OK! I know my Mock Drafts aren't what anyone would call universally competent, acceptable, or even close to reality. But I know there's at least a couple people out there who wait quietly for my Mock Drafts to appear so they can chuckle or scream just how crazy I can be...
First, let's talk about the prospects this year. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah may be onto something when he says "wide receiver may be the safest pick in this year's NFL Draft"? While many seem to be touting how deep defensive talent looks heading toward the big day in Chicago, the NFL is a passing league. Getting a guy who can change field position, or a red zone offense in the blink of an eye is a good thing, so I believe there could be as many as six wide receivers taken in the first 40 draft day choices.
Like every year, big shifts in the draft will come due to free agency. Oakland is going to be the bell cow for nutty moves. Mark Davis will have to spend a pile of cash due to the 2011 CBA and NFL salary cap rules. A team MUST spend at least 89% of the salary cap over a combined three year period, and the Raiders are well short. Jacksonville is almost in the same boat as Oakland, so they could be big players in free agency too. I look for both these teams to attack free agency, then pair a 1st round pick with it to fix a position need.
#1 - Cleveland/Tampa Bay: TRADE! Lovie Smith has a team that's not near as dismal as their 2014 record would indicate. Make no mistake: There's some talent on this roster. The defense is only a couple of pieces away from being top ten. On offense, the needs are more apparent, but most skill positions aren't really that bad. What Smith really needs to turn the corner in 2015 is a quarterback, and TWO first round picks to cover a couple of positions. They get the Browns #12, #19 this year, plus a second round choice, and 2017 first round pick. So with Cleveland now on the clock, they select: Jameis Winston, QB, FSU.
The Browns' off season snag of Josh McCown isn't a long term fix, but does make sense if you're planning on bring in a rookie who needs a mentor. Johnny Manziel has the potential to be a flat out bust, and he'll be traded away during the 2015 draft day process at some point.
#2 - Tennessee/ Oakland Raiders: TRADE! Michael Roos recent retirement party isn't going to send head coach Ken Whisenhunt diving into this draft for another tackle; with Taylor Lewan waiting in the wings. He'll focus his off season on finding a way to get this offensive line on track, which on paper should be pretty good. Whisenhunt is just about to call in his choice for a big defensive tackle out of USC, when the phone rings... Mark Davis has been spending free agent money like a sailor on leave in Singapore. He' already landed Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in a blockbuster deal worth $85 million over 5 years/ $50 million guaranteed. What the bowl haircut now wants is the perfect bookend. Oakland ships off their #4 pick, a second rounder, and 2016 first round pick to select: Leonard Williams, DT, USC...
#3 - Jacksonville Jaguars: With Cecil Shorts III scheduled to hit the open market - and on his way to Washington to team up with another "III" I won't mention - this is an easy pick, right? Well, the swarthy mustachio-ed auto parts salesman takes his time; sure the phone will ring with a trade offer... It doesn't, so they select: Kevin White, WR, WVU.
#4 - Tennessee/Philadelphia Eagles: TRADE! - He won't tell anyone, but when the phone in the Tennessee war room rang, Ken Whisenhunt peed a little... The Eagles' Chip Kelly wants what he wants, so he sends the Titans his #20 and second rounder this year and a first in 2016 - plus quarterback Nick Foles - so he can snag the quarterback he needs to run his offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon.
#5 - Washington Redskins: Dan Snyder stops dreaming of a team trading draft stock to move up for Mariota with only seconds to go before time expires on the draft clock. Washington has needs up and down its roster. On defense, they need someone to at least try to get to the quarterback. Brian Orakpo is a free agent, and hasn't been able to stay healthy. They need a guard and right tackle on offense, and a center wouldn't be a bad idea either. Wide receiver has been patched by adding (mythic-ally) Cecil Shorts III, so they reach just a little - this is the Redskins after all, right? - and select: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida.
#6 - New York Jets: Ah...The Jets on Draft Day... Who doesn't look forward to who they select in the first round? We won't hear the screams and wailing we're used to, since this NFL Draft won't be taking place in the Big Apple. A new regime in New York has to get this one right. Needs on offense are glaring, but the bust factor of DE Quinton Coples is looming. They lean toward the safest pick they can, and select: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama.
#7 - Chicago Bears: The draft is being held in "the Windy City", so getting this pick wrong may very well cause beer and bratwurst to be flung at the stage. What happens with quarterback Jay Cutler is huge. If new head coach John Fox decides to move on, the talent pool is pretty bare... So Fox ships off a 3rd round pick for Washington's unhappy back up QB Kirk Cousins. What's more, rumors wide receiver Brandon Marshall may be out, has to have them looking at the position too? But this is Chicago, and the Chicago way is DEFENSE! One of the worst at stopping any team in the NFL in 2014, eyes shift toward Washington's Danny Shelton. But John Fox wants a Von Miller-esk clone, so he selects: Vic Beasley, OLB/DE, Clemson.
#8 - Atlanta Falcons: I seriously doubt the Falcons have many players in the top ten of their draft board who aren't on defense. They were horrible stopping any team in 2014, and this draft isn't going to be a quick fix. But they can begin to build the middle of their defensive line, and select run-stopping behemoth: Danny Shelton, DT/NT, Washington.
#9 - New York Giants: The Giants' Tom Coughlin isn't a guy who pulls punches. In 2014, they lost Hakeem Nicks in free agency, and select Odell Beckham. This year, the willy 'ol Tom looks squarely at his offensive line and running back position. But taking David Wilson in 2012 in the first round still stings a bit, so Coughlin looks for the meanest offensive lineman he can find to shore up Eli Manning's future. D.J. Humphries is becoming a draft guru darling, but he turns toward a sure fire beast: La'el Collins, OT/OG, LSU.
#10 - St. Louis Rams: General Manager Les Snead has to put his phone number dialing finger on ice after trying to make moves all morning. No one bites, and the Rams have to get this one right. They let right tackle Joe Barksdale walk after he asks for too much money for mid-level ability. Jeff Fisher doesn't like where they sit on this draft board, and taking another offensive lineman in the first round makes him gnash his teeth. He absolutely needs a quarterback to provide insurance against Sam Bradford hitting the turf, but the cupboard is pretty bare. In a desperate move, Les Snead ships off a 2017 3rd round draft pick to Cleveland for - Gulp! - Johnny "Football-Rehab" Manziel. Then he slow dials Chicago, and selects: D.J. Humphries, OT/OG?, Florida.
#11 - Minnesota Vikings: They could use a guard to round out what's becoming a very good offensive line, but they're in the pass-happy NFC North. Pass coverage is key, and they don't hesitate to select the best corner back in the draft: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. An added bonus here is that Waynes is cold weather ready, since the Vikings will be playing outdoors for the next couple seasons until their new stadium is finished.
#12 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (via CLE): Lovie Smith gets the phone call he's been waiting for, and it has little to do with the draft. The Glazers have opened their checkbook, and signed Jay Cutler, who the Bears have allowed to walk away. With the quarterback position out of the way for now, he can focus on his defense. He wants to dial up getting after the passer in the NFC South. With Lavonte David on one side, he selects first step phenom: Shane Ray, DE, Missouri.
#13 - New Orleans/Arizona Cardinals: TRADE! New Orleans decides this draft is deep enough their roster questions can be answered lower in the first round. The Cardinals need to take care of a potential gaping hole in what's been an outstanding defense: Defensive Tackle. If Daryl Washington is allowed to return from suspension, linebacker should be solid. But they let Darnell Dockett slip away to NFC West foe San Francisco, so Arizona sends their #24 pick, plus a second round choice and a 2016 3rd rounder to move up. They select: Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma.
#14 - Miami Dolphins: Smarting from the ill-fated move up to select possible bust Dion Jordan in 2013, they wouldn't make the same mistake of taking another skinny, hyper-athletic pass rusher... Or would they? They select: Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska.
#15 - San Francisco 49ers: Rookie head coach Jim Tomsula may have been a great choice to replace Jim Harbaugh. Given the chance to coach this storied franchise is no small job though, Tomsula won't have much sway this draft with uber-control freak Trent Baalke running the war room. If Justin Smith hangs on for another season instead of retiring, it will take some heat off. The 49ers offense is a problem, and quick fixes are the stuff of fans' dreams more than reality. They have to re-sign OG Mike Iupati, or waste another season hoping they can fix their passing game. Michael Crabtree isn't the answer, so he should be left to side-shuffle out in free agency. Stevie Johnson isn't going to solve anything, even with a proposed pay cut. Contract Gods align, and Iupati stays. The 49ers select: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State. Strong has the physical skill set to thrive in the NFC West.
#16 - Houston Texans: Desperate for a quarterback answer, they can't find one this low in the first round. UCLA's Brent Hundley is a serious stretch here, but Houston is in the odd position of knowing he won't last until they choose on Day 2. "Reach, or not to reach... That is the question..." The answer may be in the current quarterback depth chart on the Texans' team site: Case Keenum, Thad Lewis, Tom Savage... Ryan Mallet's name appears in the Injured Reserve section, along with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ricky Stanzi is on the practice squad. That's SIX QBs vying for the position, with no clear cut "best choice" option... Do you add a rookie to this mess, and hope he separates himself?
Coach Bill O'Brien can't afford a project player at quarterback. Answers may be available in the 2016 draft, which looks to be deeper than this class at signal caller. So it's BPA (Best Player Available) here for O'Brien, and finding a replacement for the oft injuries Brian Cushing may be the way to go? Then again, a tough offensive lineman is always a good choice too... They select: Brandon Schreff, OG/OT, Iowa.
#17 - San Diego Chargers: They could go edge rusher here, with Alvin "Bud" Dupree out of Kentucky looking like a great fit. But with a possible juggling of their offensive line in play, the Chargers can't pass up a player who has pro Bowl promise at any position along the line. They select: Cameron Erving, OT/OG/C, FSU. Others may see the need for a running back here, but Erving's wide skill set is hard to ignore. He enables the Chargers to slide D.J. Fluker inside, or leave him at right tackle...
#18 - Kansas City Chiefs: The scariest statistic I've seen for an offense in 2014: Not a single touchdown by a Chiefs' wide receiver. That has to end, as does the thought Dwayne Bowe is a true #1 WR. They select: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville.
#19 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Via CLE): Safety Dashon Goldson is at the end of his usefulness. But there's a need at tackle for the Bucs, so they select: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami.
#20 - Tennessee Titans (via Philadelphia): The three second round picks the Titans have now from earlier trades enables them to look at a possible luxury pick here? They can also bundle the second round choices in a trade to move back into the first round if they see a special player. They're intrigued by a player who has the capability to play defensive end or tackle... They take the leap, and select: Arik Armstead, DT/DE, Oregon.
#21 - Cincinnati Bengals: This is the toughest team in the NFL to figure out when it comes to the draft, or at least it is for me... The Bengals either need a special player who can leap out and make a huge difference, or a key guy to compliment someone who's already on the roster? I toyed with throwing Shaq Thompson - OLB/S/RB, Washington - in here. But the defense looks solid, especially if Vontaze Burfict returns from injury and regains the ability that shocked most people when he went undrafted in 2012. But I'm going wide receiver here, since A.J. Green looks like a one-man show on the outside. They wanted Jaelen Strong - WR, Arizona State - but the 49ers beat them to who I think may wind up being the best receiver in this draft class. They reach a bit, and select: Doral Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma/Missouri/Red Flag-land
#22 - Pittsburgh Steelers: It looks like they're moving on from safety - guaranteed All-Hair Hall of Fame - Troy Polomalu, so this could be an interesting pick. If there's one guy in this draft who looks like he could morph into a Polomalu-esk clone, it's Shaq Thompson. But he insists he's a linebacker, so the team will have to have a long talk with the Washington all-everything star before making the leap. Not known for spending huge money in free agency, I doubt they dive in to find a receiver for Ben Roethlisberger. It's a deep WR class, but the top-guy pickings are thinning at this point...
The fact is, the possible loss in free agency of LOLB/DE Jason Worilds is something they can't overlook. There's a DE - who has a high boom or bust factor - out of Utah, but the veer away at the last second. Heath Miller has had an amazing NFL career, but injuries keep nagging him. They select: Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota.
#24 - New Orleans Saints (via Arizona): The need at guard may be looming if they let Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans walk due to salary cap woes. On defense, they're in a pickle. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan doesn't appear to have a plan, and it showed in 2014. Their need at linebacker is glaring, and they consider building up the woeful run stopping power in the middle. But here's the problem: The best middle linebacker in this draft is Benardrick McKinney out of Mississippi State, but he can't really slide outside if needed. UCLA's Eric Kendricks has a broader skill set to play inside and out. Still, the thirst to get after the quarterback in the NFC South weighs heavily, so they reach more than a bit here and take: Bud Dupree, OLB, Kentucky.
#25 - Carolina Panthers: They're screwed! Every wide receiver on their 1st round board has been snatched up. They have to slide sideways and take the best true offensive tackle they can find: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford.
#26 - Baltimore Ravens: This is an easy one. They see the middle linebacker they want to team up with 2014 rookie standout C.J. Mosley. They select: Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State.
#27 - Dallas Cowboys: The most surprising team in 2014 has some room to dream a bit here. Their offensive line went from woeful to excellent in the blink of an NFL eye. They hit HUGE with guard Zack Martin in last year's draft. Now they face trouble on defense, with linebackers headed to the door in free agency. Their secondary still need work though, and a pure pass rushing defensive end would be a nice thing to have too. In the woeful NFC East, I think the team who gobbles up opposing quarterbacks will ease into the 2015 postseason...
So who do they take here? To me, UCLA's Eric Kendrick is the perfect selection for "The 'Boys", but there's who I think is a Combine/trap player here who could be this NFL Draft's gremlin: Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia. They don't bite, and make the solid choice to insure against the soft skull and titchy injury history of Sean Lee: Eric Kendricks, ILB/OLB, UCLA. Dallas fans won't agree with me here, but Kendricks' mind and skill set are a dream match for the Cowboys...
#28 - Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning, Peyton Manning... OK, enough of that! The Broncos went all-in last season in free agency and came up short. Team president John Elway has lots of rabid Mile High fans thirsting for blood. Tight end Julius Thomas makes a faint at free agency, but knows he's better off where he is in Denver with a future first ballot Hall of Famer throwing the ball. Elway lets receiver Wes Welker trot off down the mountain, and selects: Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State... Denver fans riot...
#29 - Indianapolis Colts: Using the "remember what we did for Eric Dickerson..." argument, they sign a certain Minnesota Vikings star running back to a multi-year deal that many think may have been Twitter/opiate inspired by a guy named Irsay?They need to get Andrew Luck some help on the offensive line, and two prime candidates are on the board: True guard A.J Cann, G, S. Carolina, and tackle T.J. Clemmings, Pitt. They select: A.J. Cann, G, S. Carolina.
#30 - Green Bay Packers: "The Pack" is in decent shape moving forward. They have a need at tight end, but they can hit it later in the draft. The same can be said of their defensive line, and they need a run stopping beast to shore up the middle. They select a prospect I have higher on my board than most, but his play and demeanor are a perfect fit in the "land 'o cheese": Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
#31 - Seattle Seahawks: The need to find a running back who can fill the void of Marshawn Lynch when he REALLY retires is top on their list. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon doesn't fit their prototype, but they can wait on a guy who's recovering from a knee injury... They select: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia.
#32 - New England Patriots: Bill Belichick is still giddy from his team's Super Bowl win. He closes his eyes, and throws a dart at his draft board. They select: Devin Funchess, TE/WR, Michigan. Belichick falls out of his chair laughing...