There has been a lot of movement this winter of Pro Bowlers, veterans, and youngsters to fill needs on teams that have also seen equal-caliber talent walk out the door.
However, as we look at the draft and how the first round is now taking shape, there are still a few substantial rumors floating that could play a significant role in what players are taken by which teams and, more importantly, where they’re picked.
This will not be my final mock draft, as it is my tenth of this offseason (I will bring my final mock on Friday evening, the night before the Draft), but it is my most complete to date. I look forward to similar conversations as I’ve had on my previous nine.
1. Detroit Lions: QB Matthew Stafford
I think Jason Smith might be a safer long-term pick here than Stafford, as picking any quarterback with the first overall pick carries the burden of overwhelming success, but the Lions need a face for their franchise. As much as Calvin Johnson could be that, he needs someone to get him the ball. Stafford’s their guy.
2. St. Louis Rams: OT Jason Smith
Orlando Pace is now in Chicago after being the rock of their line for over a decade. In Smith they’ll look to make a fresh start on their aging roster with the same blueprint with which they were successful: start with the offensive line and build out.
3. Kansas City Chiefs: LB Aaron Curry
While they have added Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas to their linebacking corps this winter, there’s a reason both of those linebackers were available: They’re old. Curry established himself at the combine as the premier talent in this year’s class and could prove to be a steal with the third pick.
4. Seattle Seahawks: QB Mark Sanchez
They could look to a tackle, but I’m not sold on Eugene Monroe or Andre Smith. They could look at Crabtree, but I think they’ll look at having a strong replacement ready if and when Matt Hasselbeck gets hurt/retires by taking Sanchez and allowing him the luxury of learning from a class professional.
5. Cleveland Browns: DE Brian Orakpo
There’s a strong chance that, depending on what happens before the draft, you see Crabtree come off the board here. But I don’t think the Browns move Braylon Edwards before the draft.
Keep watching for the answer to whether or not I think Edwards is a Brown on Sunday morning. Their defense was miserable, and Orakpo is a physical stud on the edge.
6. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Andre Smith
If the Bengals want to win, they need Carson Palmer to stay off the turf. Smith was once thought of as a potential top overall talent, but a series of questionable events have dropped his stock. If he’s as good on the field in Cincy as he was in Alabama, the Bengals have a nice pick here.
7. Oakland Raiders: DT B.J. Raji
The Raiders have a lot of holes to fill and will very seriously consider Crabtree if he’s available. But they need to build their defense, and with a line-oriented head coach, Raji would make sense here. He’s the premier defensive tackle in the draft and could be what the Raiders had hoped Warren Sapp would have been.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Michael Crabtree
This pick has come to be viewed as the hinge of the first round. If Sanchez falls, the Jags could either pick him or trade down, as there could be as many as a dozen teams looking at the USC quarterback.
If a team has its eye on one of the great defensive ends in this class, this would be the spot to trade into before Green Bay and San Francisco get their shot at the position, one they both need.
The other wild card with this pick is if, according to my mock draft, Crabtree is still on the board. With the Giants and Eagles both keeping their eyes on Anquan Boldin in Arizona and Edwards in Cleveland, the price to move up into this spot for Crabtree would be considerably less than either of those established stars.
9. Green Bay Packers: DE Aaron Maybin
The Packers are making the transition to a 3-4 scheme on defense, and Maybin has kept his stock in or around the top 10 the entire winter. Some think he’s good enough to deserve a higher slot, so the Packers will be thrilled if he falls to them at nine.
10. San Francisco 49ers: DE Robert Ayers
Coach Mike Singletary would love to get his hands on Orakpo or Maybin here as the 'Niners work to build a defensive line in front of star linebacker Patrick Willis. Ayers has a big body and would be a good option for the Niners at end.
11. Buffalo Bills: OT Eugene Monroe
The Bills now have the relative luxury of having two first round selections after the trade with Philadelphia. It’s a relative luxury because they now have a substantial hole to fill at left tackle because of that exact trade.
Monroe has projected as high as the top four, so seeing him on the board would be a relief for the Bills.
12. Denver Broncos: DE Tyson Jackson
Jackson played in a scheme at LSU that could translate well to Denver, except for the weather differences between Baton Rouge and the Mile High City. The Broncos have spent a lot of money on their secondary this winter, so providing some pressure up front would make sense in the draft. They have the 18th pick from Chicago as well.
13. Washington Redskins: DE Everette Brown
Jason Taylor is gone, and Albert Haynesworth is in. With the run on defensive ends they will likely look to put a speed rusher outside their huge investment at defensive tackle with Brown.
This is high to think they’ll take a jump for quarterback Josh Freeman, and it’s also a little high for tackles Michael Oher or Eben Britton. A receiver, potentially Jeremy Maclin, is also a possibility.
14. New Orleans Saints: CB Malcolm Jenkins
They had no problem moving the ball on offense last year, but they again find themselves drafting in the top half of the first round because they couldn’t stop anything last year.
Jenkins is a big, physical corner that might even translate to safety in the NFL. The Saints need secondary help, and Jenkins does that. They might stay at Ohio State here and take Beanie Wells to replace Deuce McAllister, though.
15. Houston Texans: LB Brian Cushing
They have a great young nucleus starting on their defense with DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams. Adding Cushing to the mix would give them a formidable foundation with versatility against the run or pass. They might look at an offensive tackle here, but Cushing is a top-tier linebacker.
16. San Diego Chargers: OT Michael Oher
LaDanian Tomlinson isn’t getting younger, which is why they need to address their offensive line. Not only do they need better blocking in front of the future Hall of Famer, but their increasing dependence on Philip Rivers to throw the ball will require solid blocking as well. Oher is the next-best tackle on the board.
17. New York Jets: QB Josh Freeman
This might be a stretch based on talent, but it’s a layup based on need. There are so few decent quarterbacks in this year’s class and so many teams with eyes on a signal caller that the Jets will reach on Freeman here and give him the chance to compete with Kellen Clemens for the starting job.
18. Denver Broncos (from Chicago for Cutler): RB Beanie Wells
They have spent a lot of money on their defense and will address it earlier in the first round with one of the good defensive ends. While they have brought in three veteran running backs this winter and had seven start for them last year, having the top back in the draft available at 18 isn’t something any Denver coaching staff would pass on.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Jeremy Maclin
No Stafford. No Sanchez. And now no Freeman? Hello Jeff Garcia! The Bucs won’t get the young quarterback they want in this draft without moving up, but they could get a really good receiver with similar skills to the recently departed Joey Galloway in Maclin.
20. Detroit Lions: OT Eben Britton
If they’re going to take a quarterback with the top overall pick to complement a good young receiver and running back, then wouldn’t it make sense to protect him? Britton’s the last true first round tackle on the board, but taking him with Stafford in the first round would make this the first good opening round since before Matt Millen.
They’ll be able to come back and look at help in their secondary or another linebacker to start the second round.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Hakeem Nicks*
TRADE: Eagles move Nicks and later picks to Arizona for Anquan Boldin
There will be arguments about whether or not trading away two first round picks is a good idea, but when was the last time a first round produced a Pro Bowl left tackle and a Pro Bowl wide receiver in the first year?
This deal would be completely dependent on Nicks being available to play opposite Larry Fitzgerald and would have Donovan McNabb running through walls to get on the field this fall.
22. Minnesota Vikings: TE Brandon Pettitgrew
They have arguably the best running back in the game and a good receiver outside in Bernard Berrian. Pettitgrew is the top tight end in this class and would give their offense versatility both in the pass and run games, opening up more opportunities for Berrian and Adrian Peterson.
I’m sure an honest Vikings fan would tell you they would prefer to see Denver picking here and Cutler, not Sage Rosenfelds, under center in the purple this fall.
23. New England Patriots: LB Clay Matthews
They have always liked good playmaking linebackers, and with their Super Bowl group being broken up by trade and age, they’re now looking to rebuild the heart of their defense. Matthews’ ability to play inside and outside makes him a good pick for a Patriots team looking to replace Vrabel.
24. Atlanta Falcons: DT Evander Hood
They’ll be angry if they miss on Matthews as a replacement for Keith Brooking, but Hood’s stock is rising, and he could be an solid anchor inside their line that could take attention away from the end. This might also be where the third USC linebacker, Rey Maualuga, comes off the board.
25. Miami Dolphins: CB Vontae Davis
They found themselves in a similar position to the Saints last year with a glaring weakness coming in pass defense. The difference was that the Fins had better linebacker play and need to add depth and skill to the corner position.
Davis is perhaps the best physical talent at corner in this draft, so getting him at 25 could be a steal.
26. Baltimore Ravens: LB Rey Maualuga
Maualuga was a good linebacker at USC, flanked by two players already off the board. With Bart Scott leaving for the Jets, the Ravens will look to replace him with a true inside linebacker. Maualuga is a better option than James Laurinaitis, the other true inside backer on the board at this point.
27. Indianapolis Colts: WR Kenny Britt
This pick will drive the crowd at the draft nuts, as many Giants fans are hoping the local receiver from Rutgers will help them forget about Plaxico Burress. But the Colts have always evaluated talent well, and Britt will be a wonderful replacement for Marvin Harrison opposite Reggie Wayne.
28. Buffalo Bills (from Philadelphia for Peters): RB Knowshon Moreno
With Marshawn Lynch suspended for three games and having a history of not getting it, and with Moreno being arguably the top back in this year’s draft, he should serve as good insurance against future slip-ups from Lynch. The addition of Dominic Rhodes shouldn’t keep the Bills from taking an impact player to help their offense here.
It also should serve notice to Lynch (something lots of people are doing these days) to grow up or he’s expendable.
29. New York Giants: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey*
TRADE: Giants move this selection with another pick to Cleveland for Edwards.
The Giants figure to be aggressive the entire first round, looking to move up to score an impact receiver to replace Burress. But with the needs of teams in front of them, and with this year being a relatively weak receiver class, the Giants have appeared to be more focused on a veteran via trade than actually using this pick.
If Britt is off the board, the Giants do not pick here.
Cleveland would get a good receiver with top tier speed in Heyward-Bey, as well as another pick (likely a third or fourth rounder) for Edwards, while the Giants would get their marquee receiver to replace not only Burress, but fellow former Michigan Wolverine Amani Toomer.
30. Tennessee Titans: DT Peria Jerry
The Titans need to replace Haynesworth inside, and Jerry is the best tackle left on the board. They might look at a receiver like Percy Harvin here, but the biggest need is to rebuild their defensive interior.
31. Arizona Cardinals: RB Donald Brown
If the trade I project with the Eagles goes down and they add Nicks at receiver, Brown would replace Edgerrin James, as the Cardinals continue to have one of the most talented offenses in the NFL.
The Cardinals would likely have another selection later on Day One from Philadelphia from a Boldin trade with which they could address their defensive depth.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers: C Max Unger
Does it really matter who the Steelers take here? Not only do they have jewelry coming this fall from another Super Bowl victory, but there has been little movement off their roster.
There’s a strong possibility they trade out of this pick of someone has their eyes on Laurinaitis or Harvin, but Unger would help bring another young body into their offensive line to protect Big Ben and their stable of running backs.