This is my first crack at a mock draft this season as I decided to hold off until after the combine to write one because so much changes after the week in Indianapolis. This mock draft is just the first round for now, but hopefully sometime before the draft I will do a multiple round mock.
1. Indianapolis Colts — Andrew Luck (QB/Stanford)
Robert Griffin III’s combine workout may have turned the most heads, but Luck had an impressive workout in his own right. He didn’t throw at the combine, but his 40 yard dash, broad jump, and vertical were eerily similar to last season’s #1 pick Cam Newton. Even though Griffin has been jumping up draft boards, Andrew Luck will still be the first pick by the Colts. Luck is the safer pick after running a pro style offense at Stanford while Griffin ran the spread at Baylor. Drafting Luck will usher in a new era for the Colts with Peyton Manning moving on.
2. Cleveland Browns — Robert Griffin III (QB/Baylor)
The Rams are going to trade this pick, and they are going to get a bounty for it as some team tries to move up to take the Heisman Trophy winner. In my opinion, Cleveland seems the most likely to make the move up to #2. They have two first round picks, #4 and #22, which should seriously appeal to the Rams. Also don’t count out the Redskins or Dolphins from moving into this position. While I do believe Andrew Luck will be the better player right away, I think Griffin has the higher ceiling. No player in college football last season threw the deep ball better than he did, and he is a world class athlete. I think he has the potential to be the right handed Michael Vick.
3. Minnesota Vikings — Matt Kalil (OT/USC)
One of the teams that will most benefit most from the Rams trading out of the #2 pick will be the Vikings who will be able to draft Matt Kalil to fill a big hole at left tackle. If the Rams stand pat at #2, which is unlikely, they will probably draft Kalil. If they move out however, the Vikings are going to able to draft a franchise left tackle to build their offensive line around for many years to come. The only two options for Minnesota here would be taking Kalil or drafting Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Kalil is a no brainer if he is available.
4. St. Louis Rams — Justin Blackmon (WR/Oklahoma State)
The Rams would be pretty excited to move down two spots in the draft with the option of taking either Matt Kailil or Justin Blackmon while also picking up another first round pick, and probably another pick or two later in the draft. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne is also an option, but the Rams desperately need a wide receiver for young quarterback Sam Bradford. I’m not sure if Blackmon is going to be as good of a pro as last season’s top 10 wide receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones, but he’s undoubtedly the best receiver in this class.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Morris Claiborne (CB/LSU)
This pick is going to go one of two ways. The Buccaneers are either going to take Morris Claiborne like I’m predicting, or they are going to take Alabama running back Trent Richardson. With how running backs have been devalued the last few years, Morris Claiborne makes the most sense and fills a big need for Tampa Bay. Claiborne was a bit overshadowed last season by his teammate Tyrann Mathieu who got the bulk of the media attention and was a Heisman finalist. But, Claiborne was the Thorpe Award winner for the nation’s top defensive back, and I believe he has the ability to develop into a shutdown cornerback in the NFL.
6. Washington Redskins — Riley Reiff (OT/Iowa)
The Redskins are going to try and make a trade with the Rams to move up and take Robert Griffin. Unfortunately, I believe the Browns have better trade chips to offer with their two first round picks. The ‘Skins will also be targeting Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn in free agency if that doesn’t work out. I’ve seen some mocks that project Washington to take Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill right here, but that would be a major reach. There are two franchise QB’s in this draft class, and Tannehill is not one of them. If they can’t get a quarterback, look for the Redskins to draft an offensive tackle and Reiff is the best available.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Quinton Coples (DE/North Carolina)
The Jaguars desperately need to bring in some skill position players to help Blaine Gabbert, but with Justin Blackmon off the board, any receiver would be a reach at this point. Jacksonville struggled getting to the passer last season, and they should target a pass rusher with this pick unless somehow Justin Blackmon falls in their laps at #7, which would make this pick much, much easier. Coples is the top rated defensive end in this draft class, and he could immediately help shore up the Jaguars’ pass rushing woes.
8. Miami Dolphins — Jonathan Martin (OT/Stanford)
Personally, I think Jonathan Martin is the #2 offensive tackle in this draft class ahead of Iowa’s Riley Reiff, but I’m in the minority there. The Dolphins are another team who are going to try and move up to get Robert Griffin, but I can’t see them having enough to entice St. Louis. Instead, look for the Dolphins to make a serious run at Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn in free agency. I think the Dolphins make the most sense for Manning outside of Indianapolis because he already owns a house in South Beach. If they bring in Manning, they are going to need to make sure he is projected, and bringing in Martin would do just that.
9. Carolina Panthers — Dontari Poe (DT/Memphis)
A week ago, Dontari Poe was a fringe first round prospect. After the combine, he may very well be the first defensive tackle off the board on draft night. Poe put together an insane combine performance. At 346 pounds, Poe ran a ridiculous 4.8 in the 40-yard dash. That’s just not fair. The biggest thing working against Poe is many people are worried about his work ethic. While his work ethic can be questioned, his raw physical ability can’t be. His raw talent will cause him to go quickly in the draft.
10. Buffalo Bills — Courtney Upshaw (DE/LB/Alabama)
The Bills desperately need help getting to the passer as the team leader in sacks a year ago only notched 5.5. Courtney Upshaw anchored the Alabama pass rush the last two seasons, and was a key cog on the Tide defense that led the team to a National Championship in 2011. Upshaw is a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he is no stranger to putting his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end at Alabama. The Bills used their first round pick a year ago on Upshaw’s former teammate Marcell Dareus, and selecting Upshaw here would further solidify the Buffalo defensive line.
11. Kansas City Chiefs — Trent Richardson (RB/Alabama)
Trent Richardson wasn’t able to do on-field drills at the combine due to a minor procedure on his knee, but that should not hurt his draft stock. The Chiefs do already have Jamaal Charles, but he suffered a major knee injury last season, and he may not be the same guy when he comes back. Even if Charles is able to get back to 100%, Richardson would join him as one of the top 1-2 punches in the NFL immediately. Richardson is the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson with his combination of size, strength, and speed. The Heisman Trophy finalist should be an immediate contributor wherever he ends up.
12. Seattle Seahawks — Melvin Ingram (DE/OLB/South Carolina)
Chris Clemson was good last year, but he was the only player for the Seahawks who could consistently get to the passer. They need to bring in somebody in the first round who can help the pass rush. Ingram shot up draft boards with a great final season in Columbia as helped the Gamecocks to an 11-win season. All eyes were on freshman Jadevon Clowney coming into this year for South Carolina, but Melvin Ingram really stole the show. He’s another defensive end/linebacker hybrid, and he should help Seattle immediately.
13. Arizona Cardinals — David DeCastro (OG/Stanford)
The Cardinals will be looking to shore up their offensive line this offseason to protect the large investment they made in Kevin Kolb, and don’t be surprised if they are a player in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. A tackle is more of a pressing need, but with the top three off the board already, they will look elsewhere. DeCastro is far and away the best guard prospect in this draft class, and would immediately upgrade the Cardinals offensive line next season.
14. Dallas Cowboys — Dre Kirkpatrick (CB/Alabama)
A solid combine solidified Dre Kirkpatrick’s standing as the 2nd best corner in this draft class behind Claiborne. Some thought his draft stock would slip due to his arrest in January, but the marijuana possession charges were dropped. The Cowboys really need to upgrade their secondary this offseason, and getting Dre Kirkpatrick with the 14th pick would be great value. Kirkpatrick has the ideal size you want in an NFL cornerback, and ran a 4.5 40 at the combine. Kirkpatrick has all the tools to be a shutdown NFL corner.
15. Philadelphia Eagles — Luke Kuechly (ILB/Boston College)
The Eagles were supposed to cruise to the NFC East crown last season, and be one of the main contenders for the Super Bowl. Instead, they missed the playoffs altogether, and it was partially due to paltry linebacker play, and they struggled against the run. Kuechly had a strong performance at the combine to reinforce his standing as the top inside linebacker prospect in this draft class. He was a tackling machine at Boston College, and should be able to come right in and immediately be a force on the Philadelphia defense.
16. New York Jets — Nick Perry (DE/OLB/USC)
The Jets are another team with pass rushing concerns, and it would be smart if they addressed that early in the NFL Draft. Nick Perry had an impressive combine, and he should be a great fit in Rex Ryan’s defense. I could also see the Jets addressing their need at safety by selecting Alabama’s Mark Barron, but this might be a bit high for him.
17. Cincinnati Bengals — Janoris Jenkins (CB/North Alabama)
Jenkins started out his career at Florida before being kicked off the team after multiple arrests with a year of eligibility left. He spent his final season in college at North Alabama, and managed to stay out of trouble. He has character concerns, but that should matter little to the Bengals with the physical ability he has.
18. San Diego Chargers — Whitney Mercilus (DE/Illinois)
Mercilus had a huge junior season for the Illini, leading the nation in sacks with 16. He only helped his draft stock at the combine with a 4.68 40-yard dash and a 36-inch vertical leap. The Chargers need help rushing the passer, and nobody was better in college last season than Mercilus.
19. Chicago Bears — Michael Floyd (WR/Notre Dame)
Michael Floyd’s strong combine solidified his position as the #2 wide receiver in this draft class behind Justin Blackmon. Floyd looked very good in all the receiver drills, and ran his 40 in the 4.4 range. Floyd could very well go higher than this, but the Bears would be ecstatic if he fell into their laps at #19. He’s had some off-field issues, but Floyd has immense talent and would give Jay Cutler another weapon on offense.
20. Tennessee Titans — Andre Branch (DE/Clemson)
This could be a bit high for Branch, but the Titans were 2nd worst in the league last year in sacks, and they are going to look to upgrade their pass rush early in the NFL Draft. Branch had a strong final season with Clemson, and he put together an impressive combine to boost his draft stock. Branch ran a 4.7 in the 40 yard dash, and was among the top performers in many other drills.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — Cordy Glenn (OG/Georgia)
Cordy Glenn showed off his versatility at the Senior Bowl and at the combine to boost his draft stock into the first round. He measured at just under 6-foot-6 and 345 pounds along with having the longest arms among any offensive lineman measured. Glenn is a more natural fit at guard, and could immediately start at left guard for the Bengals as an upgrade over Nate Livings.
22. St. Louis Rams — Devon Still (DT/Penn State)
Devon Still’s draft stock took a bit of a dive due to some other defensive tackles having more impressive workouts at the combine. Still’s game tape will keep him in the first round though. He was a finalist for many of the major defensive awards at Penn State last season, and was the top interior defensive lineman in college football. This pick is a part of the projected Rams/Browns trade.
23. Detroit Lions — Stephon Gilmore (CB/South Carolina)
This is a bit of a reach, but the Lions desperately need cornerback help, and Stephon Gilmore had a good showing at the combine to push him toward the first round. The Lions will probably be hoping Janoris Jenkins’ character concerns drop him to their selection, but if not they will probably reach for a corner like Gilmore.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Dont’a Hightower (ILB/Alabama)
James Farrior is getting older, and the Steelers will probably be looking for his successor in this draft class, and taking Dont’a Hightower would do just that. Hightower had a solid combine to keep himself as the #2 inside linebacker in this class behind Boston College’s Luke Kuechly. It also helped Hightower that Vontaze Burfict struggled so much in Indianapolis. Hightower anchored Alabama’s 2011 National Championship defense.
25. Denver Broncos — Kendall Wright (WR/Baylor)
Kendall Wright’s draft stock took a bit of a dive because of his poor 40 at the combine, but this still feels a little low to me. He will probably be taken a little bit higher than this, and will probably help himself with a good performance at Baylor’s Senior Day. Wright was the top target of Heisman Trophy Winner Robert Griffin’s last season.
26. Houston Texans — Stephen Hill (WR/Georgia Tech)
Stephen Hill’s draft stock skyrocked after an amazing performance at the combine. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Hill ran a 4.36 40-yard dash. Hill didn’t get a lot of opportunities at Georgia Tech to showcase his receiving ability with the triple-option attack ran by Paul Johnson. The Texans would love to bring in a wide receiver to go alongside Andre Johnson.
27. New England Patriots — Mark Barron (SS/Alabama)
It’s too bad Mark Barron didn’t get to work out at the combine after double hernia surgery because he is an athletic freak. Barron started at Alabama for three years and was an important contributor on two National Title teams. The Patriots secondary wasn’t good last season to put it lightly, and they will definitely look to upgrade it early in the NFL Draft.
28. Green Bay Packers — Michael Brockers (DT/LSU)
There are four first round defensive tackle prospects in this draft class, and honestly they could go in any order. I’ve seen Brockers slated to go as high as 9th to the Panthers, and some mocks don’t even have him in the first round. Brockers didn’t have as strong as a combine as some other defensive tackles, but he is the best player available right here.
29. Baltimore Ravens — Peter Konz (C/Wisconsin)
Peter Konz didn’t manage many reps on the bench press at the combine, and that has caused his stock to drop a bit. Matt Birk is still around, but the Ravens need to look for his successor at center sooner rather than later. Konz should also be able to start his NFL career at guard before moving to center when Birk is done.
30. San Francisco 49ers — Alshon Jeffery (WR/South Carolina)
There were rumors swirling that Jeffery was weighing in the 230s about a week before the combine, but he weighed in at the combine at 216 pounds. Jeffery admitted to being around 230 pounds in his final season at South Carolina. He has slipped some on most boards, but he still has too much talent to slip out of the first round in my opinion. The 49ers finished with the second best record in the NFC due to their defense, but they really need to bring in more weapons on offense.
31. New England Patriots — Fletcher Cox (DT/Mississippi State)
I’ve seen some mocks that have Fletcher Cox in the top half of the first round, so if the Patriots could get him at #31 it would be considered a steal. The Pats need a lot of help on defense, and they will be looking for multiple upgrades in their front seven. Cox performed well at the combine, and like I said before there are an array of defensive tackles that are pretty much interchangeable in this class.
32. New York Giants — Dwayne Allen (TE/Clemson)
Dwayne Allen didn’t have a good combine, but I still think he’s the best tight end in this draft class. Jake Ballard tore his ACL in the Super Bowl so the tight end position has become an area of need for this team. Even if Ballard comes back 100%, surrounding him with an athletic tight end like Allen would only help the Super Bowl Champion’s offense.