Thursday, April 26, 2012

Because the World Needs Another Mock Draft

Beyond politics, one of my constant obsessions is sports.  I'm a stat junkie, be it polling numbers or combine stats.  The NFL Draft is the epitome of statistical analysis, projections based upon measurable figures and past results, and cost analysis, so it fits in nicely with things I (being a huge nerd) enjoy.

So as I take a one-day break from an endless search for a campaign to work on (candidates/managers reading this: call me!) I made up my own mock draft for this year's first round.  I project out where I think each team goes and even take a shot at calling a couple first round trades. (Note: I made this list prior to the announced Vikings-Browns trade)  As with everything I write, feel free to incessantly mock me for all the failed projections I make.

1.)  With the 1st pick, the Indianapolis Colts select: Andrew Luck (QB - Stanford).  Already announced by the Colts, Luck's been called the most NFL-ready college QB since Peyton Manning.

2.) Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III (QB - Baylor)  An equally obvious pick.  Washington mortgaged the franchise to get the #2 pick from St. Louis & obtain the franchise QB they haven't had for years.

3.) Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil (OT - USC) The first pick where there's some intrigue.  Minnesota has been fielding calls from various teams looking to trade up, but the price that a team in the teens or lower would have to pay is probably prohibitive.  As a Bills fan, I would love for Buffalo to move up from 10 to here & take the elite LT prospect in the draft, but that seems unlikely.  Minnesota has to protect their investment in last year's first round pick, QB Christian Ponder, and they do so here.

4.) Cleveland BrownsTrent Richardson (RB - Alabama)  The Browns' offense was anemic last year, suffering from a noticeable lack of playmakers and anemic play at quarterback.  Ryan Tannehill will be tempting for the Browns here, but Richardson is the 1 elite running back in the draft & a player who can be the focal point of Cleveland's offense for years.

5.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne (CB - LSU)  Tampa Bay may look to Justin Blackmon here to give Josh Freeman the elite receiver he lacks, and they'd also be thrilled to see Richardson fall to them.  But their secondary needs help as well, with current #1 CB Aqib Talib continuing to be a nuisance off the field.  Claiborne is arguably the best athlete in the draft, and will provide the Buccaneers with critical defensive help in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton on the schedule twice/year.

6.) St. Louis RamsJustin Blackmon (WR - Oklahoma St) After acquiring a king's ransom from Washington for the #2 pick, St. Louis could look to either trade up to #3 for Kalil or trade down again & acquire even more picks to rebuild with.  If they don't move from #6, Blackmon is the pick to pair with Sam Bradford as he continues to develop.

7.) via trade Cleveland Browns: Ryan Tannehill (QB - Texas A&M)  This pick currently belongs to Jacksonville, but they have been vocally trying to trade it by telling teams interested in Tannehill that they need to move up here to keep Miami from taking him.  Several teams could use help at quarterback, but I think Cleveland is the team that will pull the trigger.  Colt McCoy was extremely shaky last year, though that was partially due to a weak set of skill players around him, and if Cleveland doesn't have confidence in him it makes sense to come up to #7.  Cleveland will package pick #22, #37 in the early 2nd round, and 1 or 2 other mid-round picks or next year's 2nd to move up.  If Jacksonville does not trade down, look for Stephon Gilmore of S. Carolina.

8.) Miami Dolphins: Quinton Coples (DE - North Carolina)  Obviously, if Tannehill falls to #8 Miami will be sprinting to the podium to get him.  But, should he be off the board (as I predict), defensive end is another position where Miami has a clear need.  Coples would be a legitimate pass rushing force to improve the Dolphins' d-line.  In this scenario, Miami's 2nd round pick would unquestionably go to a quarterback from among the 2nd tier of prospects.

9.) Carolina Panthers: Fletcher Cox (DT - Mississippi St)  Carolina's run defense was extremely weak in 2011.  Cox is the top interior lineman of the draft, and would be an immediate starter for the Panthers.  Safety Mark Barron or cornerback Stephon Gilmore would also be options for upgrading the defense, and wide receiver Michael Floyd would give Cam Newton a larger target to compliment Steve Smith.

10.) Buffalo Bills: Michael Floyd (WR - Notre Dame)  As a Bills fan, the needs in Buffalo are well known to me.  Left tackle would seem to be the pick for Buffalo, but GM Buddy Nix adheres to the "best player available" philosophy for 1st round picks.  Kalil won't be available at 10, and 2nd best LT Reilly Reiff would be a reach at this pick.  Buffalo could move up or down with tackle as their aim, but if they stay put Floyd is the pick to provide the offense a true 2nd wide receiver to go with the re-signed Stevie Johnson.

11.) Kansas City Chiefs: David DeCastro (G - Stanford)  Any pick between 11 and 13 will be subject to a number of potential trade offers from teams that covet either safety Mark Barron or linebacker Luke Kuechly.  The Chiefs may trade down, but they also have a clear deficiency in the interior of their offensive line.  Guards aren't often chosen this early, but DeCastro is a rare prospect at the position worthy of consideration this high.

12.) via trade San Diego Chargers: Mark Barron (S - Alabama)  San Diego is one of several teams that could move up for Barron (Detroit, Dallas, and the Jets among the others), but there is more pressure on the Chargers' front office to make a big move to win now.  Barron has been one of the fast rising players in the draft, and his speed shown at the combine (4.51 in the 40) has convinced many teams he can be an effective pass defender in compliment with his physical nature against the run.

13.) Arizona Cardinals: Riley Reiff (OT - Iowa)  Despite their failed flirtation with Peyton Manning, Arizona still has a quarterback in whom they have a lot invested: Kevin Kolb.  Kolb was hampered by injuries and problems along the offensive line last year, and the Cardinals need to properly protect him if they want to get a true picture of whether or not Kolb can be their franchise quarterback.

14.) Dallas Cowboys: Stephon Gilmore (CB - South Carolina)  Dallas would love to have Mark Barron available to them at 14, but if he's not here they have to improve other areas of a secondary that was shredded by Eli Manning last year.  Gilmore is another late riser on draft boards who has moved to #2 on most teams' list of cornerbacks, ahead of Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama.

15.) Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly (LB - Boston College)  Linebacker has been a weakness in Philadelphia for several years.  Although they signed DeMeco Ryans in the offseason, there is still a need here.  Kuechly proved himself to be much faster & more athletic than many thought with his combine performance, and either he or Ryans could be asked to play on the outside for a team that lacks talent here.

16.) New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw (DE/LB - Alabama)  The Jets are another team that sorely needs to enhance its pass rush.  Upshaw can play as either a defensive end or outside linebacker for New York, and he will be primarily used on passing downs.

17.) Cincinnati Bengals: Dre Kirkpatrick (CB - Alabama)  Another first rounder from Alabama, Kirkpatrick would give the Bengals a replacement for Jonathan Joseph at corner.  Some teams are reportedly concerned with Kirkpatrick's character, but character issues have never really stopped Mike Brown from signing people before.

18.) via trade Seattle Seahawks: Chandler Jones (DE - Syracuse)  Moving down in my predictions from 12 to 18, Seattle works to upgrade its pass rush.  Jones was hurt last season, missing several games for 'Cuse, and that has him rated lower than he otherwise might be.  Jones could still be the pick even if the Seahawks stay at 12.

19.) Chicago Bears: Cordy Glenn (OT/G - Georgia)  Jay Cutler has been battered by opposing defenses the last two years, and while Mike Martz' sack-inducing play calling is gone the o-line still needs improvement.  Glenn played left tackle for the Bulldogs his senior year, but may be better suited for guard in the NFL (his junior year position).

20.) Tennessee Titans: Whitney Mercilus (DE/LB - Illinois) Mercilus had a tremendous senior season for the Illini, greatly improving his draft stock.  Tennessee is yet another team in the market for a hybrid pass rusher who can play as both a down lineman and at linebacker, and Mercilus fits that need.

21.) Cincinnati Bengals: Kendall Wright (WR - Baylor)  The Dalton to Green connection was electric for the Bengals in each player's rookie year, but the offense sorely lacks a true #2 to keep some pressure and double teams off of Green.  Wright was RG3's go-to playmaker, and adding him to the mix would give Cincinnati the foundation of a strong passing attack for years to come.

22.) via trade Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Brockers (DT - LSU) If the Jaguars trade this far down into round 1, improving the defensive line will be a priority.  Jacksonville hasn't had a great defensive tackle in several years, since both John Henderson and Marcus Stroud left, and Brockers would be a day one starter for them.

23.) Detroit Lions: Melvin Ingram (DE/LB - South Carolina)  Detroit's defense lacked an outside pass rusher to compliment Cliff Avril.  Ingram's more than likely an outside linebacker in the NFL, but his speed will add to a defense that had severe problems defending the pass.

24.) Pittsburgh Steelers: Dontari Poe (DT/NG - Memphis)  The Steelers' defense is aging quickly, with current nose guard Casey Hampton in his mid-30s.  Poe impressed at the combine, and would be the first piece in securing Pittsburgh's physical defensive style for the future.  Offensive line help will also be looked at here, and Jonathan Martin or Mike Adams would make sense for that area of concern.

25.) Denver Broncos: Jerel Worthy (DT - Michigan St)  The Broncos' defense lost starter Brodrick Bunkley, and should look to fill the gap he left with their first round pick.  Worthy will be the top DT on the board at 25, and he was the anchor of a very good Spartan defense last year.

26.) Houston Texans: Coby Fleener (TE - Stanford)  Fleener was a consistent weapon for Andrew Luck at Stanford, and is unquestionably the best receiving tight end prospect this year.  Houston could use more passing weapons apart from Andre Johnson, and Fleener will upgrade the position.

27.) New England Patriots: Doug Martin (RB - Boise State)  Even though they're a pass-oriented team, the Patriots have a huge need at running back with Green-Ellis now in Cincinnati.  Martin is a faster back than many had thought, and can start for New England right away.

28.) Green Bay Packers: Andre Branch (DE/LB - Clemson)  Perhaps the only clear weakness in Green Bay last year was their anemic pass rush.  Branch was somewhat inconsistent at Clemson, but he clearly displays the ability to be a high caliber pass rusher for a team built to win now.

29.) Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Zeitler (G - Wisconsin)  Baltimore has a clear hole to plug at guard, with the loss of Ben Grubbs.  While the Ravens do need to look for defensive players to eventually replacing aging stars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, this team is too close to a title right now to not go for the immediate starting help Zeitler would provide.

30.) San Francisco 49ers: Mohamed Sanu (WR - Rutgers)  The 49ers' receiving corps lacks a standout player, with Michael Crabtree solid but not living up to his lofty expectations coming out of college.  Mario Manningham and 37-year old Randy Moss were added in the offseason, but Sanu helps at what is probably the biggest need on a team that has very few weaknesses right now.

31.) New England Patriots: Jonathan Martin (OT - Stanford)  A possible steal this late in round 1, New England finds a future starter along their offensive line who has experience protecting an elite quarterback.  Martin underperformed at the combine, but his play on the field in college warrants a first round selection.

32.) New York Giants: Dont'a Hightower (ILB - Alabama)  Rounding out a first round dominated by Crimson Tide talent, Hightower is an excellent run stopper in the middle of a defense.  The Giants may look to replace Brandon Jacobs here (particularly if Doug Martin falls to 32), but they also have need of a starter at linebacker.

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