Bowl season is upon us, and that means college football’s best and brightest will be taking center stage over the next three weeks. This is their chance to shine in the limelight and show off their skills to the NFL scouts and talent evaluators looking at prospects for April’s draft.
This year’s class of potential draftees looks bright. Not quite as bright as the record-setting 2012 class, but definitely full of quality talent all over the field. The only real issue with this class is that there isn’t any true No. 1 talent prime for the picking, whereas there were both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III last year.
There is plenty of talent to look out for, though, and it’s all about just finding the right pieces at the right points in the draft. That’s right, we’re talking about value.
So, without holding out any longer, let’s dive right on into this mock draft and cause a bit of a ruckus.
Editor’s Note: Draft order based on current NFL standings through Week 15 of NFL season. Tied records are divided arbitrarily, also known as my personal judgment. All that being said, feel free to agree, disagree or mock me at your convenience.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12):
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The Chiefs got unlucky with this year’s class. That’s not to say there isn’t a boatload of talent, but there isn’t one franchise player to speak of. Jones may be the closest thing, even though outside linebackers usually aren’t a popular choice at, or even near, the top of the draft. He’s an incredible pass rusher with very good coverage skills out in space, both of which the Chiefs could certainly use. It’s not going to be a popular choice, but unless Geno Smith or Matt Barkley really make an impression over the next few months, a franchise quarterback doesn’t appear to be available.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12):
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Many people think this kid is going to be a star. Bad puns aside, this kid does have solid makeup and appears to be one of the better pass rushing interior lineman in college football. He’s not Geno Atkins on the rush, and he’s no Vince Wilfork against the run. But Lotulelei is a strong, powerful force in the middle who could help resolve one of the Jags’ many issues, which is the pass rush. Combine him with recently acquired defensive end Jason Babin and maybe Jacksonville can get out of the sack cellar next season.
3. Oakland Raiders (4-10):
Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Raiders have the second-worst pass rush in the NFL, amassing just 21 sacks this season, which Aldon Smith and J.J. Watt (both at 19 1/2) have almost equaled on their own. Needless to say, Oakland needs some help off the edge, and Moore is a quick and powerful rusher. Give him some time to develop on the outside, especially under the guidance of Richard Seymour, and the Raiders should have a double-digit sack man on their roster for years to come.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10):
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Philly has some protection issues, and that might be an understatement. The Eagles haven’t been able to protect the quarterback at all this season. They’ve been so bad that even Michael Vick, the quarterbacking Houdini, couldn’t escape the rush coming at him. Jason Peters should be back next season, and if you put him opposite Joeckel, then you may actually have a shot at protecting Nick Foles, who definitely has a shot at being the long-term answer at quarterback.
5. Detroit Lions (4-10):
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Lions don’t have a No. 1-worthy cornerback right now. While Milliner isn’t exactly Champ Bailey or even Antonio Cromartie, he is a big corner with good speed who plays well in zone coverage. For a team struggling for playmakers on defense as badly as Detroit, Milliner would be a good get here, and should give a decent pass defense a huge boost.
6. San Diego Chargers (5-9):
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
The Chargers have been very strong on defense this season, but their pass defense has struggled at times. The reason for the struggles isn’t necessarily their secondary, but rather their lack of pressure up front. With Werner, San Diego would be getting a big, smart, strong and somewhat quick rusher off the edge.
7. Cleveland Browns (5-9):
Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Warmack isn’t the sexiest pick, as offensive linemen usually aren’t, but he fills a need. With Joe Thomas already on board and doing a stellar job on the left side, Warmack would be a useful player on the inside. Brandon Weeden could certainly use the protection in the passing game, and Trent Richardson, who was teammates with Warmack at Alabama, would love to have his old blocking mate back.
8. Buffalo Bills (5-9):
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Let’s face facts here: Ryan Fitzpatrick looks good on paper but he’s just not getting the job done. The Bills have given Fitzy ample time to develop, but it’s time for a fresh face under center in Buffalo. This year’s draft class doesn’t have the same sort of elite-level talent that 2012 did, but Smith is the best of the bunch and he might be worth a shot even this early. He’s extremely accurate and fairly athletic with a very strong arm downfield, which is exactly what Donald Jones, Stevie Johnson and even C.J. Spiller need to finally realize their full potential.
9. Tennessee Titans (5-9):
Manti Te’o, MLB, Notre Dame
The Titans are one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2012, and if they don’t shore up their linebacking corps, they’re not likely to improve too much next season. With athletic second-round pick Akeem Ayers filling the role of edge rusher, Te’o would fit perfectly on the inside as a Jerod Mayo- or Luke Kuechly-type “Mike” linebacker.
10. Carolina Panthers (5-9):
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
With Cam Newton behind center, the Panthers have their franchise quarterback all set and ready. It now becomes an issue of keeping him upright long enough to make plays, whether it be with his arm or legs. Jordan Gross gives Carolina protection on one side of Newton, and the addition of Lewan would give the Panthers the pair of bookend tackles they so desire.
11. Arizona Cardinals (5-9):
Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Even more so than the Bills, Arizona is in dire need of a new leader on offense. This isn’t exactly the best year to find such a player, but then again Barkley would’ve been a top-five pick if he came out last year. If anyone is desperate enough to take that risk, it’s the Cardinals. Barkley could be a Pro Bowl quarterback if he can return to the accuracy and decision making he showed in 2011.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8):
Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
A few weeks ago, these guys were thinking about playoffs. Now, they’re looking at ways to get there next season. They have secondary and offensive line needs, but here they take the best player left on the board, which at this point is Mingo. He’s good against the run and has a quick first step in getting after the quarterback. Put him alongside Gerald McCoy and opposite Michael Bennett, and you might be talking about the best young D line in football.
13. Miami Dolphins (6-8):
Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
They have Cameron Wake tearing it up on the outside, but they could use some help on the interior of the defensive line. That’s where Hankins can help. He’s extremely stout against the run and can clog up holes, while taking on multiple blockers. That shouldn’t just help the run defense, either, but it should also assist Wake on the outside. Hankins would be a steal at this point.
14. New York Jets (6-8):
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
If you want to talk about a good crop of prospects, A&M could see as many as three guys taken in the top 15 of this draft, and Matthews is another solid talent at tackle. The Jets need help opposite D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Matthews might be the perfect fit. He has good hands and is strong in the running game, which is a forte of Rex Ryan‘s after all, assuming he is even still coaching in New York next season.
15. New Orleans Saints (6-8):
Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
This defense certainly has plenty of areas of need. The Saints won’t have an opportunity to grab Jones, Moore or some of the other elite pass rushers, but they can help fix their pass defense by getting some secondary help. Banks might be a bit of a reach at 15, but he’s a big, athletic corner who has great playmaking skills, given his 16 interceptions in college. He won’t be a lockdown corner like Darrelle Revis, but he’ll suffice and make some big plays for a defense in need of some.
16. St. Louis Rams (6-7-1):
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennesse
The Rams have a budding young quarterback in Sam Bradford, but no one for him to really throw to. Danny Amendola is a legitimate option, but he could be gone come year’s end. Chris Given is a good young target, but hasn’t shown the consistency you might like on a weekly basis. Hunter offers a big target (think Brandon Marshall here) with good speed and the ability to make big plays downfield. That sounds like Bradford’s Christmas wish coming true.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7):
Jonathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Jenkins is a massive interior lineman with the size and strength to tie up multiple lineman at a time. He may never be as consistent as some of the league’s best, but with Casey Hampton getting up there in age, it might be good to get him an understudy. Who better than Jenkins?
18. Dallas Cowboys (8-6):
Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
The obsession with defensive tackles continues as the Cowboys look to get more stout up the middle. Williams is a solid choice if Jenkins isn’t available, as he has great speed, hands and strength up the middle. That would bode well for Marcus Spears, Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware coming off the edge, too. Williams is a great player and would be an awesome find at this point in the draft.
19. New York Giants (8-6):
Matt Elam, S, Florida
For having such a great pass rush, the Giants are really bad against the pass. They rank 28th against the pass this year, allowing more than 250 yards per game. That’s where Elam might be able to help. Starting safety Kenny Phillips just has been a massive disappointment, even losing his starting job to Stevie Brown for a while. Elam isn’t a very tall defender, at just about 5-foot-11, but he has great ball skills and is sound in coverage. That could help the Giants, who will desperately need some if they don’t make the playoffs.
20. Chicago Bears (8-6)
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Bears are in need of a left tackle, and they might find a steal in Eric Fisher if he makes it to them here. Jay Cutler needs protection badly, and what you’re getting in Fisher is the epitome of a great pass protector. He’s big, strong and physical and should help keep Cutler upright more often, which Chicago could definitely benefit from.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6):
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The tackles are all gone, at least the ones worthy of a selection this high. So, that means the Bengals may have to make a run at one of their other needs. With A.J. Green emerging as a consistent deep threat on the outside, Cincy might as well take a chance with a slot receiver to pair alongside him. Austin is the best of the bunch. He’s small, at just 5-foot-9, but runs crisp routes, has great hands similar to Wes Welker and can be a playmaker on special teams. He’s worth a shot, unless of course they want to take a shot with Baylor’s Terrence Williams or California’s Keenan Allen on the outside.
22. Minnesota Vikings (8-6):
Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
The Bengals might pass on Williams, but Minny shouldn’t be so foolish. He’s 6-foot-2, has good top-end speed and should make for a good target for Christian Ponder to throw to. Pair him with Percy Harvin on the outside, and you could finally be looking at some legitimate talent on the outside for the Vikings.
23. St. Louis Rams [via Washington Redskins (8-6)]:
Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
A good blocker with power? That sound like exactly what the Rams needs to reinforce Sam Bradford up front. Cooper should help out alongside Rodger Saffold in making the Rams a real contender and a potent offense next season. With some good blocking up front, maybe we can finally see the type of quarterback Bradford can actually be at the pro level.
24. Seattle Seahawks (9-5):
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Seattle might like to replace LeRoy Hill at the outside linebacker position, but there’s not quality replacement available at this point without reaching — although that did work out so far with Bruce Irvin last year. Pete Carroll should take a chance on a tight end, hoping to improve on the mediocre production (and hefty contract) from Zach Miller next season. In that case, Eifert is the man here. He has great ball skills and runs good routes … Maybe he and Russell Wilson can become the next great QB-TE pairing in the NFL.
25. Indianapolis Colts (9-5):
Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Getting Jordan here would be the ultimate steal. He’s long, athletic and has great speed and power off the edge. He would help bolster the Colts’ pass rush and add some depth behind Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Plus, he could be looked at as a successor on the outside once one or both of them can’t hack it anymore.
26. Baltimore Ravens (9-5):
Sean Montgomery, DE, LSU
Montgomery is a good all-around end who happens to be strong in the pass rush. He may need just a tad bit of grooming, which could be perfect for the Ravens, who love to develop young prospects. He could be the future of that defense once Terrell Suggs‘ and Ray Lewis‘ times are over.
27. Green Bay Packers (10-4):
Alec Ogletree, MLB, Georgia
That makes three Georgia defenders taken in this first round, and just like the other two, Ogletree has a tremendous amount of potential. He’s still a very raw prospect, but he has great size at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds and he also has running back-type speed. If he continues to develop and finds a way to harness that athleticism, Ogletree may even be a better pro than Te’o. The Packers desperately need some help up the middle, too. Ogletree is a bit of a project, but he seems to learn quickly.
28. New England Patriots (10-4):
Keenan Allen, WR, California
The Patriots have had trouble sustaining a solid wide receiving corps this year, as veterans like Deion Branch and Donte Stallworth fell victim to injury in their older age. Allen is a tall, strong receiver at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. He should have enough — although not elite — speed to make big plays downfield. He’s also been credited for his work ethic and is known to be a relentless competitor. All of that stuff usually rings home for Bill Belichick, which means we could be seeing Allen as a perfect fit opposite Brandon Lloyd.
29. San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1):
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
It’s going to be awfully difficult for the 49ers to keep Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner around for too much longer, especially with both commanding so much attention — and soon, money — around the league. Vaccaro provides a solid option to solve that dilemma. He has good instincts and is a good playmaker, which are exactly the types of things Jim Harbaugh is looking for. This could be a perfect fit for both sides.
30. Denver Broncos (11-3):
Kwann Short, DT, Purdue
The Broncos need some help inside on defense, and Short could be the perfect solution.Checking in at 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds, he was pretty inconsistent at Purdue. But when he was on, he could be about as disruptive as anyone at the collegiate level. This could be a good fit, especially if Jack Del Rio can coach him up.
31. Houston Texans (12-2):
Robert Woods, WR, USC
If Woods elects to come out, he could be a hot commodity. He’s not exactly USC teammate Marquise Lee, but he’s a supremely talented receiver. He’s been extremely productive at USC and could help begin the transition away from Andre Johnson in Houston. In the meantime, he could be a solid complement to the All-Pro wideout.
32. Atlanta Falcons (12-2):
Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
The Falcons need a replacement for Tony Gonzalez, who has already said this will be his last season. Ertz is a smart player and a good route runner. He isn’t the same sort of elite-level pass catcher as Gonzalez — then again who is? — but he does have a lot of talent that Matt Ryan could certainly unlock. It wouldn’t hurt his development to have Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside, either.