Happy New Years! To supplement this great day of college football, I have decided to release a slightly too early NFL mock draft. Projecting the draft is one of the most inaccurate, difficult, frustrating and fun things an NFL fan can do. It allows any fan to take the role of GM and build the team as he or she sees fit. In this mock, I used the records as of week 17 in the NFL to determine the order. While all of these players will not end up being first round picks, I believe these players have the best shot. Feel free to make your own mocks or add to mine in the comments section.
1. Carolina (2-13) QB Andrew Luck, Stanford. 6-4 235.
Although Carolina drafted two quarterbacks in 2010, they are still in need of a franchise signal caller. Andrew Luck fits this bill. Displaying exemplary poise, competitiveness and toughness, Luck has all the intangibles necessary to succeed on the NFL level. Physically, Luck has everything a team wants in a quarterback. He has the arm strength to make every throw, throws a tight accurate spiral and supposedly runs a 40 in the 4.5’s. This year, he proved he could operate both under center and in the shotgun, as well as in the pocket and on the move. Under former Colt Jim Harbaugh’s tutelage, Luck has become as close to a sure thing as possible. Watch his run against Cal or his hit against Shareece Wright of USC to see his toughness in action.
2. Denver (4-11) CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska. 6-1 202.
With Champ Bailey seemingly leaving Denver after this season, corner becomes a glaring need for the Broncos. While Patrick Peterson of LSU is the better athlete and returner, Prince Amukamara is the better in coverage and could immediately provide the Broncos with Bailey’s long-term replacement. Excelling in both man and zone, Amukamara is this year’s true shut down corner. While he has no interceptions in 2010, he commands such respect that opposing quarterbacks just stopped throwing at him.
3. Cincinnati (4-11) DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama. 6-3 306.
Carlos Dunlap’s development in the latter half of the season should have Cincinatti looking away from defensive end early in this draft. While receiver A.J Green out of Georgia would also make sense here, Dareus fits the scheme of the Bengals D better than any of the other defensive tackles. Marcell excels at penetrating offensive lines and making big plays (see last years national championship game). He is strong enough to hold his gap and not get washed down. Dareus can play in both running and passing situations and should immediately bolster the Cincinnati D.
4. Buffalo (4-11) QB Cam Newton, Auburn. 6-6 250.
Although Buffalo has numerous needs on both offense and defense, Coach Chan Gailey should not pass on a quarterback who can successfully run his spread offense at the pro level. While many, including myself, have questioned Newton’s arm, his performance throughout this season proved that he has the necessary arm strength and accuracy to succeed at the NFL level. Combining his arm strength with his ability to both make defenders miss in space and punish smaller linebackers and defensive backs, Newton could be the spark that Buffalo needs to dig itself out of the bottom of the AFC East. My favorite stat about Newton is that he has not had an incompletion on his first drive all season.
5. Arizona (5-10) DT Nick Fairley, Auburn. 6-5 310.
While Arizona could look at quarterback Jake Locker and cornerback Patrick Peterson, defensive tackle Nick Fairley makes the most sense here. Although suited more for a 4-3 scheme, Fairley has the size and athleticism to play both nose and end in the Cardinals 3-4. Fairley has manhandled every interior offensive lineman he has faced this year, healthy or not. He also plays with a nasty streak and should provide a spark to the Cardinals D whenever he is on the field.
6. San Francisco (5-10) WR A.J. Green, Georgia. 6-4 207.
A new GM and a new coach often mean a new quarterback. However, I believe that San Francisco will target a veteran QB and will look to add weapons to bolster a struggling offense in this years draft. A.J. Green is the best wideout in a strong group. He has elite size, speed and runs surprisingly polished routes for college receiver. Green has soft hands and great leaping ability. He can catch any pass and should provide the sort of impact early on that most young receivers can’t.
7. Dallas (5-10) CB Patrick Peterson, LSU. 6-1 211.
A phenomenal athlete, Peterson will certainly turn heads with his performance at February’s NFL scouting combine. Peterson makes sense for Dallas for many reasons. His return skills would allow Dallas to keep emerging superstar Dez Bryant at receiver only and his coverage skills should provide an immediate bolster to a struggling secondary. However, I would not be surprised to see Jerry Jones select a 3-4 pass rusher like Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan or trade down and select an offensive lineman.
8. Houston (5-10) DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson. 6-4 277.
Houston desperately hopes that one of the two premier corners in this draft will fall to them. However, that is unlikely. Therefore, the Texans take the best player available in Clemson’s Da’quan Bowers. Bowers fits the mold for Houston’s 4-3 scheme and could provide them with the competent complement to Mario Williams that they need. Bowers is strong and athletic, and projects to be an every down end at the NFL level. He has excellent pass rushing skills with 16 sacks in 2010.
9. Detroit (5-10) OT Nate Solder, Colorado. 6-9 313.
With the selections of Brandon Pettigrew and Jahvid Best, Detroit has proved they are committed to surrounding 3rd year quarterback Matthew Stafford with the talent he needs to succeed. Now they should add the necessary protection to keep him on the field. Solder is a physical beast and has the most upside in 2011’s crop of offensive tackles. Solder is strong, able to maul defensive ends in the run game. He is long enough to prevent speed rushers from consistently getting around the corner to the quarterback. Solder should immediately start at LT for the Lions.
10. Cleveland (5-10) DE/OLB Ryan Kerrigan. Purdue. 6-4 259.
Kerrigan is the best pure pass rusher in the draft and could play in either at 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Kerrigan has the necessary quickness and strength to bull rush NFL tackles and has an impressive amount pass rushing moves for a collegiate player. He is unblockable in one and one situations and often beat the double team in college. Kerrigan needs to work on his run game though, as he has a tendency to over pursue and get washed out of plays. Even if he only plays in pass rush situations as a rookie, Kerrigan has the raw ability to post double-digit sack numbers.
11. Seattle (6-9) DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State. 6-1 304.
Paea terrorized Coach Pete Carroll’s talented USC offensive lines as a sophomore and junior and fits the scheme of Seattle’s young defense. Although short for a defensive tackle, Paea provides great interior push and excels at stopping the run. While his pass rush moves consist of bull rushing alone, he is strong enough to occasionally collapse the pocket and provide defensive ends with easy sacks. He is known as an excellent worker and has a non-stop motor. Wherever Paea lands, he should provide a solid interior presence. If Seattle beats St. Louis on Sunday Night, look for St. Louis to draft WR Julio Jones in this spot.
12. Tennessee (6-9)OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA. 6-4 251.
When healthy, Tennessee’s most glaring defensive need is at linebacker. Ayers provides the kind of fast, physical linebacker that Tennessee coach Jeff Fischer covets. Ayers projects to the strong side linebacker position in the NFL. He has the necessary range to run down most running backs in the NFL and delivers explosive hits on contact. While Ayers is not the best in coverage, he has the necessary pass rush skills to be an effective blitzer at the NFL level and should provide an upgrade at linebacker for the Titans.
13. Washington (6-9) OB Jake Locker, Washington. 6-3 228.
Coach Mike Shanahan prefers mobile quarterbacks with big arms and would likely choose Washington’s Jake Locker over Arkansas’ Ryan Mallet. Locker is the quarterback your little brother created on Madden. Unfortunately, at times he’s played this year like your little brother is actually controlling him. He’s got one of the biggest arms in college football, runs in the 4.4’s, shows great character and toughness, and has the ability to create something out of nothing on every play. Inconsistent play and a lack of accuracy has caused Locker to drop from potential first pick status to a mid to late first round prospect.
14. Minnesota (6-9)DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina. 6-4 267.
If Quinn weren’t suspended for the 2010 college football campaign, he likely would have been a top 10 pick, if not top 5. Quinn is a freak athlete who can add size to his already well-built frame. His game is best suited for a 4-3 scheme and he fits Leslie Frazier’s defense perfectly. He uses proper leverage and technique in the running game. Quinn has an extremely explosive first step and uses his pure athleticism to beat offensive tackles. Quinn displayed his extraordinary toughness as a senior in high school when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He beat that back and his play only improved on the field. With some guidance from Jared Allen, Quinn could quickly turn into one of the premier pass rushers in this league.
15. New England (from Oakland 7-8) OLB/DE Von Miller, Texas A&M. 6-3 245
Von Miller projects as a stand up 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL in the mold of Jerome Harrison and Koa Misi and played a similar position at Texas A&M. In the run game, Miller plays with good technique but uses his athleticism to make most of his plays. He is strong, but can be engulfed by better offensive lineman in the run game. Miller excels at rushing the passer, using speed and exceptional body control to bend around the corner. He uses a variety of pass rushing moves, including the spin. Even if he only plays in pass rushing situations as a rookie, he should be an upgrade for the Patriots at the outside linebacker position.
16. Miami (7-8) QB Ryan Mallet, Arkansas. 6-7 238.
Chad Henne has not yet proven he is the permanent answer at quarterback for the Dolphins. Therefore, I see the Dolphins taking the last remaining first round quarterback in Ryan Mallet. Mallet is a tall, immobile pocket quarterback in the mold of Drew Bledsoe. He has an ultra quick release and has a huge arm. He can make every throw. Early on in his college career he was known as a gunslinger, and would take many risks. This season, however, he has shown a willingness to check down and composure in the passing game. He still needs improve his accuracy, but has the potential to be very successful in the NFL.
17. Jacksonville (8-7) WR Julio Jones, Alabama. 6-4 211.
Julio Jones is a true number one receiver and can do a bit of everything. He possesses the top end speed needed to be a vertical threat and shows a willingness to go over the middle and catch the tough passes. He is tall, shows a good leaping ability and should be a threat for the fade in the red-zone. His route running needs to be polished, but he has shown steady improvement in this area throughout his collegiate career. He is most dangerous once the ball is in his hand, and has the ability to take any catch to the end zone.
18. San Diego (8-7)WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State. 6-1 208.
Blackmon burst onto the scene with a stellar 2010 season, jumping from 20 receptions in 2009 to 111 receptions in 2010. Blackmon has good size and speed, and shows an innate ability to separate from defenders. He has excellent route running skills and is great at the double move. Blackmon should provide San Diego with an incredible slot threat to complement their big outside receivers and the possible replacement if Vincent Jackson is allowed to walk at the end of the season.
19. New York Giants (9-6)OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College. 6-7 306.
Castonzo is a tall, long tackle known as more of a finesse blocker. He posses the necessary size and strength to succeed at the NFL level, however he can and should still add weight to his frame. He does not maul the opposition. Castonzo uses proper technique to lock and on drive defenders in the run game. He excels at blocking in the pass game, and has the agility and athleticism to stop speed rushers. He is susceptible to the bull rush, but only against the strongest of opponents. I would not be surprised to see Castonzo play guard for a year before moving to left tackle.
20. Tampa Bay (9-6) S Rahim Moore, UCLA. 6-1 196.
In the offseason, Tampa Bay needs to find a way to upgrade both of their safety positions. Rahim Moore out of UCLA is the best safety in the draft, and projects as a free safety in the NFL. He shows excellent cover skills and uses his great instincts to make big plays in the passing game posting 10 interceptions in 2009. He has mostly played zone in college, and excels in cover 3 and cover 2 schemes. However, he has the necessary speed and athleticism to play man. He doesn’t always use perfect technique when making a tackle, but has a knack for stopping opposing players when needed.
21. St. Louis (7-8) DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa. 6-3 282.
This man is immovable at defensive end. Clayborn posted impressive numbers with 11.5 sacks as a junior, proving he’s a natural at rushing the passer. He’s the cornerstone piece in a dominant Iowa defense. However, he was not able to duplicate his previous successes in his senior season. He could be a steal at this point in the draft and St. Louis should select him over more pressing needs at receiver and tight end.
22. Indianapolis (9-6) OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin. 6-7 327.
Some question Carimi’s ability to play left tackle in the NFL. However, I believe he has the necessary athleticism and footwork to protect Peyton Manning’s blindside. Carimi is a mauler and dominates defenders in the run game. He has a quick initial first step, which allows him to stop elite speed rushers from getting around the corner in the passing game. Carimi falling to the Colts is a best-case scenario. Even if he cannot play left tackle immediately, he would provide an upgrade at both guard and right tackle.
23. Green Bay (9-6) RB Mark Ingram, Alabama. 5-10, 216.
Mark Ingram is a tough runner with outstanding vision. He quickly identifies the hole and is able to both run downhill and run the cutback. Once he makes contact, he chugs his legs and breaks numerous tackles. In the passing game, Ingram shows good enough hands and receiving ability. He is a sound blocker and should be able to play all 3 downs. Ingram is the best running back in 2011 and Green Bay would be lucky to snatch him this late.
24. Kansas City (10-5) DE Cameron Jordan, Cal. 6-4 280.
Cameron Jordan had the optimal height, weight and speed to play the 5 technique in the 3-4 scheme. In the passing game, Jordan shows great effort and an ability to occasionally create mayhem. He is not a speed threat, but can successfully rush from the 5 technique. He is better at run defense than pass rushing, showing the necessary discipline to play in a 2-gap scheme. He fits Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 schemes extremely well.
25. Philadelphia (10-5) CB Janoris Jenkins, Florida. 5-11 189.
Janoris Jenkins fits the blitzing scheme of the Eagles perfectly. He has natural athleticism and quick twitch ability to stay with receivers in man-to-man coverage, an essential skill for Philly. He shows the ability to quickly come out of his breaks and isn’t afraid to jump any route. The player he reminds me the most of is Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel.
26. New York Jets (10-5) OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State. 6-5 303.
Derek Sherrod was an unknown prospect before this year. However, under the guidance of coach and offensive genius Dan Mullen, Sherrod has matured into an elite tackle. He has great upside and can only become a better player. He uses his length to ride speed rushers around the corner, but doesn’t have a striking punch with his arms. Like Castonzo, he uses proper technique to lock and drive in the running game, but doesn’t maul defenders out of the way. Should be an upgrade at right tackle on an aging Jets line.
27. New Orleans (11-4)DT Drake Nevis, LSU. 6-1 289.
Drake Nevis is the epitome of a one gap defensive tackle. He is an undersized guy who uses his athleticism and ability to penetrate to wreak havoc in the backfield. He will only play the 3-technique in the NFL, but should be effective. He plays the run and the pass well, and could even play some end in goal line and obvious running situations. Nevis should contribute as a rookie to creating a solid defensive tackle rotation for the Saints.
28. Chicago (11-4) OT Tyron Smith, USC. 6-5 291.
Although Tyron Smith only played right tackle in college, he projects to the NFL as a left tackle. He is a freak athlete who is extremely lean. He could add 20-30 pounds to his frame without losing a step. Smith is long and uses his length to prevent edge rushers from dipping around the corner. He is an adequate blocker in the run game, but excels in a zone-blocking scheme. He is more a project player than the other offensive tackles, but with the right coaching and situation, Smith could be great.
29. Baltimore (11-4) TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame. 6-5 253.
While a bit of a reach, Rudolph is the best pass catching tight end in the draft and could be one more great weapon for young quarterback Joe Flacco. Rudolph is a hybrid TE and spent most of his time split out in the slot position at Notre Dame. He runs smooth routes and has incredible hands. He can stretch the seam and is fastest enough to beat almost any linebacker in the NFL. He needs work as a blocker.
30. Pittsburgh (11-4) OG Mike Pouncey, Florida. 6-5 309.
The brother of rookie Pro Bowl center Marcus Pouncey, Mike Pouncey is both a value and need pick for the Steelers. Like his brother, Pouncey is equally adept at the run and the pass game. He uses great leverage to stop the bull rush in pass protection and is able to get under the pads of bigger defenders in the run game. The Steelers should look to solidify the interior of their offensive line for years by selecting a Pouncey for the second year in a row.
31. Atlanta (12-3) CB Brandon Harris, Miami. 5-10 193.
Atlanta has had a defensive resurgence under coach Mike Smith. However, if they lack talent and depth at one spot in their defense, it is at corner. Brandon Harris has the size and strength to be an effective corner in the NFL. He has solid cover skills in both man and zone, but does not come down with a lot of interceptions. He shows a willingness to tackle and should be solid in run support.
32. New England (13-2) DE Allen Bailey, Miami. 6-3 287.
Like Cameron Jordan, Allen Bailey’s most natural position is the 5 technique in the 3-4 scheme. Bailey has played both defensive end and defensive tackle in Miami’s 4-3 schemes and done well at both. He has a good initial burst and is a strong tackler for his size. He plays with a good motor and rarely gives up on plays. Should contribute as a rookie in a rotation for New England.