out junior year. Good size/strength. Uses leverage well and decent first step to get into the backfield.
24. Philadelphia, Patrick Robinson, CB, Florida St. Eagles continue to reshape defense with addition of athletic and confident Robinson. Good coverage skills and covers a lot of ground. Seemingly around the football a lot. Average in run support.
25. Baltimore, Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma Ravens need Todd Heap’s eventual replacement and tab Gresham, who suffered through a myriad of injuries during his career with the Sooners. Sat out last year with injury, but looks to be recovered. Durability issues have pushed him down the charts. His production, when healthy, was decent, but he should be a better pro. Has the size, speed to get down the seam. Pretty good hands. Not a great blocker and will need plenty of work in that area.
26. Arizona, Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland Cardinals take flyer on athletic Campbell, who looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane. Probably will be picked higher. Tape doesn’t support first round, as he struggles in pass protection and can be pushed around. Wowed everyone with scouting combine workout numbers, but looks like a project. Some question how bad he wants it.
27.Dallas, Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri Weatherspoon enjoyed an off-and-on senior season but is a high motor player who enjoys contact and got better as the season wore on. Had outstanding career at Mizzou and was the Tigers’ top defender. Cowboys like Bruce Campbell, but can’t overlook Witherspoon’s production. Wade Phillips adds another defender.
28. San Diego, Ryan Matthews, RB, Fresno St. Chargers tab Matthews to share running back load with Darren Sproles. Matthews was among nation’s leaders at Fresno State and is a tough, durable runner with good vision. Attacks the line of scrimmage and while he has a little shake and bake, not afraid to take on defenders. With LT moving on, Chargers strike for front line running back.
29. N.Y. Jets, Everson Griffen, DE, USC Jets pass rush disappointed last year. Griffen is a solid combo end who can anchor against the run and offer some pass rush. May not be a star, but could start for ten years and become a defensive stalwart.
30. Minnesota, Jared Odrick, DT, Penn St. Made teams notice with his play in ’09, dominating the interior. Strong and stout at the point of attack. High motor. Vikings need to look to future with Pat/Kevin Williams possibly being suspended in Star Caps case and Pat leaning toward retirement after the 2010 season.
31. Indianapolis, Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida Colts thought offensive line contributed to Super Bowl loss. Pouncey is a versatile lineman who played against top competition and receives high marks for his technique. Solid. Could be groomed to replace Jeff Saturday or shift to guard.
32. New Orleans, Brandon Spikes, Florida Spikes is an active player with decent range. Makes a lot of plays. Better in space than taking on blockers. High strung. Suspended last season for alleged “eye gouging” incident, but generally thought to be a team first player. Saints need help/depth in the linebacker corps.