Excuse the self-indulgence this fine Tuesday afternoon, folks, but I can't not post a mock draft anymore. I've been trying to abstain, but the lure of talking about the league at large, as well as exploring the impact of free agency and the NFL Combine on draft possibilities, is too great for me to ignore further.
This is a Buffalo Bills website, and as such, I'll spend most of my analytical time in this post talking about Buffalo's No. 9 overall pick. But I'll try to justify the rest of the selections as well, and I'm guessing that the majority of you don't mind digging your fingers into a league-wide mock anyway. Please note, however, that this mock is entirely mine, and was composed without the help of the rest of the Rumblings Scouting Staff, which includes Der Jaeger, kaisertown, gatornation and sireric.
The mock is after the jump. It includes only first-round picks, and after we get through those 32 selections, we'll talk briefly about Buffalo's Round 2 options based on this (altogether-too-early) projection. I anticipate some of you will have ammo to rip me new orifices, as well, so have fun with that, to those of you who feel so inclined. Let's go!
1. St. Louis Rams (1-15): Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
St. Louis, in the past two years, has passed on Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez. Marc Bulger seems to be out of the picture. I have a hard time believing that Billy Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo will be comfortable letting A.J. Feeley and Keith Null battle it out for the starting job. St. Louis absolutely have to go quarterback here, regardless of how much better some other prospects are than Sam Bradford. That doesn't make Bradford a bad pick, either; particularly in St. Louis, he should be in line for a solid, sustained career.
2. Detroit Lions (2-14): Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
I really, really like Jim Schwartz. I think he's one of the elite young coaches in the game, and he, along with Detroit's front office, have that franchise pointed in the right direction. Detroit values physical players, and they absolutely will not pass on elite talent to fill a need position (if you recall, they passed on Michael Oher in favor of Brandon Pettigrew a year ago). If Suh is here, Suh will absolutely be the pick, and Detroit will be much, much better for it.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13): Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma
There really isn't much to say about this pick. McCoy has been projected as the ideal fit for the Buccaneers since he announced he'd enter the 2010 Draft, and that hasn't changed. He fits perfectly with what Raheem Morris would like to do defensively, and he also happens to be the best player remaining on the board.
4. Washington Redskins (4-12): Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State
I still think Washington would like to get a quarterback. I'm just not sure that quarterback is Jimmy Clausen. I'm not sure it isn't Jimmy Clausen, either, and he's certainly an option with this selection. I'm not sold on the idea of Clausen-to-Washington, however, and the Redskins have been surprisingly conservative this off-season under GM Bruce Allen and head coach Mike Shanahan. I don't think they'll gamble here, which makes the safe, reliable Okung a smart investment at a huge position of need in D.C.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12): Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa
Scott Pioli is a known commodity on draft day. He has a method - build the lines and don't pass on premium positions. He's close to the antithesis of an Ozzie Newsome; he's perfectly capable of passing on the best talent available to fill a need position player that fits the system, which he did a year ago when he chose Tyson Jackson at No. 3 overall in lieu of Aaron Curry. Kansas City isn't sold on Branden Albert as their long-term answer at LT, and Bulaga will get solid recommendation from a trusted Pioli confidant, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.
6. Seattle Seahawks (5-11): C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
This is a really tough pick to project in this scenario, because the Seahawks could take either Spiller, Eric Berry or Jimmy Clausen without batting an eye. All three would be tremendous additions for Seattle, and there are fantastic reasons to project any of them in this spot. In the end, I think Pete Carroll will target the guy who can give them the biggest immediate impact - that's Spiller. I'm not sure the need for a franchise quarterback is pressing enough out west to pass on a player as generally coveted as Spiller, particularly if division-rival San Francisco is hot for Spiller as well.
7. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Eric Berry, SS, Tennessee
Mike Holmgren can really go in any number of directions with this pick, because the Browns need playmakers pretty much all over the roster. Berry is the best player available, fits the playmaker mold, and would provide help to a Browns secondary that, quite frankly, needs an infusion of talent across the board. This should be an easy pick for Holmgren to make in this scenario.
8. Oakland Raiders (5-11): Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland
I really hate making this pick, because it's just so obvious. It's painful, really, how bizarrely, pitifully predictable the Raiders are on draft day. There are really only three possibilities here - Campbell, Jason Pierre-Paul and Taylor Mays. Sorry, Raider fans. I hated putting Darrius Heyward-Bey here last year, and I hate putting Campbell here, but really, how can anyone argue against it? Besides, the Raiders did just lose the venerable Cornell Green.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Dan Williams, NT, Tennessee
Here's how I believe Buddy Nix will approach his first draft in Buffalo - he'll target the team's biggest needs early, and in each round, he'll pick the best player he can get from those need positions. There's little debate as to what the Bills' biggest need areas are. They need a quarterback. They need a left tackle. They need a nose tackle, and they need pass rushers.
Following that proposed formula, I think at this point in time, Dan Williams gets the nod over Jimmy Clausen, Trent Williams and any of a number of pass rushers, including Brandon Graham and Derrick Morgan, a Chan Gailey recruit at Georgia Tech.
Dan Williams is a slight reach here, but I don't think that will matter to Nix. Williams is a big, tough, physical run-stuffer that is absolutely capable of manning the two-gap nose guard spot in a traditional 3-4 look. He's also schematically versatile, meaning that if defensive coordinator George Edwards wants to put in some 4-3 looks to mix things up and tailor to personnel, Williams won't have to leave the field. There are concerns about Williams' work ethic, but he really took to an old-timer, pro-style coach last year in Monte Kiffin, and shouldn't have a problem transitioning to the NFL.
I nearly pulled the trigger on Trent Williams. Nearly. He surprised some folks with his athleticism at the Combine, and he's always had the ability to play either side. Many scouts are partially attributing his struggles on the left side in his senior season at Oklahoma to the lack of talent around him on the line, as well as his minor injuries. In the end, however, I think Dan ever so slightly trumps Trent, and while the Bills still have a gaping hole at QB and LT, they get their 3-4 anchor at OK value.
On Mr. Clausen: I do think he's a legitimate possibility if he's available here, but I don't think Nix is married to the idea of absolutely having to draft a quarterback at this spot. Call it a hunch if you want - that's what I'm doing - but I don't think Nix is particularly high on Clausen. He was a distant third in making this pick, though again, he's certainly a possibility.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9): Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State
The signing of Aaron Kampman has really thrown mock drafters off, because the Jaguars can really go in a lot of directions with this pick. DE is still an option, and Derrick Morgan would be a solid pick here, but it seems unlikely that a franchise as fiscally ravaged as Jacksonville would invest so much money in one position. The Jags could look to complement Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield, and I'm rather high on Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews. Rolando McClain makes a lot of sense here. But the Jaguars, aside from MJD, really lack talent offensively, and despite his injury and poor Combine interviews, I don't see Dez Bryant slipping very far on draft day.
11. Denver Broncos (f/CHI): Brandon Graham, OLB, Michigan
Josh McDaniels is a New England disciple, and Brandon Graham is a New England type of guy. Elvis Dumervil has been a monumentally pleasant surprise for the Broncos, but Denver could really use a player or two to keep attention off one of the league's premier young pass rushers. Graham is a highly productive player against both the pass and the run, and his game complements Dumervil's very well. This might be a touch high, because Graham isn't a Top 10 prospect based purely on talent, but he's a tremendous fit for Denver nonetheless.
12. Miami Dolphins (7-9): Jason Pierre-Paul, OLB, South Florida
Bill Parcells raised some eyebrows during the 2005 NFL Draft when, as head coach in Dallas, he brought in small-school prospect DeMarcus Ware with the No. 11 overall pick. Eyebrows were raised, but yeah - that pick has worked out relatively well for Dallas. Miami needs pass rushers, and with Jason Taylor and Cameron Wake still on board, they can afford to be patient with a guy that I believe is straight up the best athlete in the draft. Pierre-Paul can help Miami's pass rush as a rookie, even as just a situational guy, and his potential is enormous.
13. San Francisco 49ers (8-8): Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma
The one player that makes the most sense, to me, for the 49ers is C.J. Spiller. San Francisco has the makings of an explosive offense with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis catching passes, but Frank Gore isn't getting any younger, and the Niners could use another home run threat for Alex Smith. With two first-round picks, they have the ammo to go get Spiller if they really want him, but they'd probably be better served hanging in there and getting two guys should they miss on Spiller. Williams is a terrific fit under Mike Singletary and would become the team's starter at right tackle immediately.
14. Seattle Seahawks (f/DEN): Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame
I'm fairly certain Seahawks fans would be dancing in the streets if this scenario came to fruition. Spiller was a terrific pick for them at No. 6, but Clausen would have been very smart as well, particularly given Carroll's familiarity with the Southern Cal prospect. Clausen gets to sit for a year behind Matt Hasselbeck and ease himself into Carroll's system. I'm not sure Seattle could get away with gambling on letting Clausen slide come late April, but it's logical for the time being. I do think that Clausen will end up with Seattle if Washington passes on him.
15. New York Giants (8-8): Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech
The obvious pick here is Rolando McClain, and while I remain very high on Alabama's inside linebacker, I'm not sure he's a snug fit for the Giants, whose defense, if you recall, will be called up by former Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. GM Jerry Reese is still calling the shots, and he's been known to stock up on defensive linemen. He's lost a few names there, and could lose another one if Osi Umenyiora whines his way out of the Big Apple. Morgan is a terrific value pick here and instantly restores the Giants' excellent depth up front.
16. Tennessee Titans (8-8): Joe Haden, CB, Florida
Don't buy Haden dropping much lower than the middle of the first round - he's still got a pro day to improve his slow 40 time, and scouts don't put much credence in those numbers, anyway, if the player shows up on tape. Haden definitely shows up on tape. The Titans need to bolster their defense, and all things equal, I think they'd prefer to add an end here. Everson Griffen would make a great deal of sense and fit what the Titans like to do defensively under Jeff Fisher, but Haden is too good a player to pass on, and the Titans could use players in the defensive backfield.
17. San Francisco 49ers (f/CAR): Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State
I really like the idea of Ryan Mathews here, but I don't think he's enough of a big play threat to warrant selecting from San Francisco's perspective. Mike Singletary likes tough, physical, instinctual players - he was one himself, after all - and pound for pound, Wilson ranks amongst the draft's elite in those categories. He's a great athlete, a very good return man, and excels in press coverage. San Fran really needs to bolster their cornerback position, and Wilson is a great fit here.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7): Rolando McClain, ILB, Alabama
Don't be surprised if McClain slides. Linebackers always slide; just ask Rey Maualuga. Scouts have poked holes in McClain's game, openly wondering if he's athletic enough for the 4-3 or tough enough to man either 3-4 inside linebacker spot. It won't matter if he gets to Pittsburgh, if you ask me, because he's a tremendous talent that would look great as an eventual replacement to James Farrior (35). This is too good a fit for Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to pass on, even though they typically don't invest their bigger resources in inside linebackers.
19. Atlanta Falcons (9-7): Everson Griffen, DE, USC
GM Tom Dimitroff is another New England/Bill Belichick disciple, and like Scott Pioli, he typically targets positional players (like Sam Baker) before top talents. Here, he fills a need position with one of the higher-upside prospects available; Griffen truly does possess elite talent, and some 3-4 teams are even intrigued with his athleticism. Atlanta needs to improve its pass rush dramatically if it hopes to close the gap on Drew Brees and New Orleans' elite aerial attack.
20. Houston Texans (9-7): Ryan Mathews, RB, Fresno State
A lot of people expect the Texans to go defense in an effort to, like Atlanta and New Orleans, try to close the gap on Indianapolis, who have ruled the AFC South for practically the past decade. There are a few defenders here that would make a great deal of sense, most notably Texas safety Earl Thomas. But Gary Kubiak remains an offensive-minded coach, and the Texans are a reliable, heady running back away from having one of the top three or four offensive attacks in the league. Ryan Mathews wouldn't necessarily be a value pick for Houston, but they'd get a lot of production for their troubles. Steve Slaton was a tremendous disappointment a year ago.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6): Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma
Cincinnati proved last year that they can compete with the big boys of the AFC North behind an excellent running game and a solid, if unspectacular, defense. Their ultimate downfall, however, was getting absolutely nothing out of Carson Palmer and the passing attack in clutch situations. Palmer's not going anywhere, and the team is talking to Terrell Owens and Antonio Bryant about teaming up with Chad Ochocinco. The team does, however, lack a playmaker at tight end, and Gresham makes so much sense here that it'd surprise me if he's not ultimately the pick, even this far in advance of the actual selection meeting.
22. New England Patriots (10-6): Jared Odrick, DE, Penn State
The trade of Richard Seymour, while obviously a great move for the Patriots from the future tense, really left their front seven in tatters a year ago. Bill Belichick toyed with 4-3 looks, had players out of position, and really, it was just a mess. They got absolutely steamrolled by Baltimore in their own house in the first round of the playoffs; that's unheard of in Boston. The need for defensive talent is dire enough that I think Belichick will just pick the best players he can find in that area, and in this scenario, Odrick makes a lot of sense. He's a very underrated prospect that can help the Pats against both the run and the pass.
23. Green Bay Packers (11-5): Charles Brown, OT, USC
The Packers are something of an NFL anomaly in that they've built a high-powered, incredibly consistent passing attack in one of the coldest, most difficult weather cities in the NFL. That's OK - go with what works, and the attack led by Aaron Rodgers definitely works. The team brought back Chad Clifton to play left tackle, but he played left tackle a year ago, and the team really struggled to protect Rodgers. Charles Brown is a highly underrated prospect with tremendous short-area athleticism, and he'd fit in well with a passing-oriented offense. He's good value here and a great fit for Rodgers' blind side, and best yet, they don't have to play him right away if they don't think he's ready.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5): Sean Weatherspoon, OLB, Missouri
Here's another pick that you'll see in almost every mock draft out there, and for good reason - it makes a great deal of sense. Philly just released '09 acquisition Will Witherspoon, and they're hurting for depth at linebacker in a bad way. Seriously, folks - they signed Jeremiah Trotter last year. They need help there, and not only is Weatherspoon one of the safest picks in the draft, but he's an excellent fit in Sean McDermott's defensive scheme as well as burgeoning leader.
25. Baltimore Ravens (9-7): Earl Thomas, FS, Texas
If there's one thing that Ozzie Newsome will always do, it's draft a guy that fits the identity of the Baltimore Ravens. There is no NFL team more clearly defined in terms of what they like to do, and where they excel, than Baltimore. Ed Reed isn't retiring, but he's hinted at it strongly enough to make safety a legitimate option, and Earl Thomas has the look of some sort of super-Jairus Byrd. Thomas has outstanding ball skills and is a tremendous athlete, and he's capable of playing corner while Reed continues to man the free safety spot. Thomas is too good a player to pass on here.
26. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers
I've been a supporter of Davis all along, and while I still think that, on tape, he's at or near the top of this year's draft class at the tackle position, I won't pretend that his Combine workout didn't have a negative effect on his draft stock, particularly when talking about his poor interview reviews. Davis is a really solid talent and should go higher based on this, but in this scenario, he's a great fit for Ken Whisenhunt and the Cards. Mike Gandy and Jeremy Bridges are free agents, and Davis is a much better tackle prospect than either of them. He'd team up with Levi Brown to give the Cardinals solid, physical bookends at tackle.
27. Dallas Cowboys (11-5): Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho
All signs point toward the Cowboys addressing the offensive line, where the status of aging left tackle Flozell Adams is a huge concern in Big D. I don't think Dallas is a lock to draft a lineman, but I think they'd be sorely tempted by a big, physical mauler like Mike Iupati. Dallas loves that type of lineman - they employ them across the board - and Iupati is versatile enough to slide out to (right) tackle should a team feel so inclined. That doesn't necessarily solve the problem at left tackle, I realize, but if Iupati played right tackle, Doug Free is capable of sliding to the left side. This doesn't necessarily fill a need for Dallas, but it's a great identity fit nonetheless, and pretty good value as well.
28. San Diego Chargers (13-3): Sergio Kindle, OLB, Texas
This is a really tough pick to get a read on with Spiller and Mathews off the board, because I don't think it's exactly a reach to guess that running back is San Diego's biggest need area. The team could go with a guy like Jahvid Best here, but I don't think they'll reach for a guy they don't necessarily like. The team could also add a defensive lineman to play end or, if they don't get Jamal Williams back, nose tackle, but there aren't any great end prospects available here, and Terrence Cody is fairly universally viewed as a second-round talent. The team can, however, stock up on pass rushers, particularly with Shawne Merriman coming off a down year. Sergio Kindle is an excellent athlete and fits the Chargers' defensive scheme quite well.
29. New York Jets (9-7): Kareem Jackson, CB, Alabama
There are a bunch of directions the Jets could go with this pick, but knowing Rex Ryan's style, it's fairly obvious that they'll be going after a defender unless a top offensive prospect falls. Again, the defensive line is a possibility here, and I very nearly penciled in UCLA DT Brian Price at this spot. But I'm going with Kareem Jackson, even if the Jets did just trade for Antonio Cromartie to team up with all-world corner Darrelle Revis. Cromartie is still a gamble, and even if that gamble pays off, the Jets could use depth all around in their secondary. Jackson is quickly climbing draft boards and will probably go much higher than this, but in this scenario, he's great value and a great fit in Ryan's scheme.
30. Minnesota Vikings (12-4): Brian Price, DT, UCLA
This is a pick you'll see made frequently as well, and again, it makes a lot of sense. Pat Williams isn't getting any younger, and Price might be the best player left on the board anyway; he could go as high as the teens, too. He'd probably be a depth player to start, but in Leslie Frazier's defensive scheme, he's an outstanding fit, and would work very well lining up next to Kevin Williams over the long haul. Running back is a popular possibility, as well, but I anticipate the Vikings will go the veteran route there.
31. Indianapolis Colts (14-2): Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida
The Colts released their starting guard from the Super Bowl, Ryan Lilja, and if that doesn't signal where Bill Polian will probably concentrate his efforts this off-season, I don't know what does. Pouncey is an excellent, versatile, smart prospect that should pick up Indy's system quickly. He'll play guard until Jeff Saturday retires, at which point he'll become the Colts' new starting center. Terrific fit here.
32. New Orleans Saints (13-3): Jerry Hughes, OLB, TCU
Scott Fujita, an excellent pass-rushing linebacker, is off to Cleveland, and the Saints, behind defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, could use a boost to their pass rush anyway. Hughes brings great athleticism and versatility to the table, and he's endearing to a lot of NFL scouts because of his excellent collegiate production. Williams could use a player like Hughes, and he'd fit in well with the Saints' team culture.
Bills Round 2 Possibilities
Again, going back to what I said about Nix at No. 9, I expect him to look at his needs, identify the best players at those need positions, and pick the best guy available.
Quarterback is still priority No. 1, and while I'll regret saying this simply because 95% of the comments on this post will reflect this small paragraph, I do expect Tim Tebow to be a target of the Bills at some point. Don't count out Jevan Snead, though - in a weak year for quarterbacks, Snead has more natural talent than almost everyone at his position. At left tackle, Indiana tackle/guard Rodger Saffold makes a great deal of sense, given his ties to Assistant O-Line coach Bobby Johnson. If the team looks at pass rushers, I'm a big fan of Clemson's Ricky Sapp and South Carolina's Eric Norwood, in no particular order. And, in the unlikely event that Nix says "screw it" and goes BPA, Taylor Mays, Rob Gronkowski, Jahvid Best, Golden Tate and Vladimir Ducasse would all fit the bill and be able to contribute.