The draft is about to start, and I’m ready to come out with my final mock draft.
1. Carolina Panthers- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
I’ve always been pretty high on Cam Newton. People may question his accuracy, saying he always had open receivers to throw to in Auburn. This may be true. However, at least he had the mental capacity to consistently throw to the open man, which is a lot more than any Newton hater can say about Jay Cutler. He was a near perfect decision maker in Gus Malzhan’s offense. On the other hand, many people will question how he will do in a more complicated NFL-style offense, in which he will have a larger role in calling plays and making pre-snap adjustments than he ever did at Auburn. This is a valid question. But I will always maintain that Newton has the mental capacity to do such things, evidenced by his Wonderlic score at the combine. I realize the Wonderlic doesn’t necessarily mean a lot, but it can be important when deciding whether or not a quarterback has the mental capacity to understand how to call plays and make pre-snap adjustments in a pro-style offense. A great example of this is Vince Young. According to Wonderlic Inc., a score of at least 10 implies that the person taking the test is literate. Vince Young scored a 6 on his Wonderlic test at the combine, and he proved that he didn’t have much intelligence to make play calls and good decisions at the NFL level. However, Cam Newton’s test implies that he has the basic intelligence to understand offenses at the NFL level. He scored a 21 on the Wonderlic, which translates to an IQ of about 103, and is better than legendary quarterbacks Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. Although his score it isn’t amazing, Cam Newton appears to have enough intelligence to grasp NFL offenses, which makes me think he can handle a pro-style offense. On an unrelated note, he has excellent arm strength, and unbelievable athleticism and toughness that should make him an excellent runner at the NFL level.
2. Denver Broncos- Marcell Dareus, DE/DT, Alabama
People should understand that this pick, like many others I will make, is a prediction, not a recommendation. I don’t think Dareus would have much success at all with Denver, for it’s a very poor fit. Why? Because, under the John Fox regime, Denver will be switching to a 4-3 defense, and Dareus would be used at defensive tackle. I don’t think he will be very productive playing at 4-3 defensive tackle at the NFL level. Many people will say that his skill set best suits 4-3 defensive tackle. I don’t necessarily disagree. My big issue with Dareus playing a 4-3 defensive tackle is his lack of his experience at the position. Dareus was strictly used as a 3-4 defensive end in college, and unlike guys like Cameron Jordan, he was used strictly at end, and has literally no experience playing the 3 technique from his college career. I’ve always thought that the transition from a 5 technique lineman to a 3 technique, or visa-versa, was underappreciated in regards to its difficulty. To me, it’s no easier than an inside linebacker becoming an outside linebacker, a corner becoming a safety, or even a 4-3 defensive end becoming a 3-4 outside linebacker. It will be quite some time before Dareus learns how to play the 3 technique. To make it even worse, he played a 3-4 in college. Denver’s 4-3 will be foreign to him. So, if Dareus went to Denver, he would have go to a position that he’s never played before, working in a defensive front that he has no experience in or prior knowledge of, and he’ll be playing with other players that are totally new to the front. I shouldn’t be the only one that notices a potential issue for the first 4 or so years of Dareus’ career. Also, regardless of position and scheme, Dareus is slightly overrated, due to poor stats and ineffective usage of his hands (fellow SEC lineman Nick Fairley all but doubled him in every statistical category this season). But still, Denver’s scheme could prove to be a huge issue for Dareus.
3. Buffalo Bills- Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
This would be a great pick for Buffalo. Miller is an ideal fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker in Buffalo’s defense, and, after the failure of Aaron Maybin, outside linebacker is a huge need for Buffalo. Miller is a supremely athletic very productive player that was successful against good competition and pretty consistent. He also has good intangibles, and I think his strength is a bit underrated, but his instincts are a bit overrated. Still a good prospect for Buffalo.
4. Cincinnati Bengals- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
I’ve been hearing more and more lately about the Bengals potentially taking Julio Jones, but I just can’t believe that the front office would make a pick so dumb. Apparently, the Bengals like Jones because he is a good fit in their west-coast offense, but Green is just on a whole other level on terms of talent. Green is that rare combination of elite size, outstanding body control, excellent leaping ability, and perfect hands, which make him as big a target as humanly possible, and makes me think of Larry Fitzgerald. He’s also an phenomenal route runner for a guy of his size. In my opinion, he’s the most talented player in this draft class. The scary thing is that I know that my hometown team often will make some puzzling choices on draft day, which makes me think that they just might pick Julio Jones, but I’m going to assume that even Cincinnati has the common sense to take Green here over Jones.
5. Arizona Cardinals- Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
This isn’t my official pick; it’s unlikely that Gabbert goes here. I’m also sure that Arizona will trade out of this pick, but, if not Gabbert makes the most sense. I see him going to San Francisco when they trade down, but, until then this is the pick. I always thought Gabbert was a bit overrated because he becomes increasingly inaccurate when he tries to stretch the field or put zip on his passes, but, other than that, he’s a good player.
6. Cleveland Browns- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
I considered Robert Quinn here, but I’ll go with Jones considering Mike Holmgren’s history of drafting wide receivers. Jones would be a good pick here. He has tremendous size, pretty good athletic ability for his size, good intangibles, and good strength. However, his hands are inconsistent (they were terrible sophomore year, but a lot better junior year), and he could definitely afford to fix his route running. This would be a solid pick.
7. San Francisco 49ers- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
I’ve always said that I think Peterson is overrated, but this would not be a terrible pick. Peterson seems a little slow witted to me, he makes mistakes in zone coverage, and he also occasionally is too willing to allow receivers to get position on him in man coverage when they going over the middle, but he’s still worthy of a first round pick. I think he’s overrated because I hear people say he is the perfect corner prospect, and many people have him in the top 3 of their big board, but he isn’t quite perfect. For a corner to be worthy of a top 3 selection, he better not have any flaws in his game whatsoever. Even the small flaws in his game mentioned above make him borderline worthy of a top 10 pick. I will admit he’s good in man coverage, and he is the most physically gifted corner I have ever seen, but he’s not perfect. People should remember that. Regardless, this would be good value for San Francisco, who should be looking to improve at corner after being ranked 24th in the NFL in pass defense. This would be a decent pick.
8. Tennessee Titans- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Many people have Fairley going here in their mocks. It really makes a lot of sense, and this would be a great pick for Tennessee. I like Fairley a lot better than Marcell Dareus, mostly because of stats, and I think Fairley’s prior experience as a 3 technique lineman in a 4-3 defense should make him excel at the position, and excel with Tennessee. Fairley has elite quickness and dominates with his hands usage, but he has mediocre size and many will question his character (I’m not buying the character concerns, though). Fairley is a tremendous player and would be great value for Tennessee here.
9. Dallas Cowboys- Tyron Smith, OT, USC
This pick was pretty hard to mock. I was torn between Smith, Prince Amukamara, J.J. Watt/Cameron Jordan or even Robert Quinn going here, but my gut says the Cowboys will draft Smith. Smith seems like the best offensive lineman in this draft class to me. In film, it seems like he doesn’t excel at any one trait, nor does he have any discernible weakness. He has good strength, athleticism, fundamentals, on field awareness, and intangibles, but he doesn’t truly dominate at any aspect of his game mentioned above. It makes me think that the guys is unlikely to bust, and he would be a good pick for the Cowboys.
10. Washington Redskins- Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
In my opinion, Robert Quinn might be the most overrated prospect of the draft. If you want to know why, you can read the article, but I’ll sum it up with this quote: “My main issue with Quinn is his stats. At first glance, his stats appear to be great; 52 tackles, 11 sacks Sophomore year. But let’s take a closer look. Let’s divide the stats from all of the North Carolina games last year based on the strength of the teams Quinn played against. Against The Citadel, East Carolina, Virginia, Georgia Southern, Duke, Boston College, and North Carolina State (7 games), he got ALL of his 11 sacks and 33 of his tackles; against Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Florida State, Miami, Connecticut, and Georgia Tech (6 games), he got a mere 19 tackles and 0 sacks! That is a staggering dispersion of stats between teams he played! He made absolutely no impact in games against good teams, yet he dominated against bad teams.” Either way, the fact that Quinn was terrible against decent competition is a reason for concern. However, I guess Quinn is a good fit at 3-4 outside linebacker. People have speculated that Washington may trade up or down to get a quarterback (or even a receiver), but I’m not buying it. After last year’s draft, I predicted that Washington would be horrible defensively after their lack of an effort to revamp the front seven after switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 (they drafted literally 0 players that played in a 3-4 in college or were expected to play in a 3-4 in the NFL), and their defense was terrible as a result (31st in the league). They basically tried to move the guys from their 4-3 scheme into new positions playing new roles and expected them to have success. They didn’t consider the idea of actually drafting guys that knew how to play in the new scheme, and starting them in the new scheme. But I believe Washington has learned their lesson, and will draft someone for their front seven this year.
11. Houston Texans- Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
With Quinn gone, I considered Cameron Jordan/J.J. Watt as well as Prince Amukamara here, and I almost went with Watt, but then I thought to myself, “Wait; how is a 3-4 defensive end a need for the Texans?” A lot of mocks say that with the new defense they may draft Watt or Jordan, but is there any reason that they can’t/won’t start Amobi Okoye and Mario Williams at end? Houston fans, please tell me if there is a reason that one of these guys can’t play at 3-4 end. They’re each about 300lbs and have outstanding strength. The only qualm I have is that Okoye might be a bit short for end, but, in all honesty, what else would Houston do with Okoye if they don’t use him at end? Would they release him? Would they make him one of the lightest nose tackles in the NFL? I don’t know what the answer is, but is seems to me that Houston can’t take a 3-4 defensive end. Regarding Aldon Smith, I love the guy. His hand usage and ability to learn positions quickly make him one of the most versatile pass rushers of this year’s draft class, and allow him to create pressure at all sorts of unique blitzing angles. This would be a great pick for Houston.
12. Minnesota Vikings- Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Bowers stock has been plummeting after recent concerns about his knee, but this would be a good pick. Frankly, I don’t know enough about micro-fracture surgery to have a positive or negative opinion of Bowers’ knee and future prognosis, but regardless, he’d be great fit in Minnesota. Many say that Cameron Jordan would be a great fit in Minnesota’s defense, and, although this is true, most people would agree that Bowers is significantly more talented. It would be tough for the Vikings to pass up Bowers with Ray Edwards’ contract expiring. This would be an excellent pick.
13. Detroit Lions- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Detroit is absolutely desperate for a corner, so they would be just giddy to see Amukamara fall into their laps. Amukamara is nothing more than a common sense pick; considering his talent and production and Detroit’s major need for a corner, if Amukamara fell, there would be no chance that Detroit would take a player at another position. Amukamara is a solid prospect with excellent coverage skills, fluidity, and instincts.
14. St. Louis Rams- Cameron Jordan, DE/DT, California
With Aldon Smith and Julio Jones gone, I really wanted to put Cory Liuget here, but I’m going go a unique route and put Cameron Jordan here. Watching him on film at Cal, Jordan has a significant amount of experience at both playing the 3 technique as well as the 5 technique in 4-3 defense, and that is the sort of thing that Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo loves to do. Jordan always reminded of Justin Tuck at Cal because of their similar builds and their ability to create pressure at both the 3 technique and the 5 technique, mostly because of their dominant use of hands. Justin Tuck was brilliant with the use of his hands with the Giants, and, back when Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator with the Giants, he loved to move versatile Tuck around the line and have him create pressure at all sorts of angles. Considering all the success Spagnuolo had with Tuck, is there any good reason that he might not want to do the exact same with Jordan?
15. Miami Dolphins- J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
I understand that I’m a minority with this pick, but, considering the facts that most people don’t have Watt falling this far, Miami would get good value here, Watt is an ideal fit as a 3-4 end in their scheme, Miami’s starting end opposite Kendall Langford right now is Randy Starks (who got a mere 30 tackles last year), and 2010 first rounder Jared Odrick’s future is quite uncertain after a pretty severe break in his foot, is there any reason that this pick can’t happen? Odrick missed all of last season due to the injury, and Watt is widely considered to be the best fit at 3-4 end of any player in this draft class, considering he exclusively played the 5 technique at Wisconsin (unlike Cameron Jordan), has ideal size for the position, and his skill set and pass rushing ability is well suited for the 3-4 end position. If Aldon Smith is gone, it’s unlikely that Miami reaches on a 3-4 outside linebacker like Justin Houston, Mike Pouncey is overrated and shouldn’t be considered for this pick, and the running back position is an overrated need for Miami (Ricky Williams is still a solid player, and people need to remember that Ronnie Brown only had 1 bad year), it makes sense that Watt will go here. Or at least it makes sense to me.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars- Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Yeah, I know it’s not an exciting pick. But it still makes a lot of sense. General manager Gene Smith really likes high character, high motor guys on his team, and Ryan Kerrigan is great fit at 4-3 defensive end for one of the worst pass rushing teams in the NFL. Kerrigan is an immediate upgrade over tandem of Derrick Harvey/Austen Lane/Aaron Kampmann opposite Jeremy Mincey, and would help the team. Kerrigan actually reminds of Kampmann back when he was in his prime with the Packers, and would be a very good pick.
17. New England Patriots-Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT, Temple
This was a really tough pick to mock. I’m not high on Anthony Castonzo, and I would never expect New England to make a dumb pick, so I didn’t want to put Castonzo here. So I went against one of my philosophies; I put a guy that strictly played the 3 technique in college to a team that would use him as a 5 technique lineman (see: Denver Broncos prediction). Normally, I absolutely hate doing this, but it feels to me that, if anyone, Bill Belichick is the kind of coach that could teach Muhammad Wilkerson the 5 technique quickly. I absolutely love Wilkerson, and his production seems like the kind of guy that the Patriots would draft, but he played a 3 technique in college, and moving a 3 technique lineman to a 5 technique will be very difficult. Regardless, the Patriots have a major need at 3-4 end opposite Ty Warren, and Wilkerson could fill this need.
18. San Diego Chargers- Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
I realize I am one of very few people who have Solder going here, but I like Solder. I’ll admit that, on film, he isn’t very productive at all, especially as a pass blocker, but it feels like that he is one small fundamental change away from being a pro bowler. If he could just learn to stay low, especially in pass protection, he could be great. But right now, in most situations, he’s a 6’9 lineman that is usually standing upright in most protections. Either way, he gets terrible leverage on linemen because he can’t stay low, but if he could stay low, his tremendous strength, length, and athleticism would make him a brilliant player.
19. New York Giants- Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
Liuget going here makes a lot of sense. He’s a great fit for 3 technique lineman in a 4-3 defense, and he would be an immediate upgrade over current starter Chris Canty. Liuget is athletic, strong, relentless in pursuit, and instinctive, all qualities that made him extremely productive at Illinois. And he would be an excellent pick here.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
After the Aqib Talib legal debacle (rumors are Talib will be released soon), I figured that Tampa would take a corner. I would go Jimmy Smith, but, considering the Talib failure, I’m 90% sure that Tampa is done with corners that have character concerns. In will come Brandon Harris, one of my favorite corners of this years draft class. He has great coverage and leadership skills, which should really help him in Tampa. He’ll be a great player, and this would be a great pick.
21. Kansas City Chiefs- Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
The Chiefs could definitely afford to improve the right side of their offensive line, and Carimi should do just fine. He has a great combination of size and athleticism, making him a very productive player. He has solid strength, but he could afford to improve how he handles pass rush moves and his fundamentals in pass protection. This would be a pretty good pick.
22. Indianapolis Colts- Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Castonzo seems really overrated to me on film, but Indianapolis needs run blocking on its offensive line. Castonzo is a much better run blocker than he is a pass blocker. He is a decent athlete with some strength but he is often out of position, he plays way too high, he struggles to sustain blocks, and he doesn’t create a wide base. This would be an okay pick.
23. Philadelphia Eagles- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Frankly, I’m not sure what to think of Smith. From a talent standpoint, he’s phenomenal; elite size for a corner, outstanding athleticism, and amazing in coverage. However, people are always talking about character concerns and his history of arrests. Honestly, I don’t pay much attention legal issues as long as the player plays with intensity on the field and shows dedication to the team (see: Mike Williams), but Smith’s issues from a character standpoint for me is a pathetic lack of effort on the field. He puts no effort into shedding blocks as a run stopper, and I don’t think I have ever seen a corner who is less of a physical tackler. Yet, in spite of how soft he is as a tackler, he’s still not a terrible run stopper. Why? His strength is ridiculous. He did an unbelievable 24 bench reps at the combine, better than most linebackers, so he can actually bring running backs down with weak, lazy arm tackles. It reminds me of Antonio Cromartie. He has potential, but it’s tough to tell if he’ll make much of it. Regarding the Eagles, Smith would probably be an immediate upgrade over starting corner Dimitri Patterson opposite Asante Samuel. This would be a good pick for Philadelphia.
24. New Orleans Saints- Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
This would be a great pick for the Saints. Clayborn is a great player that would start immediately for the Saints. To me, he’s a poor man’s Julius Peppers, with a lot of athleticism and potential. Also, he is an ideal fit in the New Orleans defense that has a tendency to use large players at 4-3 defensive end, such as Will Smith, and even Charles Grant in years past. Either way, Clayborn would be an immediate upgrade over Alex Brown and a great fit in the Saints defense.
25. Seattle Seahawks- Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida
I absolutely hate Mike Pouncey, but this pick could make a lot of sense if Pouncey ends up falling this far. To say the least, Pouncey isn’t half the player his brother was. Pouncey lacks strength, he isn’t great blocker, and his on field intensity could be better, but his on field awareness is phenomenal. I think that Pete Carroll could trade out of this spot, but, if not, the only quarterback worth drafting here is Mallett (who doesn’t seem like a Carroll guy), the only tackle that could go here is Sherrod (that would be a reach in my opinion), and the Seahawks have a need at center because Chris Spencer’s contract is expiring, so Pouncey makes a lot of sense. However, I will admit that Aaron Williams is a strong possibility. He could go here, but I believe that most people have a higher opinion of Pouncey than Williams, and most people think Pouncey would be good value here.
26. Baltimore Ravens- Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
I have always thought Heyward was slightly overrated due to poor stats, but this would be a good pick. As I have mentioned many times before, I think the transition form a 3 technique lineman to a 5 technique will be difficult, but Heyward already has plenty of experience at the defensive end position. He is a big, strong lineman that uses his hands well, but he has mediocre athleticism, and his stamina seems poor. But he’d be an immediate upgrade over Cory Redding and a good value here.
27. Atlanta Falcons- Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
I love Torrey Smith and I think he will be a pro bowl receiver at the NFL level, and the Falcons are in desperate need of a receiver that will play opposite Roddy White, but I don’t feel too confident with this pick because Smith is an exact clone of Roddy White. They couldn’t be much more alike. Smith would be an immediate improvement over Michael Jenkins, but Smith isn’t the tall back-of-the-end-zone threat that would be an ideal compliment to White. White and Smith are identical players. Part of the reason I think Smith is underrated is because of his resemblance to White. I have a feeling they will have identical careers. But they aren’t the best compliments to each other. However. considering how well the Donald Driver/Greg Jennings tandem worked out for Green Bay the past few years (they’re also similar players), I think the same could happen with White/Smith. And that’s why I think Smith will go here (also, Atlanta’s GM Thomas Dimitroff likes high character guys, and it would be fair to say that Smith has good intangibles). And he will be a great player.
28. New England Patriots- Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
The odds are pretty good that New England will trade down, but, if not, Watkins makes sense here. His extraordinary toughness, good strength and outstanding production make him the kind of guy the Patriots would draft. Also, one of Watkins’ biggest concerns are his age (he’s 26). Considering that the Patriots are currently in a “win-now,” situation, they don’t mind the fact that Watkins could be out of the NFL in 8 years. Considering they will be in playoff contention during those 8 years, Watkins has much more value going to a team like New England in comparison to a team that’s in a rebuilding stage. Also considering the fact that Logan Mankins is on his way out of New England, guard is a major position of need. I don’t know many mocks that have Watkins going here, but it makes absolutely perfect sense.
29. Chicago Bears- Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Considering the fact that the Bears have an extensive history of drafting terrible offensive linemen or really over drafting when they do pick offensive linemen, Sherrod makes a lot of sense to go to the Bears here (I mean no disrespect to Jerry Angelo; he’s a solid GM, but he struggles to pick offensive linemen). I don’t think that Sherrod is a great player, and he’d be a bit of a reach here, but, the Bears have a pretty long history of drafting poor offensive linemen (under Jerry Angelo, they have drafted 10 linemen, and only 1 of them are still on the team today and have been with the team for more than a year: Chris Williams, who is widely considered a bust by most in the league), making the odds of this pick happening pretty good. Sherrod’s strength is mediocre and he plays with uninspiring on field intensity, but he has some athleticism. O-line is a big position of need for the Bears, but I think that they should stick to free agency.
30. New York Jets- Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
I’d be pretty shocked if Taylor didn’t go here if he was available when the Jets are on the clock. After releasing the oft-injured Kris Jenkins, the only nose tackle left on the team is 32 year Sione Pouha, who isn’t that good anyway, so nose tackle is a huge need. Taylor is easily the best nose tackle in this year’s draft class. Taylor has outstanding size, unbelievable athleticism for a guy his size, and good strength, but he does have some character issues. Either way, this would be a great pick.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers- Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Aaron Williams would be a great player for Pittsburgh. Williams has size and is pretty athletic. Sadly for him, his stock a took a real hit this season after Texas had a very poor season. But I personally think that Williams played great this year, for there is a reason that the Texas had the number one ranked pass defense in the NCAA despite a weak supporting cast for the corners and the fact that the Big 12 was a pass first conference; it was because of Williams and Curtis/Chykie Brown. On the other hand, he’s a terrible, overrated run stopper that lacks strength (makes me wonder if he’s the kind of guy Pittsburgh would draft, but I’ll stick with the pick because its truly strength that’s the issue for him, not intangibles), but he’s a solid player, and he would be a good pick here.
32. Green Bay Packers- Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
I’m not huge on Ayers, but this pick would make sense. Ayers has tremendous athleticism and raw pass rush ability, but it never translated to on field success at UCLA, because it seemed to me that he was playing in the wrong system. As a 4-3 outside linebacker, his pass rush talents were largely wasted, yet, in spite of playing in a system where linebackers don’t get many sacks, he still put up an impressive 11 sacks in his career at UCLA. It could take a while before he can make his raw pass rush ability into something at the NFL level, but, until then, he’s still an upgrade at outside linebacker in a 3-4 over Frank Zombo, opposite Clay Matthews.